Freed Nature: Sharp, Spinoza, Schelling pt 2

15Jul12

Hasana Sharp’s Spinzoa and the Politics of Renaturalization is an interesting book which has quite a bit to offer discussions on posthumanism, affect, and the relationship between politics and metaphysics. While I found the first half of her book very interesting (and not for totally unbiased reasons given its discussions of nature) I felt that the latter half of the book faltered and moved further and further as it progressed from the interesting aspects of her initially outlined project. Sharp argues that Spinoza (taken broadly as a naturalist who maintains a parallelism between thought and nature) can used to formulate a politics of renaturalization. By renaturalization Sharp means that humans need to be re-counted as part of nature instead of seen as fundamentally apart from it. Sharp attempts to show how this renaturalization or reunification should not be taken as a Gaia like harmony nor should it be taken to be a way to find in nature what we want (though she puts far more emphasis on addressing the latter issue than the former).

In my opinion Sharp spends too much time defending renaturalization as not naturalization than outlining the productive aspects of that project. Given her feminist concerns it is not surprising to differentiate renaturalization from naturalization given the association of nature with purported feminine passivity but it seems that Sharp mostly tacks this defence onto critiques of figures such as Judith Butler. Sharp critiques Butler’s and other’s use of recognition as an overly humanist formulation of politics while suturing a critique of negativity (as the X of the subject and not another form of negativity). That is, recognition and representation get linked to negativity writ large when the (Hegelian) negativity being critiqued is based on the empty subject (the dark night of the world of the beheaded subject that Zizek loves to cite) and, for Sharp, getting away from such negativity allows us not to get bogged down in crippling self hatred (184). But if joy=creation=loving one another I do not see how such equation is not effortlessly gobbled up by the maw of capitalism (See page 14 for Sharp’s connection of joy and agency). Sharp also wails on the Deleuzian trumpet of joy up till the end without ever unpacking really what that means for Spinoza and or for Deleuze. Scu addressed this in his post on flat ethics here wondering why pain and melancholy are not allowed to be part of ethics or politics.

The other issue surrounding negativity and nature is that of the negative as a certain lack of knowledge of nature, what of a negativity that is not the raw nudity of the subject’s hallowness, but a negativity of a nature which not only creates continuously but has no bound. Here Spinoza’s substance based monism seems troubling in comparison to Schelling’s meontology of powers (as Grant puts it). On the one hand Spinoza’s emphasis on substance highlights the importance of actuality over becoming (of nature as a seemingly endless set of combinatorial creation) but that there must be some outside or incalculably radical outside seems important for nature not merely to be the thing of things or set of all things (which would lead us back to a passive nature, the nature which feminist critique has rightly warred against).

This relates to the problem of adequacy and the mind of God. In my last post I noted problems I had with the theological issues in the book as they relate to Spinoza’s purported naturalism. Petter Gratton who extensively reviewed the book here, noted confusion at this in relation to Deleuze. My issue is that while Sharp argues that the God/Nature equation in Spinoza’s ethics falls more into the single term Nature, I find it difficult to forget that the mind of god functions (particularly in the first two sections of the Ethics) as the measure for the adequacy of ideas. Since Spinoza rejects truth as functioning as objective correspondence (ie truth doesn’t mean statement X refers to an objective y) truth is about utility; a true democracy is one in which all the components enhance each others powers to the best of each. Or, as sharp puts it ideas and bodies do not express or explain one another but express one and the same order (28). Or as she puts it in relation to nature “The distinction between nature as the cause of each essence and singular essences as causes of nature’s infinite variability ultimately becomes a heuristic rather than an ontological one.” It is here that ‘absolute immanence’ (as the dominant focus of post-continental thought following John Mullarkey) appears as oxymoronical.

While politically the use of immanent critique (in the most pragmatic sense) should be kept and even more widely utilized (as when Sharp says “An adequate grasp of the causes and conditions that make oppression the cause often emerges in the process of fighting it” 83) it appears dubious when ontologically vaunted as simultaneously something humans do but that humans are not different in kind and have no different access to immanence yet (and I think this is particularly poisonous in Deleuze) philosophy becomes the arbiter of immanence. Joy as the purportedly ontological creativity in which thinking participates in yet deems joyful would be threatened by an outside that is unprethinkable. As my colleague at Western Karen Dewart McEwen has frequently pointed out, thinking politics in such away allows one to avoid the vulnerability and violence that happens to a political practitioner and is committed by the political practitioner. One can think of the artist’s razor in Negarestani’s piece from the Medium of Contingency.

So, if one lobotomizes the mind of God how can the adequacy of ideas be measured? It seems only within an artificially closed set (this political project, this town, this group) that one could, following Spinoza, measure which ideas increases the powers of the group’s members. But if this increase is measured then by joy (joy being an increase and sadness being a decrease) then any uncomfortable, unpleasant work seems powerless. This in turn creates a messy relation of politics to connectivity to affect: a local closed form of politics would no doubt be exclusionary and perhaps joyful on a personal level and also miserable on a personal level but to assume its joyful beyond its immediate contours would presuppose that it being politics (writ large) is a task which must be creative without sedimenting, it must be a kind of free flowing creation which in turn undoes the practical quotidian work of any given political project. Here again Negarestani is useful in that folding in the outside, the outside which is already interior, becomes important. One can only twist the outside (that creativity called politics) because to welcome it openly is deny one’s actuality and/or to caricature the outside.

What is nature and what is mind in Spinoza may then be too divided and too flat. While technological progress may have made the separation of contingency/fortuna/chance from natura naturata/techne/nature as extension it would seem that renaturalization would require a limited control over the forces which themselves are sedimented and redirected by nature itself – nature becoming is nature actualized, creation doesn’t flow through actuality but is actuality so diversified but one which always attempts to close out what is not it (the outside of other actualities and the outside of original creation, the original agon).

In the next entry I will bring in Schelling and Bennett.

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