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John T. Hamilton “Security”

January 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Hamilton, John T. 2013. Security: Politics, Humanity, and the Philology of Care. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Part 1 – Preliminary Concerns
Whereas securitas advantageours if it extirpates a troubling cura like fear, anger, or pain, it counts as a decided disadvantage when it abolishes the cura that motivates vigilance or dedicated engagement. Thus, securitas can name a good like assurance, safety, or prevention; or it can designate an evil like apathy complacency, or recklessness. Again, by eradicating care, security leaves us either carefree or careless. (11-12)

Instead of positing a prior, stable subject to be guarded, critical theory claims that the subject comes into being only through security measures. The subject is originally formed by security initiatives rather than being already in place, awaiting subsequent protection. (16)

Hence: security as knowledge (certainty); security’s reliance upon knowledge (surveillance); security’s astonishing prodaction of knowledge in response to its will to know (calculability); and the claim of knowledge which gives security its license to render all aspects of life transparent (totality). All these constitutive elements of our contemporary manifold politics of security excited my suspicion because they comprise a monumental enterprise of power-knowledge whose insatiable maw threatens to consume not only all thought, and not only that relating to the question of the political, but of what it is like to be human. (17 – Michael Dillon, Politics of security, p. 17)

A philological disposition halts the ready slide into all manners of acquiescence. It prevents the headlong rush into those established conventions of truth that are presented as beyond debate and instead raises problems and questions of meaning at the very moment of meaning formation, that is, beefore meaning has become ossified and proffered as second nature. (21)

The desire for maximum security demands that he renounce total security. The prudent concern to save his life necessarily puts his life in danger. Were he to forget his vulnerability, he would run the greater risk of having his security slip into laxity. […] in Kafka’s Burrow, the creature’s chance for survival stands in direct proportion to his „worry“ or „anxiety“ – two good translations for the cura that securitas aimst to dispatch. The removal of all concern may leace the creature untroubled, but it would also make him foolish. In Benjamin’s German, the two (zwei) options – the lack of disturbance and the absence of caution – produce the ambiguity (Zweideutigkeit) that characterizes despair (Verzweiflung); and it is this despair, in turn, that serves as the prerequisite for hope. It responds to a gap in the system that destroys the system’s totality but also maintains its futurity. […] Thus, the animal is secure only as long as he remains insecure. It is the burrow’s lack of complete protection that ensures the inhabitant’s capacity for self-defence. His mortality saves his life. (27-28)

This is the secret of security, like a steak under cellophane: to surround you with a sarcophagus in order to prevent you from dying. (29 – Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, 177)

[…] because of this fundamental solitude, humane care consists not only in the will to protect oneself and others but also in acknowledging one’s stark instability to do so absolutely. (32)

[Carol] Gilligan’s distinction between a „universal morality“ based roughly on Kantian notions of abstract, formal principles and a „contextual morality“ grounded in interdependence and mutual responsibility usefully separates state-sponsored policies of removing care from an individual’s recognition that true security is necessariliy provisional. If state security aims to render citizens carefree, individual security recognizes the perils of surrendering care to an impersonal system. (32-33)

Terrorism is efficacious only when it aims at that for which we care as thinking, feeling subjects. To a certain degree, therefore, both the potential assailant and the potential victim author the dangerous scenario. (33)

Security requires a demonization of the other: the integrity of the inside is rendered coherent by means of violence directed to the menacing outside. (37-38)

This autoimmunity menace, which feeds on a simple but nonetheless confounding logic, need not be restricted to national affairs. On a related, more personal level, there are the paralyzing consequences of constant worry, fear, and anxiety. Both the public preponderance of security warnings and the individual obsession with prevention can be stifling, something that intimidates movement in a world now regarded as frighteningly dangerous. Here, too, security triggers a kind of autoimmune debility, insofar as safety is achieved through a curtailment of activity, which may impede growth, improvement, and general profit, foreclosing opportunities and stifling life. In short, such measures preserve existence at the cost of existence itself. (39)

One must be wary of a state that preserves life by taking life away. In promising deathlessness, total security produces but a stillborn citizenry. (41)

Whereas sovereignty executes its power upon a territory and a discipline exerts power on individual bodies, „security is exercised over a whole population.“ (41)

For Foucault, in contradistinction to the right of the sovereign, security measures do not exercise the power to take away life but rather the power to make life live, which is the general characteristic of biopower. (42)

[….] whereas a model of insurance may mutualize episodic danger across the entire population, secuirty against a total threat cannot be so readily disbursed. As Didier Bigo concisely notes, „Insurance can cope with catastrophe but not with Armageddon.“ (43)

In associating an idea of securing with a notion of self-caring, Foucault essentially overlaps the „elimination of care“ (securare) and the „cultivation of self-care“ (se curare). (43)

The operative premise of all biopolitical paradigms is that the state is a vast organism that requires physiological research, pathological diagnoses, and medicinal, curative prescriptions. Hence, the biologization of the political fades into the politicization of the biological. (45)

The removal of care implicit in such security measures may eradicate concern, but it does not erase the violence of removal itself – a violence that is merely transferred and perpetually enacted. State measures are therefore pharmacological in every sense: both cure and poison. Immunity invariably dovetails into autoimmunity. (45)

Part 2 – Etymologies and Figures
In iconic fashion, the word securitas reflects Cicero’s movement away from the city. […] Cicero’s acceptation of „security“ clearly turns on this sense of elimination. The term further collates ideals familiar from Hellenistic moral philosophy, encompassing Epicurean ataraxia (freedom from disturbances) and Stoic apatheia (freedom from passions). These major terms, constructed with the Greek alpha privative, similarly denote the process of removal lexically marked by the prefix se- and aim toward the realization of the good, happy life or what the Romans would call the „blessed life“ (beata vita). (52-53).

[of Seneca] Perhaps more emphatically than with Cicero, securitas here constitutes an accomplishment. Groundd in a transcendent position above all contingency, the philosopher reaches security and thus touches on the divine sphere, where he is no longer ruffled by disturbances. (53)

The construction of an inviolable self literally depends on proper instruction, on building a subject that can weather all kinds of trouble, foreseeable or not. […] In order to stabilize the self, one must devote vigilance and diligence to internal representations. To secure the self, one must care for the self. That is to say, one can be „free from care“ only if one conscientiously practices philosophy „with care“ (cum cura). (54)

For Cicero and Seneca, therefore, security is not attained simply through withdrawal from the tumult of political life but rather through the careful practice of cultivating a self that continues to be embedded in and constituted by a community. Thus secured, the philosopher – like the enlightened exile from Plato’s cave – may return to the dark and delusional realm of politics. Self-directed stability, achieved through reflection, ultimately prepares one to reenter the fray. […] Self-government prepares one for political governance. (55)

Fully in line with a Stoic tradition, Cicero strives toward a securitas that would quell the impulsiveness of the passions. As later in Seneca, the „care of the self“ is the method by which the emotions are educated, trained to serve the sovereignty of reason. (56)

The self-curatorial struggle is barely concealed by reason’s power. As the middle, third term, the well-balanced thymos of euthymia becomes the earmark of a secure order that strives to maks the simple domination of logos over the body. Violent dualities are quelled by stabilizing triads. (57)

Whereas with Cicero the notion of securitas tends to adhere to the private realm, with the collapse of the Roman Republic the term begins to be employed in a decidedly public fashion. Throughout the imperial period the term came to denote an idea of military or governmental protection – not a condition to be achieved privately, away from the urban center, but rather within the city’s sheltering walls. […] Rather every citizen is worry free thanks to the efforts and success of the governing power. (58)

Self-therapy produced securitas; state therapy engendered salus. A temple to the goddess Salus, high upon one of the summits of the Quirinal, overlooked the city; and the „safety or the security of the people“ – the salus populi – was perceived as a fundamental good among the citizenry. As Cicero famously expressed it: Salus populi suprema les esto („Let the safety of the people be the supreme law,“ De legibus 3.3.8). (59)

A major split, then, in the word’s history is between an inner, psychological sense of composure and an external, physical sense of administered safety. This latter, public meaning should no longer be understood as a translation of Hellenistic ataraxia or apatheia but rahter as an extension of another privative term in Greek, asphaleia, „steadfastness, stability,“ literally: „prevention [a-] from stumbling [sphallein]“. (59)

With the Christianization of the empire, positive connotations of securitas more or less vanished from political and religious usage, save for some formulaic vestiges heard in ealry liturgy. Otherwise, it was mostly in legal contexts where securitas served prominently as an ideal of guarantee in oaths, pledges, and contracts. The later link between securitization and mercantile insurance has its roots in this usage. (64)

The noun „procuration“ – which corresponds to the verb procurare (to take care of, attend to, look after) in the Latin version of Leviathan – makes clear how this office has assumed the curae that are thereby removed from the citizens’ thoughts. The sovereign, therefore, is specifically a procurator, that is, the one who manages concerns on behalf of another. The citizen is securus because the ruler works cum cura. (65)

The greater irony, then, is that precisely by instilling insecurity among the populace, by depriving its subjects of the privation of concern, agencies like the Soviet KGB and the East German Stasi also allow their human subjects to continue to care and therefore to remain human. (67)

Only history, beyond the limits of resemblance and representation, can provide the categories of meaning, a meaning that cannot shed its temporality and therefore its provisionality. It is this Promothean commitment to time that prevents or disrupts any definitive, fixed meaning. Cura, posing as the wily Titan, can secure her creature only in insecurity. (72)

Consigned, then, to time, mankind’s relation to Care becomes clearer. The man possessed by care – homo curans – worries about that which can change, transform, or vanish, including, above all, himself. Again, care is an expression of mankind’s mortality. In his last epistle, Seneca accordingly distinguishes human from divine being: both god and man are endowed with the power of reason, which alone accomplishes the Good; yet, in the case of the immortal god, „nature perfects the Good,“ whereas in the case of mortal man, it is „cura“ that works toward this achievement (ep. 124-14). (72)

In assuming all care, God, the shepherd of men, deprives the human couple of care. Overprotected and fully secure, these beneficiaries of divine gifts lack the lack that drives human endeavor, commitment, and responsibility. This lack of every lack has serious consequences: their security has left them defenseless against the serpent’s alluring speech. It is precisely their carelessness that causes them to fall out of paradise and fall into a life of concern. (74)

To care for others and for oneself represents a responsibility that many would claim to be a fundamental trait of huanity. It is the responsibility that accompanies concrete being in the world: attending to a singular need and formulating how that need should be addressed under the particular circumstances at hand. It exhibits commitment, devotion, and mutual recognition, all of which reveal that care is grounded in temporality, contingency, and the possibility of loss. What burns the heart is a desire to hold on to something that at any moment may be lost. As indicated above, care is generally reserved for that which may one day disappear, including one’s own life: if an object or a person were not subject to time, there would be nothing to care for. We care because we are mortal. (77-78)

The formula (omnes et singulatim) that Foucault recognizes as operative in the concern for security may provide the benefits of subjectivity, but at too great – too fatal – a cost. The concern for removing all concern is here regarded as a death trap. Security grants identity but seals this achievement with a gravestone. Proponents of a human care that does not seek resolution in care’s removal recognize that the subject is sacrificed to the very institutions that make the subject a subject. Their resistance finds expression in constant striving, in remaining at sea, in restlessness, anxiety, and concern. This insistence on a mode of infinite caring does not deny the individual’s mortality. Rather, it is precisely holding on to the singularizing force of one’s own death that saves the individual from a totalizing mortification. Care, no less than security, is a gift. However, whereas the gift of security fills a lack – a lack of identity, subjectivity, being – the gift of care grants the lack itself. (81)

In setting Odysseus on a final journey of wandering, fate demonstrates that the land as well may become a kind of sea. Humans may expect security, but they can only believe in the probability of this expectation and never know it for certain. The land-sea dichotomy, therefore, is but one attempt to secure security, an addempt moreover that may or may not be efficacious. (113)

„There must be freedom from every disturbance of the mind, not only from desire and fear, but also from distress, from both the mind’s pleasure and anger, so that there may be present the tranquility and security of the mind, which bring not only constancy but also dignity.“ The list of disturbing passions is presented as what must be vacated (vacandum est), a privative gesture that underscores the removal expressed by the prefix se-. Cicero is very specific: „Desire and fear, distress and pleasure, and anger“ need to be shunted to the side, if the soul is to enjoy a carefree life. Cicero therefore provides a genealogy of securitas, a brief account, entirely indebted to the Stoics, of how security is accomplished: destructive passions must be identified and summarily pushed away from the soul. (121)

We could provisionally conclude that, for Cicero at Tusculum, the concepts of securitas and its close synonym tranquilitas have less to do with the messy realm of the human, where every opinion remains subject to modification, and relate more to the quasi-divine sphere of the „blessed life“, the beata vita. Here, in this transcendent domain, rigid adherence to philosophical terminology is entirely in order. In the purely theoretical reflections that constitute the Tusculan Disputations, Cicero remarks: „But how can anyone possess that greatly desirable and coveted security – for I now call freedom from distress the security on which the blessed life is based – anyone for whom there is present or can be present a multitude of evils?“ (123-124)

Although anger is an evil pathos or perturbatio, which threatens the individual’s rationality and therefore must be eliminated (vacandum est), it can be domesticated in euthymia, that is, made to negotiate with ration, and thereby safeguard the mind from all pathic disturbancs. Anger thus becomes a cura that assists in the removal of cura, just as the guardians’ violence is trained to quell violence. Police science (Polizeiwissenschaft) as it would develop in the eighteenth century is indeed but a footnote to these proceedings. (127)

Part III – Occupying Security
Fortitude is thus caught in the double bind that will come to characterize the practice of security. As for Aristotle, he attempts to extricate his argument from this potential aporia by revertin to reason or logos. Courage is „the pursuit of logos“; and logos, it would appear, is capable of producing fortitude, not despite but because of the double bind. Virtue (arete) is an achievement precisely because of its difficulty. It is better, then, to understand the Aristotelian mean less as „moderation“ or „mediocrity“, and more as a dynamic tension that negotiates two bad excesses. Provocatively expressed, the surest way to be courageous is to be fearless while being afraid. (148)

As Aristotle continues, courage is grounded in civil recognition. Presumably, a death at sea or a death in illness would fail to be acknowledged, because both fall beyond the limit of civil recognition. It appears that to succumb to sickness would be to suffer reduction to bare animal life, to move from bios to zoe, whereas to perish at sea would be to pass away far from the shores of sommunal existence. One may or may not fear shipwreck or illness, but in either case one has no opportunity to exhibit fortitude, for virtue cannot subsist without one’s humanity or without one’s society. Virtue is virtue recognized. The two major definitions of mankind that Aristotle ha bequeathed to posterity – that man is both a „political animal“ and an „animal possessing logos“ – propels the societal exile as well as the bearer of bare life beyond the realms where recognition of fortitude may be gained. (149)

To understand peace as the mere absence of belligerence is to regard war as an accident. From this perspective, mankind is essentially sociable and benign, and peace is but a return to this original harmony. This line of thought would be Aquinas’s operative premise. In contrast, to interpret peace as a victory over enmity is to recognize mankind as originally savage, ready to do violence unless prevented. This position is commonly associated with Cicero. In the De inventione, for example, Cicero alludes to a primal era „when men used to roam randomly in the fields in the manner of beasts,“ a time of utter lawlessness ruled only by individual cupidity and brute strength, until a „great and wise man“ (magnus … vir et sapiens) eloquently introduced a system of education, with which he could render his fellow man „gentle and civilized“ (mites et mansuetos). (158)

Thus, Security balances the gallows in clear view. Peace may rest upon the armor beneath her pillow once order has been achieved, but she cannot discard it. Likewise, Security must remain tirelessly ready to execute the established laws. More abstractly, when related to both triumphant peace and concord, Security reveals the indispensability of opposition. (158)

No security project can allow itself to be decimated by fear; however, being altogether blind to potential menace would result in sheer recklessness. Lorenzetti’s composed maiden, who stares out at the sinister scene, is the figure of an idea of security as vigilance – as the fearless confrontation with recognized fear, as a disposition that is unafraid precisely by being afraid. (159)

For Fromm, then, the crucial theological shift, motivated by unconscious responses to sociohistorical circumstances, is an abandonment of the „adoptionist doctrine“ (Jesus the man elevated to divinity) and the establishment of the „doctrine of consubstantiality“ (God descended to humanity). In the former case Jesus was portrayed as a violent usurper, whereas in the latter he was characterized by forgiving care. Psychoanalytically, any remaining aggression toward the father could now be directed inward: an individual’s sins, and not the power of the sovereign, were to blame for suffering in this world. The internalization only further reinforced social stability. (166)

This negative view [of Agamben] is certainly valid, yet it does not exclude the converse. Although the exception may thus be used as a nefarious technique for encompassing bare life, it may just as well supply the gap in legalism through which the law can be reanimated, perhaps enabling a transition from „biopower“ to what Roberto Esposito ordains as „biopotentiality“ (biopotenze, as opposed to biopotere) – „a biopolitics that is finally affirmative. No longer over life but of life, on 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. The law’s porosity may be the only means for preventing it from stiffening into cold mechanicity. (177)

Descartes’s philosophical quest to secure epistemology with provisional certainty, to excatavate and build a fundamentum inconcussum upon solid ground, however slight, should be understood within the same political context. Starkly expressed, the presupposition – often quite explicit – of the emerging international system of sovereign states, where each should enjoy authority within its territorial limits, is that the state be regarded as a rational subject, as a res cogitans, as a unitary figure set upon the edge of turbulent waters. Upon land, this single entity – be it the individual subject or the sovereign nation – could rest somewhat assured in the face of the conflicts that raged beyond the shored-in limits, where opposing religious doctrines or other, aggressive states were poised to crash in and potentially flood the ground. The „antient Security,“ which in some remote past had presumably been maintained by hierarchical structures of church and empire, would now, following the Great Schism, the fragmentation of principalities, and decades of devastating war, seem achievable only if the sovereign bordrs retained their definition in a more lateral relationship, if unity held out before roaring plurality. The history of every contemporary walled state, the plotting of every fortified barrier, from Israel to Arizona, is traceable to Westphalia, invariably linked to this threat to sovereign unity. (200)

That God may not be merely inscrutable but in fact careless invariably jeapordized any prolonged sense of security, for how could care be removed if there was no ultimate agent to remove it? Voltaire’s Candide (1759) speaks directly to these concerns, both by means of a satirical critique of Leibnizian theory – of „sufficient reason“, of „monads“, and, not least, of „the best of all possible worlds“ – and by elevating each individual to the status of caretaker. The text’s famous conclusion – „il faut cultiver notre jardin“ (we must cultivate our garden) – redefines human security as the condition of being without as well as with care. (207-208)

In maintaining the security (Sicherheit) of bare life, the state is regarded as a biopolitical machine – a cold mechanism or clockwork no longer in need of God. In the place of the mechanical state, Fichte posits the nation, whose purpose exceeds security as safety and protection by allowing transindividual freedom to serve as security (Pfand) through adversity for the reward of posterity. For this reason, the antistatist nature of Fichte’s bold nationalism is no contraditction. All the same, the nation, too, so portrayed, engages in a biopolitical theory, not as a mechanical regime over life but as a living organism in its own right. Fichte’s now notorious promotion of Germanness – the originality and uniqueness of its language and culture, blood and soil – readily assumes the horrific shape of racism, but only with the gradual conflation of state and nation, a conflation that Fichte’s addresses certainly do not discourage. It is at this point, that the state’s promise of security becomes coupled with the ultimately thanatopolitical drive of a nation pathologically intent on preserving its dangerously well-constructed sense of purity. Around 1800, the dfeat at the hands of the Revolutionary Army may be reconfigured as an opportunity, yet this oppostunity, like any chance, cannot master its eventual effects. (237)

Michelet’s inaugurating, fear-provoking view from the shore (La mer vue du rivage) stresses the division into “two worlds”: the one where human life can be sustained and the other where itc annot. To face the sea is to contemplate demise, including one’s own possible absorption into the infinitude of breathlessness. (240)

As a prehistorical zone, the sea is also an origin or maternal source of history—la mer est la mère. The prehistorical is the condition of possibility of the historical. Its formidable power is inescapable. Lionel Gossman’s reflections on Michelet’s naturalist endeavors are particularly evocative in this regard: “History, for Michelet, is … nothing less than the never-ending struggle against the ancien régime of nature, the process by which nature, woman, and the past in their confusing multitude of unstable, constantly varying forms, are progressively transformed from capricious mistresses of human destiny into trained assistants in the creation of a specifically human order.” (241)

Whereas Michelet lamented the dreadful boundlessness of the sea and struggled in vain to secure his and his nation’s identity, Friedrich Nietzsche celebrated beside the watery abyss, gaily dancing at God’s funeral and at the Self’s wake. Although Nietzsche would concede the existence of some instinct of self-preservation, he would view it as one of any number of consequences to a more profound instinct: the notorious “will to power.” This will lies deeper than the individual self and is an expression of life itself: namely, life’s will to expand, to explode any and all determinations, any and all fixed forms, even or especially when life destroys itself in the process. “The wish to preserve oneself is the symptom of a condition of distress, of a limitation of the really fundamental instinct of life, which aims at the expansion of power, and wishing for that [in diesem Willen], frequently risks and even sacrifices self-preservation.” (244-245)

For Nietzsche, the thesis of self-overcoming entails that any measure of self-preservation must be provisional, lest it become a means of devitalizing self-paralysis. The provisionality of preservation wards off complacency, lethargy, and therefore vulnerability. Life is the perpetual striving to avoid being no longer. One may relate this tendency to the capacity for immanent transcendence, to the human potential to detach from the experiential world to which mankind nevertheless belongs. This freedom from natural restrictions is what Max Scheler defined as man’s “world-openness” (Weltoffenheit), a capacity for emancipation from instinctual drives and environmental circumstances. For Scheler, this fundamentally human condition is at once a source of transcendent possibility and pure anxiety. In Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos (Man’s Place in Nature, 1928), Scheler unfolds a “philosophical anthropology” that considers the various travails of modernity—isolation, mechanization, social disintegration, and so forth—as a fundamental lack of orientation, of man not knowing his “position in the cosmos.”35 Yet this problem of localization becomes the source for human ingenuity, the very precondition for human creativity. (255)

Constituted by Being, the essence of technology names yet another challenge by means of which human being becomes a challenge to itself. By pursuing the question concerning tehcnology, thinking expedites Being’s disclosure, a „bringing-forth“ (Hervor-bringen) out of concealment into unconcealment. In the Technology essay, Heidegger focuses on the term Entbergen, a word that literally means „to dig up“, conjuring quasi-romantic scenes of mining. The verb bergen means „to rescue“, „to harbor“, and therefore also „to secure in hiding“. Thus, the „unconcealment“ that is truth (aletheia) is a kind of „de-securing“ (Ent-bergen): letting something burst forth from its fixed or secured hiding into revelation. (263)

While Heidegger views security as impeding thought’s piety, it is elsewhere clear that some idea of security may contribute to authentic concern. In other words, Heidegger appears to inherit the dynamic ambivalence associated with the word’s complex semantic career. On the one hand, there is the cold distance of Lucretian security, which describes the theoretical position that objectifies all experience in a resolutely scientific, calculating, and ultimately nonphilosophical (unthinking) manner. For Heidegger, this metaphysical standpoint dubiously consigns the subject to a position out of the world to which he nonetheless belongs. On the other hand, the „paths of thinking“ (Denkwege) seem to be lined with the courageous asphalt that paves the way and prevents a fall into inauthenticity. (263)

[…] Heidegger is able to apply Augustine’s series of reflections to construct an entire theory of care that will subsequently ground his reshaping of phenomenological inquiry. In brief, cura names for Heidegger the motivating force that compels human life in one of two directions: either toward the „delight“ (delectatio) that defines self-possession in God; or toward the „temptation“ (tentatio) that works against this goal by submerging the self back into the world. If cura leads to delight, the result is „continence“ (continentia), a coming to rest in the One that is God; but if cura leads to temptation, the result is „dispersal“ (defluxus) into the multiplicity of worldly experience. […] The primary philosophical problem with this kind of evaluation is that it gives priority to a condition of security, insofar as Augustine himself explicitly defines delight as „the end of concern“ (finis curae). For Heidegger, security of this nature presupposes a path that inauthentically circumvents the difficulties and troubless of life. (265-266)

The careful attendance to the facticity of existence prevents thinking from evading the conditions of „this very life“, ista vita. In Heidegger’s fundamental reversal, cura counters everything that would have us fall away from our fallenness. Throughout Being and Time, the attraction of tranquility is tantamount to inauthenticity, insofar as it causes us to neglect the fallen condition of our existence. As Heidegger explains, this Verfallenheit is decidedly not a „’fall’ from a purer and higher ’primal state’ [Urstand]“ but rather the state of the only life we have. His critique of security, therefore, is always specifically a critique of securitas as the „removal of care“, which he implicitly distinguishes from asphaleia as the „prevention of falling“ or, more specifically, as the „prevention of falling from our fallenness.“ Evading our constitution in time begins with the translation from Greek to Latin. (267-268)

For Heidegger, Saturn’s judgment is therefore truly an Urteil, a decision that maintains and exacerbates what Friedrich Hölderlin called the „primal split“ or Urtheilung: the converged divergence of corporeal sensibility and spiritual rationality that orients how human existence comes to take place. Care alone holds the polarities together, like a bridge that crosses an otherwies uncrossable river. As a result, any substantial, permanent, transcendent subject – like the one Descartes dreamed of against radical doubt – is shown not to rest on an „unshakeable foundation“ (the fundamentum inconcussum of the Meditations) but rather upon the soft humus into which it inevitably sinks. (269)

Despite the vast, unbridgeable distances between their ideological commitments and philosophical premises, every time one of these thinkers, Schmitt included, betrays to greater or lesser degree an adherence to a certain vitalist, Nietzschean tradition as articulated by Weber, one that protests the gross quantification of human life and the bureaucratization of human relations, in brief, one that restists the reduction of experience to technological calculability. With slight modification, they would all agree with Weber’s assessment of the times as being enslaved to the „might cosmos of the modern economic order,“ which is a mechanism of its own making. (279)

WITHOUT CARE NO ONE can be secure. This is true for security as well as for safety. Yet, the requirement of care does not mean that the concern must fall solely to the one to be secured. Because threats—particlarly those that jeopardize life itself—can often overwhelm the wherewithal of a single subject, it is common to appeal to institutions and agencies that are better equipped and therefore in a more advantageous position to take care of individuals. The secured subject relinquishes the responsibility of care by submitting to a higher authority, by obeying the will of a collective, or simply by trusting technology. A sovereign state, which occupies a privileged place above the populace, can arguably foresee and identify threats better than others. The structure that defines this relation between the one securing and the one secured differs little from that which allows gadgets, devices, and sensors to catch what human senses might miss. In both cases, individual care is relegated to persons or machines that are designed, technologically or ideologically, for accuracy. The provision of security, then, is not only an act of care but also an expression of power. (284)

The state that cares only for itself can never provide security for anyone or for anything other than itself. Its security program exclusively removes the concerns that threaten its own legitimacy and power. Its effects, therefore, are to spread insecurity among the populace. (287)

To be secure requires the capacity to envision as many specific threats as possible. One’s imaginative faculty—the Einbildungskraft—must be fully engaged; it must be capable of picturing what could happen, of internally producing an image (Bild), regardless of likelihood. In order to be safe, one must have recourse to the imagination, one must be able to foresee all potential (not yet actual) events—a delusional enterprise, since the event qua event is unforeseeable. It is precisely this reasoning that motivated the now famous judgment proclaimed by the United States’ 9/11 Commission Report, namely that the governmental intelligence agencies in charge of predicting attacks were to blame for a “failure of the imagination.” (295-296)

A situation of heightened security, in whatever form, stands to be unnerving insofar as it calls to mind the lurking dangers and the potential losses that continue to pose a threat. It serves as a reminder that there are significant risks that may at any point impinge upon our existence or upset our calculations. This disquieting consequence for the subject of security is unavoidable. Modes of protection invariably conjure what is being warded off. (296)

By issuing endless warnings, the state apparatus perpetuates the Hobbesian contract that purchases security with individual freedom. (297)

However, not every warning that Eldagsen cites promotes complacency or immobility. At times, albeit rarely, the “nanny state” (as Eldagsen’s Australian friends characterize their country) expects you to unbuckle yourself and leap into live action. In these special cases, the general advice to avoid or ward off danger is replaced by proactive instructions. To return to the coast off Sydney, we follow other references suggesting that, for the observer, staying on the shore would hardly offer relief. (297)


Jeffrey T. Nealon “The Archaeology of Biopower”

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Nealon, Jeffrey T. 2016. The Archaeology of Biopower: From Plant to Animal Life in The Order of Things. – Cisney, Vernon W.; Morar, Nicolae (eds). Biopower: Foucault and Beyond. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 138-155.

If discipline forged an enabling link between subjective aptitude and docility, biopower forges an analogous link between the individual’s life and the life of the socius: the only thing that we as biopolitical subjects have in common, one might say, is that we are all individuals, charged with the task of creating and maintaining our lives. (139)

At the dawn of the nineteenth century […] Foucault traces a mutation of the dominant epistemic procedures – from a representational discourse that maps external similitude and resemblance, to the emergence of a speculative discourse that takes as its object hidden internal processes. In short, we see emerge a discourse that „opposed historical knowledge of the visible to philosophical knowledge of the invisible“ (OT 138): knowledge’s privileged practices abandon the surface of objects to plumb their hidden depths instead. And first and foremost among those transcendental „invisibles“ was a little thing we like to call „life“: „The naturalist is the man concerned with the structure of the visible world and its denomination according to characters. Not with life“ (OT 161), Foucault insists, because life is not representable. Life is in fact a kind of unplumbable depth, animating the organism from a hidden origin somewhere within. This birth of biology – which is to say, the emergence of „life“ itself as a bearing area for discursive power and a depth to be explored – constitutes the first birth of biopower, this one in Foucault’s work of the mid-1960s. (143-144)

In short, Foucault argues that with the emergence of the human sciences at the birth of biopower, the animal is not excluded or forgotten, but quite the opposite: animality comprises the dominant apparatus for investigation both what life is and what life does. The living is no longer primarily vegetable (sessile and awaiting mere categorization), but understood as evolving, appetite-drive, secret, discontinuous, mendacious, inscrutable, always on the prowl, looking for an opening to break free. As Foucault puts it, „Transferring its most secret essence from the vegetable to the animal kingdom, life has left the tabulated spac of order and became wild once more“ (OT 277). (145)

Foucault, of course, parts ethical company from Derrida […] around the binary pathos of „totalization or non-totalization“, which constitutes nearly the whole field of ethics in a deconstructive context: if totalization or the violent desire for completion can be disrupted, if an originary différance of undecidability can be mobilized and demonstrated, then some positive deconstructive work has been accomplished. However, such a supposedly ethical gesture toward the unfathomable or untotalizable other, as Foucault will insist throughout his work, poses no essential question (ethical or otherwise) to the human sciences because those contemporary sciences do not require or even desire totalization. As Foucault demonstrates in his work on the emergence of life in Europe, the Western human sciences need constantly to refashion an unfathomable depth, and inexhaustible other, so they can continue to do their work. The insistence on the primacy of some nontotalizable „other“ does not cripple the human sciences, but rather constitutes an essential component of their work: as Foucault concisely puts it, „an unveiling of the non-conscious is constitutive of all the sciences of man“ (OT 364). (149-150)

(Economics, for example, does not know what value is any more than theology knows what God is or biology knows what life is – that is why you have a robust discourse to study it.) So the trading-places game of ethical alterity – the nonhuman other is best figured as the unconscious, the animal, the plant, the earth, the robot, and so forth – tends primarily to extend and deepen the constitutive work of the human sciences (the production of undecidability, which in turn produces more commentary), rather than to disrupt that work in some essential way. (150)

This, then, is Agamben’s „correction“ of Foucault: Agamben rejects the idea that power has become more subtle and effective, suffused through our everyday lives (even in our sexuality and our everyday consumer existence); he argues instead that power remains sovereign, brutal, literally animalizing its others so they can be eradicated. We in the first-world West live not in a panopticon or in an endless marketplace, but in a concentration camp. (151)

[…] when Foucault insists that there is an „animalization of man“ involved in biopower’s birth and functioning, he mean quite literally: we have incorporated the beast into the contemporary biopolitical definition of „man“ as endless, unthematizable animal desire, with the practices of sexuality and neoliberal capitalism its two most intense markings in the present. […] For Agamben, on the other hand, bestialization constitutes less a contemporary set of practices or a historical phenomenon and remains primarily a transhistorical metaphor or simile for the human condition, as are (despite Agamben’s protests to the contrary) his emphasis on the concentration camp or sovereign power. For Agamben, twenty-first-century Western society is like a concentration camp or like an absolute monarchy; we are treated like animals when we have to surrender our DNA or fingerprints. (152)

[…] sovereign power, while notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to resist, tends to be relatively easy to spot, diagnose, and denounce: in short, someone else is always wielding „sovereign power“. On the other hand, the biopolitics of „making live and letting die“ is a regime in which all of us are implicated: who gets health care and who doesn’t? (153)

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)

Michel Foucault “Fearless Speech”

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Foucault, Michel 2001. Fearless Speech. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

1. The Word Parrhesia

The one who uses parrhesia, the parrhesiastes, is someone who says everything he has in mind: he does not hide anything, but opens his heart and mind completely to other people through his discourse. […] And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. (12)

There are two types of parrhesia which we must distinguish. First, there is a pejorative sense of the word not very far from „chattering”, and which consists in saying any- or everything one has in mind without qualification. This pejorative sense occurs in Plato, for example, as a characterization of the bad democratic constitution where everyone has the right ti address his fellow citizens and to tell them everything – even the most stupid and dangerous things for the city. (13)

To my mind, the parrhesiastes says what is true because he knows that it is true because it really is true. The parrhesiastes is not only sincere and says what is his opinion, but his opinion is also the truth. (14)

For the Greeks, however, the coincidence between belief and truth does not take place in a (mental) experience, but in a verbal activity, namely, parrhesia. It appears that parrhesia, in this Greek sense, can no longer occur in our modern epistemological framework. (14)

If there is a kind of „proof” of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. (15)

So you see, the parrhesiastes is someone who takes a risk. Of course, this risk is not always a risk of life. […] Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger: it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the „game” of life or death. It is because the parrhesiastes must take a risk in speaking the truth that the king or tyrant generally cannot use parrhesia; for he risks nothing. (16)

But the parrhesiastes primarily chooses a specific relationship to himself: he prefers himself as a truth-treller rather than as a living being who is false to himself. (17)

For in parrhesia the danger always comes from the fact that the said truth is capable of hurting or angering the interlocutor. (17)

So you see, the function of parrhesia is not to demonstrate the truth of someone else, but has the function of criticism: criticism of the interlocutor or of the speaker himself. (17)

Parrhesia is a form of criticism, either towards another or towards oneself, but always in a situation where the speaker or confessor is in a position of inferiority with respect to the interlocutor. […] The parrhesia comes from „below”, as it were, and is directed towards „above”. (18)

This is not to imply, however, that anyone can use parrhesia. For although there is a text in Euripides where a servant uses parrhesia, most of the time the use of parrhesia requires that the parrhesiastes know his own genealogy, his own status; i.e., usually one must first be a male citizen to speak the truth as a parrhesiastes. (18)

[…] in parrhesia, telling the truth is regarded as duty. The orator who speaks the truth to those who cannot accept his truth, for instance, and who may be axiled, or punished in some way, is free to keep silent. No one forces him to speak, but he feels that it is his duty to do so. […] Parrhesia is thus related to freedom and to duty. (19)

More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal acitivity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). (19)

The continuous long speech is a rhetorical or sophistical device, whereas the dialogue through questions and answers is typical for parrhesia, i.e., dialogue is a major technique for playing the parrhesiastic game. (20)

Athenian democracy was defined very explicitly as a constitution (politeia) in which people enjoyed demokratia, isegoria (the equal right of speech), isonomia (the equal participation of all citizens in the exercise of power), and parrhesia. Parrhesia, which is a requisite for public speech, takes place between citizens as individuals, and also between citizens construed as an assembly. Moreover, the agora is the place where parrhesia appears. (22)

Pramod K. Nayar “WikiLeaks, the New Informational Cultures, and Digital Parrhesia”

December 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Nayar, Pramod K. 2010. WikiLeaks, the New Information Cultures, and Digital Parrhesia. Economic and Political Weekly 45.52: 27-30.

Like CDC, WL also sees itself as deriving its moral and ethical stance from the UDHR (citing article 19 on its website), and thus locates itself in a global cultural apparatus: the universalmovement for Human and related Rights. (3)

The persecution of Assange – his dramatic arrest, the rape charges, the threats of extradition and possible assassination – makes for a very strange mix where thevirtual meets the flesh-and-blood: online activity whose validity and value are sworn to by the very real threat to the personof Julian Assange. Conversely, does eliminating the ‘body’ of Assange alter the virtual threat that the new culture of information represents? The answer is ‘no’, for we are in the age of an electronic civil society and information culture unlimited to bodies, geographies or national boundaries. (3)

We therefore must see WL’s collection of documents as the processesthat make up the world’s functioning. In a sense, WL directs us, for the first time, to the makingof the world order (or disorder). (4)

We are now in the era of the hyper-visible, by which I mean the excessive and repeated circulation of such images we were not intended to ever see. (5)

Scenes of war, classified documents that legitimised torture, secret parleys behind policy constitute what we might term a counter-archive. An archive has traditionally been a space where documents are stored and the rights of interpretation of these documents rest with a chosen few (known in classical times as ‘archons’). Here, in WL’s archives we have a database from which we, as readers, need to build narratives. […] Therefore, the archive of documents WL leaks must be, and can be, made to tell a story– about injustice, corruption, deprivation, suffering in anypart of the world – depending on our choice of frames of interpretation and wanderings through the corpus. (5)

What WL does is not to pinpoint blames for wrong-doing on X or Y. Rather, it gives us a glimpse of the institutional, state, organizational culturesthat made X or Y’s acts possible. (6)

What WL does is to locate a Lynndie England (the infamous prison warden at Abu Ghraib) within an American culture of war and a war effort that empowered such individuals. The individual soldiers only denote individual wrong-doing, but what we need to see is the connotation – which is the cultural apparatus of atrocity. (7)

If public space is the space for different people to tell their stories WL marks the arrival of such a space (we shall return to the nature and function of this electronic space in the last section). This is the main reason why it is fascinating to see how the USA, the so-called defender of free speech and therefore multiple stories, has suddenly decided that WL is not about free speech at all because it hurts ‘global’ interests (US commentators have even called for the death penalty to Bradley Manning). (7)

These seem to be two apparently contradictory points – about digital parrhesia being performed at risk to the truth-teller and contemporary condition where we cannot pinpoint a singletruth-teller. I propose a slightly different parrhesia, one that is less interested in the truthteller than in the culture of truth-telling. Digital cultures create a new communications culture, which generates a new community, the global civil society (we have seen this in the case of online supports, campaigns, humanitarian efforts in the wake of the tsunami, Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, protests against the WTO, etc), and the globalisation of conscience. WL is an embodiment of this new form of communications-leading-to-community, a digital parrhesia. At risk is digital space as parrhesiastic space. At risk is a new media cultural practice (Napster, Bit Torrent, Rapidshare, Creative Commons, Open Source Movement, Wikipedia, WikiLeaks), not the individual voice. At risk is the entire culture of information sharing, the agora of information. (10)

Matthew Sharpe “A Question of Two Truths?”

November 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Sharpe, Matthew 2007. A Question of Two Truths? Remarks on Parrhesia and the ‘Political-Philosophical’ Difference. Parrhesia 2: 89-108.

Although one may profess one’s convictions sincerely before an assembled body, for example, the ‘threshold’ of parrhesiawill be crossed at the point where these true beliefs concern, or aim to correct, the interests or perceived shortcomings of one’s addressee[s]. (90)

Philosophy features in his account as one part of a wider ‘proto-Hellenistic’ context wherein parrhesia‘moves beyond being considered primarily as a political act’ to becoming something else. (91)

The highest political potentiality of philosophy Plato instead envisages in the letters (one which he had tried, but failed, to institute in the court of Dionysius) is to act as private counselor, or even – as he characteristically puts it – a ‘physician’ to the bearers of absolute power. (92)

First: the question of the relation between truth and politics presents itself to the citizen, as against the  philosopher,  as  a  question  concerning  specifically  factual  truths  about  the  passing  political matters of the day. The issue is whether some things that were said by politicians and advocates to have occurred or to have been the case in fact were not, and whether some things which have been publicly denied were truly so. (96)

What demarcates factual truths from the rational, scientific, transcendental or mathematical truths dear to the philosophers, as Arendt stresses, is that these truths have no immanent necessity about them. They concern acts, events, or states of affairs in the world that are only contingentlythe case, which means they could just as well have been otherwise, or not been the case at all. From a philosophical perspective, that is, the brute ‘that-ness’ or ‘just-being-the-case’ of historical occurrences means that their type of truth is the least substantial form of truth of all. (97)

By drawing on Arendt’s conception of the truth proper to the political realm, I want to argue that, much more troubling than the simple deceits or secrecy of politicians, is the increasing encroachment into the political realm today of claims—some the basis for the most grave actions (including  going  to  war,  revoking  citizens’  legal  protections  …)—which collapse  or  simply  fall outside  the  sphere  of  what  can  be  publicly  assessed  as  truthful  or mendacious.  Factual  truth  is to political action as rational truth is to philosophical reflection, Arendt claims schematically in ‘Politics and Truth’. Just as philosophy must ail if the possibility of rational truth is foreclosed, so  political  action  can  only  devolve  into  something  else—principally  forms  of techne and/or violence—when  the  claims  upon  which  it  is  based  become  by  their  nature  ‘above  and  beyond’ public scrutiny. (101)

In his final lectures, Foucault argued that parrhesia‘can no longer occur in our modern epistemological framework’. The reason is that the Cartesian conception of philosophy consecrates the final divorce of episteme from practices of ethical self-formation. After the epistemic shift initiated by Descartes, in principle anyone could now discover the scientific truth given only the very limited ‘askesis’ involved in following correct and repeatable procedures. Correlatively, the enunciation of scientific truth is in the modern conception an ideally wholly anonymous business. Just  as  anyone  can  (re-)discover  the  truth  of  scientific  hypotheses,  Foucault  means,  so  the  very meaning of modern scientific objectivity is that the enunciator’s public or symbolic identity is not on the line in this speech-act – outside of some very particular, unusual cases (the case of Galileo, for example). (101)