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Reparational Thought


Reparational thought is a narrative structure for articulating social action that uses injury as its catalyst and has repair as its aim. Reparational thinking works on a model of justice that functions in two ways. First, one can strive for justice in the name of values supposedly outside of the hegemonic order because they are supressed by the working of that order. This type of thought tends to bifurcate society into the transgressive and the obedient. At its worst, it conceals the will-to-power that has turned particular values into universal ones. It is not without irony the same method by which bourgeois subjectivity came to enforce itself as universal subjectivity (that is, positing the declaration of the rights of man as a philosophically transcendent document) works to mask the particularity of the ethics supported by certain social groups.

So what are you saying?

As is more often the case, reparational thinking works by attempting to point out the contradictions within the operation of the present order -- the way in which the law courts discriminate against the poor, the manner in which police engage in racial profiling. The institutional critiques launched by the second method add fuel to the fire; they are revisionary and demand a more efficiently run system. They uphold the institutions they critique by making critiques of them, by positing their perfectability.

So what is the narrative structure common to both methods? Reparational thinking believes in the resurrection and the second coming. In a resurrection narrative, suffering is viewed as unnecessary, the product of human ignorance or the will-to-power. Society has brought an original sin upon itself and is guilty of a crime. The resurrection narrative posits a problem and offers a solution in the name of a higher go(o)d. "Except that ye enter by me you shall in no wise see the Kingdom of Heaven". The injury demands repair, but who is to make repair for the injury? The guilty. Reparational thinking reinforces a dialectic of recognition between the injured and those who benefit from their injury, with injury as the negotiating term. The injured articulates resistance through the mouth created by the injurer. Marx treats this issue in The Jewish QuestionThe devil sets the stakes of redemption, tells you what needs to be devalued, obliterated. The strategy is often effective and has produced wonderful results, but the narrative cannot remain unquestioned.

The problem is acting in bad conscience, disguising the violence of social struggle as "justice". Justice mitigates the demands one can make of life and predetermines the trajectories through which resistance can be articulated. Who would believe in the Messiah (of the State, of Communism, of Capital) if each one of us had the chance to establish new vortexes of joy and willing, to become multiple, to kiss the wine-drenched lips of Dionysus? What the 60's showed was precisely this fact: to confine the sea of possibility to the utopias of psychoanlysis and Marxism only cages the dreambirds of time.

We can see that such a drive towards perfectability is common to both methods of reparational thinking. In the first example, the perfectability of justice creates a moral absolutism. In the second example, perfectability validates the violence of an incompetent god. This type of narrative makes suffering something avoidable, arbitrary, and in need of a solution. What I hope to leave you with is a different deity to guide your thinking, your passion, your moments of dissolve: Dionysus. As opposed to the reparation and salvation model Dionysus knows only immanence: its horror, ecstacy, love, agony. Dionysus abides in the nowtime the jetztzeit a darkness that adds to the darkness of midnight. Dionysus affirms all because he does not dine with mortals: he shatters them. Terror and suffering are not abstract: he needs them so as to affirm everything. For us, this means living with subjectification, normativity, and wretched social conditions but at the same time resisting them: not so that a broken unity will be restored, but rather so that we can sink further into the embrace of lightless outer space. In Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy Dionysus desubjectifies, deindividualizes, tears apart the illusions of the sun-giving Apollo. By not projecting a world in need of repair and an imagined utopia that awaits, our will is directed towards changing the concrete conditions of our existence. Tragedy would be the most basic state of existence for Dionysus, if we are to talk about such things at all. Capitalism makes no place for tragedy because suffering cannot be affirmed. Our hospitals testify to the denial of suffering, the white noise that surrounds any discourse on pain and the body. So does this approach justify suffering and the material conditions that produce hunger, so-called alienation and poverty? The question goes wrong at this point: it is not for anyone to justify suffering or to call it unjust. This would put us in the whirlwind of reparational logic once again. Governments have sought to justify the suffering they inflict on others, while recoiling at the suffering of their own people -- calling it unjust. The dionysian approach would affirm suffering and thereby seek to challenge those institutions that perpetuate it. It would not seek to overturn any wrongs committed throughout history, last of all in the name of a better society. Rather, it will create tenacious and dynamic new cultures that siphon the energy of the present order of things.

The truth is, many people do not know why they suffer. Often we can point to reasons, but many of us are plagued by an implaceable, ghostly melancholy: the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives. (Foucault) By affirming that suffering we also recognize economic, social and political sources beyond ourselves that have created that suffering. We come to know the institutions that are responsible for our suffering but we do not ask them to heal us. We watch the thunder as it strikes the burning bush. In resisting these social forces, we resist what they have made us, we discover a trap door on the blueprint of the world, leading into the diamond core of night. In resisting what they have made us, we plant the seeds for a world unafraid of its suffering, a world that will no doubt suffer less than ours. A world of tragedy.

 We are not objectivitists waiting for the winds of history to blow our little ship home. Home is the oceanicity of the universe from which we frantically seek escape, air to breathe, unwilling to drown in the immanent alterities open around us. Here is our nostos, our home.


Gilles Deleuze Nietzsche and Philosophy

Frederich Nietzsche The Birth of Tragedy

A practical example