Archive

Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Giorgio Agamben “The Sacrament of Language”

December 7, 2017 Leave a comment

Agamben, Giorgio 2011. The Sacrament of Language. An Archaeology of the Oath (Homo Sacer II, 3). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

[…] the issue here, above all, is the question, What is an oath? What is at stake in it, if it defines and calls into question man himself as a political animal? If the oath is the sacrament of political power, what is it in its structure and its history that has made it possible for it to be invested with such a function? What anthropological level – a decisive one in every sense – is implicated in it, so that all of man, in life and death, can be called to account in it and by it? (2)

Benveniste, 1948: “[The oath] is a particular modality of assertion, which supports, guarantees, and demonstrates, but does not found anything. Individual or collective, the oath exists only by virtue of that which it reinforces and renders solemn: a pact, an agreement, a declaration. It prepares for or concludes a speech act which alone possesses meaningful content, but it expresses nothing by itself. It is in truth an oral rite, often completed by a manual rite whose form is variable. Its function consists not in the affirmation that it produces, but in the relation that it institutes between the word pronounced and the potency invoked.” (B, The Expression of the Oath in Ancient Greece, 81-82, 4)

All the sources and scholars seem to agree that the oath’s primary function, in its various forms, is that of guaranteeing the truth and efficacy of language. (4)

It is possible […] not only that what was originally at issue in the oath was the guarantee of a promise or of the truthfulness of an affirmation but that the institution that we know today by that name contains the memory of a more archaic stage, in which it was concerned with the very consistency of human language and the very nature of humans as “speaking animals”. The “scourge” that it had to stem was not only the unreliability of men, incapable of staying true to their word, but a weakness pertaining to language itself, the capacity of words themselves to refer to things and the ability of men to make profession of their condition as speaking beings. (8)

The oath is, then, a verbal act that accomplishes a testimony – or a guarantee – independently by the very fact that it has taken place. The formula of Pindar cited above acquires here its full meaning: karteros horkos martys esto Zeus, “as a mighty oath, may Zeus be our witness”: Zeus is not a witness of the oath, but rather oath, witness, and god coincide in the utterance of the formula. As in Philo, the oath is a logos that is necessarily accomplished, and this is precisely the logos of God. The testimony is given by language itself and the god names a potentiality implicit in the very act of speech. The testimony that is in question in the oath must therefore be understood in a sense that has little to do with much of what we normally understand by this term. It concerns not the verification of a fact or an event but the very signifying power of language. (33)

Blasphemy presents us, then, with a phenomenon that is perfectly symmetrical to the oath, to understand which there is no need to drag in the biblical interdiction or the ambiguity of the sacred. Blasphemy is an oath, in which the name of a god is extracted from the assertorial or promissory context and is uttered in itself, in vain, independently of a semantic context. The name, which in the oath expresses and guarantees the connection between words and things and which defines the truthfulness and force of the logos, in blasphemy expresses the breakdown of this connection and the vanity of human language. The name of God, isolated and produced “in vain”, corresponds symmetrically to perjury, which separates words from things; oath and blasphemy, a bene-diction and male-diction, are co-originally implied in the very event of language. (40-41)

What the curse sanctions is the loosening of the correspondence between words and things that is in question in the oath. If the connection that unites language and the world is broken, the name of God, which expressed and guaranteed this connection based in blessing [bene-dicente], becomes the name of the curse [male-dizione], that is, of a word that has broken its truthful relation to things. (42)

If, in polytheism, the name assigned to the god named this or that event of language, this or that specific naming, this or that Sondergott, in monotheism God’s name names language itself. The potentially infinite dissemination of singular, divine events of naming gives way to the divinization of the logos as such, to the name of God as archi-event of language that takes place in names. (49)

It is a certainty, or better a “faith”, of this kind that is in question in the oath and in the name of God. The name of God names the name that is always and only true, that is, that experience of language that it is not possible to doubt. For man this experience is the oath. In this sense very name is an oath, and in every name a “faith” is in question, because the certainty of the name is not of an empirico-constative or logico-epistemic type but rather always puts in play the commitment and praxis of men. To speak is, above all, to swear, to believe in the name. (54)

It is precisely the status of the oath that we have sought so far to reconstruct that allows us, in fact, to understand in a new light the theory of performatives. They represent in language a remnant of a stage (or, rather, the co-originarity of a structure) in which the connection between words and things is not of a semantico-denotative type but performative, in the sense , as in the oath, the verbal act brings being into truth. This is not, as we have seen, a magico-religious stage but a structure antecedent to (or contemporaneous with) the distinction between sense and denotation, which is perhaps not, as we have been accustomed to believe, an original and eternal characteristic of human language but a historical product (which, as such, has not always existed and could one day cease to exist). (55)

[…] in the performative, language suspends its denotation precisely and solely to found its existential connection with things. (56)

Considered in this perspective, the ontological (or onto-theological) argument simply says that if speech exists, then God exists, and God is the expression of this metaphysical “performance”. (56)

[…] metaphysics, the science of pure being, is itself historical and coincides with the experience of the event of language to which man devotes himself in the oath. If the oath is declining, if the name of God is withdrawing from language – and this is what has happened beginning from the event that has been called the “death o f God” or, as one should put it more exactly, “of the name of God” – then metaphysics also reaches completion. (56)

Assertion and veridiction define, that is to say, the two co-originary aspects of the logos. While assertion has an essentially denotative value, meaning that its truth, in the moment of its formulation, is independent of the subject and is measured with logical and objective parameters (conditions of truth, noncontradiction, adequation between words and things), in veridiction the subject constitutes itself and puts itself in play as such by linking itself performatively to the truth of its own affirmation. (57)

Religion and law do not pre-exist the performative experience of language that is in question in the oath, but rather they were invented to guarantee the truth and trustworthiness of the logos through a series of apparatuses, among which the tecnicalization of the oath into a specific “sacrament” – the “sacrament of power” – occupies a central place. (59)

The interpretation of sacretas as an originary performance of power through the production of a killable and unsacrificeable bare life must be completed in the sense that, even before being a sacrament of power, the oath is a consecration of the living human being through the word to the word. The oath can function as a sacrament of power insofar as it is first of all the sacrament of language. This original sacratio that takes place in the oath takes the technical form of the curse, of the politike ara that accompanies the proclamation of the law. Law is, in this sense, constitutively inked to the curse, and only a politics that has broken this original connection with the curse will be able one day to make possible another use of speech and of the law. (66)

With a tenacious prejudice perhaps connected to their profession, scientists have always considered anthropogenesis to be a problem of an exclusively cognitive order, as if the becoming human of man were solely a question of intelligence and brain size and not also one of ethos, as if intelligence and language did not also and above all pose problems of an ethical and political order, as if Homo sapiens was not also, and of course precisely for that reason, a Homo iustus. (68)

[…] uniquely among living things, man is not limited to acquiring language as one capacity among others that he is given but has made of it his specific potentiality; he has, that is to say, put his very nature at stake in language. (68)

Just as, in the words of Foucault, man “is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question”, so also is he the living being whose language places his life in question. These two definitions are, in fact, inseparable and constitutively dependent on each other. The oath is situated at their intersection, understood as the anthropogenic operator by means of which the living being, who has discovered itself speaking, has decided to be responsible for his words and, devoting himself to the logos, to constitute himself as the “living being who has language”. In order for something like an oath to be able to take place, it is necessary, in fact, to be able above all to distinguish, and to articulate together in some way, life and language, actions and words – and this is precisely what the animal, for which language is still an integral part of its vital practice, cannot do. The first promise, the first – and, so to speak, transcendental – sacratio is produced by means of this division, in which man, opposing his language to his actions, can put himself at stake in language, can promise himself to the logos. (69)

On the one hand, there is the living being, more and more reduced to a purely biological reality and to bare life. On the other hand, there is the speaking being, artificially divided from the former, through a multiplicity of technico-mediatic apparatuses, in an experience of the word that grows ever more vain, for which it is impossible to be responsible and in which anything like a political experience becomes more and more precarious. When the ethical – and not simply cognitive – connection that unites words, things, and human actions is broken, this in fact promotes a spectacular and unprecedented proliferation of vain words on the one hand and, on the other, of legislative apparatuses that seek obstinately to legislate on every aspect of that life on which they seem no longer to have any hold. The age of the eclipse of the oath is also the age of blasphemy, in which the name of God breaks away from its living connection with language and can only be uttered “in vain”. (70-71)

The decisive element that confers on human language its peculiar virtue is not in the tool itself but in the place it leaves to the speaker, in the fact that it prepares within itself a hollowed-out form that the speaker must always assume in order to speak – that is to say, in the ethical relation that is established between the speaker and his language. The human being is that living being that, in order to speak, must say “I”, must “take the word”, assume it and make it his own. (71)

Advertisements

Ed Cohen “A Body Worth Defending”

October 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Cohen, Ed 2009. A Body Worth Defending. Immunity, Biopolitics, and the Apotheosis of the Modern Body. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Introductory Ruminations

Despite our ready acceptance, however, immunity is not a natural choice of images for our ability to live as organisms among other organisms of various sizes and scales – nor is defense, for that matter. Instead, both terms derive from the ways that Western legal and political thinking accounts for the complex, difficult, and at times violent manner that humans live among other humans. (3)

[…] biological immunity as we know it does not exist until the late nineteenth century. Nor, for that matter, does the idea that organisms defend themselves at the cellular and molecular levels. For nearly two thousand years, immunity, a legal concept first conjured in ancient Rome, has functioned almost exclusively as a political and juridical term – and a profoundly important and historically overdetermined one at that. “Self-defense” also originates as a political concept, albeit a much newer one, emerging only 350 years ago in the course of the English Civil War, when Thomas Hobbes defines it as the first “natural right.” (4)

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, biomedicine fuses these two incredibly difficult, powerful, and yet very different (if not incongruous) political ideas into one, creating “immunity-as-defense.” It then transplants this new biopolitical hybrid into the living human body. (4)

[…] the modern body proffers a proper body, a proprietary body, a body whose well-bounded property grounds the legal and political rights of what C.B. Macpherson famously named “possessive individualism.” (7)

[…] until the end of the nineteenth century, the modern individual’s atomized body does not accord with prevailing scientific theories that apprehend living organisms as contiguous with, rather than fundamentally distinct from, their lifeworlds. Indeed, this book holds that only with the advent of biological immunity does a monadic modern body fully achieve its scientific and defensive apotheosis. (8)

With immunity as its avatar, modern biomedical dogma holds to the contrary that as organisms we vitally depend on a perpetual engagement against the world to maintain our integrity or indeed our selves. (8)

Immunity incarnates ideas about human being culled from modern politics, economics, law, philosophy, and science, which then belatedly achieve scientific status when immunity inoculates them into the living organism and thereby validates them as essentially “natural.” (8)

[…] we might characterize the transformations that European modernity incorporates by saying that they enable the essential metonym for the person to morph from immortal soul to mortal body. (9)

Modernity might thus appear as an ensemble of practices that literally incorporates – or incarnates – a historical paradox: modernity produces and reproduces humans as both natural and cultural, biological and social, empirical and transcendental, finite and infinite, insofar as it conjures the body as a hybrid biopolitical formation which we must have in order to be a person. (10)

[…] biopolitics names a “hybrid domain,” or a domain of hybridization. It makes visible and intelligible relations of force which, on the one hand, seek to distinguish biology and politics epistemologically and ontologically and, on the other, endeavor to mobilize “life” as a vital resource for, and target of, power. (15)

When it conceives immunity as its physiological doppelgänger in the last decads of the nineteenth century, medicine naturalizes this governmental project by proxy. According to the new bioscientific doxa, the organism’s own cells now seem to engage in the very warlike actions that the modern state itself enlists to protect its subjects’ lives as its most vital asset. […] by relegating defense to the organism’s interior, modern medicine transforms the body into the apotheosis of the modern. (22)

Today immunity informs us deeply: as organisms, as individuals, as citizens, as peoples, and as a species. In the wake of immunology, we no longer just live our politics, but our politics literally live in us. Conversely, the world in which we live has been recast according to this new “natural” order such that overtly political acts of violence and aggression can be interpreted immunologically […]. (31)

  1. Living Before and Beyond the Law, or A Reasonable Organism Defends Itself

[…] immunology’s enthusiastic investment in biochemical reductionism led it to devote itself almost single-mindedly to analyzing the biochemical events underlying specific antibody-antigen reactions throughout the first half of the twentieth century. As a consequence, it largely ignored the biological dynamics of cellular immunity from which it first emerged (i.e., Metchnikoff’s “phagocytosis”), which have become so interesting to immunology since then. Instead immunology so effectively promoted biomolecular specificity as its main object of interest that this paradigm became an overarching frame for much biomedical theorization during the period. […] the case of immunity, rather than simply applying reductionism as a bioscientific premise, instead provides one of its exemplary instances. Furthermore, by borrowing against its ancient juridico-political capital, immunity makes the “lawfulness” of such biochemical reductionism seem entirely natural. (48-49)

[…] we might say […] that immunity makes the law matter for biology and consequently makes biology a matter of law. (49)

If property supposes dominium and dominium implies control, then loss of control means loss of property. To retain property as property requires a defense against its loss. In the mid-seventeenth century, when natural law construes the body as a human possession, that is, as personal property, it mandates bodily defense as a possessive imperative that politically safeguards the person as a person. Thus, at least two centuries before bioscience conjures immunity to describe how the (human) organism defends itself, self-defense already appears as a foundational principle of natural law. (54-55)

In its original juridico-political context, the doctrine of self-defense literally and naturally establishes the individual as the paramount form of personhood. It locates the person in a body constituted as its own property – that is, in a body “owned” by “the self”. (55)

Life appears only negatively as that which resists its own negation. In its natural habitat, human life possesses no positive attributes. Hobbes rhetorically emphasizes this constitutive negativity by elaborating a long list of everything it lacks: “In such a condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation; nor use of the Commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much Force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society.” (59)

This negative formulation provides the (negative) basis for Hobbes’s quintessential definition of liberty: “By liberty is understood, according to the proper signification of the word, the absence of externall Impediments”. Or as he reframes it later, “Libertie, or Immunitie from the service of the Commonwealth”. (59)

Here immunity receives a new inflection under the sign of liberty. Drawn from its early modern extension to the denizens of immune domains, immunity now appears as a negative form of freedom. Immunity gestures toward a “free” space carved out from the sphere of obligation entailed by the commonwealth, an obligation incurred in exchange for the commonwealth’s protection against – or negation of – the state of nature’s life-negating effects. (59-60)

[…] when modern politics imagines itself as distinct from nature, as determining its own order (as Latour suggests), it construes itself not as a part of, but rather as apart from – or even opposed to – the natural world in which it lives. When bioscience recruits immunity at the end of the nineteenth century to describe the abilities of – and the presumed necessity for – organisms to “defend themselves” against the pathogenic microbes that live around and within them, it turns this quintessentially modern trope back into animate nature. In other words, it identifies a hybrid legal and political mechanisms, immunity-as-defense, as the natural basis for the endurance of living organisms. (61)

John Locke “Second Treatise On Government”

Locke, John 1980. Second Treatise On Government. Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.

[…] no body has originally a private dominion, exclusive of the rest of mankind, in any of them, as they are thus in their natural state: yet being given for the use of men, there must of necessity be a means to appropriate them some way or other, before they can be of any use, or at all beneficial to any particular man. (18-19)

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hat mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. (19)

We see in commons, which remain so by compact, that it is the taking any part of what is common, and removing it out of the state nature leaves it in, which begins the property; without which the common is of no use. And the taking of this or that, does not depend on the express consent of all the commoners. (19)

But the chief matter of property being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beasts that subsist on it, but the earth itself; as that which takes in and carries with it all the rest; I think it is plain, that property in that too is acquired as the former. As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, inclose it from the common. (21)

[…] the condition of human life, which requires labour and materials to work on, necessarily introduces private possessions. (22)

[…] though the things of nature are given in common, yet man, by being master of himself, and properietor of his own person, and the actions or labour of it, had still in himself the great foundation of property; and that, which made up the great part of what he applied to the support or comfort of his being, when invention and arts had improved the conveniences of life, was perfectly his own, and did not belong in common to others. (27)

[…] but freedom is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists: (for who could be free, when every other man’s humour might domineer over him?) but a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own. (32)

Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrouled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men; but to judge of, and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it. But because no political society can be, nor subsist, without having in itself the power to preserve the property, and in order thereunto, punish the offences of all those of that society; there, and there only is political society, where every one of the members hath quitted this natural power, resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it. (46)

Those who are united into one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders, are in civil society one with another: but those who have no such common appeal, I mean on earth, are still in the state of nature, each being, where there is no other, judge for himself, and executioner; which is, as I have before shewed it, the perfect state of nature. (47)

And thus the common-wealth comes by a power to set down what punishment shall belong to the several transgressions which they think worthy of it, committed amongst the members of that society, (which is the power of making laws) as well as it has the power to punish any injury done unto any of its members, by any one that is not of it, (which is the power of war and peace;) and all this for the preservation of the property of all the members of that society, as far as is possible. (47)

If man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? why will he give up his empire, and subject himself to the dominion and controul of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property. (65-66)

[…] The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent: for the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires, that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that, by entering into society, which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own. (73)

Reinhart Koselleck “Crisis”

Koselleck, Reinhart 2006. Crisis. Journal of the History of Ideas 67(2): 357-400.

[…] “crisis” also meant “decision” in the sense of reaching a verdict or judgment, what today is meant by criticism (Kritik). Thus in classical Greek the subsequent separation into two domains of meaning – that of a “subjective critique” and an “objective critique” – were still covered by the same term. (359)

Above all, it was in the sense of “judgment”, “trial”, “legal decision”, and ultimately “court” that crisis achieved a high constitutional status, through which the individual citizen and the community were bound together. (359)

From this specific legal meaning, the term begins to acquire political significance. It is extended to electoral decisions, government resolutions, decisions of war and peace, death sentences and exile, the acceptance of official reports, and, above all, to government decisions as such. Consequently, krisis is most necessary for the community, representing what is at once just and salutary. For this reason, only one who participated as judge could be a citizen. For the Greeks, therefore, “crisis” was a central concept by which justice and the political order could be harmonized through appropriate legal decisions. (359)

[…] medical theory of crisis, which originated in the Corpus Hippocraticum and which Galen (129-99) firmly entrenched for about fifteen hundred years. In the case of illness, crisis refers both to the observable condition and to the judgment (judicium) about the course of illness. At such a time, it will be determined whether the patient will live or die. This required properly identifying the beginning of an illness in order to predict how regular its development will be. Depending on whether or not the crisis led to a fill restoration of health, the distinction was made between a perfect crisis and an imperfect crisis. The latter left open the possibility of a relapse. A further distinction, between acute and chronic crises, has led – since Galen – to a temporal differentiation in the progression of illnesses. (360)

With its adoption into Latin, the concept subsequently underwent a metaphorical expansion into the domain of social and political language. There it is used as a transitional or temporal concept (Verlaufsbegriff), which, as in a legal trial, leads towards a decision. It indicates that point in time which a decision is due but has not yet been rendered. (361)

At all times [whether legal, theological or medical use] the concept is applied to life-deciding alternatives meant to answer questions about what is just or unjust, what contributes to salvation or damnation, what furthers health or brings death. (361)

Although the metaphor of the body or organism has been applied to the community since antiquity, it was not until the seventeenth century that the medical concept of crisis was applied to the “body politic” or to its constituent parts. Thus in 1627, Rudyerd used this term during the battle between parliament and the absolutist crown: “This is the Chrysis of Parliaments; we shall know by this if Parliaments life or die.” A little later, at the time of the civil war, the word became anglicized, lost its exclusively medical meaning, and perhaps began to refer more to its theological roots. In 1643, for example, Baillie wrote: “this seems to be a new period and crise of the most great affairs.” This expression became generally established, while increasingly acquiring religious connotations. (362)

Although we can presuppose that many scholars were familiar with those [juridical and theological] meanings, it appears that the primary point of departure for the expansion of the term into political and economic sphere was the medical usage. (365)

[…] the metaphorical extension of crisis into the German vernacular entered first through political rather than economic language. Thus Pierer in 1845 points to the political but not yet economic application of the term. At the same time, however, French lexicography already provides a comprehensive article on “crise commerciale” and gives it parity with “crise (médicine)” and “crise politique“. (366)

In Germany, however, such an economic application was not made until 1850 with Roscher’s article in the Brockhaus’s Gegenwart (The Present), in which he writes of “production crises considered with special reference to the most recent decades.” (367)

“Crisis” was used appropriately to describe concrete civil war situations that divided the loyalty of citizens. Pleading along this line, Count Reinhart, in a petition to the King of Westphalia, used the term to prevent him from carrying out summary executions. On the other hand, he could apply the same term in 1819 – “political crisis” – to a mere change of cabinet in Paris. (369)

The spectrum of political applications thus ranged broadly. “Crisis” marked external or military situations that were reaching a decisive point; it pointed to fundamental changes in constitutions in which the alternatives were the survival or demise of a political entity and its constitutional order; but it could also describe a simple change of government. The common use of the word had neither been validated nor sufficiently enriched to be elevated into a basic concept. (369)

From the second half of the eighteenth century on, a religious connotation enters into the way the term is used. It does so, however, in a post-theological mode, namely as a philosophy of history. At the same time, the metaphor of illness as well as the associational power of the “Last Judgment” and the “Apocalypse” remain pervasive in the way the term is used, leaving no doubt as to the theological origins of the new way in which the concept is constructed. (370)

[…] the concept of crisis can generalize the modern experience to such an extent that “crisis” becomes a permanent concept of “history”. This appears for the first time with Schiller’s dictum: “Die Weltgeschicte ist das Weltgericht” (“World History is the Last Judgment”), the impact of which cannot be overestimated. Without actually taking over the term “Last Judgment”, Schiller nonetheless interprets all of human history as a single crisis that is constantly and permanently taking place. The final judgment will not be pronounced from without, either by God or by historians in ex post facto pronouncements about history. Rather, it will be executed through all the actions and omissions of mankind. What was left undone in one minute, eternity will not retrieve. The concept of crisis has become the fundamental mode of interpreting historical time. (371)

Another variant lies in the repeated application of a crisis concept that represents at the same time – like the ascending line of progress – a historically unique transition phase. It then coagulates into an epochal concept in that it indicates a critical transition period after which – if not everything, then much – will be different. (371)

As it pertains to historical time, then, the semantics of the crisis concept contains four interpretative possibilities. 1) Following the medical-political-military use, “crisis” can mean that chain of events leading to a culminating, decisive point at which action is required. 2) In line with the theological promise of a future Last Day, “crisis” may be defined as a unique and final point, after which the quality of history will be changed forever. 3) Somewhat more removed from the earlier medical or theological semantic spheres, are two new historical (or temporal) coinages. The first uses “crisis” as a permanent or conditional category pointing to a critical situation which may constantly recur or else to situations in which decisions have momentous consequences. 4)The second new coinage uses “crisis” to indicate a historically immanent transitional phase. When this transition will occur and whether it leads to a worse or better condition depends on the specific diagnosis offered. (371-372)

All of these possibilities reveal attempts to develop a single concept limited to the present with which to capture a new era that may have various temporal beginnings and whose unknown future seems to give free scope to all sorts of wishes and anxieties, fears and hope. “Crisis” becomes a structural signature of modernity. (372)

Chateaubriand similarly uses the term as a key concept essential to all political parties: “In this moment of crisis no one can say “I will do something tomorrow” without having foreseen what tomorrow will bring.” Everyone is equally in the dark. All therefore must seek to discover the origins of this crisis, one’s own situation in it and the path to the future. This was to be his task. He compared all earlier revolutions with the ongoing French Revolution. For him, “crisis” is the point at which the present situation intersects with universal historical conditions that must first be understood before a prognosis could be offered. (376)

[…] Herder employs the decisive concept of crisis: “since for a variety of reasons we are living in the midst of such a strange crisis of the human spirit (indeed why not also of the human heart?), it is up to us to discover and assess all the inner forces of history rather than continue paying homage to a naive idea of progress.” (377)

“Crisis” plays only a peripheral role in the German Idealist philosophy of history in which the spirit (Geist) that drives reality naturally triumphs over any acute crisis. But the concept of crisis assumed a central place among its heirs, the Young Hegelians (Junghegelianer). This praxis- and action-oriented philosophy seeks to achieve that freedom, the absence of which is the object of its critique. At odds with reality, that critique is pushing for a decision, which, historically understood as “crisis”, is already pre-programmed and prepared. (384)

Because it is able to see the direction of history, this critique is propelling the crisis. In Bruno Bauer’s words: “History … will elevate to power the freedom which theory has given us and thereby create the world in a new form. … History will take of the crisis and its outcome.” Judging history correctly will determine whether the problems of state, church, and society demanding a decision can be solved in practice. The concept of crisis thus remains within a philosophy of history calling for the execution of tendencies revealed through critique. (385)

[Lorenz von Stein, Geschichte der sozialen Bewegung in Frankreich von 1789 bis auf unsere Tage, 1850]: “Throughout Europe there is a sense that the present condition cannot last much longer. Powerful and terrible movements are coming to the fore; no one dares to predict where they will lead. Hence no one has the right to offer a magic formula for the future.” […] The 1848 Revolution, which announces “the sovereignty of industrial society”, is merely one “act of that mighty crisis.” As with Saint-Simon, von Stein’s concept of crisis is drawn from an all-encompassing view of history which sees the revolutions of the nineteenth century as steps in the transition toward industrial society. At the same time, Stein prognosticates only two alternatives: a just social order or collapse. Thus his theory of the three epochs contains a decidedly eschatological component. (385-386)

[of Burckhardt]: The wars of the nineteenth century were only a part of this larger crisis, into which the forces of democracy and material ambitions, lust for power, and intellectual utopias all merged. But the “principal crisis” will come only with the convergence of technology, wars, and social revolutions. “At that point, the main decision must come from the nature of humanity itself” (thus transforming once and for all the metaphor of the Last Judgment into and anthropological and historical category). (388)

Surely our concept would never have become a central concept had it not acquired an additional interpretive content that reflected and experience increasingly common in daily life: economic crises. In Germany these were initially due to the costs of the wars against the French, to agrarian surpluses, as in 1825, or to failed harvests, as in 1847. But from 1857 on, economic crises were increasingly viewed as global occurrences caused by the capitalist system itself. (389)

From the 1840s on, the economically-based concept of crisis permeates the growing literature of social criticisms – coming from all political and social camps – that had begun to flood the market. “Crisis” was well suited to conceptualize both the emergencies resulting from contemporary constitutional or class specific upheavals, as well as the distress caused by industry, technology, and the capitalist market economy. These could be treated as symptoms of a serious disease or as a disturbance of the economy’s equilibrium. This undoubtedly prompted Roscher, in 1854, to coin the general formula: these are crises “the changing substance of which may take changing forms. Such crises are called ‘reforms’ if they are resolved peacefully under the auspices of the established legal system, but ‘revolutions’ if they produce changes violating the law.” Thus, in the economic sphere as well, “crisis” had been elevated into a historical “super concept” (Oberbegriff) with which to analyze the challenges of the century. (391-392)

“Crisis” remains a catchword, used rigorously in only a few scholarly or scientific contexts. Schumpeter denies its utility even for political economy, which is why, in his analysis of business cycles, he gives “no technical meaning to the term crisis, but only to the concepts of prosperity and depression.” (397)

The concept of crisis, which once had the power to pose unavoidable, harsh and non-negotiable alternatives, has been transformed to fit the uncertainties of whatever might be favored at a given moment. (399)

An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz: Geopower, Inhumanism and the Biopolitical

February 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Grosz, Elizabeth; Yusoff, Kathryn; Clark, Nigel 2017. An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz: Geopower, Inhumanism and the Biopolitical. Theory, Culture & Society. DOI: 10.1177/0263276417689899

NC and KY: Historically, the inhuman has been posited as a condition that was understood to be against life (Lyotard, 1991) or as a form of bare life rendered through a deadly exercise of biopower. How might the inhuman be rethought as a stratified condition that both supplements and subtends biopolitics? What kind of shift in genealogy does this represent for the conceptualization of the body politic of the human?

EG: If the inhuman is not understood as against the human, its opposite or overcoming, but rather both the preconditions and the excess within the human, if we understand what is creative and inventive in the human as something impersonal, with forces we summon up rather than control, then it is a line that runs through human actions. In fact, it may be part of the explanation for the cultural necessity of biopolitical regulation: there is something in humans (and other living beings) that is beyond conscious control and social regulation. The increasingly microscopic interventions of biopower take as their object smaller and smaller forces and processes of the body as something to be mastered while leaving inadequately addressed the body’s inhuman even quantum forces. Biopower requires as its other precisely the inhuman, which it aims to make an object of regulation. Or put in other words, it is the inhuman in the human that resists biopolitics and perhaps requires some form of it. The inhuman within the human, as resistance, is the creative force that enables (some) humans to transform their conditions of existence, to make, create, invent. Moreover, this inhuman is the gel of a human collectivity that is perhaps best understood through art, which musters both the elements from the earth and from the inhuman effects of the human.

NC and KY: You have suggested that art carves out a relatively safe corner of the earth’s chaos in which to perform experiments. One of the key differences between the spheres of politics and art – at least in a conventional modern framing – is that politics involves justifying our actions or inaction to others (i.e. giving reasons for our decisions), whereas it is presumed that artistic interventions can to some degree speak or act for themselves. So we are wondering what your approach does to complicate or trouble these differences. If a politics worthy of the name calls for trials and experiments whose outcomes cannot be anticipated, is the emphasis on the providing of reasons or giving an account of oneself over-rated? Or alternatively, if art has the capacity to recompose social formations in potentially momentous ways, are we perhaps not being demanding enough of its ethical and political responsibilities?

EG: I think that art and politics do function quite differently, although there is no reason that each mode of practice cannot borrow from or help to develop the other. But the most fundamental difference is that art is very rarely, with the exception of film and performance arts, a collective process (though of course it is capable of collective creation – it more commonly is marketed rather than produced collectively). Art is possible in a relation between a single individual and a small part of the earth. Politics, by contrast, is always collective, always social, completely ineffective if it relies on individuals alone. What both art and politics can share, though this is increasingly difficult in a political order in which the domination of politics occurs through the financial intervention of restabilizing orders (such as the interests of particular industries and the operation of lobby groups), is that at their best, they are fundamentally experimental, open-ended, without a clear-cut goal, but modes of exploration of different possible (or virtual) orders.

Giorgio Agamben “Stasis”

January 25, 2017 Leave a comment

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

  1. Stasis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Leviathan and Behemoth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberto Esposito “Freedom and Immunity”

January 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Esposito, Roberto 2013. Freedom and Immunity. – Terms of the Political. Community, Immunity, Biopolitics. New York: Fordham University Press, 47-56.

Whereas both American neocommunitarianism and organicistic German sociology link the idea of community to that of belonging, identity and ownership – that is, the community as something that identifies someone with his/her own ethnic group, land, or language – the originary term community has a radically different sense. One need only open a dictionary to learn that common is the exact contrary of one’s own; common is what is not one’s own, or what is unable to be appropriated by someone. It is what belongs to all or at least to many, and it therefore refers not to the same but to the other. (48)

Whereas communitas opens, exposes, and turns individuals inside out, freeing them to their exteriority, immunitas returns individuals to themselves, encloses them once again to their own skin. Immunitas brings the outside inside, eliminating whatever part of the individual that lies outside. What is immunization if not the preventive interiorization of the outside, its neutralizing appropriation? (49)

Whether we declare that freedom has already been realized in our liberal democracies or defer it by claiming it belongs to a far-off tomorrow, we remain within the same interpretive model. that is, we remain within a subjectivist metaphysical framework wherein the political scene is occupied by a preformed and predefined subject – the individual – who regards freedom as an object to defend or conquer, to possess or extend. (50)

Freedom thus is understood as that which makes the subject the proprietor of himself or herself; as essentially “proper” and no longer “common”. (50)

Nevertheless the true immunitary turn takes place during the Middle Ages, when freedom – that is, every freedom – takes on the character of a “particular right”: an ensemble of “privileges”, “exemptions”, or “immunity” […] that exempt certain collective subjects (classes, corporations, cities, convents) from an obligation that is common to all others and grant them a special juridical condition (like that of the libertas ecclesiae) within the hierarchical order. It is here that the passage from an open and affirmative notion of freedom to one that is restricted and negative, as well as immunized and immunizing, is carried out. (52)

When, beginning with Hobbes and the model of natural law, modern political philosophy attempts to restore universality to the concept of freedom, it can only do so within an individualistic framework that has now been extended and multiplied by the number of individuals who are made equal by their reciprocal separation. Freedom is what separates the self from the other by restoring it to the self; it’s what heals and rescues the self from every common alteration. From then on, with all of the possible variations – that is, from the absolutist – to the republican or the liberal type, freedom will always be conceived as a right, good, or faculty of the individual who holds it, either through the protection of sovereign law (Hobbes) or, conversely, by protecting the individual from it (Locke). (52-53)

In both cases, this protection, first of life and then of individual property, assumes a starkly oppositional quality to the political dimension as such. As Arendt observes, beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, freedom is tightly bound to security: We are free only insofar as and if we are secure – if freedom is “ensured” by its defensive and self-identifying connotation. (53)

Freedom is nothing but the effect, or the consequence, of property; a figure of what is “proper”, the opposite of what is “common”. (53)

But freedom is either a fact or it is not. Either freedom grasps our experience such that freedom subsumes experience, or freedom remains blocked in the self-dissolving circle of idea, essence, or concept. Therefore, freedom must be understood not as something that one has but as something that one is: what frees existence to the possibility to exist as such. (54)

[…] the very task of contemporary political philosophy lies: liberating freedom from liberalism and community from communitarianism. That is, we must deconstruct the first and most entrenched of those false antitheses that modern political philosophy has built in an attempt to fill in the void of thought that it has carved out around and within the great concepts of politics. if it is thought affirmatively, freedom can only be “common”  – belonging to each and all because it’s not proper to anyone. (55)

Freedom confronts community with its own outside, or projects that outside within as it is, without neutralizing community preventively. (56)