In this context, the decision to undergo cremation attains political weight far beyond the act itself in locales where cremation is accepted and the option is made legally available. Testimony to this weight is the recurrence of the subject in much Lebanese artistic output, most prominently in the Body pArts project of performance artist Lina Saneh. [ls] Here, she articulates a refusal to feed the same earth that had fed the fire of her hatred for the theocratic rule of the sectarian system which forbids Lebanese citizens from existing as political subjects outside of a defined religious identity and jurisdiction. Instead she devises a workaround for the unavailability of cremation: she accounts for the use of incineration as a method of body organ disposal and decides to donate her organs upon death to interested parties who would accept to either display or incinerate the acquired body parts. She hence shall void her corpse of as many members as possible, minimizing her post-mortem entry into the Lebanese sectarian cycles of religiously-affiliated life and death.
In a similar vein, I am seeking through this thesis to propose a fictive ontological project that occurs against the backdrop of actually existing state, sectarian, and private-sector realities related to death and the practices around it. Where the performance art piece above operates on the level of the individual, her body and organs, I am centering the plane of action of this project at an organizational level. As has been demonstrated above, cremation and its availability or lack thereof are particularly symptomatic of the influence of the sectarian system on the administration of bodies and life in Lebanon. Any organization aiming to make cremation publicly available is not only illegal, but is also automatically at ideological odds with the confluence of state, religious authorities, and political parties that make up the Lebanese sectarian system. As an added layer, any project attempting to gain political leverage in exchange for providing cremation to a subject is one that is also appealing to that subject’s shared ideology directly through the exchanged service, rather than one that is appealing to a subject’s attempt at basic material survival. The provided service is thus an end in itself, an embodiment of a counter ideology rather than a service that is functionally neutral to the political project at hand.
Herein, I propose the Dissenting Departed Polity (DDP). The Dissenting Departed are those who have chosen to deny their inanimate bodies entry into the soil of a land that will not allow them but to retreat into creed, family, privately held safety nets. To the Dissenting this soil is no longer neutral earth, but to soil as in to make dirty, to begrime again with a worldview that had been previously repudiated. They have declined the forced invitation to lie underground, to be counted and sorted into growing spatial markers of allegiances that are not their own. So comes the Polity, a structure to accommodate final screeches and symbolic gestures. Inherent to it is an acknowledgement of the continuing post-mortem agency of the body. If agency involves the ability to effect change on one’s body, on both material and discursive levels within structural limits, then we may see the creation of an association based on the management of said body past the event of biological death as aiding the extension of that agency past death by changing the structural limits. Beyond the subject’s agency over her own body in both life and death, is also the ability to control the flow of capital and individuals that occurs around the time of death through formal bureaucratic procedures and through ritual. The Polity is an organism based on free association and a techno-apparatus with associated rituals.
The ritual begins with a formal expression of a will to associate with the DDP during the subject’s lifetime and consent allowing her body to undergo cremation and subsequent procedures at death which may or may not be impending. In the time elapsed time between that first formal contact and biological death, the subject will commit to various media, in writing, audio and/or video, declarations of refusal, fictive and real plans of actions, accounts of victories and regressions, and even of the infilling drudgery. These documentations coalesce incrementally into an open-ended whole that she deems worthy of being placed in a collective archival repository which is to become the looping in-situ visual and aural projections of the apparatus. Whether the storing and replaying of the deceased’s data creates and engrains new rituals and performances for the bereaved cannot be known at the time of writing. Whether the storing and replaying of that data within a defined architectural object reifies that data into a commodity and an asset at the hands of DDP organizers is up for questioning. Perhaps this is how I may tie back the leg of the fiction that is concerned with death and the deceased to the other leg concerned with art, the art asset and market, and museum experiences at the service of autonomist projects.
If we believe in the ability of art to serve emancipatory change and movement - as for example by virtue of its redistribution of the sensible in the Rancièrian sense - then we cannot but lament any process, namely any market activity, that hinders art created with emancipatory intentions from fulfilling those intentions. The lamentation may then take on a more literal meaning if we equate the transformation of artistic output into art asset, and subsequently the retreat of that art asset into private collection, freeport, or any envelope that prevents full public access, to death or at least to a forced departure. Once an artwork is behind closed doors, it exists to the general public only through representations of itself, be they photographic or textual or spoken. Some hidden artworks continue to serve emancipatory intentions when they are consumed and discussed through these representations while they exist in a spectral state. In either case, art that is not readily accessible to a public, art that has been obstructed from redistributing the sensible by its forced removal, is also Dissenting Departed.
I would like to then turn to the designed and purposeful spectral politics of the proposal. Anyone who has visited the Mleeta Landmark of Hezbollah discussed earlier in this text is probably left with an afterimage of the sprawling portrait mosaics of fallen Hezbollah fighters. Even though the curation at the Landmark showcases military artifacts and objects from all belligerent sides, only Hezbollah is humanized and subjectified through an emotive visualization of its martyrs and departing adherents - it is not abstracted into an untenable monolith such as the IDF, but subjectified in that its political subjects, its toiling fighters, are made visible and mourn-able. In this light, it seems much less delirious that the DDP would seek to collect and continuously replay audiovisual fragments donated by deceased adherents. If we still hold on to the occasional validity of the subject/object divide, these fragments become the media vehicles for a spectral play across that divide. The first leap over the divide occurs with the continuous recording of self that the willing subjects undergo and the replaying of those media objects before a spectator who consumes the phantomic content. Through that consumption, the spectator gains an awareness of herself as a participating subject, or more fittingly as an active agent of the DDP, separated only from the ghosts in the media by mere virtue of having not yet undergone some or all of the formal stages of participation, from recording to death to cremation to mediatized afterlife. Person, ghost, and media artifact become actors in the Polity.
In speaking of the writings on life extension and universal immortality of Nikolai Fedorov, the 19th century philosopher associated with the Russian cosmism movement, Boris Groys summons Foucault’s concept of biopower and questions the state’s acceptance of death as inevitable by its relegation of individual death to the realm of the private. [bg] Federov envisioned technologies under socialism that would resurrect all the dead who had been dead prior to the coming into being of those technologies. This stemmed from a belief in Russian cosmism that for any project to be truly socialist, it cannot exclude even those who had lived and engaged in political life before that project existed: future generations benefiting from a near-perfect justice must not accept the injustices of the past. Justice thus assumes a temporal dimension whereby for it to be fully consummated, it must also be retroactive and sweep over the border erected by biological death. Although we may not agree that immortality is an inalienable prerequisite to radical justice, there is value to be extracted from the idea that biopower should aim to turn life into a living museum of past and present lives. The museumification of life acknowledges in the least that past lives and political subjecthoods are worthy of preservation and archiving, and that they could continue to influence present realities and politics. This differs from the production of martyrs such as in Hezbollah tactics, where the martyr is generally summoned as visual aid, in that it relies on the resurrected subject’s agency and/or consent. Even when cosmist thinkers sought to resurrect a copy of the deceased individual, the resurrection-by-copy hinged on the copy being an exact replica that would exercise agency by taking the same decisions that the original would. This bears great significance on contemporary experiments in artificial intelligence which seek to recreate the consciousness of deceased persons after processing data from the person’s life. [rk]
Currently this may seem to be inextricably linked ultra-libertarian immortality-seeking initiatives which are in no way concerned with the establishment of any fantastic retroactive justice and which hold that an elite few should and will gain access to these technologies first. These initiatives accept and propagate the notion that only trickle-down access to new technologies, and consequently to forms of immortality, is possible. Various contemporary artists, writers, and progressives have resisted the selective roll-out of immortality but not immortality itself, maintaining the original Russian cosmist slogan of Immortality for All. Others have argued that under capitalism, or in any foreseeable future, any quest for immortality is inevitably unethical and vampiric, and will lead to irreparable schisms in the fabric of humanity. At this moment, the debate is ongoing and it is beyond the scope of this text to align itself with any one of the factions on the spectrum. As a response to the project of immortality for all, the DDP proposes an archiving for all, or in the very least an archiving for the dissenting.
Namely, and in that meantime before any all-sweeping justice is even tentative, be it retroactive or not, the DDP asks of the subject to engage in an exercise of auto-archiving within a collective repository in exchange for political adherence and affiliation. The resurrections herein are short of any actual material or technological resurrection, yet more centered around the subjects’s own discursive positions than a traditional summoning through martyrdom. They invite the consenting member, before death and cremation, to perform theirself as an active political subject working towards and waiting for some form of injustice to be corrected. If we accept that subjects are at least partially constructed through their intersubjective relations, then it follows that each individual performance within the collective repository attains value beyond its own worth, and that the repository is more than the sum of its separate hauntings. In Marxist canon, a haunting takes place before a revolutionary movement can be fully realized and made present, after which the spectre is excised and ceases to exist. Derrida has qualms about this disappearance of the spectre, insisting that the cessation of haunting means the cessation of any forward motion, any asymptotic direction towards an absolute ideal. In this sense, the haunting does not refer to that of any individual or collective subject. It is a haunting by a political project that has not yet been born and it extends till after any political desire is fulfilled. There is no end to the haunting, no end to struggle or waiting. The Dissenting Departed Polity is a non-denominational, extranational archive of spectres-in-waiting, of past subjecthoods in attendance of coming resolutions, and beyond. The Dissenting Departed are those who have refused the unexamined death, dying while waiting only to be reborn in a constant state of labor after entrusting the collective with pregnant swan songs.