Kwek, Dorothy H. B

Dorothy H. B

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The Importance of Being Useless : A Cross-Cultural Contribution to the New Materialisms from Zhuangzi

2018-12-10, Kwek, Dorothy H. B

The recent ‘material turn’ focuses on materiality in two distinctive ways: one, by including nonhuman agencies, another, by mining indigenous knowledges for alternative conceptions of agency and human–thing relations. A troubling gap persists between the two endeavours. The gap insinuates an us–them dichotomy and, more importantly, curtails communication between radically different visions of thingly agency – thereby impeding the political drive of these conceptual enterprises. This article is an essay in cross-cultural transposition. Through a close reading of a story of a useless tree in an ancient proto-Daoist text, Zhuangzi (莊子), the author shows how its fabulist and oneiric form illuminates a distinctive perspective on uselessness. Conversely, the trope of uselessness lets us begin from what she calls a ‘situated affectivity’ amidst more-than-human materialities. The article concludes with a brief comparison of three modalities of uselessness from different ‘cosmologies’ of thought – a foretaste of the potentials of cross-cosmological endeavours.

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Changing referents : Learning across space and time in China and the west

2017-11, Kwek, Dorothy H. B


Power and the Multitude : A Spinozist View

2015, Kwek, Dorothy H. B

Benedict Spinoza (1634–1677) is feted as the philosopher par excellence of the popular democratic multitude by Antonio Negri and others. But Spinoza himself expresses a marked ambivalence about the multitude in brief asides, and as for his thoughts on what he calls “the rule of (the) multitude,” that is, democracy, these exist only as meager fragments in his unfinished Tractatus Politicus or Political Treatise. This essay addresses the problem of Spinoza’s multitude. First, I reconstruct a vision of power that is found in the Ethics but that tends to be overlooked in the scholarly literature: power is not just sheer efficacy or imposition of will, but rather involves a capacity for being-affected; I call this the conception of power as sensitivity. The second part of my argument shows how, given Spinoza’s emphatic political naturalism, the conception of power as sensitivity can be extended to his political philosophy to shed light on what Spinoza calls potentia multitudinis, or “the power of the multitude”—a term found solely in the Political Treatise and nowhere else in his oeuvre. This juxtaposition reveals significant qualifications to the liberatory potential of the multitude currently claimed in the scholarly literature.