Bad Versions, p.s., Abstraction

I appreciated the reading and comments of my previous post, and wanted to respond a bit more formally — though also perhaps too tangentially. The operation that my criticism tried to indicate is one that often seems to be associated with the need for and power of abstraction. For my part, I don’t have any a priori complaint about abstraction. In many ways, I think it’s central and essential. The question, though, is that of how abstraction is articulated, or even spatialized.

In the operation I was criticizing, abstraction tends to serve as something like a common space, one that is, at least in the last instance, able to remain exterior to the differences that intractably appear, or that appear to be intractable. The demand for emancipation has a normativity or universality that — regardless of how this demand has been misused or perverted or functioned for domination, etc. — is, in the last instance or in its essence, capable of (and necessary for) resisting or overcoming these differentiated modes of domination. This, in any case, is how the operation seems to work. And abstraction is then the means by which this essential value of normativity or universality is indicated or expressed. In other words, regardless of the variegated differentiations that embed and/or are embedded by domination, there remains the capacity of abstraction, understood here as the capacity for the differentiated to encounter one another in a manner that is ultimately or in principle free of the determinative differentiations.

The obstacle for such an operation, in my view, is that the asymmetries and incommensurabilities — or, let’s say, the antagonisms — involved in such encounters cannot be adequately addressed. They can, of course, be talked about (and no doubt they’ll become better talked about), but formally speaking my concern here is with the ultimate insistence on abstraction as symmetrical. In other words, regardless of the degree to which asymmetries and incommensurabilities are talked about, the question remains: is abstraction that which enables a minimal symmetry that, as minimum, remains ultimately unaffected by such asymmetries / incommensurabilities? Or, is it the case that such asymmetries / incommensurabilities preclude every minimum of commonality?

It’s clear that I would follow the latter indication. What I want to add, though, is that this position also affirms abstraction. Yet this abstraction proceeds not according to a minimum of commonality, but rather according to an axiomatic excommunication, such that one never articulates abstraction as that which enables commonality but instead insists that abstraction is, by its very nature, excommunicative. Here, abstraction is not what names a space of symmetry or universality that is ultimately unaffected (or could become unaffected) by domination’s differentiation; abstraction is instead the making of asymmetry / incommensurability into a weapon against the presumption of symmetry. In other words, this is not a claim on behalf of “the particular” over against the universal. It’s rather a claim that being particularized, by way of differentiated domination, can become abstract in a manner that dispenses both with the need to be “merely particular” and with the demand to be symmetrical. Abstraction is not universal, it’s excommunicative.

This is to say, furthermore, that abstraction is precluded by narrative. What makes abstraction abstract, in fact, is that it’s irreducible to the narration of relation. In this respect, we should note that the claim that emancipation from domination’s differentiation could emerge through a better or novel affirmation of commonality or universality is nothing new. The symmetrical promise has been inherited. It has long been the case that the present presented symmetry as a means for emancipation, in the future, from the present’s own asymmetry / incommensurability. This narration of a future overcoming the past, or of symmetrical universality overcoming the differentiated domination that actually coexists with this narration, is less an act of abstraction than — well, it’s a narrative. And if abstraction has value, it’s precisely in its unnarratability, its enactment of what’s excommunicative — less the inherited narration of a future that overcomes the past, then, than a “future’s past platoon.”

One Response to “Bad Versions, p.s., Abstraction”

  1. danbarber Says:

    i should say, too, that this for me is the compelling aspect about Laruelle, namely that his in-One or radical immanence makes axiomatic a refusal of integration or of the need to construct relations. Thought is freed from the project of universality, since the horizon that universality aims to provide, as a project, is never lacking in the first place, never needs to be represented in a figure or a space. No matter how inconsistent relations may be, they are in-One or radically immanent. Abstraction, then, is able operate according to a non-, to pursue the experimental power therein, without concern for making common the inconsistent.


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