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

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

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)

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