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This chapter investigates the effect of climate change (along with the host of other anthropogenic effects on the planet that now fall under the rubric of the Anthropocene) on the concept of extinction, particularly, human extinction. Whereas previous concepts of human extinction - from religious apocalyptic to Darwinian evolutionary discourses - were capable of imagining extinction as an event of grandeur and promise of something greater, extinction in the Anthropocene is figured as a moment of profound and abject loss, namely, the loss not just of humans but of particular configuration of capitalist comfort and consumerism. This chapter examines the history of this now dominant perception of extinction, via Enlightenment, Romantic and modernist thought.
There was a critical scene that was narrated frequently in the theoryfrenzied years of the 1980s, operating as an often-invoked tableau that would awaken us from our literalist slumbers. The child faces the mirror, jubilantly rejoicing in the image of his unity (Lacan 1977). This scene captured the predicament of misrecognition: the self is not the naturally bounded organism (a thing within the world), but a site of desires, relations, drives, fantasies and projections that cannot possess the coherence of a body. There is a radical disjunction between the subject, who is nothing more than an effect of its relation to an other whom it cannot read, and the self, ego or individual that we imagine ourselves to be. It is the body as bounded organism, centred on a looking face whose gaze can be returned by the mirror, that not only represses the chaotically dispersed and relational manner of our existence; it also operates as a figure of reading. We read other bodies as though they harboured a sense or interior meaning that might be disclosed through communication, and we read texts as though they operated like bodies – as well-formed wholes possessing a systemic logic the sense of which might become apparent (Felman 1987).
In this respect the Lacanian notion of Imaginary méconnaissance – where we live the decentred and dispersed incoherence of the symbolic order as some illusory whole – repeats a criticism of the organism that goes as back as far (at least) as Husserlian phenomenology.
Jean-Luc Nancy (b. 1940) is Professor of Political Philosophy and Media Aesthetics at the University of Strasbourg. He completed his doctoral dissertation in 1973 on Kant, under the supervision of Paul Ricoeur. In 1987 he received his Docteur D'Estat in Toulouse, published as The Experience of Freedom (1988; English trans. 1993). He has published more than twenty books on diverse topics of philosophy, including The Speculative Remark (1973; English trans. 2001), on G. W. F. Hegel, Le Discours de la syncope (1976) and L'Impératif catégorique (1983) on Immanuel Kant, Ego sum (1979) on René Descartes and Le Partage des voix (1982) on Martin Heidegger. Nancy has written a number of specific books on art and literature, such as Les Muses (1994), The Ground of the Image (2003; English trans. 2005) and a book on the Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami, The Evidence of Film (2001). Other key works include The Inoperative Community (1982; English trans. 1991), Being Singular Plural (1996; English trans. 2000), The Creation of the World or Globalization (2002; English trans. 2007) and Noli Me Tangere: On the Raising of the Body (2008). Nancy has also collaborated with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe on many works, including The Title of the Letter (1973; English trans. 1992).
Perhaps no writer of the twentieth century has done more to intensify the experience of time as Gilles Deleuze. Drawing on the philosophy of Henri Bergson, who had already insisted that the human intellect tends to spatialise time in order to make its efficient and ready way in the world (Bergson 1931), Deleuze went even further than Bergson in calling for a thought of time in its pure state: an intuition of duration that would not impose a uniform clock time on the diverse fluxions of this creative universe. As I will argue in the conclusion of this chapter, it was Deleuze's argument in favour of intensive quantities – against Bergson's rejection of this notion in Time and Free Will (1910) – that led the way for Deleuze and Guattari to posit a human history beyond humanity: that is, Deleuze and Guattari produce a ‘deep’ history that accounts for the emergence of the human according to man's capacity to reduce all intensities to calculable quantities; this reaches its zenith in capitalism, but can also be overcome in capitalism through death. Death, for Deleuze and Guattari, will be the human being's capacity to experience the annihilation of all its coded, historicised and all too human quantities. Man, for Deleuze and Guattari, is produced in history – in narrated, managed, political and epochal time – as an animal who organises matters according to manageable quantities; time in its pure state is intuited, and becomes revolutionary, when intensities are experienced as having their own duration.
This book aims to open up Deleuze's relevance to those working in history the history of ideas science studies evolutionary psychology history of philosophy and interdisciplinary projects inflected by historical problems.
Is queer theory a reflection on what it means to be queer, or does the concept of queerness change the ways in which we theorise? On the one hand the concept of theory appears to be inextricably intertwined with the concept of the human: man is that rational animal possessed of a soul capable of intuiting the essential, or what truly is (Irwin 1988). On the other hand, the possibility of a true theory – a thinking without a normative image of thought – seems to be opened only after the death of God and the death of ‘man’ (Deleuze 1994: 109). For Deleuze, true thought and true theory – a real break with the normative image of ‘man’ – must include both the intuition of the ground from which sense, truth and problems emerge, and must fulfil the promise of transcendental inquiry, which has all too often fallen back upon a self or subject who subtends theory. Contrary to a popular idea of a simple anti-humanism Deleuze does not simply reject the intuition of essences, the eternal, genesis and grounds; on the contrary, his work is best understood as an argument in favour of a true or superior transcendentalism which would think beyond the residual humanism maintained both by forms of Kantian critique and by popular notions of community and interrogation (Deleuze 1994: 197).
While abandoning the idea of a metaphysical outside or ‘beyond’ which might ground metaphysics, post-Kantian thought has nevertheless maintained the possibility of renovating thought from within (O'Neill 1989).
One way of thinking about the ways in which poststructuralist thought has contributed to political theory, and perhaps the experience of politics itself, is to consider thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault as having extended and radicalised Kantian antifoundationalism. The Kantian ‘Copernican turn’ not only precludes the subject from making claims regarding things in themselves, resulting in a humility that concedes that we can only know the world as it is given through the relation we bear towards it (Langton 1998). Kantianism also places the subject of politics under erasure. We cannot study human nature and then prescribe either specific moral norms or even a certain mode of political formation (Rawls 1980). We could not, for example, make a claim along the line of contemporary neo-Aristotelianism and argue that it is precisely because we are social, linguistic, self-forming and emotional beings that we need a polity that is grounded in tradition, aware of human frailty and partiality, or conducive to narrative coherence (Taylor 1989; Nussbaum 2006). In its ideal form Kantianism would break with positive conceptions of the good and would argue for a purely formal politics.
In its poststructuralist radicalisation one could contest the extent to which such an avowedly critical, post-metaphysical or anti-foundational politics is possible. One way of reading Derrida's critique of the politics of liberalism would be to look at the ways in which the supposed break from all positive norms and figures of man must nevertheless require some exemplarity or figure from which the humanity that gives itself its own end can be thought.
In contrast with the term ‘postmodernism’, it is possible to give a quite strict sense to ‘poststructuralism’. Whereas postmodernism encompasses movements in the arts, theory and popular culture, and is dated variously depending upon just which modernism the ‘post’ is seen to qualify, poststructuralism refers to a quite specific consequence of accepting the premises of structuralism. Structuralism insists that no term has meaning in itself but can only be identified in relation to other terms; poststructuralism investigates the emergence of systems of relations. Poststructuralism is often identified as a general movement including the works of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze, all of whom both accepted and criticised aspects of the structuralist movement. Poststructuralism might also be marked by the threshold date of May 1968 (the Paris student uprising that challenged the authority of party-political action), when French thinkers turned away from directly Marxist forms of politics. Far from thinking that ideology might be unmasked by a proletariat who had a direct experience of labour and capital, post-68 thinkers paid more attention to ideology as a positive, constructive and semi-autonomous force (Althusser, 1972). Literature would therefore be neither a reflection nor a distortion of reality but a crucial component in the recreation of conditions of consciousness. The ‘unhappy marriage’ that had existed between Marxism and feminism, which had tried to explain women's condition on the basis of the division of labour, could now give way to forms of feminism attentive to the images, figures, metaphors and myths through which both men and women live their reality.
In The Order of Things Foucault makes the claim that until the eighteenth century ‘life did not exist’ (Foucault 1994: 128). The concept of life was not one concept among others but allowed for the construction of a new plane or ‘historical a priori’. If man had been, as Foucault notes, a political animal this was because his humanity was created through the social relations he established through speech and action. When ‘man’ becomes an epiphenomenon of life then his political being is no longer constitutive of who he is; rather his political being might now be explained by reference back to certain exigencies of life. Man speaks and works because he must live. All those seemingly radical movements of the twentieth century such as structuralism, anthropology, psychoanalysis, phenomenology and late Marxism are normalising reterritorialisations: man's being can now be explained and managed according to the exigencies of life from which he emerges. If Deleuze affirms Foucault's capacity for diagrams and relations he also distinguishes his own concept of desire from Foucault's concept of power. Foucault had argued that the late nineteenth-century discourses of life, labour and language could be transformed when literature no longer appeared as emerging from life. Literature would disclose a divergent, multiple and machinic logic no longer governed by a vital impulse (Deleuze 1988: 131). But, Deleuze argues, we can also discern these forces of the outside in transformed discourses of life.
Why philosophise? Why think? What is the function, purpose or point of philosophy in a world directed more and more towards efficiency, outcomes and economy of effort? Why suspend action and life for the sake of an idea? It is possible to answer these questions, via Deleuze, with two mutually exclusive sets of answers. The first ‘Platonic’ path would stress the incompleteness of actual life. Existing life, the life of the organism that strives to maintain its own being (to remain as it already is), perceives and responds to a given world. However, that world can only be said to be, to be actualised, because there is some condition or logic beyond being. What exists beyond beings is the Idea: a thing can only exist as this or that actual being because it instantiates or actualises some form. For Plato such forms – the logic that is the truth and proper being of the world – require a turn away from the physical and sensible life that fluctuates through time, to those forms from which time unfolds. This Platonic logic has a curious status in contemporary continental philosophy. On the one hand, there is Heidegger's classic critique of this logical turn whereby Plato establishes a being which will become the proper object or paradigm for human self-development (Heidegger 1998: 166). This critique of a separate or higher being that is other than this world is anticipated by Nietzsche, who will diagnose the belief in a ‘higher world’ or ideal of man as a failure of life and will.
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