Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing Response: Whither Theology

I hope Clayton doesn’t mind, but I decided to delay responding to the question he posed after Tuesday’s summary. He asked:

So if Malabou is right, and one wants to affirm plasticity and engage in a new materialism, then does that preclude theology? Or is there at least the possibility of a theological materialism along these lines that forecloses (or does not revert to conceptions of) trace and transcendence?

It seems to me that if there is to be a place for theology in the kind of materialism to which Malabou is commited, it cannot simply be a matter of relocating theology from its traditional confessional context(s) into alternative, secular settings. The easy target here is the stereotypical Popular Culture & Religion crowd, rushing to write the definitive Big Lebowski & Theology book, or perhaps The Gospel According to South Park. These, however, are not the target of my seemingly facile observation.

Rather, my point is to say that any theological materialism that seeks to take Malabou at her word must be willing to question the status, or what I have termed elsewhere, the naming, of its ultimate concern (and, yes, I mean that in the Tillichean vein). In certain radical/secular theological circles, this naming occurs by way of a certain ontological prioritization of difference, or heterogeneity, or sublimity. Clayton may disagree with me strenuously here, but I do not see how this can at all be squared with Malabou’s resistance to transcendence.

Importantly, though, this does not mean she has nothing to offer theology. Indeed, were theology to internalize such a materialism, I think it may very well find an amazing new vitality. At the very least, it would remove a lot of hand-wavy appeal to mystery and pseudo-poetic tautology. (Although, granted, there is also the threat that it loses what distinguishes it, and in the process of gaining life loses that something for which its life has any purpose.)

In my view, such a theological materialism will be concerned less with actually naming the unconditioned — i.e., as the Other, God, the Good, etc. — and the effects this naming has (be they disorienting, edifying, or mystical), and is instead concerned fundamentally with the (ever-evolving, self-organizing) conditions for this naming — i.e., why and how the naming of the unconditioned actually ever occurs at all. This, I think, is the crucial difference we can identify between a theologian and philosopher.

Indeed, perhaps only the  latter, the non-theologian, can be truly attuned to the theological promise that materialism might hold: namely, that of a “new creation,” the creation/unfolding of a new existence, one incommensurate with the present order of reality and its existent horizon of expectations.  As Malabou notes, and I think correctly, the anti-materialistic theologian cannot at all think change, and thus, by extension, nothing beyond what already is. If this is so, as Malabou makes plain, the world, in all its plasticity, is made new not  by even the teleology or phenomenology of the promise or progress, or by any kind of messianism. The world would be  made new, rather, through a kind of active ethics inherent to thinking (even if it is resisted by the finality of what passes for thought), and is embodied by the attention paid to that which is unthinkable in (and which emerges from) the thinkable—that which is/those who are constitutively silenced, the count of which there is no count. (In that last bit I’m channeling a bit of Jacques Rancière, whose thinking about aesthetics I find not to be altogether alien from the practical upshot of Malabou’s work on plasticity.)

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37 Responses to “Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing Response: Whither Theology”

  1. Chris Rodkey Says:

    I know that one might expect me to raise this question, but this shifting onto thinking itself bringing about the new creation reminds me quite a bit of Altizer, and the ethics that implicitly arises out of his theology.

  2. Brian Hamilton Says:

    Wait, so do you end by embracing the “threat” that theology following Malabou must “in the process of gaining life [lose] that something for which its life has any purpose”? I.e., are you saying that theology must simply cease being theology, must become a form of philosophy that fulfills certain goals usually reserved for theology, in order to be materialist in Malabou’s sense?

  3. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Can anyone say more about what this “materialism” is? I confess to having always been a little confused what theological materialism is but I am also confused by what Malabou means by materialism.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    To me, the real question is: whence theology?

  5. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Oh, also, would Clayton or anyone know the French word that is being translated here as messianicity?

  6. Ryan Krahn Says:

    Anthony, would it not simply be messianicité?

  7. Brad Johnson Says:

    Brian, I can’t say exactly. If I were put on the spot and forced to affirm or deny, though, I’d say say I would affirm the threat, and confess that we might make due a lot better without theology. Given there is no gun pointing at my head at this moment, I would go ahead and add that there are a boatload of nuances to consider, though.

    I am, I suppose, moving to the point that I don’t see why we need even to rescue the idea of theology, if we decide to go to the materialistic route. All this does it seems is to do is get us to rehabilitate people & ideas (the more traditionally orthodox, the better!) who would really resist the rehabilitation. If theology survives, I think it may well just be a by-product of one’s philosophical maneuvers, rather than a starting point. Indeed, it’s when it is a starting point, maybe, that it’s so troublesome. (I will note that Adam has a good defense of theology, as a discursive activity, that does not necessarily contradict my sentiment here, but it does contribute to the aforementioned nuances.)

    Anthony, near as I can tell, for Malabou “materialism” simply means the capacity to change. This would include, I would imagine, the world of ideas, as well — since this world is never autonomous from the mind/agencies/etc. that think them. I do not get the impression she wants to think of it as the opposite of immateriality so much as she wants to highlight the fact that there is nothing immaterial.

    I do not know the French term being translated “messianicity.”

  8. Clayton Crockett Says:

    Brad, thanks for this provocation, and that is also why I can’t leave Derrida behind, precisely because we have to do with names and with naming, which is a slippery thing.
    So, first, I don’t think Malabou uses the term messianicity, but I could be wrong. She uses the English word messianic, following Derrida in Specters of Marx, in her Afterword. And in an article we co-authored for Political Theology, she used the word messianism. I think for Malabou there is no significant distinction between messianic (or messianicity) and messianism, because all of these refer to the inconvertibility of trace into form.

    I’m not sure we can separate names from the conditions of naming, etc., and these terms refer to dynamic (plastic) processes as well as objects. For me, Malabou provides a new motor scheme to better appreciate and understand what’s at stake, but I don’t read her quite so oppositionally to Derrida, Levinas, etc. So then it’s a question of translation, and for me differance means that no word is absolutely privileged or absolutely secure. But what is being translated, old wine into new wineskins, when we should simply throw the bad wine away? If this is the case, then yes, I cannot support saving the name.

    But, again, we have no safe or neutral words, even plasticity, or even philosophy which may or may not have a future. So theology becomes an act of translation, but a repetition of difference which has practical and political components. That is, I also with Brad reject and oppose the simple translating of a pre-given theological identity such as the unconditioned into new fashionable secular terms, even terms I privilege like sublime. If the entire discourse of what we mean by theology is not put at risk and transformed, then I have no interest in playing this game. And I recognize that what I am doing is “impossible.” But if Deleuze is right, and every iteration is a repetition of difference, then ‘theology’ names for me a kind of attention to this process of transformation at a meta-theoretical level. Recognizing that no name is appropriate, I don’t know how else to characterize the ‘all-in’ of the dice-throw. Deleuze says we do not know how to play, and I would add especially when it comes to theology.

    It’s the intensity of the encounter of theological with materialism that’s interesting to me, or secular with theology, etc., which constitutes an event. So for me a theological materialism indicates a discourse that combines the ethical force of theology (ultimacy if you will) with Malabou’s imperative not to flee the world, to take refuge in transcendence as an escape valve. As Deleuze says in Cinema 2, “we need reasons to believe in the world,” which has become intolerable, like a bad movie. So it’s about creating a brain, a new brain for our species, which has become worn down and perhaps worn out by capitalism and resource overabundance, overindulgence and now exhaustion. So I don’t see the need to give up the name theology, but others have to do their work by other names, and that makes sense. Art, philosophy, poetics, ethics, ecology, cultural theory, etc.

    Finally, I think it’s possible to have a theology without God, although again I don’t see why one has to stop using that term or name. Gabriel Vahanian used to say, when challenged, that God is a word in a dictionary, so who’s to prevent him using it? As Lacan says in a quote I really like, “That is why, in the end, only theologians can be truly atheistic, namely, those who speak of God.” I mean, don’t you have to know an awful lot about God to know that he (sic!) doesn’t exist?

  9. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    The reason I’m asking is for a translation I’m completing where messianité is used. I’m wondering what word is being quoted in the Malabou text as messinicity (it’s coming from a Derrida quote). Anyone have the French original?

  10. Clayton Crockett Says:

    Anthony, if you’re referring to the Afterword, she wrote it in English for the Columbia translation. I’m not aware that she uses any variation of the word messianic in the original French text. In Specters of Marx, Derrida says he prefers the adjective messianic to the noun messianism. But I don’t know what the original French is. I would think messianicity would be messianicité, messianic would be messianique, and messianism would be messianisme, but I just read French adequately, I don’t write or speak or translate it.

  11. Brad Johnson Says:

    There are two instances of ‘messianic’ or ‘messianism’ in the main text (that I know of anyway):

    p. 43 — first paragraph: “. . . he is not predicting the arrival of some kind of messianic phenomenon ready to ravish the self-equivalence of fixed and resolutely self-identical instances”

    p. 44 — first full paragraph: “And with no irruptive transcendence, there is no open door to the pure event. Nor any messianism.”

  12. clayton crockett Says:

    Thanks Brad, but now I left my office, so I’ll have to look up the French in the morning.

  13. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Really, I was only thinking of the messianicity which is Derrida’s word quoted in the afterword (sorry, I skipped ahead). No worries, as you say it was in English. Just a bit of a mystery for something else. Please resume Malabou discussion and my apologies.

  14. clayton crockett Says:

    Brad, I don’t mean to sound defensive, but I think that part of what you raise gets at the critique of my book (in JCRT) by Bialek-Robeson, although she’s coming at it from the opposite angle. I’m by no means clear about this, but I think it gets at the difference between a modernist and a postmodern notion of the sublime. I think the modern and ‘orthodox’ idea of the sublime does express what you say, a name for indicating the presenting of the unpresentable, at least in terms of modern art. But for me, the sublime becomes a kind of navel into the core of modernity, a way to see how the whole edifice of modern philosophy unravels, in Kant and then from Kant to Freud. So the postmodern sublime is a different animal than the modern one, at least for me, because it upsets the precarious balance of faculties Kant established AND radicalizes Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis.

    Another way to say this, and again I really appreciate your critique because it makes me think about what I’m doing, is to say that I see theology as a parasitic discourse on religious phenomena. And I don’t see any way of getting away from religion, although if one could get beyond religion then I would concede the term theology. For me, postmodernism is a kind of postsecularism (not simply a postsecular celebration of a hollow victory over modernity) in which the distinction between religious and secular as configured in terms of the public/private spheres breaks down. And I think this resurgence of religion in thought and culture symptomatic of a desperate crisis in capitalism. If this is the case, that this opposition breaks down in this manner, then it also means that there is no ultimate and final tenable distinction between political philosophy and political theology. That’s what the book Radical Political Theology addresses.

  15. Brad Johnson Says:

    Clayton, I get what you’re saying re: the postmodern conception of the sublime. At one point, I think I very well may have gone along with you entirely. Indeed, I even welcome the motivating spirit behind your claims. But in recent years, I’ve simply become much more leery about the ontological privilege afforded the sublime, and have come to believe that the modernist/Kantian rendition of the sublime not only resists such an unraveling, but also achieves something even more radical than champions of postmodern unraveling claim to achieve. I rehearse a good deal of this argument in my forthcoming essay in Anthony and Daniel Whistler’s edited volume. I hope you continue to not take my criticisms personally, as I direct a good deal toward your book Theology of the Sublime, and definitely welcome the conversations that hopefully might emerge from them.

    I will add that, simply as a postscript (because I think it takes us far afield from Malabou’s work), that I am perhaps most resistant to over-emphasizing the sublime because of what I regard as its debilitating effects, esp. in terms of politics, on aesthetics. Rancière’s critiques of Lyotard in this regard have been very convincing to me.

  16. Brian Hamilton Says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Brad. To follow up on Anthony’s question earlier, about what materialism means, does it also involve for Malabou, along with the rejection of the immaterial, the rejection of the unconditioned in any sense? If it does (and it sounds like it would, if materialism involves maintaining all things as changeable and so as open to conditioning), then on your division between philosophy and theology (which I quite like, actually), theology would seem to be ruled out from the start by this kind of materialism.

  17. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    In terms of translating Malabou’s project into the more traditional question of the unconditioned, I took her discussion of form to be that the unconditioned is minimally so as plastic (form). So the unconditioned is the ability to change itself which is of course a very different meaning of the unconditioned but still functions.

  18. Brian Hamilton Says:

    Oh, sure, that makes sense—thanks. I’ve only been skimming all these engagements with Malabou, but that helps to situate the idea of plasticity in terms more familiar to me.

  19. clayton crockett Says:

    Brad, no offense at all, in fact I very much appreciate the critical engagement. I agree with you and Ranciere that you get an aestheticization of politics with Lyotard’s reading of the sublime, and in fact you can read Lyotard’s entire career as a retreat from the political in the face of the onslaught and total victory of neoliberal capitalism, and he is not alone. I actually disagree with Lyotard, even though I couldn’t have done my reading without his, and for me in fact the sublime opens onto a politics, although I had to pass through psychoanalysis in order to do this. Not that it necessarily would or does for you or for others. But that’s why I disagree with the modern(ist) notion of the sublime, which I think Lyotard still follows, because he accepts Kant’s account of it as a harnessing or breaking of imagination, which is in fact the opposite of what’s really going on according to my reading.

    Deleuze reproduces the modern, Kantian idea of the sublime in Kant’s Critical Philosophy, which is what gives Lyotard his Differend and model for understanding the sublime. I see the sublime as passing into the interstice (from which I took my title) in Cinema 2. But I suspect your usage of modern vs. postmodern here in the case of the sublime is very different from mine, so you can clarify now or I can wait for the book to come out and engage it there. Of course, postmodernism itself is a largely American and mostly conservative phenomenon, and there’s a larger process and challenge in working through this issue. In any case, I’d rather have a productive encounter where you critically engage and develop your own ideas rather than simply agree with me, which would be nice but relatively boring.

  20. Brad Johnson Says:

    Would you agree that even with the interstitial view of the sublime you are ontologizing the sublime? By this I do not mean in the sense that imagination is fractured or haunted by it, but rather that the work of the imagination is literally inconceivable without it (or perhaps even its repression).

    As I’ve said before, I agree there is a value in this, in that it leaves open the possibility of always re-conceiving the work of the imagination differently. (Not simply that it is a ‘work-in-progress’, but that it it could very well be a completely different work.) I read Kant in such a way, however, that this ontological appeal to the sublime is simply not necessary. I do this by way of an appeal to his notion of “aesthetic ideas,” and what I call the unintentional intentional practice of the genius.

    In my reading, aesthetic ideas are significant in that they embody the transition (but not disengagement) of our thinking, in Kant’s words, “from the lawfulness of [the sensible world’s] form” to our thinking “in accordance with the laws of freedom.” For Kant, this transition is most pronounced, famously, by the ability of genius, to “give the rule to art.” While the primary characteristic of genius is its originality, in that it follows no prescribed or determinate rule, Kant insists that an originality concerned only with its own heterogeneity leads to the incoherence of “original nonsense.” As such, genius must also be exemplary, in the sense of serving as a model or norm for others. Crucially, though, not even the author/artist knows from where or how such ideas emerged. In this way, the genius consists in the union of imagination (freedom) and understanding, and thus in the capacity of the genius to discover and express aesthetic ideas. One might harness productively the harmonization of imagination and understanding, but such a harmony cannot be produced by rules; they are ultimately unexplainable (or, at best, “explainable” only after the fact) and spontaneous.

    Kant concludes that the genius is “the exemplary originality of the natural endowment of a subject for the free use of his [sic] cognitive faculties.” It is precisely here, I claim, that a reworked Kantian aesthetics, which I run with through Ranciere, resists the perceived necessity to ontologize the sublime in order to explain heterogeneity. Which is to say, the potential for fundamental, affirmative difference to arise does not require of the sublime, and that (even interstitial) disorientation is not an ontological condition for orientation. The matter, rather, becomes what Ranciere calls the distribution of the sensible.

    As with the Kantian genius, the freedom to assert one’s cognitive faculties is not merely an assertion of one’s rights or individuality, that is, of one’s intentionality. This would imply a predefined lawfulness to which one might appeal. It is precisely the status of this predefinition that the politics of aesthetics calls into question. For Rancière this means what and who gets to count as intentional? He writes:

    There is a politics when there is a part of those who have no part, a part or party of the poor. Politics does not happen just because the poor oppose the rich. It is the other way around: politics (that is the interruption of the simple effects of domination by the rich) causes the poor to exist as an entity.

    This is to say, I think, intentionality neither precedes nor is fractured (deconstructively) by unintentionality, but emerges from the unintentionality of an aesthetic (political) practice. Sensibility, as such, is not awaiting to be apprehended; it is, rather, forcibly and creatively asserted, without appeal to rule or precedent, the imagination made real.

  21. Brad Johnson Says:

    As you may have guessed, the previous (too) long comment is a part-paraphrase / part-pasting from my essay. I thought I would go ahead and sacrifice brevity for the sake of clarity. Hopefully, I was successful.

  22. clayton crockett Says:

    This is really helpful Brad, thanks. I think I probably do still ontologize the sublime in your terms, although I’m not entirely sure what that means. But I am resistant to the progression to genius and the harmonizing of the understanding and imagination, which is already at work in the free play of taste, and I think that’s ruined by the sublime. (How) do you distribute genius to everyone, and is this (constrained by) a sensus communis?

    I have to think about this some more, but it’s very interesting, and I’m not entirely following the passage to politics. In terms of Deleuze it’s a question of the situation of the cut/interstice vs. the fold, and even then the question is whether that’s a choice. If it’s a question of avoiding negativity, then I can see that point of view, but ultimately I don’t see the sublime as a negativity.

  23. Brad Johnson Says:

    You say “ruined by the sublime,” and yet still insist the sublime isn’t ultimately about negativity. Is this ruination, then, simply a necessary step along the way to an affirmation?

    I would resist saying genius is distributed. Rather, the act of the genius sets the stage for distribution. Without going too heavily into detail about Ranciere’s conception of politics, upon which I’m relying heavily, I will simply say that the act of the genius (and, I’m really only running w/ the concept, and fully recognize that Kant’s development was not always unproblematic) is something that occurs when those who previously were denied sensibility lay claim to the configuration of what counts as sensible at all, and in doing so radically re-create sensibility as such. In Ranciere’s words, political statements are informed by aesthetics in that they

    define models of speech or action but also regimes of sensible intensity. They draft maps of the visible, trajectories between the visible and the sayable, relationships between modes of being, modes of saying, and modes of doing and making. They define variations of sensible intensities, perceptions, and the abilities of bodies. They thereby take hold of unspecified groups of people, they widen gaps, open up space for deviations, modify the speeds, the trajectories, and the ways in which groups of people adhere to a condition, react to situations, recognize their images. They reconfigure the map of the sensible by interfering with the functionality of gestures and rhythms adapted to the natural cycles of production, reproduction, and submission.

  24. Clayton Crockett Says:

    What the sublime ‘ruins’ is the architectonic project of the First Critique, because at any point imagination can overrun understanding, which is what Kant is constrained to prevent. That’s why I read the Third Critique back into the First.

    You could say it’s more of a deformation, because the excess of imagination is an excess of form, not a deficit, so there’s a kind of plasticity to the sublime that allows this reconfiguration of the sensible. When I say Lyotard follows Kant too faithfully, I mean that he sees the sublime as a failure of imagination, where it gets out of control and Reason has to step in and force a presentation which it can’t do. But I understand it as a failure of understanding because imagination goes where understanding cannot go, but Kant can’t admit it because it compromises the scientific objectivity of the understanding in the CPR.

    So for me, I don’t oppose what you’re doing with Ranciere, in fact I support it, but I just think it passes through the sublime, at least in terms of how I understand it now. And I freely admit that I wasn’t nearly as clear about many of these implications of my reading when I wrote A Theology of the Sublime. So your critique may still be very helpful.

  25. Brad Johnson Says:

    Kant is definitely ambivalent about the freedom of the imagination. There is no doubt about that. I suppose at the end of the day I find Henry Allison’s reading of this ambivalence, in his commentary on the Third Critique, rather persuasive. (Though, assuredly, I read even this commentary in a way that Allison would likely resist!) Which is to say I think the aesthetic ideas that are exemplary within the conceptual limits of the understanding are still the products of an imaginative freedom that emerges from but is not constrained by such limits. (Perhaps this betrays the influence of Zizek on me, esp. his development of the non-all.) If this is the case, the fact that both the dynamical and mathematical sublime cause Kant to re-valorize Reason is not necessarily as problematic as it might first appear to those philosophizing in the wake of Nietzsche et al — i.e., because Reason itself, certainly in the Third Critique, is already ambivalently constructed.

  26. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    Brad, your invocation of Kant’s notion of genius to give a ruile (and the related judgment of the beautiful as a claim upon universal consensus without the legitimacy of a concept) of course suggests Arendt’s use of this for her political philosophy, and also Cavell’s use of it for his. I see that Rancierre’s notion of what could be called a consenus-to-come is directly indebted to Kant. There is also resonance with Derrida’s idea of teleipoiesis in Politics of Friendship. What all this shares is a notion of the political as a kind of authorship, an appeal to a not-yet present community, and an appeal that cannot ground itself in an already existing law (rule, concept). This is not an aestheticization of the political because it is not a judgment of the present order as beautiful, but of the present order as the semblance of the beautiful, what Kant speaks about as merely technical, the following of a rule to produce what is already judged to be beautiful. The beauty of the epigone’s art, not the genius’s art. The consenus of the present is always manufactured to look beautiful, but what is beautiful is always awaiting its future confirmation in a new consensus. Why I like Cavell most of all as the person who works this out is (1) his placement of this in the American tradition of Emerson and Thoreau’s authorships and (2) his reading of film, dance, and opera as expressive of this politics of transfigured community-to-come. In fact, Cavell on Band Wagon (Vincente Minelli) is quite close to Deleuze on Band Wagon in Cinema 2 (both see dance as the expression of transfigured everydayness). What I think is separating you, Brad, from Clayton on the question of the sublime is this: the beautiful as never-yet-here-and-now is a form of the sublime, but a sort of a sublime-with-form (to use Malabou here), a sublime that is not just the inexpressible transcendent but a sublime that is the not-present beauty of the future.

  27. Brad Johnson Says:

    Bruce, I’m very hesitant to follow you, re: characterizing Ranciere as pointing toward a “consensus-to-come”, since he characterizes democracy as the on-going process of “dissensus”. I don’t get the impression there is anything else “to-come” for him.

    I do need think more deeply about the role of beauty in all this. I’ve not read so deeply into Ranciere’s work that I consider myself an expert, but he does not place much of an emphasis on it. Doing so, however, could be very helpful — if only actually to get me finally to reading Cavell!

    At present, I think I would remain resistant to a “not-present beauty of the future”, insofar as it precludes the possibility of beauty happening now. It may well be transitory here-and-now, particularly since the stuff that we might consider beautiful is subject to transformation, as are our apprehensions of it, but I do not know that this means it is “never-yet-here”.

  28. Clayton Crockett Says:

    This is why I love the 3rd Critique, there’s so much going on! Can you have the aesthetic idea without some sort of teleology, since there is this purposiveness without purpose, or finality with end? For Kant, that’s how the analogy of judgement works to bridge the gap between pure and practical reason. For me the sublime disrupts the purposiveness, but it doesn’t reintroduce transcendence. Or another way to see it is a shift from sublime without form towards a more sublime with form in the direction of Deleuze and Malabou.

  29. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    Ongoing dissensus seems to me to be the same as the ongoing absence of consensus. Dissensus which is not within the horizon of consensus (as what is to come, that in whose name the present dissensus is condemned as unjust) seems to me to be a mere description of the present and not a performative appeal to change the present. But it is entirely possible I am reading too much into Rancierre.

    It was you, Brad, who invoked Kant on genius. I am puzzled that you invoke Kant but are not sure what to do about Kant’s judgment of beauty, which is simply the other side of genius for him. Kant’s discussion of genius and judgment locates beauty as having both a subjective moment (your “beauty happening now”) and a public moment that is not yet realized (the appeal the judgment makes, according to Kant this is its formal difference from mere taste, to universal consensus, a consenus that the judgment seeks to shape rather than merely assume, hence the judgment as a form of authorship, the authoring of oneself as a voice that can speak for the future, call it into being).

  30. Brad Johnson Says:

    By “ongoing dissensus” I do mean a perpetual state, though — but, rather, a kind of necessary repetition. Or a necessity, if there is to be politics (in Ranciere’s understanding of the term), that must be repeated. The repetition is necessary because consensus is never really not-absent.

    Also, I didn’t mean to imply I’ve no clue what to do with beauty. Just saying, it’s something I want to explore more deeply than I have thus far — or at least articulate in a more sustained way a kind of genealogy of beauty, and the implications of its evolution for my reflections on politics. I agree with what you say, re: the subjective & public moments of beauty, and point to this dynamic in my description of genius as both (1) the exhibition of freedom and (2) exemplary. The exemplarity being, of course, being on par with the public moment.

  31. Clayton Crockett Says:

    To try to bring Kant back in the direction of Malabou, one could say that taste is a kind of receptivity to form, a capacity to be affected, whereas genius is the ability to shape and give form, which means that the sublime is destructive plasticity or the auto-annihilation of form.

  32. Clayton Crockett Says:

    And sublime is destructive due to an excess rather than a lack of form.

  33. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    I take your point, Brad: consensus as the manufactured semblance of the unanimity of common sense (a la the Tea Party movement as the mediatized public named as “most Americans” by Fox) is what dissensus comes to unmask/undo. But one can go backwards or forwards with this unmasking: back, for example, to a public consensus about the need for taxpayer bailouts of the financial institutions or forward to a critique of global financial capitalism and an acknowledgment of those who are excluded from it. The forward moving critique I am saying is a not-yet-present consensus, a new consensus that must in turn be re-formed if it forms itself into an exclusionary, manufactured, mediatized public.

    Clayton, I like your suggestion of the sublime as the formative power of plasticity.

    On a related note, I happen to have been reading Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria yesterday for a class I am teaching and I came across his invented term “esemplastic” for the imagination (contra the merely associative “fancy”). Since Coleridge is precisely inheriting the Kantian aesthetic as it is taken up by Schelling (Coleridge mentions, for example, Schelling’s essay “on the plastic arts and nature” and even claims to have met Schelling in Jena in the early 1800s, though Schelling only recalled meeting a number of Englishmen and not Coleridge in particular), his “esemplastic” imagination is the immanent power of spiritualized materiality to constantly re-form itself. Does Malabou, does anyone happen to know, speak about Schelling’s essay or Coleridge, or does she rely exclusively on Hegel for her explication of the concept plasticity?

  34. Brad Johnson Says:

    Bruce, this is apropos of nothing, but what in class are you using the Biographia Literaria? Are the students reading it as well? My doctoral advisor got me into the B.L. several years ago, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it. (The Schelling connection, of course, also helped.) My favorite commentary on the book is Kathleen Wheeler’s, if you’re looking for supplementary material.

  35. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    I use it, believe it or not, in an introductory survey course called (not my choice) Religion and Society in the West (2nd semester of a year-long course). I use the discussion of subject and object and I AM (after reading with the class “Dejection: an Ode” and passages from the Rime) to get them to see the move from Kant to Romanticism (and the idea that the self can freely re-make itself). I frame it in relation to the French Revolution as the re-making of the human in the political/social sphere (thus understood by the Romantic generation).

  36. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I read the comments to this thread on my phone from the WordPress dashboard, which displays them in reverse chronological order, and it turns out that it’s pretty interesting to read this conversation backwards.


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