On Mateship II

Firstly, here are some earlier thoughts on mateship after the Cronulla Riots. In a recent post Angela writes:

The problem with the politics of mateship, then, is that it presumes a national-populist ontology as the condition of every connection, rather than examining the very semblance of ‘mateship’ on a given political, cultural and economic topography and asking what (other) ways of relating might be possible. 

There is something wrong with what Angela is trying to say here. I can understand her argument, and she makes some good points, but the problem is what I have called elsewhere the problem of scale and the event. To quote my favourite passage from The Logic of Sense, yet again:

Everything is singular, and thus both collective and private, particular and general, neither individual nor universal. Which war, for example, is not a private affair? Conversely, which wound is not inflicted by war and derived as a society as a whole? Which private event does not have all its coordinates, that is, all its impersonal social singularities? (152) 

A singular act of ‘mateship’ herald by the order-word ‘mate’ collectively individuates a given population that, for example, may be anything from one person (someone talking to an imaginary person) to an entire TV audience (if watching a political speech or a football match or something). The becoming-together herald by the order-word mate is culturally specific to Australia and New Zealand (and maybe Britain and elsewhere). This becoming-together is an event. Angela presupposes an event on a populist-nationalist scale, however it would be incorrect to locate the event herald by the order-word ‘mate’ purely in terms of populist-nationalism. For example, there is also a class individuation in effect, which is also related to levels of education and so on.

As I wrote in my post on mateship the use of the word often signals an attempt or gesture of inclusion, which Angela translate in brackets as assimilation. Firstly, Angela is incorrectly operating in relation to the event that presupposes a populist-nationalist scale, which may or may not exist or which may or may not even be relevant (once an analysis of the event is carried out in all its “given political, cultural and economic topograph[ies]”). Secondly, and more importantly, she incorrectly identifies ‘mate’ as solely being a transcendental category. Mateship presupposes a becoming-together that is immanent to the use of the term ‘mate’. It is not necessarily an inclusion into an event that already exists (such as ‘nation’), but a reconfiguration on the surface of things (incorporeal transformation) that is immanent to at least two bodies. Angela’s rationale for why people get upset and confused over her refusal to be referred to as ‘mate’ precisely misses the immanence of the event:

The kind of inclusion in which differences that cannot be measured are expunged, feared or ingested. I have been known to upset and confuse people by asking they don’t call me “mate”, as if to refuse mateship is to refuse relation tout court. 

Presupposing difference is to place conditions on the event (the “passage between the virtual and actual” as Negri and Hardt put it in Empire). I am sure she would agree that by her own logic the use of ‘mate’ presupposes a certain set of differences (ie what is assumed by her general claim that ‘differences cannot be measured are expunged, feared or ingested’). The first obvious difference is that there is enough of a difference between two or more parties that an event of becoming-together is necessary or would make sense. To use ‘mate’ is not to reaffirm a sameness, but to acknowledge and repeat difference precisely so it can refused as mattering. Mattering for what though? To the event that is immanent to the order-word of ‘mate’, and not to one’s name, which may not be pronouncable, for example, to some stuttering anglo fuck, and the event herald by one’s proper name (familial lineage, etc). Second, the term ‘mate’ may be deployed to act as a form of commentary on a becoming-together that is already in effect, which may have been triggered by other states of affairs — a ‘cramped space’ — such as a BBQ, a neighbourhood, a sports team, etc.; this modulates the affective terrain of the becoming-together already in motion. I can understand why Angela may want to refuse to be called ‘mate’ if she thinks that everyone using it is a unionist and reactionary nationalist, or that she thinks that by allowing the event of the already-in-motion becoming-together to be modulated (by introducing the singularity of ‘mateship’) it somehow diminishes the event of becoming-together, but I think she misses the point.

By connecting a key term in the argot of working class Australians — ‘mate’ — to the innate conservatism of the Trade Unions and their battle against neoliberal industrial relations, Angela repeats the mistake of assuming ‘mate’ presupposes an already existing individuated population, this time literally represented by the Unions. She is attempting to think a middle scale between two other scales: 1) the interpersonal scale of the event of a becoming-together, which she refuses, and 2) the populist-nationalist scale of the event, which she presupposes.

What is more important, I want to suggest, is not pointing out how rotten the concept of ‘mateship’ has become as it has been picked up and used by populist-nationalist movements in conjunction with the mass-media (refrain of the right-eous), but what the deployment of the term signifies for those using it in the general population. That is, as I attempted to point in my original mateship post (and in the comments to clarify for some people), ‘mateship’ has a machinic function, how this mateship-machine is picked up and used is a related, but separate issue. To resuscitate the term ‘mate’, to depotentialise it and take it away from the reactionary nationalists, means enabling the immanent function of the term. Why does Angela assume that the singularity of mateship and correlative immmanent event of becoming-together only makes sense (‘sense’ = ‘pure event’) along the axis of interpersonal–trade-union–populist-nationalism? Not every wound-singularity can be subsumed to the war-event, nor should it.

Indeed, what is needed is a language that cares for the event of becoming-together; this is beyond Angela’s notion of ‘relation’. She may be using it in a technical sense where it has some valence (I don’t know), but if one is already in a situation where someone is calling one’s person ‘mate’, then a ‘relation’ exists whether one likes it or not. Becoming-together is a collective individuation that may or may not be triggered and which assumes that ‘relations’ already exist. For Angela to refuse the term ‘mate’, she may think refuses a whole interpersonal–trade-union–populist-nationalist event, but to the person using the term she may actually be refusing the only way they have to trigger or signify a becoming-together. I mean the only way. Remember, and this may appear patronising, but many people do not have high levels of education or the time or desire to read books regarding various social or political theories. Why refuse people the only option they have to trigger a becoming-together or the only option they have to care for one already in effect?

How to give people that ability to express a becoming-together that cannot be captured by reactionary forces in their respective refrains of right-eousness? How to produce new refrains that harness the affects of becoming-together, such as that herald by ‘mateship’, without lapsing into the micro/macro-fascisms that haunt every affirmation? Are either even possible?

EDIT: Something I just thought: the machinic dimension of ‘mateship’ does not belong solely to the term ‘mate’. There are many terms used, some immanent to the event triggered (I have often used “dumb cunt” amongst some of my older friends), but what triggers the machinic dimension of becoming-together are the affectivities of the enunciation. That means many terms can be used. For example, ‘habib’ is similarly used in Australia by ‘Lebanese’ youth. As a peanut on Andrew Bolt’s forum suggests: “let all us aussies stop saying gday mate and start saying hello habib bro.” Apparently, in Arabic habib is the term used to refer to a single masculine ‘beloved’, ‘habaib’ is the plural. It is another example of the machinic function that is common with ‘mate’ but in another cultural context. The peanut exchange on Andrew Bolt’s forum also indicates two other things: 1) the intellectual poverty of the mass media, and 2) the anxiety-filled perception amongst ‘ordinary [reactionary] Australians’ that there is no other way of collectively individuating besides through mateship. Refuse them mateship and make them even more reactionary…

EDIT May 12, 2006:

Angela Mitripolous replies:

More poorly digested Deleuzo-Guattarian verbiage from Mr Fuller seeking to rehabilitate social democracy and jockstrap masculinity. How incredibly surprising. 

Thanks for that. Such pithy comments are wonderful. You know, quick to digest, unlike D&G which are plenty pithy, but incredibly long. My reply which I hardly think will appear on her blog:

angela, do i mention ‘social democracy’ or ‘jockstrap masculinity’ once? lol! I ask myself, what does ‘mateship’ do? Mateship is helping someone move house, or helping them work on their car, or lending them a book. (Are these jockstrap masculine or social democratic things? maybe working on cars) If you have never experienced this, or have no idea what I am talking about, then you will not understand how and why the term ‘mateship’ has so much power in contemporary Australian political discourse. Your erudite critique of ‘mateship’ is insufficient for understanding why the term has so much power. How it is used in contemporary Australian political discourse does not define the term for those who live it.

Maybe my use of D&G is poorly digested… or maybe it is just different to the next peanut who has picked up their work. Anyway, I would suggest that my blog is where I work through (like an ‘intellectual stomach of a cow’ I described it once) various ideas. So yeah 6 years or so of constant reading are in different stomachs at once.

I want to take this opportunity to point out what is emerging as a ‘blog fallacy’ amongst the hard core scholar-commentariat, such as Angela. It relates to blogging methodology and the capacity to comment in ‘real time’ (Aion) on/in the world. Some take this to mean they comment on the archive of the present as if it were a finished or completed artifact. (Archive is meant in the Foucaultian sense.) The archive of the present is constituted by the various mass media sources that run commentary on the present, as opposed to the slightly slower business of producing news stories the narrativise events at some point after they have happened. Now there is no real difference anymore between the two: ‘news’ and ‘commentary’, not in the general mass media anyway. ‘After it happened’ normally denotes a temporality that lies beyond newsworthiness. There is the odd story on one of the government broadcast televsion current affairs shows that does the work of journalism, but the nightly news and so on are offering commentary on the world, not news. The distinction I am making is solely determined by the temporality of events and their mass-media dissemination.

What is crucial here is that the real time commentary modulates the event as it unfolds, but it is often framed in terms of what has happened. As is the case with Angela’s post on mateship. She draws on the most superficial account possible, one that embraces the stupidities of the mass media and political commentary. I would normally advocate such engagement, I have written about it before precisely in terms of engaging with stupidity, but this sort of engagement alone is problematic. It leaves a gap in the commentary: the happening of the present that has not exhausted itself or happened. In this context this refers to the way that mateship plays itself out and is played out continually in situations entirely divorced from any mass media spotlight. To have an ‘understanding’ of why the term mateship has such power, do not turn to the stupidities of the mass media or political commentary as if what is happening has played itself out (past tense), and gaze slack-jawed with half a brain at the *spectacle of mateship* as if what was actualised in this situation reveals some essential reality relating to mateship. Instead turn to where what is happening has not exhausted itself and not bathed in the spectacle.

One reply on “On Mateship II”

Comments are closed.