Bad Versions, p.s., Abstraction

I appreciated the reading and comments of my previous post, and wanted to respond a bit more formally — though also perhaps too tangentially. The operation that my criticism tried to indicate is one that often seems to be associated with the need for and power of abstraction. For my part, I don’t have any a priori complaint about abstraction. In many ways, I think it’s central and essential. The question, though, is that of how abstraction is articulated, or even spatialized.

In the operation I was criticizing, abstraction tends to serve as something like a common space, one that is, at least in the last instance, able to remain exterior to the differences that intractably appear, or that appear to be intractable. The demand for emancipation has a normativity or universality that — regardless of how this demand has been misused or perverted or functioned for domination, etc. — is, in the last instance or in its essence, capable of (and necessary for) resisting or overcoming these differentiated modes of domination. This, in any case, is how the operation seems to work. And abstraction is then the means by which this essential value of normativity or universality is indicated or expressed. In other words, regardless of the variegated differentiations that embed and/or are embedded by domination, there remains the capacity of abstraction, understood here as the capacity for the differentiated to encounter one another in a manner that is ultimately or in principle free of the determinative differentiations. Continue reading “Bad Versions, p.s., Abstraction”

Bad Versions

Observing the contemporary theoretical terrain, there’s a certain operation that I find rather striking — both in its valorization and in its predominance. We might call this an operation of resuscitation, revival, or rejuvenation (though, for my own reasons, I would call it — or at least locate it within a field of — conversion). This operation is one in which a term, or point of reference, that appears to have become outmoded is taken up and (re)valorized. I imagine that there are a number of instances of such terms, but the ones that jump out to me most immediately include “universalism,” “normativity,” and “Hegel.” While there may be various differences between the specific versions of such revalorizations, I am interested in an overarching commonality among them. This commonality, once again, is operational: the revalorized term is advanced in connection with a readiness to turn aside critiques of the term as belonging only to the “bad version” of the term, but not to the revalorized term. In other words, the operation goes something like this: “of course I understand that you have a deeply critical relation to ‘universalism / normativity / Hegel,’ and you are absolutely right to maintain such a relation — provided that you come to realize that this critical relation belongs to the bad version of ‘universalism / normativity / Hegel,’ and thus not to my revalorized version of this term.” (Shorter versions of this include “trust that your problems have been recognized and — at least in principle — overcome” and “Dad is not so bad.”) Continue reading “Bad Versions”

Is “Non” Baseless? (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Given a book such as this, which does so much so well, to approach a response by way of summation or comprehension is to risk binding oneself to cliché or dilution. Better, perhaps, to just pick up one of the singular insights with which the book is littered. One of these insights is embedded in Smith’s analysis of Quentin Meillassoux’s critical reading of François Laruelle. Following Smith’s own incisive account, the point of this analysis is not to start another intra-philosophical war, now between Meillassoux and Laruelle. It is rather to give attention to, or to study, what it is about Laruelle’s thought that remains unthinkable by philosophy, or by the sort of work named and called for by philosophy. This is to say that Meillassoux’s misreading of Laruelle, and the critique that depends upon this misreading, can be taken as an indication of the incommensurability between standard philosophical practice and the practice of thought that is at issue under the name “Laruelle.” Continue reading “Is “Non” Baseless? (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)”

Living Thought Book Event: Absence of Origin / Absence of Another Option

Esposito’s Living Thought is an excellent book. My own experience of reading it was shaped by its themes of life, antagonism, and genealogy (of the origin). Esposito’s discussion of these themes also pushed me to think further along certain lines, which I try to set out below.

Absence of Origin

The predominant relation in what Esposito calls “Italian thought” is the one between history and origin. Even as history advances beyond an origin and bears a determinacy inconceivable from the point of the origin, this origin does not disappear into the past but instead becomes something inseparable from the “actuality” of history. Hence Esposito, when speaking of Vico, is able to speak of how “the origin is not dissolved in history, just as history is not reduced to time” (26). And such a logic has to do not just with Vico but also with “an element that runs through all Italian philosophy,” namely this: “At the bottom of history there lies an opaque, seminatural, historically intractable element that human beings must come to terms with the moment their gaze turns toward the future, imagining that they can liberate themselves, along with the entire past, even from the uncertain point of its provenance” (27). In other words, one of the essential skills of Italian philosophy, “distinguishing it from other traditions of thought” (27), is precisely this attentiveness to the entanglement of history and origin, doubling each other and thus undermining any pretension that would reduce one to the other.

At times, however, this relation between history and origin recedes in favor of another one, between history and life. This raises, for me, a question about the nature of the relation between these relations, or between the three terms at stake: history, origin, and life. The issue seems particularly pressing in one articulation of the second relation, where Esposito speaks of “the ontological difference between history and life” (170). How should we think of this difference? And what does it mean that this difference—however we think of it—is already cast in terms of being? Continue reading Living Thought Book Event: Absence of Origin / Absence of Another Option”

Experimental Life and Ordeal’s Necessity

“How would the eschatological ethos of a transformed people be, per impossible, the ‘lived reality’ of immanence?” (25)

“Some kind of mediation may play a genuinely constitutive role in [Deleuze’s] system, even if the redemptive function of such mediators is not something Deleuze explicitly theorizes. … those who belong to this series of humorous avatars would index the contours of viable experimental life.” (215)

There is no such thing as a philosophy without a practice of reading. This is to say not only that philosophies, in being received, are bound to a reading practice, but also that philosophies themselves, insofar as they are produced, have reading practices as part of their causal nexus. This may be obvious, but it is something worth reflecting on given that our image of thought—where this thought is imagined as being philosophical—tends not to include reading practices. Or, at the very least, it tends not to include reading practices in the way that other images tend to include them. Consider, for instance, the differentiation of philosophy and religion: it is much easier to imagine religion as including reading practices than it is to imagine philosophy as including them. I would even venture that part of the reason for the occlusion of the constitutive role of reading practices in philosophy has to do with philosophy’s interest in differentiating itself from religion. Continue reading “Experimental Life and Ordeal’s Necessity”

Analogical Expansion and Differential Space: Thoughts on Michael Naas’ Miracle and Machine

One cannot affirm difference without affirming the differential undecidability (Derrida), or crack (Deleuze), or nonidentity (Adorno), of / between affirmation and its failure. This is a thought that has possessed me for awhile now, and has sent me in a number of directions. What I took to be a kind of protectionism, in Derrida, against the productive character of alterity pushed me in a more Deleuzian direction. Such, it seemed, was what the affirmation of difference demanded, and yet to make difference into an affirmation seemed, simultaneously, to subsume difference under a new identity. Thus it was important for me to articulate that the same affirmation was nonidentical with senselessness and melancholy. This, it became clear, was a question of political ontology—namely, one of the relation between political potentiality and ontological difference. But what, many have asked, about political theology? An insidious question, perhaps, as this allows us to skirt the notion of “religion.” And so religion appeared as the vanishing mediator of differential ontology and political creativity. Continue reading “Analogical Expansion and Differential Space: Thoughts on Michael Naas’ Miracle and Machine

Jennings Book Event – Righteousness of the Flesh or Paul?

A non-homophobic Christianity. Let’s note, first of all, what this is not. It is not Christian homphilia. I understand that Jennings has elsewhere demonstrated the basis for a Christian homophilia—and if that work is anything like the work found in Plato or Paul?, it is no doubt successful. That said, I want to stick to the frame of this excellent book, which is to stick to the question of speaking about Christianity as not homophobic. It is not, Jennings powerfully argues. But homophobia is here, and its carrier has no doubt been Christianity … and so blame must be apportioned for the rise and development of homophobia that Christianity—even if it has not originally produced—has aided and abetted. Who’s to blame? Plato (and some others). I want to ask, then, what it means to apportion blame to the others of Christianity. Continue reading “Jennings Book Event – Righteousness of the Flesh or Paul?”

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?

Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Afterword

Of the Impossibility of Fleeing – Plasticity

The “Afterword” begins with a question that has already captured some interest in our discussions (perhaps especially with regard to Derrida and Levinas): How is one to imagine a “way out” when there is no exteriority?  In order to display the impasses involved in this situation, Malabou resorts to prose that is almost Adornian: “Something that is so constituted as to make fleeing impossible while also making it necessary to flee this impossibility” (65); or, “It is not a question of how to escape closure but rather of how to escape within closure itself.” (65)  Again, the Levinasian approach is set forth as a foil, since Malabou wants to distinguish the kind of escape proper to plasticity from Levinas’ manner of escape, which hinges on a desire for somewhere and something else.  For Malabou, there can be an escape without the other, a way out without exteriority, because of the character of plasticity.  Plastic can both give and receive form, it can belong to the setting-in of form as well as the explosive undoing of form.  What this means, then, is that transformation and metamorphosis are possible within plasticity—or perhaps it is better to say that whatever takes on form, whatever destroys form, whatever takes leave of form, is always already plastic.  Malabou proceeds to note that such plasticity is central to the mobility of the system in Hegel, and then to demonstrate, at greater length, why plasticity is also in agreement with Heidegger’s thought.  The key idea here is that every instance of transcendence in Being and Time is brought forth by means of modification.  There is never any question of Dasein going beyond itself, for its very essence lies in its own modification.  Even authenticity “is only a modified, transformed grasp of existence.  There is no change of ground.  The ‘way out’ is achieved by an upheaval within daily existence itself.” (70)

Continue reading Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Afterword

Theology of Money – 4. Politics of Money

Goodchild begins this chapter by noting that money is “inseparable from the institution of the market” (123).  What then is this institution that is the market?  He focuses on ways in which the nature of the market may be concealed by its appearance.  There is a fundamental egalitarianism to the market, for any person has the right to participate in it as an “owner of goods” and an “owner of labor,” and to do so as “a free agent capable of entering into voluntary exchanges and contracts” (123).  But this is a pure formal egalitarianism, for the market-subject is an abstraction.  In reality, there are a number of dependencies—material relations, physical existence, and social obligations—that contravene the autonomy of the market-subject.  Similarly, the functioning of the market is not possible apart from “political relations of force,” which ultimately have recourse to “the threat of sovereign power to enforce contracts and to safeguard property” (125).  In short, the market appears to—and, insofar as it is an institution of representation, does—engender freedom and peace precisely as it disavows its dependencies and relies on a foundational violence.  The politics of money is a representational violence.

According to Goodchild, any resistance to this politics of money will have to find—to invent—a new modality.  Protest (at least on its own) fails, for money promises, it responds to and creates desires, and so the negation of protest cannot compete in any sustained manner.  Violent confrontation also fails insofar as it is already conditioned by the politics of money, by which such confrontation obtains the wealth for its military power.  Resistance, at least as it is presently imagined, does not escape the orbit of the politics of money. Continue reading Theology of Money – 4. Politics of Money”