Mari Ruti's Reinventing the Soul: Posthumanist Theory and Psychic Life simultaneously embraces and recalibrates posthumanist theory. Ruti affirms the subject's fate as decentered and socially constructed but discovers within instability the source of the subject's creative power. From the rubble of the fragmented subject she unearths the still-burning embers of a humanist soul. This, Ruti's first book, attempts to breath that soul back to life.
Ruti begins by diagnosing posthumanist theory as so focused on hegemonic power that the subject is left irreparably alienated from itself and its community. Rather than abandon the posthumanist subject, Ruti recasts the negative space of loss and lack at the heart of subjectivity into an open space of possibility. To accomplish this, Ruti focuses on "psychic transformation" (2), bringing critical theory into dialogue with psychoanalysis. Ruti not only recalibrates our sense of pain but also revises the traditional emphases associated with her primary sources. Rather than oppression, trauma, and despair, she asks us to hear the affirmative claims to poetry, eros, and imagination in Nietzsche, Foucault, Freud, Heidegger, Lacan, and Kristeva, billing them as allies in the quest to show that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger or at least more creative.
Progressing through five chapters—"Self," "Soul," "Lack," "Past," and "Pain"—Ruti's text has an elegant trajectory. Each chapter revolves around a set of thinkers she interprets in light of the soul-affirming dimension of their thought. This analysis is convincing. She works seamlessly between fields and conjures unlikely juxtapositions.
Chapters 1 and 2 critique Butler's theories of subjection and performativity. In the first chapter Ruti focuses on Nietzsche and Foucault, arguing that subjectivity need not mean subjection to hegemonic power. She proposes a multidirectional relationship between psyche and world: not only a subject battered about by a punishing reality but a reality altered by a subject capable of transforming the world. She finds resources for this agency in Nietzsche's theory of "self-poeticization" (53) and Foucault's "care for the self " (61). The idea she highlights in both is that certain constraints provoke creativity rather than oppressively limit freedom.
Chapter 2 deals with autonomy and sociality, focusing on the limits of Butler's performativity model in addressing the subject's potential for productively engaging with its community. While Ruti believes that Butler's theory works for [End Page 136] gender and sexuality, she thinks it is a mistake to overgeneralize performance as a means of coping with disparate forms of oppression. Rather than a universalized notion of resistance, Ruti suggests context-specific forms of transformative action, highlighting Oliver's theory of witnessing as a critical contribution to what it means to work through psychic pain. The gist of this chapter is a critique of either/or solutions that forsake the individual for the community or the community for the individual.
Chapters 3 and 4 offer an affirmative reading of lack, grounded in Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva—with additional help from Heidegger, Cixous, and Irigaray. In chapter 3, Ruti argues that the Lacanian subject founded on lack is actually a subject constitutively open and therefore inherently oriented toward possibility. Surrendering the "object a" does not leave us with a space of abandonment, neglect, or emptiness. Instead, it creates a clearing that gives the subject new space in which to move and the possibility of forming relationships not centered on a "narcissistic fantasy world" (141). Ruti couples loss with a subject's creative potential and links this with Heidegger's notion of "poetic dwelling." Ultimately, Ruti argues that both Heidegger and Lacan unite around "the poetic function of language" (135) in their analyses of how the subject sublimates loss into meaning. We may be destined to lose the objects of our love, but Ruti agues that this loss is what enables us to become poets—to create meanings that help us survive loss. Her focus on Heidegger and Nietzsche is a risky move, and this chapter never confronts the ethical difficulties...