In All Incomplete (2021), Fred Moten and Stefano Harney write that incompleteness is, among other things, a kind of prerequisite for love. Following Paulo Friere, the more that we feel we are complete or are invested in our own completeness, the less we are inclined towards others. Moten and Harney then reverse the formula, asking if love might be a word for the defense and investment in our own incompleteness. This becomes a particularly important question given that we are continuously compelled by capitalism to deny, or more to the point destroy any sense of incompleteness, un-mastery, or inefficiency in the name of personal and social optimization (which only ever means profit). To develop praxis around our own incompleteness in this sense means to nurture alternative ways of being under the brutal logic of competition, exploitation, and mastery, the entire Western enlightenment project, which is to say war, that stakes claims of ownership based on improvement.
So what does it mean to invest in and defend one’s own incompleteness in opposition to improvement? As someone who harbors an almost objectively toxic attachment to the promise of education, I was struck by the following clue: Moten and Harney write, “Another word for incompleteness is study.” They continue:
Study happens and it don’t stop. In study, we are engaged consciously and unconsciously. We revise, and then again. This is not just about distinguishing improvement as capitalist efficiency. That is too easy to dismiss. It is about improvement itself, the time-concept, the moral imperative, the aesthetic judgement, which is to say capitalist improvement founded in and on black flesh, its female informality. Revision has no end and no connection to improvement, never mind efficiency (43-44).
The root of “study” comes from the Latin studium, which invokes application and eagerness. There are additional connotations, such as “diligence” that we might read as indicative of the labor involved in study. But there is also always the eagerness, the enthusiasm, a kind of orientation towards what excites. Moreover, study has a root which translates “to push, stick, knock, beat”, and I think this helpfully illustrates the exploratory nature of study, where we learn by poking and prodding something, turning it over and learning by the experience of playing with it.
To study then might name an eagerness and an investment in learning about the world not for the sake of mastery, but as a way of drawing attention and energy toward our own incompleteness, out of which might follow love, a logic, a relationality, an epistemology, an ontology all incongruous with capital. This is study with no objective, no teleology, no end, and no formality except that which helps to hold it.
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