Dorsality: Thinking Back through Technology and Politics (Posthumanities)
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In this highly original book David Wills rethinks not only our nature before all technology but also what we understand to be technology. Rather than considering the human being as something natural that then develops technology, Wills argues, we should instead imagine an originary imbrication of nature and machine that begins with a dorsal turn-a turn that takes place behind our back, outside our field of vision.
With subtle and insightful readings, Wills pursues this sense of what lies behind our idea of the human by rescuing Heidegger’s thinking from a reductionist dismissal of technology, examining different angles on Lévinas’s face-to-face relation, and tracing a politics of friendship and sexuality in Derrida and Sade. He also analyzes versions of exile in Joyce’s rewriting of Homer and Broch’s rewriting of Virgil and discusses how Freud and Rimbaud exemplify the rhetoric of soil and blood that underlies every attempt to draw lines between nations and discriminate between peoples. In closing, Wills demonstrates the political force of rhetoric in a sophisticated analysis of Nietzsche’s oft-quoted declaration that “God is dead.”
Forward motion, Wills ultimately reveals, is an ideology through which we have favored the front-what can be seen-over the aspects of the human and technology that lie behind the back and in the spine-what can be sensed otherwise-and shows that this preference has had profound environmental, political, sexual, and ethical consequences.
David Wills is professor of French and English at the University of Albany (SUNY). He is the author of Prosthesis and Matchbook: Essays in Deconstruction as well as the translator of works by Jacques Derrida, including The Gift of Death.
toward the back. For my purposes and according to my interpretation, every deviation is a form of retroversion. This means that every turn is a type of turning around, movement toward the back, toward what is behind; in turning however gently to the right or to the left, indeed up or down, one is on the way toward the back. Any bending is a type of falling, or folding back, upon itself, with respect to itself. Any departure, however slight, from a pure and strict (and necessarily impossible to
sensitization. What touches the back, even the surprise prod or slap of a friend or a stranger, implies an erotic relation, a version of sexuality, a version that raises simultaneously and undecidably the questions of sex and gender, of species, and of objects. A sexuality therefore that is not, at least not in the ﬁrst instance, determined as hetero- or homosexual, as vaginal or anal, as human (or indeed animal) or prosthetic, not even as embracing or penetrating, but which implies before all
between turns or reversals that can be identiﬁed as the rhetorical gestures of here an Aristotle, there a Nietzsche, there a Derrida. However, there appears to be a surplus of methodologically reﬂective moments in Politics of Friendship, and a multiplication of forms borrowed by such moments in the text. Most obvious, even if only typographically—no small thing, however—are the multiple parentheses, emblematic of a variety of interruptions, glosses, and diversions, interventions that can only be
discourse and quotation. The two textual forms or levels, say quotation from the canon and commentary on it, are brought not into opposition but into apposition; one slides in adjacent to the other, molding itself to its ﬁt, in the manner of two open parentheses. Yet the two texts retain their diﬀerences: there is some eﬀect of rupture and hence violence, and some eﬀect of interruption, hence untranslatability, a failure to simply carry over. But by the same token there is an eﬀect of what we
reserve of complexity and power, is THE DORSAL TURN 18 coextensive with what, on the one hand, constitutes the ethical and political subject, the subject of discourse that we are used to calling an “agent,” and, on the other hand, allows for that agent to participate in any transformation of the real world. In the following chapter, I argue, with particular reference to Levinas and Althusser, that the call to ethical responsibility or the political interpellation presumes a turn that is a