(c) Mike Egan

The Laughing Matter of Spirit

Rachel Aumiller. Diaeresis. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, under contract

image: © Mike Egan

The Laughing Matter of Spirit questions what changes when nothing changes. It looks backwards in defeat with Hegel and Marx at the repeated failure of revolution. It looks upon the grotesque in comic-horror with Benjamin and the Yugoslavian partisan resistance. And finally, it locates a kind of political action that can only begin to take place from a position of absolute defeat, in the recognition that I have been determined nothing from the beginning: in the proletariat’s cry, “I am nothing, but I must be everything!”

The rise of global fascism and xenophobia, the persistence of bigotry and violence, and the deepening of economic disparity suggest that despite our battles for justice and equality nothing changes. History repeats itself. As Benjamin frames it, it sometimes seems as though we are actors in a comedy of the damned. What happens when we fully play out our negative role in this historical farce to its own conclusion?

Aumiller repeats the phrase “nothing changes” as a mantra until a concession of defeat becomes a battle cry for political resistance. Negativity is revealed to be both the object and agent of change. Nothing changes, but nothing really does change. 

A Touch of Doubt traces the theme of touch in the evolution of skepticism through Platonism, German idealism, Continental philosophy and psychoanalysis. Haptic Scepticism, the field of ethics emerging from this study, explores the grasp-ability of contradiction. Contradiction is a haptic marvel. We can cup it in our palms, press it against our lips, dip our toes into its coolness, and, if we are not careful, we may even burn ourselves on its surface. 

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