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Reflecting and Refracting: A Review of Jean-Paul Martinon’s The End of Man

Published onMar 03, 2020
Reflecting and Refracting: A Review of Jean-Paul Martinon’s The End of Man

[originally posted March 15, 2014]

To ask oneself before another: by what means does he calm within himself the desire to be everything?

-Georges Bataille

The state of sleep guarantees the security of the citadel that must be guarded.

-Sigmund Freud

In his recent work, The End of Man (Brooklyn, NY: punctum books, 2013), Jean-Paul Martinon ambitiously negotiates the spatial and temporal assumptions of manhood at the periphery of masculinity studies and the ‘temporal turn’ of queer theory. Martinon’s text is enacted within the fissure that unbinds metaphysics from anthropology, and his conceptual content unhinges ideas of beginning and ending. The beginning of this review will thus commence with the end of Martinon’s text, “Philosohy must now begin to assume its spacing (and) temporalizing genders and to philosophize otherwise in order to respect the exigency that thinking accords with our bodies” (110). Accordingly, The End of Man weaves personal narratives throughout theoretical trysts in concretely grounding the question of ‘man’ in Martinon’s own corporeal body. The contiguous and continuous inquiry of ‘end’ is found and lost at the points of time and space’s dispersion, and the particular is again cited at the site and sight of Martinon’s body (writ). The following paragraphs will unpack The End of Man, chapter-by-chapter, before re-turning to the work’s context in order to prognosticate the purchase of it’s content.

Chapter One, “The Neuter,” offers a re-organization of the body prior to, and concurrently at the threshold of, becoming an entity that signifies sexuality and gender. Martinon states, “the neuter in question here refers somewhat to the body, but it does not stand for ‘the body’ as such” (15). The particular neuter of discussion ends up becoming a male body by virtue of the physicality of Martinon’s own material protuberances, yet the neuter as concept is prior to sexuality and gender. This does not mean that the neuter is to be understood as a lack, however, or as ‘neutral’ in its strictly Heideggerian or Barthesian connotation(s). The neuter is “the primordial complex positivity that takes place before sexuality and gender” (23). Thus it is that non-thing that is already shot through, always, by the alterity of the other. And, this ‘other’ in Martinon’s conceptualization is not reducible to the feminine as such. The neuter is the matrical itself: a nonsexed, generative production local. Thus the neuter exists together with, while priming the way for, sexual difference.

Chapter Two, “Sexual Difference,” responds to the dangling questions evoked by Derrida’s notion that sexual difference is ‘a choreography of sexual voices.’ Martinon asks, “Who hears what and how in this dance?” (43). Martinon’s chapter sets out to honor the intricacies whereby such difference is organized in, by, and through overdetermined space and time. Masculine and feminine are, for Martinon, “logical improprieties located within the positive neuter of this [his own] body” (33). Martinon uses a personal sketch of an erotic self-caress in this chapter in order to (single handedly?) suggest that sexual difference is that that breaks time and space apart—but not as completely static moments. By Martinon’s account, sexual difference is the remainder extant subsequent to the dislocation or dispersion of the neuter, as it reaches towards the other, which results from the submission of matter to the law of language; and this process exists prior to, and beside, the identification of the ‘male’ or ‘female’ subject.

For Martinon, such dispersion does not result in a binary or complementary topology or interplay, but rather in a heterogeneous perpendicularity in which “the dislocation of the masculine and the feminine occurs every second of time anew, strange, unexpected, [and] vexatiously alienating” (39). Necessarily then, and as logical improprieties, masculine and feminine are two categories amidst a seemingly infinite supply of items that Martinon could trace out. Although Martinon traces these categories, of masculine and feminine, this is not for the sake of theoretical or material unity. The critical move here is an understanding of (the) sexes that evades order, and this in order to avoid the pitfalls of vertically or horizontally hierarchizing (the) sexes. Contrary to tangential moves made in queer temporality studies, Martinon takes the synchronic implications of time and space to their possible conclusions, and then brings such ends back into their diachronic chronotopic choreography.

Martinon’s headiness here goes beyond terminal mental-masturbation; in fact, he is stroking towards an adjacent modality of his own mortality. Martinon moves on to further discuss the purport of the auto-caress upon the neuter. Such touching disrupts the suspended finitude of ‘self’ or ‘male’ thus opening up not-yet stratified possibilities through “the perpendicular ecstasy of spacing and temporizing” (43). (Martinon’s notion of spacing and temporalizing again ties in with his other works on temporality.) Such seminal foreshadowing of finitude, infinity, and (erotic) corporeal contact plants seeds for Martinon’s later speculations on the male promise of futurity through death: cum. However, having moved from the Neuter to sexual difference, Martinon must explicitly discuss that which results, at least for him, the male body.

“Male,” the book’s third chapter, is primarily interested in the following question, “If the masculine—as previously defined—is the deployment of language, then how does this deployment manifests itself in this display of maleness and how does this male body relate to the feminine interrupting him every second of time?” (46). The genotextual constituents of Irigaray and Chalier here undergird Martinon’s phenotextual positing—and these are further bolstered by Levinas’s writings on ‘the gaze.’ The male body here is only male insofar as it cannot, and will not, fall into what it is supposed to be: mastering, invulnerable. The male body is, Martinon argues, a gift for representation. The illusion of existential independence falls way to the necessity of being in dependence upon an other and this other is, again, not predictably determinate. The male body is vulnerable, penetrable, and most importantly it is finite. In thinking through the finitude of the [his] male body, Martinon moves on in the next chapter to consider an alternative tale, or fib, of the rib.

“The Side Story,” Chapter Four, provides an anecdotal exegesis of Genesis in order to demonstrate the possibility of Being as substantiated in, and beyond, duality: the couple, rather than the primordial one. Martinon thinks alongside(s) of singularity and plurality, and this chapter resonates with his previous work on Jean-Luc Nancy. Man and woman, as mortal neuters and logical improprieties with sexes, share the denominator of death; and, “thus, when they play, they are simultaneously always already in need (past repeating itself as present) and desire (the present projecting itself as future), a muddle of fact and fiction ruled by a mixture of concupiscence and transcendence that keeps them together as separation: the enigmatic as such” (66). This chapter is slippery and important, and it seems that Martinon is interested in the dismantling of the concept of factually privileged sexuated position(s). Thus the form and content of this and the subsequent chapter seem to meet Irigararian thought with consonance, dissonance, and resounding echoes.

Chapter Five, “End(s) Meet,” begins by conjecturing over the phenomenon whereby two eschatological entities (men) are brought together—and apart—in, by, and through physicality. Martinon deploys Deleuzian conceptualization here in order to underscore the process of intimate contact as that which brings humans to the very realm of sexual difference itself: the remainder, which is inhuman. The chapter’s goal, in continuing to trouble doxa, is to “invent new words and new ways of thinking in order once again to prevent language burying us—as always—too quickly” (71). Martinon enters this losing game valiantly, and he brings a particular object to the fore: the soiled cum cloth. The cum cloth is an immanent reminder of death’s remainder in/as Mitsein, and Martinon ultimately confirms, through rhythmic strokes, “However much phantasmagorical characters populate the visual field and/or the imaginary, masturbation simply confirms solitude” (73). Yet, even in and by such solitude, Martinon grasps that the future is brought to the tip of verticality in fecundate eruptions from singularity; whether in hetero—and especially in homo—sexual ingressions/points of supposed continuity, the contiguity of the other is rebirthed at each point of contact.

Martinon begins the sixth chapter, “The Factory,” by noting: “everything is always about the mastery of the earth and skies, and not about the work that goes on in order for this supposed mastery to take place” (85). The sixth chapter discusses scrotal economics: the restricted economy of the money-shot, and (implicitly) the general economy of dépense. Martinon is clear, careful, and cautious in noting that he means not to offer another biologically reductive theory; rather, “The aim behind this gesture is to suggest the idea of turning the discussion on the male body (and its ontological structure) towards not so much a different metaphor, but a different mode of operation and description” (87). Martinon lingers on the idea that testicular non-productive expenditure is both for the other (including and especially the other-to-come) whilst simultaneously signifying the potential of vitality beyond death; its material fluidity makes it irreducible to ‘one,’ however fungible the final product might become in various stadia. Abject yet messianic, semen here is thought through as pertains to the unstable and anointed boundaries betwixt ipse, communion and identity.

The final chapter, “Couplings,” again returns to biblical interpretation. Martinon conjectures athwart Levinas’s rumination: ‘Woman was set apart from man, but she came after him’ (Lecha Dodi!). Martinon’s exegetical efforts are aimed again at conceptualizing the ways in which synchrony is already implicated in diachrony and vice versa. The political implications of such conceptual prolepsis gain opening, shadowy form: the cursive stability of father time is always perforated as mother earth pegs away, and the sexed body is precisely what is ‘fleshed out’ of this dynamic as the residual remainder meets the stratifying laws of speech and the gaze. As Martinon states, “a next step is perhaps made here to ensure that women are no longer understood as secondary, forced to ‘mime’ phallic authority, put on a ‘masquerade’ or, worse still, attempt a problematic mystical a-logical writing” (109). The point of Martinon’s re-figurations throughout is such that, “in this way, man and woman have no other choice but to remain for ever unequal and yet tied to each other in perfect equality because always already creating, making, and taking space and time” (110).

Man is mythological, biological, ideological and metaphysical, and he is so as if by nature. Man is constituted at least in part by voices and texts, as well, and Martinon’s work here helps overwrite, override, and expose a different underside to the materiality and (in)finitude of our own being. The End of Man, as an act of descriptive transcursivity, cuts through and across the existent palimpsest of assumed masculinities. If only momentarily we are beside ourselves confronting the glue that holds our sentences and bodies together, we are able to reimagine our dispersal, and follow our way back to heterogeneous physicality, by inhabiting our-selves, differently, as spacing and timing anew…

… The battle through logical impropriety constitutive of being as such brought this (my) particular body back to battle, cum Bataille, when the sultry distaste of nonsense (Being) drove my digits to produce a review: “nonsense: the taste of garlic which the roasted lamb had” (Bataille, Inner Experience, 62). It is my hope that Martinon’s text permits the further reception of divinity’s exiled egression as it returns from the cruel exodus of romantic and monastic (academic) spiritual hangovers …

Ilya Merlin is currently a PhD candidate at Western University’s Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism (London, Ontario). His research occasions psychoanalytic theory, Jewish mysticism, intellectual history and masculinity studies. Until he becomes a successful rapper, he will also dabble, peripherally, in hip-hop scholarship. Before bibliographies, it was barbells for Ilya, and after reading so many books he hopes to write a few.


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