eipcp Projects Europe as a Translational Space: The Politics of ... Conference

Naoki Sakai

The Microphysics of Power and Comparison

Two moments - one logical and the other political - can be discerned in the act of comparison in the Humanities.

The first is the postulation of the class of genus among compared items. Comparison is performed between or among individuals identified as species while comparison is conducted and constitutive of the logical dimension of genus where species difference is measured, judged or discovered. Attributed to the class of species are particular cultures, languages, economic systems, political ideologies, and so forth, each of which is postulated as an indivisible unit (individual) and as a particular (species) example of the general class (genus). Thus, we compare the English language with the German language, for instance. Insofar as English is assumed to be a systematicity, it is an individual, but as one of many languages, it is a particular species of the general genus of language.

The second moment is the occasion or locale where we are obliged to compare. Comparison takes place because the determination of species difference is needed. For instance, language difference causes a situation where we need to know why we are at a loss with one another. It is also possible to imagine another situation where we need to know how we are different from one another, why some of us are free from a set of proscriptions while others are not. Comparison is indispensable precisely because we want to know how we are related to one another, who is better among us, who should follow whom among us, who should work for whom among us, and so on. It is through the act of comparison that we comprehend the configuration of our positions in which we apprehend our identities. In short, comparison is performed in order to institute the primordial comprehensibility of social relations and our positionality. In this respect, the locale of comparison is also marked as a place for microphysics of power.

What I want to undertake in this paper is an examination of how the second moment of political maneuver predetermines the scope of deployment for the first moment of logical categorization. Particular attention is paid to identity politics in Comparative Humanities because the comparative aspect of identity politics is often erased, despite the uncontestable fact that the process of identification is premised upon comparative operations.

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Naoki Sakai is Goldwin Smith Professor of Asian Studies who teaches in the departments of Comparative Literature and Asian Studies and is a member of the graduate field of History at Cornell University. He has published in a number of languages in the fields of comparative literature, intellectual history, translation studies, the studies of racism and nationalism, and the histories of semiotic and literary multitude - speech, writing, corporeal expressions, calligraphic regimes, and phonographic traditions. He has led the project of TRACES, a multilingual series in five languages - Korean, Chinese, English, Spanish and Japanese (German will be added in 2013) - and served as its founding senior editor (1996 - 2004). In addition to TRACES, Naoki Sakai serves as a member of the following editorial boards, positions east asia cultural critique, Post-colonial studies, International Dictionary of Intellectual History, Multitudes and so forth.