Monday, 13 September 2010

Catherine Malabou "Negativity and the Body in the Phenomenology of Spirit"

[Below are my notes (w/o critical commentary) taken from Catherine Malabou's paper at the conference Cutting the 'Not', more details on the conference to follow. Catherine also indicated that after the 'detour' of neurobiology she will be returning to thinking the philosophy of time 'as such', in particular with Heidegger.]
The paper concerns the body in the Phenomenology, and particularly in the 'Lordship and Bondage' section.

1. The traditional interpretation is that the body is absent from Hegel's philosophy and especially from the Phenomenology. 'Spirit' either has no body, or seeks to renounce the body, and so the body is negativity present or present as negativity.

2. Kojeve, Foucault, and Derrida argue that the body is sacrificed as a 'negative presence'. The body incarnates negativity and so the body must be sacrificed.
Hence the body is a 'crossing-point' or convergence for dialectics and anti-Hegelian thought, which agrees on the negativity of the body.

Attachment / Detachment
We can translate Lordship and Bondage into the conceptual names of detachment and attachment, respectively. The lord detaches himself from the body by risking its death, he is not knotted to life and the body. On the contrary, the slave or bondsman is attached to the body. The question then is:

What is negativity? It is to detach, cut, or dissolve, or is it to attach? Is it to live or die?

Hegel doesn't believe in detachment, fundamentally. Attachment to negativity is the truth incarnated in the slaves labour. The master's detachment is only a moment, and is sustained only in and through the attachment of the slave. In this 'economy', life always wins, at least according to Kojeve, Derrida and Foucault. Now we turn to their analyses.

1. Kojeve
It is animality that disappears, and not the body. The master disavows or risks his animality, his biological life, through acceptance on non-biological desire, and so accedes to the spiritual body, which is the speaking body. We move from an inauthentic animal body to an authentic spiritual or conceptual body. While the animal body is located and finite, the spiritual body, by acceding to language, is decontextualised and infinite.

2. Derrida
In Hegel there is no real risk, dialectical 'death' is actually the ruse of life. Death is always denied and amortised, and so absolute detachment is impossible. The master/slave dialectic should be a tragedy, but is (as Bataille argues), really a comedy, where nothing is really at stake.
In contrast to this we can figure an absolute detachment, a detachment from dialectics, a 'blind spot' in which we are 'attached to nothing' and so do not maintain ourselves. Life is expenditure, a body qua excess, and the sign of this negativity or absence is the trace as 'sign' of erasure.

3. Foucault
(via Butler's reading in The Psychic Life of Power)
Absolute deatchment is impossible and instead we can see, via Foucault, a need for attachment as the means to achieve freedom. The repression of the body is the condition of the body of pleasure, and repressions generate proliferating pleasures.
In this model, according to Butler, we are faced with the dual impossibility of being Hegelian and being non-Hegelian, we are mired, in a way, in attachment/detachment.

Conclusion: Hegel on the body
Detachment comes first. There is no personal identity, no auto-affection, and death is only the confirmation of our initial detachment (our plasticity). The subject is plastic: both shaping itself and being given shape. There is this originary plasticity, missed by Kojeve, Foucault, and Derrida, which means the 'self' is empty detachment that then has to work to attach itself to itself, as a guard against this originary madness. Negativity is the milieu of this originary detachment.

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