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Theater of Resignation: Functionalism and Posthistorical Politics

Theater of Resignation: Functionalism and Posthistorical Politics

In August of 2015 I completed the Critical Theory and Creative Research accelerated Master's program with my thesis Theater of Resignation: Functionalism and Posthistorical Politics.  In this essay, I argue that functionalism is the postmodern, or posthistorical, logic of the everyday.  Drawing on interlocutors such as Hannah Arendt, Henri Lefebvre, Jean Baudrillard, and Vilém Flusser, I analyze the function as pertains to objects, functionalism as cultural logic, and the functionary as social role.  What does it mean to make an object functional, or non-functional?  What are the ramifications of this logic when applied to people?  And at what point does the internal logic of the function manifest so as to create something so disdainful as the functionary?  Are we all functionaries?  I explore these questions in the PDF linked below.

 

Theater of Resignation: Functionalism and Posthistorical Politics

Abstract

Contemporary everyday life is dominated by the digital. Whereas the ubiquity of technology is widely recognized and, indeed, celebrated, its logic and underlying assumptions remain obscure and therefore unexplored. Building on Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life, I address in this thesis three interrelated phenomena—the function as it pertains to objects, functionalism as cultural logic, and the functionary as social role. All three studies unfold in the realm of the everyday, and—in an effort to span such territory—this thesis moves from objects to systems and from systems to people. In the first section, I examine the characteristics and attributes of functions in detail, with particular emphasis paid to the problem of deception. I argue that functions exist as signs and operate in such a manner as to handicap human agency. In the second part of the thesis, my argument moves from the manipulative operational logic of the function to a theory of contemporary functionalism. If functions are inherently deceptive, and the logic of functionalism has come to dominate our culture, then everyday life has become an irreality for which we lack adequate models of understanding. In addressing this need, attention must be paid to new structural and cultural media, and, with this in mind, I turn to media theorist Vilém Flusser and his theory of the end of linear history. Since contemporary culture is based largely upon the idea of progress seen as historical development, I argue that Flusser’s theory portends the collapse of culture articulated by political theorist Hannah Arendt. The old model for understanding, that of the machine, is outdated, and in its stead, I propose a new model, that of the program. This new model situates the individual as a user, one who is no longer a willing agent but another signified node in the network. The third part of the thesis builds on the first two and offers a critique of the person who identifies with her function, however banal or even unsavory, and thereby sacrifices her agency for security or predictability. “I’m just following procedure,” says the functionary, as she harms the other: “I’m just trying to survive.” Contextualized by the functional system in which she is but an exchangeable sign, the functionary watches passively as her humanity is degraded and destroyed and she is forced into a state of self-alienation. In studying these three facets of functionalism, I argue that the triumph of functionalism in its multitude of forms brings with it the loss of historicity and agency. In the face of this development, we must struggle against a culture of resignation—and thus against the resignation of culture. The task at hand requires not only a posthistorical politics that allows for a return of human agency to the everyday, but also an alternative to the logic of functionalism—a praxis of possibility.

New Essay Published

New Essay Published

The Leonid Project: A Society Of Moments Production

The Leonid Project: A Society Of Moments Production