Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Conceiving a Subject of Mutation: Event, Plasticity, and Mutation

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Conceiving a Subject of Mutation: Event, Plasticity, and Mutation

Article excerpt

At the most general level, philosophers Alain Badiou and Catherine Malabou consider the nature of real change and the possibility of freedom from oppression. While one may not immediately recognize a resonance in their thinking, some similarities may productively be drawn out when considering bio-molecular events. What is at stake in this analysis of resonance is a rethinking of genetic mutation as an event and the consequent possibility of becoming a subject of mutation in the ontological sense put forward by Badiou.

The argument presented in this essay is divided into five parts. The first is an overview of some relevant basics of mutation and living systems. What is it to live?--this is the question that opens the essay. The challenge is to think existence without finitude. Second, as it is the principal philosophical foundation of this essay, Badiou's event (its rupture of what there is in a world, the universal inclusion of the void, its marking of new possibility, and the concept of inexistence) is explained. The third part of the essay consists of a brief outline of Badiou's conception of a subject. The human being is rarely a subject, but rather can become one only on condition of an event and as an agent of truth.

Considered here is Badiou's idea that death is not a category of being, but of appearing. In the creation of a moment that is a new atemporal present, a subject lives as an Immortal. The fourth part of this essay discusses Malabou's idea of ontological plasticity and cerebrality. In light of advances in contemporary neuroscience, Malabou argues that the question of the subject needs to be renewed, and calls for a new materialism. Rather than maintaining the historical division of the political body of languages from the physical body of matter, Malabou contends that there is but one body; the symbolic is materially inscribed. Malabou concludes that a subject should be open to the risk of plastic explosion at the crossroads of being and an event. Finally, the possibility of a subject of mutation is developed in this essay through a weaving of Badiou's event and Malabou's plasticity. I suggest that the truth procedure in which a subject of mutation participates is that of love as a kind of unconditional hospitality. It is in the becoming possible of what was impossible that the subject of mutation creates her fidelity to an event. For Badiou, a truth is something other than what there is, something other than knowledge; it is an interruption of time. In this sense, a subject, choosing to live for the consequences of an event in each moment, is able to claim her Immortal aspect and only concede that death is a possibility. The essay concludes in agreement with Badiou that a subject of mutation accepts evental mutation and becomes worthy of this event in and through her finite participation in the creation of a truth.

What is it to live? In a very direct and biological way, mutation is fundamentally linked to the question of life and death. It can be both an aleatory source of evolutionary change and a cumulative passage toward an individual's death. In the situation of mutation, rather than asking "What is it to die," I propose to consider Badiou's revival of the ancient philosophical question "What is it to live" (Logics 35) and his invocation of Aristotle's counsel to "make ourselves immortal" (X: 7). To overcome the enslavement of the dialectic where death is the master over existence, Badiou argues that we must think "existence without finitude" (Logics 268, emph. Badiou's). Life does not require death for its proof, nor does it need our experience of finitude. There exists the possibility of something new, a new subjectivity, created moment by moment, point by point. It is this subjective movement that creates, in the present, the being-there of eternity (510).

Genetic mutation is something other than an accident. It is constitutive of living beings. From bacteria to humans, mutation happens incessantly. …

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