Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 383–400 | Cite as

Pushing dualism to an extreme: On the philosophical impetus of a new materialism

  • Rick Dolphijn
  • Iris van der Tuin


This article discusses the way in which a group of contemporary cultural theorists in whose work we see a “new materialism” (a term coined by Braidotti and DeLanda) at work constitutes a philosophy of difference by traversing the dualisms that form the backbone of modernist thought. Continuing the ideas of Lyotard and Deleuze they have set themselves to a rewriting of all possible forms of emancipation that are to be found. This rewriting exercise involves a movement in thought that, in the words of Bergson, can be termed “pushing dualism to an extreme.” By this movement, Deleuze has stated, “difference is pushed to the limit,” that is, using Colebrook’s words, “difference is shown differing.” The article addresses the ways in which modernity’s dualisms (structured by a negative relation between terms) are traversed, and how a new conceptualization, and ontology, of difference (structured by an affirmative relation) comes to be constituted along the way. New materialism leaves behind all prioritizations (implicitly) involved in modern dualist thinking since a difference structured by affirmation does not work with predetermined relations (e.g., between mind and body) nor does it involve a (counter-)hierarchy between terms. The article makes explicit the methodology of the current-day rise of non-dualist thought, both in terms of its non-classificatory mode of (Deleuzian) thinking and in terms of the theory of the time of thought thus effectuated (Lyotard’s notion of ‘rewriting modernity’ is not a post-modernism). Throughout the article we will engage with an example in order to demonstrate the ontology that is being practiced following this methodology: How does a new (feminist) materialism traverse the sexual dualisms that structure modernist (feminist) thinking? This example also shows how a feminist post-modernism (found in the canonical work of Butler) has remained dualist, and what makes new materialism “new.” Freed from a dualist methodology, the modernist emancipatory project comes to full fruition in new materialism.


New materialism Rewriting modernity Cultural theory Dualism Difference 


  1. Balibar, Étienne. 1998. Politics and communication. In Spinoza and politics. London and New York: Verso (first published 1989).Google Scholar
  2. Barad, Karen. 2003. Posthumanist performativity. Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28(3): 801–831.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bergson, Henri. 2004. Matter and memory (trans: Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer). 5th edn. Mineola, NY: Dover (first published 1896).Google Scholar
  4. Braidotti, Rosi. 1994. Nomadic subjects: Embodiment and sexual difference in contemporary feminist theory. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Braidotti, Rosi. 2002. Metamorphoses: Towards a materialist theory of becoming. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  6. Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of ‘sex’. New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Colebrook, Claire. 2004. Postmodernism is a humanism: Deleuze and equivocity. Women: A Cultural Review 15(3): 283–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. De Beauvoir, Simone. 2010. The second sex (trans: Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier). New York: Alfred A. Knopf (first published 1949).Google Scholar
  9. Deleuze, Gilles. 1994. Difference and repetition (trans: Paul Patton). New York: Columbia University Press (first published 1968).Google Scholar
  10. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 1983. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (trans: Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (first published 1972).Google Scholar
  11. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 1987. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (trans: Brian Massumi). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (first published 1980).Google Scholar
  12. Deleuze, Gilles. 1991. Bergsonism (trans: Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam). New York: Zone Books (first published 1966).Google Scholar
  13. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 1994. What is philosophy? (trans: Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell). New York: Columbia University Press (first published 1991).Google Scholar
  14. Deleuze, Gilles. 1995. On philosophy. In Negotiations 19721990, 135–155 (trans: Martin Joughin). New York: Columbia University Press (first published 1988).Google Scholar
  15. Deleuze, Gilles. 2000. Cinema 2: The time-image (trans: H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (first published 1985).Google Scholar
  16. Deleuze, Gilles. 2004. Bergson’s conception of difference. In Desert islands and other texts 19531974, ed. David Lapoujade, 32–51 (trans: Michael Taormina). Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series. Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press (first published 1956/2002).Google Scholar
  17. Deleuze, Gilles. 2006. Two regimes of madness: Texts and interviews 19751995, ed. D. Lapoujade (trans: A. Hodges and M. Taormina). New York: Semiotext(e).Google Scholar
  18. Derrida, Jacques. 1988. Letter to a Japanese friend. In Derrida and difference, eds. David Wood and Robert Bernasconi, 270–276. Evanston: Northwestern University Press (first published 1985).Google Scholar
  19. Foucault, Michel. 1980. Power-knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972–1977. Brighton: Harvester Press.Google Scholar
  20. Grosz, Elizabeth. 2000. Histories of a feminist future. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 25(4): 1017–1021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grosz, Elizabeth. 2005. Time travels: Feminism, nature, power. Durham NC and London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Heidegger, Martin. 1971. A dialogue on language between a Japanese and an inquirer. In On the way to language (trans: unknown). New York: Harper & Row (first published 1959).Google Scholar
  23. Hill, Rebecca. 2008. Phallocentrism in Bergson: Life and matter. Deleuze Studies 2 (supplement Deleuze and gender, eds. Claire Colebrook and Jami Weinstein): 123–136.Google Scholar
  24. Holland, Eugene. 1999. Deleuze and Guattari’s AntiOedipus: Introduction to schizoanalysis. London, New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Kirby, Vicky. 2006. Judith Butler: Live theory. London and New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  26. Leibniz, Gottfried. 1962. The monadology. In Discourse on metaphysics, correspondence with Arnauld and monadology (trans: George R. Montgomery). 251–272. La Salle, IL: The Open Court Publishing House (first published 1714).Google Scholar
  27. Lyotard, Jean-François. 1991. The inhuman: Reflections on time (trans: Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby). Stanford CA: Stanford University Press (first published 1988).Google Scholar
  28. Massumi, Brian. 2002. Parables for the virtual: Movement, affect, sensation. Durham and London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Scott, Joan Wallach. 1996. Only paradoxes to offer: French feminists and the rights of man. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Serres, Michel and Bruno Latour. 1995. Third conversation: Demonstration and interpretation. In Conversations on science, culture, and time (trans: Roxanne Lapidus). 77–123. Ann Arbor MI: The University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  31. Thornham, Sue. 2000. Feminist theory and cultural studies: Stories of unsettled relations, eds. John Storey and Graeme Turner. Cultural Studies in Practice. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
  32. Van der Tuin, Iris and Rick Dolphijn. 2010. The transversality of new materialism. Women: A Cultural Review 21(2): 153–171.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations