Posts Tagged “humanism”

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]

EMERGENCE AS PLANT: PROCESS OF SUBJECTIVITY AND SUBJECITIVITY OF PROCESS

“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

TO THE DISSOLUTION OF HIERARCHIES: MARX’S HONEYBEE CONTRA MARX’S HUMANISM PART I – Kevin Clarke

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.
TO THE DISSOLUTION OF HIERARCHIES: MARX’S HONEYBEE CONTRA MARX’S HUMANISM PART II

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.”