CUNY’s hosting this year’s ICR, and I was lucky enough to catch some great talks, including one by our hopefully-not-erstwhile member Leila Walker on Opium-Eater, bodies, selves, and Kant. This post will be my attempt to jot down some thoughts flowing from Marjorie Levinson’s mindblowing keynote, retitled “On Being Numerous,” from the program’s “Clouds and Crowds, Solitude and Society: Revisiting Romantic Lyric.” (Anne too has been majorly fangirling; hopefully she’ll be able to correct/expand my notes.)
Levinson’s talk was based on a reading of “I wandered as lonely as a cloud” outlining a “rabbit” interpretation against the more standard (and stronger! she admitted during Q&A) “duck” interpretation. The “duck” reading works on the model of the Classical episteme outlined by Foucault in The Order of Things, the “rabbit” reading according to the Renaissance episteme. (Or the other way round–I’m relying on my memory.) Except instead of focusing on epistemology, she focused on ontology. There followed a dizzying sequence of possible hermeneutic approaches which I won’t attempt to reproduce, but all of which work under the rabbit paradigm. Foucault’s Classical episteme operates by means of representation. Cloud, daffodils, stars, the speaker, they’re all representations.
Representation’s most “significant” (haha) function, Levinson pointed out, is not to assign a signifier to some readily cognizable signified, but to have that signifier stand for something which can only be cognized as a representation. Kant’s mathematical sublime served as one illustration, the sublime (or, in mathematics, the infinite) figuring as the representation of a failure in representation. The end-product of this representation, though, is a way of being-singular.
The regime of resemblance, on the other hand, captures an ontics of being-numerous. Nothing exists in itself, but only in resemblance to other things (an arbitrarily large set of other things)–through proximity, emulation, analogy, and something I’m not remembering. Somewhere Spinoza and Deleuze/Guattari make their way in there. Not to mention the granddaddy of modern set theory, Georg Cantor.
For me, I’m thinking about all of this in relation to postcolonialism. Namely, is there a way for postcolonial thought to escape the regime of representations? The “cultural turn” that I’m trying to track, I’ve realized, doesn’t so much take the anthropological notion of “culture” as its basis (culture as single, complex whole; works through symbols; must be analyzed through “thick description”), but emphasizes the importance of representations. Empire, colony, metropole, colonizer, colonized–hegemony, resistance, and hybridity, the mainstays of poco thought, work through representation.
What if, though, instead of thinking of the representations of beings, we thought about resemblances? I don’t, as yet, have any idea what that means or would mean. I just picked up Hardt and Negri’s Empire, looking for a Deleuzian take, and here they are on ontology:

[O]ntology is not an abstract science. It involves the conceptual recognition of the production and reproduction of being and thus the recognition that political reality is constituted by the movement of desire and the practical realization of labour as value. The spatial dimensions of ontology today is demonstrated through the multitude’s concrete processes of the globalization, or really the making common, of desire for human community.

One of my problems with Empire is that the authors’ invocation of the “multitudes” just seems so detached from the material, lived conditions of anybody who’s not a professional theorist, whether they’re subalterns, cubicle critters, adjunct labour, refugees, factory workers, whatever. Perhaps the way for me to engage with their work, is to save the concept of the multitude but to apply it to “individuals.” Thinking in terms of being-multitudinous.

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