- Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming
Wonderfully thought provoking, highly stylized, and imaginatively written, Rosi Braidotti's latest critical endeavor, Metamorphoses, seeks to elaborate a theory of becoming that is adequate to the complexities of the twenty-first century. Discarding an antiquated, concept-bound language ill-equipped to represent the speed at which change occurs, Metamorphoses deploys instead a figurative language that resists linear conceptions of history and teleological assumptions of the subject—a language, in other words, that is more suitable for theorizing change and transformation. A fundamental impulse informing Braidotti's thought is a desire "not to know who we are," but "what, at last, we want to become" (2), and it is this desire that incites her to interrogate the shortage of figurations that would otherwise allow her to map "structural transformations of subjectivity" in postindustrial postmodernity. Metamorphoses consists of two basic divisions: the first is comprised by the prologue and the first two chapters in which Braidotti situates herself vis-à-vis Luce Irigaray and Gilles Deleuze, the two philosophers with whom she is most closely aligned and to whom she remains most indebted. In this first division, Braidotti elucidates her notions of "enfleshed materialism" and sexual difference that she maintains are crucial to a philosophy of becoming. In the second division, comprised by the third, fourth, and fifth chapters, as well as the epilogue, Braidotti explores modern figurations as she seeks to think difference and transformation in nonnegative, nonpejorative terms. The animal, insect, cyborg, and machine are several of the key representations Braidotti examines [End Page 202] with the intent of discovering their efficacy for mapping change and tracing lines of becoming.
Braidotti describes her theory of becoming as a materialist "philosophical nomadism" that brings about the collapse of phallogocentrism precisely by shattering the Same/Other binary that has characterized Western cultural and philosophical thought. Braidotti borrows from Irigaray's notion of the "sensible transcendental" to argue that the body is a "complex interplay of highly constructed social and symbolic forces . . . not an essence, let alone a biological substance, but a play of forces, a surface of intensities, pure simulacra without originals" (21). Accordingly, it is essential to see "female corporeal reality" not as that which already "is," and not as something that merely reinscribes its polarized opposition to the masculine, "but as virtual . . . as a process of becoming" (24-25). It is this view of "woman," one that emphasizes the "multi-centered, internally differentiated female feminist subjectivity," that, for Braidotti, stands as a powerful critique of phallogocentrism. Braidotti links this notion of the virtual feminine to Deleuze's notion of the "empirical transcendental," with its focus on the embodied subject that flows rhizomatically "as a multiplicity and along multiple axes" (75). Conjoining Irigaray to Deleuze enables Braidotti to reconceive the Feminine/Other as "a complex, heterogeneous, non-unitary entity" (72), a block of becoming of nomadic subjectivity, a subject in process, never finally fixed, but existing "in different levels of power and desire, constantly shifting between willful choice and unconscious drives" (76-77).
While the Irigaray-Deleuze matrix is vital to Braidotti's analysis, her commitment to Irigaray's notion of sexual difference as something that is given as a condition of the body instead of discursively constituted creates some inconsistencies in the text. These inconsistencies arise, not because she wants to maintain a materialist theory of sexual difference per se, but because sexual difference, which she describes as "always already there" (164) persists when the notion of persistence itself, as a symptom of binaristic thinking, is something that her entire analysis attempts to undo. In other words, Braidotti is quite right to suggest that "becoming-woman" is a process that can only be mapped along sexually differentiated lines—something, she claims, Deleuze and Guattari fail to consider—but this sexual [End Page 203] differentiation can only be understood as part of what she calls a "politics of location," that is, a critique of the specific context in which a nomadic subject is situated. The ways men and women negotiate their becomings necessarily differ as a...