“We cannot exist outside the hegemonic system we are critiquing.”
The quote came from Mekonnen Tesfahuney, who has been researching all his life in the areas of racism, migration and geo-politics.
How do we then, each one of us a political subject living in a society, formulate our everyday relationships with hegemonic systems, if there is no way out?
Looking inwards to my own life – as an immigrant who has struggled to detach herself from a dominant system back home, and has established her career in a commercial practice elsewhere – nothing seems to be worth complaining about. Indeed, just like many other immigrants who have been striving for a decent life in a wealthy Western country, my life is mostly secured by privileges of capital – a standard of life that is way beyond a shelter and basic human needs, a life that places options in my hands. However, if we zoom out to a wider perspective and look from the dark side, one could also argue that the full-time job in a commercial industry is subsequently sustaining and reproducing the market, the profits and, ultimately, affirming the muscles of the neo-liberal structure. Are there really options in our hands in terms of how we want to associate with the political society, or is it mandatory that one has to be a component of the hegemonic mechanism if one asks for a decent life?
Looking inwards to my own life – as an East Asian woman who has been pursuing an independent identity beyond the control of geo-politics – I do share a collective feeling with the people who are struggling on the margins of any society, people who might have tried all kinds of directions for a sense of belonging. “Moving, we confront the reality of choice and location.” (hooks, 2017:15) Assimilation or being alienation might, for instance, come as two extreme categories, yet one might have encountered both at the same time as a matter of choice, along the journey to a new place.
In the book Ignorance, written by Milan Kundera, the author poetically illustrates the dilemma of an identity void, through the story of a Czech woman, exiled to France two decades ago, who finally got an opportunity to return to her homeland. The return journey was expected by those surrounding her as a holy moment – a moment of Odyssey. Yet, a void revealed itself bit by bit throughout her journey – her current being (after all these years of life in exile) had become alienated both by her French friends and her old friends back in her homeland. There, she stood alone between the history and present, between salvation by her French friends and negation by her friends back home.
I imagine that anyone living in this complex world could experience a void sometimes in life, between different geographies, cultures, identities or epistemologies. Falling out of the notion of normality and not being able to settle with certainties. However, the configuration of society is the consequence of different combinations of coexistence. Here I argue that each of us, as political subjects, could for a moment put the uncertainty aside and take the advantageous position of locating oneself in this void. Reimagining the void as a dwelling space, in which an alternative voice could finally speak for itself. By settling our feet on the site of uncertainty, we could secure our own territory to respond and challenge the dominant epistemology. Eventually, it empowers us to reimagine the socio-political relationship we have with this world.