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Political Physics: Deleuze, Derrida and the Body Politic (Transversals: New Directions in Philosophy) Paperback – August 27, 2001
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"A careful and far-reaching negotiation between the political substance and futures of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze. Executed through a series of tour de force readings of the Western tradition, this negotiation opens up the radical need for continental philosophy to engage in the sciences for it to carry consistent ethico-political force."
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"A careful and far-reaching negotiation between the political substance and futures of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze (with Felix Guattari). Executed through a series of tour de force readings of the Western tradition, this negotiation opens up the radical need for continental philosophy to engage in the sciences for it to carry consistent ethico-political force." Richard Beardsworth
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Indeed, there’s a sense that Political Physics marks something like Protevi’s attempt to ‘awake from his Derridian slumber’ as it were, exploring the outer limits of deconstructive inquiry in order to broach the borders of the Deleuzian philosophy that he will go on to so brilliantly explicate in his later works. To be fair, this isn’t too far from Protevi’s avowed aim. As he writes, although Derrida “performs the labour necessary to shake free of millennia of philosophical idealism”, it’s only Deleuze who provides the philosophical resources necessary to conduct a material analysis of the forces that so define the worlds we occupy. Yet despite half the book being written under the banner of Deleuze, the study remains largely mired in a series of ground-clearing operations that do more to circumscribe the space in which Deleuze ought to appear rather than depict him in his own right.
In fact, it is nothing less than the age old trope of hylomorphism which ultimately defines the focus of the book, with Protevi carefully tracing the way in which philosophy from Plato to Heidegger has continually tended to construe matter ('húl'e', in the Greek) as the passive receptacle upon which From ('morphe'') would impose itself as if from on high, lending order and rule to what would otherwise be an an-archic mess. While much has been written on the dilemmas of hylomorphic thought elsewhere, what sets Protevi's work apart is his close attention to the political valence that resonates through notions like 'rule', 'order' and 'law'. The argument, briefly, is that every hylomorphic schema ends up producing what Protevi refers to as a certain 'body politic': an organisation of bodies (social bodies, chemical bodies, civic bodies...) whose constituting principles run across both physical and political lines and whose contours can be tracked by - what else? - a political physics.
What interests Protevi in particular is the way in which such hylomorphic principles of production end up obscuring the self-ordering, productive capacities of matter itself, closing down avenues of both political and philosophical exploration while at the same time entrenching age old prejudices about the mundanity of bodies and the supremacy of thought. Rather than give credence to the artisanal sensibility of the laborer - whose skill at coaxing fourth material potentials requires no reference to a transcendent notion of Form - what is valourized instead is the 'eidetic vision' of the architect, whose commands and directives consistently attempt to overcome the 'recalcitrance' of matter. It's interesting stuff so far as it goes, but disappointingly, Protevi never really does anything to flesh out the alternative vision of material self-organization which orients the trajectory of the book. Would tack on another half star if possible.
Problem is Political Physics displays competence without constituting an actual performance. For all the obligatory squawking and flapping, Protevi lays no egg, and certainly not a golden one. This book, written by a purported philosopher of the event, does not begin to approach the status of an event in itself. Protevi can point out the limits of Derrida, or display what is most retrograde in Heidegger. But at no point does his thinking, immaculate or not (and I don't believe it is), ever evince a genuine sense of adventure or break through to insights of the sort achieved by those geniuses he takes to task. One can read Protevi only to agree or disagree, never to grow.
In short, Political Physics, though it champions positive creativity, itself remains trapped within the modality of Kantian critique. In fact, Protevi is at his very best when he stops critiquing Kant's architectonic and admits the degree to which aesthetic and political material experimentation are dear to the heart of that generally misconstrued philosopher. Best passage in the book: "Far from the dry and empty formalism generations of scholars have foisted upon him, Kant's ethics teaches us that each one of us is morally obligated to struggle to lessen the conditions that might tempt any of us to reverse the proper order of incentives. Merely condemning the succumbing to temptation is empty moralizing."
As for Protevi's promised treatment of Deleuze's account of self-organizing matter, he scarcely discusses the subject but simply announces it repeatedly. If Deleuze were still alive, one would be tempted to call Protevi's "reading" of him empty flattery.