Home > Uncategorized > Rosi Braidotti “The Politics of “Life Itself” and New Ways of Dying”

Rosi Braidotti “The Politics of “Life Itself” and New Ways of Dying”

Braidotti, Rosi 2010. The Politics of “Life Itself” and New Ways of Dying. – Coole, Diana; Frost, Samantha (eds). New Materialisms. Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 201–218.


Generally speaking, “the politics of life itself” refers to the extent to which the notion of biopower has emerged as an organizing principle for the proliferating discourses and practices that make technologically mediated “life” into a self-constituting entity. Living matter itself becomes the subject and not the object of inquiry, and this shift toward a biocentered perspective affects the very fiber and structure of social subjects. (201)


The matter of the body and the specific materiality of bodies have come to the fore with more prominence, for example, in stem-cell research and in everyday media-driven dissemination of “gene-centric” images and representations. Contemporary social and cultural examples of this shift are practices linked to genetic citizenship as a form of spectatorship, for instance, the visualizations of the life of genes in medical practices, popular culture, cinema, and advertising. […] Yet another example is the rhetoric of “life” or living matter in public debates from abortion and stem-cell research to new kinship and family structures. (201-202)


These social discourses about “life” are often taken as indicating the return of “real bodies” and real materiality: an ontology of presence after so much postmodernist deconstruction. I refer to this return of a neorealist practice of bodily materialism as matter-ialism, or radical neomaterialism. This trend has caused both the neoliberal and the neo-Kantian thinkers to be struck by high levels of anxiety about the sheer thinkability of the human future. Technology is central to this matter-ialistic debate. (202)


The corporeal site of subjectivity is simultaneously denied, in a fantasy of escape, and strengthened or reinforced. Anne Balsamo stresses the paradoxical concomitance of effects surrounding the new posthuman bodies as enabling a fantastic dream of immortality and control over life and death. “And yet, such beliefs about the technological future “life” of the body are complemented by a palpable fear of death and annihilation from uncontrollable and spectacular body-threats: antibiotic-resistant viruses, random contamination, flesh-eating bacteria.” (203)


Given that this concept of “the human” [self-reflexively in control of its life] was colonized by phallogocentrism, it has come to be identified with male, white, heterosexual, Christian, property-owning, standard-language-speaking citizens. Zoe marks the outside of this vision of the subject, in spite of the efforts of evolutionary theory to strike a new relationship to the nonhuman. Contemporary scientific practices have forced us to touch the bottom of some inhumanity that connects the human precisely in the immanence of its bodily materialism. With the genetic revolution, we can speak of a generalized “becoming infrahuman” of bios. The category of “bios” has cracked under the strain and has splintered into a web of interconnected “bits-of-life” effects. (208)


Life is experienced as inhuman because it is all too human, obscene because it lives on mindlessly. Are we not baffled by this scandal, this wonder, this zoe, that is to say, by an idea of life that exuberantly exceeds bios and supremely ignores logos? Are we not in awe of this piece of flesh called our “body”, of this aching meat called our “self” expressing the abject and simultaneously divine potency of life? (208)


The position of zoe in Agamben’s system is analogous to the role and the location of language in psychoanalytic theory: it is the site of constitution or “capture” of the subject. This “capture” functions by positing – as an a posteriori construction – a prelinguistic dimension of subjectivity which is apprehended as “always already” lost and out of reach. Zoe – like the prediscursive in Lcan, the chora in Kristeva, and the maternal feminine of Irigaray – becomes for Agamben the ever-receding horizon of an alterity which has to be included as necessarily excluded in order to sustain the framing of the subject in the first place. This introduces a finitude as a constitutive element within the framework of subjectivity, which also fuels an affective political economy of loss and melancholia at the heart of the subject. (211)


Speaking from the position of an embodied and embedded female subject, I find the metaphysics of finitude to be a myopic way of putting the question of the limits of what we call “life”. It is not because Thanatos always wins out in the end that it should enjoy such conceptual high status. Death is overrated. The ultimate substraction is after all only another phase in a generative process. Too bad that the relentless generative powers of death require the suppression of that which is the nearest and dearest to me, namely myself, my own vital being-there. For the narcissistic human subject, as psychoanalysis teaches us, it is unthinkable that Life should go on without my being there. The process of confronting the thinkability of a Life that may not have “me” or any “human” at the center is actually a sobering and instructive process. I see this postanthropocentric shift as the start for an ethics of sustainability that aims at shifting the focus toward the positivity of zoe. As Hardt and Negri suggest, Agamben fails to identify the materialist and productive dimension of this concept, making it in fact indifferent. (212)

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