policy debate

They Aren’t Impossible… Promise – Het Desai

by admin.

High school K affs suck. Despite the call for ‘argument innovation’ and years of ‘third and fourth level testing’ the most read 1NC against a planless aff is without question Framework and the coveted Cap K. Is it lazy? Probably. Does it often work? Yes. Here are a couple of thoughts…

1. Presumption wins debates.

Most affs in this category don’t do a thing, yet by the 2AR they solve drone strikes, global poverty, racism, and the war on terror. The solution? Presumption. A clear guideline to evaluate the internal link of an aff to solve literally anything but a polysyllabic word. Any kritik of presumption without a substantive answer should be one in the win column for you. PLEASE just have a defense of why doing something is good…please. If you ever feel that a team is getting away with saying nonsense to justify not solving or more nonsense this should be your first stop.

2. The TRUTH

The title says it all. The Cap K is arguably the right 2NR against 95% of these affs. Jk not arguably…it just is! 1AR coverage is always terrible, the defense of the perm is sketchy at best, and unique offense is rare. And let’s be clear the aff is never always already the perm. Never. An extinction impact always outweighs an aff that again does nothing so what do we have left? Indicts against marxism? “Violence in the Party” DA? Form not content applies here too :) A flexible 2NR that has judge instruction, impact calculus, case defense (hey maybe presumption too) and ensures the left doesn’t cede our world to facism but instead transforms into the communist dream will do wonders.

3. Fairness? Who is she?

Too often, 2NRs on T assert that fairness is an intrinsic impact, the aff destroys it, and points to instances of fairness the aff has used to answer the impact turns. This will get you nowhere. Literally point 0 because the terminal impact to fairness is preserving the status quo model of debate and literally every K aff (at least the good ones) is already designed to impact that model. Something along the lines of…

Games produces bad things…blah blah blah…but hey we can change it…blah…vote aff…whats fairness again?

Instead you have to defend that form of the game before you can win your fairness impact! Its a must. An impact centered around the benefits of clash with a stasis point grounded in the resolution and discussing the benefits of that model will almost ALWAYS be far more effective.

Rant #1

Why do 2Ns forget what offense is? A 20 second impact explanation followed by 4:40 of defense will NOT win you debates and will be embarrassing when the 2AR gets up and goes for solely their impact turns. Yes most aff impact turns are incoherent and yes they can easily be made offense for you but you have to invest the time. Think of the following at a minimum “does the aff’s counter-interpretation solve this impact turn?”, “is the impact turn unique to topical debate?”, “is there a way your interp can solve the impact turn through debates over a predictable stasis point?”.

Rant #2 SSD > TVA. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong… The TVA will always be a fundamentally defensive argument, while SSD can be spun as an offensive argument (self-reflexivity, becoming better prepared to defend your own argument).

A debater who makes these rants a coherent 2NR will not be baffled by a 2A who claims you have missed the central question(oops).

Leibniz on Causality by Kevin Clark

by admin.


Leibniz conceives of the universe as containing nothing but a sea of monads; each monad acts in accordance with the others to produce perceptions of the world as phenomena. Each reflection on the world by a soul is only perceptions of interrelationships between monads. In an effort to contrast his system with the Cartesians who prioritized the mechanism of causality and motion to explain interactions, Leibniz deploys the pre-established harmony to provide a foundation to his interpretation of the cosmos. The perceptions or phenomena within the cosmos unfold in accordance with a pre-programmed routine that is crafted by God. This determined universe is what Leibniz calls the ‘pre-established harmony.’  Pre-established harmony also serves to explain how the metaphysical realm interacts with the physical realm. Although Leibniz generally splits the realms of actuality into metaphysics and physics, he wants to remind us through the explanation of the pre-established harmony that these two realms of metaphysics and physics are not “disparate or disjointed” characteristics of the world (Rescher, 65). Rather than being a dualism, the physical phenomena we perceive are only derivative from the metaphysical interrelation between monads. Thus, if Leibniz wishes to advance the Principle of Sufficient Reason while simultaneously saying that the universe is made up of an infinite number of monads, then he must have a sufficient explanation for their seeming interaction. In this manner the ‘pre-established harmony’ provides a basis for the Leibnizian system.

            Leibniz calls this system ‘pre-established’ because its phenomena have been determined anterior to their creation. To understand this fully we must first investigate the role of essence and existence in the Leibnizian system. God has the capacity to imagine infinite possible worlds and therefore choose between an infinity of predications for these worlds. If God were to actualize a particular world, then this world would exhibit perfection. God must begin to understand something as perfection purely in terms of its intrinsic or eternal potential. In short, God prioritizes essence over existence because he is dealing with possible predications that do not exist, at least yet. What is meant by this is that God utilizes foreknowledge to anticipate all the predications or the complete individual notion of a possible substance before that substance comes into existence. Therefore in accordance with God’s choice to actualize this world, this world is also the most perfect of possible worlds. In this sense it is pre-established for perfection based on God’s foreknowledge.  God’s choice of perfection coupled with Leibniz’ Principle of Sufficient Reason leads to a universe that proceeds according to reason. The Principle of Sufficient Reason warrants that every unfolding must contain a reason for its subsistence. Thus, the initial will of God to create the perfect universe means that this universe can only progress according to reason. In this picture to alter any single perception would require a re-assembling of monadic connections to the degree that we are no longer speaking of the same universe. By ‘connections’ Leibniz means the manner by which monads relate to other monads to give way to perceptions; this is not to imply a causal operation. In the case of ‘perfection’ Leibniz envisions a special criterion. He says that perfection is defined as the maximization of variety while simultaneously being the “simplest in its hypothesis” (Rescher, 17-18). What Leibniz means by this is that God is inclined to produce a universe that leads to the most ordered richness if he was to produce a universe at all.

            The Leibnizian system is also described as a ‘harmony’ in the sense that it is not a causal interaction but rather an interrelation of accordance or “agreement” across monads (Rescher, 66). The universe is made up of an infinite number of continually changing monads. Each monad operates on its own; it is self-complete. What we call an ‘interaction’ is actually just a coincidence that is arranged by the will of God. The example of clocks hanging in a room provides a brief analogy. Within the Newtonian system it is believed that the measurement of time is independent of the clocks themselves. In this depiction the clocks are being synced to something outside of their internal workings. This is to say that we can measure time according to a pre-defined scale existent before the clocks themselves. For Leibniz this is a flawed conception of what is happening. Instead of a singular ‘time’ independent of all monads, Leibniz would say that each clock is rather moving in harmony with the other such that we perceive an illusion of a singular time. Time for Leibniz is a phenomena intrinsic to the monads themselves. Therefore even time cannot be a property independent of monads. The entire universe is filled with an infinite number of monads all acting in concert or harmony. Monads contain their own time and space internal to themselves. Each monad is self-complete; it does not require the external input from another source. This explains the property of monads to be windowless. This is because perceptions do not go through or across monads, but rather come to be known from within the monad itself. This process of uncovering sense perceptions from within is an ‘unfolding.’ The series of successive unfoldings across monadic substance form a harmony where every monad ‘mirrors’ the presence of every other monad. Leibniz tells us this is true even if only to an infinitesimal degree.  A monad can only understand the universe from its particular point of view; within that point of view perceptions are formed out of mutual attunement between monads. We can use here the analogy of an orchestra and the production of sound. If an orchestra played in harmony then the sound produced would be a perception whereby each instrument flows in accordance with another. On the other hand if each instrument was to play in random, then this orchestra would be in disaccord. Speaking on the level of composites and aggregates this is Leibniz’ explanation for how we can perceive of the interrelations of monads as rational-based phenomena.

            The integrity of these principles gives his explanation plausibility especially given his responses to the main indicts of his conception of the ‘pre-established harmony.’ A crucial correspondence ensues between Leibniz and the Newtonians over the nature of the cosmos. One of the first attacks on the pre-established harmony comes from Samuel Clarke. Clarke advances two objections that are parallel to the trends that take place in the Newton-Leibniz debate for years to come. Clarke first accuses the pre-established harmony of being counter to causality (Vailati, 75). Clarke at this time had invested many years of scholarship in agent causality and saw Leibniz as a rival system that needed to be refuted. In Clarke’s second reply he tries to pin the Leibnizian system as fatalistic and necessitarian. By fatalism Clarke means to say that Leibniz makes all events necessary and determined ahead of their happening. Clarke wants to say that Leibniz discounts the role of free will within the universe.

            The first accusation attempts to present causality as a preferable metaphysical explanation to Leibniz’ pre-established harmony. In Clarke’s view there is a cause and effect relationship that can be isolated and observed. Instead of monads that are propelled from within they are actually in interaction with other monads to form cause and effects which we experience as forces and motions. In this picture monads are unintelligible because they lack extension altogether. Clarke believes that Leibniz is unjustified in speaking of the presence of something that has no material grounding.

Leibniz’ response is to say that this explanation via causality violates the Principle of Sufficient Reason because it is impossible within the Leibnizian system to isolate objectively some cause and some effect. For Leibniz the universe is interconnected in the sense that every monad ‘mirrors’ every other monad. This allows Leibniz to say that the Newtonians have no access to a final cause or a final effect. It is impossible for humans to know the cause and effect of any one single event because this would produce an endless chain of events to explain each successive stage in our investigation. At every point in the investigation one is able to ask for the cause of that cause and thus an infinite regression is always possible. The only one able to understand the true causes and effects would be God, because he is the cause of the universe in the first place. The pre-established harmony does not violate the Principle of Sufficient Reason because a monad does not depend on any external cause; a monad unfolds from within. In correspondence with Des Bosses Leibniz utilizes a thought experiment to grasp how he conceives of his system.  He says that if God were to annihilate every monad except just one, that this single monad would still maintain the equivalent perceptions had the universe still existed (Phemister, 34). What Leibniz means by this is that the universe does not require causality as the Newtonians conceive of it. Rather than causality the universe just requires an infinite number of monads each self-programmed and whose existence is manipulated by God.

            Clarke’s second response accuses the pre-established harmony view of collapsing into fatalism. If all aspects of the world are predetermined according to God’s foreknowledge, then for Clarke this would destroy the capacity for free will. In this sense Clarke believes that free will requires the choice to act. Acting, according to Clarke, depends on a level of indifference to the available options for selection. We should be able to select a choice freely, because anything otherwise would have the characteristic of being acted-upon. This formulation of agent causation is what Clarke calls the “freedom of indifference” (Vailiti, 92). Leibniz responds that the ‘freedom of indifference’ Clarke theorizes would violate the Principle of Sufficient Reason and be contrary to our everyday experience. For Clarke an agent is able to select an available option in a ‘state of equilibrium’ where the preceding mental state does not wholly determine the choice that is to be made. This is in direct contrast with Leibniz who believes that to know any uniform slice of the universe would be to know the entire universe because the universe only progresses rationally. To prove to Clarke that he is ignoring an important element of the equation he introduces the concept of ‘minute perceptions’ which are the unconscious elements that provide reason for our decisions. In this case Leibniz is able to say that there is always a rational succession of events without a state of mental equilibrium; we are unable to consciously know all imperceptible phenomena. Leibniz is rejecting the belief that we can have full “transparency” of the mind (Vailiti, 93). Minute perceptions allows for Leibniz to take into account the confused feeling of ‘indifference’ referred to by Clarke within the decision making process, while simultaneously it allows for him to maintain the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

            Leibniz’ also replies that this logic is flawed based on its application to God. If this explanation for free will was applied to God, then this conception of freedom would give God no sufficient reason for the creation of the universe in the first place. It would not make sense to say that God is indifferent about the creation of the cosmos. Leibniz also wants to warn against using absolute or logical necessity as a reason for God’s creation of the universe. If we were to say that God created the universe out of absolute or logical necessity, then this would create a conundrum where God is not free because he was forced to create the universe and all its contents (Rescher, 43). Leibniz’ solution is to remind us that God does not make the cosmos out of absolute or logical necessity but rather creates the universe out of moral necessity. The difference is that the initial creation of the universe is contingent, because God could have not made the universe as such. Leibniz says that the actualization of the cosmos follows from God’s virtue of willing it as so.  In this picture God manipulates the existence of monads prior to the creation of the universe such that they operate in accordance with a pre-established harmony.

            Clarke was unsatisfied with this perspective and pressed Leibniz further on the intuitive appeal to his agent causation thesis. To this Leibniz explains that the phenomena of causation would not disappear, rather Leibniz reminds us that we do not have access to the full level of perceptions and apperceptions that provide a sufficient reason for their unfolding. With absolute foreknowledge God can program a monad such that it operates with pre-defined operations at each moment in existence. In this sense we still can grasp the feeling and the phenomena of (inter)action even if only retrospectively and without correlation to the actual metaphysical process underlying perceptions. This is not a problem at all for Leibniz who sees no difference in the type of perceptions that a human soul will contain, whether we are fully aware of the reasons for all our actions (only true for Clarke, impossible for Leibniz), versus a pre-established harmony between monads whereby each perception of free will is pre-programmed according to the foreknowledge of God.

Works Cited:

Phemister, Pauline. Leibniz and the Natural World: Activity, Passivity, and Corporeal Substances in Leibniz’s Philosophy. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer, 2005. Print.

Rescher, Nicholas. On Leibniz. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh, 2003. Print.

Vailati, Ezio. Leibniz & Clarke: a Study of Their Correspondence. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

Turning-as-the-Self: Ernst Bloch and the Essence of Emergence as Not Yet, Now – Kevin Clarke

by admin.

May 8, 2011

“But technological developments seem per se to bring forth an organizational framework that is independent of the relations of production in greater measure than Marxists have ever assumed. Yet even these technologically specified institutions develop at first no less a ‘power of alienation’ than those specific to capitalism. Bloch holds onto utopia by promising a resurrection not only to capitalism but to the technology brought forth by it.”

– Jurgen Habermas, A Marxist Schelling[1].

In an age of artificial intelligence, machines, cyborgs, and the increasing mastery of genetic modification, the concept of ‘human’ is losing its meaning altogether. With the increasing (e)mergence of technology in(to) the realm of the biological, ‘meaning’ is turning toward a trajectory not previously anticipated. The triangulation of values between human-environment-technology is ceasing to possess any significance. David Wills acknowledges the need for a “biotechnological”[2] revision of human essence. This is a conception cognizant of the possibility that “there never was any simple human.”[3] The current debates over human essence that appeal to the “integrity of the human and the concomitant anxiety over … the machine within the human”[4] are unable to grasp the true complexity of subjectivity and consciousness. The task here is to resist the temptation to address the question of subjectivity in terms of an ‘either/or’ perspective between the biological and technological realms. Wills calls for a recognition “between bios and tekhne”[5] that remains “so complex and historic”[6] that no prioritization is possible between “one over the other.”[7]  Rather than fracturing essence into categories that “privilege the organic”[8] we must instead “acknowledge the becoming-technological of biological self-organization.”[9]  This is to conceive of subjectivity as a process, a process in anticipation of the “biotechnological future.” [10]

This analysis calls for a new vision of ‘anticipation’ that does not restrict our vision of subjectivity in terms of the past. We need to recalibrate our relationship to anticipation as a process of unfolding the Not-Yet-Consciousness. Ernst Bloch recognizes the ‘anticipatory’ as that element which points beyond the given, an objectively real Not-Yet or potential of subjectivity. This is a subjectivity that recognizes the human is not, and can never be, fully given. For Bloch: “I am. But without possessing myself.”[11] To reflect upon our previous position is to be removed from that position. The “I” “must grow out of itself if it is to see anything at all.”[12] Bloch recognizes that the only essential function here is movement itself, a “perpetual travel outwards”.[13] This is an open-ended process that is not fully given or fully visible. It is truly a process that turns to what is not present, to what is not yet given. Bloch reminds us that the “real venturing beyond never goes into the mere vacuum of an In-Front-of-Us”.[14] 

The foundation for this relationship between turning and being a trajectory of subjectivity is traced by David Wills from Heidegger through Althusser and even Butler.[15] In the case of Althusser we can see one of the most explicit examples. Althusser’s passage on hailing depicts a police offer who encounters another person. The police officer’s whistle serves as a technological appendage that calls the person into a forced misrecognition of themselves as a subject.[16] The subject turns to face the office; it is with this “one-hundred-eighty-degree physical conversion[17]” that the human becomes subject. The person is now forcibly individuated by the state apparatus. The turn serves as an important ‘figuration’ to account for subjectivity in biological and technological mediums alike. Figuration contrasts with the term ‘metaphor’ to denote an uncertain or unsettling model. St. Pierre refers to a figuration as a device that “scatters sureties;” it is “not graceful metaphors that produce coherence.”[18]

The processive ontology cultivated here should be opposed to an understanding of the self as ‘individual’ and fully transparent. Even the depth to which Marx advanced our understanding of the individual as ‘in-relation’ only dealt with a “dawn” or beginning that “is thought to have glowed in the remotest past.”[19] Traditional Marxism depicts the human orientation to the environment as a ‘transformation,’ a relationship whereby we realized latent possibilities through activity or labor in our condition. Marx contributes greatly to this picture of the human as a social animal engaged in a constant laboring process whereby we produce value and ourselves. The background for our transformation was that of nature.

Marx engages in a reductive understanding of human essence which limits the potential of his investigation. His commitment to Hegelian individuality prevents an understanding of the conscious as a complex and emergent process. Bringing Marx into the 21st century demands a re-evaluation of the concept of ‘human essence.’ This essay will first clear space for an alternative understanding of subjectivity by following what Elaine Miller calls the “plant-subjectivity” in literature and philosophy alike.[20] The ‘figuration’ of the plant in the work of Ernst Bloch offers an implicit critique of Hegelian subjectivity that can be traced even to late Marx. This essay then turns to Ernst Bloch’s existentialist philosophy to map the complexity of human essence as a process of self-encounter. Understanding value and subjectivity as process produces a non-‘bioist’[21] network of actors where no one essence receives priority.

Marx was deeply indebted to the work of Hegel in setting out an understanding of human subjectivity.  In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx outlines his stance on human essence as a derivative of the Hegelian notion of Spirit.[22] Although there are several differences between their conceptions of subjectivity, this essay will concentrate on the Marxist-Hegelian idea that human essence is a state of un-alienation and individuation from nature. Lawrence Wilde argues that Marx should not only be “regarded as essentialist,”[23] but also should be seen as “implying that this essence ought to be fulfilled.”[24] Marx on many accounts reminds us of his promise of the “true resolution of strife between existence and essence.”[25] In this view Marx entertains the notion of a world absent alienation. This perspective was further reinforced by the Hegelian notion of individuality. For Hegel the individual shares a deeper unity with nature; we transform organic material to realize values latent within our condition. Marx shares this initial perspective; he sees labor as an “activity of self-creation.”[26]  The difference between the Hegelian and the Marxist perspective lies in the value attributed to production. For Hegel we are only uncovering a “dialectical elaboration of what is already present,”[27] while in Marx’s account labor produces “something fundamentally novel, namely new value.”[28] Marx portrays the individual as a producing or laboring social animal and attempts to understand essence by beginning with this basic presupposition.

Hegel advances a conception of human subjectivity as a series of ‘antagonistic’ relationships with our environment where Spirit dominates over the set of forces. In the Hegelian system there is no absolute separation between subject and objects. Instead what we call ‘I’ is formulated through a process. In this process we self-differentiate ourselves through interaction and transformation of nature. The ability to see ourselves as ‘I’ is only a function of our (im)mediateness to nature. Hegel explains this occurrence in terms of how subjectivity becomes recognized as one’s own. The subject can recognize him or herself as subject only through opposition; the gesture becomes: ‘I know I am this, because I am not that.’

In confrontation with an object a similar process takes place whereby we begin as bare subjectivity and continually individuate ourselves. This subjectivity is bare in the sense that it is un-mediated. At this stage there is no isolated subject and object, but rather a field of view between the two. This space is characterized as a mixture of sensations and non-subjectified affects; it is just as much subject-object as it is object-subject. Through this primordial soup of sensations the subject realizes him or herself. In Hegel’s view the subject must return to oneself as subject as the precondition for recognizing individuation.

This process of individuation allows Hegel to construct a hierarchy whereby human consciousness becomes prioritized as the source of value. Hegel’s criteria led him to deem the plant as a monstrosity. Explicitly in the Philosophy of Nature, Hegel refers to the plant as a “monstrous” being, because it lacks the ability to individuate itself.[29] The plant, according to Hegel, lacks any essential part. It has no unit that can centralize its activity; if one leaf dies the rest of the plant may be unaffected. Even the ability to take a random clipping from a stem or root and re-grow an entirely different plant, proved to Hegel that the plant does not possess spirit, because this new plant only becomes an other to the previous plant. In this sense, even though the plant possesses the ability be represented as a singular entity, or possesses particularity, the plant is unable to return to the plant’s self as self. Hegel wants to explain how identity is lacking in the plant, because it is only a function of its environment. The plant does not possess the ability to choose its direction of growth, rather the environment chooses for the plant based on the amount of water and nutrients available.  Elaine Miller takes note of how a plant simply becomes a “conductor” surging with “whatever fluids, gases, and soluble particles with which it comes into contact.” [30] Hegel concludes that the plant-subjectivity lacks any agency because it is only a victim to its environment. If one was to present poison to a plant it would have no other option but to consume, it is in this regard a victim to itself, a receptacle of suicidal processes.

            In contrast to Hegel, Johann Goethe and Schelling see the plant as a sign of open-endedness and unpredictability; they praise the plant for its ability to continually produce new conclusions and sprout new growths.[31] The plant is a receptacle to the fluids and resources provided to it by its surroundings. The plant begins without and it must gain resources for itself. It secretes fluids and gases to engage in complex processes that are only recently being uncovered by scientists. In a scientific sense the secretion of hormones and pheromones are the biotechnological mediums plants use to regulate their activity. The plant is an ensemble of systems working in harmony to their environment. Subjectivity is not obsessed with fitting sensation where it belongs; it does not maintain the attempt, found in Hegel, to own one’s identity.  Ernst Bloch takes up this legacy from the Goethian and Schellingian legacy to challenge the subjectivity advanced by Hegel through Marx. The ties to these two legacies can be explicit; Ernst Bloch is praised in the literature as the ‘Marxist Schelling.’ On the other front, Bloch provides heavy commentary on Goethe throughout his publications. The translators to the Principle of Hope note that “the book is full of explicit and implicit references… of Goethe’s major work.”[32] The intention here is to follow the plants in Bloch’s work to understand an implicit and explicit critique of Hegelian subjectivity in Marxism. Bloch’s conception of essence as process advances a post-humanist Marxism that deserves closer inspection.

Marx is heavily pre-occupied with the question of essence and the constitution of the human subject. In continuing the Hegelian tradition Marx first explains what the human is not; he constructs a dichotomy between animals and humans and advances several criteria to make this distinction. In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Marx provides several initial examples of this distinction.[33] The general trend for Marx was to stress the “uniqueness of human universality”[34] and the ability for a natural being to “freely confront [its] product[s].”[35] Here the ties to Hegel’s notion of subjectivity are explicit. The capacity to self-reflect on our condition, and our decisions within that condition, allow us to produce ourselves as a subject. Marx uses the word ‘confront’ to designate a subject as a being-in-itself. We first must possess the ability to see ourselves as different and therefore individual from the products of our labor, before we can recognize these products as ours. Plants on the other hand are unable to make this differentiation. Rather than confront individual difference, plants are “indifferent.” [36] They are only arbitrarily individuated into particulars, but no particular has the capacity to return to itself as itself. Hegel contends that plants are equivalent to the water.  They are free-flowing and passive extensions of the earth; Hegel recognizes that the plant is wholly dependent on its environment, nothing from within it comes from itself.

Animals are of a different question; Marx recognizes their ability to produce as individual entities, but limits the potential of their subjectivity based on “the dominion of immediate physical need.”[37] Marx says that animals are only a function of their immediate desires. He believes that they are tied to their production, that an animal responds to hunger and other instincts as their essential function and nothing more.  This sentiment is held further in Capital, where Marx will advance the criteria that animals cannot “raise”[38] a “structure in [the] imagination before”[39] it is produced. Marx advances the example of bees and spiders and he even concedes of the intricacy involved in their architectural and weaving skills as superior to humans.[40] This criterion of the ‘imagination’ or the ability to foresee production still builds on the earlier criterion in the Manuscripts concerning the ability for humans to “freely confront.”[41] We must first possess the ability to imagine or foresee utility in some object for ourselves, before we can grasp and pursue that value. In this sense his criterion still depends on the Hegelian notion of the individual “coming-to-self”[42] as the self. In the final picture we are left with a Marx who, although is able to account for the degree to which we are always part of nature, is still committed to an individuated notion of human essence. This is an essence that maintains a fidelity to that which has been revealed previously, a fidelity to the beginning. Although Marx was content with defining essence in this manner, I ask a different series of questions: In an age of exponential growth is it sustainable to have a conception of subjectivity that can only account for what was ‘previous? Does essence move? Arran Gare contends that it is only once we properly conceive of an “understanding of human possibilities that we can” determine “which possibilities should be realized.”[43] It is in this spirit that I move forward to develop a solution.

Although Marx goes through great lengths to challenge the Hegelian conception of value as a production or transformation to uncover something new, Marx’s commitment to the transparency of the present inhibits his analysis from preserving the anticipatory character of the ‘Not-Yet’ within the present. This can be seen in the debate between Antonio Gramsci and Ernst Bloch. Gramsci serves as a perfect candidate to investigate the Blochian critique of Orthodox Marxism. Gramsci readily rejected the tenants of transcendentalism. Instead, Gramsci views reality through an “absolute historicism”[44] that reduces nature and ontology to a “historical category of ‘intersubjective construct[ion].’”[45] Bloch perceives this as the culmination of error stemming from mature Marxist social ontology. In the attempt to define the human essence visibly, out of what it is not, we have ignored the possibility that the human essence is itself ‘Not-Yet.’ Martin Jay put it best when he said that traditional Marxism “left no place for mystery or the hidden;”[46] it “tended to reduce the totality to its socio-economic dimension alone”[47] “thereby missing the polyrhythmic fluidity of history.”[48] Although this has effects on the type of politics available, this essay is more concerned with the type of relationship to nature that becomes legitimized. Only conceiving of nature in terms of the fully revealed, visible categories of facts justifies a “totally anthropocentric epistemology”[49] which collapses the “natural sciences to a variant of the cultural sciences.”[50] Bloch knew of this danger; dictating value in terms of Spirit left nature to the realm of “arrogance and unchecked humanism.”[51]

Bloch should not be interpreted here as criticizing culture per se, rather Bloch’s point in critiquing a collapse of nature into culture is that the many histories and many cultures cannot be reduced to any singular trajectory. Marx’ prioritization of a terminus to history as the valuable moment in dialectics ignores how it is the process or quest of overcoming the dialectic that is valuable, and not necessarily the point that is achieved in the process of overcoming. Marx on many occasions is criticized by postcolonial studies for discounting the role of struggle and culture within the propulsion of the dialectic. For a similar reason Bloch dispels any attempt to deduce the truth of the “dialectical trend”[52] to a “pre-ordained”[53] and “settled end.”[54] Bloch’s conception of dialectics does not suffer from the cultural deficit seen in Marx; Bloch concludes that “in this view… it follows that man everywhere is still living in prehistory”[55] and “all things are still in the stage prior to the just and true creation of the world.”[56] One can never own the “final and ultimate goal”[57] of dialectics. Bloch believes that we are in a perpetual trajectory forward to a place that was only previously “glimpsed”[58] and “yet completely invisible.”[59] This is a place we can only feel as ‘not-yet,’ as “a place and state in which no one has yet been.”[60] Hope propels us toward a horizon which can only be sensed as possible and never actualized. We can never finish the race to the horizon; we are forever caught in a paradox: every movement towards the horizon creates a new horizon to be satisfied. We can only retrospectively uncover these new trajectories; this delay due to retrospection clouds the present in darkness. This is a scenario where even the “nearest is still completely dark.[61] In this darkness we require feelings of anticipation to alert us to new possibilities. Bloch calls this anticipatory illumination.

Understanding Marx’ conception of the human condition requires an attention to historic context. Marx develops a picture of the human essence in a historic context that did not have the ability to anticipate the type of technological power we know today. Marx’ picture of human essence for the most part conceives of technology as inert and linear extensions of the human realm. This is the same parallel that Gramsci takes when collapsing history into the realm of culture.  For Marx technology does not operate without some input from the human world; it is produced to reproduce. In Marx’ conception, machines do not contain within them authenticity or value, but are rather the process of production that has become isolated in an object as a set of instructions. In this sense the instructions bypass the labor that was once engaged in to produce a commodity or transform an object. This allows for Marx to see technologization as a form of inauthenticity and alienation in relation to the human. The rejection of technology as a source of value can also be explained in terms of the Hegelian influence on Marx. Technology for Hegel lacks a notion of self, because it does not return to itself as itself; it lacks individuation. The parallel here is striking; just as Hegel rejects plant subjectivity as simply a passive extension of Nature, Marx rejects machinic subjectivity as simply an extension of Spirit. Technology is not seen as an active source of value, but rather a predetermined valuation that is simply finishing its course of production. Marx’ commitment to a state absent of alienation leads him to search within the beginnings of the human condition. This closes off his social ontology from the technological, because the technological is always confined to the realm of ends and means.

Assuming a fixed point or terminus for the human spirit, where alienation resolves itself, produces a problem for Marx’ social ontology. The fixation on the biological human as a laboring/producing being becomes too restrictive for a polyvalent conception of existence. The technological realm is closed off as a substance or medium from which value is produced from or through. This closing off of our environment predetermines the potential for technology and other mediums to express value; it blocks our ability to live in a “world where the primary condition of existence is the immersion into the worlds you inhabit and share with the humans and non-humans.”[62] For Bloch value is found in the process of valuing itself and not the object that is valued. The essence of the human is “that which does not yet exist, which is in a quest of itself in the core of things.”[63] The ends and means that run through technology are a part of this quest to self-realize ourselves. Thus for Bloch value is not found in the beginnings of a process but rather in the process itself, in the pursuit of transforming and chasing moments of curiosity and anticipation. Technology has no essential character that can differentiate it from any other process of human valuation. Rather, technology is one of the many actors in our “venturing beyond” the given.[64] David Wills draws a similar conclusion from his figuration of the turn in application to the human body. For the human to turn, it is always a turn to the back, to what is beyond the given view. This turn to the back is what he terms the “dorsal.” Wills concludes that “in its guise of the technological, the dorsal therefore names… what comes from behind…an other beyond what can be conceived of within the perspective of our frontal relations.”[65]

The imperative to reconfigure our understanding of technology could not have had better timing. Many transhumanists see the recent developments in networking and other computing technologies as the precursor to an age of exponential growth. New capabilities in science and medicine are beginning to integrate the technological into the human and the human into the technological. We are witnessing a convergence of possibilities where “what can be fabricated is limited more by the imagination than technical capability.”[66] Jairus Grove urges us to question “the possibilities and limits of a moral order grounded in what we now call the human species.”[67]  Cyborgs and the consciousness of computers are only a few of the hypothetical possibilities that urge us to scrutinize our value system and relationship to technology before we once again push away technology as the ‘inhuman.’ Empirically, the perceived inauthenticity of cyborgs and machines has culminated in hostility.[68] Even Marx equates the subject position of technology only with oppression. He states that the situation where the “automaton itself is the subject… is characteristic of its use by capital.”[69] Here Marx’ previous conception of the human is revealed as fear rather than hope. Marx has pre-defined the future as a terminus of human resolution. The blurring of the human into technology, in his perspective, is to divert from this pre-defined vision of the future. It is to “feel confused”[70] at the question of: “Who are we?”[71] If our confusion or “state of anxiety… becomes more definite, then it is fear.”[72] Instead, for Bloch, hope is not a pre-determining or compensatory act, but rather an anticipatory feeling of ‘somethingness.’ It is not a pursuit to compensate for the initial experience of alienation or estrangement. Bloch explains that “the only honest attribute of all men, is unexplored.”[73]


“We are misidentified – because we ourselves keep growing, keep changing, we shed our old bark, we shed our skins every spring, we keep becoming younger, fuller of future, taller, stronger, we push our roots ever more powerfully into the depths – into evil – while at the same time we embrace the heavens ever more lovingly, more broadly, imbibing their light ever more thirstily with all our twigs and leaves. Like trees we grow – this is hard to understand, as is all of life – not in one place only but everywhere, not in one direction but equally upward and outward and inward and downward; our energy is at work simultaneously in the trunk, branches, and roots; we are no longer free to do one particular thing, to be only one particular being.” – Nietzsche, The Gay Science.[74]

In contrast to the Hegelian criterion for individuation,(as a return to the self as oneself), Bloch employs a vision of subjectivity that is constantly turning, but never a returning. We begin in the darkness of the lived space as an empty receptacle of the environment. Bloch uses the analogy of a “sphere”[75] that designates a view or landscape between subject and object. Our subjectivity is a function of the affective resonances within this sphere immersed in and with nature. This is not a sphere with a pre-given circumference or diameter, but rather a sphere with an oscillating membrane in constant vibration with the environment. In Bloch’s conception of existence we are conscious or aware of our existence, but that this does not mean we possess ourselves. The sphere of our subjectivity simple knows no more than, “The am of I am is within. And everything within is wrapped in its own darkness”[76] The content of our existence is always a function of our movement within our environment; we are left in a quest to learn through a “process”[77] which is “entirely external.”[78] At this junction the self and Nature are intertwined as a paradox of existence: what is within is a function of what is without. Bloch tells us that “only thus, by virtue of what lies without, does the inner self come to know itself.” While Marx attempts to understand the person in terms of what is fully realized and present, Bloch understands the person in terms of what is not-yet-realized or not-yet-present. This is the difference between a process and half of a process; half a process only commits itself to a beginning and it is thus revealed as not a process at all. In Bloch’s conception we do not experience an un-alienated state in the beginning; rather, “at first”[79] “the world round about us”[80] is “alien.”[81] This is existence where “urging expresses itself first as ‘striving’, [a] craving to go anywhere.”[82]

The Marxist notion of essence is exposed here as simply a romantic device from the past that continually haunts our theories of the subject. Speaking from the perspective of process philosophy, Marx has produced nothing more than a circle that continually revolves around itself and nothing more. This Marxist circle is a turn without disruption, chaos, and accidents. Wills in a similar vein reminds us of the need to express “the dorsal as the chance of what cannot be foreseen, the surprise or accident that appears… .” [83] The suffering, misery, and sorrow inherent to existence cannot be erased from the process of experiencing the self. Bloch wishes to extend value even to these seemingly negative tasks to remind us that it is the process of overcoming itself that is of value.

Similarly in Wills conception of the turn, the turn is the process of technologization that allows value to arise or present itself. It is the “poetic possibility in general”[84] that “relies on the darkness, chance, and the unknown of dorsal space.”[85] Bloch and Wills both advance a foundation that does not assume a transparent and individual notion of subjectivity; they both assume a permanent darkness surrounding our lived moment. For Bloch, illumination in the form of hope and expectation sustain our trajectories out of this darkness. We are guided by a will; Bloch conceives of the ‘will’ “in the form of a ship”[86] in constant pursuit of a destination only moment-by-moment being realized. The “elemental ship image characterizes the will to depart;”[87] it reflects the metaphor of searching on the ocean’s horizon. It is the paradox of possessing all the surroundings within our view but being unable to fully grasp the entire picture. Within our course or journey we are only able to grasp small pieces on the horizon, shapes and silhouettes that denote something not-yet fully in view, what Bloch calls a ‘That.’ But this That is still cloaked in darkness; our feeling of curiosity, our desire to illuminate the object puts us on the path of the “Utopian consciousness”[88] which “wants to look far into the distance, but ultimately only in order to penetrate the darkness so near it of the just lived moment.”[89] Bloch tells us that on board this ship “we need the most powerful telescope, that of polished utopian consciousness, in order to penetrate precisely the nearest nearness.”[90] Wills could not agree more, in a striking parallel Wills tells us that the “turning back”[91] is the “motor that propels us toward the future.”[92] For Wills the turn also resides in a “sense of departure”[93] whereby “the machine is essentially always a spacecraft.”[94]

Technology always appears behind our current view; it is in this process of turning to perceive what is behind that we become technologized. This represents the similar impossibility of seeing yourself directly; one can never look at oneself as oneself simultaneously. There is always a Not-Yet of otherness present in our condition. Even the utilization of a mirror is the utilization of technology. The other is an emergence or not-yet of our perspective. This other is contained within our trajectory. We are in the middle of things, flowing in between events, covering, uncovering, and recovering. Even “forward linearity”[95] only “makes reference to what is behind”[96] to what disrupts and “infects”[97] “that strict forward linearity of movement.”[98] This orientation to unknown otherness or what Bloch would call an orientation to the “darkness of the lived moment”[99] is a process that can be described as a “technology of the will.”[100] Even within a single person, Bloch makes the existential observation that the initial state of “I am”[101] quickly becomes “We are”.[102] Bloch means that we are continually stepping out of our own perspective to reflect on the condition of ‘I.’ This introduces an infinite regress whereby stepping out of our initial perspective creates a new perspective of self altogether. This points to a relativity of evaluation; what we call ‘I’ is only a dense and compact group of ‘selves.’ In this sense we are already a crowd, but “that we are alive cannot be felt.”[103]

This tie to relativity should be explored further; Bloch was well read on quantum physics and the theory of relativity in general. In the Principle of Hope, Second Volume, Bloch praises the work of Einstein and Heinsenberg for portraying the perpetual deferral and fluctuation of perspective.[104] Heinsenberg was famous for displaying how the observation of some event can in fact alter the event being observed. A reductionist evaluation of a complex process is only possible in equilibrium and complete stop. For Wills even reflection is a form of technology, because it is a form of turning into oneself or towards the interior. Bloch and Wills’ reading of process allows them to escape the problems introduced with the interior/exterior figuration. In a world discussed in terms of process and trajectory, even moving towards the interior in the case of reflection only jettisons our location of the self to the outside looking inward. If we must speak in terms of interior and exterior, then we can only speak of oscillation between these two seeming dualisms. This vision of subjectivity is described by Bloch in the Spirit of Utopia as a “pitch[ing] senselessly back and forth.”[105] Wills also seeks to challenge the reductionism of the interior/exterior divide in a similar fashion. Wills says that if we are to conceive of the “human reaching outside [of] itself”[106] involving technology, then we are conceiving of “technology… [as] a matter of exteriorization”[107] whereby the exterior is a “production”[108] “deposit[ed] in the present”[109] “for a future retrieval.”[110] Where Bloch leaves us with a subjectivity swaying “back and forth,”[111] Wills could not agree more. Wills leaves us with a picture where even “in reaching outside itself, the human… reaches both forward and back.”[112] We are a turning, quivering, oscillating substance.

Where Marx tries to establish uniform boundaries between the interior and exterior, Bloch and Wills explore the oscillation within the interior, to explore the interior’s interior, and the exterior’s exterior. For Bloch even retracting into ourselves does not end estrangement or return to an origin. Reflection that does not see itself as movement is sheer boredom. Instead for Bloch we are alive in becoming, in hungering, in striving; “In all of this, drive as definite striving, as a desire for something, remains alive.”[113] Our task is to build a structure, a house that will never be finished. This house will be in an ever-present state of Not-Yet-Become. For Bloch as well as Wills, it is the turning itself the process of change operating on the house that is valuable.  The parts of the house that are already built are not the source of value; “essential being is not Been-ness.”[114] Focusing on the “Been-ness”[115] of our structures is to ignore the Not-Yet of their trajectory; it is to create a situation of boredom and pause. Our “will destroys the house in which it is bored.”[116] For Bloch this is a house in constant movement; it is a building “in the clouds or [as] the knight’s castle in the form of a ship.”[117] Even the figure of the house should not be seen as imposing permanent boundaries on our existence. Bloch comments further how houses “express departure”[118] and operate “like ships.”[119] Wills ties this analysis together by concluding that the “house therefore means the externalization of its inhabitants.”[120] It is a constant call to project ourselves out of our condition, to produce “an externalization that ruptures the presumed internal integrity of whatever it houses.”[121] We are in fluctuation; we do not own the moment. Even in the nearest near of home, “one is [still] in exile.”[122]

            In tracing the evolutionary development of technology in humans, Wills reveals a profound parallel. The use of technology in human evolution began not as an activity of the intellect, but rather “the concept of tools”[123] developed “as a ‘secretion’ of the anthropoid’s body.”[124] Wills follows the anthropological accounts of Andre Leroi-Gourhan[125] to display how the ability for the “upright stance” divided our orientation to our surroundings in terms of a ‘front’ and ‘back.’[126] Leroi-Gourhan introduces the “earliest known example”[127] of a brain cavity structure that would allow for a recognition of “whatever is behind it.”[128] In this sense the upright posture and seemingly forward linear movement of this new bipedal human species explains the initial bifurcation of space into frontal and dorsal planes. As soon as this shift was introduced into our skeletal structure “an almost automatic technological outgrowth of the body occurred.”[129]  Leroi-Gourhan argues that the anthropological account of tools represents a process or spirit that is still carried through our intelligence with tools today. He says explicitly that “we have no right”[130] to believe the technological intelligence of early humans to have been “biologically incoherent,”[131] that “either the earliest-human made tools are indistinguishable from unprocessed stones or their forms are constantly recurring ones.”[132] Here even the anthropologists are cautious of making predictions about the terminus or progression of species. Despite not being common knowledge, “paleontology has demonstrated over and over again that no close link can be established between the chimpanzees and ourselves, forcing us to abandon the idea of a transitional Anthropopithecus.[133] Leroi-Gourhan combats the “infantile hypothesis”[134] which postulates the almost religious event where an animal one day, “through some flash of genius,”[135] picks up an object and makes it into a tool. Rather, he wants us to grasp the “paleontological reality”[136] of there being no sharp distinction between intellectual and technical realms in cognition. This goes to show how the human has always been a bundle of potentiality, a not-yet-become process. Technology is contained equally in the fleshy limbs of the seemingly ‘natural’ body as it is contained in the steel wires and circuits of the prosthetic limb. Technology is “exuded”[137] or “secret[ed]”[138] from the animal’s process. The early human learned to possess, “their tools in much the same way as an animal has [evolutionarily developed] claws.”[139]

In the figuration of plant subjectivity technology is also a secretion. Each secretion for the plant is part of a larger experiment; each leaf tests and opens itself up to the environment to uncover new facts about its conditions. The leaf dies when it fails to receive enough light or water; it becomes overgrown by another leaf. The plant will evacuate the fluids and gases out of the dying leaf and ship them off to another area of the plant to begin again. The plant is continually striving forward in an open-ended fashion of growth. When any one piece of the plant dies, the rest of the plant adapts to a new level of complexity; it self-organizes. Hegel, although being negative in his remark, sees the plant as multiplying itself: “The growth of the plant is an assimilation into itself of the other [part of the plant] but as a self-multiplication.” [140]  The plant tests its environment and it samples its’ conditions to respond. This is the similar biotechnology of the turn found through fluids, secretions, and oscillations. The plant is also a machine, a machine that turns in place. Even Hegel makes reference to the fluids and secretions contained within the plant as “oscillation”[141] and as a “quivering of vitality … restless Time.”[142] With some leaves dying here and some leaves living there, the plant forms a network of selves. Nietzsche here remarks, word for word repeating Goethe, that, “No living thing is unitary in nature: every such thing is a plurality.”[143] Recognizing the plurality of ‘selves’ within the biological organism including in plants and in animals demonstrates how we have always been technological.

This is not to be just an analysis that identifies common appearances. Wilde argues that animal scholarship since Marx has missed the deeper ontological point when they use “attempts to show that animals can do some things almost like humans”[144] as a starting point for breaking down the human/animal dichotomy. This analysis escapes this superficial approach. Instead of presupposing the goal of finding some intrinsically equal or common trait to hold together or define categories of substance, like the reductionist; Bloch begins with the presupposition that we are dealing with equally different or intrinsically different substances. This displays an interesting parallel to the Leibnizian system which sees the universe as comprised of an infinite number of monads. Each monad unfolds from within and represents the plurality of predications within the universe. Bloch readily comments on the insight provided by Leibniz to explain how the “inwardness of the monads”[145] can signify “subjectness in the objective sense as dynamic.”[146] Although Bloch criticizes Leibniz for believing that “subjectness retains its relative meaning”[147] in a monadic universe, Bloch praises Leibniz for his “pluralized”[148] approach to the “problem of the subject in nature.”[149] Instead of recourse to a unified subject in nature, like “the old natura naturans,”[150] Bloch describes what he calls the “nature-subject.”[151] The nature-subject is the “materially most immanent [stratum] that exists at all.”[152] This understanding of the cosmos as filled with potentiality and excitable states leads Bloch to refer to the human as “the electron of the human subject.”[153]

Hegel on the other hand believes the subject should exercise mastery of their individuality and return to the individual as a previously recognized state. In an effort to respond to the idea that we are a function determined from outside (i.e. nature), Hegel turns to a distinction based on the impossibility of imagining our own death. Knowledge of our bodily death “carries an incomparable negativity”[154] that forces us to come to terms with ourselves as separate or outside the natural realm. We become tricked because we believe the natural order to be transparent. This is not the case; we do not have access to some final perspective outside of the events of nature from which to evaluate the totality. Bloch is not denying that we can experience death and loss, but rather denying that we can grasp the total meaning of death once-and-for-all. We must even account for our pluralized state of being when evaluating feelings of death. Remember in Bloch’s system we do not possess some unified ‘I.’ Instead of claiming to experience one death in the singular sense, we mean to say we are experiencing deaths plural. We are only describing the re-surfaced anxiety of a death of a particular self in time, a particular self out of the many whose coordinates are archived in memory.

Bloch takes this analysis of death further with the introduction of technology. Memory serves as an archive for the series of events that occur in the present. Each ‘Now’ denotes a different experience recorded in our mind. We produce ‘The Now’ through reflection, but can never possess or fully grasp ‘The Now’ of the present. We can only look back to a series of snapshots of ‘selves’ that were once interacting with the world around them. Because technology is an extension or appendage of the ‘self,’ each remembered experience of our involvement with technology also contains the technology we involved ourselves with at that picture of time. The ‘self’ at that particular moment in time is just one of the many ‘selves’ to reflect with. This is a ‘reflection with’ and not a ‘reflection of’ because as stated earlier even reflection is a technological process that creates a new self out of a synthesis with the present. There is no Archimedean point from which to judge our previous existence objectively. By pluralizing Hegel’s concept of death to the multitude of ‘selves,’ Bloch is able to experience particular deaths without catering to the illusion of a transparent ‘I.’ In Principle of Hope, Bloch displays this in terms of the “technological accident”[155] where we can experience a sudden disruption and death of technology. We are told that the “technological catastrophe… implies every time the menacing Nothing, as definitive unmediateness.”[156] We record ourselves in a condition of misery or malfunction when the technology that we so depend on actually inhibits our journey. This particular disruption becomes part of the journey itself.

The plant is also a network of selves; the leaves, stems, and roots all become indicators or devices for reflection on its condition. The plant is a machine riddled with devices for recording factors as specific as frequency of light. The growth patterns and tendencies for a plant can be predicted even according to such sensitive stimuli such as temperature and insect pollinator. Its channels are flowing with secretions of chemical messages from other parts of the plant conduit. This secretion system is the plant’s manner by which it interacts with death. With some leaves dying here and some leaves living there, the plant is learning and communicating with its environment. The plant undergoes a technological accident when it receives stimuli that force the plant to adapt. Each leaf that fails the task of production or absorption of its requisite resources provides the plant with an event of death. A leaf positioned in poison dies and the plant has the capacity to record these movements to avoid future harm to itself. This corresponds well with Bloch’s praise of the technological accident as a catastrophe for encountering a moment of “definitive unmediateness.”[157]According to Miller, Hegel regards the plant “as deficient because of its unmediated relationship with the environment.”[158] Bloch employs Goethe’s reading of plant subjectivity as an implicit critique of Hegel. Both the plant vessel and the human/animal vessel are a receptacle whose content is a function of their technologization in the environment. The Blochian picture of an organism’s essence is “characterized by”[159] a genuine “indifference of form to content.”[160]

In this essay we have traced the departure of subjectivity from plants to machines and from machines to plants to display the reversibility of the biotechnological realm. Ernst Bloch’s depiction of the Not-Yet-Conscious satisfies David Wills’ call for a perspective that notices the “reversibility inherent in machine technology and the more radical conquest of time that takes place in biotechnology, in a genetic engineering that disrupts the temporality not only of re-production but of generation itself.”[161] Marx and Hegel are only able to explain the end of an event in terms of its beginning-state, while Bloch emphasizes the value of the journey itself such that beginning is always a perpetual end-state in itself. The journey, called hope, is operated by our technology of the will. The harmony formed between the “co-productivity of a possible natural subject”[162] and the “technology of the will”[163] “both together suggest the concrete utopia of technology.” Ernst Bloch, the philosopher of hope, calls for us to recalibrate our notion of essence to the rapidly changing tempo surrounding us. Wills in a similar fashion alerts us to our present potential “at the crossroads of our greatest hopes and worst fears – in favor of a technology”[164] “not necessarily dependent on a type of mutual animate recognition.”[165] Our task, which has been updated by Wills in the technological age, “is not to replace the organic with the mechanical”[166] or to be caught in nostalgia of a fixed beginning, but rather to “investigate what shifts of terrain might occur once we take the technological turn back to a place behind where we traditionally presume it to have taken place, turning back around behind us from the start.”[167] This is where theorists of the future converge. The philosopher with the ‘Prelude to the Philosophy of the Future,’ Nietzsche, reminds us that “like trees we grow”[168] “fuller of future.”[169] This sentiment can only be echoed by Bloch. In the Philosophy of the Future, we are given a profound statement that ties together the figuration of the house with the figuration of the plant-subjectivity. For Bloch the ‘within’ and the ‘without’ are not separable, even by some perverse act of God, “therefore everything within becomes conscious of itself only by virtue of what lies without… otherwise it would remain isolate; without that being-with-us that is not ‘he,’ not ‘one,’ but ‘we’; without that round about us which came (and comes) to be the potting soil in which the human plant grows, and the raw material of man’s house… so we ourselves emerge.”[170]

[1] Jurgen Habermas, Philosophical-Political Profiles, “A Marxist Schelling,” Translated by Frederick Lawrence. (1983)., P.72.

[2] Wills, David. Dorsality: Thinking Back through Technology and Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008. P. 3

[3] Ibid., P.  3

[4] Ibid., P.  3

[5] Ibid., P.  3

[6] Ibid., P.  5

[7] Ibid., P.  5

[8] Ibid., P.  5

[9] Ibid., P.  5

[10] Ibid., P. 5

[11] Ernst Bloch and John Cumming. A Philosophy of the Future. New York: Herder and Herder, 1970. P. 1

[12] Ibid., P. 1

[13] Ibid., P. 1

[14] Bloch, Ernst. Bloch: the Principle of Hope Volume 1. Trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight. Vol. 1. [S.l.]: Mit, 1986. P. 4

[15] Wills, David. Dorsality: Thinking Back through Technology and Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008. ‘Chapter 2 Facades of the Other’

[16] Ibid., P. 34-35

[17] Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review, 1978 P. 174

[18] Adams St.Pierre, E. “Circling the Text: Nomadic Writing Practices.” Qualitative Inquiry 3.4 (1997): 403-17

[19] Ernst Bloch, On Karl Marx, New York: Herder and Herder, 1971. P. 24

[20] Miller, Elaine P. The Vegetative Soul: from Philosophy of Nature to Subjectivity in the Feminine. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2002. P. 17

[21] ‘bioist’ – from a Term Coined by Nick Bostrom in “Ethics for Intelligent Machines: A Proposal,” 2001 Publication., Original Context: “Substrate is morally irrelevant, assuming it doesn’t affect functionality or consciousness. It doesn’t matter, from a moral point of view, whether somebody runs on silicon or biological neurons (just as it doesn’t matter whether you have dark or pale skin). On the same grounds, that we reject racism and speciesism, we should also reject carbon-chauvinism, or bioism.”

[22] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

[23] Wilde, Lawrence. “The Creatures, Too, Must Become Free’: Marx and the Animal/Human Distinction.” Capital and Class 24.37 (2000): P. 39

[24] Ibid., P. 39

[25] Ibid., P. 39, Quote Originally from Marx

[26] Gould, Carol C. Marx’s Social Ontology: Individuality and Community in Marx’s Theory of Social Reality. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1978. Pg 40

[27] Ibid., P. 47

[28] Ibid., P. 47

[29] Elaine Miller, P. 69. Quote Originally from Hegel in Philosophy of Nature

[30] Elaine Miller. P. 61

[31] Elaine Miller. P. 61

[32] Plaice, Plaice, Knight, The Principle of Hope, Translator’s Introduction., P. xxx

[33] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

[34] Lawrence Wilde, P. 42

[35] Lawrence Wilde, P. 42. Quote from Marx

[36] Elaine Miller, P. 135.

[37] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, P. 67.

[38] Lawrence Wilde. P. 42. Quote Originally from Marx

[39] Ibid., P. 42. Quote Originally from Marx

[40] Ibid., P. 42.

[41] Ibid., P. 42 Quote Originally from Marx 

[42] Elaine Miller. P. 137

[43] Gare, Aaran. “Philosophical Anthropology, Ethics and Political Philosophy in an Age of Impending Catastrophe.” Cosmos and History: the Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy 5.2 (2009).  Web

[44] Jay, Martin. Marxism and Totality. University of California, 1984. P. 185

[45] Ibid., P. 185

[46] Ibid., P. 185

[47] Ibid., P. 181

[48] Ibid., P. 181

[49] Ibid., P. 170

[50] Ibid., P. 170

[51] Ibid., P. 171

[52] Ernst Bloch, On Karl Marx, New York: Herder and Herder, 1971. P.41

[53] Ibid., P. 41

[54] Ibid., P. 41

[55] Ibid., P. 44

[56] Ibid., P. 44

[57] Ibid., P. 42

[58] Ibid., P. 41

[59] Ibid., P. 41

[60] Ibid., P. 42

[61] Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope., P. 292

[62] Papadopoulos, Dimitris. “Insurgent Posthumanism.” Ephemera 10.2 (2010) P. 147

[63] Ernst Bloch, On Karl Marx., P. 41

[64] Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope., P. 5

[65]  David Wills, P. 11

[66] Grove, Jairus. “Must We Persist to Continue? William Connolly’s Critical Responsiveness Beyond the Limits of the Human Species” Comp. Alan Finlayson. Democracy and Pluralism: the Political Thought of William E. Connolly. London: Routledge, 2010. P. 183

[67] Ibid., P. 184

[68] Ibid., P. 184-187

[69] Kirsch, Scott, and Don Mitchell. “The Nature of Things: Dead Labor, Nonhuman Actors, and the Persistence of Marxism.” Antipode (2004). P. 698. Quote Originally from Marx

[70] Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope., P. 1

[71] Ibid., P. 1

[72] Ibid., P. 1

[73] Ibid., P. 5

[74] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science. Translated By Walter Kaufmann. P. 331.

[75] Ernst Bloch, The Philosophy of the Future., P. 1

[76] Ibid., P. 1

[77] Ibid., P. 1

[78] Ibid., P. 1

[79] Ibid., P. 45

[80] Ibid., P. 45

[81] Ibid., P. 45

[82] Ibid., P. 45

[83] David Wills, P. 7

[84] Ibid., P. 19

[85] Ibid., P. 19

[86] Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope., P. 25

[87] Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope., P. 25

[88] Ibid., P. 1

[89] Ibid., P. 12

[90] Ibid., P. 12

[91] David Wills, P. 9

[92] Ibid., P. 9

[93] Ibid., P. 9

[94] Ibid., P. 9

[95] Ibid., P. 5

[96] Ibid., P. 5

[97] Ibid., P. 5

[98] Ibid., P. 5

[99] Ernst Bloch, Principle of Hope., P. 647

[100] Ibid., P. 674

[101] Ernst Bloch, Spirit of Utopia. Translated By Anthony A, Nassar.,  P. 1

[102] Ibid., P. 1

[103] Ernst Bloch, Principle of Hope., P. 45

[104] Ibid., P. 658-686

[105] Ernst Bloch, Spirit of Utopia., P. 7

[106] David Wills. P. 10

[107] Ibid., P. 10

[108] Ibid., P. 10

[109] Ibid., P. 10

[110] Ibid., P. 10

[111] Ernst Bloch, Spirit of Utopia. P. 7

[112] David Wills P. 10

[113] Ernst Bloch, Principle of Hope., P. 47

[114]Ibid., P. 18

[115] Ibid., P. 18

[116] Ibid., P. 25

[117] Ibid., P. 25

[118] Ibid., P. 733

[119] Ibid., P. 733

[120] David Wills. P. 14

[121]  Ibid., P. 14

[122] Ibid., P. 14

[123] Ibid., P. 8

[124] Ibid., P. 8

[125] Andre Leroi-Gourhan. Gesture and Speech Translated by Anna Bostock Berger. MIT Press 1993)

[126]  David Wills, P. 8

[127] Ibid., P. 8

[128] Ibid., P. 8

[129] Ibid., P. 8

[130] Andre Leroi-Gourhan, P. 92

[131] Andre Leroi-Gourhan P. 92

[132] Ibid., P. 92

[133] Ibid., P. 63

[134] Ibid., P. 106

[135] Ibid., P. 106

[136] Ibid., P. 106

[137] Ibid., P. 91

[138] Ibid., P. 91

[139] Ibid., P. 106

[140] Elaine Miller, P. 139 Originally Quote from Hegel in Philosophy of Nature

[141] Ibid., P. 161 Quote Originally from Hegel in Philosophy of Nature

[142] Ibid., P. 139 Quote Originally from Hegel in Philosophy of Nature

[143] Ibid., P. 161 Quote from Nietzsche and Originally from Goethe

[144] Lawrence Wilde. P. 42

[145] Ernst Bloch, Principle of Hope., P. 673

[146] Ibid., P. 673

[147] Ibid., P. 673

[148] Ibid., P. 673

[149] Ibid., P. 673

[150] Ibid., P. 673

[151] Ibid., P. 673

[152] Ibid., P. 673

[153] Ibid., P. 673

[154] Elaine Miller, P. 142-143

[155] Ernst Bloch, Principle of Hope., P. 674

[156] Ibid., P. 694

[157] Ibid., P. 695

[158] Elaine Miller, P. 161

[159] Ernst Bloch Principle of Hope P. 695

[160] Ibid., P. 695

[161] David Wills P. 11

[162] Ernst Bloch, Principle of Hope  P. 695

[163] Ibid., P. 695

[164] David Wills, P. 17

[165] Ibid., P. 13

[166] Ibid., P. 6

[167] Ibid., P. 6

[168] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science. Translated By Walter Kaufmann. P. 331

[169] Ibid., P. 331

[170] Ernst Bloch, The Philosophy of the Future., P. 2


by admin.

In Das Kapital, Marx advances another criterion to distinguish between non-human animals and human animals. He advances the criteria of “imagination,” or the ability to foresee the production of something not yet produced (DK, 344). For Marx, non-human animals are seamlessly attached to the products of their labor as a function of their immediate needs. What he means by this is that non-human animals follow specific desires that immediately fulfill roles in survival such as hunger and fear etc. This rhetoric is fairly consistent even as far back as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Marx states: “It is true that the animal, too, produces. It builds itself a nest, a dwelling, like the bee… But it only produces what it needs immediately for itself or its offspring; it produces one-sidedly…” (76). Humans on the other hand are able to engage in detached relations with our objects of production. This is the starting point for having relations. In order to have relations between something we have to first see it as external to ourselves. Relaying this relationship requires further the establishment of language to convey an experience. Thus, Marx also views language as a human attribute. Marx makes explicit references in the German Ideology to language and its concurrent development with consciousness. This concurrence explains further the foundational dichotomy in Marx between, human animals, who possess a consciousness of language and affect, and non-human animals, who do not possess these relations of language and affect. It is useful to quote Marx at length on this point:

            “…we find that man [sic] also possesses “consciousness”; but, even so, not inherent, not “pure” consciousness. From the start the “spirit” is afflicted with the curse of being “burdened” with matter, which here makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short of languageLanguage is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness, as it exists for other men, and for that reason is really beginning to exist for me personally as well; for language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of an intercourse with other men. Where there exists a relationship, it exists for me: the animal has no “relations” with anything, cannot have any. For the animal, its relation to others does not exist as a relation. Consciousness is therefore from the very beginning as social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all.” – The German Ideology, Part 1. (158).

            This quote corresponds with the sentiment in Das Kapital, where Marx outlines a similar criterion for language. He says that language is a production; it involves the arrangement of relations and the relations of arrangement.  Marx’s hierarchy between the species has been heavily debated and can be particularly hard to respond to because of its intuitive appeal to distinctions such as beauty, utility, alienation, and language. Ironically, Marx’s (much needed) criticisms of reductionism in scholarship only focused on the exterior of the subject. Although, Marx was able to spot the reductionist assumption of an isolated ego in literature and science, he was unable to remove the reductionism surrounding his investigation with the interior workings of the subject. In all of the attributes that Marx advances for the species distinction, he performs a reductionist maneuver of first defining the existence of that particular category in humanist terms before the production of that category is justified. With this in mind the following analysis is an investigation of this threshold. Even a seemingly smooth threshold or rigid line becomes jagged, fragmented, porous, on closer inspection. If we zoom in close enough, what seemed to be a boundary, a distinction, a limitation dissolves.

The honeybee provides a distinct test case for an experiment within Marx’s writing.  Even as far back as the Philosophic and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx uses the example of the bee to convey his distinction. Today, scientists possess more knowledge concerning honeybee behavior. In the 1980’s many experiments uncovered their ability for communication and memory.  Honeybees can learn patterns and remember images to navigate a landscape. When an individual bee locates an area for nutrients, then it remembers the location and communicates the message to other bees in the colony. This language capacity can take place through many mediums as well including through visual dancing, the production of pheromones, and the presentation of food. Marx would have been unaware of the advanced intelligence of honeybees; he especially could not have foreseen the advanced fields in engineering based on honeybees including ‘hive memory’ and ‘swarm theory.’ Inside a bee hive is a thriving economy of bees interacting with their environment and themselves. The air around the hive is circulating with chemical messages.  These messages allow for communication to occur through an intricate pheromone transmission system.

I wish to explore the threshold between the human/animal barrier in Marx by investigating the honeybee’s capacity for language and memory. Is it possible that Marx is using the wrong units for analysis? How do we know that a single bee compared to a single human is adequate? Why not an entire hive versus a single neuron?  The first comparison would clearly favor the human specimen, while the second comparison would favor the bee. Surely, Marx believes that the human cannot be reduced to a single neuron. This warrants that the human consciousness must in some sense emerge from some organization between the neurons within our brain. The billions of neurons each contribute to a process of self-organization. As the network of neurons receives more input they react and respond. Complexity theory refers to the spontaneous adaptation of a system as ‘learning.’  What we call the imagination or memory is simply an archive of associations in history.  These memories are held together on a common substrate which we typically reference as our subject(ivity). The attributes and behaviors of our subjecthood are stored in a large library of imprints and arrangements. This is no library of books, better rather a library of neurons and chemical messages. 

Similarly in honeybees, if we remove our anthropocentric and reductionist urge to compare one human versus one bee, then our units of analysis become the hive with its swarm of honeybees versus the brain and its swarm of neurons. Because Marx portrays language as an activity concurrent with consciousness, irreparable tension is injected into his depiction of the human animal and non-human animal dichotomy. If language and consciousness are “not inherent” but rather arise out of a “burden with matter,” then on what grounds can we confine consciousness and relations to the realm of the human animal (GI, 158)?  I believe complexity theory provides a solution to this problem. Complexity theory provides an explanation for how something can arise spontaneously. This style of explanation would escape the need for some essentialist or rule-based foundation (like Marx).

Complexity-theory scholarship offers much to Marxism, but specific to this investigation is the nature of conscious and what makes up memory. In complexity theory a complex process can accumulate imprints or reactions to information through encounter. My brain currently is encountering music, concepts, and anxieties. Each of these elements work in an ensemble to cover, uncover, and recover past information that is embedded in the network of neurons. There is no perfectly defined cause and effect in this network, which makes it problematic to utilize a reductionist analysis to account for human essence. This is not to say that there are no organized relations in the mind, but rather to say that even the seemingly organized and confined structures of thought are saturated with a compact, dense form of excess. The mind is truly buzzing with activity like a hive full of dancing bees. Where neurons interact by firing chemical messages, bees interact by sending chemical pheromones and by engaging in sophisticated dance language. The hive is a structure brimming with the language of chemical dance.  It is ironic to find Marx’s beginning for human value and human consciousness in language, which is in my analysis equally a nexus from which to end the privileged category of the human. I see Marx ascribing to the curriculum of Nietzsche’s “devil,” the spirit of gravity; this is a devil where “through him all things fall.” Only the honeybee’s dance ruptures the belief in the spirit of gravity and propels one forward to find another belief altogether. We should heed Nietzsche’s caution to “believe only in a god who could dance.”  A god, who rules over a place, where “every day I count wasted in which there has been no dancing.”  In the beehive there is no day counted as true waste, because in the beehive no day is without the language of dancing.

Friedrich Nietzsche. Zarathustra, “On Reading and Writing.”

Conversations with Afropessimism* – Kevin Clarke

by admin.

(Provisionally Titled*; Original Title Withheld*) 


By Kevin Clarke 


Scholars and academics in sociology and the humanities have for years wrestled with the question of whether black agency is nothing more than an oxymoron. Recently a new approach in black philosophy has taken up this question only to provide an unflinchingly pessimistic answer in response. The approach which goes by the moniker of ‘afropessimism’ refers to a group of structural theorists who adopt a paradigmatic analysis that theorizes the Black positionality as always already conditioned by ‘social death.’ Their analysis thus concludes that dispossession cannot always be theorized as an experiential concern but rather must be theorized as a condition of black existence. The provocative conclusions of afropessimism have ensnared and anchored the theoretical imaginary of today’s scholarship on blackness. This paper will scrutinize the validity of the afropessimist conclusion that anti-blackness ontologically anchors civil society. Primarily, afropessimism will be criticized for its adoption of an underlying latent Hegelianism that not only misappropriates the role of ontology in relation to politics, but that also ignores post-humanist formulations of politics. After outlining the implications of this problem, this paper will briefly present an alternative trajectory to re-calibrate black politics while heeding the cautions, frustrations, and brilliance of afropessimism. I must be clear; the aim of this critique is not to entirely dispense with the conceptual frameworks or vocabularies of afro-pessimism altogether, as this would ignore a myriad of relevant lessons, important upper limitations, and exigent correctives for any rigorous conversation on race or blackness.


In the context of antiracism, we can locate a distinct shift across disciplines in the last few decades away from the previous understanding of race as being biologically determined toward a conception that figures race as a function of social interpretations. Unfortunately, despite this departure from biological determinism and the important conceptual developments in sociology, theorists have simply arrived back into a framework of analysis that mystifies rather than clarifies the nature of racial dispossession in North America (possibly even globally). At issue here is the way in which sociology theorizes with a set of hidden, multicultural precepts concerning the question of agency. Their work takes for granted the answer to the question: what constitutes human agency? Instead, their intellectual labor begins with the precept that all subjects exist in the first instance as fully capable and coherent agents. This assumption that all humans possess a fullness or a coherency of capacity can be referred to as a subject’s corporeal capacity. As a corrective to this agent-centric approach, theorists within the humanities in the last decade have demanded a theorization that instead adopts a structural reading of political events. Rather than argue that racial violence and anti-black dispossession are functions of specific agents that can be isolated as causes, a structural analysis locates the cause at the level of the system or the matrix of power itself. For black structural theorists (examples include: black Marxism, black anarchism, afropessimism, feminist race theory, afra-realism, etc), the entire matrix of the political economy must be systemically implicated as a dimension of racial violence alongside the agents embedded in that system.

Simply adopting a structural reading of suffering does not keep one safe from being implicated in the perpetuation of dispossession. Although a system-wide consciousness is important to understanding the racialization of bodies and subjects in general, according to the afro-pessimist critique, the narrative that becomes legitimized is still nonetheless foundational to the performative violence that is continually enacted on the paradigms of Redness and Blackness in North America. This type of criticism extends beyond the structural analysis of the political economy by interrogating the libidinal economy that undergirds it. The phrase ‘libidinal economy’ for afro-pessimists refers to “the economy, or distribution and arrangement, of desire and identification (their condensation and displacement), and the complex relationship between sexuality and the unconscious” (7). Under paradigmatic analysis, the libidinal economy is regarded as just “as ‘objective’ as political economy” (7). This condition of objectivity allows theorists to rigorously interrogate the assumptive logics and paradigms that underlie political capacity and political desire altogether. The meta-logics that pervade civil society are thus analyzed as a set of semiotic investments.

At the forefront of this scholarship is the cultural critic Frank Wilderson. His writing has attained wide-scale notoriety for its demand for an ‘unflinching paradigmatic analysis’ of the libidinal economy. Under Wilderson’s framework there is a permanent and unfixable gap between Blackness and Whiteness. His version of afropessimism argues that any Humanist framework is grossly inadequate and parasitic on Blackness at the level of the libidinal economy. In operational terms, the promise of racial progress is nothing more than a passionate dream operating as a parasitic nightmare. Specifically, the problem lies in the underlying logic of humanism which relies on an “implicit rhetorical consensus” that all subject-positions possess the same capacity for subjecthood as an essential condition of their being (54). Today’s socio-political imaginary is oversaturated by this exact Humanist consensus because of its collective reliance on: either, a schema of the worker, demanding labor equality and the democratization of the means of production, or, a schema of the egoic subject, grasping or wielding corporeal capacity to fend off physical and material suffering.

Even the latest installment of multi-cultural, humanist discourse mystifies rather than clarifies the suffering and violence that accumulates specifically to Blackness and Redness. Despite the burning passion and hysteric intentions of civil society’s dream to one day redeem Whiteness from slavery and/or compensate natives for the obliteration afforded to them by colonial genocide, the United States as an ethical formation will never succeed in the task to, as Wilderson so simply puts it, to “Give Turtle Island back to the ‘Savage.’ [and/or] Give life itself back to the Slave” (2). In other words, despite all civil society’s attention to solidarity, collaboration, and unity, the contemporary narrative adopts a grammar of suffering that is not only speechless to express the truth of anti-black dispossession and terror, but is also parasitic on that very arrangement. By ‘grammar of suffering,’ Wilderson references the field of semiotics and linguistics. Grammar in these disciplines refers to the codes and protocols that enable and/or limit the expression of meaning; they are the unspoken rules that govern how and if one can convey meaning. Likewise, Wilderson is interrogating the unspoken rules that restrict one’s ability to convey the meaning of suffering and dispossession within the libidinal, and by extension political, economies. The grammar of these domains can be objectively interrogated to disclose their underlying premises in regards to suffering.

Under the Afropessimist framework, the condition of anti-black dispossession can only be understood through the lens of political ontology by what Wilderson calls an ‘unflinching paradigmatic analysis.’ Paradigm is conceptually equivalent to the sociology term subject-position or positionality. It’s a reference to the generic characteristics or, vague categories of power, that sentience can occupy. Ontology refers to the study of being and to the study of what essentially is a thing’s nature. Put more simply, it asks: what constitutes a thing of which without it, the thing could no longer be said to be that identical thing?; What is a thing’s essence? Furthermore, the framework’s emphasis on political ontology refers to a type of analysis that purely provides an assessment using the essentials of a political paradigm. For example, a paradigmatic analysis of political ontology would ask the question of constituents: what constitutes a particular paradigm? What makes that paradigm that paradigm? In the context of the positionality of the Black, the constitutive question would ask: What makes Black, Black? Or, it’s ontological equivalent: What makes White, White? The capitalization of Slave is used to designate position or paradigm under the lens of political ontology. In this case, it is synonymous with the essence of Slaveness, which is furthermore indistinguishable from the political essence of Blackness.

For Wilderson, the constitutive question when applied to the structural positionalities of North America provides him with the conclusion that the structure of U.S. antagonisms can be triangulated between the positions of Red, White, and Black. In other words, the constitutive question reveals the existence of an irreconcilable and structural gap: the antagonism between the position of the Slave (Blackness, Anti-Human), the Savage (Redness, Half-Human), and the Master (Whiteness, Human). The word antagonism refers to an irreconcilable difference between positions that cannot be resolved through any series of events. In a short article criticizing Antonio Gramsci, Wilderson elaborates this as an analysis that “dismisses any kind of dialectical optimism for a future synthesis” (2002, pg.3). Following Frantz Fanon, this politics is a war of positions that can only entail the obliteration of one of the warring entities; there’s no possibility for (re)conciliatory unity. The concept of antagonism or antagonistic identity formation should be contrasted with the “rubric of conflict” (55). For example, the relation between the hegemonic and the subaltern (political subject of counter-hegemony) can be classified as a conflictual relationship because, it’s predicated on the conflict of a subject subverting, transgressing, or violating the hegemony of law. In other words, we can make sense of this situation according to particular rules of civil society; it’s a relationality of contingency with respect to how one suffers.

In assembling these concepts together, Wilderson distills the entire set of hegemonic conflicts down to the structural positionality of White. He argues that the position of White in the United States encompasses the whole range of intra-human conflicts and even intra-settler conflicts. For him, the White positionality is synonymous with the essence of civil society and with the essence of what it means to be Human simultaneously. Humanism is ultimately able to house a number of conflicts within itself –within its terrain, or matrix.  Civil society secures this ‘material base’ or ‘social fabric’ off of which all other conflicts between Human contemporaries can then take place upon. These conflictual relations are ‘contingent situations’ or ‘events of contingency.’ The concept of contingency can be traced to that of Gramsci, who theorized that society struggled according to the play between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces. The hegemonic force is able to make and officiate specific rules governing a given society. When a subject breaches or violates the hegemony of law, then that subject can be sanctioned for violence; or, put simply, the encounter relies on exchanging the choice of transgression for the expectation of suffering. Thus, a conflictual rubric contains an adequate grammar of suffering to explain any type of violence that is contingent on one’s transgression.

The ontological fight over what criteria are acceptable for one to be recognized and integrated into civil society as fully human, has a historical legacy that for some subject-positions directly mirrors how and when they were structurally dispossessed. For Wilderson a subject-position that is antagonistically dispossessed can only be explained by the analytic of gratuitous violence. This suturing of history to political ontology for Blackness is not a similarity of correlation, but rather one and the same product of Whiteness. Rather than simply denoting a similarity between two seemingly distinct domains of history and ontology, the Afro-pessimists argue that we are speaking of identical entities shaped out of absolute causation, raw condition, or timeless facticity. To explain this as a set of isolated causes would be inadequate, because when the cause and the effect are the same, the meaning of causality loses its explanatory power or analytical value. They are the same in the sense that, to quote Wilderson, re-quoting Frantz Fanon, the “cause is the consequence; you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich” (78). To identify this entity as a systemic force, dimension, or plane of violence that endlessly positions Black sentience, these theorists use the figuration of a ‘matrix’ to explain this dispossession. In other words, being violently dispossessed operates as an initial constituent of their being even prior to any subjective experience that fills-in the raw, epidermal rebar. The condition of being ‘fatally alive’ or ‘natally alienated’ regardless of experiential makeup marks the condition of social death. Gratuitous violence refers to this senseless terror suffered by a positionality consigned to social death. Unlike the Human subject’s commonsense or contingent grammar of suffering, the analytic of gratuitous violence abandons altogether the possibility of achieving narrative cohesion; it does not adopt a conclusion with any explanatory power or corporeal capacity to make sense of antagonistic dispossession. Under afropessimism, the dispossession and horror of anti-blackness can only be senseless when evaluated according to civil society’s official narrative.

The analytic of gratuitous violence fully eclipses the structural circumstances of the Black, while only half-positioning the subject of Redness. Due to the unique style of dispossession enacted and ongoing on native and indigenous peoples, the Savage positionality is regarded as half-positioned by gratuitous violence and half-positioned by contingent violence. Their access to the gratuitous violence analytic stems from the previous and ongoing genocide on Native-Americans that produces irreconcilable destruction of which there can never be repair, and never be redemption. Alternatively, the other half of the Savage position can be explained by a framework of contingency because the Natives still possess ties to land, kinship, and sovereignty from which they can generate enough rhetorical and material currency to be recognized as half-human, subaltern subjects via empathic identification.

Instead of possessing the “cartographic and temporal capacities” of the subaltern’s customs, traditions, and land, the Slave positionality is marked by absolute dereliction and utter emptiness (54-55). For Wilderson, determining an ontological essence for the Slave is an impossibility, because ontological analysis assumes that the corporeal, or subjective, capacity for social life and social activity exist in the first place. Put simply, Slaveness was essentially relegated to function not as a subject, but rather as a sentient, propertied object. As a species of property, the essence of the Slave can accumulate an indeterminate number of purposes depending on the whims of the Master. For this reason, Afropessimism defines the technologies of slavery, not as essentially exploitation, drudgery, or contingent violence, but rather as ‘accumulation and fungibility.’ By this they mean that the essence of the Slave constantly accumulates meaning from the Master, while the word ‘fungibility’ makes reference to how the Slave’s value can be easily and limitlessly commodified alongside other goods as an exchangeable piece of property or money. The non-ontological status of Slaveness/Blackness can be further articulated (or more properly ‘inarticulated,’ given the absence of articulation in the Gramscian sense) as the condition of complete, social death. Ultimately, the gap between Master and Slave is permanent and unbridgeable.

When scaled up to the level of society, the antagonistic gap provides the basis for the parasitic arrangement that gives birth to subjecthood. The incommensurate and anti-human status of the encounter with the Black object provides the backdrop from which White sociality registers itself as socially alive in the first place. The Black structurally becomes positioned as the anti-human threat from which the rest of Humanity (civil society) purchases coherency and, re-solidifies membership to the club. Humanity (social life itself) thereby understands itself as clearly and distinctly real by first demarcating what the reality of humanness is not. In this Hegelian sense, the interplay between ontological forces (being, social life, subject, freedom) and non-ontological forces (non-being, social death, sentient object, enslaved) takes place along the same antagonistic fault lines that triangulate the war between Red Savage, White Master, and Black Slave. This triangulation occurs between the two mutually exclusive zones of social life and social death.

One might notice the peculiarity of choosing the word triangulation to describe a coordination between two concepts. As a metaphor Wilderson adopts the figuration of a balance-scale that can freely measure corporeal capacity between two subjects but only with the Black sentient object as the fulcrum of that measurement. This is because Slaveness is a positionalitiy or subject-position that lacks the subjective capacity altogether. The encounter with the incoherency of the Black sentient object is the reflective surface on and by which all other permutations of humanism purchase their coherency. Instead, only White (including subaltern) and Red positionalities have the capacity to be in the world: Whiteness as permanently the apex of the life-world itself and Redness as perpetually oscillating between being in the world or, just being of the world. When this encounter is scaled-up to the level of civil society it becomes the anti-black fabric that makes it possible for civil society to formulate, strengthen, and even dialectically contest itself. This dialectical narrative, which is essential to the worker and egoic subject, is always in diametrical opposition to the site of absolute dereliction that is the positionality of Blackness (Fanon). An unflinching paradigmatic analysis reveals that the Black is never in the world, but rather, always-already a product of the world as an object freely (or gratuitously) accumulating the danger and social costs of what it takes to simply have a blackened epidermal rebar.


The totalizing theorization of Blackness as ‘embodied incapacity’ and as an anti-human foil out of which civil society grounds itself, is a hypothesis based on a conflation of the word ‘political’ and the word ‘politics.’ Followers of Wilderson mis-use the category of political ontology when their paradigmatic analyses………… 

Badiou, Alain. Deleuze: the Clamour of Being University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers, 1971. Ed. Hoare, Quentin & Smith, Geoffrey Nowell.

Gordon, Lewis. Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism. Atlanta Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1995.

James, Joy. 2013. “Afra-Realism and the Black Matrix: Maroon Philosophy at Democracy’s Border” The Black Scholar, Volume 43, Number 4.

James, Joy. 2013. “ “Concerning Violence”: Frantz Fanon’s Rebel Intellectual in Search of a Black Cyborg” The South Atlantic Quarterly, Volume, 112, No 1. Winter. Duke Univ Press.

  James, Joy. 2012. “Joy James: Refusing Blackness as Victimization: Trayvon Martin & the Black Cyborgs” Lecture by Joy James on September 19, 2012 at Univ of Wisconsin-Madison. Organized by the A.E. Havens Center. Online.  

Wilderson, Frank III. 2010. – Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms

Wilderson, Frank B III. 2010. Speaking on a Panel on Literary Activism at the National Black Writers Conference. March 26, 2010. “Panel on Literary Activism” Transcribed from Online Source. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/id/222448, begins at roughly 49:10 

Wilderson, Frank III. 2011. “The Vengeance of Vertigo” InTensions Journal, Fall/Winter. 2011

How We’ll Teach the Kritik – Nico Juarez

by admin.

Most people understand the kritik to be made of three elementary parts: A link, an impact, and an alternative. However, beyond this, there often isn’t a lot of explanation about how the K functions besides as an indictment of some assumptions made on the part of the affirmative. In the 2 weeks session, we’ll go a lot deeper into the theory of what a kritik is and how it needs to be run. 

In the case of the different parts of a criticism, we’ll look at what links mean about the affirmative and how different kinds of kritik links mean different things. We’ll not only explain the various kinds of kritik links, but how those links change the nature of the kritik. In this way, we’ll come to understand kritik links as changing how even the same sort of kritik can be run in very different ways. In terms of the impacts, we’ll be looking at various different ways to do impact calculus and how kritik impacts can compete with the affirmative at different scales—either on the same level of the plan or advocacy or beyond it. Finally, we’ll go in depth about what alternatives are. What, for example, makes the kritik any different from a critical counterplan? Parsing out the distinctions between a counterplan advocacy and an alternative will allow students not only to explore various different types of alternatives, but explore how kritiks are not just counter-advocacies, but different ideas about the purpose and method of debate as well as different theories of change. Exploring these parts in depth will allow students to not only master the kritiks they are familiar with, but explore and develop critical literature in order to construct their own kritiks and deploy the same literature base in a variety of different ways.

Beyond this, we’ll be taking a student-centered learning approach to different kritiks. Some students will want to learn the capitalism kritik and others will want to hear about Afropessimism and settler colonial theory while others will want to learn the intricate philosophy of Gilles Deleuze or Jean Baudrillard. Whether your interests are Nietzsche or queer theory, we’ll allow students to decide what kritiks they’re interested in so that they get the most out of their work, ensuring that everything they learn is translatable to the upcoming debate year. 

Finally, for those less interested in the kritik, we’ll learn how to answer kritiks not only be exploring common answers to kritiks, but by examining how to answer the kritik on its own terms. In this way, we hope to reveal the kritik/policy divide to be largely artificially created and make sure that no matter your preferred debating style that you can deploy the tricks of kritiks to beat your opponents. 

We can’t wait to see you this summer!