Archive for the ‘subjekt’ Category

Marc Champagne “What Anchors Semiosis: How Descartes Changed the Subject”

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Champagne, Marc 2008. What Anchors Semiosis: How Descartes Changed the Subject. Recherches Sémiotiques / Semiotic Inquiry 28(3-1): 183-197.

To recapture the truly revolutionary scope of Descartes’ inluence, we have to consider the curiously bifurcated semantics of the term “subjective”. The Collins English Dictionarycontains two deinitions in its entry. On the one hand, “subjective” is described as “the grammatical case in certain languages that identiies the subject of a verb”. On the otherhand, it is said to be “of or based on a person’s emotions or prejudices”. These incommensurate meanings are an archaeological trace, a scar that bears silent witness to a severe paradigmatic tear. At the risk of oversimplifying, the irst acceptation owes mainly to Aristotle, and the second to Descartes. (185)

By retreating strictly to what is phenomenally present before the mind, Descartes deliberately casts aside this long-standing way of viewing the world in favour of an agent-centred viewpoint, one which willbecome a deining staple of philosophical Modernity. (186)

[…] Aristotle introduced a very inluential distinction between “matter” and “form”. Exploiting an analogy with a sculpture refashioned into various shapes, he adduced matter as the source of whatever “thisness” stays constant throughout the change, concomitantly letting the form imposed on that matter account for the “suchness” that undergoes modiications from one moment to another. (187)

All we need retain for the purposes at hand is the idea that, in the Aristotelian conception, what anchors the succession of states is the substantial subject. According to this theory, there is an ontological substrate which carries a given thing’s various properties (see Lisska 2010 : 144). (187)

As Aristotle explains : it is plain that there must be something underlying, namely, that which becomes. For when a thing comes to be of such a quantity or quality or in such a relation, time, or place, a subject is always presupposed, since substance alone is not predicated of another subject, but everything else of substance. (Ibid.: 325) (188)

What we ind in the well-known remarks about the melting piece of wax is a drastic revision of the notion of “subject”. (189)

[…] the idea of “subjectivity” as pertaining to a grammatical subject — which includes but is not limited to the irst-person pronoun— goes back to a bygone ontology of substances. Unlike the construal of the subject as that which apprehends, this more archaic sense of the word pertains to that which is apprehended. Our grammar still attests to this Aristotelian thesis. (189)

We can thus say that Aristotle’s “subject” is the “it” lying in the world, whereas Descartes’ “subject” is narrower and is limited solely to the singular and incorporeal“I”. (189)

Of course, once a thing’s predicates are stripped away, it is not altogether clear what — if anything — remains. The only plausible candidate seems to be that extension through space is the one primitive that cannot be eliminated. In his 1634 The World (Descartes 1985 : 90-92), Descartes endorses an arid quantitativeontology akin to what one would ind in a purely geometrical universe. But at this point in his investigations, Descartes is more preoccupied with the still more problematic question of how one could come to know this sort of bare extension. Seeing how the senses each latch onto qualitative properties that shift and replace one another, what faculty can possibly allow us to gain insight into the residual presence that is left over? (190-191)

Note that the level of insight into the wax’s true nature depends not on the thing itself, but on the degree of care and rigour with which the “thinking thing” ponders it. (191)

[…] the senses provide us with a qualitative spectacle, but it is the unaided intellect which grasps quantitative aspects like extension. And since such extended space is in the inal analysis all that bodies consist in, Descartes holds that only mental scrutiny gives us insight into the nature of things. (191-192)

In the Aristotelian scheme defended and expanded by Latin thinkers like John Poinsot, experiential predicates like hot, soft, and pungent were united by and anchored to a worldly “subject” in the archaic dictionary sense outlined earlier. In the new Cartesian scheme, it is a mental “subjectivity” which gathers these qualities and judges them to appertain to a common spatial region. Predicates are therefore notthe gateway to a clear and distinct knowledge of things. Much the contrary, since they can morph to the point of unrecognizability, they obscure and distort the true essence of a thing, which is its inert spatial extension. It is the unaided intellect of the thinking subject which attains a true knowledge of the nature of things, and it does so by putting aside the unclear and indistinct qualitative distortions of the phenomenal field
and relying solely on the ironclad verdicts of rationality. (192)

Instead of a plurality of worldly subjects, intelligibility is now beholden to a singular mental subject. Descartes’ relections on the piece of wax can thus (in hindsight) be seen as the precise locus of this paradigmatic rupture (it would be interesting to pinpoint the exact date when Descartes sat in front of his ireplace with wax). (193)

Indeed, by the time we reach the irst edition of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, Hobbes’ proposed terminology has become the norm, such that Kant no longer feels it necessary to mention any departure from the once-accepted scholastic usage : “I, as a thinking being, am the absolute subjectof all my possible judgments, and this representation of Myself cannot be used as the predicate of any other thing” (Kant 1998 : 415-416 [emphasis in original]). (194)

Although the task of pinpointing the precise date when this shift manifested itself in natural linguistic usage is best left to lexicographers, I have proposed that the philosophicalrupture from the subject-construedas-a-worldly-thing to the subject-construed-as-a-solipsist-mentalactivity can be traced back to Descartes’ introspective relections on the piece of wax. (194)


Stephen Mulhall “Human Mortality”

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Mulhall, Stephen 2005. Human Mortality: Heidegger on How to Portray the Impossible Possibility of Dasein. Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Mark A. Wrathall (eds). A Companion to Heidegger. Malden; Oxford; Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 297-310.

[…] there is a specific state-of-mind through which Dasein discloses itself to itself in a simplified way; and its very simplicity is what allows it to give Dasein access to itself as a structural totality. This is the phenomenon of anxiety (angst, dread), a distinctively objectless state-of-mind; and what it reveals is that the being of Dasein means beingahead-of-itself in being-already-in-(the-world) as being-alongside (entities encountered within-the-world). In short, it tells us that the being of Dasein is care. (297)

[…] for as long as Dasein exists, it can never achieve wholeness; it will always be ahead of itself, essentially related to a possibility, to something that it is not yet. As Heidegger puts it, Dasein’s mode of being is such that something is always left outstanding, or say incomplete; but if Dasein
cannot bring its own existence into view as a whole, then how could it produce an existential analytic of its own kind of being that might bring it into view as a whole? (298)

[…] in being-ahead-of-itself, Dasein does not simply or solely relate to itself as standing out into the future, and hence as incapable of or beyond completion; it also understands itself as relating to – as standing out toward – its own future completion, toward a point at which there will be nothing of itself outstanding. But this endpoint, the point at which Dasein’s span of existence completes itself, is also the point of its own nonexistence, its “no-longer-being-there” – its death. (298)

The most obvious strategy for gaining access to death that Heidegger contemplates is to make use of the already-established fact that Dasein’s being is being-with-Others; for if we cannot directly grasp our own death, can we not experience as intimately and directly as possible the dying and death of other Dasein? (300)

Heidegger in fact thinks that our tendency to think that being-with-Others in their dying and death might allow death to be phenomenologically representable is an expression of a more pervasive tendency on our part to think that one Dasein might represent (go proxy for, substitute or otherwise stand in for) another. To be sure, one Dasein can vote for another Dasein, or take her place with respect to some specific task or object of concern, or even die in another’s place (say by placing oneself in the way of harm that would otherwise be inflicted on another); but no one can take another’s dying away from her. Death is not, is never, theend; it is my end or yours, or hers. Death, in other words, is in every case “mine,” the death of some particular Dasein, the being to whom mineness belongs. Hence, if dying is constitutive of Dasein’s totality or wholeness, it must be conceived as an existential phenomenon of a Dasein which is in each case one’s own. (300-301)

No present-at-hand or ready-to-hand object’s particular relationship to its end can stand in for Dasein’s particular relationship to its end because none manifests the kind of being as such that
belongs to Dasein. (301)

He tells us that, while we can refer to the end of anything living as its perishing, and although Dasein “has” its death, of the kind appropriate to anything that lives, it cannot be said, quaDasein, to perish. Rather, it either dies authentically, or it suffers “demise” (which occurs when Dasein ends “without authentically dying” (SZ: 291) – without, that is, realizing that way of being in which it “is” toward its death, of which more later). (302)

[…] the central negative points Heidegger wishes to make here seem coherent enough, turning as they do upon his unwavering employment of the term “Dasein” as an ontological or existential category, and hence as essentially not synonymous with any biological or zoological category. If “Dasein” is not a synonym for “Homo sapiens,” any more than it is for “soul” or “self-consciousness” or “human being,” then any analysis of Dasein’s relation to its end cannot be fruitfully furthered by taking for granted the ontological presuppositions of the results of the ontic life sciences. (302-303)

Since no Dasein can directly apprehend or encounter its own death, we must shift our analytical focus from death understood as an actuality to death understood as a possibility; only then can we intelligibly talk of death as something toward which any existing Dasein can stand in any kind of substantial, comprehending relationship. In other words, we must reconceive our relation to our death not as something that is realized when we die, but rather as something that we realize (or fail to) in our life. (303)

[…] death is not just the possibility of our own non-existence, of our own absolute impossibility; it is an impossible possibility – or more frankly, an existential impossibility. But if it amounts to a contradiction in terms to think of death as an existential possibility, of however distinctive or even unique a kind, then it would seem that Heidegger must be wrong to think that he can achieve phenomenological access to death by analysing it in existential terms. (304)

Heidegger’s point in calling our relation to our own end our “being-towarddeath” is to present it as an ontological (that is, existential) structure, rather than as one existentiell state (even a pervasive or common one) of the kind that that structure makes possible. In short, we cannot grasp Heidegger’s account of death except against the horizon of his account of the ontological difference – the division between ontic and ontological matters. (304)

[…] although we can’t coherently regard death as an existentiell possibility, neither can we understand our relation to our own end apart from our relation to our existentiell possibilities, and thereby to our being-ahead-of ourselves. More specifically, Heidegger’s suggestion is that we should think of our relation to death as manifest in the relation we establish and maintain (or fail to maintain) to any and every authentic possibility of our being, and hence to our being as such. (305)

Precisely because death can be characterized as Dasein’s ownmost, non-relational and not-to-be outstripped possibility, and hence as an omnipresent, ineluctable, but non-actualizable possibility of its being, which means that it is an ungraspable but undeniable aspect of every moment of its existence, it follows that Dasein can only relate to it in and through our relation to what is graspable in our existence – namely the authentic existentiell possibilities that constitute it from moment to moment. (305)

In other words, just as Heidegger earlier reminded us that death is a phenomenon of life, so he now tells us that death shows up only in and through life, in and through that which it threatens to render impossible – as the possible impossibility of that life. (305)

Or, to put matters the other way around: being-toward-death is essentially a matter of being-toward-life; it is a matter of relating (or failing to relate) to one’s life as utterly, primordially mortal. (305)

A mortal being is one whose existence is contingent (it might not have existed at all, and its present modes of life are no more than the result of past choices), whose non-existence is an omnipresent possibility (so that each of its choices might be its last), a being with a life to lead (its individual choices contributing to, and so contextualized by, the life of which they are a part), and one whose life is its own to lead (so that its choices should be its own rather than those of determinate or indeterminate Others). In short, an authentic confrontation with death reveals Dasein as related to its own being in such a way as to hold open the possibility, and impose the responsibility, of living a life that is authentically individual and authentically whole – a life of integrity, an authentic life. (306)

[…] it is the objectlessness of anxiety that allows Heidegger to claim that its peculiar oppressiveness is generated not by any specific totality of ready-to-hand objects but rather by the possibility of such totalities: we are oppressed by the world as such – or more precisely, by being-in-the-world. Anxiety gives Dasein access to the knowledge that it is thrown into the world – always already delivered over to being ahead of itself, to situations of choice and action which matter to it but which it did not itself fully choose or determine. In other words, anxiety confronts Dasein with the determining yet sheerly contingent fact of its own worldly existence. (307)

Angst is no more a specific mode of Dasein’s thrownness than death is a specific possibility of its projectiveness. It is rather an ineluctable aspect of its thrownness, the omnipresent ground and condition of Dasein’s specific states-of-mind. One might say: whatever Dasein’s particular state-of-mind and project, it is always already anxiously relating to its mortality, whether in resolute anticipation of it or in irresolute, self-alienating flight from it. (308)

If Dasein’s being is inherently being-ahead-of-itself, no meeting of any particular demand in action can eliminate or silence the need to re-encounter that demand (or to choose not to do so) in the next moment of our existence. If we are in this sense essentially incomplete or lacking (Heidegger goes on to call this our being-guilty), then we are also essentially irreducible to what we have hitherto and presently achieved or attained. We are, in other words, inherently self-transcending or transitional, always capable of becoming more or other than we presently are. (309)

Human mortality and finitude is accepted only insofar as one avoids conflating one’s existential potential and one’s existentiell actuality, and instead accepts one’s inevitable failure to coincide with oneself. (309)

Jean Gayon “Le concept d’individualité dans la philosophie biologique de Georges Canguilhem”

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Gayon, Jean 2000. Le concept d’individualité dans la philosophie biologique de Georges Canguilhem. – Le Blanc, Guillaume (ed). Lectures de Canguilhem. Le normal et le pathologique. Paris : ENS Éditions, 19-48.

Dans son examen ultérieur de conceptions biologiques comme la théorie cellulaire, la notion de régulation ou celle de milieu, Canguilhem s’intéresse à une question de nature ontologique, celle de savoir quelles sont les classes d’entités naturelles qui peuvent candidater au statut d’individus, et quels sont les critères pertinents pour aborder ce genre de question. La réponse de Canguilhem est qu’il faut fondamentalement penser l’individu comme relation à autre chose que soi-même plutôt que de chercher un critère de substantialité, ou plus exactement qu’il faut subordonner la seconde question à la première. Enfin, dans ses réflexions tardives sur le rapport entre connaissance et vie, Canguilhem a placé sa réflexion sur l’individualité biologique sous l’angle de la gnoséologie. Il a soutenu que la génétique moléculaire, dans la mesure où elle enveloppe une interprétation de l’individualité biologique comme « communication d’information », remettait à l’ordre du jour diverses spéculations philosophiques traditionnelles sur ce thème, qu’il a principalement trouvées dans la conception aristotélicienne de la vie, et dans l’identification hégélienne de la vie et du concept. Le concept d’individualité a donc été mobilisé par Canguilhem à trois reprises dans le dessein de construire une interprétation philosophique de la vie tantôt comme valeur, tantôt comme être, tantôt comme connaissance. (22)

Pour Canguilhem, la maladie ne saurait être réduite à la modification quantitative d’un paramètre physiologique. Une telle modification peut sans doute être un signe de la maladie, mais elle n’est pathologique que dans la mesure où elle reflète une altération, une modification qualitative de l’organisme pris comme un tout. Par exemple, la même quantité de glucose dans le sang peut être pathologique chez un individu, et ne pas l’être chez un autre, en fonction d’autres paramètres qui interagissent avec la glycémie. De là la formule : ce qui fait qu’un symptôme est pathologique est « son rapport d’insertion dans la totalité indivisible d’un comportement individuel. » (25)

La maladie n’est pas simplement un écart, elle est intrinsèquement un « mal », comme son étymologie l’indique assez explicitement, en français comme en anglais (illness). Ici de nouveau l’individualité est convoquée par le médecin-philosophe : « C’est donc bien toujours en droit, sinon actuellement en fait, parce qu’il y a des hommes qui se sentent malades qu’il y a une médecine, et non parce qu’il y a des médecins que les hommes apprennent d’eux leurs maladies. » (26)

Le « pathologique » n’est pas opposé au « normal ». La santé, la maladie et la guérison, catégories présupposées par tout exercice de la médecine, sont des indices de l’ouverture et de l’irréversibilité du processus vital. La méditation médicale de Canguilhem sur la « normativité » est une méditation sur l’individualité. (29)

En réalité, dès la thèse de médecine de 1943, la référence au darwinisme avait une importance primordiale, car c’était elle qui permettait à Canguilhem d’étendre le concept de « normativité » de la sphère de la pensée médicale à celle de la biologie dans son ensemble : « Il y a des esprits que l’horreur du finalisme conduit à rejeter même la notion darwinienne de sélection par le milieu et la lutte pour l’existence, à la fois à cause du terme sélection, d’import évidemment humain et technologique, et à cause de la notion d’avantage qui intervient dans l’explication du mécanisme de la sélection naturelle. Ils font remarquer que la plupart des vivants sont tués par le milieu longtemps avant que les inégalités qu’ils peuvent présenter soient à même de les servir, car il meurt surtout des germes, des embryons et des jeunes. Mais, comme le fait remarquer G. Teissier, parce que beaucoup d’êtres meurent avant que leurs inégalités les servent, cela n’entraîne pas que présenter des inégalités soit biologiquement indifférent. C’est précisément le seul fait dont nous demandons qu’il nous soit accordé. Il n’y a pas d’indifférence biologique. Dès lors, on peut parler de normativité biologique. » (31-32)

Darwin n’intéresse cependant Canguilhem que parce qu’il lui permet d’établir une thèse majeure de sa philosophie biologique : la thèse de la relation intime entre les concepts d’individualité et de valeur vitale. Un être vivant, en tant qu’il est plongé dans un environnement, est un être qui confère sens et valeur à ce qui l’entourne en fonction de son besoin, et constitue ainsi « un système de référence irréductible et par là absolu. » (32)

[…] la philosophie biologique de Georges Canguilhem n’examine que trois candidats possibles au statut d’individu : la cellule, l’organisme et la société. Mais la thèse finale est plus restrictive : une société n’est pas un individu car ce n’est pas un authentique « tout », tandis qu’une cellule est un individu en dépit de sa nature de « partie ». Nous sommes convaincu que toute l’ontologie vitale de Canguilhem est construite en vue de justifier ces deuz assertions. (33)

La biologie moléculaire autoriserait en effet le retour de l’idée selon laquelle un logos (ou concept, Canguilhem glisse d’un terme à l’autre) serait inscrit en tout individu vivant. De là la formule audacieuse « la vie est le concept », qui vient à la fin de l’essai sur « Le Concept et la vie ». (38)

Frédéric Gros “Y a-t-il un sujet biopolitique?”

February 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Gros, Frédéric 2013. Y a-t-il un sujet biopolitique ? Nóema, 4(1) : 31-42.

On peut parler [dans le cas de souveraineté] de violence parce que, dans ces exemples, il s’agit, pour le pouvoir, soit de soustraire – autoritairement, en brisant toute résistance – quelque chose à quelqu’un, soit de se manifester dans la brutalité éclatante d’un spectacle. Dans tous les cas, ce pouvoir se manifeste de manière discontinue : il fait irruption dans la vie des individus pour leur prélever brutalement quelque chose ou leur interdire violemment certains actes. Mais le pouvoir de souveraineté est aussi celui qui dit la loi. Il dit la loi au sens où il prononce les interdits, où il trace les lignes de partage, où il délimite strictement le permis et le défendu. La loi dont il s’agit est un décret autoritaire, absolu, indiscutable. (32)

Le pouvoir  disciplinaire comme le pouvoir de souveraineté est aussi, d’une certaine manière, un pouvoir d’extraction. Mais alors que le pouvoir de souveraineté prélève des choses, prend possession de richesses matérielles, le pouvoir disciplinaire, lui, extrait de l’utilité. Il extrait de l’utilité du corps vivant des individus, et c’est par là que s’affirme sa dimension biopolitique. (32)

Le pouvoir de souveraineté fonctionnait à la loi : une loi qui interdisait certains actes, fixait des limites autoritaires, mais demeurait indifférent à tout le reste. Le  pouvoir  disciplinaire,  lui,  fonctionne  à  la  norme :  il  s’agit  de  contrôler l’ensemble de la vie du sujet afin d’obtenir de lui un comportement déterminé et une docilité complète. (33)

Il s’agissait, pour les penseurs des Lumières, de donner du  crime  ou  du  délit  une  définition  purement  immanente  :  le  crime  est  une infraction sociale, un trouble de l’ordre public, mais pas la transgression blasphématoire d’un interdit divin ou la rupture d’un tabou sacré. Le criminel est un ennemi social : il lèse l’intérêt commun, plutôt qu’il n’insulte la majesté divine. (33)

Le capitalisme suppose une chronopolitique : la transformation du temps de la vie en temps utile et productif. (35)

J’ai parlé du capitalisme comme processus de création massive, systématique et rationnelle de richesses. Mais  peut-être  faudrait-il  ajouter  une  spécification supplémentaire  qui  serait : création  massive,  systématique  et  rationnelle  de  richesses,  en tant qu’elle devrait profiter idéalement à tous(même si de fait elle profite en fait et surtout à quelques-uns). (37)

[…] l’idée  que  cette  création  de  richesses,  sous  une  forme  concurrentielle  donc,  finit toujours  par  créer  une prospérité  générale  :  le  bien  public  n’est  donc  pas le  résultat délibéré  d’une volonté politique, mais le produit dérivé d’une multitude de calculs égoïstes et privés. (38)

La discipline comme biopouvoir, c’est donc un processus le long duquel les puissances vitales  des individus sont orientées et transformées en une force de travail qui alimente les usines et les machines. Une nouvelle définition de la biopolitique pourrait être établie à partir de cette

analyse :  la  biopolitique,  c’est  un  ensemble  de  sollicitations  par  lesquelles l’individu, au niveau de ses puissances vitales, est soumis à des directions déterminées, afin d’intensifier la et la production de richesses et le pouvoir des classes dominantes. (38)

Foucault va insister de son côté sur le caractère invisible de cette main, une invisibilité qu’il va radicaliser :  si  la  main  est  invisible  dit-il,  c’est  surtout  parce  que  le  sujet  est aveuglé. Le sujet économique est un sujet aveugle, au sens où il est aveuglé par la recherche obstinée de son profit personnel et neveut rien voir d’autre, rien qui pourrait ressembler à une logique collective, à des mécanismes de solidarités, à un bien public ou un intérêt commun. Le sujet ne voit et ne recherche que  son  intérêt :  tout  ce  qui  dépasse  cette  quête  est  heureusement  invisible pour  lui. (39)

L’opération biopolitique, elle consistera à dépolitiser le sujet et à ne s’adresser en  lui  qu’à  l’exigence  d’une  satisfaction  personnelle.  En  stimulant  prioritairement son appétit égoïste, en ne le sollicitant qu’au niveau de ses désirs privés, on  aboutit  effectivement  à  extraire,  des  potentialités  vitales  polymorphes,  un pur sujet de la consommation, qui calculera son utilité et poursuivra ses satisfactions égoïstes, mais demeurera aveugle à toutes  les autres sollicitations. La biopolitique c’est ce par quoi le sujet est rendu aveugle et sourd à autre chose qu’à un besoin de consommation et une satisfaction personnelle. (39)

Le problème éthique n’est plus de maîtriser ses passions ou de révéler une identité authentique, mais de devenir le meilleur gestionnaire de ses talents naturels et de ses acquis. (40)

Qu’est-ce que l’éducation ? Depuis l’Antiquité et la Renaissance, on s’était habitué à penser l’éducation comme l’apprentissage des valeurs civiques, le développement et l’épanouissement  de  facultés  naturelles,  une  manière  aussi  de lutter contre la misère et l’ignorance. Eh bien les néo-libéraux nous apprennent qu’éduquer ce n’est pas du tout former un citoyen.  Eduquer c’est faire un investissement, c’est valoriser un capital. Cela peut valoir  pour d’autres relations encore.  Par  exemple,  l’amitié  doit  être  construite  comme  un investissement rentable. Le couple, aussi, sera une petite entreprise. (40)

Le premier caractère de la vie est qu’elle est  orientée: la vie est animée par des tendances, des désirs, des tensions. Le capitalisme du marché tente de polariser les passions vitales autour  du seul désir de consommation. Deuxièmement, la vie est un  dynamisme: elle est activité, travail, dépense de force créatrice. Elle n’est pas répétition du Même ou simple reproduction, mais invention de formes. Le capitalisme industriel exploite à son profit cette force en la disciplinant, en la rendant systématiquement utile. Troisièmement, la vie est un processus d’épanouissement : elle  actualise des potentialités. Le capitalisme managérial nous impose de rationaliser et de  maximiser nos potentialités par  des  choix  efficaces,  des  investissements  judicieux  qui  transforment l’existence en un processus de capitalisation indéfinie de nos talents innés. Enfin, le vivant est perméable : il est traversé par des flux qu’il retient, transforme, rejette. Le capitalisme financier nous invite à nous constituer comme un pur point d’échange de flux d’images, d’informations, de marchandises, etc. (41)

Céline Lafontaine “Regenerative Medicine’s Immortal Body”

February 3, 2014 Leave a comment

Lafontaine, Céline 2009. Regenerative Medicine’s Immortal Body: From the Fight against Ageing to the Extension of Longevity. Body & Society, 15(4): 53-71.

As a re-engineering of the body, regenerative medicine is the most accomplished manifestation of biopolitics: it concretely announces the emergence of a ‘culture of life’ in which individual existence is symbolically assimilated to biological conditions (Knorr Cetina, 2005). (54)

In this way, regenerative disease constitutes one of the primary avenues of a postmortal society in which death is considered a disease or an accident that can be avoided thanks to control and safety devices (Lafontaine, 2008). (54)

While as recently as the beginning of the 20th century, death haunted the cradle, attacking infants and birthing mothers, it has since taken on the traits of a fragile and sickly old man, patiently waiting for Death to come and take him away. All caricatures aside, it is true that, until recently, the increased life expectancy in developed societies was essentially due to lowered infant and mother mortality rates (Yonnet, 2006). (55)

In a shocking French publication entitled La Guerre des âges[The War of the Ages], researcher Jérôme Pellissier (2007) shows how older people have become the scapegoats of our time. Seen as a threat to progress and prosperity, old age is likened, in some people’s eyes, to a reef on which society may run aground and sink. Extending greatly beyond the scope of France, this negative representation of old age is found in most Western societies. Whether it is a question of economic productivity, the cost of health care or political conservatism, the ageing of the population is named in many socio-economic studies as a factor contributing to stagnation and regression (Pellissier, 2007). (56)

The social construction of old age as a problem is, in fact, directly connected to the biologization of old age, and its representation in terms of decadence and decrepitude. Therefore, it is not so much age but rather the physical signs of ageing that are the source of stigmatization (Gilleard, 2005: 162). (56-57)

The discrimination against the elderly seems, to a great extent, to be connected with their increased social visibility. Vulnerable and fragile, they are now considered to be victims condemned to degeneration, accepting the verdict of announced death without budging (Mykytyn, 2006a: 646–7). This victimization of older people presumes that ageing is a form of terminal illness that must be treated since it cannot be eliminated. (57)

Inseparable from the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, the affirmation of autonomy and youth stems from a representation of personal freedom as pleasure and enjoyment. First focused on the physiological maladies connected with menopause, research on ageing came to see reduced sexual functioning as a medical disorder that could be treated and controlled (Staehelin, 2005: 173). In following this trend, hormonal therapy – in this case estrogen shots intended to preserve menopausal women’s vitality and femininity – quickly became commonplace in developed societies (Marshall and Katz, 2002: 44–5). However, it was only with the availability of Viagra in 1998 that the medicalization of ageing took on its full meaning. So much so that this pill for erectile dysfunction has become a symbol of modernity. (59)

Perfectly falling in step with the concept of biopower as described by Foucault (1976), age-related erectile problems became a public health problem over the course of the 1990s, on equal standing with obesity and diabetes. Causing loss of autonomy and enjoyment, erectile difficulties are not only the object of biomedical research, they are also associated with degeneration. Therefore, everything occurs as if ‘the erect penis is now elevated to the status of a vital organ’ (Marshall and Katz, 2002: 59). The message, which conveys the social discourse around Viagra, comes to no more and no less than erectile loss as a precursor to death (2002: 58–9). (59)

Merging normal and pathological, regenerative medicine aims to reproduce the biological processes that allow the body to repair itself, and even recreate itself. Therefore, it is no longer a question of conserving the body in a state of balance to fight against disease, as it is for modern medicine, but rather to fight degeneration itself. Thus, the objective is no longer healing, it is regeneration, which in itself presumes no limit. (62)

For the researcher Stanley Shostak, it is clear that the future of biology resides in the recycling of bodily waste: ‘Some biologists have come to appreciate that life itself depends on the recycling of wastes and corpses’ (2002: 35). Despite their controversial social and legal status, embryonic stem cells are part of this notion of biological recycling. The use of ‘surplus’ embryos for experiments is justified because these precious vital resources should not be ‘wasted’ (Waldby, 2002: 317). Created for in vitro fertilization, these embryos are not the object of ‘a parental project’ and are therefore recycled into biomedical products available for research via a biomedical standardization process (Tournay, 2007). (63)

The experimental treatments Geron offers greatly exceed the scope of healthcare systems and, therefore, access to this private treatment depends entirely on patients’ capacity to pay for it (Mykytyn, 2006a: 649). Indeed, as anthropologist Sarah Franklin explains, Geron capitalizes on the search for immortality by a clever marketing of scientific advances that stem as much from speculation as from real accomplishments (2003: 123). In this way, what is sold is simply the dream of controlling and reprogramming the human mechanism to make it potentially immortal. (63)

‘It is rational to want a longer life because life itself is the precondition for all else that we might want. At its most fundamental level, prolonged life offers the opportunity for additional and varied experiences’ (Overall, 2003: 184). Stemming from the concept of freedom in terms of individual enjoyment and increased personal experiences, contemporary narcissism would appear to be inseparable from the biologization of culture, in that pursuing life in and of itself becomes an objective independent of all other cultural, social or political dimensions (Knorr Cetina, 2005). (67)

Joanna Latimer “Rewriting Bodies, Portraiting Persons?”

January 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Latimer, Joanna 2013. Rewriting Bodies, Portraiting Persons? The New Genetics, the Clinic and the Figure of the Human. Body & Society 19(4): 3-31.

By suggesting how bodies are not, as previously understood, bounded, contained, homogeneous, fixed and integrated entities, the individual whole persons of humanist thought, made up of substance that is uniquely them, emergent understandings from the biosciences have the possibility of changing perceptions of the body, and thereby of the existence of human beings. That is, contemporary discoveries in molecular biology seem to trouble the self/not-self division that is the defining feature performed by the figure of the individual body. (7)

The new genetics thus puts into play an idea that ‘[w]ithin ‘‘us’’ is the most threatening other – the propagules, whose phenotype we temporarily are’ (Haraway, 1991: 217). Second, breakthroughs made possible because of new genetic techno-science offer ways of rethinking body-persons as made up of substance from a much wider gene pool, and of the body as the temporary and partial expression of a genotype. Within this perspective it is the DNA that is immortal, and the genes that are the ‘time travellers’, while the body or soma is just the transport vehicle, the hired car, the temporary and dispensable host for their reproduction (Olshansky and Carnes, 2001). (7)

Medical textbooks are full of such images. These portraits are classic depictions of a human figure in a specific pose, such as Londe’s portrait of hysteria (Figure 1). The figure is taken not so much to represent him- or herself, but as representing the disease category to which they are being assigned: the figure is being read as signifying the pathology. But engaging with clinical pictures as forms of portraiture is also important because, as Jordanova suggests (2000, 2003), portraits are mobile objects that circulate culturally and socially specific ideas about body–self relations and personhood. For example, Albert Londe’s portrait shows that the effects of hysteria are totalizing, so that the woman embodies the illness. But the form of the portrait also individuates, not just hysteria, but the body-self and personhood. (11)

Clinicians draw upon these clinical methods of assemblage and juxtaposition to differentiate when what is abnormal or unusual about bodies, parts, persons and even families, represents a phenotype. This is because for the most part, there is no genetic technology (molecular test) that can make anomalies visible at the molecular level (see also Reardon and Donnai, 2007). (13)

The relation that gets implied in how dysmorphologists construct their clinical pictures is between the particular features of a syndrome, the notion of a phenotype, and, as such, perhaps the expression of an atypical, aberrant genotype. At moments, it is this relation, the syndrome–genotype, that dysmorphology’s portraits evoke. The aberrations may be as tiny as a single gene defect. For example, where, to use the expression of one expert, ‘a bit of chromosome has fallen off and landed in the wrong place’. The suggestion implied by how geneticists assemble their clinical pictures, then, is that how people and their bodies look and function (the phenotype) may not just be evidence of a syndrome but also that the syndrome is the effect of a specific aberrant (but as yet invisible) genotype, a syndrome–genotype relation. (14)

The portrait in dysmorphology does not always reduce to the figure of an individual, rather the figure of a syndrome–genotype relation emerges in the partial connection between the assemblage and juxtaposition of materials deriving from different bodies. In the clinic the portrait makes a (temporary) space that cannot (yet) settle all the division and connections between all the parts across different bodies. And it is this that is the defining feature of some of dysmorphology’s portraits. The complexity and heterogeneity of the defining features of a syndrome need to be distributedfor them to stand as a phenotype, and the visible expression of the syndrome–genotype relation. Critically, what is implicit in these juxtapositions and dysmorphologists’ readings of them, is that there is something about the substance of the bodies of individuals that is not unique to them, but is shared, or at least held in common, to use Strathern’s term. What is exceptional is being able to make the portraits show that it is not simply a disease that is shared, rather it is the common genetic substance, the genotype, that is pathological, and that the syndrome is the expression, or phenotype, of this common genotype, distributed across different bodies. (18)

Rather, what dysmorphology’s portraits perform is that it is the syndrome–genotype that is made of fragments, not persons. (19)

At the same time, then, as the face of a child may be effaced (Bauman, 1990) by the genetic, the actors responsible for them – the clinicians, the parents – are not effacing their humanity even as they constitute their abnormality. It is the syndrome–genotype that does that. This means that at the same time as clinicians draw upon a notion that the child’s condition is biologically determined rather than socially or culturally conditioned, they hold to an idea that there is an essence to persons, that people have a real nature, that a child is unique and essentially human, despite abnormalities of appearances, appearances on the surface and in the depths of the body. In these ways the integral, discrete body is what helps to create the figure of the individual, but the individual, to be truly human, and transcend their bodiedness, must be able to ‘disembody’. (21)

The relation between the integral, contained, corporeal body and that of the autonomous individual helps perform the figure of the human. This figure of the human isthe cultural icon that underpins most contemporary forms of social organization in the West, including sociological theory itself (Skeggs, 2004, 2011; Strathern, 2006). But alongside this idea of the individuated body-self, runs the paradoxical and parallel seam of western thought that detaches rationality from the body: the individual, at moments of choice and autonomous decision-making, to be rational, must have knowledge from a singular, undivided perspective, a perspective that stands outside the plane of personal (that is bodily) action (Latimer, 2007a; Strathern, 1992). (22)

Against notions of the integral, contained body, individuals, to be fully human, also have to demonstrate a capacity for detachment. To attain the singular perspective of rationality, ‘man’ must be able to disembody. (22)

Paradoxically it is the figure of the person as integral body and a unique discrete consciousness that helps to portray the individual as human. To be fully human, and transcend their bodiedness, the individual must be able to detach rather than simply ‘disembody’, as many have read Descartes (Foucault, 1979). (22)

The human, once distinguished by this detachment of consciousness, is thus able to settle into a complex whole. Curiously it is not the envelope of the body, its form that can be caught in paint or a photograph, so much as it is this signing of a detachment of consciousness from bodily experiences that defines the individual. Yes, representations of the corporeal body must take up most of the painting, photograph or sculpture, but it is the capture of the character (the eyes, stance and gesture) that enliven the flesh and make these more than a representation of a corpse. To be seen as human, persons must exhibit characteristics, such as willpower, desire, vulnerability or moral strength. (23)

The figure of the individual is thus performed as a distinctive person who is much more than the sum of their bodily parts. This doubling of figures is one of the paradoxes of dominant body–self relations. (23)

Todd May “Humanism and Solidarity”

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment

May, Todd 2013. Humanism and Solidarity. Parresia 18: 11-21.

Ultimately, I will claim that a-humanism has its limits, and that much of what we would like to promote under the banner of politics will require an inescapably humanist approach. (13)

While our specific intellectual skills may differ from one another, we are all equally capable of using those skills to communicate, to discuss, to make decisions, to take account of the world around us, and to act on the basis of all this. The presupposition of the equality of intelligence is the starting point for all politics. (15)

Equality, in challenging hierarchies, does not seek to offer another, better social partitioning than the one that is the object of challenge. To engage in politics is not to commend one police order as better than another. It is to challenge the concept of partitioning itself. The presupposition of equality does not work by offering a stabilizing set of equal roles for everyone to play; it works by undermining the hierarchies inherent in the very idea of a stabilizing set of roles. (16)

Moreover, a collective subject requires more than simply that ability. It requires co-ordinated actions with others on the basis of the expression of that ability. In order to be a member of a collective subject in political action in Rancière’s sense, I must be able to presuppose the equality of another and act alongside that other out of that presupposition. This does not require that I reflectively recognize myself as having that ability or as expressing it in my contribution to collective action. Recall that for Rancière the presupposition of equality in a political action is often “discerned,” not consciously claimed. Nevertheless, beings capable of political action through solidarity must be able to act in a mutual fashion out of that presupposition in order to form the collective subject that solidarity requires. (17)

Political solidarity is the coming together of disparate elements in a horizontal way, an assemblage in the term Deleuze uses and Bennett borrows, that gives rise to an emergent state of the system—a collective political movement. (17)

However, if we turn away from the structural similarities between solidarity and a-humanism, we see an aspect of solidarity that seems to push it into the humanist camp, namely the requirement that participants in a solidarity movement be able to presuppose the equality of others and act in a co-ordinated fashion out of that presupposition. (17)

On the one hand, if we embrace the distributive paradigm for politics, we can accord certain elements or aspects of the environment or certain non-human animals a type of justice. The cost of this is that of losing the perspective and insights that contemporary a-humanism lends us, to violate the horizontal structural approach it commends, and to engage in all of the problems that have been cited for distributive approaches to justice. On the other hand, if we embrace an approach roughly of the type Rancière recommends, we gain on a variety of political fronts but cannot realize at the level of political solidarity the horizontality contemporary a-humanism seeks. Political solidarity must yield, at some point, to a more distributive approach. While Williams may be mistaken in claiming that the only moral question in relation to other animals is how to treat them, he would not be mistaken in thinking it an important one. (19-20)