The ‘problem’ of the Salteaux Indians

Kordela suggests, in ‘Being, Time, Bíos’, that the biopolitical battle between a conscious illusion of immortality and more or less successsfuly ‘repressed’ unconscious certainty of mortality, is a capitalist phenomenon, where God, as the unconscious, has become immanent to our psychic structures, structured by the University Discourse of Lacan. So I was puzzled to read this paper from 1941 by an American psychoanalyst, Hallowell:

‘The social function of anxiety in primitive society’ – American Sociological Review vol 6 No 6 Dec 1941 pp 869-881  

… which seems to suggest that these presumably pre-secular Indians, the Salteaux tribe in Canada,  also have, or had anyway, a psyche structured by the University Discourse, and an ideological fantasy suggesting a God that is transcendent in immanence. But, according to Kordela,  this shouldn’t be the case for non-capitalist pre secular tribes. I have tried to analyse this in terms of describing what ‘appears’ to be an ideological fantasy, instead, as a form of incest taboo, consistent with an absolutely transcendent sovereign God, but in which Foucault’s biopower (self-subjective objectivisation and self-investment through sin/confession) also seems to be functioning. 

This is a very different tribe to the ones described by Marcel Mauss in his 1950 essays on ‘The physical effect of the individual of the idea of death suggested by the collectivity’ – in which he relates Dr Golidie’s diagnosis of ‘rapid fatal melancholia’ in the Maori, for whom 

‘ … death by magic is often conceived … possible only as the result of a previous sin … true pangs of conscience that lead to the states of final depression.’

Goldie suggests they ‘ … will themselves to death’.  This seems to contrast with the Salteaux.  The Salteaux Indians described by Hallowell in 1941, prayed to their God(s)? for life itself, but had a ‘traditional belief’ that if they suffered an illness that felt existential threatening (mortal) then this was due to sin, theirs, or if a child was ill the parents sin, and that more or less public confession of the sin would provide a God given redemptive cure. 
The Indians still die; at an individual level; but the world goes on; and they seem to pray as if for postponement of the end, and for  a  merciful God that may grant this wish, for a while: but if we assume this God is still an absolute divinity, then this suggests the Indians theodicy is not Neoplatonic and there is no demiurge; (the part of divinity that created the imperfect world that must be destroyed if we are to be redeemed)  then the world is a single and merciful God’s creation, endless, there is no judgement day, in which case, each individual is a Perfect Gods creation – immortal until stained with sin that, for the Indians,  is the ‘fault’ of the individual and brings on premature mortality. 

Now this is the ‘problem’ it appears (and I think this may be a deceptive appearance) that for some pre-secular peoples, like the Salteaux,  sin-confession makes an impossibility of certainty about mortality – as in capitalism; in capitalism Kordela suggests the fault lies in praying for access to the in-itself; (perhaps then, I suggest, also praying for what would ‘fill in’ the ‘lapse in being’ (Zupancic),  created through sexuation and knowledge of origin, resulting in the explosive proliferation in e.g. porn, tattoos, medical investigations and excess). For capitalism this drive for the in-itself, for the mark of mortality (the diagnostic and prognostic risk, the tattoo), is forbidden to be based on any single certain gaze, since the calculations of surplus value achievable through darstellung demands the illusion of immortality; and in a ‘liberal’ non-coercive way, makes this ‘certainty’ ‘impossible’. But because ‘no gaze’ would be traumatically non-sensical, the biopolitical mechanism of capitalism relies on what Kordela calls radical uncertainty and the continual sliding of gazes, rather than the ethical eternal dimension of (infinite, but which on the ontic level appears as ‘no gaze’). 

However, to return to the Salteaux, their unconscious, as pre-secular and pre-capitalism, should be absolutely transcendental – as in God’s ‘will be done’, which suggests that the question of knowledge only arises through the taboo that makes sense of the lapse in being, e.g. the incest taboo; and for the Indians the taboo lies in the sin for which they take responsibility and for which illness is punishing them, perhaps through God’s will. (and their knowledge does not rely on a secondary ideological fantasy the repressed an immanent unconscious). For the Salteaux, being responsible for, or the reference for, your own mortality, is a form of incestuous self-referentiality, and so must be taboo, since the self as the reference for truth is not enough to make sense of the lapse in being, the vacuum of sense. The Indian still only has one specific gaze; that of the transcendental deity, the sovereign with the power to take away life. The Indian has developed a form of self-discipline equivalent to the exercise of Foucault’s biopower; this is a subjectivisation under the all seeing eye, not of earthly dispositifis, but of their sovereign God. The Indian is certain that God’s will be done, and they pray to God for maximum life, which they value highly. For the capitalist man – it is different – in a few ways – he is certain of his mortality – he sees or knows of people dying all the time; he has a desire for knowledge that will make good his lapse in being, his sexuation, his origins, especially in the face of existential threats; and capitalism’s social relations depend upon pure differentiality, exchange-values, and creation of surplus-value, which, to appease apparent freedom of choice for the subject, makes the certainty of mortality not just forbidden but impossible; instead the illusion of immortality is sustained through repetitive prophylactic acts to prevent one specific gaze (such as a mortal illness like a fatal heart attack), after another – which Kordela refers to as the sliding of gazes (since the ethical eternal infinity of gazes, would feel like no gaze on the ontic level, which would be unbearable) which hystericises the subject/patient who seeks satisfaction from each gaze but always fails. In contrast to the Indian, the capitalist subject of medicine, is always already suffering a mortal existential and traumatic threat, and constantly repetitively seeks the specific gaze, cause of ‘premature mortality’, in order to prevent its effects. This works across health, lifestyle, and materially. A limitless plethora of gazes, is furnished by scientific discoveries of bottomless reservoirs of indicators of potential threats to guard against such as reconstituted genomic markers indicating future risk of biological disease. For capitalism this serves the function of maintaining the capitalist industries with new means of production and new products, whilst intensifying the productivity of a labour work force, eager to work for free, to work compulsively, and to work repetitively, and endlessly, across an expanding array of biopolitics factory sites. This proletariat is under the illusion of immortality, of working as if for the self, sometimes harking back resistively to the mark of vertretung the organic link for the subject to his certain mortality – and perhaps this is sometimes reflected in self harming behaviours, tattooing, maybe the personalised number plate, maybe the selfie, maybe part of the continued consumption of substances of harm for dependent people, maybe even suicide à la Madame Bovarie. There may be a spiritual gap here, the lack of a transcendental sovereignty, to give life a sense of certainty of meaning, that leads us to moral dissolution, pointless existential angst, and self destruction. 

The pre-secular Indian is in a mode of exchange that is just, juridical, where exchange is equivalent – a confession for life; there is no surplus here, God ordains when the confession is equivalent to the sin, and returns life or not. The incest taboo for the Indian includes the self referentiality of personal mortality due to personal sin. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s