Relations(hip)

By the end of this thesis, I have tried to identify a new politics of the secular, one that does not rely on opposition to the Religious. In the definition of where and what is Religious, everyday practices get scaled out of their political significance and which are then made public. Others are made to be private. This is part of a larger minoritising logic which is something that for now I will call a secularisation process. I am not entirely happy with the idea of a secularisation process in much the same way as speaking about ‘the Enlightenment’ is a problem. At the very least, a secularisation process implies that there is one of them. To become secular, places have to measure up to a standard, all the time planing away the local and the contingent.

Trying to identify such a new spatial politics of the secular is hard because the secular wants to scale the local ‘up’ to something akin to real social space. The designation of social space as real is a political process, bracketing some ideas while allowing others to achieve something called progress. One of the most destructive ideas in this conception of real social space is that secular people are freed from religion. It confines religious practice to a space that is often designated private space. When the practices and performances of this private space are deprivatised, this often occurs on terms set by political secularism. But where are these freed subjects of secularism located? Into what kind of space does this escape from the tyrannies of transcendence occur? As I have suggested already, one of the few ways to overcome this seeming paradox is to see the secular and the sacred standing in relation, not opposition. Which brings me to this post’s point.

In late November, my mother died. She had Parkinson’s syndrome since the mid-1990s. At first, the symptoms were manageable for her with some physiotherapy and medicine. Pills, lots of pills. Lewy Body dementia, often associated with Parkinson’s in the later stages, was the worst aspect of her decline. My mother drifted slowly away from us for years. At her funeral, my older brother described her dementia like being down a well and that we couldn’t reach her. She had hallucinations, initially knowing that they were just that. Later on, when they became more intense and mixed with a medically-enhanced depression, she could not tell what was real and what wasn’t. There were people upstairs, she would tell us, trying to steal her clothes and other, more upsetting, accusations. I remember her now, after her death, as the woman before all of this happened. The woman who held me and nursed me. And so, today, on my birthday it seems right that I remember the relationship I had with her, until her death. I don’t know where she is now. Although it took her a while to disappear from us entirely (from two years ago she could not speak nor open her eyes), I am still left wondering today where she is. She lives inside in me and within my family and her many friends. I don’t go for the heaven thing but she is somewhere else, just not here. I have been with others who stand alongside a grave and heard them speak to the dead. Are they disconnected from this world? Are they mad to think that the dead hear us? Of course not.

An understanding of our social and cultural life which does not, at the very least, take account of the deep sociality of these connections fails to be a secular understanding. I want a secular politics that does not define itself against the religious, which is also part of The Human. Here to me is the important bit: there is nowhere else other than this current reality into which we can go to escape enchantment. We are, in a sense, stuck with each other, in this place. We can, says Merleau-Ponty, “fly from being only into being”. Desires to escape from the barbarism of civilisation are only into a relational understanding of the healing powers of nature (Taylor, 2005) itself crossed by specific relationships and disenchantment. Being stuck in place, it can be so easy to scale ‘up’, to generalise to a level of analysis which evacuates the affective sociality of us all, together, here. To treat the world we live in and our inhabitation of it as objects would be a mistake because “the social does not exist as a third person object” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). I want a secular politics that takes account of the expressive unity of our minds and bodies. Not a pantheism of the secular, but one that acknowledges the need for (and the missing of) each other. I know for sure that we are not self-owning.

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