Archive for February, 2012

Monstrosity problematizes becoming. Monsters have been within me and my ecologies for so long, as an immigrant child learning English in Flushing, New York, in my filmi dreams co-evolving with the pirated Hindi and Bengali VHS library spawned by my mother’s VCR, in the desiring conjunctions of friends and lovers, in the improvised fairytales between father and daughter at bedtime. But when does the monster—a discrete figure—become a vector of mutation across a material, embodied field of force? Monstrosity promises a reorganization of force, habit, and the body, but this promise of a line of flight is always submerged under various products or static entities: the monster, technology, difference.

I consider monstrosity a certain type of event in relations of force. What is important about monstrosity, that is, what is problematic about it from the point of view of radical political practice is my central concern in this essay. I argue that this problematising of monstrosity can only happen through the careful yet ad hoc construction of a pragmatic method of potentializing capacities and returning to what Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze call the virtual. In what sense is duration a method of counter-actualizing the monstrous event toward the virtual? What experimental forms of thought, exchange, art, politics, and pedagogy would express this method and remain untimely in relation to the event of mutation itself? Thought revitalized by the body far from equilibrium.

To situate this argument I will contrast two figures of thought: the monster as punctum in space and time, and a thoroughgoing ontology of monstrosity rooted in duration, intensity, and the virtual. For example, in Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual: Bergson and the Time of Life, Keith Ansell Pearson analyzes what he sees to be the central difference between Henri Bergson’s notion of creative evolution and Alain Badiou’s theory of the event. While for the latter, the event “has no relation to duration, it is a punctuation in the order of being and time (if it can be given a temporality it is only of a retroactive kind)” (71), for Bergson the repetitions (refrains) that constitute lived duration are generative of difference in itself, a qualitative, self-varying, and distributed difference of correlated processes. As Ansell Pearson puts it,

It cannot be a question of reducing the present to the status of being little more than a mere brute repetition of the past – if it were, it would be difficult to see how time could be given in Bergson’s conception of a creative evolution (there would be nothing creative about it and there would not even be a phenomenon we could describe as evolution), but rather of thinking a duration ‘in which each form flows out of previous forms, while adding to them something new, and is explained by them as much as it explains them . . .’. (71; quoting Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution, 1983: 362).

This nondialectical difference between on the one hand what I will call an ontology of monstrosity and on the other with what might be termed the punctum of the monster has everything to do with the nature of difference and becoming. Is the monster a discourse, is it a metaphor, analogy for something else, i.e. capitalism, patriarchy, or racism? Is the monster a representation that slides across the surface of discourse, something in the nature of a stain or trompe l’oeil? It will come as no surprise that representational analyses have dominated the thought of monstrosity in contemporary Western criticism. There are several reasons for this, but perhaps chief amongst them is the very fact that the monster has become mechanism of producing humanist value. And so the fixation on the punctum of the monster (the monster as state enemy—i.e. the monster as terrorist—as much as the monster as conceptual abyss, as a figure of abjection and exception—Homo Sacer, differance) in fact in differently positioned critiques ends up taking the monstrosity out of the monster, and after some buffing with this or that discourse is presented as the Other—all with very real effects on the life chances of actual people and populations.

But what if monstrosity comes to reenchant the world, as Prigogine and Stengers once put it? Such a reenchantment would have ontological implications because monstrosity-events are involved in the explication of intensive difference in the world. In other words, and conversely, in what sense is monstrosity an effect of a kind of experimentation or creation within intensive multiplicities? Or is monstrosity merely the cultural trace of a bodily intuition, the method of which must begin and end with duration?