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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)

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