Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing Response: What Should We Do With/As Plasticity?

I found particularly compelling, out of the many intriguing aspects of this Afterword, the link between plasticity and materialism.  What is specifically interesting here is the connection between plasticity and political materialism—while the capacity of plasticity to conceptualize an ontological materialism has been a recurring theme, it is only here that the link between plasticity and political materialism comes into explicit (though very brief) view.  What should we do?  With our brains, yes, but the question’s force extends more widely.  The ability to ask this question presupposes that there is something that we can do, that the future is subject to our decision (even if only sometimes).  It is here that we see the link between political and ontological materialism—the refusal of any outside becomes the condition of possibility for political capacity.

This last point seems, to me, to be one of the key lessons of the ongoing polemic against Levinas, and against the conscription of Derrida into a Levinasian manner of thinking.  So my question is how to think this sort of decision, or if decision is not the best word, then the question is how to think the answer to—or the ability to answer—“What should we do?”  Furthermore, should the discussion of Freud on Michelangelo’s Moses, where what is valorized is the refusal to give into inclination—and this, notably, is tied up in the refusal to flee a people, a refusal that has a divine character—be understood as a condition for becoming adequate to the question of “What should we do?”

Finally, I think it is worth recalling Ryan’s discussion of Malabou’s account of the fantastic.  What does the fantastic, or the imaginary—or, to use my own preference, Deleuze’s mythmaking function / fabulation—have to do with the ability, thought by plasticity, to decide on our future?  Plasticity, in its ontological and political materialism, rightly resists the exteriority that expropriates from us the ability to decide on the future, but must it refer to the fantastic in order to give determination to this decision?

10 thoughts on “Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing Response: What Should We Do With/As Plasticity?

  1. I can’t help reading this in context of Benjamin’s contrast of mythic vs. divine violence, where divine power is the power not to do something, a kind of impotentiality (Agamben), which appears impossible in contemporary capitalism.

    “What should we do?” Stop consuming, stop growing, stop shopping, stop spending money, stop reproducing, stop using up natural resources, etc. It seems like only a god could do this, not ordinary humans, which is why Heidegger said only a god can save us. But of course one won’t, so we’re doomed, unless we can become plastic enough.

    So there might be two forms of fabulation or fantastic–one is the myth of the given that authorizes certain forms of life based upon a pregiven identity (or transcendence in whatever sense), which Deleuze calls the common sense of good sense image of thought in Difference and Repetition; and the other is the fabulation or metamorphosis of plasticity itself, a fantastic aura that plasticity in its dynamism throws off, which is closer to the time-image of Cinema 2 that is involved in constructing a brain.

  2. To put it more directly: I like the rejection of exteriority, and the affirmation of immanence that I take plasticity to involve. But how then to decide how plasticity should be plastic?

  3. How could it not be plastic? But if the question is guiding or shaping the process, that seems like a kind of folding of thought upon itself, a linking or relinking that allows destructive plasticity to be productive or creative of new forms of life in a political sense. It would require attention, determination and experimentation, as well as freeing us from transcendence, absolute ground, or background dependence.

  4. I was trying to say the oppositive, which is how we can avoid extinction, which appears to be the suicidal track that we’re on. But it appears unimaginable to most of us to do something different, to not participate in corporate capitalism, unless we invoke fabulatory and fantastic narratives like raising planetary consciousness and other new age myths. How do we resist capitalism in a plastic rather than a fantastic way?

  5. Clayton, yes, definitely, it is not possible for plasticity to be other than plastic. My point, though, follows from this — namely, that since plasticity is necessarily plastic, then an affirmation of plasticity involves a kind of indifference that is not amenable to the sort of aims you describe in your second and third comments. So wouldn’t there need to be some kind of recriprocally beneficial relation between plasticity and the fantastic?

  6. No, I don’t think plasticity involves indifference or a kind of automaticism where you just sit back and watch the spectacle of plasticity at work and don’t do anything. I think the affirmation of plasticity is more an implication with and engagement of co-constructing self, brain and society, and that this may throw off a kind of fantastic effect, but the fantastic as Malabou critiques it is not the core of the process. The fantastic as metamorphosis is, though.

  7. I think that it is fascinating how Malabou uses the Moses essay of Freud as a way of interpreting one of the great works of the plastic arts as an embodiment of plasiticity itself, the returning back upon form-annihilation to form-creation, or as Malabou says, “reshaping identity” (80). This is an “ethical plasticity” that is “the carving of the other into the rock of his absence.” That last phase is a bit hard to figure, but I take it Malabou means to refer to the stone tablets that are represented in the marble of the sculpture, that is, the Law as a carving into a fixed medium (the stone) of the absence of god. The Law, the written law, is what replaces the transcendent god. But Moses is seen, according to Freud, in the moment when he carves himself, so to speak, as the embodiment of the law, as the restraining of anger through the will. But is this what the law is about? Is it an overcoming of violence, of form-annihilating plasticity, through form-giving plasticity? Is this what the ethical is? Is it an overcoming of the desire to take revenge upon others, to abandon them to their self-destructive madness and live in total freedom from commitments? The danger of this view, and I think Malabou is not committed to it despite what she seems to be saying here, is that the demos is pictured as the mob (Freud calls the people at the foot of the mountain the mob in his essay), and the law comes to restrain it. The leader is the one who can restrain himself, and thereby shape the mob. But, in fact, the bible is smarter than Freud (and maybe Michelangelo, if Freud was right): Moses does in fact break the tablets, the tablets that were actually carved by god himself. He replaces them with his own carving of the tablets. The law, the bible is saying, cannot directly be imposed upon the people. It must be taken by them willingly from the hands of a human lawgiver. The mob is not the originary condition of the demos, it is in fact the secondary product of divine force/violence/Gewalt attempting to impose itself from above. So Moses *needed* to break the tablets in order to join the people as one of them again; his imagined restraint is not ethical, it is imperious, it is holding on to the divinely carved tablets as a weapon against the people. Malabou should actually have criticized the Freud essay, not endorsed it, because it freezes in place the mythic division of mob/demos and divine lawgiver. Spinoza’s reimagining of the scene of the law-giving at Mt. Sinai in the Theological-Political Tractatus is, in fact, far more in tune with Malabou’s intentions. Spinoza was the philosopher of democracy; Freud was the imperious therapist of the madding crowd.

  8. Yes, there is this distinction you make, in one of your first comments between fabulation as identity/transcendence, and “the fabulation or metamorphosis of plasticity itself.” Obviously, the latter is to be affirmed, I agree with this. My question, though, is how to distinguish, in virtue of plasticity, fantastic-as-identity and fantastic-as-metamorphosis? I would assume that fantastic-as-metapmorphosis is superior because it affirms the plasticity of plasticity, whereas fantastic-as-identity would make use of plasticity in order to cut off plasticity. So, when it comes to the matter of deciding about/on plasticity, the question of what to do with the plasticity that we always already are, how to make this decision? Obviously via experimentation, the subtraction of links/investments in transcendence, etc … but this “should”, from what comes the should? Does the should come from plasticity? If so, how does this plasticity set for itself a telos, however provisional?

    To make clear — I’m not arguing for a teleological plasticity, rather I’m asking about its possible reappearance insofar as plasticity raises the question of what we should do with it? And I recognize that experimentation is meant to distinguish itself from any kind of telos … but still, it is necessary to evaluate experiments, and then how to do so?

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