Posts Tagged ‘body politic’

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)

Giorgio Agamben “Stasis”

January 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Agamben, Giorgio 2015. Stasis. Civil War as a Political Paradigm (Homo Sacer II, 2). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  1. Stasis

The ambivalence of the stasis, according to Loraux, is thus attributable to the ambiguity of the oikos, with which is it consubstantial. Civil war is the stasis emphylos; it is the conflict particular to the phylon, to blood kinship. It is to such an extent inherent to the family that the phrase ta emphylia (literally, ‘the things internal to the bloodline’) simply means ‘civil wars’. According to Loraux, the term denotes ‘the bloody relationship that the city, as a bloodline (and, as such, thought in its closure), maintains with itself’ (Loraux 1997, 29). At the same time, precisely because it is what lies at the origin of the stasis, the family is also what contains its possible remedy. (7)

Insofar as civil war is inherent to the family – insofar as it is, that is to say, an oikeios polemos, a ‘war within the household’ – it is, to the same extent – this is the thesis that Loraux seems to suggest here – inherent to the city, an integral part of the political life of the Greeks. (8)

Toward the end of her essay, Loraux analyses the case of a small Greek city in Sicily, Nakōnē, where, in the third century bce, the citizens decided to organise the reconciliation following a stasis in a particularly striking way. Tey drew the names of the citizens in lots, in order to then divide them into groups of five, who in this way became adelphoi hairetoi, ‘brothers by election’. Te natural family was neutralised, but this neutralisation was accomplished simultaneously through a symbol par excellence of kinship: fraternity. Te oikos, the origin of civil strife, is excluded from the city through the production of a false fraternity. Te inscription that has transmitted this information to us specifies that the neo-brothers were to have no family kinship between them: the purely political fraternity overrules blood kinship, and in this way frees the city from the stasis emphylos. With the same gesture, however, it reconstitutes kinship at the level of the polis: it turns the city into a family of a new kind. It was a ‘family’ paradigm of this kind that Plato had employed when suggesting that, in his ideal republic, once the natural family had been eliminated through the communism of women and goods, each person would see in the other ‘a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, a son or a daughter’ (Rep., 463c). (9)

Let us attempt to summarise the fndings of Loraux’s essay in the form of theses:
1) In the frst place, stasis calls into question the commonplace that conceives Greek politics as the
defnitive overcoming of the oikos in the polis.
2) In its essence, stasis or civil war is a ‘war within the family’, which comes from the oikos and not from
outside. Precisely insofar as it is inherent to the family, the stasis acts as its revealer; it attests to its irreducible presence in the polis.
3) The oikos is essentially ambivalent: on the one hand, it is a factor of division and conflict; on the other, it is the paradigm that enables the reconciliation of what it has divided. (10-11)

What relations should we suppose between zōē and the oikos, on the one hand, and between the polis and political bios, on the other, if the former must be included in the latter through an exclusion? From this perspective, my investigations were perfectly consistent with Loraux’s invitation to call into question the commonplace ‘of an irresistible overcoming of the oikos on the part of the polis’. What is at issue is not an overcoming, but a complicated and unresolved attempt to capture an exteriority and to expel an intimacy. (12-13)

In the stasis, the killing of what is most intimate is indistinguishable from the killing of what is most foreign. This means, however, that the stasis does not have its place within the household, but constitutes
a threshold of indifference between the oikos and the polis, between blood kinship and citizenship. (14-15)

Te stasis – this is our hypothesis – takes place neither in the oikos nor in the polis, neither in the family nor in the city; rather, it constitutes a zone of indifference between the unpolitical space of the family and the political space of the city. In transgressing this threshold, the oikos is politicised; conversely, the polis is ‘economised’, that is, it is reduced to an oikos. Tis means that in the system of Greek politics civil war functions as a threshold of politicisation and depoliticisation, through which the house is exceeded in the city and the city is depoliticised in the family. (16)

Te document in question is Solon’s law, which punishes with atimia – which is to say, with the loss of civil rights – the citizen who had not fought for either one of the two sides in a civil war. As Aristotle bluntly expresses it, “whoever did not join sides [thētai ta opla, literally ‘provide the shield’] with either party when civil strife [stasiazousēs tēs poleōs] prevailed was to be held in dishonour [atimon einai] and no longer a member of the state [tēs poleōs mē metēchein].” (17)

Not taking part in the civil war amounts to being expelled from the polis and confned to the oikos, to
losing citizenship by being reduced to the unpolitical condition of a private person. Obviously this does not mean that the Greeks considered civil war to be a public good, but rather that the stasis functions
as a reactant which reveals the political element in the extreme instance as a threshold of politicisation that determines for itself the political or unpolitical character of a certain being. (17)

Te Athenian amnēstia is not simply a forgetting or a repression of the past; it is an exhortation not to make bad use of memory. Insofar as it constitutes a political paradigm inherent to the city, which marks the becoming-political of the unpolitical (the oikos) and the becoming-unpolitical of the political (the polis), the stasis is not something that can ever be forgotten or repressed; it is the unforgettable which must remain always possible in the city, yet which nonetheless must not be remembered through trials and resentments. Just the opposite, that is to say, of what civil war seems to be for the moderns: namely, something that one must seek to render impossible at every cost, yet that must always be remembered through trials and legal persecutions. (21-22)

Te form that civil war has acquired today in world history is terrorism. If the Foucauldian diagnosis of modern politics as biopolitics is correct, and if the genealogy that traces it back to an oikonomical-theological paradigm is equally correct, then
global terrorism is the form that civil war acquires when life as such becomes the stakes of politics. Precisely when the polis appears in the reassuring fgure of an oikos – the ‘Common European Home’, or the world as the absolute space of global economic management – then stasis, which can no longer be situated in the threshold between the oikos and the polis, becomes the paradigm of every conflict and re-emerges in the form of terror. Terrorism is the ‘global civil war’ which time and again invests this or that zone of planetary space. It is no coincidence that the ‘terror’ should coincide with the moment in which life as such – the nation (which is to say, birth) – became the principle of sovereignty. Te sole form in which life as such can be politicised is its unconditioned exposure to death – that is, bare life.(24)

  1. Leviathan and Behemoth

What is decisive, in any case, beyond the opposition between land and sea, is the surprising fact that the  ‘mortal God’, ‘the Artifciall Man called Common-wealth or State’ (as Hobbes defines him in the introduction), does not dwell within the city, but outside it. His place is exterior not only with respect to the walls of the city, but also with respect to its territory, in a no-man’s-land or in the sea; in any case, not within the city. Te Commonwealth – the body political – does not coincide with the physical body of the city. (35, 37)

Te unifcation of the multitude of citizens in a single person is something like a perspectival illusion; political representation is only an optical representation (but no less effective on account of this). (41)

‘The people’, he writes, is something single [unum quid ], which has one will and to whom one action can be attributed. None of these can be said of the multitude. Te people reigns in every city [Populus in omni civitate regnat]; even in a monarchy the people commands, for the people wills by the will of one man. Te citizens, that is, the subjects, are the multitude. In a democracy and an aristocracy, the citizens are the multitude; but the council is the people [curia est populus]. And in a monarchy, the subjects are the multitude, and (although this is a paradox [quamquam paradoxum sit]), the king is the people [rex est populus]. Common men, and others who do not notice these things, always speak of a great number of men, that is, of the city [civitate], as the people; they say that the city rebels against the king (which is impossible), and that the people will and nill what troublesome and murmuring subjects will and nill; under the pretext of the people, they rouse the citizens against the city, that is, the multitude against the people. (Hobbes 1983, 190) (42)

Te people – the body political – exists only instantaneously at the point in which it appoints ‘one Man, or Assembly of men, to beare their Person’ (Hobbes 1996, 120); but this point coincides with its vanishing into a ‘dissolved multitude’. Te body political is thus an impossible concept, which lives only in the tension between the multitude and the populus-rex: it is always already in the act of dissolving itself in the constitution of the sovereign; the latter, on the other hand, is only an ‘Artifciall person’ (Hobbes 1996, 111), whose unity is the effect of an optical contraption or a mask. (44-45)

It is a commonplace that in Hobbes the multitude has no political significance; that it is what must disappear in order for the State to be able to exist. Yet if our reading of the paradox is correct – if the people, which has been constituted by a disunited multitude, dissolves itself again into a multitude – then the latter not only pre-exists the people-king, but (as a dissoluta multitudo) continues to exist after it. What disappears is instead the people, which is transposed into the figure of the sovereign and which thus ‘rules in every city’, yet without being able to live in it. Te multitude has no political significance; it is the unpolitical element upon whose exclusion the city is founded. And yet, in the city, there is only the multitude, since the people has always already vanished into the sovereign. As a ‘dissolved multitude’, it is nonetheless literally unrepresentable – or rather, it can be represented only indirectly, as happens in the emblem of the frontispiece. (47)

Te people, that is to say, is the absolutely present which, as such, can never be present and thus can only be represented. If we call ‘ademia’ (from dēmos, the Greek term for people) the absence of a people, then the Hobbesian State – like every State – lives in a condition of perennial ademia. (51)

Te state of nature, as Hobbes explains in the preface to De Cive, is what appears when one considers the city as if it were dissolved (civitas […] tanquam dissoluta consideretur […] ut qualis sit natura humana […] recte intelligatur) (Hobbes 1983, 79–80), which is to say, from the perspective of civil war. In other words, the state of nature is a mythological projection into the past of civil war; conversely, civil war is a projection of the state of nature into the city: it is what appears when one considers the city from the perspective of the state of nature. (53)

If our hypothesis is correct, the image from the frontispiece presents the relation between the Leviathan and the subjects as the profane counterpart of the relation between Christ and the ekklēsia. Yet this ‘cephalic’ image of the relation between Christ and the Church cannot be separated from the thesis of Pauline eschatology, according to which, at the end of time, when ‘the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him’, God ‘will be all in all [panta en pasin]’ (1 Cor. 15: 28). This apparently pantheistic thesis acquires its properly political sense if we read it together with the cephalic conception of the relationship between Christ and the ekklēsia. In the current state, Christ is the head of the body of the assembly; however, at the end of time, in the Kingdom of Heaven, there will no longer be any distinction between the head and the body, because God will be all in all. (62-63)

If we take seriously the Hobbesian assertion according to which the Kingdom of God should be understood not metaphorically but literally, this means that at the end of time the cephalic fiction of the Leviathan could be erased and the people discover its own body. The caesura that divides the body political – a body visible only in the optical fiction of the Leviathan, but in fact unreal – and the real, yet politically invisible multitude, will be bridged at the end in the perfect Church. But this also means that until then no real unity, no political body is actually possible: the body political can only dissolve itself into a multitude and the Leviathan can only live together up until the end with Behemoth – with the possibility of civil war. (63)

Eugene Thacker “Necrologies”

November 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Thacker, Eugene 2011. Necrologies; or, the Death of the Body Politic. – Ticineto Clough, Patricia; Willse, Craig (eds). Beyond Biopolitics. Essays on the Governance of Life and Death. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 139–162.


While we will not simply reduce biopolitics to the body politic, we will also question the presupposition that today our political ontologies have somehow gone beyond the conceptual framework of the body politic. (139)


To call the body politic concept a metaphor doesn’t quite do justice to the way a great number of

political treatises take the concept at face value. Again and again, we find specific comparisons made between the human body and political order, as if the basis for legitimacy in the latter depended on the coherence of the understanding of the former. (140)


[…] the body politic in Plato is divided into three sections, the sovereign head (the reasoning part), auxiliaries and soldiers in the heart or chest (the impassioned part), and the peasantry and laypeople in the nether regions of the groin (the animal part). (141)


We begin with a first principle: the body politic is a response to the challenge of thinking about political order. Put another way: a minimal congruity between order as natural and artificial (political) is the a priori of the body politic concept. Thus the body politic is a way of thinking about politics as a living, vital order. It is a living, vital orderinsofar as it is defined within an ontology of the one and the many, of wholes and parts, and of the relation between the natural and the artificial. And it is a living, vital order insofar as it posits a correlation between the natural world and political order, either to say that the natural world is divinely ordered (as we find in Augustine), or to argue that political order is built upon a “natural law” (as we find in Hobbes and Spinoza). (143)


However, to simply posit politics as a certain combination of the living and the ordered is not enough, for it is the way in which this relation is formulated that is important. This takes place through a figure, one that presupposes a certain correlation between “life” and “politics.” Thus, a second principle: the foundation for the intelligibility of political order is based on an analogy between the body natural and the body politic. The former is said to preexist the latter, and often serves as its model; it is essential that the latter governs, manages, and regulates the former. Moreover, the body natural is often taken as the basic, individual, atomic unit of human life, which is then extrapolated to a metaindividual level for collective political existence. In a sense, the challenge of political thought is the correlation between the body natural and the body politic, for the two never exactly coincide. (143)


These criteria—unity, hierarchy, and centralization—are coupled to a narrative form, one that articulates the “constitution” of the body politic, both in terms of an account of the origins (and thus the legitimacy) of the body politic, and also in terms of that which guarantees the coherence of the body politic through time. The body politic is therefore conserved through a narrative of constitution. (144)


Even though the body politic concept may entail a narrative of constitution or origin, this in no way means that the concept of the body politic itself precedes an actual political regime. In fact, the opposite is often the case, which brings us to a third principle: the body politic is ontologically expressed retroactively in the terms of political theology. The body politic analogy is employed in order to justify or legitimize a de facto political order—that is, to justify a particular ontological relation between “life” and “order.” (145)


Insofar as the body politic concept serves to legitimize a given political order, this would not be far from the case. But it is also important to stress the many internal tensions, inconsistencies, and curious permutations that the body politic undergoes, especially in the context of political theology. Thus a fourth principle: the concept of the body politic entails the creation of a logically coherent monstrosity. This is not to say that the body politic—like Roberto Esposito’s description of biopolitics—is, in an “immunitary” fashion, dependent on that which negates it. In many of the early modern debates, there is little concern for boundary management and forms of immunization. Rather, it suggests that the concept of the body politic, raised as it is to address a problem of political ontology, often entails the creation of aberrant logics—that is, modes of thinking that make sense logically but that result in an image of the body politic that can only be described as teratological. (146)


Limbs multiply or are cut off, the mouth and anus become mirrors of each other, and the lowest parts partake of the divine. As such, the body politic is not a single, unified concept but one that constantly rises, falls, and is brought back to life again. It is a concept predicated on variations, permutations, and recombinations, like so many interchangeable, anatomical parts. The debates that preoccupied late medieval scholasticism were not simply debates over church and state; they were a set of attempts to resolve the tension between head and body, sometimes with rather bizarre, teratological implications. (147)


What, then, is the body politic concept? The body politic is a response to the challenge of thinking about political order (as a living, vital order). It is formally based on an analogy between the body natural and the body politic (through a narrative stressing unity, hierarchy, and vitalism). This formal relation is historically expressed in terms of political theology (and the questions of sovereignty and the “two natures”). And, despite this formal coherence, it is also a concept defined through its failure (that is, its internal tensions and corporeal variations). We have begun by talking about political order and have ended by talking about corporeal permutation, monstrosity, and headless corpses. (147)


Hobbes, in whom we find a sort of culmination of the Platonic polis and the medieval corpus mysticum, carries the analogy to its logical (and bio- logical) conclusion. The body politic is not only constituted through natural law and the contract; it must also confront—and must continually confront—the immanent possibility of its dissolution. (149)


And this pathology of the body politic was in place far in advance of the modern discourse of immunology and its tropes of boundary management. Such formulations pose the possibility that the very structure of the body politic itself articulates a countermovement that is its own undoing. Thus, to our previous principles, we can add another: the body politic implicates a medical ontology that it is nevertheless always attempting to supercede. (150)


This analogy—between body natural and body politic—opens onto another, equally fundamental analogy, one between the physician and the ruler, between doctor and sovereign. (150)


Thus, while the body politic is certainly not exclusively a medical affair, this  sort  of  medical  ontology  forms  its  central  problematic.  The  medicalized view of the body politic is thus that beyond which the body politic must always move, but that without which the body politic cannot be thought as such. (151)


Every attempt to formulate the constitution of the body politic must also confront its dissolution—and this is inscribed and perhaps even prescribed within the body politic’s structure itself. The body politic is constituted on its dissolution, the shaping of a collective, living body that always exists in relation to the corpse (nekros). We might therefore call the study of such phenomena a “necrology” of the body politic. (151)


But is the thing we call the body politic actually, and not just figuratively, living? Is it not made up of the many bodies that form a single body? Is it not the actual life of the multitude of members that serves as the ground for the body politic analogy itself ? At what point does the figurative collapse into the literal? In short, what happens when the analogy of the body politic itself collapses, becomes pathological, or undergoes decomposition? (152)


If we again take up the overarching question—of what happens when the figure of the body politic itself collapses—what is at stake is not just medicalization or public health, but the tension at the heart of political theology—the question of sovereignty and the question of the “two natures.” The end of the body politic—both in terms of its aim, but also its more eschatological

end—is its ability to effortlessly move between claims that are political and claims that are, in effect, medical. (153)


In the “problem of multiplicities” presented to the body  politic  concept  by  plague,  pestilence,  and  epidemic,  multiplicity  is never separate from, and is always inculcated within, the problem of sovereignty. Perhaps we can say that multiplicity is the disease of the body politic. Or, alternately, it is multiplicity that plagues the body politic. (154)