In the light of today’s questions

by | 29 Mar 2011

We learn from David Cameron that Muammar Gaddafi ‘has lied to the international community,’ Sarkozy, in more poetic vein, suggests a ‘murderous madness’ which must be stopped, and Gaddafi himself, last night (22 March), criticises the commencement of a ‘new Crusader battle’ against his people. For the Colonel, this conflict is now waged against an Islam he recognises, and thereby stands in stark contrast to the Libyan people’s battle against ‘armed gangs linked to al-Qaida’ who ‘spread rumours and false information’ (Observer, 20 March 2011). And yet this morning, General Sir Richard Dannatt, on the ‘Today’ programme (Radio 4), states that the position in Libya is simply a classic case of a ‘war amongst the people,’ which somehow has a savour of amelioration, perhaps even downplaying the Barrack Obama belief that ‘the people of Libya must be protected.’

We watched as Cameron channelled Blair last week, replacing the smiling lawyer with a less than satisfactory PR flair, as he stridently informed the nation that, this time, ‘it is legal’, referring, of course, to the UN resolution authorising the use of ‘all necessary force’. So, with all this confusion over alternative leaders in Libya, or indeed any of the ‘Arab spring’ countries, we arrive at this coalition of the willing’s own leaderless stance. Will the intervention become Nato-ized, will the US take the helm, is there a realistic possibility that an Anglo-French lead might be formed against the Gaddafi regime?

At moments such as these I ask myself a question: What would Michel Foucault have said? How might ‘the situation’, if we use that term, be better understood? Critique, as first destination, turns on ‘the art of not being governed quite so much.’ It is a creature of ‘voluntary insubordination’ with the concomitant, yet essential part that would potentially ‘insure the desubjugation of the subject in the context of…the politics of truth’ (‘What is Critique?’). The question becomes how are we ever to reach ‘the truth’? Gadaffi gets his loyalists, whether they are loyal or dare not do otherwise, and there is a display of glory for the media cameras. An exclamation of laud in Tripoli as affront to disapproval displayed in Benghazi, and as such these are performative utterances that hold some certain juridical significance.

For Agamben this notion of glory is a secret point of contact through which politics and theology constantly communicate, change places, and become ‘signature’, a place of resemblances and similitude (Signature of all Things). The Foucauldian concept of veridiction becomes important to Agamben; it acts as a guarantee or maintenance of truth and efficacy of language, the things seen or said, the curse, the invocation. For Agamben, in his Sacrament of Language, ‘religion and law do not pre-exist the performative experience of language…rather they were invented to guarantee the truth and trustworthiness of logos’ (80). It is the ‘technicization of the oath’ which occupies the central place. In the end are we not concerned with ourselves as speaking beings? Agamben suggests the obvious: that there is always a problem with lying, and, for Foucault, it is ‘a weakness that afflicts language itself.’

Foucault in one of his Aufklärung essays asks, ‘what is happening today? What is happening right now?’ And what are the consequences of this ‘right now’, what is our rôle in all of this as both ‘element and actor’? As archaeological study are we in a position to look upon the present state of Libya as a sign and then to ask the question: What is the value of that sign, or even to ask, ‘a sign of what?’ Of enthusiasm, of hope, and what of that word: ‘Revolution’, what of this? What becomes important is ‘not the Revolution itself, it is what happens in the heads of those who do not participate in it’ (Foucault). What happens in our heads, those of us who are not active agents? ‘Enthusiasm,’ or has that waned; enthusiasm is the sign, according to Kant, of ‘humanity’s moral predisposition’ (‘What is Revolution?’).

And then I am reminded of Kafka’s ‘Description of a Struggle’ which starts with ‘a small lantern to light us’ and ends with a lantern ‘burning close’, but I am ever unsure whether that lumière should be seen as enlightenment or an alternative sign of things to come, things more ominous. Yet, today, we can only hope, for Libya, the light is theirs.


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