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All Too Human: A Conversation with Elizabeth Grosz

Elizabeth Grosz, Simone Stirner

Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 25, Numbers
1 & 2, Fall/Winter 2016, pp. 17-33 (Article)

Published by Duke University Press

For additional information about this article

Access provided by San Diego State University (15 Feb 2018 00:54 GMT)
All Too Human
A Conversation with Elizabeth Grosz

elizabeth grosz and simone stirner

simone stirner: In a lecture in 2007, you expressed the wish for a

five-year moratorium on speaking about the self, about the subject,
its experience, its affects, rejecting the emphasis on the personal.1 The
five years have passed, but I still apologize in advance for beginning
my questions with a very subjective, even affective response to your
writing. When I first read Chaos, Territory, Art, and, shortly after, Be-
coming Undone, I found the thinking you suggest quite challenging, at
times unsettling, but also, in a strange way, comforting.2 Challenging,
in its methodological turn to Darwin’s conception of life and the in-
terventions it makes to decenter the human, rethinking the human
in a gesture of moving beyond this category, toward other forms of
life. Some of the affect it produced reminded me of reading the be-
ginning of Rachel Carson’s The Sea around Us. In one passage, she
writes about the human species as carrying a part of the sea they
emerged from within them:

[O]ur lime-hardened skeletons are a heritage from the calcium-rich

ocean of Cambrian time. Even the protoplasm that streams within
each cell of our bodies has the chemical structure impressed upon
all living matter when the first simple creatures were brought forth
in the ancient sea. And as life itself began in the sea, so each of us
18 qui parle fall/winter 2016 vol. 25, nos. 1–2

begins his individual life in a miniature ocean within his mother’s

womb, and in the stages of his embryonic development repeats the
steps by which his race evolved, from gill-breathing inhabitants of
a water world to creatures able to live on land.3

While I find this passage intensely beautiful, it also evokes a change

in perspective on the human that is uncanny—a combination that
I encounter in your writing as well. There is something terrifying
about losing one’s boundaries, and something potentially unsettling
about confronting one’s own smallness with respect to the powers
and forces of the universe, as you repeatedly challenge your readers
to do. At the same time, your writing gave me the sense that it is okay
to “become undone.” Or rather, that this becoming undone is noth-
ing new. It is already happening and always has been: the true chal-
lenge is to think it. Then, however, I came to wonder whether what
makes your writing so affectively charged is related to the fact that
you are “undoing” the human in a moment where there is a grow-
ing uncertainty— ethical, but also epistemological—about what will
happen to the human species. What does it mean for you to think be-
yond the human today? What is its potential, and what are its limits?
And what do you make of the different affects that “thinking beyond
the human” produces?

elizabeth grosz: Thanks for this question, and thank you for
understanding the process of writing that I tried to develop in the
book. I felt in writing the book that I had to turn myself inside out
in order to evacuate all my thoughts from interiority, from self, in or-
der to open up to the forces that in any case occupy us but which we
normally fend off. And I had hoped to evoke something of the verti-
go that is involved in a real decentering of the self. Reading Darwin,
Deleuze, Bergson, and others was both remarkably difficult and joy-
ously affirming— difficult because one can’t read or understand any
of their work without some intellectual effort, but also joyous and af-
firming because each (and other writers to whom I feel attracted) has
also had to turn himself inside out in order to produce the beautiful
and rich concepts of life that they did. There is a kind of unraveling
of self-importance the more one becomes aware of everything else
that occurs around and within oneself, the more one understands, as
Grosz & Stirner: All Too Human 19

you say, one’s personal smallness, but also one’s fundamental connec-
tion to almost everything, a connection we don’t often recognize but
which is more satisfying, in the long run, than self-affirmation. This
is an affirmation of belonging to the world, to nature, to society, to
others, and not just of one’s domination of these domains. In recog-
nizing not only our connections with the things that compose our
world but also the fact that we are ourselves nothing but these con-
nections, recognizing that relations to the inhuman are what make
us human internally and without resistance, we must give up some-
thing of the capacious, masterful, acquisitive, self-referential perspec-
tive and instead come to marvel at our own existence and the innu-
merable conditions which made it possible.
We become undone whether we want it or not, not only as we
age and every cell, muscle, and organ is replaced by others, but as we
change, as we grow and are transformed. Becoming is always a be-
coming undone insofar as we become other without being sure what
it is that we have become. The trick is to come to understand this pro-
cess as one of the conditions for both creativity and politics. Today,
in other words, we have no choice but to think beyond the human,
in light of both our growing knowledge of the interconnections be-
tween the animal and the human, or more broadly, the human’s de-
pendence on the inhuman, and in light of the ecological mess, or
rather, the environmental disaster that humanity has created and may
not be able to overcome. While we have rarely, in the humanities and
the social sciences, looked beyond the human, we will have to do so
with increasing insistence in the near future, as the existence of the
human is increasingly imperiled, or imperils itself.

ss: When the world population hit the seven billion mark in 2011,
official celebrations coincided with warnings about humanity’s im-
minent doom. Ulrich Beck’s analysis of our contemporary fear that
“even the privileged classes of the world inhabit a global ‘risk society’
whose hazards cannot be anticipated, calculated, and controlled, much
less escaped” seems more pertinent than ever.4 The human species
has exploited the planet’s resources to the point of no return. As I am
writing this, I see that even such an unlikely magazine as Forbes runs
an article that announces humanity starving by 2050—unless we make
20 qui parle fall/winter 2016 vol. 25, nos. 1–2

substantial changes to our capitalist life-form. On the other end of the

spectrum, our technological and scientific achievements seem to sur-
pass us, allowing for the formation of plant lives but also living human
cells whose potential becomings seem beyond our control. So, it seems
to be one thing to accept that the human is not a closed entity but
entwined in forces of becoming, part of intensities that unite us with
the natural world if we think of Rachel Carson’s primordial ocean; it
is wholly another, however, to confront one’s union with the planet at
the very moment where the world becomes more and more unlivable.
I would be interested in your opinion on the Anthropocene: What
does this term mean in the language of your philosophy? And what
kind of ethical paradigms can help us navigate this moment? Do you
find them in any of the thinkers you engage with?

eg: Okay, this is a difficult and multivalent question: the Anthro-

pocene, the age of man’s destruction of man and of his many envi-
ronments (I use the masculine here on purpose, because it is not the
decisions and authority of women that has created such a destructive
sense of self-need—although I do not want to suggest that women
are by nature any more peaceful or nature-loving than men), is in-
deed the gradual loss of the ability to deterritorialize, to remove and
transform, to take from where things are what may be of value for
our well-being. It is the moment at which profit overtakes the human
impulse to make, the period when the production, consumption, and
destruction of commodities (and now qualities and services) over-
whelm the human needs they aim to address. We are in this moment
and have been for some decades, if not centuries. What is needed
is both a politics, one that addresses political parties and economic
organizations directly on these questions, but also, as your question
implies, an ethics, the acquisition of ways to live among others. I have
been reading what I consider works of ethics over the last couple of
years, although these texts and authors do not generally address the
more conventional questions of ethics, or morality—that is, what is
good, and what is to be done. I don’t know the answer, if there is one,
to these questions and I don’t really find them the most interesting
questions to address the present problems about the Anthropocene.
The more we believe we know “what is to be done,” the more author-
Grosz & Stirner: All Too Human 21

itarian we tend to become. This is perhaps why I have been drawn

to works in ethics that address ontological questions and not just
social or interpersonal issues. I have found the writings of the Stoics,
from both Greek and Roman periods, extremely useful for address-
ing some of the present crises of humanity—not only ecological dev-
astation but the wanton destruction of enormous numbers of human
beings in pointless wars and the wholesale destruction of animal and
plant life. The Stoics remind us of our place in a larger world, a small
one where, if we are lucky, have humility and insight, we can come
to understand one small part of ourselves and our world, rather than
be masters of the universe. Spinoza, perhaps more than any other
philosopher, provides a way of elaborating an ethics in which hu-
manity is not the highest expression of the divine, but an expression
like all others that addresses and is responsible for how it addresses
the universe as a whole and the others that co- occupy it. Nietzsche
should not be left out either, for he, like the Stoics and Spinoza, seeks
an ethics or a morality that provides a transvaluation of the morali-
ties of our time, our all-too-human and not yet adequately inhuman
moralities of self-regulation. Between them, these theorists have also
provided Deleuze, who is not often seen as a thinker of ethics, with
a framework in which ethics is inseparable from ethology, from the
ways in which life lives its worlds.5 Each of these traditions provides
something of a counterweight, an intellectual rather than a political
alternative, to the forces of production and consumption that regu-
late most of everyday life. Each enables us to understand the small-
ness of humanity as a species rather than its global mastery. Each
humbles the aspirations of the human by placing the human in a
much-larger-than-human context.

ss: Maybe against the background of this historical sense of an

insecure future, I found myself wondering about the possibility of
withdrawing from the powers that surround us. Becoming, as you
present it, is life, possibility, difference, but also a continuous and in-
evitable conflict. Is it possible to become neutral? Can becoming be
slowed down?

eg: I don’t think we can “‘become neutral,” because the politically

neutral position is always an unacknowledged support of the status
22 qui parle fall/winter 2016 vol. 25, nos. 1–2

quo. Conflict is not only destructive, although it can often be only

that; it also has the capacity to generate new strategies, new inven-
tions, not only political but also aesthetic, scientific, or philosophical.
I don’t disagree that the future of humanity looks very bleak: if the
saturation of Earth by the resources and impulses of capitalist and
nationalist exploitation continues as it has, there will be no Earth for
humans to speak of, no movements of deterritorialization, no future
for us as such. Even now, many of the political and ecological strat-
egies we have developed as transformative relations will have been
reterritorialized, coded back into the terms of production and con-
sumption. While I don’t believe that the end of humanity’s existence
is the end of life on Earth—in fact, it is clear that other, more evolu-
tionarily adept species are more likely to survive our own demise—I
do think that without political and intellectual strategies that are
more successful than they are presently, we are facing imminent self-
destruction. Can becoming be slowed down? My answer is that be-
comings are always at their own pace, but they always coincide with
other becomings. In other words, we can no more slow down than
speed up becomings, because we are not the masters of becoming
but the field within which and over which becomings occur. They
occur to us and in us. We can invoke them, we can make ourselves
as open as possible to events, but they only occur in our place rather
than being what we choose. We are not the agents of becoming but
constitute part of the domain or terrain in which becomings occur.

ss: I find the thought of us as a field over and within which be-
comings occur fascinating. It seems to visualize that our life is not
a one- directional impulse but rather intensification in space. I guess
what influenced (and maybe misdirected) my question is that when
thinking about becoming, I am constantly tempted to translate the
idea to that of the acceleration of life particular to processes of mod-
ernization. I think of Marx’s capital chasing around the world or of
the speed of information surpassing our speed of travel. How do
these forces relate to the becomings you describe?

eg: These forces that surround and internally constitute us are in-
deed spatial, as you suggest, but also temporal. I have attempted to
think about becomings beyond the model of the dialectic, which,
Grosz & Stirner: All Too Human 23

through Hegel and Marx, provides a direction in or to which the

present tends, a specific trajectory from the present to the future. This
direction is inherent in the logic of production, consumption, and
accumulation. This is why we can readily classify some of the key
phases of human development, as Marx does, as premodern (or feu-
dal), modern, and as other, more contemporary readers of Marx, such
as Frederic Jameson, suggests, postmodern. I don’t feel particularly
comfortable with these categories. For me, the work of other theo-
rists, those of a non- dialectical becoming—such as Spinoza—may be
of more use. For Spinoza, each material thing is composed of rela-
tions of motion and rest, speed and slowness. The speed of informa-
tion is what it is. It does not “surpass” our speed of travel; rather, it
is a different mode of materiality than travel. What I disagree with
in dialectical models is precisely the telos that they assume, a goal
given already in the beginning that unfolds itself in history. This is
no doubt one way, in many contexts a fruitful one, of addressing the
movements of time and history, but I am no longer clear that Hege-
lianism and its heritage in Marxism can adequately address the idea
that the future is virtual, that is, yet to be made, not given in advance.
There is no slowing or rushing to it; it makes itself from its diver-
gence from the present.

ss: To continue with another mode of becoming: You describe

art as an intensification of life, an intensification of forces, energies,
and sensibilities. In the examples you describe in your work—most of
them paintings—art has a peculiar two-sided mode of being. On the
one hand, it is immersed in the chaos that you describe as the “begin-
ning” of the universe, but on the other, it is also a containment of this
very chaos. In fact, as you write, “the first gesture of art, its metaphysi-
cal condition and universal expression, is the construction or fabrica-
tion of the frame” (cta, 10). In a way then, art seems to position itself
at the conjuncture of unleashed becoming and the desire to contain
it—a conjuncture that also defines the place of the anxious human
subject which suddenly experiences that all its measures of securi-
ty, risk containment, and border- drawing are always already becom-
ing undone. It might not be possible to relate these two situations at
all, but I’m wondering how to understand art from this perspective.
24 qui parle fall/winter 2016 vol. 25, nos. 1–2

Does art give us the illusion of a containment of chaos? Or does it

take up this tension between chaos and a moment of containment or
framing and translate it into another mode of experience?

eg: I think that you are correct to suggest that art is positioned
as it were midway between the forces of chaos and the process of
framing—territorialization and deterritorializing—that provisional-
ly organizes some of these forces. But I am not sure that I agree that
art is about unleashed becoming and the desire to contain it. Nor do
I think that art is about the illusion of containment; nor is it about
translation into another mode of experience. I am not at all sure that
art is about experience: that was the provocation of the book that I
set out to explore. Security, risk containment, and border- drawing are
what characterize the state and its apparatuses, as well as, increasingly,
corporations and their movements. The frame is not a border in the
sense that a border is policed, regulated, maintained; rather, it is the
process of cohesion that draws together its constituents. The chaos
that is drawn upon and invoked in art is the chaos of the impersonal,
the world itself. Politics is a parallel framing, in which framing, now
by economic policies and by the practices of each state’s self-security,
that is, through police, army, and intelligence forces, is oriented to
securing borders, just as corporations are another mode of framing
the organization and movement of labor and goods according to the
logic of profit. This does not mean that art is apolitical or even anti-
corporate; rather, its politics, its economics, and its energetics are self-
defined, determined by art itself and its practices of production and
circulation. For me, what art produces is the intensification of sen-
sation, not the sensations of a subject or even that which an object
elicits for a subject, but that impersonal force, or forces, which make
possible a relation between subject and object. Art is the summon-
ing up of inhuman forces, the forces of the real, or chaos, within a
very narrow and self- defined problematic. In Francis Bacon’s paint-
ings, the problem, among many he addressed, was how to make paint
convey gravity, contortion, particular affects that impact the human
body—how to contain a human body within a force field as it is on
the point of disintegration. This is not the same kind of containment
as that sought by nations in their attempts to secure borders; in fact,
Grosz & Stirner: All Too Human 25

I believe that it is the contrary movement, that of opening up or cre-

ating sensations rather than regulating them. This is why art, even
when sought by the rich and kept as a magical commodity, has the
power to speak to those contained perhaps more than to those who
contain them. This may explain why, on the one hand, the purchase
of certain “art commodities”—the “great masters”—is completely ir-
rational in terms of labor power and commodity production (after
all, why pay $120 million for a Picasso if one can have a more or less
exact facsimile for $20?), and on the other hand, why works of art
address all sorts of unexpected audiences—the poor, the uneducated,
the socially marginalized, the imprisoned, the illiterate—for whom it
is capable of exerting great effects.

ss: Your reflections on art are grounded to a great extent in the

writings of Deleuze and Guattari. One aspect that features heavily
in their writing but does not seem to figure to the same extent in
your thought is capitalism. Your last answer already pointed in this
direction: How does your understanding of life—and art as an inten-
sification of life—relate to capitalism, or, more specifically, the kind
of advanced capitalism we are experiencing at the moment? Corpora-
tions are patenting and owning plant life, which is itself a source for
human life; in the US, an industrialized prison system is capitalizing
on the life of inmates; in Europe, the lives of asylum seekers have to
be pitched to so- called host societies via their potential to be of value
to the local economy. What is capitalism within your understanding
of life? Is it a force, an event, a problem? And how does art relate to it?

eg: This is a tough question, and a very complicated one. I don’t

think capitalism is an event, or a problem: it is an attempt to pro-
vide a solution to the problem of the distribution of resources and
the satisfaction of human needs. I think of it as a system, that is, as a
particular regulated organization of forces, the forces of nature and
those of human culture regulated by the requirements of produc-
tion and profit. It is significant that Deleuze does not address capi-
talism as such in his writings on art and literature. And this may be
because, although capitalism at its different stages of organization
provides the context and background for works of art (and the pro-
duction of sciences) of all kinds, and finds a way of seeking profit
26 qui parle fall/winter 2016 vol. 25, nos. 1–2

from the affects and sensations that art produces, art is not reducible
to capitalist production.
If we focus only on the question of art for a moment, what is sig-
nificant about capitalism is its inability to properly value art in the
strict terms of capitalism. Art is the irrational excess of capitalism. It
is only art, and only very rare art, that is capable of commanding the
excessive sums that so- called great works attain. While at the same
time, artists themselves, for the most part, find it nearly impossible to
earn a living wage. So one of the reasons that I have been interested
in art is the peculiar place it plays in capitalism as one of the sites of
its irrational excess. When a painting can sell for hundreds of mil-
lions of dollars, capitalism (state or corporate) has gone momentarily
mad. This madness is fascinating. Why is it that those rare individuals
who could buy anything tend to buy what can’t be really bought?
Now regarding capitalism more generally, you are right to indicate
that a new phase of capitalism is emerging, a phase in which it is no
longer the production and sale of commodities that is the primary
goal. This phase postdates the writings of Deleuze and Guattari: cap-
italism is not only oriented to the saturation of markets with com-
modities; it is now also focused on the production of experiences, in
which art and especially music play an outsized role. If it is not only
goods and services that are now for sale, but also sensory experiences,
art, and especially art at its most commercial, and the experiences it
generates becomes as it were the next object for sale. There is barely a
store that sells, say, clothing or shoes that does not play bland but ap-
pealing music. Why? It helps to make people happier, more relaxed,
more inclined to buy.

ss: Many of the art pieces you discuss—mainly Australian Indige-

nous art—involve dreams. This figure of the dream returns, in a differ-
ent form, in your own thought. In Becoming Undone, for instance, you
speak repeatedly of your dream for a new feminist theory, a dream
for new kinds of knowledge. The “content” of this dream, so to speak,
was to “explore how a new framework in which the human man and
woman are contextualized not only by human constructs, that is, by
linguistic and cultural environments, but also by natural and animal
geographies and temporalities, might help us to rethink some of the
Grosz & Stirner: All Too Human 27

key concepts in feminist thought” (bu, 5). I would be interested in

hearing what you think about the routes feminist theory has taken in
the last five years. What happened to this dream, did you see it being
fulfilled, or has it adapted and taken new forms? On another level, I
am also interested in the figure of the dream itself. What is a dream in
the context of your thought? How does it relate to the real? And what
kind of gesture is it to dream within philosophy?

eg: This is another rather difficult question. A lot has happened in

feminist theory in the last five years; and indeed, although many of
the questions addressed by feminist thought remain the same—those
questions about the variations of subject, identity, and experience—
there are also now many feminist theorists and works that actively
and openly address questions of nature, animality, and materiality
that move well beyond the questions of self and identity. For exam-
ple, we need only to look at the work of Rosi Braidotti, Claire Cole-
brook, Rebecca Hill, or Jami Weinstein to see that new questions
can be addressed that don’t foreclose earlier questions but enable a
more careful explanation of them.6 I am very happy to see this, and
I don’t think that this impoverishes feminism by deflecting thought
away from the category of women; rather, it opens up and enables us
to question what it is that constitutes woman, and man—and their
socio-natural contexts—in their complexities.
Now regarding the dream itself, a dream is real; it does not rep-
resent the real. It is a psycho-physiological construct that weaves to-
gether memories, wishes, images, sounds, in the present and from
the past, into some form of narrative, however fractured. It is a small
and completely self- contained and unsustainable work of art, another
kind of frame for organizing chaos.

ss: Within your philosophy of becoming, sexuality plays a cen-

tral role: In Becoming Undone you explain sexual difference as the
most universal question—a question that precedes race, ethnici-
ty, religion—because, as you write via Luce Irigaray, whatever one’s
identifications, “one comes from a man and a woman” (bu, 109). Sex-
ual difference is “an ontological condition of life” (107) rather than
performatively produced, as, for instance, Judith Butler argues. I am
still struggling with this assertion. If we can think the thought of
28 qui parle fall/winter 2016 vol. 25, nos. 1–2

“mankind evolving beyond man” (14), as you suggest, why can’t we

think mankind beyond man and woman? Why can we think beyond
the human, but not beyond sexual difference? What if we think of
humans produced in a lab setting? Or as reproducing like certain
kinds of bacteria, plants, or parthogenetic vertebrates? My focus here
is not on whether or not this is possible but on the fact that—with
human brain cells and stem cells being produced in a lab setting—it
has become possible to think it. And I am asking myself, what kind of
thinking could such a vision open up? What can such a posthuman
vision do for gender studies, for feminist studies? Or—why should we
not go that far beyond the human?

eg: Maybe I am more old-fashioned than you but I cannot imagine

the human, or life or any kind evolved beyond the most simple organ-
isms, not having (biological, i.e., genetic) parents. At least two parents.
Whether we like it or not politically, this is a given feature of life. We
can substitute for two parents by taking, or even creating, gametes
from them and artificially combining them. But I don’t see this as
very different from having two parents—biologically, it is still material
from two sexually different beings that produces life. Sexual difference
is still the condition under which life emerges. Brain cells and em-
bryonic cells, that is, cells which contain equipotentiality, which are
capable of becoming all kinds of organs, are possible only because of
the self-generating qualities of gametes, especially after fertilization.
So I understand that we wish for a future beyond sexual differ-
ence, or at least the diminished forms of difference that patriarchy
provides us, but I do not see that resorting to science, technology, and
their various techniques will in any way address, let alone overcome,
the problem of sexual difference. Given that the question of sexual
difference has not been adequately raised by the sciences, and espe-
cially the biological sciences, I find it alarming that we must look to
(corporate and patriarchal) technologies, especially medical technol-
ogies, to find an answer to the problem of sexual difference. What is it
about this irreducible difference that is so difficult to accept? Must we
become like mushrooms in order not to be women and men? We are
not posthuman but all-too-human!! We may wish to move beyond
sexual difference, but wishing does not make it so.
Grosz & Stirner: All Too Human 29

ss: Didn’t Deleuze and Guattari ask us to “Make rhizomes, not

roots”? I guess one way I thought about it is in terms of a Kantian “As
if,” a mode of thought that treats something as if it was already objec-
tively true. It might be a leap of faith to think beyond sexual differ-
ence, but in the process of going there we open up the possibility to
conceive of reality otherwise. Then again, this assumes that the reality
is that of sexual difference, and much of feminist and queer theory in
recent years has worked to dismantle this. What about, for instance,
alternate models of parentage? If we think of your argument about
humans as a field within and over which becomings occur, why is
human life that which results from the union of male and female,
but not that which is the gravitational center of agents that care for a
life? Why should the force of conception be given more value when
thinking about what life is than that of ongoing nurture, attention,
guidance, love?

eg: I don’t see the point of an “As if” hypothesis. We could equally
ask, What if all people on Earth treated each other with respect? That
is, for me, the same kind of question you are asking. That is, what if
the world is different than it is?
I want to go through this a little more carefully. Alternative modes
of parenting are fine—there have been “alternative modes of par-
enting” to the nuclear family for most of recorded history. How we
should choose the social relations in which children are raised is a
very different kind of question than how a child is made, and makes
itself in utero. For that, you need ova and sperm, and for the time
being there is no way to avoid this. We can live our lives, as male or
female or as intersex, as we choose and as our culture dictates, but
we can’t choose how human gametes are capable of reproducing hu-
man beings. For me, you are mistaking an ontological relation for a
social relation. I think, moreover, that feminist and queer theory have
worked to dismantle sexual oppositions—that is, where the two sexes
are considered mutually exclusive and mutually exhaustive—not sex-
ual difference, which I understand is the right to define oneself and
one’s other according to one’s own terms, not those devised to char-
acterize the “human” (that is, white, Eurocentric, able-bodied mascu-
linity). Difference is the undoing of opposition.
30 qui parle fall/winter 2016 vol. 25, nos. 1–2

ss: Related to your visions for the future of feminist theory, I was
wondering about your thoughts on the future of the humanities at
large. It seems a commonplace to point out that the humanities are
in a crisis right now— every other day there is a new article that jus-
tifies and praises the value of the humanities, most of the time in an
attempt to reinscribe it again into circuits of value production. The
humanities seem as threatened as their namesake. You yourself have
made an argument for the need to rethink the humanities and sug-
gested that understanding the human in its inhuman context would
allow for hybrid forms of knowledge and for the ability to account
for finer gradations of differences within the human species—and
beyond. Most recently, the undoing of the humanities took on a cruel
and twisted reality in Denmark, where the government slashed fund-
ing in an unprecedented way—a move that especially affects small
humanities programs centered around minoritarian identities and
languages: among others, there will be no new students admitted
to Hebrew, Turkish, Balkan studies, or Eskimology. How can such a
move be critiqued from within the position that the humanities at
large do need to be rethought? And how does your take on the hu-
man and the humanities affect your own work, your teaching and
research as someone with an appointment in the humanities?

eg: I myself am not interested in critiquing this move to reduce

the humanities. A critique will not help in any way to reintroduce
disciplines that have been dropped or transformed. The question is,
How can one continue to study languages or area studies—the two
disciplinary fields in most immediate danger of being removed from
the university—without the university? And this is linked to the ques-
tion, Why are these languages and area studies the ones dropped? The
answer is political as much as economic: it is no accident that what is
being dropped, in Denmark and elsewhere, are those languages and
area studies that are the locus of political problems. What is to be
done for the humanities? Well, I have no better an answer than any-
one else on this question. What do you think? Clearly, students and
faculty protesting are not going to be enough to stop these changes
and restore closed departments and programs. This is part of the on-
going corporatization of the university.
Grosz & Stirner: All Too Human 31

ss: I don’t know if student and faculty protests will necessarily be

enough, but I want to believe that it is an important means that holds
the potential to interrupt a status quo. I received a large part of my
education in Germany at a time when many states introduced tui-
tion fees for the first time. Less than ten years later, these laws were
reversed, state by state. This was certainly due to a larger network of
political agents, but student protests unsettled the new state before
it could even become a status quo. And student protests have been
the agent of political change time and again, worldwide. But I see the
problem of the corporatization of the academic landscape you are
invoking. Can you say more about its consequences?

eg: Of course the radical political resistance of those directly in-

volved in certain political decisions is necessary and important. But
this is far more readily achievable when, as in Germany, and France
and Italy and more or less throughout Europe, the right to a free ter-
tiary education is a basic assumption. You can see how well this has
worked in the US! Students can protest away about whatever they
like—at the moment, it is justifiably about race in the US—but these
demonstrations do not seem to have the power to make officials and
boards of governors change their opinions. One must not undertake
whatever struggles one can with the assumption that one will “win”;
there is great nobility in losing certain struggles even more than win-
ning them!
Once the university becomes a commercial site no different than
any other “industry,” then it is market and political forces, and no lon-
ger intellectual forces, that become the focus. My one consolation is
that no one working in regulation and organization of the humanities
has even thought for one second about my work on the humanities!
Instead they remain concerned with financial questions—how to pay
for knowledges that are not directly relevant to profit, how much
to charge students for this knowledge. Just by the way, technically, I
work in the social sciences in my own institution, and the problem
is no different there than in the humanities! There is no general solu-
tion to this problem, only local responses. How is one to study He-
brew in Denmark? That will now require some inventiveness!
32 qui parle fall/winter 2016 vol. 25, nos. 1–2

ss: It is definitely encouraging to see that you do not seem to ques-

tion the fact that one will continue to study Hebrew! Can we assume
that the decline of the humanities at the universities hence does not
signify the decline of the humanities as such for you?

eg: I am aware that humanities programs are being cut around

the globe; I am not happy with this, but not at all surprised, because
when education becomes directed to the needs of industry, it is hard
to make industry understand how to capitalize on the study of litera-
ture or philosophy! The humanities remain vibrant and strong to the
extent that they address the human in all its variations and insofar as
they remain a domain in which teaching and research, student inter-
est and faculty commitment, is strong. We will survive this latest eco-
nomic onslaught, even if it invokes intellectual mutations and chang-
es, as power and resistance are continually redefining each other.

ss: To return to a question that assumes a certain traditional law

for an academic trajectory: What are you working on at the moment?

eg: I am working on a book I have provisionally called “The In-

corporeal.” It addresses some of the same questions as my previous
work but is specifically focused on the distinction between the ma-
terial and the ideal that has pervaded philosophy. I argue that this
opposition is not tenable; there can be no viable materialism— or
idealism—without its other, the difference each carries within itself.
So I have searched for examples in the history of Western thought of
this belonging together of matter and ideal—the Stoics, Spinoza, Ni-
etzsche, Deleuze, and others will be explored. That is why I was able
to invoke them when you asked about a new kind of ethics able to
address the decline of man. It is an ethics that is indissolubly also an
ontology and a politics that attracts me, and I see in their work the
conditions for a new kind of ethics. I hope to have a publisher some-
time soon!

ss: And we will be looking forward to reading it!

simone stirner is a doctoral candidate in comparative literature with

a designated emphasis in critical theory at the University of California,
Grosz & Stirner: All Too Human 33

elizabeth grosz is professor in the Gender, Sexuality and Feminist

Studies program at Duke University. She is the author of Volatile Bodies:
Toward a Corporeal Feminism (1994) and, most recently, Becoming Un-
done: Feminist Reflections on Life, Politics and Art (2011).


1. Elizabeth Grosz, “The Future of Feminist Theory: Dreams for New

Knowledges” (Keynote, Feminist Theory Workshop, Duke University,
March 2007).
2. Elizabeth Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), hereafter cited as cta; Eliz-
abeth Grosz, Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and
Art (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), hereafter cited as bu.
3. Rachel L. Carson, The Sea around Us (New York: New American Library,
1961), 28–29.
4. Lawrence Buell, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental
Crisis and Literary Imagination (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), 5; see Ulrich
Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Scott Lash, Reflexive Modernization: Poli-
tics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order (Stanford: Stan-
ford University Press, 1994), 6.
5. We can find this framework in Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1990); Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guat-
tari, What Is Philosophy? (London: Verso, 1994). Deleuze and Guattari’s
use of the term ethology derives from the works of Konrad Lorenz and
Jakob von Uexküll, the founders of ethology.
6. For further details see Rosi Braidotti, Metamorphoses: Towards a Materi-
alist Theory of Becoming (Cambridge: Polity, 2002); Rosi Braidotti, The
Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity, 2013); Claire Colebrook, Essays on Ex-
tinction: Death of the Posthuman (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press,
2014); Claire Colebrook, Essays on Extinction: Sex after Life (Ann Arbor:
Open Humanities Press, 2014); Rebecca Hill, The Interval: Relation and
Becoming in Irigaray, Aristotle, and Bergson (New York: Fordham Uni-
versity Press, 2014); Claire Colebrook and Jami Weinstein, eds., Inhu-
man Rites and Posthumous Life (New York: Columbia University Press,