Friday, July 30, 2010

A certain fragility of the infinite

Anyone who has been reading my blog for a while knows that questions of vulnerability, finitude, and precariousness are returning philosophical questions for my work. (See here and here for a couple of examples). Several other thinkers have used the idea of finitude to think us outside of an anthropocentric ontology, ethics, and politics (see Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, Cora Diamond, and Cary Wolfe). Now, in one sense of this thinking vulnerability is just a fact, an almost unfortunate fact, that has to be taken into account. In more positive accounts, Butler's for one, precariousness isn't just a passive fact demanding to be taken into account. Rather, the reality of shared vulnerability produces important facts-- like sociality and plasticity, like the common and contingency. (As a side note here, when Wolfe writes on vulnerability he focuses on Diamond and Derrida, which is certainly interesting. But I wish in that chapter he had spent more time with Luhmann, I think a strong second-order systems account of vulnerability would be wonderful).
So, on the one hand, finitude is simply fragility, and as such needs to be paid attention to in the same way we stamp "Caution: Fragile" on boxes. On the other hand, finitude isn't fragility or simply fragility, it is also a productive power upon which all sorts of adaptive strengths come from (indeed, adaptation and evolution are entirely bound up with the notions of finitude). What happens, though, when we start flipping this around? In a real way, it is hard to say, because life seems to need some measure of death, but there are several literary resources at hand. For example, the vampire here enters the scene as a being defined by certain finitudes (the Hunger, fear of sunlight, etc), but also a belief that one day, the might not die. Many authors seem unsure if the great age of vampires make them powerfully devious, or if their very immortality makes them more predictable, more rigid. I started thinking about this while reading Jim Butcher's Dresden Files (don't hate). Butcher himself can't seem to make up his mind, attributing both realities to his vampires depending on what he wants done in his text. In another example, we can think of the Highlander tv series. In it Duncan MacLeod is always is always running into other immortals that he has known through his 400 plus years of existence. And almost all of them seem like pure trauma cases from psychoanalysis, constantly repeating the same traits again and again throughout the centuries. Immortals seem to almost never change, and all of them seem completely predictable. I am actually curious what other vampire stories and stories of immortal beings (including gods) have come down on in this idea of if immortality tends to produce a certain asociality and rigidity. A certain fragility of the infinite.