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Avatar Bodies: A Tantra for Posthumanism

Ann Weinstone
Volume: 10
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Avatar Bodies
    Book Description:

    Avatar Bodies develops a posthumanist vocabulary for human-to-human relationships that turns our capacities for devotion, personality, and pleasure. Drawing on both the philosophies and practices of Indian Tantra, Weinstone argues for the impossibility of absolute otherness; we are all avatar bodies, and she proposes that only when we stop ordering the other to be other will we truly become posthuman.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9479-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Pleasure
    (pp. 1-2)

    Pleasure is, perhaps, a love child of the 1960s. Wafting lavenderesque from cracks in the cosmic egg, pleasure recalls indulgence, mild intoxication, a polymorphous romp well shy of the imperatives of desire. Pleasure comes and goes; it manifests in the grain, the bubbling up, the tingle, the fractional slip. Compared to desire, pleasure is hedonistic, rambling, familiar, and, according to some, subject to manipulation by various economic and political regimes. Freud tells us that pleasure must be overridden in the name of a survivalism that always asks us to delay, delay, delay. Desire, on the other hand, must be crushed...

  5. Every Relation but One: Part I
    (pp. 3-7)

    Humanist discourses of epistemological and ontological transcendence and their brutal real-life effects have deeply marked, and I would even say scarred, postwar ethical thinking with the imperative to avoid at all costs the breaching of human-human boundaries. Not only are human relations viewed primarily as scenes of wounding and violence, but as Peter Hallward has noted, many contemporary philosophers and cultural theorists sharea profound distrust of the very concept of a community. For these thinkers, “community” often connotes a notion of fascism(89). Those writing under the sign of posthumanism have perhaps exercised the greatest restraint, the most consistent...

  6. (Post)Humanism
    (pp. 8-11)

    In 1976, the same year thatOf Grammatologyappeared in English for the first time, critic and cultural theorist Ihab Hassan delivered the keynote address at the International Symposium on Postmodern Performance organized by the Center for Twentieth-Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Hassan opened by announcing the eclipse of the postmodern by the posthuman. Despite the greater intellectual reach and impact of Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” it is likely Hassan who first explicitly identified the cyborg with the posthuman (848). He described the posthuman as a creative, Promethean trickster split by language, in intimate,...

  7. Suspension
    (pp. 12-14)

    This project, while it invokes pleasure only sporadically, is nonetheless written under pleasure’s auspices.Pleasure’s force of suspension, Roland Barthes insists,can never be overstated(1965, 65). Barthes illustrates the suspensive effects of pleasure with scenes of reading.For example, in reading Zola’s Fécondité, the ideology is flagrant, especially sticky: naturism, family-ism, colonialism; nonetheless I continue reading the book(32). Here, pleasure suspends or defers the distinction between work and luxury, between useful time and wasted time, between my sensations and my opinions, and, importantly, between the time of enjoyment and the time of politics. Suchnarrative luxuries that take...

  8. Deconstruction and Posthumanism?
    (pp. 15-16)

    Despite the fact that the (mostly) North American theorists who write under the banner of posthumanism rarely engage with Derrida or his interlocutors, posthumanism and deconstruction are inseparable in profound ways. Posthumanists and deconstructionists position colonialism, racism, and genocide as the logical outcome of the broad sweep of Western logocentrism. Along with many of their interlocutors, they view fascism, with its dangerous concatenation of techno-spirituous merges and violent ejections, as humanism’s limit case. In the most fundamental and pervasive sense, their shared urge is to contravene Western humanisms comprehended as elitist and exemptive valuations of the human and propagated via...

  9. Nonphilosophy
    (pp. 17-20)

    In the beginning is a performance, a staging: a dialogue. Two people or more head toward realization, a series of realizations led by an auteur, an author, an actor. And there is always an audience, an assembly. I see, by now, a rather epicized image of the bearded old man. The city serves as proscenium for the conversation underway.Socrates seemed to spend all his time in the streets, the marketplace, and more particularly, the gymnasia. He cared little for the country(Encyclopaedia Britannican.p.). The philosopher-character is ironic, knowing, deliberate, wry, never vulnerable or immersed. Or I see the...

  10. Tidal Kneeplay
    (pp. 21-22)

    The theology of[Tantric]prakasa[consciousness]speaks not only the language of scientific prose, but also in what one might call a language of spiritual and emotional liquidity. It hints at the dissolution of ordinary ego consciousness, at immersion in the cave, the bottomless center of all phenomena; it seems to speak of overflowing, being brimful, of being afloat in the depths of the sea. Prakasa as liquidity has, however, as its counterpoint prakasa as solidification. Dissolution is balanced by the emitting of the material world. . . . This counterpoint is reflected in practice: . . . the dissolution...

  11. Deleuze and Derrida: You Are Other
    (pp. 23-24)

    Postwar ethics emerges from an intensified sensibility to wounding and human violence. For both Deleuze and Derrida, the violent “subject” of any relation must be protectively closed off from its fellows in limited, but critical ways. In the case of Deleuze, a concept of positive, absolute, and ontologically-generated difference is what creates individuals, and also what individuals create. Deleuze insists we may take on the capacities of other individuals, or participate in zones of involvement, but we may not actuallybe the other. Deleuze’s concept of difference also enables and undergirds hisaffectiveinvestment in heroic human figures who have...

  12. To Have
    (pp. 25-27)

    Thus far, the logic of the humanist subject and humanist political life has been a logic of elite ownership: ownership of knowledge, land, material and psychic resources, and sociopolitical entitlements. Even concepts such as consensus and intersubjectivity are based on ownership, either ownership of singularities that might be communicated, or an essentialized, self-present ownership of a common psychic, cognitive, or spiritual inheritance. Writing of Leibniz and citing Gabriel Tarde’s recapture of Leibnizian monadology for a democratic sociology, Deleuze notes favorably Tarde’ssubstitution of having for being, as a true inversion of metaphysics that issues directly from the monad(1993, 158n20)....

  13. To Belong
    (pp. 28-30)

    In my posthuman experiment, I consider the posthuman (entity, person, system) not as a singular “to have,” but as an undecidably multiple, undecidably possessed “to belong.” To belong subsumes to have, opening it up. Under the rubric of “to belong,” “to have” is always deferred, always differing, always trembling, always subject todifférance. To belong refers, simultaneously, to belonging, belongings, and belonging to. This move breaks the frame “individual,” a frame that remains axiomatic for both deconstruction and posthumanism, even when “individual” connotes a system or heterogeneous assemblage. To belong detaches from “having” or “belonging” accomplished in the present. To...

  14. Fiora Raggi Kneeplay
    (pp. 31-32)

    I attended what used to be called an “experimental” high school, part hippie, part Marxist. We took small seminar classes on topics such as the Victorian Novel and the French Revolution. Mike, my biology teacher, became interested in the work of Wilhelm Reich. In the mid-seventies, lots of people were interested in Reich’s ideas about interlacings of sexuality, biophysical energy, and fascism. Reich viewed the body as an energetic/muscular/socio-political system that stored experiences and that could be transformed on an energetic level. He called this bioenergy “orgone,” but it has also been called other names such askundaliniandqi....

  15. Tantra for Posthumanism
    (pp. 33-36)

    Indian Tantra was an amalgam of orally transmitted Indian village practices and traditional Vedic beliefs that began to emerge as a written tradition around 500 c.e. (Gupta 5; Feuerstein ix–x). Most contemporary scholars agree that due to its complex history and baroquely variegated forms of expression, any definition of Tantra must be one that generalizes as to a shared set of characteristics, tendencies, or more or less identifiable resemblances. A short list of these resemblances or, better yet, values would include an acceptance of the material, phenomenal world as a real, and not illusory, manifestation of consciousness (Śiva) and...

  16. Speaking of Assimilation
    (pp. 37-39)

    Each of these traditions, Tantra and posthumanism, is primally concerned with the ethics and ontology of relationship, and, despite posthumanism’s near-monomaniacal focus on human-technology relations, ultimately with the ethics of human relationships. Each tradition views itself as not just a set of concepts or theories, but as an elaborator and teacher of technologies of self and world transformation. Both Tantra and posthumanism emerged in response to experiences of violence: the violence of exclusion, of representation, of oppressive social hierarchy, of colonialism, and, in the case of posthumanism, of genocide. Both Tantra and posthumanism confront and seek to alter a political-social...

  17. Avatar Bodies
    (pp. 40-42)

    Over thousands of years, Tantra has demonstrated an extraordinary flexibility, adaptability, and mutability. At the same, its most “Tantric” features have survived relatively unscathed. It has managed to evade the grasp of both historians and those who seek to statically interpret its metaphysics and practices, continually breaking out of the confines of coherent definition and, in keeping with the eleventh-century synthesis, expanding into and absorbing aspects of other traditions. In a hopeful sense, this history gives a degree of license to practitioners and scholars who come to the tradition at this late date and from far-flung locations: the capaciousness and...

  18. First City Kneeplay
    (pp. 43-49)

    Foreplay: In the West, the city has most often signified the autonomy of self, the detached vantage point, and a condition of “higher” civic unity. Kant’s originary “Idea of a Universal History from Cosmopolitan Point of View” made use of all of these tropic regimes: the macrocosm-microcosm relation of the warring nation and the autonomous, self-interested individual, the “higher”cosmopolitan conditionrepresented by the civilizing concept of a league of nations, and the anticipation of future enlightenment as amoral whole(On History20, 15). Bruce Robbins writes thatunderstood as a fundamental devotion to the interests of humanity as...

  19. Insect Threads
    (pp. 50-51)

    I’m thinking of Gregor Samsa’s story, which Kafka termedan indiscretion. Here, a man incarnated as an insect perpetrates a singular offense against the family and the capitalist work ethic. More generally, the unseemly vermin-son undermines the conceit that the human is an unalloyed, irreproachable entity. In their final cleaning frenzy following his death, Gregor’s family dismisses thewidowhousekeeper, the only one who had not been repelled by Gregor’s transmutation. Her own insect affiliation manifests bodily in astrong bony frame, an interior exoskeleton threatening eruption (32–33). It is her removal that will finally restabilize the family and...

  20. Case
    (pp. 52-54)

    Although this particular jumping off point has achieved the status of cliché in narratives of techno-human touches, I want to begin with William Gibson and his 1984 novelNeuromancer. Case,Neuromancer’s overtheorized protagonist, segues between the Sprawl, a gritty, flesh-bound megalopolis, and the abstracted, addicting realms of cyberspace. Despite his dependency on cybersimulations, a nightmare of doing battle with a wasp’s nest manifests Case’s anxiety about the unnatural clones and artificial intelligences that comprise the reproductive life of the offworld corporation, Tessier-Ashpool.

    Case’s dream: He’s got a fire-spewinggunin his hand. After one shot, the papery gray nest falls...

  21. Insects and Buddhists
    (pp. 55-58)

    The influential view that the appearance of a unified, centrally controlled (human) individual emerges from a hive of distinct, self-maintaining component systems lies at the heart of the autopoietic systems theory of cognitive scientist, philosopher, and Buddhist Francisco Varela. Varela’s earlier work with his mentor Humberto Maturana, and his later work, which focuses more exclusively on human cognition and human-centered ethics, exemplifies many of the ethical and affective investments of posthumanism. As a description of the self-distinction, self-production, and self-maintenance of living systems, Varela’s work will help me tell you about the paradoxes and ethical impasses generated by views of...

  22. The Insect Self
    (pp. 59-61)

    Resonating with a Deleuzian ethic of proliferation, of differentiation, Varela propagates selves or identities, giving these designations to every manifestation of organismic life. Varela:I guess I’ve had only one question all my life. Why do emergent selves, virtual identities, pop up all over the place creating worlds, whether at the mind/body level, the cellular level, or the transorganism level? This phenomenon is something so productive that it doesn’t cease creating entirely new realms: life, mind, and societies(Brockman 210). Varela’s key metaphor for the emergence of self is the insect colony.What is particularly striking about the insect colony...

  23. The Insect Yogi
    (pp. 62-63)

    This strain between selflessness and I-centeredness intensifies when considering the practical methods by which selflessness is realized. In addition to his commitment to bringing the body back, in this case, back into cognitive science, Varela shares with theorists of the posthuman, and particularly with Deleuze, an intense focus on personal transformation as an individual, creative activity, one that requires great self-possession and self-command.Praxis is what ethical learning is all about. In other words, if we do not practice transformation, we will never attain the highest degree of ethical expertise. Learning to embody the empty self is certainly difficult, ....

  24. Knowing, Caring
    (pp. 64-67)

    Varela’s work illustrates the difficulty of moving from ontological distinction and the helpful recognition that we cannot know to the imperative that we mustcare. Autopoietic systems theory and the posthumanists who employ it thematize the recognition of the failure toknowas the salutary outcome of constitutive difference. Ultimately, the failure to know emerges from ontology and the presumed inabilityto beother than oneself, even when otherness plays an integral role in the constitution of the self. InThe Tree of Knowledge, Maturana and Varela write that:The knowledge of knowledge compels. It compels us to adopt an...

  25. Second City Kneeplay
    (pp. 68-70)

    . . . Call this warble alive in my throat longing. Call this brush the tiniest hairs on my arms flaring. Call this, this myself, the extent, the extension, caught in the cup, flooding and filling. Where are you? If not here, then nowhere? My most urgent question.

    If you had not moved first, I would have remained inside the edge. Is our present distance from each other my punishment for that satisfaction? Still, your smile comes to my lips. I admit: I am casting about, for you, for a seepage. But even at this low level of intensity, this...

  26. Sorcerer Series I: The Island Sorcerer (An Introduction)
    (pp. 71-73)

    In “The Ends of Man,” Derrida describes Sartre’s humanism as centrally concerned withthe irreducible horizon and origin [of] . . . what was then called “human-reality.”. . . Despite this alleged neutralization of metaphysical presuppositions, it must be recognized that the unity of man is never examined in and of itself(1982, 115). Sartre’s “reality” was that of human relationship: one’s relationship to oneself and to others evidenced largely through the medium of emotions such as anxiety, anguish, love, pity, disgust, desire, terror, shame, grief, and occasionally joy. In both his fiction and his philosophical works, Sartre extrudes these...

  27. Some Celibate Erotics
    (pp. 74-76)

    Teaching stories from Indian spiritual traditions feature saints andmahasiddhas(great adepts) who cease referring to themselves in the first person, using instead the third person or no person at all.

    My guru encourages us to experience our reactions, qualities, and emotions as belonging to a reservoir of energies, of becomings that flicker inside an edge of belonging and no-belonging, of the personal and the impersonal, the multiple and the One. Instructions: Replace “I am” with “There is.”There is longing . . . There is cold . . . There is fear. . .This seeming depersonalization brings, paradoxically,...

  28. Vīra Action
    (pp. 77-78)

    Relationship or involvement cannot be understood in Deleuze and Guattari’s writing without accounting for processes of individuation, for the becomings of a “special,” molecular individual, and for the implication of all of these in an ethics ofbecomingthat is in turn fatefully linked to a yearning for both freedom and a primal experience of Life. Scenes of heterogenetic involvement in Deleuze and Guattari actualize a Spinozan-Nietzschean ethics centered on increasing individual capacitiesfor affecting and being affected. Each party, each individual participates in a zone of involvementin order toenfold the capacities or energies of others. However, this...

  29. The Wasp and the Orchid
    (pp. 79-82)

    Deleuze and Guattari’s couplings move in two directions, the cocreation of an interzone of “involvements” among heterogeneous entities and the preservation of a composing “X” or “X” zone that remains in charge and unaffected. Within the combining interzone, a philosophy of difference requires that no exchange, no multiplication, no imitation or repetition result in constellations or entities that are “the same.” Individuations arise from preindividual processes of differentiation and produce more individuations; every movement results in fresh difference. Todd May has argued that the singularities or haecceities that make up the preindividual, nutrative plane of immanenceare, strictly speaking, placeholders...

  30. Sorcerer Series II: The Yogi Sorcerer
    (pp. 83-85)

    Deleuze and Guattari’s limitation on certain becomings between entities does not depend on organismic boundaries, nor on philosophical necessity. So what motivates it? To get at the urges that preserve figures of inviolable entities within the writings of Deleuze and Guattari, I turn to the Sorcerer, one of Deleuze and Guattari’s most significant iterations of the composing individual. Of the Sorcerer they write:Wherever there is multiplicity, you will also find an exceptional individual, and it is with that individual that an alliance must be made in order to become-animal. While the path of becoming-animal is the path of the...

  31. Sex Scene
    (pp. 86-88)

    A key iteration of human-to-human coupling, described in AThousand Plateaus, involves a man and a woman engaging in ritualized Taoist-Tantric sex. (I use a hyphen here as a short indicator of the long history of the interleaving of these traditions and to mark the proximity, within Deleuze and Guattari’s text, of this passage to references to Tantra.) The particular scene invoked derives from Robert Van Gulik’sSexual Life in Ancient China(see Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 532 n14). In their rendition, Deleuze and Guattari emphasize the need for the male to retain his semen. In an appendix comparing Taoist...

  32. Becoming Woman, Becoming Yogini
    (pp. 89-90)

    Throughout their later work, Deleuze and Guattari position “becoming-woman” asthe key to all other becomings. Becoming-woman is a becoming-imperceptible, a becoming-indiscernible, a becoming-fugitive. The concept of becoming woman is also central to Tantra and informs its most significant practices. The concept is briefly referenced in Gulik’s book, and he cites as his source the work of Arthur Avalon, the first scholar to introduce Tantra into Western academia and one who is noted for sanitizing and sublimizing the tradition in order to counteract the lurid aura bequeathed it by nineteenth-century colonialists (245; see also Urban 1999).

    Entry fromThe Deleuze-Tantra...

  33. English Tantra or the Imperceptible Man
    (pp. 91-94)

    As noted, the orchid’s becoming-wasp and the wasp’s becoming-orchid are given to us with relative specificity and richness of physical detail while becoming-woman is comprised of a few sketchy but central concepts such asbecoming-imperceptible. Additionally, the wasp and the orchid may havenothing to do with each other, but they are still each figured as participants in ablock of becoming. Becoming-woman, on the other hand, is accompanied by repeated prohibitions against considering such becomings as having anything to do with “real” women (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 275–78). Here, the block of becoming forms between a “real” man...

  34. Vīra Bhāva Kneeplay
    (pp. 95-95)

    The Sorcerer ofA Thousand Plateausis avīra, a Tantric hero engaged in technologies of power. Resonating with Deleuze’s encounter with Foucault inThe Fold, the philosopher-Sorcerer writes of aline of life that can no longer be gauged by relations between forces, one that carries man beyond terror . . . where one can live and in fact where Life exists par excellence. . . . Here one becomes a master of one’s speed and, relatively speaking, a master of one’s molecules and particular features(Deleuze 1993, 122–23).

    aṇimā: the power to become minute

    mahimā: the power...

  35. Sorcerer Series III: Rheya
    (pp. 96-100)

    At the end of Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novelSolaris, scientist Kris Kelvin abandons rationality and a perfect god. These have failed to provide knowledge of, or a means for, establishing communication with Solaris, the sentient ocean-planet that fills the view screen of the research station orbiting high above the ocean’s kaleidoscopic surfaces. Lem marks the failure of these transcendent modes of understanding by sending Kelvin on a literal descent. He descends not to explore, but to “acquaint,” to physically touch Solaris for the first time. Kelvin expresses bitter resignation at his fall into bodies, relationship, and time. Yet the touch...

  36. Sorcerer Series IV: The Miracle of the Rogue
    (pp. 101-103)

    Deleuze and Guattari designate the celibate machine as the successor to the paranoiac machine and the miraculating machine. Machines are heterogeneous generators composed of partial objects, desires, concepts, imperatives, the social, the semiotic, the technical, the animal, and so on. The celibate machine is that assemblage that formsa new alliance between the desiring-machines and the body without organs so as to give birth to a new humanity or a glorious organism(1983, 17). The celibate machine is a Zarathustra machine, a Sorcerer machine that drives its devoteesas close as possible to matter, to a burning, living center of...

  37. Heroes of Difference
    (pp. 104-107)

    The emphasis on the exemplary figure within posthumanist discourses is part spontaneous consciousness, part anxiety about human-to-human violence, and part an affective investment inautonomyor freedom. Within posthumanist discourses, freedom is generated by autonomous processes of differentiation where differentiation is tantamount to negentropic creative production. Freedom equals freedomfromcoercion and freedomtochange. For Varela, autonomy is creativity guaranteed by closure.The notion of operational closure is . . . a way of specifying classes of processes that, in their very operation, turn back upon themselves to form autonomous networks. Such networks do not fall into the class...

  38. Third City Kneeplay: The Wasp and the Orchid Cross a Letter
    (pp. 108-110)

    . . . You have put food into my mouth. “Orchid.”

    I know why you insist on writing rather than meeting. Your little experiment! I haven’t decided if you are cruel or if gratitude is due. We have obviously parted ways since our meeting in the membrane, and yet the orchid you sent lays so close against the insides, the undersides of my skin, the soft tissues. That fragrance, that petaled silk, that voluptuousness. I have never made love to a flower and now I will not be able to do anything else. Don’t take this to mean that I...

  39. Emanation/Expression
    (pp. 111-114)

    InExpressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, Deleuze distinguishes between emanation and immanation/expression. Beginning with Plotinus, Deleuze outlines the investments of emanationist cosmologies.Emanation has in general a triadic form: giver, given and recipient. . . . The giver is above its gifts as it is above its products, participable through what it gives, but imparticipable in itself or as itself, thereby grounding participation(171). This is a dualist concept of emanation based on the transcendence of god to his creations.Plotinus also says that the One has “nothing in common” with the things that come from it(172).

    Deleuze contrasts this...

  40. Three Bodies
    (pp. 115-115)

    1. The sensation body: I am sad. I am hungry. I am happy and so on.

    2. The energy body/the BwO: a body of variable energetic qualities, intensities, and speeds.

    3. The emanation body: a body of expression and value.

    Three Bodies Practice: Project three bodies as modes of each other. Roll up the sensation and the energy bodies into the emanation body. Experience yourself as the world: the moving expressive creation.

    Everything is a body. The body expresses everything. The body is a city, a cosmopolis.Oh, how wondrous are the habits of the human body—Calcutta! (Urban 2001, 137)....

  41. Three Bodies: Exposition in Preparation for the Avatar Body
    (pp. 116-117)

    The body expresses, contains all. The body is a city. Within Tantric cosmology, everything is a body, a multipli-CITY: individual entities, bodies of emotion, the body of consciousness. The cosmos comprises thousands of gradations of bodies. Bodies are more or less condensed, more or less expanded, continually undergoing processes of involution and evolution: folding and unfolding, continually becoming. Human beings and all entities areexpressionsof this undecidably shared body: we, along with everything else, are zones of encounter, of touch, of the event, and of chance. We are simultaneously particular and infinite. Our human bodies are modal expressions of...

  42. Avatar and Expression
    (pp. 118-120)

    The word “avatar” comes from the Sanskrit “avatāra” and means, most generally, a down-coming of the divine into human or animal form. Hindu divines, such as Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi, choose to incarnate in order to perform tasks, in order to establish pedagogical relationships with human beings, and as a means to experience play in duality. In the classical Indian tradition, beginning with the Upanishads and thoroughly immanent to India’s class and caste system, the avatar is a being who participates in human life yet remains distinct in both an evolutionary and an ontological sense. He or she takes...

  43. The Difference Difference
    (pp. 121-123)

    Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Deleuzian-Spinozan invocations of differentiation or creation, Tantric ontogeny establishes itself through a series of modal relationships between sound, syllable, word, image, objects, animals, human bodies, gestures, and capacities or creative energies where manifestation results from spontaneous desire. However, unlike in Deleuze, for whom the substrata of individual relations, the singularities or haecceities, must be presumed to have no intrinsic relation to each other in order to support a cosmogenesis based on pure difference, Tantric individual modalities or expressivities are based on the premise that matter, consciousness, and energy are copresent, differing expressions of each other,...

  44. Avatar Bodies, an Invitation
    (pp. 124-125)

    Perhaps for social reasons, Tantra’s central concern both practically, and in it’s complex linguistic ontology, is to break through prohibitions on touch. There is excess and surpassing, but surpassing is a surfeit of inpassing to which one becomes sensitized through practices of attention and active passivity. The aim of Tantric practice is to become adept at relationship, to proliferate relationship, baroquely, until one cannot articulate the difference between oneself and another, oneself and the world. In the most general and profound sense, Tantra is a set of techniques for local sensitization to nonlocal reality, conceived as a fabric, a weaving,...

  45. Itara and Avatāra
    (pp. 126-127)

    Tantric expression does not recognize a hierarchy of sacred and profane, real and illusory, but only a nonlocal, localizable reality of ontogenic effects. This comports in significant ways with the Derridean concept of iteration. As Derrida notes in “Signature Event Context”:iterability—(iter, again, probably comes from itara, other in Sanskrit)(1988, 7).Avatāra, itāra, other, iteration. These will be the crucial and related terms as we proceed. Iterability is, according to Derrida’s well-known formulation, the capacity of writing, in the largest sense, for acting in the absence of a specific sender or receiver. The citational capacity of writing interrupts...

  46. Tantric Bodies
    (pp. 128-129)

    Tantra describes itself most consistently as a science, a practice of self-realization, and a practical way of life. It is particularly rigorous with respect to formulating practices that awaken the student to the active participation of the body in a creation process that operates through differentiation. Within Tantra, the body is the nexus that allows the practitioner to experience all of the differentiated expressions of which the cosmos is capable: there is no bodyas such. As Vicky Kirby has so eloquently argued, many progressive theorists still treat the body as a surface for inscription, leaving a biological residue of...

  47. Fourth City Kneeplay
    (pp. 130-131)

    . . . When I was a child, my mother often took me to the museum. She told me about a game she and my father played during the early days of their courtship. Sitting on the steps of the museum, they made up stories about the passersby, about what kind of jobs they did, their relationships, or other, more lurid narratives. The point of the game was to catch people out in being predictable and then to turn banality into a form of entertainment. It was a way of creating an otherworld where the cliché was deformed, deferred by...

  48. Eating, Well . . .
    (pp. 132-133)

    In the opening pages ofA Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari proffer one of their exceptionally rare discussions of their collaboration.The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range. . . . To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied(3). The coauthors offer...

  49. Eating Animals
    (pp. 134-136)

    In “Eating Well,” Derrida writes that the eating of flesh constitutes the signal act of a sacrificial form of acarno-phallogocentrichumanism whichinstalls the virile [flesh/other-eating] figure at the determinative center of the subjectwhile all others, women, animals, must defer to, be eaten by, him (114). This is true, Derrida notes, even in discourses, such as those of Heidegger and Levinas, thatdisrupt . . . a certain traditional humanism. In spite of the differences separating them, they nonetheless remain profound humanisms to the extent that they do not sacrifice sacrifice(113). Later, Derrida expands on the precise...

  50. Vegetarians, Brahmins
    (pp. 137-138)

    Derrida says of the formal structure of sacrifice, of eating the other and its relationship to humanism and sacrificial carnal-phallogocentrism:What is still to come or what remains buried in an almost inaccessible memory is the thinking of a responsibility that does not stop at this determination of the neighbor, at the dominant [sacrificial] schema of this determination. Anethnologyof originary religious domains from which such sacrificial schema developed wouldin particular have to spend quite some time in the complex history of Hinduist culture, which perhaps represents the most subtle and decisive confirmation of this schema. Does it...

  51. Tantra’s Third Way
    (pp. 139-141)

    The limit cases of Tantra’s mode of eating are the rituals ofpañcamakāra(the five Ms) andcakrapūjā(circle worship).Pañca-makārais an indulgence in the five Ms: meat (māṃsa), fish (matsya), fried cereal (mudra), wine (madya), and sexual intercourse (maithuna). While this baroquely complex ritual is rarely practiced these days, it is still widely cited as expressive of the core values of Tantra. Before eating forbidden foods or performing forbidden acts, the participant first undergoes a long period of training by a guru in order to rid him or herself of hatred, doubt, fear, shame, backbiting, conformity, arrogance, and...

  52. The Responsibility of the (Postdeconstructive) Subject
    (pp. 142-143)

    In “Eating Well” Derrida writes,It is in the relation to the “yes” or to the Zusage [pledge] presupposed in every question that one must seek a new (postdeconstructive) determination of the responsibility of the “subject”(105). Simon Critchley comprehends the “yes” or the pledge within Levinas’s purview as asensibleopenness or vulnerability to the other, a presubjective passivity to which one cannot say no. Responsibility isresponse-ability, a preintentional sensibility to the other, a sensibility to which one is hostage. Returning to the insect theme, Critchley writes, characterizing Levinas, that “the other is like a parasite that gets...

  53. Love and Justice
    (pp. 144-145)

    The first mode, a susceptibility to being essentially changed by the other, for instance, in love, is also the domain of the discourse of human rights, of property, and of a proper relation to oneself that is constituted by its capacity for disturbance. Derrida says of love,I would want it that the other, precisely in the experience of love, disturbs or effects my property, my own proper relation to myself(1997a, 25). In another, related register, he writes of one of his many invocations of the qualifier “perhaps”:The perhaps does not only condition the possibility of the coming...

  54. Experience
    (pp. 146-148)

    Derrida equates the event, the other, the singular, and justice with experience, that is, relationship as such. The eventis a name for the aspect of what happens that we will never manage either to eliminate or to deny. . . . It is another name for experience, which is always experience of the other(1994a, 32). David Wood argues, with respect to Derrida’s increasingly frequent recourse to experience, thatthe return of the centrality of experience to philosophy has made possible a reconfiguration of the ethical. Experience regained no longer shelters within conceptuality, or within the classical conception of...

  55. Intuition, Perhaps
    (pp. 149-152)

    Derrida’s absolutely other issomething which remains absolutely inaccessible for me, at least in the form of intuition. Following Levinas, Derrida writes thatbeing affected by the other is always a trauma, which is not simply wounding in the bad sense—which it is as well. It is something which affects me in my body, in my integrity; if the other doesn’t transform me in an essential way then it isn’t the other(Derrida and Düttmann 15). This repeats the problematic gesture of so much of post–World War II progressive theory as it is inhabited by the bodies of...

  56. A Tantra for Posthumanism
    (pp. 153-170)

    For Levinas, as well as Derrida, love is that against which “higher” values of hospitality and justice are measured. Hospitality, Derrida notes, is distinguished by Levinas from love (1999a, 41). Because of its relationship to need, love does not fulfill the condition of hospitality that is adisinterestedwelcoming and sheltering of the other.Love remains a relation with the Other that turns into need, and this need still presupposes the total, transcendent exteriority of the other, of the beloved. But love also goes beyond the beloved(Levinas 1969, 254). Thisbeyondis the domain of the needy self and...

  57. Fifth City Kneeplay: Solaris in Your Eyes
    (pp. 171-172)

    I dreamt I saw Solaris in your eyes. You sat writing at an old wooden desk beneath a window with pale sunlight and dust motes drifting through the shaft. You looked up at me, and in your eyes were all the words we have exchanged, and all the words yet to be exchanged, an ocean roiling with color, an unbridled volume of contour, texture, shape, an energy not quite bound or unbound, inside the edge, virtual and actual, potential and manifest, a point of intensity, an intense emanation, and, at the same moment, a thoroughfare, a passage, a gateway, the...

  58. Epistlirium
    (pp. 173-174)

    I visited the Stanford library the other day. In the humanities reading room is a collection of three hundred books on “digital culture.” The books issue from domains ranging from media studies to cultural theory to sociology, philosophy, and linguistics. I searched the index and relevant sections of every book in the collection and could not locate a single extended discussion of e-mail. This result jibes with observations I have made during the past two years and is also registered by Naomi Baron, a linguist with a longstanding interest in electronic writing. Baron is one of the few scholars who...

  59. Every Relation but One: Part II
    (pp. 175-176)

    While Baron’s characterization of the extent literature on computer-mediated communication (CMC) pertains mainly to the fields of linguistics and psychology, her comments apply as well to discourses that explicitly invoke the posthuman. Theorists of the posthuman write about science-fictional and technoscientific iterations of virtual reality, about hypertext and the fate of print media, about MUDs, MOOs, listservs, and other cybersocial domains, about “networked” selves, about virtual surgery, reproductive technologies, life preservation, cyborg anthropology, virtual gaming, and even user relationships to ATM machines. E-mail accounts for the highest volume of Internet use, and, at the time of this writing, half of...

  60. Hard to Say
    (pp. 177-180)

    Several specific orientations pertaining to the social and technical disposition of e-mail form the basis for my discussion. In outlining these, I exclude, for instance, e-mail sent during the course of running a business or “junk” e-mail. I focus primarily on the e-mail that is most problematic for posthumanism and for the relationship of the humanities to the letter: e-mail sent between friends, lovers, and colleagues.

    1.E-mail is an emerging mode of writing. The phrase “between friends, lovers, and colleagues” already points toward the emergent properties of e-mail. Every linguistic study of e-mail notes that humor, personal observation, and personal...

  61. The Postal Age
    (pp. 181-183)

    Two contemporary theorists have taken letter writing to be paradigmatically and/or practically related to questions of progressive politics and ethics: Derrida and Foucault. Both are relevant to my purposes here. As various people have remarked, Derrida’s entire oeuvre may be, and likely should be, read as a meditation on the post, on postality, and particularly on electronic communication (see Poster, 99–128; Ulmer 3–29; 125–53). While it would be impracticable to reprise even a fraction of this postal thinking, Derrida has argued that the letter is paradigmatic with respect to all writing broadly conceived. He means this in...

  62. (Post) Heroism
    (pp. 184-186)

    A certain heroism accrues to the post. Anything “post” seems to axiomatically connote an overcoming or a surpassing and, despite underminings of Enlightenment epistemological conceits, a heroism of knowing better even if to know better is only to know one’s own aporias. To return to my remarks about pleasure made at the beginning of thisepisode, contemporary post heroisms often ride on a certain asceticism with respect to pleasure: a heroism of unmasking and continually re-marking scenes of trauma; a heroism of vigilance, watchfulness, self-policing, and warning off. As such, the structure of post heroism, of post vigilance is delay,...

  63. Post Heroism
    (pp. 187-189)

    Multiple forms of heroism and asceticism have also structured the North American postal system since its codification by the second U.S. Congress in the Postal Act of 1792. The heroic character and mission of the new republic sallied forth along with its mail, or especially with its mail as conveyed by several figures: the postrider, the postmaster, and the postal bureaucracy itself. The postal system was widely thought of as pushing forward the leading edge of civilization through technical innovation and cultural conquest. Physician Benjamin Rush, writing in his 1787 “Address to the People of the United States,” proclaimed that...

  64. Post Ψ Post
    (pp. 190-192)

    It would seem, at the outset, that e-mail inaugurates a post postality in several respects. As I have discussed it, “post” connotes various heroisms: heroisms of surpassing, of renunciation, and, in complex ways, filiation, the coming after humanism, after modernism, after psychoanalysis, after structuralism, and even more impossibly, after deconstruction. The heroism of the North American postal system is also one of renunciation and filiation, that of the new bureaucracy coming after, but implicating itself in empire: British, Greek, and Roman, and the association of this with the literalcoming soonerof the mail. In a sense, progressive posthumanism connotes...

  65. The Sacrificial Structure of the Post
    (pp. 193-196)

    The hero must pass through trials. The same may be said of the letter, and of friendship. Renunciation, purification, and asceticism are vectors of sacrifice and participate in what Derrida callsthe immanent pleasure of virtue(1997b, 23). The postmaster manifested the virtues, the abstemiousness, of a reconstituted British aristocrat. The postrider swore off alcohol and other inebriates. And while promoting involvements that capacitate individuals or urge a constitutive responsibility for others, both posthumanism and deconstruction swear off the intoxicated blurring of self and other. If e-mail tends toward the nonheroic, does it also tend toward the renunciation of renunciation?...

  66. Fire
    (pp. 197-199)

    But what of the sacrificial or renunciative structure of e-mail? Is there one? Here I limit myself to the most problematic letter for posthumanism: the letter that has been, until recently, associated with the self, the regulation of the self, the performance of self, with humanistic pursuits, and the letter whose disposition as the constructor of the one-on-one relationship renders it more susceptible to the retention of “older” forms of address and urges toward authentic communication. I am speaking of the friendship letter, the love letter, the letter that has, in its various ways, been subject to burning, the threat...

  67. Water
    (pp. 200-201)

    The insusceptibility of e-mail to the tropic regime of burning signals an incipient moral contamination, an anti-asceticism, and a range of disciplinary dissolves operating under the sign ofwater. The substrate of e-mail, while literally telephone wires, routers, and computers, is affectively and rhetorically a liquid contiguous with the space of the mind. Indeed, metaphorics of the oceanic, of unbounded liquid space construct the space of e-mail creation and transmissionasmind and thus imbue the space of e-mail with Platonic metaphysics. The association of the field of electronic communication with water is well established. Marcos Novak has famously deemed...

  68. Flesh
    (pp. 202-203)

    At the same time, the absence of paper and its hand-to-hand transit undermines two sources of authority: the authority of the “original” and, more pressingly, the authority of the warranting body that survives in the letter, in its having been touched, and perhaps kissed, by its author and signed by hand. This latter situation only underscores the disposition of all writing, which must, to function, travel and thus slip from the authoritative grasp of its author who is also its first reader. What interests me is how the literal absence of a warranting touch, an absence that intensifies the disposition...

  69. Who?
    (pp. 204-205)

    But whose words are these? And who sent them? To practice writing with strangers makes these questions quiver even more violently and challenges even more thoroughly regimes of the proper name and address. The suspension of self and other, the heightening of the question “Who?” is facilitated by the confluence of the preconditioned and the recontextualized that structures e-mail correspondences. The rhetoric of transformative power, instantaneity, and mind-to-mind that informs discourses of virtuality encourages urges of the sovereign self, urges such as projection and assimilationat the same time thatthe absence of face-to-face cues and the frequent situation of...

  70. E-Mail Mudrā
    (pp. 206-209)

    I am proposing, then, as a gesture that would invite a posthuman ethics to come, a commitment to an every day practice of writing in relationship via e-mail, and particularly, a commitment to fostering e-mail relations with those we have never met. This is, of course, a practice of hospitality to strangers within a stylized and ritualized regime of both shared work and pleasure. This, I would argue, is the paradigmatic form of devotion: I “gaze up” without knowing in advance at whom I am gazing. Through a daily practice, a ritual regime, I establish an estranged, yet still porous...

  71. Chance
    (pp. 210-214)

    InArchive Fever, Derrida argues that the archive must destroy in order to produce itself. The archive cannot contain everything: it must select and the principles of selection constitutepatriarchicfunctions of hierarchy, titling, consignation, burning, and suppression. Derrida also notes the archaeological urge of the archive, the urge to find the most original, singular, and irreplaceable. He goes on to describe amal d’archive . . . a sickness. . . . It is to burn with a passion. It is never to rest, interminably, from searching for the archive right where it slips away. It is to run...

  72. Postscript
    (pp. 215-218)

    Lockup: Inside Colorado State Penis an investigative report about conditions at one of the United States’ super maximum security prisons. The camera opens onto a series of uniformly white interiors beginning with an antiseptic 7 × 9 foot cell and moving outward to a cell block where glossy white walls, ceilings, fixtures, moldings, and floor tiles give the impression of a blindingly lit operating theater for alien abductees. Inmates of the prison are locked down, alone in their cells, twenty-three hours a day, seven days a week. For one hour a day, they leave their cells in shackles in...

  73. Works Cited
    (pp. 219-227)
  74. Back Matter
    (pp. 228-228)