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At issue is hegemonic “management” striving to achieve the power to distribute affect unequally and asymmetrically across centers and peripheries and across ethnic, gender, and class lines. Such control points toward a possibly shifting relationship in the twentieth century between sublimation as (self-)containment of qualified, “full” citizens on the one hand, and a sophisticated biopolitical control of populations at both the centers and the margins of the highly developed territories of the West. In sum, I suggest that the breaking down of the strict division between modern psychoanalysis and biology/neurophysiology might have been an implicit issue for Freud, and that it merits further study.

There are other hints of globalization’s paradoxical history. The transatlantic dynamics of expansion and “modernization” merit consideration in relation to an affective venture and a psycho-economic apparatus whose movens are desires striving for “objectification.” We might think, for example, of the concept of the “open secret” or “public secret,” which refers to a cultural dynamic “where much is known but unacknowledged.” Rosemary Hennessy, “Open Secrets: The Affective Cultures of Organizing on Mexico’s Northern Border,” Feminist Theory , vol. 10.3, (2009), 2. “Modern Western history revolves around a deep split in the secret in which truth’s dependence on untruth is ethnically and geographically divided between north and south.” Michael Taussig, Defacement: Public Secrecy and the Labor of the Negative (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 78. At issue are the mechanisms by which desires of projection, expansion, and domination, the limits of the utterable, desirable, and performable, and that which remains secret or excluded have all been channeled into and distributed in the present. As to psychoactive substances, the primary problem would then be—culturally speaking—neither their unchangeable (for example, religious) essences nor their inherent power of pernicious contamination, but rather the regulation of affect according to social, (bio)political, economic, and moral criteria and particular contexts. The regulation of affect is as much a matter of language and representation as it is a question of secrecy and mystification. In one sense, colonization and modernity’s ascent have relied on the unprecedented commerce and consumption of transatlantically empowering psychoactives, fueling—not by chance—the most obstinate dream worlds and superlatives of “development.” But looking backward from the twentieth century’s scenarios of selective restriction and coercive control, we cannot but ask what happened at a certain invisible conjuncture where things started to turn around. There is no simple response, but we are certainly dealing with something quite contrary to a “natural development,” say, politics that have become increasingly rationalized on the basis of solid insights into the nature of benevolent narcotics versus pernicious and deadly ones.

Walter Benjamin offers a different approach (as does Nietzsche, if you like) to the concept of “intoxication.” Both thinkers remind us that among the single most powerful, toxic stimulants of the individual and collective psyche in the Western world we find the Christian (the Pauline, properly speaking) invention of guilt and atonement and, in modernity, a never-ending catalogue of anxieties and fears. Such thoughts resonate in a contrastive way with certain of today’s prescripts that tendentiously rank drugs as either devilish or angelical. According to Benjamin’s rarely consulted fragment, “Capitalism as Religion,” Walter Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” in W. B., Selected Writings , vol. 1, eds. Marcus Bullock, Howard Eiland, Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2004). for example, capitalism cannibalizes Christianity at the point where it makes an overarching “sense of guilt pervasive” in the concept figure of a guilt/debt spiral that generates a cult of utilitarianism “without truce and without mercy.” See Uwe Steiner, Walter Benjamin (Stuttgart–Weimar: Verlag J. B. Metzler, 2004), 170. In my recent book, Violence Without Guilt , I placed Benjamin’s early thinking on religiosity and violence in a global perspective, arguing that the “rise” and “fall” of psychoactive substances contribute to historicization and analysis within both transatlantic and hemispheric frameworks of what I call a “modern war on affect” that fuels particular imaginaries and strategies by which a colonial unconscious is refashioned over time. In my view, today’s hegemonic cultural formations (diverse and contradictory as they are) necessarily reproduce a phantasmic, singularly powerful phenomenon: “affective marginalization,” which connects colonization and modernity in a variety of ways. “Affective marginalities” are in no way unified or easily nameable as “them” or “others.” In fact, the ubiquity and relative fluidity of what is marginalized in affective terms provides a socially and politically efficient case of “symptom construction,” to refer to Freud again, in which anxieties and feelings of guilt can be displaced through projection onto others.

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Source:  OpenStax, Emerging disciplines: shaping new fields of scholarly inquiry in and beyond the humanities. OpenStax CNX. May 13, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11201/1.1
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