Tag Archives: self-preservation

William Morris – The Lesser Arts (1877, 1882)

Originally a lecture with the title “The Decorative Arts,” given to the Trades Guild of Learning in London, 1877.

Opens with a sentiment consonant with News from Nowhere: neither laments the past, nor despises the present, nor despairs the future…but believes that all the current activity is merely life itself moving toward the betterment of mankind. The lecture explains why the decorative arts are integral to this historical process. In short, they “beautify the familiar matters of everyday life” (234). Morris draws no distinction between the forms of art and the forms of any human product: all must be either beautiful or ugly. Referencing Ruskin’s “Nature of the Gothic,” Morris claims that we should reject the “curse  of labor” thesis, and rather say that labor has become a curse only because of the artificial separation between art and work, which has degraded “the lesser arts” to mere mechanism and “the greater arts” to mere frivolous non-utility.

Morris is not calling for a return to a childish past, in which beautiful things were unconsciously made. Though history itself can be read in these quotidian forms, he does not call for a negative “unconscious intelligence” but rather a “new art of conscious intelligence” (241). Nature and History should be the teachers. Indeed, in 2102, Morris believes that the concept of nature will disappear all together, no longer able to be defined in contrast to a human that somehow would use it for ends exterior to it. History needs to be conceived from the dialectically mediated present. The restoration movement gets this wrong: they hypostasize a romanticized past and seek to patch over the real history that the centuries of “repairs” bear in themselves. [Curious dialogue could be conceived between Morris, Victor Hugo, Jude Fawley, and Jacob Flanders.]

Of course, this means that art loses its status as “useless” or “purposeless”: Morris writes, “nothing can be a work of art which is not useful.” His qualification isn’t enough to make this statement any less strange: “that is to say, which does not minister to the body when well under the command of the mind, ot which does not amuse, soothe, or elevate in a healthy state” (251). Simply put, the agreeable, the beautiful and the sublime are all lumped together, as is the mind and the body, work and rest, etc… Sympathetic to all this, but Morris needs to engage the history of aesthetics a bit more, perhaps. He also reverses the relation between taste and life. In Kant, the faculty of taste precedes the feeling life. In Morris, “Simplicity of life, begetting simplicity of taste…is of all matters most necessary for the birth of the new and better art we crave for; simplicity everywhere, in the palace as well as in the cottage” (251). One wonders whether the palace reference is a nod to Kant….

 

G.W.F. Hegel – The Philosophy of Nature (c.1820)

Page numbers refer to Miller translation (Oxford, 1970)

The second part of the Encyclopedia, sandwiched between the Logic and Spirit. It is divided into three sections: mechanics, physics, organics. The final section, in which I am most interested, is divided into terrestrial organ, the plant, and the animal. The animal section is subsequently divided into shape, assimilation, and the process of genus (or the relationship between individual and species). The move in each of these triadic moments is from universal to particular to concrete (unified) subjectivity. Life, which underwrites all of these movements, is perpetual return to the self: “it gives itself in the form of an object in order to return into itself and to be the accomplished return-into-self” (275).

Before getting to the animal, which is the fullest realization of this movement of life (it is in fact pure, self-determining negativity as such), it’s worth lingering with the plant. Hegel uses the plant to flesh out what could be called “immanent teleology,” similar to what Kant expounds in the second part of the third-critique, but rigorously without the imposition of the divine as guarantor of there teleologies. In short, the plant contains its own means and end. However, its relation to itself is immediately a relation to the outside world. Thus “the unification [of the moments] of self-preservation is not a union of the individual with itself but the production of a fresh plant-individual–the bud” (322). This illustrates what for Hegel is the primary motor of life–namely, a contradiction that compels a unification that always fails. The excess is life–both the life of nature and the life, one could argue, of Hegel’s system.

The animal differs from the plant in many ways–but the most important difference is that it has feeling, or “the existent ideality of being determined” (353). Or put otherwise, it has subjectivity, the self is for the self, it is not immediately related to externality like the plant. The process of determination is three-fold: 1. immediate, simply sensibility (nerves, brain, etc.); 2. particularity as the capacity for being stimulated and reaction, called irritability; 3. the negative return to the self which is the unity of the prior to movements–namely, reproduction, which includes the digestive system first and foremost.  The increasingly complexity of these processes–the means by which organisms divide inorganic material to be excreted and animalized matter ot be sublimated, for example–correlates with the complexity of the animal: “The simplest animals are merely an intestinal canal.”

These divisions are so rigorous and pervasive that they in fact begin to rebound on the very system of categorization that would contain them. So, for example, the mouth, while part of the system of sensibility…for it contains the tongue with which we taste (theoretical), also works to seize external objects and crunch them (practical); it is also the organ of the voice, thirst has its seat there; we laugh and kiss with the mouth: “thus the expressions of many sensations are unified in it” (374).

Assimilation is divided into the theoretical process, the practical process, and the Notional, which unifies the two previous. The animal stands in a state of tension without outside nature. By way of the five senses, the animal’s external relation is immediately reflected back into the self: this is the theoretical process, where appetite is checked. The practical process “begins with diremption of the organism within itself” (384)–that is, it is the feeling of lack and the urge to get rid of it. A being capable of containing this internal contradiction is the subject. The practical process if not free, since it is directed outwards, and freedom can only reside in the theoretical process of the sense, the reasonable will. Actin according to need (characterized as lack) is instinct. “Instinct is purposive activity acting unconsciously” (389). This very close to the aesthetic, it should be noted.

Assimilation works, first, by simple immediate transformation (infection), second, by mediation, which is digestion. Hegel does not want his theory of assimilation to be reducible either to mechanical (chomping) or chemical (saliva, gastric juices) processes. This process is not determined by an external teleology because it does not stop at the directing its activity against the out object but makes it into an object. In short, the animal, as “self-existnet Notion,” rids itself of it one-sided subjective anger towards the object, and finds the end and product of its activity to be “that which it already is at the beginning and originally” (397). In this way, Hegel writes, “the satisfaction conforms to reason…and the result is not the mere production of a means but of the end–union of the organism with itself.” Basically, the modes of external relation are always-already modes of internal self-realtion. Thus the explicit going outside of oneself of assimilation is an expression of the implicit return to oneself involved in every act of assimilation.

Now, this functions by a triple-determination. There is first the negation of the outside object (in anger), then the negation of the outward-turned activity (anger with the self), and then the positing of the self as self-identical, “but secondly, of reproducing itself in this self-preservation” (404). But the nature of the organism is to produce itself as external to itself (the production of the subject through determinate objects). It is in the very repelling of the self that the animal reproduces itself. And this is the final stage of animality, but it in turn takes three forms: simple repulsion, the constructivist instinct, and the propagation of the species. Hegel writes, “the highest and lowest parts in animal organization, are intimately connected: just as speech and kissing, on the one hand, and eating, drinking, and spitting, on the other, are all done with the mouth” (404).

Simple repulsion is excretion. It is the means by which “the organism gets rid of its entanglement with things” (405)–or, the discarding of the means after the end has been attained, which makes this purposive activity. For this reason, the Understanding, which attempts to reduce these mediations to mechanism and chemistry, are unable to comprehend vitality as such.

The constructive instinct, “that artistic impulse as instinct,” is the unity of the theoretical and practical processes of digestion. Like excretion, construction is a self-externaliztion, but one that builds an outside world:

The object is shaped in such a way in which it can satisfy the animal’s subjective need; but here there is not a mere hostile relationship to the outside world, but a peaceful attitude to outside existence. Appetite is thus at the same time satisfied and restrained; and the organism objectifies itself only by disposing of inorganic matter for it own purposes. Here, then, the practical and theoretical relationships are united. (406)

Hegel is here think of building nests, but also of relationships to the ground on which the animals lie, “which is not used up but merely fashioned and therefore preserved.” So in the constructive instinct the animal has reproduced itself as outer existence while remaining the same immediate creature: this is self-enjoyment. Up until now, the animal has only satisfied hunger or thirst, now it satisfies itself. (409) It cites the bird-song as the prime example of self-enjoyment.

Lauren Berlant – “Slow Death” (2007)

Berlant explains the concept of slow-death as a way of living in this current stage of capital. It is not merely the quiet desperation of Thoreau’s community-others, but a way in which life can be lived laterally, as a self-interruption of the capital subject otherwise exhausted by the forces of capital extraction that soak up all practical energies.

[The essay] argues that in the scene of slow death, a condition of being worn out by the activity of reproducing life, agency can be an activity of maintenance, not making; fantasy, without grandiosity; sentience, without full intentionality; inconsistency, without shattering; embodying, alongside embodiment.

She uses obesity as an example of how the processes of eating have become perverted by capitalist pressures. “In the contemporary U.S. context, obesity figures as the freshest case of slow-death crisis-scandal management.”

It is a form of slow death; in fact, the only form of slow death available to many marginalized peoples.

When one African- American essayist describes the ongoing familial and cultural lure of the actually existing American four food groups (sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine), we see that morbidity, the embodiment towards death as a way of life, marks out slowdeath as what there is of the good life for the vast majority of American workers.

She points out that being-fat was always associated with the rich not the poor, and now the number of “overfed” matches the number of “underfed” people in the world for the first time. Thus an old-fashioned Malthusian argument won’t work here—where it is the excessive resources that are killing the poor and people of color. Such “excess” dovetails with a whole range of racist associations: that African American are controlled by animal appetite rather than cultivated restraint; that this excess if marked by their political “excess” or expendability, etc.

She thus points out that the obesity epidemic cannot be explained in terms of liberal concepts of individual sovereignty, choice, freedom, etc. Rather, the biopolitical state forces us to rethink the modes of agency that constitute personal change—such as healthy or unhealthy eating. Remember that for Foucault, sovereignty “is not the right to put people to death or to grant them life. Nor is it the right to allow people to live or to leave them to die. It is the right to take life or let live.” Thus much of what Berlant is arguing is that life-maintenance can in and of itself be equivalent to a form of life-building, but with the idea of construction signifying otherwise than capital modes of accretion. [Relate this to Schilleren idea of not tasting more, but of tasting differently.]

But, for most, the overwhelming present is less well symbolized by energizing images of sustainable life, less guaranteed than ever by the glorious promise of bodily longevity and social security, than it is expressed in regimes of exhausted practical sovereignty, lateral agency, and, sometimes, counterabsorption in episodic refreshment, for example, in sex, or spacing out, or food that is not for thought.

Friedrich Schiller – On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794)

Inspired by Schiller’s disenchantment with the violent fallout of the French Revolution, these Letters seeks to articulate how aesthetic education is only way in which true political freedom can be achieved–whereby a human can be both fully man and fully citizen.

Letter by letter summary of argument:

  1. Sets forth a summary. It will be about Art and Beauty. Excuses himself for using intellect even while he will be critiquing it.
  2. Art is distinguished from utility and science.
  3. The realm of nature, within which man lives, does not contain all of man: the work of reason allows man to transcends the bounds of nature by elevating physical necessity into moral necessity, from the state of nature to the moral state–without, however, jeopardizing the realm of nature that nourishes man.
  4. The state of nature works by compulsion, while the moral state works through freedom and rational choice.
  5. The present state is characterized by lower classes governed “animal satisfactions,” while the higher classes exhibit and even more disgusting “lethargy” in the form of unfettered egotism.
  6. Using the ideal of Greece, shows how the present world is characterizes by unrestricted competition. Wholeness has been fragmented, and the world is held together by antagonisms.
  7. Nature offers a way forward: it “points in her physical creation the way we have to take in the moral” (45), because the lower elemental forces needs to be assuaged before the nobeler things can be attended to.
  8. Introduces the languages of “drives” and “force.” Truth must itself become a force if it to compete with these other external forces. But people are too borne down by struggle for existence to develop a capacity for feeling that is the way toward Truth [yes, some jumps are made in this letter]
  9. Art is therefore necessary to develop this feeling. “Even before Truth’s triumphant light can penetrate the recesses of the human heart, the poet’s imagination will intercept its rays, and the peaks of humanity will be radiant while the dews of night still linger in the valley” (57).
  10. People object that beauty’s relationship to pure form, rather than content, could lead soem to reject reality all together. But Schiller says that perhaps Experience as such is not the best place to go looking for positions of judgment.
  11. Taking a step back, he defines the human as the combination of a PERSON and a CONDITION, that former stays the same despite the changes in the latter. Neither can remain in isolation or the man ceases to be man. It is through the SENSES that the “way to the divine is opened up.” Living in time (our condition) is purely sensual. The formal properties of personhood therefore “annul time” via the formal drive. Thus reality and formality are set in opposition.
  12. The sensual drive puts man “beside himself” by making him entirely subject to the vagaries of time. The formal drive annuls time, rendering man no longer a mere quantity, but qualitatively different. [The connection metonymy and metaphor should not be missed]
  13. However, Schiller wants to pose a more fundamental drive, which he works up to by means of the cultivation of the opposing drives: “procuring for the receptive faculty the most manifold contacts with the world…in securing for the determining faculty the highest degree of independence” (87).
  14. Introduces the play-drive, which is pulled rather obviously from the notion of judgment in Kant’s 3rd Critique…it brings together under a single drive the two other drives.
  15. The object of the sense-drive is life and the object of the form-drive is form. The object of the play-drive is living-form, or beauty as such. [One wonders why the sense-drive is not called the life-drive…one more way of dislocating the processes of self-preservation outside of the human apparatus. We can form forms, but we do not live life. We sense it.] Further, the sense-drive gets converted into the material drive, thus further  away from the dynamic processes of life. Also, interesting fn on Burke that say that he consigns “beauty to mere life,” something very similar to Hume and the empiricists]. The dialectic between form and matter, then, is such that beauty renders the burden of necessity “lightweight.” And this playful relationship to necessity is in itself necessary [relate this to Arnold’s The Study of Poetry and Wilde’s Artist as Critic]
  16. Now stuff starts to get weird. There are two types of beauty: melting beauty and energizing beauty, The former “releases” while the latter “tenses.” [Curious relationship to Bataille here].
  17. Interestingly enough, it is not so much that there are different types of beauty, but that beauty discloses its melting or energizing property according to the subject’s needs
  18. Now he steps back, and begins in Kantian fashion to discuss beauty’s relationship to Experience and Reason, between which there yawns a chasm of infinity.
  19. Aesthetic emerges as the middle disposition when sense and reason are both fully active and therefore self-cancelling. Sense-impression determines the human mind, passively. Before we can achieve active self-determination, we must negate the realm of sensation and make way for the realm of active determination. Unlike Hegel, then, Schiller does not attempt to derive the unity of sense and substance out of the nuts and bolts of primary experience; rather, he concedes sensation and self-consciousness itself to the realm of pre-cognitive “mystery.”
  20. The freedom that comes from the collision of these two drives–the formal and the sensual–is itself a product of nature. What one fills the absence of sensual determination with is the “real and active determination” of the aesthetic as such.
  21. The aesthetic differs from mere sensuous feeling in that it is not an empty infinity, but an infinity filled with content. It is not exhausted in its relationship to natural objects; rather, the “life of the aesthetic” restores the potentiality inherent to humanity. It gives the human the ability to be human once again, again and again. This is not separate from Nature: rather, Nature confers on humans the power of becoming-human. In this way, nature is consonant with the aesthetic.
  22. He then gets into the particulars of aesthetic theory–e.g. the perfect work of art is that which transcends its material without utterly destroying those materials. The basic idea is that content limits, while form de-limits, which by now doesn’t seem counter-intuitive at all. Interestingly, though, just when content seems to entirely extirpate content all together, Schiller uses a metabolic metaphor to describe their interaction: the “form consumes his material.” 
  23. He returns to the thread of the main argument by stating, clearly: the sensuous man is made into rational man only by way of the aesthetic.
  24. These three states–the physical (sensual), the aesthetic and the moral-rational, correlate with three phases of man’s relationship to Nature. He first suffers, then emancipates himself, and then attains mastery. 
  25. Further elucidates the “moment” of the beautiful, claiming that both the perceiving subject and the object of contemplation are reciprocally beautiful. He then claims that there should no longer be a question about the transition from beauty to truth, “since this latter is potentially continued in the former, but only a question of how he is to clear a way for himself from common reality to aesthetic reality, from mere life-serving feelings to feelings of beauty” (189). [It seems to me that there is still a really big question about the realization (or not) of potential, since man is supposedly that creature which reserves potential indefinitely.]
  26. Maps out some of the pre-conditions for beauty: the hermit emerging from the hut is the Ideal: he can sense “the exuberance of matter.” Imports Kantian categories of need and satisfaction of those needs: both requirements for the emergence of the aesthetic. Also, the “tactile” sense are relegates to our animal selves. “The object of touch is a force to which we are subjected the object of the eye and ear a form we engender” (195). That which we engender is SEMBLANCE. Aesthetic semblance, as opposed to social or natural semblance, must be both honest (expressly renounces all claims to reality) and autonomous (dispenses with support from reality). Seeing something as semblance (not real or living) takes a whole lot of aesthetic education, supposedly.
  27. In the final letter, Schiller calls for “a revolution in feeling,” which would breech the cycle of our animal needs by way an attention to the formal qualities of sensual experience.This will not come about by having quantitatively more material things; rather, it comes from experiencing things differently.

    Even the animal world supposedly has this sort of freedom: “The trees put forth innumerable buds which perish without ever unfolding…living things are entitle to squander” (207). [Interesting relation to Bataille]. But this aesthetic “superfluity” does not remain content being “added” to things; rather, “the play-drive as it becomes ever freer finally tears itself away form the fetters of utility all together” (211).

    This turns into a rather unexpected critique of war and violence, and a valorization of “weakness” (213). This is matched by a a tri-partite movement from the Dynamic State (think Hobbes); the Ethical State (Kant); the Aesthetic State, which consummates the will of all in the individual. This is the kingdom of Taste, in which no privilege or autocracy is allowed. A-social appetite renounces itself seeking. Does this state exist? It exists within us.

Jane Bennett – “Edible Matter” (2007)

Bennett confronts what she calls the “conquest model of consumption,” which reduces food to an inert, entirely assimilable object and thereby does not fully account its “force.” As she explains in “The Force of Things,” inertness and resistance to human appropriation is in and of itself a form of vitalism, or thing-power. She argues for food as an “actant,” borrowing the term from Bruno Latour. It refers to an object that acts or is granted activity by others within a specific assemblage. To raise food to this level, she looks at how dietary fat affects moods and cognitive dispositions and, secondly, at Nietzsche and Thoreau’s different takes on the political efficacy of diet.

She argues that, in the case of fat,

we need to bear in ming not only larger humans and their economic-cultural prostheses (agribusiness, snack food vending machines, serving sizes, microwave ovens, bariatric surgery) but also the strivings and trajectories of the fats themselves, as they vie with–or more indirectly, weaken or strengthen–human wills, practices, habits, and ideas. (138)

Food writings should attend to the active materiality of food. Michael Pollan is exemplary in this regard, since he argues that corn has used the human to evolutionarily succeed.

Nietzsche locates foodstuffs within specific assemblages of material and not-quite material things: “newspapers, politics, beer, and Wagnerian music,” for example (140). While Nietzsche will reject vegetable diet as a symptom of ressentiment, Thoreau finds that the eating of meet mortifies his imagination: a diet of berries quickens his imagination and moral sensibility. The argument here is not for particular types of diet, but instead for a view of food that grants in the status of an actant within an assemblage that cuts across the material-immaterial divide.

She points to Slow Food as a potential way of thinking about food in relation to broader ethical, cultural and political systems, but worries that it still treats food as a means to an end. Bennett tries, instead, “to [construe] food [as a self-altering, dissipative materiality] as itself an actant within an agentic assemblage that includes among its members my metabolism, cognition and moral sensibility,” and thereby work against what “modern thought” has fought to obscure: the ‘active principle’ of matter. (145)

Roberto Esposito – “The Philosophy of Bios” from Bios (2004, trans. 2008)

The final chapter of Esposito’s book articulates a positive biopolitics that does not immediately become the Thanatopolitics which found its most extremem manifestation in Nazism’s reduction of life to death. He does this with the concept of the “immunitary.” He claims that all societies seek to completely immunize themselves from all foreign bodies, rendering themselves completely pure; he tries to build an ethics of contamination, i.e. a Nietzschean concept of living by preserving what is foreign rather than obliterating it. The biopolitical is the tendency to flatten the political and purely biological (146), and while Nazism may have “died,” its biopolitical modalities still persevere in things like preventative war: auto-immunitary process by which an outbreak is constructed and deployed in order to prevent an outbreak ad infinitum. Starting with Arendt, and moving through Foucault, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Freud, Simondon, Spinoza and Deleuze, Esposito attempts to take the three dispositifs of Nazi biopolitics–the double enclosure of the body, the preemptive suppression of birth, and the normativization of  life–and deconstruct them so that they signify in an opposite, positive direction. How?

Arendt does not think the concept of life thoroughly enough, and therefore does not understands its political valence. Instead, she rigorously distinguishes the zone of bios (life)  from the zone of the polis (world): that which exceeds life is the political. Esposito sees an unlikely and partial “corrective” in her teacher Heidegger, who similarly draws a distinction between mere life and “Da-sein.” Life itself withdraws from the political and the philosophical realms of thought: the facticity of life is precisely that which has immanent to its self its own self-reflective form of thought. But Heid can do this by keeping “factical life” separate from biological life. Thus while Nazi biopolitics denigrates “existence without life,” Heidegger will denigrate “life without existence.” In other words, “[life] can only be deduced negatively from Dasein as that which isn’t it” (154). This comes down to the radically opposed stances towards death: while for Nazis death representes a life “emptied of biological potentiality,” for Heidegger death is the authentic mode of being that grants existence possibilities that exceed the category of bare life. Thus Heid rigorously distinguishes between humans that “create a world,” animals that are “the poor of the world,” and stones which are “without a world.” Nevertheless, Adorno’s criticisms in Jargon of Authenticity lurking in the background, Esposito sees Heid’s withdrawing of life from the category of thought as problematic: it is precisely because he politicized life too little–not too much–that Heid opened himself up to appropriation by Nazi philosophy .

THE BODY: Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the flesh rewrites Heid’s ontology of the human by assuming “the poor of the world” as part of human experience itself. He thus inscribes the threshold between man and animal as the form of phenomenological experience. We can see here, as fi in a mobius strip, the mirror image of Nazism’s reduction of the human to the animal. It is for this reason, that Lyotard, Deleuze, Derrida and Nancy are all uncomfortable with the concept of the flesh: in short, they that it cancels the concreteness of the body by placing it under a transcendental signifier fraught with the symbolism of Christianity. Esposito admits that for M-P the flesh is a-political, an excess; for this reason, its politicization opens up possibilities: “a being that is both singular and commun al, generic and specific, and undifferentiated and different, not only devoid of spirit, but a flesh that doesn’t even have a body” (167). Such is “incarnation”: not a modality that incorporates, but one that multiplies and “self-divides.” Esposito sees this “journey to the end of the body” in Francis Bacon’s portraits, which portray the flight of flesh from the body. There is an indeterminate relation between man and animal (all “one flesh”).

BIRTH: The idea of the nation is biological and political (natio). One could say that the biological was once preeminent, but the modern state prioritizes the political, even as it uses the biological to support the boundaries of the political. Birth holds the dual possibility: birthing into a political body, yes, but also introducing the unassimilable fact of existence into a body that can’t contain in it (176). In Moses and Monotheism,  Freud deconstructs the Nazi logic of origins by showing how the originary father/son is always doubled as the foreign body that the nascent nation will need expropriate. Likewise, Arendt will use “birth” to confront the bad “seriality” that marks out mere life from the political. Simondon goes further, however, by integrating birth into the process of life: “life is to perpetuate a birth that is permanent and relative” (qtd. 181). [The connection with Hegel, Darwin, and also with Agamben, should not be missed.] Life is the zone not between birth and death but between the “pre-individual” and the post- or trans-individual. Thus life could be seen as the perpetuation of preservation of impotentiality. [Return to animal, human divide and Levinas on ecstatic ontology]

LIFE: Nazism created a norm of life, not in that it adapted its policies to the demands of life, but that enclosed life within the borders of norm birthed in the state of exception/nature: a norm imposed on nature, nature imposed on a norm. Esposito wants to vitalize that norm (184). Using Spinoza, Esposito proposes to substitute for a logic of presupposition one of reciprocal immanence, where the power of “aliveness” and “action” is that from which rights are derived: “the process of normativization is the never-defined result of the comparison and conflict between individual norms that are measured according to the different power that keeps them alive, without ever losing the measure of their reciprocal relation” (187).To think life philosophically, we need, as Canguilhem argued, to open the “norm of life” to the infinite unpredictability of life. Thus “normal man” equals “normative man” to the degree that individual “mutations” are “self-legislated” [the brush with Kant should not be missed]. He turns to Deleuze’s late work and discusses the move form “the life” to “a life” in terms of Riderhood’s near-death experience in Our Mutual Friend. This depersonalization of life comes so close to that the impersonality that opened up the floodgates of Nazi violence; but here life is not submitted to a norm, but norm and life are seen in one another. The potentiality of life is given to the norm. He ends by echoing Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents:

Whether its [biopolitics’] meaning will again be disowned in a politics of death or affirmed in a politics of life will depend on the mode in which contemporary thought will follow its traces. (194)

Charles Darwin – The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)

Origin of Species scrupulously does not mention man (though it could have concluded nicely with such an apogee)…and Descent of Man, formally, seems written in order to make it difficult for any reader to get through it. It withholds the promised clarity of its title. It is introduced as “a collection of notes” (relate to other archival novels, such as Dracula, etc.]

Darwin vs Wallace: the latter turned to superstition as explanation for man’s transcendence of the naimal relam (language, etc.) while the former remained convinced that there were analogs to human life in the animal world. Compare this to Dr. Jekyll vs. his friend Lanyon and contextualize within the discourse of facts.

Evidence for Human Evolution: “[man] still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” He therefore argues against perfect design by way of vestiges. Contrast sharply with Lamarck, who attempted to draw strict causal chains (i.e. Giraffe grew a neck in order to reach tall branches); Darwin, instead, located random variation and mutation at the origin, which was then taken up or not depending on its advantageousness within a particular environment, species, etc. “All variations are the result of and are governed by the same general laws…” Talks a bunch about “rudiments,” such as hair and the coccyx and the increasingly short caecum (a cul-de-sac in the digestive system that can be fatal if food gets stuck there…) Only a natural prejudice and the belief that we are descended from demi-gods keeps us from recognizing the community of descent.

Man and Apes: Associates the move to bidpedism with the rapid increase in cognitive ability. Also, could have been advantageous for man to spring from weak chimp rather than powerful gorilla because it leads to greater sympathy with others—in general, a more intellectual disposition for a species that lack natural wepaons.

Mental powers: no fundamental difference between man and apes, here, either. Instinct vs. Intelligence (indirectly proportionate according to Cuvier. However, there is evidence that animals, sharing the same sensory powers as man, also react similarly to various stimuli (terror, suspicion, happiness, etc.).

Morality: Establishing a sort of “universal moral sense” based not on propriety, but instead on the necessity of the preservation of certain basic social structures (the self, the family, the tribe, etc.) : that is, the natural instinct shared by the lower animals naturally leads to the higher moral demands of the golden rule. Sympathy, therefore, is an instinct. Relate this to Arnold’s The Study of Poetry (1880), where he argues for the self-preserving power of poetry. 

On Civilization: Charity is a vestige, rudiment of sympathy, that persists despite reason. Believes private property is a good thing for the sake of the arts >> believes there should be a class of men who do not need to labor so that they can rule those who do labor. America is the place where the most energetic and restless people go to find wealth and succeed…calls it a “great country.” But all civilized nations are descended from barbarous tribes: clear traces of barbarism in civilized traditions + the ability of the lower races to raise themselves up given the proper conditions. Man is digressing; he is rising!

Compare the affectionate orangutan (Jenny) with the savages from Tierra del Fuego.