On radical “Self-love” & other dilemmas

Part 1: Self-Love in the university

There is a simple situation I find myself in,within which I  locate even balanced arguments for self -love like  Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless. This is as an academic in an Indian architectural school. Within this context, one is almost structurally prevented from being critical – students and many of your colleagues will alternate between being baffled by your ‘negativity’ and hating you. One has to be POLITE all the time even in the face of BULL SHIT, incompetence, ignorance from colleagues and the genuine lack of sensitivity or simple commitment to work/persist from students. Being critical has become being downright impolite and nasty. I don’t attempt it anymore with colleagues, with students I still do, but with far less intensity, because it is often counter productive.

Thinking about this issue for a while has led me to speculate that the upper middle class cocoon we build for ourselves in India is increasingly built with the mortar of self-affirmation – selfies, status updates, “look where I’ve been/am” travel photographs converted to likes on facebook, instagram, twitter, desire from other women and men – that makes both being the subject and object of criticality even more unbearable than it naturally is(and should be). The question of why some one else – or most importantly I – must like what I AM or I DO is no longer even recognizable as a worthwhile question. After all, “knowing yourself” as one form of education, is not the same as loving yourself.  Arguably it is to be critical(i.e. exercising judgment) about oneself. A vicious cycle of self affirmation( within which I myself am constantly  implicated by being/posting these things on FB) is in operation, often obliterating the only path we really have of infinite self transformation and perfectibility – that hopelessly liberal humanist dream I still cling on to.

The more explicit and articulated presence of this in mass culture  as, ” radical self love” and lighter more balanced versions of it like the ‘life hacks’ article sadly bear out my point. Self love is not activism, it is not political. For those who suffer from depression, and I have close relatives and friends who do, self-love is crucial, but it is in the sense of coming back to reality. Depression skews reality (just like self obsession does) where life becomes inevitably and unreasonably pointless and tragic.

Part 2: On Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless

I’d ask you to read the very well written piece above (click on it) to read the following part. Yes one writes as part of a cultural discourse not in isolation.

The article’s critique of the virtually created and egoistically sustained self is well articulated, however it ends up with the unfortunate attempt to attempt an unnecessarily grand ‘Hegelian’ synthesis, namely Self love is political warfare. NO. Political warfare is political warfare. Self Love is Self Love. This equation is precisely the sublime ideological mysticism perfected by late capitalism, that we must reject. The comparison to queer politics is unfortunate, because for the queer person his/her body is the site of protest therefore refusing to be normative -i.e. being themselves, developing the courage to remain themselves/non normative – still remains revolutionary. Feminist politics centered around the body is increasingly difficult today as opposed to the pre 90’s, precisely because it has been absorbed by capitalism. When Vogue(one arm of the multi national monopoly called Conde Nast) is about feminist women empowerment, Lipton Ice tea is about empowerment, Detergent powder is about empowerment and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are about empowerment, you know that run of the mill 60’s feminism needs to adapt and find new tactics.

I was talking about queer politics and the politics of the body. It is definitely not the same if you are young, white and upper middle class. Or whatever is the equivalent in India – Hindu, upper caste, upper middle class and urban.  There are definitely certain kinds of bio politics possible – but mostly we are in a phase in which one has to do the difficult task of laboriously working out forms of resistance within one’s own mode of practice – law, medicine, art, journalism, dentistry whatever. It CANNOT be bypassed with the intellectually lazy way out – the kind of “self love” outlined towards the end of the above article. That is an insult to young kashmiris or the gezi park/taksim square protesters or the occupy wall street protesters or the students on hunger strike in JNU or the artist who risks everything to make an installation in China. Political protest is political protest. Certainly in India, the majority of middle class youth( 18-30 year olds) aren’t caught between self love and misery. Certainly it is not too difficult to identify that often, both tend to be versions of self obsession. They are caught precisely in the drug of ideology – which is also properly Marxist (religion and opium etc.) – drugged in the opium of commodity fetish, to which ‘self love’ is the best and most efficient conduit. That conduit must necessarily be kept forever smooth, lubricated and resistance free by capitalism.

And how can it not be so, for isn’t the ultimate ambition ( and success) of any commodity to help you see yourself and your self fulfillment in it? From Facebook to leggings. Isn’t this precisely the “false consciousness” that Marx warns us about?   ( yes, increasingly as Zizek points out quoting Peter Sloterdijk, it is not unconscious anymore, but a garb put on with full awareness. I know very well that this selfie I take with my girl child will solve nothing, but I can’t help the warm, positive appreciation and self affirmation I will get from the twitterati. This also explains all of my facebook posts.)

Part 3: Ruminations on the Self & the Other

Without “Spivakizing” too much, criticality is understanding  the need to constantly Other the Self. It is NOT the ability to Other the Self, because criticality is definitely not bereft of  ego or traces of belief in the autonomy of a sovereign speaking subject. However I do believe it is the irreplaceable guardian against slippage into the drugged opiate state of ideology ( of which as I argued self indulgence as expressed in different forms of ‘self love’ is a conduit).

One never attains this goal- for the Self and Other are never collapsible (subaltern cannot speak etc.). But the constant, unrelenting and necessarily futile/incomplete attempt to Other the Self – to be released from the prison house of the Self: of which the body is so much a part – hasn’t that been the Utopia of all kinds of ‘revolutionary’/’radical’ activity – from meditation to mass protest to architecture.



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