John Protevi


On his book Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic

Cover Interview of February 16, 2010

The wide angle

What I wanted to do in Political Affect was write a book on advances in the sciences that would use a continental figure (Deleuze) as part of its theoretical basis, and yet still be readable by both analytic and continental philosophers.  This was something of a challenge, because for much too long philosophers have tolerated a harmful division in our profession, the infamous divide between “continental” and “analytic” philosophers.  It’s impossible to avoid clichés in discussing this divide, for it was instituted and lives on via the power of cliché, unexamined presupposition, mutual distrust, and ignorance.  So, the cliché is that the continentals study and model their inquiries after art and literature, while the analytics study and model their inquiries after the sciences.

Of course there are exceptions—analytic aesthetics and continental philosophy of science are subdisciplines on either side—but there is a sad kernel of truth in the cliché.  The problem for my project is that continental philosophy of science looks at scientific practice as its object of study; it doesn’t incorporate scientific findings in a continental investigation of philosophical problems—in my case, the concept of human nature.

The opening to this project—a continental philosophy not “of” science, but “with” science—was provided by the way in which the embodied-mind scholars use the classical phenomenologists—Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty—as their philosophical resources in their reading of the cognitive sciences.  Insofar as these phenomenologists are an important part of the training of any continental philosopher, there was the chance here to get continental philosophers to read cognitive science by following the trail of the embodied-mind thinkers and their use of phenomenology.

On the other hand, I wanted to nudge the embodied-mind school along one more step in their reading of continental philosophy, from the phenomenologists to the post-structuralists—in this case, Deleuze.  While the turn to an embodied subject by means of phenomenology is a great advance over the computer model, we need to pay attention to the feminist (Simone de Beauvoir) and anti-colonialist (Frantz Fanon) criticism that the embodied subject of the phenomenologists had abstracted from racialized and gendered subjectivity.  But such abstraction only serves to hide an implicit masculine and empowered subject benefiting from its social position, as Iris Marion Young shows in her essay “Throwing Like a Girl.”  So instead of “the” (abstract) embodied subject, I propose Deleuze’s emphasis on interwoven natural and social systems to think about how multiple subjectification practices produce a distribution of affective cognitive traits in a population of subjects.