It’s not about redistribution; it’s about elimination: Catherine Kellogg, ‘”You be my body for me” Dispossession in two valences’, Philosophy & Social Criticism, 2016


Abstract: Judith Butler and Catherine Malabou’s recent exchange, ‘You Be My Body for Me: Body, Shape and Plasticity in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit’, is remarkable because in their rereading of Hegel’s famous lord and bondsman parable, rather than focusing on recognition, work, or even desire, Butler and Malabou each wonder about how Hegel contributes to a new way of thinking about ‘having’ a body and how coming to ‘be’ a body necessarily involves a kind of dispossession. Butler and Malabou’s reading of Hegel is congruent with a current shift on the left away from a liberal politics of recognition to a (post-)Marxist analytic of dispossession: a move, in other words, away from liberal ‘solutions’ of redistribution – of either goods or recognition – towards thinking through issues of settler colonialism, forced migration and empire. Butler and Malabou’s piece points towards the insight that Hegel’s parable must be thought in terms of the political history of possessive individualism, and so in terms of the history of juridically defined property relations; the history of regarding both the body and the land as property. The ‘two valences’ of dispossession, in other words, refers in fact to a logic of property relations, one between those who ‘have’ property (either land or the property of their own bodies) and those who are juridically defined as propertyless.

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