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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)

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)

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)

Frédéric Gros “The Fourth Age of Security”

December 27, 2016 Leave a comment

Gros, Frédéric 2014. The Fourth Age of Security. – Lemm, Vanessa; Vatter, Miguel (eds). The Government of Life. Foucault, Biopolitics, and Neoliberalism. New York: Fordham University Press, 17-28.

The frst age of security is the spiritual age and corresponds to the frst sense taken on by the term “security” in the West. The word “security” derives from the Latin securitas, which can be deconstructed into sine curae: without troubles, without cares. The Greek equivalent, a-taraxia, also means without worries, without unrest. Security designates, in its frst problematization, the mental state of the wise man that has attained defnitive serenity through a series of appropriate spiritual exercises. Here, security has a spiritual meaning, rather than a political one. (17-18)

The goal is to reach in this way a perfect mastery of oneself and of one’s emotions, to constitute a strong ego that would be able to act in the world and confront the world’s hazards without ever allowing oneself to become destabilized. This Stoic security designates the stability of a subject who does not allow him- or herself to be moved by anything and who has at his or her disposal spiritual means that are powerful enough to prevail over all of the world’s misfortunes. This frst sense of security as serenity, as the condition of the wise man, as steadiness of disposition has been of great importance for our culture. (19)

It is important to understand that in this frst sense “security” does not refer to the feeling of being protected or to the absence of any danger, but instead to the capacity to maintain the tranquility of one’s soul in the middle of these dangers and to find the source of security exclusively within oneself. (19)

The second age of security is the imperial age, a concept that has often been suggested by Foucault, even if he never devoted any longer exploration to this problem. (19)

This synthesis between the ideas of Empire, peace, and security had already been prepared by the Roman Empire in the time of Nero when one could fnd coins engraved with the motto “pax et securitas.” But in the European Middle Ages this security, a propaganda theme in the Roman Empire, becomes a political program founded on a mystical hope. In millenarian doctrine, this thousand-year period before the Last Judgment will witness simultaneously the end of history and the disappearance of borders. Indeed, this period of peace and security presupposes the establishment of a single Empire, the Empire of the last days, which brings together all nations around one single faith and in one single political space. One sole flock, as these millennium texts repeat over and again, with one solitary shepherd. The great problem that confronts the medieval West is how to know who this last Emperor will be: will he be French (a new Charlemagne), German (a new Frederick), or might it even be the pope, leader of Christendom? (20)

For here security is Empire; security is the unifcation of worlds; security is the end of history. (20)

The third age of security corresponds to the history of Western Europe and the rise of political philosophies centered on the state of nature and the social contract, that is, Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, and Rousseau. (21)

This third age of security can be understood on the basis of the disappearance of the medieval dream of Empire, starting with the construction of a new political space composed of a plurality of sovereign states, each attempting to maintain its individual place in the midst of all the others, exemplifed by Westphalian Europe. Here it is no longer a question of security as a spiritual condition, nor of the myth of an Empire of the last days. Instead, the goal is to think the consistency of a nation-state in the midst of history. Security will be defned as the consistency of the state, which is simultaneously the consistency supplied by the state to the rights of its citizens and to the existence of its subjects, and the consistency that the state provides for itself as one political subject in relation to others. Indeed, the very meaning of the word “security” is immediately divided into internal security and external security. (21)

[…] all modern political philosophers want to give a double meaning to the word “nature”: it refers either to the savage immediacy of the state of nature, or to the conformity to Reason and God (natural law or laws). The creation of society and the institution of the state have as their purpose to make possible the application of the laws of nature understood as rational and divine laws: let ownership gained through labor be guaranteed, let the equality of all before the law be respected, let public freedom be preserved, let human solidarity be maintained and encouraged. In all these texts, security does not appear as a right among others, but as the very movement through which our natural dispositions must be assured, guaranteed, maintained, and all this against the eventual abuses of power by a biased, unjust state and against the influence of pressure groups representing particular interests. Security is the process through which consistency must be given by the state and by society to the fundamental, natural dispositions of man,
which, in the state of nature, are precarious and in vain. (22)

For a state, then, external security signifies the defense of its territorial integrity, the development of its military power, the necessity of alliances (which will always be fragile and reversible), the cynical calculation of its interests, the development of a systematic suspicion all other countries, and its ability to start wars or make peace as soon as its interests come into play. In expressions such as “nuclear security,” “UN Security Council,” or “collective security system” it is this sense of “security” which is predominant, and which has been predominant in Europe across the nineteenth century and up to the end of the Cold War. I refer to this sense of security as sovereign security. (22-23)

Biopolitics names the fourth age of security. […] The object of security has changed. The great statements of political realism named, as the principal object of security, the defense of the state’s territorial integrity, which may require the sacrifce of citizens. The doctrine of human security instead proclaims insistently that living populations and individuals ought to constitute the new object of security. They are what must be protected: what is sacred is no longer the sovereignty of the state, but the life of the individual. From here arises the principle of the right to interference, or what international institutions today defne as the “responsibility to protect.” (23)

As soon as the state is no longer the frst and fnal object of security, everything that is involved in the life of civil populations becomes an object of security. In this manner, one speaks today of “nutritional security” and “energy security.” The chief characteristic of these new objects of security is that they are constituted by flows: the flow of food, of energy, but also of images and of data (and, by simple extension, one speaks of “traffic security,” “information security,” “internet security,” etc.). (23-24)

This redistribution of objects also involves a redistribution of the principal actors of security. Previously, the state constituted itself simultaneously as the sole object and sole subject of security. Once the object of security is seen as constituted by civil populations, or by various flows, the principal actors of security change as well. One witnesses a double movement that leads constantly to the delegitimization of the state as sole actor of security: on the one hand, a privatization of security in which private companies and organisms present themselves as specialists in the control of a given flow, and on the other hand, a humanitarianization of security in which the protection of civil populations will fall under the aegis of humanitarian organizations that do not, unlike states, seek to protect one or more given sets of political subjects, but strive to come to the aid of civil populations that are at risk of death, no matter what the nature of this risk may be. (24)

After the Second World War, through the work of Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler (and later through the work of Franz Veldman and the school of haptonomy), an idea took shape in contemporary psychology that security is to be defned as the internal construction of the subject: security is what allows the child to grow up successfully. From here on child psychology is redefned as a technique for making the child secure. Security is understood simultaneously as protection—that is, the child must feel surrounded by a protective barrier, safe from external threats—and as the control of flow, since security is based on the regularity of flows of food and a regulated exchange, between parent and child, of the flows of communication and affection. It is striking the way in which the question of security is no longer posed in terms of closure as in the modern age, where the two symbols of security were the prison, for internal security, and the border, for external security, but, instead, in terms of the control of circulations and exchanges. The key sites of security are no longer borders defining the spaces of states, but, within the territory itself, airports and railway stations, that is, the nodal points of communication and exchange. The problem becomes one of “traceability”: the ability to determine, at any given moment, what is moving, where it is coming from, where it is going, what it is doing in its current place, and if it actually has a right of access to the
network in which it is moving or if its use of the network is unauthorized. (25)

This new definition of security thus produces a continuous stream of threats, whether these are economic, climactic, social, ecological, political, hygienic, medical, or nutritional. Everything is part of one single continuum: natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist attacks, civil wars, rivalries between crime syndicates vying for the control of illicit traffcking in arms, drugs, people, climate change, poverty and unemployment, and so on. Today, all these threats are considered as risks to society understood in the broadest possible sense. In the interior of states, this continuum of threats is produced through the concept of “global security” which stands to a given population as “human security” stands to the whole of humanity, and which entails, in France and elsewhere, the fusion of all those institutional security authorities that had heretofore been separate. (26)

The biopolitical age of security has led to this great equivalence of all threats. This continuity and equalization entail the effacement of figures such as the worker, the citizen, the patriot, and so forth. All of them disappear for the beneft of the living individual whose vital nucleus must be secured, and nothing exists outside of the great community of living bodies, the security of which will be the responsibility of private organisms acting with the blessing of the state. (26)

The suspect must be distinguished from the enemy, who typically belongs to the third age of security. The enemy comes from the exterior and by the very fact of his threat patches up the holes in the national community. The enemy is identifiable and definable: he is a calculating and rational agent. The suspect, however, is by definition non-locatable and unpredictable. He is here, close at hand, and his threatening presence turns me into a stranger even to my closest neighbors. We live in an age of suspicion and distrust: suspect individuals, suspicious packages, suspect food. This generalized distrust appears as the shadowy side of globalization. On the other hand, one finds the victim. The new dispositif of security turns the individual, rather than the state, into a sacred object. Thus it is the suffering of the individual, his victimized condition, which now becomes scandalous. This figure of the victim makes the biopolitical security function through a new regime of affects that turn on compassion, which for its part is triggered by the various stagings offered by the media. Security, pity, image: this is the new articulation, different from the old system of sovereignty which drove national security through heroism and narrative. (27)

Spiritual security presupposes spiritual vigilance: the vigilance of the wise man who pays careful attention to his spiritual capacities and means of support, as well as to his possible weaknesses, as studied by Foucault in Hermeneutics of the Subject as one of the aspects of the care of the self. Imperial security presupposes paternal solicitude: the Emperor watches over his subjects like the shepherd over his flock, with that kindly care studied by Foucault in his writings on pastoral government. Sovereign security presupposes centralized surveillance of internal and external enemies, all submitted to the total gaze of the state as in Bentham’s Panopticon, the kingdom of spies. Biopolitical security implies flow control: the control of movements and communications, but in a decentralized fashion, depending on competing transnational networks, which immediately raises the question of access: who will have the right of access to any given network to control or redistribute any given flow? (27)

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)

Maria Muhle “A Genealogy of Biopolitics”

November 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Muhle, Maria 2014. A Geneaology of Biopolitics: The Notion of Life in Canguilhem and Foucault. – Lemm, Vanessa; Vatter, Miguel (eds). The Government of Life. Foucault, Biopolitics and Neoliberalism. New York: Fordham University Press, 77-97.

 

[…] either the analysis of biopower is structurally linked to an analysis of the regime of politics as a permanent state of exception, or it is subtended with a “positive” politics of life that thwarts the negative” power over life. Roberto Esposito calls this polarity of the notion of biopolitics an “insurmountable oscillation” between a positive and productive reading of the relation between politics and life and another negative and tragic reading implied by Foucault’s writing itself. While the latter interpretation awards life with an intrinsic power that resists biopower, such as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt propose, the former, proposed by Giorgio Agamben, radicalizes the thanato- political aspect in the notion of “bare life.” (78)

 

Foucault operates with a notion of life that he does not determine: life is a correlate of the techniques and strategies of power and knowledge. It lacks any ontological status and is itself “produced” by the power–knowledge constellation, or, to use the famous formula of The Order of Things, life emergesin the passage between natural history and biology, that is, in the epistemic break which occurs around 1800. This episteme emerges because of an archeological dislocation

that introduces the notion of “or ga niza tion” as fundamental to the study of the living and replaces the “tableau” of natural history by the constitutive opposition between the organic (the living) and the inorganic. This archeological dislocation permits to think of life as fundamentally dynamic: life is the polarity or tension between the two poles of the organic and the inorganic. It is here, Foucault explains, that a definition of life through death, that is, as “re sis tance to death”— such as the French anatomist and physiologist Xavier Bichat has proposed— becomes thinkable. Life— one could say paraphrasing and transposing Canguilhem’s definition of the normal— is a dynamic and thus a polemical notion, since it is formed in the tension between these different poles; it is a polar movement between tendencies of self- preservation and tendencies of self- transgression. (80)

 

The biopo liti cal body produced by the sovereign power is identified with this bare life, zoe, that according to Aristotle is distinguished from qualifi ed life, bios. Bare life, in Agamben’s understanding, would then be the transcendental origin of modern politics and there would not be any structural difference (even though there are historical differences) between the functioning of sovereign power and the biopo liti cal techniques. Bare life is the negation of any qualification, and therefore it is a transhistorical notion, an ontological category. Instead of tracing the discontinuities in the succession of the forms of power and knowledge, Agamben pretends to reveal the hidden or invisible elements that determine everyform of power latently. (83)

 

The articulation of power that governs the living thus supposes a knowledge of the living. In the epistemic conjuncture in which biopolitics emerges, this knowledge is articulated by medicine and biology at the beginning of the nineteenth century, both of which are related to a specific vitalist thought. Life is defined through its fundamental variability, through its possibility of deviation and error. And it is in this deviation or erring that life appears as fundamentally living, as bearing a vital dynamics. What is at play here is thus a dynamicnotion of life that nevertheless is not subsumable under a mere teleology of the organic as Kant suggests in the modus of the “as if,” nor a specific vitalist conception of the dynamics of life as an unitarian principle. At stake is the understanding of life as fundamentally dynamic anderratic, life as polarized between different dynamics of the living— the self- preservation of the organic and the self- creation of the vital that goes beyond the mere preservation of an organic equilibrium. The movement of self- creation is not to be disconnected from the self- preservative movement: life, as it becomes thematized around 1800, is neither pure transgression nor pure self- preservation, but defines itself in the tension between these two. (84)

 

For Canguilhem, Bichat’s major merit consists in having acknowledged the productivity of the irregularities, of the fallibilities of life, in short, of the “negative dimension”— the negative vital values such as anomaly, illness, death—for the living. (85)

 

Canguilhem thus adopts at once from Bichat the epistemological thesis that the knowledge of life is based on the analysis of the morbid phenomena— life is only acknowledgeable through its errors, which refer every living being to its constitutive imperfection and incompleteness, and the determination of life as a dynamic that tends to a “natural type,” to a norm. (85)

 

The value of life, that is, life as value, life in its inner normativity, is thus founded on its own uncertainty or precariousness (précarité). The normative dynamics of life unfold between the two poles: the preservation of the internal organic equilibrium (of the milieu intérieur in Claude Bernard’s words), and the permanent challenge to this very equilibrium. (85)

 

Against this background, the main hypothesis of this article is that in order to govern life, the forms of biopower imitateor mimetizethe proper dynamics of life, that is, its polarity between life and death, or between auto-transgression and auto- conservation, between the normal (one should read normative) and the pathological. Life has thus to be understood in a double sense, as the objectof post- sovereign techniques of power, and, in its dynamical dimension, as their operational model. (86)

 

Hence the biopolitical– governmental techniques adopt the internal logic of life as the model of their proper dynamics and establish a relation of internal exterioritywith the vital phenomena. The norms of biopower operate as ifthey were vital, that is, they adopt the vital functioning of the pro cesses of life as their model and exteriorize them in the social norms. This hypothesis can be accounted for through two main notions that Foucault introduces in his biopo liti cal analysis: the “population” and the “milieu” that both have a specific constitution since they both operate at the intersection between the natural and the artificial, the organic (living) and the inorganic (physical), the vital and the social elements. It is in the production of a population and of a milieu as natural–artificial phenomena that life becomes governable. (87)

 

In this sense, even the formulation “power over life” that Foucault introduces in The History of Sexuality: Volume Imay appear ambiguous since it supposes an exteriority between the processes of life and power. It is not until the lectures on governmentality that this ambiguity will be completely resolved in what I have been calling the amplified notion of biopolitics; that is, in a form of power that is always internally linked to life both as its object and its functional model: a government of life. (87)

 

When taking seriously the central hypothesis of the present text— that a reformulated and amplified notion of biopolitics is one whose techniques refer to life in two ways, taking it not only as its object, but also as its functional model — we can state that the biopo liti cal norms not only applyto the phenomena of life but moreover that they mimetizeits dynamics, that is, its normativity such as Canguilhem presents it. (88)

 

The modus operandiof the “new,” post- sovereign techniques of power is to frame the hazardous play, the vital dynamics, the aleatory of life in the general population. They do so without repression or negation of the phenomena themselves, by allowing for an apparent freedom, that nevertheless needs to remain within specific limits that even though they can be very wide, are not to be exceeded: the post- sovereign techniques of power pathologizelife’s vital normativity in the way Canguilhem has defined it, by reducing it to normality. (91)

 

Life is no longer perceived as fundamentally negative, insufficient, and needy, but as a positive dynamic that power mechanisms can adopt in order to govern the living more efficiently. It is not life itself that becomes the object of biopower, but the biological link of the living (the population) to the materiality within which it exists, that is, its hybrid constitution that oscillates between the biological, natural, living dimension and the permeability to an artificial, social, and material manipulation within the milieu, a manipulation through power that appears as ifit was natural. (92-93)

 

To conclude, it is thus possible to affirm, from an epistemic perspective, that the techniques of biopolitics participate in the very movement of redefinition of the notion of life. They do not “confront” themselves to a life that exists beyond its historical constellations of power–knowledge, but they “invade” a life that is saturated with these very techniques and constellations, a correlative life, that consequently lacks an ontological status, a life that is undetermined and open to determinations and normalizations from the outside: a hybrid, natural– artificial life. Consequently it is not only the conditions of possibility of a biologythat appear around 1800, but also the conditions of possibility of a biopolitics. (93)

Thomas Nail “Biopower and Control”

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Nail, Thomas 2016. Biopower and Control. – Nail, Thomas; Morar, Nicolae (eds). Between Deleuze and Foucault. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 247-263.

 

The first argument for the difference between biopower and control is that they refer to different types of content. Biopower, it is argued, is defined by “the political control over life and living beings,” while control is defined by explicitly economic and informational content. (249)

 

Control is defined as non-biopower. Despite their shared agreement on the content-based difference between biopower and  control,  Shaviro  and  Hardt  and  Negri  draw  opposite conclusions  from  this difference.  For  Shaviro,  this  difference  renders  biopower  outmoded and  useless, whereas for Hardt and Negri this is precisely what makes them complementary. “The society of control,” they say, “is able to adopt the biopolitical context as its exclusive terrain of reference.”Thus, in this first definition biopower and control are different because biopower is the government over the living and control is the government over the non-living. (250)

 

The second argument for the difference between biopower and control is that they have different formal characteristics. Biopower, it is argued, is defined by “the managementof living beings,” while control is defined by “a modulation, indifferent to life.” Joshua Kurz, for example, argues in his essay “(Dis)locating Control: Transmigration,  Precarity  and  the  Governmentality  of  Control,”  that “what we are seeing [in contemporary politics] is not a ‘population management’ paradigm (i.e. bio-politics), but one of ‘population modulation’ (i.e. control).” “Management,” according to Kurz, „is  teleological,  outcome-oriented;  it  is  about  accomplishing  goals  set along  a predetermined  path  toward  a  predetermined  end.  Modulation,  however,  is about speed, the amplification or sublimation of turbulence, rhythm; it is about amplifying and redirecting flows whose cause exists outside of the purview of modulation. In short, modulation has no goals, no plan . . . Management and modulation are qualitatively different.“ (250)

 

Thus, the third argument for the difference between biopower and control is that they  are  both  similar  and  different. This  position  is  equivocal  because  its  proponents are not clear as to what these particular similarities and differences are exactly. The first proponents of this position are Michel Hardt and Antonio Negri. They write together in their book Empire, that biopower is the “context,” “terrain of reference,” or “realm” in which the new paradigm of control societies take place. “The society of control,” they say, “is able to adopt the biopolitical context as its exclusive terrain of reference.” “In the passage from disciplinary society to the society of control,” they say, “a new paradigm of power is realized which is defined by the technologies that reorganize society as a realm of biopower.” Finally, they say, “these concepts of the society of control and biopower both describe central aspects of the concept of Empire.” (252)

 

“A biopolitics of populations,” Deleuze says in his 8 April lecture on Foucault, „what can we call this third [type of power]? We call it, following the American author, Burroughs, a formation of control power. We have therefore: sovereign power, disciplinary power, and control power . . . I am authorized to say this because of Foucault’s admiration and familiarity with Burroughs, even though, to my knowledge, he never spoke of him in his writings, his [influence] on him was  great,  notably  the  analyses  Burroughs  made  of  social  control  in  modern societies after the war [WWII]. After the war this had really struck Foucault.“ (254)

 

Before the publication of La Volonté de Savoir(1976), Burroughs had also published an essay called “The Limits of Control” (1975) that described an idea of control power as a supple and non-totalizing power that works directly on life. “All control systems,” Burroughs says, “try to make control as tight as possible, but at the same time, if they succeeded completely there would be nothing left to control . . . Life is will(motivation) and the workers would no longer be alive, perhaps literally.” Thus control, for Burroughs, is always a limited and flexible control of life without totalizing or destroying it. “Control,” he says, “needs opposition or acquiescence; otherwise, it ceases to be control.” “In fact, the more completely hermetic and seemingly successful a control system is, the more vulnerable it becomes.” Such a system, Burroughs continues, “would be completely disoriented and shattered by even one person who tampered with the control [system].” (254)

 

Following Burroughs analysis of the flexible  social control over life, Deleuze can then make the following claim about Foucault: „it seems to me that it’s truly a misinterpretation to make Foucault into a thinker who  privileges  confinement.  On  the  contrary:  sometimes  he subordinates confinement  to  a  more  profound  function  of  exteriority,  and  sometimes  he announces the end of confinement in favor of another kind of function of control altogether, defined by open and not closed functions.“ (255)

 

Biopower, Deleuze says, is defined by the “management of life and populations distributed in an open [i.e. non-totalized, or smooth (lisse)] space.” But what is a population? A population, Deleuze says, is “a large multiplicity without assignable limits.” “We are in the age of the biopolitics of populations,” Deleuze says,  “where the population can just as easily be the population of grains, sheep, vineyards, as of men; all of them can be taken as populations.” While the subject of sovereign power, according to Deleuze is in the end, the sovereign, (i.e. God) and the subject of discipline is man, the subject of biopower is the living within man. (255)

 

Control power, according to Deleuze, is what comes after disciplinary power and is  defined  by  the  calculus  of  probabilities  in  Foucault’s  work.  Deleuze  defines biopower in exactly the same way. “Biopolitics,” Deleuze says, “never stops rendering probable, it aims to render probable the rise in birth rates, for example; it aims to oversee [surveiller], it is a management . . . implies a management of probable phenomena, births, deaths, marriages, etc.” “We see here,” Deleuze  continues, „the  importance  of  the  difference  between  discipline  and  biopolitics. Biopolitics takes place in an open space of great multiplicities whose limits cannot be assigned. They are only manageable according to the calculus of probabilities, by the development of a calculus of probabilities in the sense of the social control of probabilities, probabilities of marriage in a nation, probabilities of death, probabilities of birth, etc.“ (256)

 

In  conclusion,  we  can  locate  for  the  first  time,  in  Deleuze’s  lectures  on Foucault,  a  clear  equivalence  between  biopower  and  control  in  both  content and form. Both take the life of populations as their object and the management of probabilities as their defining formal characteristic. (257)

 

Whether Deleuze makes explicit the idea of control implicit in Foucault’s concept of biopower, or Foucault makes explicit the idea of biopower in Burroughs’ concept of control, the best supported textual conclusion we can make at this point in the debate is that biopower and control are synonymous in both content and form. Both take the life of populations as their content and the management of probability as their form. But the statistical control over the life of populations should not be understood in the limited sense of biological beings alone. There is also a life of the city, a life of crime, political life, economic life, etc. Foucault and Deleuze are both quite clear in their examples of biopolitics that it includes the management of city-planning, money, transportation, crime, information, communication, water, sheep, grain and the climate, just as much as it is the statistical management of human births, deaths, marriages and illness. These are all living forces insofar as they  are  ultimately  uncertain  and  non-totalizable phenomena.  Accordingly,  they cannot  be  managed  as  individuals,  but  only  as  populations  with  non-assignable limits: as multiplicities, as zones of frequency. (261)