- The Intellective Space: Thinking Beyond Cognition by Laurent Dubreuil
Laurent Dubreuil's recent book, part of the Posthumanities series at the University of Minnesota Press, seeks to push beyond cognition, defined as "the minimal level" of "mental operations," and into another territory altogether (3). Specifically, the book delineates (and celebrates) "the intellective space," the mental zone of cognitive excess and failure wherein "thought and knowledge are performed and shared" at the moment of the present (3). "The intellective," Dubreuil writes, is both "a possible name for the productive undoing of cognition per se" and a way of addressing "the potential journey of ideas" that go beyond the base-level cognitive processes that are the subject of the cognitive sciences (3). In doing so, Dubreuil's work orients the reader, in surprising and productive ways, towards the virtues of intellective contradiction, ephemerality, unpredictability, performance, and even chaos. Ultimately, he offers new ways to structure connections between the humanities with the sciences of mind.
The book unfolds in two parts, "The Intellective Hypothesis" and "Animal Meditations," which together contain one hundred and seven sections—some of these sections are as brief, elusive, and ephemeral as thought itself, and some are longer, weightier investigations. "The Intellective Hypothesis" delineates the foundations, theory, and stakes of intellection. In it, Dubreuil notes that the "material channels" through which cognition passes ("human verbal language, neural synapses, social prescription") cause an "excess of (and to) cognition" that "never completely disappears" and that "shapes our thoughts more than once" (3). This excess is, for Dubreuil, the core of the intellective. He goes on to characterize intellection as "conjectural," "less durable than its cognitive operations," and as "extraordinary, dialogic, defective, and affirmative" (22, 25). Ultimately, the intellective space is a zone of imperfect, ephemeral mental action.
"Animal Meditations" asserts that the project of intellective studies requires that "as much as we can, we accept ourselves as constructing and constructed animals," at once "material packs of cells" and "performers of intellection" (94). Doing so, he argues, ultimately allows for a reassessment of what it means to be human: to [End Page 364] be neither wholly somatic nor wholly mental. Here he critiques Donna Haraway's celebration of the cyborg—neural implants, he writes, "would possibly minimize the intellective" of our cyborg selves, "making us highly well-informed and dull animals, with the idiot savant as our ideal" (107). Computers might well mimic cognitive processes, but, Dubreuil asserts, they could not mimic intellection's productive static—that is reserved for "the intellective animal (be it 'human' or not)" (109). Ultimately, he hopes that the "most discursive disciplines" will "speak of, and from, the intellective, in a manner the regular sciences could contribute to but not appropriate," in doing so opening new avenues of collaboration between the humanities and the sciences (110).
Readers will notice that The Intellective Space is a challenging read. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of High Theory—dense, allusive, aphoristic, and searching. Most challenging is that the act of reading the book is itself, to inhabit its own terms, an intellective (a productively unpredictable and contradictory) act. Depending on one's expertise, thinking with some sections will be easier than with others. Dubreuil's deep scholarship manifests in the ecumenical sweep of the thinkers, texts, and fields of study he engages: he addresses with equal perspicacity cyborgs, metaphysics, Anaxagoras, Emily Dickinson, analytic philosophy, Catherine Malabou, Kurt Gödel, and the soul. This scope makes the book of interest to a number of fields, but it renders his forays into logic, to give one example, inaccessible to many readers of this journal.
Dubreuil acknowledges the difficulty of reading his book: "I know that, by abandoning a more traditional apodictic form (more geometrico), I am making myself less 'readable' by people I would also like to convince" (12). But he insists that of course the book "is not readily applicable, not readily teachable. It is not ready to be delivered, for the present needs to be unpacked" (12). He writes as he does, he says, to emphasize the...