Sometimes “here” has no walls. There are some pieces of corrugated cardboard, a square of tarp and a sleeping bag, a deck of cards for solitaire. Or, following the movement of thinking, a woman escapes the confinement of identity, moving into the open of language as it discovers her. The most temporary membranes serve as shelter, and the city is a density of desire. Amidst this flux speaking begins, makes its tenuous continuities near and in spite of the accreted institutions that compel anyone to obey, violate and buy, to be placed on identity’s grid. But speech is never simply single. Value moves between us or is foreclosed. The exchanges are conditioned by profoundly ancient and constantly reinventing protocols, protocols we enliven, figure, and transform with our bodies and their words, by beginning. This beginning is what anyone belongs to.
The zone of collective discourse wanders, improvises, unmoored to any stable geographic or architectural foundation. We citizens constitute ourselves according to the movement of subjectivity in language, as well as being administratively identified by shared, conventional borders, and a historical concept of collective and individual rights (or their lack). This tracing of subjects fleetingly coheres in vernacular speech as that speech configures itself at any living juncture with another speaker. Language, the historical mode of collective relationship, is also the aptitude by which humans innovate one another as subjects: the ego is the one who linguistically addresses another, and it is only through this address that each, in a reciprocal entwining, may fashion herself as “I”. In this co-movement of significance there can be no opposition between individual and society—each person comes into an awareness of herself as a speaking being within the society of language. Neither individual nor instrumental, the linguistic aptitude accompanies the beginning of humans as a nature through which each subject, uttering “I”, “you”, “we”, emerges and survives or perishes. Any subject is supported, spoken, and carried or disallowed and foreclosed by others, in a matrix of reciprocity and power that conditions the very possibility of embodiment. As soon as she speaks and names, the political subject emerges. Her agency is a verbal one; architecture and governance can only interpret or abstract the fluency of the linguistic given.
Because of the social primacy of this linguistic beginning, and because political space is an effect and an historical accretion of linguistic circulation, I’d like to lay out a prosody of the citizen, where the term prosody describes the historical and bodily movement of language amongst subjects. This opening of the discourse of prosody away from the technical conventions of measure, towards the movements of a generative immateriality, contributes to an interpretation of the domestic sphere that’s aligned with the shifting vectors and intensities of embodiment. A prosodic thinking of politics will carry Hannah Arendt’s statement concerning the polis into the domestic sphere also: “The only indispensable material factor in the generation of power is the living together of people. Only where men live so close together that the potentialities of action are always present can power remain with them. . .” (Arendt p201) In The Human Condition Arendt, following Aristotle, argues that polis is the exchange of speech, and arises anywhere and each time this free exchange takes place. In Arendts’ thinking, it is the beginner who is the guarantor of political freedom, the beginner, born into speech, speaking to the world, to other beginners. The human social beginnings—of birth, of speech—define the shared condition—natality, in Arendt’s coinage– and ensure that action reveals the improbable yet always renewing freedom inherent in collective life. Without speech, she argues, action would lose its subjects and become violence. It is this ethos of a necessary alignment of speech and action in the subject that ensures that embodied political speech cannot be subordinated to a simplistically communicative and instrumental role, a means to an end, a violence, but carries with it always a revelatory, innovatory, and transformational agency. It is through speech that the citizen acts and freedom articulates its claim on subjects. The subject begins in the co-movement of speech. Natality and prosody are terms that underscore the necessary vitality of this movement, natality from the point of view of the recognition of embodied subjectivity as incipiently ethical, and prosody from the point of view of the linguistic traversal and elaboration of that subjectivity.
Arendt’s refusal to define the shared condition of the political subject in terms of mortality was a powerfully implicit critique of Heideggarian ontology, and of the claims of the eschatology of the Church Fathers on European thought. Now the need to align political thinking with life and beginning, rather than with a morbidly theological end-thinking, becomes increasingly urgent in the present escalation of state-sponsored, economically determined violence in its many guises. Arendt’s defense of natality as the form of life has inflected current discussions around biopolitics, where citizenship is before all else an co-embodied belonging. The citizen’s body, in its charged relationships to other bodies, is the temporal matrix and radical mediator of politics. Each body, each birth, each coming into speech, bears the radically unquantifiable potential of co-transformation. The domestic sphere, that urgent foundation for natality, will here be considered in terms of a mediating skin, rather than in terms of a private interiority conceptually opposed to a social outside. This mediating condition will be inflected temporally, rather than spatially, since its limit is less structurally architectural than flexibly transformative: the taking in and preparation of food, of erotic encounter, of various modes of work, of reproductive labour, of the production of an affective surplus and the constant re-initiation into a freshened verbal motility– at best the place of rhythmic protection of the vulnerable body, while sleeping, in illness, age, and childhood, often while eating and washing, while resting, while talking and working. So the domestic sphere isn’t private just as the body and its modes of conviviality, reproduction and care aren’t private—it expresses a complex temporality that includes coded information from the past as it moves always in the light of the polyvalent and self-inventing present. In terms of subjectivity, the domestic sphere emerges as an embodied vector that breaks open, floods the habitual containment of the public-private binary. In this shift away from a spatial metaphor of the domestic, a displacement of power occurs. The time of the body is generative, commingled, gestural, enacted; in a temporal interpretation of the domestic sphere, power innovates itself as an improvised co-embodiment. In this sense ecology rather than economics might provide the circulatory model of a mutually embodied, and temporally vulnerable power-in-relationship, as long as one considers ecology in terms of complex processes of disequilibrium and emergence instead of an image of harmonized closure. Systems of integration, mutuality, rejection, dispersion and synchronous transformation, rather than a structural semiotics of bordered exchange, characterize domestic activities and interactions. Across these constantly shifting melodic thresholds, the flow of spoken language, from birth-cry to digital transmission, evades spatial reduction, and rhythmically innovates the time of our collectivity. This collectively spoken time is the sole incubator of subjectivity.