End Times

As the season comes to a close, both in terms of the Oilers death march towards epic suckdom and my own academic year, I find myself thinking reflectively about what was and wasn't accomplished, feeling a bit heartbroken about missed opportunities combined with the sense of hope and rebirth that always accompanies the first signs of spring. It is certainly a cliche to believe that hope is a possibility, yet with all of the hopelessness that surrounds this team, I find myself falling into the cautious optimism camp. It is a strange place to occupy, one where I have some to terms with a great many things about both myself and the team, not to mention the idea of being a part of a community that is very passionate and vocal, informed and dedicated yet slowly losing faith in the very thing, the essence of what has created the community in the first place.

This is Jean-Luc Nancy, a French theorist who I have grown fairly dependent upon in my current research. Nancy wrote a book in the early 1980s called "The Inoperative Community" where he examines the ideas of what community can represent. We definitely are a community here, a community of writers and fans, a group of people who have chosen to come together from all sorts of different places to enjoy a game, a team, and a certain way of life. Throughout it all, this community has never lost its will to exist as such, despite the overwhelming desire to flee in the face of perpetual heartbreak and loss, a death of sorts. Even the very fact of calling this season a death march for the second time since the miracle of 06 indicates that we define this community both through mythology and the death of others. This is where Nancy comes into the equation.:

Nancy redefines community, asking what can it be if it is reduced neither to a collection of separate individuals, nor to treat the abstraction of communal substance. He writes that our attempt to design civil society according to pre-planned definitions frequently leads to social violence and terror, posing the social and political question of how to proceed with the development of society with this knowledge in mind. Inoperable Community means that community is not the result of a production, be it social, economic or even political or nationalist production....

...The community that becomes a single thing (body, mind, fatherland, Leader...) ...necessarily loses the in of being -in-common. Or, it loses the with or the together that defines it. It yields its being-together to a being of togetherness. The truth of community, on the contrary, resides in the retreat of such a being...

Nancy tackles the question of how we can speak of a plurality of a "we" without making the "we" a singular identity. The premise of the title essay in this book is that there is no being without "being-with," that "I" does not come before "we" and that there is no existence without co-existence. This notion of "we" is something that I have often thought of in my academic work, but it relates to being a part of this community as well. Often in reading comments on other blogs, such as The Copper and Blue or Lowetide, I find commenters referencing themselves as a "we " of sorts, as if they themselves are a part of the team that the this community represents, yet none of us are actually a part of that community at all; we are not under contract to the organization nor have any sort of real affiliation to it except for what our own minds as individual "I's" within a greater "we" have built in our minds, a sort of affinity-based community that we have created for ourselves.

Furthermore, we have our own collections of myths that we draw upon regularly, be it "the boys on the bus," "the little team that could," or the "06 miracle." Hell, this website espouses such a mythological construct even in the way that it is named-Bringing Back the Glory-with little numbers representing the years in which our mythological heroes carried us on their backs and brought with them a sense of joy, love and passion that created a singularity out of a collection of seemingly disperate individuals.

Bringing it back to Nancy for a moment, he makes a reference to this type of situation through the telling of a story, of myth framed as history, discussing the origins and emergences of a people who were once dispersed and found themselves together again, as the beginnings of all stories, as myth making a community what it is though the transmission and repetition of the myths as history, and as stories, as organization and as truth (Nancy, 43-47). Community, according to Nancy takes place for others and through others, and is made up of a collection of I’s who are always others (Nancy, 15-17). It also reveals itself through the death of others. Yet communities tend to occupy a singular space, a space of safety, where this collection of I’s can become a singular we, drawn together for any number of social, political, moral or religious reasons. Community acts as space itself as well as the spacing of experience. At the same time it is outside the spacing of experience and outside the self, as it is outside of the individual’s inner experience while still maintaining that desire for connection and belonging to the world outside the self. For every great moment of victory, the joy is shared by all-for every year or game of tragedy, failure and loss, the feeling of death is equally shared by all. This of course validates Nancy’s conception that mythology and community define each other (Nancy, 41).

But this revelation does not necessarily have to be the foundational moment where community and communal bonds of trust and love are formed. Furthermore, this idea can be turned back upon itself to look at the how this plays out in communities of fate, where the members supposedly have little control in being a part of this community space (for example, my own association in Judaism, and how both the ritual of “sitting sheva”, the week long public mourning ritual, combined with the collective trauma of the holocaust have on community identification and bonds of loyalty and obligation), as opposed to communities of choice, where the individual members would likely participate in such customs not because they have to but instead because they want to, an arrangement that implies at least a sense of agency and autonomy that is largely absent from the subtext surrounding obligatory communal and social bonds. Nancy asserts that the "singular being does not know but experiences his like . . . This is its passion. Singularity is the passion of Being" (Nancy, 33) In an extension from his thoughts on freedom, community, and the sense of the world, he imagines the "being-with" as a mutual exposure to one another that preserves the freedom of the "I", and thus a community that is not subject to an exterior or pre-existent definition.

I wanted to make this post as something of a tribute to BCB, who recently had a close family member pass on. As he said in his most recent post, one of the major bonds that the two of them shared was over the great game of hockey. They were together a part of a smaller community, a family, but also a part of this community, of passionate hockey fans whose shared collective memory has created a series of myths and stories that help define and give the community life; yet even in death, these stories and myths live on through the others that continue to tell them, allowing for rebirth and redemption in the face of death and tragedy.

Despite the sadness of the past year, I remain hopeful that a new, happier mythology will embrace our passionate, faithful community in the not so distant future. Maybe it is the first sunshine of spring getting to my head, or may be I was simply looking for an excuse to test out these ideas (as I am about to begin writing a 30 page paper on this subject), but despite the death and gloom surrounding the Oilers this season, I am remaining cautiously hopeful that our community will have great new stories to tell very soon.

Go Oilers


1 comment:

B.C.B. said...

Nice Shepso, nice.

I got a problem with this line of thought my friend, however. First I find that a "plurality of a 'we' without making the 'we' a singular identity" to be confusing and slightly disturbing. If 'we' is not singular, but it is an expanding multiple, what does this do to the notion of 'other'? Is there even an 'other' if 'we' is not singular. Hegel defines other as the real opposite of being (not in terms of nothing, nor not-being) but as determined being: or not something and nothing, but something and its other. If the something is a plurality that can included all 'others' in to the community is there a being or an 'other' anymore? Or do we just have nothing (as not the opposite of being, but the lack of being)?

Furthermore, I question the distaste of violence or the 'death of the other'. I understand that pre-planned definition of civil society (or in my words the social) can lead to violence, this is what they are suppose to do! I mean it is great to say that we would accept Nazis into our community, but was they start acting like Nazis we don't want them. I want a community without fascist, bosses, or politicians; to create a community without these I will have to use violence. I know your pacifist heart doesn't like this shepso, but I think we have to accept that community means politics and politics means violence.
Saying this another way: My community, of being Oiler's fans, is depended on the death of the other too. We, as a collective singularity, cheered and loved it, when the Flames missed the playoffs. This (symbolic) death helps create us as a community each time it has happened. We are a community as a result of production: we produced ourselves as Oiler fans (by staying up late to watch games in Atlantic Canada, by wearing our jersey on the C-Train, writing blogs that few individuals read, or by telling each other stories of the Oiler's past and our own lives). Shepso, if this is not production who do we create ourselves as the Oildiasporia? The production of ourselves as a singular (in Hegelese the Absolute) and the notion of the Other (the Negative) is created as well. A may not equal A, but wearing the flaming C does not equal the being experienced by being an Oilers fan.

Love the post Shepso, I'll get a gooder up soon. Thanks for everything my friend.