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Frédéric Keck “Les usages du biopolitique”

Keck, Frédéric 2008. Les usages du biopolitique. L’Homme 3: 295-314.

Si la politique porte sur la vie, alors tout peut devenir biopolitique : chaque phénomène social trouve immédiatement sa traduction en phénomène vital. (295)

L’hypothèse du biopouvoir est alors une façon de reposer le problème de l’apparition des sciences humaines, en cherchant l’explication du côté des techniques de pouvoir, et non d’un mystérieux basculement d’épistémè. (298)

Le terme de biopouvoir apparaît donc chez Foucault à la jonction entre deux réflexions sur la notion de sujet : d’une part, celle des Mots et les Choses, sur le sujet comme pôle de connaissance constitutif des sciences humaines, d’autre part, celle de l’Histoire de la sexualité, sur le sujet comme pôle d’activité et de passivité dans le rapport entre les corps. (299)

À travers ce que Foucault appelle une « biopolitique de la population », c’est l’État qui trouve dans les sciences sociales un outil permettant de se réfléchir comme organe de savoir. (299)

Un deuxième usage attribue au contraire la réflexivité aux individus en tant qu’ils sont des corps vivants – ce que Foucault appelle une « anatomo-politique du corps humain ». Dans le sillage des études de Foucault sur la discipline, il ne s’agit plus seulement de montrer en quoi les corps sont soumis à l’emprise d’un pouvoir qui les contrôle en les mesurant et en les redressant (Vigarello 2004), mais aussi de voir en quoi la réflexivité des sujets est nécessaire à l’établissement de ce contrôle. (299)

Un troisième type d’usage réflexif consiste à articuler l’hypothèse du biopouvoir avec l’analyse des sociétés libérales. Foucault rattache en effet la naissance de la biopolitique à la formation de la pensée libérale autour de la question : comment ne pas trop gouverner ? Si les individus d’un État sont des corps vivants dont il faut maximiser la production, le pouvoir doit leur laisser la plus grande liberté compatible avec la production en commun. Foucault appelle « gouvernementalité » cet art de ne pas trop gouverner, qui vise à suivre les mouvements des individus pour les laisser opérer. (300)

Ces trois types d’usage restent tributaires d’une hypothèse lourde de la pensée de Foucault : celle d’un basculement du pouvoir souverain au biopouvoir avec l’apparition des sciences de la vie et des sciences de l’homme. Poussé par une logique des conceptions du monde qui était déjà à l’œuvre dans Les Mots et les Choses, Foucault tend en effet à considérer la biopolitique comme une époque du pouvoir venant en remplacer une autre. C’est pourquoi on peut dire que ces usages sont davantage réflexifs que critiques : ils font retour sur les opérations des sciences humaines, découvrant ainsi de nouveaux objets et de nouvelles subjectivités, mais ils ne donnent pas de nouveaux appuis à la critique. Pour faire une critique de la biopolitique, il faut en effet partir d’une position d’extériorité par rapport à ce régime de pouvoir, rendue intenable par l’hypothèse généalogique. (300)

[…] Negri et Hardt modifient la conception foucaldienne du biopouvoir : ce que Foucault avait décrit comme discipline des corps individuels dans Surveiller et punir serait en fait de l’ordre du pouvoir souverain, alors que le biopouvoir serait seulement ce que Foucault appelait biopolitique des populations. Autrement dit, Foucault aurait conceptualisé le biopouvoir au moment où celui-ci était en train d’apparaître, raison pour laquelle il ne pouvait pas véritablement décrire la nouveauté de son mode de fonctionnement, et restait pris dans une grille de lecture structuraliste encore appliquée dans l’analyse du Panoptique de Surveiller et punir. C’est pourquoi Negri et Hardt se réfèrent finalement aux analyses de Deleuze sur les « sociétés de contrôle », gouvernées par les multiplicités organisées en rhizome dans des séries divergentes de flux temporels (Deleuze 1990). (301)

Le travail immatériel, c’est donc l’ensemble des rapports sociaux qui produisent de la substance vitale par le simple fait de communiquer et d’échanger des informations. (302)

[…] alors que le peuple est un ensemble d’individus unis dans le cadre d’un territoire sous un pouvoir souverain, et que la masse est une population animée par des désirs entièrement irrationnels et imprévisibles, la multitude est un ensemble d’individus dépourvus de frontières délimitées et pourtant unis par des affects et des concepts communs. (302)

On voit que l’analyse d’Agamben est radicalement inverse de celle de Negri : car au lieu de chercher une histoire générale du pouvoir dans la façon dont sont pensées des populations ou des multitudes, il en cherche la structure logique intemporelle dans le rapport entre le souverain et l’individu. Selon Agamben, en effet, la structure paradoxale de l’Homo Sacer illustre la logique du pouvoir souverain qui, comme l’a montré Schmitt, repose entièrement sur l’exclusion et l’exception : la règle énoncée par le pouvoir ne peut fonctionner que si elle pose à l’extérieur de son champ d’application une exception, ce geste d’exclusion constituant originairement le pouvoir dans une sphère délimitée. (304)

Agamben appelle « vie nue » cette forme d’être que le pouvoir souverain pose à l’extérieur de son ordre comme insacrifiable et pourtant tuable. Cette expression désigne un être qui n’a pas d’autre vie que biologique, parce qu’il ne fait pas partie de l’espace politique : c’est au sens propre un survivant, en état de vie végétative, que la mort guette à chaque instant parce qu’aucune instance politique ne le protège, donc un être sans droits, pas même celui de vivre. (305)

Tout se passe alors comme si Negri et Agamben exploraient deux axes inversés de la combinatoire construite par Foucault pour analyser le biopouvoir : Negri retient l’axe qui fait passer du pouvoir souverain à la biopolitique de la population par un ensemble de savoirs, selon un schéma horizontal de progrès situé sur le plan d’immanence, laissant ainsi dans l’ombre le mécanisme par lequel le pouvoir souverain se porte sur l’individu (ce que Foucault avait appelé la discipline, et que Negri rejette du côté d’un structuralisme obsolète) ; alors qu’Agamben explore précisément ces mécanismes structurels du pouvoir politique et juridique, selon l’axe vertical du sacrifice, insertion de la transcendance dans l’immanence, laissant alors de côté l’axe par lequel le pouvoir porte sur les populations en produisant un ensemble de savoirs, ce que Negri appelait travail immatériel. (306)

Agamben et Negri ont bien posé la question critique : celle du passage du pouvoir souverain à la biopolitique, par lequel le pouvoir acquiert une prise sur la vie. Mais ils ont échoué à répondre à cette question parce qu’ils visent une ontologie de la vie. Il leur manquait un champ d’expérience dans lequel les reconfigurations du biopouvoir puissent être analysées. (307)

À la suite de Paul Rabinow, on peut formuler l’hypothèse selon laquelle la biopolitique produit des sujets critiques parce qu’elle fait apparaître de nouveaux événements rendant inadéquates les formes de problématisation antérieures. L’articulation entre pouvoir souverain et biopouvoir se rejoue à chaque fois que des technologies introduisent dans le social de nouveaux êtres dont l’ambivalence pose problème. (309)

Laura Bazzicalupo “The Ambivalences of Biopolitics”

Bazzicalupo, Laura 2006. The Ambivalences of Biopolitics. Diacritics 36(2): 109-116.

 

[…] biopolitics undoubtedly is a polemical concept that only becomes comprehensible when seen in action. It is also to watch with suspicion. Still, could the concept function heuristically by bringing to light, even without clarifying, some of the transformations that have occurred in our political existence? (110)

 

To my mind biopolitics effects two significant changes related to how we conceive politics, two essential though admittedly ambiguous features that provoke a reciprocal tension:

1) The “displacement” of the site where power seizes life. When political strategies wager on the qualities of the human species, they do so at the level of genetic manipulation and at the level of the survival of the species. Indeed the latter can become the principal reason for armed intervention by the great powers. Another reason for this displacement will be found when we recognize that disease threatens the human species, which in turn wages and unprecedented fight against it. […]

2) The shift and the transformation of the modality or, rather, the stigma of power. Power, always less juridical in the sense of general and abstract law, now tends to dissolve into the norm, that is, into the shared, immanent rule of effective praxis or active participation. It is not about demystifying the rhetoric of the law. Today political power easily adopts the language of normalization, management, and control; not the dyad of exclusion/repression, but rather a margin of tolerance that can be seen in emergency management and risk-oriented government. (110)

 

In Greece, zoe, or biological life, was excluded from the political. Producing and consuming the means of sustenance as well as the reproduction of the species – hence work and family – are subject to necessity; they engender relationships of dependence, inequality, and nonfreedom. It is exactly this biological life that takes center stage in the new modern space, a life whose needs are common to the entire species. It is a site in which work, production, and family are bound by the constraints of nonchoice and of the struggle to survive when resources are scarce. (111)

 

The neomaterialist vitalism seeks out those who resist in the folds of the subject/object of power, which is akin to desiring [a] life that resists and evades power. We should be concerned, however, that this resistance, no matter how seductive it may be, is indebted to Romanticism, as well as being characterized by infrapolitical features. Furthermore, we need to recognize fully the contradiction of affirming life which arises against biopolitical life. We need to ask how effective immanent resistance can be against a power that seems continually to reject the glories of transcendence more every day. That is, how plausible is resistance if we have not entirely rethought the ubiquitous and immanent site of power? (114)

 

[…] the body is elusive. On the one hand, it is anonymous; it is the fungible site of the species; it is generic and as such is the chosen object of biopolitical power. On the other hand, it is the most singular singularity we have; it is an extreme singularity that cannot be exchanged for another. It is difference itself, and therefore it is corporeality that the demands of a power for self-managing the body take hold; a power for the management of happiness and for satisfying needs, as well as the capacity and the possibility of finding one’s expressive spontaneity against discipline, docility, and repression. (114)

 

With biopolitical discourse, power ideologically establishes a reductive paradigm that entails survival and necessity. It limits the space for discourse on forms of life and therefore on politics. Is life then absent, if it cannot speak itself? Bare life “in itself” is revealed as a formidable limit-concept that is nonpolitical: it is the life of fungible, anonymous bodies, common to all sentient bodies that experience pain, hunger, loss, and deprivation. It is this limit-concept which is truly general, common, and universal. It is far more universal than those transcriptions of rights that have little to do with us, and that seem far removed from phenomenological diversity: universal rights that ought to allow the convergence of different cultures and to be the guide of moving ethics toward politics, were it not for its disregard for people as what they are. These “lofty rights” that float high above the corporeal exhibit a dangerous tendency to authorize the suffering of bodies in order to better glorify the spirit. (115)

Michael Dillon “Specters of Biopolitics”

April 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Dillon, Michael 2011. Specters of Biopolitics: Finitude, Eschaton, and Katechon. The South Atlantic Quarterly 110(3): 780-792.

The eschaton remains a source of civil as well as religious strife today, always a theologico-political field of sacralizing formation, though one that functions differently now because the modern finitudinal immanentization of the eschaton, as an open horizon of possibility rather than the threshold to everlasting life, transforms the nature of the eschaton and the mode of (political) being instituted by it. Modern time, in short, is no less eschatological than Christian time. But it is different, and the difference accounts for the aporetic mode of being of the modern factically finitudinal order of things, and its sacralizing quality, not least that of the cultic security politics of the limit of modern political orders and the war that such politics wages in the holy name of the life of the modern finitudinal eschaton. (783)

For biopolitics of security is also a regime speaking truth about the nature of times through the truth of the end of times, and the mode of being required to live in, live out, and live up to the eschatological security imperative to resist, at whatever self sacrificial cost, the end of the temporal order of things. (783)

One curious thing about the political orders of modern finitude is their recognition that they, too, must be finite since there is no modern time but the finitudinal time within which all fnite forms, including those of politically finite regimes, are fated to come and go. (786)

Persistence in and through the facticity of fnitudinal time is the challenge. But the only guarantee offered by the facticity of finitudinal time is that finite forms—however emergent, adaptive, and resilient, according to modern liberal security jargon—are fated ultimately to go. What is especially curious is how much the security politics of modern times are midwife to such comings and goings; it is especially curious and paradoxical, so it seems, although the paradox is so pervasive it has to be counted as a primary characteristic of modern security politics. They do not merely threaten—they positively bring about the end to the temporal orders they claim to secure. There has been no modern state, and there remains no modern political order of any kind, whose security politics have not, in every quotidian way, transformed that state or political order out of all recognition, when, through war, they have not actually brought about its cataclysmic end in the name of restraining that end. (786)

Biopolitics also emerged as a response to the problematic of rule posed in and by the properties of finitudinal time and the demand thereby to give concrete political form to modern finitude. The regime of security and war that now interests me most is therefore that also of biopolitics of security and war. (787)

Biopolitics, too, must positively specify what the life to be secured consists in, from whence the threats to that life arise, and ultimately what calculus of necessary killing must prevail to preserve life in its vital intensive relations of procreative force against the agents and forces, themselves always in fact arising also within life. This is what makes life the enemy of life in biopolitics, that threatens life in its positive procreativity. (788)

We must therefore always ask biopolitically: what happens when the end of the temporal order of things is enframed in terms of and for the now pervasive figure of life, rather than those other modes of political being formulated in response to the requirement to give concrete political form to finitude—commonwealth or people, but also man, state, and war? (790)

Cavelty, Kaufmann and Kristensen “Resilience and (In)security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities”

Cavelty, Myriam Dunn; Kaufmann, Mareile; Kristensen, Kristian Soby 2015. Resilience and (In)security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities. Security Dialogue 46(1): 3-14.

The basic assumption is that the (in)security of a subject is not only dependent on the character and severity of the threat it is exposed to (its vulnerability), but also on the subject itself – namely, its resilience to detrimental events. The concept thus aspires to describe mechanisms for maintaining stability, survival, and safety – mechanisms that seem equally applicable to the individual, society, nature, and technical systems. (4)

Resilience links security to logics of governance rooted in ecology, engineering, and psychology, which were previously not prominent in the security discourse. It provides novel conceptual linkages and forms of knowledge and asks for interdisciplinary epistemic communities as well as new modes of governance, including more and different types of actors. These interlinkages are the key to understanding how resilience functions in the realm of security, and how resilience is inscribed in a longer historical sequence dealing with the relationship between threats and the threatened and between effect and the affected. (5)

By acknowledging and accepting the idea of an unstable, unpredictable environment, the rise of resilience marks a significant shift from the predictable to the contingent. In contrast to risk analytics and other strategies that mainly seek to prevent and prepare for a potentially disruptive future, resilience is characterized by a temporality that combines the present with the future, but also actively deals with insecurities of the past. (5)

Underlining the importance of the disastrous event splits time into past and future and gives particular political significance to the practices of resilience – which either refer to overcoming past events or potential future disruption. In preparing for resilience, it is the imagined event of the future that determines the present. In enacting resilience, it can also be the disastrous event of the past that determines action in the present (and potentially the future, too). Therefore, resilience is related to technologies of preparedness, but also to the actual process of ‘coping’ (O’Malley, 2010: 488). With this emphasis on adapting to new situations, the discourse of resilience becomes ‘a discourse of futurity’ (Schott, 2013: 213). At the same time, it is backwards-oriented and encourages ‘actors to learn from catastrophes so that societies can become more responsive to further catastrophes on the horizon’ (Evans and Reid, 2013: 91). Resilience therefore promotes a vision of uncertain and traumatic futures (O’Malley, 2010: 488, 492) in tandem with the possibility of overcoming past adverse events and experiences. (7)

[…] resilience redistributes responsibilities – and possibilities of blame. It moves from government to municipalities, from national to local, from security authorities to the citizen – expecting and encouraging beneficial self-organization in the face of crisis by those units that are both knowledgeable of local contexts and directly affected by the adverse event (Hagmann and Dunn Cavelty, 2012). Such a responsibilization has been discussed as a form of  empowerment by some, especially if linked to participation and citizen-led initiatives (Bulley, 2013; Rogers, 2013a). Others have warned against an overly romantic notion of community, which is sought through resilience attempts targeted at the vulnerable (Bulley, 2013). Resilience programs create the subject they speak about and valorize it as either resilient and desirable or vulnerable, undesirable and in need of state intervention. (7)

not only the possibility of disruptive one-time events integrates the need for future resilience into the present. Structurally different from disastrous events are chronic emergencies that have already materialized and continuously materialize in the present. In its assumed universal applicability, resilience is also used to provide answers to such persistent insecurities. Chronic emergencies – for example, climate change (Methmann and Oels, 2015) – inject yet another temporality into the resilience concept. This already materialized insecurity requires a specific set of skills in the resilient subject to deal with insecurity, as the authors of this special issue illustrate. Howell’s account of the soldier takes yet a different angle on the chronic aspect of insecurity, since a resilient soldier, by dealing with the crisis of combat, also contributes to its perpetuation. Resilience thus not only responds to but actively extends crisis, adding to the temporality of the continuous (Howell, 2015). In sum, resilience assembles diverse security practices of dealing with a disruptive past, a potentially disruptive future and ongoing, chronic disruption in the present, all of which emphasize the reiterative temporality of resilience practices. (9)

Resilience thus brings the subject into the focus of security policies – not as an entity to be protected but as an active and responsible contributor to security. This results in a specific relationship between political practices and subjects. Not only is the subject a central enactor of resilience, but resilience policies and practices are productive of specific subjects: the autonomous, organized, emergency-managing subject who behaves in the way that the respective political rationale or practice promotes. (10)

Brad Evans and Julian Reid “Dangerously Exposed: The Life and Death of the Resilient Subject”

Evans, Brad; Reid, Julian 2013. Dangerously Exposed: The Life and Death of the Resilient Subject. Resilience 1(2): 83-98.

[…] the game of survival has to be played by learning how to expose oneself to danger rather than believing in the possibility of ever achieving freedom from danger as such. (83)

Resilience, then, describes much more than the mere capacities of species to persist. It describes the ways in which life learns from catastrophes so that it can become more responsive to further catastrophes on the horizon. It promotes adaptability so that life may go on living despite the fact that elements of it may be destroyed. It confronts all of us living beings, ranging from weeds to humans, with the apparent reality that managing our exposure to dangers is as much as we can hope for because danger is a necessity for our development. (84)

The underlying ontology of resilience, therefore, is actually vulnerability. To be able to become resilient, one must first accept that one is fundamentally vulnerable. (84)

To increase its resilience […], the subject must disavow any belief in the possibility to secure itself and accept, instead, and understanding of life as a permanent process of continual adaptation to threats and dangers which are said to be outside its control. As such, the resilient subject is a subject which must permanently struggle to accommodate itself to the world, and not a subject which can conceive of changing the world, its structure and conditions of possibility. However, it is a subject which accepts the dangerousness of the world it lives in as a condition for partaking of that world and which accepts the necessity of the injunction to change itself in correspondence with threats now presupposed as endemic. (85)

Resistance here is transformed from being a political capacity aimed at the achievement of freedom from that which threatens and endangers to a purely reactionary impulse aimed at increasing the capacities of the subject to adapt to its dangers and simply reduce the degree to which it suffers. This conflation of resistance with resilience is not incidental but indicative of the nihilism of the underlying ontology of vulnerability at work in contemporary policies concerned with climate change and other supposedly catastrophic processes. (85)

Liberalism […] is a security project. From its outset, it has been concerned with seeking answers to the problem of how to secure itself as a regime of governance through the provision of security to the life of populations subject to it. It will, however, always be an incomplete project because its biopolitical foundations are flawed; life is not securable. (85-86)

Resilience is premised upon the ability of the vulnerable subject to continually re-emerge from the conditions of its ongoing emergency. Life quite literally becomes a series of dangerous events. Its biography becomes a story of non-linear reactions to dangers that continually defy any attempt on its behalf to impress time with purpose and meaning. (87)

While the logic of security works on the principle of achieving freedom from dangers, resilience assumes the need to engage with them because their realisation is unavoidable. (87)

Resilience […] evidences most clearly how liberal power is confronting the realities of its own self-imposed political foreclosure as the reality of finitude is haunted by infinite potentiality. This brings us to a pivotal moment in the history of liberalism as the project finally abandons its universal aspirations, along with any natural claims to promote all life as a self-endowed subject with inalienable rights. With the outside vanquished to the disappointing realisation of endemic crises, sheer survivability becomes the name of the political game. (91)

[…] resilience is a form of neoliberal interventionism which, speaking in a governing tone, nevertheless, segregates life on account of its vulnerable qualities as a self-propelling tendency and emancipatory orientation. The connections here to contemporary austerity measures are particularly striking. Such calls have nothing to say about political processes or opening new sites for emancipation. The political is, in fact, pathologised as an unnecessary impediment to the austere vision. What is demanded is a new sense of social responsibility that places the burden of the crises directly onto the shoulders of the globally impoverished, thereby rendering social safety nets as part of the wider systemic problem. (94)

Post-utopianism takes on a number of distinct features in which idealised lifestyles are no longer presented as a common good but a matter of exclusivity. If there is any resonance to idealism, it is not premised on inclusion but the need to be able to ‘opt-out’ of the social landscape. (96)

Mitchell Dean “Four Theses on the Powers of Life and Death”

March 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Dean, Mitchell 2004. Four Theses on the Powers of Life and Death. Contretemps 5: 16-29.

First Thesis. The right of death is ancient. The power over life, by contrast, is quite new. Its emergence in the eighteenth century has brought the most devastating of consequences. (17)

Foucaultʼs peculiar contribution to the theory of sovereignty is the focus on the right of death. His genealogy here echoes Batailleʼs theme of sovereignty as linked to the denial of the sentiments that death controls. “Life beyond utility is the domain of sovereignty,” states Bataille.9 The implication of this is that sovereign existence is the capacity to live in the present moment beyond the concern for the needs to sustain life. The moral corollary is that “sovereignty requires the strength to violate the prohibition against killing.”10 Bataille claims his defnition of sovereignty has little to do with the sovereignty of states. This is a basic insight. Sovereignty—the power of killing—is today practiced in the biomedical domain by health professionals and administrators, by relatives and carers, and by prospective parents and mothers, all under the watchful guardianship of institutional ethical committees, legal regulation and therapeutic expertise. (18-19)

Second Thesis: It is not merely the succession or addition of the modern powers over life to the ancient right of death but their very combination within modern states that is of significance. How these powers are combined accounts for whether they are malign or benign. (20)

Pace Bauman, it is not simply the development of instrumental rationality in the form of modern bio-power, or a bureaucratic power applied to life that makes the Holocaust possible. It is the system of linkages, re-codings and re-inscriptions of sovereign notions of fatherland, territory, and blood within the new bio-political discourses of eugenics and racial hygiene that makes the unthinkable thinkable. (20)

On the one hand, the economic rationality that provides a limit to government refers before all else to the means of the sustenance of life. On the other, the sovereign individual has rights, especially in the era of international human rights, simply by virtue of merely living itself. “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” reads the frst article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If there is optimism in Foucaultʼs approach, it is one that cannot rely on a movement that checks the powers over life. The more liberalism and modern rights movements seek to defend us from the dangers of bio-powers, it would seem, the more they make possible its extension. (21)

Third Thesis. The powers over life are as ancient as sovereign power and law themselves. We do not need to ask for a historical point of connection between the powers of life and death because they are  constitutive of the sacred character of political community. (22)

While Agamben, like Foucault, might reject a concern for who has power within the political order, he holds that it remains necessary to examine the role of sovereignty as constituting the threshold of the juridical-political order. Politics has always been about life, in so far as the good life might be the end of a political community, and questions of basic existence, once satisfed by human association, can be placed as outside properly political concerns. (23)

Where Foucault tends to identify a government of life and the living as a feature of distinctively modern political formations, Schmittʼs view of sovereignty already contains a notion of a power concerned with life. He writes that “Every general norm demands a normal, everyday frame of life to which it can be factually applied and which is subjected to its regulations… For a legal order to make sense, a normal order must exist, and he is sovereign who definitely decides whether this normal situation actually exists.” Sovereignty thus is a structure that decides on what this normal everyday frame of life is and whether or not this normal frame of life is effective. (24)

The relation of exception is one of the ban: in abandoning individuals, the law does not merely put them in a sphere of indifference, but rather leaves them “exposed and threatened on the threshold in which life and law, outside and inside, become indistinguishable.” To be banned is to be placed outside the
juridical-political order that defnes the normal frame of life of a political community. But in the act of being placed outside this order, who or what is banned is included in the power that places he, she, them or it there. (24)

For Agamben, however, homo sacer is not just a fgure uncovered by legal philology of ancient Rome; it is subject to recurrent materialisations in history. These include its paradigmatic manifestation in the concentration camps, notions of universal human rights, the emergence of mass refugee movements from the early twentieth century, those on life-support systems, medical judgments on euthanasia, and in the Versuchspersonen or human guinea pigs of the Nazi doctors. Some might want to say that homo sacer can also be found in the myriad petri dishes, test-tubes and ante-natal clinics of our times. Bare life, is today found—at its most elemental—in the sequences of the letters A, G, C, T, that stand for the chemical bases, the purines and the prymidines, that make up the genetic code. Zoē has found a new representation in the colour-coded sequences of three billion letters of the genome. (26)

The positive side of Agambenʼs thesis is frst that it avoids the recurrent bipolar structure of Foucaultʼs attempts to investigate the character of modern politics and its relation to life. For Foucault, politics can only be approached as the articulation or displacement of the poles of a series of oppositions: the right of death and the power of life, sovereignty and bio-politics, the ʻcity-citizenʼand ʻshepherd-flockʼ games, individualizing and totalizing character of modern powers, techniques of government and techniques of self, reason of state and liberalism, etc. But the point at which they link, overlap, interact, or enter a zone of indistinction is diffcult to discern. Foucault proposes their relations are demonic, but cannot tell us why or how. Agamben proposes a possible topography of the state of exception in which the sovereign ban captures life in the political order but outside the political community, and zoē and bios enter into irreducible indistinction. (26)

Fourth thesis: Bio-politics captures life stripped naked (or the zoē that was the exception of sovereign power) and makes it a matter of political life (bios). Today, we seek the good life though the extension of the powers over bare life to the point at which they become indistinguishable. (27)

If we are to take Agamben seriously, this desire for inclusion may have the effect not simply of widening the sphere of the rule of law but also of hastening the point at which the sovereign exception enters into a zone of indistinction with the rule. Our societies would then have become truly demonic, not because of the re-inscription of sovereignty within bio-politics, but because bare life which constituted the sovereign exception begins to enter a zone of indistinction with our moral and political life and with the fundamental presuppositions of political community. In the achievement of inclusion in the name of universal human rights, all human life is stripped naked and becomes sacred. Perhaps in a very real sense we are all homo sacer. Perhaps what we have been in danger of missing is the way in which the sovereign violence that constitutes the exception of bare life—that which can be killed without committing homicide—is today entering into the very core of modern politics, ethics, and systems of justice. (28)

Vicki Kirby “Autoimmunity: The Political State of Nature”

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Kirby, Vicki 2017. Autoimmunity: The Political State of Nature. Parallax 23(1): 46-60.

[…] autoimmunity’s riddle must accommodate the following paradox: the concept of autos, or ipse can no longer be something which is compromised, threatened or even secured, and this is because an identifiable self which appears under attack may never have existed. Given this apparent madness we begin to see why a robust discussion of autoimmunity as something unusual and presumably identifiable must also succumb to this same suicidal logic. (50)

If we entertain the suggestion, however difficult, that autoimmunity places the self (ipse, autos) under erasure, in other words, if this is not simply a suicidal agonism or self divided because there is no self that will anchor such descriptions, then the status of all evaluative terms, whether danger, wellness or benefit, would prove equally problematic. In other words, what foundational reference point can securely anchor these judgements? Or to put this another way, how is the difference between advantage and threat determined and by ‘whom’? (51)

The role of the Enteric System (ENS) in cognition, as well as the involvement of bacterial ‘passengers’ in determining what we conventionally call agency, behaviour, cognition and temperament, certainly complicate the
mind/body division, and in ways that are bewildering to contemplate. In effect we are forced to confront the suggestion that the corporeal residence of an individual – the site of self or ego – includes the bowel, and further, that this ego – this most intimate sense of personal identity – may well ‘be’ an intra-species agent that confounds the human/non-human opposition altogether. Titles in popular science journals in this relatively new research area point us in these provocative directions. In an article by Robert Martone in Scientific American we read, ‘The neuroscience of the Gut – Strange but true: the brain is shaped by bacteria in the digestive tract’,18 and in a report in
New Scientist by Emma Young – ‘Gut instincts: The secrets of your second brain’, we learn that ‘when it comes to your moods, decisions and behavior, the brain in your head is not the only one doing the thinking’. (53)

[…] it seems reasonable to wonder how agency can be dispersed across species and still be described as properly ‘mine’. (54)

I have mentioned the myriad ways in which critiques of sovereignty understand the problem as one of identity that loses integrity; that falls into error, failure and misrecognition. However, what difference does it make if our starting point is a sort of ecological involvement that has not lost its way because there is no proper way; an ecology that is so intricately enmeshed and all-encompassing that even those expressions (of itself) that appear circumscribed, isolated and autonomous, are ‘themselves’ generated by this generality? Referring back to Matzinger, this is not an
ecology among others but ‘One’ whose systemic self-reference is capable of discrimination and individuation. If différance is the life pulse of this ecology, such that difference is and always was différance, then we are not dealing with an aggregation of entities that pre-exist their involvement. Indeed, we could say that this ecology’s internal self-reference and self-recognition, its selfdetermination, undoes the clear division between health and threat, or even heteronomy and autonomy. (56)

[…] if nature is already culture then Cohen’s fears are allayed, at least to some extent, even as it remains true that life, here biology, is argumentative, left and right-leaning, aggressive, ruthless, generous, self-sacrificing, caring … and in a constant state of transition and metamorphosis because its own selfreflections are volatile. It appears that the sovereign has returned as autoimmunity, and ironically, by implication, deconstruction assumes a sort of sovereign status in this ubiquitous animation – this ‘no outside text’ that is life. (56)