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Timothy C. Campbell “Improper Life”

Campbell, Timothy C. 2011. Improper Life: Technology and Biopolitics from Heidegger to Agamben. London; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Practicing Bios

Foucault assumes that as security comes to be a managed event, it is increasingly necessary to govern populations by never allowing the death of individuals to go unnotices. […] Foucault is suggesting that for the population to be secured, doing away with scarcity is precisely what is not required. Instead, scarcity, understood as managing the death of multiplicity, is crucial for the administration of the population. (121)

„freedom is nothing else but the correlative of the deployment of apparatuses of security,“ adding that freedom is „no longer the exemptions and privileges attached to a persion, but the possibility of movement, change of place, and processes of circulation of both people and things.“ (123, Foucault)

My project is to see in attention and play possibilities for weakening the borders of the self, which are continually reinforced by a technē that no longer has any relation to life. I hope to find in attention, therefore, a technē of bios that avoids any complicity in proper and improper forms of life – that resists the division between bios and zoe that a Heideggerian reading of technē seems inevitably to call forth. (127-128)

We can sum up Foucault’s view on care of the self this way: the sense of belonging to a group as what gives proper form to life results form an apparatus of the letter that is already at hand only to the degree that it originates in and from a collective form of being across time. (131)

[…] throughout these pages [„Hermeneutics of the Self“], Foucault does not draw a clear-cut distinction between care of the self and technē of bios, which is to say that though the latter is associated with a care of the self, it is not completely captured by the self. The self emerges, instead as one among a number of possible forms of living or forms of live. In other words, Foucault does not make forms of life conditional on a mere care for the self. (132)

My impression is that for Foucault, such a dominating role for the test is something to bemoan because the test, so integral to a later and limited care for the self, shifts the ground from under bios such that bios now merely stands in as homologous to the self. At the same time, another change takes place in the relation between technē and the world. In a kind of mobile overlapping, technē moves outside the domain of life to the world such that technē as a subject of bios now becomes the subject of the world. A possible conclusion is that introducing technē outside any link to forms of life that reside outside the self leads to mastery over the world and, at the same time, to the distancing of technē from the forms of life. (134)

[…] can we imagine technē today as a practice of bios that might lead to forms of life that are not specifically limited to the self and mastery over it? (135)

An attention that holds together elements in a kind of compositional space does not posit a division between proper and improper but notes where they are located in such a space. It provides coordinates and fails to negate. (147)

[…] we can go further in linking creative attention and bios through the notion of play. Play and attention also share how they withdraw from possessing, a mode that does not immediately make the object of perception or the toy one’s own. Play may become the ground for other forms of life or modes of being to arise, in which the supposed content of bios as self will determine how it is that one plays at life. (153)

The move from the bordered self to the slackened subject of the practices of bios minimizes the contact that borders inevitably share with thanatos. Let’s also note that the object of a pracitce of bios would not necessarily be virtuous either. If there is a question of virtue, it concerns the virtue of the nonvirtue of bios – a virtue in seeing the self as too limited and limiting. (155)

Perspectives preserve borders. They preserve and protect. The cost of such a valuing and evaluating, however, is to set up borders around a self that will continue to require defending. (155-156)