The Spectrality of the Spectacular and the Intellectual

The silencing of the intellectual is happening to what may be described as the politics of the spectacle. Foucault taught us that the body of the condemned served as a warning to others of the consequences of their transgressions creating a ‘ spectacle of suffering’. Spectacle has a way of fixing unwanted attention on the body which thereby installs discipline both in the perpetrator and the gazer. The construction of a spectacle has been a mode of social control. Although the spectacular appears outside the banal, it does not occur without the banal. The spectacular arises as a crisis in the banal. In fact, the banal becomes the background or contrast against which the spectacular erupts. The spectacular becomes, thus, the disruption of what is accepted and expected in society.

The spectacular, however, exceeds the normal or the banal. It crosses the boundaries of the accepted and expected and grabs the attention of the gazer. But the banal is not expelled by the spectacular. It has a way of reinforcing that part of the banal life that we otherwise take for granted. In fact, the spectacular then keeps haunting the banal and thus, controls the thinking and living of people. This synchronicity of the spectacular with the banal is the afterlife of the spectacular which then haunts a society as well as its intellectuals. This haunting has a way of disciplining the intellectuals into silence or complicity. Thus, the traces of the spectacular keep haunting society in several ways. Paradoxically, the politics of the visible and the spectacular becomes the politics of the invisible. This means the spectacular becomes spectral or ghostly and impacts social life.

The spectral politics of the spectacular succeeds because of the occularcentricity of our culture. Thus, we are left with the visible trace of the invisible haunting our society. Thus the unspoken remains unspoken or the silenced remains silenced and the intellectual too becomes part of the atmosphere of status quo. After the glow of the spectacle becomes noise that chocks the voice of the intellectual. We can notice this very much at work in the politics of the right wing in our country. The spectacular and its spectral powers are very much mined by it. Hence, perhaps it becomes imperative for the intellectual to understand the dynamics of the politics of spectrality of the spectacular. The intellectual has the task not just explore the spectacular but also understand how its spectral presence haunts our society.

The intellectual may have to strive to deconstruct the spectrality of the spectacular. Such a deconstruction can dislodge the haunting power or hauntology of the spectacular. Perhaps, we have to understand that the difference between the first time and the last time is blurred. A spectacular event occurs for the first time. But what is first time also becomes last time because of its singularity. Hence, viewing the spectacular event as a singular event may lead us to disempower its haunting power. This also means that the intellectual has the challenge to reject the eschatology of the spectacle. It is the eschatology that gives teleology to the spectacle and becomes the basis of its hauntology. Hence, the contestation of the eschatology of the spectacle becomes a mode of challenging its haunting power. Banishing hauntology can open the spectacle to its singular existence.

The challenge to view a spectacle outside its promising future is not easy. Spectacle always promises a happy future to come. To derail the logic of hauntology, the intellectual has to review the promise of the spectacle. The intellectual may do it by adopting the non-messianism of Jacques Derrida. The future promised by the spectacular event is messianic eschatology. Derrida opens us to an unclosed future. It remains completely and radically unknown The future remains in the coming. It remains to be. This removal of all eschatological closures of the future may enable an intellectual to go beyond the being of the spectacle. It allows us to defer not what the spectacle affirms. If one does it, one is affirming the eschatology of the spectacle. The challenge is to defer just so as to affirm in order to affirm justly. This deferral assists us to see the spectacular as an instant among other instants and thus, opens us to the banality of the spectacular.

The intellectual, therefore, can view the spectacular as banal. The dissolving of the spectacular into the banal is the result of the deconstruction of the hauntology. It is the deferral that does not delay its response to the demands of justice. Thus deferral without closure is not vacuous or nihilistic. It may show how the sense of obligation that a spectacle gives us making us think that our time is out of joint is only an illusory overreaction. This does not mean that the intellectual is to be blind to the anachrony of time. The intellectual is to look at the dis-jointure of time with new eyes, the eyes of deconstruction. This eye sees in the spectacular the return of the repressed. It sees in the spectacular the return of the demand for revenge. This is where the intellectual is faced with the arrival of the ethical. This is the moment to live maybe like what Derrida says without one’s name. It is one’s singular response. This singular response even cannot be attached to the comfort of oneself as well as one’s name. The response that returns to one’s name, to the secret of one’s name has the ability to disappear in one’s name.

The response to the spectacle cannot be out of duty. Derrida teaches that a response out of duty can lead to dogmatic slumber. This is why, the ethical in the spectacle poses the challenge differently at different times and invites a singular response at each time. Perhaps, an intellectual is challenged to make what Derrida calls an ‘inventive decision’ each time one is faced with the spectacular. Thus, the intellectual does not have the comfort of one total response that can be repeated in all other spectacular episodes. Each spectacle is singular and may require a singular response. Deconstructing the spectacular into the banal can bring peace and harmony in a society. Such a deconstruction can be an intellectual resistance to the spectacle that has become spectral in our society.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao