Home > Uncategorized > Timothy Campbell “”Enough of a Self”: Esposito’s Impersonal Biopolitics”

Timothy Campbell “”Enough of a Self”: Esposito’s Impersonal Biopolitics”

Campbell, Timothy 2012. “Enough of a Self”: Esposito’s Impersonal Biopolitics. Law, Culture and the Humanities 8(1): 31-46.


It is Weber’s reading that shares the most with Esposito’s perspective. Both see charisma as a fundamental biopolitical operator, one that separates ordinary people from extraordinary individuals. But where Weber distinguishes charisma as what marks the extraordinary “personality,” Esposito will transfer the personal difference separating “ordinary people” from “extraordinary individuals” onto the individual in question. It is this shift of grace towards the individual and the subjugation that grace performs over the other half that signals where a critique of neo-liberalism might be elaborated. Consider briefly for instance the question of where secularized forms of grace today are found in liberal democracies and the answer increasingly will be thought with the ultimate awarder of grace, namely the market. With more time it would certainly be profitable to read Foucault’s critique of neo-liberalism in this key, especially the degree to which his critique of ordo-liberalism in German and neo-liberalism in the United States after World War Two depend upon the workings of the dispositifof the person that allow individuals to see (and sell) their own bodies as possible reserves of “human capital,”

that is as persons able to mine and harvest their animal halves thanks to the grace portioned out by the market. The first layer of thanatopolitics in contemporary biopower will be found in the separation that the dispositifenacts over man and in particular in separating what properly and improperly belongs to him as a person thanks to neoliberalism’s appropriation of grace. (39)


For Esposito, thanatopolitics will not consist in the attempt to turn persons into things (or people into populations, paceFoucault and Agamben, or even into animals), but rather in the attempt to fuse the person and thing, to make them coextensive in a living being. This thing for Esposito is understood to be the body, the biological material that is both person and thing, the person as biological thing. (40)


In the case of liberalism, the separation that the dispositifof the person institutes between person and what belongs improperly to the body is what allows an individual to incorporate the body as living object in order to donate organs for instance, or to oversee and manage the body as human capital; all in the name of an expansion of individual liberty premised on the possibility of administering forms of thingness on the living being that prosthetically connects to a proper, personal identity. (41)


For Esposito contemporary liberalism’s dispositifof the person represents a powerful mode by which an individual harvests his or her own biopower through a process of potentializing his or her second nature; to use the body as a biological material (or living thing) in a reverse zero sum game; through a split between natures brought on by the dispositifitself that is itself productive. That is exactly the sense with which Esposito speaks of a “liberatory function,” here though in the service of an expansion of individual biopower. (41)


This latter possibility of sleepwalking through a precarious future suggests that personhood today is often made or unmade in an instant, creating regimes of persons, semi-persons, and non-persons. Here medicine obviously plays a crucial role for the ability to medicalize larger populations will depend upon the ability of governments and businesses to have created conditions in which it becomes easier for the individual to be personalized. Medicalization in turn will lay out in front of each individual the possibilities for future personhood in ways that give the lie to the truth of the market. The dissemination of antidepressants for instance creates and requires a massive personalization of individuals as a number of recent essays have shown. Increasingly, it is thanks to personalization that one’s own individual biopower can be tapped under contemporary neo-liberal regimes. (42)


The question is how (and where) can institutions so embedded in contemporary thanatopolitics locate an accomplice if the person is not where he or she was assumed to be. Where the person is not available, a supporting structure, perhaps the supporting structure for thanatopolitics, will be less available as well. An accompanying effect would be a weakening of the various thresholds of personhood premised on the division between human and animal, organic and inorganic and hence a weakening of biopower. (44)


The personal self appears as a much intense form of such a self (or ego in Freud’s formulation) to the degree that self-preservation is experienced more intensely and more broadly than in previous iterations of the self given precisely neo-liberalism’s appropriation of the self under cover of the person. The impersonal isn’t simply the negation of the personal, but rather an affirmation of the possibility of hybridity and copresence to the degree it favors and enables copresence. In other words, the impersonal short-circuits self-defenses by bringing the outside in. (46)

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