Just a few notes before dashing off to work. I'll be responding to Victoria's post and don't have time to look through the rest of the conversation: I apologize and will make amends, to try and knit this into the overall thread so that this conversation doesn't become fragmented, though of course one of you could too!
@Victoria Please elaborate. Does this ontological liberalism necessarily produce political liberalism? And I assume you mean a certain kind of classical market liberalism which takes its form now as neoliberalism, as opposed to contract (and then institutional) liberalism, right?
The attack against universalism for the last few decades, I think, has shown itself to run out of steam. I offer this historical account of the role of Charles Malik and PC Chang in shaping the declaration of human rights. The colonized countries argued explicitly for universalism, against the European powers, which sought to integrate language that protected "the sacred trust" of colonialism, arguing for differences in the speed of civilizational development. Obviously, no-one is proposing that here. But here is a historical example, not even old, of the emancipatory potential of universalism. We must always be cautious about what forms of difference we should wish to preserve; for example, different preferences for food, as opposed to differentiated access to healthcare. One of the key ways in which the arguments for difference have been legally codified in a horrible mangling, is the overuse of the free speech amendment by the US Supreme Court to preserve inequality.
The assault against universalism is often positioned as an attack of the margins against the center (terms which would not be accepted by those critics, pace Allora and Calzadilla) but I think that's an incorrect framing. It seems more to me like an internal debate to the cosmopolis, and the attach on universalism has frankly taken apart robust and progressive institutions that can act beyond their immediate interests, and replaced them with self-interested, short-sighted agencies: in other words, the impacts of this anti-universalist argumentation for, as you said, "unfixity," the "democratic stance," "a vibrant informal sector, etc, etc" end up being pro-market. This is why Daniel Zamora can criticize Foucault for being not just complicit in the trivial sense but an active proponent of neoliberalism. Regardless of whether his interpretation of Foucault is correct, I would say that Foucault's early work is in fact amenable to being used in a monetarist economic way: one of the only academics who hated institutions and deconstructed as passionately and as impactfully as Foucault was Milton Freidman. (Did you know he proposed to abolish the corporation as a model? It's not only the left that's anti-corporate; which, n.b., does not mean anti-market, and often means the exact opposite of anti-market.)Please ask me to expand if this makes no sense—in the interests of time, merely, I will get to the next point.
You point out that any transformation effected is only metaphorical. I think of Octavia Butler's Kindred, which I was taught as being a polemic against metaphor. Effectively, an African-American temp worker who thinks of their conditions as being slave-like travels back in time to the antebellum south, to their ancestors, and discover that these metaphors are totally inadequate. She then ends up keeping her abusive captor, a young white boy called Rufus, alive not out of compassion but because she discovers he's one of her ancestors—probably through the rape of one of his servants. This is an extremely complex narrative, but one of its fundamental points is to force readers to move from thinking about metaphor (as Toni Morrison would have it, for example). She indicates that metaphor does not at all have the transformative capacity A&C might associate with it—it's claim on reality is specious. But she keeps writing sci-fi—she obviously develops her own idea of why imagining not evidently true realities matters. I would say she moves from metaphor to modeling. Octavia Butler later goes on to write incredible novels about culturalisms and racisms and sexisms using alien cultures in order to simulate, to model, the problems of Earth without tying them specifically to the Earth. The parallels are clear—they become cognitive tools—but there is no implicit causal link that ties them to the present.
One of the canonical names for this debate, by the way, is metaphor vs metonymy. Perhaps someone else can explicate better
The last point I want to raise quite seriously, and it's related to the politics of what you're calling the metaphorical condition, is the question of ventriloquy. A&C speak in the fictional mode of the parrot—though at times they quote Alex, and this helps to lend a plausibility to our suspension of disbelief (which is never seriously enacted). I called out E-flux for doing the same thing in describing the Supercommunity in the first person. I want to say that ventriloquism is one of the critical political-theoretic problems of the Left. When can one person (or group) speak for another person (or group)? See, for example, the Maoist polemic against bourgeois formalism,. Relatedly, when can one person speak for a group (that they may belong to)? This is obviously a problem of political representation; it is often speciously associated with literary representation. This is not just incorrect, it's used against us: soft power is offered in lieu of hard power. "The universe ought to be a cacophony of voices." If we know anything about the USA, for example, it's that African-Americans can be permitted to speak very loudly [visibility in media, sports, music] even while Baltimore happens.