Posts Tagged ‘Michel Foucault’

Judith Revel “Identity, Nature, Life. Three Biopolitical Deconstructions”

February 21, 2018 Leave a comment

Revel, Judith 2009. Identity, Nature, Life. Three Biopolitical Deconstructions. Theory, Culture & Society 26(6): 45–54.

[…] from the 1960s, the radical critique of identities directs us to the analysis of power that principally takes the form of analyses of knowledges; yet, there is also, inseparably as its other side, an interrogation of the modes of subjectivation that could attempt to escape the objective frame of power and allow non-selfsame (non-identitaire) subjectivities to emerge. Of course, the trace of this non-selfsame is not easily discernible in Histoire de la folie or in Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things), though it is quite explicit in the texts that Foucault devoted to ‘literary’ figures in the wake of his analysis of Raymond Roussel, as I have has argued elsewhere (Revel, 2004). The problem then becomes that of how to prevent a subjective individuation from being immediately identified, that is, objectified and subjected to the system of knowledges/powers (savoirs/pouvoirs) in which it is inscribed. (46-47)

There is for Foucault a clear distinction to be made between what the relations of power construct in the form of an identity (that is, an objectified, reified identity, reduced to a number of definite characteristics, one that becomes the object of specific practices and knowledges), and the way in which subjectivity itself constructs its relation to itself. In the first case it is a matter of a subjection that fixes identities on the basis of a number of determinations that are supposed to ‘speak the truth of the subject’, such as when sexuality is transformed into ‘symptoms’ circumscribing the individual. In the second case, the refusal of this reduction of subjectivity to identity leads Foucault to theorize another form of the relation to oneself and others, namely, in the concept of a way of life (mode de vie). (48)

Foucault: “For me, this notion of way of life is important. . . . A way of life can be shared amongst individuals of different ages, statuses, social conduct. It can give rise to intense relations that are nothing like those which are institutionalized, and it seems to me that a way of life can generate a culture and an ethics. To be gay is not about identifying oneself with the psychological traits and the visible masks of the homosexual, but to seek to define and develop a way of life.” (1994c: 165). (48)

It is clear from this statement that Foucault understands a way of life as a set of relations that does not exclude this or that difference but preserves them as such in the process of relating; it is thus the bringing into the common (mis en commun) of differences at the level of difference, and the constitution on this differential ground as foundation of something which is of the order of a commonality, or that partakes of differences. This is at the opposite end of all the theorizations of the relation to the other that essentially operate through a decentring of oneself towards the other – oneself as another. Foucault is trying to work out how it is possible to live the relation to the other in such a way that differences – the self, the other – are neither reified, objectified, reduced to the least common denominator (such as a contrived universalization, or a reduction to sameness), or what one must rely upon to have access to the other. (48)

In this view, the conduct of existence is always inclusive of a relation to others, that is, it is an apprenticeship, a mutual construction and a subjectivation. It both forbids a return to individualism (such as the idea of the individual as the free entrepreneur of him/herself) and resists every temptation towards the naturalization, substantialization or essentialization of the self. (49)

Every singularity is irreducible because its emergence and becoming occurs in a determinate context, inside a web of relations and contacts that necessarily include other subjectivities also in process of becoming. New modes of life emerge as part of that process, but relations of power and the effects of dispositifs continue to operate. Foucault rejected the idea that there could be an outside of power, since resistance can only take place from inside a complex web in which resistance and power, subjectivation and objectification, strategies of liberation and subjection, substantialization and the logic of becoming, are interwoven. It follows from this analysis that nothing can transform the motor of resistance – the process of becoming of subjectivity – into an impersonal force, a ‘third person’, or a disqualification of singularities, as indicated in some readings of Foucault in Italy; the arguments above indicate that such
readings lead to a political impasse. (49)

Because of this, I think that in some admittedly different readings of Foucault by Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito or Paolo Virno, the argument for the passage to singularity by way of a third party (which eliminates attributes), the impersonal or the pre-individual obeys nothing more than a logical necessity and rests on an error, namely the inversion of the relation between commonality and a de-subjectivized singularity. The political cost of conceptualizing the common as the reassuring residue when one removes a layer of individualization from singularity is a new post-modern metaphysics. The common is not the reassuring starting point for the production of the political but its outcome; by eliminating singularity, one eliminates what makes resistance possible. (49)

[…] if biololitics puts to work a new form of regulation, namely the norm, that relies on the idea of a ‘biological’ naturality of life – which social medicine claims to preserve and protect – and if biopolitics inscribes in the norm new techniques of management of both individuals and populations, it means that relations of power in the 19th century have put in place an unprecedented reference to naturality in order to transform the latter into a new instrument of control. (50-51)

It can be seen from the above that Foucault thought it important to make clear three issues. First, life is not exclusively biological, as we saw in the discussion of ways of life as strategies of resistance in his analyses of subjectivity and ethics in the 1980s. Second, this means that powers over life or biopowers are not biological alone but include dispositifs of subjection and exploitation, of captation and regulation, of the control and ordering of existence in the wide sense. Third, this ‘biologization’ of life, now extended through biotechnologies and genetic engineering, appears to be, paradoxically, at the centre of some Italian readings of the biopolitical. (51)


Scott Yates and Dave Hiles “Towards a ‘Critical Ontology of Ourselves’?”

February 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Yates, Scott; Hiles, Dave 2010. Towards a “Critical Ontology of Ourselves”? Foucault, Subjectivity and Discourse Analysis. Theory & Psychology 20(1): 52–75.

Power produces more than knowledge and systems of social apparatus, however. It also “produces the very form of the subject” (Foucault, 1989, p. 158). The individual is not a pre-given phenomenological subject, an “elementary nucleus” (Foucault, 1980) onto which power fastens, or some form of original sovereign will standing opposite its antithesis of a power that constrains and limits it (Foucault, 1984/1988). It is, instead, “one of the prime effects of power that certain bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses, certain desires, come to be identified and constituted as individuals” (Foucault, 1980, p. 98). (56)

Foucault’s strong emphasis on this dissolution of the sovereign, ahistorical phenomenological subject is what gives rise to readings of his work as denying wholesale the existence of subjectivity (and even, in a wider sense, human agency; McWhorter, 2003). However, as McWhorter (2003) points out, Foucault’s conception of subjectivity is more sophisticated than this, embodying a rejection only of an ahistorical subjectivity alongside a deeper concern for the constitution of forms of subjectivity as actually experienced. (57)

[…] whilst disturbing the concept of the autonomous, self-thematizing subject, Heidegger’s thinking contains a central awareness of Dasein’s agency and experience and its potential for choosing ways of being. As Dreyfus (2004) points out, such a conception had no parallel in the early work of Foucault, but this was something he later came to regret and correct. (58)

Power is “exercised over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free” (p. 221). Subjects in power relations are “faced with a field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several reactions … may be realized” (p. 221). At the same time, however, it must be acknowledged that power relations are often “fixed in such as way that they are perpetually asymmetrical” (Foucault, 1984/1997a, p. 292), and there is only “extremely limited” margin for action, freedom, or resistance. (59)

These technologies of the self coalesce around and take hold of specific thoughts, desires, behaviours, or practices, and are related to imperatives to shape one’s conduct in specific ways. It is here that Foucault talked about “government” (e.g., 1982, 1993) in a broad sense to refer to the intersection of strategies by others to govern one’s conduct alongside the actions one performs in relating to and governing oneself. (61)

This is well expressed by Hook (2007). Drawing on Foucault and Rose, he differentiates these technologies of the self from technologies of subjectivity, which refer to broad sets of regulative practices that bring the ambitions and strategies connected to various forms of government of individuals into alignment with individuals’ own ideals. They can be thought of as forms of subjectification that “involve the operation of a type of power that connects the norms of authorities to the motivating ideals we have of ourselves” (Hook, 2007, p. 246). (61)

There is thus a gap between technologies of subjectivity and practices of the self. Foucault’s work implies a degree of freedom in practices of the self, but it must also be noted that they do not entail an uncomplicated zone of liberation” (Hook, 2007, p. 248)—the project of ethical self-relationship and self-formation becomes thinkable only against the background of the systems of thought and the technologies of subjectivity available within a culture. (61)

Michel Foucault “Sex, Power and the Politics of Identity”

February 2, 2018 Leave a comment

Foucault, Michel 2000. Sex, Power, and the Politics of Identity. In: Rabinow, Paul (ed). Essential Works of Foucault 1954–1984. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 163–173.

Sexuality is a part of our behavior. It’s a part of our world freedom. Sexuality is something that we ourselves create – it is our own creation, and much more than the discovery of a secret side of our desire. We have to understand that with our desires, through our desires, go new forms of relationships, new forms of love, new forms of creation. Sex is not a fatality: it’s a possibility for creative culture. (163)

Q. Is it significant that there are, to a large degree, identities forming around new sexual practices, like S&M? These identities help in exploring such practices and defending the right to engage in them. But are they also limiting in regards to the possibilities of individuals?

M.F. Well, if identity is only a game, if it is only a procedure to have relations, social and sexual – pleasure relationships that create new friendships, it is useful. But if identity becomes the problem of sexual existence, and if people think that they have to “uncover” their “own identity,” and that their own identity has to become the law, the principle, the code of their existence; if the perennial question they ask is “Does this thing conform to my identity?” then, I think, they will turn back to a kind of ethics very close to the old heterosexual virility. If we are asked to relate to the question of identity, it must be an identity to our unique selves. But the relationships we have to have with ourselves are not ones of identity, rather, they must be relationships of differentiation, of creation, of innovation. To be the same is really boring. We must not exclude identity if people find their pleasure through this identity, but we must not think of this identity as an ethical universal rule. (166)

[…] if there was no resistance, there would be no power relations. Because it would simply be a matter of obedience. You have to use power relations to refer to the situation where you’re not doing what you want. So resistance comes first, and resistance remains superior to the forces of the process; power relations are obliged to change with resistance. So I think that resistance is the main word, the key word, in this dynamic. (167)

[…] I think that resistance is a part of this strategic relationship of which power consists. Resistance really always relies upon the situation against which it struggles. (168)

Mika Ojakangas “Michel Foucault and the Enigmatic Origins of Bio-politics and Governmentality”

February 2, 2018 Leave a comment

Ojakangas, Mika 2012. Michel Foucault and the Enigmatic Origins of Bio-politics and Governmentality. History of the Human Sciences 25(1): 1–14.

But why then does he trace the origin of bio-political concern for populations back to the JudeoChristian tradition and does not say anything, for instance, about Plato’s well-known demographic and eugenic considerations in The Republic and The Laws? It is precisely in the Platonic texts, rather than in any passages of the New Testament, not to mention the writings of the Church Fathers, that we first encounter eugenic bio-politics in the western tradition. In the Republic (1997b: 459–60), Plato writes: “The best men must have sex with the best women as frequently as possible, while the opposite is true of the most inferior men and women, and, second, that if our herd [poimnion] is to be of the highest possible quality, the former’s offspring must be reared but not the latter’s. And this must all be brought about without being noticed by anyone except the rulers, so that our herd of guardians remains as free from dissension as possible.” (4)

Moreover, while he maintains that Plato’s view, especially in The Statesman, is eventually negative as regards the shepherd as the ideal type of the magistrate (ibid.: 2007: 140), he leaves the whole question of Platonic eugenics aside. He does so even though in The Laws, the shepherd is depicted as the ideal type of the magistrate, in addition to which this shepherd is supposed to ‘weed out the unhealthy and inferior stock’ (Plato, 1997a: 5.735), rather than, like the ideal Christian shepherd, taking care of ‘each and every one’. (5)

Certainly, Foucault also knew his Aristotle, who in Politics gives advice for pregnant women on how they should care for their bodies and mothers on how they should rear their children, adding that there should be a law according to which infanticide should be performed for any children born with deformities – a practice that was widespread in the ancient world of the Greeks and Romans: “As to exposing or rearing the children born, let there be a law that no deformed child shall be reared; but on the ground of number of children, if the regular customs hinder any of those born being exposed, there must be a limit fixed to the procreation of offspring, and if any people have a child as a result of intercourse in contravention of these regulations, abortion must be practiced on it before it has developed sensation and life; for the line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive.” (Aristotle, 1994: 7.1335b) (5)

In Sparta, every newborn child was brought, according to Plutarch (Lycurgus), into the city hall to be examined by the elders of the tribes: “Offspring was not reared at the will of the father, but was taken and carried by him to a place called Lesche, where the elders of the tribes officially examined the infant, and if it was well-built and sturdy, they ordered the father to rear it, and assigned it one of the nine thousand lots of land; but if it was ill-born and deformed, they sent it to the so-called Apothetae, a chasm-like place at the foot of Mount Tay ¨getus, in the conviction that the life of that which nature had not well equipped at the very beginning for health and strength, was of no advantage either to itself or the state.” (Plutarch, 1914: 16.1–2) (5)

In the Roman world, the law of infanticide can be found in the Twelve Tables: a child conspicuously deformed was to be immediately destroyed (cito necatus insignis ad deformitatem puer esto), as Cicero reports in De legibus (III.8). In De ira (1928b: I.15), Seneca also mentions this ancient but still ongoing Roman practice, asserting that it is not an unreasonable one: ‘We drown the weakling and the monstrosity. It is not passion, but reason, to separate the useless from the fit.’ (5)

A middle Stoic philosopher, Musonius Rufus, for instance, criticized the practice of infanticide and exposure, implying that it was contrary to nature (see Harris, 1994: 15; Cameron, 1932: 110), but what is more important here is that they were Christians who launched a rigorous campaign against the ancient but ongoing practice of eugenics, be it private or public. We find this critical attitude in Athenagoras’ Supplicatio (35.6), Clemens of Alexandria’s Stromata (II.18), and Origen’s Contra Celsum (VIII.55) among many others. Lactantius’ remarks in his Divine Institutes (1886: 5.15) are illustrative. First, he makes the comment about people ‘who either strangle their own children or, if they are too pious for that, expose them’. Although this reveals that Lactantius differentiates murder and exposure, he immediately asserts that people cannot be thought of as innocent if they are offering up their own children, since it is very likely that they would end up in brothels or slavery. (6)

The Theodosian code (XI.27) from AD 375 made infanticide a crime. (7)

Another widespread and usually approved practice in the pagan world which became a target of the Christian authors from the very beginning of Christianity was abortion (see Gray, 2001: 313–37). According to Aristotle, for instance, if the legal limit fixed for the procreation of offspring is exceeded, abortion must be practised, whereas the Apocalypse of Peter (1993: 8) declares that women who ‘have caused their children to be born untimely’ are buried up to their necks in a pit of excrement near a great flame in hell while the aborted children sit nearby crying to God, with flashes of lightning going out from the children and piercing their mothers’ eyes. (7)

Indeed, the majority of the early Fathers condemned abortion and the Council of Elvira finally confirmed this view in 305, calling for the excommunication of women committing abortion and declaring that they were not to be readmitted even on their deathbeds (Noonan, 1970: 14). (7)

Whereas the Jews and the Christians announced that abortion was a crime because of the absolute value of human life, since ‘man’ was created in the image of God, the Hellenistic and Roman authors maintained that abortion, if the child was healthy, was a crime against state and society: the foetus needed to be protected for economic and military reasons (see Schiff, 2002: 16). (7)

Did Foucault suggest that we cannot identify modern eugenics with the ancient eugenics because modern eugenics does not derive from the Platonic ideas of selection but from the Christian politics of universal care for individuals? If this is the case, I believe Foucault was fundamentally wrong. Yet I do not believe this is the case. We must, therefore, pose a second question: if the Christian universal pastorate is the origin of bio-power, is modern eugenics, including negative eugenics, then a perversion of the pastorate and, more precisely, does it signify a return of sovereign power in the immanence of pastoral bio-power? I believe this is closer to Foucault’s opinion, since he sees modern societies as characterized by what he calls a ‘demonic combination’ of bio-power and sovereign power (Foucault, 2000a: 311). (8)

What then, according to Foucault, is the difference between governmentality and bio-power? While bio-power is power over the life-processes of individuals and populations, governmentality relates to those political technologies by means of which power, be it bio-power or not, has been exercised in the West since the 17th century. (9)

[…] pastorate was not supposed to be a political technology of Christians, whereas when we read Plato, it is precisely the citizens of the polis that must be constantly watched over by the political shepherd: ‘Nothing, so far as possible, shall be left uncontrolled [aphroureˆtos]’, as he writes in The Laws (1997a: 6.760a). (10)

Indeed, we can find many other issues and objectives that were characteristic of the early modern governmental technologies of the police in plenty of Greek and Roman authors from Xenophon’s Oeconomicus to Cicero’s De legibus and beyond, but hardly in the writings of the Church Fathers. Censors, as Cicero writes in De legibus (III.7), should keep count of the number of citizens, their age, children, families and property; they should look after the temples, roads, aqueducts, public finance and taxation; they should control the mores of the people, and so on and so forth, thus neatly summarizing the tasks of the real censors of Rome up to the end of the Roman republic after which this office was reserved to the emperors (see Mommsen, 1887–8: 358–459; Suolahti, 1963: 25–66). (10)

If Christianity introduces something new in this configuration, it is the strict prohibition of negative eugenics – and rather than making a contribution to the classical governmental rationalities and practices, Christianity marked a point of their gradual deterioration until the reinvention of the classical culture during the Renaissance and early modern Europe. It is possible that there is a connection between the Christian theme of pastoral care (agape/caritas) and the early modern ideology of the police, whose duty was to take care of populations, but the means and the aims of the early modern police were not Christian but classical. (10)

Surely the Christian Church made universal ‘care’ (agape/caritas) the core of its social teaching and introduced a variety of rules and restrictions on marriage. Yet neither this care nor the marriage rules and restrictions had much to do with those considerations we find in the 18th-century treatises of Polizeiwissenschaft. The political dimension of the pastoral care found its expression in caring for the poor and the afflicted, while the rules and restrictions concerning marriage were based on particular interpretations of biblical teachings, not on the calculations of power, prosperity, happiness, or the order of the city. Instead, the rationale of the police was based precisely on these calculations: ‘The name Policey comes from the Greek word polis, a city, and should mean the good ordering of cities and of their civic institutions’, von Justi writes in the first paragraph of his Grundsa¨tze der Policeywissenschaft [Principles of Policy Science], originally published in 1756, adding in the second paragraph that Policey most generally includes all measures in the internal affairs of the country through which the general means (Vermo¨gen) of the state may be more permanently founded and increased, the energies (Kra¨fte) of the state better used, and in general the happiness of the community promoted. It is true that these are not entirely absent from the writings of the early Fathers, but there is nothing particularly Christian in these considerations. They originate in the governmental wisdom of the pre-Christian Graeco-Roman world. (11)

Michel Foucault “Labour, Life, Language”

August 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Foucault, Michel 2002. The Order of Things. An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London; New York: Routledge.

  1. Labour, Life, Language

Thus, European culture is inventing for itself a depth in which what matters is no longer identities, distinctive characters, permanent tables with all their possible paths and routes, but great hidden forces developed on the basis of their primitive and inaccessible nucleus, origin, causality, and history. From now on things will be represented only from the depths of this density withdrawn into itself, perhaps blurred and darkened by obscurity, but bound tightly to themselves, assembled or divided, inescapably grouped by the vigour that is hidden down below, in those depths. Visible forms, their connections, the blank spaces that isolate them and surround their outlines – all these will now be presented to our gaze only in an already composed state, already articulated in that nether darkness that is fomenting them with time. (274)


When we consider the organ in relation to its function, we see, therefore, the emergence of ‘resemblances’ where there is no ‘identical’ element; a resemblance that is constituted by the transition of the function into evident invisibility. It matters little, after all, that gills and lungs may have a few variables of form, magnitude, or number in common: they resemble one another because they are two varieties of that non-existent, abstract, unreal, unassignable organ, absent from all describable species, yet present in the animal kingdom in its entirety, which serves for respiration in general. (288)

When the Same and the Other both belong to a single space, there natural history; something like biology becomes possible when this unity of level begins to break up, and when differences stand out against the background of an identity that is deeper and, as it were, more serious than that unity. (288-289)

Animal species differ at their peripheries, and resemble each other at their centres; they are connected by the inaccessible, and separated by the apparent. Their generality lies in that which is essential to their life; their singularity in that which is most accessory to it. […] for multiplicity is apparent and unity is hidden. In short, living species ‘escape’ from the teeming profusion of individuals and species; they can be classified only because they are alive and on the basis of what they conceal. (291)

It is true that the Classical space, as we have seen, did not exclude the possibility of development, but that development did no more than provide a means of traversing the discreetly preordained table of possible variations. The breaking up of that space made it possible to reveal a historicity proper to life itself: that of its maintenance in its conditions of existence. Cuvier’s ‘fixism’, as the analysis of such a maintenance, was the earliest mode of reflecting upon that historicity, when it first emerged in Western knowledge. Historicity, then, has now been introduced into nature – or rather into the realm of living beings; but it exists there as much more than a probable form of succession; it constitutes a sort of fundamental mode of being. (300)

The plant held sway on the frontiers of movement and immobility, of the sentient and the non-sentient; whereas the animal maintains its existence on the frontiers of life and death. Death besieges it on all sides; furthermore, it threatens it also from within, for only the organism can die, and it is from the depth of their lives that death overtakes living beings. Hence, no doubt, the ambiguous values assumed by animality towards the end of the eighteenth century: the animal appears as the bearer of that death to which it is, at the same time, subjected; it contains a perpetual devouring of life by life. It belongs to nature only at the price of containing within itself a nucleus of anti-nature. Transferring its most secret essence from the vegetable to the animal kingdom, life has left the tabulated space of order and become wild once more. The same movement that dooms it to death reveals it as murderous. It kills because it lives. Nature can no longer be good. (302)

In relation to life, beings are no more than transitory figures, and the being that they maintain, during the brief period of their existence, is no more than their presumption, their will to survive. And so, for knowledge, the being of things is an illusion, a veil that must be torn aside in order to reveal the mute and invisible violence that is devouring them in the darkness. (303)

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)