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Disappearance as Resistance: A Phenomenological Reading

by | Aug 11, 2017 | Dissertation Research, Doctoral Funding Mentoring Program

Series Note: The following post is part of a series written by Rutgers graduate students participating in the 2017 Dissertation Funding Mentoring Program. Designed to allow students to practice public writing, the first blog post prompt asked participants to narrate a story about how they came to be interested in their research topic. 

What happens to a body that does not feel at home in the world? Where can she go? Neither at home in the world nor willing to banish herself, to conform to the wish she reads on the faces of those she encounters, where can such a subject turn? This is the main question my project roots itself in. My project is a query into the question of where, in what space, those who feel themselves not at home in the world inhabit. This question is particularly relevant now with the global emergence of the precariat population, those who find they cannot access adequate employment necessary to sustain themselves as a natural result of neoliberal policies. This population of subjects who find themselves outside of society, who either cannot find adequate labor or those who cannot fit themselves into the neoliberal ideology of constant work with its focus on earning as much money as possible despite the human, animal, or earthly consequences, will continue to grow. This is a question germane to anyone concerned with the future of humans.

This question is particularly pertinent in light of the worldwide refugee crisis and the subsequent reaction to this crisis by both governments and individual actors resulting in the construction of walls, the forced detention and deportation of refugees, as well as the numerous hate crimes against refugees in the United States and in Europe. This is not a new question, of course, and this is part of what makes this question so compelling.

In addition, the question is an important one philosophically. Looking at the important work of Hannah Arendt and her query into the question of where the mind goes when thinking, Arendt’s analysis of the question is rooted in the supposition of a body being at home in the world of appearances. What her analysis leaves out is the question of where the mind of the thinker goes when the thinker does not feel herself at home in the world. Describing the philosopher in The Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt writes: “Though known to us only in inseparable union with a body that is at home in the world of appearances by virtue of having arrived one day and knowing that one day it will depart, the invisible ego is, strictly speaking, Nowhere.” My research project addresses the question inherent in this statement, the question Arendt, herself, does not address: “What of when the I is not ‘at home in the world of appearances’? Where, then, does the I go? Where then does she disappear to?”

This question of where a subject who does not feel herself at home in the world can go to is informed by my own affective experience of not feeling at home in the world. As a mixed-race woman (Mexican-American and German), of a mixed-class background (born working-class, first in the family to attend college, now a writer and academic), my own affective experience informs my research work. I am particularly interested in the places between that remain unspoken. These spaces can be “got at” using a philosophical and, specifically, a phenomenological approach. 

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