Epigenesis and Philosophy: Schedule

Below is the final schedule for next week’s workshop on Epignesis and Philosophy which is taking place in Bristol. Please do come along if you’re in the vicinity.


Epigenesis and Philosophy: A Workshop on the work of Catherine Malabou

Sponsored by UWE-Bristol, Social Science in the City, The UWE Social Science Research Group,The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the Working Group on Contemporary Materialism

Tuesday 15 March, 6pm-8pm

Public Lecture by Prof. Catherine Malabou (CRMEP, Kingston), ‘Epigensis of The Text’

Hamilton House, Stokes Croft, Bristol

Wednesday 16 March, 9am-6pm

Workshop at Arnolfini Centre for Contemporary Arts, 16 Narrow Quay, Bristol, Room 3AF013

9:30-11:00 Panel One

Martin Nitsche (Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague)

Plasticity and Field: Are Phenomenological Topology and Malabou’s Theory of Plasticity Compatible?

Erin Obodiac (Cornell University)

Plastic Inscriptions

Tina Röck (University of Dundee)

Process and Plasticity

11:15-12:45 Panel Two

Isabell Dahms (CRMEP, Kingston)

On Necessity and Contingency in Kant, Hegel and Malabou

Søren Rosendal (Aarhus)

What is a Natural Order? Hegel as a Darwinian Idealist

Andrew Jones (Bristol)

Laws, Taxonomies and Organisms: What Can Transcendental Idealism offer Contemporary Philosophy of Science?

12:45pm-2:00pm Lunch Break

 2:00pm-3:30pm Panel Three

Diana C. Hereld (University of California, San Diego)

Recovering the Subject Through Sonic Gesture: Contending the Annihilation of Self

Miguel Prado Casanova (UWE-Bristol)

Developmental Noise and Stochastic Resonance

Maria Dada (Durham)

A Deep History of Technology

3:45pm-5:15pm Panel Four

Andrew Bevan (CRMEP, Kingston)

Affect as the Form of Time: On the Problem of Multiple Temporalities in New Materialisms

Julie Reshe (Global Center for Advanced Studies)

Destructive plasticity: Philosophical Encounter Between Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience

Thomas Wormald (Center for the Study of Theory and Criticism, Western University)

Peregrinations and Pathways: Malabou, Schelling and Plasticity

5:30-6:00 (Closing Discussion with Prof. Catherine Malabou)

Geoff Pfeifer responds to Vartabedian

Sorry for the delays, but we are going to pick up where we left off in our on-going event on Geoff Pfeifer’s The New Materialism: Althusser, Badiou, and Žižek. Our last post was a response to the book by Dr. Becky Vartabedian, and below we have Geoff Pfeifer’s response. There will more to come in the next 2-3 weeks on this event, so please do jump in the comments and participate.

Response to Vartabedian by Pfeifer:

I want to thank Professor Vartabedian for her comments here and also for the invitation to discuss Badiou’s first book in relation to my analysis of his later work. It is both interesting and helpful to think about what Badiou does in The Concept of Model as forming the backdrop for what Zizek has called Badiou’s “move from history to ontology” which I see as, in many ways, a nice encapsulation of my overall concerns related to Badiou’s work in both Being and Event and Logics of Worlds (Žižek, 2012 p. 842). I have tended, in the past, to see Concept as more in line with Badiou’s earlier work especially since, as we know, it was intended to be a part of the Althusserian project of the philosophy course for scientists which began in 1967 and was never completed due to the May 68 student revolts (Badiou’s text was never taught because of this). I will briefly give a few of my other reasons for having considered this text as a part of the early corpus (and so, more sensitive to what I see as proper materialist concerns) before returning to Vartabedian’s suggestion that we see it retrospectively in relation to the more ontological works of the mature Badiou.

As Vartabedian points out, in my book I link Althusser’s critique of structuralism to Johnston’s critique of Badiou’s concept of the ‘count as one’ in an attempt to show the un-thought (and hence, Ideological) nature of this concept as it becomes reified in Badiou’s ontology and to also show how Althusser himself had already offered a way to avoid this problem via his critique of the (also reified) concept of ‘structuralism’. Recalling that one of Althusser’s main claims in his critique of the notion of a structuralist movement, is that what is referred to as ‘structuralism’ is not a unified or singular body of thought, but that what we refer to in the singular—as ‘structuralism’—emerges in a historical context in different ways and in relation to different social and scientific phenomena and questions (See Althusser, 1976 pp. 128-129 and Pfeifer, 2015a p. 39). And so as I point out in my discussion of this in the book, according to Althusser, there is no structuralism as such; to think that there is, is to fall into ideology. There are, rather, multiple ‘structuralisms’ that are different, particular, and contingent on/in particular investigations, temporal contexts, and questions and that these are, in this way, related but also distinct from one another (Pfeifer, 2015a p. 39).

In returning to Badiou’s Concept of Model on Vartabedian’s suggestion (a text that admittedly, I have not spent all that much time with) it is striking to be reminded that Badiou echoes here this Althusserian claim about the nature of structuralism but he does so in relation to the sciences. Here is Badiou’s citation and adaptation:

It has been shown that to speak of Science (la science) is an ideological symptom—as it is, in truth, to speak of ideology in the singular. Science and Ideology are plural. But their types of multiplicity are different: the sciences form a discrete system of articulated differences; the ideologies form a continuous combination of variations. (Badiou, 2007 p. 7)

We might take this distinction drawn by Badiou here as a frame for the question of the differences between this text and Badiou’s texts that emerge in 1988 and beyond. In doing this, we should once again affirm the closeness between what Badiou says in the quote above and how Althusser understands the distinction between science and ideology.

To put this understanding very briefly, for Althusser, science is what works on, and ultimately transforms, ideology by bringing to light the workings of the ideological. It does this, in large part, by unearthing the repetitive nature of one’s relation to and understanding of the world via the concepts, meanings, and practices that one uses in cognizing and appropriating the variety of experiences one has in a given set of situations, and also via the practices which both support and are supported by this cognition. So, as I have pointed out elsewhere also, for Althusser, the distinction between the scientific and the ideological is the distinction between repetition and transformation (Pfeifer, 2015b). This is because science—as both Althusser and Badiou (at least at this time) understand it, makes possible the recognition of the ideological as ideological, or repetition as repetition, in such a way as to make transformation possible in a very material sense- in that, once made visible, ideological practices can be transformed via other practices that act against repetition in favor of this transformation (and so, ultimately- to recognize a practice as ideological is to have already transformed it- this is why ideology and science are linked). So here, when Badiou calls science a “discrete system of articulated differences” what he means is that science allows for the recognition—or ‘articulation’—of such differences within a system whereas ideology both covers over these differences and simply repeats a given set of meanings/understandings via a series of variations of/on repetition itself.

In light of this, returning both to Badiou’s and to Vartabedian’s comments, we can see how what Badiou does in The Concept of Model is to engage in an Althusserian scientific practice in relation to the concept of ‘model’ itself, coming to the conclusion here that—as Vartebedian points out—any adequate concept of ‘model’ depends on a theory of sets (at the time in which Badiou was engaging in his critique of this concept anyway). This investigation has, if I am right, the sole aim of engaging in a scientific practice in relation to the notion of model and modeling with regard to the particular moment or conjuncture in which the text was written. This is to say that, Badiou’s text here is not an exercise in ahistorical system building (as are both Being and Event and Logics of Worlds) but rather an intervention in a moment in history, which attempts, in an Althusserian fashion, to unearth the ideological in the practical work of scientists so as to make possible a transformation that is also grounded in the moment. What makes Vartebedian’s comments so helpful is that it really does seem to be the case that the scientific process Badiou engages in here in this early text becomes that which, through its repetition, underwrites the deployment of the set-theoretic concepts in his later work—and along with that the all important (and in dispute) concept of the ‘count-as-one’—that becomes the repeated (and hence ideological) structure through which Badiou builds his mature system.

But we should make no mistake about the differences between the deployment of the mathematical model in these two instances- one is used in such a way (in the early work under question here) as to act as a scientific concept which disrupts the everyday practices of the scientists, and the other is deployed for the opposite reasons- as an ahistorical explanation for how various worlds and situations are seemingly organized even though there are differing combinations and variations of objects in different situations/worlds. So this gets us back to Vartebedian’s helpful point: the investigation of mathematics as the exemplar of a scientific discipline as that which could cut through the ideological field becomes, itself, the reified and repeated way in which the mature Badiou makes sense of the organization of worlds/situations. What was once a work of transformation, becomes a work (in this regard anyway) of repetition.

Works Cited:

Althusser. Louis. Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists and Other Essays. Translated by Ben Brewster, James Kavanagh, Thomas Lewis, Grahame Lock, and Warren Montag. London and New York: Verso, 1990.

Badiou, Alain. The Concept of Model: An Introduction to the Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics. Edited and translated by Zachary Luke Fraser and Tzuchien Tho. Melbourne: Re.press, 2007.

Pfeifer, Geoff. The New Materialism: Althusser, Badiou, and Žižek. New York: Routledge, 2015.

— “On Althusser, Science, and Ideology, Or Why We Should Continue to Read Reading Capital” Crisis and Critique Volume 2, Issue 3 (Forthcoming, 2015)

CFP: Epigenesis and Philosophy: A Workshop on the work of Catherine Malabou


Philosophy and Epigenesis

A Workshop on the work of Catherine Malabou

March 15-16, UWE, Bristol.

Keynote Speaker: Prof. Catherine Malabou (CRMEP, Kingston), ‘Epigenesis of the Text’

In her 2014 book, Avant demain: Èpigenèse et rationalité (Before Tomorrow: Epigenesis and Rationality) Catherine Malabou explores contemporary philosophical attempts to move beyond the Kantian transcendental via an epigenetic account of the emergence of rationality. In particular, Malabou makes this analysis not only with the intellectual tools of recent European philosophy, but also with the tools of contemporary neuroscience. This project, along with much of Malabou’s other recent work, cuts through the trend to relinquish the Kantian transcendental by reframing the very terms of this debate with reference to recent natural science. In this way, Malabou points the way towards a new future in which continental philosophy boldly embraces recent developments in the natural sciences and rejects the anti-scientific bias which has infected many dominant strands of continental philosophy.

This event aims to further explore Malabou’s recent work both constructively and critically by bringing together scholars in both the humanities and the natural sciences to discuss the questions opened up by Malabou. We invite submissions for 20-minute presentations that fit broadly with the themes of Malabou’s recent work, and in particular, the themes of epigenesis and rationality.


Relevant topics include, but are by no means limited to:

-The work of Catherine Malabou (and in particular, the project outlined in Avant demain)

-Philosophical considerations of plasticity, life, and the brain

-Deep History and the brain

-Materialist and naturalist accounts of life

-Epigenetics and contemporary European philosophy

-Philosophical anthropology and natural science

-Naturalist accounts of reason

-The place of the organic in Kantian philosophy

-Epigenesis in German idealism

-Critical encounters between neuroscience and psychoanalysis

-The role of plasticity in contemporary thought

-The relationship between contemporary philosophy and the natural sciences

We especially encourage submissions from underrepresented groups in the humanities.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to Michael2.Burns@uwe.ac.uk by February 4th, 2016.

Hosted by the Natural World and Technology Theme of the UWE, Bristol Social Science Research Group, and the Working Group on Contemporary Materialism.



Epigenesis and Philosophy CFP

Becky Vartabedian on Pfeifer’s ‘The New Materialism’

To formally begin our book event on Geoff Pfeifer’s The New Materialism: Althusser, Badiou, and Žižek, we have our first response, which is from Dr. Becky Vartabedian of Regis University.

On The New Materialism, by Becky Vartabedian 

In Chapters 3 and 4, of The New Materialism, Geoff Pfeifer takes up Alain Badiou’s accounting of stasis and change. Pfeifer is especially interested in Badiou’s prospects for correcting a problematic dependence in Althusser on a “metaphysical invariant” in the form of a “rule of structural causality” (56). The structure(s) that interpellate subjects – in spite of their contingent status – still operate as the apparatus “through which, and only through which, history proceeds and subjectivity comes into being” (57). Pfeifer locates Badiou’s remedy to this problem in three key texts: “The (Re)Commencement of Dialectical Materialism” (1967), Theory of Contradiction (1975), and Theory of the Subject (1982). In these works, Pfeifer traces the evolution of Badiou’s claims that both structure and subject are split in such a way to support the possibility for transformation in each figure.

Broadly, it is the insight of ‘co-constitution’ that marks Badiou’s move away from Althusser. This position, developed initially in “The (Re)Commencement of Dialectical Materialism,” maintains that materialist science and ideology emerge together. As Pfeifer says, “in the founding of the possibility of science as science – or dialectical materialism – we also have the founding of ideology as ideology. In this way, the two are inextricably linked” (55). In light of this insight, Pfeifer traces the expression of this co-constitutive procedure in Badiou’s split subject and his split situation. That is, the transformative power of the event is recognizable only in relation to the situation from which it emerges; similarly, the subject faithful to the event (e.g., the Saint Paul of the Christ Event) is only legible against a static background.

In Chapter 4, Pfeifer explains that Badiou’s ‘split subject’ is informed by the twin poles of “Althusserian anti-humanism and Sartrean subjective freedom” (75). Following a reading of this pairing by Nina Power, Pfeifer explains that Badiou’s account of the split subject mobilizes Sartrean insights of “serialized isolation between individuals” on the one hand, and the transformative “group in-fusion,” by which this serialized isolation is broken down by “pursuit of a common goal or a common work” on the other (78-79). Pfeifer helpfully points out that Sartre’s influence on Badiou is decisive as “what allows Badiou to account for the possibility of radical change (and true subjective agency) in a way that Althusser cannot,” without giving up “much of the Althusserian edifice” (79).

One of the strengths of Pfeifer’s work with Badiou is the clear presentation of the way Badiou’s commitment to Sartre informs the concept of the ‘split subject.’ It is especially clear that this is an innovation designed to correct limitations Badiou sees in Althusser. However, in spite of the advances these early works accomplish for Badiou contra. Althusser, claims in more contemporary texts challenge Badiou’s success in this enterprise. The hitch in Badiou’s project concerns the split situation or structure; the problem consists in the way situations are formed in the first place, using the principle of the count-as-one.

Pfeifer identifies two issues with Badiou’s account of situation, which he sees as plaguing both Being and Event and Logics of Worlds. Pfeifer draws the first issue from Peter Osborne, who claims that the situation is largely ahistorical; because the count-as-one operates on inconsistent multiplicity, it is abstracted from and so dislocated from contingent historical events. The second issue, which Pfeifer links to Adrian Johnston’s work, is that the count-as-one stands as an ideal (and immaterial) structure that has tremendous power – it structures objects of appearing in Logics of Worlds, and is the means by which being is presented to thought in Being and Event – but it is not clear who exercises this power or from whence it is exercised.

Pfeifer’s innovation is to re-cast these issues in relation to certain tenets of Althusserian materialism. He explains that the problematic status of the count is magnified by the ahistorical functioning of Badiou’s ontology, since it it is a law or a rule that operates regardless of the contingent situation in which it may come to apply. This aligns Badiou’s work as a (retrospective) target of Althusser’s critique of structuralism:

Althusser argues that for many the all-important concept of ‘structure,’ in its being reified and uninterrogated, becomes and (sic) ideological impediment to a truly scientific (and materialist) understanding of the conjuncture. In the same way, insofar as the count-as-one remains uninterrogated, it becomes endowed with a quasi-intelligence as that which ensures the ordering of multiples across situations/worlds (89).

Pfeifer’s assessment here, that the count-as-one functions as precisely the kind of ideological impediment that blocks understanding of the “conjuncture” (or the radical contingency connecting subjects and structure), is a welcome as means of assessing this crucial operation in Badiou’s work. We may have good reason for rejecting the axiomatic project Badiou proffers in the mature texts on account of the nuts-and-bolts deployment of set theory; however, Pfeifer’s text asks us to examine this turn in light of a much broader commitment to materialism, a commitment that runs consistently from Badiou’s earliest work to his most contemporary.

In light of the foregoing, which is only a partial treatment of the complex assessment Pfeifer brings to Badiou’s work, my comments on Pfeifer’s text are intended more as an invitation to conversation.

Pfeifer’s critique led me to re-consider Badiou’s early The Concept of Model. In this text, we see an example of the interrogation apropos of a materialist scientific project. Badiou begins by rejecting a view of models constructed according to the formal/empirical description as “bourgeois.” The formal/empirical distinction describes the relationship between a formal scientific model and the empirical instances to which it is said to correlate. The problem, per Badiou, is that this relationship describes a “certain ideological formation, which partitions the discourse of science” according to the formal/empirical distinction (The Concept of Model, 5). In other words, the materialist sees that the forms deployed in the bourgeois paradigm are ideologically charged and, as such, are designed to preserve stasis.

Badiou’s competing model consists in a particular syntax, “or stock of marks … the pieces of the game” (The Concept of Model, 23) and “the initial formulae,” which Badiou calls “axioms” (27). In other words, the epistemological model Badiou describes cannot get off the ground without some form of axiomatic paradigm. He says that axioms “must be selected. This choice characterizes the theory in question and signals its particularity, since all the other rules of our language (formation and deduction) are general. The choice of axioms makes the demonstrative difference” (27).

Most generally, these claims reveal an historical preoccupation and preference for axiomatic structures as conditions productive of novel results and change. Badiou claims that the formal demonstration of the model itself shows that “the construction of the concept of model is strictly dependent, in all of its successive stages, on the mathematical theory of sets” (The Concept of Model, 42). This summary suggests that between the Badiou of The Concept of Model and the explicitly ‘ontological’ Badiou of Being and Event, we find an insistence on the efficacy of the set-theoretic paradigm as productive of an epistemological model in the former, and an entire ontological structure in the latter. (I note that this insight follows certain claims from Zachary Fraser in The Concept of Model’s Introduction.)

I raise The Concept of Model not as an example counter to Pfeifer’s critique, but one that potentially reinforces the argument that the count-as-one is “reified and uninterrogated” in the vein of structuralism and not materialism. Put another way, we may wonder whether the axiomatic model, having once been interrogated is sufficient to underwrite an ontological paradigm that stretches nearly four decades? I introduce this example to suggest that Badiou’s work does involve an adoption of axiomatics that has been interrogated, but perhaps it has not been interrogated frequently or recently enough to maintain the materialism it professes to serve.

Book Event: Geoff Pfeifer’s ‘The New Materialism: Althusser, Badiou and Žižek’

This week we are pleased to announce that we are starting our long overdue book event on Geoff Pfeifer‘s recent book, The New Materialism: Althusser, Badiou and Žižek. This work is an important intervention into the growing body of works in materialist philosophy that could be loosely described as ‘post-Žižekian/post-Badiouian’ in their theoretical orientation (another recent work in this spirit is Frank Ruda’s For Badiou: Idealism Without Idealism), and it explores how the materialism of both can be read in light of their distinct inheritances to the work of Althusser. For this event, we will feature responses from Becky Vartabedian, Agon Hamza and Michael O’Neill Burns. But to begin, we have an introduction from Geoff below. Please give it a read, and track down a copy of the book for yourself so you can join us in the discussion.


Author’s Introduction by Geoff Pfeifer

First of all, I want to thank Michael Burns and the Working Group on Contemporary Materialism for this opportunity. I am humbled and also very much looking forward to engaging with the readers about my book.

The purpose of this brief introduction is to talk a bit about the origins of the book and also to talk about how I see it contributing to the growing literature on contemporary materialism.

I’ll start with the first. The book began as a dissertation researched and written over a period of about six years (and finally defended in 2012). The main goal, as I saw it, was to try to make clear to myself (and others) the connections between the thought of Louis Althusser, Alain Badiou, and Slavoj Žižek and also to make sense of the materialism espoused in the different-yet-similar philosophical orientations of these three thinkers. I also, more specifically, was interested in making clear the differences between Badiou’s and Žižek’s positions while at the same time showing their shared philosophical background and debt to Althusser. Not only does this focus on the Althusserian background provide a nice frame for my interests in the project, but it is also something that had not been explored systematically in the secondary literature. Further, thinking carefully about the Althusserian background in Badiou and Žižek allows us to bring their differences into focus in a helpful way. As I argue in the book, the path that Žižek takes in appropriating and extending Althusser’s work succeeds in ways that Badiou’s mature work fails (I tend to think that Badiou’s earlier work is both much more interesting and much more consistent with a proper materialism than his more recent work and I try to make a case for this in the book also).

In converting the dissertation to a book, I had wanted to both sharpen the overall focus and also broaden it to include the intellectual and political history that I came to understand was an important piece of making sense of Althusser’s philosophical positioning and so the first chapter of the book took up that task. I know that there are a lot of better histories of this time in France (and I draw on a number of these in my own attempt at reconstructing this) but I thought it important to revisit this again, however briefly, in the context of a book that draws connections between Althusser’s views and those of Badiou and Žižek as this had not been done before in quite this way and it helps to further situate the links between the material, practical, and historical concerns and the theoretical enterprises that are born out of it.

As those who read the book will know, Adrian Johnston’s work plays a prominent role in the arguments in the latter half of the book in favor of Žižek’s views over against those of Badiou’s. I agree with Johnston’s critiques of Badiou’s mature work as exhibiting an uninterrogated form of idealism and I try to extend this argument a bit and also show how Althusser himself had already made theoretical moves that avoid some of this. As I try to point out there also however, this does not mean that I think we should reject the Badiouan approach outright- just that this provides a nice place from which to view the differences that emerge between Badiou and Žižek insofar as it is around this, in my view, that the two diverge most sharply.

In this way, the book places itself at the center of many of the contemporary debates around materialism insofar as both Badiou and Žižek play a prominent role in so many of these debates. It also makes a case for the continued importance of Althusser’s work both in these debates and also in contemporary social and political thought more broadly. In the end, I hope that the book is useful to folks and I very much look forward engaging with the readers here over the course of the next few weeks.

Davis Hankins responds to Anthony Paul Smith

For the final installment of our book event on Davis Hankins The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence, we have Hankins’ response to Anthony Paul Smith’s last post. Thanks again to Davis, Tommy, Marika, and Anthony for their participation in this event.

Anthony Paul Smith poses a variety of thoughtful questions about the final part of my book. The first asks whether there is any theoretical reason for the book’s relative lack of engagement with other critical theorists’ readings of the book of Job, especially that of Antonio Negri. Smith is correct, and I suppose that lack speaks loudly. To be honest about Negri’s book, I acquired it late in the process of formulating my analysis of Job (the translation appeared in late 2009 and I didn’t look at it until after I attended a review panel on it at the SBL annual meeting in November 2011). But to be frank about theoretical readings of Job, they tend to be composites in a way that I wanted to avoid in two senses. First, I did not want my argument to get bogged down in trying to extract Negri’s (or Jung’s, Bloch’s, etc.) Job from Negri’s philosophy. Second, I did not want to write a book that could be ignored by biblical scholars because it appeared to be “merely” another attempt to work out a theoretical perspective by engaging a biblical book. While I recognize that I did to Negri’s and other theorists’ works precisely what I want to avoid for my own, my aim in doing so was to produce a book that biblical scholarship could not, fairly or unfairly, relegate to the margins as a “mere” composite. Perhaps my book may even make such theoretical composites seem less marginal to the critical conversations in biblical studies.

Smith helpfully notes several pivotal features that my analysis shares with Negri’s, and then asks why I prefer the Hegelian-Lacanian orientation over the Spinozist-Deleuzian one. Smith’s question exposes what I would like to highlight by way of response. While I don’t think Smith is advocating such a division, I am uncomfortable with any suggestion that the Lacanian and the Deleuzian orientations are incommensurable. I am aware that their central concerns are often distinct, as are some of the resources they use to address these concerns, and that important criticisms of each are made from the standpoint of the other (including by those upon whom I often depend), but I typically find both Lacan and Deleuze helpful and far from incompatible. I hope that the same could be said of my book and Negri’s. And Smith says as much, especially noting the importance in both readings of ontological as opposed to “merely” epistemological concerns. I would add the centrality to both of the view that Job poses a radical critique of traditional notions of transcendence. I certainly could have done more to indicate how my reading aligns (or not) with Negri’s.

As for the not about which Smith asks, in addition to the places where Negri wanders away from reading the book of Job in order to offer more direct philosophical or political reflection, my reading is at odds with his in certain places. We offer divergent conclusions about the significance of particular passages (such as his view that in the whirlwind speeches “God justifies himself” [96]), and I am not entirely comfortable with some of Negri’s conclusions about Job as a story of redemption replete with other Christian themes such as resurrection and the messiah. As Boer notes in his epilogue, Negri ultimately concludes that measure overtakes immeasure, order over chaos, in ways that I disagree with. However, there is plenty in Negri’s discussion of the divine speeches and in the book that I agree with and that complicates the nature of this redemption. For example, about the divine speeches he argues, “God is torn from the absolute transcendence …” and the human is creatively immersed in the divine, thus “linking ontologically–not morally, not merely intellectually–the human powers to those divine, that is, the singular in the universal” (96, 97). To return to Smith’s question about Hegel-Lacan and Spinoza-Deleuze, my conclusion is quite similar (although I defend it on very different exegetical grounds). I argue that God and Job are linked in a way that’s easiest to capture with the image of the Möbius band, which I explain using the concept of the mathematical sublime, although Deleuze’s notion of a disjunctive synthesis would work just as well.

One final comment on the question about why Hegel-Lacan over Deleuze-Spinoza: I didn’t start out thinking that I would interpret the book of Job from a transcendental materialist perspective. As I said in my introductory post, from the outset this analysis has been embedded in collaborative efforts to rethink the entire wisdom tradition. I wrote the dissertation alongside and in collaboration with two others. David Knauert and I initially developed this reexamination of ancient Israel’s wisdom in light of the new perspectives on Kant and German Idealism being developed by folks such as Žižek, Malabou, Johnston, and others. David wrote his dissertation on Proverbs (to put it too schematically: our Kant), as I wrote mine on Job (our combination of Fichte and Schelling), and as we both looked forward to completing the trilogy in a future, co-authored monograph on Ecclesiastes (our Hegel). David tragically died shortly after finishing at Duke, but in the meantime a third had joined our tiny cadre aimed at rethinking wisdom with the help of contemporary (mostly) French philosophy. Brennan Breed and I are now working on a book on Ecclesiastes. So, the basis for rooting my interpretation in Hegel-Lacan is far deeper than this book indicates. For me this orientation best accounts for the historical and intellectual developments in the discourse of wisdom during Second Temple Judaism.

Second, Smith poses a series of questions to my use of Kant’s mathematical and dynamic sublimes to read the divine speeches. The divine speeches are textbook examples of the sublime, mentioned by both Burke and Kant, as Negri notes (60). The sublime remains an important category in many contemporary readings of Job (e.g., Keller, Newsom, Beal). Newsom, for example, reads God’s first speech (chap. 38) as a presentation of nature aimed at inducing in Job a feeling of the mathematical sublime insofar as material reality appears as an overwhelming complexity that the human mind cannot comprehend, whereas the animals and monstrous beings in the second speech (chaps. 39-41) illustrate dynamically sublime objects that the human mind cannot grasp because they are so strange, powerful, and/or terrifying.

If I understand his questions correctly, Smith seems to suggest that I take on Kant’s concepts without qualifying them by those aspects of Job that fail to conform to the Kantian system, and that I argue against the appropriateness of the dynamic sublime to readings of the speeches. Here I can hopefully clarify my reading. In my discussion of various reasons why the Kantian sublime is partially productive but ultimately inadequate for grasping the divine speeches, I claim that the primary problem lies with the already fractured state of Job’s subjective condition (194-95). One can certainly use Leviathan and Behemoth to illustrate dynamically sublime objects, for example, but I don’t think that the dynamic sublime is an adequate framework for understanding the subjective experience that the speeches afford Job. The speeches do not grant Job an exceptional, “God’s-eye-view” elevated above his fractured state. Instead, God’s view depicts a world that is subject to the same fractured condition that separates Job from himself and his world. Yet God’s perspective on this condition is the inverse of Job’s, which might make possible a mathematically sublime experience insofar as it involves the co-presence of two conflicting perspectives.

Support for this reading of the divine speeches lies in part in the reactions to one another reported at the beginning of chap. 42. Job’s and God’s mutual affirmations of one another in chap. 42 are usually understood as involving implicit retractions of their preceding statements in which each opposed the other. God’s speeches enable Job to see that he was in some ways wrong, while God acknowledges that Job was in some ways right. However, the substance of what each says is not really opposed to the other; each speaks a truth about the other’s perspective that the other did not acknowledge or perceive. The mathematical sublime provides a logical framework in which this structure can be understood. The world that God describes is capable of producing monstrous beings like Leviathan or like Job, and Job’s experience is only possible if the world is structured as it is in the divine speeches. So, while there may be something behind Smith’s question that I have failed to perceive, I found Kant’s distinctions between the mathematical and dynamic sublimes, especially as they have been put to use by post-Lacanians such as Joan Copjec and Alenka Zupančič, to be a conceptually helpful framework for presenting the disjunctive synthesis that I think relates God’s and Job’s perspectives in the book.

Third, Smith finds in my analysis of the ethical implications of Job certain resonances with François Laruelle’s “generic ethics.” I possess only a vague familiarity with Laruelle’s work, so I cannot speak deeply to the comparison, but I am excited to learn more about possible connections between Job and a facet of contemporary French philosophy about which I have neglected to learn. Smith wonders whether my analysis supports a Laruellian, non-philosophical, generic ethics divorced from politics more than a transcendental materialist framework with its apparently “attendant political commitments.” First, from what I know about Laruelle’s generic ethic, the story of Job seems a wonderful illustration. Here<hyperlinked to Angelaki intro> Smith says that Laruelle’s “generic” involves a theory of the human “without any transcendental attribute” that aims to “think a universal that actually is universal, rather than a universal that takes some particular as the universal.” This sounds like the kind of concrete universality that I argued Joban ethics exemplifies (see 209-14, from which Smith draws in his response). Job attacks the rooting of ethics in any sort of generality, end, or transcendental that would exist apart from the particulars of a situation. Job is rendered an ethical subject when he is ruptured from his situation by being positioned at its limits.

The ultimate questions with which Smith and the book of Job leave us, then, concern next steps. Once the ethical moment opens with Job appearance in his context’s blind spot, what is to be done? Smith dismisses Job’s conclusion as a disgusting Hollywood-like failure to answer this question satisfactorily by escaping back into the past. For Smith, Job’s conclusion offers a pathetic appeal to reparations, a weak, resigned attempt to recreate the pre-traumatic community. On one hand, Smith is correct to view the prose conclusion as in many ways a move beyond the central ethical point of the book. It is a tiny addendum at the end. However, I don’t think that it’s as much of a departure from the rest of the book as Smith suggests. Certainly the ancient author could have told us a longer story, but the significance of what we are told is more ambivalent than Smith’s reading suggests.

My argument concludes with attention to what I think may be quite significant about the prose conclusion. From the outset the book of Job seems very individualistic, contributing little to anyone who wants to think about ethical matters from the perspective of a collective. But then the conclusion suggests that one could perhaps imagine Job in the center of a community that is transformed by affirming the truth that his experience illustrates regarding their former constitution. Even still, this move from the individual to the communal, from the ethical to the political, is not developed in Job. Smith sounds skeptical about whether it ever could be. Job seems unsatisfied with such a position. But Job ultimately offers only an axiomatic assertion without a satisfactory account of this possibility. Job, I suppose, thereby leaves it up to us to reflect on such urgent questions. To Smith and all currently exploring them, I remain grateful.