restricted access Agitating the Powers of Habit: Towards a Volatile Politics of Thought

This paper capitalizes on the resurgence of interest in habit within social and political theory as a key concept of our time, following the recent translation and uptake of the work of Félix Ravaisson, to push our understandings of the irreducible vitality and vulnerability of bodies. It seeks to intervene within debates on the habit-body by challenging the way in which the transitions that habit gives rise to are conceptualized. Many theorizations of the habit-body have tended to stress its ever-evolving, adaptive, affective capacities for subtle alteration and gradual, incremental change. However I argue that this lends itself to an image of the habit-body that prioritizes coherence, calculation and proficiency over other more erratic and unpredictable transitions that habit might give rise to. In response, and drawing on Borges’ short story The Zahir as its empirical lure, rather than understanding volatility as something that habit works to quiesce, this paper seeks to enroll volatility into an image of the habit-body by articulating its agitative and destructive tendencies. It does this by proffering obsession as a specific mode of habit that exhibits these tendencies towards volatility, in order to demonstrate how habit participates in some of the more unstable, precarious and heterogeneous modulations of contemporary life. Capitalizing on the ways through which habit refocuses debates on ‘distributed agency’, drawing attention to the volatilities inherent to habit helps us not only to dismantle ideas of the sovereign self, but in doing so, pluralizes the event and performance of subjectivities. This forces us to conceptualize the relations between thought, will and responsibility in a way that rethinks a radical politics through a revolution of the body over that of the mind.