All about Omar

Sorry for the lack of posts. I’ve been preparing for and having guests, plus too much work. But I did manage to submit the following essay proposal, which was positively received. Now I’ve got to write the thing. Eeeek!

Omar Little, a character on the television show The Wire, lives a life of extreme precariousness. A queer, black, inner-city man who steals from local drug dealers, Omar is caught between two molar organizations, the police-politician assemblage and its putative opposite, organized crime. Though he refuses to affiliate himself with either, Omar nonetheless needs both of them. From the police, he receives protection, while from the criminals he ensures his physical reproduction. Freed from many of the guarantees enjoyed by those working for those organizations, Omar’s entire existence is devoted to ensuring his survival.

Given Omar’s circumstances, it is appropriate to think of him as embodying a kind of neoliberal subjectivity. Part of Omar’s originality, however, is that most of the standard theoretical expositions of neoliberalism don’t adequately describe him. For instance, in David Harvey’s writings on neoliberalism, the subjects are always victims of capital’s machinations. Similarly, Wendy Brown presents neoliberal subjects as being in a state of mourning and melancholy. From perhaps the opposite perspective, various theories of multitude see subjects that are always and already resisting, subverting, and revolutionary. None of these theories can account for Omar’s actions: his refusal to be merely a victim, the active role he takes in perpetuating “the game,” the joy he takes in playing it, his strategic collusion with the police. In Omar, the creators of The Wire have created a character that is more complex and, to my mind, more representative of neoliberal subjectivity than have most social theorists.

In the essay, I will use The Wire and Omar Little to present a reading of neoliberalism that sees the subjectivities it produces neither as melancholic victims nor as a constantly resisting and subverting multitude. Instead, the essay will describe neoliberal subjectivity as a complex of interactions in which capital’s axioms and the state’s commands are sometimes obeyed, sometimes protested, and sometimes eluded; in which identities are variously accepted, refused, and reshaped; and in which creative experimentation both offers subjects a means for escape and is the very thing that the “system” uses to perpetuate itself. The essay will, to use the idiom of the thinkers that will primarily guide it, Deleuze and Guattari, chart the foldings and unfoldings of lines of flight.

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