Home > Uncategorized > Roberto Esposito “The Dispositif of the Person”

Roberto Esposito “The Dispositif of the Person”

Esposito, Roberto 2012. The Dispositif of the Person. Law, Culture and the Humanities 8(1): 17–30.


The concept of person functions as the crucial passage through which a biological material lacking in meaning becomes something intangible. Only a life that has crossed beforehand through the symbolic door of the person is believed to be sacred or is to be valued in terms of its qualities since only life is able to produce the proper credentials of a person. (18)


When we move, however, from the doubled nature of Christ to what makes man a totality composed of soul and body, the qualitative difference between the two elements becomes decisive. Rather than being equal, these elements are actualized in an ordering [disposizione] or more precisely in a dispositifthat layers or superimposes one under the other. Such an hierarchic effect, which is quite clear in Saint Augustine, extends to all Christian doctrine so that there cannot be the least doubt: although the body isn’t in itself something evil (because it too is a divine creation), nevertheless it constitutes that part of man which is animal. (20-21)


It’s here in the essential indistinction between the two figures of subject and object, of subjectivization [soggetivazione] and subjection [assoggettamento] that we find the particular role and function of the dispositifof the person. That role is precisely to divide a living being into two natures made up of different qualities – the one subjugated to the mastery of the other – and thus to create subjectivity through a process of subjection or objectivization. (21)


The exceptional force of Roman law, understood here in its totality, regardless of how much it changed over time, lies precisely in having founded this dialectic systematically in such unparalleled fashion. At its centre is the notion of person, pushed to its limits, so as to encompass even what is otherwise declared to be a thing (as in the case of the slave), so as to be able to subdivide the human species into an infinite series of typologies, each of which is awarded different statutes. (23)


[…] the mechanism of depersonalization is the reverse of personalization and vice-versa. It isn’t possible to personalize someone without depersonalizing or reifying others, without pushing someone over into the indefinite space that opens like a kind a trap door below the person. Silhouetted against the moving backdrop of the person looms the inert figure of the thing. (24)


We should also note that from the end of the 18th century on, men are declared equal (at least in principle) as subjects of law [diritto]. Still the formal separation of different typologies of individuals, driven out from the domain of species, is transposed, so to speak within the single individual, and which is doubled across two different and layered spheres: one capable of reason and will and therefore fully human and the other reduced to biology, practically assimilated to the animal. While the first, called person, is considered to be the center of juridical imputation, the second, coinciding with the body, constitutes on the one hand the required layer and on the other hand a piece of property akin to an internal slave. (25)


While in Descartes the earlier distinction between res cogitans and res extensa establishes an unbreakable line of separation between the subject and the  body proper, the liberal tradition, from Locke to Mill, will want to award the mastery of the body to its legitimate owner; to him that inhabits it. Inevitably they will force the body to cross over into the domain of the thing: man is not, but has, and possesses his own body and obviously he can do with it what he will. (25)


[dispositif of the person]: a remnant [resto] not subject to historical transformations that are reproduced again and again even if the context is completely different. (26)


More than anyone else Weil sets out with remarkable clarity the dehumanizing function of the mask of the person; once the mask is made safe, it doesn’t matter what happens to the face on which it rests and even less to the faces that do not own masks; to those who still aren’t persons, or who are no longer persons, or to those who were never declared to be persons. It is the absolute lucidness of this point of view, one ignored by all the personalisms of yesterday and today (precisely because it challenges a platitude), that pushes Weil towards the impersonal. (30)

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: