Posts Tagged ‘finitude’

Béatrice Han-Pile “The “Death of Man”: Foucault and Anti-Humanism”

April 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Han-Pile, Béatrice 2010. The “Death of Man”: Foucault and Anti-Humanism. – O’Leary, Timothy; Falzon, Christopher (eds). Foucault and Philosophy. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 118-142.

[…] for the early Foucault humanism has a very specific, narrow referent. This is indicated by his rather surprising historical reconstruction of its birth, which is referred to the Enlightenment and not, as is more traditional, to the revival and reinterpretation of the Ciceronian notion of humanitates during the Renaissance: thus the first humanists on Foucault’s list are not Rabelais, Montaigne, or Pico Della Mirandola, but Kant, Hegel, and Marx. (121-122)

Without entering into unnecessary details (Han 2003; Han 2005), his view is that during that period representation was both the ground and the privileged medium of knowledge: to be known was to be represented adequately (Foucault 1994e: 304). Conversely, beings were, at least in principle, fully representable, and the general aim of knowledge consisted in perfecting the best method to differentiate and arrange representations so that they would reflect the real order of things in the world (hence Descartes’ emphasis on the establishment of systematic differences between representations and the classical age’s obsession with the table as a synoptic form of knowledge). By contrast, the birth of “man” is due to the Copernican turn, whereby the focus shifted from representations to the representing subject. (123)

As a transcendental subject, “man” is the foundation of empirical knowledge: to be know is still to be represented, but in order to count as candidates for true knowledge, representations must conform to the epistemic conditions laid out in the transcendental aesthetic and the transcendental analytic (Allison 1983: 10-13). Yet at the same time, “man” is also a possible object of representation within the field opened up by such epistemic conditions: thus we represent ourselves in space (we see our own bodies) and in time (we can be conscious of our internal states). (124)

Note, however, that at this point the two aspects of the double are neatly dissociated – thus in the Critique  there is no overlap between the empirical “I” of our self-apprehension in the form of the internal sense, on the one hand, and the transcendental “I” of the “I think” of transcendental apperception, on the other. Yet the analytic of finitude threatens this neat separation between the two halves of the double and gives the Copernican turn its further, anthropological twist. (124)

[…] during the classical age, the notion of the infinite was both central and primary; thus, for Descartes, one can prove the existence of God by the presence of the idea of the infinite in the finite. The underlying assumption is that the infinite has ontological pre-eminence over the finite. (124)

By contrast, for Foucault the hallmark of the anthropological turn is that human finitude, instead of being subordinated to God’s infinity, becomes self-foundational. (124)

Note, crucially, that transcendental finitude differs from its empirical counterpart in that the limitation it entails can be analytically deduced from the very concept of the transcendental as a standpoint (which implies a specific perspective and thus limiting conditions, by opposition to a God’s eye view which would not be limited in such a way). By contrast, empirical finitude can only be understood synthetically, from empirical observations about the nature of human beings as living or speaking entities. (126)

The problem, however, is that the ambiguity of “man,” which both separates and unites the empirical and the transcendental, causes the two forms of finitude to overlap by means of an implicit shift which makes epistemic determination ultimately dependent on its empirical, causal counterpart: the relation between transcendental and empirical finitude becomes a vicious circle. (126)

[…] the analytic of finitude is characterized by a paradox of retrospection whereby transcendental finitude is disclosed as pre-existing itself in the form of empirical finitude (Han 2002). Such pre-existence (which Derrida calls “primitivity” in the case of Husserl’s phenomenology) invalidates “man’s” ability to provide a universal and necessary foundation for knowledge. The empirical contents that were previously deemed causally determinant but epistemically determined acquire a “quasi-transcendental” function (Foucault 1994a: 244) in that they are now viewed as chronologically primary and causally determinant for epistemic conditions themselves. (127)

In other words, transcendental finitude and empirical finitude are superposed in such a way that the former, rather than being the analytic correlate of the notion of a transcendental standpoint, is now cashed out in terms of the synthetic, empirical limitations (life, language, labor) that bear causally on man. (127)

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)

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)

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)

Jacques Derrida “Learning to Live Finally”

November 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Derrida, Jacques 2007. Learning to Live Finally. An Interview with Jean Birnbaum. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

I have always been interested in this theme of survival, the meaning of which is not to be added on to living and dying. It is originary: life is living on, life is survival [la vie est survie]. (26)

All the concepts that have helped me in my work, and notably that of the trace or of the spectral, were related to this “surviving” as a structural and rigorously originary dimension. It is not derived from either living or dying. No more than what I call “orignary mourning”, that is, a mourning that does not wait for the so-called “actual” death. (26)

I maintained that survival is an originary concept that constitutes the very structure of what we call existence, Dasein, if you wil. We are structurally survivors, marked by this structure of the trace and of the testament. But, having said that, I would not want to encourage an interpretation that situates surviving on the side of death and the past rather than life and the future. No, deconstruction is always on the side of the yes, on the side of the affirmation of life. (51)

This surviving is life beyond life, life more than life, and my discourse is not a discourse of death, but, on the contrary, the affirmation of a living being who prefers living and thus surviving to death, because survival is not simply that which remains but the most intense life possible. I am never more haunted by the necessity of dying than in moments of happiness and joy. (52)

Krzysztof Ziarek “The Limits of Life”

October 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Ziarek, Krzysztof 2011. The Limits of Life. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 16(4): 19-30.


The bind between the anthropological conception of the human being and the anthropocentric notion of reality relies on the articulation of the human as a rational animal, that is, as an animal form of life endowed with reason. (20)


Heidegger’s still insufficiently understood point is that, even if technology – technological products, processes, transformations, etc. – can be understood as anthropological, produced by humans, what is at work in technology, namely the momentum driving modern science and its simultaneous development and reliance on technological advances, does not originate simply in the human and cannot be explained in terms of human production. (20)


Four Seminars provides the following gloss on the enframing (Ge-stell): „In the Ge- one hears the gathering, the unification, the bringing together of all the modes of positing [stellen]. Let us be more precise about the positing. Heidegger says: the meaning of positing is here that of a challenging. It is in this sense that one can say: ‘‘Nature is set upon [hin gestellt] to yield energy’’ or nature is compelled [gezwungen] to deliver its energy. The meaning is that of being held to something, whereby that which is held to something is at the same time forced to adopt a certain form, to play a role, a role to which it is henceforth reduced. Nature, held to delivering its energy, henceforth appears as a ‘‘reserve of energy.’’ (75) (21)


Since for Heidegger animals are not capable of Dasein, this means that Heidegger’s discourse on animality, even if it tries to avoid hierarchy or teleology, remains based on the notion of privation: ‘‘Thus, no hierarchy, no teleology, neither finalism nor mechanicism, and the grand tradition of the Aristoteliansteresis,of privation’’ (Animal, 156). This privation means here that animals are seen to be deprived of three key capacities: world, logos, and finitude, and that these animal ‘‘deficiencies’’ solidify the uncrossable limit between the human and the animal in Heidegger’s thought. (23)


What is clear is that Heidegger keeps a double perspective on the relation between the human and the animal: if one thinks the difference between the human and animals within the spectrum of living beings, as Derrida proposes, then the animal mode of behavior appears as privation (lack of world but also lack of work, laboring, etc.). Yet if one looks at this difference from the perspective of Dasein and the question of being – and not of living beings – that is, from the perspective of being and not of beings, then this difference is not privation but rather being able to do without, perhaps even being able to spare. In later Heidegger,Gelassenheithas something of this tenor, as it bespeaks a critique of making, laboring, manipulating, which indicates that, as a relation to being, Dasein happens as a letting go of the priority of the technical comportment to being. (23)


[…] I want nonetheless to call into question the ‘‘privilege’’ or priority which Derrida’s thought continues to extend to living, life, and living beings. For it appears that, in Derrida, ethics coincides with the realm of the living, no longer affording priority to human beings but, nonetheless, operative within the sphere of the living. Is ethics inescapably bound with life, limited to beings that can be said to be alive, and thus exclusive of beings that cannot claim the status of the living? (24)


Does an ethics need to be based on the notion of the face, which, as Derrida shows, can be extended to animals but certainly fails to include non-living beings? (24)


While ‘‘world’’ is a complex and evolving notion throughout Heidegger’s work, I want to highlight here the way in which the thought of Da-sein (the term denotes ‘‘existence’’ in German but hyphenated by Heidegger comes to refer idiomatically to ‘‘being-there’’ as characteristic of the human mode of being) from the start moves the emphasis away from life to the import of the nonhuman and the non-living (world, being, event) in understanding the human. (25-26)


In this context Da-sein (being-there), where the hyphen marks precisely the site (Da) of the relation to being (Sein), refers to the clearing or lightening (Lichtung) as the opening out into the

dimension which can then be spanned by humans. Understood this way, Dasein, as Heidegger put it in Mindfulness, is in its unfolding (Wesen), in its becoming essential, non-human: ‘‘Da-sein is not man but that through which the ‘dehumanization’ [Entmenschung] of man (the overcoming of the ‘historical’ animal) becomes possible, since Da-sein above all provides beforehand the site for the exposedness of man unto being…Da-sein is not just the ground of man’’ (Mindfulness 186). (26)


Heidegger’s is a thinking which proceeds by way of a certain ‘‘topology’’ of sites and the relatedness they open and span, rather than being primarily determined by or limited to beings. This is why Dasein is not about beings to begin with, whether living or non-living, but about being, which needs to be thought for Heidegger in terms of the event (das Ereignis) and not life. This site marked as the Da happens as the between opening the dimensionality and meting out the relations configuring the world, the between irreducible either to the non-living or to the living: it is the meting out of the span of their (un)folding. (26)


It is because of this emphasis on being – over and beyond beings – that Heidegger undertakes repeated critique of life, living beings (Lebewesen) and lived experience (Erlebnis). Key to understanding this ‘‘critique’’ of life is the distinctive manner in which Heidegger thinks mortality primarily not in relation to living and its unavoidable cessation but instead by way of openness of Da-sein to the singular and one-time occurrence (event) of the world. (26)


Mortality in this context refers not so much to the cessation of life as it does to the attunement

(Stimmung) to the Da, that is, to the specific event of the dimensioning of the mirror-play of the world. It allows for the experience of the folding as differential binding, a breaking open of the between in its mirroring continuation and renewed meting out. It is the experience of the temporal and the spatial afforded to this „between’“ which never becomes a separation or a cut. Mortality marks humans in a way that allows them to be on occasion in tune with this time-space, the dimensionality, of the event of the world, that is, it lets them do the spanning, as Heidegger puts it. In other words, the Da marks the site of the human care for being, and thus also for any and all beings. (26)


Ethics in Heidegger’s sense would not be about relations among beings but about the ethos of the event, that is, about the possibility of dwelling in the site (Da) of the relation to being. Such ethos breaks out not only of the human–animal relation but also the circle of living beings, contextualizing beings, living and non-living, within the broader expanse of the world and its each time singular and one-time event. (27)


Heidegger claims here that the techno-scientific development, which has led to the distinct possibility of annihilating the globe, has been possible because the experience of things has been proscribed for the benefit of developing the facility of manipulating, altering, and profiting from objects, materials, and resources. This is why things have not yet been able to appear as things, which means that they have always already been annihilated, appeared as nil, as non-things: objects, entities, resources. The surprising concern for things takes center stage, as Heidegger delivers perhaps the most thought-provoking remark in the essay, stating that the possibility of physical annihilation is ‘‘only the grossest of all gross confirmations of the long-since-accomplished annihilation of the thing’’ (168). (27-28)


Crucial to my point here is this juxtaposition between things and living beings, the numbing numbers of living beings vs. the rare manifestation of things. The hint we might read in these lines is that it is precisely the thinking of living beings, and especially the calculus of the living, as in, for instance, ‘‘human resources,’’ that blocks the experience of the thing. This experience of the thing in its ‘‘thinging’’ is related to the opening of the world: ‘‘Men alone, as mortals, by dwelling attain to the world as world. Only what conjoins itself out of the world becomes a thing’’ (180). Mortality allows world to attain world by way of letting things be things, and thus, in their thinging, stay the world. (28)


One could say that it is perhaps for the sake of living beings, that is, for the sake of their survival, that, paradoxically, the centrality of living has to be called into question. Yet this transformation is important not only for the sake of living beings or even for the sake of all other beings but for the sake of being. This is the moment which marks Heidegger’s departure from human-centric models of experience, as the human being becomes reinscribed as only a part of the site of relation to being, that is, as participating in the always and primarily more than human or living Da-sein. And such a radical shift away from the priority of the interhuman, the relations among living beings or even inanimate beings can occur by the displacement of the concern from beings to being, that is, to the worlding, the onefolding and infolding (Einfalt) of the world in its spatio-temporal dimensionality. It is with things, with world and the non-human, that is, with attending to being in its event, never reducible to or even con-figurable through the prism of beings, let alone of the living, that human existence unfolds, tracing the relatedness of the event and the mirroring of the non-living and the living. (29)

J. Colin McQuillan “Beyond the Analytic of Finitude: Kant, Heidegger, Foucault”

September 29, 2016 Leave a comment

McQuillan, J. Colin 2016. Beyond the Analytic of Finitude: Kant, Heidegger, Foucault. Foucault Studies 21: 184-199.


Like Heidegger, Foucault tries to explain how the question concerning man “relates to” the questions “What can I know?”  “What  ought  I  to  do?”  and  “What  may  I  hope  for?” Unlike  Heidegger,  however,  Foucault argues that the answers  to these questions are  not founded upon,  or  reducible to,  the question  concerning  man.  They  relate  to  that  question  in  a  number  of  different  ways, corresponding to the different senses in which Kant understands man in the different parts of the critical philosophy. First, there is the conception of man as transcendental subject in the  Critique of Pure Reason, which relates to the question “what can I know?” There is also the conception of man as  “person”  in  Kant’s  moral  philosophy,  which  relates  to  the question  “what  ought  I  to  do?” Finally, there is the conception of man that relates to the philosophy of religion and the question “what  may  I  hope  for?”  According  to Heidegger,  the  conception  of man that  is to  be found  in Kant’s anthropology explains all of these different senses, because Kant (allegedly) says we could “reckon  all  of  this  as  anthropology,  because the  first  three  questions  relate  to  the  last  one.” Foucault  denies  this  claim,  insisting  that the  question  concerning  man  “has  no  independent content.” It merely repeats the divisions of the faculties and the different parts of Kant’s critical philosophy. (190)


The problem of finitude is a problem that arises because the  relationship  between  the anthropological  question  and the  other  three  questions  is not clearly defined. We understand that the answer to the question “What is man?” is related to the answer to the questions “What can I know?” “What ought I to do?” and “What may I hope for?”  but  we  do  not  know  exactly  how.  We  know  only  that  man  is  related  to  transcendental subjectivity, moral personhood, and the revolution in human nature that is the ultimate object of religion; yet he is reducible to none of them, because they all transcend him. Nor does man have any  content  or  meaning  of  his  own.  Understanding  the  limit  this  imposes  on  anthropological reflection  positively  and  empirically  is  the  task  of  the  analytic  of  finitude  that  emerges  from Kant’s anthropological-critical repetition. (191)


[…] critical philosophy distinguishes itself  from  the  philosophies  that  preceded  it—both  rationalist  and  empiricist—by  founding knowledge in a transcendental condition that precedes experience. This condition may be grasped in  transcendental  reflection—as  the  a  priori—but  only  to  the  extent  that  this  is  possible  for  a transcendental subject. (192)


Foucault describes how a similar approach emerges in empirical sciences, where labor, life, and language appear as “so many transcendentals” at the end of the eighteenth century. Labor, life,  and  language  function  as  transcendentals,  because  they  “make  possible  the  objective knowledge  of  living  beings,  the  laws  of  production,  and  the  forms  of  language,”  but remain “outside of knowledge.” They refer, instead, to the “force” of labor, the “energy” of life, and the “power”  of  speech,  none  of  which  can  be  observed  or  measured  in  themselves. Nevertheless, these “new empiricities” differ from transcendental philosophy in two crucial respects. First, the condition of empirical knowledge is located in an object and not in the transcendental subject. Second, they are concerned with the “positivity” of what appears, rather than the “negativity” of its conditions. This creates a conflict between transcendental philosophy and empirical science that  was,  according  to  Foucault,  constitutive  of  European  thought during  the  nineteenth century. (193)


The difference between the Kant that Foucault finds in his studies of “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” and the Kant  that  he  calls  “the  threshold  of  our modernity”  in  The  Order  of  Things  is  both  radical  and tremendously significant. The fact that Foucault finds in Kant’s enlightenment essay a different kind of critique, one that leads beyond the anthropologism of the analytic of finitude is evidence that Foucault was pushing beyond Heideggerean interpretation he adopted in the 1950s, toward a new  reading  of  Kant  that  would  help  him  overcome  the  conception  of  man  as  an  empiricaltranscendental double  that  had  come  to  dominate  the  human  sciences.  That  he  continues  to oppose  the  critical  attitude  that  he  finds  in  Kant’s  enlightenment  essay  to  the  “analysis  and reflection upon limits,” however, suggests that Heidegger’s reading of Kant remained an obstacle that he would have to overcome. (197)