Movement : Hagar Kotef
Movement is the change in the position of a body (object or subject) or part of it over the course of a certain interval of time. This is my working definition. By the end of this essay I hope to open this definition, not so much by “abstracting movement”—by thinking of the more “metaphoric” meanings it encompasses—but by exploring the ways in which the figurative and the material work through each other (i.e. by showing how this distinction makes very limited sense). Movement however, will be defined here indirectly, through another question: what makes “movement” a central political concept?
This centrality, of course, is yet to be demonstrated and clarified. Different changes in the position of a body over time may be political, or not, according to their particularities (the same practice may, or may not be political, according to its context: walking down a street to the market or as part of a march; a parliament member raising her hand to vote or to wave a friend. The question here, however, does not concern the specificity of the movement itself, but rather the terms, contexts, and settings in which the act is performed). Yet I want to propose that above and beyond these derivative meanings, movement per se is central to a political lexicon. Indeed, “central” to the extent that Arendt has referred to it as “the substance and meaning of all things political.”1
In what follows I pursue this claim, first, by mapping the political operations of movement into four major layers, schematically classified as (i) orders or regimes; (ii) processes of subject formations or available subject positions; (iii) political ideologies; and (iv) a more “meta” reflection on the meanings of “the political.” Second, I examine the operation of movement (as a concept as well as a physical phenomenon) within one segment of our political thinking, a segment central to both the history of political thought and to our political present: liberal theory. Drawing on one anecdote that illustrates some of the different political operations of movement, I explicate some of the roles movement has within this discourse. I open, however, with a reading in Plato. This reading should hopefully open to one of many possible points of resonance with my later analysis—showing simultaneously the possible echoes across schools of thought and the differences between them.
Setting the Stage: Plato and Lexical Movements
The lexical project which is taking form through these virtual pages (as well as conferences and workshops) asks us—authors and readers—to follow one formal principle: to address the Socratic question “what is x?” Since this project is very much situated within the history of ideas, this call for definitions does not seek to erase history. Many of us who share these pages also share some version of the claim that “x” cannot be understood without the history of its uses. Nevertheless, it may seem that the Socratic formulation that is posed as the only rule for this lexical game assumes that this history can somehow be folded into itself, encapsulated, and enveloped within one formulation that always remains in the present: “what is x?”—“x is.” Yet x never simply is; at least not in a static manner. As Claudia Baracchi brilliantly shows us, even in the Platonic framework definitions and knowledge—indeed, the Socratic dialog itself—are not fully separable from movement.
The prisoners in Plato’s cave demonstrate that “our” problem is “a stiffness, staticity.” The people in the cave are characterized by “a certain inability to turn around, a powerlessness with respect to movement, to a dynamic connection with the surrounding.”2 In order to know, they must be able to move. However, while all the people in the cave are bound, the desired movement of the many is not the ability to be released from their chains and climb up and out of the cave. This is the power, the privilege, of the few. One may speculate that a more widespread act of climbing produces precisely the threat that Plato sees in democracy—a threat he very much articulates by appealing to movement.
*This project is in debt to many, whose names would exceed the frame of this limited acknowledgement. For their indispensible contribution to the segment herein I thank Adi Ophir, Ann Stoler, Merav Amir, Gil Anidjar, and the members of the Workshop on Political Concepts 2012.
1. Hannah Arendt, The Promise of Politics (New York: Schocken Books, 2005), 129.↩
2. Claudia Baracchi, Of Myth, Life, and War in Plato’s Republic (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 23-24.↩