Affirming the Affirmative: On Nomadic Affectivity [1]

Rosi Braidotti


[1] This paper argues that affect and desire as an ontological passions play a central role in Deleuze and Guattari's philosophical intervention. The political economy of this kind of affectivity, however, is linked to a neo-vitalist brand of anti-essentialist bodily materialism. This approach is openly critical of the linguistic paradigm of mediation which has been dominant in postmodern thought and especially in the North American reception of French post-structuralism. Nomadic affectivity is outward-bound and based on complex relations with a multiplicity of others, including non-human others. The kind of ethics that sustains this project is Spinozist in its materialist foundations and productive in its political economy. As such, it could not be further removed from the dialectics of Lack, Law and Signifier which have dominated Lacanian psychoanalysis, Derridian deconstruction and the queer theories that rely on these schemes of thought.

Beyond the cult of the inorganic

[2] My first argument concerns the reception of Deleuze & Guattari in the present context of the end of postmodernism. This begs the question, of course, of what exactly comes after postmodernism, but I cannot get into this discussion here. Although from several quarters the end of postmodernism is currently being celebrated, some of the postmodern conceptual and cultural habits are still very much in circulation. Not the least of them is the cult of the inorganic, the celebration of the sublimely fake and the purposefully inauthentic. This provides one of the frameworks of reception of Deleuze and Guattari's work, as some sort of kings of queer artifice at the tail end of the linguistic turn of postmodernism.

[3] One discursive area where this is evidenced is in the hasty renditions of the digital web as rhizome. This establishes a convergence between the hype surrounding the new digital media and information technologies and the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. Technology is at the heart of a process of blurring fundamental categorical divides between self and other; a sort of heteroglossia of the species, a colossal hybridisation which combines cyborgs, monsters, insects and machines into a powerfully posthuman approach to what we used to call 'the embodied subject'.

[4] Moreover, the political economy of global capitalism consists in multiplying and distributing differences for the sake of profit. It produces ever-shifting waves of genderisation and sexualisation, racialisation and naturalisation of multiple 'others'. It has thus effectively disrupted the traditional dialectical relationship between the empirical referents of Otherness – women, natives and animal or earth others – and the processes of discursive formation of genderisation/racialisation/naturalisation. Once this dialectical bond is unhinged, advanced capitalism looks like a system that promotes feminism without women, racism without races, natural laws without nature, reproduction without sex, sexuality without genders, multiculturalism without ending racism, economic growth without development, and cash flow without money. Late capitalism also produces fat-free ice creams and alcohol-free beer next to genetically modified health food, companion species alongside computer viruses, new animal and human immunity breakdowns and deficiencies, and the increased longevity of these who inhabit the advanced world. Welcome to capitalism as schizophrenia!

[5] Considering the perversity of this political economy, I would recommend that we resist quick assimilations of, for instance, Deleuzian machines as metaphors for advanced technologies. The machinic for Deleuze is yet another figuration that expresses the non-unitary, radically materialist and dynamic structure of subjectivity. It expresses the subject's capacity for multiple, non-linear and outward-bound inter-connections with a number of external forces and others. This model of inter-relations works as well in Deleuze and Guattari's many references to animals, plants, viruses and to the chaosmos as a whole. It is about multiple alliances, symbiotic connections and fusions. There is something raw and territorial about the machinic, something that connects each living being to the earth, and to the living environment at some fundamental level. The mutual inter-dependences and productive mergers of forces are at the heart of Deleuze's notion of creative becomings. What the 'machinic' element is expressing is the directness, I would say the literal-ness of the relations between forces, agents, sites and locations of subjectivity. This is supposed to challenge the dominant paradigm of linguistic mediation, with the twin forces of representation and interpretation which have dominated our images of what it means to be a subject. Signals replace signs, expression replaces representation and codes replace interpretation. The machinic expresses the impersonal, or intra-personal intensive resonances between the multiple levels of inter-connections that make living beings tick.

[6] This has nothing in common with the fantasies of cybernetic omnipotence that dominate the popular imaginary about body-machines today (Braidotti, 2002). The ideology of those who desire to be wired and who see the Internet as the experimental grounds for allegedly heterogeneous experiments with alternative subject-positions is integral to the political economy of bio-technological capitalism. This is to the antipodes of the Deleuzian project.

[7] The implications for gender, sexuality and sexual difference are no less momentous. The 'machinic' in contemporary culture is a highly eroticised space which conveys a trans-sexual social imaginary that I consider dominant in advanced capitalism. In so far as contemporary intelligent machines blur the boundaries between self and others and thus displace fundamental axes of differentiation, they lend themselves to becoming symbols of transgression, also in terms of sexual and gendered identity. For instance, in a text called 'Birth of the Cyberqueer' Morton (1999) takes Deleuze and Guattari's body-machines or Bodies-without-Organs as a space of sexual deregulation where anything goes: the machine is taken as signalling a non-Oedipalised and non-normalised sexuality. I find this approach unconvincing on two scores- the first is political: Deleuze and Guattari are prominent critics of the cybernetic individualism which shapes our political culture. The multiplication of sexual options, in a scale of infinite degrees of quantitative pluralities – a thousand little sexes each with their own club, music, hair and clothes-styles and drug type- is just another variation on the theme of consumerism that defines capitalist culture. That advanced capitalism thrives by selling life-styles and brands of identity is by now an evidence that is staring us in the eyes. Multiple queer identities fit in perfectly with this logic of Quantitative proliferations of the self. The perverse alliance between cyber-ideology and hyper-individualism lies at the core of the cyber-queer phenomenon and it promotes a fiction of terminal identity (Bukatman, 1993) which has nothing in common with Deleuze and Guattari's project of radical immanence and machinic symbiosis and autopoiesis.

[8] The second objection is conceptual and follows on from the first: Deleuze is critical of mere quantitative multiplications or pluralities. He sees them as one of the traits of advanced capitalism. He focuses instead on qualitative differences, multiplicities, impersonalities, which form the core of his transformative ethics. I shall return to this later in the article.

The return of real bodies

[9] I would like to re-focus the discussion on Deleuze's project by starting from the return of 'real bodies' and real materiality at the end of postmodernism. There is definitely a conservative side to this phenomenon, which has led the neo-liberal thinkers (Fukuyama, 2002) to celebrate 'neo-realism' and the return of fundamental moral values. I tend to see these conservative developments rather in terms of the return of master-narratives on the debris of postmodernism. They boil down to two main recurrent themes: on the one hand the triumph of market economies as the historically dominant form of human evolution and on the other genetic determinism under the authority of the DNA and the capital value of the Human genome (Franklin, Stacey and Lury, 2000).

[10] In contemporary debates about cultural studies, media and especially new digital media, as well as social and political theory, there is a tendency to push Deleuze & Guattari in the corner of cultivated artificiality, cyber-driven queerness and posthumanist thought. In opposition to this view, I want to argue that they are actually major materialist and vitalist thinkers with a strong ethical project in creating social horizons of hope and sustainable change. Moreover, I will explore to what extent their brand of vitalism is non-essentialist and anti-teleological.

[11] In this regard, as I have argued elsewhere (Braidotti, 2002), Deleuze can be read alongside the new science of today, not only in the sense of maths and physics (see respectively Arkady Plotnitsky and Manuel de Landa), but also alongside the new biology. More specifically I see clear resonances between Deleuze and the non-anthropocentric epistemologies of Haraway (1997) and Margulis and Sagan (1995). There is also a common root that connects Deleuze and Guattari to all monistic philosophies that assume one living matter, in the mode of a 'nature culture continuum' (Haraway 1997) or of the mutual imbrications of mind and body. The latter is currently taking different forms: from emphasising the embodiment of the mind, in the neo-phenomenological tradition (Sobchack, 1995); in feminist Spinozism (Gatens and Lloyd, 1999); in ecological activist thought (Shiva, 1997), as well as in the neurological and cognitive sciences (Wilson, 1998). It can also take the form of stressing, however, the 'embrainment of matter' [2] in the sense of a return to Bergson's notion of creative evolution (Grosz, 2005),or non-deterministic visions of evolution as well as in the directions taken by contemporary genomics research and molecular biology. The idea of the intelligence and the mobility of matter contrasts the century-old philosophical tradition that reduces matter to immobility and defines intelligence as the life (bios)–force that produces movement. In opposition to this equation, rhizomatic thought supports an idea of evolution of the non-deterministic, non-linear and non-teleological kind. In my reading, it is connected to the processes of becoming-others, in the sense of relating, hence of affecting and being affected.

[12] In this respect, both the figuration of the cyborg and the cyber-imaginary that supports it can be seen and, to a certain extent, dismissed today as dominant modes of representation. They are powerfully active throughout the social fabric and in all the modes of cultural representation prompted by our culture at present. Claudia Springer (1991) argues that this discourse celebrating the union of humans and electronic technology is currently circulating with equal success among the scientific community as in popular culture. The work of Haraway is of far greater relevance to rhizomic philosophy than has been acknowledged so far. The cyborg as a technologically-enhanced body-machine is the dominant social and discursive figuration for the interaction between the human and the technological in post-industrial societies. It is also a living or active, materially embedded cartography of the kind of power-relations that are operative in the post-industrial social sphere. Bukatman argues that this projection of the physical self into an artificial environment feeds into a dream of terminal identity outside the body, a sort of 'cybersubject' (Bukatman, 1993) that feeds into the new age fantasies of cosmic redemption via technology. New age spirituality or techno-mysticism forms part of this trend (Bryld and Lykke, 1999).

[13] I find that a rather complex kind of relationship has emerged in the cyber universe which we inhabit, one in which the link between the flesh and the machine is symbiotic and therefore can best be described as a bond of mutual dependence. This engenders some significant paradoxes, especially when it comes to the human body. The corporeal site of subjectivity is simultaneously denied, in a fantasy of escape, and strengthened or re-enforced. Balsamo stresses the paradoxical concomitance of effects surrounding the new posthuman bodies: "even as techno-science provides the realistic possibility of replacement body parts, its also enables a fantastic dream of immortality and control over life and death. And yet, such beliefs about the technological future 'life' of the body are complemented by a palpable fear of death and annihilation from uncontrollable and spectacular body-threats: antibiotic-resistant viruses, random contamination, flesh-eating bacteria" (Balsamo 1996: 1-2).

[14] Both viruses and bacteria are central, for instance, to the work of Luciana Parisi (1994a; 1994b), who is inspired by Guattari even more than by Deleuze. Parisi, a disciple of Margulis, focuses on molecular becomings and new forms of transversal subjectivity. I shall return to Parisi later.

Does Deleuze offer a posthuman theory ?

[15] The answer to this question is negative if the posthuman is understood in the vulgar commonsense understanding of the hyped, the neo-liberal celebration of the fake, the inauthentic, the wilfully constructed and sublimely artificial. The answer is positive however, if it points in the less lazy-minded sense of re-configuring the extended inhuman, cosmic span of possible becomings. This is the direction of neo-materialism and a renewed concern for the corporeal structure of the subject (Ansell Pearson, 1997).

[16] The crucial aspect of Deleuze & Guattari's thought I would want to stress here concerns the extent to which their entire philosophical enterprise constitutes an attack on identity. Not on any one identity, but on the very concept of identity, with the inbuilt logic of recognition of sameness and dualistic relocation of otherness, which has been operational since Plato's time (Boundas and Olkowski, 1994; Olkowski, 1999). The self, or the individual is the modern variation on this identitarian theme, which has been put in place in the age of modernisation and industrialisation (Deleuze and Guattari, 1972; 1980). Deleuze builds and expands upon Foucault's archaeology of the modern subject of 'bio-power' but goes much further conceptually. He replaces the old subject formation with a notion of the subject as a cluster of complex and intensive forces – intensive assemblages which connect and inter-relate with others in a variety of ways. The crucial shift here concerns the inhuman or posthuman vision of what exactly constitutes an assemblage. The French 'agencement' renders this much better with its sense of an ex-centric, non-anthropocentric form of agency.

[17] This posthuman approach is primarily due to Deleuze and Guattari's rejection of two residues of the old dialectics of Lack, which they see as still operating in modern thought. The first residue of the negativity built into the psychoanalytic vision of desire as lack, and the subject as subjected to lack, law and the power of the linguistic signifier. Nothing could be further removed from Deleuze's theory of desire than this negative reading of human affectivity. The 'noble' side of this vision concerns a political economy of affects such as mourning and melancholia, which I consider as a dominant ideology in capitalist culture.

[18] My exchanges with Judith Butler on this issue have been published and commented on [3], so I do not wish to repeat them here. Suffice it to say that I am not at all convinced by Butler's assertion of her deep alliance with Spinoza. It does indeed come down to affects and how they frame our vision of the subject. The conatus as pure affirmative affectivity, however, has nothing to share with the logic of irreparable loss, unpayable debt and perpetual mourning, which is at the core of the psychoanalytic and deconstructive ethics that Butler espouses. It is also a very central concern for Derrida's work on mourning, based to a large extent on both Levinas and Blanchot. In contrast to this tradition, however noble and even aristocratic, I read Deleuze & Guattari as neo-vitalists who affirm the force of the affirmative and posit an ethics based on the transformation of negative into positive passions.

[19] The subject is but a force among forces, capable of variations of intensities and inter-connections and hence of becomings. These processes are territorially-bound, externally oriented and more than human in span and application. I am not saying this is a spirit of conceptual purity, as nothing could be further removed from my hybrid nomadic habits. It is rather of great importance to us all that we do not mistake Deleuze's call for active dis-obedience on the anti-Oedipal model for conceptual confusion and theoretical anarchy. Deleuze is an extremely rigorous thinker – the greatest of his generation and a towering figure in world thought. The least we can do to do justice to his work is to be as careful with our readings as he was with his writings. The best way to explore this difference between Deleuze and the linguistically-based thinkers of difference like Lacan and Derrida is to look at their respective philosophies of time. Divergent temporalities are at work: psychoanalysis is caught in the backward-looking authority of the past. Let us think, for instance, of the role of memories in the constitution of neuroses and, through the necessary mechanisms of repression, of the subject itself. The hysteric is per definition the one who suffers from unsustainable memories. Rhizomic thought, on the other hand, is future-bound and relies on a revised version of the Bergsonian continuous present in order to sustain a vision of desire as plenitude, affirmation and becoming (Grosz, 2004).

[20] Consequently, whereas contemporary culture tends to react to the queer cyber-world according to the double-pull I have criticised, on the one hand the hype and on the other hand the nostalgia, I would plea for a more 'passionately distant' approach. I think that a form of neo-materialist appreciation of the body would be helpful here, to think through the kind of techno-teratological universe we are inhabiting. Rethinking the embodied structure of human subjectivity requires an ethics of lucidity, as well as powers of innovation and creativity (Hayles, 1999). I wish to avoid references to the paradigms of human nature (be it biological, psychic or genetic essentialism) while taking fully into account the fact that bodies have indeed become techno-cultural constructs immersed in networks of complex, simultaneous and potentially conflicting power-relations. I do not want to fall, however, into either moral relativism or the suspension of ethical judgement, nor do I wish to reduce ethics to a process of mourning and melancholia.

[21] I would define this approach as a nomadic evolutionary thought which contrasts openly with contemporary bio-technological determinism. What comes especially under scrutiny in this perspective is not only the hyper-individualism, but also the anthropo-centrism that is in-built in so much evolutionary, biological, scientific and philosophical thought. Radically immanent philosophical nomadism, on the other hand, sponsors a subject that is composed of external forces, of the non-human, inorganic or technological kind. It is territorially based, and thus environmentally bound. The 'machinic' in Deleuze's thought refers to this dynamic process of unfolding subjectivity outside the classical frame of the anthropocentric humanistic subject, re-locating it into becomings and fields of composition of forces and becomings. It is auto-poiesis at work as a qualitative shifter, not merely as a quantitative multiplier.

[22] This is as far removed from the advanced capitalist hype about technology as the future of humanity as can be. The latter constitutes an all-pervasive master-narrative of flight from the human embodied self, into the fake transcendence of a machine that strikes me as molar, Oedipalising, despotic and exploitative. It is against this social imaginary of techno-transcendence that I want to argue for a more dissipative, eroticised and flowing interaction between the human and the bio-techno-logical of the nomadological kind.

An ethics of radical immanence

[23] The model of the posthuman body proposed by the brand of nomadism I am defending is symbiotic inter-dependence. This points to the co-presence of different elements, from different stages of evolution, like inhabiting different time-zones simultaneously. The human organism is neither wholly human, as a person, nor just an organism. It is an abstract machine, radically immanent, which captures, transforms and produces inter-connections. The power of such an organism is certainly neither contained nor confined to consciousness, nor does it coincide with the deliberately fake and the self-ironically un-natural. If anything, Deleuze and Guattari's philosophy, resting on a Spinozist ontology, makes all living beings, including the human subjects, very much 'part of nature', as Genevieve Lloyd put it (1994).

[24] Shaviro (1995) describes this shift in terms of a new paradigm: we are at the end of the post-nuclear model of embodied subjectivity and we have entered the 'viral' or 'parasitic' mode. This is a graphic way of explaining the extent to which today's body is immersed in a set of technologically mediated practices of prosthetic extension. Read with Deleuze, this mode is anything but negative. It expresses in fact the co-extensivity of the body with its environment or territory, which as you may remember is one of the salient features of the 'becoming-animal'. A body is a portion of forces life-bound to the environment that feeds it. All organisms are collective and inter-dependent. Parasites and viruses are hetero-directed: they need other organisms. Admittedly, they relate to them as incubators or hosts, releasing their genetically encoded message with evident glee. The virus/parasite constitutes a model of a symbiotic relationship that defeats binary oppositions. It is a simulacrum that duplicates itself to infinity without any representational pretensions. As such it is an inspiring model for a nomadic eco-philosophy.

[25] The point of convergence of these different discourses and practices of bodily materialism is that the human body is fully immersed in systems of reception and processing of information, that which emanates from its genetic structures, as much as that which is relayed by satellites and wired circuits throughout the advanced world. As Hurley (1995) points out, however, the significant thing about posthuman bodies is not only that they occupy the spaces in between what is between the human and the machines, that is to say a dense materiality. Posthuman bodies are also surprisingly generative, in that they stubbornly and relentlessly reproduce themselves. The terms of their reproduction are slightly off-beat by good old human standards in that they involve animal, insect, and inorganic models. In fact they represent a whole array of possible alternative morphologies and 'other' sexual and reproductive systems. The paradigm of cancerous proliferation of cells is mentioned as an example of this mindless self-duplicating capacity of generative/viral life. Critics like Halberstam and Livingston are quick to point out how this generative disorder in contemporary molecular biology and genetics is both echoed and implemented by the everyday 'gender trouble' that is going on in societies where sexed identities and organic functions are in a state of flux.

[26] Consequently, the posthuman body (Halberstam and Livingston, 1995) is not merely split or knotted or in process: it is shot through with technologically mediated social relation. It has undergone a meta(l)morphosis and is now positioned in the spaces in-between the traditional dichotomies, including the body-machine binary opposition. In other words, it has become historically, scientifically and culturally impossible to distinguish bodies from their technologically mediated extensions. Halberstam and Livingston conclude:

Queer, cyborg, metametazoan, hybrid, PWA; bodies-without-organs, bodies-in-process, virtual bodies: in unvisualizable amniotic indeterminacy, and unfazed by the hype of their always premature and redundant annunciation, posthuman bodies thrive in the mutual deformations of totem and taxonomy (1995: 19)

One of the consequences of this shift of perspective away from anthropo-centrism concerns the limitations of liberal individualism as a point of reference for the discussion of the proliferation of discourses about bios/zoe. An emphasis on the unitary subject of possessive individualism is a hindrance, rather than assistance, in addressing the complexities of our posthuman condition. Two core objections have emerged to it: one targets its deeply seated anthropocentrism, and the other its universalism. The posthumanism of social and cultural critics working within a Western perspective can be set alongside the form of neo-humanism, shared by a number of contemporary social critics working within race, post-colonial or non-Western perspectives. It is neither a question of flattening out structural differences, nor of drawing facile analogies, but rather of practicing the politics of location. Bio-centred posthumanism and non-western neo-humanism can be travelling companions along productive axes of transposition. The point of this cartographic move, which aligns theoretically diverse positions along the same axis, is to facilitate the transposition of the respective political affects that activate them. I do like putting the 'active' back into 'activism'. [4]. This transposition is like a musical variation that leaps across scales and compositions to find a pitch or a sharable level of intensity. What matters to my thought is the affective dimension, the affinity, not the political or theoretical correctness.

[27] Anti-individualistic nomadic politics is a critique of the centre from the centre. It assumes a multiplicity of centres in a world of scattered hegemonies (Kaplan and Grewal, 1994). The cartographic reading of the present points to a posthumanist system in which the human has been subsumed into global networks of control and commodification which have taken 'Life' and living matter as target. The political economy of euphoria and gloom of advanced capitalism inscribes us in a state of constant crisis. The crisis of human rights, of human life, the environment or of human survival is on the agenda. The generic figure of the human is in trouble. Donna Haraway puts is as follows: "our authenticity is warranted by a database for the human genome. The molecular database is held in an informational database as legally branded intellectual property in a national laboratory with the mandate to make the text publicly available for the progress of science and the advancement of industry. This is Man the taxonomic type become Man the brand" (1997: 74). This standard is posited in a universal mode as Man, but this pseudo-universal has been widely criticised (Lloyd, 1985) precisely because of its partiality. Universal Man, in fact, is implicitly assumed to be masculine, white, urbanised, speaking a standard language, heterosexually inscribed in a reproductive unit and a full citizen of a recognised polity. Massumi refers to this phenomenon as "Ex-Man", "a genetic matrix embedded in the materiality of the human" (2002: 60) and as such undergoing significant mutations: "species integrity is lost in a bio-chemical mode expressing the mutability of human matter" (2002: 60).

[28] To this end, I do not think that a naïve celebration of global queerification on the one hand and the reference or the return to a universal on the other are inevitable or even necessary. On the contrary, I want to argue for a more specific and grounded sense of singular subjectivities that are collectively bound and outward oriented. In other words, "we" need a redefinition of that subject position and consequently some input from materialist philosophies that attempt to struggle with this question. We need to revisit the notion of 'pan-humanity' from within a non-unitary understanding of the subject which allows for both grounded-ness and accountability in an affirmative manner. Deleuze's notion of "anybody" in the sense of "tout le monde" is also extremely relevant because it refers to concretely embodied singularities that are structurally connected. An important reason for needing a new grounded, embodied and embedded subject has to do with the second half of that crucial sentence: "we" are in this together. What this refers to is the cartography as a cluster of interconnected problems that touches the structure of subjectivity and the very possibility of the future as a sustainable option. "We" are in this together, in fact, enlarges the sense of collectively bound subjectivity to nonhuman agents, from our genetic neighbours the animals, to the earth as a bio-sphere as a whole. "We", therefore, is a non-anthropocentric construct, which refers to a commonly shared territory or habitat (this). How to do justice to this relatively simple yet highly problematic reality requires a shift of perspective. As Haraway suggests, we need to work towards "a new techno-scientific democracy" (1997: 95). This is indeed a totality, finite and confined. The implications of this fact are multiple and they highlight the limits of both social constructivism and of linguistically-based postmodern thought, with which I opened this paper. Because of the kind of complexities "we" are facing, we need to review methodologies that have tended to underplay the role of biological or genetic factors. This calls for a new set of alliances of a more transversal and transdisciplinary nature, with different communities of scholars and activists. I propose the idea of 'sustainability' as the rallying point.

[29] What 'sustainability' stands for, therefore, is a re-grounding of the subject in a materially embedded sense of responsibility and ethical accountability for the environments s/he inhabits. This is an alternative to a global process of queering that would be merely a proliferation of quantified differences and not a qualitative de-centering of hyper-individualism. Becomings are the sustainable shifts or changes undergone by nomadic subjects in their active resistance against being subsumed in the commodification of their own diversity. Becomings are un-programmed as mutations, disruptions, and points of resistance. Their time frame is always the future anterior, that is to say a linkage across present and past in the act of constructing and actualising possible futures.

Doing Gender

[30] For the Spinozist political theorists Lloyd and Gatens sexual difference is not a problem in that it remains of great relevance. For the Deleuzian Claire Colebrook, however, it is no longer a problem, because the political and theoretical terms of the feminist debate have shifted since the days of high, or early, feminist post-structuralism. Colebrook (2000a) suggests that a younger feminist wave is looking at the question of sexual difference as not only or primarily a question that concerns the subject or the subject's body. She is very vocal in wanting to move beyond the phenomenological legacy of feminist theory and enlists Deleuze's philosophy in the attempt to by-pass the quasi-transcendentalist mode of feminist theory. Colebrook stresses that for Irigaray sexual difference is clearly a metaphysical question, but in the foundational sense that it determines metaphysics as such. Sexual difference poses the question of the conditions of possibility for thought as a self-originating system of representation of itself as the ultimate presence. Thus, sexual difference produces subjectivity in general. The conceptual tool by which Irigaray shows up this peculiar logic is the notion of ' the sensible transcendental'. By showing that what is erased in the process of the erection of the transcendental subject are the maternal grounds of origin, Irigaray simultaneously demystifies the vertical transcendence of the subject and calls for an alternative metaphysics. Irigaray's transcendental is sensible and grounded in the very particular fact that all human life is, for the time being, still 'of woman born' (Rich, 1976).

[31] According to Colebrook, Deleuze's emphasis on the productive and positive force of difference is troublesome for feminist theory in so far as it challenges the foundational value of sexual difference. For Irigaray, the metaphysical question of sexual difference is the horizon of feminist theory; for Grosz (1994) it is its pre-condition; for Butler (1993) it is the limit of the discourse of embodiment; for Braidotti (2002) it is a negotiable, transversal, affective space. The advantage of a Deleuzian approach is that the emphasis shifts from the metaphysics to the ethics of sexual difference. Deleuze's brand of philosophical pragmatism questions whether sexual difference demands a metaphysics at all. Which, for Colebrook translates into a crucial question: 'is feminism a critical inhabitation of metaphysical closure, or the task of thinking a new metaphysics?' (Colebrook, 2000a: 112). Following Deleuze's empiricism, Colebrook wants to shift the ground of the debate away from metaphysical foundations to a philosophy of immanence that stresses the need to create new concepts. This creative gesture is a way of responding to the given, to experience and is thus linked to the notion of the event. The creation of concepts is itself experience or experimentation. There is a double implication here: firstly, that philosophy need not be seen as the master discourse or the unavoidable horizon of thought since artistic and scientific practices have their role to play as well. Secondly, because ethical questions do not require a metaphysics, the feminist engagement with concepts need not be critical but can be inventive and creative. In other words, experimenting with thinking is what we all need to learn.

[32] Colebrook struggles with the idea of what kind of problem sexual difference could be, if it were not defined as a question of truth, recognition, self-representation or radical anteriority. She does not come to a convincing conclusion, but this does not detract from the relevance of her project. In order to answer the question of sexual difference, one would simply have to redefine the function or status of philosophy altogether. This is a classical radical feminist statement, which situates Colebrook's third-wave feminism in a continuum with previous generations. Feminist theory does indeed challenge what we have come to recognise as thinking. Calling for an embodied philosophy of radical immanence marks the start of a bodily philosophy of relations. The body is for Colebrook an incorporeal complex assemblage of virtualities: "The body is a relation to what is not itself, a movement or an activity from a point of difference to other points of difference. And so difference is neither an imposed scheme, nor an otherwise uniform substance, nor is difference the relation between already differentiated self-identical entities. That something is given through the activity of differentiation" (Colebrook, 2000b: 87). This is the basic meaning of the positivity of difference and it is linked to corporeality through the notion of virtual becomings. Loyal to her Deleuzian premises, Colebrook defines the ethics of sexual difference "not as the telos of some universal law, but as the responsibility and recognition of the self-formation of the body" (Colebrook, 2000b: 88). In other words, as the becoming of bodies occurs within a single substance, the question is no longer; 'how are the sexes differentiated?' but rather, 'how are different modalities of sexual differentiation due to the specificity of different bodies?" (Colebrook 2000b: 90). Once this question is raised, the whole issue of essentialism simply collapses.

[33] If for Colebrook sexual difference is no longer a problem, for even younger Guattarian feminists like Luciana Parisi (2004) it is not even a problem. Like many scholars emerging from the field of science studies, Parisi has no sympathy for or affinity with philosophies of the subject. She consequently embraces Deleuze's theory of radical immanence as a way of dismissing the subject altogether. A pragmatist, like all nomadic feminists, Parisi is committed to working out fully the implications of the current genetic revolution for the social and human sciences: "if molecular biotechnology is already detaching femininity from the imperative of sexual reproduction and genetic sex then why would a notion of femininity be relevant to the body politics?" (Parisi, 2004: 81).

[34] Parisi stresses the importance of the ontology of relations as the mode of differentiation between different assemblages of bodies. Bodies are traditionally predicated on organic and genetic determinants of sex. The impact of the new technologies prompts, however, new forms of enquiry at the molecular level, which question sexual difference. Parisi locates the fundamental shift on the collapse of Darwinian kinship models that come to be replaced by non-linear alternative genealogies:

If we engage with the theory of endosymbiosis, autopoiesis and turbulent organization, modes of sex and reproduction (information transmission) are not predetermined by the economy of survival, sexual competition, selection of the fittest and passive adaptation. Modes of sex and reproduction are not subjected to a predetermined aim – such as genealogical filiation aimed to increasing progression and emancipation of humanity- but involve molecular differentiation across singular states of cellular organization (Parisi, 2004: 80).

In other words, sexual difference functions at the molecular level of a-semiotic encodings, which defy representation and semiotic analysis. The crucial point for Parisi is the transversal nature of the codes involved in producing such micro-femininity: genetic and informational, economic and viral, cultural and bacterial. They cut across the artificial divide set by institutional divisions between the humanities and the hard sciences. The mixity of the codes, the tools, and the schemes of analysis involved here are of the greatest importance. This is not a deconstruction of the sex-gender binarism but "a schizogenetic constructivism of sex-gender on a nature-culture continuum" (Parisi, 2004: 80).

[35] In a move that has become familiar in postmodern theory, Parisi reasserts the simple fact that femininity no longer coincides with real-life women's identity. Oblivious to the fact that Lacanian psychoanalysis asserted this about fifty years ago, Parisi links this insight to the current bio-technological revolution and dissolves the issue of identity accordingly. Getting rid of femininity in order to replace it with the schizoanalysis of new dynamics of stratification and de-stratification of sex and reproduction is the key strategy, which Parisi borrows from vintage Deleuzian feminists like Grosz and Gatens. She also points to the incorporeal or potential becomings or capacity for assemblages as the key to the de-territorialisations and to Spinozist ethics as the way to evaluate the micro-politics of becoming. Central to this project is the creative production of new affective modulations that allow for repositioning of molecular femininities, beyond the critique of representation, into the production of micro-singularities via the potentials of the relation, the 'milieu' or middle. As we move "Towards a schizogenesis of sexual difference: towards the abstract construction of new modifications of sex and reproduction" (Parisi, 2004:86), a new transversal subjectivity emerges, which takes 'others' as constitutive moments in the construction of a common plane of becoming.


[36] A non-unitary vision of the subject endorses a radical ethics of transformation, thus running against the grain of contemporary neo-liberal conservatism, but it also asserts an equally strong distance from relativism or nihilistic defeatism. The posthumanist ethics I want to defend aims at a qualitative shift, not at quantitative cumulation of possible subject-positions. A sustainable ethics for a non-unitary subject proposes an enlarged sense of inter-connection between self and others, including the non-human or 'earth' others, by removing the obstacle of self-centred individualism. Far from entailing the loss of values and a free fall into relativism, this rather implies a new way of combining self-interests with the well being of an enlarged sense of community, which includes one's territorial or environmental inter-connections. It is a nomadic eco-philosophy of multiple belongings. In this perspective, an exclusive focus on unitary identity, especially in the liberal tradition of individualism and in its off-shoot: the pluralistic multiplication of options, is of hindrance rather than assistance. Identity involves a narrowing down of the internal complexities of a subject for the sake of social conventions. A multi-layered subject is no guarantee that molar power formations have been de-territorialized: a change of scale may not be a qualitative shift. Transposing the subject out of identity politics into a non-unitary or nomadic vision of selves as inter-relational forces is a more useful approach. Consciousness is redefined accordingly not as the core of the humanistic subject, but at best as a way of synchronising the multiple differences within each and everyone, which constitutes the ethical core of nomadic subjects. The return of the master-narratives of genetic determinism and market capitalism today provide a perverse equation of individualism with the multiple inter-connective capacities of advanced technologies. This results in simultaneously containing and narrowing down the enormous potential of the technologies themselves, which are advanced enough to redesign our cosmological views as well as social relations. They also prevent humans from active experimentations with new thresholds of sustainability: how far we can go without cracking, how much our bodies can take on the current transformations.

[37] A subject of bios-zoe power raises therefore questions of ethical urgency. Given the acceleration of processes of change, how can we tell the difference among the different flows of changes and transformations? This calls for a revision of the subject in terms of an eco-philosophical integration into his/her environment. The shift to bio-centred egalitarianism posits the subject as a post-identity site, or an embodied and embedded entity, which exists in the interaction with a number of external forces and others, not all of them human, social or historical others. Such a vision of the subject transposes both humanism and social constructivism and calls for a revision of vitalism as a major theoretical issue. All the more so as zoe is not neutral: the play of complexities it introduces does not eliminate power differentials, but multiplies them along multiple axes. Zoe is sexualised, racialised and rendered anthropocentrically. Thinking through these complexities means radicalising our relationship to power. The nomadic social critic in the era of bios-zoe aims at resisting the schizoid pull of euphoria or over-optimism on the one hand and nostalgia or melancholia on the other. Before we mistake a shift of scale for a qualitative shift of perspective, we need to develop more accurate cartographies, to stay focused on the potential for qualitative changes (becoming-minor), not just quantitative proliferations. In order to answer these challenges, the specific time-sequences and temporality of nomadic subjectivity need to be accounted for. The non-linear time of becoming accomplishes a number of productive transpositions of life into zoe and of death into a-temporal and incorporeal becomings.


[1] This article is extracted from selected sections of my new book: Transposition: On Nomadic Ethics (Polity Press, forthcoming, February 2006).

[2] This expression was coined by John Marks at the Deleuze conference, 'Experimenting with Intensities' at Trent University in May 2004.

[3] See Braidotti 2002; Butler 2004.

[4] With thanks to Judith Butler for this warm formulation of my work.

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