Secular Currents and the Infrastructures of the ‘Social’ – Blood Book Event

Secular Currents and the Infrastructures of the ‘Social’[1]

“Baudelaire speaks of a man who plunges into the crowd as into a reservoir of electric energy. Circumscribing the experience of the shock, he calls this man ‘a kaleidoscope equipped with consciousness’.” Walter Benjamin[2]

Anidjar’s disputatio traverses currents of blood, its differentiation into bloods. Rounding up a plethora of resources, he traces the twelfth century enclosure of life in the Eucharistic Matrix, in the blood. The book, more than an argument, was more of a remembrance. There is a particular unseemliness to blood that makes it almost unthinkable. Remarkably, Anidjar does not impose a program. Rather, the opening of thought to blood follows the latter’s proliferations.

Vernant has shown how the Greeks deities shared the time-space continuum with humans. Indeed, all existants do subsist in the same spectrum as sub-bodies and super-bodies[3]. Anidjar shows diligently the absence of blood from the Old Testament. Taubes commenting on Romans, argued that ”This is no blood kinship, but a kinship of the promise.”[4] In Paul’s letters, sarx (flesh) and soma (heavenly body) are differentiated by their doxa (‘Glory’, Cor 1:15-40, Eph 6:12). The mystical bond of koinonia in soma was not mediated by blood. The Crusades and 1492 are two key episodes in the book where we witness the transmogrification of the Christian blood. What occupies Andijar most is the question of collective identification: from family, kinship[5] and to state and race how blood became the currency of ‘life together’ and thus, the ground of the political. Unsettling the periodization of secular modernity, blood and its theological futures in the realms of Nation-State-Capital are revealed.

Yet, ”from Aristotle to Maine and W.R. Smith” passes by the emergence of sociology and thus the emergence of ‘modern secular humanities’. Currents of blood are everywhere but their centrality to life was challenged by another current, the electric. Blood is life, but the heart beats with electricity. From Schelling to Hegel and Comte, electricity became the infrastructure of life. From cells, bodies, socieites to the universe there is only the flow of electricity that is constant.

It all starts in America, again. Leyden Jar’s ability to accrue static electricity, from 1745 on, fascinated people, brought them to the open: annals are full of descriptions where people come together in squares and let the electric current flow through bodies. Benjamin Franklin’s 1751 book Experiments and Observations on Electricity revolutionized the conception of body and life. Above all, his lightning rod revolutionized the relationship with nature. America conquered Mother Nature, passivized its ferocity and turned it into an amicable force. Galvanized against metaphyscis, Reason and Revolution found its secular inspiration.

In one of Marie-Helene Huet’s breathtaking readings of the French Revolution, we meet with the young Robespierre before the revolution. Huet reads closely his defense of secularism of the lightning rod in the court and the prefiguration Nation’s Will as an objectivity through the figure of electricity. I argue that the social life of electricity is at the same time the lateralization of blood. With the rise of electricity, blood fell out of the grid. It did not disappear, for sure. Indeed, it found new pools (Nation) to fill in[6].

Durkheim and Freud, two sopranos of body electric, reveal a tension between blood and the electric. In their rejection of biological reductionism, and blood thought, they worked through the infrastructure of electricity. Durkheim’s sui generis ‘society’ rearticulated every existing relation between the individual (the smallest conscious electrical unit) and other electric-currents (societies, ‘collective representations’, forms of ‘shared existence’)[7]. Objectivity of the social was evident in ‘social facts’[8] whose study, diachronically and synchonically[9], revealed the matrix of currents. ‘Types’ of societies emerged by demolishing the substantialist hierarchies and periodizations[10]. Indeed, Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912) is the history of religion as the history of electric currents, i.e. social formations. From Aborigines ecstatic encounter[11] with nature to French Revolution’s Supreme Being, Durkheim reads ‘religion’ as society. Only with electricity, after the becoming-explicit of the infrastructure of life in the universe, sociology becomes possible as a science (Is the first truly self-aware matter can be the mind of sociologist?) Replace Allah with Society, wrote Mauss[12].

The emergence of the social sciences, against Völkerpsychologie and race science, was a rejection of blood. I will go so far as to say that ‘secularization’ is the misinterpreted secular, or better said, the secular interpreted with blood in mind[13]. Indeed, from structuralism to actor-network theory, social sciences deferred substance in favor of relations, of the network. I am not suggesting a bright future that is being forestalled by blood in any way[14]. Indeed, I wonder after Anidjar, in what ways electricity learned to flow like blood?[15]

Let’s ask, are we being fooled by blood? From Leyden Jar to Cybernetics, how did another line of thought about the social emerge and how does this emergence relate to blood? Is electricity, rather than infrastructure, the superstructure of our present? What happens to the Christian Question after that special Thanksgiving night when Benjamin Franklin served an electrocuted turkey?

Lastly, as a Muslim, my heretical contention issues out of the precedence of creation to salvation. As Agamben, alongside with many Muslim philosophers before him, recognized that the reversal of this order in Islam is of utmost importance[16]. God cannot be his religion, and thus, you cannot replace Allah with society. Are we not still thinking in terms of creation when we posit electricity or blood as our current? And if so, does Christianity, as Anidjar underlines numerous times, owe its status -religion of religions- to its troubles with Creation?



[1] My residence in India left me without some of the references I needed, I apologize for their absence and the lack of detail in general. In the last three years, electricity and its centrality to the emergence of humanities became a passion that occupied me, yet I was missing the adversary.

[2] Walter Benjamin, ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’ in Illuminations, Random House, 1999, p.171.

[3] Vernant, Jean-Pierre. 1989. “Dim Body, Dazzling Body.” In Fragments for a History of the Human Body (Part One), Michel Feher, Ramona Naddaff, and Nadia Tazi, eds.; trans. and ed. Siri Hustvedt; trans. Anne Cancogne et al., 18–47. New York: Zone.

[4] ”Paul who attests to the infinite sorrow, the anguish, and who also attests to what he believes the community of solidarity [Solidaritatgemeinschaft] of Israel to mean. This is no blood kinship, but a kinship of the promise. Everything depends on this: the sonship, the promises, the glory, the law, the temple, aggadah, and the Messiah who appeared in Jesus Christ. So what’s the task at hand? For Paul, the task at hand is the establishment and legitimation of a new people of God.” (28)

[5] When Clastres recounted Levi-Strauss’ revolution, he wrote ”The primitive social body is not satisfied with blood ties and alliances; it is not only a machine for manufacturing kinship relations. Kinship is not society…” (French Marxists and their Anthropology, 1982: 3)

[6] See Huet’s Mourning Glory: The Will of the French Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997). Besides, let us remind ourselves that whenever Islamism and/or Socialism described their expanse, they relied on metaphors of electricity contra the bloody nationalisms they try to overcome.

[7] As Levinas argued, Durkheim started ”an experimental sociology. But his work also appeared also as “rational sociology,” as an elaboration of the fundamental categories of the social, as what one would call today an “eidetic of society,” beginning with the leading idea that the social does not reduce to the sum of individual psychologies. Durkheim, a metaphysician! The idea that the social is the very order of the spiritual, a new plot in being above the animal and human physics; the level of “collective representations” defined with vigor and which opens up the dimensions of spirit in the individual life itself, where the individual alone comes to be recognized and even redeemed. In Durkheim, there is, in a sense, a theory of “levels of being,” of the irreducibility of these levels to one another, an idea which acquires its full meaning within the Husserlian and Heideggerian context.” Ethic and Infinity (conversations with Philippe Nemo). Translated by Richard A. Cohen, Duquesne University Press, 1998, p. 26.

[8] ”A thing is a force which can only be engandered by a force. Thus to account for social facts, we investigate the forces capable of producing them.” The Rule of Sociological Method, p. 161

[9] ”Sociology’s prescriptions for the future are derived from the systematic comparison of social forms and meanings drawn from the past and present of Western as well as non-Western cultures” Michele Richman, ‘French Sociological Revolution’, SubStance #97, vol. 31, no .1, 2002, p. 30.

[10] Instead, Durkheim suggests ‘degrees of perfection’, of elaboration, a logical evolution: science is a translation of religion (477ff.). For a non-electric Foucaldian reading of French modern, cf. Paul Rabinow, French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment, The University of Chicago Press, 1995.

[11] Durkheim reinterprets and situates W.R. Smith’s concepts of sacrifice and institution in the electric matrix.

[12] Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, Routledge, 1970, pp. 75-6

[13] Cf. J.C.D. Clark’s great article “Secularization and Modernization: The Failure of a ‘Grand Narrative’,“ The Historical Journal, 55, 1, 2012, pp. 161-194.

[14] From Deleuze’s Societies of Control to Boltanski and Chiapello’s The New Spirit of Capitalism new forms of discriminations and collectives have been shown.

[15] See Ronen Shamir’s Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine (Stanford University Press, 2013) to see how different bloods resulted in different networks.

[16] Giorgio Agamben, The Signature of All Things: On Method, trans. Luca D’Isanto ve Kevin Attell, Zone Books, pp. 107-9. Nasir al-Din Tusi wrote in Aghaz wa Anjam (Origin and Destination) that ”Muhammad, who encompasses both [the realms] is, from one aspect an intermediary between the two, and from another aspect apart from both. He encompasses both because he holds a position in the Origin, that is: ‘ I was a prophet while Adam was beween water and clay’ [hadith]. Everything has a substance and the substance of creation is Muhammad.” in Shi’i interpretations of Islam: three treatises on theology and eschatology, edited and translated by SJ Badakhchani. IB Tauris, 2010, p. 54.

7 Responses to “Secular Currents and the Infrastructures of the ‘Social’ – Blood Book Event”

  1. Matt Petersen Says:

    Anidjar shows diligently the absence of blood from the Old Testament.

    This quote confuses me. The Old Testament sacrifices were extremely bloody. Whether in the blood that marked the door posts for Passover, or the blood that Moses put sprinkled the altar and the people with, or the blood used to anoint a high priest, or… In lieu of naming them all: Blood is mentioned in Leviticus, if I counted correctly, 65 times, or about 2.4 times per chapter.

    I’m also confused the claim that “The mystical bond of koinonia in soma was not mediated by blood” since Paul asks “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the koinonia of the blood of Christ?”, and the theme of justified by the blood of Christ/brought near by the blood of Christ is rather frequent in Paul.

    But perhaps I’m missing something? Anyway, Anidjar’s book sounds interesting, and I hope to read it soon.

  2. dbarber Says:

    Selim, thanks for this excellent post. The discussion of creation’s precedence to salvation is one that, i completely agree, amounts to the refusal of the society. It seems to me, as well, that this would entail a refusal of anthropology (in the literal sense of the term, logic-of-the-human) … i.e. it seems that the refusal of the social is simultaneously a refusal of the human as incarnation — the body of Christ being the term that names the society-of-the-human. I think you’d see that point as already implied, but in virtue of it i think the obstacle at issue here would then be there in the Pauline “beginnings” of Christian theology.

  3. selimk Says:

    Dear Matt, you are right about words, but perhaps what Anidjar does best is the way in which this question of translation, underlining, retrospective redescription and economies of significance work and alter the text (and the blood). Have a look at the book, his point is not about its status as a word, but conceptually, how blood becomes ‘the referent’.

    Dan I totally agree with the Pauline beginnings. Amos Funkenstein writes that in/with Christianity transcendence of transcendence gives birth to an immanence, so I read this alongside with Paul’s sarx/soma: through this singular divide (the ontological verticality which was a product of the twisting off His bios’ horizontality) I argue that the ontological-ontical difference was altered into ‘the divide’. What I mean is, by way of the cloning of the ontological at the heart of the ontical Christianity builds a highway for itself. In this beginning, if not ‘different bloods’, different bodies are presencing [ontological-ontological, ontological-ontical (judaism?), ontical-ontical (islam and other heresies?)].

  4. Matt Petersen Says:

    Thanks. I’ll have to read the book. It looks really interesting, and provocative, in the best way.

  5. Stephen Keating Says:

    Selim, I really enjoyed this piece and am intrigued by your reference to Freud and the ‘body electric.’ I’m curious what you think about Anidjar’s insertion of the reading of Freud in the conclusion, a reading where blood is mostly absent. I’ve been thinking a lot about why he shifts away from blood at the end of the text.

  6. selimk Says:

    Stephen, I read the Freud part twice, and did not get it. Perhaps I’m a bit crass for Derridean Freud. I often do not understand deconstruction’s interventions to psychoanalysis. Regarding body electric, Freud, not only metaphor or terminology wise, but also the ways in which he thinks about affect and unconscious thinks through electricity. Charges, discharges, etc. I think Avital Ronell’s telephone book is a great reading of this.

  7. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Selim, thank you for this. Can you say more about the claims in your last paragraph? What do you mean by the precedence of creation to salvation? The discussion with Dan helped a bit, but I’m having some trouble locating the claim. Is it that society comes after creation? Creation is prior and has more what we could call “ontological weight”?

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