Attempting to explain the how, what, and why of normativity has exercised the attentions of social analysts for centuries, remaining an enduring puzzle in sociology since its disciplinary inception. A nest of related riddles attend the subjectivation of the individual, or how the social gets under our skin. How does an outside (social norms, grids of intelligibility, and behavioral compliance) also articulate the inside (personal belief and conscience, and even biological symptomatologies)? Given this intricate involvement between the inside and the outside, an involvement whose causal origin cannot be determined, should the conscious strategies of antinormativity be understood as interventions that hail from outside these norms or as expressions of power’s internal and perverse machinations? If norms are considered the genetics of power that inform all of social life (without necessarily dictating it), then the peculiar identity and ubiquity of a norm is neither restricted nor prohibited. In sum, what is normal about a norm?
This essay explores power’s intransitivity, its “self-possession,” by interrogating the way that cultural analysis routinely assumes that the workings of power rest on a break with nature, a break that explains human exceptionalism as an unnatural perversion of nature’s previous conventions and prescriptions. By way of Georges Canguilhem, the argument dilates on the implications of this foundational assumption, itself a form of antinormativity, by shifting its frame of reference to that of life itself.