The One with a Hand: An Essay on Embodiment, Labor, and Alienation

Nicola Masciandaro

"And the king saw the hand as it wrote."—Daniel 5:5

I. Monstrum

Philippe de Champaigne, St. Augustine

Philippe de Champaigne, St. Augustine (detail), Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

[1] Between us and our hands there is an abyss of infinite intimacy, a space that is always unbridgeable and already traversed. This is the space of actuality, the place where body and being are joined in the friendship of the now. All human life, all history, all experience are constituted within this space, on whose reality rests our being in the world and the world's being in us, the very possibility of saying we. We hold with our hands, but only insofar as our hands hold us.

[2] Hands do not own this space, but they do reveal it in a conspicuous and definitive way. The hand of God descending from a cloud, horror's self-moving severed hand, gesturing hands, caressing hands, praying hands, chiromantic hands—all point to a special relationship between the visible and the invisible within and around the human hand. What is this relationship? How does the hand touch the invisible? The beginnings of an answer are suggested in a passage from Augustine's Confessions, in which the hand carries both the possibility and the impossibility of experiencing the nunc stans, of grasping the eternal present: "Who will hold fast the human heart so that it may stand and see how eternity, standing beyond past and future, speaks both past and future? Is my hand capable of this? Or can the hand of my mouth accomplish such a great thing through language?" [1] These questions dream the hand as a self-seizing power, as the special tool that could untie the time-bound self and hold it gazing within time at what is beyond it. Their fantasy is of the hand as a force of direct apprehension, a faculty through which understanding and possession are fused in the unmediated experience of the thing itself. The hand is imagined as a medium that transcends mediation. The corporeal hand, rather than simply being discarded or metaphorized in this dream, is more properly its very ground. The impossibility of grasping heart with hand is the basis for imagining language as a hand that might seize the self. There is no question of either hand succeeding, but the questions open up the significant impossibility of their failure, an impossibility embodied in the hand itself as the place where body and self perfectly yet hopelessly meet.

[3] The familiar tópos for this meeting is the experience, also written by Augustine, of the hand as the perfect, instant servant of the mind, as the place where the self, when it wants to be there, already is:

The mind commands the hand to move with such facility that it is almost impossible to distinguish command from execution. Yet the mind is mind and the hand is body. The mind commands the mind to will and it does not, though it is the same. Whence this marvel [monstrum]? [2]

Here also the hand provides the model for a self-possession or self-control that the self should be able to exercise but cannot. The hand defines a power that, simultaneously possessed and lacking, makes the human always more and less than itself—a bifurcation to which the functional and symbolic asymmetries between right and left hand give concrete expression. The hand is, in a special way, the monstrum of the human in both senses, a projection at its extremity that is at once transcendent and grotesque, the "monstrasity [monstrosité]," as Derrida calls it, that is "the proper of man as the being of monstration." [3] On the one hand, the hand defines the god-like self-possession of the human being, its being a seamless conscious agent of itself. On the other hand, the hand haunts the human with the fact that the self it controls is not itself, that its self-possession takes place through an undetermined and unchosen immersion in something other than it. The hand is a place where we experience ourselves to a conspicuous degree as joined but split, split but joined, an intimate periphery where we are and are not. [4] In Philippe de Champainge's Saint Augustine, Augustine's hand holds his flaming heart as a non-mediating medium, in line with but behind and outside the space of the visio intellectualis. [5] A moment of suspension: the mind is held along a current between the temporal and the eternal; the body is held, pausing from and ready for the labor of writing; and the body holds the self in this self-holding, at the gestural point where self-knowledge accesses the truth. And what holds the embodied self in this suspension, what makes its pause and opening possible, is precisely the hand, an instrument that is both peripheral and essential to the vision. Here the hand fulfills both the consummately privileged and the absolutely servile role of being the place where the corporeal and the spiritual, the literal and the allegorical touch.

II. Immixtio Manuum

Theophilus becomes the Devils man

Theophilus becomes the Devil's man.
De Brailes Hours, British Library, Additional MS 49999, 34r.

[4] The deep ambivalence held within the human hand finds exemplary expression in the synecdochal hand, in the hand as simultaneously part of and figure for the whole human. Here the reflective hand-gazing of infancy, an originary experience of self-haunting, of captivation by the presence of being that, is as it were generalized and extended to others, so that its essential ambivalence (hand-as-instrument vs. hand-as-self) is split and projected onto different kinds of agents. The synecdochal hand thus takes two forms, each overcoming: one negatively and the other positively, the gap between being and hand. There is the hand of labor, a dehumanizing reduction of a being to a hand, a merely manual, ever-active, profane hand whose presence or touch is as literally proscribed as it is invisibly evoked though labor's products and effects, the handmade. And there is the hand of power, a more than manual, sacred hand, a hand divinized into a being, the almost unmoving, all-grasping, commanding hand that, transcending manipulation and being manipulated, must be kissed, feared, invoked.

[5] These two forms of the synecdochal hand come together in a definitive and mutually defining manner in the immixtio manuum of the medieval commendation ceremony, in which a vassal's hands were held within those of his lord, the hand of labor (productive or military) within the hand of power. The legal content of the gesture, the exchange of service for protection, is contained within its symbolic fusion of hands as simultaneously instruments and embodiments of the two persons. The immixtio manuum thus operates through a fourfold meaning. Placing his hands in his lord's, the vassal gives his hands to his lord and gives himself into the hands of his lord. [6] That is, he gives his powers to the lord and brings his person within the lord's power. Holding the vassal's hands, the lord holds the vassal with his hands and receives the vassal's hands into himself. That is, the lord holds the vassal, the person, within his power and appropriates the vassal's power as his own, as part of his person. Each significance is definable as one side of a moment of contact between a person and another's hands as something distinct from yet bound to that person. The hands do not touch each other as such, nor do the persons. For these are inevitable possibilities whose meanings the gesture must invalidate or render invisible in order to fulfill its purpose. There can be no suggestion that the powers of the two persons, labor and the seigneurial power over it, themselves touch, share natures, or are interrelated in any substantial or mutual way. The ideological preservation of the latter as a distinct, self-sufficient thing, as an extension of intrinsic nobility, requires that. Nor can there be any suggestion that the two persons touch, for that would disrupt the asymmetrical, hierarchical feudal bond with the suggestion of mutual, equal friendship.

[6] Rather, lord and servant can touch in the immixtio manuum, despite the threat of an improper contact between labor and power, because it is a gesture of covering and containment, of appropriation and sublimation, which are of the essence of power. The vassal's hands do not so much touch the lord's as are touched by them. Instead, the vassal's hands, folded together, touch themselves, contain their own touch, and may thus be held by the lord without contamination. Indeed, it is more accurate to say that lord and vassal touch in the immixtio manuum not simply despite the threat of their improper contact but because of that threat. In other words, labor and power must touch so that their distinction and the distinction of the persons who wield them can be maintained relationally, so that their separateness is not overtaken by independence or simple difference, so that labor remains labor-for-power and power remains power-over-labor.

[7] The consummate function of the immixtio manuum might thus be summed up as the production of the corporate body of the ruler within the individualized body of the lord, a production which has the form of a kind of alchemical transmutation, through the lord's touch, of the laboring quality of the vassal's hands into the non-laboring, powerful aura of his own. In other words, in giving his hands to his lord, the vassal becomes a hand of the lord, and the lord's hands become more than hands. Of course the ideological fiction, a reverse projection of the reality, is that the ruler's hands are intrinsically glorious, possessing an aura that is independent of all that is beneath them. F. L. Ganshof identifies the signaling of this aura as "the most explicit description of the act of commendation," of King Harald of Denmark to Louis the Pious in 826: "Mox manibus junctis regi se tradidit ultro [...] / Caesar ad ipse manus manibus suscepit honestis" [Soon he delivered himself, with joined hands, to the king [...] and the emperor himself took his hands between his own glorious hands]. [7] But what is most significant regarding the phenomenology of the hand, is that the immixtio manuum achieves this by capitalizing on the hand's intrinsic ambivalence, its being always both self and instrument, so that the lord, economically and symbolically, becomes as the head of another as a hand.

III. Miasma

Francesa Annis as Lady Macbeth in Roman Polanskis Macbeth

Francesa Annis as Lady Macbeth in Roman Polanski's Macbeth (1971).

[8] A deeper implication of this reading of the immixtio manuum, in light of its continuities with Hegel's master-slave or lord-bondsman dialectic, is that it points toward an origin for the dialectic, not in the primordial encounter and contest between self and other, but in an analogous encounter and contest that is always already at play within the human being, within the experience of embodiment. To be a human body is to be somebody, to have a body as oneself, to be a being caught up in a body. Human being is mixed being, always both a witnessing, commanding self and a witnessed, commanded thing. [8] Via embodiment, one is always already an other, both in the totalizing sense of the thrownness (Heidegger's geworfenheit) of individual existence, of self and body as a whole, and in the localizing sense of the ontic ambivalence, the middleness of existence, of our being something between self and body, something both and neither. In these terms, embodiment is the primordial container of the encounter within which the master-slave dialectic begins:

Self-consciousness has before it another self-consciousness; it has come outside itself. This has a double significance. First it has lost its own self, since it finds itself as an other being; secondly, it has thereby sublated that other, for it does not regard the other as essentially real, but sees its own self in the other. [9]

As self-sublation, as the structure whereby the body is another self and the self is an other, embodiment is the dialectic in which master and slave, as well as the impossibility of total differentiation of the two, preexist in the to-be-slave and to-be-master. Through embodiment we are already one-in-two and two-in-one in a manner that both invites and renders impossible total identification with, either as master or as slave, one or the other. Whence the soul/mind-body problem as a problem of distinguishing (or deciding) between the two, the representation of their relationship as a debate, and the ideological "solution" of the problem (a solution that remains trapped within it) of differentiating between slave and master by reducing the slave to, and thus producing the master as more than, a body.

[9] The self-dividing dialectic of embodiment is also disclosed in the conceptualization of murder as suicide and suicide as murder, as acts which achieve the opposite of their purposes via the impossibility of a total split between self and other, both within one being and between two. Killing the other, the murderer loses his self, becomes a suicide, as Hegel says, "the trial by death [...] cancels both the truth which was to result from it, and therewith the certainty of self altogether." [10] Killing himself, the suicide kills an other, becomes a murderer, as Augustine says, "Non occides, nec alterum ergo nec te. Neque enim qui se occidit aliud quam hominem occidit" [You shall not kill, not another, and therefore, not yourself. For he who kills himself kills another in that he kills a human being]. [11] Murder and suicide, as killing a body to negate a self or destroy its encounter with the body, disclose the nature of embodiment as already an encounter between self and other. The crucial role played by the hand in these acts, as precisely what must be turned in order for them to take place, is conspicuous in that it points back to a kind of tension within the hand itself as something whose very nature, as a dialectic of self and body, must be violated or silenced by their agents. [12] To murder with the hand seems to murder the hand, to kill it by an excess of instrumentality and shut down the dialogue of embodiment that constitutes its humanity. If murder is a negation of another being via the conceptual and physical reduction of a self to a body (albeit of a self, a face, that escapes such reduction), an act that says to its victim "you are a body" and makes it so, does it not do something similar to the hand of the murderer? [13] Is not this hand's traditional pollution (miasma), the invisible clinging of the victim's blood to it, a residue of this twin reduction in the murderer, the stain of a body that is no longer other than a body upon a body that still is, yet a stain that is paradoxically constituted of what it stains and therefore, the murderer's own body as a pure sign of his reduction of a self, and the human more generally, to a body, of his metaphysical error and transgression? [14] Such an equation, an instance of the slimy as explicated by Sartre, is suggested in the relevant lines from Macbeth, which trace a transmutation of the blood that stains the hand into the hand itself: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No—this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine" (2.2.59-61, my emphasis). [15]

IV. Possession

Sensation Comics 109 cover

Sensation Comics #109, cover.

[10] Whatever the ontological status of miasma, whether wholly imaginary or something between the poetic and the phenomenal, it offers, as a visible invisible, a concrete instance of a more general real relation (perhaps one that can only be concretized in the imagination) between the hand and the invisible, embodied self. The hand, as intimate periphery and instant instrument, is a conspicuous locus of embodiment as a dialectic between self and body, a dialectic that subsists at the most literal level in our continual inner dialogue with our hands, our telling them to do things and learning how to do things with them. Our being so fully in and so obviously other than our hands is embodiment writ small; it is a synecdochal sign of our being body and something other than body. The hand contains this doubleness of being in the countless ways it is always more than a hand: also a gesture, a presence, a purpose, an intelligence, and so forth. This otherness of the hand, its always being more than a "mere" hand, is not simply something that is read of the hand. Instead it is of the hand's very essence as a thing whose nature and function are determined by its being possessed by something other than itself: by consciousness. This possession is not something static or fixed—our hands are not ours as things that are simply there—but is itself a modulation, a movement in consciousness, a self-body dialogue that represents consciousness's continual negotiation of its identification with the body. Sartre's example of bad faith, in which a person's subconscious self-withdrawal from the hand distinguishes the person as consciousness, unveils this dialectical movement:

But then suppose he takes her hand [.] To leave the hand there is to consent in herself to flirt, to engage herself. To withdraw it is to break the troubled and unstable harmony which gives the hour its charms [.] We know what happens next; the young woman leaves her hand there, but she does not notice that she is leaving it. She does not because it happens by chance that she is at this moment all intellect. She draws her companion up to the most lofty regions of sentimental speculation; she speaks of Life, of her life, she shows herself in her essential aspect—a personality, a consciousness. And during this time the divorce of the body from the soul is accomplished; the hand rests inert between the warm hands of her companion—neither consenting nor resisting—a thing. [16]

Yet the inert hand remains a hand. It is not a thing, but a hand-being-a-thing. And this possibility, the hand's ability to be physically and discursively merely a hand, points across the limit of the boundary between self and body toward the essentially conceptual, conscious nature of the hand. More precisely, it is exactly the hand's ability to deconstruct itself, to not be a hand, that reveals the essence of the hand as an opening between body and self, an apophatic space in which the self manifests, becomes present precisely through its absence. Just as the body as a whole makes the self present only through its not being the self, through its being the in-itself-not-a-self that the self is therefore in, so the hand's essence resides in its being of the one who has it. One has a hand only by being other than one's hand, by possessing it across a distance within oneself.

[11] Yet the hand is not simply possessed as a thing, but is a dynamic possession. It is possessed is such a way that it is its possession, such that "hand," the category through which the hand is possessed, or word-idea that possesses the hand, touches the hand itself as the medium through which the hand operates, through which one has and uses hands. This is the origin of the "transferability" of the hand, the human ability to use other parts of the body as hands through their possession as such. In the same way that language does not consist of words but of their speaking, such that a word is not only there to be used but is its own speaking, its own utilization, so the living hand is not the hand per se but its being used, not as something that is there to be used, but as using, as utilization itself. And the essence of this utilization, in turn, consists in having the hand, in consciousness, in language, such that we can say that the hand is a place where having a thing and having the word for a thing are most perfectly fused. As Heidegger explains in Parmenides, it is precisely such a relational possession that constitutes the hand's humanity:

Man himself acts [handelt] through the hand [Hand]; for the hand is, together with the word, the essential distinction of man. Only a being which, like man, "has" the word, can and must "have" "the hand." [...] The hand exists as hand only where there is disclosure and concealment. [...] The hand sprang forth only out of the word and together with the word. Man does not "have" hands, but the hand holds the essence of man, because the word as the essential realm of the hand is the ground of the essence of man. [17]

Privileging language, Heidegger traces the humanity of the hand by following the word through it into writing and so laments the typewriter as a technology that "tears writing from the essential realm of the hand, i.e. the realm of the word." [18] But what is more deeply at stake here, what this account worries over but is in danger of eliding, is the relation between labor and language within the logos of the hand and with it the fact, noted by Engels, that "the hand is not only the organ of labor, it is also the product of labor." [19] In other words, Heidegger's hand, to maintain its truth, must be put to work, brought into alignment with the anthropological tradition of understanding logos as springing forth only out of the hand and together with the hand. As André Leroi-Gourhan recognized, "Tools for the hand, language for the face, are twin poles of the same apparatus." [20] So Elias Canetti imagines language as originally learned from laboring hands:

As a man watched his hands at work, the changing shapes they fashioned must gradually have impressed themselves on his mind. Without this we should probably never have learnt to form symbols for things, nor, therefore to speak [...] Words and objects are accordingly the emanations and products of a single unified experience: representation by means of the hands. [21]

And yet here too we see the same tendency, namely, that even where labor is acknowledged as the site of human origin, it is at once alienated, made to recede into a background out of which something preeminent, i.e. logos, flows. If the human essence is founded on logos and the word is "the essential realm of the hand," what is the status of the operative hand, the hand of labor, within this relation? In the incarnational coming to be of the hand "out of the word and together with the word"—a description that both acknowledges and frustrates the relation between manipulation and language, that both essentializes and accessorizes the hand—where is there room for labor? I want to think of the hand, rather, as something whose inherent and independent intelligence points to a shared space of language-as-labor and labor-as-language, a primordial place of dialogue between self and body where thinking and manipulating, gesturing and speaking, touching and knowing are acts of a single organ, a single logos, a hand of the hand.

V. Organ of Organs

Aesop, Esopi appologi sive mythologi: cum
  quibusdam carminum et fabularum additionibus Sebastiani Brant

Aesop. Esopi appologi sive mythologi: cum quibusdam carminum et fabularum additionibus
Sebastiani Brant
(Basel: Jacob von Pfortzheim, 1501), frontispiece.

[12] Labor and language have an essential but ambivalent relationship within traditional definitions of the hand. As a conspicuous point of contact between material and intellectual agencies, making and speaking, the hand is both a place where labor touches language and a place where the two are definitively distinguished. For western philosophy, the terms of this association and differentiation, whereby hands and reason subsist as an inseparable but wholly distinct pair, as spiritual and corporeal counterparts of each other, are established by Aristotle's definition of the hand in analogy to the soul: "the soul is analogous to the hand; for as the hand is a tool of tools, so the mind is the form of forms and sense the form of sensible things" (De Anima, 3.8). Hand, mind, and sense accord within the general principal of having the reality of the subject and its agency to rest upon. Without these there would be no world as such, no phenomenal space through which we could move as agents, manipulating, understanding, and perceiving the material, intellectual, and aesthetic dimensions of reality. Within the movement or life of this enworlded agency, the role of the hand may appear secondary or derivative in comparison to mind and sense insofar as its operation presupposes them. But does not mind with sense as a medium also rely essentially upon the hand, not only as another means of perception and understanding, and not only as the material agent that renders it effective, but more deeply as a ground upon which the mind has matter as matter, as a substance that is there for us in the world, only because it is first here as substance, primordially as it were, in our hands? As Levinas explains, manipulation is precisely what expresses this original having as its necessary ground: "Every manipulation of a system of tools and implements, every labor, presupposes a primordial hold on the things, possession, whose latent birth is marked by the home, at the frontier of interiority." [22] In these terms the hand may be understood, past Aristotle, as an essential accessory to the cogito, an alter ego within it through which, as Raymond Tallis argues, "this I moves on from being a bare subject, a mere logical form, to something which genuinely has identity." [23]

[13] As something which problematizes the priority of mind over body and the whole distinction between spirit and matter more generally, the hand is a place where these boundaries demand to be explored and policed. In Giordano Bruno's Cabala del cavallo pegaseo, the absolute dependence of human life on the hand is worked out by imagining what would happen if humans were twice as intelligent but had feet in place of hands. The imagined result is the human's loss of itself, a draining of all that is human from the human, namely, all material and intellectual achievement as well as dominion over other animals:

As a consequence, where would one find the basic principles of doctrines, the invention of disciplines, the congregations of citizens, the structure of buildings, and all the other things that testify to human greatness and excellence, and that make man truly the invincible victor over other species? All this, if you look at it carefully, refers principally not to the dictates of mental ingenuity but rather to those of the hand, organ of organs. [24]

In other words, deforming the human body, even with a compensatory addition of extra intelligence, would destroy the corporate body of human society. In the conventional figuration of this body, it is the feet which dissonantly signify manual labor, the material production of agriculturalist and artisan, upon which all depend. This identification of labor with the feet serves the ideological function of defining the labor as simultaneously foundational, inferior, and dependent upon the higher functions of the body politic—in short, destroying labor's self-sufficiency. As John of Salisbury writes in the Policraticus:

The husbandmen correspond to the feet, which always cleave to the soil and need the more especially the care and foresight of the head, since while they walk on earth doing service with their bodies, they meet the more often with stones of stumbling, and therefore deserve aid and protection all the more justly, since it is they who raise, sustain, and move forward the weight of the entire body. [25]

Bruno, by literalizing this symbolic transformation of the manual into the pedal, shows how the hand itself, as the essential site of material and intellectual production, is more deeply the foot of civilization, the essential "thing" on which it rests—a dependence that is only intensified rather than transcended by the development of technology which, the more it "frees" humans from manual labor, the more expressly digital it becomes.

[14] Bruno's citation of Aristotle's definition of the hand as the organ of organs participates in a long tradition of philosophical eulogizing of the hand as what Karl Steel calls a "corporeal heuristic of reason," as simultaneously the tool and embodiment of reason, the place in the body where reason is found. [26] Yet Bruno's account, by essentializing the hand, by defining it as a sine qua non of human life as such, actually cites Aristotle in support of a position closer to the one against which Aristotle argues. In the De partibus animalium, Aristotle takes pains to disqualify Anaxagoras's view of the hands as a cause of human intelligence:

Standing thus erect, man has no need of legs in front, and in their stead has been endowed by nature with arms and hands. Now it is the opinion of Anaxagoras that the possession of these hands is the cause of man being of all animals the most intelligent. But it is more rational to suppose that his endowment with hands is the consequence rather than the cause of his superior intelligence. For the hands are instruments or organs, and the invariable plan of nature in distributing the organs is to give each to such animal as can make use of it; nature acting in this matter as any prudent man would do. For it is a better plan to take a person who is already a flute-player and give him a flute, than to take one who possesses a flute and teach him the art of flute-playing. For nature adds that which is less to that which is greater and more important, and not that which is more valuable and greater to that which is less. Seeing then that such is the better course, and seeing also that of what is possible nature invariably brings about the best, we must conclude that man does not owe his superior intelligence to his hands, but his hands to his superior intelligence. For the most intelligent of animals is the one who would put the most organs to use; and the hand is not to be looked on as one organ but as many; for it is, as it were, an instrument for further instruments. This instrument, therefore—the hand—of all instruments the most variously serviceable, has been given by nature to man, the animal of all animals the most capable of acquiring the most varied handicrafts. [27]

Seen through the scope of these counterarguments, the idea that human intelligence could derive from the hands threatens not only the dependence of the hand's operation on intelligence, but the whole teleological and providential fabric of the natural world whereby bodies are disposed in the best possible way and the human is the best animal with the best body. And yet the notion of the best that governs this argument—best as the most intelligent—is a space of significant tautology. The best explanation, the most reasonable explanation, is the one that preserves the superiority of reason, a superiority that is constituted relationally, by reason's various relations to what is other: being a cause rather than a consequence of the hand, being prior to (as potentiality to act) the use of the hand, being capable of the maximum number of things with the hand. In other words, the argument, as reason's argument, has the character of a self-preserving mechanism, a preservation of the independence and autonomy of the rational self (as master) vis-à-vis the dependence and contingency of the hand (as slave). The master (reason) does not derive from, depend upon, or learn from the slave (hand). Nor is the master's nature constituted by being the master of the slave. The slave is indeed a most excellent slave, but he does not add anything to the master or alter him in any way. The slave does not introduce anything new into the master. Everything the slave can do, the master already knows how to do, as the flute to the master flute player. In short, the slave has the character of a gift, a most excellent gift for a most excellent master.

[15] The limitation of Aristotle's account lies not only in its assumption of an intelligence (a logos) that exists prior to and independent of the hand as something to which the hand can be given, but more deeply in its elision of the dialectical interplay between hand and reason, soul and body, in the operation of human nature, an interplay whose quintessential, most self-identical activity is labor, the motion that defines human being. This, in Thorstein Veblen's words, is "a centre of unfolding impulsive activity—'teleological' activity [...] an agent seeking in every act the accomplishment of some concrete, objective, impersonal end." [28] What Aristotle's imagination of the hand's genesis as a gift conceals (as the logic of giving often does) is precisely the hand's necessity to human nature, a necessity which is definable as the actual intersection between the hand's necessity for labor and the hand's necessity for the self, or more generally, between the body's dependence upon production and the self's dependence upon the body. The human needs a hand—or handiness more precisely—not simply for production and self-production, but in a manner that defines the simultaneity and interdependence of the two. The hand's necessity for human being exemplifies the essential link between theory and praxis, and more deeply, the production of consciousness through action. As Michel Henry, commenting on the Hegelian-Marxist conception of labor as self-objectification, explains: "Grasped in its ontological meaning as productive of objectivity in which each thing becomes visible as object, in which each thing becomes conscious, action then allows itself to be recognized as what it is in its ultimate doing; it is the production of consciousness itself."[29] This can be compared to Dante's description of action as simultaneously a disclosure and an enlargement of the being of the agent, on which is founded action's intrinsic pleasure: "For in every action that the agent principally intends, whether he acts by natural necessity or voluntarily, is to disclose his own likeness. Whence it happens that every agent, as such, takes delight; for, since everything that is desires its own being, and in acting the being of the agent is in a way enlarged, delight necessarily follows." [30] In the opposite experience of sloth, where one is not in motion through a process of realization but rather, as Agamben says, "fixed in the scandalous contemplation of a goal that reveals itself in the act by which it is precluded," it is the proverbial "idle hands" that become the co-opted instrument of an external, malefic agency. [31] So in labor the hands, as originary instruments, reveal the agency of the one who has them, not only gesturally, as a sign of agency, but actually, as the very corporeal, material link between labor as self-objectification and consciousness as self-instrumentalization.

[16] Aristotle's elision of this deeper dimension of hand's necessity to human being is only barely concealed behind his analogy of the flute and flute player, which ironically disturbs his own understanding of art as a habit. Just as giving a flute to someone who cannot play it is the only way to create a flute player—not to mention the infinite perfectibility of flute playing—so the knowledge that uses the hand as the instrument of instruments exists only in relation to the hand itself. It is a product of having hands. The distinction between the hands and the intelligence which uses them remains—cut off the flute player's hands and he still knows how to play the flute—so that we may say that knowing how to the use the hand as such is a potentiality of intelligence. But we cannot say that it is a potentiality only of intelligence. The hand has its own potentialities and knowing how to use the hands is as much about teaching the hands to do and learning from the hands how to do. So Gaston Bachelard situates a knowledge within the hand: "every hand is an awareness of action." [32] Whence also comes the uncanniness of the hand as operating on its own in the absence of intentional intelligence. For instance, in Moby Dick the Pequod's Carpenter "did not seem to work so much by reason or instinct ... but merely by a kind of deaf and dumb, spontaneous literal process. He was a pure manipulator; his brain, if he ever had one, must have early oozed along into the muscles of his fingers." [33] And Montaigne, recovering from being knocked unconscious, finds the boundary of the human self in "his" self-moving hands: "My stomach was oppressed with the clotted blood, and my hands flew to it of their own accord, as they often do where we itch, against the intention of our will ... these passions which touch only the rind of us cannot be called ours." [34]

[17] Aristotle's definition creates for the hand a semi-transcendent status, a proscribed nobility, which simultaneously elevates it as an agent over all it uses and imprisons it in being the agent of another, in the privilege of being a perfect slave. As the organ of organs, the hand is a kind of prime mover of instruments or king of tools, an individual that is at once one of and greater than all other members of its species, an analogy to its human possessor as the animal of animals. In occupying this position, in exercising power over all other organs, the hand is both a perfect organ and more than an organ. In other words, the hand is transcendently itself. But this transcendence is precisely the opposite of self-transcendence, and therefore the opposite of transcendence as such, as the beyond-being of something—its belonging to another realm. Instead, the hand embodies a negative transcendence, meaning that the more the hand is itself and fulfills its essential function, the less that it is in itself. As consummate instrumentality, as something whose nature resides in being the function of something else, the hand is consigned to forever being less than itself, to being something whose essence lies elsewhere, to alienation. Aristotle's hand is an alienated laborer as it must be so as to preserve the alienation of labor, the business of slaves, from the human: "The use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different, for both with their bodies minister to the needs of life." [35] More deeply, the alienation or negative transcendence of Aristotle's hand identifies it as the unconscious, self-constituting projection of the transcendental ego, the fictive rational essence or cogito with which the human, most conspicuously the philosophical human, identifies itself. This hand's alienation is simply the other side of the self-lacking being bound within the hypnotizing habit of identifying itself as higher than and separate from what it is. Accordingly, just as the solution to labor's alienation, addressed by Marx as labor's return to itself, is possible only via the realization of labor as inalienable (as the actual, living labor that capital precisely can never possess), so the hand's return to itself belongs to the realization of the self as always already produced via the hand, via the poetic dialectic of embodiment it defines. [36]

[18] The failure of Aristotle's "organ of organs" to grasp the self-making function of the hand constitutes a double gesture, at once admonishing and inviting. On the one hand, it demonstrates that the hand, along with the more general structure of embodiment it exemplifies, is in a very real sense the home of alienation, a borderland within the human being where the impossible destiny of self-lack, of exile from one's own self, is first seized. On the other hand, it points toward a way back from this destiny, toward the need for a more holistic and actual knowing of the hand along with the labors that it makes and make it possible, not simply as my instrument but as the very instrument of me.


[1] "Quis tenebit cor hominis, ut stet et videat, quomodo stans dictet futura et praeterita tempora nec futura nec praeterita aeternitas? Numquid manus mea valet hoc aut manus oris mei per loquellas agit tam grandem rem?" (Augustine, Confessions [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951], 11.11).

[2] "Imperat animus, ut moveatur manus, et tanta est facilitas, ut vix a servitio discernatur imperium: et animus animus est, manus autem corpus est. Imperat animus, ut velit animus, nec alter est nec facit tamen. Unde hoc monstrum?" (Augustine, Confessions, 8.9).

[3] Jacques Derrida, "Geschlecht II: Heidegger's Hand," tr. John P. Leavy, in Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida, ed. John Sallis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 169. More precisely, the monstrosity of the hand has to do with its blurring of the boundary, central to the Aristotelian tradition, between power (dynamis, potentia) and habit (ethos, habitus), first and second nature: "Again, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit the activity (this is plain in the case of the senses; for it was not by often seeing or often hearing that we got these senses, but on the contrary we had them before we used them, and did not come to have them by using them); but the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre" (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, II.1, 1103a, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, trans. Richard McKeon [New York: Random House, 1941]). On the one hand, the hand is like a power, an already present bodily faculty not created by use but ready to be put to use. So the hand can be willed into use in a manner similar to other faculties, as something that is already capable of what is asked of it. In the disagreement between Anaxagoras and Aristotle, discussed below, this aspect of the hand is contained in the fact that both assume the hand as a unique physical instrument, as an organ that animals do not possess. That is, if an animal did possess a hand, it would either not know how to use it or become intelligent as a human. This reifying concept of the hand is countered in the Romance of the Rose, where Nature imagines what would happen if animals had reason: "Hands would not be a problem, for the monkeys could work with their hands, so they would in no way be inferior to man; they could even be writers" (Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, The Romance of the Rose, tr. Frances Horgan [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999], 274-5). In other words, handiness resides in reason and only secondarily in the corporeal structure of the hand. On the other hand, therefore, the radical instrumentality of the hand, its being so expressly constituted by its use by something other than hand, defines the hand as an acquired or habitual function. The hand actually becomes the hand through its being used as a hand, by the taking shape of the human person around and within the hand, which is of the essence of habitus as a stable disposition or second nature, as the condition of having the potential for something in such a way that doing it is natural. Everything our hands do we have learned to do with our hands. But who teaches whom? Who makes whom? Aquinas, taking up the question of whether habits can be in the body, preserves the distinction between power and habit by maintaining that the habits of corporeal acts, those that pertain "to the soul moving the body" rather than to a quality of the body itself, may be secondarily in the body: "Activities which are from the soul by means of the body belong principally to the soul and secondarily to the body. Now habits are proportionate to actions, and hence "from acts of a certain kind, habits of that kind are formed" [Ethics, II.1]. For this reason, the dispositions to such activities are found principally in the soul. But secondarily they can be in the body insofar as the body is disposed and conditioned to be readily subject to these activities of the soul "[ad prompte deserviendum operationibus animae]" (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, Question 50, article 1. Cited from Aquinas, Treatise on the Virtues, trans. John A. Oesterle [Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966]). But the hand, as the exemplar of such prompt service, as the organ whose natural function appears as nothing other than to be readily subject to the activities of the soul, frustrates the boundary between potentia and habitus precisely by being something like the intersection of the power of habit and the habit of power, the physical realization of pure having as a power, namely, the power that, lacking any (or being subtracted from all) intrinsic function, becomes capable of all functions. Hence in Bernardus Silvestris's Cosmographia, the hand appears (not coincidentally, at the very end or limit of the text) as the thing which, being exactly what the cosmos has no need of, serves the human in all things: "In creating man Physis had to bestow limbs of which the universe has no need: eyes to keep watch in the head, ears for sound, feet to bear him, and all-capable hands" (Bernardus Silvestris, Cosmographia, trans. Winthrop Wetherbee [New York: Columbia University Press, 1973], 127). The maximal capability of the hand, such that we are led to speak as if its powers belonged to itself rather than to our belonging to them, as if there were such an actual distinct thing as the hand itself, contains the impossibility of understanding the hand as either power or habit, as either a bestowed or an acquired attribute of the human. Rather, the hand functions as a perfect conjunction of the two, a conjunction that occurs through the principle of having as the very principle of consciousness itself, the mechanism that makes consciousness a presence to itself. In other words, having a hand, like the self-present consciousness from which it is inseparable, is also a having of having without regress, having something not as an object but as having itself in both senses, that is, both the fullness of having the thing itself and the openness of pure having. Where having is a relation definable as being on the outside of something in such a way that it is within oneself, that it belongs to or is part of oneself, the having of having, as being on the outside of this relation in such a way that it is within, is intelligible as being on the inside of something, having it as already within oneself, in such a way that one is outside it. The former, which corresponds to the possession of a power, is exemplified by holding, whereby something becomes an extension of oneself. The latter, which corresponds to the possession of a habit, is exemplified by wearing, whereby one becomes an extension of something. The hand, in this sense, is a fusion of holding and wearing, an extension of the self that brings the self outside of it.

[4] Cf. Raymond Tallis's description of "the quite explicit sense that the hand has of itself: a bodily self awareness localised in the hand; an inchoate selfness that is ambiguously both in and of the hand," which he argues "lies at the root of more general bodily self-awareness and, indeed, the self-consciousness, or more precisely the selfness, that characterizes human, as opposed to animal, being" (The Hand: A Philosophical Inquiry into Human Being [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003], 125). According to Tallis, the hand is quite literally the place where and the very means by which the human self discovers and becomes itself as an agent: "the sense that anything as solid as a bodily part is me is always contaminated with the feeling that the part is merely owned by, attached to, or in some other sense distant, or separable, from me. This distance disappears only when the bodily part is engaged in an action, is totally given over to it. In short, there is a tension between the reflective sense of selfness and the explicit sense of (bodily) presence. What gives the hand, supremely among parts of the body, the ability to awaken the sense that 'I am this thing' while at the same time allowing 'I can use this thing' is that it is present at several levels: the self-warming hand as subject-and-object, as agent and patient, is underlined not only by the infinite number of degrees of freedom of the grips it has at its disposal [...] but also by the background-foreground, the layeredness built into the experience of the hand[.] It is through our hands that we expropriate our own bodies, get a first-person grip on the organism that we live, and, through this, get a grip on the world[.] Selfness takes its rise out of the self-communion of the manipulative hand" (The Hand, 130).

[5] An earlier instance of the motif occurs in the opening initial of a fifteenth-century manuscript of the Confessions, MS Harley 3087, fol. 1v (London, British Library). The image shows Augustine seated before his desk, one hand writing, the other holding his heart, and is emblematic of the mode of confession. The visionary dimension of confession emphasized in Philip de Champaigne's painting, in which mind and heart flow towards the same truth, is articulated in the text begun by this initial, Augustine's Retractio: "Confessionum mearum libri tredecim et de malis et de bonis meis deum laudant iustum et bonum atque in eum excitant humanum intellectum et affectum."

[6] "The texts speak of in vasatico se commendare per manus, 'to commend oneself into vassalage by one's hands', manus suas commendare, literally 'to commend one's hands', in manus or in manibus N. se commendare, 'to commend oneself in the hands of N.'" (F.L. Ganshof, Feudalism, trans. Philip Grierson, 3rd ed. [New York: Harper & Row, 1961], 26). See also Jean-Pierre Poly and Eric Bournazel, The Feudal Transformation 900-1200, trans. Caroline Higgitt (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1991), 48-9; and Jacques le Goff, "The Symbolic Ritual of Vassalage," in Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980): 237-87. On peasant homage specifically see Paul Freedman, The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Medieval Catalonia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 97-8.

[7] The text is Ermoldus Nigellus's In Honorem Hludowici, 4.601, 606, cited here with Ganshof's translation from Ganshof, Feudalism, 27.

[8] Cf. "All consciousness is consciousness of something. This definition of consciousness can be taken in two very different and distinct senses: either we understand by this that consciousness is constitutive of the being of its object, or it means that consciousness in its inmost nature is a relation to a transcendent being. But the first interpretation destroys itself: to be conscious of something is to be confronted with a concrete and full presence which is not consciousness" (Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes [New York: Washington Square Press, 1956], 21-2).

[9] G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J.B. Baillie (London: Harper & Row, 1967), 229.

[10] Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, 233.

[11] Augustine, De civitate Dei, 1.20, PL 41.

[12] "Two early adjectives for a person committing suicide are autocheir, 'acting with one's own hand'—'own-handed,' if we were to attempt to say it in English, would be close—and authentes or autoentes, 'self-acting,' the word living on in the English 'authentic'" (David Daube, "The Linguistics of Suicide," Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1972): 401). On the relationship between authentes and autocheir, see Albert Wolters, "A Semantic Study of αυθένης and its Derivatives," Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 11 (2006): 44-65, esp. 46. To "turn one's hand against oneself" is similarly a common expression for suicide in Roman Law. See Alexander Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 433. Cf. "I will turn my hand against you" (Isaiah 1:25).

[13] Cf. "Murder still aims at a sensible datum, and yet it finds itself before a datum whose being cannot be suspended by an appropriation. It finds itself before a datum absolutely non-neutralizable. The 'negation' effected by appropriation and usage remained always partial[.] Murder alone lays claim to total negation. [...] To kill is not to dominate but to annihilate; it is to renounce comprehension absolutely. Murder exercises a power over what escapes power" (Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis [Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969], 198).

[14] Cf. "The metaphysical miasma radiated out from a physical centre [.] [T]he pollution of the murderer was expressed by the imaginary stain of blood on his hands" (Robert Parker, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996], 55).

[15] William Shakespeare, Macbeth, ed. Nicholas Brooke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990). Like miasma, sliminess, particularly as an non-literal quality, something that we perceive even of clean objects and persons, exists on the boundary between self and world: "the slimy appears as already the outline of a fusion of the world with myself [.] What comes back to us [...] as an objective quality is a new nature which is neither material (and physical) nor psychic, but which transcends the opposition of the psychic and the physical [.] Slime is the revenge of the In-itself [.] But at the same time the slimy is myself, by the very fact that I outline an appropriation of the slimy substance" (Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 773-7).

[16] Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 97.

[17] Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, trans. André Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 80.

[18] Heidegger, Parmenides, 81.

[19] Frederich Engels, "The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man," in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (New York: International Publishers, 1972), 252.

[20] André Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech, trans. Anna Bostock Berger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), 20. Bernard Stiegler comments: "the 'freeing' of the hand during locomotion is also that of the face from its grasping function. The hand will necessarily call for tools, movable organs; the tools of the hand will necessarily call for the language of the face" (Techics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus, trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998], 145). The same basic explanation was known in the antiquity and the Middle Ages: "All the beasts have feet where men have hands. Although nature has given man hands for many life functions in war and in peace, yet before all it is for this: if man had no hands his mouth would have to be fashioned like those of quadrupeds so he could take food from the ground. The length of his neck would have to be increased, his nose shaped like that of a brute animal. He would have to have heavy lips, thick, coarse and projecting, suited to cutting fodder. The fleshy part around the teeth would have to be solid and rough, as in dogs and other animals that eat meat. Thus if hands had not been provided for the body, an articulated and modulated voice could not exist. Man would have to bleat or low or bark or make some other kinds of animal noise. But now, with the hand serving the mouth, the mouth serves reason and through it the intellectual soul which is spiritual and incorporeal. This is something not shared with irrational animals" (Bernard McGinn, ed., Three Treatises on Man: A Cistercian Anthropology, Cistercian Fathers 24 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1977) II.2, 131. This passage derives from the fourth-century bishop Gregory of Nyssa's On the Making of Man (VIII.8) via a translation from the Greek by John the Scot. For the Latin (with a translation into French) see William of St. Thierry, De la nature du corps et de l'âme, trans. and ed. Michel Lemoine, Auteurs Latin du Moyen Åge [Paris: Belles Lettres, 1988], §67, 148-51).

[21] Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power, trans. Carol Stewart (New York: Viking Press, 1962), 217.

[22] Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 163.

[23] The Hand, 130. As Tallis points out, thumbsucking, as an early negotiation of materiality, is instructive here: "To suck one's thumb is to encounter one's 'embodied selfness' through its deepest root. It is the timidest form of self-assertion, italicizing oneself through a sheltering circuit of selfness" (134n30).

[24] Cited from Nuccio Ordine, Giordano Bruno and the Philosophy of the Ass, trans. Henryk Baranski (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 39. "E per conseguenza dove sarrebono le instituzioni de dottrine, le invenzioni de discipline, le congregazioni de cittadini, le strutture de gli edificii ed altre cose assai che significano la grandezza ed eccellenza umana, e fanno l'uomo trionfator veramente invitto sopra l'altre specie? Tutto questo, se oculatamente guardi, si referisce non tanto principalmente al dettato de l'ingegno, quanto a quello della mano, organo de gli organi" (Giordano Bruno, Cabala del cavallo pegaseo, in Dialoghi Italiani, eds. Giovanni Gentile and Giovanni Aquilecchia [Florence: Sansoni, 1985], 887). As Ordine explains, for Bruno "man's superiority over other animals is not decreed by abstract hierarchies, but has a concrete basis in nature, in the capacity of the organs of the body to perform operations denied other species" (Giordano Bruno, 39). Yet as Bruno explains, distinguishing between human hands and the "hands" of apes and bears, this capacity is not reducible to the physical hand as mechanism, but is mediated by the material disposition or constitution (complessione) of the body, which regulates, as a kind of filter, the degree of the spirit's access to universal intelligence: "Sebasto. Che dirai de le scimie ed orsi che, se non vuoi dir ch'hanno mano, non hanno peggior instrumento che la mano? Onorio. Non hanno tal complessione che possa esser capace di tale ingegno; perché l'universale intelligenza in simili e molti altri animali per la grossezza o lubricità della material complessione non può imprimere tal forza di sentimento in cotali spiriti" (Cabala, 887).

[25] John of Salisbury, The Stateman's Book, trans. John Dickenson (New York: Russell & Russell, 1963), 65.

[26] Karl Steel, "Defining the Human: Medieval Discourses and Practices of Animal Subjugation" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 2007). Classical and Renaissance hand-lore is surveyed in Marjorie O'Rourke Boyle, Senses of Touch: Human Dignity and Deformity from Michelangelo to Calvin (Leiden: Brill, 1998).

[27] Aristotle, De partibus animalium, trans. William Ogle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912), 4.10.

[28] Theory of the Leisure Class [New York: Dover, 1994], 9.

[29] Michel Henry, Marx: A Philosophy of Human Reality, tr. Kathleen McLaughlin (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983), 150.

[30] "Nam in omni actione principaliter intenditur ab agente, sive necessitate nature sive volontarie agat, propriam similitudinem explicare. 2. Unde fit quod omne agens, in quantum huiusmodi, delectatur; quia, cum omne quod est appetat suum esse, ac in agendo agentis esse quodammodo amplietur, sequitur de necessitate delectatio, quia delectatio rei desiderate semper annexa est" (Dante Alighieri, Monarchia [Milano: Garzanti, 1985], 1.13.1-2).

[31] Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture, tr. Ronald L. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 6. Accordingly, what the bodily movements of the slothful signify is only their own alienated state. As Aquinas notes, "in so far as it [sloth] affects a body that changes place, it is called restlessness of the body, when, to wit, a man shows the unsteadiness of his mind by the inordinate movements of members of his body" (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, tr. Fathers of the English Dominican Province [New York: Beziger Brothers, 1947), pt 2-2, Q.35, art.3).

[32] Gaston Bachelard, The Right to Dream, tr. J.A. Underwood (New York: Grossman, 1971), 53.

[33] Herman Melville, Moby Dick, or, The Whale, ed. Charles Feidelson, Jr. (New York: Macmillan, 1964), 595-6.

[34] Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays, tr. Donald M. Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958), 271. Giorgio Agamben elaborates on this moment as an instance of "experiences which do not belong to us [...] but which for that very reason, precisely because they are experiences of the inexperiencible, constitute the extreme limit against which our experience can press, straining towards death" (Infancy and History, tr. Liz Heron [New York: Verso, 2007], 45). I also want to emphasize the foundational, ever-present character of this limit: namely, that we know and feel our being alive precisely by remaining in contact with the body as not ours, that the touch of the living exists in relation to death. So Montaigne's experience may be understood as the actual, living analogue to the "flying man" tradition of speculative philosophical experimentation, which imagines the irreducible self-consciousness of a hypothetical human subtracted of all experience. In étienne Bonnot de Condillac's Treatise on Sensations (1754), which narrates the coming to self-awareness of an animate marble statue, the hand plays a pivotal and inexplicable role. As Daniel Heller-Roazen explains, "Turning its exploring hands upon its body, the marble being suddenly employs a striking capacity nowhere explicitly introduced and explained by the scientist, as it immediately knows to name that which it has found. 'As soon as the statue brings its hand on its parts,' the philosopher writes, 'the same sensing being responds in some way from one part to another: it is I [c'est moi]" (The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation [New York: Zone, 2007], 226-7).

[35] Politics, 1254b, cited from The Basic Works of Aristotle, 1133. As Hannah Arendt has explained, "slavery in antiquity [...] was [an] attempt to remove labor from the condition of man's life. What men share with all other forms of animal life was not considered to be human" (The Human Condition [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1958], 84).

[36] Following Sartre, such a self may be termed transcendent as opposed to transcendental: "For Sartre there is no inner self or ego, source of action, feeling, thought, will emotion. The self is an imaginary construct, outside consciousness, object not subject of consciousness, a continuous creation held in being by belief. The self or ego, the 'I' and the 'me' are synthetic products of consciousness, unified not unifying, transcendent not immanent. Sartre is arguing against Husserl that the ego is transcendent, not transcendental" (Christina Howells, "Sartre and the Deconstruction of the Subject," in The Cambridge Companion to Sartre, ed. Christian Howells [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992], 327). I would like to thank the anonymous reader of this essay for bringing to my attention this helpful and relevant distinction. On the inalienability of labor and its self-return, Bruno Gulli writes: "even when the creativity of labor is reduced to nothing at the institutional and empirical level, it still maintains intact its immense ontological power, its potentiality and the potentiality not to. It is for this reason that capital is not content with using and abusing labor for its own ends, but it also wants the political and social control over it. [...] Capitalist production is in fact the production of labor as its double, its negation, and as an alien power. [...] It is only by withdrawing, by subtracting themselves from this logic that the workers will be able to effect a change [.] Through the power of subtraction, the workers lose the loss itself and may, at the same time, recuperate a sense of reality" (Labor of Fire: The Ontology of Labor between Economy and Culture [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005], 12-20).