An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz, Theory Culture and Society, 22 May 2017
The Incorporeal’: An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz
Elizabeth Grosz & Vikki Bell
VB: Many congratulations on the publication of your new book The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics and the Limits of Materialism (Columbia University Press, 2017). The book seems to simultaneously explore a genealogy of a concept ‘the incorporeal’ while also proposing it as a concept that has both explanatory power and ethical promise. I wonder if there is a debate that is un- or under-described here but that drives the desire to explore the incorporeal and these thinkers, since genealogy in both Nietzsche and Foucault’s sense is always a purposive endeavour. Which positions are you taking a stance against, or which oversights are you seeking to correct?
EG: I wouldn’t say that it is a corrective particularly, though there are a number of positions that describe themselves as materialist that I think are problematic and would disagree with. A genealogy – an exploration of sources and sites often unrecognized or unknown – is a way of reviving things that either we have forgotten or that were never developed, elaborated or perhaps even born, things that were stillborn or fragmented. I was seeking something positive rather than undertaking a critique, implicit or explicit. From a commitment to materialism, I was interested in how to address certain questions that were reductively posited within materialisms (after all, there is no one form of materialism, but many, some conflicting with others) or not addressed at all – questions linked to explaining thinking and experience, language or representation more generally, and the self-evident immaterial conditions of materiality, such as space and time. If materialism(s) cannot account for the immaterial events we experience and articulate, then it has a clear limit that it needs to address. I see my work as an expansion of materialism more than a critique of it, though I suspect that the book may be considered idealist in the opinion of some. I am looking for an account of being-becoming that can explain the existence of incorporeal things and events – and most especially how thinking is possible, what it is, how it relates to the brain, or doesn’t, how it capable of being understood beyond any reductionism.