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Ege Selin Islekel “Ubu-esque Sovereign, Monstrous Individual: Death in Biopolitics”

March 31, 2016 Leave a comment

Islekel, Ege Selin 2016. Ubu-esque Sovereign, Monstrous Individial: Death in Biopolitics. Philosophy Today 60(1): 175-191.

In order to regulate the life of a population, biopower needs to take  death not as the counterpart of life, but as an immanent and continuous condition to life. Normalization is the technique by which deadliness becomes an attribute of society, and biopower thereby takes on social defense as a central function. (176)

The transition of the role of death from sovereignty to biopower must be thought in relation to the way in which the monsters of Western society are shaped, determined and acted upon, in relation to the models of monstrosity at stake in the history that Foucault gives. Through the transformation of a juridical conception of monstrosity to a moral and then medical register, normalization establishes a spectrum of life and death, allowing biopower to situate the entire population thereon. (181)

[…] a move between different models of monstrosity, a move from a kind of monstrosity that needs to be demonstrated and banished in order to defend the society, to a kind of monstrosity that is endlessly monitored and kept in check. (182)

The juridico-natural monster is a prodigy: rare as it is, it is a sign of doom impending, ready to sweep over the face of the earth. Catastrophe is thus the company of juridico-natural monstrosity: it denotes a monumental and rare death, which accompanies a prodigious monstrosity. These monsters thus reside at the limits of human society, they are signs to be read, warnings to be demonstrated: in order to defend society, they have to be shown, and ultimately, eliminated. (182-183)

There is, however, another form of monstrosity that became active later, around the seventeenth century. This is a criminal form of monstrosity: a juridico-moral monstrosity, “a monstrosity of conduct rather than a monstrosity of n a t u r e .” What is at hand is no doubt criminal conduct, but it is not monstrous just because it is criminal: it is conduct that cannot be bound to an identifiable motive or interest. (183)

[…] this monstrosity is not easily identifiable either; it only shows itself in the moment of the act.

Monsters no longer have horns or wings to mark them anymore: anyone can be a monster. Monstrosity remains cathected to death, yet this time its company is not the impending doom of humankind, nor the wrath of God coming to punish: the risk that comes with monstrosity is now vile, violent death at the hands of another. (183)

Criminal monstrosity is not too far off from the third and last form of monstrosity: after all, if anyonecan be a monster, then everyonemust be kept in order. Furthermore, if monstrosity no longer shows itself in clear, identifiable and isolatable symptoms, if it can erupt solely in the moment of the act, then the conditions for the possibility of the monstrous act must be analyzed. For this, the life of every individual must be made into a case history to be studied and deciphered for signs of deviation. What is at hand is no longer the monstrosity of someone, a monstrosity that can be pointed to; it is not an unnatural hybrid, nor is it the motiveless individual. Now, what is at hand is a form of monstrosity that is waiting in everyone; therefore it must be ceaselessly monitored observed, controlled, regulated: it is the abnormal individual. This is a “little monster” that everyone has within, or has been at some point, a little monster that has to be stopped, a little monster that does not stop: for example, the child masturbator. (183)

Monstrosity is no longer an issue of deviation from nature, nor a form of crime that deviates from reason; it is a condition that is potentially shared by everyone. It is a condition that, rather than being shown, must be ceaselessly monitored, a condition that is normalized. (184)

Death is maybe more than ever coupled with monstrosity, yet this is no longer death caused by or coming from a monster: death is an immanent threat now. Insofar as this monstrosity is a condition that is shared by everyone in some way or another, death is now continuously present in life. It is a generalized condition of life that marks the proceedings of life. Monstrosity is now a deviation from life in the midst of life itself: with this new form of monster we have the internalization, the normalization of death. Death is, in other words, no longer situated at the limit of society, it is now a constant part of society that needs to be ceaselessly monitored and managed. The task of defending society is no longer the elimination of monstrosity, but, on the contrary, the regulation of it. (184)

Biopolitics as a form of power that is regulatory and productive of life is necessarily deadly in this sense: in making the life of a population its object, it makes death into an immanent condition of the population. In the movement from the unnatural monster to the criminal monster, and to the generalized monster that is the masturbator, we see precisely this: monstrosity is no longer a juridical category that pertains to the violation of laws, nor is it a murderous brutality. It is a deadly condition that marks everyone. Death is thus normalized; it is something that can be managed and regulated. (187)

This happens both on the individual level, where the expert attains a strange function that fulfills a deadly task, and on the level of the population, where normalization takes on the task of social defense in the form of modern racism, the defense of the society against its own self, its own products. This is thus the biopolitical project, the project that takes life as its object, producing a normalsociety, a healthy society, but also a deadly society. Such is a society in which “the norm of discipline and the norm of regulation intersect along an orthogonal articulation.” (187)

Normalization is a process by which death itself is normalized: ceasing to be something that swoops down on life, it becomes a permanent condition that needs to be governed. The norm establishes death not as a counterpart to life, but as an underlying condition of life. The regulation of this condition occurs both through individual judgments and through the government of the entire population. (188)

Death is not a stranger to biopower, intensified through the mechanisms of a different kind of power, nor is it an interruption of a biopower with the sovereign right to kill: it is a function necessary for the workings of biopolitics. The investment of power in life coincides with the steeping of death in the midst of society: if biopower is to govern, regulate and optimize life, it needs to take death as a condition for life. (189)

Béatrice Han-Pile “Is Early Foucault an Historian?”

March 30, 2016 Leave a comment

Han-Pile, Béatrice 2005. Is Early Foucault an Historian? History, history and the analytic of finitude. Philosophy & Social Criticism 31(5-6): 585-608.

[…] as the new ‘radical mode of being’ for ‘all empirical beings’ (OT: 219), History is ‘not so very different from Order at the Classical age (ibid.). In fact, it is our new historical a priori, whose appearance is the ‘fundamental event . . . whereby a positivity has constituted itself, from which we have probably not come out yet’ (ibid.). (587)

Properly understood, History (the capitalization indicates the shift to the level of the épistémè) differs both from an ‘empirical science of events’ and from ‘factual succession’ (OT: 219). It ‘exists as much more than a probable form of succession: it constitutes a sort of fundamental mode of being’ (OT: 276). To put it in the traditional Hegelian terms, History is neither historia rerum gestarum (history of past deeds) nor res gestae(the deeds themselves): it is their joint condition of possibility. (588)

Thus the reason why we now think of all entities as historical (as opposed to being transparent to linguistic representation) is not that we have studied a posteriori their transformations, or imposed a temporal order on them from the outside: on the contrary, it is because History has become our new épistémè, the ‘mode of being of everything that is given to us in experience’ (OT: 219), that we are led to see entities as historical. (589)

[…] what Foucault means by saying that History is both the condition under which entities are known and their mode of being, then, is that History has become the very framework (in his terms, the historical a priori) under which they are constituted as the entities they are. It does not mean that their historicity is an arbitrary construction of the mind, as Foucault makes it clear that we do not choose our épistémè; on the contrary, we are bound to construe beings as historical by the fact that we are governed by History, and this until a new épistémè arises (such as the ‘Return of language’). (591)

Like the entities or events that were referred to it, the origin itself was a representation (thus the origin of language was ‘the transparency between the representation of a thing and the representation of the cry . . . which accompanied it’ [OT: 329]). As such, it was fully insertable in the Classical tables and did not play a particularly important role in the organization of knowledge (‘it was of little importance whether this origin was considered as fictitious or real, whether it possessed the value of an explanatory hypothesis or as a historical event’ [OT: 329]). By contrast, the theme of the origin becomes central to modern thought in so far as it provides the junction between History and Man. (595)

What makes the origin of things elusive is that it belongs to such a distant past that man has no direct experience of it and can never be sure to recapture it in thought. Thus ‘man is never contemporary of this origin which through the time of things is both drawn and withdrawn’ (OT: 330; translation modified). In this sense, the existence of the origin is a mark of human finitude, as it signals the autonomy of empirical contents which have their own history, which pre-exist us and over which we have little power. (596)

[…] a reversal of the relation between man and the origin, a reversal made possible by the shift from the empirical to the transcendental: although the (empirical) origin of things escapes us, man himself is the (transcendental) origin of the history of things in that he is the condition of possibility of time itself. This reversal is characteristic of the movement of the analytic of finitude as what reveals the epistemic dependence of empirical forms of finitude on their transcendental counterpart: ‘thus from the heart of empiricity is indicated the obligation to go back, or if one likes to descend, to an analytic of finitude where the being of man can found in their positivity all the forms which indicate to him that he is not infinite’ (OT: 326). (596)

While man is finite in that he is determined by the various empiricities he belongs to (and thus is subject to the laws of biology, of economics, etc.), he nevertheless ‘founds’ them, as Foucault puts it, in that he makes it possible for them to be intelligible as such. So although the origin (in the first sense) of things is causallyindependent from us, at the level of the historical a priori it is epistemicallydependent on man’s finitude construed at the transcendental level (for example, as the absence of intellectual intuition for Kant). (597)

[…] the analytic of finitude. As we have seen, the latter’s logic consists (1) in going from empirical contents to their transcendental conditions of possibility and (2) in identifying these conditions with Man considered in his transcendental capacity. The meaning of the analytic of finitude thus resides in trying to overcome man’s empirical limitations (according to which he is, as a living, working and speaking being, determined by empiricities he neither chooses nor controls) by means of a shift to the perspective of transcendental determination. This new perspective reveals that the very empiricities which (causally) determine him as an empirical being are dependent on his existence as a transcendental subject to appear as such. (599)

Thus man is uncovered as ‘a being whose enigmatic reality constitutes, prior to all knowledge, the order and connection of what it has to know’ (OT: 244; emphasis added). Yet there is a third aspect to the analytic of finitude, whereby this foundational logic is defeated: it is the impossibility, originating in Kant’s transition from the Critique to the Anthropology,of thinking the connection between the transcendental and the empirical within Man. (600)

Because of the dual nature of man, bothempirical and transcendental, the moment of transcendental constitution (‘as soon as he thinks’), which considered in itself is not temporal but opens up the possibility of time, must be replaced within the empirical succession which depends on it. This generates a paradox (as a condition of possibility should not be homogeneous to what it conditions) whereby transcendental determination can appear only as somehow pre-existing itself in the chronological time it generates (‘already there’, ‘irreducible anteriority’) in a past analogical to the ‘primitivity’ analysed by Derrida in the work of Husserl. Thus the origin of time becomes ‘in concrete existence an originary which . . . as soon as it appears reveals itself as an already there’ (C: 60). (600)

This analysis allows a third meaning for the origin to emerge in chapter IX: from this new perspective, it is neither the autonomous origin of things, nor man as the origin of time, but the ambiguous ‘fold’ (OT: 330) of the one on the other, i.e. the originary as the endlessly receding relation between the time of things and originary temporality. (600)

[…] the analytic of finitude was developed as the way in which the relation between the empirical and the transcendental could be analysed. However, this analytic turns out to be aporetic in so far as the relation between the empirical and the transcendental established by the doubles is circular: this is expressed by the theme of the ‘fold’ (also characteristic of the originary) in which ‘the transcendental function comes to cover with its imperious network the grey and inert space of empiricity; conversely, empirical contents animate themselves . . . and are immediately subsumed within a discourse which furthers their transcendental presumption’ (OT: 341; translation modified). (601)

Yet while archaeology shares with the analytic this critical concern for correlating empirical data with their epistemic conditions of possibility, its conclusions are very different. Contrary to the analytic, it does not identify the historical a priori with man’s ‘mode of being’ (OT: 344); nor does it hold that it is necessary to ‘interrogate man’s being as the foundation of all positivities’ (OT: 342). On the contrary, the archaeology is meant to undermine the analytic by showing that there is no necessaryconnection between the transcendental and Man. That we have been led to think so is the contingent result of our belonging to the current, man-based épistémè; yet part of the thrust of the Order of Thingsis to show that Man played no constitutive part in the prior épistémès. (603-604)

Matthew Calarco “On the Borders of Language and Death”

March 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Calarco, Matthew 2002. On the Borders of Language and Death: Derrida and the Question of the Animal. Angelaki 7(2): 17-25.

Heidegger „The Essence of Language“: „Mortals are they who can experience death as death. The animal cannot do so. But the animal cannot speak either. The essential relation between language and death flashes up before us, but remains still unthought.“ (17)

On  the one  hand,  Heidegger  definitively  denies  the animal  the  capacity  for  language  and an  experi ence of death as  such, but, on the other hand, he does  not  further  authorize  himself to  say  explicitly  what the  essential  relation  between  language and  death  is  that  would  separate  mortal  from animal in  this  experience (A  36; PF 322). (18)

Derrida gives three aspects of this logic [of aporia] in his writings: 1) as a non-passage in the sense of an impermeability, an uncrossable border; 2) as a non-passage stemming from the fact that there is no limit, or a limit that is so permeable as to not limit crossing; and 3) as a non-passage in the sense of an antinomy or contradiction without solution, wihtout a method or path that would allow us to find our way through. (19)

„Is my death possible?“ What makes this question aporetic is that the syntagm „my death“ is infinitely substitutable insofar as it can circulate from speaker to speaker, but at the same time „my death“ marks something that is absolutely irreplaceable ajd singular: my death. (19)

[…] Dasein is unique among all entities in being capable of properly dying (eigentlich sterben), of having a proper death or a death proper. Dasein does indeed have a biological death like other living beings (for Dasein this intermediate phenomenon of death is called „ableben“ [demise], the death of living beings other than Dasein is called „verenden“ [perishing]) but insofar as one is Dasein, one never simply perishes in the way that living beings do. (21)

Things that are merely living (nur Lebenden) – such as animals – are unable, according to Heidegger, to attest to their proper finitude and that is why they merely perish. Without ear or language, living things are unable to hear the call of conscience or the voice of the friend who calls them toward properly dying and the possibility of experiencing death as such. (21)

[…] the difference between properly dying and perishing hinges on the possibility of the „as such“, which is linked to the possibility of language in the form of speech. (21)

What would happen to the distinction between mortal and animal if mortals were unable to experience death as such? Or, conversely, if the inability to speak did not preclude an experience of death as such? (21)

For Derrida, then, it is ultimately a matter of contesting Heidegger’s transformation of the impossible, aporetic character of death into a possibility proper to Dasein, as well as questioning the various disciplinary and conceptual delimitations that follow from this transformation. (22)

Derrida’s use of s’attendre, „awaits itself“, here can be understood in three different senses: 1) I, myself, await myself – simple self-presence in the face of death; 2) awaiting oneself in the expectation of death as awaiting something wholly other, some arrivant; and 3) waiting for death as awaiting each other, waiting for each other. Derrida suggests that this third construction, which in a sense can be related to the second, is perhaps what is most originary with respect to death. (22)

Derrida’s contretemps of mourning – where the other’s death is always first and constitutive of my most proper Jemeingkeit, and where my „own“ death is never actually my own but instead the site of radical ex-appropriation of the self – would perhaps have struck Heidegger as simply another instance of such inauthenticity and untruth. (22-23)

Derrida’s possible-impossible question runs as follows: „What difference is there between the possibility of appearing as such of the possibility of an impossibility and the impossibility of appearing as such of the same possibility?“. The possibility that Derrida is referring to is, of course, the possibility of the impossibility of existence, the possibility of the end of Dasein’s existence. On Heidegger’s account, the end of Dasein’s existence marks the disappearance or the annihilation of the as such. Dasein’s death means that there can no longer be any relation to the phenomenon as such; in death, phenomenology reaches its limit. But, and this is Derrida’s point, if death marks the end and the impossibility of the relation to the phenomenon as such, then it is precisely this impossibility that cannot appear as such. By definition, the disappearance of the as such is what refuses to appear as such. (23)

If Dasein’s only relation to death is a relation to the disappearing of the disappearance of the as such, then this is, as Derrida notes, „also the characteristic common both to the inauthentic and to the authentic forms of the existence of Dasein, common to all experiences of death (properly dying, perishing, and demising), and also, outside of Dasein, common to all living things in general“ (A 75; PF 336). In other words, if death as such cannot appear as such for Dasein, then Dasein’s proper death cannot be neatly and cleanly distinguished from its improper death (ableben), or even from the „mere“ perishing (verenden) of the animal and other living beings. Dasein would lose its distinguishing characteristic if it could not experience death as death. (23)

There is not one difference that separates „The Human“ from „The Animal“ with respect to death any more than there is a single experience of death common to all animals as such o all humans as such. (24)

Iain Thomson “Can I Die? Derrida on Heidegger on Death”

March 21, 2016 Leave a comment

Thomson, Iain 1999. Can I Die? Derrida on Heidegger on Death. Philosophy Today 43(1): 29-42.

As a being-in-the-world, Dasein dies; there is nothingmore certain: “More original than man is the finitude of the Dasein within him.” (29)

Here Heidegger has not simply inverted the millennium-old Aristotelian distinction according to which acuality is granted metaphysical primacy of place over possibility; according to Heidegger’s thinking of „existential possibility,“ Dasein exists through the constant charting of „live-options,“ choices that matter. Existential possibilities are what Dasein forges into: the roles, identities, and commitments which shape and circumscribe the reflexive comportment of Dasein as a „thrown project.“ (31)

Derrida’s equation of existential possibility with „capability“ is misleading, then, insofar as existential possiblity does not describe – except in derivative „breakdown states“ – our standing back in a detached theoretical prose, deliberating over which possible outcome to „actualize.“ That Derrida has taken a wron step becomes clear in another context when he asserts that „every relation to death is an interpretive apprehension and a representative approach to death.“ Existential possibility, on the contrary, describes ou ongoing non-calculative „charting the course“ of live options in which we are always already immersed. (32)

Livin through possibilities rather than grasping them theoretically, Dasein „is its possibilities as possibilities.“ This is why Heidegger characterizes Dasein as „being-possible“ [Möglichsein]. (32)

Heidegger holds that as being-toward-death I am ahead of myself, able-to-be what I am not yet. […] In 1928, Heidegger is clear; this seemingly strange „being ahead of myself, able-to-be what I am not yet“ is in fact simply an accurate phenomenological description of our basic experience of futurity: „Expecting [Gewärtigen] is … ecstatic [from ek-stasis, „stepping out“]. Expectance implies a being-ahead-of-oneself. It is the basic form of the toward-oneself. … Expectance means understanding oneself from out of one’s own ability-to-be. …. This approaching oneself in advance, from one’s own possibility, is the primary ecstatic concept of the future.“ (32)

[…] without death […] there would be no futurity, the possibilities we press into would not „come back to us,“ constituting us. […] In other words, death makes the future matter, and thus opens the horizon within which we „press-into“ the possibilities which in turn constitute us. For Heidegger, then, death is not something we embody, but the ineliminable limit of our embodiment, the indefinite but irremovable horizon within which all embodied possibilities unfold. (33)

Derrida’s objection focuses on and problematizes the idea of a „limit-line“, „threshold“, or border separating life and death, which he argues is an aporia implicit in Heidegger’s existential analytic. For Derrida, since Dasein embodies its possibilities existentially, and death is „the possibility of an impossibility,“ embodying the possibility of an impossibility would seem to entail embodying an impossibility. (33)

Derrida formulates this point provocatively: „here dying would be the aporia, the impossiblity of living or rather ’existing’ one’s death“ (p. 73). Simply put, we cannot eradicate the possibility that we cannot experience death. (33)

Thus, even when I die, my death does not happen to me. I never meet my death. (34)

This „impossibility of being dead“ – rather than conferring me with a kind of „mortal immortality“ in an „eternal moment of the now“ (as on Heidegger’s reading of Zarathustra’s recognition that it is never not now) – leads to what Derrida calls „ruination“, „the final impossibility of dying, the disaster that I cannot die, the worst unhappiness.“ Why is this „mortal immortality suffered or, at best, „endured“ as a kind of disastrous ruin? The Heideggerian explanation would seem to be as follows. In the search for something that is uniquely my own (eigen), my relationship with my own death, in its „mineness“ [Jemeinigkeit] and „irreplaceability“ (the fact that no one else can die in my place), seemed to hold out to me a last promise of „authenticity“ [or „ownmostness“, Eigentlichkeit]. But the recognition that I never meet with that which is uniquely my own leads the quest for authenticity toward a realization of the tragic impossibility of death, the tragedy – as „Blanchot constantly repeats“ – „of the impossibility, alas, of dying“ (p. 77). Not even my own death will be mine. This reading is dramatic and powerful, but is it compelling as a reading of Heidegger’s text? To recognize that it is a compelling reading, but not a convincing critique, it is important to be clear about something which Derrida does not make clear. Heidegger insists that: „Dying is not an event; it is a phenomenon to be understood existentially.“ Heidegger treats death not as an occurrence that happens to us, but phenomenologically, in terms of its showing-itself as phenomenon. Phenomenologically, death is the unknown; like Being as such, death does not show itself directly. […] Derrida’s stirring ideas about the „disauthenticating“, „disappropriating“, impossible experience of death turns out to be Blanchotian themes read into Heidegger’s text. (34)

John L. Roberts “Trauma, Technology and the Ontology of the Modern Subject”

March 16, 2016 Leave a comment

Roberts, John L. 2013. Trauma, Technology and the Ontology of the Modern Subject. Subjectivity 6(3): 298-319.

[…] both Foucault and later Heidegger find modern subjectivity beset with the impulse to technologically reduce phenomena to what can be discretely known and mastered, thereby concealing other possible ways of being. (299)

[…] Heidegger (1977a) writes that‘Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve’(p. 20). Notonly does the essence of modern technology, asGestell, order natural objects and processes into standing reserve, but human being itself becomes ordered into standing reserve; this is the essence of biopower (Foucault, 1979/1990). (300)

[…] the Kantian and modern ‘epistemological turn’ transforms Newtonian and Leibnizian conceptions of space/time as fundamental relation among objects in the external world into a dimension of thesubject’s relation to world through its own capacities. Because Kantian time is conceived neither empirically nor conceptually, but asa prioriintuition, the framework of all perceptions (Hoy, 2009), it becomes the most fundamental of cognitive filters that would frame the modern subject’s understanding of itself. Nonetheless, Kant’s cognitivism must itself traumatically lose time, as it is enabled to merely represent its own prior representations as a kind of post hocexamination of film footage. (303)

Memory, as a psychological construct, is not tethered to a truthful relation with self or events in the world, but the engraved experience of time, the representation of representation. […] As Hacking (1995) observes,‘One feature of the modern sensibility dazzling in its implausibility [is] the idea that what has been forgotten is what forms our character, our personality, our soul’ (p. 209). (304)

If the historical origin of representation is actually engaged, actually found, its thought falls into contradiction because it becomes identified with something other than itself, part of the terrain it desires to survey (Foucault, 1966/1973). (309)

For modernity, Dasein exists in a specific state of intrinsic incompleteness; its lack in being is that of Foucault’s neo-Kantian finitude, but raised to an ontological level.But what kind of historically constellated lack or finitude ontologically figures Dasein?In Heideggerian terms, Dasein’s finitude or lack in being is directly related toSorge, or the care-structure, which –in turn –is temporally anchored in being-towards-death. Along these lines, Carman (2003) argues that, for Heidegger, death is the perpetual closing down of possibilities, which allows others to ex-sist or to stand out. (310)

‘Our possibilities are constantly dropping away into nullity…. To say we are always dying is to say that our possibilities are constantly closing down around us’(Carman, 2003, p. 282). (311)

Being-towards-death, as negation, as the upsurge of time welling up from within Dasein, is that which separates itself from itself as the coming im/possibilities of the future. In other words, the modern subject’s temporality relates tofuturity as a nullity –not an absent but remote present, but the ever-present nihilation of what is not taken up, what becomes an impossibility as unlived. (311)

Furthermore, the everpresent nullity underwriting the future also traumatically separates Dasein from its lived, factical past. Consequently, Dasein’s trauma, stretching from the future and into the past, pervades its existence. Because of this historically ontological trauma, Dasein’s thrownness is always in question, and the meaning of its origin, its being-in-the-world is always potentially subverted by the threat of nothingness. (311)

Miguel Vatter “Eternal Life and Biopower”

March 16, 2016 Leave a comment

Vatter, Miguel 2010. Eternal Life and Biopower. CR: The New Centennial Review 10(3): 217-249.

In this essay I pursue the following hypothesis: if biopolitics can be transformed into thanatopolitics, this may derive from the fact that the life here produced, namely, a zoë entirely separate from a bios,is a life destined to die, a life that has death inscribed into it from the very beginning. Stated in a positive manner, my hypothesis is that an affi rmative conception of the power of life requires conceiving of life as eternal, a zoë aionios that is not destined to die, that stands over mythical fate itself. (218)

Both Spinoza and Aristotle see in the idea of eternal life an aporia. Eternal life corresponds to the life of the mind or the contemplative life, but the human being is both capable of this form of life, because, like God, it is endowed with reason, but at the same time it is incapable of sustaining this form of life, because, unlike God, it is also endowed with a body, or, better, with a zoë.Any attempt to think about eternal life must come to terms with this aporia. In this essay I suggest that, to traverse this aporia, philosophy as a form of life must give up the “ascetic ideal,” which understands the body and zoëas its “tomb,” and, to the contrary, must begin to understand how it is that the body and zoë also philosophize. (220)

For Heidegger, to exist is to care about how one is going to live, and such a care makes no sense other than within the horizon of one’s imminent death. Th  us it appears as if Heidegger’s thesis is that a “true life” is only a life that affi rms its beingtowards-death, a life that is not lived carelessly but resolutely. Existing, in this sense, is caring about one’s life, not in the sense of preserving this life in its desire to persevere in existence, but by giving it a horizon of sense that this life cannot develop on its own. For that reason animal life is said by Heidegger to be “poor in world,” where world refers to the horizon of sense disclosed by Dasein. (221)

Th is force is later designated as “life” (vita), and the thesis is that the life of each thing is the immanent cause of each thing; that is, life is that whereby each thing remains withinGod, and likewise, nothing that God causes stands apart from God. (This is how Spinoza explains how God is both cause of itself and cause of other without contradiction: what takes away the contradiction is life itself as conatus.) (222)

I shall therefore call Spinoza’s account of life “providential” insofar as the struggle to keep alive that characterizes the duration of every being rests on something other than itself, namely, on the eternal life that perseveres in it and through which it receives what it struggles to preserve. Spinoza distinguishes in this context between a general and a particular providence: the former is “that through which all things are produced and sustained insofar as they are parts of the whole of Nature”; the latter “is the striving of each thing separately to preserve its existence” (ch. 5). Thus each thing can be conceived according to either general or particular providence. (224)

God’s particular providence is to favor the virtuous (as opposed to the weak); that is, God favors those beings that cultivate their power or capacity. Here “virtue” defines the form of life, the bios, of a life (zoë) that is divine and eternal. (224)

What a being must do is to live; what it can do is only what it must, namely, find a way to keep on living. Th e “must” here is to live or to act; the “can” corresponds to the power to act: no being can avoid expressing all its power in every one of its actions. (225)

Death is not the possibility that what exists, Dasein, ceases to exist at some point in time. Death is not an impossibility for Dasein as if it were the simple negation of possibility-for-being (Sein können). Rather, death is an affi rmative power of existence: dying is a being-able, but what it is able to do in dying is nothing, nothing actual, no action. Thus dying is not the power not to have power ( for this is merely contradictory), but it is the power or ability to be nothing (“being-able-not-to-be-there”). This means that, considered as a possibility, dying gives “nothing” to Dasein’s capacityto-be: dying gives Dasein nothing to be. (231)

But the phrase “it is impossible to be nothing” should be understood affi rmatively. As such, and in a first sense, it can mean that Daseinhas only its Self to be; it does not have other selves or other things for it to be. In a second sense, death discloses that for such a Self “nothing is impossible.” In both senses, death as the possibility of an impossibility is the ultimate “enabler” of existence. (231)

[…] Agamben seems intent on giving a description of Aristotle’s ontology that is as close as possible to Heidegger’s doctrine of being-towards-death, understood as revealing not only Dasein’s most proper possibility but also the true structure of being as such (qua temporality). Not surprisingly, Agamben gives his account of potentiality the status of an “existential”: “other living beings are capable only of their specific potentiality; they can only do this or that. But human beings are the animals who are capable of their own impotentiality” (182). This replicates Heidegger’s claim that only human beings can die, whereas all other animals merely perish. (235)

Agamben rejects the common sense interpretation of this passage, namely, that if it is not impossible for someone to do X, then it is within their potential to do X. Instead he claims that the potentiality which will not remain impotential when the potentiality passes into action refers to the potential of not-acting (the adynamia) that shadows every potential of acting. Th  us, on his reading, every potential of doing something not only entails having the potential of not-doing something but, additionally, of “acting” out this potential of not-doing in the action itself. (236)

Th e important question in this context is why Agamben, following Deleuze, identifies the point where biological life touches and fuses into contemplative life in the phenomenonof metabolism, of nutrition, rather than in the phenomenon of perception (correspondingto animal life). My hypothesis is that metabolism and contemplation, which are apparently entirely opposed capacities, in reality coincide one with the other because both reflect the dependence of mortal life on God’s life, on the basis of which an eternal life is conceivable. Th  inking about life from the perspective of metabolism as the fundamental phenomenon of life is the essential feature of what I have been calling the “providential conception of life.” (238)

Th e point is here that in walking, it is not only I that am taking a walk, but—“at the same time” yet without any duration, and so virtually and sub species aeternitatis—it is the walking that has always already taken me along with it. Applied to the problem of immanence, this grammar suggests that, while God’s life is producing the essences with conatus,“at the same time” yet without duration and sub species aeternitatis or virtually, this life is also being taken along by its effects: they are in God to the extent that God is “immanentized” in them. (244)