Category Archives: Third Field

James Vernon: Hunger A Modern History (2007)

Vernon tracks the concept of hunger as it shifts from being understood as the result of Providence and individual choices of those that are hungry to a result of large social forces existing outside the causal nexus originating in the hungry person. He calls this the “humanitization” of hunger, since it gives rise to humanitarian aide in its modern form. This is a cultural history, Vernon persistently insists, “concerned with elaborating not the material causes or consequences of hunger, but its changing and historically specific meanings” (8). He inherits various paradigms of social power form Foucault: “The struggle to define and regulate hunger produced its networks of power, its own political constituencies…. it was not that hunger was an ungovernable problem; on the contrary, it was so amenable to a range of reforming schemes that the circuits of power multiplied around the many locations in which the war on hunger was fought” (8-9). The book has its most verve when reveling in hunger’s (that most materially based activity) susceptibility to cultural analysis’ ability to understand ideology’s ubiquity.

[For my part, I am curious how this intersects with Blumenberg’s work on non-conceptuality, where something like “taste” or “hunger” cannot be reduced to a range of clear material referents, on the one hand,  nor can it be abstracted from the material world all together. Vernon is working in this middle zone with impressive competence.]

The early parts of the narrative involve a shift in values at the level of statecraft: England slowly moves away from a Malthusian acceptance of hunger (resignation, inevitability, larger healthy body dependent on broad swaths of population dying of starvation because they do not refrain from sex, etc.) to a Smithean belief in the market’s ability to eventually remove hunger from the polis, and finally to a system of groups functioning outside of the market, working to alleviate hunger that has been produce by systems such as Imperialism and neoliberalism.

After the so-called “discovery of hunger,” various political radicals (inside and outside of the metropoloe–suffragettes, Gandhi, etc.) mobilized hunger as a form of political critique, through hunger strikes, fasting, and hunger marches. The wanted to pinpoint the incompetence of British rule. In the first two decades of the twentieth-century, political minorities participated in hunger strikes. Terence MacSwiney fasted to his death (after 74 days) in 1920, which “the whole world watched in anguish” (62). Thomas Ashe died in 1917 from force-feeding (62), causing mass protests in Dublin. Suffregettes in London were routinely force-fed, causing public outrage. The act was likened to rape in the media (67). The government often combated hunger strikes by “demystifying” the physiological processes of the hunger strike.

Vernon focuses more on the attempts of scientists in the early decades of the twentieth century to demystify  the mechanics of hunger. In short, the emergent field of nutritional science shifts the attention from quantity to quality. Nutritional scientists began to hold increasingly important government posts, as cafeterias became a way of maintaining a healthy and productive work force. The focus on production should not be underplayed: the documents that Vernon cites are explicit about efficient and productivity, and their rudimentary metabolic and biochemical science is put to the service of the factory. “Scientific food” was distributed (89). Not surprisingly, Vernon contends, “nutrition was revealed to be a historically specific science whose universality was always breaking down in the process of constitution” (100). Extensive experiments were conducted using animals, but transfering these results to the human “motor” proved difficult. Scientists turned to the colonies in order to make human analogies–Sir Robert McCarrison fed Indian and British food to rats and then imported racial stereotypes to describe their relative weaknesses and strengths. Gandhi would later protest that this revealed a bias towards meat-heavy diets. The English began to revert to older explanations for starvation: the refusal to eat good English food is what caused famine in India. “In this way, nutrition made possible the discourse of colonial development” (109). The tension between biological and social understandings of nutrition still persist:

During the first three decades of the twentieth century our understanding of hunger thus assumed a novel, profoundly technical, form, by contrast with previous definitions of hunger, which were highly politicized, local, and subjective. (117)

The science of nutrition was integral to the establishment of canteens and other public institutions in the post-war years. By 1917, 840 canteens were established, feeding more than 800,000 workers, which increased productivity (165).

These welfare developments were accompanied by a rigorous educations of the domestic sphere—housewives often took the fall for the relative malnourishment of the populace. The Ministry of Food was established in 1917, and it played a crucial role in creating “model” kitchens and nutritional programs. Self-rationing was incentivized, but in 1918 was made mandatory (206-7). The poor and middle-class resented the well-to-do preaching to them about lessening their food intake (Vernon’s end notes are choc full of useful primary resources on this topic…all sorts of great stuff on scientific cooking, etc.). The food industry jumped on nutrition as a means for marketing, and the critiques of industrialized, processed food began. “Natural foods” and “male slimness” became in vogue (215). Vitaman “overdosing” threatened imbalance in diets. Dorothy pell began editing the Daily Mail’s Women’s Page, which constructed a very specific ideal of home efficiency. Exhibitions of the ideal home included contrasting rustic appliances with American counterparts, etc. The “art of living” was ultimate goal (218). During these years, poor housing for the first began to separate out separate rooms for cooking (222).

Vernon concludes:

It has been my contention that, far from being a timeless and unchanging condition, hunger, along with the meaning that people gave to it and therefore the systems used to govern it, underwent a series of dramatic transformations between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. Broadly speaking, although the classical political economy of Smith and Malthus had established hunger as an unavoidable, man-made problem, rather than the curse of nature or providence, their view of hunger removed responsibility for its control from the state….

…[But] in the wake of the New Poor Law and the Irish famine, journalists and social innovators developed new techniques to represent the innocent suffering of the hungry…giving it a human face.

Yet hunger remained a vague object of human  sympathy until, at the turn of 20th century, social investigators enlisted the new science of nutrition to offer a precise definition and measure the extent and social costs of hunger.

When nutritionist redefined hunger as malnutrition after the First World War, it was no longer perceived as the problem of the poor alone but was instead reconceptualized as a nutritional challenge for all…[it] was ceded back to individual consumers, responsible for promoting their own nutritional health.


[Interesting to read Wyndham Lewis’ invectives against vegetarianism in these contexts, as well as Loy’s political radicalism/anti-domestic stance]


Gerhard Richter – Afterness (2012)

Richter identifies his neologism afterness as a near universal trope in modern aesthetics and thought. The German word for after “Nach” gets at the dialectical nature of this temporal progression:

To live nach does not mean to emancipate oneself fully from ongoing proximity. O live nach does not mean to emancipate oneself fully from what went before but, on the contrary, to be subterraneously determined by it to a greater or lesser degree.  (10)

This afterness manifests itself in trauma, dreams, echoes and repetition. In this, way that which comes after, that which “ends” a certain moment, also acts a productive mechanism in the realms of thought and art. Quoting Hegel:

The question should rather be whether this end, incapable as it is of being an end, could possibly be the beginning of something.

Thus every discourse of “ends”–end of art, end of history, end of the human, end of taste–must always be conjoined with a discussion of the reorganization of conceptual paradigms within an emerging discourse. Using Dasein as an example, he notes how various tropes of withdraw simultaneously attempt to name the space that remains to be thought–so a leave-taking entails a conception of a future that has yet to be realized. Thus afterness, as Richter will repeat again and again, holds us in its grip. It materializes as something atemporal–as an experience that is lived.

Richter’s short chapters all take similar form. He clusters three or four thinkers around the relationship between Afterness and some other term: aesthetics, modernity, critique, etc. He uses afterness as a way to unlock the kernel of key theoretical texts, such as Negative Dialectics:

Afterness can be understood here as the affirmation of a dismantling that does not merely destroy its object, but liberates what previously had remained unthought within that object precisely through its dismantling. (52)

Adorno becomes a key figure for Richter, since Adorno so relentless theorizes the anxiety and stagnation produced by mere repetition–a sort of “bad,” ahistorical, reified afterness that is alien to all forms of authentic subjective experience. “Philosophy misses its purpose,” Adorno writes “when it already exists in the realm of repetition, of reproduction” (54). Adorno’s closing words in Mimima Moralia most famously lays out the importance of assuming a position of afterness (of redemption) in relation to the things of the world. Correct perspectives on the world can only be gained from “contact with the objects,” yes, but paired with a cognition that determined these objects as bearing the semblance of the already-redeemed. Here we begin to glimpse the elective affinities between art and thought–in Richter’s words, “the fragile promise of any negative dialectics” (69).

If this sounds like Benjamin, it’s because Richter’s Adorno is shot through not only with Benjamin’s influence, but also with the theological predilections of Heidegger, who is brought in (sometimes uncritically) as unproblematic interlocutor in almost every chapter. “Appearance” becomes a crucail phenomenological terrain for Richter’s arguemnt. Benjamin writes, “That of which one knows that one soon no longer will have it in front of one, that becomes image” (GR 143). [NB: could be linked to the genealogy of impressionism, but also to a description of life without material guarantees…where food becomes image the moment it is cognized. not sure…back to marx]. To solve the problem, Richter reads Heidegger-Deleuze to claim that the path thinking must take is one that is free of image all together–or, more precisely, an image of imageless thought, of image in perpetual withdraw. Adorno silently drops out in moments like this. Would have been nice if Richter had more clearly staged where Adorno would no longer agree with a tradition more comfortable with this passivity/fluidity/ontology/etc….

In perhaps the most compelling chapter, “Afterness and Experience (II): Crude Thinking Rethought,” Richter uses Brecht’s term “Plumpes Denken” to put forth a program for thought in the humanities today:

The task–an infinite task, to be sure–would be to engage in an articualtion of dialectical concepts and deconstructive moments of thought that would remain faithful to their radical singularity, autonomy, nd otherness and at the same time break with that fidelity to allow us to relate to the possible and nonnaive transformative reverberations of the material inscriptions that these thoughts and movements leave in the world. (174)

One feels the convergence of many realms of thought in this passage–deconstruction, marxist critique, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Deleuzean mondaology–which is precisely what makes this book so compelling. Its lose paratactic form, familiar from Adorno’s “Essay as Form,” allows for maximum capaciousness. Derrida makes a late entrance that feels perfectly in line with the group of thinkers that current critical practice tends to pit against deconstruction. Derrida llows us to think memory as future-oriented–memory is always the memory of a future that is for us (yes, Kafka’s notion of hope is hovering here).


One also registers Adorno’s influence in the more or less paratactic, “constellated” style of Richter’s book.

Hegel – Preface to Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)

The Phenomenology of Spirit – a tendentious and scattered foray into the Preface:

Important as a way of structuring my list. In section 3 of the Preface, Hegel claims that project is not complete by achieving a result, an actual whole, but in and through the carrying out of that aim. The aim is merely the drive, the result merely a corpse, they must be brought together. When all the particulars are accounted for, they should all express the universal. In this way, my list is most thoroughly dialectic the moment the 3 parts dissolve into one–that is, the moment when i claim my list no longer dialectical.

But this is exactly the impulse to sublimate that my list wants to avoid, and this is bound up in the idea of taste. I want to think of taste in contradistinction to eating–as related but different different phenomenological compartments first and foremost to objects in the world that are there for us to eat, but also in relation to other people, and to texts. Hegel is explicit about the digestive paradigm of dialectics. Subjects are submerged in a world (in sense-certainty, we don’t start in the subject, we start out in the world, the subject’s move toward self-consciousness is a movement of digestion…this is dialectics as a shape of experience) full of objects that need to undergo mediation in order for “culture” to emerge from “substantial life.” He diagnoses spirit as being, not only undernourished, but so depreciated that Sprit is easily satisfied with the merely sensory.

Now what the phenomenology is producing is a shape, or various shapes, of experience–all of them valid, relatively, but only in so far as they connect in a chain of sublimation.

What I want to do is relax the dialectic, and to think of taste as a shape of experience. What would this entail. First, it would admit, with Hegel, that negativity, in the form of the production of desire, is fundamental, but it would insist on alternative ways of satisfying that negation. Hegel will claim that it is the difference between subject and objects that draw them together, and as negation, catalyzes movement…but I will argue that the difference needs to be reinterpreted within a schema that privileges neither an ascetic relationship to experience, nor one that is overly appropriative or dominating.

So if, instead of claiming that the evanescent is essential, we claim the evanescent must remain essential…what happens to the Bacchanalian revel? What’s curious about that image is that it gets repeated across Hegel’s oeuvre in different contexts: appearance, ethical community, nature and art work are all likened to this dance of death that is at once transparent and simple repose. In a sense, we have a metaphor that is being pulled in metonymic ways.

Indeed, expressing the necessity of my aim is at one and the same to accomplish that aim–namely the construction of taste as a shape of experience.

[history of sense-certainty is contingent]…I want to recover that contingency.

THIS is always changing, refers to every this.

empiricists should look to the ancient philosophers–and to bacchus and ceres–in order to learn how to drink wine and eat bread. pre-christian (not causal connection to greater meaning of spirit…doesn’t go into symbolic register immediately: bacchus and ceres are alternatives to the Eucharist which consummated eating as conceptual exercise.) Animal relations have a truth revealing function.\, to the degree their own evanescence, and the evanescence of objects in the world.

Hannah Arendt – The Human Condition (1958)

Critique of Marx’s “conflation” of political activity and labor. She claims that Marx, and other political thinkers (since Plato) have ignored the distinction between labor (life), work (making) and action (politics), by imagining politics in terms of utopia above and beyond the plural world of human affairs. For Arendt, the polis is constructed in and through plural activity: this can never be utopian, because action is unavoidably contingent. But she also imports her own modes of “transcendence” (used in a very special way–perhaps dualism is a better term) when she strictly divides the three spheres of life activity, My critique of Arendt, which is little more than claiming that early Marx proleptically anticipates Arendt’s argument, is that life-sustaining activity is never stable, habitual and repetitive–rather, the processes of sustenance require acts of creativity. In Arendt’s argument, this lack of stability would preclude the emergence of polis. However, I argue that acts of sustenance can themselves be political: modes of action in the Arendtian sense. In fact, they have to be action if they are going to make a bid on stability. Thus Arendt’s utopian polis can be read back onto labor and work as conscious life activity.

This does not need to be abstract. What is the food movement if not a political act of sustenance? Once this is recognized, we can begin to talk about taste and “aesthetic education” in ways that do not depend on determinate political forms that are forever receding. Arendt will claim that a Marxian conception of freedom (that realm where aesthetic activity takes place) is derived from a notion of man as animal laborans: drawing from Capital, Vol 3, she points out that Marx gives us the “rather distressing alternative between productive slavery and unproductive freedom,” since the realm of freedom can being only when the realm of necessity and labor cease. Arendt points out that getting rid of this realms of “necessity” is tantamount to getting rid of life, of aliveness, all together. In other words, the realm of freedom is no longer desirable because the sheer bliss of participating in natural cycles is withheld from “free” individuals. Thus the price for absolute freedom is life itself, an insight that Adorno would have done well to register.

Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity. (121)

Thus, via Adorno, we see Hegel’s dialectic of consciousness imbedded in Marx at the level of labor. The danger, Arendt repeats over and over again, is that the dialectic between freedom and necessity will collapse into identity, and that human activity will be indistinguishable from the “deathless” cycles of nature itself. So long as animal laborans inhabits the center of the public realm (which is how Marx envisions the route to freedom, acc. to Arendt) there can be no true polis, and sheer abundance would unreflectively swallow the possibility of the emergence of the new.

Arendt cites the “waste economy” as a sign of the danger. Already here we can see her bias for productivity (biological reproduction even). What she means by waste is something that lacks “permanence”: the work of homo faber. But what she can’t imagine is something that is made to be wasted, something that one lets go to waste.


G.W.F. Hegel – Aesthetics (c. 1820)


Three important difference from Kant (among many others): 1. move from a subjective, formal idea of beauty to an objective, content based idea of beauty [Adorno calls him “enemy of taste”]  2. puts natural beauty (consigned to realm of immediate appearance) below art beauty (pure appearance or Schein, as spiritual product) bearing imprint of man 3. disinterestedness is replaced by responsibility as the way in which we experience a work (a “call to a responsive breast”).

Art is not a general activity, such as “labor,” but a specific activity, in which man in himself recognizes through his activity something for himself. It is, therefore, conscious life activity in the Marxian sense. Art, therefore, satisfies a different need than that of self-preservation. Man is as things in nature, but he is also for himself. This is theoretical (as inner consciousness) and practical (by externalizing himself): that is, man needs to see himself in the world (like the impulse to throw rocks in the water). The point here is that ART IS MADE BY MAN: IT HAS THE FORM OF WORK.

Art is also sensuous, it is given to man’s senses, but this sensuous is not explicable in terms of feeling or “taste.” Taste, for Hegel, always remains abstract and external. The point is to recognize the artworks sensuousness FOR MAN. Thus purely sensuous apprehension is the poorest mode of apprehension, since it is determined by desire and appetite: neither the external object is free (it is canceled) not is the subject free (it is determined by the which is external). On the other hand, purely theoretical, scientific interest changes the object into universal thought and the concept (not good). For Hegel, the artwork itself has a structure of desire: it wants to maintain its sensuousness even as it is recognized as more than sensuousness. Thus, for Hegel, the sensuous aspect of art is only properly experienced through the theoretical senses (sight and hearing), mostly because it helps maintain the objective dimension of the artwork.

What is the aim of art in its practical and theoretical dimensions? In short, it awakens the senses by making the viewer go through “the whole gamut of feelings.” This extends to a “reawakening” of philosophy. This is Schiller’s value, according to Hegel, and what Kant missed. Schiller believed that aesthetic education could bring together the unity demanded by reason and the multiplicity of nature. In this way, reason, freedom and spirituality emerge from their abstraction, whereas in Kant they remain merely subjective [i.e. the universal approached through reflective judgment is always subjective]. Thus the artwork always poses a question: our ability to hear the question TODAY depends on a philosophy art that is responsive.

For the Greeks, art was the sensuous presentation of the divine. For us, art can only ever be the sensuous representation of the Idea. The movement from symbolic (architecture) to classical (sculpture)  to romantic (painting, music, poetry) is also the movement from externalization to inwardization, the gradual dematerialization of the aesthetic object. Thus in Romantic art, art transcends itself, but still in the form of art. Importantly, however, in this movement through artistic media, hegel inserts THE COMMUNITY just before introducing the final romantic stage. This is important, because in terms of the very careful narrative Hegel is crafting, poetry comes after the community, going out beyond it. Poetry may be that which remains after th sensuous element is degraded (passing over into the prose of thought), but in its impossible perfection, it mediates between the prosaic reality of the community and the prosaic thought of the absolute.



Poetry bears a formal relationship to work, since both result in a determinate object. While thinking reconciles reality and truth within thought, poetry reconciles them in the form of a real phenomenon. It is also like work to the degree that as a form it does not merely endure (in time), but participates in the process of endurance by undertaking the work of recasting and remodeling objects have determined by the inflexibility of prose (scientific and philosophical thought). Poetry must therefore do two things at once: it must avoid every aim that lies outside of art, but must also, as a living thing, enter into the midst of life. However, imagination itself remains the proper subject-matter of poetry: the Hegelian twist is that the imagination (Vorstellung) is always already involved in projects with the outside world–it is cannot be sealed off from the world. in other words, poetry represents representations.


Hegel in context of project:

Adorno calls Hegel the enemy of taste, but only  because both Hegel and Adorno accept Kant’s definition of taste as merely descriptive of subjective activity. My contention is that Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics (combined with the descriptions of LIFE in the Philosophy of Nature) make possible Marx’s claim that there can be a history of the cultivation of the five senses told through the story of freedom and necessity (in other words, the real history of taste as the site where freedom and necessity converge). How? In Hegel, aesthetic experience is critical: those modes of freedom that allows us to transcend the material become necessary for material existence and visa-versa. Hegel is able to show how, even though poetry deals only with the stuff of the imagination, imagination itself is already implicated in a process akin to work (with external objects bearing the imprint of human determinations). Recognizing our investments (include our practical investments) is a critical process: in Adorno, this will amount to recognizing violence. In Hegel, I argue, our relationships to others (and objects) are not immediately violent or subordinate to the logic of domination. “Taste” can help us articulate a sort nourishment (necessity) that is not immediately appropriative or destructive (constructivist instinct in animals, the wasted buds on the flower, etc…how drive to preserve ourselves produces excess, waste, etc.).



Adorno – Aesthetic Theory (1970)

An ongoing post. Page numbers refer to Hullot-Kentor translation.

On Taste: Adorno enters the discourse of taste obliquely, by pitting Hegel against Kant. In the Draft Introduction, he’ll claim that Hegel is “the enemy of taste” in so far as he wanted the beautiful to reside in the object, not in the relationship between the subject and the object (Kant). Adorno believes that he could not wrest himself from this contingency–that Kant’s “aporia” between “aesthetic objectivity” and “judgments of taste” persists as the defining antinomy in post-Kantian art” art that “pursues its objectivity openly, without any sort of protection” (343). Thus Hegel’s attempts to identify the spirit of art with totality (the objectivity of art is the truth of spirit); now, after the collapse of Idealism, spirit is only one part of the artwork, the other being objectivity. Nevertheless, the determination of spirit is art’s highest call (all the more reason to not let philosophy do it for art); but the reduction of art to subjective spirit is ridiculous when the “objective” qualities that resist and coconstruct the work are fully accounted for. Thus art’s spiritual character is located at a far remove from its genesis: Hegel’s elaboration of work in the lord and bondsman passage is replicated in every work of art. The consequence (for taste), is that it is annexed to the side of the subjective entirely: not only the subject experiencing the work of art, but also the subject creating the work of art. Both, in some sense, participate in the logic of domination.

“Second reflection,” or the criticality of aesthetic experience: Subjective projection belongs to the realm of the preartistic–aesthetic experience is a countermovement to the subject. As such, it breaks through “the spell of self-preservation”: the I no longer has it happiness in its reproduction, interests, etc. Second reflection is that mode of critique that recognizes critique as immanent to the work of art: that all art contains the pure joy of mimetic impulse (reproducing a world), and also an anti-mythological element that resists mimesis. Critique is immanent to aesthetic experience. Aesthetics that does not recognize this is “merely culinary.” The use of this word connects with Brecht and dinner theater…but it also forcefully connects with the images of vulgar philistinism characteristic of those who want to identify with the work of art, taste and touch it. This is an improper comportment toward objectified spirit: what is need is reflection by means of the concept. The concept liberates the subject from the constraints imposed on it by the form  of the artwork. That is, it liberates content: second reflection is a dialectically mediated naiveté that doubles as a critique of reason itself: content is no longer the the brute materialism of Enlightenment thinking, but a “realized materialism.” Art’s power of resistance is precisely this powerlessness of content that anticipates a “spirit that would only step forth.” The “truth” of the new, which second reflection discloses, is the truth of that which has not yet been “used up.” [Connect with Berlant, Bennet, Bataille, Heidegger, etc….]

Kant,  Hegel, and domination, or the emergence of “truth-content”: Hegel’s “content aesthetics” supersedes the empty formalism of Kant by recognizing the importance of that which is other to art being internal to art. However, by transforming the form into content, Hegel makes the aesthetic complicit with an ideology of domination. He transgresses his own dialectic at the point when poetry translates into the prose of thought (the unity of the concept). He confuses the representational mediation of thematic material with that which is truly other to art. In Adorno’s terms, Hegel obliterates truth-content by regressing to a pre aesthetic literalness: the literal is barbaric. Truth-content is the history of violence (the primal act of formal violence against nature) that gets preserved in the tension between form and content. This is where Kant is still useful: whereas Hegel’s aesthetic becomes subordinated to the cycles of desire that propel the dialectic (I realize this is tendentious), Kant separates out aesthetic comportment from immediate desire: “he snatched art away from that avaricious philistinism that always wanted touch it and taste it” (10). An yet Kant nevertheless goes on to merge aesthetic experience with the realm of practical reason, i.e. desire. Kant offers a “castrated hedonism,” desire without desire, which is a form of domination explicable in terms of Freud, of course.

On Natural Beauty, or the dangers of immediacy: Adorno disagrees with Kant: Art is not an imitation of nature, is the imitation of natural beauty., a concept that already implies a history of mediation. Natural beauty emerges out of fear of the ugly, which requires the birth of the sacred. Thus what is beautiful in nature, is what appears to be there above and beyond what is there. One could say that, for Adorno, Kant’s sublime becomes the condition for the beautiful. If nature is said to have a language, then art tries make nature speak a mute eloquence: this language will turn out to be precisely the successive acts of violent domination. Thus art must do the impossible: making the nature speaking without trying (willing) to. Claiming natural “immediacy” amounts to passing over this violence in silence. Art beauty, then, attempts to determine the contingent “more” of natural beauty as semblance and negate it as unreal.

The subjective paradox, or why semblance is the opposite of expression: Expression is precisely that which must be produced blindly, by way of reflection (form): not to rationalize it, but to produce it aesthetically, through semblance. That is, to make things of which we do not know what they are. But this involves the gradual extinction of expression, and there is not sure way to tell whether such an artist is not just a mouthpiece of reified consciousness or “the speechless expressionless expression that denounces it” (117).  Expression is therefore imitation, and semblance is precisely that which does no imitate, or goes beyond imitation. Expression can only happen by way of a semblance that negates itself as unreal. For Adorno, this dialectic strains against the relations of production in order to really establish the subject. But one wonders what sort of subject is possible after all this self-negation. Have simple processes of life been negated beyond recognition?

The beautiful and the sublime and their reversal in modernism: Modernism accounts for the Enlightenment concept of nature (as calculable, interchangeable elements) to the degree that the categories of formal beauty no longer hold up. Thus sublime (in the form of atomistic mathematics) is all that is left for modernism. But what was once the confirmation of man’s rational power, is not the source of shame. The sublime therefore returns as first nature to the degree that it breaks out of the forms of second imposed by subjective rationality. This is the sublime as it takes the place once inhabited by beauty–what has been lost is the ability to be disinterested. What is universal is the return of the non-identical, demanding acknowledgement.


Gil Anidjar – “The Meaning of Life” (2011)

Just some important excerpts…

Gil Anidjar, “The Meaning of Life,” Critical Inquiry (Summer 2011)

To repeat: although the exclusivity of biology can hardly be granted, the dominant understanding of life since the eighteenth century at least, has conceded it. We have relinquished and abandoned ourselves to biology. Life is now first of all biological. This is not a simple tautology.

Modernity, one could further assert, is life as novelty, life as new. Or, as Arendt might put it, modernity is the subjection of life to the rhythm of the new and renewed, the rhythm of the biological. It is the subjection of everything to life, elevated.

Agamben gives us a way to think life non-biologically, by emphasizing that before life could become biological, it first of all had to become sacred. But obscures what this “before” is…

Where Foucault sees life as a novelty, a becoming-biological, Agamben sees life as an ancient problem, the site of an older division between biological life (“the simple fact of living common to all living beings” or zoe) and political life (“the form or way of living proper to an individual or a group” or bios) (HS, p. 1)

One might have expected fromAgamben some extended uptake of Benjamin’s suggestion. “It might be well worth while,” Benjamin famously wrote, “to track down the origin of the dogma of the sacredness of life.”

There is no such thing, then, as a merely biological life.

Christianity, in short, creates the idea of sacred life, and with it, the idea of biological life. Tracking the emergence of “mere”