Coda

coda

In the beginning, there is escape. It arrives ahead of thought and vanishes before it can be caught.

And it is in this movement that escape can be brought to a close.

It Begins With Escape… (intensive escape)
Stories like those of the hill people resonate throughout the Metropolis, as many of its residents are restless souls that dream of other worlds just beyond the horizon of their own. There is something American about this craving and it is epitomized by the frontier mentality, which is an outgrowth out of sovereignty’s dual desire for conquest and divine providence. Yet escape exists far before the sovereign captures it for nationalist projects, for the first escape began before humanity or even life itself. In fact, the origins of escape stretch back to the earliest beginnings of the universe and the first differentiation of matter. In that sense, escape is the primordial movement that contains its own cause (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, 172). It need not be caused by anything but itself – said otherwise: escape comes first and is superior, ‘escape is,’ and only secondarily does escape exist as a reaction or rebound, as an ‘escape from’ or ‘escape to.’ More concretely, escape is the process of change found in all things, in the indeterminate dance of subatomic particles, the origami folding of proteins, the slow drift of mountains, and the mutant speciation of organic life. In short, escape is becoming, the force of change, but described through its converse: ’unbecoming’ (Grosz, “Bergson, Deleuze, and the Becoming of Unbecoming,” 10-11). Unbecoming can be arrested, restricted, or otherwise limited in many ways; of them, cultural confinements of escape are particularly potent. Capitalism, for instance, clothes itself in cultural representations of freedom, declaring itself as the enemy of slave labor and state control by being the guarantor of ‘the right to work,’ ‘free markets,’ and ‘free trade.’ As anarchists have long shown, these freedoms are not escape routes – the right of the worker to leave an employer does not lead to free existence, for “he is driven to it by the same hunger which forced him to sell himself to the first employer” and thus liberty, “so much exalted by the economists, jurists, and bourgeois republicans” is but a “theoretical freedom” that is “lacking any means for its possible realization, and consequently it is only a fictitious liberty, an utter falsehood” (Bakunin, “The Capitalist System,” 24). Escape suffers an additional cultural confusion that is even more basic: the notion that escape is an odyssey through space. From this perspective, escape is a migration from this place to that – leaving the country, running to the hills, finding refuge. But “some journeys take place in the same place, they’re journeys in intensity” (Deleuze, “Nomadic Thought,” 259-260). These adventures appear motionless because they “seek to stay in the same place” and instead escape by evading the codes (260). And as long as we fail to distinguish between these two uses of escape, extensive change and internal transformation, it remains a confused concept. Continue reading “Coda”

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Matter That Matters: Materialist Feminism & Sexual Difference

bodies-that-matterReading Elizabeth Grosz’s Chaos, Territory, Art for the first time finally made materialism click for me. I had been feeling a growing dissatisfaction with social constructivism; and while I had been reading plenty of materialists who insisted on “matter that mattered,”  I never knew how to explain it, or at least without recourse to a crude reductionist paradigm. With Grosz, however, we see how differences (and in her case: sexual difference) create a beautiful tension from which art and culture spring forth. At last, a beautiful demonstration on why matter matters. Enjoy.

I want to start with some mythical sense of “the beginning.” “In the beginning” is chaos, the whirling, unpredictable movement of forces, vibratory oscillations that constitute the universe. Chaos here may be understood not as absolute disorder but rather as a plethora of orders, forms, wills—forces that cannot be distinguished or differentiated from each other, both matter and its conditions for being otherwise, both the actual and the virtual in-distinguishably. Somewhere in this chaotic universe, in a relatively rare occurrence, through chance, molecular randomness generates [6] organic proteins, cells, proto-life. Such life can only exist and perpetuate itself to the extent that it can extract from the whirling and experientially overwhelming chaos that is nature, materiality, and their immanent forces those elements, substances, or processes it requires, can somehow bracket out or cast into shadow the profusion of forces that engulf and surround it so that it may incorporate what it needs. Henri Bergson, one of Deleuze’s major philosophical influences, understands this as a skeletalization of objects: we perceive only that which interests us, is of use to us, that to which our senses have, through evolution, been attuned (Bergson 1988). That is, life, even the simplest organic cell, carries its past with its present as no material object does. This incipient memory endows life with creativity, the capacity to elaborate an innovative and unpredictable response to stimuli, to react or, rather, simply to act, to enfold matter into itself, to transform matter and life in unpredictable ways.

Such elementary life can only evolve, become more, develop and elaborate itself to the extent that there is something fundamentally unstable about both its milieu and its organic constitution. The evolution of life can be seen not only in the increasing specialization and bifurcation or differentiation of life forms from each other, the elaboration and development of profoundly variable morphologies and bodily forms, but, above all, in their becoming-artistic, in their self-transformations, which exceed the bare requirements of existence. Sexual selection, the consequence of sexual difference or morphological bifurcation—one of the earliest upheavals in the evolution of life on earth and undoubtedly the most momentous invention that life has brought forth, the very machinery for guaranteeing the endless generation of morphological and genetic variation, the very mechanism of biological difference itself—is also, by this fact, the opening up of life to the indeterminacy of taste, pleasure, and sensation.6 Life comes to elaborate itself through making [7] its bodily forms and its archaic territories, pleasing (or annoying), performative, which is to say, intensified through their integration into form and their impact on bodies. Continue reading “Matter That Matters: Materialist Feminism & Sexual Difference”