The New Arachne. Towards a poetics of dynamic forms.
AN ESSAY IN PHILOSOPHICAL FIGUROLOGY
(In Performance Research, no 20:1: On Poetics and Performance, Issue editors: Ric Allsopp & Kristen Kreider, London: Routledge Journals, Taylor & Francis, 2015). Read the French version Read the Bulgarian version
PHILOSOPHICAL FIGUROLOGY AS POETICS OF DYNAMIC FORMS: THESES
The first sketch of this essay, the ”lecture-action”, Arachne, the Disorganised Spider, was presented in the context of the performance installation of Deufert&Plischke Emergence Room at the exhibition Push and Pull (Museum Moderner Kunst (MUMOK), Vienna, October 2010). Later on the material was developed in the essay Le double obscur de Prométhée : La métamorphose et la technique (Multitudes, 47, 2011) and as a chapter of my book Miracolo (2011) and as a second lecture at the congress Weaving Politics (organized by Cristina Caprioli and ccap in Stockholm in 2012).
The question of activity of form should be placed at the very heart of poetics. Ovid’s Metamorphoseon appears as a turning point not only in relation to the question of metamorphosis but to the very reflection on form, to the poetics or poetology of form, precisely because it exemplifies the impossibility of approaching form without a concept of transformation, that is, of the activity of form. Form cannot be thought without its limit, and therefore without trans- formation. It could reach its limit through its activity only; building upon the etymological potential of the Latin word, we could call this activity per‐formance. Hence, it is impossible to think the activity of form — per‐formance — without a conception of trans‐formation 1. In this way we could reach a possibility for an enlargement of the notion of performance and transformation as central components of a new poetic or poetological conception of form, of a new philosophy of form. Poetics is impossible without the question of form; the question of form is impossible without the question of modality of form; the question of modality — without the question of activity of form and therefore of per‐formance of form.
What would be of crucial importance in this perspective is the dynamic conceptual potential of the figures or “images”, the mythical ”material” of the classical texts 2. The methodology proposed below doesn’t aim at a new form of allegorical reading or of allegorical instrumentalization of figures but presents an attempt at an immanent critical-hermeneutical operation, in which what I will designate in an operative way as the internal form of the (“mythical”) figures or images is expressed and modulated.
I will try to expand the method of the historical anthropology of Jean‐Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal‐Naquet, and especially to develop, from a philosophical perspective, Françoise Frontisi‐Ducroux’s analyses of metamorphosis (2003, 2009b). In fact, one could claim that the prominent authors of this French school work with mythical figures not in an allegorical, not even that much in an analytical — philological or historical‐anthropological — modality, but in a modality that I would designate as pro-conceptual. They deduce conceptual potential through the analysis of structural and semantic orders, cores and relations, on the basis of which they start to reveal the complexity of the given image, and afterwards to outline the conceptual‐semantic register of its field of action. On the one hand, this operation clearly has the status of conceptual-functional analysis; on the other hand, it offers a proper conceptual field of relations, which apparently has a productive character, even if it is not posited or instrumentalized as a field of autonomous conceptual activity. In other words, historical anthropology represents a philosophical hermeneutics in potentia of the mythic‐literary text.
Hence, the methodological task of this study is to reflect upon and experiment with the possibilities of what could be defined as philosophical figurology or the philosophical fantastic. Building on the legacy of historical anthropology, it will try to radicalize it in a critical and experimental modality, exploring the poïetic potentiality of the figures of mythical fiction, and more particularly the way they are used and modulated in the poetic text of Ovid. My aim is to conceive the conceptual dynamic material at stake as the internal form of figures. Under “figure” I will understand here a dynamic category, which, while exceeding the fictional figurative form, appears as the critical potential of the form to think itself as well as to operate as an instrument for reflexive intervention in the field of production and operation of forms themselves. It is precisely this auto‐reflexive potential of form that connects auto‐poïetic force with meta‐reflexive act that will be defined as fantastic concept, or fantastic idea, idea‐phantasm. Those figures often possess “external” form at the level of the phenomenology of fiction, which is mimetic to the “internal” form of the fantastic concept (the analysis of Ovid’s figure of Arachne will provide a striking example for that homology).
The philosophical figurology or fantastic is before anything else a method of reading. In its perspective the act of reading will be not understood as a reflexive or even meta‐reflexive act only. Moreover, it will appear as a meta‐figurative act: what is at stake in it is the question of the (trans)formation of poetic structure through an immanent interpretative operation. In other words, the philosophical fantastic must be able not only to modulate the figures in meta-poetic and experimental form, but also to articulate their internal form dynamically, that is, in accordance with the conceptual-narrative vector. The philosophical fantastic is the work of the concept in the modality of desire. The New Arachne will be proposed here as an example of reading in the modality of the philosophical fantastic as well as an attempt for an initial articulation of its method.
THE MYTH OF ARACHNE (BASED ON OVID’S METAMORPHOSES)
The inconsistency of the gods: fury, monstrous affects. The association of gods with stable qualities is a late invention and is inconsistent with their inconsistent nature. In this series of inconsistencies, Pallas Athena is assigned a special role: she is the goddess of the most important qualities — wisdom, technical mastery, ability, justice. She is both the goddess of weaving, and philosophy. Neither origin nor place could impress gods. But humans do get impressed; they are creatures of discontinuity, not of substance. Gods, the infinite monsters, laugh at them and play with them like toys.
A rumour from the mountain town Hypaepae spread that far that it reached Athena herself: Arachne, “a girl who had not fame for place of birth, nor fame for birth, but only fame for skill” — the art of weaving wool, had grown so famous in the Land of Lydia that the nymphs from the neighbouring regions deserted their places, eager to witness her art. Arachne had achieved power over imagination with the force of her art. “So graceful was her motion then — if she was twisting the coarse wool in little balls, or if she teased it with her finger‐tips, or if she softened the fine fleece, drawn forth in misty films, or if she twirled the smooth round spindle with her energetic thumb, or if with needle she embroidered cloth.” Yet, Arachne inspired imaginations not only with the finest way of weaving wool but also with the images she produced with her art. She was a skilled artist, and wool was her material.
Jealous of her fame, Athena assumed the form of an old woman and went to remind Arachne to praise her, Pallas Athena, the goddess of crafts, for the perfection of her art. But Arachne refused — so confident she was in her own skills! Humans are fixed to their limits: they have measure. Only gods are measureless. A person who attempts to exceed his or her measure steps dangerously in the wild path of gods. Thus, Arachne went as far as to provoke the goddess to compete with her. “Let her contend in art with me; and if her skill prevails, I then will forfeit all!”
Furious, Athena appeared in her own image. The two weavers competed with passion, mobilizing their skills beyond any measure. The perfection of art met mania and possession. Art possessed by passion. Passionate were also the images that the two skilful weavers chose to represent. Pallas had shown with mastership twelve mighty celestial gods surrounding Jupiter at the Athenian Hill of Mars; in the corners of her tapestry she depicted with cruel subtlety the terrifying destiny of those who dared to defy the gods: “so Arachne, rival of her fame, might learn the folly of her mad attempt … and what award presumption must expect.” Athena was famed for being the hero’s companion, a patron of heroic endeavour.
Arachne, on her turn, wove a long series of images representing the gods’ assaults on mortal women realized through their power to metamorphose and take on different forms. Thirteen scenes about Zeus and Poseidon’s transgressions and then more on Apollo, Bacchus and Kronos — all of them men‐gods attracted by mortal women’s beauty. All of these scenes — scenes of metamorphic assault on mortal women, scenes of terror and violence — “were woven true to life, in proper shades”.
With her gaze arrested by this perfection, and outraged because of the unveiling of her fellow gods’ infamous secrets, failings and transgressions, Athena tore apart this most sublime piece of the art of weaving ever seen, the magnificent tapestry representing twenty‐one metamorphoses. Athena is goddess of war. “Arachne’s spirit, deigning not to brook such insult, brooded on it, till she tied a cord around her neck, and hung herself.” Moved at the sight, Pallas sustained and saved her but transformed her into a spider, punishing her for having dared to defy an immortal goddess. Athena is also goddess of justice.
The gods claim their monstrous justice: those who wish to transform the form, that is to say, to perform a regression to the archaic world of the gods, will be punished. The gods punish the origin; they impose a caesura on humans: the latter must adapt to the caesura, imposing the irreversibility of form. The return to the plasticity of archaic power is prohibited. The return to the origin is forbidden by the gods. The fore‐body is prohibited. The place of the gods is forbidden to mortals and this is the way anthropo‐technique begins: as the need for technique.
Arachne’s web is the thread, the rupture of which is the texture itself.
Non illud Pallas, non illud carpere Livor possit opus: doluit successu flava virago 130 et rupit pictas, caelestia crimina, vestes, utque Cytoriaco radium de monte tenebat, ter quater Idmoniae frontem percussit Arachnes. Ovid (1971 , p. 295) 3
The myth of Arachne is not only a myth concerning skills and technical mastery, but also what emerges from technical ability. The tapestry is an oeuvre. But this opus also represents an archive or an instrument of taxonomy: it collects, enumerates and classifies. It classifies the animalistic metamorphoses of the gods, making possible their transgressions, their sexual aggressions against mortal women. In Ovid’s words: caelestia crimina
THESAURUS OF HUBRIS
The handcrafted piece of the weaver, her tapestry, is what must be thrown in front of the jealous eyes of the gods. The work of the weaver is composed of obscene revelations: the brutal revelations of the promiscuity of the gods, of their unlimited and unpunished brutality. Arachne’s hubris keeps growing, forcing the limits of excess towards the incommensurable. Having provoked the goddess in the field of tekhno‐cracy, of artisanal power and the mastery of tekhné, she offends all the vicious Olympic gods: the father, uncles and brothers of the goddess Athena. She attacks the divine and masculine violence at once. Her domain is that of weaving — the technique that she was assigned for being a woman. Arachne tries desperately to reverse technical, thus generic, social and cosmic hierarchies. Her hubris exceeds the tolerance of the goddess, patroness of the heroes. Arachne’s technical heroism goes far beyond and ridicules the brutal heroism of the male heroes. Arachne crafts, and through her craft she accuses.
Placing miracles and transgressions into a serial framework, meaning a series of equivalent, comparable and readable episodes, is Arachne&poas;s ultimate hubris, and possibly what is truly unforgivable. Arachne reduces the unlimited monstrosity of the gods to a series of miraculous tekhnai. She reduces the incommensurable bodies to bodies, placing their form within limits and, therefore, limiting their desires. The transformation of these forms has an interest; it has a goal, and, therefore, it has a limit. It is in this way that unlimited monstrosity is reduced to a miraculous tekhné — substantially different from Arachne’s own tekhné. Tekhné against tekhné; … еt rupit pictas …
The tapestry is a metamorphic structure also because it is a cinema — metamorphosis is indeed cinemato‐graphy: kinemato‐graphia, the graphé of kinesis, the script of movement. It is nothing less than that; its mechanism is editing, montage.
Arachne’s oeuvre formulates for the first time the question of editing, of montage: how is a story woven by images? Arachne weaves her cinemato-graphic work by the mise‐en‐abyme of the image, by the proliferation of the image within the image. This mise‐en‐abyme opens, through serialization, the possibility of moving image. A Bergsonian image of time as the total flow is impossible. Serialization allows the fiction of instaneity and of the limit of movement, of métabolé to be exceeded. Becoming comparable, the change becomes a structural and therefore measurable entity. Arachne’s excess is in the invention of measure. Only the limit, its measure — the meter — makes the continuity of movement possible; it makes possible the time of metamorphosis. Dynamic form could only appear through the confrontation of a limit. The poïetic dimension of Arachne’s hubris is to establish a fundamental structural connection between technique (craft, art) and image, having the task of proposing a solution to the crucial problem for Greek thought: the problem of movement and therefore of change, first expressed by the question: how does a form persist? Is it only an accident that Ovid’s figure of the weaver is the one entitled with the function to propose an implicit answer to this problem?
THE IMAGE OF TECHNIQUE, THE TECHNIQUE OF IMAGE
Why weaving? Weaving is metamorphic technique in itself. As metamorphic tekhné, weaving fulfils the operation of the inscription of matter in signifying form without a second, mediating matter, like in painting or in writing. However, painting or writing is the result of weaving as well: weaving is the very foundation for these representational spaces, given their material substratum as comprised of canvas or book. Weaving is the technique of “becoming‐image” of material, or matter: it is an oikonomic onto‐technique. Such is the hypothetical surplus value of the figure of the one who weaves figuri: technique is the immanent movement of the form‐image as a dynamic of matter. Movement: the persistence of form.
UT TEXTURA POESIS
Indeed poets, from Homer to Ovid, through Simonides and Horace, while reformulating the Ut pictura poesis dictum, had first of all weaving in mind: like weaving poetry, poetry is like weaving, such as the representations woven on Arachne’s tapestry. Weaving is the most archaic metaphor of the practice of writing and of text, as the Latin provenance of the word shows: text — textum (“texture”) — textura (“weaving”).
As Françoise Frontisi‐Ducroux has shown in Ouvrages de dames, the “female” technique of weaving had subversive gender and political implications in Greek culture, even at the level of what could be described as a structural or figural “unconscious” (see Frontisi‐Ducroux, 2009a). First of all, it has clear cosmogonic if not ontological value as an attribute of female divinities like Pallas Athena herself, “the weaver of the world”, according to Homer (in Iliad, XIV, 178 sq.), along with the Moirai and Kore. In his commentaries on Homer the Neo-Platonist Porphyry of Tyre goes as far as to present weaving as a major cosmogonic symbol: of nymphs weaving bodies like “chiton of the soul”, or of the “peplos of the sky” (see Porphyry, 1983, 14).
Could we speak of the poets’ erotic fascination with the powerful poïetic tekhné of the “other”, with another technique, the allo‐technique of women? An attraction to prohibited technique? Technique par excellence then: technique is deinos; no tekhné without hubris.
The Greek gods are not exaggerated human beings or super‐humans. They are monsters. But Pallas has seen her unlimited monstrosity transformed into a discontinuous and miraculous quality: into what is called deinos. Arachne was deinos. Deinos is Man’s monstrosity as technical being — for being prosthetic, metamorphic, for being more than a fixed form — like in the riddle of the Sphinx, the creature who can change the number of its legs (an empirical definition of the monster for the Greeks). Man is a monster. He is monstrous, deinos.
The unlimited and immeasurable monstrosity of the gods implies that their form is without limit. Metamorphosis can only affect stable forms. In order to be able to think and represent metamorphosis, we need the notion of limit, which dialectically affirms continuity. Human being is necessary: Arachne or Ovid, the one who, according to his own allegory, was weaving his text.
The tapestry is a metamorphic structure: the tekhné metamorphoses the raw material, transforming it into live representations of metamorphosis. Thus, on the one hand, the tapestry appears as a metatext of the mythic text, and, on the other, as a prediction of Arachne’s destiny.
Isn’t Arachne’s myth the meta&dashlmyth of the Metamorphoseon? Certainly, one could claim that this wasn’t Ovid’s intention. But, precisely, it is not Ovid, the conscious and intentional author, but the figure’s logic itself, which speaks of the paradigmatic and obscure role of Arachne’s myth. In which sense is this myth paradigmatic? My hypothesis is clear: it is paradigmatic because it reveals the immanent connection between metamorphosis and tekhné. Thus, if Arachne’s metamorphosis appears as a meta‐text of metamorphosis itself, as a meta‐myth of metamorphosis, it is because it reveals the tekhné as a non‐substantial substance of change. Metamorphosis is a technical operation. That that disrupts immobility of substance is the extra element of metamorphosis. This extra‐ordinary element is tekhné. Metamorphosis is the desubstantialization of substance by which tekhné emerges. Tekhné is miraculous, deinos.
THE INVENTION OF METAMORPHOSIS
Hence, Ovid is the one who invents metamorphosis. On the one hand, he forged the term metamorphosis, entitling his book, on the basis of the Greek “meta” and “morphé”, “trans‐formation”; but, on the other, he conceived of the very structure of metamorphosis — at least in its recognizable form even today – as one of the markers of Greek culture, namely metamorphosis as a movie special effect.
In her work, Françoise Frontisi‐Ducroux showed that the representations of scenes of metamorphosis in Greek pottery are exploring different modalities of metamorphosis without ever “standing” in the middle of the process of transformation, and for a simple reason: the Greeks did not conceive metamorphosis as process (Frontisi‐Ducroux, 2009b). They could not represent a limit, or, in other words, they could not imagine a gradual transition between two stable forms. There were only the forms themselves, and between them — an ontological gap, arrhythmia, a jump. The first form was not passing to, becoming another form, but it was giving rise to, instantaneously, as if under the effect of a magic wand, to the new form. Like any miracle, metamorphosis was also an instantaneous miracle.
Ovid was the first to describe the process of metamorphosis as a process — that is to say, to invent it:
post ea discedens sucis Hecateidos herbae sparsit: et extemplo tristi medicamine tactae defluxere comae, cum quis et naris et aures, fitque caput minimum; toto quoque corpore parva est:
in latere exiles digiti pro cruribus haerent, cetera venter habet, de quo tamen ilia remittit stamen et antiquas exercet aranea telas.
(Ovid 1971 : lines 138–45, pp. 295–7) 4
This invention was made possible through the practice of his own tekhné, the tekhné of the artisan‐weaver — or maybe, now, after rereading the myth of Arachne, his cryptic figural character, we should say the artist‐weaver, the master‐weaver of text. For this very reason Arachne appears as a meta-myth of the book of Ovid, the Metamorphoseon, as well as of the fate of the author himself, the poet punished by the quasi-divine power of the Emperor. The Metamorphoses start with the following verses:
I want to speak about bodies changed into new forms. You, gods, since you are the ones who alter these, and all other things, inspire my attempt, and spin out a continuous thread of words, from the world’s first origins to my own time.
PYTHAGORAS MEETS HERACLITUS
The Master‐Weaver of text has invented the figure of metamorphosis while establishing its conceptual paradigm, that of philosophy. The idea of metamorphosis is itself entirely based upon Pythagoras’s teachings (book XV), or upon the re‐invention of Pythagoras as the ontological thinker of metamorphosis. It is a well‐known fact that the philosopher or “conceptual character” of Metamorphoseon is Pythagoras (in fact, to an extent, a disguised Heraclitus, the philosopher of movement and change, and, therefore, of the impossibility of the stable form) (Ovid, op.cit.,,Bk XV:176–98 Pythagoras’s Teachings: The Eternal Flux)
The invention of metamorphosis is also invention of the metamorphic power of the concept of metamorphosis.
THE FIVE DEGREES OF METAMORPHOSIS: A SUMMARY
- The frame of Ovid’s Metamorphoseon.
- The metamorphic material: the wool transformed by a technical operation.
- The series of metamorphoses represented — Arachne’s tapestry, her oeuvre.
- The story — Arachne’s metamorphosis into a spider.
- The result of the metamorphic becoming — the appearance of a metamorphic creature:
- as pure technical organics;
- as metabolic weapon: Arachne‐the‐Spider establishes a metamorphic circuit; it transforms the organic material through her technical energy into a technical tool — the spider web.
let us follow Arachne’s fate in the unavoidable scene of her metamorphosis. After saving her life, Pallas sprinkled Arachne with the juice of the herbs of Hecate: Arachne’s hair fell off, followed by her nose and ears, and her head shrunk rapidly as well as all her body. All of her other parts, entangled, knotted in one knot, disappeared inside her womb; hundreds of tiny fingers‐legs rose from the sides of the spider womb, whence she vented a fine thread. All this happened at once. And ever since the spider, arakhne with no capital “a”, weaves her web: her organs growing or decaying in the womb are emerging from the orifice as the finest thread, and the thread is woven into a web — a home, an arm, a fate.
THE METABOLIC MONSTER
The experienced technician who is reduced to a primitive creature, to the pure incarnation of a tekhné — the beast who only spins — becomes, herself, a monster who kills and transforms the victim by integrating it into her metabolism, that is: by metamorphosing her victim. The beast becomes an agent of metamorphosis. Athena meta‐morphosed Arachne by de‐corporation (an operation that is also an “implosion” of the organs absorbed by the womb), whereas Arachne metamorphosed her victims through her technical virtuosity, by incorporating them metabolically.
Arachne’s metamorphosis is a cyclopean regression: a fight within the body, itself, like in the age of Chaos when nothing was stable; she swallows herself inside her own womb, where nature is unwilling for our bodies to be buried. Arachne swallows her own organs but she excretes them again as a weapon: as a technical device, as a thread, in order to swallow, to devour, to incorporate and absorb, metabolically, other living organs — wombs in the womb.
(“[Y]ou are not happy unless you tear, with cruel teeth, at pitiful wounds, recalling Cyclops’s practice.”
“[N]ature applied her skilful hands, and, unwilling for our bodies to be buried, cramped in our mother’s swollen belly, expelled us from our home, into the empty air.” (Book XV, Pythagoras’ Teachings)
SACRIFICE: ITS ORIGIN AND ITS END
Thus, Arachne is bound by an idyllic‐sacrificial double bind. The time of Saturn, that is of Kronos, the god who eats his own children, is paradoxically the time of the vegetarian Golden Age exalted by Pythagoras in contrast to the bestial primitive times when the Cyclopes, Kronos’s uncles, ate raw flesh. The Golden Age was a time before the time of the Olympian gods, a time without law and without sacrifice before the titan Prometheus introduced the practice of cooking meat with fire and giving burnt bones to the gods: the sacrificial rite that marked the fundamental separation from the world of the gods. (According to Porphyry in De abstinentia, the political state is the condition of animal sacrifice; Porphyry is close to Ovid in his apology of vegetarianism related by the latter to the mythical image of the Golden Age. ) Fire, the proto‐tekhné, drew the line of this substantial separation. By obtaining tekhné Man became deinos — monstrous: much closer, and, therefore infinitely separated, from the gods.
Flesh satisfies the wild beast’s hunger … you are not happy unless you tear, with cruel teeth, at pitiful wounds, recalling Cyclops’s practice, and you cannot satisfy your voracious appetite, and your restless hunger, unless you destroy other life!
But that former age, that we call golden, was happy with the fruit from the trees, and the herbs the earth produced, and did not defile its lips with blood.
(Book XV, Pythagoras’ Teachings)
Like the ancient Titans, the Cyclopes, Arachne eats her victims. Her “revolution” is technical and regressive at the same time. She is also monstrous (deinos) because she is opposed to the gods: she has an extraordinary technical power but she only uses it in order to make the sacrifice — that is, the substantial separation from the gods — impossible. She doesn’t offer her victims to the gods; she incorporates them through her metabolism, by transforming them later on — thus, by disorganizing them — by externalizing them as an “oeuvre”‐tool, the thread. It’s a perfect metabolic circuit, without any leftovers, immanence without any outcome and, thus, without any transcendence. This is Arachne’s vengeance; in her world, the world of the primitive perfection of the tekhné, Athena — as any other god — has no place anymore.
Arachne appears to be the mythical opposite of the satyr Marsyas. The organs swallowed inside the womb of the weaver are opposed to the exposed raw flesh, the bleeding body of the musician. He is flayed alive/she is swallowed alive, inside herself; the skin ripped off the flesh/the organs absorbed deep inside the body.
Ripped of his life to the very skin and even beyond the skin, the flayed body of the musician, for having dared to provoke the gods, is a bare life, blosses Leben, in the most radical sense of the term. A life without the proto‐technical membrane of the skin — a life without a transparent body, a life‐pain racking in a bleeding wound, gushing and opaque — a life without a social body — without exposition —nothing other than an untouchable mass. It is the violence of total presence: it abolishes every mediation, by punishing the technical hubris, the hubris that gives a name to life’s disclosure.
On the contrary, Arachne’s organic implosion — the implosion of her organs deep inside her life‐force, her auto‐absorption — mobilizes another kind of metabolism, another profound dynamic of the body. This kind of dynamic is the dynamic of metamorphosis. Arachne’s body externalizes itself by disorganizing itself; it externalizes itself as a woven fibre, in the form of technique.
The web — the technique immanent to the body that externalizes itself by disorganization: the exteriorization of the body as technique. The technique immanent to the body: the disorganization.
SPIDER’S LIFE: BIO‐TECHNIQUE
A life without any other substance than that of the tekhné — a purely technical life, the opposite of the gods’ life: tekhné=deinos=hubris. Arachne’s life is life itself as hubris. Her life, the technical life par excellence, the minimal condition of life as the one of a primitive tekhné, is the opposite of the bare life — das blosse Leben, according to Walter Benjamin’s expression in his Critique of Violence — of the vitalists (1991). The lessons of Pythagoras by Ovid are similar to those of Kurt Hiller, the target of Benjamin’s critique. Both Ovid and Hiller affirm the sanctity of life, the pure and simple life, das blosse Leben. This sanctification of life is unbearable according to Benjamin. Only the dignified life has a value: and that is why (revolutionary) violence is authorized. This is how Benjamin’s critique of the vitalist sanctification of life leads us directly to the question of arms. The ultimate question of Arachne’s myth.
THE DISORGANIZED SPIDER: BIOPOLITICS/TEKHNO‐AISTHETICS
Arachne’s myth represents the question of the potentiality of life as being inseparable from the movement of metamorphosis. The potentiality of life is not the power of a vectorial actualization but the power of metamorphosis, the changing of the forms. Through the figure of Arachne metamorphosis appears as being originally technical: the metamorphosis demonstrates the technical power of the body — or rather, the tekhné, as it’s only an‐archic power, it’s only “substance”.
The most appropriate name of the force of this metamorphosis would then be resistance. If resistance is immanent to potentiality, it is also immanent in the transformability of the body: in this sense it is the act of its own power. Resistance is therefore not overdetermined. As an immanent moment of potentiality, it is definitely “first” (we hear the echo of the enigmatic phrase of Deleuze, from his book on Foucault: “Resistance is first” [1986, 95]). It is first as an operation of singularization, that is to say, invention‐production of singularity, or of unseen life forms. The body appears in this operation not as a substantial organic power or as a conglomeration of signs — as organic or machinic homogeneous unity; on the contrary, it is always taken in the movement of disorganization. From this perspective, one can understand disorganization as the movement immanent to the body, which exceeds the opposition between the organic and inorganic. The body‐subject becomes subject through the complex operation of (dis)organization of its tekhnai, that is to say the operation of singularization, through which the common space is re‐composed.
Therefore, metamorphosis — the freedom within the body, the dis-enclosure of its potentiality — is, paradoxically at first glance, a powerful resistance against the imposed by the actual polit-economical regimes performing efficiency of flexible, fluid (life) forms: life forms becoming producible commodities. Thereby, ultimately, the crucial question that arises before us today is not the question of alternative forms of life and of their emancipation and/or control, production and governance, but the question of the power of transformation, which is passing though these forms. What is the force that makes body‐subjects transform themselves?
That is why Arachne’s myth is much more than an allegory for the seizing of power over the body, taking possession of the body — the basic operation of every (bio‐)politics; this myth draws the outlines of another operation, a counter‐operation that makes the total seizure of power over the bodies, impossible for good: the tekhno‐aisthetic operation (I build this term upon the Greek tekhné, “ability”, “skill”, “craft”, “art”, and aisthesis, “sensible experience”, out of which Alexander Baumgarten coined the term “aesthetics”). The basic structure of the tekhno‐aisthetic operation presents itself like this: the body only transforms itself as the result of the invention of new techniques, through which the body itself — thanks to its technical dynamic — becomes a new arm: or a new organ, as the etymology of the word “arm” shows.
That is how Arachne’s myth also offers a critical instrument for understanding another famous and enigmatic late phrase of Deleuze: it’s necessary to look for new arms (“Il n’y a pas lieu de craindre ou d’espérer, mais de chercher de nouvelles armes”) (1990).
Arachne as a butterfly? Just think about how fascinating it is that the persistence through techniques can create new bodies (the weaving woman transforming herself into a weaving spider and thus reversing the irreversible fate). The old body produces the necessary technique for its transformation into a new body. This new body is the new arm we need. But this new body is the first and only an‐archic body‐subject: the ungraspable (by any biopolitics) political body of freedom.
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