To dust, or not to dust?

By | February 4, 2016

Guest post by Michael Marder

To dust, or not to dust? That is not the question. We have no other choice but to do both things at the same time: dusting as in tidying up our dwellings—an arduous and infinite task—and as in spreading the dust of our bodies and clothes around. A key lesson of my book Dust (Object Lessons) is that this powdery substance envelops and levels crude oppositions that follow the model of “X or not X,” on which the logical principle of non-contradiction is based. It decides us into finite existence before we have a chance to decide what to do with it.

You realize, of course, that the question I have playfully posed in this blog entry is a variation on Hamlet’s ponderous “To be, or not to be?” Herein lies another hint as to what I am after in my text. Dust is not so much what remains of being, but the substitute for being in our age, which Nietzsche poetically and prophetically called “the twilight of the idols.” Being, impregnated by time, is dust. Space, filled with dust, is extended time. The unequal amount of time it takes to grind a book’s cover, your skin, tree pollen, a metal doorknob, and fibers of wool into dust are the unique signatures of all these finite beings.

So, when I selected dust as an “object” to draw lessons from, I chose nothing less than a figure of being, appropriate for the end of metaphysics, that is, for the end of grand, totalizing narratives about the most essential makeup of what is. We live and breathe in the dust, and increasingly so day by day. Why not learn to think in the dust as well, instead of forcing our thoughts into the oxygen- and reality-free realm of pure ideas, divine substances, or absolute spirit? That is what postmetaphysics feels, looks, and smells like.

We might read the “to” of “to dust” not only as the (rather obvious) marker of the verb’s infinitive form, but also as a preposition followed by a noun and indicating a certain destination. Together with other animate and inanimate entities, we are invariably on our way to it. To dust! is the unwitting slogan of everything that is. For this reason, too, the question of my entry title is not in earnest. Needless to say, this pen, this hand holding the pen, this body to which the hand with the pen is attached, and this inimitable world holding (otherwise, “existentially”) the body with the hand clasping the pen are destined to dust. Exactly when each reaches it—is only a matter of time.

DustMichael Marder is IKERBASQUE Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU), Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. His most recent monographs include The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium (2014), Pyropolitics: When the World Is Ablaze (2015), and Dust, recently released in Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series. He is now completing a book, co-authored with Luce Irigaray and titled Through Vegetal Being.

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