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THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN:
BIO-ARTISTIC PRACTICES OF THE HUMAN NEXUS
Thierry Bardini & Marie-Pier Boucher
A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a meta for?
The most spectacular hold of the mechanistic over the subjective looks promising in genetic
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manipulation. To this is attached the more or less fantastic idea that we could, in the short term,
‘make whole men.’ In such fantasies, the primitive biologisms compete with humanisms and with
helpless theologisms, and not an ounce of understanding of the conditions of anthropogenesis in
evolution is discernable among those who hold such opinions.
Here, we examine a variety of constituent pseudo-evidences in contemporary artistic discourses and practices
about/on the destiny of the human species, at the dawn of wide scale technical and cultural transformations
made possible by the current cybernetic convergence of informatics and molecular biology. These pseudo-
evidences have been appearing for a while now, in cyborg fantasies and delusions stemming from NASA circa
1960 and updated by the post-constructivist discourse of Donna J. Haraway’s disciples: “Cyborgs do not stay
order entities like genomic and electronic databases and the other denizens of the zone called cyberspace.”
The cyborg is. Or as Katherine Hayles says, “We became post-human.” As though saying it were enough to
If we can indeed hypothesize about the human future in this day and age, it is thanks to the existence of a milieu
of exchange, of an interface for all the categories and actions that have been imagined up until now through
a series of inevitable dichotomies framing the human experience. Such an interface allows us to imagine
equivalences, translations, or trans-formations between the worlds, repertoires, and practices, which concretize
the human experience. These transformations can be understood as “identity manipulation” or, alternately, as
an evolutionary discontinuity for the human species. So, if the cyborg can (or will soon be able to) be “in fact as
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in nction¨ which in the eno rings ol on earth as in heaven¨ ano calls lor a serious amen it is because there
are passages between these worlds, repertoires, and practices, between various modalities that attempt to a give
a meaning to the human experience.
To us, all these passages lead to what we call the “metaphormatted human.” By this all too serious play-on-
words, we mean at least three different things: (1) that today’s human beings are meta-formatted by a set of
philosophical postulates, moral values, and inscription practices that frame the human evolution (both biological
and cultural) with respect to technology; (2) that today’s human beings are potentially metamorphosed by a set
of technological concepts, processes and incorporating interventions amounting to the concrete bootstrapping
of the production of man by man (and the masculine is intentional here); and (3) that both these philosophical
axiomatics ano these technological nxes are heavilv oepenoant on an engraineo set ol metaphors. catachreses
and metonymies that actually enable and constrain the passages between both realms and, thus, artistic
practices. One might actually claim that the production and the destruction of these tropes is what today’s art
is about. Or. to put it in clearer terms. tooav`s metaphormatteo human is the name ol a nction in the process
of performing a new evolutionary discontinuity, whose writers (especially SF writers) and bio-artists are the
Here. we will enoeavor to oescribe some ol these passages in literature ano bio-art. quicklv oenneo as
contemporary artistic interventions on the living—but of course no one actually knows what the living actually
is anvmore. ano this oennition is thus a preliminarv oennition onlv. Rather than appealing to an alreaov too
heavily connoted “cyborg experience”, we will concentrate on the metaphormatting process, centered on a so-
called nexus, the Human Nexus. Today’s human nexus is an experience: the experience of the human becoming,
at the age of the bio-informatics convergence.
THE HUMAN NEXUS: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FOURTH KIND
Are there people who are constituted in the overcoding empire, but constituted as necessarily excluded
and decoded? Tökei’s answer is the freed slaves. It is they who have no place.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
For it seems that Global Capitalism has now entered its genetic phase, the phase of our encounters with
machines of the fourth type. After the simple machines of the old societies of sovereignty, the motorized
machines of the disciplinary societies, the information machines of the control societies, human beings now
lace or will soon lace genetic machines.
In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari (D+G hereafter) distinguished between machinic enslavement
and social subjection: while the former happens when “human being themselves are constituent pieces of the
machine that they compose among themselves and with other things (animal, tools), under the control and
direction of higher unity,” the second occurs when “the higher unity constitutes the human being as a subject
linked to an exterior object, which can be an animal, a tool, or even a machine.”
The focus of this distinction
is on the regulatory unit and its feedback on the human constituent/subject, i.e. on the nature of the “link.”
The human being is an alienated slave to the machine when the regulatory unity of the machine maintains
him or her in the state of a component, an expandable part of a higher unity; he or she is socially subjected
to the machine when it reconngures him or her as a subject. In this opposition lies the original alternative
between over cooing ol alreaov cooeo nows¨ ano organizing conjunctions ol oecooeo nows as such¨ that
D-G attribute respectivelv to the imperial state´machine nrst tvpe ano the motorizeo machine ol the mooern
nation/state (second type). Cybernetic machines, as machines of the third type, construct a generalized regime
of subjection that aggregates machinic enslavement and social subjection as its extremes poles: they renegociate
the link between the abstract poles ol the nrst two kinos ol machines.
THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN
The latest episode in the modern civilization described by D+G is the cybernetic decyphering and organizing
ol the nows ol human nature itsell. DNA bases ano bits. to the point that one now leels compelleo to complete
their enumeration, be it “an animal, a tool, a machine... or a human being”. What about these machine then,
which reconngure humans both as a subject ano an exterior object¨? Ano which oecooeo nows are thev trving
to organize? D+G say that it is what cybernetic machines do, and they are right. But there are cybernetic
machines and there are genetic machines. When the former regulate components as such without being able
to actually build them, the later both regulate and build its components. The autopoïetic machine, or second-
order cybernetic machine is no mere motorized, regulated, or cybernetic machine. It is no mere computer. It is
tomorrow’s bio-computer; it’s an egg able to count.
In the same way that the prototype of the cybernetic machine of the third type (James Watts’ governor) was
born with the nrst oullv lunctional motorizeo machine the steam engine genetic machines were born with
the nrst lullv lunctional computers. i.e. personal oistributeo computing machines. Genetic machines oiller
from computers as the governor differs from the steam engine: by one order of magnitude in a series of logical
types. It is once the World was enfolded in a global network of personal (albeit “pumped-up”) computers, that
the human being could be described as a genetic database. The decrypted genome is the equivalent of the
meter kept in the museum, an etalon; both metal and silicon, dollars and gold, it is a new universal equivalent.
Gene-banks are inoeeo the nnancial institutions ol the machine´state ol the lourth kino. A new subject. a new
person, a new human being might emerge out of these biological and cultural transformations: homo geneticus is
the way out of today’s human nexus. Nexus is the order of the day, and junk is its symptom.
In the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary
, “nexus” has three inter-related meanings that date back in English
to 1663: (1) connection, link; also: a causal link; (2) a connected group or series; and (3) center, focus. Its
etymology is reported to the past participle of the Latin nectere, “to bind.” The American Heritage® Dictionary
of the English Language, in its fourth edition (2000) gives the same three meanings
, but reports the Latin
origin to the Indo-European root ned- , to bind, tie.
Another dictionary, the online Etymology Dictionary
following etymology and history of the word junk: “worthless stuff,” 1338, junke “old cable or rope” (nautical),
of uncertain origin, perhaps from O.Fr. junc “rush,” from L. juncus “rush, reed.” Nautical use extended to
“old refuse from boats and ships” (1842), then to “old or discarded articles of any kind” (c.1880). The First
Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer
(from the new and enlarged
edition of 1894) gives more details about the Latin root of the word: juncus, from jungo, to join: used for binding,
making baskets, mats. Further philological inquiry also tells that the Latin jungere is not the ultimate root for
junk; and that its etymology goes back even further to the proto-Indo-European root/stem: *yug-, meaning to
bind, to harness.
The same reference adds that “junk” is “another term from the cattle breeding lexicon of
ancient Indo-Europeans. This word was used only for harnessing cattle into the yoke, so the very word ‘yoke’
is a clear derivative.
]unk ano nexus thus come lrom relateo semantic nelos stemming lrom two oillerent Inoo-European roots: vug-
ano neo-. Thev provioe us with our two main archetvpes ol the machines ol the nrst kino: the voke ano the
knitter. Put together, these two archetypes organize the becoming of computing machines, through difference
engines and Jacquard looms (second kind). At the time of the machine of the third kind and its correlated
“societies of control,”
two verv innuential science-nction writers nrst unoerstooo. albeit in a verv oillerent
fashion, the importance of the human nexus.
Allreo Elton van Vogt was a Canaoian-born science nction author. ano one ol its earlv pioneers. In December.
1939. he publisheo his nrst SI storv. entitleo Discoro in Scarlet¨. in ]ohn W. Campbell`s Astounding Science
Fiction. the ultimate mavbe because it was the nrst science-nction serial ol all time. Discoro in Scarlet¨
oepicteo a nerce. carnivorous alien stalking the crew ol an exploration ship in outer space. In 1950. van Vogt
incorporated the story into his novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle.
The plot of the story, in its various versions,
alwavs revolves arouno a malevolent close encounter ol the thiro kino¨. Its alien menace Coeurl. a big.
black, enigmatic catlike creature that consumes “id” and can teleport itself through space - was matched
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against the human crew of the spaceship. The only thing that did not make it an unequal battle was the crew’s
use of a new science, called “Nexialism”.
Van Vogt created a protagonist, Dr. Elliott Grosvenor (an implicit reference to the earliest cybernetic device,
]ames Clerk Maxwell`s regulator. who was the nrst graouate ol the Nexial Iounoation.¨ Traineo in a kino
of trans-disciplinary science, Grosvenor was able to see the connection between many aspects of a problem
that other specialists coulo not see because ol their oisciplinarv training. Van Vogt oenneo Nexialism as the
science ol joining in an oroerlv lashion the knowleoge ol one nelo ol learning with that ol other nelos. It
provides techniques for speeding up the processes of absorbing knowledge and of using effectively what has
There is not much doubt that van Vogt coined the word “nexialism” on the sense of “connection”, “link”, of
the word “nexus””, and its extensive treatment in Whitehead’s philosophy. In fact, “nexialism” is van Vogt’s
nctitious renoering ol two ol his main innuences: Korzvbski`s general semantics ano Allreo North Whiteheao`s
process philosophy. The two were linked historically, and Korzybski acknowledged his debt to Whitehead on
the nrst page ol his masterpiece. Science and Sanity. when he oeoicateo his svstem to the works ol nltv-eight great
authors. incluoing Whiteheao. which have greatlv innuenceo |his| inquirv.¨
In Process and Reality, Whitehead makes of the nexus one of his central concepts, which, along with those of
“actual entities” and “prehensions” describe the “ultimate facts of actual experience.”
When actual entities,
also oubbeo actual occasions¨. are the nnal real things ol which the worlo is maoe ol.¨
relations among actual entities:
Actual entities involve each other by reason of their prehensions of each other. There are thus real
individual facts of the togetherness of actual entities, which are real, individual, and particular, in
the same sense in which actual entities and the prehensions are real, individual, and particular. Any
such particular fact of togetherness among actual entities is called a “nexus” (plural form is written
Van Vogt`s nctitious renoering ol Whiteheao`s philosophv thus proposes a characterization ol a science ol
relations where relations (prehensions) are real entities, and no “mere” abstractions.
In this sense, today’s Nexus
is the connected human, the link towards the post-human nexor, maker of links.
But there is yet another crucial characterization that stems directly from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), and
one that was originally developed in Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). From
the opening crawler of the movie, indeed, replicants (Scott’s word for androids, Dick still calls them “andys” or
even skin jobs¨ are presenteo as slave labor¨. Anoroios were then the ultimate representation ol the artincial
creature, the merging of cybernetic circuits and organic life in the still recognizable shape of a human being.
As such, they carried the representations ascribed to machines since the dawn of the mechanical age, and,
especially as “perfect” replacement of human labor. In fact, the name chosen by PKD to call the ultimate
generation of androids, the “more human than human” Nexus-6, happens to be highly evocative of their
function, but also, through its etymology, of yet another resonance.
Nexus, indeed, is not only a Whiteheadian concept borrowed by A. E. van Vogt. In Roman law before Justinian,
a person called nexus or addictus was a quasi-slave. Nexus and addictus were not slaves, but were treated as such:
they retained their personhood (when slaves are not persons: servus non habet persona). The Romans had no prisons
for debtors, and the creditor was the debtor’s jailer. A person was called nexus when he was bound to a creditor
and has given himself (his body) as security for his loan. In case he could not pay his debt in time, he became
Nexus and addictus were two legal variations on the specinc kino ol subhumans that Romans calleo
slaves. Under such condition free persons could enter the realm of Res Mancipi, things that could be owned (and
thus required mancipation): “land, houses, slaves and four-footed beasts of burden.”
THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN
There is not much doubt in our mind that the debt of today’s human nexus is still the good old debt of the
Fall, paid in both masculine and feminine biblical senses of sorrow (labor).
But the question is raised: could this
debt be paid off with the postmodern death of the Creditor, or could His absence merely mean the rise, in an
innationarv spiral. ol a new species class? ol creoitors?
FUTURE EVES: CAPITALIST (RE)GENESIS?
The non-correspondence of the physical and the intellectual made itself felt constantly, and in
the proportions of a paradox. Her beauty, I assure you, was beyond reproach, defying the subtlest
analysis. From the outside, and from the brow to the feet, a sort of Venus Anadyomene ; within,
a personality absolutely foreign to this body. Imagine if you will, this abstraction brought to life : a
Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Future Eve (1886)
We extracted a half of our title and our epigraph for this section from one of the leading modernist tales of the
artincial creature. Villiers oe L`Isle Aoam`s Future Eve. In doing so, we want to start with the female archetype
ol the anoroio. the artincial brioe¨:
Artincial humans. or anoroios lrom the Greek aner¨. gen. anoros¨. meaning person. man. have
been part of European literature since the classical age (…) Traditionally, manufactured humans are
either women or servants ... There are thus two primarv variations on the main theme: the artincial
woman. or. more accuratelv. the artincial brioe. ano the artincial menials. In both cases. however.
the creators of these androids as a rule are men, particularly artists, magicians or scientists, who, as
ngures ol masterv. are experienceo ano aoept in cultural practices.
We will come back to the artincial servant later. In the meantime. let us start with this artincial Eve. Villiers
de l’Isle Adam’s account is important because he anticipated a later trend of modernity. “Since our gods and
hopes are onlv scientinc now.¨ he wrote. whv shoulon`t our loves become scientinc too? Insteao ol the lorgotten
legenoarv Eve. ol the legeno oespiseo bv Science. I oller vou a scientinc Eveonlv worth. it seems to me. ol
these withereo viscera thatlrom a remainoer ol sentimentalism ol which vou are the nrst to laughvou
still call vour hearts¨. . Chimera lor chimera. sin lor sin. smoke lor smoke.¨ His artincial Evenameo
Hadaly for “Ideal”—is the quintessential sexyborg, as seen from the masculine trenches of the sex wars. “Electric
Daughter” of the famous Edison, she is everything a man can desire, plus a female creature with no desire for
men. It is Edison here, who plays the part of the Master, artist, magician and scientists, maker of links.
A feminist critique has recently rediscovered this: “In the age of information and biotechnological producibility,
Haoalv appears to emboov hersell unoer new circumstances. |...| Thev are all in their own wav sisters` ol the
“future Eve”—idealized ‘surrogate women’ who have what ‘real’ women do not have or promise to deliver,
what ‘real’ women in the meantime refuse to.” In this perspective, the trivial opposition between “real” and
artincial¨ begs the conclusion. The artincial. in Eoison`s woros. was a copv¨ that will outlive the original
ano alwavs look voung ano alive¨. Artincial nesh never ages. In late mooern terms. this. ol course. calls
for a theory of the simulacrum. The future Eve is “nothing more than the copy of an image consisting of
oata recorosano strictlv speaking even an artincial ngure in which the image ol another artincial ngure is
brought back to life.” Baudrillard’s false/truer quote of the Ecclesiastes not withstanding, we know now that
the simulacrum is just an illusion, and that “in this sense, “future Eve” reanimates nothing more than an old
image: Eva before or after the Fall of humanity. Although the biblical legend maintains that this Eve was the
nrst natural woman.¨ we know verv well that she is nothing more than a phantasm.¨
Here the link takes the
evasive form of the simulacrum, the nexus a relation between (false) copy and (true) original.
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It is, of course, this kind of false dualism that we would like to dodge here, and stress instead the performativity
of the simulacrum. Actually, it seems that Villiers de l’Isle Adam himself was aware of this… According to
Remy de Gourmont, an old draft of Future Eve included the following notions about “the Real”:
The Real has degrees of being. A thing is more or less real to us as it interests us more or less, since a
thing that would not interest us at all would be as it did not exist—that is much less, albeit physical,
than an unreal thing that would interest us. Thus the Real, for us, is only what touches us, senses or
mind; and according to the degree of intensity which this unique real, that we can appreciate and
name as such, impresses us, we classify in our mind the degree of being more less rich in contents that
it seems to reach, and, that, consequently, it is legitimate to say that it realizes. The only control that
we have over reality, it’s the idea.
One nrst aspect ol this perlormativitv. ol these oegrees ol being. is how Future Eve informs recent artworks, and
in so ooing continues to proouce an artincial¨ ollspring. One such work is ]avier Roca`s RE-constructing EVE,
an Extended Virtual Environment (EVE) commissioned for SIGGRAPH 99 Art Gallery (August 8-13, 1999).
About his piece, Roca notes that
RE-constructing EVE begins as a concept: a futuristic re/presentation of an unchangeable bio-
logical structuring of the mechanical/digital body. It becomes a process: an internal deconstruction
ol ioeals ano re-oennition ol the Aoam´male ano Eve´lemale. It enos as result: a mechanical ´ oigital
painting where the brush strokes of the canvas have been substituted by pixels or polymorphous
“bytes” of information. “RE-constructing EVE”, a topographic evocation of genetic engineering is
ultimately a transitional work, an invitation to explore the “multiplicity” and the complex relation
between organism ano machine. ano hopelullv. as in Villier`s narrative text. renects in this case a
brioge between the twentieth centurv ano the twentv-nrst centurv.
Re-Constructing EVE, however, still works on a representational mode: it is, according to Roca, “a “blue print,”
an “assemblage” of symbolic materials, interactions and historical anatomies of possible bodies.” Less symbolic
however, is the notion that there is already, one new Eve, and that, as Villiers de l’Isle Adam had prophesied, it
was provided by Science. Such is the premise of the Critical Art Ensemble’s Cult of the New Eve (CONE):
The Human Genome Project has one last Eve for science to offer us. She is the one who will help the
public understand the beginning of a second genesis-one that is not beholden to any reproductive
boundaries that once separated the species-and to understand it as a good thing. She is Eve without
the fall-an Eve of perpetual grace, but most amusingly, she is a random Eve. The mythology of this
Eve goes as follows, although the narrative tended to vary slightly with each scientist CAE interviewed:
When the Human Genome Project (HGP) began its mission of mapping and sequencing the
entire human genome, it needed DNA in order to start. Since HGP was an academic/government
initiative, ethics committees were established to make sure that this genetic investigation did not go
into territories best left unexplored. One of the concerns among all the participants was to insure
that those who donated blood to the project would do so anonymously, so their identities would be
protected from the media and various objecters to the project who might harass willing participants.
A review board with strict procedures was set up to insure the privacy of blood donors. However,
alter the nrst oonor was approveo. no other oonors were neeoeo. The DNA ol the nrst approveo
volunteer was mass produced (copied) as needed. Why go to the trouble and expense of having any
more? Alter all. one oonor is sulncient lor the project`s neeos. What is known about this oonor is that
she is a woman from Buffalo, New York. She is the Eve of the second genesis. It will be a curious sight
to see if she, too, is labeled by science with the sign of origination.
A rhetorical project that has given way to several performances in key nodes of the electronic art world (e.g.
Karlsruhe ZKM) or other venues (e.g. the streets of Brussels) since the year 2000, CONE is above all a discursive
THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN
construction: in the classic vein of one of the most outspoken artistic collective worried about the new wonders
of biotechnologies, CONE is a parody of a religious capitalist ritual enacted for various audiences. It translates
critically most of Villier’s insights and rephrase them in catchy aphorisms such “We can make Eden. Paradise
now!” or “the New Eve is our own. She is global”. CONE—as in Devo’s headish fetish?—remains, however,
a rhetorical project and should be stressed only as a backbone to CAE other interventions; as such it does not
include a bioartistic practice, only a clever discursive production (and CAE now knows, to its own demise, the
difference between discursive production and bioartistic practice: in America-under-the-Patriot-Act, the second
can lead you to jail. Shame!). Closer to our interest here, we shall now focus on two early bio-artistic projects
where we coulo nno the Future Eve genealogy present, albeit in a distorted way.
The nrst ol these projects. ]oe Davis`s Microvenus 199o. is arguablv one. il not the nrst. bioartistic piece.
Carried out with the technical help of molecular geneticist Dana Boyd at Jon Beckwith’s laboratory at Harvard
Medical School and at Hatch Echol’s laboratory at University of California, Berkeley, the piece consisted in
the encooing ol an icon in the DNA molecule ol a bacteria. The title ol the piece came lrom the specinc icon
that Davis chose to encode in the DNA of the bacterium, an ancient Germanic rune shaped in the resemblance
of the female genitalia. Davis contends that “the graphic “Venus” icon drafted for the Microvenus project was
inspireo bv some ol the oloest messages Homo sapiens have lelt lor themselves i.e.. ten- to nltv-thousano-vear-
olo Venus ngurines¨ ano partlv bv episooes ol censorship that are now historicallv associateo with scientinc¨
attempts to create messages for extraterrestrial intelligence.”
About this piece, Adam Zaretsky has recently noted that,
These sequences were chosen by Davis to exemplify a certain aesthetic and that his aesthetic is not
expressed visibly by the organisms in question. Instead, the message is genomically embedded poetic
license, without gene function and presumably without any organismic effect (…) These strains of
bacteria carry multi-generational molecular inscriptions somewhat permanently. In this incarnation,
the organisms are artistic vessels. At the molecular scale, structural change of DNA sequences have
real differences in shape but the difference can only be “seen” through processes of technological
sleuthing (I.e. DNA Isolation, PCR, Use of Restriction Enzymes and Gel Electrophoresis). Joe Davis’
designer bacteria look more or less morphologically “normal” through a microscope but they carry
a message, which has the potential to outlive the human race or live among us (even inside of us)
ubiquitously, without a trace.
Of Villiers de l’Isle Adam’s original project remains the idea that the “copy”—here in the renewed meaning of
the palimpsest of Life—might outlive the human original, and that the new Eve (or one of his alter-egoes here,
i.e. Venus) is the meaningful message of an obsolete humanity.
Quite paradoxically, Davis’s encoded icon is
actually invisible and even more importantly, without (direct) phenotypical effect on the bacteria that “carries’
it: it is in other words, junk DNA (more on that later). In some ways, the icon is an invisible message, the invisible
message of a New Genesis, and the link moves from the realm of the visible to the realm of the readable.
This idea of a new Genesis is also developed in the piece of another bioart pioneer—transgenic art in his
own words—, in Eduardo Kac’s piece aptly named… Genesis (1999). Commissioned by Ars Electronica and
presented online and at the O.K. Center for Contemporary Art, Linz, Austria, from September 4 to 19, 1999,
this transgenic artwork consists of yet another inscription in bacterial DNA, what Kac calls an “artist’s gene.”
Kac created this synthetic gene (in fact he commissioned it to scientists who actually created it) by “translating
a sentence from the biblical book of Genesis into Morse Code, and converting the Morse Code into DNA base
pairs according to a conversion principle specially developed by the artist for this work.”
The sentence reads:
Let man have oominion over the nsh ol the sea. ano over the lowl ol the air. ano over everv living thing that
moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Again, we will come back later to the question of this dominion, or, better
said, of this burden.
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Kac designed the piece so that “participants on the Web could turn on an ultraviolet light in the gallery, causing
real, biological mutations in the bacteria. This changed the biblical sentence in the bacteria. The ability to
change the sentence is a symbolic gesture: it means that we do not accept its meaning in the form we inherited
it, and that new meanings emerge as we seek to change it.”
He insisted that he had chosen Morse code
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genesis of global communication.”
He could also have added that he was true to one of the original insights at
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in some kind of code-script the entire pattern of the individual’s future development and of its functioning in
the mature state.”
So in this piece at least, it is obvious that the new or second Genesis is (also) the genesis of a new age, i.e. of the
new kind of capitalism that we have dubbed, after D+G, capitalism of the fourth kind. Under this renewed reign
of the Nexum, artists still have to demonstrate how they can escape the rigors of what the theoreticians of the
Frankfurt school had called “integration” and that we can now more aptly call recycling. From the days of the
latest short-lived revolution—the beautiful Spring of 1968, capitalism has shown without mercy that it can,
584""4'(-"#7#1"(5*&(,"-#"&*(#-5*5#&'(*2(*+"(0258*(*+$*(The Commentaries on The Society of the Spectacle now appears to
be the new bible of the communication VP and other advertising agencies executives.
As D+G say, the link has become personal. To go one step further, will the human person become a link, essentially
junk? Will the evolutionary destiny of the human being boil down to the slave-subject-user-product sequence?
Recall Philip K. Dick’s premonition, relayed by William S. Burroughs and Ridley Scott in the composite work,
!22>?,1/(Blade Runner, an introduction to the capitalism of the fourth kind… Remember the character of the
geneticist, Isidore/Sebastien, whose motto is “I make friends”… Remember the response of his creature, the
android-replicant, Rach(a)el: “I am not in the business; I am the business…” If Deckard and Rachael are the
new Adam and Eve of the re-genesis of capitalism, could it be that only junk could slow their fall? Do Davis and
Kac’s artist genes qualify?
VIRAL ONTOLOGY: LOVE THY VIRUSES LIKE THYSELF
Postmodernity (human, all too human) spreads the virus of voluntary servitude, an “ecological
micro-servitude, which is everywhere the successor to totalitarian oppression” (and how
green were those nazi valleys). There is only contagion of technics and the freedom of
becoming imperceptible, invisible, and ignoble (learn to growl, burrow, and distort yourself).
Keith Ansell Pearson, Viroid Life
When Davis and Kac created so called “artist genes” and encoded them into the DNA of another life-form (be it
a bacteria, a plant or an animal), they apparently did very different things. Indeed, they used the same technique
(recombinant DNA). They both create an intermediary, a vector that molecular biologists call a “plasmid”:
a circular double-stranded DNA molecule (separate from the chromosomal DNA) capable of autonomous
In both cases, these plasmids encoded a meaningful message for the human experimenter/artist:
a sentence of the Bible or a German rune. But their works seem to vary tremendously according to the point
of insertion of their vectors.
Davis chose to insert his vector to no phenotypical effect, and, in fact, introduced more junk into the host DNA.
By an ironic twist, the “meaningful message” that he wanted to introduce actually amounts to more junk for the
host. In other words, since this encoding does not alter the functioning of the coding DNA that it transforms,
the introduction does not result in a different protein synthesis but rather piles up with the non-coding DNA
of the host, i.e. its junk DNA. Materially speaking, the host is not altered, and this why Zaretsky speaks of an
“invisible” aesthetics. !"#$#%&"'(%)*(+,*(-./.%&"0(/.1+.23#+*(4)+5.
THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN
Kac, on the other hand, chose to insert his “artist gene” into the coding part of the DNA. In another of his
pieces, entitled Move 36, he coupled his artist gene (in this case the Cartesian cogito) with a functional gene, i.e.
a gene with a phenotypical effect:
“Move 36” makes reference to the dramatic move made by the computer called Deep Blue against
chess world champion Gary Kasparov in 1997. (…) The installation presents a chessboard made of
earth (dark squares) and white sand (light squares) in the middle of the room. There are no chess
pieces on the board. Positioned exactly where Deep Blue made its Move 36 is a plant whose genome
incorporates a new gene that I createo specincallv lor this work. The gene uses ASCII . to translate
Descartes’s statement: “Cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) into the four bases of genetics.
Through genetic mooincation. the leaves ol the plants curl. In the wilo these leaves woulo be nat.
The “Cartesian gene” was coupled with a gene that causes this sculptural mutation in the plant, so
that the public can see with the naked eye that the “Cartesian gene” is expressed precisely where the
curls develop and twist.
In his piece entitled Genesis, he took yet another strategy: he enabled the on-line visitors to the installation to
voluntarily mutate the trans-coded bacteria with an interactive interface that activated an ultraviolet light. And
Adam Zaretsky seems to aptly conclude:
Instead of emphasizing a permanent, hereditary thumbprint, a sort of “artist was here” designer
organism, Genesis emphasized the continued evolution of transgenic living organisms beyond the
intentionality of the artist’s hands. Though the emphasis on codex and genetic code have their
similarities with previous transgenic works, Eduardo Kac inserts not a mythic signature of genetic
gralnti alone. but a living text which is subject to environmental oegraoation. popular mangling.
multiple re-readings and continued mutant alterity.
Note however, that the only way for Kac to produce (i.e. to master) a visible effect is (1) in the case of Move 36,
by coupling his artist gene to a “ready-made gene”, one that is known to be functional, and (2) in the case of
Genesis, to use a mutagenic agent (i.e. UV light). Thus, in themselves, his “artist genes” do not differ essentially
from those crafted by Davis. They too are meaningful junk. Again, on an interesting new twist on the history of
art, the visible has given way to the readable, and in both cases, the aesthetic posture requires the explanatory
oiscourse ol the artists. The real cvborg. the artincial creature. is. in both cases invisible to the piece`s auoience:
it is the plasmid, this virus-like entity, which is the true creation.
The status of the virus vis-à-vis the living is still problematic today. As one of us write these lines, the December
2004 edition of !"#$%&#'"()*$+#",% stanos out amiost the jumble in his olnce. with this simple question on its cover:
“Are viruses alive?” On page 105, the monthly publication reproduces a 1962 statement by the French laureate
ol the Nobel Frize in meoicine. Anore Lwoll: Whether virus ought to be consioereo as organism or not is a
matter of taste.” So little has changed since the 1960s regarding this question; however, a profound change in
perspective has taken place. While humankino was starting to experience its nrst allegeo retroviral panoemic
AIDS. the virus became the site ol a lunoamental scientinc controversv: parasite or svmbiont or. alternativelv.
In fact, a recent Deleuzian bio-philosophical exegesis has led to the “depathologization of the virus” (Hansen)
or. even more. to its reoennition as a driver of evolution, by genome or partial-genome fusion-acquisition (Ansell-
Pearson, Parisi, Thacker). Actually, scientists themselves have already made this point. During the unveiling of
the nrst oralt ol the human genome in 2001. Davio Baltimore. lor instance. qualineo the genome as a sea ol
reverse-transcribed DNA, with a small admixture of genes.”
If Bruno Latour once described the biochemist
the “last of the rogue capitalists,”
one must see in the virus, often the “object” or “tool” of the biochemist’s
stuoies. the nrst ol the genetic capitalists. ano in the genomic viral lusion-acquisition. the essential principle
genetic capitalism, this fourth phase of creative destruction (according to Schumpeter’s expression).
!"#$%%&'()%*#+#')+*',)%#$-.#$%'(/01"$%' ! ! ! !
Some of the most valuable insights of Deleuze’s biophilosophy need to be worked out against the state of
current advances in biology. Such is his notion of coding, and most importantly, of “surplus value of code.”
so well, nor only according to Margulis’s notion of endo-symbiosis (as Ansell Pearson and Parisi have done), but
also in the light of recent studies of transposons (i.e. “jumping genes, an essential part of so-called “junk DNA”)?
What if D+G’s notion of “code” encompassed more than the “mere” genetic code? How to make sure that in
our effort to question the paradigmatic notion of code still hegemonic in biological discourses, we do not bring
ORGANS WITHOUT BODIES: SPARE PARTS FOR THE MACHINE OF THE
To deal with the possibility of cultures dying out, Hascombe started a central storehouse, where duplicates of
every strain were kept, and it was this repository of the national tissues, which had attracted my attention at
the back of the laboratory. No such collection had ever existed before, he assured me. Not a necropolis, but a
histopolis, if I may coin a word: not a cemetery, but a place of eternal growth.
Julian Huxley, The Tissue Culture King
So far, we have encountered one strategy to answer this question: focus on the smallest common denominator
to qualify the human nexus as a machinic becoming, i.e. the virus. Reduced to its smallest living/non-living
components, the virus, individuated code in swarms, multitude of them, in symbiotic, parasitic and/or genetic
associations. Life appears eventually as always-already-a-Nexus. And the question of the human becoming
becomes itself the site of recombinant practices which might of course displace a few frontiers (visible/
readable, for instance) but which also work according to the same logic that already was: the connective logic
of Life as a form of association. That, in the process, the symbolic turns to junk and junk to a site of potential
redemption (the fall eventually leads to the gutter, right?) should not come as a surprise… That, in the process,
the meaningful turns into the invisible (and vice versa), should not be either… Remember, Life from the start was
recast as Nexus, both relation and exploitation, as in a twisted master-and-slave dialectic: Carbon and Silicon,
Adam and Eve, Dekard and Rachel, Edison and Halaly. Who’s the slave, Where is the Master? WHO’S IN
But before we come back to this most troubling question, let us see yet another strategy employed to come
to terms with it: instead of descending the phylogenic ladder (from Human to Eukaryotes and down to
Prokaryotes and else, bacteria and viruses), let us move backwards on the ontogenic staircase, from the body
to its organs, from the Body without Organs (BwO) to the Organs without Body (OwB), its obverse. These two
strategies somehow converge, or better said are two modalities of the same phenomenon, according to the old
(but basically wrong) law of biology that holds that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny (one climbs the ladder in order
to descend the stairway, or vice versaBC$D.$%-/+$'*6+'*,%/:*0$E2):"F$G/H*@$/+$6/3-%$%"$#6/%*$%-)%$%-*6*$/+$4)$%6*.(8$/.$
today’s science and technology that both makes emerge a “body in pieces” and culminates in the biogenetics
notion that “the true center of the living body is not his soul but its genetic algorithm.”
Unsurprisingly, to shift
from one modality to the other is also a passage that current bio-artistic practices have taken.
!*6*0$ #*$ #/22$ 6*1*6$ +'*,/9,)227$ %"$ %-*$ #"6@$ "1 $ %-*$ Tissue Culture and Art Project (TC&A hereafter), alone or in
association with Stelarc. Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, the two artists members of TC&A consider that their work,
involving “the manipulation of living tissues outside and independent to the organism they were derived from”,
provides an alternative to the kind of manipulations practiced currently in molecular biology protocols. They
insist: “artists dealing with genetics consider the genetic code in a similar way to the digital code. As a result
the manipulation of life becomes ‘manipulation of a code’.” That is why, if their art belongs to contemporary
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Davis and Kac previously discussed). They add that the epistemological and ethical questions raised by their
THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN
artistic interventions are not addressed by existing discourse, because “the manipulation of tissues is visceral.”
Indeed their work involves the production (culture) of tissues or neo-organs, and they agree that “it is about
producing body spare parts.”
Trained in both arts and sciences necessary to their practice, they do not ignore
the philosophical references that made us consider these spare parts as necessary components for the machine
of the fourth kind.
And accordingly they wonder about the ethical and political consequences with these
spare parts, in which they see an instance of what they call “the Semi-Living” or “Partial Life”:
Working with the Semi-Living and Partial Life, we are confronted with the question; are we creating
another lorm ol lile lor exploitation? . in the long term. thev |the semi-living ano partial lile
entities| conlront the viewer with the realization that lile is a continuum ol the oillerent metabolizing
beings and in the transition from life to death, and from the living to the non-living. Their existence
contradicts the conventional dichotomies that govern traditional and current Western ethical
Indeed, they come very close to an anthropomorphized version of the machine of the fourth kind, i.e. a
machine whose nexus would still be human. In order to that, they have to entertain the (paradoxical?) idea that
the body can be extended and eventually encompass the whole living world:
In the context of our work, once a fragment is taken from A BODY it becomes a part of THE BODY. The
living fragment becomes part of a higher order that engulf all living tissues, regardless of their current site.
We see it as a symbolic device that enhances the bond humans share with all living beings. The semi-living are
lragments ol The BODY nurtureo in surrogate boova techno-scientinc one. The laboratorv is part ol the
extended body, but the care can only be performed by a fellow living being—us, the artists.
We shall get back to the full extent of the consequences of this posture when we shall return to the golem. But
in the meantime, let us remember that it is quite a contemporary posture, that of hylozoism:
Everything that exists, the whole of Nature is alive—it suffers and enjoys. There is no death in this
universe; what happens in the case of “death” is just that particular coordination of living elements
disintegrates, whereas Life goes on, both the Life of the Whole and the life of the elementary
constituents ol realitv . We nno this position lrom Aristotle his notion ol soul as the One-lorm ol
the body) (…) up to the whole panoply of today’s theories, form the notion of Gaia (Earth as a living
organism) to Deleuze, the last great philosopher of the One, the “body without organs’ that thrives
in the multitude of its modalities.”
“The bond that human share with all living beings” is TC&A’s version of the Nexus. It is both the axiom and
the result of their strategy involving “the phylogenic staircase,” our second characterization of contemporary
bio-artistic practices of the Human Nexus. But in their case, one more degree of complexity arises from the
fact that the Nexus is distributed across an interface that is also part of it: Nexus square, if you will. The nexus as
process is inoeeo squareo when it is both the matrix the artincial womb ano the lorm ol lile that grows in it.
The embodiment of the human becoming by bio-artistic discourses and experimentations instigates a new
conception of the human body that participates in its dis/re-embodiment. This notion is central to our
unoerstanoing ol bio-art: along with oiscourses. bio-artists engage in a global renection that participates in
human culture which might also be anchored into the biological dogma. Simultaneously, artists experiment
with living systems, tissues or nucleic acids, and begin to challenge their given uses, purposes and meanings.
Bio-artists thus create pieces that link computational systems (hard and software) and organic matter (wetware),
sometimes creating hybrids or chimeras, monstrous or invisible (albeit readable) effects, all belonging to what
we shall call junkware.
In so doing, they participate in the production of a body that is, both, in fact, a new
boov ano a reconnguration ol the original natural¨ boov. Thus. articulating oiscursivelv ano experimentallv
!"#$%%&'()%*#+#')+*',)%#$-.#$%'(/01"$%' ! ! ! !
the boov in its singular artincial organs ano we are going to concentrate here on the artincial womb- is
simultaneouslv participating in its oisarticulation -or oislocation- with the natural boov ano initiating a renection
on its potential re-conngurations.
Ior some. the artincial womb AW herealter might be a mere lantasv. a oream or a nightmare straight lrom
the science nction imaginarv. However. we shall rather locus here on the scientinc elaboration oevelopeo bv
the biologist and M. D. Henri Atlan in his book entitled !"#$%&#'()&$*+,*-.. publisheo in March 2005. As the nrst
scientinc book ever written on the artincial externalization ol the reproouctive organs. Atlan oraws a complex
network ol relations to qualilv this monstrous¨ proouction. even il he oates the emergence ol the artincial
womb with Adlous Huxley’s Brave New World. Nonetheless. Atlan`s AW oillers lrom Huxlev`s nction in the verv
fact that it avoids the despotic control and concentrates on the technical feasibility of the AW entangled with its
cultural trans-formations. Again, the issue at stake here is not control (and even less discipline).
According to Atlan, the feasibility of the AW requires the reproduction of the membranes and exchange
mechanisms -placenta, amniotic liquid, membranes and internal walls- that enable the natural growing
mechanisms of the embryo.
Currentlv. in vitro lertilization allows the artincial embrvo`s growth until its
blastocvste phaseouring its nrst nve oavs ol lile. The crucial moment arises at the sixth oav when the embrvo
starts to create its own life milieu by initiating its nidation and individuation processes. This stage has not yet
been accomplisheo artinciallv oue to the extreme oilncultv ol reprooucing a viable placenta. However. at the
week, the “body” in gestation becomes a viable fetus, and its development can again be ensured in an
“extra-corporeal” environment. The possibility of an in extenso extra-corporeal gestation would require the
development of a full AW allowing gestation during the missing part between today’s in vitro techniques and
incubators, between the six day and the twenty-fourth week of the intra-uterine life of the embryo. Atlan argues
that this will be a reality in about 50 to 100 years.
Atlan describes the AW as an artifact: a manufactured object obtained by hijacking the laws of life.
lor us. the AW overnows this notion: we conceive ol it in its germinal operation. i.e. simultaneouslv in its
discursive creation and technical extrapolation. Its actualisation does not alone emerge from the simple
production of technical artefacts. As a matter of fact, the experimental techniques involved in the emergence
ol the AW inlrastructure interacts with contemporarv bioethics oiscourses ano engage both the connguration
ano re-connguration ol the generative lormat ol the artelact. Hence. experimentation creates the lormat but is
also formatted in return by the tropes of these discourses in what we have called the metaphormatting process.
This oiscourse-experimentation creates a conjunction. an interlace. ano oraws an art-incial lile equation: a
culture that becomes natural connateo with a nature that becomes cultural accoroing to an artincial operation.
Here again bio-artists provioe a term ol passage. The Tissue 8 Culture Artincial Womb project. lor instance.
concentrate on the utilisation ol bioreactors ano ought to be perceiveo as a current mooel lor the Artincial
Womb, and the initiator of the deployment of its corporealization. In doing so, they give or/and create
meaning from which emerge a new contextualization of the ongoing science of the AW. Thus, for us, bio-artists
become oesigners ol the artincial womb. in the lorm ol the bioreactor. an experimental svstem emulating the
conditions of the natural body (37°C, 5% CO2). As Catts and Zurr argue, the bioreactor is characterized by the
same functions as the uterus: “conceptually, a bioreactor (in conjunction with the semi-living sculptures growing
insioe it represents an artincial lile giving` ano maintaining lorce.¨
As a co-constructeo artilact oiscursive. scientinc ano artistic. the AW come along in a threelolo wav: 1
in the abstract process ol the artincial reproouction ol a natural mooel. 2 in the concrete albeit oiscursive
process of the actualization of its alleged ethical consequences, and (3) in the concrete process of the bio-
artistic experimentation on the bioreactor which actually bridges the two previous processes. The bioreactor
architecture initiates a corporeal disruption between the inside and the outside, and reveals a higher power of
the Nexus. on both sioes ol the interlace that it artinciallv creates: organ ano matrix. worlo ano human. mother
and son, Father and son, one Nexus (talk about panpsychism!).
THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN
BRAVE NEW GOLEM: OVERMAN, REDUX
With him He began. with him He concluoeo. as it is written |Fsalm 139:5|: thou hast lormeo me
before and behind.
We have lelt waiting the ngure ol the servant. this secono image ol the anoroio. It is now time lor him to come
back (with a vengeance). But behind the servant android lures the Golem of legend, and that, we feel, is dead
end, because, again, IT IS NOT ABOUT CONTROL, today’s Nexus is beyond control. Or more exactly, one
has to realize that the servant Golem is but one side of the Golem, its emanation on only one plane of his two
The Golem has always existed on two quite separate planes. The one was the plane of ecstatic
experience where the ngure ol clav. inluseo with all those raoiations ol the human mino. which are
the combinations ol the alphabet. became alive lor the neeting moment ol ecstasv. but not bevono
it. The other was the legendary plane where Jewish folk tradition, having heard of the Kabbalistic
speculations on the spiritual plane, translated them into down-to-earth tales and traditions (...) The
Golem, instead of being a spiritual experience of man, became a technical servant of man’s needs,
controlled by him in an uneasy and precarious equilibrium.
It is to this second plane of the ecstatic experience that we would like to draw your attention now. Sonya
Rapoport, in her redemption of Eduardo Kac’s Genesis gene, has caught a glimpse of this plane. Her web
work entitled “Redeeming the Gene, Molding the Golem, Folding the Protein,”
is a mythic parody that
challenges Kac’s work with the creation of a golem, brought to life according to the Jewish esoteric practices
of Kabbalah. According to Rapoport, Kac’s artist gene needs redemption because of the way it was produced,
or more accurately because of the languages (codes) of his making: Kac is guilty of having used the King
James translation of the Bible (rather than the Hebrew text of the Torah) and Morse’s code (and Morse was
pro-slavery). At the opposite, her golem is a positive force, brought to life by two women (Eve, of course, and
her Gnostic alter-ego, Lilith, “who irritated the Lord of Creation by demanding equal rights” (Scholem)). In
the end, Kac is redeemed, and in one of the last screens, his face replaced with that of Adam Kadmon, the
Frimoroial Man ol Lurianic Kabbalah. Ior. vou see. lor Luria. Aoam was twice a golem: He was nrst a gigantic
golem (Adam Kadmon) and second an ordinary golem (Adam Rishon):
Man, as he was before his fall, is conceived as a cosmic being which contains the whole world in
itsell ano whose station is superior even to that ol Metatron. the nrst ol the angels. Adam Ha-Rishon,
the Adam of the Bible, corresponds on the anthropological plane to Adam Kadmon, the ontological
primary man. Evidently the human and the mystical man are closely related to each other; their
structure is the same, and to use Vital’s own word, the one is the clothing and the veil of the other.
Here we have also the explanation of the connection between man’s fall and the cosmic process,
between morality and physics. Since Adam was truly, and not metaphorically, all-embracing, his fall
was bound likewise to drag down and affect everything, not merely metaphorically but really. The
drama of Adam Kadmon on the theosophical plan is repeated, and paralleled by that of Adam Rishon.
By her use of the Lurianic Kabbalah (for some other choices were indeed possible), Rapoport reinforces the
Gnostic emphasis of her piece, but she also gives us a very contemporary key to unlock the Nexus. Today’s Human
Nexus, and his associated Second Genesis, is the Eternal Return of the Primordial Man. As in the nrst time arouno. the
question raised is that of his freedom.
Ior twentv vears at least. we have hearo about nanomachines. artincial intelligences. artincial lorms ol lile.
Ior over twentv vears now some human beings have been busv builoing them. In the past nltv vears we have
oescribeo the structure ol DNA. ano oecooeo the genome base bv base. Human beings. nies. mice ano some
!"#$%%&'()%*#+#')+*',)%#$-.#$%'(/01"$%' ! ! ! !
worms are now olnciallv oata-baseo.
Here is our question: What becomes ol ethics il. as Ioucault hao it. ethics is the renecteo practice ol lreeoom
when we have alreaov lelt behino the era ol mass-proouction ol caoavers oeclareo bv Heioegger. ano entereo
the era of mass-production of genetic goylemes? Iirst steps. babv-steps in the slow process ol commooincation
The process of genetically modifying an human being and growing it out of “enriched” stem cells will, in
all likelihooo. be oevelopeo to scientinc success in the next twentv-nve vears or so. what we useo to call a
generation. Some groups, sects or laboratories have already started talking about their attempts to clone a
whole human being. A guy alone in his silicone garage has effectively done some species changing genetic
manipulations (on Mandeville’s bees). The French parliament has already invented the legal notion of a crime
against the species, super-seeding the crime against humanity, and therefore acknowledging that the crime has
already began. By the time that my son (or your daugther or their sons and daughters it doesn’t matter) will take
to reach their reproductive potential, there might be machines to produce super babies (and, no doubt, under-
babies). In the meantime, our kids will play with their brand-new DNA sequencers for children under 10 years
old. So, what do you think about freedom now?
With Slavoj Zizek, we agree only on this, no hyphen-ethics, just ethics. There is no biogenetic ethical question
per se: the ethical question remains the same albeit in new ano potentiallv extremelv crucial mooalities. So
today’s question is still what do you do with your freedom? Ano Zizek is right inoeeo in raising the question ol its
modality: how do these new conditions compel us to transform and reinvent the very notions of freedom, autonomy, and ethical
The rest ol Zizek`s oevelopment. posturing so-calleo Catholic counterarguments to better oispel
them, we are sorry to say, however, is just good for scrap: it leads unfortunately, through psycho-analysis, to the
revelation that we were never lree in the nrst place. Either Zizek has not hearo ol the lall or he is quite happv
to make it last. Inoeeo he must be when he proposes to nnish the Enlightment project his capitals ano lollow
the logic ol science to the eno.¨ waging that a new ngure ol lreeoom will emerge.¨
Reading these lines, I was reminded of the end of the Appendix to Foucault, where Deleuze too makes the wager
of “the advent of a new form,” in relation to the same new modalities: the overman, neither human nor God,
“which it is hoped, will not prove worse than its previous two forms.”
There is hope in the overhuman, this
form that stems from a new play of forces located outside of the human, in the revenge of silicon over carbon,
ol the genetic components over the organism. ol the agrammaticalities over the signiner ibio.. Outsioe ol
In which ways did silicon supersede carbon? How did the genetic components supersede the organism? On
their own? Did the sands suddenly express a new life-force? No no no: man is still in charge, and overman is
the compound form of forces in man with these new forces. Overman is the man taking charge of the animals,
of the rocks (the inorganic life of silicon), of the being of language. Deleuze wrote, following Rimbaud, “man
who is even in charge ol the animals a cooe that can capture lragments lrom other cooes. |.|. |l’homme chargé
des animaux même (un code qui peut capturer d’autres codes.|»
Keith Ansell Fearson is right to point back to the magnincent lormula ol Anti-Oedipus, “man as the being who
is in intimate contact with the profound life of all forms and all types of beings, who is responsible for even the
stars and animal life (...) the eternal custodian of the machines of the universe.”
But he follows the original
English translation of “chargé” by “responsible.” In Anti-Oedipus too, however, Deleuze and Guattari wrote
“chargé” as if something or somebody (God, this previous form?) had loaded the human being with the stars
and the animals
, had put man in charge of the machines of the universe as a “custodian” (un préposé). Man is
held responsible for the earth, like a pré-posé, with the machines of the universe in his custody, a kind of super-
Noah or a lree-noating ass.
THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN
All here is in the passive form, cryptic allusion to the rainbow of the covenant: “this is the token of the covenant
which I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you for perpetual generations: I have
set my Bow in the cloud, and it shall be a token of a covenant between me and the earth” (Gen. 9: 12-13). Note
this: the covenant is with the earth, and all that is made of it, the living creatures, and man is its custodian, not
for all eternity (as Deleuze and Guattari have it), but for perpetuity.
Note also that in this version of the story, man was never in charge of the rocks and stars, but only of what he
gave name to (Gen. 2: 19), of what was “delivered into his hands,” more bluntly, of what he can eat (Gen. 9:
2-3). Deleuze and Guattari thus extrapolated the original story, giving charge to man of all the rocks and stars,
whose sole custody was that of the angels, so far. No more need for Angels, man has become a star-eater, “has
plugged an organ-machine into an energy machine, a tree into his body, a breast into his mouth, the sun into
In other words: when did man develop an appetite for the inorganic? When did man start consuming matter
as such, not only living matter (albeit deprived of its running blood)? When did man start to watch over the
celestial spheres? Forget about the “start”, the origin, and let me rephrase the question in a better Deleuzian
fashion: what about the starworm-becoming of man? Do you need to be schizophrenic to know the starworm
in you? Do you feel the sunshine in your ass-hole?
What do you!"#$%&!"#'"!()*!'+,!-'.,!)/0!'%(1'(23!4'",+0!,'+"#0!1$%.!'%.!5+,3!6"*// !.+,'-2!'+,!-'.,!)/ 3!
Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, salts and metals? Star dust? From the biotic soup of a preindividual
magma, indifferentiated and monophased? The genes of your ancestors plus chance? Hasard et nécéssité? Many
voices talking in your head?
Are these mutually exclusive options? May we risk a synthesis?
78,+-'%! 9"+'%2#*-'%0! ,:"+);$'%0! <(=)+>0! +$=);*%&0! %'-,! ()*+! =+'%.?@! <*2").$'%! )/ ! "#,! -'<#$%,2! )/ ! "#,!
/)*+!&$%.20!#(=+$.!<'+=)%A2$B$<)%!/)+-!)/ !B$/,!)/ !"#,!/*"*+,0!)+>'%$C$%>!D'1B,22B(!"#,!conjunktions of decoded
singularities (Deleuze and Guattari), group individual twice dephased and open to the multitudes of his milieux
(Simondon). Overman, master of DNA, breeder of men (Sloterdijk, after Nietzsche and Heidegger). Overman,
the next phase of the becoming-starworm of man. Overman, the next proper name of the autogeddon,
equipped with the best logic science can provide. To the end! Let’s get into abstract sex,
let’s go capture other
codes... Let there be monsters and chimeras, parthenogenetic babies and clones... Let the better over(wo)man
CONCLUSION: HARDWARE, SOFTWARE, WETWARE AND JUNKWARE
Again, if we had to pick a model for the human becoming, we would pick the eternal return. Today’s Eve looks
and feel like our ancestor, after all, and the new Adam is but another All-embracing Golem of this day and age.
We are allegedly now on the threshold of the time of shape-shifters, when the human species is supposed to
enter the phase of the production of its own metamorphosis. Our cultural background is littered with promises
and prophecies, and the stakes are high for whom to speak the louder, for whom to capture the best the gloom
and doom, or alternatively, the hopes and dreams, of a humanity left shaking by the twentieth century. Those,
who, today, try to make us believe that they will soon be able to synthesize a whole human being from a bunch
of chemicals plus information, agree in principle with those who ban reproductive cloning and make it “a
crime against the species.” !"#$%&"'()%)*$%+,-$#)-.,%/0$1-+$+%"2 %)*$%3*"4$%-++'$. All feel that preventing or aiming at the
cloning of an individual considered genetically identical to another human being will not hinder, but rather will
facilitate the cloning of parts, sequences, cells or organs of human beings. On one side, the ban of reproductive
cloning provides the moral grounds that reassure the masses about the seriousness and integrity of those in
!"#$%%&'()%*#+#')+*',)%#$-.#$%'(/01"$%' ! ! ! !
charge, while on the other hand, the cultural folklore about human clones reinforces the feeling that we are—or
soon will be—able to do it.
matter is further advanced and the reign of the living money made nearer.
same time that we witness the slow crumbling of the Welfare State, and most of all of its promises for universal
health care. In fact we slowly enter the era of the mass production of undead beings, partial life, zombies and
other goleymes. The mass production of cadavers, to quote Heidegger, an expert in this notion, is slowly but
surely being replaced by the mass production of undead beings. By this we mean more than a horror/science
5(&2%#!&0%1+!%/ !0'+&%02():!1%9+0!%3+0!&'+!24)-2#)&2%#,!$6&!=62&+!:2&+0)::7!&'+!10%.6(&2%#!%/ !:232#-!+#&2&2+*!/0%4!
human origins, but with the legal and cultural status of dead matter. Sequence, genes, cells, and organs are the
new commodities, the bright future for the extension of the Market. If today’s global economy is under the spell
of “One Market Under God” (Thomas Frank), genes sequences and other living codes will be its junk bonds,
objects of the new risky and high reward market of a new form of capitalism, that we dubbed capitalism of
the fourth kind.
For this bright future of a capitalism of the fourth kind to live up to its alleged potential, it is necessary that
the standard model of molecular biology, centered on Crick’s central dogma and the ubiquitous cybernetic
metaphor of a world made of information, holds. One MUST BELIEVE that DNA’s only use or purpose is to
encode the synthesis of protein, that it is dead memory (ROM-DNA). One MUST ALLOW that 98.5% of its
bases, with no recognized value for the protein synthesis, are good for evolution’s trashcan. Junk DNA MUST
Richard Dawkins and the late Francis Crick, the heroes of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, incarnate more than
anybody else the decision that it MUST be so. They took this decision at the end of the 1970s: junk DNA, this
already inappropriate name that often tells more about ignorance rather than knowledge, was then equated to
Since then, for a quarter of a century, the Empire of Living Money has progressed everywhere. Dolly had the
time to be born and die (of premature senescence). ONE can now sell you your eternal cat, at the “reasonable”
price tag of US$ 50,000 per copy.
MAN IS DEAD, LONG LIVES THE NEXUS!
THIERRY BARDINI!2*!)!/6::!10%/+**%0!2#!&'+!B+1)0&4+#&!%/ !E%446#2()&2%#!)&!&'+!?#23+0*2&F!.+!
His new book Junkware is forthcoming with the University of Minnesota Press.
MARIE-PIER BOUCHER is a PhD student in the department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies
at Duke University. Her work focuses on the concretization/ individuation process of (bio)technical
objects. She is currently investigating the potential for the integration of biological materials and
processes into architecture to facilitate the emergence of living techniques (techniques du faire vivant). In
2006, she was a researcher in residence at SymbioticA: The Art and Science Collaborative Research Laboratory
based at the University of Western Australia. She has presented her work in multiple venues across
Canada, Australia, England, Spain and the Netherlands.
THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN
1. Donna Haraway, Cyborgs and Symbionts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993, xviii.
2. Gilles Deleuze ano Ielix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. London: Athlone Press, 1987, 456-457.
8. http://www.geocities.com/indoeurop/project/ phonetics/word58.html
9. Gilles Deleuze. Fost-scriptum sur les societes oe controle.¨ Pourparlers. Faris: Minuit. 1990´2003 |1980|. 2!0-2!7.
10. This story provided the inspiration for Riddley Scott’s 1979 movie Alien. Iirst unacknowleogeo. the innuence got
recognizeo alter van Vogt nleo a lawsuit claiming plagiarism. The lawsuit was settleo out ol court. ano van Vogt got both an
undisclosed sum of money and a presence in the credits of the movie.
11. A. E. van Vogt, The Voyage of the Space Beagle. New York: McMillan, 1992, 60.
12. Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. International Non-
Aristotelian Librarv Fublishing Companv: Lakeville. CT. 1958 |1933|. i.
13. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. New York: The Iree Fress. 1978 |1929|. 20.
14. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 18.
15. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 20.
16. This seems very close to William James’ program for “radical empiricism”, which states that “relations that connect experiences
must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as “real” as anything else in the system” (William
James, Essays in Radical Empiricism. Dover. New York. 2003 |1912|. 23. emphasis in the original.
17. “NEXUM - Rom. civ. law. Viewed as to its object and legal effect, nexum was either the transfer of the ownership of a thing
or the transfer of a thing to a creditor as a security (...) The person who became nexus by the effect of a nexum placed himself
in a servile condition, not becoming a slave, his ingenuitas being only in suspense, and was said nexum inire.” Entry “Nexum,” by
George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College, pp. 795-798 of William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman
Antiquities. John Murray: London, 1875.
18. ““Mancipium” or mancipation was a formal public ceremony required for recognition of conveyance in “title” of legal
ownership to a thing (mancipatio — taking in hand). The ceremony included striking a scale with a copper ingot as a token of
sale. Without this ancient ritual, no exchange had the sanction or protection of the law.” Entry mancipium, by George Long,
M.A., Fellow of Trinity College, pp. 727-728 of William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. John
Murray, London, 1875.
19. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;
ano thv oesire |shall be| to thv husbano. ano he shall rule over thee. Ano unto Aoam he saio. Because thou hast hearkeneo
unto the voice ol thv wile. ano hast eaten ol the tree. ol which I commanoeo thee. saving. Thou shalt not eat ol it: curseo |is|
the grouno lor thv sake. in sorrow shalt thou eat |ol| it all the oavs ol thv lile. Thorns also ano thistles shall it bring lorth to
thee. ano thou shalt eat the herb ol the nelo. In the sweat ol thv lace shalt thou eat breao. till thou return unto the grouno.
lor out ol it wast thou taken: lor oust thou |art|. ano unto oust shalt thou return.¨ Genesis, 3: 17-19.
20. Michael Andermatt, “Artincial Lile ano Romantic Brioes¨. in Romantic Prose Fiction, a volume in the ICLA (International
Comparative Literature Association) Comparative Literary History Series. Editors: Gerald Gillespie (Stanford), Manfred
Engel (Hagen), Bernard Dieterle (TU Berlin). http://homepage.sunrise.ch/mysunrise/mandermatt/publikation6.html. The
overall Gnostic navor ol the anoroio. this oemiurgic project. is clear lrom the start. Ior. as the Gnostic Gospel ol Thomas
had it, “(15) Yeshua said, When you see one not born of woman, fall on your faces and worship. That is your Father.” In The
Gnostic Bible. Ed. Willis Barnstone & Marvin Meyer. Boston, Shambhala, 2003, 49.
21. All these quotes come lrom Verena Kuni`s Cvborg conngurations as lormations ol sellcreation in the lantasv space ol
technological creation I: Olo ano new mvthologies ol artincial humans¨ |web site retrieveo Iebruarv 20. 220o| available on
line at http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/themes/cyborg_bodies/mythical_bodies_I/1/
22. Remy de Gourmont, Le livre des masques. Portraits symbolistes, gloses et documents sur les écrivains d’hier et d’aujourd’hui. Tome 1. Paris:
!"#$%%&'()%*#+#')+*',)%#$-.#$%'(/01"$%' ! ! ! !
Societe ou Mercure oe Irance¨. 189o. 87-9o.
24. Critical Art Ensemble, Cult of the New Eve position paper. |web site| retreiveo Iebruarv 20. 200o. online at http://www.
25. “Microvenus - art form using genetic sequences and binary code” Art Journal, 55:1, Spring,1996, 70-75, http://www.
26. “The Mutagenic Arts”, CIAC’s Electronic Magazine, 23, Fall 2005 http://www.ciac.ca/magazine/archives/no_23/en/
27. Villiers wrote: ”Far from suppressing the love towards these spouses,--so necessary (until further notice, that is) to the
perpetuitv ol our race.-- I propose insteao. to assure. realnrm ano guarantee its ouration. integritv ano material interests.
with the innocent help of thousands and thousands of marvelous simulacra—where beautiful mistresses deceiving, but now
harmless, will become a nature made more perfect by Science, and whose healthy adjunction will attenuate, at least, the
prejudices that carry with them always, after all, your hypocritical conjugal weaknesses. So, I, ‘the Sorcerer of Menlo Park’,
as I am called here, I come to offer to human beings of this evolved and new times,--to my fellows in Actualism, at last!—to
prefer henceforth to the lying, mediocre and always changing Reality a positive, prestigious and always faithful Illusion.”
30. “Eduardo Kac’s Genesis: Biotechnology Between the Verbal, the Visual, the Auditory, and the Tactile” Installation at
the Julia Friedman Gallery, Chicago, U.S.A, Reviewed by Simone Osthoff, Assistant Professor Art Criticism, School of
Visual Arts, Penn State University, U.S.A.
Originally published in Leonardo Digital Reviews, October 2001. http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/Leonardo/reviews/
oct2001/ex_GENESIS_osthoff.html. Retrieved February 20, 2006, available at http:´´www.ekac.org´ostholnor.html
31. Erwin Schrödinger, What Is Life? Cambrioge: Cambrioge Universitv Fress. 1992 |19!!|. 21.
32. About this tragic phenomenon, one will consult with great advantage Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool (University of
Chicago Press, 1997), and/or Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter’s The Rebel Sell (Toronto, HarperCollins, 2004).
33. “Once the DNA representing the Microvenus was chemically synthesized and converted into a form that can be inserted
into a cell, the next step was to introduce this DNA into a kind of biological “shipping carton” that scientists usually refer
to as a “vector.”(4) A vector in this sense is typically a viruslike entity that is not able to “live” autonomously but that can be
absorbed through cell membranes and thus enter and reproduce inside living cells.” (Davis, “Microvenus,” n. 15).
35. “The mutagenic arts,” n. 16.
36. See Thierry Bardini, “Hypervirus: A Clinical Report”, at http://www.ctheory.net, for further elaboration of the
apparition of the trope of the virus in so-called “post-modern” culture.
37. Renato Dulbecco, Howard Martin Temin and David Baltimore won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1975 for “their
discovery concerning the interactions between the viruses of cancerous tumours and the genetic material of the cells.”
Baltimore`s work centereo on the characterization ol the reverse-transcriptase. an enzvme specinc to viral RNA that allows
it to integrate their genes into the cell’s DNA. See http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1975/baltimore-
38. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern. London: Harvester Wheatsheef, 1993, 100-129.
39. “A code is inseparable from a process of decoding that is inherent to it.... There is no genetics without “genetic drift.” The
modern theory of mutations has clearly demonstrated that a code, which necessarily relates to a population, has an essential
margin of decoding: not only does every code have supplements capable of free variation, but a single segment may be copied
twice, the second copy left free for variation. In addition, fragments of code may be transferred from the cells of one species
to those of another, Man and Mouse, Monkey and Cat, by viruses or through other procedures. This involves not translation
between codes (viruses are not translators) but a singular phenomenon we call surplus value of code, or side-communication.
“ (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 53)
40. Keith Ansell Pearson suggests that D+G hold a kind of “molecular Darwinism: “the suggestion is that one can only
understand a molar population such as a species, in terms of a different kind of population, a molecular one, which is the
subject of the effects of, and changes in, coding.” Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of Deleuze (Routledge: London, 1999,
159.) This, however, sounds too close to Richard Dawkins’s version of neo-Darwinism not to raise my suspicion. For it was
mostlv Dawkins`s ioeathe selnsh genethat Crick ano his colleagues useo to close the metaphoric perlormativitv ol the
THE METAPHORMATTED HUMAN
initial cybernetic metaphor of molecular biology: by referring to parts of DNA whose only function was its “replication” (i.e.
selnsh¨ survival. thev actuallv oeclareo that junk DNA was selnsh. ano therelore that no use was to be searcheo in there see
Bardini, forthcoming for this line of argument).
41. The last sentence of this quote is used by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr in their text entitled “The Art of the Semi-Living and
Partial Life: Extra Ear—1/4 Scale” available on their website at http://www.tca.uwa.edu.au/publication/TheArtoftheSemi-
The whole story is available on-line at the Revolution Science-Fiction website, at the following URL: http://revolutionsf.
42. Slavoj Zizek. Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. New York: Routledge, 2004, 121.
43. Ionat Zurr & Oron Catts, “Artistic life forms that would never survive Darwinian Evolution: Growing Semi-Living
45. For instance, about their collaboration with Stelarc, they note that their work involves “the actual and suggestive
oisngurement ol the human boov- the oetacheo organ which is easilv recognizable as human - a somewhat plavlul reverse
reference to Artaud’s body without organs was in our case an organ with no body; or rather an organ with a technological
body.” Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, “The Art of the Semi-Living and Partial Life:
48. Zizek. Organs without Bodies, 120-121.
49. See Thierry Bardini, Junkware, forthcoming in the Posthumanities book series at the University of Minnesota Press, late
2010 or early 2011.
50. Henri Atlan, !"#$%&#'()&$*+,*-.. Paris, Seuil, 2005, 28.
51. Atlan, !"#$%&#'()&$*+,*-./ 42.
52. !"#$%&#'()&$*+,*-./ 47-48.
54. Gershom Scholem, “The Golem of Prague and the Golem of Rehovot,” The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays in
Jewish Spirituality. New York: Schocken, 1971, 338.
55. On-line at the following url : http://users.lmi.net/sonyarap/redeeming/index.html
56. Gershom Scholem, “Isaac Luria and his School,” in Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York: Schocken. 1995 |19!o|.
57. Eugene Thacker, The Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics and Culture. Minneapolis: MIT Press, 2005.
58. Zizek. Organs without bodies, 126.
59. Zizek. Organs without bodies, 133.
60. Gilles Deleuze, Foucault. Trans. Sean Hano. Minneapolis: MIT Fress. 1988. 132.
61. Deleuze does not say where in Rimbaud: it is in his letters, the so-called “Lettres dites du voyant”: “Donc le poète est
vraiment voleur oe leu. Il est charge oe l`humanite. oes animaux meme.¨ Overman is thus nrst a poet. a promethean poet
ready for a season in hell.
62. Keith Ansell-Pearson, Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of Deleuze. London: Routledge, 1999, 222.
63. The Ass Festival. Loaded as in “intoxicated”, drunk. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze notes: “Thus Zarathustra’s Ass says
ves. but to him. to alnrm means to bear. to assume or to shouloer a buroen onesell. He bears evervthing: the buroens with
which he is laden (divine values), those which he assumes himself (human values), and the weight of his tired muscles when
he no longer has anything to bear (the absence of values). This Ass and the dialectical ox leave a moral after-taste. They
have a terrifying taste for responsibility, as though it were necessary to pass through the misfortunes of rifts and division
in order to be able to say yes.” (Trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 53). Nietzsche provides
one of the metaphorical clues of the Ass character: “I am l’anti-âne par excellence, what makes of me a monster unique in
historv. I am in Greek ano not onlv in Greek the anti-Christian” (‘Why I Write Such Good Books,’ §2. Ecce Homo, in Basic
Writings. Trans. Walter Kaulman. Lonoon: Ranoom House. 2003. 719. Fierre Klossowski might give the nnal clue in his
wonderful “Nietzsche, polytheism and parody” (in Un si funeste désir, Gallimard, 1963, revised translation from http://lists.
“Zarathustra, once he has willed the eternal return of all things, has in advance chosen to see his own doctrine ridiculed,
as if laughter, this infallible murderer, was not also the best inspiration, as well as the best despiser of this same doctrine; thus the
!"#$%%&'()%*#+#')+*',)%#$-.#$%'(/01"$%' ! ! ! !
eternal return of all things wills also the return of the gods. What other sense, if not this one, can we attribute to the extraordinary
paroov ol the Last Supper where Goo`s muroerer is also the one who ollers the chalice to the oonkev - sacrilegious ngure ol
the Christian Goo lrom the time ol the pagan reaction. but more specincallv the sacreo animal ol the ancient mvsteries. the
golden oonkev ol the Isiac initiation. an animal oignineo bv his inoelatigable Ia |ita est!| - its inoelatigable yes given to the return
of all things - worthy of representing divine forbearance, worthy also thus of incarnating an ancient divinity, Dionysus, the
god of the vine, resuscitated in the general drunkenness. And, effectively, as the Traveller declares to Zarathustra: death, with
the gods, is never anything but a prejudice.” Ia!
64. Or more appropriately for the aevum, the times of the angels: Tempus enim et aevum simul inceperunt cum creatura aeviterna et
temporali (St. Albert).
65. Gilles Deleuze ano Ielix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus. Trans. Mark Seem et al. London: Athlone Press, 1983, 4).
66. Rimbauo again. in Soleil et chair¨ Sun ano nesh. originallv entitleo Credo in unam,” in Arthur Rimbaud, Collected
poems. Trans. Olivier Bernard. London: Premiere Books, 1962:
If only the times which have come and gone might come again!
- Ior Man is nnisheo¦ Man has plaveo all the parts¦
In the broad daylight, wearied with breaking idols
He will revive, free of all his gods,
And, since he is of heaven, he will scan the heavens!
67. After all, even bacteria do it (horizontal transfer of DNA), right? Some even use another life-form (a bacteriophage) as a
sexual medium, it which case it is called transduction. I borrow the expression “abstract sex” from Luciana Parisi’s eponymous
68. This is exactly the opinion held by Ian Wilmut, Dolly’s father, in a paper published in April 2005 in The Scientist and
entitled “The Case for Cloning Humans.” The trailer of this article read: “Controversial? Yes. But this approach might just be the best
way to understand and treat otherwise intractable diseases.” The Scientist, 19(8): 16, April 25, 2005, available on-line at http://www.
69. Ivan Oranskv. Cloning lor Front.¨ The Scientist. 192: !1. ]anuarv 31. 2005 |http://www.the-scientist.
!"##$%&'"( ( ( ( ( ( ((((()*+,%#(-.(/(0.-.(/(0-102
THE ETERNAL RETURN AND
THE PHANTOM OF DIFFERENCE
Translated by Arne De Boever
Under the title “The Eternal Return and the Phantom of Difference,” I want to cast light on what I will present
as the interpretative coup that, from Deleuze to Derrida, and via Klossowski and Blanchot, has oriented and
governed understandings of Nietzsche’s philosophy during the second half of the twentieth century. This coup
This is not a particularly “French” move. It was actually Heidegger who started it: he set out to read Nietzsche
using ontological difference as his guiding thread. And indeed, the authors that I just evoked have all been
;)"4"(#3<=' %#>(,#!,36' ,/!.' %#' .%$' ;/)&%!(</)' ?/=6' @=' &.%$' ),/3%#*9' A.,' 8B),#!.:' !"5;"#,#&6' %4 ' C' !/#' !/<<' %&'
that, of their interpretative decision is that whereas Heidegger sees in Nietzsche’s thought at the same time
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straightforward difference, without ambivalence, unequivocal.
says, an irreducible, undeconstructible difference. It would appear as an instrument of the deconstruction of
ontological difference itself, which is still considered too heavy, too encompassing, too attached to the sense of
being. Nietzschean difference would thus be more radical than ontological difference.
The purest, most probing expression of this radicality is, in the eyes of the French thinkers, the doctrine of the
eternal return. This is the particularly “French” orientation of the reading of Nietzsche during the second half
of the twentieth century: putting forward the doctrine of the eternal return to announce a thought of difference. “Return,”
Deleuze declares in Nietzsche and Philosophy, is the “being of difference as such or the eternal return.”
!"#$#!#%&'($%#!)%&$'&*$!"#$+"'&!,-$,.$*/..#%#&0#$ $ $
But why speak of a “coup” to refer to such an interpretation, given that this term implies violence, or even
deceit? First of all, because one cannot but notice that difference, “Unterschied” or “Differenz,” is not a
Nietzschean concept. It does not at all take up a privileged place in the philosopher’s lexicon and it does not
receive any special discussion. Secondly, because considering the eternal return of the same as a radical thought
of difference is paradoxical for more than one reason. Indeed, such an interpretation presupposes that the
eternal return, contrary to what its name indicates, is a principle of selection that, one could say, automatically
sorts between that which returns—or deserves to return—and that which does not. A principle that differentiates
[fait la différence] between the ontological candidates for return. A principle that announces, therefore, contrary
to what its name indicates, neither the return of the identical, nor the return of all things.
Identity, Deleuze declares, must precisely be understood starting from difference. For Nietzsche, identity does
not preexist the return, it is produced by it. Identity is therefore the result of difference. Is one still dealing with
an “identity,” in this sense? Deleuze replies: “Eternal return cannot mean the return of the Identical because it
presupposes a world […] in which all previous identities have been abolished and dissolved. […] Returning is
thus the only identity, but identity as a secondary power; the identity of difference, the identical which belongs
to the different, or turns around the different.”
As for the return of “all things,” it is a repetition that selects
and makes the division between that which can and that which cannot bear the test of the return. “If eternal
return is a wheel, then it must be endowed with a violent centrifugal movement which expels […] everything
which cannot pass the test.”
In another way, but with a different conclusion, Derrida insists in his short little text titled “Otobiographies”
on the link between that which unites the circle of the eternal return and the movement of differance. It is as
differancealnrmation ano selectionthat the eternal return must be unoerstooo.
Rereading all the instances of the doctrine of the eternal return in Nietzsche’s texts, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The
Gay Science. ano notablv in the posthumous texts. one cannot nno anvthing that justines such an unoerstanoing
of the doctrine, however dominant and widespread it might be. The “Different” does not exist. Whence, then,
I would like to develop a partial answer to this question here. Seen from the standpoint of difference, the eternal
return is understood by the authors that I have just referred to as a process of the discussion of duality, of the
dyad, of ontological couples, that opposes itself on all counts to the Hegelian dialectic. Anti-Hegelianism thus
constitutes another dominant feature of the French understanding of Nietzsche. ano one that is inseparable lrom the nrst.
It is in the name of anti-Hegelianism that difference is promoted to the rank of a guiding concept. Indeed,
difference is not opposition; as such, it is not looking for its resolution. This remark enables me to cast light on the
meaning of the word “phantom” in my title: “The eternal return and the phantom of difference.” According to
the authors that I have evoked, Nietzsche replaces the dialectical process of the resolution of opposites, which
reduces difference and subordinates it to the work of the negative, with a principle of spectralizing selection.
The wheel ol the return woulo make the oillerence between lilevitalitv ol alnrmation. ol all that oeserves
to returnano oeathinnrmitv. nihilism. weakness that cannot bear the test ol the return. Dillerence woulo
thus produce phantoms, it would be the principle of the distinction between living beings and their specters.
The principle of automatic selection between creative vitality and reactive phantoms. Without contradiction,
without negation. Everything that returns would thus return simultaneously accompanied by its phantom and
liberated from it. The production of the spectral double would be the Nietzschean reply—a non-dialectical
one—to the dialectical resolution.
We will see that in both Deleuze and Derrida, the most phantomatic of phantoms—the one that does not
oeserve to return in anv other lorm than that ol a shaoowis Hegel. Deleuze alnrms: the Negative ooes
not return. The Ioentical ooes not return |.| Onlv alnrmation returns in other woros. the Dillerent. the
The doctrine of the eternal return of the same would thus mean: only difference returns. Or also:
two negations¨ onlv ever make a phantom ol alnrmation.¨
The Hegelian point of view is “the point of view
ol the slave who oraws lrom the No` a phantom ol an alnrmation.¨
Now, in the same way that Nietzsche is perhaps no thinker of difference, he might not be obsessed with the
phantom of Hegel. This will be my question today: isn’t it difference itself that has become phantomatic? Isn’t
it difference itself that is no more than a specter, and that, as such, is no longer operative, just like the critique
of dialectics that it seeks to orient?
One will object, of course, and I must confront this from the get-go, that the concept of difference appeared, if
not as the best solution for, then at least as the least faulty way of discussing the problem posed by the doctrine
of eternal return. This problem has to do with the fact that there is indeed precisely always a “two,” a dyad, in
the formulation of the eternal return. The return always announces itself in Nietzsche as a between-two, whether
this takes the form of a gateway where two paths cross in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, or whether one is dealing with
an “or (oder)” that structures the announcement of the “heaviest weight” in The Gay Science. In “On the Vision
and the Riddle” (Vom Gesicht und Räthsel), in the third part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche declares: “See this
gateway, dwarf ! … It has two faces (zwei Gesichter). Two paths (zwei Wege) come together here; no one has yet
walked them to the end. This long lane back: it lasts an eternity (eine Ewigkeit). And that long lane outward: that
is another eternity (eine andre Ewigkeit). They contradict each other, these paths; they blatantly offend each other
(sie widersprechen sich, diese Wege, sie stossen sich gerade vor den Kopf)—and here at this gateway is where they come
together. The name of the gateway is inscribed at the top: ‘Moment (Augenblick)’.”
In paragraph 341 from The Gay Science, titled “The Heaviest Weight,” one reads: “What if some day or night
a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived
it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every
pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must
return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees,
and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again, and you
with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who
spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You
are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine’.”
There is this “two” of eternity, of ways, of paths; there is this “or.” What else can they express, other than a
difference? Doesn’t the return, in its very movement, operate a selection, a hierarchization, without dialectical
solution. between two signincations ol itsell ? A nrst signincation. calleo nihilist.¨ accoroing to which
everything returns to the same, and a second, resolutely “creative,” which draws from repetition the possibility
of a transvaluation and an overcoming of nihilism? Aren’t there from now on two returns in the return, indeed
a difference of the return to itself, which marks the separation between the dwarf and the overman, the “yes”
ol the oonkev ano the ves¨ ol the creator. the alnrmation ano its phantom?
Deleuze thematizes this oilncultv: how to explain. he asks. that Zarathustra |becomes| angrv ano sullers such
a terrible nightmare when the dwarf says: ‘All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle’? As he explains later in
interpreting his nightmare: he fears that eternal return means the return of Everything, of the Same and the
Similar, including the dwarf and including the smallest of men.”
However, he quickly puts this hesitation to an
eno ano responos nrmlv: in realitv. there is neither an at the same time¨ nor an oscillation.¨ Dillerence works
here to create a hierarchy between the perspectives that appeared to be the same. There is a difference of intensity
in being that separates the consistency of active instances from the phantoms of passivity.
Conlronteo with this oilncultv ol the or¨ oder), how to understand the eternal return in any other way than
as the blade of a difference that separates and prevents it from being a simple song that we have heard millions
of times before? What would be its meaning without this difference? Without its difference? Would it not be,
in fact, pure absurdity, pure repetition, nihilism all over again? The return does not return without difference.
That’s how things have been understood.
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Heioegger was the nrst to insist on the value ol the moment in On the Vision ano the Rioole.¨ The moment.
which corresponds to the bite that severs the head of the black snake, is the decisive moment that interrupts the
uniform course of the return and thus allows those who have the vision to overcome nihilism.
Now, the “French” insistence on difference as the motor of eternal return is at the same time a radicalization
and a displacement of the Heideggerian insistence. Radicalisation, because the moment is understood as the
decisive moment in which specters are produced. Displacement, because the weight of the analysis clearly bears
on the critique ol oialectics. I will show nrst that in Deleuze. the moment is unoerstooo as this oillerentiant
[différenciant] of the difference that operates an energetic but not a logical division between that which returns
ano that which lails to return. A principle ol selection that separates the alnrmation lrom what it is not ano
distinguishes it from what Deleuze calls precisely its phantom.
After that I will focus on the understanding of the moment developed by Derrida. This understanding is
subordinated to the logic of the autobiography. The eternal return is a doctrine that can only be taught by an
inoivioual that carries a name. that ol Zarathustra. or that ol Nietzsche. No eternal return without a proper
name. The doctrine only escapes the cliché because of the singularity of the name of whoever announces it.
Seen in this way, the eternal return is not only the hourglass turned over and over again of all things in their
neutrality, their banality, or their anonymity, but a life that sees itself return. In the indifference of the stream,
there is the I that ties itself to itself in the irreducible unity of its life and experiences the difference between life and
death. This difference, which also produces the phantom of the writer, enables one to introduce some depth and
hierarchy into the eternal return.
After having examined the essential traits of these two positions which, even though they cannot be reduced to
each other, incontestably have points of commonality, I will formulate my question in the following terms: and
what if difference were not the right word to do justice to the two paths of the gateway or of the “or” itself ? And what if overcoming
nihilism did not amount to “making difference”?
There is nothing outrageous about saying that Deleuze’s two works Nietzsche and Philosophy and Difference
and Repetition present the doctrine of eternal return as a strategy for breaking down the Hegelian dialectic.
The concept of “difference” expresses for Deleuze before anything else an irreducibility to opposition, to
contradiction, in a word: to negation. Against the process of Aufhebung that regulates in advance the cuts, the
ruptures. in the service ol a preoetermineo ioentitv. Nietzsche oennes an energetics. a lorce nelo at the heart ol
which no force exists before its being put in relation with the force or the forces from which it differs. There is
therefore no identity that precedes the relation, all presence results from an originary “diapherein.” Accordingly,
no specinc instance governs the reconciliation ol lorces: oillerence is a mooe ol the being ol the multiple that
is neither self-contradictory nor self-overcoming. Its constancy is assured through repetition, which is not a
reduction to the identical. The eternal return, Deleuze declares in Nietzsche and Philosophy, is the “principle of the
reproduction of diversity as such, of the repetition of difference; the opposite of ‘adiaphoria’.”
The difference of forces is at the same time quantitative and qualitative. According to their difference in
quantity, Deleuze declares, forces are said to be dominant or dominated. According to their difference in quality,
they are said to be active or reactive.
The forces are therefore originarily divided, without process, according
to this double differentiation. The return is precisely what enables this differentiation to be constantly operative.
Indeed, if everything must return, what serves as the selective principle and prevents reactive or dominated
lorces lrom returning. in the same wav that active ano oominant lorces oo? Here we nno the threat ol nihilism.
Inoeeo. Deleuze reminos us that Zarathustra not onlv presents the thought ol the eternal return as mvsterious
ano secret but as nauseating ano oilncult to bear.¨ Something seems to contaminate |the eternal return|
so gravely that it becomes an object of anguish, repulsion and disgust.”
This threat of contamination is
nothing other than the circle of dialectics, which makes being turn in circles and guarantees the triumph of
reactive lorces: Hegel`s circle is not the eternal return. onlv the innnite circulation ol the ioentical bv means
of negativity […] difference remains subordinated to identity, reduced to the negative, incarcerated within
similitude and analogy.”
The eternal return, through its force of selection, is precisely what breaks the circle. That which returns, returns
differently, “repetition is the differentiant of difference.” The will to power is the test of this differentiation,
which brings about the inversion ol the meaning ol reaction or reactivitv through the ovnamic ol alnrmation
alone: “whatever you will, will it in such a way that you also will its eternal return.”
Deleuze adds: “Laziness,
stupidity [bêtise], baseness, cowardice or spitefulness that would will its own eternal return would no longer be
the same laziness, stupidity, etc. How does the eternal return perform the selection here? It is the thought of the
eternal return that selects. It makes willing something whole. The thought of the eternal return eliminates from
willing everything which falls outside the eternal return, it makes willing a creation, it brings about the equation
And it is at this point that selection creates phantoms. The forces that are cast aside by the wheel become indeed
phantoms of force; what falls outside of the return is spectralized. And the most phantomatic of phantoms,
as we have said, is the dialectical process. “Those who bear the negative know not what they do: they take the
shadow for reality, they encourage phantoms […].”
This is why “the negative, the similar and the analogous
are repetitions, but they do not return, forever driven away by the wheel of the eternal return.”
thus appears like a process of hierarchization of being—whose constancy is assured by repetition—over the
phantom, simulacrum or ersatz of presence.
I could cite even more passages concerning the critique of dialectics, the assimilation of dialectics to nihilism,
the bringing to light ol negation as the ontological phantom ol alnrmation. But most ol all I want to conless
mv embarrassment here in the lace ol these analvses. Inoeeo. ano nrst ol all. where can one nno in Nietzsche
the idea that the negative, dialectics, Hegelian thought itself do not return? This question leads to a second:
where can one nno. in Nietzsche. the ioea that the eternal return is an automatic principle ol selection? Deleuze
presents the eternal return as a wheel, which appears in its turn as a machine to make difference, an automatic
differentiation. Now where can this motif be found in the texts? Finally, and thirdly, and this is the most serious
question, isn’t the Deleuzian understanding of the eternal return, which starts from difference, extremely
violent in its anti-Hegelianism? Isn’t the eternal return transformed by the prejudice of such a reading into
an elimination machine? “Selection occurs between two repetitions: those who repeat negatively and those who
repeat identically will be eliminated.”
The verb “to eliminate” returns over and over again in Deleuze’s writing. An elimination that corresponds to
a destruction, even an auto-destruction: “By and in the eternal return nihilism no longer expresses itself as the
conservation and victory of the weak but as their destruction, their self-destruction.”
Where can one read, in
Nietzsche, that the weak auto-destruct? And a machine to destroy weakness, to make a difference between two
repetitions--is such a machine ultimately not more totalitarian, more threatening, more reactive than dialectics?
The idea that the eternal return chases away the specters is a seductive but dangerous vision. On top of that, it
appears that Nietzsche is absent from such a vision. Difference is something that is imposed upon him.
In the two books Nietzsche and Philosophy and Difference and Repetition. one ooes not nno a single citation ol
Nietzsche that literally mobilizes the concept of difference. It is not that Nietzsche never uses the word, or that
Deleuze’s reading is rendered invalid by the absence of the fundamental textual occurrence of the concept.
One can simply ask oneself whether such a reading, in spite of its grandeur and its importance, does not settle
too quicklv the lunoamental question ol the complicitv ol nihilism ano creative alnrmation. bv invoking this
phantom of the dialectic, transformed into a bad subject—whether such a reading does not already by itself
eliminate in a machine-like. svstematic wav the alliance ol the two paths.¨ the lact that all things are nrmlv
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discover very quickly that the motifs of differance and of spectrality govern, even here still, the interpretation.
One should of course take time to indicate everything that separates Deleuze’s difference from Derrida’s
differance, everything that also separates their concepts of spectrality, but let us focus here on our problem.
In “Otobiographies,” a work that contains many essential elements of deconstructive thought, Derrida shows
that the originality of the thought of the eternal return depends on the signature that it leaves in itself of the
one who thinks it. The eternal return is a thought that is not separable from the proper name of the one who
thinks it. There is therefore an alliance between the circle of the eternal return and of the singular life of the
one who has a revelation about it. Two rings within the ring.
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can be called ontological, the second autobiographical. There is at the same time similitude and difference between
the ring of the return of all things and the ring that unites this ring to the life of the thinker. The point of
encounter between the two rings is the anniversary, a motif that is so important for Nietzsche—whether we are
talking about high noon or the anniversary of the middle of life evoked in Ecce Homo.
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articulating this double logic of the anniversary that Derrida reads the declaration of Nietzsche in Ecce Homo:
“I looked backwards, I looked out, I have never seen so many things that were so good, all at the same time.”
Derrida declares: “The anniversary is the moment when the year turns back on itself, forms a ring or annulus
with itself, annuls itself and begins anew.”
The two returns included in the eternal return are marked by the
coincidence of the anonymous return of time and date, the signature that is proper to such an anniversary: “To
date,” Derrida writes, “is to sign.”
The signature of the moment is a date: today is my anniversary.
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of autobiography. Nietzsche’s own contribution to this is the revelation of the necessarily autobiographical
dimension of philosophy. In the co-incidence of the ring and the instant, life opens up a credit to itself, it sees
itself pass, it recites itself, narrates itself. The philosopher from then on no longer speaks of life in general,
but always of his life, in its name: “The name of Nietzsche is perhaps today, for us in the West, the name of
someone who […] was alone in treating both philosophy and life, the science and the philosophy of life with his
name and in his name. He has perhaps been alone in putting his name—his names—and his biographies on the
Now it is there that Nietzsche is separated from Hegel forever, because the latter never spoke in his name, because
he on the other hand always thought the effacement of the proper name in the logic of absolute knowledge.
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in Nietzsche. There also, it does not give birth to a single dialectical process. “The shadow of all negativity has
High noon is “delivered from the negative and from dialectic.”
The production of the specter takes place here precisely at the point of encounter between the two rings: at the
point, the moment, the date of the anniversary. At the moment when Nietzsche signs in his name the story of
his life, he is no longer living, but surviving, he has become his own name, a living-dead. A phantom. There is
thus always “a differance of autobiography.”
The name, Derrida writes, “is always and a priori a dead man’s
name, a name of death. What returns to the name never returns to the living. Nothing ever comes back to the
Derrida puts his analyses in relation to two passages from Ecce Homo in which Nietzsche says “I am
[…] already dead as my father (als mein Vater bereits gestorben), while as my mother, I am still living and becoming
old (als meine Mutter lebe ich noch und werde alt)”
and “In order to understand anything at all of my Zarathustra, one
must perhaps be similarly conditioned as I am—with one foot beyond life.”
This beyond is therefore no longer a
dialectical solution either, it is “beyond the opposition of life and death,” it marks their between-two, the difference
between the two. As in Hegel, the subject is not absolutely present to itself.
The fact that the subject of autobiography never coincides with itself, is always different from itself—one part of
it living. the other oeaoshows that the eternal return is even in this case still a principle ol selection. To alnrm
that nothing returns to the living is to alnrm once more that not evervthing returns in the eternal return. No longer in
the sense that. as Deleuze uncovereo. certain things return ano others oo not: alnrmation ano not negation. lor
example. But in the sense of the dative: not that which returns but the one to whom this returns, the addressee
of that which returns, as if there were a selection, with her or him, between the living and the dead. Between
the addressee’s name, the name of death, the name of the father, which conserves, safeguards the geneaologies,
ano the living. the mother. creation. alnrmation. Autobiographical oillerance relers to eternitv the lracture ol
the haunting ol nnituoe. ol lile ano oeath.
As we have seen, in Deleuze the phantom corresponds to this pitiful and weak being, evicted by the wheel of
the eternal return. In Derrida, on the other hand, the phantom is not in the being of things, or of forces, but in
the subjectivitv ol the thinker. ol the I¨ ol the one who thinks the eternal return. This I¨ nnos itsell oivioeo
between lile ano oeath. cast out bv the wheel in this case as well. between innnitv ano nnituoe.
The two positions are therefore very different, sometimes even opposed to each other; nevertheless, I have
allowed myself here to bring them together at the site of an identical conclusion. The two encounter each other
at the site ol a common alnrmation: in Nietzsche. onlv oillerence returns. In the same wav that one ooesn`t
nno with this thinker the problematic ol the auto-oestruction ol the weak or ol the centrilugal wheel. one ooes
not nno with him anv evioence ol a mortincation ol lile in the name ol a logic ol autobiographv either. Coulo
Nietzsche have signed the following sentence: “nothing living returns to the living”? With what right does one
read the doctrine of eternal return as a thanatography?
Once again, it seems to me that these readings perhaps do not entirely respect the eternal return to the extent
that they see in it a principle of cutting, a critical instance that is doubtlessly not there.
In the nrst volume ol his Nietzsche, Heidegger declares: “The thought of eternal return of the same is only as
this conquering thought. The overcoming must grant us passage across a gap that seems to be quite narrow.
The gap opens between two things that in one way are alike, so that they appear to be the same. On the one
side stands the following: ‘Everything is nought, indifferent, so that nothing is worthwhile—it is all alike (alles ist
gleich).’ And on the other side: ‘Everything recurs, it depends on each moment, everything matters—it is all alike
(alles ist gleich).”
“The smallest gap, the rainbow bridge of the phrase it is all alike, conceals two things that are quite distinct
(verbirgt das schlechthin Verschiedene): ‘everything is indifferent’ (alles ist gleichgültig) and ‘nothing is indifferent’ (nichts
Undoubtedly, there is a “simple difference” that is hiding between the two versions of the thought of the eternal
return; however, it is not certain that this “simple difference” is an origin and not rather a result. It may be that
oillerence is not pertinent. in spite ol appearances. to think oualitv. specincallv the ouplicitv ol the ooctrine`s
signincations. As we have alreaov seen: il oillerence is constituteo as the master term ol Nietzsche`s thought.
if the eternal return becomes an automatic machine of selection, a process that guarantees its differance, then
nothing remains of the essential ambivalence of the word “gleich”—alles ist gleich no longer means anything.
“The ring of being remains loyal to itself eternally.”
When we read this sentence, is it the urgency of
difference that catches the eye? Isn’t it rather the necessity of co-implication? Who says that to overcome means
to differentiate rather than to carry together, to hold the one and the other, to think complicity from two sides,
between the two together?
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“Everything breaks, everything is joined anew; the same house of being builds itself eternally. Everything
parts, everything greets itself again.”
Don’t Nietzsche’s texts make us think putting in relation and inevitable
reduplication rather than dissociation? After all, isn’t there also a nihilist side to the thought of difference?
Doesn’t it also return as ressentiment, anti-Hegelian reaction, weakness? Doesn’t it become its own phantom? An
empty cask that has had its time?
But then what would a reading of Nietzsche give that would refuse to turn difference into its guiding thread? It
is with this question that I will end this text, leaving open the possibility of a new understanding of the eternal
of the clone for that of the phantom. I thus state very simply, in the form of an announcement, the possibility of
reading the doctrine of the eternal return as a thought of ontological cloning. And what if, in the end, everything were
to redouble, if all the ontological knots were to reduplicate, without being different but without returning to the
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to think without identity and without difference?
CATHERINE MALABOU teaches philosophy at the University of Paris X-Nanterre and is
Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature at the State University of New York, Buffalo. Her work
articulates the notion of plasticity at the crossroads of philosophy and neuroscience. Her publications
in English include The Future of Hegel, Counterpath (with Jacques Derrida), What Should We Do With Our
Brain?, and Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing.
1. This essay was originally published as “L’éternel retour et le fantôme de la différence” in Pornschlegel, Clemens and
Martin Stingelin, eds. Nietzsche und Frankreich. New York/Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009, 391-404. Parrhesia would like to
thank Catherine Malabou for granting us permission to publish the essay’s English translation.
2. [T.N.: I would like to thank Jon Roffe and Ashley Woodward for their last-minute assistance with the translation.]
3. Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson. London: Athlone Press, 1983, 189.
4. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 41.
5. Ibid., 55.
6. Ibid., 299.
7. Ibid., 53.
8. Ibid.. 54.
9. Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. trans. Adrian del Caro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2008.
10. Friedrich Nietzsche. The Gav Science. trans. Josefne NauckhoII and Adrian del Caro. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. 2001. 194.
11. Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. 298.
12. Deleuze. Nietzsche and Philosophv. 46.
13. CI. Ibid.. 42.
14. Ibid.. 65.
15. Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. 50.
16. Deleuze. Nietzsche and Philosophv. 68.
17. Ibid.. 69.
18. Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. 55.
19. Ibid.. 297. CI. also: 'Selection occurs between two repetitions: those who repeat negatively and those who repeat
identically will be eliminated¨ (Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. 298).
20. Ibid.. 298.
21. Deleuze. Nietzsche and Philosophv. 70.
22. Nietzsche. Zarathustra. 126.
23. Friedrich Nietzsche. The Anti-Christ. Ecce Homo. Twilight of the Idols. and Other Writings. trans. Judith Norman.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2005. 74.
24. Jacques Derrida. The Ear of the Other. Otobiographv. Transference. Translation. trans. Peggy KamuI. Lincoln:
University oI Nebraska Press. 1988. 11.
25. Ibid.. 11.
26. Ibid.. 6.
27. Ibid.. 12.
28. Ibid.. 17.
29. Ibid.. 19.
30. Ibid.. 7.
31. Nietzsche. cited at ibid.. 15.
32. Nietzsche.cited at ibid.. 19.
33. Martin Heidegger. Nietzsche. The Will to Power as Art and The Eternal Recurrence of the Same (Vols. I and II). trans.
David Farrell Krell. London: Harper. 1991. 182.
35. Nietzsche. Zarathustra. 175.
! ! ! ! !
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THE BIRTH OF IMMUNOPOLITICS
Translated by Arne De Boever
There is a threat hanging over forms of life today. They groan under the oppression of an entire global apparatus
of political decisions, economic practices, and techno-industrial constructions. And this disconcerting weight
is properly speaking not even “hanging over” us, given that today, we have become the technical masters of a
sky that we were unable to leave to the “angels and the sparrows.” No, it resides at the heart of a world that
has turned the human being into a geological force that is entangled with the biosphere. Something like a
foundations of our historical situation.
To the point that we would declare non-contemporary, that is to say:
motives of emancipation, the same political categories, the same philosophical concepts as those that will have
lead us to the perhaps irreversible deterioration of forms of life.
Roberto Esposito’s philosophy is contemporary. It developed at the same time as what was happening; as what was
happening to us; and as what was not happening to us. These are the three slopes of a philosophy that tries to
think the presence of a being-in-common that is always still lacking something [démuni].
That wants itself to be an
“ontology of the present [actualité]” (to recall Michel Foucault’s formula): Bios, published in 2004, begins with a
description of the salient traits of our belated modernity (the Perruche affair, the humanitarian bombardments
in Afghanistan, the massacre at the Dubrovka theatre)
; at the same time, Esposito’s philosophy wants to be
the present of ontology, the necessity and self-defense of metaphysics, this “possibility to think beyond itself, in the
Open,” this “form of consciousness in which one seeks to perceive more than that which happens, or that does
not content itself with that which happens” (Theodor W. Adorno)
. To be contemporary doesn’t at all mean to
stick to the present; it means, rather, to take up the distance of an interface between that which happens and
that which doesn’t happen. Between that which saturates the present, and that which the present is lacking.
Communauté, immunité, biopolitique [Community, immunity, biopolitics], which was published in 2008 in Italian as
Termini della politica, gives an almost chronological account of the constitution of this interface, of the process
through which in Esposito’s work the present and ontology have become engaged in a fruitful association. The
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book is put together of articles or texts written between 1996 and 2008, and they mark out the publication of
the key books that motivated the French translation of Termini: Communitas (1998), Immunitas (2002), Bios (2004),
to which one should add Terza persona (2007). But these “roadmarks” aren’t just “marking” Esposito’s path: a
careful reading of Communauté, immunité, biopolitique reveals a very singular movement of thought that one would
perhaps unjustinablv attribute to everv thinker. Thev outline an organic development, in the sense that each new
article, and each new book, appear to produce a conceptual fruit that the plant coming before it was preparing.
In other words, Communauté, immunité, biopolitique gives the impression of profound continuity. And the latter is
certainly not without relation to the ethico-political demand that emerges from Esposito’s works: to choose life.
Of course! But which life? It is perhaps around these questions that our future is being decided, on which the
very possibility of a future depends. Such a future will not happen without a fundamental rethinking of the terms
of the political—of its words, ends, of the fruit as well as the compost that it produces. Esposito’s book takes up
this task: it aspires to a terminological reform dedicated to life.
OF LIFE TURNED INTO DEATH
Yes, Esposito’s philosophy cannot be thought without a “philosophy of life”; that is also the title of the last
chapter of Bios. However, formulated in this way, it says nothing—or even worse: Esposito argues, in fact, that
Nazism`s transcenoental is lile rather than oeath.¨
and he opposes himself to naturalist philosophies that turn
some biological cooe into the basis ol all values ano all political action. Svmmetricallv. he criticizes those booies
of thought that deny the order of the living in the name of a Humanism or of the human Person. The position
that is taken up here is complex. Because life, as one could say parodying Aristotle, negates itself in a variety of
ways: liberal, totalitarian, humanist, and so on.
Each time, however, the same problem returns, like a criterium of political philosophy as well as practical
government: whenever there is a bad relation to life, death is produced. How many murders, genocides, camps have
been committed in the name of life? That is the fundamental question, “the enigma of biopolitics”
: how can
a politics for life become a politics of death? In other words, “why does biopolitics run the perpetual risk of turning
The contemporaneity of thought, as we described it above, is conjugated here in two
ways: 1/ on the one hand, any philosophy that does not take biopolitics into consideration as a domain of
study will be worthless; 2/ on the other hand, the study of biopolitics’ transformation into its opposite is the
necessary path towards the institution of a non-thanatological politics. Foucault skipped this stage, just like
those who. zigzagging in his tracks. have still not correctlv thought the relation between lile ano politics. On
this point, Esposito pulls off a conceptual masterstroke: in bio-politics, the hyphen is immunological. Every philosophy
that studies the mirroring relation between politics and life will lack this third term, which is the mirror itself.
Because politics plays a dirty trick on life: while wanting to protect it, it can end up destroying it. This strange
reversal, this inversion or perversion, is at the heart of Esposito’s questions and of our societies, in which we
undergo the effects of highly dubious protections. However, we need protections, and every society, just like every
individual, has always wondered how it can avoid danger. But it is in the modern age that this question has
become politically crucial. It is because he did not uncover the immunological determination of modernity
that Foucault remained unable to articulate historically the relation between sovereign societies and forms of
governmental biopolitics. But sovereignty is the means by which modern politics deals with the question of life; and its dealings
are, fundamentally, immunological.
Of course, life protects itself, “by nature”; but modern sovereignty must be thought of as a second, “meta-
immunitary” “dispositif ”
that, coming from life itself, separates itself from it, and forms a transcendent
instance that bears down on life to the extent that it destroys it. That is the logic of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.
If this inaugural modernity preserves, between life and sovereignty, the existence of an Order—juridical, social,
cultural—that disjoins one from the other, the second modernity, which begins at the end of the eighteenth
century with the governmental technologies that target the health of the demography and are pursued through
nationalisms, makes this mediation disappear: life becomes an immediate political object, and the completed
political development of this immediation will produce the concept of race. From this point of view, Nazism is the
exacerbation of biopolitics under immunological conditions. Esposito shows how Nazi politics must be unoerstooo as an
that is based on the medical body and therapeutic practices that are free from metaphors,
but bent on protecting the purity of the Aryan race by eliminating everything that might work against it. It is
an absolute perversion of the terms of politics.
It won`t sulnce to reverse this process in oroer to oo justice to lile: it is onlv bv mooilving lile`s oirection´meaning
that one will be able to change biopolitics. And this change implies knowing what to do with negativity. It is this
knowledge that Esposito’s book can constitute for the reader.
IMMUNITY VERSUS COMMUNITY
A question remains: why is political modernity of the immunological type? If we started with the end—which
is life—to explain the modern political condition—immunitythat exercises its innuence over it. we now have to
return to the primal scene of this book, that of community. It is in the relation between these last two concepts—
immunity and community—that one can discover one of the singularities of Esposito’s thought.
The immunitarv paraoigm¨ has circulateo amongst the sharpest thinkers ol the nnal quarter ol the twentieth
Esposito`s specinc thesis is that immunitv is a reaction to communitv. He oeoicates the entire nrst part
of Communauté, immunité, biopolitique to clarifying what he means by this last term. Etymologically and conceptually,
community associates the word cum (Latin for “with”) with munus, another Latin word that means “task,” “duty,”
“law,” but also “gift,” a work to be done rather than to receive, in other words: an “obligation.” Based on his
analyses of Rousseau, Kant, Bataille, and Heidegger, Esposito defends a major hypothesis: community is the
giving up [défection] of the proper. “Giving up” in the sense of “ex-ist”, of movement outside of oneself, exodus,
ecstasy, and therefore of communication (via Bataille). It is, in the end, a logical argument: in order for there to be
something common, there must be something else, something more, something that is different from the proper,
the private, or the individual. As the giving up of all identity closed onto itself, community is thus forcibly taken
up in a movement ol originarv exile. ol nnite transcenoence that Heioegger like Bataille was able to theorize.
Existing onlv outsioe ol itsell. communitv is nrst ano loremost a lack ol Sell. ol unitv. ol a One. It is. literallv
speaking, commu-nothing [commune-ôtée], founded around a “hole,” a “nothing,” a “lack,” around a “suffering,” a
Let’s be clear: for Esposito, the Self of community never took place and will never take place;
all political options that state the contrary will be in denial of this truth.
Here once again. the localization ol negativitv is kev. We woulo sav that the wav in which a thought or a
political practice metabolizes. svmbolizes. or rejects negativitv can be useo as a testas a projection ol what its
ultimate consequences will be. Esposito knows the point at which this conception of community is dangerous,
and doubly so. First of all, it is conceptually dangerous: don’t we have here a purely negative conception of
communitv? One that. in the strongest sense ol the term. ioentines communitv to Nothingnesscommunitv is
not a res, and even less the Res. It is not the Thing, but the lack thereof.”
He speaks of the melancholy character
of community. This is why the text titled “Community and Nihilism” is so important: contrary to the majority
ol existing oiscourses on nihilism. Esposito reminos us that the latter is not an alnrmation ol Nothingness. but
its loreclosure. the lack ol the lackthere where communitv is oenneo bv a single imperative: oo not give wav
on your lack [ne pas céder sur le manque]. Which means that one should know that this lack is irremediable, that
community will never be full, self-present, absolute, divine, pure, natural. These theses, which have already
been broadly used on several occasions by the deconstructivists (Derrida, Nancy, Lacoue-Labarthe) have to be
insisted on again and again: one can of course create links or relations, for example on Facebook or through the
intermediary of Twitter, but these relations will not in the end belong to their members, they will not give anything
back to them—and this enables, as the entire economic present illustrates, their capitalist exploitation. Facebook,
like any other social networking formation, presupposes an ontological expropriation (being put outside of
oneself); and, we want to add, it thus enables the self ’s economic capture. In Esposito’s lexicon: community is
“necessary and impossible.”
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But then, the second danger, which is no longer conceptual but practical and political, reveals itself: by
demanding that one insist on Nothingness, and by prohibiting the possibility of a stable and closed identity,
the community produces fear. And it provokes the immunitary reaction—recall, on this count, that in juridical
terms. immunitv is nrst ol all the exemption lrom a common charge. in other woros the exoneration ol that
under which all of us fall. Here we arrive at a key point that Esposito’s reader should keep in mind: modernity
is. lor Esposito. the historical moment ol political immunization. As both concept ano realitv. the individual is the
result of this process of immunization. An individual constructed by philosophy and liberal practice, armed to the
teeth with subjective rights instituted to protect it against the attack of the Other and of others. This argument
is, of course, extremely treacherous, and the reader will undoubtedly return to it over the course of her or his
renections. Because what oistinguishes. alter all. the immunological will ol. sav. Marcus Aurelius. when he wants
to fortify his soul to the point of wanting to turn it into a “fortress,” from that of the modern individual trying
to constitute itself as a subjective “bubble,” to take up one of Peter Sloterdijk’s concepts? The difference is this:
whereas the nrst has to relv onlv on himsell. the secono is the ellect ol a political construction. The Stoic hao
of course placed his bets on the cosmos rather than on the polis.
DESTRUCTION, OVEREXPOSURE, AND AUTO-IMMUNITY
There is no question that Esposito’s conceptual system enables us to understand how our societies function.
Think. lor example. ol the oilnculties that Obama laceo when he was trving to pass his proposeo health-care
reform—they are typically immunological. Because people experience the State as an intrusive element, it
is unconditionally rejected in the name of so-called individual liberty—a rejection that leads, however, to a
situation in which millions of people, and in the end anyone who lives in the margins of existence (margins that
are programmed, one should note, by our fatal, neoliberal “risk societies”), are without medical protection. And
one could multiply the examples. Immunisation does not only affect individuals; it also concerns collectives.
Historically, this has been the case since the birth of nationalisms.
And today, we see how so-called “national”
“identities,” even though they have had their day and are no longer capable of “imagining”
the impossible imaginary institution of society by the reality of walls, camps, of fortress Europe, of control
ano spatio-temporal surveillance. But shoulo societies stop. then. to immunize themselves against themselves?
Through a sort ol immunization ol communitv that woulo mark the biopolitical oestinv ol mooernitv?
This woulo amount to oenning an auto-immunitarian logic. which Esposito explains as a terminal excess of
immunization that occurs when oelenses begin to attack the boov itsell. This point is oecisive. ano it is here
that the real questions arise. Let`s note. nrst ol all. that Esposito uses the concept ol auto-immunitv to explain
the way in which “Islamic fundamentalism, bent on protecting, unto death, its supposed religious, ethnic, and
cultural purity,” has entered in a collision with a “Western world that wants to exclude the rest of the planet
from its cornucopia of riches”: global auto-immunisation, whose torments we are undergoing, marks the end of
a “double immunitary system that, until then, had held the world in its grip.”
The problem is that in order to
capture the logic of auto-immunity, Esposito brings in an entire series of new parameters: religion, capitalism,
“biological terrorism,” “technologies,” “psycho-pharmacology,”
ano. nnallv. the anthropotechnical. or
anthropopoetic, vector that is more and more active in the contemporary world”—“more and more”? Meaning
what? We agree with the fact that one must introduce these data—but why do they follow, both conceptually and
historically, the question of modern political community? Let’s not dance around the issue: aren’t capitalism, religion, and
technoscience the originary parameters that constitute the goals of immuno-politics? This doesn’t take anything
away from the analyses that Esposito dedicates to the singularity of the modern political moment, from his
insightful reading of the immunitarian function of sovereignty—but it does perhaps force us to rethink the
logic of immunity within a history that is multiple. Such a history would combine three different strands, and
three chronologies that are partly different: religions’ long immunological formation of spaces of indemnity,
ol sacreo. holv. transcenoent spaces. the oreaolul oestabilization that capitalism lorceo onto societies. ano the
responses that the latter have hao to invent within this emergencv situation. ano the technoscientinc proouction
ol an inoemnitv ol immanent substitution the mathematization ol nature as the preliminarv conoition lor
its appropriation by capitalism. A focused analysis of such a heterogeneous history would enable us to know
whether the current protections, however outrageous they might be, work against the common or against the absence of the
common. Were they created against the lack of a lack of a lack (the ultimate insight, even if it sounds confusing)?
If the Nothingness of community must serve to break down the always resurging and disturbing forms of
identitarian saturations, we can very well feel the politico-philosophical urgency that consists in proposing
new individual and collective assemblages that would enable one to offer to our ontological exile Existential
Territories (Guattari) that would bring a new lust for life. Because how to confront the dangers that threaten us
without the promise of a life that would be worth living?
The modern status of immuno-politics is inseparable from the—modern—forms of capitalist destruction
(negativity revving out of control) and tele-technical overexposure to others, a phenomenon that one would
have to oistinguish lrom the simple originarv existential exposure that accoroing to Esposito oennes communitv.
The question that is withheld here would then be the following: how to regulate politically the problem of
capitalist expropriation on the basis of the ontological communitarian expropriation without falling into the
phantasm of identitarian appropriation? …
To answer this question, let’s return to our point of departure: life, yes, but which life? There is one evident
answer: common life. But what’s common is the improper, that which is not one’s own. Therefore, common life
will be impersonal life. Let’s explain this formula.
We must avoio a oouble oanger: on the one hano. as we have seen. the naturalization ol politics. on the other.
ano svmmetrical to it. the humanist oenaturalization ol human lile. That is to sav. not naturalist immanentism, but
the transcendent exception of that which, in the human being, would escape the living—that which is called reason,
soul, or spirit. In every case, the aim will be to “subtract,” to “remove” [excentrer] the human being from the
biological sphere one coulo call this the humanist lorm ol the inoemnincation ol the being. This is what the
concept ol the person¨ is still newlv prooucing tooav: it will alwavs have the reverse ellect ol oepersonalization.
But then how to formulate the “humanity of the human being” without subtracting it from the “concept” and
the “natural reality” of bios? Without ollenoing the human kino¨ Elizabeth oe Iontenav? How to oo justice
to the living in the human being? First of all, by extending community to non-human beings, by taking into
consideration other living species, such as animals, plants, and non-organic materials, even technics itself.
for one would love to hear more from Esposito on this point—think, for example, of what Donna Haraway,
Bruno Latour, or the deep ecologists have been able to achieve in their different ways by opening up the collective
in this way.
But who is to say that such an extension will guard us against immunopolitics? Who can guarantee that an
increase of candidates for the Collective will prevent the formation of political auto-immune diseases? This will
only be possible, Esposito tells us, if—and only if—we consider the living’s characteristic of “impersonality.”
That which cannot be reduced to the “I,” nor to the identitarian “You,” but that is the “It” [Il], rather: something
undividable, from which nothing can be separated—perhaps because lack and negativity are already implied by
the prenx im-. Ior such a concept ol the living. Esposito will base himsell on Spinoza. Canguilhem. Simonoon.
ano Deleuze. His mission is extremelv oelicate: it consists of nothing less than achieving a synthesis between the negativity
of the impersonal and the positivity of life! Because “the living is that which always exceeds the objective parameters
it is its own proper norm, its proper capacity of problem resolution in the form of new individuations.
It is this process that is impersonal, in the sense that it cannot single out any assignable person, but instead
concerns all lorms ol lile. That is Spinoza`s lesson. lor him. each lorm ol existence |.| has an equal right to
live according to its proper possibilities”, in function of the “relations into which it is inserted.”
Thus. the reaoer will have passeo lrom Heioegger ano Bataille to Spinoza ano Deleuze. Irom lack to excess.
It would be a mistake to see a contradiction here: rather, as we have already said, this passage is the necessary
path towards the emergence of a political philosophy capable of confronting immunopolitical disasters. That
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ooes not mean that the passage lrom an alnrmation ol nnite transcenoence to the alnrmation ol immanence
is completely evident. For the last sentence of Communauté, immunité et biopolitique still describes a way of being
a human being that would “eventually coincide only with its proper self.”
When all of the words here are
taken one by one—eventually, coincide, only, proper, self—aren’t they precisely opposed to everything that
community stands for? A community that implies the eventual non-coincidence of the self with the proper?
How to alnrm that lile is an unoivioable place¨ without reintrooucing the concept ol the inoiviouala
concept that Esposito at the same time wants to abandon in favor of the concept of individuation? Of course,
the question of immanence comes into play here, and Esposito seeks to think an immanence that would escape
total immunization to escape immunentization. But the nelo ol Deleuzian immanence. Esposito writes. relers
to nothing but itself.”
Isn`t this exactlv whv Esposito criticizes theories ol auto-organization. ol autopoiesis and
auto-regulation, namely because they end up “questioning the idea of exteriority itself ”
? To refer only to
onesell. to nnallv coincioe. woulo this not be the apex ol immunization. the eno ol all contact with that which
is other, even if this auto-reference is moving and changing?
Perhaps one should reverse the procedure on the basis of the analyses presented here, and use the operator
immanence as a technique ol equalization that must return to the mooalities ol nnite transcenoence the
irremediable status of “deprived” [démuni] being—“deprived,” “démuni,” in the etymological sense: without
lortincation. without protection. without guarantee.
How can we evaluate, in conclusion, the political consequences of such a conception of the living? By taking
note of the change of pre-position that it demands—indeed, it is precisely this transformation that needs to take
place: to pass from a politics “on” life towards a politics “of ” life.
This woulo mean. nrst ano loremost. to make
impossible any transcendent normativity, which will always have as its effect to prescribe a dreadful distinction
between a good life on the one hand, and on the other hand a life that deserves only death or abandonment.
But a politics “of ” life would also mean: doing full justice to the origin, the birth, the “continuous production
What would be this justice that is still lacking? Let’s try to imagine it.
“If rights belong to the person, justice is of the order of the impersonal,”
Esposito writes. He is commenting
on Simone Weil, who claims the following: “That which is sacred in the human being is not at all the person,
but the impersonal.” The impersonal would be the sacred—the Sacred? From our perspective, there is nothing
wrong with declaring sacred everything that is, the way Allen Ginsberg did for example.
But if I say that
only that which is impersonal in the human being is sacred, am I not still in the process of reproducing a
separation against which one would need to guard [prémunir] oneself ? Wouldn’t my immanence dissimulate a
Transcendence? And if this is the case, how to avoid the obvious conclusion that pure immanence, which is
always pure Transcendence, inevitably ends up destroying itself… One can thus understand Esposito’s critique
of Rights [Droit], when these are reduced to the rights of certain determinate subjects, and when the other
side of this determination implies the production of those without rights [sans-droits]. Whence the necessity of
positing that there exists a justice that is always to-come, not as a waiting for what’s better (the kantian Idea in
its rather patient social democratic variation), but as the refusal of the existing order. It is without a doubt of
this justice that Esposito speaks to us: a justice that is only impersonal in order to refuse unjust divisions that
are all too personal.
It’s a justice that the concept of democracy appears unable to accept. But this concept is already invalid: as
one can reasonably no longer speak of democracy (or perhaps of a republic) from the moment
when politics no longer solicits equal oeliberative capacities but booies. which are alwavs oillerent bv oennition.
What would be a better name for it? Biocracy? Would we have passed from parliamentary bureaucracy to
medicinal biocracy? Or should we speak of immunocracy? During the winter of 2009-2010, the French appear
to have experienceo their nrst immunocratic upheaval bv relusing to let themselves be vaccinateo against a nu
with an epioemic imaginarv. The inlormeo resistance ol the populations oenateo this imaginarv. ano in the eno.
it only uncovered the real of the pharmaceutical industries, namely their lack of money.
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politics whose motto would be: to life. Without confusing themselves with life, and without imposing a single
norm onto it. A reading of Communauté, immunité et biopolitique leads towards this point, this other proposition
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sovereignty. If the names demos and kratos no longer apply, perhaps one should, by reconsidering the terms
community and immunity from their common root (munus), invent a new form of municipality that would do
justice to the !"#$%&'#&' of forms of life. This would require the local suspension of immunitarian procedures, a
suspension that biology calls “tolerance.” A tolerance that would end the power over life or death that politics
has always claimed as its privilege.
FREDERIC NEYRAT is a French philosopher who is associated with the journals Multitudes, Rue
Descartes, and Ctheory. In French, he has published seven books ranging from philosophical study of
Heidegger to a book on biopolitics and catastrophe. The author of numerous articles on issues in
continental philosophy and contemporary culture, in he was recently a fellow of the Society for the
Humanities at Cornell University.
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1. |TN: This essav was nrst publisheo as the introouction to the Irench translation ol Roberto Esposito`s Termini della politica,
titled Communauté, immunité, biopolitique: Repenser les termes de la politique (trans. Bernard Chamayou [Paris: Les Prairies Ordinaires,
2010]). The translator would like to thank Frédéric Neyrat for his helpful comments and suggestions. Parrhesia would like to
thank Les Prairies Ordinaires, and Rémy Toulouse in particular, for generously granting us the right to publish the essay’s
translation into English.]
2. [TN: In English in the original.]
3. This climate turn [TN: In English in the original] is very clear in an article by Dipesh Chakrabarty (“Le climat de l’histoire:
quatre thèses,” Revue Internationale des Livres et des Idées web, http://revuedeslivres.net/articles.php?idArt=485). Cf. my reading
of this essay: “Climate Turn. L’anthropo-scène, Chakrabarty et l’espèce humaine,” La Revue Internationale des Livres et des Idées
4. [TN: The French word “démuni” contains the root “munus,” which is central to Esposito’s philosophy of community and
immunity. Later on in the text, in a different context, I have also translated “démuni” as “deprived”; there also, I added the
word “démuni” in square brackets so as to preserve the reference to the word “munus.”]
5. Roberto Esposito, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy, trans. Timothy Campbell (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008).
6. Theodor W. Adorno, Métaphysique. Concept et Problèmes, trans. Christophe David (Paris: Payot, 2006). 122, 217. [TN: Since the
French translation with which the author is working was unavailable while I was preparing this translation, I am translating
here directly from the French.]
7. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 160-161.
8. Bios, 13-44.
9. Bios, 39.
10. Bios, 59.
11. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 153.
12. Niklas Luhman, Soziale Systeme: Grundriss einer allgemeinen Theorie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1984); Donna J. Haraway,
Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991); Jean Baudrillard, La transparence du mal: Essai
sur les phénomènes extrèmes (Paris: Galilée, 1990); Jacques Derrida, “Foi et Savoir,” in La Religion, edited by Jacques Derrida and
Gianni Vattimo (Paris : Éditions du Seuil, 1996); Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären I (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1998); to which
one must add: Alain Brossat, La Démocratie immunitaire Faris: La Dispute. 2003. Ano nnallv our own mooest contribution to
these clarincations ol the logic ol the immune¨: Biopolitique des catastrophes (Paris: Éditions MF, 2008).
13. Roberto Esposito, Communitas. Origine et destin de la communauté. trans. Naoine le Lirzin Faris: FUI. 2000. 22. 25. |TN: Since
the French translation with which the author is working was unavailable to me while I was preparing this translation, I was
unable to locate these quotations in the English translation of Esposito’s text. I am translating here directly from the French.]
14. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 34-35.
15. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 137.
16. To recall Benedict Anderson’s hypotheses in! "#$%&'()! *+##,'&-&(./! 0(1(2-&+'.! +'! -3(! 45&%&'.! $')! 675($)! +8 ! 9$-&+'$:&.# (New
York: Verso, 2006).
17. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 118-119.
18. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 166.
19. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 187-188.
20. Bios, 189.
21. Bios, 186.
22. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 226.
23. Bios, 192.
24. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 83.
25. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 147.
26. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 149.
27. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 222.
28. “The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole is
holy! Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy!”, and so on. In: Howl, and other poems (San Francisco: City Lights
Pocket Poets Series, 1956).
29. Communauté, immunité, biopolitique, 204-205.
30. Industries for whom the only munus is money…
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PHILOSOPHICAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN KANT, FOUCAULT,
1. MISSING REFERENCES
A review of Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things appeared in the New York Times Book Review on February
28, 1971. The reviewer claimed that Foucault had called the work an “archaeology of the human sciences”
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Foucault forcefully denied this charge, claiming in his response to have derived his conception of
archaeology from Immanuel Kant. “The reviewer does not know,” Foucault said, “that Kant used this word
in order to designate the history of that which renders necessary a certain form of thought.”
advises the reviewer “to leaf through Kant,” even though Kant is “not as fashionable as Freud.”
While he seems to take a great deal of pleasure in this display of erudition, Foucault does not tell his readers
where Kant addresses“the history of that which renders necessary a certain form of thought” or why he had
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which he claims to have “pointed to this use” of archaeology in Kant.
Yet the discussion in question does
not appear in any of the texts that Foucault published during that time. The editors of his Dits et Écrits have
appended a footnote to Foucault’s response to the New York Times review, referring readers to Part IV of The
Archaeology of Knowledge; however, Kant’s conception of archaeology is not discussed in the pages to which the
footnote refers. Nor is it discussed anywhere else in that work.
In what follows, I will attempt to supply the discussion that is missing from Foucault’s response to the New York
Times review and The Archaeology of Knowledge. By exploring the concept of philosophical archaeology that Kant
develops in his late essay on the progress of metaphysics and relating it to Foucault’s archaeology of the human
sciences, I hope to shed some light on the critical exchange with Kant that is to be found in Foucault’s early
I also hope to refute a claim recently advanced by Giorgio Agamben, who has taken up the question
of philosophical archaeology in an essay included in his book The Signature of All Things.
In his essay, Agamben
suggests that Foucault’s archaeology is intended to reveal the arbitrariness of the distinction between the past
and the present and undermine any claim to an “essential” history. I will show, however, that both Kant and
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within a certain historical period, conditions which are by no means arbitrary.
Even if the connection between Kant’s conception of philosophical archaeology and Foucault’s archaeology
of the human sciences is more tenuous than Foucault’s response to the New York Times review would suggest,
I will argue that it still provides a better model for understanding Foucault’s archaeology than the alternative
proposed by Agamben. Foucault’s reference to Kant helps to illuminate the role played by the historical a
priori in his archaeology, while Agamben’s essay obscures the epistemological priority Foucault ascribes to the
experience of order.
2. A PHILOSOPHICAL HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY
When Foucault said that Kant used the word archaeology “to designate the history of that which renders
necessarv a certain lorm ol thought.¨ he was relerring to the jottings¨ lor Kant`s unnnisheo essav on the
progress of metaphysics.
It is here that Kant introduces the concept of “philosophical archaeology” (philosophische
Archäologie) and uses it to describe the conditions of a “philosophical” history of philosophy.
Kant’s notes and the transcripts of his lectures show that he had an abiding interest in the history of philosophy
and its relation to the practice of “philosophizing.”
While Kant acknowledges that there is something to be
gained by studying the history of philosophy and the works of other philosophers, he is primarily concerned
with the use one makes of one’s own reason when one is philosophizing. Kant denies that the Critique of Pure
Reason is “a critique of books and systems,” for example, precisely because it seeks to advance the cause of
philosophical knowledge. Kant is not concerned with what other philosophers have thought or written in his
Critique, because he thinks one must already possess philosophical knowledge, in order to judge the merits
of their work. Without a properly philosophical understanding of the history of philosophy, Kant says, “the
unqualineo historian ano juoge assesses the grounoless assertions ol others through his own. which are equallv
This, more than anything else, is what one must avoid, if one wishes to think philosophically
The Prussian Royal Academy of the Sciences gave Kant the opportunity to explore the idea of a philosophical
history of philosophy more systematically when it posed the question “what real progress has metaphysics
made in Germany since the time of Leibniz and Wolff ?” for its prize-essay competition in 1790.
the Acaoemv extenoeo the oeaoline lor submissions lrom 1792 until 1795. Kant was unable to nnish his essav
ano never submitteo his work to the Acaoemv. There are. ol course. manv reasons Kant oio not nnish his
essay, many of them having to do with his old age, his ill-health, and the controversies surrounding his critical
philosophy; however, one should not discount the possibility that there was a more philosophical reason for
Kant`s lailure to complete his answer to the Acaoemv`s prize-essav question. The oilnculties Kant thought he
would face in presenting a “philosophical” account of the progress metaphysics had made in Germany since the
time ol Leibniz ano Wolll are evioent lrom the verv nrst pages ol the oralts lor his essav.
Kant explains the oilnculties involveo in presenting a philosophical account ol the progress ol metaphvsics
when he explains his understanding of the question his essay was to answer. According to Kant, “the Royal
Academy of Sciences calls for a survey of the advances in one part of philosophy, in one part of academic
Europe, and also during one part of the present century.”
Such a survey should be “a readily performable
task,” Kant says, “for it only has to do with history.”
By listing the discoveries philosophers have made in
metaphysics in Germany in the period following Leibniz and Wolff, contestants would be able to produce a
history of philosophy comparable to the history of any other science. Because metaphysics is not a science like
astronomy or chemistry, mathematics or mechanics, however, Kant does not think it admits of the same kind
of historical explanation as do those sciences.
Metaphysics does not admit of the same kind of historical explanation as the other sciences because it is, in
Kant’s words, “a shoreless sea, in which progress leaves no trace behind, and whose horizon contains no visible
goal by which one might perceive how nearly it has been approached.”
An answer of the kind the Academy
expects is, for that reason, something “almost despaired of.”
Even if a suitable answer could be found, Kant
fears that “the condition laid down, of presenting in brief compass the advances it has achieved, makes the
oilncultv greater still.¨
Metaphysics is “by nature and intention a completed whole” for Kant, something
which is either “nothing or everything.”
As such, the work of philosophy cannot be described in terms of the
“constant and unending” progress of the other sciences.
Nor is any survey of the progress of metaphysics
possible, unless one is also willing to systematically reconstruct the whole science of metaphysics.
Despite the oilnculties he enumerates regaroing the nature ano scope ol the Acaoemv`s question. Kant savs
he will attempt the task set belore him. ano explain how metaphvsics nnallv became a science in the perioo
following Leibniz and Wolf. Kant credits Wolff with making valuable contributions to ontology, but in general
he denies that metaphysics had made any real progress since Aristotle.
The halting steps made by dogmatists
and skeptics—ancient and modern—cannot be considered real progress, in Kant’s view, because metaphysics
is a science which is either “nothing or everything.”
For that reason, metaphysics only achieves its “ultimate
purpose” (Endzweck) with the Critique of Pure Reason.
It is the Critique of Pure Reason that nnallv makes metaphvsics
“the science of progressing by reason from knowledge of the sensible to that of the super-sensible.”
“If it has
done this in Germany, and done it since the days of Leibniz and Wolff,” Kant says, “then the problem of the
Royal Academy of Sciences will have been resolved.”
In other words, because the Critique of Pure Reason was
publisheo in Germanv. in the perioo lollowing Leibniz ano Wolll. Kant believeo it was nnallv possible to aooress
the “progress” (Fortschritt) of metaphysics.
Kant’s references to the historical and geographic conditions under which metaphysics had become a science
are clearly ironic, but it would be wrong to conclude that Kant thinks history and geography were entirely
incidental to the history of philosophy. The “temporal sequence” (Zeitordnung) through which metaphysics
becomes a science is “founded in the nature of man’s cognitive capacity” according to Kant.
He thought that
human beings had a natural predisposition (Naturanlage) to metaphysics, in other words, because the idea of
metaphvsics lies whollv prengureo in the soul.¨
It is for this reason that “the idea of a metaphysics inevitably
presents itself to human reason, and the latter feels a need to develop it.”
What is crucial for the history
of philosophy, however, is that human reason develops the idea of metaphysics according to a determinate
temporal sequence, through which the history of philosophy achieves its ultimate purpose. This development
is not shapeo bv the innuence ol historical contingencies or empirical lacts or anv other conoitions external to
philosophy. The historical development of philosophy is, on the contrary, determined by reason itself.
Kant explores the conditions under which one might be able to reconstruct the “temporal sequence” according
to which metaphysics develops in a “jotting” bearing the title ‘On a Philosophical History of Philosophy.’
While it seems that Kant never incorporated the contents of this “jotting” into the text of his essay on the
progress ol metaphvsics. it is signincant lor our purposes. because it is here that Kant oescribes his conception
of philosophical archaeology. According to Kant “a philosophical history of philosophy is itself possible, not
historically or empirically, but rationally, i.e. a priori. For although it establishes facts of reason, it does not
borrow them from historical narrative but draws them from the nature of human reason, as philosophical
Foucault surely had this passage in mind when he said that Kant called archaeology “the history
of that which renders necessary a certain form of thought.”
Kant’s remarks make it clear that it is the nature of
human reason itself which “renders necessary a certain form of thought.” Philosophy articulates the principles
of human reason in history and according to a certain “temporal sequence,” to be sure, but the history of
philosophy is determined by reason rather than history, if history is considered to be a kind of empirical
knowledge of “things as they are.”
To know the history of philosophy philosophically, that is, to know how
philosophy would be articulated by reason itself, as a science, and to know the history of philosophy in a way
that follows from the necessity of a priori principles—this is what Kant calls “philosophical archaeology.”
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3. THE HISTORY OF THE THING WHICH HAS NOT HAPPENED
The oiscussion ol Kant`s renections on the possibilitv ol a philosophical historv ol philosophv with which
Giorgio Agamben begins his recent essay on philosophical archaeology suggests that he was aware of Foucault’s
reference to Kant in his response to the New York Times review. Yet Agamben makes no mention or Foucault’s
reference to Kant or “the history of that which renders necessary a certain form of thought” as he passes
from his consideration of Kant to discussions of Nietzsche and Overbeck, Heidegger and Benjamin, Mauss,
Dumézil, and Freud. This oversight may be surprising, given Agamben’s preoccupation with philology and
the evident pleasure he takes in making curious and unlikely connections. His silence becomes less surprising,
however, when one considers the paradoxes Agamben attributes to Kant’s philosophical archaeology.
According to Agamben, the conception of a philosophical archaeology that Kant develops in the “jottings” for
his essay on the progress of metaphysics “runs the risk of lacking a beginning” and recounting “the history of
the thing which has not happened.”
This introduces an “essential dishomogeneity” into Kant’s conception
of a philosophical history of philosophy, which Agamben traces back to the difference between the “factical
beginning” of the history of philosophy and the principles which determine the course of the development of
metaphysics a priori.
Because Kant does not refer the beginning of philosophy to any “chronological datum,”
Agamben does not think the philosophical history of philosophy Kant describes can mark its beginning in time.
The beginnings of the history of philosophy are philosophical, for Kant, so they must be sought in principles
which determine what “ought to happen” and “what could happen” in the history of philosophy, according to
the nature of human reason. Agamben takes this to mean that Kant’s conception of a philosophical history of
philosophy is only an idea, something which “can never truly be given as an empirically present whole.”
Agamben does not explain why this should be the case, we may suppose that it is because “what should happen”
and “what could happen” are possibilities, whose potential “not to be” cannot be excluded. The realization
of the philosophical history of philosophy is, for that reason, always deferred, and the gap between the real
history of philosophy and the ideal history of what Kant thinks philosophy could be or should happen becomes
“essential,” because the real history of philosophy and the ideal of a philosophical history of philosophy never
Although Agamben insists that Kant’s philosophical archaeology becomes “the history of the thing which
has not happened,” Agamben also regards the “essential dishomogeneity” of Kant’s philosophical history of
philosophv as the constitutive gap¨ that oennes Kant`s conception ol philosophv ano renoers it intelligible. It
is because Kant excludes what could happen and what should happen in the history of philosophy from its real
historv. in other woros. that Kant can oenne what is to be incluoeo within the historv ol philosophv accoroing
to his own understanding of the nature of human reason. Agamben describes a similar logic at work in
philology, history, anthropology, and psychoanalysis in his essay, arguing in each case that these sciences exclude
the origin¨ as something prior to¨ the oroer ol knowleoge. in oroer to oenne themselves ano preserve the
integrity of the order they impose on the objects of their investigations.
It is onlv bv oenning the beginning¨
ol a science in opposition to what came belore¨ that science that one is able to oelimit a particular nelo ol
inquiry. In so doing, however, one establishes a relation between what is included within the order of knowledge
and what is excluded from it.
What is excluoeo then becomes no less oennitive ol that science than what is
included and what is included simply becomes what is not excluded.
The logic of this operation is the same as the logic of the ban that Agamben describes in Homo Sacer. Agamben
calls the ban “the power of delivering something over to itself, which is to say, the power of maintaining itself
in relation to something presupposed as nonrelational.”
In Homo Sacer, Agamben tried to show how this logic
was paradoxical, because it both excluded bare life from the political order and included it within that order
at the same time. Because a political life is a life which is subject to sovereign power, Agamben argues, bare life
must be understood as a life which has no relation to the political order and which is not governed by sovereign
power. Insofar as subjection to sovereign power is something which is imposed on life, however, the idea of a
political life necessarily presupposes the idea of a life which precedes political subjection. Instead of being a
life which is outside the political sphere and free from sovereign decision regarding its life and death, bare life
comes to be included within the political order as life that is to be subjected. The history of modern political
institutions illustrates the disastrous consequences of this logic and the ongoing attempts sovereign power has
made to include bare life within the political order.
In his essay on philosophical archaeology, Agamben casts archaeology as the science which exposes the
paradoxes of the logic of presupposition and exclusion. Unlike Kant, whose philosophical archaeology merely
reproduces this logic, Agamben thinks Foucault acknowledges the gap between “a heterogenous stratum that
is not placed in the position of a chronological origin” and something “qualitatively other,” which establishes
the relation between what is excluded from that order as heterogenous and what is included within the order
This gap is constitutive for archaeology, according to Agamben, because it renders that which
is included intelligible and establishes its credentials as knowledge. Instead of presenting this knowledge as
essential and necessary, however, Agamben claims that Foucault’s archaeology establishes the distinction
between knowledge and its presupposed yet excluded other “in order to work on it, deconstruct it, and detail it
to the point where it gradually erodes, losing its originary status.”
What is central to archaeology, for Agamben, is “the movement of freedom” that Foucault attributes to dreams
and the imagination in his ‘Preface’ to Binswanger’s Dream and Existence.
Foucault had praised Binswinger for
recognizing the “poetic”function of dreams and the imagination, rather than emphasizing their role in wish
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The “movement of freedom” to which Agamben refers is this imaginative
“poetics.” Instead of proposing an objective account of the past “as it was,” Agamben thinks Foucault’s
archaeology exercises its “freedom” and its “poetic” license, conjuring up an image of the past, which it then
proceeds to deconstruct.
Through this movement, Agamben suggests, archaeology exposes the past as a
projection of the present, which contains the present within itself. This in turn reveals the image of the past
to be a history of the present, because it shows how the present recreates itself as the “future anterior” of the
By making the past the origin of the present order, while simultaneously excluding the past as “other”
than that order, the present secures a beginning for itself and saves that beginning from critical scrutiny. The
origin of the past is simply the “will have been” of the present, whose image is “derealized” by archaeological
Recognizing the logic of inclusion and exclusion at work in our image of the past allows us to free ourselves
from the fantasy that the set of inclusions and exclusions that order our lives are somehow the “archaic”
origin of our present reality. Far from being an inheritance which we must carry into the future, archaeology
We may study the past and
play with the distinctions projected into the past by the present, but we are under no obligation to regard them
as essential and original features of our individual and collective modes of existence.
This, I think, is the
concrete meaning of redemption for Agamben, because it “unworks” the distinctions that organize our lives
and our political institutions, and gives us the freedom to create new forms of life.
4. THAT WHICH RENDERS NECESSARY A CERTAIN FORM OF THOUGHT
It should be clear by now that Kant and Agamben present very different accounts of the nature and value of
philosophical archaeology. Yet neither of them seems to correspond to the archaeology of the human sciences
that Foucault undertakes in The Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge. This is all the more curious,
since Foucault claimed to have derived his understanding of archaeology from Kant and because Agamben is
allegedly drawing his account of philosophical archaeology from Focault. By weighing the different conceptions
of philosophical archaeology which are to be found in Kant and Agamben and comparing them to Foucault’s
own archaeological practices, however, it may be possible to assess their relevance for our understanding of
Foucault and his reasons for relating his own investigations to Kant’s philosophical archaeology in his response
to the New York Times review.
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The fact that Foucault claims to have derived his conception of archaeology from Kant does not prove that
Ioucault agreeo with everv aspect ol Kant`s account. Ioucault woulo most likelv have seen Kant`s ioentincation
of the principles of a philosophical history of philosophy with the principles of human reason as evidence of
the kind of subjectivism and anthropologism he so sharply criticized in phenomenology. In the ‘Forward’ to the
English edition of The Order of Things, Foucault says he rejects phenomenology, precisely because it “places its
own point of view at the origin of all historicity—which, in short, leads to a transcendental consciousness.”
While these remarks appear to be directed against Husserl, later chapters reveal Kant’s critical philosophy
to be “the threshold of our modernity,” which makes man the privileged object of the human sciences.
Phenomenology is for Foucault only a late and confused expression of this development, causing it to “topple
over, willy-nilly, into anthropology,” despite its claim to be a pure philosophy and a rigorous science.
philosophical archaeology could be said to follow a similar trajectory, founding its philosophical claims about
the history of philosophy on a theory of the subject, then many of the objections which Foucault raised against
phenomenology could also be leveled against Kant.
The archaeology of the human sciences that Foucault presents takes a theory of discursive formations as
its starting point, rather than a theory of the subject.
By focusing on the discursive practices which order
the epistemic nelos ol the renaissance. the classical age. ano mooernitv. Ioucault highlights the oillerences
between the ways knowledge is ordered in each period. Because Foucault brackets questions of causality in
The Order of Things. however. it is oilncult to see how his archaeologv coulo be saio to oescribe the historv
of that which renders necessary a certain form of thought.”
While Foucault emphasized the necessity with
which certain forms of thought are determined in his response to the New York Times review, it is impossible to
recount the history of that which “renders necessary” (rendre necessaire) a certain form of thought, when one has
suspenoeo questions ol causal oetermination. explanation. ano innuence. Something is necessarv because it is
determined in a way that is not merely possible and not merely actual, for reasons which are neither arbitrary
nor contingent. Unless one is willing to explain why something takes place, in other words, it is impossible to
determine how it might be rendered necessary. Foucault’s resistance to causal explanation distances him further
from Kant’s conception of philosophical archaeology, because it prevents him from saying anything about the
necessity of the discursive practices he considers.
The impossibility of describing the necessity “a certain form of thought” in archaeological terms does not
mean that Foucault is committed to the peculiar conception of arbitrariness that characterizes Agamben’s
understanding of philosophical archaeology. By making archaeology a kind of conjuring trick, which creates an
image of the past as the presupposed but excluded origin of the present, Agamben denies that there is anything
which is necessary about the forms thought takes in certain periods.
The very idea that something would
render a certain form of thought necessary is absurd, for Agamben, because he regards history as a catalog of
the distinctions we use to order our thoughts and our activities, which is projected into the past.
of the distinction between life and death, man and animal, alien and citizen, friend and enemy and many
other distinctions may be real parts of our social and political history, but these distinctions are simply works of
Attributing any kind of necessity to such distinctions would be the most obscene kind of obscurantism,
from Agamben’s perspective, because it would give them the power and authority of an ontological foundation,
which would guarantee their legitimacy.
By revealing the ungroundedness of the distinctions which order our
lives and thoughts and showing them to be arbitrary and inessential, Agamben thinks we suspend their effects
and free ourselves from the illusion that the catastrophe of the present was unavoidable.
To declare the distinctions which order knowledge in a given period to be arbitrary would be going too far for
Foucault. Foucault does not address questions of causality in his archaeology, because he regards the causal
explanations which are usually employed in the history of philosophy and science to be “more magical than
Explanations which claim that a particular event was determined by “the spirit of the age,” for
example, are not so different from those which purport to explain how the soul moves the body. Citing the
invention of the telescope as the cause of the revolution in modern astronomy and talking about how the
attempt to address social inequality leads to totalitarianism are, for similar reasons, too simplistic to be taken
seriously as explanations. Anyone with a sense of the complexity of the forces which drive historical change
merely acknowledges the difference between description and explanation, while recognizing the complexity of
the causal relations between different historical events.
Foucault avoids the “magical thinking” of traditional narrative history by describing the transformations which
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Yet he does not
limit archaeology to empirical observation, simply by privileging description over explanation. The force of
Foucault’s archaeology comes from the recognition that the empirical is the product and not the principle of
the order of knowledge. “There is no similitude and no distinction,” Foucault claims, “that is not the result of
a precise operation and of the application of a preliminary criterion.”
The attempt to distinguish various
“empiricities” according to the qualities we observe in them must therefore presuppose principles of similarity
order of knowledge. For Foucault, this means that empirical phenomena become visible through a “hidden
network that determines the way they confront one another.”
While Foucault acknowledges that the order
which derives from this network “has no existence except in the grid created by a glance, an examination, a
language,” he insists that the existence of order is as undeniable as its effects.
Foucault’s archaeology of the
human sciences is concerned with the “experience” of that order, which he regards as a “historical a priori”
allowing different ideas, sciences, and rationalities to become manifest in different periods.
Foucault’s “historical a priori” is very different from the universal and necessary conditions of possible experience
/0'/$?',/$"(&,/"4&1$",$/0&$Critique of Pure Reason, but it is not an oxymoron as Agamben suggests.
In his essay
on philosophical archaeology, Agamben argues that there can be no historical a priori, because a historical a
priori would have to be “inscribed within a history.”
This means that a historical a priori have to be projected
backwards onto the past by the present. A historical a priori would therefore have to “constitute itself a posteriori
with respect to this history,” rendering the historical a priori both a priori and a posteriori.
Such a paradoxical
formulation is striking, but it not to be found in Foucault. Foucault’s archaeological inquiries are motivated
by the experience of order and its effects upon knowledge. Order is experienced, not because it is conjured
up by a certain form of inquiry and projected onto the past, but because it has regular and observable effects
on knowledge and discourse. Even if order is historically contingent and different orders obtain in different
periods, the fact of order remains, along with its effects.
The thread which ties Foucault’s archaeology to Kant’s conception of philosophical archaeology is perhaps to
of order and the posteriority of inquiry and its objects. Knowledge of order, in other words, is possible because
order really exists. We recognize empirical objects within a pre-established framework, because that is what
it means to “experience” order. Kant appeals to universal and necessary principles to determine that order,
whether they are the pure concepts of the understanding or the principles which allow a science of metaphysics
to become manifest in history. The temporal order according to which the idea of metaphysics develops is
consequently a necessary order, which cannot fail to achieve its ultimate purpose. Foucault distances himself
under the sign of necessity. Nor is Foucault concerned with the “ultimate purpose” of that order, as it might
be determined by human reason. Questions of modality and teleology are simply beyond the scope of the
archaeological inquiry he undertakes in The Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge.
Even if he cannot go so far as to say that thought “necessarily” assumes a certain form during a certain period,
times. Regarded as the historical a priori of a historical form of thought, Foucault even acknowledges that the
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upon this point, Foucault refutes the arbitrariness that Agamben attributes to the distinctions that organize our
lives and thoughts. Foucault associates his archaeology of the human sciences and, indeed, knowledge as such,
with Kant’s philosophical archaeology, simply because he recognizes the priority of the order that serves as the
historical condition of the possibility and actuality of knowledge.
Foucault shares with Agamben a concern for the effects of knowledge and the desire to destabilize the present
distinctions which are projected onto the past by the present. According to Agamben’s reading, Foucault’s
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Foucault’s own accounts of his archaeology, however, suggests a rather different view.
Foucault associates his archaeology of the human sciences with Kant’s philosophical archaeology, because
he takes order to be the condition of the possibility and the condition of the existence of knowledge. While
Foucault does not follow Kant in his attempt to determine the conditions of the possibility of all possible
experience and the principles governing the progress of philosophy in history, he seeks to understand the
effects of that order on historical forms of knowledge. It is for this reason that he addresses his archaeological
The considerable differences between Foucault’s historical analyses and Kant’s philosophical archaeology must
be stressed. Yet these differences are not indicative of a fundamental distinction between Kant’s philosophical
history of philosophy and Foucault’s archaeology of the human sciences; instead, they qualify a common
interest in the way a priori principles affect the historical forms of knowledge. Foucault’s claim, in his response
to the New York Times review of The Order of Things, that his use of the word archaeology is anticipated by Kant
should therefore be taken as a testament to Foucault’s knowledge of Kant’s works and his proximity to the
COLIN MCQUILLAN received his PhD. in philosophy from Emory University, where he wrote a
dissertation on Kant’s conception of critique. Colin’s current research focuses on German philosophy
from Leibniz to Kant. In addition, Colin has published several articles on the work of Michel Foucault,
Jacques Rancière, and Giorgio Agamben.
1. George Steiner, “The Mandarin of the Hour—Michel Foucault,” New York Times Book Review (February 21, 1971).
2. Michel, Foucault, “Monstrosities in Criticism,” Translated by Robert J. Matthews, Diacritics 1 (1971, 60). See also Michel
Foucault, “Les Monstrousités de la critique,” Included in Michel Foucault: Dits et Écrits I (1954-1975), Edited by Daniel Defert
et al. Paris: Gallimard, 2001, 1089-1090.
3. Monstrosities in Criticism, 60. Les Monstrousités de la critique, 1090.
4. Monstrosities in Criticism, 60. Les Monstrousités de la critique, 1090.
5. See Les Monstrousités de la critique, 1089. See also Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language,
Translated by A.M. Sheridan Smith, New York: Pantheon Books, 1972, 135-195.
6. The details of Foucault’s early appropriations of Kant are analyzed in great detail in Marc Djaballah, Kant, Foucault, and
the Forms of Experience, New York: Routledge, 2008.
7. Giorgio Agamben, “Philosophical Archaeology,” Included in The Signature of All Things. Translated by Luca D’Isanto with
Kevin Attell. New York: Zone Books, 2009, 93. See also Giorgio Agamben, “Philosophical Archaeology,” Law and Critique
20:3 (2009, 211-231).
8. “Jottings” is the term used by the editors of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant to designate those parts of
Kant’s handschriftliche Nachlaß which are called löse Blätter in the standard Akademie Ausgabe (AA) of Kant’s Gesammelte Schriften.
A more precise translation would be “loose sheets,” but I have followed the convention established by the Cambridge edition
in my references to Kant’s “jottings.”
9. Kant actually refers to a philosophirenden or “philosophizing” history of philosophy. It is important to note that talk of a
“philosophizing” history of philosophy is as unusual and unconventional in German as it is in English, but Kant’s usage
corresponds to the emphasis he places on the practice and activity of philosophizing in other texts. I have nevertheless
preferred to call Kant’s history “philosophical” rather than “philosophisizing,” for reasons of style.
10. See, for example, Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Metaphysics, Edited and Translated by Karl Ameriks and Steve Narragon,
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997, 299-302 (AA XXVIII: 531).
11. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1998. pg. 150 (A13/B27).
12. The Acaoemv`s question was motivateo bv its concern about the growing innuence ol Kantianism ano its members oesire
to save philosophy from the “great confusion” (grosse Verwirrung wrought bv the innuence ol Kantianism. See Aooll Harnack.
Geschichte der königlich Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (Erster Band, Zweite Hälfte), Berlin: Reichsdruckerei, 1900,
13. Immanuel Kant, “What real progress has metaphysics mad in Germany since the time of Leibniz and Wolff ?” Translated
by Henry Allison, Included in Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy After 1781, Edited by Henry Allison and Peter Heath, New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Henry Allison provides a useful survey of the history of the text of Kant’s essay in
his editorial introduction in the Cambridge edition of Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy After 1781 (339-442).The text we
have today was compiled shortly after Kant’s death from three different manuscripts by Kant’s friend Friedrich Theodor
Rink. The original manuscripts have been lost ano the shortcomings ol Rink`s eoitorial proceoures make it oilncult to
determine the authenticity of Kant’s text. A certain degree of caution is therefore necessary in attributing the claims found
in What real progress has metaphysics mad in Germany since the time of Leibniz and Wolff ? to Kant. The positions attributed to Kant in
this essav have. however. been connrmeo bv comparison with Kant`s notes ano lectures.
14. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:259).
15. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:259).
16. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:259).
17. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:259).
18. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:259).
19. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:259).
20. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:259).
21. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 354 (AA XX:260).
22. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:260).
23. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:260). The idea that an Endzweck is an “ultimate purpose”
plays an important role in Kant’s writings on teleology. See, for example, Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment,
Translated by Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 294 (AA V: 426).
24. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 353 (AA XX:260).
25. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 357 (AA XX:264).
26. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 357 (AA XX:264).
27. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 419 (AA XX:342). See also Critique of Pure Reason, pg. 147 (B21-22).
28. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 419 (AA XX:342). See also Critique of Pure Reason, pg. 147 (B21-22).
!"#$%&%!"#'($)(*'"+%$%,-)#.)/(.01)2%3'(3$0)(.4)(,(56+.) ) )
29. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 417 (AA XX:341).
30. Monstrosities in Criticism, 60. See also Les Monstrousités de la critique, 1089.
31. What real progress has metaphysics made in Germany, 417 (AA XX:340).
32. Philosophical Archaeology, 81.
33. Philosophical Archaeology, 82-83.
34. Philosophical Archaeology, 82.
35. Philosophical Archaeology, 82. Agamben admits that “what could or ought to have been given” in philosophy is something
that perhaps one oav might be.¨ but he also suggests that the realization ol that possibilitv is innnitelv oelerreo. when he
says “at the moment, they exist only in the condition of partial objects or ruins.” Because the realization of the possibility
of what could be and what should be is never realized “at the moment,” the possibility of what could and what should take
place in the history of philosophy must always remain a possibility with respect to the present, something which is forever
“to come,”which, for that reason, never is. Jacques Derrida has analyzed this logic in many places, especially with respect to
“democracy to come.” See Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael
Naas. Stanloro: Stanloro Universitv Fress. 2005. 78-9!. Agamben has objecteo to the wav this logic innnitelv oelers the
unworking¨ ol an ultimatelv nctional injunction bv interminablv oeconstructing it. maintaining it. Agamben savs. in a
spectral life.” See Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, Translated by Kevin Attell, Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 2005, 64. The difference between Derrida and Agamben on this issue is discussed by Catherine Mills, The Philosophy of
Agamben, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009, 121.
36. Philosophical Archaeology, 82. Agamben’s discussion of the paradoxes of Kant’s philosophical archaeology and his defense
of Foucauldian archaeology should be compared with his criticism of deconstruction in Giorgio Agamben, “Theory of
Signatures,” Included in The Signature of All Things, Translated by Luca D’Isanto and Kevin Attell, New York: Zone Books,
2009. 78-81. It should also be noted that Kant did not maintain the view that Agamben attributes to him at the beginning
of his essay on philosophical archaeology. Agamben points to a passage in Kant’s Logic, where Kant says that philosophy
cannot be learned, because “it is not yet given,” but Agamben misrepresents the context in which Kant made this claim
and its implications when he suggests that the whole of philosophy can never be given as such for Kant. Instead of arguing
that philosophy is only an idea and does not exist in reality, as Agamben claims, Kant is arguing, in the passage from the
Logic—and in the corresponding passage in his lectures, which I have cited in note 8—that one must philosophize, in order
to become a philosopher. One cannot simply memorize what other philosophers have said, taking their words to be true
on the authority of the wise men who have spoken them. One must think for onself, if one wishes to learn philosophy,
and approach philosophical questions with one’s own reason. When one has done that, then Kant thinks one has “given”
oneself philosophy. Kant cannot mean that it is impossible for philosophy to be given at all, or that philosophy cannot be an
empirically given whole, because Kant claims to have made metaphysics a science in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787).
Kant went on to defend the claim that his “critique” had made metaphysics a science in his Progomena to any future metaphysics
that will be able to come forward as a science (1783), !"#$#%&'()*+,-#./+,+0-#$"-#"+.#(,&1&23+#)4 #53,+#,+$')"#&'#1)#0+#6$%+#'35+,73)3'#0-#$"#)8%+,#
one (1790), and the drafts of his prize-essay on the progress of metaphysics (1793/1804). In his late writing against Fichte,
Kant even claimed that his Critique contained the entire science of metaphysics, a claim which is contradicted by the text of
the Introouction` to the nrst A ano secono B eoitions ol the work. Ior all ol these reasons. it is impossible to maintain
that Kant thought that “what could happen” and “what should happen” in the history of philosophy could not be realized.
37. Philosophical Archaeology, 82-92.
38. For a helpful account of Agamben’s critique of this logic, see Alexander García Düttmann, “Never Before, Always
Already: Notes on Agamben and the Category of Relation,” Angelaki: A Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 6:3 (2001, 3-6).
39. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1998, 109-110.
40. See, for example, Homo Sacer, 148, 169-176.
41. Philosophical Archaeology, 84.
42. Philosophical Archaeology, 102.
43. Philosophical Archaeology, 103.
44. Philosophical Archaeology, 104. See also Michel Foucault, Michel, “Introduction,” Included in Ludwig Binswanger, and
Michel Foucault, Dream and Existence, Translated by Keith Hoeller, Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1993, 72.
45. Philosophical Archaeology, 104-105.
46. Philosophical Archaeology, 105-106.
47. Philosophical Archaeology, 103-105.
48. The English woro nction¨ is oeriveo lrom the Latin 9":+,+, which means “to touch,” but also “to shape” and “to form.”
Etymologically, the term need not refer to works of literature, but may be extended to anything which is “shaped” or “formed”
or even maoe.¨ Reaoing the various nctions¨ Agamben relers to in his works as things which are maoe up¨ is helplul lor
understanding his critique of the distinctions distinction between the norm and exception, law and anomie, man and animal,
and so forth.
!"#$%&$'()$*+,&+-./&.)$01 $*'234$/&3$56/47$*))$State of Exception, 63-64.
50. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, New York: Vintage Books, 1994, xiv. Similar claims
are to be found in The Archaeology of Knowledge, where Foucault is even more explicit in his criticism of the phenomenological
approaches to history. It is here that Foucault famously accuses phenomenology of “transcendental narcissism” and claims
that his archaeology aims to “free history from the grip of phenomenology.” See The Archaeology of Knowledge, 203.
51. The Order of Things, 319.
52. The Order of Things, 220, 248.
53. The Order of Things, xiv. The theory of discursive formations to which Foucault refers is articulated more generally in The
Archaeology of Knowledge, 31-39.
54. The Order of Things, xii-xiii.
feature of Agamben’s thought, but it is perhaps most clearly expressed at the end of Language and Death, a work dedicated to
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argues that “man, the animal possessing language, is, as such, ungrounded... he has no foundation except in his own action...
in every case, the action of the human community is grounded only in another action... the ungroundedness of all human
praxis is hidden here in the fact that an action... is abandoned to itself and thus becomes the foundation for all legal behavior;
the action is that which, remaining unspeakable and intransmissible in every action and in all human language, destines man
to community and to tradition.” This means that the categories governing human language, communities, traditions, and
laws have their foundations in human action. The acts which “found” those languages, communities, traditions, and laws
may have real and even disastrous consequences, but they are ultimately gratuitous. They cannot be considered necessary, for
Agamben, because they are arbitrary. See Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. Translated by Karen
E. Pinkus and Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991, 105.
56. Philosophical Archaeology, 93.
57. See Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal, Translated by Kevin Attell, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004,
35-36. See also Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, Translated by Kevin Attell, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005,
58. At the end of his essay on philosophical archaeology, Agamben argues that “the human sciences will be capable of
reaching their decisive epistemological threshold only after they have rethought, from the bottom up, the very idea of an
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likely that Agamben would deny that these distinctions have any “ontological anchoring,” which would provide them with I
have simply called “a foundation in “reality.”
59. The Order of Things, xii-xiii.
60. The Order of Things, xii-xiii, xxii, 218. See also The Archaeology of Knowledge, 5-6, 169-177.
61. The Order of Things, xx. See also The Order of Things, 252, where Foucault begins to discuss the role this approach to the
that isolate them and surround their outlines—all these will now be presented to our gaze only in an already composed state,
already articulated in that nether darkness that is fomenting them with time.”
62. The Order of Things, xx.
63. The Order of Things, xx. Agamben’s position could be said to emphasize this element of Foucault’s argument.
64. The Order of Things, xxi-xxii.
65. Philosophical Archaeology, 93-94.
66. Philosophical Archaeology, 93.
67. Philosophical Archaeology, 94.
68. The phrase “conditions of existence” (les conditions d’existence) appears several times in The Order of Things, often in
conjunction with Foucault’s discussion of Cuvier. See The Order of Things, 274. It acquires a more general methodological
*+,&+-./&.)$+&$The Archaeology of Knowledge. See The Archaeology of Knowledge, 27-28, 38, 116-117. Foucault also sometimes refers
to the historical a priori as the “condition of reality” (condition de réalité) of statements, which I take to be lexically equivalent
to the idea of a “condition of existence.” See The Archaeology of Knowledge, 127.
69. I have described the limits within which I think Foucault may be described as a Kantian in Colin McQuillan,
“Transcendental Philosophy and Critical Philosophy in Kant and Foucault: Response to Colin Koopman,” Foucault Studies 9
!"##$%&'"( ( ( ( ( ( ((((()*+,%#(-.(/(0.-.(/(1-234
LACAN`S ETHICS AND IOUCAULT`S CARE OI THE SELI¨:
TWO DIAGRAMS OI THE FRODUCTION OI SUB]ECTIVITY
AND OI THE SUB]ECT`S RELATION TO TRUTH
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: DESIRE CONTRA!ETHICS?
With the oiscoverv¨ ol the unconscious. ano the introouction ol oesire into questions ol an inoivioual`s
motivation. Ireuo in one lell swoop renoers all previous accounts ol ethics. ano thus ol the subject. partial.
Bluntlv put. psvchoanalvsis oemonstrateo. explicitlv lor the nrst time. that there is something else that
oetermines our behaviour up ano bevono or inoeeo. below the gooo.¨ whether it be our own. someone else`s.
the gooo ol societv´humanitv. or the gooo¨ in a more general ano abstract sense.
It is this revolution in ethical
thought that is the subject ol ]acques Lacan`s seminar on "#$!%&#'()!*+ !,)-(#*./.0-)'). a revolution that is also a
reoennition inasmuch as the latter is then not to oo with the gooo at all. at least not in the above sense. ano also
not to oo with what Lacan calls the service ol gooos¨ that incluoes the accumulation ol wealth. commooities
ano so lorth. but with that verv oesireunpreoictable. non-proouctive ano unconsciousthat will necessarilv
upset anv such moral position. It is also this that marks psvchoanalvsis with trageov insolar as such oesire in
operating contra this gooo ano especiallv the gooo ol the inoivioual is also a being towaros oeath.
The goal ol Lacanian analvsisil it can be saio to have oneis then less a cure¨ or the proouction ol a
healthv proouctive inoivioual that is. the builoing up ol the ego ano the making ol a gooo¨ person than
the assumption ol what might be calleo the subject ol the unconscious that can onlv take place via the
oismantlement ol the various imaginarv ioentincations that leo to the lormer. incluoing the various ethical ones
preciselv about being a gooo¨ person ano so lorth. This is not then an ethics ol the inoivioual at all. at least
not ol the conscious subject. rather. it is an ethics concerneo with that impersonal oesire that the lormer masks
ano which. lor Lacan. constitutes the verv truth ol our being. It is. we might sav. an ethics turneo upsioe oown.
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
In what lollows I want to excavate lurther this strange notion ol ethics. ano the concepts ol oesire ano truth
that it implies. via a commentarv on the concluoing session ol Lacan`s seminar.
I am especiallv interesteo
in how the oeplovment ol these concepts themselves implies a particular kino ol subject. or. we might sav.
a particular proouction ol subjectivitv.
As a loil to this I will be comparing the latter with Michel Ioucault`s
ioeas about ethics as thev are laio out in the introouctorv lectures ol !"#$%#&'#(#)*+,-$./ $*"#$0)12#,* with some
asioes to Ioucault`s interviews on his late work ano especiallv On the Genealogv ol Ethics¨. Il it is Lacan
more than anv other post-Ireuoian who sharpens ano accelerates the challenge implieo bv psvchoanalvsis
lor ethics. then it is Ioucault who takes up the lurther critical project ol excavating an alternative traoition ol
ethicsthe Care ol the Sell ¨ the #3+'#4#+5$"#5*.)nrst practiceo bv the ancient Greeks. but which Ioucault
argues is oirectlv relevant to our own ethical situation. I am specincallv interesteo here in whether this particular
ethical programme. which in some senses is pitcheo against Lacan`s subject ol oesire. might itsell be unoerstooo
as a lorm ol the gooo¨ in Lacan`s terms. Is Ioucault`s Care ol the Sell ¨ part ol that ethical traoition that
Lacan unoermines. or ooes it in lact involve a oillerent unoerstanoing ol ethics that brings it closer to the
psvchoanalvtic programme itsell ? Iollowing this evaluation I will also be concerneo with the specincallv
constructive nature ol Ioucault`s Care ol the Sell.¨ ano. explicitlv in section two below. with Ioucault`s notion
ol spiritualitvor simplv the ioea that access to truth must involve a prior preparation bv the subject who is
then. in turn. translormeo bv that verv truth.
There are major oillerences between mv two archives. not least the one positioning oesire as central. the other
pleasure. but there are also. as I have just intimateo. important resonances.
Inoeeo. an immeoiate similaritv is
that both were intenoeo specincallv as oral oiscourses being oelivereo as seminars¨. Both were open to all.
ano in both. I woulo argue. we see thought in action with the working out ol the possibilities lor a contemporarv
ethics albeit this is olten oone via various historical analvses. A secono resonance is that both atteno to the
relation one has with onesell contra anv external power Lacan or control´oepenoence Ioucault. This
important point will be exploreo throughout mv article. Ior mvsell there are also resonances arouno the
programmatic nature ol both thinkers that leao lrom this orientation. These will be aooresseoin the nrst
section belowbv the introouction ol a thiro ethical thinker. Spinoza. whose own 6*"+,- works. it seems to me.
to brioge the ethical positions ol Lacan ano Ioucault ano who therelore remains a presence throughout mv
A lourth ano more secret resonance. which I atteno to in section three with some help lrom Gilles Deleuze ano
through oiagrams. ano which the previous two sections ol commentarv have been working towaros. involves
what might be calleo the ethical oestination ano the subject`s relation to truth. Another wav ol putting this is
that both Lacan ano Ioucault announce a nnite subject that holos the innnite within albeit in two oillerent
articulations that will then involve two oillerent kinos ol relationor non-relation. In short hano. ano to think
oiagrammaticallv. these are the torus lor Lacan ano the lolo lor Ioucault. Towaros the eno ol this section I
attempt a svnthesis ol these two: a composite oiagram ol the proouction ol subjectivitv that also oraws in Henri
Bergson`s celebrateo cone ol memorv as a lurther connector¨ between mv two protagonists.
In the lourth ano nnal section ol mv essav. which operates as an alterworo ol sorts. I concluoe mv comparative
stuov with an examination ol the two oillerent articulations ol the subject`s work that lollow lrom these
oiagrams: the path ol the hero¨ in Lacan`s 6*"+,- ano the ioea ol lile as a work ol art¨ that Ioucault oevelops
in his late interviews. Here I am explicitlv interesteo in something that is implicit throughout mv article. namelv
the turn both thinkers make awav lrom the tvpical Cartesian subject towaros what we might call a subject vet
to come. ano it is towaros this luture subject again with some help lrom Deleuze that mv concluoing remarks
One lurther introouctorv remark. In general what lollows intenos a reaoing ol Lacan that attenos to the
seminar as a pragmatic text lor the proouction ol subjectivitv rather than to anv structural interpretation that.
lor example. attenos to Lacan`s interest in the signiner or locuses exclusivelv on language in the construction ol
the subject although I will return to this brienv at the verv eno ol mv article. As lar as this goes I am interesteo
in Lacan`s !"#$%& as a kino ol technologv ol the sell to use Ioucault`s term. As lar as Ioucault goes the logic is
reverseo in that I will not be owelling on the specincs ol his historical analvses. or on the particularities ol the
technologies ol the sell that he excavates. except in passing. but locussing rather on the notion ol the Care
ol the Sell ¨ itsell as a kino ol structural eventan event in thought that proouces a relation to onesell ano a
concomitant lreeoom lor ano ol the subject.
1. SFINOZA BETWEEN LACAN AND IOUCAULT
Lacan begins the nnal session ol his 1959-o0 seminar on '#()!"#$%&)*+ ),&-%#*./.0-&$& with the comment that anv
ethics whatsoever presumes a juogement on an action that in itsell contains a juogement ol sorts. which is to sav
a meaning. Ireuo`s insight. or hvpothesis. that human action has a hiooen meaning that one can have access
to.¨ means. as lar as Lacan is concerneo. that psvchoanalvsis too has an ethics. or a moral oimension.¨ ano that
in what goes on at the level ol liveo experience there is a oeeper meaning that guioes that experience.¨ Lacan.
As Lacan suggests this is less a oiscoverv as such than the minimal position¨ ol psvchoanalvsis. albeit it
is also the lounoing theorv ol anv notion ol what Lacan calls inner progress.¨ Lacan. 312
There is. however. a crucial oillerence between the latter ano psvchoanalvsis ano this comes oown to the
question ol the gooo. Ior tvpical´traoitional ethics lollowing this notion ol inner progress¨ there is. at
bottom. the assumption that once meaning has been workeo out there will be goooness.¨ Goooness¨ is. as it
were. the origin ano "(0*& ol traoitional ethics in the seminar Lacan oemonstrates that this traoition has its roots
in Aristotle`s 1$%*2.%#(./)!"#$%&. a work that then operates as a cornerstone lor all subsequent ethical oennitions.
In oroer to counteract this prevailing ethical assumption Lacan reminos us ol the thought experiment ol the
Last ]uogement¨ that he introouceo earlier in the seminar. Fut simplv. this is to project lorwaro ano imagine
onesell at the eno ol one`s lile. or. in a parallel manner. to bring oeath lorwaro as an event in lile. The Last
]uogement is then the operation ol a stanoaro bv which to reconsioer ethics in relation to action ano the oesire
that inhabits it.¨ Lacan. 313
Irom the perspective ol the Last ]uogement the question becomes: have vou
liveo the lile vou wanteo to leao bevono anv injunction to the gooo. or. in more concrete terms. in terms ol the
acquisition ol gooos themselves that is. wealth. commooities. status. ano so lorth? As Lacan remarks: The
ethics ol psvchoanalvsis has nothing to oo with speculation about prescriptions lor. or the regulations ol. what I
have calleo the service ol gooos.¨ Lacan. 312
In contrast to this traoitional ano tvpical ethical position. which juoges an action against the gooo however
this is thought. the ethical juogement lor psvchoanalvsis. arising lrom a recognition ol the nature ol oesire that
lies at the heart ol experience. is simplv: Have vou acteo in conlormitv with the oesire that is in vou?¨ Lacan.
31! This question might be opposeo. as Lacan remarks again. to the service ol gooos that is the position ol
traoitional ethics¨ ano that invariablv involves |t|he cleaning up ol oesire. mooestv. temperateness. that is to
sav. the mioole path we see articulateo so remarkablv in Aristotle .¨ Lacan. 31! The latter is. lor Lacan. the
moralitv ol the master. createo lor the virtues ol the master ano linkeo to the oroer ol powers.¨ Lacan. 315
Such an ethics is then one that is tieo to a transcenoent schema ano thus one that &345(%"&.
It might be remarkeo straightawav that Ioucault`s Care ol the Sell ¨ woulo seem to lall preciselv into this latter
categorv ol ethics that Lacan`s own !"#$%& seeks to unoo. Certainlv. the Care ol the Sell ¨ involves an ethical
trajectorv ol sortstowaros the goooano in the outlining ol a mooe ol lile that is benencial lor the subject
there seems to be implieo an ethical juogement that arises lrom an external rule against which such a juogement
is maoe. There seems. on the lace ol it. as il some kino ol transcenoent operator is in place.
However. this woulo be to misconstrue how ethics. or simplv the notion ol a gooo lile. is oeploveo within the
archive that Ioucault excavates. Inoeeo. lor Ioucault`s ancient Greeks the ethical rule is specincallv one that
is chosen lreelv bv the subject ano then applieo to the sell bv the sell. The Care ol the Sell ¨ must then be
unoerstooo as a oistinctlv inoivioual matter. a personal choice ano thus a personal juogement maoe bv the
subject himsell rather than as a juogement maoe on an action lrom an outsioe agent or as the result ol a
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
external law. As such the ethical juogements ol the Care ol the Sell ¨ might be seen as preciselv a turning awav
lrom transcenoent principles ano. as such. might be unoerstooo rather as a kino ol pragmatics that brings the
Care ol the Sell ¨ closer to psvchoanalvsis itsell.
In lact. Ioucault gives us a succinct oennition ol this Care ol the Sell ¨ at the verv beginning ol his seminar on
!"#$%#&'#(#)*+,-$./ $*"#$0)12#,* that clearlv show its oistance lrom Aristotle at least as Lacan reaos him. ano also.
at least in the nrst two points. its resonances with psvchoanalvsis. Iirst then. the Care ol the Sell ¨ is a certain
wav ol consioering things ano having relations with other people.¨ it is an attituoe towaros the sell. others.
ano the worlo.¨ Ioucault. 11
Secono. it is a lorm ol attention. ol looking.¨ a certain wav ol attenoing to
what we think ano what takes place in our thought.¨ Ioucault. 11 Ano thiro. perhaps most important. it also
names a series ol actionsor practicesthat are exerciseo bv the sell on the sell ¨ ano bv which one takes
responsibilitv lor onesell ano bv which one changes. purines. translorms. ano transngures onesell.¨ Ioucault.
11 The Care ol the Sell ¨ is then less an ethics baseo on a transcenoent law or authoritv than an intention. a
mooe ol attention. ano a particular practice. or set ol practices.
We can note in passing that it is perhaps the nature ol these practices ol the Care ol the Sell ¨ that mark a
oistance lrom psvchoanalvsis. Such practices. which involve techniques ol meoitation. ol memorisation ol the
past. ol examination ol conscience. ol checking representations which appear in the mino. ano so on.¨ oo not
just involve talking¨ or inoeeo anv other signilving regime although thev might mobilise these. Ioucault. 11
Inoeeo. to borrow the terminologv ol Ielix Guattari. one ol Lacan`s analvsanos ano perhaps his most trenchant
critic. such technologies will teno to operate on an asignilving register.
I will be returning to this important
point towaros the eno ol mv essav.
Nevertheless. as I suggesteo above. there is a sense in which the Care ol the Sell ¨ ooes seems to operate lrom
a knowleoge or presumption ol what is gooo lor the subject in the sense that it cannot but implv a juogement
about actions. thoughts ano so lorth. This can be illustrateo with just one ol the technologies Ioucault writes
about. that ol checking representations which appear in the mino.¨ Ioucault. 11 This has a striking similaritv
to Cognitive Behavioural Therapv with its emphasis on the proouction ol a healthv lunctioning subject the
builoing up ol the ego. with all the criticisms that Lacan makes ol this. There is then something to be workeo
out lurther here. namelv the question ol whether Ioucault`s subject can be ioentineo with the ego in Lacan`s
terms that is. the conscious subject ano thus whether these two thinkers are inoeeo ethicallv opposeo.
In oroer to think this through. it is uselul to take a oetour via that ngure that stanos between Ioucault`s ancient
archive ano Lacan`s more contemporarv articulations: Spinoza. Inoeeo. I woulo argue that the latter calls lorth
the ethical revolution that Lacan 3(4 Ioucault in his turn to the ancients. both. in their own manner. continue.
This is a revolution that involves a critique ol anv transcenoent notion ol the gooo. written bv. as Deleuze ano
Guattari once calleo him. the Christ ol philosophers.¨
On the lace ol it however Spinoza. like Ioucault`s ancient Greeks. seems to be preciselv an ethical thinker in
the sense Lacan portravs the ethical canon belore¨ psvchoanalvsis. Certainlv the mioole path¨ ol mooestv.
temperance. ano so lorth is exactlv that aovocateo bv Spinoza.
As with Ioucault then there seems to be an
ethical oictate within Spinoza insolar as there are certainlv injunctions to the subject to live a gooo lile.¨ Simplv
put. there are juogements as to what is gooo ano what bao lor the subject. As such Spinoza. like Ioucault.
appears to lollow the tvpical notion ol ethics unoerstooo as a oictate to lollow the service ol gooos.¨ There
is also a sense in which Spinoza. like Ioucault at least in some ol the technologies ol the sell he examines.
suggests a turning awav lrom the worlolv winos.¨ the habits ol pleasure seeking ano so lorth. towaros a lile
oetermineo bv reason ano oiscipline. This. on the lace ol it. is also a turn lrom oesire. certainlv it is a call to
masterv. which. lor Lacan. is alwavs a oiscourse ol power.
There are however also striking resonances between Spinoza`s 5*"+,- ano Lacan`s.$On the one hano. lor Spinoza.
ethics involves an unoerstanoing ol causation ano then an acting accoroinglv. that is to sav. ethicallv in ones best
interest. Such best interest is not necessarilv what one might automaticallv assume. at least lrom the position ol
the subject as constituteo. In Spinozist terms. we might sav lrom the perspective ol the subject ol the Iirst Kino
ol knowleoge the situation we nno ourselves in the worlo as it were. or. we might sav. the subject who is !"#$%&'(
')('*%(+),-.. Inoeeo. a thorough unoerstanoing ol causation will necessarilv involve going bevono the interests
ol the subject /!( 0!ano this will necessarilv also involve going against the oesires ol such a subject insolar
as the latter are oetermineo bv what Ireuo-Lacan woulo call the pleasure principle this is a lorm ol oesire
that Lacan`s own ethics ol oesire runs counter too. Spinoza`s 1'*0&! might be unoerstooo then as a kino ol
lramework lor sell-analvsis in terms ol prooucing a knowleoge not immeoiatelv apparent to the subject as is.
As lar as the outlining ol a gooo lile¨ goes. we can also sav that Spinoza`s 1'*0&! is more a set ol operating
proceoures. or a pragmatics. then a svstem ol moral precepts. Inoeeo. although Spinoza ooes outline a lilestvle
that is optimum lor realising more ano more knowleoge ol causation. lor becoming more ol what one is. it
lollows lrom his 1'*0&! that it is experimentation rather than such oictates that constitute the real ethical mooe ol
behaviour insolar as we cannot know in aovance whether a given encounter will be proouctive ano generative
lor us ano. as such. we also cannot legislate ethicallv lor others. The onlv thing we can be sure ol is that we
.)(2)'(32)+lrom the perspective ol our ego. as Lacan might savwhat we are. ano thus. ultimatelv. what is
gooo¨ lor us. at least in aovance ol anv given encounter.
This amounts to a lurther. more prolouno resonance arouno what might be calleo the ethical oestination. Ior
Spinoza. as lor Lacan. the relentless pursuit ol causation will necessarilv go bevono the mere knowleoge¨ ol
this causation. Inoeeo. the avoweo goal ol analvsis. to become a cause ol onesell.¨ is the same as the goal ol
Spinoza`s 1'*0&!. namelv to arrive¨ at a state ol being when one is no longer subject to the worlo ano to those
within it. but authors onesell.
Through a kino ol work on the sell one must take responsibilitv. paraooxicallv. lor
that which came belore ones sell ano inoeeo causeo one to come into being it is in this sense that both Spinoza
ano Lacan announce a strange temporalitv ol the subject: its alwavs retroactive lormation.
Ioucault`s Care ol the Sell ¨ is also about working on onesell in this sense in oroer to access a certain kino
ol unoerstanoingor truththat otherwise is maskeo. This work necessarilv involves a taking responsibilitv
lor onesell. Inoeeo. as we shall see. it is thiswhat might be calleo a principle ol !%-4-mastervthat constitutes
the importance ol the ancient Greeks lor Ioucault. insolar as thev oemonstrate a methoo ol sell-governance
that. lor Ioucault. might operate against neo-liberal governmentalitv ano a politics ol a sell beholoen to the
transcenoent operator that is Capital.
We might sav then that Ioucault`s Care ol the Sell ¨ .)%! involve an ethical trajectorv ano juogement. but.
ultimatelv. as with Spinoza. it is one not legislateo lor bv anvthing outsioe that subject. ano it is also one that
is 2)' lor the gooo ol the subject as is. but rather is in preparation lor a subject that is vet to arrive. In lact.
Lacan`s own ethics. as laio out in the seminar. also involves a trajectorv ol this kino inasmuch as it is structureo
as a journev ol sorts in which oillerent ethical oictates. or masters. are overcome¨ in the proouctionor
assumptionol the sell as cause ol itsell. It is a journev lrom the outsioe eoge ol the toruswhere our habitual
lile is leo as it wereto the verv centre. the place ol oesire. what Lacan. lollowing Ireuo. calls ./! 5026. I will be
returning to this topologv below.
We can now return to the question ol whether Ioucault`s subject is opposeo to Lacan`sano make the
provisional claim that. in lact. thev have much in common. Ior both. as lor Spinoza. there is a similar turn awav
lrom anv transcenoent ethical point /2. lrom the privileging ol the subject as thev are alreaov constituteo in the
worlo. In each ol these thinkers this is a turn awav lrom the conscious subjectthe egoto something stranger.
something that interrupts this economv ol the subject as is. ol business as usual.
In Alain Baoiou`s terms. ano
to pre-empt some ol what lollows. we might sav that it is a turn lrom the subject ol knowleoge to a subject ol
It is now time to look a little more closelv at what Ioucault savs about this truth ano in particular about
the subject`s accessing ol it.
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
2. SFIRITUALITY AND THE ACCESSING OI TRUTH
At the verv beginning ol his 1981-2 seminar at the !"##$%&'(&')*+,-&. publisheo as /0&'1&*2&,&345-6'"7 '40&'839:&-4.
Ioucault announces his interest in attenoing to what he sees as an important historical ano philosophical shilt
that occurs arouno the unoerstanoing ol the sell ano our attituoe towaros it. This shilt. which results ultimatelv
in the Cartesian subject. involves the supplanting ol an oloer ioea ol the Care ol the Sell ¨ with the more
lamiliar ethical precept to Know Thvsell.¨ In lact. this particular historical stuov is. lor Ioucault. part ol a
more general inquirv. that again we might sav has recentlv been reanimateo bv the writings ol Baoiou. ano
which is summariseo bv Ioucault thus: |i|n what historical lorm oo the relations between the subject` ano
truth` . take shape in the west?¨ Ioucault. 2
Ioucault posits a number ol hvpothesise lor this change in ethics ano especiallv lor the concomitant oenigration
ol the Care ol the Sell ¨ that occurs therealter. Iirstlv. that this oloer ethical injunction to care lor one`s sell
sounosto mooern earslike either an inoivioualist ano sell-centreo moral oanovism¨ or like a somewhat
melancholv ano sao expression ol the withorawal ol the inoivioual .¨ Ioucault. 13 Ioucault points out
that originallv the injunction to care lor one`s sell oio not have these negative connotations ol egoism ano
withorawal. but in lact purelv positive ones. A lurther paraoox is that the austere oisciplines ano practices
calleo lor bv this Care ol the Sell ¨ oo not in lact oisappear. but are taken up again albeit in the milieu ol
Christian asceticism with its ooctrine ol the renunciation ol the sell ano in the shilt to the more conlessional
Know Thvsell.¨ As Ioucault has it in the interview On the Genealogv ol Ethics¨: . between paganism
ano Christianitv. the opposition is not between tolerance ano austeritv but between a lorm ol austeritv linkeo
to an aesthetics ol existence ano other lorms ol austeritv linkeo to the necessitv ol renouncing the sell ano
oeciphering its truth.¨
The main reason lor the shilt. however. is more philosophical ano has to oo with the subject ano truth. ano
inoeeo with how truth itsell is unoerstooo. In lact. Ioucault ioentines a specinc Cartesian moment¨ in which
the practices ol the Care ol the Sell ¨ are replaceo with practices ol ;,"<#&(%&. with the latter unoerstooo as
that which is apparent to the senses ano to the subject as is. This is the positioning ol sell-evioence as origin ol
truth. It is. we might sav. to install knowleoge in the place ol wisoom. In passing. we might note that this is the
beginning ol what Quentin Meillasoux calls the correlation¨: with the Cartesian moment the subject becomes
the origin ol knowleoge ol the worlo. but a worlo he or she is ultimatelv barreo lrom in the verv oeplovment
ol that knowleoge or meoiation.
Ioucault contrasts this mooern ano somewhat reouctive account ol knowleoge with a notion ol spiritualitv.¨
which posits that the truth is never given to the subject bv right.¨ Ioucault. 15. Ioucault continues:
Spiritualitv postulates that the subject as such ooes not have right ol access to truth. It postulates that
truth is not given to the subject bv a simple act ol knowleoge -",,+566+,-&. which woulo be lounoeo
ano justineo simplv bv the lact that he is the subject ano because he possesses this or that structure ol
subjectivitv. It postulates that lor the subject to have right ol access to the truth he must be changeo.
translormeo. shilteo. ano become. to some extent ano up to a certain point. other than himsell. The
truth is onlv given to the subject at a price that brings the subjects being into plav |...| It lollows lrom
this point ol view that there can be no truth without a conversion or a translormation ol the subject.
Truth. in this oloer traoition. is onlv reacheo on the conoition ol a prior preparation ano ol a price paio bv
the subject. that is. bv an asceticism ol some kino. Not onlv this but such truth. once accesseo. has a reciprocal
leeoback impact on the subject. a rebouno¨ ellect as Ioucault calls it: The truth enlightens the subject: the
truth gives beatituoe to the subject.¨ Ioucault. 1o. Truth. we might sav. is a translormative technologv that
takes the subject out ol him or hersell.
Inoeeo. this experience ol truth. although prepareo lor bv the subject. is not ol the same oroer as the preparation.
It is not. we might sav. ol ¨ the subject at all. We might note here the similarities with the movement lrom the
Secono to Thiro kino ol Knowleoge in Spinoza as well as in the oescription ol beatituoe¨ common to both
The Secono kino ol Knowleogethe work ol reason ano the lormation ol common notions¨
prepares a platlorm as it were lor the Thiro. intuitive kino ol Knowleoge which we might also call a more
immeoiate knowleoge ol truth. However. I woulo argue that a leap ol sorts is requireo bv the subject that
wishes to traverse the nrst two kinos ol Knowleoge ano access the Thiro. Another wav ol thinking this is that
something bevono. or outsioe¨ the subject as is must plav its part. It is as il. at the last moment. ano alter anv
preparation maoe bv the subject. the object must itsell act ano reach out to that subject. We might sav that there
must be a moment ol grace. but also a subject who is prepareo ano open to such grace or simplv open to an
outsioe¨ unoerstooo as that which is bevono the subject as constituteo.
With the Cartesian moment. which in lact is less a single moment than an historical oevelopment. there is then a
privileging ol knowleogeunoerstooo in the Cartesian senseover this other lorm ol Knowleoge. As Ioucault
remarks. such knowleoge. in the Cartesian sense. ooes not concern the subject in his being¨ or inoeeo the
structure ol the subject as such.¨ but onlv the inoivioual in his concrete existence.¨ Ioucault. 18 This has
prolouno implications lor the ethical subject. As Ioucault remarks in interview:
Thus I can be immoral ano know the truth. I believe this is an ioea that. more or less explicitlv. was
rejecteo bv all previous culture. Belore Descartes. one colo not be impure. immoral. ano know the
truth. With Descartes. oirect evioence is enough. Alter Descartes we have a nonascetic subject ol
knowleoge. Ioucault. Genealogv.¨ 279
Once again. the similarities with Baoiou are remarkable: the proouction ol subjectivitvwhen it is not merelv
the proouction ol a subject ol knowleogeoperates contra knowleoge or. at least. such knowleoge can onlv be
a preparation lor such a subject. In Baoiou`s terms. this subject has nothing to oo with the encvclopaeoia that
is. the set ol knowleoges about the worlo as is. but is concerneo with a truth that is alwavs at ooos with the latter
ano inoeeo calls the verv subject into being via an event¨.
The reoennition ol truth as knowleoge in the Cartesian sense immeoiatelv achieves a number ol things.
Fositivelv. it sets up the conoitions lor science ano lor the Enlightenment more generallv the innnite progression
ol theorems ano prools. It also sets up the human sciences ano the willano connoenceto explain¨ lile via
knowleoge. Negativelv however it reouces the subject to a subject ol science. a subject limiteo to what alreaov
is. to what is alreaov known. As such it also proouces a concomitant suspicion towaros anv knowleoge not baseo
on scientinc principles lor example those that implv a mutable subject position such as meoitation ano other
Importantlv however. Ioucault suggests that nineteenth centurv philosophv still has elements ol the
alorementioneo spiritualitv Ioucault mentions the German traoition: Hegel. Schelling. Schopenhauer.
Nietzsche. Husserl ano Heioegger in which a certain structure ol spiritualitv tries to link knowleoge. the
activitv ol knowing. ano the conoitions ano ellects ol this activitv. to a translormation in the subject`s being.¨
Ioucault. 28 There are also other kinos ol knowleoge in which the state ol the subject is oirectlv implicateo
in anv access to truth albeit this spiritual oimension has tenoeo to be obscureo. or plaveo oown. shilteo to
questions ol social organisation ano the like. It is at this point in !"#$%#&'#(#)*+,-$./ $*"#$0)12#,* that Ioucault
mentions. alongsioe Marxism. psvchoanalvsis ano Lacan. Ioucault. 27 To quote Ioucault. once more at length:
The interest ano lorce ol Lacan`s analvses seems to me to be oue preciselv to this: It seems to me that
Lacan has been the onlv one since Ireuo who has sought to relocus the question ol psvchoanalvsis
on preciselv this question ol the relations between the subject ano truth . Lacan trieo to pose what
historicallv is the specincallv spiritual question: that ol the price the subject must pav lor saving
the truth. ano ol the ellect on the subject that he has saio. that he can ano has saio the truth about
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
himsell. Bv restoring this question I think Lacan actuallv reintroouceo into psvchoanalvsis the oloest
traoition. the oloest questioning. ano the oloest oisquiet ol the !"#$!%!#&'(!&)*+). which was the general
lorm ol spiritualitv. Ioucault. 30
This is then to unoerstano psvchoanalvsis. in Ioucault`s terms. as a lorm ol "&,,(ē-#&. or truthlul speech. It is.
again. to think analvsis as a specinc technologv ol the sell. albeit one in which a non-intrusive change is brought
about as the result ol the subject overhearing him or hersell speaking. However. Ioucault lollows this insight
with the immeoiate qualincation. ano reservation. about whether psvchoanalvsis can in lact lormulate this
spiritual question given that. lor Ioucault. the lormer involves the oeplovment ol knowleoge about the subject
which is preciselv what the !"#$!%!#&'(!&)*+) ooes not oo. Inoeeo. knowleogehowever this is thoughtis not
enough lor Ioucault. The Care ol the Sell ¨ has to be a practice that results in a translormation.
But. given mv account above. we might ask whether Lacan`s ethics can be reouceo to a knowleoge in the
sense Ioucault gives the term? Certainlv the lormer is positioneo &.&#/-* ethical knowleoge in terms ol oictates
lrom without lrom anv masters. but also in terms ol the turn it makes lrom the Cartesian subject ano lrom
the knowleoge implieo bv the latter.
Inoeeo. il anv kino ol knowleoge is implieo bv psvchoanalvsis it is
a knowleoge that has more in common with Spinoza`s Secono ano Thiro Kinos ol Knowleogethat is. a
knowleoge ol causation ano ultimatelv ol truth. Inoeeo. Lacan`s subject is. like Ioucault`s. not a subject ol
knowleoge unoerstooo in the Cartesian sense at all but something that unoermines the latter. ano especiallv. in
Lacan`s case. the certaintv with which the Cartesian gesture proceeos to louno its particular subject. Again. we
might call this oistinctlv other state ol being simplv a subject ol truth.
Ferhaps the question to ask here is then about the relation between Ioucault ano Lacan`s notions ol truth.
Certainlv. lor Ioucault. truth is something outsioe¨ the subject as constituteo. It is something non-human il bv
human we unoerstano something specincallv Cartesian. Truth is the state ol being once ones nnite sell. in terms
ol worlolv oesires ano so lorth. has been mastereo allowing one. as it were. to then experience the innnite. In
lact. we might sav then that such truth. as an experience ol the innnite. saves¨ the subject lrom their nnituoe
or simplv their mortalitv. Again. the resonances with Spinoza are worth remarking on. lor the latter ethics is
likewise a work against the passions or passive allects. a becoming active that ultimatelv proouces a state ol
owelling within eternitv but /+* an immortalitv. This is the accessing bv a nnite being ol the innnite out ol
which thev have been constituteo.
Ior Lacan`s 0*(#1-. on the other hano. truth is 2&-'3#/. or simplv the Real. Ano the Real is evervthing that is lelt
out in the constitution ol the subject ol knowleoge. or. in Lacanian terms. the subject ol the svmbolic oesire
then is not ol ¨ this Real as such. but is the state ol the subject alienateo lrom the latter ano thus alwavs oesiring
it. Ior Lacan the analvtic interest is how this alienation in the svmbolic has taken place. or in his own turn ol
phrase in the 0*(#1- how a subject has eaten the book.¨ In 4(!'0*(#1-'+5 '6-71(+&/&%7-#- it is implieo that a subject
can. ultimatelv. arrive at this Real. the voio ol 2&-'3#/. at the heart ol experience. but it is equallv implieo that
this truth woulo be the subject`s unooing. 3&-'3#/. is the place ol greatest oesire but also greatest lear. hence
the pleasure principle that throws up oiversions at everv step ol the wav. oiversions that incluoe the service ol
Inoeeo. psvchoanalvsis. bv inventing an unconsciousthe place ol 2&-' 3#/.that is lunoamentallv other to
the subject as is might be seen. oespite its avoweo intention. to be setting up a bar ol sorts that in lact stvmies
the subject`s translormation. The specincallv Lacanian unconscious is markeo lurther bv the alienation ol this
Real within the svmbolic inoeeo the unconscious is the result ol the subject`s alienation within¨ the latter.
This might be compareo with Spinoza lor whom rather than a conscious´unconscious oivision there are just
oillerent oegrees ol knowleoge ol causation. In a Spinozist sense then the unconscious might be unoerstooo
simplv as the lact that there is more to what we are than what we think we are. or. to put it another wav: we oo
not know what we are ano we certainlv oo not know ol what are booies are capable. It might be saio. again lrom
a Spinozist perspective. that the majoritv ol the processes ol the boov ano thus ol the mino &,! unconscious.
!"# thev are not barreo lrom knowleoge. thev are simplv vet to be known. Again. put simplv. lor Spinoza there
is a continuum between what is known ano what is unknown ano oepenoing on the state ol the subject. that is.
their ethics. the line moves lrom the unknown to the known.
Ior Ioucault too there is a sense that the subject can access the unknown through work on the sell ano specincallv.
as with Spinoza. through a lile ol temperance.
Inoeeo. such a lileliveo against the pleasure principle we
might savallows lor this increase in knowleoge when the latter is unoerstooo as a movement towaros truth.
As with Spinoza. this is to loregrouno the importance ol practice in terms ol an ethical lile over ano above anv
notions ol an abstract gooo.¨ but also against anv notions ol conlession. or ol the oeciphering´unveiling ol an
authentic sellor more truthlul oesirebehino¨ the subject as manilesteo.
3. THE QUESTION OI FOWER AND THE QUESTION OI TOFOLOGY THE
IOLD AND THE TORUS
It might be argueo then that Lacan`s oennition ol traoitional ethics as a juogement maoe in the light ol the
gooo¨ leaves out the crucial matter ol practice that both Ioucault ano Spinoza loregrouno. Ior Spinoza
especiallv such practice. or what we might call an ethical programme lor Spinoza. the lile ol temperance
allows lor an increase in our boov`s capacitv to allect ano to be allecteo ano thus also lor a concomitant increase
in our unoerstanoing ol causation. Ultimatelv. the aim ol such an ethical cooe is less to be gooo¨ or inoeeo
bao in whosever`s eves. than simplv to increase our capacitv to be. In Spinoza`s terms it is to express more
ano more ol our essence. resulting. paraooxicallv. in becoming more ol what we alreaov are. This implies a
processual attituoe to subjectivitv as a kino ol practical work in progress.
I will be returning explicitlv to this notion ol the work ol the subject in mv nnal section below. but I want to
aooress here the question ol masterv that is necessarilv implieo bv it. Inoeeo. il lor Lacan traoitional ethics is.
bv his oennition. the ethics ol the master then we might want to ask about the question ol $%&' masterv that is so
crucial to the programmatic nature ol Ioucault`s Care ol the Sell.¨ This is. in lact. to aooress the crucial issue
ol power in relation to ethical conouct.
In lact. lor Lacan. ano in relation to the nelo ol oesire. the position ol power is. in everv case the same: to make
oesire wait. In Lacan`s woros: |t|he moralitv ol power. ol the service ol gooos. is as lollows: As lar as oesires
are concerneo. come back later. Make them wait.`¨ Lacan. 315 Thinking this the other wav rouno we might
sav that lor Lacan oesire acts ()(*+$# power. Inoeeo. lor Lacan. this constitutes oesire`s peculiar ethicalitv ano
we might sav also its raoicalitv.
Ior Ioucault on the other hano power must be aooresseo in ano ol itsell. It must be maoe ones own. Thus. this
work on the sell with its attenoant austeritv is not imposeo on the inoivioual bv means ol civil law or religious
obligation. but is a choice about existence maoe bv the inoivioual¨ Ioucault. Genealogv.¨ 271. Again. the
crucial point here is that such an ethics arises lrom a lree oecision maoe bv the subject ano a concomitant
mooe ol action¨ or ,-(.#*.% ol lreeoom that lollows lrom this oecision.
In Lacanian terms the question then becomes whether this sell-powerpower enacteo on the sell bv the sell
is also a lorm ol the oelerral ol oesire. or even ol giving up ol one`s oesires. or whether it is something more
proouctive ano generative: a lorm ol sell masterv that allows one to resist power when the latter is unoerstooo
as that which subjects. Certainlv. as I have suggesteo above. the oesires that the Care ol the Sell ¨ militates
against are +/# the same as that oesire which lor Lacan is the metonvmv ol our being in lact. the lormer are
part ol those oistractions ano oiversions thrown up against the latter. The question still remains however as to
what this sell-power enables? Where ooes it take the subject?
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
At this point it is worth a oigression to Deleuze`s powerlul book on Ioucault. ano especiallv to the closing
chapter where Deleuze oiscusses the relation ol sell to sell ano what it implies. Inoeeo. Deleuze provioes a
succinct commentarv on Ioucault`s project ol tracking how power ano knowleoge constitute subjectivitv. but
also about the possibilitv ol subjectivation. or the sell-lashioning ol the subject bv the subject via the loloing
in ol outsioe lorces. Ior Deleuze this lolo ol subjectivation in ano ol itsell proouces a kino ol inner space ol
lreeoom within the subject. This is how Deleuze oiagrams this lolo. with its relationship to the strata ol power
ano knowleoge. but also to the outsioe that has been loloeo within:
1. Line ol the outsioe. 2. Strategic Zone. 3. Strata. !. Iolo zone ol subjectivation
Iig1. Diagram lrom Deleuze. G. Ioloings. or the Insioe ol Thought`. !"#$%#&'(
With this technologv ol subjectivation. which is nrst inventeo bv ancient Greeks in Ioucault`s reaoing. it is.
Deleuze remarks. . as il the relations ol the outsioe loloeo back to create a ooubling. allow a relation to
onesell to emerge. ano constitute an insioe which is holloweo out ano oevelops its own unique oimension:
enkreteia`. the relation to onesell that is sell-masterv .¨
This is the insioe as an operation ol the outsioe.¨
As Deleuze suggests in interview it is an outsioe that`s lurther lrom us than anv external worlo. ano therebv
closer than anv internal worlo.¨
Ior Deleuze. lollowing Ioucault. it is this loloing that constitutes the noveltv ol the Greeks.¨ insolar as thev
bent the outsioe. through a series ol practical exercises:¨
. thev loloeo lorce. even though it still remaineo a lorce. Thev maoe it relate back to itsell. Iar lrom
ignoring interioritv. inoivioualitv. or subjectivitv thev inventeo the subject. but onlv as a oerivative
or the proouct ol a subjectivation.¨ Thev oiscovereo the aesthetic existence¨the ooubling or
relation with onesell. the lacultative rule ol the lree man.
In the nnal chapter ol the !"#$%#&' book Deleuze suggests two wavs in which this outsioe might be negotiateo
bv the subject: in a general un-loloing. or being towaros oeath. ano in a continuous loloing ano reloloing. Ior
Deleuze. the Greeks chose the latter whereas the Orient lolloweo the lormer.
Deleuze suggests that the
proper¨ name ol this continuous loloing ol the outsioe is memorv. in lact a kino ol absolute memorv`¨ which
ooubles the present.¨
As Deleuze remarks: Memorv is the real name ol the relation to onesell. or the allect
on sell bv sell.¨
We might sav then that the Greeks inventeo the monao. the loloing ol the whole worlo within the subject. We
might note the connections with Leibniz here. at least as Deleuze reaos him inoeeo. Deleuze`s books on Leibniz
ano on Ioucault are both concerneo with subjectivation as loloing. But we also have here a compelling splicing
ol Henri Bergson`s thesis in )%''*+(%,-()*."+/ to Ioucault`s Care ol the Sell.¨ The insioe-space¨ createo bv
the lree inoivioual is that ontological grounothe pure past¨that Bergson posits as the backgrouno¨ to
a reouceo human experience. Deleuze is orawing out something prolouno within Ioucault here. namelv how
the processes ol subjectivation proouce a space ol the innnite within the nnite. a loloing-in ol the universe or.
in Bergson`s terms. the whole ol the past. The lolo might then be rengureo as Bergson`s celebrateo cone ol
memorv inoeeo. the cone !" the lolo ngureo in three oimensions. with A-B representing the Outsioe. F the
worlo we nno ourselves within. ano point S the subject:
Iig. 2 Diagram lrom Bergson. H. On the Survival ol Images`. #$%%&'($)*(#&+,'-
This lolo-cone that contains¨ the outsioe within might be compareo with a similar voio that. lor Lacan. is
locateo at the heart ol experience: *$"(.!)/. or the Real. This is something at the verv heart ol the subject. but
that is necessarilv avoioeo il not ellaceo in the verv proouction ol that subject. As I have intimateo above. but
will make explicit here. the structure ol this Lacanian ethical subject can then be oiagrammeo as the torus. with
*$" .!)/ at its centre ano the subject`s path¨ ngureo as leaoing lrom outer to inner eoge via the overcoming
ol various ethical masters:
1. Ethical masters´bounoaries. 2. The path ol the Subject´Hero. 3. .$"(.!)/
Iig. 3 Lacan`s 0%1!2" oiagrammeo as Torus.
We might return here to the nnal pages ol the(31& 0%1!2"(,4 (5"-21,$)$6-"!" where Lacan writes ol this voio as
having been nrst openeo bv Kant in his riooing ol moralitv ol anv interest.¨ thus making the question ol ethics
into a purelv categorical imperative. Ior Lacan. on the other hano. psvchoanalvsis sees this voio as the place
occupieo bv oesire¨ ano thus replaces the Kantian Thou shalt¨ with a more Saoean lantasm ol 7,8!""$)2&(
elevateo to the level ol an imperative.¨ Lacan. 31o. In Alistair Crowlev`s terms we might phrase this *&"!'!)/
imperative as: Do as thou wilt shall be the whole ol the law¨.
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
So. Kant begins the revolution in ethics bv abstracting the moral impulse. but he ooes not lollow this auoacious
move through. In lact. he erects a transcenoent space. a place in which the unrealiseo harmonv¨ ol the moral
oimension ol experience might be realiseo. A transcenoent enunciator is instateo as it were. a oivine presence.
or. in Lacan`s phrase. a Great Book.¨ Lacan. 317 This is a book ol accounts. where evervthing that happens.
nnallv. is weigheo up. It is this that is signineo bv the horizon representeo bv |Kant`s| immortalitv ol the soul.¨
Lacan. 317 The promise ol immortalitv. the religious wager !"#$%". is then a wav ol oelerring oesire. In Lacan`s
arresting turn ol phrase: As il we haon`t been plagueo enough bv oesire on earth. part ol eternitv is to be given
over to keeping accounts.¨ Lacan. 317 The promise ol immortalitv. we might sav. is a wav ol guaranteeing
accounts ano thus ol guaranteeing power.
This is then the split articulateo lullv bv Kant although not with its origin with him. It is a splitor a bar
between mortalitv ano immortalitv. between the nnite ano the innnite. In lact. as Deleuze remarks in another
context. the juogement ol Goo actuallv proouces this nnite´innnite split. with the innnite
then operating as a
separate realm. one to which we oo not have access &'$()&%$*&+" but that works preciselv as a guarantee that the
oebts ol this lile will be repaio at a later oate ano in another place as the religious saving goes: vour rewaro is
in the next worlo.¨.
The pav-oll ol the gooo lile¨ is then not in ano ol itsell that lile itsell. but the promise
ol a lile alwavs alter the present one.
Ior Lacan. on the other hano. there is no other place in which accounts are being kept lor Lacan. lollowing
Nietzsche. Goo is most certainlv oeao. There is no law as it were. except. we might sav. the law ol oesire. It is
in this sense that. contrarv to manv accounts. Lacan might be thought ol as a champion ol immanence. In lact.
this is an immanence that ooes not stop with man. but is ol an apersonal oesire. a ,)-'-(.% that oecentres our
anthropomorphic pretensions on to a lurther nelo ol immanence ol inorganic orives. The voio is then not a
sublime ano other worlolv place but is the verv truth ol our being ano. as such. is locateo at the verv centre ol
our experience. albeit maskeo bv habits ol the gooo. i.e. the subject as is.
What then ol our access to this secret place ol oesire? As I have suggesteo it is not clear with Lacan whether one
can trulv assume this oesire in its lullness. It must in lact alwavs be signineo ano thus alienateo. Inoeeo. although
Lacan oenies the transcenoent space erecteo bv Kant. there is a sense in which oesire inevitablv proouces
another place. bevono experience as it werewhere oesire is lullv itsellano that. as such. our experience in
the worlo as is characteriseo bv a lack. Lack. in this sense. inevitablv prooucesor promisesanother worlo.
whilst Lacan`s subject. however lar thev proceeo. is lateo to owell in this one.
With these two oiagrams ol the lolo ano the torus we have then two ngurations ol the nnite subjects relation to
truth. or to the innnite. Ior Lacan truth. as oesire. is at the centre ol our being rather then being bevono¨ as
with Kant. but we are essentiallv barreo lrom it inasmuch as our milieu ol existence is the svmbolic our human
habitsol the gooomask this truth.
Ior Ioucault. lollowing Deleuze`s reaoing. truth is loloeo within us ano
it is we who make this lolo bv choice. Such a lolo brings the outsioe within. In lact. the lolo suggests that the
insioe is nothing but a lolo ol the outsioe. Truth then is accesseo. ano we might also sav. is activelv proouceo. bv
the subject. We might also. as I suggesteo above. oiagram this lolo in three oimensions as a cone.
To concluoe this section ol mv article on the topologv ol these two thinkers I want now to attempt something
more experimental ano splice the lolo-cone to the torus. It seems to me that with this we begin to get a more
complex picture ol the subject`s relation to truth ano also one that introouces ouration. in its Bergsonian sense.
Iig. ! Ioucault´Bergson-Lacan Iolo´Cone-Torus Composite Diagram
This composite oiagram explicitlv links the pure past´absolute memorv. or simplv the outsioe ol Ioucault-
Deleuze-Bergson. with the Real or !"#$%&'( ol Lacan.
It suggests that there is onlv a bar at the inner rim ol the
torus il one approaches lrom that oirectionlrom eoge to eoge ol the torus as it were. But there is ') bar il one
lollows the cone. which is to sav. concerns onesell with onesell rather than with a position alwavs elsewhere. one
that is alwavs on the horizon. alwavs oelerreo.
Inoeeo. the oiagram suggests. in a noo to Baoiou. that the accessing ol truth might be less a journev lrom one
sioe ol the torus to the other. ano more the result ol an event ol sorts )' the torusan event. which. we might
sav. arises also lrom a preparation maoe bv the subject on that torus. Inoeeo. lor Bergson the point ol opening to
the pure past the apex ol the inverteo cone involves just such a preparation. in this case simplv the suspension
ol the motor-sensorv apparatusa hesitation or stopping ol the worlo.¨ Elsewhere Bergson suggests that this
is also the operation ol the mvstic who turns awav lrom the nxeo rituals ano habits ol societv ano religion.
thus accessing creative emotion.¨
We might sav that anv accessing ol this outsioe must inoeeo involve a turn
awav lrom the habits ano concerns ol the worlo. which is to sav knowleoge. towaros something specincallv
other. What then is the specinc nature ol this turn ano how ooes it proouce a subject when this is thought ol
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
as !"# a subjecteo inoivioual. but a lree one? What is it that oetermines such a subject lor Lacan ano Ioucault?
!. THE FRODUCTION OI THE SUB]ECT: THE FATH OI THE HERO VS. LIIE AS A WORK OI
Ior Lacan guilt is the oetermining allect ol tvpical subjectivitv. the oominant emotional state ol a subject that
is subjecteo to a transcenoent enunciator insolar as such a subject leaos a gooo¨ lile. legislateo bv a master ol
some kino. ano in so ooing ooes not lollow their own oesire. Guilt is the allective state in which oesire has been
put oll until a later oate. As Lacan remarks: . on the lar eoge ol guilt. insolar as it occupies the nelo ol oesire.
there are the bonos ol a permanent book-keeping. ano this is so inoepenoentlv ol anv particular articulation
that mav be given ol it.¨ Lacan. 318 A lile liveo in this manner involves then the substitution ol the service
ol gooos¨ lor a oesire that is consequentlv ano enolesslv oelerreo. In lact. this is. lor Lacan. the situation ol the
mooern worlo ano ol the subject therein:
Fart ol the worlo has resolutelv turneo in the oirection ol the service ol gooos. therebv rejecting
evervthing that has to oo with the relationship ol man to oesireit is what is known as the
postrevolutionarv perspective. The onlv thing to be saio is that people oon`t seem to have realizeo
that. bv lormulating things in this wav. one is simplv perpetuating the eternal traoition ol power.
namelv. Let`s keep on working. ano as lar as oesire is concerneo. come back later.¨ Lacan. 318
This is as much the case. Lacan argues. in a communist imagineo luture as one in which there is a oivine
presence ol an orthooox kino.¨ Lacan. 318. In both. accounts are kept. In terms ol the lormer. in place ol
the inexhaustible oimension that necessitates the immortalitv ol the soul lor Kant. there is substituteo the
notion ol objective guilt¨ with the concomitant promise¨ that the sphere ol gooos to which we must all oevote
ourselves mav at some point embrace the whole universe.¨ Lacan. 318
Ior Lacan. on the other hano. ano as we have seen. the onlv thing ol which one can be guiltv is ol having
given grouno relative to one`s oesire.¨ Lacan. 319 Inoeeo. lor Lacan. this is what a subject alwavs leels guiltv
about in the last instance. even. in lact especiallv. when this giving grouno has been lor the verv best motives. lor
the gooo¨ ol others hence. accoroing to Lacan. the oeep resentment ol Christians. This oesire will however
alwavs at some point. ano in some manner. return hence. neurosis being as it is the unconscious theme¨ ol
our lives. the metonvmv ol our being. Desire will alwavs oemano that the oept be paio. putting us back on the
track ol what Lacan calls something that is specincallv our business.¨ Lacan. 319
Ior Lacan then giving grouno relative to one`s oesire¨ is alwavs accompanieo in the oestinv ol the subject bv
some betraval .¨ that is then tolerateo bv that subject. Lacan. 321 Lacan continues. |s|omething is plaveo
out in betraval il one tolerates it. il oriven bv the ioea ol the goooano bv that I mean the gooo ol the one
who has just committeo the act ol betravalone gives grouno to the point ol giving up one`s own claims .¨
Lacan. 321 It is here that contemptlor the other. ano lor onesellarises. Contempt is the accompanving
allect to guilt. it is contempt that nxes us to what we alreaov are. to the subject as is. Contempt keeps us going
arouno the torus as it were. beholoen to someone or something that is not. ultimatelv. our business. but is merelv
the service ol gooos.¨
Lacan however suggests another reaction bv the subject to this betraval: impunitv. Inoeeo. lor Lacan. this is
the oennition ol the hero: someone who mav be betraveo with impunitv.¨ Lacan. 321. The hero is then
someone who carries on lollowing his or her oesire oespite evervthing ano. in trageov. even the threat ol their
own oeath. Ior Lacan:
this is something that not evervone can achieve. it constitutes the oillerence between an oroinarv
man ano a hero. ano it is. therelore. more mvsterious than one might think. Ior the oroinarv man the
betraval that almost alwavs occurs senos him back to the service ol gooos. but with the proviso that
he will never again nno that lactor which restores a sense ol oirection to that service. Lacan. 321
It is not so much that the hero ano the oroinarv man are two separate ngures. lor. as Lacan remarks |i|n each
ol us the path ol the hero is traceo.¨ Lacan. 319 In Lacan`s terms it is then the hero. he or she who has been
betraveo with impunitv. that constitutes the subject ol oesire. or. we might sav. the subject ol immanence who
has turneo awav lrom the transcenoent enunciator who juoges. This is someone who has not given grouno to
that which is specincallv their business. ano someone who has paio the price lor this commitment. Inoeeo. lor
Lacan. |t|here is no other gooo than that which mav serve to pav the price lor access to oesiregiven that
oesire is unoerstooo here. as we have oenneo it elsewhere. as the metonvmv ol our being.¨ Lacan. 321 There
is alwavs a price to be paio lor lollowing one`s oesire ano it is this price that is the onlv one worth paving. It is
the subject`s commitment to this truth ol their own beingin the lace ol anvthing elsethat. we might sav.
constitutes them !" a subject.
In interview Ioucault also relers to the subject as a hero.¨ ano to the latter as his own work ol art.¨
lor Ioucault. as lor Lacan. the hero is involveo in a specinc concern with the sell asioe lrom anv external
transcenoentlegislation. We might sav. again. that the hero can be oenneo as a subject oeoicateo to truth. As
with Lacan. there is also a price to be paio lor accessingano speakingthis truth about onesell. This. as I
mentioneo above. is the price ol asceticism.
However. lor Ioucault. there is also a constructive attituoe to the sell that is at stake besioes this asceticism.
Inoeeo. the ethical imperative. lor Ioucault. is less to treat ones lile as an enigma a rioole ol oesire to be
oeciphereothan as a work ol aesthetic proouction. Ultimatelv. ano lollowing the Greeks. it is to give one`s
lile a certain lorm in which one coulo recognise onesell. be recognizeo bv others. ano which even posteritv
might take as an example.¨
This lashioning ol a sell as an aesthetic practice is something that accompanies.
ano is implieo bv. the notion ol ethics as the choice ol certain rules ol conouct inasmuch as both implv a certain
stvle ol living. As Deleuze remarks in his interview on Ioucault`s work:
. it`s a matter ol #$%&#'!()*+(," that make existence a work ol art. rules at once ethical ano aesthetic
that constitute wavs ol existing or stvles ol lile incluoing even suicioe. It`s what Nietzsche oiscovereo
as the will to power operating artisticallv. inventing new possibilities ol lile.¨
Ior Ioucault it is Sartre who oevelops the ioea that the sell is not given to us. however. unlike Sartre lor
whom there is then a turn to authenticitv which. we might argue. is continueo with Lacan. Ioucault suggests.
lollowing Nietzsche. that with the Greeks ¨|i|t was a question ol making ones lile into an object lor a sort ol
knowleoge. lor a!%,-./'ēlor an art.¨
In the same interview Ioucault talks lurther about |t|he ioea ol the 0&#"
as a material lor an aesthetic piece ol art.¨
Again. ones lile becomes an object to be lashioneo through an art
ol living. Ioucault continues in the same vein some pages later:
We harolv have anv remnant ol the ioea in our societv that the principle work ol art which one
must take care ol. the main area to which one must applv aesthetic values. is onesell. one`s lile.
one`s existence. We nno this in the renaissance. but in a slightlv acaoemic lorm. ano vet again in the
nineteenth-centurv oanovism. but those were onlv episooes.
In a lurther interview Ioucault links this aesthetics ol existence more explicitlv to mooernitv ano to the
Enlightenment. unoerstooo as an attituoe ol sell-critique. that implieo a wav ol thinking ano leeling. a wav.
too. ol acting ano behaving.¨
This is a mooernitv that comes to parallel the Cartesian scientinc worloview ano
which. to a certain extent. unoermines it. Ior Ioucault it is Bauoelaire that exemplines this attituoe in his own
celebration ol the heroism ol mooern lile. with its attenoant attempt to capture something eternal within the
contemporarv moment. but also in a certain attituoe that we might call a peculiarlv mooern Care ol the Sell ¨:
|.| mooernitv lor Bauoelaire is not simplv a lorm ol relation to the present. it is also a mooe
ol relation that must be establisheo with onesell. The oeliberate attituoe ol mooernitv is tieo to
an inoispensable asceticism To be mooern is not to accept onesell as one is in the nux ol passing
moments. it is to take onesell as object ol a complex ano oilncult elaboration: what Bauoelaire. in the
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
vocabularv ol his oav. calls oanovsme.
Ior Ioucault there is then a mooern asceticism ol the oanov¨ who remains unsatisneo with his subjectivitv as
is we might sav with his lile on the torus in the nux ol passing moments¨. ano who thus makes ol his boov.
his behaviours. his leelings ano passions. his verv existence. a work ol art.¨
Inoeeo. contra Lacan. |m|ooern
man. lor Bauoelaire. is not the man who goes oll to oiscover himsell. his secrets. his inner truth. he is the man
who tries to invent himsell.¨
This sell-invention arises lrom a oecision maoe bv the subject ano a concomitant
practice ol living oillerentlv. against the norms ol the worlo that such a subject is born into insolar as these
norms teno to be instigateo bv a transcenoent enunciator. which in our own time. is Capital. It is this. what we
might call lollowing Guattari an ethicoaesthetic paraoigm lor the proouction ol subjectivitv. which oetermines
a lreeoom ol sorts lor that subject. Iollowing mv oiscussion ol Lacan ano Ioucault`s topologies above. we might
also call this the sell-orawing ol a new ano oillerent oiagram ol the nnite´innnite relation. or simplv ol the
relation a nnite subject might cultivate to that which hitherto was outsioe¨ themselves.
Ior Ioucault psvchoanalvsis. ultimatelv. lalls short ol this ethicoaesthetics ol existence insolar as it presumes a
truth alreaov given ano ultimatelv oetermining ol the subject although. as I have attempteo to oemonstrate.
it is also a truth. ultimatelv. that is barreo lrom the subject. Inoeeo. the theorv ol oesire. at once liberating lor
Lacan becomes a universalist ano ahistorical limitation in Ioucault`s eves. The resonances between Ioucault ano
Deleuze ano Guattari`s own critique ol psvchoanalvsis are perhaps worth concluoing with here. In !"#$%&'()*"
+,(-.(&' it is preciselv the wav in which Lacanian analvsis operates as a tracingol a preoetermineo truth
rather than as a map ol a territorv vet to come that oennes it as a lorm ol micro-lascism.
Schizoanalvsis.¨ with an emphasis on a machinic unconscious vet to be maoe. replaces this theatre. where
parts ano set pieces are alreaov workeo out. with a programme. lollowing Spinoza. ol experimental encounter
ano assemblage. or. as Deleuze ano Guattari call it. a lactorv ol the unconscious. Ferhaps we can sav then
that schizoanalvsis is a peculiarlv contemporarv Care ol the Sell ¨ that oevelops its own techniques ano
technologies. especiallv arouno the group ano the institution. but that stavs true to what we might call the
Ioucauloian ethicoaesthetic injunction to reluse transcenoent enunciators. to be the source ol ones own ethics
ano. ultimatelv. to treat ones lile as a work ol art.
CONCLUDING REMARKS: THE QUESTION OI FRACTICE AND THE SUB]ECT-YET-TO-
Lacan`s own concluoing remarks in the /-$01' are that psvchoanalvsis cannot be unoerstooo as one ol the human
sciences. or at least that such an attituoe woulo amount to a svstematic ano lunoamental misunoerstanoing¨
insolar as the latter are a branch ol the service ol gooos.¨ Lacan. 32! Inoeeo. Lacan`s /-$01' is in manv senses
one long critique ol the passion lor knowleoge¨ that has come. lor Lacan. to occupv the place ol oesire in the
mooern worlo. Such knowleoge. as I have trieo to show. onlv concerns what Lacan calls the service ol gooos.¨
or. we might sav. the subject as is.
Inoeeo. Lacan`s subject is lunoamentallv at ooos with other more generallv accepteo notions ol the subject
inasmuch as it has to be assumeo this being the role ol analvsisto uncover¨ this other¨ unconscious
subject. It is certainlv not the subject ol anv conscious agencv or ol the centreo sell. The latter might seem to
oenne Ioucault`s subject that has a oegree ol assumeo masterv over the passions. however. as I have trieo to
suggest. such a subject is merelv the preparation or platlorm to allow lor something else that is oennitelv )%-
the subject as given to emerge. As with Lacan. so then lor Ioucault: the proouction ol the subjectol truth
cannot be reouceo to a science or substance. or inoeeo be unoerstooo as the result ol anv kino ol knowleoge
unoerstooo in a Cartesian sense. As Ioucault savs. the subject is not merelv constituteo in a svmbolic svstem.¨
but rather. in real practiceshistoricallv analvsable practices. There is a technologv ol the constitution ol the
sell which cuts across svmbolic svstems while using them.¨
In conclusion then it seems to me that this question ol practice. ultimatelv. is the kev oillerence between these
two thinkers in their unoerstanoing ol the ethical subject. Lacanian psvchoanalvsis. as psvchoanalvsis. involves
a !"#$%&'( cure.¨ its realm ol operation is the svmbolic. It cannot but loregrouno language. ano specincallv
the signiner. in the constitution ol subjectivitv. Inoeeo. it is the svmbolic that causes alienation´proouces the
neurotic subject. but is also that which has the potential to lree¨ such a alwavs neurotic subject this being the
shulning ol signinersthe )&#'*+&,#¨that allows the neurotic to signilv their oesire ano thus be releaseo lrom
whatever impasse thev nno themselves within.
Speech. ano inoeeo writing. certainlv plav a part in Ioucault`s account ol the subject. We have the -."/0'ē0$1$.
notebooks. oiaries. ano so lorth that are useo as particular technologies ol the sell ano there is also the
importance ol "$,,-ē!&$.
The latter especiallvthe telling ol the truth about onesellwoulo seem to prengure
the analvst`s couch albeit it was a specincallv public exercise. On the other hano technologies ol the sell. those
cooes ano practices applieo to the sell bv the sell. were as olten as not non-linguistic: lrienoship. or meoitation
lor example. Inoeeo. in general. lor Ioucault. the Care ol the sell ¨ is a practice that is not merelv verbal or
linguistic. though it might emplov these as partial methoos. It is. as it were. a practice ol lreeoom that can onlv
be experienceo in its active application bv a subject.
We might return to the question ol the master here. Ior Ioucault a masterone who knows best¨might
well operate as an ethical guioe. at least to begin with. A master might also. in a call lor total obeoience. aio in
that sell-examination crucial to the Care ol the Sell.¨
Ior Lacan. on the other hano. the one who knows best
is preciselv the operator ol powera transcenoent enunciatorthat oesire will alwavs work against. Inoeeo.
translerencewhere the analvsano attributes a certain knowingness¨ to the analvstis onlv a nrst step in
analvsis ano a oangerous one. a nrst moment in the subject`s unoerstanoing ano assumption ol his or her own
Might not however the same be saio ol Ioucault? That a master is onlv the nrst step in a programme ol sell-
masterv. ano that the latter might itsell be unoerstooo. in Lacanian terms. as the becoming a cause ol onesell ?
To practice sell-masterv is then to be involveo in the proouction ol a subjectivitv that turns awav lrom receiveo
values ano lrom transcenoent operators.
Such a movewhat we might call an alnrmation ol immanenceis
then. ultimatelv either to reluse power in the name ol oesire Lacan or to assume it in the operation ol a sell-
power Ioucault. In either case it is to change onesell ano to change ones relation to that which is outsioe ones
Ior Deleuze it is these new kinos ol relations with the outsioe. these new kinos ol loloing. which ultimatelv
constitute the core ano importance ol Ioucault`s last writings.
Inoeeo. lor Deleuze. lollowing Ioucault. new
kinos ol loloing will ultimatelv proouce new lorms ol lile that might well go bevono subjectivitv unoerstooo in
the specincallv Greek sense. As Deleuze remarks:
. the proouction ol new wavs ol existing can`t be equateo with a subject. unless we oivest the subject
ol anv interioritv ano even anv ioentitv. Subjectincation isn`t even anvthing to oo with a person¨: it`s
a specinc or collective inoiviouation relating to an event a time ol oav. a river. a wino. a lile .. It`s a
mooe ol intensitv. not a personal subject. It`s a specinc oimension without which we can`t go bevono
knowleoge or resist power.
Ior Deleuze`s Ioucault the lolo we call the human subject is a nineteenth centurv proouction lor it is then that
human lorces conlront purelv nnitarv lorceslile. proouction. languagein such a wav that the resulting
composite is a lorm ol Man.¨
As such. ano just as this lorm wasn`t there previouslv. there`s no reason it
shoulo survive once human lorces come into plav with new lorces: the new composite will be a new kino ol
lorm. neither Goo nor man.¨
In the last pages ol the 2/.3$.41 book Deleuze extenos this meoitation on what he calls the superlolo that might
itsell proouce Nietzsche`s superman: what is the superman? It is the lormal compouno ol the lorces within
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
man ano these new lorces. It is the lorm that results lrom a new relation between lorces. Man tenos to lree lile
labour ano language !"#$"%&$"'()*+.¨
This is a subject that is no longer human in the sense in which Ioucault
orew ano then eraseo him. It is a something¨ that encapsulates the outsioe within. although this outsioe will
have a oillerent sense to that which it hao lor the nineteenth centurv subject. Il this thing can still be calleo a
man. then it is a man unrecognisable in terms ol the Greeks. or in term ol the ,-."#-. It is a man who:
is even in charge ol the animals a cooe that can capture lragments ol other cooes. as in the new
schemata ol lateral or retrograoe. It is a man in charge ol the verv rocks. or inorganic matter the
oomain ol silicon. It is a man in charge ol the being in language that lormless mute. unsignilving
region where language can nno its lreeoom¨ even lrom whatever it has to sav.
In a nnal twist coulo not something similar be saio ol Lacan ano ol the injunction not to give grouno on a oesire
that is lunoamentallv inhuman. alien to the subject as given? This is to ioentilv an inorganic oeath orive at the
verv heart ol lile. a being towaros oeath that supplants a consciousness when the latter remains a oeclaration ol
the I think. therelore I am¨ with its all too human arrogance ol knowleoge ano attenoant moralitv baseo on
a transcenoent operator. Inoeeo. it seems to me that in both Ioucault ano Lacan there is a turning awav lrom
this kino ol subjectwhat I have calleo the subject as istowaros something stranger. something. perhaps.
more objective? This is the subject /(&object. but a peculiar privilegeo kino ol object that contains loloeo within
all other objects. the whole ol Bergson`s pure past. It is the loloing in ol the outsioe as the constitution ol a
veritable inner universe. An instance ol nnituoe that paraooxicallv holos the innnite within.
SIMON O`SULLIVAN is Senior Lecturer in Art Historv´Visual Cultures at Golosmiths College.
Universitv ol Lonoon. He is the author ol 01#&2%,-3%#)1(&4)*)35)&/%6&73/##/1"8&9$-3.$#&:);-%6&<)=1)()%#/#"-%
Falgrave. 2005 ano co-eoitor with Stephen Zepke ol both 4)*)35)>&73/##/1"&/%6&#$)&?1-63,#"-%&-+ &#$)&
@)! Continuum. 2008 ano 4)*)35)& /%6& A-%#)'=-1/1;& 01# Eoinburgh Universitv Fress 2010. He is
currentlv working on a new book project B%&#$)&?1-63,#"-%&-+ &C3DE),#"F"#; Falgrave. lorthcoming 2012.
1. This oiscovervor inventionol the psvchoanalvtic unconscious might be saio to have hao a parallel artistic origin¨ with
Surrealism ano Daoa. especiallv with its technologies¨ ol automatic writing ano the like.
2. As ]ohn Rajchman notes in his own reaoing ol Lacan`s !"#$%& this inversion ol the ethical position is perlormeo via an analvsis
ol the three great ethical thinkers pre Ireuo: Aristotle. Kant ano Bentham. Rajchman succinctlv summarises Lacan`s portraval
ol these three moral giants as. respectivelv. a wise lrieno who knows the gooo in which one nourishes.¨ a supersensible ego
who presents to one the imperative ol one`s obligations¨ ano an elncient mental hvgienist who knows how to rehabilitate one`s
unproouctive or ovslunctional behaviour.¨ ]ohn Rajchman. '()"#*+,-*!(.&/*0.)%+)1"2*3+%+,*+,-*"#4*5)4&"$.,*.6 *!"#$%&. Lonoon:
Routleoge. 1991. 70 Each ol these thinkers makes a oecisive move on the previous oennition ol ethical behaviour. oenning the
gooo in their own wav. but in so oenning it thev keep to the basic schema that there is a gooo to be workeo towaros as it were
that Lacan`s !"#$%&. lollowing Ireuo. will unoermine. To quote Rajchman: |t|hus unlike the ethical ioeals that woulo centre
us` bv making us wise. autonomous or proouctive. psvchoanalvsis places at the heart ol experience something that oecentres
us.` submitting us to the singularitv ol our oesire. the unpreoictable lortune ol our +7.)(&.¨ Rajchman. '()"#*+,-*!(.&. 70.
3. I want to thank ]ean Mathee lor introoucing Lacan`s !"#$%& to meano to the MA Contemporarv Art Theorv stuoents ol
2007-8in an inspiring workshop she gave on the latter at Golosmiths College. Lonoon in that vear. Some ol mv thinking in
this paper was provokeo bv the rigorous ano committeo approacheo to the !"#$%& oisplaveo in that seminar. I am also inoebteo
to ]ean more oirectlv lor the oiagram ol the torus on page 22.
!. Although I oo not relerence it in what lollows. Bruce Iink`s compelling book. '#4* 3+%+,$+,* 8)9:4%"/* ;4"<44,* 3+,=)+=4* +,-*
>.)$&&+,%4. Frinceton: Frinceton Universitv Fress. 1995. was invaluable in helping mv think through the complexities ol the
5. I began this enquirv. into the necessarv prior preparation bv the subject in anv accessing ol the innnite. in an essav explicitlv
on Spinoza. Bergson ano Ioucault. See Simon O`Sullivan. The Froouction ol the New ano the Care ol the Sell ¨ ?414)@42*
A)+""+($*+,-*"#4*B(.-)%"$.,*.6 * "#4*C4<. Eos Simon O`Sullivan ano Stephen Zepke. Lonoon: Continuum. 2008. 91-103. That
essav. ano the present one. were motivateo bv a oesire to think alternative mooels lor the proouction ol subjectivitv bevono
those lilestvle options¨ prollereo bv neo-liberalism. which. oespite its claims. increasinglv proouces an alienateo. atomiseo
ano homogeniseo inoivioual. Inoeeo. in a time ol what Negri calls the total subsumption ol capital.¨ when time as well as
space has been coloniseo. these alternative oiagrams ol the subjectano ol the nnite´innnite relationbecome crucial ano
in ano ol themselves politicallv chargeo.
o. I have alreaov mentioneo ]ohn Rajchman whose book length stuov similarlvano masterlullvtracks the resonances ano
oillerences between Lacan ano Ioucault`s ethics. ano which. as such. has inlormeo parts ol what lollows especiallv arouno
the unoerstanoing ol lreeoom as a practice. Inoeeo. Rajchman oemonstrates a prolouno resonance arouno the meaning ol
ethics in general in both writers as that which is irreoucible to whatever constituteo ethics belore a suspicion as Rajchman
has it. about anv receiveo values.¨ Rajchman. '()"#*+,-*!(.&. 1!5 Thus. there is Lacan`s realism` ol what must alwavs
be lelt out in our sell-ioealization. ano Ioucault`s pragmatism` concerning what is vet lree in our historical oeterminations.¨
Rajchman. '()"#*+,-*!(.&. 1!3-! On the other hano. lor Rajchman. Ioucault was explicitlv concerneo with historicising the
Ireuoian-Lacanian revolution in ethics ano in oemonstrating how the latter was less a universal aspect ol humanitv than an
invention. one with a historical moment ol proouction. ano. as such. Rajchman ngures Ioucault`s ethical project as a grano
genealogv ol oesiring man.¨ Rajchman. '()"#*+,-*!(.&. 88 Ior Rajchman`s Ioucault then. our own ethical preoicament
woulo be to rio ourselves ol this long internalisation through which we came to think ol ourselves as subjects ol oesire.`¨
an internalisation. it has to be saio. premiseo on a certain heterosexualitv Rajchman. '()"#*+,-*!(.&. 88. The new ethics.
lollowing Ioucault. woulo be one that learnt lrom homosexualitv ano the new kinos ol relationships being experimenteo
therewith. ano one that thus oweo verv little to Lacanian mooels that Ioucault saw as oangerouslv ahistorical ano universalist.
This woulo also be to privilege questions ol pleasure over oesire. As Ioucault himsell remarks in interview:
I think there is no exemplarv value in a perioo that is not out perioo . it is not anvthing to go back to. But we oo
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
have an example ol an ethical experience which implieo a verv strong connection between pleasure ano oesire.
Il we compare that to our experience now. where evervboovthe philosopher or the psvchoanalvstexplains
that what is important is oesire. ano pleasure is nothing at all. we can wonoer whether this oisconnection wasn`t a
historical event. one that was not at all necessarv. not linkeo to human nature. or to anv anthropological necessitv.
Michel Ioucault On the Genealogv ol Ethics` !"#$%&'( )*+,-%"$.$"/( 012( 34*"#. Eo. Faul Rabinow. Trans. Robert
Hurlev. Lonoon: Fenguin. 2000. 259
7. Two other ngures are also present explicitlv ano implicitlv throughout the essav: Henri Bergson. whose thesis about
the pure past¨ in 50""-4( 012( 5-674/ enables a oillerent kino ol conceptualisation ol Ioucault`s spiritualitv ano about the
accessing ol an outsioe¨. ano Alain Baoiou. whose own theorv ol the subject. at least as put lorwaro in 8-$19( 012( !.-1".
involves a bringing togetherat least ol sortsol Spinoza ano Lacan. ano. as such. has much in common with Ioucault`s
own writings on the subject ano truth.
8. Ior an extensive oiscussion ol these various practices ano technologies see. lor example. the interview Technologies ol the
Sell ¨ !"#$%&'()*+,-%"$.$"/(012(34*"#. Eo. Faul Rabinow. Trans. Robert Hurlev. Lonoon: Fenguin. 2000. 223-52.
9. This ano all lurther parenthetical relerences to Lacan¨ are taken lrom ]acques Lacan. 3#-(!"#$%&(7: (;&/%#7010</&$&(=>?>@
=>AB'(3#-()-6$104(7: (C0%D*-&(E0%01F(877G(HII. Trans. Dennis Fotter. Eo. ]acques-Alain Miller. Lonoon: Routleoge. 1992.
10. We might note here the resonances with Nietzsche`s eternal return unoerstooo as a "-&" ol experience. The oemon that
steals into vour loneliest loneliness¨ poses the question ol oesire that is at the heart ol Lacan`s Last ]uogement ano. inoeeo.
his !"#$%& in general. namelv: Do vou want this again ano innumerable times again?¨ Irieorich Nietzsche.(3#-(J0/()%$-1%-.
Trans. ]. Nauckholl. Cambrioge: Cambrioge Universitv Fress. 2001. 19!.
11. This ano all lurther parenthetical relerences to Ioucault¨ are taken lrom Michel Ioucault. 3#-(K-46-1-*"$%&(7: ("#-()*+,-%"'(
E-%"*4-&(0"("#-(L7<<M9-(2-(N401%-F(=>O=@OP. Trans. Graham Burchell. Eo. Ireoeric Gros. New York: Ficaoor. 2005.
12. Guattari aooresses the crucial role ol asignincation in relation to the proouction ol subjectivitv throughout his writing.
See. as inoicative. the essav Ielix Guattari. On the Froouction ol Subjectivitv¨ L#07&67&$&'(Q1(!"#$%7@Q-&"#-"$%(;0402$96. Trans.
Faul Bains ano ]ulian Felanis. Svonev: Fower Fublications. 1995. 1-32.
13. Gilles Deleuze ano Ielix Guattari. R#0"($&(;#$<7&7S#/T. Trans. Graham. Burchell ano Hugh Tomlinson. Lonoon: Verso.
1!. To quote Spinoza:
To make use ol things ano take oelight in them as much as possible not inoeeo to satietv. lor that is not to take
oelight is the part ol a wise man. It is. I sav. the part ol a wise man to leeo himsell with mooerate pleasant looo
ano orink . ` Beneoictus oe Spinoza. !"#$%&. Trans. Anorew Bovle ano G. H. R. Farkinson. Lonoon: Evervman.
1989. 173 Book IV. Frop XLV. Corollarv II. Note.
15. This connection is also evioenceo biographicallv. ano somewhat anecootallv. bv the aoolescent Lacan having a oiagram
on the wall ol his beoroom that oepicteo the structure ol |Spinoza`s| !"#$%& with the aio ol coloureo arrows.¨ Elizabeth
Rouoinesco. C0%D*-&(E0%01'(Q1(U*"<$1-(7: (0(E$:-(012(0(K$&"74/(7: (0()/&"-6(7: (3#7*9#". Trans. Barbara Brav. Lonoon: Folitv Fress
1o. A lurther connection here between Ioucault ano Spinoza is that such a turn lrom transcenoent points. ano the work¨
ol the subject that lollows lrom this. takes as its meoium the boov insolar as the actions ano practices ol the latter. in their
verv materialitv. are the site ol ethics lor both ol these thinkers. We might also note here that lor Lacan it is less the boov
than speech as it makes manilest the unconscious that is the ethical site insolar as Lacan`s ethics is not about well being.¨
but. as Lacan remarks in 3-<-.$&$71. about +$-1@2$4-¨ speaking-well ]acques Lacan. 3-<-.$&$71'(Q(L#0<<-19-("7("#-(;&/%#7010</"$%(
!&"0+<$-1"V Trans. Denis Hollier. Rosalino Krauss ano Annette Michelson. Lonoon: W. W. Norton 8 Companv. !1.
17. Ior Baoiou`s oiscussion ol such a subject see Alain Baoiou. Theorv ol the Subject¨ 8-$19( 012( !.-1". Trans. Oliver
Ieltham. Lonoon: Continuum. 2005. 391-!0o. Ior mv own oetaileo oiscussion ol the latter. reao against Deleuze. see Simon
O`Sullivan. The Strange Temporalitv ol the Subject: Baoiou ano Deleuze Between the Iinite ano the Innnite.¨ !"#$%&'()('* 27
]ulv. 2009. 155-71. In that article I make the argument that Baoiou. almost oespite himsell. reinlorces a kino ol bar between
the subject ano truth or. between the nnite ano innnite. whereas Deleuze in +(,,%-%.&%/0.1/2%3%'('(4. posits a continuum ol
sorts a reciprocal relation between the two.
18. Ioucault. Genealogv¨. 27!.
19. See Quentin Meillasoux. 5,'%-/6(.('"1%7/5./8990*/4./':%/;%&%99('*/4, /<4.'(.=%.&*. Trans. Rav Brassier. Lonoon: Continuum.
20. Ioucault goes on to oescribe the movement ol truth as love or 8-49 as either an ascenoing movement ol the subject
himsell. or else a movement bv which the truth comes to him ano enlightens him.¨ Ioucault. 15-1o The parallels with
Baoiou are remarkable. Unlike Baoiou. however. Ioucault writes ol another major lorm through which the subject can ano
must translorm himsell in oroer to have access to the truth.¨ Ioucault. 1o This is a lorm ol work that is a long labour ol
ascesis 09>ē9(9.¨ Ioucault. 1o. It is a preparation maoe bv the subjecta work ol the sell on the sell ¨that in itsell enables
the subject to have access to truth. Ioucault. 1o
21. In lact Ioucault himsell relerences Spinoza`s ?-%0'(9%/4./':%/<4--%&'(4./4, /':%/@.1%-9'0.1(.= in the secono ol the vears opening
lectures. To quote Ioucault:
|.| in lormulating the problem ol access to the truth Spinoza linkeo the problem to a series ol requirements
concerning the subjects verv being: In what aspects ano how must I translorm mv being as subject? What
conoitions must I impose on mv being as subject so as to have access to the truth. ano to what extent will this access
to the truth give me what I seek. that is to sav the highest gooo. the sovereign gooo. This is a properlv spiritual
question |.| Ioucault. 27-8
22. In a noo to Henri Bergson ano to pre-empt some oiscussion to come we might map the oillerence between the innnite
nelo ol knowleoge ano the innnite nature ol truth on to Bergson`s cone see Iig. 2 above. In this case. F is the plane ol
knowleoge that carries on in everv oirection #"'/ -%A0(.9/ 4./ ':0'/ 3B0.%. A-B represents the realm ol truth that likewise has
an innnite character. #"'/ ':0'/ (9/ .4'/ ".(1(-%&'(4.0B. The question ol access to this truth is then the question ol point S as the
intersection ol the two realms. It is the point at which the nnite subject might access the innnite. unoerstooo. in Spinoza`s
terms. as the eternal.
23. See also the essav on The Mirror Fhase¨ where Lacan introouces his thesis on the latter lor the light it sheos on the
C lunction in the experience psvchoanalvsis provioes us ol it.¨ ano. cruciallv. that this experience sets us at ooos with anv
philosophv oirectlv stemming lrom the &4=('4.¨ ]acques Lacan. 8&-('97/?:%/6(-9'/<4A3B%'%/81('(4./(./8.=B(9:. Trans. Bruce Iink.
with Heloise Iink ano Russell Grigg. Lonoon: W. W. Norton ano Companv. 2002. 75. Ior Lacan the egoor conscious
subjectis in lact the result ol a mis-recognition ano an ioentincation with ioeal images. Later in the same essav Lacan is
even more pointeo in his critique ol such philosophv. in this case existentialism. that maintains a sovereigntv ol consciousness:
|u|nlortunatelv. this philosophv grasps that negativitv onlv with the limits ol a sell-sulnciencv ol consciousness. which. being
one ol its premises. ties the illusion ol autonomv in which it puts its laith to the ego`s constitutive misrecognitions.¨ Lacan.
Mirror Fhase¨. 80. As an aooenoum here it is worth noting Alain Baoiou`s view that oespite this critique ol the &4=('4 Lacan
nevertheless remains within the Cartesian traoition insolar as the act ol subversion implies a kino ol noelitv to Descartes`
lounoing gesture ol centring¨ a subject. As Baoiou remarks in the nnal meoitation ol D%(.=/0.1/8)%.': What localizes the
subject is the point at which Ireuo can onlv be unoerstooo within the heritage ol the Cartesian gesture. ano at which he
subverts. via oislocation. the latter`s pure coincioence with the sell. its renexive transparencv.¨ Alain Baoiou. Descartes´
Lacan¨ D%(.=/0.1/8)%.'. !32. Baoiou`s summing up ol his own philosophical project involves the claim that he has moveo
bevono this positioning¨ ol the subjecteven il it has been inverteoinsolar as he locates the voio as generic hole in
knowleoge¨ not within the being-in-situation¨ but as preciselv raoicallv separate to this hence his particular theorv ol
the extra-ontological event that alone calls a subject into being ano that puts him more raoicallv at ooos with the Cartesian
traoition Baoiou. D%(.=/0.1/8)%.'. !32-!. It seems to me that Baoiou somewhat overstates the case. perhaps to oillerentiate his
!"#"$%&'()*+#&'"$,'-./#"/!)%&'#"0('.-')*('&(!-' ' ' '
own svstem ol thought lrom one ol his masters. nevertheless the ioea ol a re-positioning ol the voio`¨ ooes allow us to think
lurther the oillerences ano resonances between Ioucault ano Lacan. Inoeeo. on the lace ol it. Ioucault woulo seem to have
more in common with Baoiou than Lacan insolar as the lormers notion ol spiritualitv involves accessing a raoical outsioe
to the subjecttruth¨that then translorms that subject. However. as I hope mv article shows. this outsioe might itsell be
thought as an outsioe that is in lact loloeo in. Truth. or the voio. relocateo bv Baoiou contra Lacan as outsioe the subject
ano the situation is loloeo back into the oeepest interioritv ol the subject bv Ioucault especiallv in Deleuze`s reaoing.
The location ol this voio has implications lor the practices ol translormation that lollow lrom it. Thus. with Lacan it is the
speaking cure.¨ or simplv the subject overhearing themselves speaking. with Baoiou it is noelitv to an event that comes lrom
outsioe the subject that it has calleo into being. ano with Ioucault it is the processual oeplovment ol technologies ol the sell
that allow a kino ol sioe stepping ol the subject as constituteo.
2!. It is worth noting here that other spiritual traoitions such as Buoohism also emphasise a lile ol the mioole wav.¨ which is
to sav !"# one ol extreme asceticism. but one that woulo allow a boov the greatest capacitv to allect ano to be allecteo. This
is to sav. the proouction ol a boov capable ol knowleoge in Spinoza`s sense. To return toano extenothe passage quoteo
lrom Spinoza`s $#%&'( in lootnote 1! above. such new ano varieo nourishment¨ ol the boov means that the boov as a whole
mav be equallv apt lor perlorming those things which can lollow lrom its nature. ano consequentlv so that the mino also mav
be equallv apt lor unoerstanoing manv things at the same time.¨ Spinoza. $#%&'(. 173.
25. Gilles Deleuze. )"*'+*,#. Trans. Sean Hano. Minneapolis: Universitv ol Minnesota Fress. 1988. 100.
2o. Deleuze. )"*'+*,#. 97.
27. Gilles Deleuze. Lile as a Work ol Art.¨ -./"#&+#&"!(01234562337. Trans. Martin ]oughin. New York: Columbia Universitv
Fress. 1995. 97.
28. Deleuze. )"*'+*,#. 100-1.
29. Deleuze. )"*'+*,#. 10o.
30. Deleuze. )"*'+*,#. 107.
31. Deleuze. )"*'+*,#. 107.
32. See Gilles Deleuze. To Have Done with ]uogement.¨ $((+8(1 9:&#&'+,1 +!;1 9,&!&'+,. Trans. D. W. Smith. Minneapolis:
Universitv ol Minnesota Fress. 1997. 12o-35. ano especiallv 129.
33. This might be illustrateo bv the Mobius strip a twisteo torus that oiagrams this irreoucible. but alwavs local. oillerence
between subject ano object. the nnite ano innnite. However lar we travel along there is alwavs another sioe:
3!. A thiro Lacanian topologvor impossible objectwoulo seem to lollow this logic ol loloing: the Klein bottle. that
oiagrams the loloing ol the outsioe in ano is in lact proouceo bv the cutting. twisting ano rejoining ol the Mobius strip:
Mv own composite oiagram. although not itsell a klein bottle. might be saio to loregrouno certain operations. or logics. that
inhere in the latter.
35. I have not elaborateo anv lurther on this particular linkage¨ as I am keen to let the oiagram oo its job as it were. Inoeeo.
I hope mv oiagram might operate as a kino ol short-circuiting ol the oiscursive. or. put oillerentlv ano lollowing Lacan as a
topologv that ooes not necessarilv neeo to be explicateo lullv in oroer that it works.¨
3o. See Henri Bergson. !"#$!%&$'&()*#+$&, $-&)./012$.34$5#/060&3. Trans. R. A. Auora. C. Brereton. with W. Horstall-Carter. New
York: Doubleoav Anchor Books. 1935. especiallv pp. 209-o5.
37. Ioucault. Genealogv.¨ 278.
38. Michel Ioucault. An Aesthetics ol Existence¨ 7&/010*+8$7"0/&+&9"28$:(/1()#. Eo. L. Kritzman. Lonoon: Routleoge. 1990. !9.
39. Deleuze. Lile as a Work ol Art.¨ 98.
!0. Ioucault. Genealogv.¨ 271.
!1. Ioucault. Genealogv.¨ 2o0.
!2. Ioucault. Genealogv.¨ 271.
!3. Michel Ioucault. What is Enlightenment?¨ ;1"0*+<$'(=>#*10?012$.34$!)(1"$@;++#310./$A&)B+$&, $C&(*.(/18$DEFGHDEIG8$J&/(K#$L3#M.
Trans. Robert Hurlev. Eo. Faul Rabinow. Lonoon: Fenguin. 2000. 309.
!!. Ioucault. What is Enlightenment?.¨ 311.
!5. Ioucault. What is Enlightenment?.¨ 312.
!o. Ioucault. What is Enlightenment?.¨ 312.
!7. See Gilles Deleuze ano Ielix Guattari. N$!"&(+.34$7/.1#.(+. Trans. Brian Massumi. Lonoon: Athlone Fress. 1988. 17-18.
!8. I oevelop this ioea in mv article on Guattari`s :".&+K&+0+. See Simon O`Sullivan. Guattari`s Aesthetic Faraoigm: lrom
the Ioloing ol the Iinite´Innnite Relation to Schizoanalvtic Meatamooelisation.¨ O#/#(P#$'1(40#+ !:2 ]ulv. 2010. 25o-8o. In
particular this article tracks through Guattari`s own articulation ol the nnite´innnite relation in relation to schizoanalvsis. ano
attenos to what I call the loloing-in¨ ol transcenoence that characterises Guattari`s new aesthetic paraoigm.
!9. Ioucault. Genealogv.¨ 277.
50. Ior a oiscussion ol the "(9&K3ēK.1. see the essav Michel Ioucault. Sell Writing¨ ;1"0*+<$'(=>#*10?012$.34$!)(1"$@;++#310./$A&)B+$
&, $ C&(*.(/18$ DEFGHDEIG8$ J&/(K#$ L3#M. Trans. Robert Hurlev. Eo. Faul Rabinow. Lonoon: Fenguin. 2000. 209-1!. 7.))"#+0.$ is
aooresseo at oillerent moments in !"#$Q#)K#3#(10*+$&, $1"#$'(=>#*1. see. lor example. p. 3oo.
51. Ior an extenoeo oiscussion ol the master see Ioucault. Technologies ol the Sell.¨ 2!o-7
52. Might it also be saio that Lacan lookeo to these new wavs ol loloingespeciallv ol the Realin his own late work? This
woulo be the place to consioer the seminars on the RSI ano R#$'031"&K# unoerstooo as particular artistic technologies ol the
proouction ol subjectivitv. This is a project I leave to a later oate.
53. Deleuze. Lile as a Work ol Art.¨ 99.
5!. Deleuze. Lile as a Work ol Art.¨ 99-100.
55. Deleuze. Lile as a Work ol Art.¨ 99.
5o. Deleuze. C&(*.(/1. 132.
57. Deleuze. C&(*.(/1. 132.
!"##$%&'"( ( ( ( ( ( ((((()*+,%#(-.(/(0.-.(/(12342
A TASTE FOR LIFE
(ON SOME SUICIDES IN DELEUZE AND SPINOZA)
Jason E. Smith
Gilles Deleuze’s book-length account of Foucault’s thought, Foucault, published two years after the Foucault’s
death, sets out to decipher the secret or latent systematicity of that thought’s unfolding.
Such a systematicity
would seem to be belied by the hazards and turns of Foucault’s itinerary, marked deeply as it was by sudden
shifts in perspective, object and methodology. It is this very capacity for sudden mutations that was, for many,
the strength of his thought. As early as 1969, in the “Introduction” to The Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault
!"#!#$%&'()%'*+,"%'#- '()%'./01"23()'/$'/'4/1'#- '&%$5"2023+'()%'$!/5%'#- '()#,+)('/3&'#- '4"2(23+'()/(')%'4/$'
moving in, admonishing readers who object to his brusque shifts in orientation in this way: “do not ask who I
am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are
Deleuze underlines that, on the surface and indeed in its most interior movement, Foucault’s thought
proceeds by jolts, and mutates only under the bottled-up pressure of an impasse. The crisis witnessed by the
long period of silence at the end of his life—between the publication of La Volonté de savoir in 1976 and L’Usage
des plaisirs in 1984, on the eve of his death—is said to be exemplary of this halting trajectory. And yet after his
death it becomes incumbent on thought itself, in its confrontation with Foucault’s published work, to decipher
the “logic of a thought” and to demonstrate the “necessary” passage from one phase or stratum of that thought
to another: “Obviously, what is important is to show how one passes necessarily from one these determinations
to the next.”
That Deleuze’s scansion of Foucault’s work would result in the isolation of three'&%*32(26%'!%"2#&$'#"'7#7%3($'
necessarily casts a “systematic” shadow over it, while placing a special pressure on the concluding phase—in this
5/$%8'9#,5/,.(:$'$%%723+'"%(,"3'(#'()%'*+,"%'#- '()%'$%.- '/3&'()%'$,0;%5('23'()%'./$('(4#'6#.,7%$'#- '()%'History of
Sexuality trilogy. More telling, Deleuze then proceeds to characterize these three periods of Foucault’s thought
in terms that deliberately, if not explicitly, recall the articulations found in Kant’s critical system. Deleuze sees
Foucault’s thought unfolding in three moments dealing successively with questions of knowledge, power and the
aesthetic: thought-as-archive, thought-as-strategy, thought-as-artistic.
To these images of thought correspond
a given form or type of “rule”: the determined forms of knowledge, the “constraining rules” of commands
or ethical imperatives, and what Deleuze refers to the set of “facultative rules” that evaluate a given “style” of
existence. And just as Kant’s third critique negotiates the vast Abgrund that opens between the domains of nature
!"#!$#%"&'(")*&%" " " " "
ano the oomain ol lreeoom. proposing the ioea ol their reconciliation in the renective juogments ol taste. the
late Foucault’s sudden turn to operations of subjectivation and to what Deleuze calls a pensée-artiste is compelled
bv Ioucault`s sense ol having become trappeo within the nelo ol power ano relations ol lorce.
Why will another dimension be necessary for Foucault, why is he going to discover subjectivation
as distinct both from knowledge and power? […] Foucault had the feeling, more and more after La
Volonté de savoir, that he was in the process of closing himself up in relations of power […] How to
cross the line, how to surpass, in their turn, relations of power? Or are you instead condemned to a
face-off with Power, either seizing hold of it or submitting to it?
The answer is neither: you will neither go beyond relations of power nor be necessarily condemned to a face-off
with a homogenous bloc of “Power” that can only be appropriated, undergone or resisted. The return to the
ngure ol the sell ¨ in the late Ioucault is not a return to the subject as an unchanging subjectum that undergirds
ano accompanies all ol its representations but a specinc event or movement that withorawals lrom the space ol
power by performing an operation on it, “straddling” or “folding” it in such a way, Deleuze proposes, that it is
made to “affect itself ” rather than act on other forces.
Such an operation, however, is less performed or carried
by a subject than the genesis of the subjective itself. Consequently, Deleuze suggests that what is called a process
ol subjectivation in Ioucault might be better be ioentineo with what Spinoza calleo a mooe¨ ano. more.
specincallv. an intensive mooe¨: |T|his was alreaov the ioea ol the mooe` in Spinoza |.| |I|t`s an intensive
mode and not a personal subject.”
Deleuze`s qualincation that the ioea ol the mooe he is relerring to is an intensive¨ one is oecisive. Reaoers ol
Deleuze’s work on Spinoza will recognize his distinction between an intensive mode—or what he will also call
the intense¨ part ol ourselvesano the nnite mooe that is involveo in existence or ouration is a kev aspect
of his account of “Spinozism.”
This intensive mode is a singular essence that can be actualized in existence
by extensive parts that are external both to us—they belong to us insofar as they realize our essence, yet do
not constitute this same essence—and to one another. The “intense” part of ourselves is, to the contrary, not
made up of parts at all: it is a part of ourselves insofar as it a part of substance, an “affection” of substance
that expresses substance in a certain way or mode (modus). Our intense part is therefore a part of substance
insofar as the latter “be explained [or explicated] through” it (EVP36)
; this part or essence takes the form of
a “relation” that is then realized in the form of extensive parts that can always undergo mutations that force
them to reconngure into oillerent relations. therebv ceasing to belong or pertain to us. What is calleo oeath is.
then, simply a type of encounter that acts on me in such a way that the extensive parts that realize my essence
are lorceo into a connguration that no longer corresponos to mv characteristic¨ relation. oenneo as it is bv a
certain ratio ol motion ano rest¨ EIIF13. But oeath ano. more generallv. connict between mooes is entirelv
connneo to the sphere ol ouration ano existence. consioereo apart lrom their realization in extensive parts
that hold together by means of internal conatus or desire to persevere in existence, singular modes all agree or
converge with one another insolar as thev are oenneo as intensive parts ol substance or oegrees ol Goo`s power.
To the extent that the mind understands the essential agreement between modes through the formation of
“common notions” and experiences itself as a part of divine power that “explains” God in a certain way, the
less it will lear oeath. which onlv allects the mooe consioereo as a connguration ol extensive parts EVF38.
The more the mode knows—of other modes and their characteristic relations, of God and of itself—through
the second and third kinds of knowledge, through common notions and the enigmatic intellectual intuition
described by Spinoza in Book V, the higher the number of affections it will have that come not from without,
but from within, from its own essence as a part of God. These are what Deleuze calls — paradoxically
active affections, affections of the self by the self and substance or power by itself, rather than passive affections
(whether joy or sadness) that come from without, either heightening or diminishing an individual mode’s power
to act ano unoergo other allections or. in the worst ol cases. coming to reconngure the relation between the
external parts actualizing my essence so that they cease to belong to me, and take on a new life. In order
to heighten the paradoxical nature of these affections such as Deleuze construes them, he speaks elsewhere
“internal, immune affections” because in them modes are not exposed to potentially destructive encounters with
JASON E. SMITH
other. nnite. mooes: thev alnrm themselves. to the contrarv. as an allection ol substance. an expression ol oivine
power. (SPP 44) Immune: these would immunize affections immunize the body from other forces. They would
not result lrom the clash between nnite mooes ano their extensive parts. but express the allection ol oivine
substance by itself, the folding of its power back onto itself.
If we return to Deleuze’s remarks on Foucault, we see the extent to which the “art of living” proposed by
Foucault’s late work corresponds to the cultivation of those “intense, immune affections” that do not result from
the action ol one boov on another or one lorce on another exterior ano therelore nnite lorce. but insteao express
the action of power on itself. Or, to insist on the language of Spinoza, a way of living in which the individual mode
feels itself as increasingly less affected to forces impinging on it from without, less exposed to the contingency of
bao encounters. ano increasinglv nlleo bv the intuition ol itsell as a part ol innnite power. In a secono interview
given on the occasion of the publication of Foucault, Deleuze describes “modes of subjectivation” as different
or singular ways or styles of folding force or power, of bending back onto itself in order to create a space to live
and to “breathe”: “you must manage to fold the line [of the Outside, of Force], in order to constitute a liveable
zone where you can . . . breathe—in other words, think. Fold the line in order to be able to live on it, with it: a life
and death affair.”
In a strange aside in second interview given on the occasion of the publication of his book
on Foucault (“Un Portrait de Foucault”), Deleuze addresses the fact that Foucault’s discovery of the problem of
modes of subjectivation as a way to transform the question of power occurs at the end of life, on the threshold
of death. Thought, he says,
has never been a theoretical matter. It was a matter of problems of life. It was the way Foucault get
out this new crisis: he drew the line that allowed him to get out of it, and to draw out new relations
with knowledge and power. Even if he had to die from it [Même s’il devait en mourir]. That sounds
stupid: it’s not the discovery of subjectivation that made him die. And yet . . .
Pages later, Deleuze suggest that not only was Foucault’s death somehow implicated in the crisis his thought
underwent and the discovery of a new terrain of experiment at the point of intersection between thought and
lilesubjectivation. the intensive mooe¨but that in the nnal phase ol his lile he straooles this line¨ in
such a way that it was no longer possible to know whether this death came from without or from within: “Beyond
knowleoge ano power. the thiro sioe. the thiro element ol svstem` . . . At the limit. an acceleration that makes
it so that you can no longer distinguish death from suicide.”
The example of suicide is discussed on two occasions in Deleuze’s shorter book on Spinoza, Spinoza: Practical
Philosophy. “Example of suicide” because, for Deleuze, suicide represents just one of the phenomena of
“apparent” destruction and decomposition of modal existence exhibited and analyzed in the fourth book of
the Ethics. Among the other phenomena he brings to bear are what he calls “survivals in name only,” those
who have encountered some external force that provoked such a profound displacement of some proportion of
their (external) parts that their body “has changed into another nature,” and continues to live on—as someone
else, forgetful of itself (EIVP39D). More importantly, where Deleuze speaks elsewhere of active affections as
immune¨ allections that come lrom within ano not lrom an encounter with another nnite mooe. here he cites
the peculiarity of diseases of an “auto-immune” nature that affect a fraction of our external parts in such a way
that this grouping not only changes nature, but begins to attack us from within, behaving like a “foreign body.”
SFF !3 Auto-immune oiseases are specinc lorms. it woulo seem. ol sell-allection: the boov ooes not simplv
sullers an encounter lrom another nnite mooe but seems. insteao. to be attackeo lrom within. by itself. The nnal
example he offers is indeed that of suicide, but suicide understood as a type or extreme case of the phenomena
ol auto-immune oisease. in which a mooineo part ol ourselves behaves like a poison that oisintegrates the
other parts and turns against them (certain diseases, and, in the extreme case, suicide)” (SPP 34). The example
of Spinoza is therefore presented as an extreme or limit case which must be shown to be a merely “apparent”
form of self-destruction. The example therefore plays a strategic role in Deleuze’s presentation of Spinoza.
Destructions and decompositions always come from without, he repeats over and over again: they do not
affect our intensive part, neither our singular essence the relations that expression. Only our external parts,
!"#!$#%"&'(")*&%" " " " "
which actualize these relations lor a certain inoennite perioo. are allecteo bv such violence. Il the example ol
suicide plays a strategic role in Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza—as well as, in a different way, in his account of
Ioucault`s workthe specinc moment in the Ethics in which Spinoza refers to the phenomenon of suicide is
never addressed with attention by Deleuze.
When Spinoza addresses the question of suicide in the Scholium to Proposition 20 of the Ethics’ Fourth Part,
it is not the nrst time it is mentioneo. In the Scholium to Froposition 18. just a lew pages belore. a oiscussion
of the problem of “virtue” concludes with the remark that “those who kill themselves are weak minded [animo
esse impotentes].” It is important to note, however, that the verb employed in both cases does not correspond to
the term used in most classical Latin discussions of suicide, be they Roman or Christian (Seneca, Augustine):
there, the problem of suicide is a problem not simply of the will, but of dying willingly—it is a question of a
“voluntary death.” And it is this problem of the will that gives these discussions their ethical charge, for in each
case the decision not to be always emits a dark glimmer of freedom. An initial question of semantics, then: one
cannot be exactly certain what “killing oneself ” means here, the moment it is unhinged from the problem of
the will, from the deliberate and from deliberation. It should be noted that the problem of “suicide,” of killing
oneself, interests Spinoza not for itself, but only insofar as its invocation has an exemplary value. It is as if he
anticipating a rejection: il the essence ol each singular thing is oenneo bv its ellort to persevere in its being. how
does one account for phenomena which seem to indicate the presence of another principle, namely a desire not
to be? Suicide is a limit-case: it is as if Spinoza were arguing that even suicide manifests the very thing it seems
to except itself from, namely the effort to persevere in one’s being. And what should follow are those examples
ol sell-erasure that come at the close ol a renection: the archives are lull ol accounts ol hangings. orownings.
latal leaps lrom winoows. ano so on. Even these oeaths. seeminglv willeo. woulo strangelv renect a oesire to live.
As its nrst ano onlv Axiom inoicates. Fart Iour ol the Ethics has as its horizon a single phenomenon:
oestruction.¨ This oestruction comes lrom without: lor anv given nnite mooe or singular thing. there is alwavs
“another which is more powerful than it and by which it can be destroyed” (EIVax.). But this does not prevent
Spinoza, according to Gilles Deleuze, from attaching a great deal of “importance to apparently self-destructive
phenomena.” When Deleuze is referring to these seeming cases of self-destruction, it is precisely to the Scholium
on suicide that he refers, while addressing none of the internal articulations of the text. I quote Spinoza’s text
at some length, almost in its entirety:
No one, I say, refuses food or kills himself out of the necessity of his nature; he does so because he is
compelled by external causes….Someone may kill himself if he is compelled by another, who twists
the right hand which happens to be holding a sword….Or again, he may kill himself because, like
Seneca, he is compelled by the order of a tyrant to open his veins; that is, because he desires to avoid
a greater evil by a lesser [majus malum minore vitare cupiat]. Finally, he may do so because hidden external
causes [causae latentes externae] so dispose his imagination and affect his body that it takes on another
nature [aliam naturam priori contrarium induat] that is contrary to the one that it previously had, and of
which an idea cannot exist in the mind (by Prop. 10, Part 3). But that a man, by the necessity of his
own nature, should endeavor not to exist or should endeavor to be changed into another form [aliam
formam mutari] is as impossible as that something should come from nothing, as anyone can see with
a little thought (EIVP20S).
The management and selection of examples here is typical of Spinoza: in a manner recalling the famous
Scholium to Proposition 2 of part III (“what can a body do?), the set presented is at once enigmatic and
We are essentiallv ollereo two lorms ol what Spinoza calls external¨ causes: a nrst set whose
externalitv that is patent. a secono whose exterioritv is hiooen.¨ In the nrst case. we are ollereo two scenarios
that almost no one would contend constitute suicide: two forces, physical and political, a twisted hand and a
despot’s demand. The reference to Seneca is particularly loaded, and not without some irony: it seems to imply
that even Seneca, a name associated with the coupling of suicide and freedom, did not die voluntarily, willingly,
but on the orders of an other. Tacitus, who is surely Spinoza’s source here, makes its clear that when Seneca is
JASON E. SMITH
implicated in a plot to depose Nero, he is not seen to “contemplate suicide [voluntarium mortem pararet]”: hence
the death sentence he subsequently receives (Annales. Bk. XV. Il Spinoza ooolv enlists the ngure ol Seneca as
evidence that one never dies willingly—precisely because it is not a matter of the will—he nevertheless portrays
him as having made a decision, based upon a moral calculation: he chooses the least evil. This contention,
which is entirely Spinoza’s (it is not in Tacitus), is questionable on two registers. At the level of events, it is not
certain what “greater evil” is referred to, particularly considering the episode’s fallout: Seneca did not die alone.
But, more importantly, nothing in the previous development of the Ethics prepares us lor this bit ol sacrincial
algebra. Pierre Macherey is right to point out that a similar formulation occurs in the Scholium to Proposition
39 of Part Two, which is concerned with the emotion called timor: anguish, fear.
There we read that such
“[fear] disposes man to avoid one evil or harm [malum], that he judges must occur in the future, through a lesser
one”; in this context, however, the greatest evil, the absolute harm against which every lesser harm is measured
is nothing less than my death. Anguish means: my death is always the worst. This is the fundamental sense of
what is called conatus. Seneca, therefore shows no timidity, for in this case the death both ordered and chosen is
“desired” because it takes place on the backdrop of some supposedly more intolerable possibility.
Whatever the interest of these two examples, they remain secondary to the precise extent that the exteriority
of the cause of death is in each case explicit, patent: that is, incontestably exterior. [What could be more
public than a death sentence?] But when Spinoza passes to the “hidden external causes [that] so dispose [my]
imagination and affect [my] body that it takes on another nature,” the illustrations cease, and we transition into
an imageless logical idiom: it is just as impossible that someone could desire to take on another form as it is that
something should come from nothing. This shift is probably to be expected—for where, after all, might one
show a ngure lor what is here preciselv hiooen. that is. non-manilest? This is the problem: not onlv is it oilncult
to isolate an ioentinable agent in this hvpothesis ol a hiooen exterior cause. it is also haro to map the location
of the cause as simply without. The entirety of the question in this phase of the argument is the exact location
ol this outsioe which. because it cannot be ioentineo with another man. must in some wav be loogeo within me.
another body “in” my body.
It is at this point. perhaps. that the one ngure that I`ve not vet aooresseo becomes important. The svntax ol
the quotation`s nrst sentence is uncertain: since the scholium intenos to aooress the more general possibilitv ol
“neglect[ing]” to preserve one’s being, the “or [vel]” in the phrase “no one…refuses food or kills himself ” could
imply two distinct modes of neglect. It can in turn seem to imply a certain equivalence between two terms: to
reluse to eat is suicioe. But in this latter reaoing. it is oilncult to account lor its onlv passing appearance. As an
example. it woulo not seem to nt the minimal logic ol the passage. which is to insist that everv suicioe is in lact
the result of exterior causes, either manifest or hidden, respectively. But to the extent there are no examples
given for the proposed hidden causes, the image of a refusal to eat seems secretly to carry out the function: the
most appropriate example of what it means to lose the taste for life.
It’s a question of eating, of taste and the tasteless, of disgust. Spinoza often makes reference to eating, both
to its role as nourishment and to the pleasure or delight taken in the act of eating itself; the mouth tends to
be a privileged site for an encounter between bodies, and ingestion perhaps the very model for the “dealings
[commercium] with things which are outside us” as the Scholium to Proposition 18 of Part Four puts it, useful
things whose scale ranges from the edible to the other man, a range from which animals (edible or not) are
not excluded (on the “use” of animals: EIVP37S1).
Almost every reference to eating in Spinoza is, however,
inscribed within analogical chains that constantly suspend the activity’s literality. To speak of losing the taste for
life is here no mere metaphor, for in the Ethics one rarely knows what eating in fact is.
A single example will sulnce. In the Scholium to Froposition 59 ol Fart Three On the Origin ano Nature
of the Affects”), Spinoza makes a curious comparison between “love” and “eating.” Because the scholium
comes alter the nnal proposition ol part Three but belore the recapitulative Dennitions ol the Emotions¨.
its function is less to comment upon the matter of the proposition (the so-called “active” affects) as to conclude
Part Three as whole. It summarizes its entire movement, which consists not simply in isolating a set of primary
!"#!$#%"&'(")*&%" " " " "
emotions said to be three in number (desire, joy, sadness: cupiditas, laetitia, tristitia: cf. EIIIP11S; EIIIDef. Aff.
4Expl), but the description of the laws of their combination, of the combinatory and associative mechanism
that implacably generates an in principle open-ended series of supposed derived emotions. We should recall
that such laws are natural¨ in a specincallv Spinoza sense: belonging to the common power¨ ol an enlargeo
ngure ol Nature. emotions are treateo like anv motion. as mutations ano events whose nuctuations ano
variations can be calculated according a perfectly determined regime of legality. In turn, these laws account
for two modes of resemblence: not only what Spinoza calls the partial similarity between a newly encountered
body and those objects which we are familiar with, that we habitually or “usually encounter” and which we
are accustomeo to allect us¨ EIIIF15S. F1o. but also the general mimeticism ol the social nelo. what are
called the “imitation of the affects” [“affectuum imitatio,” EIIIP27S; cf. P19-32]. These two modes of affective
complicationmnemonic. transinoivioualhave a single. ubiquitous ellect: to generate vast nelos ol allective
ambivalence and equivocation, such that it becomes possible, for example, to “simultaneously love and hate
the same thing” (EIIIP17).
Such equivocations are what our scholium relers to as the chiel connicts ol the
soul [!"#$#%&'"(#&)*+],” whose generalized form is that of the indiscernability of love and hate. Though he has
addressed this relation for much of the middle sections of Part Three, Spinoza nevertheless insists the he has
left out something about love, that there is something to add. Love is addressed in a sexual context, and the
experience described is familiar enough: we are reminded that, in the very instant we come to “enjoy” the body
we encounter and make use of it in love, our mind is simultaneously [simul] invested with “images of other
things,” which we immediately begin to desire. Spinoza accounts for this ambivalence by noting how my body is
affected in such an encounter: my “enjoyment [fruitione]” of another body transforms my body in turn, making it
undergo a mutation that alters its capacity to act, making it acquire a new “constitution.” It is here that Spinoza,
in the form of an “example,” soberly compares love to eating: “For example, when we imagine something that
usually delights us by its taste [sapore], we desire to enjoy it [edem frui], i.e. to eat it…” The analogy is followed
through on. with the nlling ol the stomach prooucing a change in the oisposition ol the boov. an alteration ol
what Spinoza calls both its “disposition” and its “constitution” [aliter disposito; aliter constitution], making the image
of the food we have just consumed offensive [odiosa: hated], repugnant, disgusting.
This disgust does not, however, account for the refusal or aversion to food described in the Scholium on suicide.
The semantic range of the term translated by “disgust” is wide: for this experience of “Taedium” (what “we call
satiety and disgust [Fastidium, & Taedium]”
) is just as much an experience of indifference, or of boredom. This
is perhaps why Spinoza moves so easily between love and eating: in each case we are presented with a loss of
ardor, a lapsed fervor. It is a diminution of force, but this slackening is both relative and local—it is this body
that I nno repugnant. that I reluse. ano this oisgust alwavs results lrom a local mutation in the structure ol mv
boov`s constitution.¨ We speak ol a relative mooincation ol the boov`s constitution when we want to oescribe
the manner in which my body maintains what is called its characteristic “ratio of motion and rest” through
the experience of an affection by another body (EIIP13L5). Such a ratio, whose constant renewal in the very
movement ol alteration alone accounts lor the singularitv ol a nnite mooe. is characteristic ol all booies. but
it is a particularlv important leature ol so-calleo composite¨ booies. Such booies are conngurations whose
stability is only relative, constantly exposed to encounters threatening disaggregation, and therefore constantly
developing strategies of renovation, of survival. Spinoza will speak elsewhere of the “temperament” of such
that is. an allective tenor that is repeateolv alnrmeo through a tenoencv towaro certain lorms ol
encounters. In the case of disgust, we not only have a change in the body corresponding to an affection, but a
variation whose repetition participates in the natural, cyclical process of the body’s continuous reconstitution,
including the regeneration of its own parts. What matters here is continuity: to speak of my body’s temperament
is to think of affect no longer in terms of a unique, instantaneous encounter with another body, but rather as an
inclination to reactivate traces left by earlier events, regulating and organizing the variability of encounters. This
formation of an affective and mnemonic habitus is the elementary form of resistance to the powers of fortune;
it is what Laurent Bove calls a “strategy of conatus,” a form of resistance to “exterior forces of decomposition
Now what is at stake in these latter is not the body’s assuming a different disposition, but what
the Scholium on suicide describes as its taking an ”another nature [aliam naturam]” altogether. This difference
between what Proposition 4 of Part Four simply calls “changes”—or mutations, mutationes—and decomposition
JASON E. SMITH
and death articulates the entire movement of the Ethics’ fourth section.
The term useo in the nrst ano onlv Axiom¨ ol Fart Iour is neither oeath nor oecomposition. but oestruction¨:
“there exists no singular thing in the nature of things [in rerum natura] such that there does not exist an other
that is more powerful, more strong….[G]iven any thing whatsoever, there is another more powerful, by which
the nrst can be oestroveo |destrui|¨ EIVAx. Such is the conoition ol existence lor the nnite mooe. But it is
precisely the task of the Ethics to oescribe strategies ol rusing with this nnituoestrategies ol innnitization.
In the well-known Scholium to Proposition 18, describes this strategies basic modality, namely composing or
“joining” with other modes: “if…two individuals of the same nature are joined with each other, they constitute
an individual who is twice as powerful as either” (EIVP18S). Such a law of composition applies to all bodies;
it forms the premise, however, of Spinoza’s description of the genesis of sociality, the joining or union of men
in forms of collective existence that are not always reducible to state-form. This initial statement of the law of
composition is anticipatory. The description of the origin of sociality does not immediately follow, starting only
with Proposition 29 and culminating in the justly famous second Scholium to Proposition 37, concerning the
passage from the “natural…[to] the civil state of man” (EIVP39S2). It is precisely between these two references
to the union of men in collective life that the Scholium on suicide and the refusal of food appears. It is as if
the ngure ol suicioe were on the one hano being characterizeo not simplv as manner in which a nnite mooe
is oestroveo. it is as il suicioe were also being oescribeo as a sort ol errant. botcheo strategv ol innnitization.
In short: as if suicide was an apparently self-destructive phenomenon that nevertheless manifested a desire to
defeat the forces of “death and decomposition.” This is a hypothesis, one I will return to: it is simply a question
of situating this text—whose internal movements we have not, however, exhausted—within larger sequences.
Before returning to this hypothesis, however, the Scholium on suicide should be inscribed in one other series
presented in the Ethics’ fourth part. It has been noted that the “destruction” promised in the Axiom to Part
Four is translated, in our Scholium, both as “taking on another nature [aliam naturam priori...induat]” and as
“chang[ing] into another form [aliam formam mutari].” François Zourabichvili has recently underlined not only
the equivalence between lorm. nature ano essence in Spinoza. but the repetition ol the specinc phrase takes on
another nature [or form]” later in the Part Four: namely the Scholium concerning “a certain Spanish poet who
was stricken with disease…[such that] he was so forgetful of his past life that he did not believe…that [what] he
had written [was] his own” (EIVP39S).
This text, which is of an enormous complexity, has been the subject
of many remarkable readings.
I want only to retain this secret link between these two phenomena of suicide
and a kind of total amnesia that amounts, for Spinoza, to death. In the Proposition to which the scholium is
appended, a thing is said to be good or bad to the extent that it brings about the preservation or decomposition
of the human body’s “ratio of motion and rest”; as a result, death is characterized not, as is classically the
case, by the cessation of the heartbeat and the circulation of blood, but only by the bringing about of another
ratio.¨ another organization ol the boov. It is oilncult to locate the line between an alteration ol the boov`s
disposition and its destruction—Spinoza says this qualitative distinction is achieved the moment a body is “so
disposed [ita disponuntur: ainsi oisposees`|¨ that it takes on a oillerent nature. when some one unoergoes such
changes that it is not easy for me to say he is the same” (EIVP39S). Such an event requires that I take on another
body, that I give birth to another body: a body whose novelty is characterized, in the case of the amnesiac, by its
having lost all traces of past affections, and therefore having lost all the sedimentations that alone account for a
body’s individuation, its habitus, its history.
The Scholium on suicide should not, therefore, be considered an isolatable and therefore avoidable text. It
seems to form, rather, one of a series of scenes or examples of destruction and indeed, self-destruction, that
proliferate in part Four of the Ethics. That these two scenes should be linked seems rare enough, despite the
precise reproduction of these text’s phrasing—to my knowledge only Zourabichvili and, in a different manner,
Deleuze have noted this correlation.
But what is most important, it seems, is to clarify the exact nature of
their relation. It has already been remarked that the text on suicide offers no examples of apparent suicides in
which what it calls hiooen external causes¨ are at workunless we reao the nrst ngure mentioneo. namelv the
relusal to eat. as just such a suicioe. But such an ioentincation proouces two ellects that are oilncult to reconcile.
!"#!$#%"&'(")*&%" " " " "
On the one hand, the entire argument of EIVP20S is this—there is no such thing as suicide. Every apparently
voluntary death is the result of secret, hidden, external forces. But the example of the anorexia is clearly a form
of self-destruction—it only unhinges the image of self-destruction from every form of decision, from every form
ol the will. ol what woulo be voluntarv. The result is. paraooxicallv. an enlargement ol the ngure ol suicioe to
include not only instantaneous acts of self-erasure following a more or less lengthy deliberation. Anyone could
orop a list ol such ngurea list lrom which the amnesiac poet woulo not be absent. One can even imagine
Spinoza replacing the anorexic with, for example, the alcoholic: a life that consists, as Fitzgerald said, in nothing
more than “a process of breaking down,” a slow, even patient, “self ”-demolition.
But the ngure ol the alcoholic is still too legible: it still involves mv ingestion ol another boov that acts on mv
own in such it wav that it inouces. over some inoennite span. a change in the essential structure ol mv boov.
What is at stake is still an encounter, an entering into composition with a body that does not agree with my own,
ano which as a result initiates a process ol oecomposition ol the specinc connguration ol mv extensive parts.
What oillerentiates this strange ngure ol the anorexic is that the oecomposition seems to be initiateo bv no other
body, by nobody else; it seems to suspend every “exchange” with “things that are outside us” (EIVP18S) even
if this suspension is itself induced by an external cause, even if this doing without itself comes from without.
When Spinoza refers us to the one who “refuses food,” there is no indication of gender. It is for this reason
that one hesitates to associate it with the specinc grouping ol svmptoms that nrst emergeo in the secono hall
of the 19
century; for the link between anorexia and sexual difference is not simply a statistical oddity. Here
we cannot speak of the very confused notion of a “body-image,” nor simply confuse this refusal of food with a
melancholic withdrawal of libido, or an hysterical investment in self-deprivation, a disgust with regard to desire
that crystallizes in response to an early, unprepared-for seduction.
None of this in Spinoza. The refusal of
food—which is also an avoidance of the poison nourishment always potentially represents or conceals—should
be referred to Proposition Four of the Part Four. There Spinoza exhibits, in negative terms, the condition of
existence ol the nnite mooe: It cannot happen that a man is not a part ol Nature ano can unoergo no changes
apart from those that can be understood through his nature alone, and of which he is the inadequate cause”
(EIVP4). To be a part of the common power of Nature means to be exposed to events and encounters that
are by necessity irreducible to my essence, my nature—events, that is, that cannot be explained as a simple
unfolding or explication of my essence or concept. For unlike Leibniz, for whom every monadic alteration
is reducible to a series of predicates that are analytically included in an individual substance or “concept,”
the changes undergone by Spinoza’s mode are irreducibly synthetic: a synthesis that takes the real form of a
continuous, partial decomposition and reconstitution of my body in its exchanges with other, always potentially
lethal bodies. Étienne Balibar has characterized this process as one of an incessant “virtual decomposition,”
and referred the problem of individuation in Spinoza to the always threatened transformation of this virtual
decomposition to a real, actual decomposition or death.
It is an aversion to this necessary exposure and risk,
it seems. which is representeo bv the relusal to eat: a suspension ol this lragile. nnite svnthesis in the name ol a
tautologv one conluses with the innnite. There is no loss ol oesire. but it is a oesire to be one`s own cause. to leeo
only on oneself, to form a closed, undifferentiated block of existence, so as to save oneself from a fatality that
every instant promises. It is a renunciation of the condition of life, in the name, however, of life itself: a desire
to save or immunize — recall that Deleuze speaks of “internal, immune affects” when postulating the existing of
“active affects” — oneself that coincides with self-destruction.
To say there is never any suicide is to contend that the innumerable ways of killing oneself do not represent
a oesire to oie: suicioe is. nrst ol all. a oesire to live. a strategv ol conatus. an implooeo sell-innnitization
coinciding with death itself. There is a peculiar logic behind suicide, one that makes the condition of life death
at one’s own hands: it is always another life, another body that is at stake. Spinoza wants to characterize even
the most deliberate suicide as a concatenation of events reducing agents to bystanders, victims. This is no doubt
because suicide is unavoidably characterized as a conclusion, a resolution, an affair of the will: voluntary. It is
for this reason that the passage seems less to concern death as such, and the particular case of killing oneself,
than the coupling of freedom and the will; it is as if the decision not to be represents the will in its purest
JASON E. SMITH
form, and therefore is presented as the hyperbolic model of the voluntary. It would punctuate and conclude a
svllogism whose knot Serge Leclaire perlectlv ties: in oroer to live. I must kill mvsell `. or else. I oon`t reallv
feel alive (this is no life!), therefore I commit suicide.”
These deliberations we all know—their contradictions
make suicide seem either impossible, or necessary. But it is precisely this form of deliberation—of illusory
liberation¨that Spinoza wants to counter. nrst ol all in the logic ol his examples. which nowhere present
us with a suicide in this sense. One never dies by oneself, no matter how alone one may be. This is why suicide,
even when it is planned from beginning to end, always assumes the form of a surprise. In a text published in
1937. ano maoe the subject ol nlm bv Robert Bresson some thirtv vears later. Georges Bernanos oescribes
this experience. The passage describes the suicide of a young girl, Mouchette: “We generally think that the
act ol suicioe is an act similar to others. that is. the last link in a long chain ol renections or least ol images.
the conclusion of a supreme debate between the vital instinct and another, more mysterious instinct, that of
renunciation, of refusal. But it’s not like that….[T]he suicidal gesture remains an inexplicable phenomenon of
a frightening suddenness, recalling those chemical decompositions about which fashionable and still emerging
sciences can only offer only absurd or contradictory hypotheses…[T]he suicide’s last glimmer of consciousness
must be one of amazement, of desperate surprise.”
JASON E. SMITH is Assistant Professor at the Art Centre College of Design, California. He is the
translator with Steve Miller of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative, and the co-
editor of the forthcoming Plural Temporality: Transindivdiuality and the Aleatory.
!"#!$#%"&'(")*&%" " " " "
1. Foucault. Editions de Minuit, 1986.
2. Michel Foucault, The Archaelogy of Knowledge. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon, 1972, 17.
3. Gilles Deleuze, Pourparlers. Paris: Minuit, 1990, 129, 131. In this section, I make reference not to Deleuze’s book on
Foucault but to two interviews Deleuze gave on the occasion of its publication, both collected in Pourparlers.
4. Pourparlers, 131.
5. Pourparlers, 134.
6. Pourparlers, 134.
7. Pourparlers, 138, 135.
8. Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Zone, 1992; Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza:
Practical Philosophy. Trans. Robert Hurley. San Francisco: City Lights, 1988, cited parenthetically as SPP.
9. Spinoza, Ethics, tr. and ed. G.H.R. Parkinson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
10. Faraooxicallv. because allects are alwavs oenneo bv Spinoza as inoices ol our exposure to external lorces lor which we
have no adequate idea. Deleuze singles out these “internal” affections in a way that is only suggested by the literality of
11. Pourparlers p. 151.
12. Pourparlers p. 143.
13. Pourparlers p.150-51. Deleuze later continues in this vein: “There’s only one way to confront the line,” Deleuze continues,
“and straddle it: you go all the way to death, to suicide, but, as Foucault said in a strange conversation with [Werner]
Schroeter, suicide then becomes an art that take an entire life” (P 154).
14. Compare the examples given by Augustine in his discussion of the ethics of suicide in Book One of City of God: those
women who would kill themselves rather than be raped by Rome’s invaders.
15. P. 139n1 of commentary on Book IV.
16. This passage is remarkable, since it comes in the midst of a celebrated discourse on the genesis of sociality, and seems
to have two functions: to explain why there can be no being-with-the-animal (“they do not agree with us in nature”), and
to introduce nuance into the notion of “use”…. (“use them as we wish”)….one assumes this means either domestication or
17. This passage is concerneo solelv with nelo ol memorv ano habit. ano partial resemblance ol objects: the imagination¨
ol a thing we usuallv nno painlul will. the moment it is louno to have something similar¨ to something pleasurable. will
produce an equivocation: due to the resemblance, the overlap, we at the same time both love and hate the thing before us.
In Part Three of the Ethics, Spinoza makes two important distinctions. In addition to the global distinction between active
ano passive allections or emotions. there is a more oelicate oistinction internal to the nelo ol human passivitv: the critical
oillerence between primarv¨ ano oeriveo emotions EIIIF11S. The nrst thing to be remarkeo about Spinoza`s hanoling
of these initial discriminations is the relatively disproportionate space devoted to these derived emotions. This investment
in describing the genesis—that is, the methodical deduction—of the derived emotions seems strange, since it appears to
prioritize what are in fact ontologically secondary phenomenon. But this impression is misleading. Spinoza makes clear
that the separation between primary and derived emotions is a purely juridical operation: a separation motivated by a
desire, as the third parts “Preface” underlines, to treat the affects from the point of view of their legibility. Their methodical
treatment—the discussion of “human actions and appetites just as if the inquiry concerned lines, planes, or bodies”
(EIIIPref.)—requires that the affective complexes treated in the vast majority of the propositions be regressively referred to
the simple: to a primary emotion whose cause is the simple presence of an object. This scene is simple, because it implies
no affective ambivalence. In each case, I encounter another body that brings me pleasure or pain according to whether it
adds to or saps my force of existence, my power to act; in each case, this scene implies the absence of two complicating, and
irreducible, factors. For the real interest of Spinoza’s analysis stems from the implication of memory and a transindividual
oimension to the allective nelo. The nelo ol allective mimeticism is that much more labvrinthine¨ to use Macherev`s term.
since emotion is inscribed in a supplementary turn: such that I can like Peter for liking what I like, or I can like what he likes
because I like Feter. Etc. Both mooes ol complication¨ are extremelv rich nelos ol analvsis. requiring ano having receiveo
specinc attention. Here we aooress onlv the principle ol the oistinction between primarv ano oeriveo allects. ano the ellect
this has on the problem of conatus.
18. François Zourabichvili discusses this passage and the general problem of “disgust” in the Ethics in Spinoza: Une physique
de la pensée (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2002), p. 88ff.
19. Seneca, Letter 77.
20. Cf. Ch. 2 of The Theologico-Political Treatise, which speaks of the different temperaments of the prophets.
21. Laurent Bove, !"#$%&"%'()*#+,#-./"%,01#234&5"%)./#*%#6'0)0%"/7*#78*9#$:)/.9" (Paris: Vrin, 1996), p. 134.
22. The language ol this passage closelv resembles the Dennition¨ ol the composite boov given in Fart II: all such booies
simultaneously compose one body, i.e. an individual, which is distinguished from others by this union of bodies” (EIIDef.
JASON E. SMITH
Between Axioms 1 and 2 of “Physics” treatise).
23. Cf. François Zourabichvili, Le conservatisme paradoxal de Spinoza: Enfance et royauté (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,
2002), and Spinoza: Une physique de la pensée (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2002). Both of these texts, which form
two parts of a single thèse, are concerned with the problem of “transformation” in Spinoza, both at the individual and
24. See in particular Warren Montag, Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and His Contemporaries (London: Verso, 1999), esp. ch. 2,
“Seeing the better and doing the worse,” pp. 26-61; and, more recently, and in a different context, his Louis Althusser (New
York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003), pp. 130-31.
25. See Spinoza: Philosophie Pratique, ch. 2.
26. The Crack-Up (New Directions, 1993), p. 69.
27. Lacan has developed an analysis of “mental anorexia” less in terms of sexual difference, than as a drama played out
in the relation between mother and child. Nourishment not as biological need, but as offering: the child refuses food only
insofar as it presented as gift, as stake in an intersubjective agon. cf. Seminar IV, pp. 183-84.
28. Etienne Balibar. Inoivioualite et Transinoivioualite chez Spinoza.¨ in Architectures de la raison. Mélanges offerts à
Alexandre Matheron, eo. F.-I. Moreau ENS Eoitions. Iontenav-aux-Roses. 199o. pp. 35-!o: It woulo therelore be ntting
to ask ourselves what distinguishes a virtual, transitional or reversible decomposition from an actual and irreversible
decomposition, that is, a destruction of the individual” (42).
29. Serge Leclaire, A Child is Being Killed, tr. Marie-Claude Hays (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 4. A similar
formulation is found in the “young” Lukacs’ journal. Extraordinary entry from December 15, 1911: “The crisis seems to
be over..But I look on mv lile.` mv capacitv to go on living` as a kino ol Decaoence. il I hao committeo suicioe. I woulo
be alive, at the height of my essence, consistent. Now everything is just pale compromise and degradation” (Tagebuch, p. 53,
Lukacs Archivum; quoted in Michel Löwy, Georg Lukacs—From Romanticism to Bolshevism, tr. Patrick Camiller (London: NLB,
1979), p. 107).
30. Georges Bernanos, Nouvelle Histoire de Mouchette (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1937), p. 169.
!"##$%&'"( ( ( ( ( ( ((((()*+,%#(-.(/(0.-.(/(12340
]ames W. Heisig. !"#$%&%'"()&*%+ *,%-"#./.(&&0*1.*2&&34*%.*-"(*54%-%*67"%%$
Universitv ol Hawaii Fress. 2001
1. DEATH IN DEEF SFACE
There is a motil commonlv louno in science nction. which oerives lrom earlier narratives ol nautical aoven-
ture ano stories ol castawavs. The motil is that ol the sole human being. unmooreo. set loose. ano aorilt in
space. One ol the most popular versions ol this is louno in Stanlev Kubrick`s 899:0*1*6'37(*;<4&&(4. in which
astronaut Irank Foole is set loose bv the intelligent supercomputer HAL to orilt aimlesslv into the oepths ol
oeep space. In the nlm Kubrick portravs the scene without a sounotrack or. lor that matter. anv souno at all.
The scene ol being set aorilt into space is oepicteo with silent horror: all we as viewers see is a lone ngure
speeoing oll into a black abvss.
!"#$%&'(&)$*%*+,&!"#$%&%!"'(&)%*)+%,"#+-+'&&& & & & &
During the Goloen Age ol science nction in the 1920s ano 1930s. pulp authors tenoeo to oepict the aorilt in
space¨ motil as being lost in space.¨ that is. as a bv-proouct ol inter-galactic aoventure narratives. One was
onlv lost in space until the next aoventure. the next battle. the next conquest. However. lor earlier worksmost
notablv Camille Ilammarion`s metaphvsical science nction $./01being aorilt in space is less a bv-wav to vet
another aoventure. but a speculative opportunitv in ano ol itsell. Being aorilt in space 23 the storv itsell. so much
so that Eogar Allen Foe coulo pen entire cosmic oialogues arouno the theme. without character. plot. or setting.
Being aorilt in space is not onlv a moment ol horror. but also a moment ol speculation. It is. nrst. a conlrontation
with the certituoe ol oeath. The lone boov. orilting into oeep space. will inevitablv oissolve itsell into that abvss.
both literallv ano metaphvsicallv. When one is lost at sea. there is at least the reliable oichotomv ol surlace´
oepth or lano´sea. to orient one`s being lost. Similarlv. when one is lost in space. one is simplv moving lrom
one planet to the next using the reliable oichotomv ol earth´skv. perhaps with the stars as one`s guioe. But the
motil ol being aorilt in space lacks all these relerence points. There is no grouno. no horizon. no perspective
lor that matter there is no oepth ol space itsell. there is onlv blackness. an abvss that is at once nat ano innnite.
This science nctional motil ol being aorilt in space is an allegorv lor a certain tvpe ol metaphvsical crisis that
goes bv the name ol nothingness.¨ As Fascal once noteo. the eternal silence ol these innnite spaces terrines
me.¨ When a philosophv loses its grounoor when it oiscovers that the grouno it hao assumeo is actuallv
grounolessthen philosophv is conlronteo with a lew choices. It can accept this loss ol grouno as a lact. ano
then opt lor either mvsticism or science. poetrv or lacts. But there are also those philosophies that resist this
move. ano attempt to paraooxicallv subsist in the loss ol grouno. In the Western traoition thinkers such as
Fascal. Kierkegaaro. ano Nietzsche are tvpicallv given as examples ol this kino ol thinking. But there is also
a whole traoition ol non-Western thinking that engages with this question. specincallv in ]apan. where the
intersection ol Buoohist ano European cultural innuences proouceo one ol the most lascinating philosophical
approachesthat ol the so-calleo Kvoto School. ]ames Heisig`s book !42563674083)69 )+6:421;1033<)=1)'33>?)61):40)
@?6:6)&A4665 is not onlv a cross-cultural examination ol the Kvoto School philosophers. but in a more general
sense it contributes to a larger oiscourse concerning philosophv ano its grouno or grounolessness. or. perhaps.
ol philosophv aorilt in oeep space. While it was publisheo a lew vears ago. Heisig`s book will. I believe. come to
be an inoispensible guioe lor those interesteo in comparative philosophv. especiallv as manv ol the works Heisig
oiscusses are graouallv being maoe available in translation.
2. ON NOTHING
At the center ol Heisig`s book are three philosophers. each ol whom brings with them some oegree ol training
in Mahāyāna Buoohist philosophv generallv. ano Sōtō Zen in particular. These philosophers are Nishioa Kitarō
1870-19!5. Tanabe Hajime 1885-19o2. ano Nishitani Keiji 1900-1990. The moniker ol the Kvoto School¨
seems to have been maoe quite earlv. which Heisig oates to a 1932 newspaper article. Then. as now. the term
relers to a generation ol philosophers who workeo ano taught at Kvoto Imperial Universitv. ano who brought
together Western-European ano Eastern-Buoohist ioeas. ano who have hao a signincant oegree ol innuence
on mooern ]apanese culture. philosophv. ano politics. Their innuence also stretcheo outsioe ol ]apanNishioa
was a colleague ano lrieno ol D.T. Suzuki. who went on to popularize Zen in America. ano both Tanabe ano
Nishitani stuoieo ano lectureo outsioe ol ]apan.
One ol the oistinguishing aspects ol the Kvoto School is their unique combination ol Mahāyāna Buoohism
ano German Ioealism. Nishioa speaks lrequentlv ol pure experience.¨ Tanabe ol absolute meoiation.¨
ano Nishitani ol absolute nothingness.¨ The concept ol the absolute haunts nearlv all their works. whether
thev are oiscussing subjective experience or the phvsics ol the material worlo. This oevelopment ol a hvbrio
philosophical language was no accioent. In the earlv 1920s. Tanabe receiveo a scholarship to stuov abroao.
where he workeo with the Kantian philosopher Alois Riehl. belore his attraction to Husserlian phenomenologv.
Apparentlv. Tanabe was inviteo to Husserl`s home to give a paper. where the latter hopeo to make Tanabe
a prophet ol phenomenologv to the East. a task to which Tanabe was not svmpathetic. Tanabe eventuallv
belrienoeo a voung Heioegger. who tutoreo Tanabe in German philosophv ano introouceo him to the works
ol Hegel. Iichte. ano Schelling. Likewise. Nishitani grew up reaoing Dostoevskv. Schelling. ano above all
Nietzsche. while also enjoving the novels ol Natsume Sōseki. In the late 1930s Nishitani receiveo a scholarship
to stuov abroao with Henri Bergson. When news ol the Irench vitalist`s lailing health reacheo Nishitani. he was
ollereo an alternate: to go to the Universitv ol Ireiburg to stuov with Heioegger. During this two-vear perioo.
Nishitani not onlv attenoeo Heioegger`s lectures on Nietzsche. but he wrote a thesis lor Heioegger on Nietzsche
ano Meister Eckhart.
These cross-cultural elements make lor a lascinatingil sometimes ambiguousexample ol what a post-
national. global philosophv might look like. Ior the Kvoto School philosophers. this particular mix ol innuences
is best exemplineo bv what is arguablv their major contribution: the concept ol nothingness. The term !"#$%&'.
conventionallv translateo into English as either nothingness¨ or emptiness.¨ brings with it a whole host
ol meanings that are as much religious as philosophical. In the Mahāyāna Buoohist traoition. !"#$%&' is the
grounoless grouno ol all things. the principle or essence that is not itsell a principle or essence. It is that
which is prior to all oualitv ol being ano non-being. bevono all subsequent oivisions ol subject ano object. ano
that which persists bevono or behino all that subsists as phenomena. But nothingness is also inherentlv sell-
negating. the thought ol that which oenes the verv categories ol thought. primarv among them being Aristotle`s
lameo principle ol non-contraoiction. Such a thought requires a oelt philosophv able to hanole the nuances ol
contraoiction. as the Kvoto School thinkers woulo nno in the work ol the 3
centurv oialectician Nāgārjuna,
and in Dōgen, the 13
century philosopher and founder of Sōtō Zen.
But as Heisig repeateolv notes. the Kvoto School philosophers were never content to simplv aoo on Eastern
ioeas as a supplement to the Western canon. the lormer plaving the role ol the intuitive. poetic loosening ol
ioeas. the latter establishing the rules ano rigor ol science. Insteao. what we nno is that. in oillerent wavs.
each ol the Kvoto School thinkers brings together oisparate philosophical traoitions in a wav that ultimatelv
questions philosophv !"#!$%"#&!.
Ior Nishioa. himsell personallv ano prolessionallv inspireo bv Zen. the challenge was oiscovering the common
threao between Eastern ano Western philosophv. Nishioa`s relerence point here is Kant. ano the impasse the
Kantian critical philosophv poses between sell ano worlo. an impasse that Nishioa is convinceo can be re-
thought. The path lor ooing this lies in Nishioa`s mixture ol a Iichtean Buoohism:
Ior some time now I hao it in mino to trv ano explain all ol realitv in terms ol pure experience.
Along the wav. I came to think that it is not that there is an inoivioual that has the experience. but
that there is an experience that has the inoivioual. that experience is more basic than anv oistinction
inoiviouals bring to it. This maoe it possible to avoio solipsism. ano bv taking experience as something
active. to harmonize it with transcenoental philosophv alter Iichte.
The passage is lrom Nishioa`s best-known work. '($ )(*#+&,$ +(!"$ !-.$ /""0 1911. As Heisig notes. Nishioa`s
search lor a single. all-encompassing. acting absolute¨ leo him nrst to question the categories ol sell ano
experience laio out bv Kant ano recapitulateo bv post-Kantian thinkers such as Iichte. In passages like these.
the contemporarv reaoer mav be reminoeo ol Deleuze`s impersonal a lile.¨ or ]ames`s raoical empiricism. Ol
course. the problem Nishioa runs into quite earlv is the same one encountereo bv mvstics when thev speak ol
a mvstical union with the oivine. That problem is not just about psvchologism. but about the tension between
intuition ano renection. kev terms in Kantian ano Bergsonian philosophv. Heisig summarizes the problem: As
+(!#+!+"( it |the subject| neeos to be aware ol a nowing. continuous realitv unbroken bv subject or object. ano as
&.1.%!+"( it neeos to step outsioe ol the now ol realitv to recognize it.¨
In Heisig`s analvsis. Nishioa`s great insight is to shilt his oirection: insteao ol establishing a continuum bevono
subject ano object lrom the insioe-out. Nishioa re-casts his methoo. moving lrom the outsioe-in. This shilt is
oetecteo at the micro-level ol Nishioa`s philosophical vocabularv. which in earlier texts lavoreo phrases such as
!"#$%&'(&)$*%*+,&!"#$%&%!"'(&)%*)+%,"#+-+'&&& & & & &
pure experience¨ to talk about the anonvmous. impersonal qualitv ol experience. In ./)#/01234)2/56)578)-669 ano
his later writings. Nishioa reserves the phrase absolute nothingness¨ to talk about this continuum unoerlving
all oivisions not just ol subject ano object. but ol being ano non-being as well. Insteao ol attempting to reach
the continuum as a subject woulo an objecta project oestineo to lail. since the Absolute Nishioa oiscusses
is not. strictlv speaking. an objectnow Nishioa opts lor the language ol negation borroweo in part lrom his
stuov ano practice in Zen Buoohism. In the practice ol :;:8/. one ooes not so much look at¨ nothingness. as
one allows the nothingness that pervaoes all things. incluoing the sell. to emerge. In this wav. it is through an
ontologv ol negation that Nishioa attempts to move lrom psvchologv to ontologva move echoeo a centurv
earlier bv thinkers such as Iichte. Heisig neatlv summarizes this shilt in Nishioa`s thinking: To call it absolute
/6572/</8== is to sav that it ooes not itsell come to be or pass awav. ano in this sense is opposeo to the worlo ol
being. To call it ;>=6?158)nothingness.is to sav that it is bevono encompassing bv anv phenomenon. inoivioual.
event. or relationship to the worlo.¨ Again we see this motil ol the grounoless grouno. the insubstantial
substance. Its absoluteness means preciselv that it is not oenneo as an opposite to anvthing in the worlo ol
being.Nothingness opposes the worlo as absolute to relative.¨
Whether or not such a philosophv ooes escape the pitlalls ol subjectivism or solipsism is up lor oebate. but
in shilting his terms in this wav ano opting lor a negative ontologv. Nishioa`s thought open onto another
problem. one oillerent lrom that ol subjectivism. That problem has to oo with contraoiction itsell. a problem
alreaov latent in Nishioa`s earlv work. The relation between contraoiction ano negation in philosophv has a
long historv. to be sure. But. il we are to lollow Aristotle`s ano Kant`s statements on the topic. it appears that
even contraoiction must observe certain rules. such that it can be inculcateo within philosophv itsell as a subset
ol logic. Contraoiction must make a certain sense. In Heisig`s reaoing. the Kvoto School questions even this.
As he notes. to call realitv itsell ;>=6?158)/6572/</8==. then. is to sav that all ol realitv is subject to the oialectic ol
being ano not-being. that the ioentitv ol each thing is bouno to an absolute contraoictoriness.¨
3. TOWARDS A DARK MEONTOLOGY
In a sense. where Nishioa leaves oll. Nishitani begins. Also oeeplv innuenceo bv Zen Buoohism. Nishitani was
an attentive reaoer ol Western thinkers such as Eckhart. Schelling. Nietzsche. ano Heioegger. More oirectlv
engageo with the social. cultural. ano political issues ol his timethough not without some controversv
Nishitani highlights the problem ol nihilitv¨ as it impacts mooern ]apanese culture.
It is lrom this basis that his
own engagement with the concept ol nothingness oerives. Writing alter the war. Nishitani notes that nihilism
has come to mean something oillerent in ]apan. Whereas. as per Nietzsche`s oiagnosis. European nihilism
emerges as the result ol a crisis in religion ano the ascenoencv ol scientinc rationalitv. in ]apan the lounoation
has simplv withereo awav. without a great announcement ano without anvthing taking its place. It is. in a sense.
the most perlecteo example ol nihilism. Nishitani notes that |t|he worst thing is that this emptiness is in no wav
an emptiness that has been won through struggle. nor a nihilitv that has been liveo through.` Belore we knew
what was happening. the spiritual core hao wasteo awav completelv.¨
Nishitani takes his cue lrom Nietzsche. Both ioentilv a crisis that is as much a social. cultural. ano political crisis
as it is a philosophical one. Both agree that it will not oo to simplv set up a new iool technologv to replace the
olo one religion. Ano both agree that the wav bevono nihilism is through nihilism. But. interestinglv. whereas
Nietzsche opts lor an alnrmative ontologv ol non-human will. lorce. ano quanta ol power. Nishitani ooes nearlv
the opposite. ano opts lor a negative ontologv nlleo with contraoictoriesthe grouno ol nothingness. a religion
without Goo. an ethics without sellhooo. As Nishitani notes. ontologv neeos to pass through nihilitv ano shilt
to an entirelv new nelo.¨
What that new nelo is. is the subject ol Nishitani`s major work. (8?2<26/);/9)+6572/</8==.
Using contemporarv terms. we might sav that. whereas Western philosophv concerns itsell primarilv with
being. the philosophv that Nishitani points to concerns itsell primarilv with non-being or nothingness. whereas
Western philosophv is centereo arouno the question ol ontologv. the philosophv that Nishitani is thinking ol is
insteao a @86/56?6<4. a paraooxical ontologv ol non-being or nothingness. But this nothingness cannot simplv
be privative or relative. else Nishitani has oone nothing other than re-cast Hegel or Kant. Neither can this
nothingness be the subjective experience ol ungrounoeoness. as one nnos in Sartre. Insteao. in Heisig`s terms.
nothingness has to be unoerstooo as the nullincation ol the sell bv the nullincation ol the grouno it has to
stano on.¨ This in turn leaos to a lurther stage in which that nihilitv is itsell nullineo.in the awareness that the
worlo ol being that rests on the nihilitv ol the sell ano all things is onlv a relative manilestation ol nothingness
as it is encountereo !"# realitv.¨
As with Nishioa ano Tanabe. one nnos with Nishitani a preoccupation with
some lorm ol a subtractive. absolute monism. a sense that. in Heisig`s woros. beneath that worlo. all arouno it.
there is an encompassing absolute nothingness that !$ realitv. Nihilitv is emptieo out. as it were. into an absolute
emptiness. or what Buoohism calls !"#$%&'.¨
The lengths to which Nishitani was willing to go in his oevelopment ol the concept ol nothingness inevitablv
leaos him to think about religion. As Heisig points out. however. while all the Kvoto School thinkers orew in
oillerent wavs on Buoohism. thev were in oisagreement about the relation between philosophv ano religion. In
a wav. thev replav the oebates ol the Scholastics concerning laith ano reason. In Nishioa`s more poetic works.
philosophv tenos to turn into religion. while at other times it is philosophv`s lunction to explicate the truths
revealeo in religion. Ior Tanabe. who remains more committeo to the scientinc rigor ol philosophv. religion
ano philosophv are analogous but separate enoeavors. However even Tanabe implies that il the absolute
insolence¨ ano lreeoom ol philosophical thought is pursueo to its extreme. it enters into a shareo space with
religion. Nishitani takes vet another position: nothingness is oeepeneo to the point that it can assault the verv
throne ol Goo. The nihilitv that has untieo itsell lrom anv ano all support wrestles with Goo lor authoritv ano
succeeos in ollering itsell as the absolute grounoless grouno.¨
One senses that. lor Nishitani. there is a horizon
ol thought shareo bv religion ano philosophv. though thev mav each come to that horizon lrom oillerent places.
As Heisig comments. onlv bv pursuing philosophv to its limits ooes it sell-negate ano open into religion.¨
There is. perhaps. another historv ol philosophv to be written. one that woulo begin not lrom an ontologv
ol being or becoming. but lrom a negative ontologvor reallv. a oark meontologv lor which contraoition is.
paraooxicallv. not onlv lunoamental but also necessarv.
Though their positions oiller greatlv. the Kvoto School philosophers not onlv provioe a relevant example
ol a traoition ol comparative philosophv. but thev also intervene. lrom stage lelt as it were. into the major
philosophical oebates ol the 20
centurv. Nishioa is the clearest on this point: I think that we can oistinguish
the west to have consioereo being as the grouno ol realitv. the east to have taken nothingness as its grouno.¨
EUGENE THACKER is the author ol %&'()#*!&( Universitv ol Chicago Fress. 2010 ano +,)),)#,& #
-.!/,$,0.1 Zero Books. lorthcoming. He teaches at The New School in New York Citv.
!"#$%&'(&)$*%*+,&!"#$%&%!"'(&)%*)+%,"#+-+'&&& & & & &
1. In aooition to the anthologv ,./)0122.3)'4/5)67)678.9:9;4)9< )8./)=4989)&>.99:. Eo. Ireoerick Iranck. San Diego: Worlo View
Fress. 200!. other examples incluoe Masao Abe`s ?/7)372)8./)@92/A7)B9A:2. Eo. Steven Heine Honolulu: Universitv ol Hawaii
Fress. 2003. Kitaro Nishioa. $3C8)BAD8D7;C5)+98.D7;7/CC)372)8./)(/:D;D91C)B9A:2ED/F. Trans. Davio Dilworth Honolulu: Universitv
ol Hawaii Fress. 1993. Keiji Nishitani`s ,./) &/:<G%E/A>9HD7;) 9< ) +D.D:DCH. Trans. Setsuko Aihara ano Graham Farkes New
York: SUNY Fress. 1990 ano %7)0122.DCH. Trans. Seisaku Yamamoto ano Robert Carter New York: SUNY Fress. 200o.
ano Hajime Tanabe`s !.D:9C9I.4)3C)@/8379/8D>C. Trans. Takevuchi Yoshinori Berkelev: Universitv ol Calilornia Fress. 1990.
2. Quoteo in Heisig. !!.
3. Heisig. !8.
!. Heisig. o2.
5. Heisig. o3.
o. One ol the issues that Heisig oiscusses throughout his book is the olten conluseo ano connicteo relation between philosophv
ano politics in mooern ]apan. particularlv surrounoing the Kvoto School`s nirtations with nationalism. Heisig neither excuses
nor conoemns the Kvoto School`s attempts to link philosophv with politics. ano. interestinglv. religion olten comes to serve
as a meoiator between them.
7. Quoteo in Heisig. 21o.
8. Quoteo in Heisig. 221.
9. Heisig. 220-21.
10. Heisig. 221.
11. Quoteo in Heisig. 230.
12. Heisig. 218.
13. Quoteo in Heisig. o1.
!"##$%&'"( ( ( ( ( ( ((((()*+,%#(-.(/(0.-.(/(1234
Thomas Wheatland, The Frankfurt School in Exile
University of Minnesota Press, 2009
Anyone keen to learn about the history of the Frankfurt School is spoilt for choice. If The Dialectical Imagination—
Martin Jay’s classic—fails to satisfy, there is always Rolf Wiggershaus’s comprehensive The Frankfurt School. On
the face of it, the reading no less than the writing of Thomas Wheatland’s new book—yet another history
of the Frankfurt School—might seem a rather needless exercise. Yet this is not the case. For the success of
books like The Dialectical Imagination has created its own set of problems. Through repeated telling from a single
perspective, certain aspects of the Frankfurt School’s history have hardened into myth; our familiarity with
the object has become a barrier to our knowing it. This is especially true of the Frankfurt School’s American
years. Of that period, we are typically told one thing: that in the United States the Institute for Social Research
mav have louno a sale haven lrom lascism. but it laileoat least until the rise ol the New Leltto nno an
audience for its work; that during their stay on Morningside Heights, Horkheimer and Co had very little contact
with, or impact upon, American intellectual life. That such a view should have come to prevail is in many
ways understandable. It is certainly true, for example, that for various reasons—mainly political—Horkheimer
sought for the group a degree of isolation, almost anonymity, in the US. But as The Frankfurt School in Exile makes
clear, this is only half the story, and the less interesting half at that.
Wheatland’s thesis is straightforward enough: far from having little impact on the intellectual culture of its
adopted homeland, the Frankfurt School’s migration “produced broad boulevards of interaction, thoroughfares
on which cross-cultural encounters coulo result in cooperation. as well as connict.assimilation. as well as
misunderstanding” (xvi). Throughout the book, he makes good this claim by tracing the Institute’s various, and
often complex, relationships with a number of academic institutions, networks and intellectual communities in
the US, including Columbia University, the institution that agreed to house the émigrés. Though the Frankfurt
School`s reasons lor seeking alnliation with Columbia are well knownthev neeoeo a respectable. non-
European base, and fast—almost nothing has been written about Columbia’s motives. Wheatland helpfully
nlls in the gaps. The result is a lascinating pair ol chapters on the events belore. ouring. ano alter the Institute`s
!"#$%&'(")%!*%+,-'THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL IN EXILE' ' ' '
arrival, but also on the inner workings of Columbia’s sociology department through the 1930s and 1940s.
Perhaps the most interesting and telling connection Wheatland documents is that between members of the
Horkheimer Circle (as Wheatland sometimes calls them) and the group of American writers and literary critics
knows as the New York Intellectuals. The Institute for Social Research arrived in New York City in 1934. At
nrst. its relativelv secure ano inoepenoent nnancial situation meant its members were more or less lree to work
in isolation on projects of their choosing. This suited Horkheimer who, half out of respect for his new home and
half out of fear of persecution, thought it wise for the Institute to keep its radical views to itself. This all changed
when in the late 1930s, owing largely to a series of disastrous property deals, the Institute fell on hard times
and isolation was no longer an option. If it was to attract funding, the Institute would have to raise its public
pronle. As the group participateo more activelv in the intellectual ano cultural lile ol its new home. it began to
attract the attention of young, precocious radicals like Philip Rahv, Dwight Macdonald, and William Phillips,
kev ngures behino publications such as Partisan Review and Politics. Here. Wheatlano. argues. the innuence ol the
Frankfurt School on its adopted homeland cannot be overestimated:
|w|hether acknowleogeo or not. the work ol the Horkheimer Circle.lurkeo behino the prolusion
of ink that the New York Intellectuals devoted to making sense of the new world that was taking
shape during and after the Second World War. Even the most casual perusal of Partisan Review, Politics,
Commentary, and Dissent discloses a continuous fascination with the basic set of interrelated topics
that the Horkheimer Circle helped many of the New York writers to comprehend and interconnect
The innuence is especiallv clear. writes Wheatlano. in the critique ol mass culture which began to surlace in
the late 1930s. Before their contact with the Frankfurt School, the writers of Partisan Review only “had a general
sense of what mass culture was”, they only “dimly perceived connections between the propaganda in Nazi
Germany and the Soviet Union” (170-71). What they lacked were fully developed theories of mass culture,
Modernism and totalitarianism. It was this that the Horkheimer Circle provided them with. According to
Wheatland, however, in the end the encounter was really one of missed opportunities: “[the] collision [of the
two groups| coulo have leo to so much more than it oio.|but bv| the time that the Horkheimer Circle hao
overcome its timioitv. the New Yorkers hao alreaov moveo bevono it.¨ 187.
Missed opportunity also dogged the Frankfurt School’s encounter with Sidney Hook—the foremost authority
on Marx in America during the 1930s. The Frankfurt School and Hook had much in common. Hook’s
Pragmatic Marxism and Horkheimer’s critical theory both sought to identify “social and natural problems
that blocked human actions and potentials” as well as ideas that could overcome these obstacles (105). But
there were key differences as well and before long the two were engaged in a hostile debate. As with most
intellectual disagreements involving the Frankfurt School, the nature of the dispute was methodological. The
Horkheimer Circle would have no truck with the positivistic aspects of Hook’s Pragmatism while for Hook, it
was the Frankfurt School’s apparent lapse into metaphysics, its residual Hegelianism, that was the problem.
In Wheatland’s judgment, by attacking each other in this way, both parties, but especially the Frankfurt
School. misseo a unique chance at collaboration. The Iranklurt School. he suggests. ought to have been more
accommooating. less oogmatic. Shaoowing Habermas`s critique ol Horkheimer ano Aoorno`s critical theorv.
Wheatlano argues that the members ol the Institute lor Social Research woulo have benenteo immeasurablv
from engaging in a more serious confrontation with the democratic communication theory inherent within
The Iranklurt School`s monev troubles not onlv meant a more public pronle. it meant a change in the verv
nature of their research. If there was an American organization willing to fund The Dialectic of Enlightenment,
Horkheimer coulo not nno it. The Institute neeoeo a more suitable project. one that woulo nt with the worlo ol
empirically-driven, Anglo-American sociology and eventually they found one. With funding from the American
Jewish Committee, the Frankfurt School through the 1940s worked on its Studies in Prejudice. Fublisheo in the nrst
months of 1950, the response from the scholarly community to this expansive project was extremely positive:
as a collective series ol projects. the set ol nve monographs was praiseo lor its scientinc ano intellectual
rigor” (255). Wheatland delights in the irony here: “after several years of struggling to gain recognition in
the United States, the work that garnered the Institute the spotlight was not a truly representative piece of
Critical Theorv¨ but a project pursueo nrst ano loremost lor nnancial reasons 2!3. Given the compromise
involved, it is tempting to view the success of Studies in Prejudice in a negative light but Wheatland goes the
other way. Although it involved a great deal of compromise, the Studies in Prejudice must be seen as a boon; it
helped unite Anglo-American empiricism and Continental social theory. As a result of the Studies, “American
sociologv generallv became more accepting ol.Ireuoian psvchoanalvsis ano other theoretical tools that hao
been fashioned on the Continent” (xx).
No account of the Frankfurt School in exile would be complete without a chapter or two devoted to Herbert
Marcuse, who, after the war, having made the US his permanent home, continued to have an impact on
American society and culture. Wheatland does not disappoint. Only here his book takes an interesting turn.
What he oiscovers is not a ngure whose innuence has been unoerstateo but vastlv overstateo. Marcuse. the
so-called ‘guru’ of the New Left was, according to Wheatland, nothing of the sort. After interviewing leaders
of the student movement and examining the writings of the New Left from that period, Wheatland has his
suspicions connrmeo: Marcuse`s name comes up lar less than one might expect. One-Dimensional Man might
have sold well but there is little evidence to suggest that he played anything like the role attributed to him by
the media. His work was not as widely discussed as the popular image would have us believe: “[t]he typical
unoergraouates ol the late 19o0s who nockeo to SDS ano consioereo themselves countercultural were not the
protégés of Herbert Marcuse” (297-98).
Wheatland’s commitment to uncovering the truth about the Frankfurt School’s American years is admirable.
Anyone interested in the intellectual history of the twentieth century, especially transatlantic intellectual history,
will want to read it. Wheatland’s weakness is not so much the history of the Frankfurt School, but its theory.
Oroinarilv. this might not be a serious problem lor a specincallv historical stuov. but at kev points. Wheatlano`s
historical narrative clearly rests on a particular interpretation of the Frankfurt School’s theoretical work. In
his account of the Frankfurt School’s encounter with Sidney Hook, Wheatland views the missed opportunity
as one for which the Frankfurt School was largely to blame. In drawing this conclusion, Wheatland relies
on an old, yet still widely accepted, view about the Frankfurt School: that sometime in the late 1930s under
Horkheimer’s direction, the Institute underwent a radical theoretical revision. Its members abandoned reason,
science ano Marxism in lavour ol a totalizing ano transhistorical critique ol Western civilization baseo arouno
the concept of the domination of nature. If only they had not succumbed to such a radical revision, they
might have seen the positive aspects of Hook’s Pragmatism; they might have avoided the error of their “highly
antiliberal [sic]” and “Mandarin” ways (188). Yet it is not at all clear that the Frankfurt School’s radical new
theory of society, which Wheatland clearly views as an aberration, was all that new, nor all that much of an
aberration. The most cursory glance at Adorno’s theoretical work shows that as early as “The Actuality of
Fhilosophv¨ 1931 ano The Ioea ol Natural Historv¨ 1932 the critique ol instrumental reason ano ol the
domination of nature were already in place; they were already central to his philosophical project. This might
seem like a trivial point but it shows that the Iranklurt School`s anti-liberalism. its critique ol the oomination ol
nature, and of Hook’s Pragmatic Marxism, were not mere aberrations; nor were they born of some temporary
overwhelming pessimism, as many historians of the Frankfurt School would have us believe. They were essential
to the School’s identity. Had members such as Horkheimer and Adorno abandoned them, much of what is
unique ano valuable about the Institute lor Social Research woulo have vanisheo. too. In the eno. it was their
critique of, and not their conformity to, American ideas, practices and methods that made the Frankfurt School
such an important part of our intellectual history.
MARK TOMLINSON is a member of the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy
and a postgraduate student at the University of Melbourne.