Archive for the ‘Roberto Esposito’ Category

Brett Levinson “Biopolitics in Balance: Esposito’s Response to Foucault”

January 5, 2015 Leave a comment

Levinson, Brett 2010. Biopolitics in Balance: Esposito’s Response to Foucault. CR: The New Centennial Review 10(2): 239-261.

[…] if the Other is posited as virus, and the Same as a strictly biological entity, then contamination of any “individual” within the whole (an organ relative to the complete body, an individual relative to a nation, a nation relative to the league of nations, and so on) threatens apocalyptically that whole. The Other is not the menace. The Other is carrier of the menace, of a certain untyped or unidentified body that, because “unmonitorable,” terrorizes absolutely. […] In the present battle, the human subject battles against an is not, a no thing that dwells neither within nor outside the contested field. (240)

[…] for Esposito, “our” biopolitics imperils because it tends to reverse into its opposite, a “thanatopolitics” such as Nazism: “Why does a politics of life always risk being reversed into a work of death?” (8). This reversal, nonetheless, is a contingency. Biopolitics as such, Esposito insists, is not nihilism. “Our” biopolitics, the biopolitics of our period, is. (241)

[…] thanatopolitics that shrinks life to survival, mere zoe. (241)

Biopolitics, Foucault says, is fundamentally a racism (2003, 261–62). It presents all alterity—whether sexual, geographical, economic, linguistic, religious, or ethnic—as “the dirty other,” bearer of a lethal, apocalyptic stain (much like the Jew for the Nazi). Th e purpose of the gesture,
as racism, is not the salvation of the state or the particular group. Th e goal is the rescue of “life as such.” (243)

Biopolitical racism, hatred without reason, hence grants itself a reason. It situates reason on racism’s side. Nazism is the model of modern racism, then, less because it opposes sanitary to unhygienic bodies than because its telos, rather thanan unpolluted German or Germany, rather than an immortal “selfish self,” is the reproduction and preservation of the best—life—for all. Nazism is intrinsically a moral act. (243)

Biopolitics, after all, reacts not to a germ but to its endless duplication: to virus as source of mass annihilation. Immunity sterilizes in order to interrupt not the bug’s production—the vaccine itself produces the disease: it introduces a little bit of the illness to prevent wider spread—but its reproduction. Esposito’s prime example of the process is especially instructive: the Hobbesian state, an artifice installed to immunize rational human beings from a destructive, irrational nature. The installation does not erase barbarism but interrupts its spread, its contamination of all. (244)

Suspension of law, never reasonable, is constitutive of the state’s constitution. Indeed, because no tenet can conceivably ground the difference between an emergency and more or less “regular” situation, any actual declaration of a state of exception—even if, ultimately, for the good—activates and reactivates a dose of illness/unreason, always already installed at the state’s origin. (245)

One might thereby speak (the terms are my own) of a sovereign biopolitics, a disciplinary biopolitics, and a security biopolitics. We have already seen how Esposito effectively reposits Hobbes’s state, or sovereignty, in biopolitical terms. He performs a similar operation upon discipline (27–28). Biopolitical discipline does not punish but “catches” and retrains the delinquent: the delinquent as a product of the immunity devices geared to educate him properly. (245)

Discipline disciplines, in other words, not by repressing but by generating—through training—the subject of delinquency. This same subjectivization, because it posits delinquency as a force, yields new and threatening social ills. Biopolitical security enters here. The regime neither eliminates in the name of law nor disciplines according to an ideal of normalcy. It manages “things” (“manage” and “things” are the two words Foucault stresses) in the interest of keeping track, identifying, and then staving off the worst menaces. Foucault’s analysis of the biopolitical approach to the curbing of drug addiction is thereby most illustrative (2008, 256–59). (246)

Unlike disciplinary society, biopoliticalcontrol does not concern itself with the addict as subject, with the direct censure or rectification of individual conduct. In the first place, it holds that no person is disposed to crime by nature or even by culture. “The criminal is nothing other than absolutely anyone whomsoever” (253). It does no good to “fix” one individual since the number of potential delinquents is infinite. “Absolutely anyone” might commit an unlawful act if he believes that the chance for reward exceeds the risk of loss. Biopolitics or governmentality, therefore, contains crime by attending to the conditions in which crime takes place. It tackles the crime rather than the criminal by making a given unlawful act unprofitable, not worth the risk, for the large majority of the population. (246)

In this fashion, a kind of “norm” is maintained, as with discipline. Yet the biopolitical norm is not a fixed one, like the moral code of discipline. It shifts according to the gradual rise and fall of numbers, calling for the repeated check-ups and recalculations, which maintain the mutable equilibrium. (247)

The overarching model for [Foucault’s] biopolitics or governmentality, in fact, is not the live body. It is the free market. Biopolitics is an economism before it is a biologism. (247)

[…] for Foucault, the fear of terror, spurring biopolitics, actually results from the appearance of a certain truth: the unpredictability of the market. (247)

Th is is why neoliberalism, according to Foucault, cannot adopt a laissez-faire attitude toward the economy. Neoliberal measures do not match laissez-faire ones since these measures must stand ready to intercede should a monopoly by chance materialize—and it always could. And herein lies the second threat to stability: chance itself. (248)

Th e point, for Foucault, is that the subject of biopolitics, the subject of interest, is quite diff erent from the subject of right, the subject of the sovereign. Th e latter sacrifices some of his own interests in exchange for the good of all; for this self-sacrifice, he receives protection offered by the sovereign. Th e good of all is best for me. The subject of the market surrenders no such liberties; he must not. For the ideal, here, is controlled pluralism. The ongoing pursuit and attainment of individual liberties—for example, the freedoms of this or that gender, sexual practice, ethnic minority, political ideal, interest group, school of thought, and so forth—continually “adds” new subjects, new freedoms, into the overall population. The individual exercise of self-determination, the quest in one’s own interest, guarantees multiple selves that determine themselves, hence the pluralism that assures the competition, and the competition that benefits the market as a whole. (248)

The negative that arises within this context, however, is obvious: the loss of protection, hence insecurity. Competition and pluralism may stabilize the market. Yet they do not guarantee the stability. (248)

Insecurity materializes not because the sovereign, who protects, has been forfeited. Rather, the sovereign has been forfeited because he cannot off er this protection. (249)

For the sovereign, Foucault says, governs by wisdom, or trust in his wisdom. He is believed to know the truth, what is good for all, and makes decisions on this basis. Th is is how and why the sovereign can decide on the exception: how and why he can decide, for example, which life threatens apocalyptically the whole, hence can and must be killed off, and which does not. He knows. However, the sovereign does not know about chance happenings to which each entrepreneur and the market itself are exposed. (249)

It is because his nature includes non-nature, communication, that the human being is not solely a biological creature. Biopolitics casts human life as purely biological life by denying the force of contamination to which nonlife exposes the living, indeed, that is nonlife, to wit, finitude. Civil society, because it cannot touch the economy as such, is the site upon which governmentality or biopolitics acts. And to act upon civil society is to act upon the fact of its power, which is its “spontaneous communication.” Biopolitics says No to communication, but the “No” itself is a communication: as delimitation, interdiction on language, it opens to more of it. In other words,
humans cannot limit the power of their own institution for that institution sets their limit. (251)

Biopolitics names an effort to protect the one from its contamination by the one more, by another,
which is an artifi ce; yet the oneness is itself the artifice. Th e biopolitical adds on individual subjects, strives to protect one from the other one, from more one and more than one, in the interest of protecting all from the add-on. Its limit is its possibility and impossibility. (251)

Biopolitical nihilism, stated differently, is defined by a drive to rescue both the human and the category of the human from technology and language, on the one hand, and animals and instinct, on the other. Before it subverts human sovereignty or state sovereignty, biopolitics affirms the sovereignty, the absolute distinction and right of “the human,” of “human life.” (252)

Biopolitics is oversight in the business of the production of more “I’s” since tracking, trackability, identification (a stamp on the body, racialization) is the condition of any such “I.” Sovereignty compels the subject to obey. Discipline demands that he behave. Biopolitics insists that he beware: beware of the source of terror, which is the One or nothing, the One (form) that is nothing, the mark that is unmarked. (253)

And Esposito’s emphasis is on the fact that no two lives emerge in like fashion. Th e difference between the two can manifest itself, we must therefore say, solely as fashion itself: as style. And style, like the grain of the voice or the penmanship of the letter, is not a sign but an insignificant additive to the sign. It is the more of the sign, repeating in every sign, akin to a tic. Communicated in every “live” communicative act, every performative utterance, every real existing communication, style inserts a “meaningless” artifice into meaning—in fact, every meaningful sign (constative utterance) appears in a certain style(the performative)—and is the condition of that meaning. (255)

Human being-alive commences with a sign-making device that, although bodily—the air of the cry from the mouth—and although common (like a boundary between) to all parties, is not a property of anybody, not a human property but the division of the “me proper,” the “me life,” from the other. Th at split, moreover, is the opening of the unconscious, of an artificial intelligence and power.Esposito expresses a certain agreement with such thesis as he situates techne as the betwixt of human life, lodged between biosand zoe, political animal and mere animal, holding them together as it sets them apart: “. . . if a natural life doesn’t exist that isn’t at the same time technological as well; if the relation of biosand zoeneeds by now (or has always needed) to include a third correlated term, techne. . .” (15). Yet, the alternative life Esposito advocates overcomes this third term, which emerges for Esposito as just an “if,” something for human thought to speculate upon. (256)

The human does not appear live. Human beings do not make, much less change history. Making makes history. Humanity is the response and responsibility to its making: its institutions and forms. (257)

Esposito notes of Heidegger that he has “no concept of human nature—[human nature] autonomous from the being to whose custody man seems called” (2008, 156). Th is is true, of course; and it is just as true for Foucault, who holds that man is the body/techne, life/language interface; and thatthe interface itself, the and, the too, is being, the fact of its power. Th e copula beingis the linking and:human being is not an autonomous being because being is and, the one more or extra, the force of repetition, the form or program, that drives the human beings who incorporate or introject it. (257)

Esposito humanizes, cuts finitude and death into human proportions so that they work for the division between thanatopolitics and biopolitics, so that they work for life. If Foucault has failed to espouse a “biopolitics of life” over a “biopolitics over life,” as Esposito charges, it is because he has failed to distinguishthe first from the second, then to weigh or balance their difference. But, we add again: if Foucault has failed in this manner, it is because he presents this very distinction, this cut, as the more of balance: difference is the force of the nonlive in life, of artifice in human nature, death in the organic body. Difference-between, or the border, opens unconditionally, without measure, with too much strength, to the other, hence admits no balance between two, no justice. (259)

Roberto Esposito “Totalitarisme ou biopolitique”

December 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Esposito, Roberto 2006. Totalitarisme ou biopolitique. Tumultes 26(1) : 9-20.

En réalité Arendt et Foucault — c’est-à-dire totalitarisme et biopolitique — ne se sont pas rencontrés pour le simple motif que leurs systèmes catégoriels sont logiquement incompatibles. Voire parce que le paradigme du biopolitique justement ne prend sens et relief qu’à partir de la déconstruction du paradigme du totalitarisme. (10)

Ce qui ne veut pas dire que Arendt ait négligé — surtout dans ses œuvres ultérieures — le rôle de plus en plus envahissant qu’assumait la vie biologique dans le lexique conceptuel moderne. Mais l’élément qui marque une très nette discrimination par rapport à la sémantique biopolitique est que cette émergence du bios se situe chez Arendt à l’extérieur de la sphère proprement politique et en opposition avec celle-ci. […] D’où l’interprétation de la modernité dans son intégralité comme un processus unique de dépolitisation, qui ne comporte pas de différences significatives. (14)

Si nous entrons davantage dans le vif du discours de Foucault, ce que nous en retirons est, dans l’ensemble, une critique de l’interprétation philosophico-juridique classique. La traduction foucaldienne de la loi en norme, tant dans le sens négatif de ce qui contrôle la vie que dans le sens positif qui la confie à sa logique interne, à son autonomie par rapport à tout nomos transcendant, fait allusion à une critique du droit dans toutes les formes que ce dernier a pris — droit naturel, droit positif, droit souverain. S’il y a, chez Foucault, quelque chose qui ne marche pas, qui ne restitue pas le mouvement réel des choses et des corps, de subjectivation et d’assujettissement, c’est justement le discours de la loi comme confins du pouvoir. Pour Foucault la loi ne peut protéger la polis de la violence tout simplement parce qu’elle en est le résultat : non pas le présupposé, mais l’issue de dynamiques politiques qu’on ne peut scinder, d’actes de bataille, de figures de guerres, de fragments de violence. Il n’y a pas une loi apolitique ou prépolitique, du moment que le but de la politique est justement la mutation des rapports de force que la loi n’est appelée à légitimer qu’a posteriori. La crise de la catégorie de souveraineté — c’est-à-dire la critique déconstructive à laquelle Foucault la soumet — détermine également un bouleversement de l’idée moderne de droit comme prérogative du sujet. Et cela non seulement parce que le sujet en tant que tel, précédant les forces qui le définissent et le structurent, n’existe pas ; mais encore parce que le concept même de droit se brise en vecteurs de sens différents, parfois opposés, qui font correspondre à toute action une réaction, à toute affirmation une négation, à toute imposition une résistance. (16-17)

En ce sens, c’est comme si Arendt restait liée à un élément de transcendance — à la diversité, ou à la différence, entre le sujet, l’acteur, le héros politique et sa façon d’être elle-même, sa simple présence en tant qu’homme ou femme. Précisément le passage, ou le saut, tenté quelques années plus tard par Foucault — dans le cœur de l’immanence, ou comme l’aurait dit Deleuze, dans une pensée du dehors. Lorsque Foucault brise la forme de la subjectivité dans le processus de subjectivation, lorsqu’il disperse l’individu dans les fragments de son expérience extérieure, lorsqu’il décentre la personne dans les modes de l’impersonnel, il me semble qu’il ouvre une possibilité pour la pensée qu’Hannah Arendt n’a pas vue, aveuglée qu’elle était par la lumière de l’action politique. Il est évident que cette pensée du dehors — c’est-à-dire de l’implication, certes problématique, entre vie et politique — ne prédispose pas en soi à un discours affirmatif sur les droits humains comme droits des corps des hommes. Il reste cependant que ce n’est qu’à partir de la double déconstruction de l’idée de droit d’un côté et du concept de personne de l’autre — mise en œuvre par Foucault à la suite de Nietzsche et en parallèle avec Deleuze — qu’il est possible d’imaginer quelque chose comme une norme de vie ; non pas une norme appliquée à la vie d’en haut et de l’extérieur, mais une norme tirée de la vie même, de sa dimension à la fois impersonnelle et singulière. (19)

Si Arendt est penseur de la lumière, de la transcendence et du regard, Foucault est philosophe de l’ombre, de l’immanence et de la force. Si l’une est du côté de ce qui est absolument personnel, l’autre appartient au langage de l’impersonnel. Je ne sais pas lequel des deux nous parle aujourd’hui avec le plus d’intensité, lequel raconte le mieux les vicissitudes de l’homme mondialisé — bien que je n’aie pas voulu cacher mon option personnelle. (20)

Roberto Esposito “Third Person”

September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Esposito, Roberto 2012. Third Person: Politics of Life and Philosophy of the Impersonal. Cambridge; Malden: Polity Press.


1. The Double Life: The Machine of the Human Sciences

The  classic  vitalists,  like Bordeu  or  Barthez,  limited  themselves  to  removing  the  living

organism  from the  general  laws  of physics,  and  by  doing so  they ended up depriving it of a normative principle capable of unifying its  variety  of expressions  within  a  scientifically  described  framework.  Bichat,  on  the  other  hand,  identified  the specific  status  of the living body precisely in its active opposition to the pressure of death. (21)

“The measure of life then,  in general, is the difference which exists  between  the effort of external  powers,  and  of  internal  resistance.  The  excess  of  the  former announces its weakness; the predominance of the latter is an indication of its  strength.” (21, Bichat, Recherches, 43-44)

To  arrive  at the  deepest  truth  about a  body,  medical science is  forced  to  insinuate  itself into  the  same  cut that  etched death  into  the  body,  and  then  redouble  it. (22)

This  predominance is exercised primarily from the outside, by the environmental forces that squeeze life into a circle it cannot break and whose fatal power  it can  only resist  as  long  as  its  own energy remains. But  then,  at  the  same  time,  death  also  exercises  its  ascendancy from  inside  the  body,  where  its  possibility,  indeed  its  necessity, takes  seat  from  the  moment  of  birth,  like  a  tumor  that  grows progressively and  inexorably.  Rather  than  a  clean cut that chops off the  head  in  a  single  sweep,  death  appears  as  a  dull  murmur accompanying  and silently gnawing at every moment of life,  distributing  itself  into  many  little  deaths,  which  only  at  a  certain point join together to form one lethal event. (22)

[…] there  is  organic  life  before birth,  when  the  fetus  experiences  only  a  nutritive  life,  and  at the end,  with  the  advent  of  death,  when  organic  life  continues  for some  time  after  animal  life  has  ended,  as  can  be  seen  from  the growth  of  nails  and  hair  even  after  the  ‘first’  death.  A  double death,  in  short,  is  matched  by  a  double  life,  which has  unequal importance  not  only  because  it  is  geared  for  different  purposes, but  also  because it has a  different intensity. (23)

What begins  to  break  down,  or  at  least  become  unrecognizable  in  its canonical formulation, is the very idea  of the  person,  understood as a site of legal and political imputation. […] It is  as  if  a  non-human  –  something  different  from  and earlier  than  animal  nature  itself –  had  taken  up  residence  in  the human  being;  or  as  if it  had  always  been  there, with  dissolutive effects on the personal  modality of this  being.  From this moment on, the role of politics – now inevitably biopolitics – will no longer be to define the relationship between human beings  as much as to identify the precise  point at which the frontier is  located  between what  is  human  and  what,  inside  the  human  itself,  is  other  than human. (24)

The  unity of life – in full harmony with the perspective opened  up  by  Bichat  –  is  no  longer  broken  down  by  the  old dualism  between  body  and  soul,  but  by the  biological  difference between  an  organic  type  of  “life  within”  and  a  relational  “life outside.” (25)

Not that Comte  disputes the  importance  of  the  vegetative  part  that  links  humans  to  all other  living  beings;  but  he  locates  the  specificity  of the  human in the possibility,  albeit partial  and  problematic,  of overturning this primacy  in  favor  of  animal  life.  Although  always  driven  by  a natural,  biological  impulse,  in certain circumstances  humans can come  to  break  the  cycle  of  individual  self-preservation  for  the purpose  of  social  order. This  is  the  always  reversible  passage  from  the  level  of  “biocracy”  to  that  of  “sociocracy.”  (29-30)

[…] knowledge of  life  is,  for  Comte,  the  exteriority  inside  of  which  political science, even before seeking answers, must seek the questions that cannot  be  framed  in  its  own  vocabulary. (30)

But – and this is the crucial point – for the subject, being inside the world means to  be  somehow  outside  oneself,  to  be  part  of  something  that  at the same time includes and transcends  oneself. This something  is life:  not  only  of the  single  individual  but  of the  large  collective body that includes the individual, while exceeding it, in the totality of humankind. (31)

Inevitably  embedded  in  life,  death  constitutes  both  its absolute  outside  and  the  internal  center  of  irradiation  from which  living  beings  experience  the  limits  of  their  own identity and  the  extent  of  their  alteration. (32, of Comte)

If one were  to  summarize  the  role played by anthropology in the reciprocal  process  of  drawing  implications  between  politics  and biology,  one  might  say  that it concerns  the  transfer  of its  object- the human being as a living species – from the sphere of history to  the  sphere  of nature.  This  move  –  the  naturalization  of what had  always  been  represented  in  historical  terms  –  was  precisely what enabled  the  taxonomic placement of the  human being  in  a hierarchical  scale  that (in  its  lower ranks  at  least)  included characteristics  from  the  animal  world.  The  human  being,  or  at  least its  sub-types,  can  only  be animalized  if  it  is  first  dehistoricized. However,  in order for this shift  to take place  in all its scope  and leaving no traces behind, so to speak, it was necessary to overcome an obstacle of no small importance, because  it coincided with the essential difference between any type of human being and any type of animal: that is to say, language. While any other human ability can  in  some  way  be  at  least  compared,  if  not  identified,  with  a corresponding capacity  in  some  of  the  higher  animals, this  is  not true  for  verbal  language,  which  is  proper to  the  life  form  called Homo sapiens.It is this difficulty – the need to overcome it – that lends the highest strategic importance to another discipline, located at  the  point  of  juncture  between  anthropology  and  biopolitics, namely  linguistics.  The  observation  we  made  previously  about how the mutual exchange between the human sciences has a  productive role in bringing about a paradigm shift, in terms of legitimization  as  well,  comes  forcefully  back  into  consideration.  One might  say  in  this  respect  that,  as  anthropology  is  the  semantic commutator  that  allows  politics  to  model  itself  on  biology,  linguistics – more specifically, comparative grammar – constitutes the flow channel for the complete politicization of anthropology. (36-37)

If language  as  such was  the  last ontological  obstacle  to  the  full  naturalization  of the

animal-human, or human-animal, the science that studies it identifies a  primary level whose roots  are firmly established in nature. (39)

If  different  languages  correspond  to different  biological  structures,  language  is  the  best  reference  for classifying the various human races. But, since different languages have different values, the corresponding races will also necessarily have  different  values.  This  is  how  the  biological  superiority  of certain  racial  characteristics  determined  the  equally  biological superiority of certain languages, while the superior quality  of the languages  confirmed  the  superior  quality  of  the  races  who  used them. (41)

When  he  writes  that  “it  is  a  matter  of introducing  history  into  the  family  of  natural  sciences,”51  his intention  is  more  complex  than  that  of  simply  juxtaposing  the languages  of  biology  and  history.  His  aim  is  rather  to  translate history itself into the language of the natural sciences. This is made possible  through  a  double  homologation  that,  on the  one  hand, models  historical  order  on  the  basis  of  individual  development,

while  on  the  other  hand  it  derives  individual  development  from the evolutionary fate of the species.  Instead of limiting himself to naturalizing  history,  it  is  as  if  Gobineau  had  stretched  out  the segment  he  had  previously  dehistoricized  over  the  long  duration of  humanity’s  life. (46-47, of Gobineau)

Language does not have the  same  substance  as  spirit,  nor  is  it  a  part  of  the  body.  This  is proven by certain illnesses in which the  absence of speech is compatible with a  state of perfect physiological health; or, conversely, by diseases in which  the  dissolution  of the  body does  not lead  to a  similar crisis  in  linguistic capacity –  at  least  not  until  the  spirit is also struck dead. In other words, although they are born together, there  is  no  guarantee  that  spirit,  body,  and  language  will  die  at the same time. (49)

Only  when  united  by  the  same  race  can spirit, body, and language – the three  “individuals”  that comprise the animal called human – experience their vital power most fully. Life as such – any life, even  one that is formless or degraded, with a tendency to degenerate like  that of all  modern peoples exposed to ethnic hybridization – is always possible; Gobineau still cannot imagine that we can, or should, act on life to extinguish or restrictit. He merely states that  “the idiomatic individual  born and living in the brain of a common man is never equal to another idiomatic individual  which  partakes  of the  attributes  of the  same  race  and is  attached  to  a  superior  person.” (49-50)

The  animal  – explicitly breaking even with the  Darwinian paradigm, which had also  formed the epistemological framework  of Haeckel’s monism – no  longer  constitutes  the  place  of origin  of the  human  species, but the  measure  of its  internal  difference.  Hence, after  a detailed description  of  the  various  races  on  the  basis  of  hair  type,  skin color, and shape of the skull – which forms a hierarchy going from homo  australis through  homo  mongolicus up  to  the  Caucasian and Indo-Atlantic – we learn that the higher animals are closer to humans  than  to  other  lower  animals,  but  also  that  the  lower humans  are  more  similar  to  animals  than  to  the  higher  humans. (52, of Haeckel)

This  means  that  domesticated  animals,  or  animals  that  can  be domesticated, are located in the hierarchy of living species between primitive races  and civilized races – and that therefore  humanitasis split into two distinct parts, set off from each  other  by a  transversal  line  formed  by  reference  to the  animal.  The  animal  is  not the origin of the human  species,  but rather the  line  of separation inscribed within the  human species. (52)

Death is no longer the unavoidable background, or continuous challenge, out of which  life  emerges  and  against which  it exerts resistance, but  the  primary instrument  of its preservation and  enhancement. The  conceptual  and  operational  locus  where  this  reversal  takes form is the concept – or, more precisely, the ‘practice’ – of humanity. (56)


2. Person, Human, Thing

The concept  of  ‘person’ was intended  to  fill  in  the  chasm  opened up between the poles of human being and citizen that had existed since the Declaration of 1789. (70)

Even  when  interpreted  in  secular  terms,  in  short, the idea of person is never entirely reducible to that of the biological substrate of the subject it designates; rather, its most significant meaning is to be found precisely in a  sort of excess, of a spiritual or moral character,  that makes more  of the  ‘person,’  yet without letting it coincide completely with the  self-sufficient individual  of the  liberal tradition.  It is  actually  the  locus  of their most  intense combination: the inseparable relationship between body and  soul in a  single  entity,  open to relationship with other persons. (71)

Already the  separation initially established by Bichat between the two types of life – organic and animal – with  the  quantitative  and temporal dominance of the first over the second, had disrupted the idea of the person as responsible for his or her own actions and,  thus,  as  a  site of legal  imputation for obligations and rights. Subsequently, when this biological division was transferred from the body of the individual to that of humanity, the process of depersonalization was driven to the point of no return.  Sucked  back  into  its  purely  corporeal  substratum,  the biospiritual core  that the  modern  tradition  had called  person was now deprived  of all  its  attributes,  in favor of collective  entities – national,  ethnic  or  racial  in character – whose  fates were predestined  by indissoluble  blood ties. (71)

My  thesis  is  that  the  dispositif  of  the  person, intended  by  the creators  of the Declaration  on  Human  Rights to fill  in the chasm between man  and citizen left gaping  since  1789,

produced  an  equally  profound  gap  between  rights  and  life.  The very  paradigm  that  appears  to  be  a  vehicle  for  their  epochal reunion acts instead as  a  separation filter,  or  as  a  differential diaphragm  between two elements  that fail to meet up,  except in the form  of  their  separation. (74)

Both  the  Cartesian  tradition  –  with  the  prior  distinction between res extensaand res cogitans- and the Lockean tradition, which  assigned  a  functional  rather  than  substantial  character  to personal identity, are inscribed within this  division: in both cases, ‘person’ qualifies that which, in a human being, is other than and beyond body.  Far from identifying the living being in its entirety, inside  of  which  it  is  nonetheless  inscribed,  person  corresponds rather to the irreducible  difference that separates the living  being from  itself. (76)

The  moment  all  human  beings  were  considered  to  be bearers  of  a  rational  will,  regardless  of  differences  in  status  or social  standing,  they were for this very reason  also  considered to possess  a  legal  personality.  In  this  way,  instead  of  rights  being superordinate  to  the  subject,  they  become  the  subject’s  defining trait,  understood  as the power any subject has  over itself and the things  that  belong  to  it.  From  this  point  of  view,  the  difference between  homo and  persona that  the  Romans  upheld  no  longer had  a  reason  to  exist. (82)

The  moment the  person  ceased  to  be  a  general  category into which someone could be transferred, passing in  and out of it the way they did in Rome, and  became  a  quality implicit in every human  being,  it  revealed  itself  to  be  different  and  superimposed on the natural substrate it was implanted in. And this all the more as – or to the extent to which – it was identified with the rational and  volitional  or  moral  part  of the  individual,  the  part  invested with a universal value, so to speak. This is exactly how that splitting, or doubling, that first separated the human being as a simple homo from  the  general  category  was  re-established  within  every individual. (82-83)

Far from  disappearing, the splitting  action  penetrated  from  the  outside  inside,  dividing  the human  being into two areas:  a  biological  body  and  a  site  of legal imputation,  the  first  being  subjected  to  the  discretionary  control of  the  second.  Once  again,  and  perhaps  even  more  than  before, the person is not the same  as the  human  being in its entirety. The person is  actually  superimposed onto the  human  being – but also juxtaposed  with  it –  as  an  artificial  product  of the very law  that defines  it  as  such. (83)

The  fact  that  the  person  is  constrained  to  obey  the sovereign  outwardly,  in  the external  sphere  of his  or her  actions, but  not  inwardly,  in the internal  sphere  of his  or her conscience and  judgment,  which  remained  free,  splits  the  person  into  two different parts, which later would be reproduced in the irreconcilable modern dichotomy between human  being and citizen.  Separated  from  everyone  else  by  the  vertical  thread  that  binds  him or

her,  individually,  to  the  sovereign,  each  person  is  splayed  apart from its  own inside  in  such a  way that the two  are impossible to reunite.  This  is the  double  effect – of personalization  and  deper­sonalization – that  sovereignty  has  on  the  body  of  the  person:  it makes the person something that no longer has body, and the body something that can no longer  be  a person. (87)

[…] a person is the entity that is qualified by its dominion over its own biological substrate, a whole that can unify and dominate its parts. (88)

For liberal culture –  unlike  Nazism  – the  dividing  line  between  animal  and  human

passes  through the individual,  and not through a  racial hierarchy of peoples. The  fact remains, however – actually  it  becomes  even more  evident  –  that  the  reasoning  behind  the  relationship  thus established  between  body  and  thing  is  in  any  case  analogous:  if

you  start  from  an  instrumental  conception  of  life  –  whether enlisted  in  the  service  of the  sovereign  state  or  of the  individual – the condition  of one  tends  to slide into that of the other.  Now, contrary  to  what  has  been  assumed,  making  the  definition  of human  rights  dependent  on  the  language  of the  person  has  not managed to stop this drift. And the reason why it has been unsuccessful,  as  we  have  shown  by  opening  up  a  wider  perspective on  the  issue,  is  that what  created  this  drift  is  the  very  language of  the  person  itself.  To  the  extent  that  this  language  identifies, inside the human, an extracorporeal core defined in terms of will and  reason,  it  necessarily  ends  up  thrusting  the  body  into  an animal or vegetal  dimension,  putting it in  direct contact with the sphere  of things. (91)

[…] in a  tradition  that dates  back  to John Locke  and  John  Stuart  Mill,  a  person  is  such  –  a  human  being takes  on personhood,  in  other words – when  it has  ownership of itself.  While,  for  Locke,  “every  man  has  a  property  in  his  own person:  this  no  body  has  any  right  to  but  himself,”31  for  Mill, “the only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns  himself,  his  independence  is,  of  right,  absolute.  Over himself,  over  his  own  body  and  mind,  the  individual  is  sovereign.”32  Even  in  this  case,  the  body  –  over  which  the person exercises his or her proprietary dominion – is thought of as thing, as  a  bodily  thing  or  a  reified  body.  Therefore  in  each  individual the  dispositif  of the  person  works  at  the  same  time  toward  per­sonalization  (in  the  rational  part)  and  toward  depersonalization (in the animal or bodily part).  In short, only a  non-person, living matter  with  no  personhood,  can  give  rise  to  something  like  a person  as  the  object  of  its  own  subject.  Just  as,  conversely,  a person  is  a  person  if  it  reduces  to  thingness  that  out  of  which  it arises on the basis of its own rational-spiritual status. (92)

The general transition  of humankind  toward  thingness,  which  has  become  the predominant  tendency  of our  time,  was  opened  up  by  this  continuous  transition from human to  animal,  from animal  to vegetal, and from vegetal to mineral. Neither the difference between animate and inanimate beings nor the difference between natural and artificial have withstood  the  allied  pressure  of  economy  and  technology. (96)

In any case, whether you start from the  beginning or from the end of life, what really qualifies  as  ‘person’  only  occupies the central section: that of adult, healthy individuals. Before and after this  lies  the  no  man’s  land  of  the  non-person  (the  fetus),  the quasi-person  (the  infant),  the  semi-person  (the  elderly,  no  longer mentally or physically  able),  the  no-longer-person  (the patient  in a  vegetative  state),  and,  finally,  the  anti-person  (the  fool,  whom Singer  puts  in  the  same  relation  to  the  intelligent  human  being as  obtains  between  the  animal  and  the  normal  human  being  – albeit with  a clear preference  for  the  animal). (97)

Newborn babies cannot see themselves as beings who might or might not have a future, and so cannot have a desire to continue living. For the same reason, if a right to life must be based on the capacity to want to go on living or on the ability to see one self as a continuing mental subject, a newborn baby cannot have a right to life. (98-99, Peter Singer „Writings on an ethical life”, p. 162)

The part of the person that should be rejected is precisely the one that says ‚I’ or ‚we’; better still, the logical thread that ties individual self-consciousness to collective consciousness in the grammatical mode of the first person. (102)


3. The Third Person

Just  as  the person – in the  alternating form  of the  I and  the  you – can  only refer  to  itself in  a  purely  discursive  situation,  similarly  the  third person  –  the  non-person  –  always  refers  to  an  objective  type  of external referent. (107)

[…] the third is ‚he who is absent’. […] What is absent is always the subjective quality of the person or, better perhaps, the personal identity of the subject. (107)

Rather,  it  is  everyone  –  and  therefore  no  one,  as  Benveniste concluded,  following  a  different  line  of  reasoning.  Since  he/she does not exist for me,  for you,  or  ultimately,  says the  author,  for itself, it simply is not.  It is  an  opening,  or the  outside,  of the  personal relationship. It is a relationship without personhood and, at the same  time,  a  person  without relationship:  it is the  unrelated, the irrelative,  and the impersonal. (118)

For  the  third person to  be  identifiable – not a third inside the second person, hollowed out or scooped out from its  foundation,  but rather  one  that is  external  even  to  it,  located outside the first and second persons and actually constituted in an absolute outside – in order for this to happen, the dialogical structure of the face-to-face relationship – and thus  of the intersubjective  dialectic  that goes  along  with  it –  must  be  forced  open  and broken  down.  The language  of the person – or even  of persons, as  all  those  evoked  by  Levinas  are  –  must  be  turned  inside  out, into the form of the  impersonal.  This  would  lead  the  verticality of  transcendence  back  onto  a  plane  of  immanence  and  would multiply  the  singular  into  the  plural. (125)

As Blanchot maintained, literature  opens  up a  field of intensity in which the subject is sucked into the statement and, thus, catapulted into its own outside. (135)

[…] writing expresses nothing outside of writing itself. But if this is the case, if writing is always writing about  writing,  then,  evidently,  the  outside  of  literature  has  the form  of  an  inside;  it  never  crosses  over  its  own  pre-established confines. (136)

The reason why  this  outside is so  elusive is that somehow,  and without diminishing its degree of extraneity in  any  way,  it  lies  within  us:  we  ourselves  are  looked  at  from  a point of view that does not coincide, and indeed collides, with the transcendental point of view of our person, which flows out onto the  radically  immanent  plane  of  the  impersonal.  What  is  it  that we  are – beyond  or  before  our  person – without ever  being  able to become masters  of it?  What is it that traverses  us  and troubles us, to the point of turning over into its opposite, if not life itself? (137)

[…] power is what generates the resistance of that onto which it discharges itself. This explains why life, distinct from the subjectivity of the person as that which both underlies and overturns it into its material exteriority, constitutes the object of biopower, but also the locus that most opposes it. (139)

Precisely because it is impersonal,  the event coincides, in short, with an outflowing of singularities that have neither the apperceptive  form  of the  I nor the  transcendental  form of consciousness. This is what Deleuze defines as the plane  of immanence, meaning a  sphere  of life that  is  entirely coextensive with itself –  in which the cause is one with its effect, so to speak, and the actor with what is acted upon. (143)

The  only  avenue  for  escaping  the  dialectic  between  personalization and depersonalization,  which we  are  by  now  familiar  with, passes  through the  deconstruction  of the category of person, following a logic that privileges multiplicity and contamination over identity  and  discrimination. (145)

Whether this control passes through a  sovereign mediation  of an  external nature  or is entrusted to the will  of  the  individual  owner,  the  body  remains  exposed  to  a mechanism  of  appropriation,  disassemblage,  and  manipulation that ends up assimilating the  body to a thing owned  by others or by itself. Even the semantics of the Catholic discourse on the inaccessibility  of  life  –  its  absolute  value  deriving  from  the  act  of  a Creator  who  maintains  possession  over  it  –  remains  within  the same  paradigm.  The  body  is  always  at the  disposal  of  a  person, whether  divine  or  human,  who  is  not  coextensive  with  it  and whose  transcendence in relation to  the  body  is actually the  basis of its definition. (147)

What changes with respect to the plane of the subjects, besides a  certain  spatiality  that  is  irreducible  to  predefined  boundaries, is  a  temporality  that does not have the  stable  form  of presence, but  rather  the  form  of  the  event,  extending  between  past  and future.  Haecceity never has an origin or an end – it is not a point: it  is  a  line  of  slippage  and  assemblage  [ concatenamento].  It  is made  up  not  of  people  and  things,  but  of  speeds,  affects,  and transitions;  just  as  its  semiotics  is  composed  of  proper  nouns, verbs in the infinitive,  and indefinite pronouns. Haecceity is composed  of  third  persons,  traversed  and  liberated  by  the  power  of the  impersonal. (149)

Roberto Esposito “Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy”

Esposito, Roberto 2008. Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Without expanding here on its overall meaning […], the element that quickly needs to be established is the peculiar knot that immunization posits between biopolitics and modernity. I say quickly because it restores the missing link of Foucault’s argumentation. What I want to say is that only when biopolitics is linked conceptually to the immunitary dynamic of the negative protection of life does biopolitics reveal its specifically modern genesis. This is not because its roots are missing in other preceding epochs (they aren’t), but becuase only modernity makes of individual self-preservation the presupposition of all other political categories, from sovereignty to liberty. Naturally, the fact that modern biopolitics is  also embedded through the mediation of categories that are still ascribable to the idea of order (understood as the transcendental of the relation between power and subjects) means that the politicity of bios is still not affirmed absolutely. (9)

It is at this level that discourse today is to be conducted: the body that experiences ever more intensely the indistinction between power and life is no longer that of the individual, nor is it that sovereign body of nations, but that body of the world that is both torn and unified. (11)

1 – The Enigma of Biopolitics

Therefore, if we take up any perspective, we see that something that goes beyond the customary language appears to involve directly law and politics, dragging them into a dimension that is outside their conceptual apparatuses. This „something“ – this element and this substance and this upheaval – is precisely the object of biopolitics. (14)

[…] of „biopolitics“ and „biopower“. By the first is meant a politics in the name of life and by the second a life subjected to the command of politics. But here too in this mode the paradigm that seeks a conceptual linking between the terms emerges a split, as if it had been cut in two by the very same movement. Compressed (and at the same time destabilized) by competing readings and subject to continuous rotations of meaning around its own axis, the concept of biopolitics risks losing its identity and becoming an enigma. (15)

Without retracing the steps that articulate this process of the governmentalization of life in Foucauldian genealogy – from „pastoral power“ to the reason of state to the expertise of the „police“ – let’s keep our attention on the outcome: on the one side, all political practices that governments put into action (or even those practices that oppose them) turn to life, to its process, to its needs, and to its fractures. On the other side, life enters into power relations not only on the side of its critical thresholds or its pathological exceptions, but in all its extension, articulation, and duration. (28)

It is the same premise of the biopolitical regime. More than a removal of life from the pressure that is exercised upon it by law, it is presented rather as delivering their relation to a dimension that both determines and exceeds them both. (28)

What is in question is no longer the distribution of power or its subordination to the law, nor the kind of regime nor the consensus that is obtained, but something that precedes it because it pertains to its „primary material“. (29)

Biopolitics doesn’t refer only or most prevalently to the way in which politics is captured – limited, compressed, and determinded – by life, but also and above all by the way in which politics grasps, challenges, and penetrates life. (30)

Life as such doesn’t belong either to the order of nature or to that of history. It cannot be simply ontologized, nor completely historicized, but is inscrubed in the moving margin of their intersection and their tension. The meaning of biopolitics is sought „in this dual position of life that placed it at the same time outside history, in its biological environment, and inside human historicity, penetrated by the latter’s techniques of knowledge and power“ (31)

„[…] a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death.“ The opposition couldn’t be any plainer: whereas in the sovereign regime life is nothing but the residue or the remainder left over, saved from the right of taking life, in biopolitics life encamps at the center of a scenario of which death constitutes the external limit or the necessary contour. (34)

2 – The Paradigm of Immunization

Where the term „immunity“ for the biomedical sphere refers to a condition of natural or induced refractoriness on the part of a living organism when faced with a given disease, immunity in political-juridical language alludes to a temporary or definitive exemption on the part of subject with regard to concrete obligations or responsibilities that under normal circumstances would bind one to others. (45)

Rather than being superimposed or juxtaposed in an external form that subjects one to the domination of the other, in the immunitary paradigm, bios and nomos, life and politics, emerge as the two constituent elements of a single, indivisible whole that assumes meaning from their interrelation. (45)

Not simply the relation that joins life to power, immunity is the power to preserve life. Contrary to what is presupposed in the concept of biopolitics – understood as the result of an encounter that arises at a certain moment between the two components – in this perspective no power exists external to life, just as life is never given outside of the relations of power. From this angle, politics is nothing other than the possibility or the instrument for keeping life alive [in vita la vita]. (46)

[…] the negation doesn’t take the form of the violent subordination that power imposes on life from the outside, but rather is the intrinsically antinomic mode by which ife preserves itself through power. (46)

Just as in the medical practice of vaccinating the individual body, so the immunization of the political body functions similarly, introducing within it a fragment of the same pathogen from which it wants to protect itself, by blocking and contradicting natural development. (46)

The new element that I have proposed in this debate concerns what appears to me to be the first systematic elaboration of the immunitary paradigm held on one side by the contrastive symmetry with the concept of community – itself reread in the light of its original meaning – and on the other by its specifically modern characterization. The two questions quickly show themselves to be intertwined. Tracing it back to its etymological roots, immunitas is revealed as the negative or lacking [privativa] form of communitas. If communitas is that relation, which in binding its members to an obligation of reciprocal donation, jeopardizes individual identity, immunitas is the condition of dispensation from such an obligation and therefore the defense against the expropriating features of communitas. Dispensatio is precisely that which relieves the pensum of a weighty obligation, just as it frees the exemption [l’esonero] of that onus, which from its origin is traceable to the semantics of a reciprocal munus. Now the point of impact becomes clear between this etymological and theoretical vector and the historical or more properly genealogical one. One can say that generally immunitas, to the degree it protects the one who bears it from risky contact with those who lack it, restores its own borders that were jeopardized by the common. (50)

We have already seen how the most incisive meaning of immunitas is inscribed in the reverse logic of communitas: immune is the „nonbeing“ or the „not-having“ anything in common. Yet it is precisely such a negative implication with its contrary that indicates that the concept of immunization presupposes that which it also negates. (51)

What is immunized, in brief, is the same community in a form that both preserves and negates it, or better, preserves it through the negation of its original horizon of sense. From this point of view, one might say that more than the defensive apparatus superimposed on the community, immunization is its internal mechanism [ingranaggio]: the fold that in some way separates community from itself, sheltering it from an unbearable excess. The differential margin that prevents the community from coinciding with itself takes on the deep semantic intensity of its own concept. To survive, the community, every community, is forced to introject the negative modality of its opposite, even if the opposite remains precisely a lacking and contrastive mode of being of the community itself. (52)

So that life can be preserved and also develop, therefore, it needs to be ordered by artificial procedures that are capavle of saving it from natural risks. Here passes the double line that distinguishes modern politics; on one side, from that which precedes it, and, on the other, from the condition that follows it. (55)

Yet to link the modern subject to such a horizon of immunitary guarantees also means recognizing the aporia in which the same experience remains captured: that of looking to shelter life in the same powers [potenze] that interdict its development. (56)

Here we can begin to make out the constitutively negative character of sovereign immunization. It can be defined as an immanent transcendence situated outside the control of those that also produced it as the expression of their own will. (60)

Presented as the discovery and the implementation of the subject’s autonomy, individualism in reality functions as the immunitary ideologemme through which modern sovereignty implements the protection of life. (60-61)

Sovereignty is the not being [il non essere] in common of individuals, the political form of their desocialization. (61)

Indeed, one can say that property’s constitutive relevance to the process of modern immunization is ever more accentuated with respect to the concept of sovereignty. And this for two reasons. First, thanks to the originary antithesis that juxtaposes „common“ to „one’s own“ [proprio], which by definition signifies „not common“, „one’s own“ is as such always immune. And second, because the idea of property marks a qualitative intensification of the entire immunitary logic. (63)

Already here the immunitary logic seizes and occupies the entire Lockean argumentative framework: the potential risk of a world given in common – and for this reason exposed to an unlimited indistinction – is neutralized by an element that is presupposed by its same originary manifestation because it is expressive of the relation that precedes and determines all the others: the relation of everyone with himself or herself in the form of personal identity. This is both the kernel and the shell, the content and the wrapping, the object and the subject of the immunitary protection. (66)

In the most general terms, modern liberty is that which insures the individual against the interference of others through the voluntary subordination to a more powerful order that guarantees it. It is here that the antinomical relation with the sphere of necessity originates that ends by reversing the idea of libery into its opposites of law, obligation, and causality. […] necessity is nothing other than the modality that the modern subject assumes in the contrapuntal dialectic of its own liberty, or better, of liberty as the free appropriation of „one’s own“. (72)

3 – Biopower and Biopotentiality

[…] this is the manner in which Nietzsche thinks the political dimension of bios: not as character, law, or destination of something that lives previously, but as the power that informs life from the beginning in all its extension, constitution, and intensity. That life as well as the will to power […] doesn’t mean that life desires power nor that power captures, directs, or develops a purely biological life. On the contrary, they signify that life does not know modes of being apart from those of its continual strengthening. (81)

Still, the absolute originality of the Nitezschean text resides in the transferral of the relation between state and body from the classical level of analogy or metaphor, in which the ancient and modern tradition positions it, to that of an effectual reality: no politics exists other than that of bodies, conducted on bodies, through bodies. (84)

Before being in itself [in-sé], the body is always against, even with respect to itself. In this sense, Nietzsche can say that „every philosophy that ranks peace above war“ is „a misunderstanding of the body.“ This is because in its continual instability the body is nothing but the always provisional result of the conflict of forces that constitute it. (84)

What condemns modern political concepts to ineffectuality is exactly this split between life and conflict – the idea of preserving life through the abolition of conflict. One could say that the heart of Nietzsche’s philosophy will be found in his rebuttal of such a conception, which is to say in the extreme attempt to bring again to the surface that harsh and profound relation that holds together politics and life in the unending form of struggle. (85)

Its [life’s] full realization coincides with a process of extroversion or exteriorization that is destined to carry it into contact with its own „not“; to make of it something that isn’t simply life – neither only life nor life only – but something that is both more than life and other than life: preciselt not life, if for „life“ we understand something that is stable, as what remains essentially identical to itself. […] Here one already begins to glimpse the most troubling aspects of Nietzschean discourse: entrusted to itself, freed from its restraints, life tends to destroy and to destroy itself. (88)

Against this possible semantic declension, against the vacuum of sense that opens at the heart of life that is ecstatically full of itself, the general process of immunization is triggered, which coincides in the final analysis with all of Wester civilization, but which finds in modernity its most representative space. (89)

Yet it is precisely because of this that immunity continues to speak the language of the negative, which it would like to annul: in order to avoid a potential evil, it produces a real one; it substitutes excess with a defect, a fullness with a emptiness, a plus with a minus, negating what it affirms and so doing affirming nothing other than its negation. It is what Nietzsche means by the key concept of „resentment“, which he identifies with all forms of resistance or of vengeance, and which is contrasted with the originary affirmative forces of life. (92)

And yet precisely such a negation of immunization situates Nietzsche […] within its recharging mechanism. Negating the immunitary negation, Nietzsche undoubtedly remains the prisoner of the same negative lexicon. Rather than affirming his own perspective, Niezsche limits himself to negating the opposite, remaining, so to speak, subaltern to it. (96)

It isn’t by coincidende that the more Nietzsche is determined to fight the immunitary syndrome, the more he falls into the semantics of infection and contamination. All the themes of purity, integrity, or perfection that obsessively return […] have this unmistakably reactive tonality, which is to say doubly negative toward a rampant impurity that constitutes the discourse’s true primum. (96)

The epicenter of such a contradiction can be singled out in the point of intersection between a tendence to biologize existence and another, contrary and speculative, one, which is based on the existentialization or the purification of what also refers to the dimension of life. Or better: functionlizing the former so as to fulfill the latter. (99)

We have seen how Nietzsche contests modernity’s immunitary dispositifs not through negation, but instead by moving immunizarion from the institutional level to that of actual [effetiva] life; needing to be protected from the excess or the dispersion of life, no longer in the sense of a formal political order, but in the survival of the species as a whole. (104)

Nonetheless, we have seen how this prescription constitutes nothing other than the first hyperimmunitary or thanatopolitical stratum of the Nietzschean lexicon.

A second categorical vector draws alongside and is joined with it, one that moves in a direction that diverges from the first, or perhaps better, one that allows for a different reading. […] this vector moves through a semantic deferral of the preceding categories, beginning with that of „health“ and „illness“, bursting their nominal identity and placing them in direct contact with their own contrary logic. From this perspective […] the danger is also biological; it is no longer the enemy that makes an attempt on life from the outside, but the enemy is now life’s own propulsive force. (104)

The result is a reversal that occurs by an intensification of the defensive and offensive logic that governs the eugenic strategy: if health is no longer separable from sickness; if sickness is part of health – then it will no longer be possible to separate the individual and social body according to insurmountable lines of prophylaxis and hierarchy. (104)

The greatest danger that the community faces is therefore its own preventice withdrawal from danger. (105)

From this perspective, the negative not only is in turn detained, repressed, or rejected, but it is affirmed as such: as what forms an essential part of life, even if, indeed precisely because, it continually endangers it, pushing it on to a problematic fault line [faglia] to which it is both reduced and strengthened. (106)

With regard to the „retarding elements“ of every species that is intent on constructing ever new means of preservation (who are determined to last as long as possible), the Übermensch (or however we may want to translate the expression) is characterized by an inexhaustible power of transformation. He literally is situated outside of himself, in a space that is no longer (nor was it ever) that of man as such. (107-108)

In this sense, Nietzsche, the hyperindividualist, can say that the individual, the one undivided [l’indiviso], doesn’t exist – that it is contradicted from its coming into the world by the genetic principle according to which „two are born from one and one from two“. (108)

4 – Thanatopolitics (the Cycle of Genos)

[…] Nazism does not, nor can it, carry out a philosophy because it is an actualized [realizzata] biology. (112)

In short, and although it may seem paradoxical, it was in order to perform their therapeutic mission that they [the German doctor’s] turned themselve into the executioners of those they considered either nonessential or harmful to improving public health. From this point of view, one can justifiably maintain that genocide was the result not of an absence, but of a presence, of a medical ethics perverted into its opposite. (115)

Hippocratic oath that they had taken, namely, not to harm in any way the patient [malato]. It’s only that they identified the patient as the German people as a whole, rather than as a single individual. (115-116)

[…] Nazi politics wasn’t even a proper biopolitics, but more literally a zoopolitics, one expressly directed to human animals. Consequently, the correct term for their massacre – anything but the sacred „holocaust“ – is „extermination“: exactly the term used for insects, rats, and lice. Soziale Desinfektion it was called. (117)

[…] Nazism itself never renounced the category of humanitas, on which it awarded the maximum normative importance. More than „bestializing“ man, as is commonly thought, it „anthropologized“ the animal, enlarging the definition of anthropos to the point where it also comprised animals of inferior species. (130)

The latter [sterilization] is the most radical modality of immunization because it intervenes at the root, at the originary point in which life is spread [si comunica]. It blocks life not in any moment of its development as its killer but in its own rising up – impending its genesis, prohibiting life from giving life, devitalizing life in advance. It might seem paradoxical wanting to stop degeneration (whose final relust was sterility) through sterilization, if such and antinomy, the negative doubling of the negative, wasn’t an essential part, indeed the very basis of the immunitary logic itself. (132)

If the first immunitary procedure of eugenics is sterilization, euthanasia constitutes the last (in the ultimate meaning of the expression). (132)

While the first [individual] preserves the right/obligation to receive death, only the second [state] possesses the right to give it. Where the health of the political body as a whole is at stake, a life that doesn’t conform to those interests must be available for termination. (133)

[…] the life unworthy of life is existence deprived of life – a life reduced to bare [nuda] existence. (134)

Dispositifs of Nazism:

1)      Absolute normativization of life constitutes the first. In it we can say that the two semantic vectors of immunity, the biological and the juridical, for the first time are completely superimposed according to the double register of the biologization of the nomos and simultaneously that of the juridicalization of bios. (138)

2)      Nazism’s second immunitary dispositif is the double enclosure of the vody, that is, the enclosing of its own enclosure. It is what Emmanuel Leivinas defined as the absolute identity between our body and ourselves. With respect to the Christian conception (but also differently from Cartesian tradition), all dualism between ego [io] and body collapses. They coincide in a form that doesn’t allow for any distinction: the body is no longer only the place but the essence of the ego. (141) In this sense, more than a reduction of bios to zoe or to „bare life“ […] we need to speak of the spiritualization of zoe and the biologization of the spirit. (142)

3)      The third Nazi immunitary dispositif is represented by the anticipatory suppression of birth, which is to say not only of life but of its genesis. It is in this extreme sense that one ought to understand the declaration according to which „sterilization was the medical fulcrum of the Nazi biocracy.“ (143) in the biopolitical regime, sovereign law isn’t so much the capacity to put to death as it is to nullify life in advance. (145)

5 – The Philosophy of Bios

That the obsessive search for security in relation to the threat of terrorism has become the pivot around which all the current governmental strategies turn gives an idea of the transformation currently taking place. From the politicizarion of the biological, which began in late modernity, we now have a similarly intense biologization of the political that makes the preservation of life through reproduction the only project that enjoys universal legitimacy. (147)

What opens the possibility of thinking bios and politics within the same conceptual piece is that [first] at no point does authentic being [poter-essere] exceed the effective possibility of being there [dell’esserei], and second that the self-decision of this being is absolutely immanent to itself. It is from this side, precisely because it is entirely impolitical, which is to say irreducible to any form of political philosophy, that Heidegger’s thought emerges in the first half of the twentieth century as the only one able to support the philosophical confrontation with biopolitics. (152)

[…] Heidegger reverses the prevalent situation instituted by the latter: it isn’t existence that emerges as deficient or lacking in relation to a life that has been exalted in its biological fullness, but life that appears defective with respect to an existence understood as the only modality of being in the openness of the world. (154)

While in Nazi thanatopolitics death represents the presupposition of life even before its destiny, a life emptied of its biological potentiality [potenza] (and therefore reduced to bare existence), for Heidegger death is the authentic [proprio] mode of being of an existence distinct from bare life. (154)

The attempt we want to make is that of assuming the same categories of „life“, „body“, and „birth“, and then of converting their immunitary (which is to say their self-negating) declension in a direction that is open to a more originary and intense sense of communitas. Only in this way – at the point of intersection and tension among contemporary reflections that have moved in such a direction – will it be possible to trace the initial features of a biopolitics that is finally affirmative. No longer over life nut of life, one that doesn’t superimpose already constituted (and by now destitute) categories of modern politics on life, but rather inscribes the innovative power of life rethought in all its complexity and articulation in the same politics. From this point of view, the expression „form-of-life“ […] is to be understood more in the sense of a vitalization of politics, even if in the end, the two movements tend to superimpose themselves over one another in a single semantic grouping. (157)

[…] each time the body is thought in political terms, or politics in terms of the body, an immunitary short-circuit is always produced, one destined to close „the political body“ on itself and within itself in opposition to its own outside. (158)

Existence without life is flesh that does not coincide with the body; it is that part or zone of the body, the body’s membrane, that isn’t one with the body, that exceeds its boundaries or is subtracted from the body’s enclosing. (159)

[…] the question of flesh is inscribed in a threshold in which thought is freed from every self-referential modality in favor of directly gazing on contemporaneity, understood as the sole subject and object of philosophical interrogation. (159-160)

For us as well as for Merleau-Ponty, the flesh of the world represents the end and the reversal of that doubling [enclosing the body upon itself]. It is the doubling up [sdoppiamento] of the body of all and of each one according to leaves that are irreducible to the identity of a unitary figure. (161)

There is nothing more than that body (in the individual and collective sense) that restitutes and favors the dynamic of reciprocal implication between politics and life, and this for a number of reasons. First, because of the somatic representation of legitimate citizenship prior to the growing role that demographic, hygienic, and sanitary questions began to assume for public administration. And second, because it is precisely the idea of an organic body that implicates, as necessary complement, the presence of a transparent principle that is capable of unifying the members according to a determined functional design: a body always has a soul, or at least a head, without which it would be reduced to a simple agglomerate of flesh. (165)

What recedes, however (either because of explosion or implosion), is instead the body as the dispositif of political identification. […] If everything is the body, nothing will rigidly define it, which is to say no precise immunitary borders will mark and circumscribe it. (166)

To „rise again“, today, cannot be the body inhabited by the spirit, but the fles as such: a being that is both singular and communal, generic and specific, and undifferentiated and different, not only devoid of spirit, but a fles that doesn’t even have a body. (167)

[…] while incorporation tends to unify a plurality, or at least a duality, incarnation, on the contrary, separates and multiplies in two what was originally one. In the first case, we are dealing with a doubling that doesn’t keep aggregated elements distinct; in the second, a splitting that modifies and subdivides an initial identity. (167)

Just as the body constitutes the site of the presupposed unification of the anomalous multiplicity of flesh, so the nation defines the domain in which all births are connected to each other in a sort of parental identity that extends to the boundaries of the state. (171)

If the state is really the body of its inhabitants, who are in turn reunified in that of the head, politics is nothing other than the modality through which birth is affirmed as the only living force of history. (171)

The norm is no longer what assigns rights and obligations from the outside to the subject, as in modern transcendentalism – permitting it to do that which is allowed and prohibiting that which is not – but rather the intrinsic modality that life assumes in the expression of its own unrestrainable power to exist. (185-186) – of Spinoza

It is for this reason that, when seen in a general perspective, every form of existence, be it deviant or defective from a more limited point of view, has equal legitimacy for living according to its own possibilities as a whole in the relations in which it is inserted. (186)

It cannot be said that Spinoza’s intuitions found expression and development in later juridical philosophy. The reasons for such a theoretical block are multiple. But in relation to our problem, it’s worth paying attention to the resistance of the philosophy of natural right [diritto] as a whole to think the norm together with life: not over life nor beginning from life, but in life, which is to say in the biological constitution of the living organism. (186)

[…] we can say that for Spinoza nothing other than individuals exist. These individuals are infiniye modes of a substance that does not subtend or transcend them, but is that expressed precisely in their irreducible multiplicity; only that such individuals for Spinoza are not stable and homogenous entities, but elements that originate from and continually reproduce a process of successive individuations. (187)

In short, the process of normativization is the never-defined result of the comparison and conflict between individual norms that are measured according to the different power that keeps them alive, without ever losing the measure of their reciprocal relation. (187)

Completely normal isn’t the person who corresponds to a prefixed prototype, but the individual who preserves intact his or her own normative power, which is to say the capacity to create continually new norms: „Normal man is normative man, the being capable of establishing new, even organic forms.“ (191)

I would say that his [Deleuze’s] „theoretical“ (though we could say biophilosophical) resides in the connecting and diverging point between the life and precisely a life. Here the move from the determinate article to that of the indeterminate has the function of marking the break with the metaphysical feature that connects the dimension of life to that of individual consciousness. There is a modality of bios that cannot be inscribed within the borders of the conscious subject, and therefore is not attributable to the form of the individual or of the person. (192)