Archive

Archive for April, 2017

Béatrice Han-Pile “The “Death of Man”: Foucault and Anti-Humanism”

April 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Han-Pile, Béatrice 2010. The “Death of Man”: Foucault and Anti-Humanism. – O’Leary, Timothy; Falzon, Christopher (eds). Foucault and Philosophy. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 118-142.

[…] for the early Foucault humanism has a very specific, narrow referent. This is indicated by his rather surprising historical reconstruction of its birth, which is referred to the Enlightenment and not, as is more traditional, to the revival and reinterpretation of the Ciceronian notion of humanitates during the Renaissance: thus the first humanists on Foucault’s list are not Rabelais, Montaigne, or Pico Della Mirandola, but Kant, Hegel, and Marx. (121-122)

Without entering into unnecessary details (Han 2003; Han 2005), his view is that during that period representation was both the ground and the privileged medium of knowledge: to be known was to be represented adequately (Foucault 1994e: 304). Conversely, beings were, at least in principle, fully representable, and the general aim of knowledge consisted in perfecting the best method to differentiate and arrange representations so that they would reflect the real order of things in the world (hence Descartes’ emphasis on the establishment of systematic differences between representations and the classical age’s obsession with the table as a synoptic form of knowledge). By contrast, the birth of “man” is due to the Copernican turn, whereby the focus shifted from representations to the representing subject. (123)

As a transcendental subject, “man” is the foundation of empirical knowledge: to be know is still to be represented, but in order to count as candidates for true knowledge, representations must conform to the epistemic conditions laid out in the transcendental aesthetic and the transcendental analytic (Allison 1983: 10-13). Yet at the same time, “man” is also a possible object of representation within the field opened up by such epistemic conditions: thus we represent ourselves in space (we see our own bodies) and in time (we can be conscious of our internal states). (124)

Note, however, that at this point the two aspects of the double are neatly dissociated – thus in the Critique  there is no overlap between the empirical “I” of our self-apprehension in the form of the internal sense, on the one hand, and the transcendental “I” of the “I think” of transcendental apperception, on the other. Yet the analytic of finitude threatens this neat separation between the two halves of the double and gives the Copernican turn its further, anthropological twist. (124)

[…] during the classical age, the notion of the infinite was both central and primary; thus, for Descartes, one can prove the existence of God by the presence of the idea of the infinite in the finite. The underlying assumption is that the infinite has ontological pre-eminence over the finite. (124)

By contrast, for Foucault the hallmark of the anthropological turn is that human finitude, instead of being subordinated to God’s infinity, becomes self-foundational. (124)

Note, crucially, that transcendental finitude differs from its empirical counterpart in that the limitation it entails can be analytically deduced from the very concept of the transcendental as a standpoint (which implies a specific perspective and thus limiting conditions, by opposition to a God’s eye view which would not be limited in such a way). By contrast, empirical finitude can only be understood synthetically, from empirical observations about the nature of human beings as living or speaking entities. (126)

The problem, however, is that the ambiguity of “man,” which both separates and unites the empirical and the transcendental, causes the two forms of finitude to overlap by means of an implicit shift which makes epistemic determination ultimately dependent on its empirical, causal counterpart: the relation between transcendental and empirical finitude becomes a vicious circle. (126)

[…] the analytic of finitude is characterized by a paradox of retrospection whereby transcendental finitude is disclosed as pre-existing itself in the form of empirical finitude (Han 2002). Such pre-existence (which Derrida calls “primitivity” in the case of Husserl’s phenomenology) invalidates “man’s” ability to provide a universal and necessary foundation for knowledge. The empirical contents that were previously deemed causally determinant but epistemically determined acquire a “quasi-transcendental” function (Foucault 1994a: 244) in that they are now viewed as chronologically primary and causally determinant for epistemic conditions themselves. (127)

In other words, transcendental finitude and empirical finitude are superposed in such a way that the former, rather than being the analytic correlate of the notion of a transcendental standpoint, is now cashed out in terms of the synthetic, empirical limitations (life, language, labor) that bear causally on man. (127)

Michael Dillon “Specters of Biopolitics”

April 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Dillon, Michael 2011. Specters of Biopolitics: Finitude, Eschaton, and Katechon. The South Atlantic Quarterly 110(3): 780-792.

The eschaton remains a source of civil as well as religious strife today, always a theologico-political field of sacralizing formation, though one that functions differently now because the modern finitudinal immanentization of the eschaton, as an open horizon of possibility rather than the threshold to everlasting life, transforms the nature of the eschaton and the mode of (political) being instituted by it. Modern time, in short, is no less eschatological than Christian time. But it is different, and the difference accounts for the aporetic mode of being of the modern factically finitudinal order of things, and its sacralizing quality, not least that of the cultic security politics of the limit of modern political orders and the war that such politics wages in the holy name of the life of the modern finitudinal eschaton. (783)

For biopolitics of security is also a regime speaking truth about the nature of times through the truth of the end of times, and the mode of being required to live in, live out, and live up to the eschatological security imperative to resist, at whatever self sacrificial cost, the end of the temporal order of things. (783)

One curious thing about the political orders of modern finitude is their recognition that they, too, must be finite since there is no modern time but the finitudinal time within which all fnite forms, including those of politically finite regimes, are fated to come and go. (786)

Persistence in and through the facticity of fnitudinal time is the challenge. But the only guarantee offered by the facticity of finitudinal time is that finite forms—however emergent, adaptive, and resilient, according to modern liberal security jargon—are fated ultimately to go. What is especially curious is how much the security politics of modern times are midwife to such comings and goings; it is especially curious and paradoxical, so it seems, although the paradox is so pervasive it has to be counted as a primary characteristic of modern security politics. They do not merely threaten—they positively bring about the end to the temporal orders they claim to secure. There has been no modern state, and there remains no modern political order of any kind, whose security politics have not, in every quotidian way, transformed that state or political order out of all recognition, when, through war, they have not actually brought about its cataclysmic end in the name of restraining that end. (786)

Biopolitics also emerged as a response to the problematic of rule posed in and by the properties of finitudinal time and the demand thereby to give concrete political form to modern finitude. The regime of security and war that now interests me most is therefore that also of biopolitics of security and war. (787)

Biopolitics, too, must positively specify what the life to be secured consists in, from whence the threats to that life arise, and ultimately what calculus of necessary killing must prevail to preserve life in its vital intensive relations of procreative force against the agents and forces, themselves always in fact arising also within life. This is what makes life the enemy of life in biopolitics, that threatens life in its positive procreativity. (788)

We must therefore always ask biopolitically: what happens when the end of the temporal order of things is enframed in terms of and for the now pervasive figure of life, rather than those other modes of political being formulated in response to the requirement to give concrete political form to finitude—commonwealth or people, but also man, state, and war? (790)

David Chandler “Resilience and the Autotelic Subject”

Chandler, David 2013. Resilience and the Autotelic Subject: Toward a Critique of the Societalization of Security. International Political Sociology 7: 210-226.

Fillipa Lentzos and Nikolas Rose, for example, in their critique of understandings that security discourses seem to be leading to the securitization of life, observe that we are witnessing “perhaps the opposite of a ‘Big Brother State’” (Lentzos and Rose 2009:243). Discourses of resilience do not centrally focus upon material attributes (military equipment, technology, welfare provisions, etc.) that can be provided by governments as a way of protecting populations or responding after an event. Resilience concerns attributes of the population, both as individuals and communities, which cannot be directly provided by state authorities. For this reason, discourses of resilience do not fit well with traditional liberal framings of security practices as state-centric, national or territorial forms of mobilization, protection, or regulation. (211)

It appears that resilience practices are transforming security discourses from concerns with external threats to fears over the domestic or internal coping and adaptive capacities of individuals and their communities. (212)

Once the human subject is understood as lacking in the capacity to make “free choices,” the private sphere of freedom and autonomy becomes problematized and “life”—that is, the formally private sphere beyond and separate from the public sphere of government—becomes the subject of governance.4 This focus on the inner world of both the state (the milieu of societal life) and the individual (their decision-making capability) operates to efface the traditional subject categories upon which liberal discourses of security, sovereignty, rights, and law were based. Discourses of societal resilience thereby societalize security in their reduction of the formally separate liberal sphere of securing rights and interests into the “everyday practices” of the social sphere, now understood as the source or cause of the problems to be dealt with (see Chandler 2010, 2012b). (214)

The problematic of “bounded rationality” suggests that societal resilience needs to inculcate generic capabilities to equip people with the capacity to make decisions in situations where they have limited knowledge or experience. The inculcation of resilience, in fact, depends on the dematerializing or abstraction from specific risks or insecurities, to become a mode of life, a way of social being: “Risk communication cannot be detached from our everyday lives. It has to be hotwired into our decision-making processes and behaviours” (Edwards 2009:43). In making resilience a matter of the “everyday,” the exceptional event becomes subsumed into the life process itself—choices of university, life partner, insurance policy, child rearing, etc.—subsuming responses to external risk, such as terrorist attack or environmental disaster, under the generic policy concerns of societal governance. (215)

In terms of genealogical framings, it is important to emphasize that what is key in the work of new institutional economics, and developed in the ideas of Hayek, is a conceptual framework of critique and inversion of classical liberal assumptions. This critique was based upon the dethroning or decentering of the human subject as a rational agent, capable of securing itself through knowing and shaping its external world. Even though Hayek does not explicitly frame his understanding in terms of resilience, the individual, subject-centered problematic of learning and adaption, and the influential role of the societal milieu—central to today’s societal discourses of resilience—is fully present. (216)

Giddens states that in the preliberal age, or pre-Enlightenment era, the main conceptual framework for dealing with, or rationalizing, unexpected events or contingencies was through the understanding of fate or nature or God— catastrophic events could not be prevented, merely accepted. In the liberal era, the dominant framework of understanding was that of “risk” or “accident,” a framework which highlighted the borders of control and could be calculated, minimized, or insured against—the point being that “accidents” or “risks” were conceptualized as external factors, outside control.7 Giddens argues that today there is no outside to the human world and therefore no external risk. Once the problem is understood in terms of manufactured risk—setbacks and damage as a consequence of the decisions we take ourselves—work on the self is the only area through which these problems can be addressed. (218-219)

Giddens’ work is very important for understanding and drawing out the consequences of a societalized conception of security within discourses of resilience, and its relationship to our understanding of the human subject. The key point Giddens makes is that societal security has to be addressed at the level of the inner life or the inner capacities of the individual, rather than the material level. This transformation occurs through welcoming insecurity and establishing a proactive relationship to potentially destabilizing security risks: “Schemes of positive welfare, orientated to manufactured rather than external risk, would be directed to fostering the autotelic self. The autotelic self is one with an inner confidence which comes from self-respect, and one where a sense of ontological security, originating in basic trust, allows for a positive appreciation of social difference. It refers to a person able to translate potential threats into rewarding challenges, someone who is able to turn entropy into a consistent flow of experience. The autotelic self does not seek to neutralize risk or to suppose that “someone else will take care of the problem”; risk is confronted as the active challenge which generates self-actualization.” (1994:192, emphasis added) (220)

The autotelic self is understood as an individual capable of self-governing in a world of contingency and radical
uncertainty. The autotelic self turns insecurity into self-actualization, into growth. The subject being interpellated—the “autotelic self”—is very different from the universalized subject of liberal modernity. Whereas the modern liberal subject was assumed to have the will and capacity to collectively act on and to transform, to secure and to know its external world, the transformative activity of the autotelic self is restricted to the internal and cognitive realm. (220)

The reduction of politics to the administration of life was a central concern for Arendt, who argued that “through society it is the life process itself which in one form or another has been channeled into the public realm” (1998:45). The problematic of the societal influencing of behavioral choices she believed “reduce[d] man as a whole, in all his activities, to the level of a conditioned and behaving animal” (1998:45). Rather than understanding and resolving problems through action in the external world, this framing “concerns only a possible change in the psychology of human beings—their so-called behaviour patterns—not a change of the world they move in” (1998:49). For Arendt, this was a “psychological interpretation, for which the absence or presence of a public realm is as irrelevant as any tangible, worldly reality” (1998:49). (220)

The reduction in social, economic, political, and ecological questions to ones of individual choice-making capacities and environmental choice-shaping interventions is so pervasive, we often do not give the broader discourses of societal resilience a second thought. In essence, discourses of societal resilience seek to extend the responsibility of individuals to the world itself, insofar as it becomes reduced to the product of individual behavioral choice. Here, the subject, considered individually and communally, is held to be autotelic—to cognitively construct its own life or world. (222-223)

Cavelty, Kaufmann and Kristensen “Resilience and (In)security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities”

Cavelty, Myriam Dunn; Kaufmann, Mareile; Kristensen, Kristian Soby 2015. Resilience and (In)security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities. Security Dialogue 46(1): 3-14.

The basic assumption is that the (in)security of a subject is not only dependent on the character and severity of the threat it is exposed to (its vulnerability), but also on the subject itself – namely, its resilience to detrimental events. The concept thus aspires to describe mechanisms for maintaining stability, survival, and safety – mechanisms that seem equally applicable to the individual, society, nature, and technical systems. (4)

Resilience links security to logics of governance rooted in ecology, engineering, and psychology, which were previously not prominent in the security discourse. It provides novel conceptual linkages and forms of knowledge and asks for interdisciplinary epistemic communities as well as new modes of governance, including more and different types of actors. These interlinkages are the key to understanding how resilience functions in the realm of security, and how resilience is inscribed in a longer historical sequence dealing with the relationship between threats and the threatened and between effect and the affected. (5)

By acknowledging and accepting the idea of an unstable, unpredictable environment, the rise of resilience marks a significant shift from the predictable to the contingent. In contrast to risk analytics and other strategies that mainly seek to prevent and prepare for a potentially disruptive future, resilience is characterized by a temporality that combines the present with the future, but also actively deals with insecurities of the past. (5)

Underlining the importance of the disastrous event splits time into past and future and gives particular political significance to the practices of resilience – which either refer to overcoming past events or potential future disruption. In preparing for resilience, it is the imagined event of the future that determines the present. In enacting resilience, it can also be the disastrous event of the past that determines action in the present (and potentially the future, too). Therefore, resilience is related to technologies of preparedness, but also to the actual process of ‘coping’ (O’Malley, 2010: 488). With this emphasis on adapting to new situations, the discourse of resilience becomes ‘a discourse of futurity’ (Schott, 2013: 213). At the same time, it is backwards-oriented and encourages ‘actors to learn from catastrophes so that societies can become more responsive to further catastrophes on the horizon’ (Evans and Reid, 2013: 91). Resilience therefore promotes a vision of uncertain and traumatic futures (O’Malley, 2010: 488, 492) in tandem with the possibility of overcoming past adverse events and experiences. (7)

[…] resilience redistributes responsibilities – and possibilities of blame. It moves from government to municipalities, from national to local, from security authorities to the citizen – expecting and encouraging beneficial self-organization in the face of crisis by those units that are both knowledgeable of local contexts and directly affected by the adverse event (Hagmann and Dunn Cavelty, 2012). Such a responsibilization has been discussed as a form of  empowerment by some, especially if linked to participation and citizen-led initiatives (Bulley, 2013; Rogers, 2013a). Others have warned against an overly romantic notion of community, which is sought through resilience attempts targeted at the vulnerable (Bulley, 2013). Resilience programs create the subject they speak about and valorize it as either resilient and desirable or vulnerable, undesirable and in need of state intervention. (7)

not only the possibility of disruptive one-time events integrates the need for future resilience into the present. Structurally different from disastrous events are chronic emergencies that have already materialized and continuously materialize in the present. In its assumed universal applicability, resilience is also used to provide answers to such persistent insecurities. Chronic emergencies – for example, climate change (Methmann and Oels, 2015) – inject yet another temporality into the resilience concept. This already materialized insecurity requires a specific set of skills in the resilient subject to deal with insecurity, as the authors of this special issue illustrate. Howell’s account of the soldier takes yet a different angle on the chronic aspect of insecurity, since a resilient soldier, by dealing with the crisis of combat, also contributes to its perpetuation. Resilience thus not only responds to but actively extends crisis, adding to the temporality of the continuous (Howell, 2015). In sum, resilience assembles diverse security practices of dealing with a disruptive past, a potentially disruptive future and ongoing, chronic disruption in the present, all of which emphasize the reiterative temporality of resilience practices. (9)

Resilience thus brings the subject into the focus of security policies – not as an entity to be protected but as an active and responsible contributor to security. This results in a specific relationship between political practices and subjects. Not only is the subject a central enactor of resilience, but resilience policies and practices are productive of specific subjects: the autonomous, organized, emergency-managing subject who behaves in the way that the respective political rationale or practice promotes. (10)

Brad Evans and Julian Reid “Dangerously Exposed: The Life and Death of the Resilient Subject”

Evans, Brad; Reid, Julian 2013. Dangerously Exposed: The Life and Death of the Resilient Subject. Resilience 1(2): 83-98.

[…] the game of survival has to be played by learning how to expose oneself to danger rather than believing in the possibility of ever achieving freedom from danger as such. (83)

Resilience, then, describes much more than the mere capacities of species to persist. It describes the ways in which life learns from catastrophes so that it can become more responsive to further catastrophes on the horizon. It promotes adaptability so that life may go on living despite the fact that elements of it may be destroyed. It confronts all of us living beings, ranging from weeds to humans, with the apparent reality that managing our exposure to dangers is as much as we can hope for because danger is a necessity for our development. (84)

The underlying ontology of resilience, therefore, is actually vulnerability. To be able to become resilient, one must first accept that one is fundamentally vulnerable. (84)

To increase its resilience […], the subject must disavow any belief in the possibility to secure itself and accept, instead, and understanding of life as a permanent process of continual adaptation to threats and dangers which are said to be outside its control. As such, the resilient subject is a subject which must permanently struggle to accommodate itself to the world, and not a subject which can conceive of changing the world, its structure and conditions of possibility. However, it is a subject which accepts the dangerousness of the world it lives in as a condition for partaking of that world and which accepts the necessity of the injunction to change itself in correspondence with threats now presupposed as endemic. (85)

Resistance here is transformed from being a political capacity aimed at the achievement of freedom from that which threatens and endangers to a purely reactionary impulse aimed at increasing the capacities of the subject to adapt to its dangers and simply reduce the degree to which it suffers. This conflation of resistance with resilience is not incidental but indicative of the nihilism of the underlying ontology of vulnerability at work in contemporary policies concerned with climate change and other supposedly catastrophic processes. (85)

Liberalism […] is a security project. From its outset, it has been concerned with seeking answers to the problem of how to secure itself as a regime of governance through the provision of security to the life of populations subject to it. It will, however, always be an incomplete project because its biopolitical foundations are flawed; life is not securable. (85-86)

Resilience is premised upon the ability of the vulnerable subject to continually re-emerge from the conditions of its ongoing emergency. Life quite literally becomes a series of dangerous events. Its biography becomes a story of non-linear reactions to dangers that continually defy any attempt on its behalf to impress time with purpose and meaning. (87)

While the logic of security works on the principle of achieving freedom from dangers, resilience assumes the need to engage with them because their realisation is unavoidable. (87)

Resilience […] evidences most clearly how liberal power is confronting the realities of its own self-imposed political foreclosure as the reality of finitude is haunted by infinite potentiality. This brings us to a pivotal moment in the history of liberalism as the project finally abandons its universal aspirations, along with any natural claims to promote all life as a self-endowed subject with inalienable rights. With the outside vanquished to the disappointing realisation of endemic crises, sheer survivability becomes the name of the political game. (91)

[…] resilience is a form of neoliberal interventionism which, speaking in a governing tone, nevertheless, segregates life on account of its vulnerable qualities as a self-propelling tendency and emancipatory orientation. The connections here to contemporary austerity measures are particularly striking. Such calls have nothing to say about political processes or opening new sites for emancipation. The political is, in fact, pathologised as an unnecessary impediment to the austere vision. What is demanded is a new sense of social responsibility that places the burden of the crises directly onto the shoulders of the globally impoverished, thereby rendering social safety nets as part of the wider systemic problem. (94)

Post-utopianism takes on a number of distinct features in which idealised lifestyles are no longer presented as a common good but a matter of exclusivity. If there is any resonance to idealism, it is not premised on inclusion but the need to be able to ‘opt-out’ of the social landscape. (96)

Judith Butler “Precarious Life”

Butler, Judith 2004. Precarious Life. – Precarious Life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London; New York: Verso Books, 128-152.

[Levinas]: “The celebrated “right to existence” that Spinoza called the conatus essendi and defined as the basic principle of all intelligibility is challenged by the relation to the face. Accordingly, my duty to respond to the other suspends mu natural right to self-survival, le droit vitale. My ethical relation of love for the other stems from the fact that the self cannot survive by itself alone, cannot find meaning within its own being-in-the-world.” (132)

Thus the face, the name for the face, and the words by which we are to understand its meaning – “Thou shalt not kill” – do not quite deliver the meaning of the face, since at the end of the line, it seems, it is precisely the wordless vocalization of suffering that marks the limits of linguistic translation here. The face, if we are to put words to its meaning, will be that for which no words really work; the face seems to be a kind of sound, the sound of language evacuating its sense, the sonorous substratum of vocalization that precedes and limits the delivery of any semantic sense. (134)

[Levinas]: “The Other is the sole being I can wish to kill. I can wish. And yet this power is quite the contrary of power. The triumph of this power is its defeat as power. At the very moment when my power to kill realizes itself, the other has escaped me … I have not looked at him in the face, I have not encountered his face. The temptation of total negation … this is the presence of the face. To be in relation with the other face to face is to be unable to kill. It is also the situation of discourse.” (138)

Levinas explains in one interview that “face and discourse are tied. It speaks, it is in this that it renders possible and begins alls discourse.” (138)

[…] it is only on the condition that we are addressed that we are able to make use of language. It is in this sense that the Other is the condition of discourse. If the Other is obliterated, so too is language, since language cannot survive outside of the conditions of address. (138-139)

The situation of discourse is not the same as what is said or, indeed, what is sayable. For Levinas, the situation of discourse consists in the fact that language arrives as an address we do not will, and by which we are, in an original sense, captured, if not, in Levinas’s terms, held hostage. (139)

Spinoza writes in The Ethics that the desire to live the right life requires the desire to live, to persist in one’s own being, suggesting that ethics must always marshal some life drives, even if, as a super-egoic state, ethics threatens to become a pure culture of the death drive. It is possible, even easy, to read Levinas as an elevated masochist and it does not help us to avert that conclusion when we consider that, when asked what he thought of psychoanalysis, he is said to have responded, is that not a form of pornography? (140)

It is important to distinguish among kinds of unrepresentability. In the first instance, there is the Levinasian view according to which there is a “face which no face can fully exhaust, the face understood as human suffering, as the cry of human suffering, which can take no direct representation. Here the “face” is always a figure for something that is not literally a face. Other human expressions, however, seem to be figurable as a “face” even though they are not faces, but sounds or emissions of another order. The cry that is represented through the figure of the face is one that confounds the senses and produces a clearly improper comparison: that cannot be right, for the face is not a sound. And yet, the face can stand for the sound precisely because it is not the sound. In this sense, the figure underscores the incommensurability of the face with whatever it represents. Strictly speaking, then, the face does not represent anything, in the sense that it fails to capture and deliver that to which it refers. (144)

[…] the human is not identified with what is represented but neither is it identified with the unrepresentable; it is, rather, that which limits the success of any representational practice. The face is not “effaced” in this failure of representation, but is constituted in that very possibility. Something altogether different happens, however, when the face operates in the service of a personification that claims to “capture” the human being in question. For Levinas, the human cannot be captured through the representation, and we can see that some loss of the human takes place when it is “captured” by the image. (144-145)

These are two distinct forms of normative power: one operates through producing a symbolic identification of the face with the inhuman, foreclosing our apprehension of the human in the scene; the other works through radical effacement, so that there never was a human, there never was a life, and no murder has, therefore, ever taken place. In the first instance, something that has already emerged into the realm of appearance needs to be disputed as recognizably human; in the second instance, the public realm of appearance is itself constituted on the basis of the exclusion of that image. (147)