Fodder Out of the Opportunities

This is another older post draft that I don’t think I’ll have time to finish, so up it goes…

“Obviously, we’ve got to deal with defensiveness about people’s heritage. Many white Australians, of conservative and traditional bearing, are defensive. Many ordinary Australians are defensive about their own heritage, and if we continue to cast a politics that disregards the understandable and natural defensiveness of people about their own identity, about their own history, and about their own self-feeling, then we’re going to continue to galvanise people into a denialist position. Of course the culture wars have made great fodder out of the opportunities here to turn acknowledgement and empathy into an accusation to the politically correct seeking to impose black-armbands on everyone. So the dynamics of the culture was cuts across all of these possibilities and of course there is electoral gain to be made by distorting… by turning empathy and acknowledgement into alleged guilt and so on.”

CSAA President Paul Magee circulated a link to a speech by MP Noel Pearson on the CSAA list. The whole thing is worth listening to. I have transcribed the above extract as it touches on something I am currently thinking about and that is the politics of contingency.

In my dissertation I spend half of a chapter on enthusiasm and ‘know how’ examining what I call the translation of contingency from that of problems into challenges. This doesn’t only happen once but is an ongoing process of a practical knowledge — ‘know how’. The problem with ‘discourse-based’ approaches to knowledge is the incorporation of contingency on a smaller scale than the great historical discontinuities isolated by Foucault and from which he produced ‘discourse events’. Michel de Certeau’s work on the practice of everyday life was concerned with this exact problem. ‘Know how’ is the incorporeal movement between knowledge and bodies that follows the arrangements produced by contingency. ‘Know how’ correlates with a micro-discursive field of possibility for action.

I argue this act of translating contingency is one of the essential masculine acts of modified-car culture (as well as being present in other cultural formations). ‘Challenge’ here is not simply a test of masculinity but the opportunity to reaffirm the conditions of one’s enthusiasm. In translating the contingency of a probelm into the contingency of a challenge the catalyst for action is retained while at the same time valorizing the conditions of possibility (discourse and other structrations) of the enthusiasm. Other contingencies are also translated into challeneges, such as ‘risks’ (hoons and road safety, etc) and entrepreneurial socio-economic ‘opportunities’ (exploiting/supporting new enthusiasms). Both of which I also explore to a certain extent in the diss.

The above extract from Pearson gives some sense of why I think a politics of contingency is necessary. John Howard was a master of opportunity, which I would describe as the capacity to translate socio-political contingencies into the reality of a political resource. The funny thing about contingency is that the ‘singularity’ of contingency is real and to a certain extent ‘neutral’ (in Deleuze’s sense of singualrities being neutral). Therefore the reality propounded by Howard organised by his socio-political contingencies are not simply ideological, but demand a politics of opportunity based around the distribution of possibility and the processual ontology of contingency.