This is the last post, and as I promised in the beginning it’s about political subjects, but before addressing the topic let me very quickly summarise what I’ve done so far. In the second post I argued that focusing on the construction of the Hungarian Parliament in the end of the 19th century is a good entry point to examine liberal democracy as a historically and culturally specific political reality. Although this political reality was challenged and transformed in numerous ways in the 20th century, the Hungarian case nicely illustrates that we’re still (or once again) inhabiting the ruins of the Gründerzeit. At least this is what I claimed in the third post. One of the main characteristics of this less-than-two-hundred-year-old political reality is that it consists of multiple modes of doing politics — if it seems to be singular, then it’s an ongoing achievement in which the parliament building plays a crucial role. Not only does this peculiar place help to define the boundaries of a political community, regulate the ways in which that community handles political issues, and establish certain connections among those issues, but it also maintains that the material practices associated with these very different processes are simply different aspects or components of the same model of governance.This is when things get complicated. If a parliament effaces multiplicity, then — following John Law & Annemarie Mol’s train of thought — revealing this multiplicity, making it visible, is a political act. But how does such an ontological political exercise relate to other ways of doing politics? How does it relate to other ways of being political? It took me a long time to realise that it’s actually possible to think about the Hungarian Parliament as a disciplinary apparatus — a device that produces both political objects (symbols, laws, ideologies) and political subjects (citizens). Based on the three modes of doing politics outlined above, the political subject of a liberal democracy could thus be defined as an individual who belongs to a political community (the Republic of Hungary), who is well-informed about a wide range of political issues (from animal rights protection to trade agreements with New Zealand), and who knows how to participate in politics (voting). To be sure, this figure is as fictional as that of the rational consumer, but the work it does should not be underestimated. Here’s why. In the beginning of my fieldwork, I decided to follow the tried-and-tested STS strategy and research representation practices as if I knew absolutely nothing about the technologies, persons and places that were involved in those practices. This, I thought, was a terrific way to problematise taken-for-granted concepts and open up seemingly natural procedures associated with liberal democracy. However, as I soon discovered, even this strategy had its limits. While it would have been perfectly fine for me as a researcher from Lancaster not to have a clue how the Hungarian Parliament worked, it was not at all fine for me as a Hungarian citizen. Asking basic questions about history, constitutional law, party politics in the legislature turned me not into a curious analyst but an ignorant member of the political community. An idiot, as Isabelle Stengers would put it. My initial response to this strange situation was rather panicky. Whenever I stumbled upon something interesting, I had the horrible feeling that I ought to have known it from school, the newspaper, or my friends and family. But after a while I realised it wasn’t the lack of knowledge that was causing me trouble. It was the clash of different kinds of knowledges — the clash of histories with personal memories; of abstract regulations with everyday encounters; of sophisticated analyses with emotional readings of recent political developments. To use Helen Verran’s words, what I experienced were moments of disconcertment, which had to be privileged and nurtured, valued and expanded upon. But how? I could have possibly written something about this — a chapter on the genealogy of citizenship in Hungary, for instance. But that would have been too impersonal. For, and this is my point, I as a political subject was as much implicated in the production of a particular political reality as the Holy Crown or the Parliament’s Information System. And if I wanted to interfere with this reality, I had to find ways to perform things differently. To perform the Hungarian Parliament differently. So, in my dissertation I decided to juxtapose the empirical chapters with semi-fictional texts called Walks, which aimed to show (rather than explain) multiple orderings at work. (Major sources of inspiration were W.G. Sebald’s books, especially Austerlitz and The Rings of Saturn) What’s more, by exposing the limits of these orderings, they aimed to create some space for being political without fixing the categories of politics. It’s difficult to tell whether I was successful or not, but if you’re interested, you can have a look at an earlier version of these Walks here: Walk 1: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk1.pdf
Walk 2: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk2.pdf
Walk 3: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk3.pdf
Walk 4: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk4.pdf
Walk 5: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk5.pdf
(Please do not cite or circulate them without permission!)
***I really hope you enjoyed reading these posts about the Hungarian Parliament as much as I enjoyed writing them. Many thanks to Jan-Hendrik, Nicholas, Hendrik and Antonia for inviting me — I’m looking forward to continuing our conversations on this blog, and hopefully in person.
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So if it’s not possible to be faithful to our respondents in our writings, perhaps the question is how to betray them well. This is what I was experimenting with in the Walks. To answer Jan-Hendrik’s last question, my aim was to convey a sense of the multiplicity of the parliament as a place that is public and private at the same time. It was I who was walking the Walks, but they weren’t about me. (As Derek Sayer wrote in Going Down for Air, they were my memories but not of my own choosing. See http://www.amazon.com/Going-Down-Air-Subject-Barrington/dp/1594510415 ).Earlier I called the Walks semi-fictional not because they are made up, but because they are all collages. The method was a bit strange: each Walk I walked numerous times, and each time I tried to record my associations using a voice recorder and a camera. Then there was a triple task: I had to make connections between stories within the Walks, among the Walks, and between the Walks and the empirical chapters. .As usual, the best stories actually didn’t make it into the text — following a script-writer friend’s advice, I killed my darlings to make the Walks work.