Tuesday, April 22, 2014

the cunning of negative accumulation

It must be the affinity I associated with reading Denise Ferreira da Silva's Toward a Global Idea of Race that brought me to actually open Hegel's Science of Logic again (although the chain of connections that I right now have the luxury of making actually went from the question of sky coloration to the question of why sea water is blue to the idea of quantity transforming into quality) and from here to his description there of the transformation of quantity into quality. This is perhaps the most poignant part of the Science, the part of it I most remember from my reading of it almost ten years ago. In my post on Silva, I described how she identifies the duplicity of the moment in which the others of Europe are produced as global subaltern subjects, and that this Hegelian moment is related to this moment is indicated, textually, in Hegel's description, here, of the cunning, not of reason, but of "the concept [Begriff; notion]." The notion he is referring to is the notion of "quantity"; its cunning aspect is its appearing as an "indifferent limit," that is, its capacity not to signal that qualia is always already inherent in quantum. When we misapprehend this, Hegel explains, we feel embarrassment. He describes the moment:
At last the qualitative alteration is revealed: the head or tail is bald; the heap is vanished. In conceding the answer, it was not only the repetition that was each time forgotten, but also that the individually insignificant quantities (like the individually insignificant disbursements from a patrimony) add up, and the sum constitutes the qualitative whole, so that at the end this whole has vanished: the head is bald, the purse is empty. (21.332; "Specific Quantity," 290)
The "embarrassment"is nothing more than a contradiction, and Hegel aligns this logical problem with Aristotle's notion of elenchi, a refutation that rather easily leads to fallacy in syllogistic or deductive reasoning. It is worth nothing that Hegel's examples both entail the loss of a whole rather than the constitution of a whole (for example, adding drops of water to a body of water that changes from colorless to blue), since this initiates a logic of accumulation and dispossession (David Harvey, "accumulation by dispossession," cited in Chakravartty and Silva, "Accumulation, Dispossession, Debt"), which Hegel also signals by extending the example of the purse:
Quantum, when it is taken as indifferent limit, is the side from which an existence is unsuspectedly attacked and laid low. It is the cunning of the concept that it would seize on an existence from this side where its quality does not seem to come into play—and it does it so well that the aggrandizement of a State or of a patrimony, etc., which will bring about the misfortune of the State or the owner, even appears at first to be their good fortune. (21.332; "Specific Quantity," 291)
What I get from this (Silva's grammar sticks) is Hegel's positioning of the subject who observes (who misapprehends) the cumulative effect of subtractive projects. Forgetting you've debited your account is one thing; not getting that these cumulative debits add up is another. Hegel highlights subtractive processes here, we might say, because the dialectic writ large is a catalog of the additive moments, of moments in which the subject overcomes the loss of the transformation of quantity into quality because it does "add up" to a new whole.

The vanishing whole, however--perhaps better, the threat of the vanishing whole as an index of the inherence of dispossession in accumulation--signals the duplicity of reason via quantity, emphasizing how the production of the others of Europe, as an effect of modern reason, involves a similar misapprehension of the "indifference" of quantity. I don't, of course, follow Hegel's assertion that quantum and qualia are inherent and eternal extensions of one another, but I do think that this problem is the problem of thinking about the relation between individual instances of racialized inequality, death, and dispossession and the institutional, structural, or global dimensions of these acts. For while, as Hegel claims, it's only natural (or moreover, only human) to misapprehend the situation and think that the basic assurances of life are there, even though yet another individual is plucked from them, the knowledge of this loss is always retrospective. Unlike his description of the dialectic, Hegel does not here account for the recuperation of loss. This is interesting because the relationship posed here between the "whole" and the subtractive processes as something to be defended against reveals the extent to which the dialectical process is engaged with the production of the "whole"; in Silva's terms, I think, this is the production of "globality" (29) "as a modern context of signification, one that refers to a mode of existing before historicity, the horizon of life, that the ontological context transparency thesis produces."

What my reading of Toward a Global Idea of Race left open were questions about the way that so much non-truth can be produced about the global and why this does not, as is the case for Hegel's bald head or empty purse, result in the evacuation of this site as productive for reason. For how closely do the terms of quantity and quality map onto Silva's terms of interiority and exteriority? The problems that emerge for Hegel from the transformation of quantity into quality reveal how globality, like totality, as a harmonious sublation of quantity and quality, is an achievement for Hegel. Even where these relations are subtractive and not recuperated, they still allow us to imagine the heap, the head, the purse as an entity. In this regard, globality is an "embarrassment," a quantity about which an "indifferent limit" can be assumed. But what is the process of signification that for every sun finds a sun dog, a false sun, that does not just produce globality or reproduce the relations of globality but that reproduces globality?

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