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Paul Patton “Agamben and Foucault on Biopower and Biopolitics”

Patton, Paul 2007. Agamben and Foucault on Biopower and Biopolitics. – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 203-218.
His “correction” of Foucault consists of the claim that the entry of bare life into the sphere of political calculation and the exercise of sovereign power involved no radical transformation of political-philosophical categories. (205)

His “completion ” of Foucault draws upon his own account of the manner in which bare life was originally included in the political realm, namely in the fo rm of an “inclusive exclusion,” in order to suggest that the decisive feature of modernity is not so much the emergence of biopolitics as the manner in which a phenomenon originally situated at the margins of poli tical order “gradually begins to coincide with the poli tical realm” (HS, 9). (205)

Whereas police government operated on the principle that there could never be too much government regulation, liberalism operated on the converse principle that there is always too much government. Instead or supposing that the population was in need of detailed and constant regulation, liberalism relied upon a conception of society and the economy as naturally self -regulating systems that government should leave alone. (207-208)

In comparison with the techniques of disciplinary power, biopower required the development of new mechanisms and new forms of knowledge to identify its objects and to facilitate its exercise. However, it remained a technology of power exercised by the state over people insof ar as they are living beings and insof ar as they belong to populations. In this sense, it enabled effective government by the sovereign of the biological life of the subjects. In the context of Foucault’s definition of the concept, this is how Agamben’s phrase “the entry of zoe into the sphere of the polis” must be understood. (209)

Homo sacer is not the same as simple natural life, since it is, as Agamben later notes, the natural lif e of an individual caught in a particular relation with the power that has cast him out from both the religious and the political community. (210)

In this sense, homo sacer is not simply pure zoe bur zoe caught up in a particular “status.” This status is defined by “the particular character of the double exclusion into which he is taken” (H S, 82). The double exclusion in terms of which this figure is defined mirrors the exceptional status of rhe sovereign; hence Agamben’s hypothesis that the figure of the sovereign and the figure of homo sacer are inextricably linked. (210)

In eff ect, Agamben’s argument relies on an equivocation with regard to the two senses of the term bare lift. While in the context of his analysis of sovereign ty, “bare life” is identified with the sacred lif e or status of homo sneer, in the context of his critical remarks about modern democratic politics he identifies it with the natural life of zoe. (211)

This right is strange because, ro the extent that the sovereign really does have the right to decide whether subjects live or die, the subject is, as it were, suspended between life and death. Qua subject, he or she has no right to live or die independently of the will of the sovereign: “in terms of his relationship with the sovereign, the subject is, by rights, neither dead nor alive. From the point of view of lif e and death, the subject is neutral, and it is thanks to the sovereign that the subject has the right to be alive or, possibly, the right to be dead.” In this sense, since the lif e of the subject is entirely encompassed within the sp ere of the sovereign’s power, it is biopolitical power in Agamben’s other sense of the term (homo sacer) . (213)

The life of the subject in the terms of the classical theory of sovere ignty , as Foucault defines it, is structurally identical to the bare lif e of the homo sacer : it is biological existence doubled by its exclusive inclusion within the political sphere. In this sense, Foucault’s analysis of classical sovereign right removes the need for any correction on this point. (214)

In the end, the difference between his approach and that of Foucault is not so much a matter of correction and completion as a choice between epochal concepts of biopolitics and bare
life and a more fine-grained, contextual, and historical analysis intended to enable specific and local forms of escape from the past. (218)

William E. Connolly “The Complexities of Sovereignty”

Connolly, William E. 2007. The Complexities of Sovereignty – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 23-42.

Agamben contends that biopolitics has become intensified today. This intensification translates the paradox of sovereignty into a potential disaster. The analysis that he offers at this point seems not so much wrong to me as overly fo rmal. It reflects a classical liberal and Arendtian assumprion that there was a time when politics was restricted to public life and
hiocultural lif e was kept in the private real m. What a joke. Every way of life involves the infusion of norms, judgments, and standards into the affective lif e of participants at both private and public levels. Every way of life is bioculrural and biopolitical. (29)

Biocultural life has been intensified today with the emergence of new technologies of infusion. But the shift is not as radical as Agamben makes it our to be. In !are-modern life, new technologies enable physicians, biologists, geneticists, prison systems, advertisers, media talking heads, and psychiatrists to sink deeply into human biology. They help to shape the
cultural being of biology, although not always as they intend to do. (30)

If I am right, biocultural life displays neither the close coherence that many theorists seek nor the tight paradox that Agamben and others discern. Bioculcural lif e exceeds any textbook logic because of the nonlogical character of its materiality. It is more messy, layered, and complex than any logical analysis can capture. The very illogicalness of its materiality ensures that it corres ponds entirely to no design, no simple causal pattern, no simple set of paradoxes. Agamben displays the hubris of academic intellectualism when he encloses pol itical culture within a tightly defined logic. (31)

Ernesto Laclau “Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?”

Laclau, Ernesto 2007. Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy? – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 11-22.

This is the perspective from which we want to question Agamben’s theoretical approach: his genealogy is not sensitive enough to structural diversity and, in the end, it risks ending in sheer teleology. (12)

[…] the ban holds together bare life and sover eignty. And it is important for Agamben to point our that the ban is not simply a sanctio n-which as such would still be representable within the order of the city-but that it involves abandonment: the homo sacer and the other figures that Agamben associates w him are simply left outside any communitarian order. That is why he can be killed bm nor sacrificed. In that sense the ban is non-relational: their victims are lef t to their own separatedness. This is for Agamben the originary political relation, linked to sovereignty. It is a more originary extraneousness than that of the foreigner, who still has an assigned place within the legal order. (13)

[…] has not Agamben chosen just one of those possibilities and hypostatized it so rhar it assumes a unique character? (14)

What remains as valid from the notion of ban as defined by Agamben is the idea of an uninscribable exteriority, bur the range of situations to which it applies is much wider than those subsumable under the category of homo sacer. I think that Agamben has not seen the problem of the inscribable/uninscribable, of inside/outside, in its true universality. In actual fact, what the mutual ban between opposed laws describes is the constitutive nature of any radical antagonism – radical in the sense that its two poles cannot be reduced to any super-game which would be recognised by them as an objective meaning to which both would be submitted. (15)

[…] it is enough that we introduce some souplesse within the Hobbesian scheme, that we accept that society is capable of some partial self -reg ulation, to im mediately sec that its demands are going to be more than those deriving from bare lif e, that they are going to have a variety and specificity that no “sovereign” power can simply ignore. When we arrive at that point, however, the notion of “sovereignty” starts shading into that of “hegemo ny.” This means that, in my view, Agamben has clouded the issue, fo r he has presented as a political moment what actually amounts to a radical elimination of the poli tical: a sovereign power which reduces the social bond to bare life. (16)

What is, anyway, wrong in the argument about a rigid opposition between political sovereignty and bare lif e is the assumption that it necessarily involv es an increasing control by an over-powerful state. All that is involved in the notion of a politicization of “natural” lif e is that in creasing areas of social lif e are submitted to processes of human control and regulation, but it is a non sequitur to assume that such a control has to crystallize around a tendentially totalitarian instance. (18)

This teleologism is, as a matter of fact, the symmetrical pendant of the “ethymologism” we have ref erred to at the beginning of this essay. Their combined effect is to divert Agamben’s attention from the really relevant question, which is the system of’ s truc tural possibilities that each new situation opens. The most summary exam ination of that system would have revealed that: (1) the crisis of the “automatic rules fo r the inscription of lif e” has freed many more entities than “bare lif e,” and that the reduction of the latter to the former takes place only in some extreme circumstances that cannot in the least be considered as a hidden pattern of modernity; (2) that the process of social regulation to which the dissolution of the “automatic rules of inscription” opens the way involved a plurality of instances that were far from unified in a single unity called “the State”; (3) that the process of State building in modernity has involved a far more complex dialectic between homogeneity and heterogeneity than the one that Agamben’s “camp-based” paradigm reflects. (21-22)

By unifying the whole process of modern political construction around the extreme and absurd paradigm of the concentration camp, Agamben does more than present a distorted history: he blocks any possible exploration of the emancipatory possibilities opened by our modern heritage. (22)

To be beyond any ban and any sovereignty means, simply, to be beyond politics. The myth of a fu lly reconciled society is what governs the (non-)political discourse of Agamben. And it is also what allows him to dismiss all political options in our societies and to unify them in the concentration camp as their secret destiny . Instead of deconstructing the logic of political institutions, showing areas in which fo rms of struggle and resistance are possible, he closes them beforehand through an essentialist unification. Political nihilism is his ultimate message. (22)