On the surface, “immanence” would appear to favor certain religiosities (paganisms, pantheisms, animisms, earth spiritualities) over others (transcendentalist monotheisms, rigid dualisms, Buddhist “extinctionism,” et al). But its resonance works within traditions as well: towards panentheistic strains of Christianity, where the Christ is seen as in-dwelling, where Easter is the rebirth of nature and life as well as of social relations after the long hard winter, where Mary is the cosmos; or toward a boddhisattvic liberationist Buddhism that cherishes life rather than seeking to flee from it.

Immanentism redirects our attention to what is going on in the moment-to-moment shaping of the world, to our experience and ability to shift things in one direction or another, to karmic conditions as open-ended rather than fixed. When we grasp something (the self, political power, the object of our desire), we lose it. Immanentism redirects us to the between: the grasping, the finding and losing, the power-to and power-with, the swelling current that pushes for change (e.g., in the build-up to the last US election) rather than the icon of change it gives rise to (Obama) though that icon be instrumental to the change.


Favoring immanence over transcendence is situational (because it’s immanent to the situation, not fixed for all time). I see nothing wrong, in principle, with transcendence; I just prefer to see it as situated: we transcend our circumstances, things break into our ossified systems, bringing light through the cracks (as Leonard Cohen sings, “There is a crack in everything; it’s where the light comes in”). Transcendence, like Derrida’s différance, is a necessary concept, but once we predefine it it’s no longer transcendent; so a predefined transcendent God becomes a creation of our imagination. Immanence suggests that we try to account for the many possibilities inherent in our current situation, its inner capacity for swerving in one direction or another, and ours for acting to contribute to one or another swerve, to follow it and take responsibility for it as we do, all the while not knowing quite where it will lead. That’s where the deconstructionism of Derrida, John Caputo, Mark Taylor, Robert Magliola (all theologians of sorts), Drucilla Cornell (feminist legal scholar), Gayatri Spivak, et al. meets the Spinozian immanentism of Deleuze, Connolly, DeLanda, et al., meets the post-Marxism of J. K. Gibson-Graham meets Buddhist nonduality and its latter-day interpreters (David Loy, Francesco Varela, et al).

Most of these connections, minus the Buddhism, are known within the radical-democracy literature, but what I find missing is an acknowledgment of the role of imagination — that immanent capacity to work in and through images (not just discourses), to shape the world according to bodily-affective-sensorial forms which include visual images as well as sound-forms and the many combinations of modes made possible by our sensory-cognitive overlays. The Lacanian/Zizekian contribution works too much from the single understanding that the symbolic is a language that fills the original ‘lack’ with socially shaped content; what’s missing there is the ethology that connects humans with other animals. (See Tonder & Thomassen’s Radical Democracy: Politics Between Abundance and Lack on the difference between that and the Deleuzian/Connolian thread.) Deleuzians like Elizabeth Grosz (Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth), Brian Massumi, Keith Ansell-Pearson, and others are developing a more immanentist and ethologically informed understanding of the imagination. Building on (and in some ways breaking with) the post-phenomenological work of Edward Casey, Richard Kearney, John Sallis, et al, this Deleuzian wave is poised to propel the imagination (the imaginal, in Henry Corbin’s terms) into the center of cultural theory. Click on the Reading List to the left, on the Main page of this blog…

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