-Essentialist! -What? wait, Subtractive or Generative? (ii)


I suffocate in the two, but I fear more the two that is masked as many. The cries for help now becoming an impossible act. Solidarity and love fade as cynicism overtakes.  

This is the deadlock of the structural dialectic, what Hegel would call the bad infinity, in which any being immanently collects its (contingent) determinations. (The) Nothing is possible as it could never have been (otherwise). Being spins in its eternal return and all who wish to resist this repetition are to be subsumed by its structural circularity. The Hegelian thesis on infinity finds its support in a law: since a point of being contains in itself its negation, it generates out of itself the surpassing of itself, its being-other. Being-other is a duty of being. This is a classical form of dialectics, in which other is already included in the becoming of the One. This form of teleological becoming, in its form prevents the structural collapse, the “crisis” always being already included in the Whole of the economy.

If structuralism allows the dichotomous/classical logic, post-structuralism deconstructs the structural dialectic, denouncing the two, diffusing it into many. But is this not an easy way out of the structure that so completely frames our periphery? By diffusing the master/slave dialectic into gradients of representation, don’t we risk forever losing the actuality of revolt?

Same is the failure of psycho-analysis and the discursive cure, such that it fixes the present of the subject into a recursive mechanism whereby the subject’s sole remit to the Other is through its own (Symbolic) decentering. The ‘revolt’ becomes a personal/individual experience, with no socio-structural destruction needed for class transfiguration; destruction becoming nothing but the experience of Symbolic erasure, an individual journey, a “private” affair.

In fact, class as such is nonexistent for post-structuralist logic. Due to its denunciation of the structural-class/gender/race dialectic, structural oppression becomes replaced by a mere gradation of injustices, a spectrum of irreconcilable pains and oppressions, each worse than the other. Thus any form of resistance is diffused in the relativity of bodies and their languages; to the extent that the subject becomes the result of the local language alone, limited to her infinitely personal and particular pain. With the dissipation of the dialectic, the master and the oppressed become structurally unlocatable, it becomes impossible and illegal to make class parallels, and every form of structural analysis becomes labeled as a new form of ‘oppression’. In this way a discursive torsioning becomes the only form of resistance, which is limited to ‘curing’ the ‘oppressed’ (now not anymore oppressed but simply different) subject out of her despair. Removing structural analysis leaves the subject in pain merely with the representational tools to articulate her (very personal) ex-istence from herself, in her pain, her own, very special, particular and individual form  of despair. Shaming replaces revolution, since, -how can one organize against the structure?- when we are all so shameful, guilty and at the same time oppressed in such a different ways. Yet we’re all so alone.  

But the dismissal of structure does not make the structure go away, and this molecular form of critique disables the subject from actually ever displacing the space of her placement. This form of nonstructural, gradient form of identitarian assemblages  leave the subject with only one choice, which is to dwell in her assumed outplace, while all along simply medicating herself at the very heart of the structure. Perhaps one day she will learn to enjoy that too!  To dwell under the  nice thick blanket of despair and resentment.


Time does not shift, and the materiality of the structure, even if negated in language, imprisons our daily reality and further shapes our matter. There is no more space for the subject in this discourse, her voice made illegal, yet her body, now tongueless, lays mute in his doorway. In Changing Difference Catherine Malabou writes, “That “woman” now empty of her essence only serves to emphasize the fact that she does not define herself and cannot define herself except through the violence done to her. Violence alone confers her being. The violence of the deconstruction of this being, on the one hand, and, on the other, the domestic and social violence constantly exerted on this very absence of being. Woman is nothing any more, except this violence through which she “being nothing” continues to exist. She is nothing, but an anthropological amputation, formed by that which negates her.” [1]

Essence is not a fashionable concept these days and is regarded with suspicion, but so is affirmation of any kind. What poststructuralism in fact got rid of, without regard, is the event, since to affirm essence is to affirm the impossibility of being, opening a possibility for the structural event, for the appearance of the Other from behind the other. Thus in an effort to get rid of the structural dialectic, postructuralism accidentally got rid of the absolute Other. But what did this materially result in? If the classic (generative) structural dialectic admits the existence of the other, but rejects the absolute Other implicit in any concept, postructuralism utterly outlaws this implication, thus getting rid of the other completely. The subaltern becoming not only speechless, but a completely illegal and obsolete concept. Woman, for instance, remains othered and exploited due to her ontologized difference, but now disarmed of structural critique, she is prohibited from confronting this violence at its proper place. At any effort of resistance she will be further silenced and blamed with oppressing the innumerable field of differences. Is this not a contradiction of our time that we must concern ourselves with? How is it possible that the structural other (woman, or any other that is not the dominant producer of the symbolic) is still persecuted for their marking (structural particularity), while this particularity should grant them no right to revolt against?

What could be the particularity of the Other, the specificity of no-return? Essence is created by the marking of the ‘zero’, but for it to become it must persist in its ‘given’ particularity, that is, live as the something which is marked as the impossible within the structure, the unnatural, the inhuman, the abstract, the negative excess over the situation. The supernatural[2] act is to induce the proliferation of this inhumanity, the void, appearance of the space of the absolute Other.

We must allow the possibility that every name marked by a structural ‘zero’ (or ranked as lesser matter: woman, black, weak, savage) exceeds its structural marking in the negative sense, and so this negative excess makes it possible to overturn the place of its othering. But did we really need an ontologist to tell us that? “Let us envisage”, writes Catherine Malabou, “the possibility that, in the name woman, there is an empty but resistant essence, an essence that is resistant precisely because it is emptied, a stamp of impossibility.”[3]

The abyss of being is nothing new to the absolute Other of the structure. The essence of Other is defined by the life with inner contradiction(s) of matter and such of mind, a corporeal madness. Unlike essence of generative ontology, the essence in a subtractive ontology has no resolution, no return to the ground, no teleological projection. In a way what I argue is that generative ontology is structured on the basis of the return and subtractive moves with the understanding of there being no ground to return to, its logic is the madness of being. In its fascination and fear of this ‘madness’ of being, man as state positions himself beyond and above this abyss, in an effort to frame and prevent the unpredictability from surpassing his limits. In this movement, always away from himself, he circulates within the phallic periphery, in and out (sovereign) within the structure defined by himself, he always comes home.

In this sense, love and revulsion are same to the phallus, rape being the inherent ground for this form of desire. Phallic satisfaction depends on the successful deterritorialization of the other from their body, or the displacement of the other from the place/space. In fact this act is what defines the body/land of the other, it being no ones prior to that. Thus the question, ‘why did you rape me?’ undermines the tautology of the phallic sexual experience.  As Frank Wilderson writes in Gramsci’s Black Marx, The most ridiculous question a black person can ask a cop is, ‘why did you shoot me?’ How does one account for the gratuitous? The cop is at a disadvantage: ‘I shot you because you are black; you are black because I shot you.’ Here is the tautology at the heart of the colonial experience. A parallel can be made here with the ‘encounter’ of the Oedipus and the Sphinx at the crossroad. It is not by chance that Oedipus meets the Sphinx at the crossroad[4],that much we know, as it being a mere ‘chance’ would undermine the core of patriarchal structure. As we know, the mere presence of the Sphinx is the materialization of the contradiction of patriarchal order; her famous riddle to Oedipus is inscribed in her mere existence, ie. presence. Thus, the ‘Who are you?’ asked by the Sphinx is a rhetorical question, the answering of which would imply the recognition of her existence. Yet, Oedipus ignores the questioner, he slays her, and so he becomes a man, if not the man. Same as in Gramsci’s Black Marx, the tautology of this relationship is implicit in this form of ‘encounter’. But can we even call this an encounter? Since who does Oedipus meet at the crossroads after all, but himself?

Oedipal logic relies on the following justifications -woman asks to be raped, the black body asks to be disciplined, and the sphinx asks to be slain, simply because she was at his crossroad, preventing his return.

We argue that the ‘return’ ontology is at the heart of the classical patriarchal and colonial experience, while the dismissal of a dialectical approach (structural analysis of oppression) adds a postmodern twist to the classic form of power, resulting in a defanging of the oppressed all the while dismissing the systemic violence on which the core logic of power is built. At the same time, the current fashionable revulsion against essentialism is nothing but an extension of the same old misogyny and racism by which the violence of structural othering has produced the body of the other as an unrepresentable lack. Disgusted by its construct, by its marking of the other, patriarchy (same as white supremacy), at historical times of structural excess denounces the ‘monster’ of its construct, in turn creating the absolute Other of his world, the living dead. That is why the essence of a subtractive ontology has nothing to do with the essence of a generative ontology, the two being completely disjunct. That is why it is important to assert that patriarchy is essentialist in a generative-ontological sense; the fusion of biology and destiny is forged by patriarchy (the social, each other). Yet to be essentialist in a subtractive-ontological sense, means to simply acknowledge the structural formation of corporeality and historical consequences of this marking. Subtractive ontology has no space for a handful of tired clichés of (generative) essentialism: that there is any part of ‘woman’ that will continue after the revolution, that there is a substance of ‘womanhood’ that could ever be isolated from patriarchal ideals or incidental patterns in a constructed population, that there is any correlation between appearance/biology and destiny that is metaphysical i.e. not historically constructed. So next time I hear the cry essentialist! thrown our way, I will stop and ask- What? Wait, what is your ontology?

[1] Catherine Malabou, Changing Difference

[2] Here I was originally going to use Absolute instead of Supernatural (in reference to Hegel’s Absolute), but I find that the Absolute has gendered connotations of the Man subject. In the sense that being is placed on the side of the teleological becoming of its potentiality. The becoming in this sense sounds too internal to the structure for it to ever collapse into itself that its not. I understand that this becoming in a way entails the collapse, yet I mostly find it contradictory (and knowing that this contradiction is part of the impossibility of this claim) to accept the predetermination of the collapsed being placed within the subject in the goal of self completeness. The Absolute obtaining its self-realization- Absolute knowledge places the event within the logic of becoming. Yet event cannot be self induced within the walls of structure, transforming the it/the self not back into its previous self but into the new space of the Other, into the new type of becoming of the other. Supernatural is the name of this becoming which is becoming of the self against its previous self/space of placement. Being in the sense of the Supernatural is half determined, it being part time/history part space, ie. partly chance/force partly reason/structure.

[3] Catherine Malabou, Changing Difference

[4]  Theory of the Subject, Alain Badiou