FROM GRATUITY TO SOLIDARITY
The breaking of bodies
By Henrique Pinto
If Gratuity is the world’s continuous eruption, for no reason,
and Solidarity infinite becoming, in mutual self-giving,
then, Bread is the metaphorical arrest of both, in human celebration.
My words: their social and economic milieu
As I was gathering a few ideas and reflecting on some social, political and cultural practices, in connection to the theme I am supposed to tackle here, the latest variations of the price of the crude, both in New York and London, was being discussed in the Portuguese Media. To understand the gravity and the impact of the problem, we ought to bear in mind that at least 80% of the energy spent in my country depends on this imported mineral oil, which means that every time the price of the black gold goes up, goods and services are, inevitably, tremendously affected. Already at the begining of this year, and for this very same reason, the price of bread suffered an unpleasant increase. For the last four or five years, Portugal has been in a situation of economic recession. And the perpective is not a very promising and encouraging one, if we also consider the loss brought about by a severe drought and many devastating summer fires. Portugal has lost 17% of this year’s agricultural production, the entire cereal plantation, and several homes and small businesses have been burned, together with thousands of acres of forest.
Portugal imports much more than what it exports. It has a population of about ten million people, and since 1999, 2 million have been repeatedly said to live in poverty. Two years ago, it was also revealed, that about 200 000 people were suffering from hunger.
Known, for many years, as a country of emmigrants, Portugal, during the last twenty or thirty years, has also become a destination for thousands of people in search for a better life. Indeed, many have already managed to find a job and a place to stay, although often temporary and precarious achievements, but others are still living illegally, in inadequate houses, abandoned places, and in the streets, hiding from the authorities - which proves, once again, that nowadays, it is frequently women, families with children, migrants and young people, who find themselves homeless or in a situation of social and housing emergency, as was the case, recently, of the victims of the fires, in Paris. Investors have become less and less interested in Portugal. Many national and foreign companies have been closed down, while others have been moved to places with cheaper labour. As a result, in Portugal, approximately half a million people are jobless (7,2%).
Bread, as you know, is quite special and central to the Portuguese gastronomy and culture. If, Ireland, so to speak, is unthinkable without potatoes, Portugal is unthinkable without bread. In Portugal, you may not have the means to buy anyhting else, but bread must always be there, in your house, at the reach of your children. Bread is the very first nourishment we place on a dining-table, even before a meal is properly served. Its absence, whenever this has not been deliberately wished for, is a clear sign of extreme poverty and misery. These days, with a significant number of people begging, in our streets, for a piece of bread, poverty, in effect, has become more visible in our society, as well as the huge gap dividing the rich and the poor. And the situation, to my understanding, will tend to become even worse with the aggravation of the increasing price of the petroleum. In this scenario, it is quite clear that it is always the most vulnerable who will continue to be left out from the participation in the life of the society, manifested, on a very basic level, through the bread-kneading, baking, breaking and eating. Think, for instance, in this regard, of those 1200 children who die of hunger, in the world, every hour. It may sound a shocking thing to say, but natural calamities, such as Katrina’s violent devastation of New Orleans, seem to function, at times, as cruel reminders that black americans and other poor communities, all over the world, can never be neglected, especially when they are consciously overlooked, over time.
From those whom I consider to be the owners of the country, the banks, I would certainly expect adequate measures to address some of these problems. But, disappointingly enough, rather than offering to the land the means to invest in the creation of new jobs and accessible houses, banks keep on promoting the people’s immediate consummerism by putting at their disposal easy and very tempting loans to by a new car, change furniture or go on vacation - an attitude so typical of this unjust and dehumanizing World Liberal Economy.
We have turned life into an unbearable, painful, exhausting and often meaningless experience. So, my task, in this communication, constructed upon this context, will be to deconstruct a culture of the Save Yourself Through the Elimination of the Other, to reveal Solidarity as the ground on which the Good, in the form of bread, belongs to all and is everyone’s due.
I address you from this milieu, from a nation shaped by a unique history, filled with amazing and thrilling sites, and from a large experience acquired, through the years, in different geographies, and in the company of people who have played an important role in the making of my personal journey. Otherness had always been at the centre of my thinking. But it was mainly through the revealing work of Michel Foucault that the Alterity of other times and spaces became, not a reality to be conquered or neutralised, but a different voice demanding, necessarily, from me, a more ecstatic practice of the self, through one’s continuous death and recreation, as artwork. So, one’s particular involvement with the poor, the socially excluded, the powerless, and with those who live by necessity far from home, unable to defend themselves, can never be a matter of chance, a professional accident, and not even a choice. One’s orientation towards the Other is a question of Gratuity or, put in other terms, a question of being for no reason. For we cannot exist, nor care for ourselves, except in an embodied and dialogical relation to others, which means that Otherness can never be excluded from the dialogical processes through which all words and things come to life. It is our proper mode of existing to be de-centred or to be-with-in-dialogue. In the end, as it will emerge, it will become clear that it is the experience of our own shakenness what legitimates and restores the place of the Other, within the dialogical practice of infinite and just becoming. What I wish to underline, said in more concrete terms, is that, contrary to what is the case today (look, for instance, at the evil usurpation and manipulation of the goods), the enjoyment and transformation of the world, to which we are called, as we think of ourselves, is supposed to incarnate the same Gratuity: You received without paying, give without pay (Mt. 10: 8). One’s life on earth, therefore, does not appear to be destined to become a nightmare or a terrible burden to carry, but a pleasurable sharing and enjoyment of the Good, as implied and demanded by the Gratuity of existence.
Gratuity and solidarity
As history became, in the modern era, the unavoidable element of our thought, following, precisely, the loss of the old certainties, and the breaking of knowledge’s old kinship with divinatio1, language could no longer represent and exhaust the meaning of the internal relation between elements. Having become a historical reality itself, and an object of study, language de-centred the sovereign subject and fractured incessantly the unity of its discourse, as it mirrored itself to infinity.2 Historicity and finitude would, in effect, disrupt the Enlightenment’s idea of Pure, Universal Reason, and the traditional goal of ultimate, fundamental truth.3 For it is history, as Foucault reveals in The Order of Things, the confluence of encounters and chances,4 and not an immutable necessity, which defines the birth of both the empirical and the subject of knowledge.5
Born, therefore, not against the background of silence but of discursive practices, language does not take us into the essence of things or into the Unity of the One6, as envisaged by Pseudo-Dionysius, but into the materiality and messiness of history. And it is the analysis of the practices that give shape to history, that bring to light that truth and its original reign lay at a place of inevitable countless lost events, without a landmark or a point of reference,7 and that man, both as subject and object,8 is the product of endless battles and disagreements, of actions upon other actions. In Foucault’s work, these are called power-knowledge relations,9 or strategic games between liberties,10 which transform, strengthen or reverse one another. Within dialectical and totalising forms of thought, Otherness was to be always recaptured and returned to the knowing subject. In Foucault’s acategorical or de-centred form of thinking, neither thought nor unthought are to be excluded, dissolved or eliminated. Otherness is the unreason of reason, the tragic, the radical breach or split within human being, which, in Caputo’s terms, makes it impossible for reason to constitute itself as an identity.11 Because reason is always unreason, and because the truth of man is this untruth,12 both are to constitute, affect, resist and transform each other, by being-with in an open-ended dialogue. For what we are (the actual form of the self, praised and admonished) and what we are yet to become, as a possibility (that which is worth becoming, the beautiful life), are not givens, but the historical outcome of an existence constantly trying to come to terms with the More,13 or with this gratuitous rumbling emptiness (from the latin, gratuitus - being without a motive or reason), which exceeds, disrupts and negates its embodiments.14 This finite infinity of discourse is not a region beyond knowledge or something prior to the sentences we speak. It is the mystery, the gratuity and nothingness of existence, which resides at the heart of a deep contingency, in a lack of necessity in things, and in a background of emptiness,15 brought about by the death of God and man, and which is identical with the absence of an Ultimate Truth. Thus, it is what renders reality irreducible to language, to which we have no access, and from which we cannot break free. For this undifferentiated plurality of interactive voices is what makes us who we are and what resonates within us and for us, whenever the other passes by.16
Now, the absence of an alternative,17 or of a theory as the final refuge of resistance,18 may have become for the foundationalists, synonymous with total relativism and nihilism. The truth, however, is that rather than leaving us with a deficiency or a lacuna, or throwing existence into the total fragmentation and dispersion of incommensurable languages and cultures,19 Foucault’s refusal to convert our finitude into the basis for new certainties simply disloges any kind of knowledge, revelation or practice from a privileged arena free from human prejudice and bias,20 and in so doing, it re-locates them in the ambiguities of human living.21 But then, in the recognition that we are not sovereign transcendental objects, undisputed authors of our existence, secure and untouched by any external influences, and by the same token solipsistically isolated and wholly lacking any context, any concreteness,22 in Foucault, thought can think beyond its boundaries, and give rise not to violent, but to more compassionate forms of social co-existence. In effect, it is not by promoting ideological answers to the issues of life and death, but by exposing ourselves courageously to the ambiguity, pain and uncertainty of existence, that we avoid the Mystery of Existence being perverted into an instrument of domination.23 And in this way, it protects us against claims to special knowledge by any individual or group.
Hence, it is here, in the shaken-up of all received wisdom, as Jan Pato_ka would say, or in the recognition that nothing is permanent, self-existing, or that all reality is dependent co-arisen, as Madhyamika Buddhism says, that adversaries encounter one another, in a unity (which Pato_ka calls the solidarity of the shaken), running deeper than any ephemeral sympathy or coalition of interests, and giving rise to a new mode of human existence. And it is exactly this shakenness uniting all there is, what reveals that we can only exist within a multiplicity of anonymous, shifting, mobile, power/knowledge relations, and that dialogue, within the web, is the only practice in which thought can avoid the sleep and sterility of an unquestioning dogmatism, and the neutralisation, or transformation of the Other into the Same.
The breaking of bodies If we take Nietzsche’s notorious claim that all words are metaphors, and if we hold, in reference to his work, that the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another25 , then, it may be possible to sustain that bread, as a metaphorical domain, not only takes us into the Gratuity of existence, manifested in the excess of every embodied practice of itself, but it also exemplifies, in its various embodiments, that Solidarity, as being-with-in-dialogue, is the most genuine life-style, one can ever embrace.
Being made of a finite infinity of different elements, being the most evident, the earth, the water, the air, the fire, and finally, man’s inventive genius, bread points, first of all, in the direction of the principles that, in ancient times, have been used to explain the origin of the universe. And in so doing, bread places itself at the begining of time, showing that, not an isolated Ultimate Entity, but a plurality of diferent voices is what there is, behind the dawn of history. But then, by disclosing them together, in an active and transforming relation to each other - the kneading/baking process, which I have named agonistic communion - bread testifies that being can never occur in isolation. Precisely because our history is deeply marked by contingency and finitude, everything depends on everything else26, as Paul Veyne clearly points out. So, constituted, as a body, by the interplay of different ingredients, bread, in its multiple forms, textures, colours, weights, tastes and smells, unveils that more than being called to a deadly continuous repetition of itself, life is summed up to the creative on-going transformation of all there is. In effect, an idea of bread, beyond all forms is not available. It is, therefore, in this dialogical and compassionate mixture of different life-styles, without the domination of one over the others, and which I have called Solidarity, that we encounter the best tribute existence can ever pay to that Mysterious Gratuity, which is best recognised, at the limits of life or in the subversion and negation of any fossilized form of itself.
I have yet to say, that as a product to be eaten for the benefit and enjoyment of all, bread, within the dialogical circle from where any life-form springs, affirms, before all, the liberty and equality of all interlocutors, and the responsibility each one owes to the well-being of the other. In a world in which no one can ever ground an absolute claim to anything, Solidarity is infinite becoming, in mutual self-giving. Since we are not self-sufficient and belong to no Ultimate One, the exercise of ourselves, in specific embodied practices, are for the nourishment, transformation and enjoyment of all, in the very same way bread is to be broken and shared for the sake of those who take it and celebrate what it represents.
To conclude, then, we could say that in the very act of kneading, baking, breaking and eating, and in their continuous performance, bread always refers to the birthing and dying, which we find in the nature of things27. Since being is an happening-without-finality, and for that matter, an inevitable continuation, to come to pass28 is what expects everything that exists. So, taken as a metaphor for the questionableness of our lives and their meaning,29 in the act of kneading and baking, or in the wakeful event of whatever was asleep, bread enters the world, which is to say, that an idea comes to life, acquires a body, a concrete form. And this is the act of birthing, in which Art shows itself as the becoming and happening of truth as creation and preservation.30 But then, in the act of breaking and eating, or in the event of the absence of a definitive structure, bread comes to pass, or a particular identity comes to its loss and transformation, as the questionableness of our life is posed again. And this is the act of dying, in which Art shows itself as something withdrawn, hidden in nature31. Bread, therefore, as artwork, is the bringing forth of the unconcealedness of what is32 and its coming to pass. It is the artistic shaping of the self, issueing in new forms of conduct, for it can never bring to realization anything subject to definition. Shaped by a techne in which artist and artwork constitute a single site, Art, as the origin of the work not the artist, brings forth a body that is both one’s ownmost and a being for the other, inside and outside itself, a eucharistic body, as it were, that exhibits and shrinks from its sacrality, one in which the history of corporeality is encrypted33.
In a time, where a critique of modernity has rendered illegitimate any, imperial, totalizing and unifying type of thought, the breaking or the giving up of bodies, as yet another metaphor to speak of a Mystery, whose face manifests and withdraws itself in every footprint, drawn in sand at the edge of the sea34, constitutes a detached and de-centred form of acting, and, for that matter, a genuine life-style for the sake of all.
Being-with-in-dialogue, therefore, is not meant to give rise to political, social, economic, cultural or religious unbalances, or to abuse the world, and leave people in want. Instead, it appears to be directed to let the movements of life and the processes of history interfere with one another35, so as to bring about inclusive societies, where everyone has at one’s disposal, the means or the opportunities to develop one’s potential and live with dignity.
© Henrique Pinto - September 2005.
1 Michel Foucault, (1966) The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
2 Foucault, (1963) A Preface to Transgression
3 Gary Gutting, (1989) Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Scientific Reason
4 Foucault, (1983) Structuralism and Post-structuralism
5 See Foucault, The Order of Things, p. 219; Structuralism and Post-structuralism, p. 438
6 Jeremy R. Carrette, Foucault and Religion: Spiritual Corporality and Political Spirituality
7 Foucault, (1971) Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, pp. 80, 89, in The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought
8 This subject and object is the empirico-transcendental doublet of modernity. Foucault, The Order of Things, p. 319
9 Foucault, (1975) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
10 Foucault, The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom
11 John Caputo, On Not Knowing Who We Are: Madness, Hermeneutics, and the Night of Truth in Foucault, p. 239, in Foucault and the Critique of Institutions
13 Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 49
14 In Foucault, the thrownness of existence is a condition experienced in local struggles, in the acting of individuals or groups mutually affecting, resisting and transforming each other.
15 William Connolly, Beyond Good and Evil: The Ethical Sensibility of Michel Foucault, p. 116, in The Later Foucault, pp. 108-128
16 Rudi Visker, Truth and Singularity: Taking Foucault into Phenomenology
17 Foucault, (1983e), On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress, p. 256, in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, pp. 253-280
18 Barry Smart, Foucault, Marxism and Critique
19 Foucault, The Order of Things, p. 342
20 Jeremy Carrette, Foucault and Religion, p. 146
22 Christopher Falzon, Foucault and Social Dialogue, p. 39
23 Gordon Kaufman, In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology
24 In Andrew Shanks, Civil Society, Civil Religion
25 Tim Murphy, Nietzsche, Metaphor Religion
26 Paul Veyne, Foucault Revolutionizes History, p. 170, in Foucault and His Interlocutors
27 Charles E. Scott, Lightness of Mind and Density in the Thought of Heidegger and Foucault, p. 328, in Foucault and Heidegger - Critical Encounters
28 Ibid., pp. 331, 328
29 Ibid., p. 324
30 Edith Wyschogrod, Heidegger, Foucault, and the Askeses of Self-Transformation, p. 292, in Foucault and Heidegger, pp. 276-294
32 Ibid, p. 291
33 Ibid, p. 292
34 Foucault, The Order of Things, p. 387
35 Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, p. 143