Cheers to Materialism in Literary Theory:
A Diversion with David Hawkes

Adam Bryx & Bryan Reynolds


On the contrary, materialism is capitalism in philosophical form.
                                                                 -- David Hawkes


(At a possibly asignificant historical moment, Adam & Bryan invent the word "viscerallectric" (visceral-intellect-electric) to materialize the radically embodied, mindful, and intense experiences of implosive immanence that pass the threshold from event to eventualization. Riding the wave of this revelatory enterprise, they decide to venture a little soul-surfing across the web of Hawkes' rhetorical question, "Is it true that human beings have no soul?" [21 [250]].)1

     1. In a delightfully ambitious essay, "The Transversality of New Materialism," Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphijn explore the contemporary aftermath of the Deleuzian-identified minoritarian genealogy of philosophical and literary monist thought (from Lucretius through Spinoza, Nietzsche, Proust, Kafka, and so on), which leads them to survey a number of works that they assemble under the category "new materialist."2 Following the paths of Manuel DeLanda and Rosi Braidotti, respectively, Tuin and Dolphijn identify the immanent and nonlinear qualities that characterize new materialism's productive avoidance of the fundamentally reductive dichotomies privileged by transcendental and humanist modes of thought. Briefly put, Tuin and Dolphijn celebrate the monist tradition's capacity to "break through" reductive dichotomies delineated by the opposition between, for DeLanda, realist essentialism and realist constructivism (157) and, for Braidotti, biological determinism and social constructivism (156). According to Tuin and Dolphijn, it is the transversal approaches to methodology, research, and analysis often demonstrated by new materialism, with their focus on affective matter and the ways in which organic relations intersect and are irreducible to disciplinary parameters, which prove new materialism's advantages over dualist traditions. Whereas Tuin and Dolphijn provide us with many examples of past and contemporary scholars working within the monist tradition, David Hawkes virtually jumped off the page -- they do not mention him -- as the best example of the sort of idealist thinker they caution against: "Of course, the dualist traditions are stubborn and have buried themselves deep in the minds of (common-sense) scholars" (154). Similarly, Tuin and Dolphijn, as well as DeLanda and Braidotti, would appear on Hawkes' most wanted list if he had noticed them and the many other new materialist scholars they discuss in their essay.

     2. Hawkes' polemic, "Against Materialism in Literary Studies," accuses "the overwhelming majority of Western intellectuals as a whole" with complicity in capitalism's hostile takeover of the humanities as a result of the "unconscious" (2 [237]) andor3 "almost instinctual" (4 [239]) manner in which they subscribe to materialist methodologies in their work. To be fair, Hawkes believes that most western academics would rethink such commitment if made aware of how materialist thought is necessarily complicit with capitalist ideology. As Hawkes puts it:

It may be possible to be both a materialist and a political progressive, if identity politics are regarded as progressive causes, as I think they should be. Materialism is not, however, compatible with anti-capitalism. On the contrary, materialism is capitalism in philosophical form. I suspect that, while some literary theorists like [Russell] Berman are well aware of this, the majority of critics who consider themselves materialists are not. I think that if they can be convinced of this connection, they are likely to reconsider their commitment to materialism, which I believe is now largely sentimental and rhetorical in any case. (28 [255-56])

Hawkes' stance on materialism is clear:

1) Materialism works, without exception, in the interest of capitalist ideology.
2) Most western intellectuals subscribe to a materialist approach without comprehending its negative repercussions for society, the humanities, and the world.
3) Materialism cannot be political activism. Identity politics employed under the rubric of a materialist methodology has, for Hawkes, the potential to be politically "progressive" (28 [255]), but, in the final analysis, always advances capitalism's agenda.

Hawkes believes that materialism, as the ideological form of capitalism (via an unholy alliance with Darwinism), is eliminating the human subject, the soul, and God as variables in humanistic understanding through its colonization of the humanities. According to Hawkes: "Despite their differences, however, all of the materialisms currently prominent in literary studies share one fundamental assumption. They all believe that the human subject, mind or soul is an illusion" (21 [250]). Furthermore, for Hawkes, "The view that the pursuit of material self-interest is natural, and thus inevitable, appeared to be corroborated by Darwin's evolutionary theory, and today it is solidly entrenched in both popular culture and the academy" (11 [243-44]).

     3. Tuin and Dolphijn describe a different academy from the one Hawkes is familiar with. To give some examples, Tuin and Dolphijn draw our attention to: Braidotti's "rethinking [of] the embodied structure of human subjectivity after Foucault" as she moves beyond the opposition between biology and discourse to consider the posthumanist subject (155);4 DeLanda's navigation outside of dominant semiotic and semantic structures to analyze abstract machines and engineering diagrams in relation to biological, sociological, and geological factors (154); and Susan Sheridan's recovery of the false separation between words and things, a misinterpreted position in poststructuralism, in her reworking of the dynamic interaction between new materialism and feminist sociology. As with Braidotti's feminist theory, Tuin and Dolphijn's extended discussion on Sheridan's work speaks to the value of her new materialist approach:

Traversing the non-exhaustive opposites of feminist sociology and cultural constructivism, and analyzing the reductivism effected on the basis of a reliance on either matter or discourse demonstrates transversality. (162)

They highlight the political activist potential of employing such methodology:

Sheridan's reading of what she calls a 'new stage' (2002: 28) in feminist theory generates a focus not only on biological matter/a cultural theory incorporating insights from the natural sciences, but also on the matter of the political economy, thus qualitatively shifting a concept of matter as purely physical and opposed to the social or linguistic. (162)

Tuin and Dolphijn discuss a variety of other new materialist research, such as Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman's work in material feminism, and those working in such disciplines as science studies, environmental feminisms, corporeal feminisms, queer theory, disability studies, globalization studies, and so on, including traditional philosophy. In regard to the latter, for instance, they emphasize the new materialist methodology in Elizabeth Grosz's reworking of Henri Bergson's theorization of time: ". . . matter is not thought of as Matter, the photonegative of Reason or Mind, but rather by a focus on 'duration [inserted] into matter,' on, indeed, metamorphosis, or transformation" (Grosz qtd in Tuin and Dolphijn 164). Our point here is that, in their overview of the field, Tuin and Dolphijn reference many scholars, many more than we cite here, who are doing new materialist work in terms very different than imagined by Hawkes. The scholars Tuin and Dolphijn reference are not categorically biological determinists, wholesale rejecters of metaphysics, reducers of experience to materiality, eliminators of subjectivity and consciousness, proponents of capitalism, and so forth. In fact, although not all scholars who do new materialist work align themselves with a movement, Tuin and Dolphijn are leading voices in a recent proliferation of scholars who self-identify their work as new materialist. In this interest, and clearly aware of the importance of new materialism for the future of the humanities in an increasingly inter-, intra-, trans-disciplinary academic environment, they have established an institutional association that already includes strong faculty and a passionate coterie of graduate students. We are referring to the Utrecht School in New Materialism.

(Out of nowhere, all light suddenly flees the room. Adam & Bryan utter silence in the steady darkness. zooz's presence is a matter of fact.)5

ooz (singing):
     Whenever I see your smiling face
     I have to smile myself
     Because I love you (Yes, I do)
     And when you give me that pretty little pout
     It turns me inside out
     There's something about you, baby (I don't know)6

zoo: Wow, ooz, I didn't know you could sing like that. Were you singing about me?

ooz: Sure was, one of my favorites by James Taylor.

zoo: Who's James Taylor? And when I smile, you smile?

ooz: He's a wonderful singer-songwriter, and that's right, when you smile, I smile, and when you pout, I pout too.

zoo: Because you love me?

ooz: That's right.

zoo: But what if it's mirror neurons or perception-behavioral links -- you know, automatic mimicry or powers of suggestion -- and not love, that make you respond in these ways?

ooz: Surely, zoo, you cannot believe that love, or the "you" there, or the "me" here -- my consciousness and subjectivity -- are purely or solely the result of neurochemistry and --

zoo: Actually, I don't. So sorry. But apparently some people do --

ooz: It's me who loves you, and me who responds to all the adorable things that you do. I would not respond in these ways to anyone else smiling or pouting. Only some smiling people make me smile. What if a homicidal maniac was running after me with an axe, like Jack Nicholson's character in The Shinning, smiling and laughing all along? I would not smile or laugh too.

zoo: Glad to hear it. You seem to be saying that context and dynamic are what make a difference.

ooz: Yes, they are crucial. I am a product of my environment, and I contribute to the production of my environment. Existence is interactive, relational, but not symmetrically mutual or predetermined. One person's pleasure can be another person's pain.

zoo: But if two people are exactly the same and the environment is static --

ooz: Not in this universe. That's not possible. Not only is nothing exactly the same as something else, but nothing is identical to itself. My point is that everything is always already in flux and connected to everything else. A concept or gesture can radically change a situation and an environment, as can the weather. Your relationship to events can vary, and so the events vary.

zoo: If you chop off my arm, is my arm still attached to my body?

ooz: That's a matter of perception. For some time, your brain might behave as if it is, and you might feel your missing arm as if it is still attached in the same ways, but you might also know and talk about the arm being gone at the same time.

zoo: How can I have it both ways?

ooz: You can have it many ways, actually. An individual's experience is irreducible to a singularity, such as located entirely in the individual's brain. Individuals continue to respond to the environment in and through which they experience. There is no absolute or central arbiter of experience, for experience means experiencing. There is something attached, connecting, intersecting, or immanent. This is because we are amalgams of energy functioning within networks and fields of energy. Don't you remember we are what we like to call "energy storms," and all energy storms are comprised of and connected to other energy storms? Therefore, memory is an example or byproduct of the reconnectivity across neurons, synapses, and apparently spacetime.

zoo: I knew that. "Energy storms" was my coinage.7

ooz: That it was, but was it uniquely yours? The phrase did already have usage in meteorology, albeit without the same meaning. Something cannot come from nothing.

zoo: Point taken. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the big picture, just as it is easy to forget the details, as when caught up in the energy storm of everyday interactions. Whereas the affective presence in the moment can make us susceptible to the momentum, resonance, and wonder of associations that emerge faster than we can process and categorize them, the apparent obviousness of a moment, especially when linked to a chain of mundane events, can distract us from its profundity.8 This makes me think of the most cutting-edge work in cognitive neuroscience these days. Scientists use instruments of observation like fMRI, PET, MEG, CAT, and SPECT scans and photography to examine brain activity in hopes of learning what, why, how, and where we think, feel, value, believe, trust, and so on.

ooz: Are you thinking of eliminative materialism because David Hawkes subsumes both cognitive theory and cognitive neuroscience within eliminative materialism and because we were invited to discuss David Hawkes' essay, "Against Materialism in Literary Theory"? Am I right, was I modeling neuronally and therefore intersubjectively linking with your train of thoughts?

zoo: No. I wasn't thinking of Hawkes' essay. But did you notice how my use of the word "chain" became "train" in your brain?

ooz: No. But now I do. Powers of observation can increase with focus.

zoo: With a history dating as far back as the eighteenth century, eliminativist perspectives are old news, and so is eliminative materialism as a brand of philosophical inquiry and methodology. For the most part, eliminative materialism merely refers to what any sensible thinker would do: throw out (eliminate) "old" ideas that have been proven false at this historical juncture to the satisfaction of the thinker, and accept "new" ones, which is to say, those that are provable given the capabilities and limits of current methodologies and technologies of observation.9 These days, only a small number of thinkers label themselves eliminative materialists, such as Patricia and Paul Churchland, and they usually locate mental states and the mind altogether in brain functions in precisely the ways Hawkes finds objectionable.10 Hawkes mentions the Churchlands in his essay, but he also mentions others who do not self-identify as such or do not fall under his categorization. Others such as Stephen Kosslyn and Olivier Koenig who he mentions are more open to non-reducible phenomena.11 Hawkes cites them as supporting his own assertion that, "This materialist tradition assumes that human beings are identical with their bodies so that, in the words of Stephen Kosslyn and Oliver [sic] Koenig, 'the mind is what the brain does'" (18 [248]). If we compare Hawkes' assertion with the words of Kosslyn and Koenig in their book, Wet Mind: The New Cognitive Neuroscience, we see that their position is significantly different from how Hawkes presents it:

     This approach is like understanding the properties and uses of a building independently of the materials used to construct it; the shapes and functions of rooms, windows, arches, and so forth can be discussed without reference to whether the building is made of wood, brick or stone. We call this approach Dry Mind.

     In contrast, we call the approach of cognitive neuroscience Wet Mind. This approach capitalizes on the idea that the mind is what the brain does: a description of mental events is a description of brain function, and the facts about the brain are needed to characterize these events.

     The aim is not to replace a description of mental events by a description of brain activity. This would be like replacing a description of architecture with a description of building materials. Although the nature of the materials restricts the kinds of buildings that can be built, it does not characterize their function or design. Nevertheless, the kinds of designs that are feasible depend on the nature of the materials. Skyscrapers cannot be built with only boards and nails, and minds do not arise from just any material substrate. (Kosslyn & Koenig, Wet Mind, 4)

ooz: Yes, Hawkes seems to have misread them. I recall that later in the book they emphasize the non-reducibility of gray matters, like consciousness, to brain functions. According to Kosslyn and Koenig:

Consciousness is not the same thing as neural activity; phenomenological experience cannot be explained in terms of ion flows, synaptic connections, and so forth. Consciousness and brain events are members of different categories, and one cannot be replaced by the other. Consciousness is like light that is produced by a hot filament in a vacuum: The physical events that produce the light cannot be equated with the light itself. Any theory of consciousness must describe a phenomenon that cannot be replaced by a description of brain events. (432)

zoo: Nice one. Kosslyn and Koenig are a far cry from the Churchlands.

ooz: But doesn't Hawkes use eliminative materialism as an umbrella term under which he positions all thinkers who see the brain as primary to understanding human experience, like consciousness, decision-making, ideas, etc.?

zoo: Yes, Hawkes does do this, it seems, because he is worried that the variety of thinkers out there who are working in fields like cognitive philosophy and cognitive neuroscience and who focus on the brain are going to persuade people working in other fields that there is no ghost in the machine, no soul, no mind, no God, etc. He might fear that all the mysterious stuff that can make life and humanities research exciting -- exciting precisely because it is so mysterious, unpredictable, and unknowable -- might be explained convincingly by scientists.

zooz (together): We do not think that Hawkes needs to worry so much about such explanations, particularly those that attempt to locate the source of metaphysical phenomena in the brain, since they have the potential to make mysteries more mysterious. But don't take our word for it. Consider, for instance, studies that focus on brain functions, such as the research of Andrew Newberg and Eugene D'Aquill, which affirm metaphysical phenomena rather than dismiss it.12 Although we do not endorse Newberg's research by referencing it here, for we are still exploring it, we do find it fascinating.13In his book, Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, Newberg writes:

After years of scientific study, and careful consideration of our results, Gene and I further believe that we saw evidence of a neurological process that has evolved to allow us humans to transcend material existence and acknowledge and connect with a deeper, more spiritual part of ourselves perceived of as an absolute, universal reality that connects us to all of this. (Newberg, Why God 9)

Newberg has spent twenty years researching the relationships between spirituality and the brain and he has written four books and countless articles on the topic. He concludes his most recent, 2010 book, Principles of Neurotheology, with a statement that Hawkes might find reassuring:

Therefore, we must conceive of the brain as a machine which operates upon whatever it is that fundamental reality may be and produces different versions to our consciousness. One version is what human beings refer to as baseline reality and another version is that of an absolute unitary state. Both perceptions are accompanied by a profound subjective certainty of their actual reality. Whatever is prior to the experience of absolute unity and the baseline reality of everyday life is in principle unknowable, since that which is in any way known must be translated, and in this sense transformed, by the brain. (Newberg, Neurotheology 265)

(zoo's and ooz's singing fades out, repeating.)

zoo: There's something about you, baby (I don't know) . . .

ooz: It turns me inside out.

"Straw Man in Cartesian Theater" (7"X7" mixed media); concept by Adam Bryx & Bryan Reynolds; artwork by Bryan Reynolds


(The light suddenly returns to the room. In the flash, Adam & Bryan think they see a brainless straw man in a Cartesian theater (see artwork, "Straw Man in Cartesian Theater"). zooz leaves no residue or afterimage for the bewildered Adam & Bryan to ponder. Apparently zooz was present, but evidence suggests otherwise. Were zoo and ooz really there (or here) in material form or (only) as a matter of Adam's and Bryan's minds, possibly idealized figments of their collective imagination? Of course, there are other options. Bryan might have delivered the lines of both ooz and zoo, thereby performing the dialogue for the benefit of Adam. zooz might have been a ghost in the machinic assemblage that is a sum or symptom of Adam & Bryan for the purpose of writing this essay. What most matters: zooz's affects or effects? Happy to have benefitted from zooz's insights, and not concerned with zooz's whereabouts, Adam & Bryan continue.)

     4. The examples provided by zooz show that Hawkes' definition of eliminative materialism lacks the totalizing and reductive parameters he ascribes to current scientific research in which, according to Hawkes, "colonization of the human by the natural sciences" (21 [251]) occurs through its positioning of both "subjectivity as merely an advantageous adaptation produced by the brain" and "subjectivity an epiphenomenon of informational patterns" (21 [250]). More specifically, Hawkes sees this colonization of subjectivity as corresponding symmetrically with the intentions, so to speak, of capitalism: "A capitalist economy is a vast machine that seems almost consciously designed to reduce people to the status of objects" (26 [254]). While capitalism manifests universally, for Hawkes, the condition of slavery described by Aristotle (26 [254]), such objectification and dehumanization represents capitalist ideology par excellence. In effect, capitalist processes of commodification -- the abstraction of wage-labor to exchange value -- reproduces, for Hawkes, an endless and vicious cycle of alienation and exploitation ultimately indifferent to individual volition -- or subjectivity, broadly defined, in this context. One symptom that reflects this cycle of reification is the postmodern view of an individual's identity as constituted by the sum total of the brands he or she represents andor purchases (Hawkes 26-7 [254-55]).

     5. To make sense of Hawkes' overall approach, let's turn to a useful comparison between Hawkes' perspective on materialists and a famous scene from Monty Python's 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which a mob accuses a woman of being a witch and seeks verification from a local law-enforcement knight so that she can be appropriately punished. The skit allegorizes a way in which human society, represented by the mob, often invests too much authority in specialized discourses, like science and systems of logic, and thus also in the people deemed "experts" in corresponding fields because of their official status: scientific and logical truth are not absolute. Similarly, Hawkes is anxious about a science-based "universal explanatory key that can account for everything," a widespread acceptance of what he perceives as materialism's mutually dependent reliance on both biological determinism and capitalist ideology: "DNA, we frequently hear, is destiny" (21 [251]). The original Monty Python scene is available on Youtube: <>. If you have not seen it before or do not remember it, please take a few minutes to watch it. To make our comparison, we have written a playful adaptation of the scene using the key points of Hawkes' argument. Our characters correlate to Monty Python's as follows:

Alleged Witch = Materialist

Crowd of Townspeople = "vast majority of people throughout human history" (category borrowed from Hawkes 3 [238])14

Mob of Accusers = "autonomous non-material subject[s]" (category borrowed from Hawkes 3 [238])

Law-Enforcement Knight = Descartes (reference from Hawkes 2 [238])

King Arthur = King Arthur

(Lights up. A Materialist is pushed through the "vast majority of people throughout human history" by several "autonomous non-material subject[s]" to a platform. She is wearing a 1970s style black leather jacket and black rectangular plastic glasses strapped to her face.)

"vast majority of people throughout human history": A materialist! A materialist! A materialist! We've got an eliminative materialist! A materialist!

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: We have found a materialist, might we save her?

"vast majority of people throughout human history": Save her! Save!

Descartes: How do you know she is a materialist?

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: She looks like one.

Descartes: Bring her forward.

Materialist: I'm not a materialist. I'm not a materialist.

Descartes: But you look like one.

Materialist: They dressed me up like this.

"vast majority of people throughout human history": No, we didn't . . . no.

Materialist: And these aren't my glasses; I don't need glasses. They made me identical with my glasses (concept in Hawkes 18 [248]).

Descartes: Well?

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: Well, we did do the glasses.

Descartes: The glasses?

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: And the jacket -- but she is a materialist!

"vast majority of people throughout human history": Save her! Materialist! Materialist! Save her!

Descartes: Did you dress her up like this?

"vast majority of people throughout human history": No, no . . . no . . . yes. Yes, yes, a bit, a bit.

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: She has got ethical neutrality (concept in Hawkes 16 [247]).

(Enter King Arthur unnoticed. He watches curiously.)

Descartes: What makes you think she is a materialist?

"autonomous non-material subject" #3: Well, she turned me into a memeplex (concept in Hawkes 3, 22, 25 [238, 251, 253]).

Descartes: A memeplex?

"autonomous non-material subject" #3: I got better.

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: Save her anyway!

"vast majority of people throughout human history": Save! Save her!

Descartes: Quiet, quiet. Quiet! There are ways of telling whether she is a materialist.

"vast majority of people throughout human history": Are there? What are they?

Descartes: Tell me, what do you do with materialists?

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: Save!

"vast majority of people throughout human history": Save, save them up!

Descartes: And what do you save apart from materialists?

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: More materialists!

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: Soul! (concept in Hawkes 7, 21, 22 [241, 250, 251])

Descartes: So, why can materialists be saved?

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: B -- . . . 'cause they're made of soul . . . ?

Descartes: Good!

"vast majority of people throughout human history": Oh yeah, yeah . . .

Descartes: So, how do we tell whether she has soul?

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: Build a consciousness out of her.

Descartes: Aah, but can you not also build consciousness out of core subjectivity? (concept in Hawkes 2 [238])

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: Oh, yeah.

Descartes: Does soul die?

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: No, no.

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: It lives! It lives!

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: Chop off her head!

"vast majority of people throughout human history": Off with her head!

Descartes: What also lives eternally?

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: Bread!

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: Apples!

"autonomous non-material subject" #3: Very small rocks!

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: Cider!

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: Great gravy!

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: Cherries!

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: Mud!

"autonomous non-material subject" #3: Churches -- churches!

"autonomous non-material subject" #2: Lead -- lead!

King Arthur: An illusion (concept in Hawkes 6, 16, 21 [240, 247, 250]).

"vast majority of people throughout human history": Oooh.

Descartes: Exactly! So, logically . . .

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: If . . . she weighs the same as an illusion, she's made of soul. (Recall that, Hawkes asserts about materialists, "They all believe that the human subject, mind or soul is an illusion" [21 [250]].)

Descartes: And therefore --?

"autonomous non-material subject" #1: A materialist!

"vast majority of people throughout human history": A materialist!

Descartes: We shall use my larger scales!

(The Materialist climbs onto the weighing pan as the illusion appears on the scale's corresponding pan.)

Descartes: Right, remove the supports!

"vast majority of people throughout human history": A materialist! A materialist!

Materialist: It's a fair cop.

"vast majority of people throughout human history": Save her! Save!

Descartes: Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?

King Arthur: I am Arthur, King of the Arts and Humanities.

Descartes: My liege!

King Arthur: Good Sir Philosopher, will you come with me to University, and join us at the Podium?

Descartes: My liege! I would be honored.

King Arthur: What is your name?

Descartes: Descartes, my liege.

King Arthur: Then I dub you Sir Descartes, Philosopher of the Podium.

(Black out.)

In the original Monty Python scene, the characters use deductive reasoning via syllogism to reach agreement:

1. If she is a witch, she weighs as much as a duck.

2. If she weighs as much as a duck, she floats on water.

3. If she is a witch, she floats on water.

In our adaptation, parodying Hawkes' argument, the characters also use deductive reasoning via syllogism to reach agreement:

1. If she is a materialist, she weighs as much as an illusion.

2. If she weighs as much as an illusion, she has soul.

3. If she is a materialist, she has soul.

In Hawkes' argument about materialist critics, he also reasons deductively via syllogism:

1. If she is a materialist, she is identical to a capitalist.

2. If she is identical to a capitalist, she is ethically neutral.

3. If she is a materialist, she is ethically neutral.

     6. In conclusion, we want to respond to Hawkes' definition of eliminative materialism and the implications it holds for conceptualizations of subjectivity and political activism. Although the definition of eliminative materialism exemplified by the Churchlands represents a scarce minority of academics, as zooz shows above, the scope of Hawkes' term encompasses any work that eliminates "ideas" in favor of "matter" (4 [239]), which, according to Hawkes, characterizes more or less the entirety of scholars working in some fashion with materialism, from identity politics to object-oriented analyses. For instance, because Hawkes subscribes to the "doctrine known as the interpenetration of opposites" -- wherein the dichotomy between ideas and matter is immutable -- he finds eliminative materialist work flawed by logical error, specifically the "reductionist fallacy" in which "either pole of the dichotomy determines or creates the other" (10 [243]).15 Hawkes' belief, that it is only possible to conceive of matter in relation to ideas and vice versa, is the basis on which Tuin and Dolphijn find such scholars of the dualist tradition less than progressive (154). Nevertheless, Hawkes' attachment to dualisms marks his philosophical investment in what he refers to as the "autonomous non-material subject," a construction of the subject facilitated through the idealist half of the dualist framework and alternatively eliminated by monist materialism. In other words, any theoretical "position that rejects the existence of an autonomous non-material subject" is, according to Hawkes, "materialist by definition" (3 [238]).

     7. The position Hawkes would seemingly like to articulate is that idealist aspects, such as the gray matter of consciousness in Kosslyn and Koenig's works and the spiritual matter in Newberg's works, by definition constitute the human. This is, we presume, in addition to physical properties. By privileging metaphysical criteria in his definition of the human, Hawkes mitigates his fears of a totalizing scientific explanation of human phenomena. Put differently, the human, for Hawkes, constitutes and is constituted by characteristics always already in excess to what, for instance, neurobiology seeks to explain or MRI scans represent. Hawkes expresses this position categorically when asserting that any humanities-based analysis of the relative merits of materialism ought to proceed through the lens of the theological. According to Hawkes,

Any evaluation of materialism's benefits for literary analysis must therefore focus on this core shared assumption. Is it true that human beings have no soul? (21 [250])

One might wonder, as we do, whether Hawkes' position is simply, albeit ironically, eliminative idealist.16 Consider Hawkes' flagrant attack on Gabriel Egan:17

My point here is to note that an essay that begins by announcing its attention [sic] to defend Platonism against "unthinking" materialism should have recourse to the most uncompromising form of materialism in pursuit of that end. This is eloquent testimony to the almost instinctual hold that materialist assumptions currently exert on the Western intelligentsia. (4 [239])

Our point here is to note that an essay, in this case Hawkes' "Against Materialism in Literary Theory," that begins by announcing its intention to defend political activism against "unthinking" ideological positions should have recourse to the most uncompromising form of ideology in pursuit of that end. That this is the case for Hawkes is eloquent testimony to the almost instinctual hold that religious assumptions currently exert on him. A person's belief structure is his or her own personal matter, but its political implications must be open to discussion whenever it directly informs academic research, teaching, and public discourse.

     8. Although we believe in the value of staying open-minded about research that explores spiritual issues pertinent to subjectivity, like Newberg's, we disagree with dogmatic claims asserting how theological categories must inform theorizations and discussions of subjectivity and political activism. In short, we disagree with Hawkes that productive and informative discussions of materialism's benefits for cultural studies must invariably focus on questions concerning the existence of the soul. Furthermore, we disagree with Hawkes' assessment of religion's benign influence on today's global politics:

Unlike such seventeenth-century cavaliers, today's materialism shocks nobody. Eighteenth-century materialists fought bravely against the political and intellectual power of religion, but that battle is long over in the West. (14 [246])

Given the ongoing wars in the Middle East and their impact on international politics and economics, and the post-9/11 escalation of discourses on terrorism in North America and elsewhere, we believe, unlike Hawkes, that the power of religion continues to be a critically important issue today.

     9. Overall, we agree with Hawkes about the importance of continued research on the subject and subjectivity, and that it is productive to debate "whether materialism is a desirable theoretical orientation" (4 [239]). However, it is misleading and contrary to the value of productive, conscientious, and informative academic debates to claim, as Hawkes does, that the majority of materialist critics "believe that the human subject, mind or soul is an illusion" (21 [250]). As we have seen, this is untrue about Tuin and Dolphijn and the many new materialist scholars they cite, just as it is untrue about Kosslyn and Koenig, whom Hawkes either misquotes or misinterprets, and it is untrue about Newberg and D'Aquill. It strikes us that any debate about how materialism contextualizes subjectivity and politics in the contemporary academic setting, whether in the humanities or elsewhere, should be open-minded to current theories and research. Contrary to what Hawkes would have us believe, it seems rare to encounter work that eradicates wholesale ideas about subjectivity, the mind, and consciousness. Thus, we are skeptical of the following claims Hawkes makes about materialism:

The view that the pursuit of material self-interest is natural, and thus inevitable, appeared to be corroborated by Darwin's evolutionary theory, and today it is solidly entrenched in both popular culture and the academy. (11 [243-44])

A majority of today's literary critics take the basic assumptions of materialism for granted. . . . (11 [244])

Today, in contrast, arguments for materialism emanate largely from advocates of capitalism and the market economy. (23 [252]

The vast majority of today's literary theorists, like the overwhelming majority of Western intellectuals as a whole, share a methodological commitment to materialism. In fact, this commitment is often so deep as to be unconscious. (1-2 [237])        

On the contrary, we were happy to encounter many insightful, self-aware, rigorous, and conscientious instances of materialist scholarship in preparation for this response.18 

10. An excellent example of this is Dimitris Papadopoulos' essay, "Activist Materialism," in which he maps a trajectory of activist scholarship from the ontologically materialist and monist position of Marx's early work to the 1990s materialist turn promoted by Deleuze and Guattari and materialist feminism.19 Unlike Hawkes' assessment of cultural materialism that relegates the political merits of materialism to historical interpretation (23 [251-52]) and equates work on materialist identity politics with pro-capitalist agendas (28 [255-56]), Papadopoulos provides an insightful glimpse into cultural materialism's benefits following its transition away from Leninist activism:

Leninist activism subsumed every activity under a single social conflict between labour and capital, while the activism of cultural politics multiplies the fronts on which social antagonisms are encountered and fought. . . . Representation and ideas are the battleground on which the conceptualization of activism thrives. It is about negotiating and transforming the conditions of thinking and feeling that make activism possible. (72-73)

In light of Papadopoulos' analysis about how cultural materialism enables the possibility of different sides and modes of activist thought, we are curious about how the idealist historian (23 [252]), valorized by Hawkes, engenders new ways to think about political activism.

     11. Whereas Hawkes maintains resolutely the materialist/idealist binary opposition, Papadopoulos explores the viability of materialist monism:

Representations are movements of matter as much as genetic mutations or geological movements are. Deleuze and Guattari's point is not to eliminate the distinctive importance of representations and ideas, rather, their claim is that when representations are considered as separated from matter they become strategic tools for ordering material reality. (74)

The significance of "ordering material reality," Papadopoulos argues, applies directly to activism as it re-appropriates spaces and produces new social and material practices, which can then be deployed to serve political ends, such as the reclaiming of urban, environmental, transnational, and migration territories and movements, promoting cultural identities, and enabling queer, feminist, and cyber activism (74). Like Hawkes, Papadopoulos is similarly concerned with the commodification of subjectivity that is an effect of capitalist ideology, but unlike Hawkes' retreat to idealism, Papadopoulos posits a strategy whereby political materialist activism rejuvenates the revolutionary capacity of desire through both resistance and mobility. To work around the appropriation of desire, understood as "desire for," within capitalist consumer culture, Papadopoulos follows Deleuze and Guattari's lead:

The prominent role of matter in Deleuze and Guattari is a small gesture of rebellion against the capture of earlier materialisms within a docile machine for constantly revolutionising capitalism. Deleuze and Guattari perform this small gesture of freedom by inserting indeterminacy into the way desire operates; and they do so by turning to the underlying indeterminacy of matter: matter is primarily unformed and in continuous variation, an oscillation between various intensities, closures and openings. Matter is a political exit. Matter is escape. The making of a life. Matter can break the capitalist spell. (77).

(Achieved, albeit briefly, through Adam & Bryan's intersubjective transversality with the subject matters of this essay combined with other matters of assimilation, such as in zoozspace, their meditation on the topics of the soul and body, thought and affect, virtuality, fabulation, and actuality in immanent correspondence precipitated an implosion: the visceral, the intellectual, and the electric fervor of desire eventualized in a monist ecstasy fantasized by but rarely generated by philosophical investigation: "viscerallectrictude." Adam & Bryan experienced a remarkable event with significant historical duration. This is the how, why, where, and when the viscerallectrics emerged as, within, and through them. Simply put, Adam & Bryan offer the viscerallectric as a concept by which to account for the collapse, however manifested, of the apparent polarizations between the ideal and material, a kind of interpenetration of opposites.)



Go to this issue's index.




1 All quotations from David Hawkes' essay, "Against materialism in Literary Theory," are doubly cited. The first page number, not in brackets, indicates the page number in Early Modern Culture; the second number, in brackets, indicates the page number in The Return of Theory in Early Modern English Studies: Tarrying with the Subjunctive, eds. Paul Cefalu and Bryan Reynolds (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011): 237-257.

2 Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphijn. "The Transversality of New Materialism," Women: A Cultural Review. 21:2, 153-171 (July 2010). It is important to point out that there are various concepts of transversality in circulation within literary studies, critical theory, performance studies, and philosophy, despite the common genealogy to the majority of them (tracing back to the use of the concept by Jean-Paul Sartre that Deleuze and Guattari develop). For instance, while Tuin and Dolphijn's understanding of transversality shares basic methodological features with transversal poetics, it differs significantly in other ways. For a succinct account of transversality's history in critical theory, see Gary Genosko, "Subjects Matter," in Bryan Reynolds, Transversal Subjects: From Montaigne to Deleuze after Derrida (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009): 262-271.

3 Following zooz, we use the word "andor" for the combination "and/or." See zooz, "Continuous (R)Evolutions: Thermodynamic Processes, Analog Hybridization, Transversal Becomings, and the Post-Human," in postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies. 1:1/2 (2010): 235-246.

4 For examples of recent work by scholars in early modern English studies on posthumanism, see the special issue of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, "When Did We Become Post/human?," eds. Eileen A. Joy and Craig Dionne. 1:1/2 (April 2010).

5 The amalgam of predominantly James Intriligator & Bryan Reynolds, known as "zooz," actually contributed to the production of this essay, even though they are not an author of it.

6 James Taylor, "Your Smiling Face," on 1977 album "JT" from Columbia Records.

7 zooz, "Continuous (R)Evolutions: Thermodynamic Processes, Analog Hybridization, Transversal Becomings, and the Post-Human," in the special issue of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, "When Did We Become Post/human?," eds. Eileen A. Joy and Craig Dionne. 1:1/2 (April 2010): 235-45.

8 Kristin Keating & Bryan Reynolds call this "powers of the obvious." See their essay, "A World of (No) Wonder, or No Wonder-Wounded Hearers Here: Toward a Theory on the Vanishing Mediation of 'No Wonder' in Shakespeare's Theater," forthcoming in Mark Aune ed, Wonder in Shakespeare (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

9 The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides an overview on the concept of eliminative materialism and its history: <>.

10 Bryan Reynolds would like to thank Patricia Churchland for corresponding with him at length on this subject.

11 Hawkes seems to be confused about who endorses or practices eliminative materialism. Hawkes claims that the "public intellectual face of eliminative materialism is Richard Dawkins" (141). The fact is that Dawkins is not affiliated in any way with eliminative materialism; his work does not support eliminative materialism explicitly or implicitly, and he is not associated with it. One wonders how Hawkes came to this association. It is curious that Googling the key words "Richard Dawkins" and "eliminative materialism" returns only Hawkes' review as a search result directly linking them. See Hawkes' review of Bryan Reynolds, Transversal Enterprises in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries: Fugitive Explorations in Theatre Survey ([2009], 50: 141-143).

12 For more on Andrew Newberg's research, see his website: <>.

13 We just want to be clear here because, as noted in endnote 10, Hawkes seems to think that citing a work implies endorsement of its claims.

14 Full quote from Hawkes: "Despite the claim that "most people" [Hawkes is quoting Gabriel Egan here] find it impossible to conceive of an autonomous non-material subject, the vast majority of people throughout human history have found no difficulty whatsoever believing in such a phenomenon" (3 [238]). The essay of Gabriel Eagan's that Hawkes discusses is "Shakespeare, Idealism, and Universals: The Significance of Recent Work on the Mind," and, like Hawkes' essay, is published The Return of Theory in Early Modern English Studies: Tarrying with the Subjunctive, eds. Paul Cefalu and Bryan Reynolds (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011): 278-295.

15 As best as we can determine, Hawkes believes in the integrity and stability of the materialist-idealist dichotomy. In reference to Hegel and Marx, he writes "They thought that each pole of the dichotomy brought the other into existence, a doctrine known as 'the interpenetration of opposites'. It would be impossible to conceive of 'matter' unless we also held the opposite conception of 'idea'" (10 [243]).

16 Although Hawkes ascribes a conditional value to deploying materialist forms of argumentation in the service of challenging essentialist positions concerning identity politics (22 [251]) or resisting oppressive sociopolitical configurations (23 [252]), he believes that such "benefits actually derive from historicism rather than from materialism" (23 [252]). As such, Hawkes advocates for idealist historicism as a corrective to what he views as the inextricable connection between capitalist ideology and materialism: "materialism is capitalism in philosophical form" (28 [255]).

17 See endnote 13 for Egan's citation information.

18 Many of the essays we encountered in preparing our response to Hawkes employ Deleuze and Guattari as primary source material. This reflects a current trend in materialist scholarship, and not our exclusive endorsement of Deleuze and Guattari. For a discussion of our relationship to Deleuze and Guattari's theories, see our essay, "The Masochistic Quest of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Deleuze and Guattari to Transversal Poetics with(out) Baudrillard," in Bryan Reynolds, Transversal Subjects: From Montaigne to Deleuze after Derrida (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009): 83-123.

19 Dimitris Papadopoulos. "Activist Materialism," Deleuze Studies. Volume 4: 2010, 64-83.



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