Archive for October, 2016

Thomas Nail “Biopower and Control”

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Nail, Thomas 2016. Biopower and Control. – Nail, Thomas; Morar, Nicolae (eds). Between Deleuze and Foucault. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 247-263.


The first argument for the difference between biopower and control is that they refer to different types of content. Biopower, it is argued, is defined by “the political control over life and living beings,” while control is defined by explicitly economic and informational content. (249)


Control is defined as non-biopower. Despite their shared agreement on the content-based difference between biopower and  control,  Shaviro  and  Hardt  and  Negri  draw  opposite conclusions  from  this difference.  For  Shaviro,  this  difference  renders  biopower  outmoded and  useless, whereas for Hardt and Negri this is precisely what makes them complementary. “The society of control,” they say, “is able to adopt the biopolitical context as its exclusive terrain of reference.”Thus, in this first definition biopower and control are different because biopower is the government over the living and control is the government over the non-living. (250)


The second argument for the difference between biopower and control is that they have different formal characteristics. Biopower, it is argued, is defined by “the managementof living beings,” while control is defined by “a modulation, indifferent to life.” Joshua Kurz, for example, argues in his essay “(Dis)locating Control: Transmigration,  Precarity  and  the  Governmentality  of  Control,”  that “what we are seeing [in contemporary politics] is not a ‘population management’ paradigm (i.e. bio-politics), but one of ‘population modulation’ (i.e. control).” “Management,” according to Kurz, „is  teleological,  outcome-oriented;  it  is  about  accomplishing  goals  set along  a predetermined  path  toward  a  predetermined  end.  Modulation,  however,  is about speed, the amplification or sublimation of turbulence, rhythm; it is about amplifying and redirecting flows whose cause exists outside of the purview of modulation. In short, modulation has no goals, no plan . . . Management and modulation are qualitatively different.“ (250)


Thus, the third argument for the difference between biopower and control is that they  are  both  similar  and  different. This  position  is  equivocal  because  its  proponents are not clear as to what these particular similarities and differences are exactly. The first proponents of this position are Michel Hardt and Antonio Negri. They write together in their book Empire, that biopower is the “context,” “terrain of reference,” or “realm” in which the new paradigm of control societies take place. “The society of control,” they say, “is able to adopt the biopolitical context as its exclusive terrain of reference.” “In the passage from disciplinary society to the society of control,” they say, “a new paradigm of power is realized which is defined by the technologies that reorganize society as a realm of biopower.” Finally, they say, “these concepts of the society of control and biopower both describe central aspects of the concept of Empire.” (252)


“A biopolitics of populations,” Deleuze says in his 8 April lecture on Foucault, „what can we call this third [type of power]? We call it, following the American author, Burroughs, a formation of control power. We have therefore: sovereign power, disciplinary power, and control power . . . I am authorized to say this because of Foucault’s admiration and familiarity with Burroughs, even though, to my knowledge, he never spoke of him in his writings, his [influence] on him was  great,  notably  the  analyses  Burroughs  made  of  social  control  in  modern societies after the war [WWII]. After the war this had really struck Foucault.“ (254)


Before the publication of La Volonté de Savoir(1976), Burroughs had also published an essay called “The Limits of Control” (1975) that described an idea of control power as a supple and non-totalizing power that works directly on life. “All control systems,” Burroughs says, “try to make control as tight as possible, but at the same time, if they succeeded completely there would be nothing left to control . . . Life is will(motivation) and the workers would no longer be alive, perhaps literally.” Thus control, for Burroughs, is always a limited and flexible control of life without totalizing or destroying it. “Control,” he says, “needs opposition or acquiescence; otherwise, it ceases to be control.” “In fact, the more completely hermetic and seemingly successful a control system is, the more vulnerable it becomes.” Such a system, Burroughs continues, “would be completely disoriented and shattered by even one person who tampered with the control [system].” (254)


Following Burroughs analysis of the flexible  social control over life, Deleuze can then make the following claim about Foucault: „it seems to me that it’s truly a misinterpretation to make Foucault into a thinker who  privileges  confinement.  On  the  contrary:  sometimes  he subordinates confinement  to  a  more  profound  function  of  exteriority,  and  sometimes  he announces the end of confinement in favor of another kind of function of control altogether, defined by open and not closed functions.“ (255)


Biopower, Deleuze says, is defined by the “management of life and populations distributed in an open [i.e. non-totalized, or smooth (lisse)] space.” But what is a population? A population, Deleuze says, is “a large multiplicity without assignable limits.” “We are in the age of the biopolitics of populations,” Deleuze says,  “where the population can just as easily be the population of grains, sheep, vineyards, as of men; all of them can be taken as populations.” While the subject of sovereign power, according to Deleuze is in the end, the sovereign, (i.e. God) and the subject of discipline is man, the subject of biopower is the living within man. (255)


Control power, according to Deleuze, is what comes after disciplinary power and is  defined  by  the  calculus  of  probabilities  in  Foucault’s  work.  Deleuze  defines biopower in exactly the same way. “Biopolitics,” Deleuze says, “never stops rendering probable, it aims to render probable the rise in birth rates, for example; it aims to oversee [surveiller], it is a management . . . implies a management of probable phenomena, births, deaths, marriages, etc.” “We see here,” Deleuze  continues, „the  importance  of  the  difference  between  discipline  and  biopolitics. Biopolitics takes place in an open space of great multiplicities whose limits cannot be assigned. They are only manageable according to the calculus of probabilities, by the development of a calculus of probabilities in the sense of the social control of probabilities, probabilities of marriage in a nation, probabilities of death, probabilities of birth, etc.“ (256)


In  conclusion,  we  can  locate  for  the  first  time,  in  Deleuze’s  lectures  on Foucault,  a  clear  equivalence  between  biopower  and  control  in  both  content and form. Both take the life of populations as their object and the management of probabilities as their defining formal characteristic. (257)


Whether Deleuze makes explicit the idea of control implicit in Foucault’s concept of biopower, or Foucault makes explicit the idea of biopower in Burroughs’ concept of control, the best supported textual conclusion we can make at this point in the debate is that biopower and control are synonymous in both content and form. Both take the life of populations as their content and the management of probability as their form. But the statistical control over the life of populations should not be understood in the limited sense of biological beings alone. There is also a life of the city, a life of crime, political life, economic life, etc. Foucault and Deleuze are both quite clear in their examples of biopolitics that it includes the management of city-planning, money, transportation, crime, information, communication, water, sheep, grain and the climate, just as much as it is the statistical management of human births, deaths, marriages and illness. These are all living forces insofar as they  are  ultimately  uncertain  and  non-totalizable phenomena.  Accordingly,  they cannot  be  managed  as  individuals,  but  only  as  populations  with  non-assignable limits: as multiplicities, as zones of frequency. (261)


Jesper Hoffmeyer “The Natural History of Intentionality”

October 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Hoffmeyer, Jesper 2012. The Natural History of Intentionality. A Biosemiotic Approach. – Schilhab, Theresa; Stjernfelt, Frederik; Deacon, Terrence (eds). The Symbolic Species Evolved. Dordrecht: Springer, 97-116.


For Thomas Aquinas himself and the Thomist tradition there is an emphasis on realism in which there is an immaterial orintentional direct union between the knower and the known (Bains,2006). To know about things, e.g. a storm or a flower, implies that these things exist in the mind of the knower as intentional beings, and the nature of this kind of being is that of a relation or interface. This understanding is radically different from the cognitive theories that came to dominate in the course of the scientific revolution, where “intentional being” was seen rather as an intermediary “obstacle posited between the knower and the known”, an obstacle “that would first be known reflexively before the thing was known” (ibid, 43, my emphasis). (102)


The crux of the matter is the direct union between knower and known; the concept of intentionality is descriptive of thisrelationbetween the mind and the things cognized. We are aware not of the idea or concept but rather of that which it represents – its object. The idea or concept does not stand in between the cognizing organism and the thing (physical or mental), rather the idea or the concept is a formal sign, (an interpretant in the later terminology of Peirce), i.e. “that by which – or rather that on the basis of which – we know,…not that which we know…” (ibid, 50). (102)


As Bains remorsefully observes: “modern western philosophy (particularly from Descartes and onwards) chooses to dispense with the doctrine [of intentional being] and embrace the aporias of a “classical” metaphysics of representation in which what the mind knows directly is its own products, positing a beneficent God to make our “objective” ideas conform to the world” (ibid, p. 45). Several hundred years had to pass before Charles Peirce in the late 19th Century took up again the line of thought from the Latin thinkers and developed it to a full blown theory of semiotic realism. (103)


“Modern philosophy”, writes Bains “began oncethe ideacame to be considered the immediate object of knowledge rather than an interface, or relation” (ibid, p. 51). According to Descartes the exterior world is grasped through the mechanical work of the senses, which then required some intermediate entity, a concept or an idea, to stand between the outside world (reality) and the mind. Henceforward the mind lost its direct access to the world. (103)


The only way to transcend this dualism, we shall claim, is to see organisms as connected to their world in a relational semiotic network rather than through the mechanics of their sensory organs. (103)


The modern concept of intentionality in philosophy goes back to the German philosopher Franz Brentano (1838–1917) who in 1874 proposed intentionality as the one “positive attribute” that holds true of all mental phenomena: “Mental phenomena…are those phenomena which contains an object intentionally within themselves” (Brentano,1874/1973, pp. 88–89, cit. from Short,2007, p. 6). (103)


We can summarize the Brentano thesis in three points: 1) Only mental phenomena exhibits intentionality, 2) Intentionality is an irreducible feature of mental phenomena, 3) Since no physical phenomena could exhibit it, mental phenomena could not be a species of physical phenomena. Brentano’s pupil Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) saw the identification of intentionality with the mental as a fundamental principle whereupon he founded a new science: phenomenology. Phenomenology was the science of the mental and naturalistic explanation was

excluded in principle. (104)


[…] confronting the Brentano/Husserl position, that mind is real, irreducibly intentional, and inexplicable naturalistically we have the predominant position of analytical philosohy, that whatever is real is nonintentional and explicable naturalistically. A fruitful discussion between two so fundamentally different positions is hardly possible and yet for decades these are the two positions between which we have had to choose. Unknown to the great majority of contemporary thinkers, however, a third position was suggested more than hundred years ago by Peirce: that mind is real, irreducibly intentional, and yet explicable naturalistically. (104)


By making the sign fundamental to living systems biosemiotics undoubtedly will arouse fear of vitalism in the minds of many biologists. Signs do not belong to the habitual tool set of scientific theory and may be felt to allude to uncontrollable subjectivist aspects of life. In biology, vitalism refers to the belief that the functions of living organisms must be explained through the action of peculiarvital forces, that do not in any way influence inanimate nature. Biosemiotics rejects appeal to such forces. Sign processes are neither forces nor things; rather, they are processual relations that, as shown below, organize many activities. The causality of signs thus differs from the causality of forces. Indeed, while signs are frequently misunderstood or ignored, forces always exert their power with merciless efficiency. Biosemiotics is not a new version of vitalism (Hoffmeyer,2010). (105)


But the concept ofsemiosisindeed brings a novel element to the scientific tool set for, by definition, a sign-process requires an interpretative agency. This new element, moreover, may be felt to jar with the hegemonic ontology of mainstream science. (105)


Likewise, when a macrophage (a cell from the immune system) lets HIV virus into its interior, this is caused by the cell falsely interpreting the virus as belonging to the body itself. In achieving this the virus has acted as anicon for one of the normal components involved in the immunoresponse reaction chain. Semiotics cannot restrict itself to deal with human language, but must encompass all kinds of sign systems as they unfold in time and space throughout organismic life on our planet. (107)


A sign is not necessarily linked to a communicative context. Most sign processes in this world are not only unconscious but also unintended in the sense that the sign was not produced for the sake of interpretation. (107)


I have suggested the term semethic interaction for this kind of co-evolution whereby “habits become signs” in the sense that individuals of one species have acquired the capacity to interpret certain regular activity patterns (habits) characteristic for individuals of another species, which then eventually may release new kinds of regular behavioral patterns in the first species etc. As an example we can take the case of the large blue butterflyMaculinea arionwhere the female lays her eggs in thyme plants. The larvae spend their first three weeks on thyme flowers on which they feed until they have reached the last larval instar. They then drop to the ground, where they produce a mixture of volatile chemicals that mimics the smell of larvae of the red ant species Myrmica sabuleti. The patrolling worker ants mistake the larvae for their own and carry the caterpillars into the ant nests. Once there, the caterpillars change their diet and start feeding on eggs and larvae of the ants until they pupate. They undergo metamorphosis in the ant colony, surfacing as butterflies (Gilbert & Epel,2009, p. 86). Here the female butterfly profits from the ants’ habit of locating their nests on well grazed grassland with plenty of thyme plants so that she will “know” where to put her eggs (presumably a parameter connected to the thyme plant is interpreted as a sign for oviposition). The caterpillars furthermore are capable of fooling the ants by interfering with the ants’ own signaling system. (108)


At the individual level as well as at the level of ecosystems all interaction patterns are controlled through semiotic relations – more or less in the same way the traffic in a city is controlled through signals. This relational network can be looked upon as an internal semiotic scaffold. (109)


Biosemiotics then is not so much aboutcommunicationas it is aboutsignification, the many processes whereby organisms ontogenetically or phylogenetically have learned to ascribe meaning to whatever regularities around them that may be useful as trigger mechanisms. Biosemiosis therefore does not fit into the traditional scheme from communication science of a sender and a receiver connected through a channel, for to the extent there are clear-cut senders and receivers at all (hardly the normal situation) the channel is itself part of the message as interpreted by the receiving system. (109)


Knowledge in the biological sense of the term, as we have used it here, necessarily depends on predictability, and the mechanism behind all learning is the creation of a triadic relations on the basis of stable dyadic relations. The predator, for instance, goes for any prey animal that moves awkwardly because it “knows” that clumsy behavior signifies easy catch. (110)


Semiotic freedom may be defined as the capacity of a system (a cell, organism, species etc.) to distinguish relevant sensible parameters in its surroundings or its own interior states and use them to produce signification and meaning. An increase in semiotic freedom implies an increased capacity for responding to a variety of signs through the formation of (locally) “meaningful” interpretants (Hoffmeyer,2008; Hoffmeyer, 2009a). The term freedom in this context should be taken to mean: underdetermined by natural lawfulness (112)


Human beings are persons and persons cannot be divided into one part, the body, that must be treated somatically, and another part, the mind, that must be treated psychologically. This is where the biosemiotic approach may help out, because biosemiotics sees meaning and signification (sema) as inherent to the body proper (soma) and not as something separated out to non-descript locations in the brain or mind. (113)


Whatever the mind is it is also body, not body in the physical sense this word has got in present day biology or medical science, but body in a semiotic sense of the word, a body that is inherently engaged in communicative processes that serve to coordinate the activities of the cells, tissues and organs inside the body as well as to exchange integrating messages across hierarchically distinct levels. Seen in this lightthe mental system or mind is simply the interface through which a human organism manages its coupling up to the surrounding web of things, natural or social. (113)

Krzysztof Ziarek “The Limits of Life”

October 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Ziarek, Krzysztof 2011. The Limits of Life. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 16(4): 19-30.


The bind between the anthropological conception of the human being and the anthropocentric notion of reality relies on the articulation of the human as a rational animal, that is, as an animal form of life endowed with reason. (20)


Heidegger’s still insufficiently understood point is that, even if technology – technological products, processes, transformations, etc. – can be understood as anthropological, produced by humans, what is at work in technology, namely the momentum driving modern science and its simultaneous development and reliance on technological advances, does not originate simply in the human and cannot be explained in terms of human production. (20)


Four Seminars provides the following gloss on the enframing (Ge-stell): „In the Ge- one hears the gathering, the unification, the bringing together of all the modes of positing [stellen]. Let us be more precise about the positing. Heidegger says: the meaning of positing is here that of a challenging. It is in this sense that one can say: ‘‘Nature is set upon [hin gestellt] to yield energy’’ or nature is compelled [gezwungen] to deliver its energy. The meaning is that of being held to something, whereby that which is held to something is at the same time forced to adopt a certain form, to play a role, a role to which it is henceforth reduced. Nature, held to delivering its energy, henceforth appears as a ‘‘reserve of energy.’’ (75) (21)


Since for Heidegger animals are not capable of Dasein, this means that Heidegger’s discourse on animality, even if it tries to avoid hierarchy or teleology, remains based on the notion of privation: ‘‘Thus, no hierarchy, no teleology, neither finalism nor mechanicism, and the grand tradition of the Aristoteliansteresis,of privation’’ (Animal, 156). This privation means here that animals are seen to be deprived of three key capacities: world, logos, and finitude, and that these animal ‘‘deficiencies’’ solidify the uncrossable limit between the human and the animal in Heidegger’s thought. (23)


What is clear is that Heidegger keeps a double perspective on the relation between the human and the animal: if one thinks the difference between the human and animals within the spectrum of living beings, as Derrida proposes, then the animal mode of behavior appears as privation (lack of world but also lack of work, laboring, etc.). Yet if one looks at this difference from the perspective of Dasein and the question of being – and not of living beings – that is, from the perspective of being and not of beings, then this difference is not privation but rather being able to do without, perhaps even being able to spare. In later Heidegger,Gelassenheithas something of this tenor, as it bespeaks a critique of making, laboring, manipulating, which indicates that, as a relation to being, Dasein happens as a letting go of the priority of the technical comportment to being. (23)


[…] I want nonetheless to call into question the ‘‘privilege’’ or priority which Derrida’s thought continues to extend to living, life, and living beings. For it appears that, in Derrida, ethics coincides with the realm of the living, no longer affording priority to human beings but, nonetheless, operative within the sphere of the living. Is ethics inescapably bound with life, limited to beings that can be said to be alive, and thus exclusive of beings that cannot claim the status of the living? (24)


Does an ethics need to be based on the notion of the face, which, as Derrida shows, can be extended to animals but certainly fails to include non-living beings? (24)


While ‘‘world’’ is a complex and evolving notion throughout Heidegger’s work, I want to highlight here the way in which the thought of Da-sein (the term denotes ‘‘existence’’ in German but hyphenated by Heidegger comes to refer idiomatically to ‘‘being-there’’ as characteristic of the human mode of being) from the start moves the emphasis away from life to the import of the nonhuman and the non-living (world, being, event) in understanding the human. (25-26)


In this context Da-sein (being-there), where the hyphen marks precisely the site (Da) of the relation to being (Sein), refers to the clearing or lightening (Lichtung) as the opening out into the

dimension which can then be spanned by humans. Understood this way, Dasein, as Heidegger put it in Mindfulness, is in its unfolding (Wesen), in its becoming essential, non-human: ‘‘Da-sein is not man but that through which the ‘dehumanization’ [Entmenschung] of man (the overcoming of the ‘historical’ animal) becomes possible, since Da-sein above all provides beforehand the site for the exposedness of man unto being…Da-sein is not just the ground of man’’ (Mindfulness 186). (26)


Heidegger’s is a thinking which proceeds by way of a certain ‘‘topology’’ of sites and the relatedness they open and span, rather than being primarily determined by or limited to beings. This is why Dasein is not about beings to begin with, whether living or non-living, but about being, which needs to be thought for Heidegger in terms of the event (das Ereignis) and not life. This site marked as the Da happens as the between opening the dimensionality and meting out the relations configuring the world, the between irreducible either to the non-living or to the living: it is the meting out of the span of their (un)folding. (26)


It is because of this emphasis on being – over and beyond beings – that Heidegger undertakes repeated critique of life, living beings (Lebewesen) and lived experience (Erlebnis). Key to understanding this ‘‘critique’’ of life is the distinctive manner in which Heidegger thinks mortality primarily not in relation to living and its unavoidable cessation but instead by way of openness of Da-sein to the singular and one-time occurrence (event) of the world. (26)


Mortality in this context refers not so much to the cessation of life as it does to the attunement

(Stimmung) to the Da, that is, to the specific event of the dimensioning of the mirror-play of the world. It allows for the experience of the folding as differential binding, a breaking open of the between in its mirroring continuation and renewed meting out. It is the experience of the temporal and the spatial afforded to this „between’“ which never becomes a separation or a cut. Mortality marks humans in a way that allows them to be on occasion in tune with this time-space, the dimensionality, of the event of the world, that is, it lets them do the spanning, as Heidegger puts it. In other words, the Da marks the site of the human care for being, and thus also for any and all beings. (26)


Ethics in Heidegger’s sense would not be about relations among beings but about the ethos of the event, that is, about the possibility of dwelling in the site (Da) of the relation to being. Such ethos breaks out not only of the human–animal relation but also the circle of living beings, contextualizing beings, living and non-living, within the broader expanse of the world and its each time singular and one-time event. (27)


Heidegger claims here that the techno-scientific development, which has led to the distinct possibility of annihilating the globe, has been possible because the experience of things has been proscribed for the benefit of developing the facility of manipulating, altering, and profiting from objects, materials, and resources. This is why things have not yet been able to appear as things, which means that they have always already been annihilated, appeared as nil, as non-things: objects, entities, resources. The surprising concern for things takes center stage, as Heidegger delivers perhaps the most thought-provoking remark in the essay, stating that the possibility of physical annihilation is ‘‘only the grossest of all gross confirmations of the long-since-accomplished annihilation of the thing’’ (168). (27-28)


Crucial to my point here is this juxtaposition between things and living beings, the numbing numbers of living beings vs. the rare manifestation of things. The hint we might read in these lines is that it is precisely the thinking of living beings, and especially the calculus of the living, as in, for instance, ‘‘human resources,’’ that blocks the experience of the thing. This experience of the thing in its ‘‘thinging’’ is related to the opening of the world: ‘‘Men alone, as mortals, by dwelling attain to the world as world. Only what conjoins itself out of the world becomes a thing’’ (180). Mortality allows world to attain world by way of letting things be things, and thus, in their thinging, stay the world. (28)


One could say that it is perhaps for the sake of living beings, that is, for the sake of their survival, that, paradoxically, the centrality of living has to be called into question. Yet this transformation is important not only for the sake of living beings or even for the sake of all other beings but for the sake of being. This is the moment which marks Heidegger’s departure from human-centric models of experience, as the human being becomes reinscribed as only a part of the site of relation to being, that is, as participating in the always and primarily more than human or living Da-sein. And such a radical shift away from the priority of the interhuman, the relations among living beings or even inanimate beings can occur by the displacement of the concern from beings to being, that is, to the worlding, the onefolding and infolding (Einfalt) of the world in its spatio-temporal dimensionality. It is with things, with world and the non-human, that is, with attending to being in its event, never reducible to or even con-figurable through the prism of beings, let alone of the living, that human existence unfolds, tracing the relatedness of the event and the mirroring of the non-living and the living. (29)