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)

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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”

Beyond Monotheism — 14. A Turn to Ethics: Unity Beyond Monotheism

Schneider articulates straightaway one of the main concerns of the chapter:  “A logic of multiplicity is not opposed to unity (the inclusive sense of One) or oneness (the exclusive sense of One), which means that divine multiplicity does not exclude either unity or oneness except in their absolute or eternal sense” (198).  The fact that multiplicity opposes the One does not mean that it abandons any account of unity (or to use a more DeleuzoGuattarian term, “consistency”)—it is simply that multiplicity refuses to absolutize unity, to make it something that transcends and pre-exists the flux of existence.  Thus oneness and unity “are proximal and partial aspects of the divine,” but never “the ‘whole’ story of reality” (198).  They are, one might say, the effect rather than the cause of reality.

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Beyond Monotheism — 13. A Turn to Ethics: Beyond Nationalism

Schneider begins this chapter, which signals the book’s final part, with an introductory “snapshot memoir” (185).  This recounts her trip, just after graduating from college, to the German village from which her grandfather emigrated to the USA.  Here she finds, inscribed on an obelisk, the conjunction: “One people, one nation, one God” (185).  It is against this background that she commences discussion of the link between monotheism and nationalism.  The connection that the natives of her ancenstral village saw between monotheism and nationalism is all too common.

We can understand why a theology critical of monotheism will be interested in applying the same criticsm to the logic of nationalism.  Thus Schneider remarks that “it is not difficult to see in nationalist feeling everywhere distinct elements of religious feeling, and in definitions of ‘the nation’ ambiguities similar to those inherent in doctrinal explanations” (186).  Nonetheless, while theologians often observe the duplication of monotheistic sentiment in political ideologies, contemporary social scientists are less likely to return the favor.  This is primarily due to the latter group’s alleigance to objectivity, which makes theological categories (such as “soul” or “spirit”) rather unattractive.  What is necessary is a “more flexible posture” (188) whereby the problematics of religion and nation are understood to be imbricated in one another. 

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