Excerpt from recent bodily works:

November 12, 2006 at 06:09 | Posted in Documentation of things, Grad school update, the body, Things related to critical theory | Leave a comment

This is a small portion of the work that I’ve been doing on corporeal paradigm perception/conception. The formatting will be a bit off, and the footnotes are lost, but it is nonetheless:

In other words, the more resistive (that is, on the outside) X is imagined to be, the more unavoidably it is to lose its specificity (that is, become appropriated) in the larger framework of the systematic production of differences, while the circumstances that make this framework possible (that is, that enable it to unfold and progress as permanently self-regulating interiority) remain unchallenged.
—Chow (68).

If we follow from Chow’s logic then methods of corporal treatment that allow for difference to be mapped are broken; our discoursic attempts at mapping corporeal diversity only conflate difference as the eponymous meter of the reverberations of the voice of a normative centrality against which difference is qualified. The more we try to qualify difference (difference from hegemonic socio-cultural normativity) by contrasting it against normativity the more difference loses its meaning as a value independent of normativity and becomes a peripheral disjuncture constituted only by the lack of those traits that compose normativity; if difference cannot be defined as the lack of normativity, nor its opposite then how can it be defined? Through Chow’s hermeneutic we can see that any attempts to render difference solely through a referentiality that relies on difference produced by way of distance from normative centrality, only serves to reinforce that centrality; difference produced through contrast against centrality becomes the recurring affirmation of centrality, rather than the affirmation of difference as disruptive to an idea of centrality. So what do we do then, how can this short-circuit in difference-mapping be transformed from one that debilitates difference into one that effaces its fecundity? In order to produce efficacious dialog we need to have a way of talking about difference amongst human beings that 1.) Allows for difference to remain independently stable (unreliant upon a qualification of contrast), and 2.) Unifies human beings under some kind of rubric that doesn’t produce ultimate universality (there is difference amongst human beings, but we are still all human beings).
In her text The Scandal of the Speaking Body Shoshana Felman addresses a structurality that can serve as an inroad for the kind of bipartite structurality that will allow for efficacious corporeal dialog. In her analysis of J.L. Austin’s theories of performative language she assembles the centrality of his discourse around three terms: the constative, the performative, and the radical negative. While these terms are elucidated through the discourse of language—specifically the (potential) speech-act—their valence extends beyond language and into all aspects of performance, including corporeal performance. In the most basic sense the constative is that which is signified: the performance’s interpretation; the performative is the signifier: the actual performance itself; and the radical negative is a performative that depicts the acute limits of a structure’s methods of constative mapping: the expansion of the specific performance’s range of potential constatives. When the radical negative takes place it ruptures the structure that it emerges from; in response to Chow’s critique of the discourse of difference the radical negative invokes a performance of both difference and normative centrality in such a way that the binary structure of difference and normative centrality cannot map its constativity, and thus calls that the structure be reconstituted. Here Felman explains the occasion of the radical negative with regards to its rupture of the structure that Chow critiques; Felman offers an insight into the radical negative as potential solution for a portrayal of difference that does not refer to normative centrality:
The “abnormal” here does not take the “normal” as a positive term of reference; on the contrary, it is the “normal” that, in order to be understood, necessarily refers to the “abnormal” that breaches it from within, displaces, corrodes, and unmasks it: the “normal” is henceforth no longer anything but “the blinding veil of comfort and of obviousness, false evidence, that has to be “penetrated,” torn apart by the radical force of the negative.

Now if the Austinian negative does not aim simply to treat the negative as a function of the positive, neither does it aim—it aims still less—simply to reduce the positive to the negative. Even though the term “positive” is in the last analysis undone, the defeat of the positive does not involve any nihilistic complacency, in particular does not include any teleology of “negation for itself.” Paradoxically, radical negativity or the defeat of the positive does not in Austin, exclude positivism,”
—Felman (102).

For Felman then, the radical negative is exactly what Chow calls for; the nearly inconceivable instance in which difference is mapped in such a way that it destabilizes any notion of centrality, yet does not leave everything universalized into a featureless landscape in its wake; the negative that cannot be expressed in terms of the positive, and which functions in such a way that the positive cannot be expressed in terms of the negative. How then, does the radical negative translate into corporeality?
We must start first by examining the parameters of Felman’s claim. The radical negative is constituted by two factors: 1.) An irreducible, and non-referential negative; and 2.) An irreducible and non-referential positive. By negative Felman is referring to a performative that can be read as constatively negative within a structure; this is fundamentally the rendering of that which is not normative centrality through reductive measures. The constatively negative is achieved by rebuking the positive qualifications of a structure, but wind up only reifying those positive qualifications through their perceived absence. Likewise the constatively positive is rendered through its lack of those qualifications that would constitute its absence. An easy way to map this system is to think of human dietary behaviors. What is a vegetarian? A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat. In order to construct vegetarianism we must subtract some aspect of the normative diet, thus the difference of being vegetarian is qualified by an embodiment of a lack of normative centrality. Likewise to embody the diet of normative centrality is to be not vegetarian, or not someone who doesn’t eat fish.
The radical negative is that which is able to positively affirm, and negatively deny both the positive and negative embodiments simultaneously; the radical negative is both normative centrality, and difference because its embodiment of these structures is not constituted by the lack of either. The radical negative is able to occupy both the positive and negative elements of a structure through a single performative—it ruptures the structure by conflating the elements of qualification that compose positive and negative. If the positive can be the negative, rather than solely being constituted by its lack, and if the negative can the be the positive rather than solely being constituted by its lack, then the conception of the structure that contains positive and negative must be reorganized in order to account for this aporia. If a structure is defined by its positive and negative elements, and if those elements can be shown to be one in the same, then the structure must be re-rendered in order that it may be discerned through some other measure(s).
So, how do we map Felman’s system of radical negativity onto corporeality in such a way that it is able to rupture the structure of corporeality’s binaries of embodied normative centrality, and embodied difference? In order to do so a paradigm of corporeality must be envisioned in such a way that it may account for both difference and normative centrality simultaneously, and in so doing must commit two simultaneous acts of affirmation, and two simultaneous acts of denial: the body is normal through normalcy, the body is normal through a lack of difference, the body is different through difference, and the body is different through the lack of normalcy.
Departing from Chow’s call for enabled discourse, and Felman’s elucidation of the potentialities of the radical negative we can draw closer to a conception of what this structure of corporeality, this method of embodiment might look like when we begin to consider what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick refers to as texture:
Technologies of travel, for example, as well as of vision emphasize that, although texture has everything to do with scale, there is no one physical scale that intrinsically is the scale of texture. As your plane circles over an airport, texture is what a whole acre of tress can provide. But when you’re chopping wood, a single tree may constitute shape or structure within your visual field, whereas texture pertains to the level of the cross-grained fibers of the wood in relation to the sleek bite of the axe.
–Sedgwick (16).
Sedgwick’s notion of texture proffers that there multiple simultaneous conceptions/perceptions taking place within a structure, and these conceptions/perceptions are dependant upon scale. This idea of scaler texture, and the idea of the radical negative then diffuse into one another rendering a fuller potentiality for the construction of corporeality. Sedgwick’s notion texture points to the scale of perception as the factor of conception; the object of perception/conception exists independent of its perception/conception. Furthermore the perception/conception of an object is only a partial rendering of its ultimate potentiality; while an object exists within perception/conception this existence is not predicated by either temporal or spatial singularity: the object’s potentiality for multiple scaler frames is the document of its polyvalence. This inherent polyvalence is the key factor in Felman’s construction of the radical negative; the radical negative is two simultaneous acts of affirmation, and two simultaneous acts of denial. It is Sedgwick’s rendering of texture that, not only allows us to move between multiple perceptions, but allows us to conceive of the simultaneous occurrences that are embodied in those perceptions. We can see the object at multiple scales because it can exist at multiple scales, the object’s existence at multiple scales renders it as agent of the radical negative—those simultaneous affirmations and denials.
In order to incorporate these two modalities I will insert a teleology that subsumes the individual body into a holistic notion of human super-organism that dismantles corporeal sovereignty . This notion of the super-organism then facilitates the re-mapping of the individual into a state of individuation that allows for difference to be mapped without relying on a state of contrast to a normative centrality—for the two are not rendered as a mutually exclusive binary, but interdependent modalities of a singular structure. When we apply Sedgwick’s texture to the non-binary oriented corporeal structure we can substitute the human body for the trees; the individuated body always exists, but the scale of perception determines whether or not it may be perceived. As well, its perception does not deflate its inclusion within the super-organism, rather the super-organism is rendered imperceptible as the scale of perception/conception is shifted so as to be able to perceive/conceive the individuated body; the texture of the trees at the level of the axe-swinger does not change the texture of the trees at the level of the airplane—their texture remains and only their mode of perception/conception is altered.
By arriving at the body through these scaler modalities, instead of difference and centrality being portrayed as polar opposites, they are treated as indications of scaler perception/conception. The construction of the individuated body within the super-organism is concurrent with the unification of Sedgwick and Felman’s theories, and thus provides the means to fulfill Chow’s call for an alternate paradigm of difference. Because the individuated body exists within the every-individuated-body-encompassing super-organism it is able to fulfill the four postures of Felman’s radical negative in response to Chow: the individuated body is embodied difference through difference because each individuated body is different from every other individuated body, it is embodied difference through sameness because each individuated body is part of the unifying bodily super-organism, it is embodied centrality through sameness because each individuated body is part of the singular every-individuated-body-encompassing super-organism, and it is embodied centrality through difference because the super-organism consists of the myriad individuated bodies. There is no individuated body without super-organism, and there is no super-organism without individuated bodies, the two are co-constitutive.


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