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Toward a Politics of the Common: History, Subjectivity and Emancipation


This thesis is driven by two considerations: first, the consideration for the essence of the common requires a philosophical perspective to explore the underlying structure of the common, its ontological and metaphysical assumptions, and other issues that might be missing or left occluded when the common is conceived purely in its empirical sense as a historical community; second, the consideration for a politics of the common posits a need, in addition to the philosophical attempt to get to the essence of the common, to bring the speculative to bear on the actual; that is to say, if a philosophical approach has the essence of the common for its aim, a politics of the common constitutes an additional step taken through a spiraling movement back to the actual; in the absence of this commitment to return to the actual, the philosophical investigation into the common would remain as radical as it is spectral. In the first chapter, I take issue with the so-called ontological turn in politics primarily around the works of Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy, examine its impact on other cultural discourses, and explore its political implications in actual historical situations where actions are needed to resist domination and oppression. In the second chapter, I elaborate on a different way of thinking the common in the works of Alain Badiou and Frantz Fanon. My contention is that both Badiou's truth procedure and Fanon's theory of decolonization pave the way for a non-metaphysical conception of the common without having to give up or relegate to irrelevance central political categories such as history, subjectivity and emancipation. In the final two chapters, I look at two literary works from Taiwan, Wu Zhuoliu's The Orphan of Asia and Li Ang's Visible Ghosts. My reading of The Orphan of Asia focuses on episodes leading up to the ambiguous ending, en route to which the protagonist Taiming allegedly grows out of his passive slumber and is rumored to have participated in anti-imperialist struggle in China. My reading is an effort to reorient the discussion by identifying the process of subjectivization in the final chapter of the novel in hopes of moving away from a victimized attachment to resentment morbidly sustained by the concept-metaphor of the orphan. My reading of Li Ang's Visible Ghosts examines two distinct conceptions of justice in relation to the author's presentations of the body in two of the stories collected in Visible Ghosts. I demonstrate that toward the end of "The Ghosts of Bujiangtian," Li Ang arrives at a non-metaphysical and non-anthropocentric understanding of the common by articulating a transformative politics of materiality that rejects a conception of the body as the locus of symbolic inscription, material exploitation, or drive circulation.

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