Thursday, December 25, 2008
Here is what I have gotten so far:
Ernst H. Kantorowicz - The King's Two Bodies
Maurice Merleau-Ponty - Nature: Course Notes from the Collège de France
Jacques Derrida et al. - Ghostly Demarcations
Ralph R. Acampora - Corporal Compassion: Animal Ethics and Philosophy of Body
EDIT: Theodor Adorno - Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life
Christian Marazzi - Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy
Matt Ruff - Bad Monkeys
Victor Pelevin - The Sacred Book of the Werewolf
Austin Grossman - Soon I Will Be Invincible
Warren Ellis - Crooked Little Vein
Anyway, I am sure there are more on the way. But anyone else get good books, or interesting stuff? Or just good winter break/holiday stories?
If so, post them.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I don't find myself particularly invested in the word, biopolitics, but I certainly still find it a useful trope to think through and with. But for me, the question of biopolitics is the question of the politics of humanism.
However, the eurocentrism is something we clearly need to be weary of. Deleuze and Guattari were found of talking about a becoming-minoritarian without, actually, citing very many minorities. The process and practices of decoloniality are rich, and all of us could do to study it. Would it not be helpful, for example, to bring into dialogue the question of biopolitics with Anibal Quijano's "Coloniality of Power" (which you can download here http://www.mediafire.com/?cwlaamiomrz )? Or perhaps by understanding the biopolitics of racism by thinking through the giddy multitude of colonial Virgina, and the racialized slavery practices that emerged as a way of separating and splintering the giddy multitude.
But with all that said, the questions of biopolitics seem central to me. That it to say, the questions of how we manipulate and control life, the politics of humanism, the distinction between zoe and bios, the distinction between phone and logos, the ways in which we construct a global linear thought that puts disposable populations on one side and others in a global green zone on the other, all of that falls under the rubric of biopolitics for me.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I believe I have finally answered everyone's comments, if not I apologize. Also if I haven't, post and tell me. Sometimes, especially when people write thoughtful and long responses, I feel the need to give their posts thought before I respond. Then I end up writing a response in my head while commuting or washing dishes, but I don't get around to always writing those responses back down. However, comments is what makes me keep posting, and my keeping posting is, at this point in my life, rather useful. Thanks to everyone.
And now, for a quotation to leave everyone on for my break,
“One could not stand and watch very long without becoming philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe.” – Upton Sinclair, The Jungle.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
The blog is technically a group blog of a research group that goes by the same name. Here is the about: "Sex, Science, (De)Coloniality is a research network based at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture at Binghamton University. We work on sorting through, unpacking, and rethinking the epistemological and ontological legacies (scars, wounds) of scientific and philosophical taxonomies and figurations of the ‘human,’ with an emphasis on the attendant political foreclosures effected by not only their histories, but their ongoing, continual maintenance."
It is mostly maintained by my partner in crime, Hilary, but I also occasionally post their, including my most recent post, "Biopolitics and Zoepolitics: On Humanism." In the future I will probably cross-post any posts there I make that would relate to my work here, but this time I won't, in encouragement to go check out the blog. So go, read and respond. We'd really like it.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
My guess is that it is related to the role of the aleph as a glottal stop in Hebrew. But I have no real clue.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Reading it now, I am really taken with it. Sure, there are large parts I disagree with or would do differently (and his short history of specisism reveals how much better at genealogy people on this side of the philosophical divide are at that sort of thing), but it's smart, politically compelling, a strong mixture of nuance and moral outrage. If you haven't read it, or haven't read in a long, long time, I suggest picking it up. I'd be more than willing to discuss it with people. I am, in general though, surprised by how much people doing "critical" animal studies often wish to immediately distance themselves from Singer. It's fashionable, but I think it would be intellectually disingenous for me to do so at this point. I find Animal Liberation no more or less problematic than I find either Derrida's The Animal that Therefore I Am or Agamben's The Open.
Speaking of Derrida, I taught the first part of The Animal ... right before I started teaching Singer, and one of the weirdest things is that I am pretty sure that in many ways Derrida's The Animal that Therefore I Am is a response to Singer's Animal Liberation. A paper still remains to be written on this "secret" dialogue, but if there is interest I might post some of the things that make me feel this way.
EDIT: I know I said it was fashionable, but before I forget, I want to note two serious thinkers who obviously don't feel the need to automatically distance themselves from Singer. Leonard Lawlor and David Wood have both at least made footnotes supporting that there is a strange relationship between Derrida's thought and Singer's.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Recently I have been wanting two books by Agamben to come into english translation. The first is, of course, Il Regno E La Gloria (The Kingdom and the Glory), which is the newest installment of the homo sacer series. But the other book I've been wanting to come out is Agamben's version of Qu'est-ce qu'un dispositif (What is an apparatus. To be honest, I don't know what the italian title of this book is). For a couple of reasons, (1) is that this a title of one of Deleuze's great essays on Foucault, and (2) that I believe the thought of the machine is central to all of Agamben's political concepts.
Well, it seems that Stanford University Press will be releasing an english translation of What is an Apparatus and other essays in April.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
This, along with thanksgiving in general, seems like a good idea to push everyone to read Magnus Fiskesjö's The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, the Death of Teddy's Bear, and the Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo from Prickly Paradigm Press. You can download it free from the publisher here, http://www.prickly-paradigm.com/paradigm11.pdf
Like the other titles from PPP, it is short, manifesto style pamphlet/book. It is also extremely insightful, grasping the connection between the annual thanksgiving turkey pardon and biopolitical/sovereign violence.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
(1) For some, still unexplained reason, Critchley associates anarchism with non-violence. I don't know why, considering most historical anarchist leaders are not exactly pacifists. Someone got to ask him this question at the speech, and his response was less than satisfying (as a matter of fact, he gave no reason why anarchism was connected to non-violence, and leninism to violence). He argued that there was a difference between (and here I wish I had written down his original terms) individual anarchism and ethical anarchism based on community. And, Critchley is concerned with promoting ethical anarchism. I want to return to this point below.
(2) Critchley was also concerned to change his views on violence since he wrote Infinitely Demanding. He has decided that non-violence cannot be absolute, but rather it has to be a guideline. Non-violence, thou shalt not kill, is not universal just usual, but sometimes an exceptional circumstance demands violence. Critchley is aware that this word exceptional draws to mind Schmitt, but didn't spend any real time answering what the problem might be, here. It seems to me that this brings decisionism in through the back door, and that is probably the worst way to bring decisionism in. If any of you are familiar with William Rasch's book on Schmitt, Sovereignty and Discontents, I think he makes this argument very effectively there. Orders that pretend that the political no longer exists become harder to contest. And remember your Schmitt, it isn't that violent acts are necessary for the political, but that the possibility that violence is necessary is what guarantees the political. Those orders that refuse the violence inherent in the political are all the more violent in trying to defend peace. If non-violence is a guideline, then who decides when the exceptional case presents? Who decides when violence is necessary? If one argues that each individual has the power to decide, than each individual is sovereign. And we are right back to the individualist anarchism, and we have failed to think an ethical anarchism. The question of decisionism needs to be confronted directly.
(3) Critchley also said that the acts of violence must give us shame. Now, as I said above, this talk was in work as he gave it, so I don't know how much importance should given this word "shame," but let's take it seriously for a bit. I'm not sure, first of all, what use shame is in thinking through an ethical system. I feel that shame brings in through the back door idealism. Shame is only a grounding in a ethics, if that ethical system is an idealist one. If Nietzsche teaches us nothing else, one assumes he has taught us this. If the question of decisionism remains with us, so too does a question of idealism.
He might have answers to all of these points, but I would be interested in finding out. The projects of ethical anarchism and non-violence are projects I have a lot of sympathy for, but sometimes sympathy isn't enough.
Monday, November 17, 2008
The back cover has at the top a section entitled, "In Praise of Antonio Negri" with two quotations underneath it. The first is from the New Statesman, "One of the most significant figures of current political thought." Fine, nothing remarkable there. The next, however is from Slovaj Zizek, "A guru of the post-modern left." What is truly remarkable is I'm sure that is neither meant as praise by Zizek, nor taken as praise by Negri.
Seriously, that is more humorous than the back cover of Anti-Oedipus with the quotation from the New Republic about how D&G are advancing a metaphor.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Eurocentrism might be the right answer, I am trying to find a more complex answer, if one exists.
Friday, October 31, 2008
[I]t will eventually be necessary to reconsider the history of this law and to understand that although animals cannot be placed under concepts like citizen […], they are not for all that without a “right.”
- Jacques Derrida, For What Tomorrow…
I’d like to begin with a thought of digestion, for that is exactly what is at stake in this paper. I’d like to hear the word in its etymological valences, as that which is rooted in separating and arranging. At the same time that digestion is a method of separating and taking apart, it is also a process of assimilation, of how you take something in. Digestion is both separation and assimilation, and it is there that this paper you are about to take in takes place. I begin this way with every thought to the more physical digestion we will be taking place after this panel.
So digestion is a relationship, is a process that can only be conceived as a relationship of the most fundamental sort, what we take into ourselves, and also what we separate from ourselves. And these things are one and the same. So digestion isn’t just about assimilation, but also is about disavowal. I want us to look at this relation of disavowal to a particular place, to the disavowal that Derrida claimed to be the most fundamental disavowal of all. What I want to pay attention to is the disavowal of the animal inside of us, a phrase I want us to hear in its double meaning: Both the animal flesh that many of us digest, but also our very beings as animals.
This relationship of disavowal to animals is, first of all, and most primary, organized by the ways in which we kill animals. I want to make this clear, the primary and fundamental way we relate to animals is the ways in which we kill them. In order to highlight this point, let me briefly cite some statistics that begin The Animal Studies Group’s Killing Animals. Over one billion animals are killed for leather worldwide every year. We kill animals for science and medicine, for recreation such as hunting and blood sports like dog fighting, for cosmetics, for fertilizer, for pet foods, and for jewelry and other forms of decoration. And none of that counts our indirect ways of killing animals by destroying their habitats, leaving out poisons, hitting them with cars, and killing them while harvesting crops. However, by far the most common way we directly kill animals is in the ways we consume them. ). For example, in the US, 45 millions turkeys are killed for thanksgiving, 6 billion broiler chickens are raised and killed every year, a hog sticker could cut as many as 1,100 throats an hour. I don’t know how to highlight for you that to kill animals is at least our most frequent if not also our most fundamental relationship. I also don’t know how to properly draw your attention to the horrors of particular kinds of relationships, of factory farms for example. Except maybe to let it go on without saying, knowing perfectly well that everyone here knows that factory farms are horrors and that our primary relationship to animals are death and disavowal.
Death and disavowal. This applies to the other animal inside of us as well, the animal that we are. Derrida, in discussions of the animal, referred to remarks made by Adorno about Kant, specifically that the animal in an idealist system plays the same role as the Jew in the fascist system. Or as Adorno put it even more forcefully elsewhere, “Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.” Now, I don’t want you take Adorno to mean that somehow our current treatment of animals is ethically analogous to Auschwitz, this isn’t simply PETA’s old ad campaign of a Holocaust on your plate. Rather Adorno is making a different, more subtle and more convincing argument, about what allows fascism and Auschwitz to exist in the first place. It is because we hate, or to use Adorno’s word “insult”, the animal in ourselves and others that we, we as a society, are able to control and to kill. It isn’t enough to turn certain others into animals in our discourses, but we have take these others; these racialized, colonized, others; and make the animal we see in them an object of experimentation, an object of administration, and an object of slaughter. In order to prove this claim, I wish I could spend more time with story and story of the ways that we have first had to see the animal in those others before we could colonize, enslave, and/or kill the other. Hopefully two quick examples might suffice (recognizing the perpetual insufficiency to any number of examples at proving a point).
The first is brief note left to us from a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, Zalman Gradowski, “Forget your wife and children, your friends and acquaintances, forget the world you came from. Imagine that what you are seeing are not people, but despicable animals, animals which must be eliminated, for if not – your eyes will grow dim.” Also, consider George Carrington, who recorded his travels in Northern Queensland, remark in 1871 that the Aborigine “has come to be considered in the light of a troublesome wild animal, to be shot and hunted down, whenever seen in open country.” Surely, this last comment calls us to remember that Aristotle understood war to be an extension of hunting. As Aristotle claims in his Politics, “The art of war is a natural art of acquisition, for the art of acquisition includes hunting, an art which we ought to practice against wild beasts, and against men who, though intended by nature to be governed, will not submit; for war of such a kind is naturally just.” For Aristotle we should hunt down wild beasts, and that logic extends to humans that refuse to be governed. Indeed, Carrington explains that this logic undergrids violence of British colonialism. It is here, in this double disavowal and death of the animal inside of us, that the lynchpin that holds the biopolitical and the thantopolitical together exists.
That last sentence begs a simple question: What do I mean by it? Indeed, biopolitics has come to be one of those words that seems to have lost specific meaning through a proliferation of often contradictory use, much like the words modernity and postmodernity. And yet, I, and it seems those on this panel, insist upon this word, and the thought of this word. So let us take a moment to hear this word, biopolitical.
Often accredited to Foucault, the word biopolitics was actually coined by the Swede, Rudolf Kjellén, in his 1916 book The State as Form of Life (Staten som Lifsform). This is the same man that coined the term geopolitics. Kjellén's was one of the more prominent thinkers of a group of German language political theorists; including Friedrich Ratzel, Karl Haushofer, Karl Binding, Eberhard Dennert, and Edward Hahn. What ties these theorists together is first a belief in the organicist nature of the state (the state was a living entity for these thinkers) and the belief in lebensraum (living space). The term lebensraum, originally coined by biologist would get one of its most sustained treatments under Ratzel, who argued that the German people (the Volk) needed a living space. To acquire this living space the German state needed to be responsible for expansion, and also for cutting away the parasitic parts inside the state. Lebensraum is cited by Hitler directly in Mein Kampf, and forms the basis of much of National Socialism. Within this notion of Lebensraum we see the connection between Nazi's imperial ambition tied to its internal fascisms. Indeed, Lebensraum is a borderline concept, bringing inside and outside into a zone of indetermination. Kjellén radicalizes all of this, bringing geopolitics as being on the same level and totally co-terminus with ethnopolitics. One cannot have a geopolitical vision that is not simultaneously a vision of a particular people. Combined with the thoughts of the other thinkers mentioned earlier, the state, as a form of life, must protect itself. It must cut away the diseased parts, it must exterminate the parasites, it must do all these actions to guarantee its health as a state and the health of its people. This was biopolitics for Kjellén. And you can see this thought in Goebbels diary entry that stated: “We travel through the ghetto. We get out and observe everything in detail. It’s indescribable. These are not human beings any more, they are animals. Therefore, we have not a humanitarian task to perform, but a surgical one. One must cut here, in a radical way. Otherwise, one day, Europe will perish of the Jewish disease.” So when I use the word biopolitics, I always want you to hear it in relation to these fundamental categories of fascism, racism, imperialism, and colonialism.
When Foucault introduced the term to a different set of readers in the 1970s, it was used to describe a period of a new category of power, of the binding together bio-power and anatamo-power. Biopolitics stitched together the disciplinary power over the individual body to a broader governmentality of the life and health of the population. If earlier versions of power rooted in sovereignty had the power to let live or make dead, than biopower’s supplement had the power to make live and let die. This concept of biopolitics would be picked up by many diverse thinkers, particularly several major Italian philosophers including Negri, Esposito, and Virno. And most influentially, at least in the Anglo-phone world, was the encounter of the concept of biopolitics with the work of Giorgio Agamben.
The term biopolitics emerges in Agamben’s work when it begins to take on a specifically political orientation with the Homo Sacer series and the works surrounding those books. The concept of biopolitics takes on a decidedly ontological character under Agamben, and is rooted in the political and legal thought of the Greeks and Romans through the present moment. Furthermore, biopolitics comes to be understood as nothing less than the relationship between two Aristotelian Greek terms, bios and zoe. Both are Greek words for life, preserved in such terms today as biology and zoo, zoe refers to unqualified life. The life held in common between the gods, humans, and animals. Bios, however, is qualified life, life that refers to only humans, specifically to the qualities of life that makes someone specifically human in the first place. There exists a zone of indistinction between bios and zoe, a fundamentally empty and kenomatic space, that allows us to constantly redraw the line between what counts as zoe and what counts as bios, between what counts as discardable life and what counts as life worth living. The metaphysical operator that constantly draws and redraws these lines is termed the anthropological machine. As Agamben put it, this machine “functions by excluding as not […] human an already human being from itself, that is, by animalizing the human, by isolating the nonhuman in the human[.]” It is here, in this play of bios and zoe, that I wish to bring up the question of human rights.
Agamben entitles one of the chapters of Homo Sacer “Biopolitics and the Rights of Man,” obviously mirroring the title of the Hannah Arendt chapter much of his commentary is devoted to, her title being “The Decline of the Nation-State and End of the Rights of Man.” Agamben is positing the strong relationship, indeed as he describes it a “secret solidarity” , between the violence of the biopolitical on one hand, and the existence of the rights of man on the other. Agamben sees from the beginning, from the very title of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the entanglement of biopolitics and rights. The title itself seems to say a declaration of the rights of zoe and bios, and does the term Man subsume citizen, or the other way around? What is the relationship between man and citizen, and do we not find in this relationship those who are bearers of rights, and those who are not? Moreover, as soon as there was a declaration of rights, immediately there were commentaries and debates about who to include in the rights, and who to exclude: Were women bearers of rights? Children? Foreigners? This concept, of a bearer of rights known as a citizen becomes something completely different from the concept of a subject to sovereignty. If you were born in the lands of a sovereign, you were a subject. If you came into the lands of the sovereign you were a subject. All were subjects, and subjects equally. The concept of the citizen introduces entirely new questions, with entirely new logics: Who counts as a citizen? And if you don’t count as a citizen, what rights, if any, do we have to show you? We know introduce a logic of inclusive exclusion: What parts of the people are not really parts of the people? What parts of Man are not really men? These are the questions that are specific to the nation-state. Nation itself comes from nascere, meaning to be born. So from birth you are now immediately summoned into a biopolitical order, and these questions of the nation-state concern exactly the same sort of questions the Nazis were interested in. The Nazi slogan, Blut und Boden (blood and soil), is really just the apotheoses of the questions of the nation-state. We can see here in America that these questions are still very much a part of our culture in our recent presidential election. You cannot be President, that is to say the executive with the power to execute in both senses of the term, unless you are a naturally-born citizen. What does that mean? That means you have to be a citizen of either blood or soil. Therefore, the very concept of rights, including human rights, immediately, from birth, draws us into the logics of biopolitics. Those of us who wish to fight sovereign violence are implicated in this arcane pact if we insist upon the rhetoric and logic of rights to resist that violence. But what if there isn’t just a secret solidarity that Agamben proposes, but a secret genealogy of rights that stands to radically oppose the anthropological machine upon which the biopolitical is carried out? I speak here, of course, of animal rights.
There exists a wide-spread mistaken notion, even among otherwise brilliant scholars that I respect a lot, that animal rights represent merely an extension of human rights towards animals. For example, Rosi Braidotti’s opposition to animal rights is based almost entirely on here belief that rights are the domain of humanity, so demands for animal rights really are nothing more than a becoming-human. This is, however, incorrect. Not only were their several French revolutionaries that also fought for animal rights, but also several prominent advocates for human rights, like Thomas Paine, who were advocates for animal rights and welfare. However, it goes farther than that, and I’d like to turn towards Hannah Arendt’s “The Decline of the Nation-State and the Ends of the Rights of Man” in her Origins of Totalitarianism that we mentioned earlier. In her discussion of why a more generalized human rights were unable to supported before WWII, she makes this claim: "Even worse was that all societies formed for the protection of the Rights of Man, all attempts to arrive at a new bill of human rights were sponsored by marginal figures-- by a few international jurists without political experience or professional philanthropists supported by uncertain sentiments of professional idealists. The groups they formed, the declarations they issued, showed an uncanny similarity in language and composition to that of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. No statesman, no political figure of any importance could possibly take them seriously[.]" And that seems, on the whole, to be a true statement. Many of the groups that supported human rights, especially those that fought for the rights of children, were originally groups organized around fighting for animals. Here in the United States, for example, Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Towards Animals. He also was the first person to prosecute a case of child abuse, and founded the societies for the prevention of cruelty towards children, the first such societies here in the US. And we could go on and on, seeing similar histories of the Royal SPCA, of Dutch animal rights groups, and more. A full scholarly history awaits to be written fully connecting the ways in which animal rights groups and human rights groups have cross-created each other. But from a philosophical and political stand-point, some conclusions can be drawn.
That animal rights groups would support human rights, particularly those humans like children who are most excluded from the political order, makes sense. Animal rights already represents a valorization of zoe, a refusal to insult the animal, even the animal inside of us. Animal rights doesn’t just stop there, but radically brings into question all the assumptions of duties, obligations, and citizenship that normally come with rights. Derrida has repeatedly recognized that the notion of animal rights would force us to rethink those categories of duties and obligations that since Kant has come with the notion of rights. If we are to keep human rights, we must see them, if not as an extension, at least fundamentally rooted and co-evolved with animal rights. Human rights cannot become another category by which we get to define the human, and determine that those that violate human rights are now somehow outside of humanity. Rather, human rights must be seen as a continued affirmation of the zoe; as a refusal to continue to operate the anthropological machine. I cannot then affirm a certain set of declarations, however interesting, but rather the most minimal, and yet, most profound right. The same right that Hannah Arendt could bring herself to recognize, a right to have rights. It is only then, when all zoe has a right to have rights, that we can end this death and disavowal.
 I want to therefore distinguish myself from certain arguments for vegetarianism that takes as its foundation human exceptionalism.
 See specifically The Animal That Therefore I Am pp. 100-105. For other references to this passage from Adorno, also see “Fichus” in Paper Machine and “Violence Against Animals” in For What Tomorrow….
 As quoted in Charles Patterson’s Eternal Treblinka. P. 53
 From Gradowski’s “Writings” in The Scrolls of Auschwitz, p. 175.
 Cited in Alison Palmer Colonial Genocide, p. 44
 Politics, book I, Ch. 8.
 Much of my understanding of the historical nature of the word biopolitics comes from Roberto Esposito’s Bios, see especially pp. 13-24
 Cited in Dan Stone’s “The Holocaust and ‘The Human’”, in Hannah Arendt and the Uses of History,, p. 239
 Agamben, The Open, p. 37.
 Agamben, Homo Sacer, p. 133.
 See Braidotti, Transposistions, particularly pp. 106-112.
For at least some of this history, see Tristram Stuart’s The Bloodless Revolution.
 Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 289, 1954 edition. Emphasis added.
 For one example, see the epigraph of this paper.
Friday, October 10, 2008
“I have come to tell you about my former life as an ape.” That is the opening line to Kafka’s “A Report to the Academy,” a bizarre and compelling tale about an ape, Red Peter (“A name only an ape could have given.” ) who learns to become human. Kafka’s parable stages an odd meeting, a talking ape who is addressing a faceless and voiceless academy. It is in many ways this lecture that serves as the basis for another lecture, this time J. M. Coetzee’s Tanner lectures. In The Lives of Animals Coetzee gives a Hamlet like quality to his presentation, in which the listener would be given a lecture within a lecture. And why do this? Well there are some obvious similarities between Coetzee and Elizabeth Costello who is the lecturer in The Lives of Animals. A famous novelist, who is something of a recluse, invited to give a lecture in which that person talks about something more philosophical than directly literary. Indeed, the Tanner lectures are dedicated to discussions about our moral values as humans. So every time that Costello tells us that she comes here as a novelist, rather than a Kafka scholar, or a philosopher, or a researcher of any sort, we are clearly being asked to hear Coetzee saying the same thing. You can almost hear Coetzee saying, “Don’t judge me by those standards.” Which isn’t, I think, his implying that we shouldn’t render a judgment on his work, but rather, we have to judge him by the criteria of a novelist advancing an ethical argument. Not as a philosopher, or even as a comparitivist researcher of literature; but as a novelist and a fabulist. What does that even mean? To judge an ethical argument by the criteria of a writer?
First of all, and perhaps most importantly, that we cannot simply take the lecture parts of Costello’s argument and run with them as the only parts of the story that matters. We are given characters and a setting who all interact, and we have to follow those interactions. And we are given three main characters here, the narrator, her son John Bernard, his wife Norma, and most importantly we are given the character Elizabeth Costello herself. And as a story, what we are dealing with is dynamic elements. Death contrasted with life, fullness of being contrasted with exhaustion and old age, ethics that bring us to relate to each other contrasted with alienation, and this is surely not an exhaustive list. However, these antinomies will concern my present discussion.
The first antinomy concerns the distinction between life and death. This is, in some way, the most fundamental theme of this lecture story. We kill animals in order to eat. We juxtapose their death with sustaining ourselves. Now certainly we don’t need to eat animals in order to live, but when we eat animals, we do so through a practice that is essential to life. This both brings in, while simultaneously contesting, Costello’s comparison between the Nazi death camps and our own slaughter of animals. She explains that what happened to the victims of the camps were able to be committed because the Nazis first rhetorically turned them into nothing but animals. It seems simple, but important, to remind that the Nazis didn’t refer to their task as the Holocaust, that term would come later, but rather they referred to it as The Extermination. Not in just in the sense of a killing, but in the sense that we call in an exterminator when our house in infested with rats and vermin. So the Nazis turned the victims of the death camps into animals, and when we describe the actions of the Nazis, we also use terms that turn the Nazis into animals. We can understand why it was so important for the Nazis to turn their victims into animals. Animals are not citizens, they do not have rights, they can be killed but they cannot be murdered. People do not mourn for animals, and if they do, it is considered, as the narrator himself expresses, simply “sentimental and jejune”. But why was it so important to the rest of us to make the Nazis into animals? Perhaps that is too simple of me, but it was to let humanity off the hook. Humans did not commit the holocaust, rather these beasts did. These were not crimes by humans so much as crimes against humanity. And if you can commit a crime against all of humanity, than you must be outside of humanity yourself. This doesn’t just let humanity off the hook, it lets us off from wondering if we could be Nazis ourselves. It is our very humanity, the knowledge that we are humans and not murderous beasts, that keep us from having to question what line separates us from the Nazis. And indeed this is part of what makes the claim that there is some analogy between the death camps of the Third Reich and the abattoir of the factory farm so polarizing, (the word that Costello chooses). It isn’t just that we are somehow belittling what happened to those in the camps, but it is often that it places those who engage in killing animals today to be Nazis. But, when I see the old PETA ad, “A Holocaust on your plate”, I think it isn’t just polarizing, but also perhaps philosophically weak. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner of literature, Primo Levi, wrote that for certain victims of the camp, “It is hard to call their death death.” Indeed, Hannah Arendt, while writing about the horrors of what happened, made a rather interesting remark. She said that was what shocked the conscience was not just the death, not just the amount of dead, but how it was done. She referred to it as “a fabrication of corpses.” And following up on those insights, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben said of the camps that it was a place “[w]here death cannot be death, corpses cannot be called corpses.” Does this not sound at least a little familiar? Where else do have corpses we cannot call corpses? Death that we hesitate to call death? Where else is there an engagement with the production and fabrication of corpses? What has emerged in factory farming is a completely new ontology; an ontology of the damned. With factory farming we have a new mode of production that radically recasts the relationship between life and death. This ontology is at the bottom of thantopolitical support of biopolitics. We will not be able to unravel modern mass violence without first unraveling the ontology of the factory farm.
The wounds of this modern violence brings us back to a story of an ape giving a report to an academy. In the story Red Peter explains that he receives two wounds when he is captured. The first shot that left a scar on his face, and the second shot that left him castrated. These wounds form in the story the first moment that Red Peter can really remember, but they form so much more. The first wound is where Red Peter gets his name from, and the second wound he constantly reveals to others demanding that it makes him less of an ape and more of a man. These traumas are the basis of name, species, and memory. His identity is based in a time of trauma, and the time of trauma is always a repetition. Those who suffer from trauma experience the trauma over and over and over again. The memory of trauma is never in the past, but always radically in the now. It is the past as present. It is not the wound of Red Peter I wish to talk about here, but I too want us to stay in the time of that wound as we turn our attention to the wound of Elizabeth Costello. I don’t mean, here, a psychical wound, but rather the wounded way in which she interacts with the world.
She is a woman whose interactions always carry a certain sadness, a certain devastation. When praised for her vegetarianism, she refuses the praise and sadly declares that she is merely trying to “save her soul.” And, at the close of the story, we see the tears in her eyes. It is this wound, this trauma, that separates and constantly separates her from others. This brings us back to the antinomy about ethics. We see throughout The Lives of Animals that a desire for an ethical relationship to animals leads to an alienation that specifically interferes with an ethics of breaking bread. That is to say, the ethics of hospitality, and of being a host or hostess. When we talk about ethics towards others, there is a trace of hospitality. Remember, ethos, the Greek word for ethics, refers to our habit and our habitat, toward where we live. Therefore, ethics is always a question for how we treat others where we live, a question of our hospitality. We see again and again in this story how the issue of breaking bread emerges. First, when her grandchildren are eating elsewhere because their mother insists on them eating meat, and Costello prefers (insists?) on not having meat when she eats. We are also presented with the problem when the university hosts a dinner for her lecture. And again, when we see the note from Abraham Stern who refused to break bread with Costello because of her comparisons between the Holocaust and the factory farm. Three times in her debate with O’Hearne, (1) When he references that a community with animals is as impossible as a community with Martians. (2) When Costello, referencing a philosopher who refused to believe that animals deserved moral consideration, said she would “not fall over [her]self to break bread with him.” (3) and her son’s observation at the end of the debate, where he stated that the debated ended on a note of “acrimony, hostility, bitterness.” (p. 164).
So this wound that Costello carries with her is one that isolates her. And it is a wound whose source she explains at the end of the story. It isn’t just that she opposes how we treat animals, and it isn’t just that she feels we are all complicit in a great, historical atrocity. One gets the feeling that all of that would make her feel alright, or at least on the right side of history. No, her wound comes from a fear that she is “making mountains out of molehills.” She worries she could be wrong. But again, it isn’t just that. Indeed, her real source of distress seems to come from a fear, not that is wrong, but that she is right. And that rightness means that the people she loves and cherishes, not some strangers, but her grandchildren, are somehow destroying their souls. This is a terrible moment of moral vertigo. It would be so easy if Elizabeth Costello was concerned about creating another category of the clean and the unclean, the damned and the saved, the righteous and the wicked. But what we have is not separation, but rather contamination. It is this thought of pollution that animates her discussion of Jonathan Swift and Gulliver’s Travels. She posits the question: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could decide if one was a god or a beast? And if a beast, we have that innocence. And if a god, we have that purity. But what if, rather than a god or a beast, we have a human, all too human existence. Neither beast nor god because both beast and god. And we are left, not with the clarity of good or evil, not with the safety of clear and crisp moral argumentation (remember her uncomfortableness with “therefore” statements), but an ethics that will not give us righteousness but might be the basis for something else.
If we are to fight the wound of the ontology of the damned, then we must escape another ethics that creates the saved and the damned. We must focus instead on this issue of contamination and pollution; escape purity to have an ontology of the common. The wounds of identity that Kafka’s Red Peter suffers; of memories, of a name, of species; must be subjected to the positive deconstruction of a fearful involution of a becoming-animal. It is only at this site of contamination and becoming that we can begin to both deactivate the ontology of the damned and produce an ontology of the common.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Thursday, October 2, 2008
The conversation with my brother had to deal with the problem of saying you study something called posthumanism (like Cary Wolfe does) when you study critical animal studies.
So here is an email I wrote to my brother with some of my thoughts on these issues:
"So you know how we discussed before that there is a certain tension (we can be hip and academic and refer to it as a libidinal economy) between different figurations of the cyborg. So in Haraway there is a desire to bring us back into this world. To make sure we don't engage in either nostalgia or escapist fantasies of being goddesses. She wants to engage in a critique of science and technology that falls into none of the agrarian fascism that pervades Heidegger's kritik of technics. On the other hand you have someone like Stelarc (or like the original meaning of cyborg) and it is obvious that figuration is about a desire for transcendence. That is about a desire for immortality, a desire for leaving community and also for exploring space and completely cutting ourselves off from the earth and the flesh.
This second desire, which often goes by the name transhumanism as much as posthumanism, seems to affirm techne over physis. But more importantly, it seems to affirm bios over zoe. It is dedicated to a human power to utilize techne to destroy the zoe. To make us into pure bios and exterminate the zoe. In this case transhumanism isn't at all a posthumanism, it is rather humanism on speed, terminator humanism, hyperdrive humanism. You get the drift."
Friday, September 26, 2008
Biopolitics and the Common.
The agony of the rat or the slaughter of a calf remains present in thought not through pity but as the zone of exchange between man and animal in which something of one passes into the other.
- Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?
Section I: Introduction.
Besides wanting to introduce the ground by which the rest of the paper will take place, the biopolitical and the common, I will also want to affirm my concern for animals, as such. Concerning most of the rest of the paper could be argued from a perspective that really only cares about humans, I want to make sure that from the beginning I am committed to ending the slaughter of animals.
Section II: Remnants of Animals: An Ontology of the Damned
1. A Brief History of Biopolitics.
Begin with a brief history of the word, biopolitics. First coined by Rudolf Kjellén, in his 1916 book Staten som Lifsform (The State as Form of Life). Trace the word’s connection to the concept of lebensraum (living-space), and the naturalization of the state that blurs the inside of the state and the outside of the state, demanding both colonialism and a cutting away of the internal parasites of the state. This thought will achieve its fullest theoretical reflection in the 1920s work Staatsbiologie: Anatomie, Phisiologie, Pathologie des Staates by Jakob von Uexkull. (Uexkull’s importance for understanding animals pervades the work by Heidegger, Deleuze and Guattari, and Agamben). Trace this to Foucault’s concept of the biopolitical as a consent unresolved dialectic between life and politics. Explain how this dialectic plays out in the concept of biohistory (in history of sexuality) and the racial history (in Society Must Be Defended). End with the notion of the thantopolitical.
2. Metaphysical Machines
Explain Agamben’s proliferation of metaphysical machines in his work. Focus on two machines, the state of exception and the anthropological machine (which are the primary machines behind sovereignty and biopolitics, respectively). Despite criticisms to the contrary, both of these machines have not just an ontological make-up, but also a historical and genealogical character. Both machines also operate in very similar ways. Both are fundamentally kenomatic and empty, both work not by producing positive content, but rather by producing a zone of indetermination. Indeed, both simultaneously produce caesuras that force things to be considered either one or the other (legal or illegal, human or animal), while at the same time making sure that there is no way to every truly know what is what. Everything is potentially illegal, everyone is potentially an animal. Explain the precise characteristics of these two machines. Lastly, Agamben’s answer to these machines are the same well, render them inoperative through study.
3. The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon
We can observe the full nature of sovereign power and biopolitics meeting in the annual American ritual of the Thanksgiving Turkey pardon. Fiskesjo invites us to view this ritual in a critical way, but does not take it to its full radical conclusions. First of all we have displayed before us an act of pardoning, which is always a temporal miracle given to the sovereign. But the pardon is also the moment in which we see starkly the power to make dead or let live. At the same time, of what crime is the thanksgiving turkey guilty of? Indeed, the turkeys, genetically modified, seldom live out the year. In this production of life, we also have the full display of the biopolitical power, the power to make live and let die. We have here the co-terminus nature of sovereign power and biopolitics, which results in a thantopolitics.
4. A Fabrication of Corpses
It is now almost a cliché, following the analysis of the Agamben and Foucault, that the death camps of the Nazis represent one of the most profound moments of the meeting of sovereign power and biopolitics. Of course, what makes this so? Why the death camps, as opposed to other sources of state violence and death? Perhaps an answer is found in Arendt’s concept of the fabrication of corpses. To paraphrase her, it was not just who was killed, or how many, but the manner, the fabrication of corpses and so on. However, the death camps did not appear out of thin air. They were rooted in the practices, still relatively new, of factory farming. Models like the Chicago meat packing industry were used in designing the functioning of the death camps. While Arendt came to understand that genocide operated as an inverted murder; instead of concealing the identity of the killer, the purpose of the genocide is to wipe away forever the identity of the victim; the propose of factory farming is always to leave behind remnants of animals.
5. Dying Without Death.
Arendt wasn’t the only one to use the phrase fabrication of corpses; Heidegger did as well in his discussion of man-made mass death. What emerges in his discussion is his argument that the victims of man-made mass death certainly were killed, they did not experience death. He reveals that his real horror of the death camps was that humans became just like animals, unable to experience their own death. This is the first lesson of the ontology of the damned; the damned do not die. They cease living, but the damned do not die. Not death that is recognized in any way we have come to understand death. Neither meaningful nor mourningful, the damned experience a death that is not death.
6. Living Without Life.
The production of life itself, that is at the heart of factory farming, is haunted by its lack of actual life. Many of the animals breed to die are no longer capable of life. Much like the thanksgiving turkey, their bodies cannot sustain life in the long term. This is the second lesson of the ontology of the damned, living without life. A biopolitical production of life that lives until they are let to die. Animals in factory farms most fully embody what Wyschogrod terms a death-world; alive, but with no life-world.
7. Living Dead, Deading Life, and the Ontology of the Damned.
Contemporary theory is obsessed with figurations of the living dead. Specters, ghosts, musselmen, zombies, vampires; these are all figures of something that should be dead but for some reason remain alive. They are one figuration of the damned. The animals of the factory farm are something else entirely. They are the deading life, those that alive but somehow already dead. They are the perfection of the thantopolitical, and the basis of which contemporary productions of the damned depend.
Section III: The Closed: An Ontology of the Common
1. Animal’s Poverty
Heidegger proposed that while humans are world-forming, animals are fundamentally poor in the world. Explain what this means. Point out at the end that Heidegger explains the poverty with a play of words all rooted in nem. Animals are captivated by the world, whereas humans are able to capture the world. In all these plays (being captured by the world, or being able to capture the world) is all played out in words whose root is nem, and nem is rooted in nomos.
2. Schmitt’s Nomos
Explain Schmitt’s concept of the nomos as simultaneous production, distribution, and fundamentally land acquisition. Explain how this is for Schmitt the root of concrete economic and political existence. Also, explain how Deleuze and Guattari’s apparatus of capture depends on a fundamentally similar process. End with Schmitt’s connection of Nomos to the name.
3. A Brief History of the Person
Follow Mauss’ concept of the person. The person is historically rooted in rituals of owning and acquiring things. Indeed, it is only through rituals of owning things that we are able to become a person, acquire a name. Mention that the turkeys pardoned are always given a name.
4. Deleuze and Guattari’s Nomos
Contrast their nomos with Schmitt’s. Explain their nomos as rooted in a refusal to acquire land in the same way that Schmitt understands land acquisition. Their nomos is the nomos of the nomad, who functions much like Schmitt’s pirate. Indeed, the nomad even sees the land as if it is the ocean. This nomos belongs to nomands, it belongs to animals.
5. Poverty and Opportunism.
The poverty of the animal is one that refuses the transcendental. The animal always is stuck not in the humans world, but the haptic environment. The animal therefore is always rooted in a place of opportunism.
6. Becoming-animal, becoming-anonymous.
Section IV: Conclusion.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Today I want to also give a shout out to a new, interesting book. Please pick up and copy and read:
"Incomparable. Post-genre horror, apocalypse theology and the philosophy of oil, crossbred into a new and necessary codex." – China Miéville, author of Perdido Street Station
"Reading Negarestani is like being converted to Islam by Salvador Dali." – Graham Harman, author of Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things
Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials by Reza Negarestani has been published by re.press and is now available. You can look for it in fine bookstores throughout the world or order it online:
Bookdepository (UK and the rest of the world):
CYCLONOPEDIA is a theory-fiction by Iranian philosopher and writer Reza Negarestani. Hailed by novelists, philosophers and cinematographers, Negarestani's work is the first horror and science fiction book coming from and written on the Middle East.
"The Middle East is a sentient entity – it is alive!" concludes renegade Iranian archaeologist Dr. Hamid Parsani, before disappearing under mysterious circumstances. The disordered notes he leaves behind testify to an increasingly deranged preoccupation with oil as the lubricant of historical and political narratives.
A young American woman arrives in Istanbul to meet a pseudonymous online acquaintance who never arrives. Discovering a strange manuscript in her hotel room, she follows up its cryptic clues only to discover more plot-holes, and begins to wonder whether her friend was a fictional quantity all along.
Meanwhile, as the War on Terror escalates, the US is dragged into an asymmetrical engagement with occultures whose principles are ancient, obscure, and saturated in oil. It is as if war itself is feeding upon the warmachines, leveling cities into the desert, seducing the aggressors into the dark heart of oil ...
At once a horror fiction, a work of speculative theology, an atlas of demonology, a political samizdat and a philosophic grimoire, CYCLONOPEDIA is work of theory-fiction on the Middle East, where horror is restlessly heaped upon horror. Reza Negarestani bridges the appalling vistas of contemporary world politics and the War on Terror with the archaeologies of the Middle East and the natural history of the Earth itself. CYCLONOPEDIA is a middle-eastern Odyssey, populated by archeologists, jihadis, oil smugglers, Delta Force officers, heresiarchs, corpses of ancient gods and other puppets. The journey to the Underworld begins with petroleum basins and the rotting Sun, continuing along the tentacled pipelines of oil, and at last unfolding in the desert, where monotheism meets the Earth's tarry dreams of insurrection against the Sun.
Praise for Cyclonopedia
"It is rare when a mind has the courage to take our precious pre-conceptions of history, geography and language and turn them all upside down, into a living cauldron, where ideas and spaces become alive with fluidity and movement and breathe again with imagination and wonder. In this great novel by Reza Negarestani, we are taken on a journey that predates language and post dates history. It is all at once apocalyptic and a beautiful explosive birth of a wholly original perception and meditation on what exactly is this stuff we call 'knowledge'." – E. Elias Merhige, director of Begotten
"This brilliant and exhilarating work is a forensic journey across the surface territories of the Middle East and into the depth of its sub-terrain. The earth is produced as a living artifact, gutted and hollowed out by nomadic war tactics, the practices of extreme archaeology and the logic of petroleum extraction. Inventing a radical new language and reconceptualizing the relationship between religion, geology, and ways of war, Reza Negarestani philosophically ungrounds thus the very grounds of contemporary middle-east politics." – Eyal Weizman, author of Hollow Land
"Cyclonopedia is an extraordinary tract, an uncategorizable hybrid of philosophical fiction, heretical theology, aberrant demonology and renegade archaeology. It aligns conceptual stringency with exacting esotericism, and through its sacrilegious formulae, geopolitical epilepsy is scried as in an obsidian mirror." – Ray Brassier, author of Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction
"Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia is rich and strange, and utterly compelling. Ranging from the chthonic mysteries of petroleum to the macabre fictions of H. P. Lovecraft, and from ancient Islamic (and pre-Islamic) wisdom to the terrifying realities of postmodern asymmetrical warfare, Negarestani excavates the hidden prehistory of global culture in the 21st century." – Steven Shaviro, author of Doom Patrols
"The Cyclonopedia manuscript remains one of the few books to rigorously and honestly ask what it means to open oneself to a radically non-human life – this is a text that screams, from a living assemblage known as the Middle East, 'I am legion.' Cyclonopedia also constitutes part of a new generation of writing that refuses to be called either theory or fiction; a heady mixture of philosophy, the occult, and the tentacular fringes of Iranian culture – call it 'occultural studies.' To find a comparable work, one would have to look back to Von Junzt's Unaussprechlichen Kulten, the prose poems of Olanus Wormius, or to the recent 'Neophagist' commentaries on the Book of Eribon." – Eugene Thacker, author of Biomedia
"From the city of Poetry and Roses in Iran comes this bloody bypass surgery on the heart of darkness." – David Porush, author of Soft Machine: The Cybernetic Fiction
"Negarestani's Cyclonopedia meticulously plots the occult matrices of an archaic petrochemical conspiracy that has set the earth on its carbon-cycle feedback loop to Hell." – John Cussans, Chelsea College of Art and Design
"Western readers can expect their peculiarly schizoid condition to be 'butchered open' by this work. Consider a grotesquely reductive, violent, comic yet still suggestive thesis: Islam is to Negarestani what Marxism is to Bataille. ... Read Negarestani, and pray." – Nick Land, author of The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism
Table of Contents
BACTERIAL ARCHEOLOGY: NETHER, SUB-SOIL AND XENO-CHEMICAL INSIDERS
Palaeopetrology: From Gog-Magog Axis to Petropunkism
Excursus I: Incomplete Burning, Pyrodemonism and Napalm-obsession
Machines Are Digging
Excursus II: Memory and ( )hole complex
Pipeline Odyssey: The Z Monologue
EXHUMATIONS: RELICS AND DIABOLIC PARTICLES
An Assyrian Relic
Excursus III: Occult, the State’s Macropolitics and Political Pollution
The Dead Mother of All Contagions
Excursus IV: Meteorological Teratology
Excursus V: Fog oil, a retrospection on obscurants
THE LEGION: WARMACHINES, PREDATORS AND PESTS
The Dust Enforcer
Excursus VI: Xeno-agents and the Assyrian Axis of Evil-against-Evil
The Thing: White War and Hypercamouflage
War as a Machine
Excursus VII: The Codex of Yatu
TELLURIAN INSURGENCIES: XERODROME, SOLAR TEMPESTS AND EARTH-SUN AXES
Telluro-magnetic Conspiracy Towards the Sun I: Solar Rattle
Excursus VIII: Barbaric Music and Vowelless Alphabets
Five Billion Years of Hell-engineering
Telluro-magnetic Conspiracy Towards the Sun II: The Core
Excursus IX: Dracolatry, Writing with the Middle East
Mesopotamian Axis of Communication
Excursus X: Az and Destrudo
UNCHARTED REGIONS: CATALYTIC SPACES
Excursus XI: Life Modeling
POLYTICS: COMPLICITY AND SCHIZOTRATEGIES FOR OPENNESS AND INSURGENCY
A Good Meal: The Schizotrategic Edge
The Z. crowd: The Infested Germ-cell of Monotheism
Excursus XII: The Heretical Holocaust
Excursus XII: Schizotrategy and the Dawn of Paranoia
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Like, is it especially big or irregularly shaped or somehow different from every book ever?
And I'm sure most of you don't care, but I'm traveling, hence the sudden cut off of blog posts.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Until relatively recently, which is to say the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century, all occidental history was sovereign history. To be more explicit, history was an important ceremonial tool of sovereign power. History serves as an intensifier sovereignty. It glorifies and adds luster to power. History performs this function in two modes: (1)in a “genealogical” mode (understood in the simple sense of that term) that traces the linage of the sovereign. And (2) in a memorial mode that celebrates and glorifies every action that the sovereign makes. Therefore history, in this full Jupiterian enterprise, acts in tandem with sovereignty’s juridical power as a kind of white magic which seeks to bind and unite a subject, a people, under sovereign’s rule.
This sovereign history is a particularly Roman history. You can see it manifest in the work of the annalists and also in the work of Livy. (For those of you that remember your Livy, he said he wanted to write his history from the foundations of Rome. By which he meant the morality of Rome. For Livy, it was the Romans unique moral being that accounted for their ‘greatness’). And this history could be considered Roman long into the Middle Ages, because, or course, people thought of themselves as Romans still. But as I pointed out earlier, this type of history reaches a crisis in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
What emerges is a counter-history of race struggle or race war. By race, it is not meant some biological distinction, but rather certain cultural, linguistic, and/or religious differences. For example, think of about the differences between the Normans and the Saxons following the Battle of Hastings. But it isn’t just an understanding of racial differences that emerges with the Norman and Frankish invasions, but also a new conception of history. It is a counter-history that reveals if there are conquerors, there are those whom are conquered; if land and treasure are acquired, it is also land and treasure taken; and if there are battles won for some, then there must be battles lost for others. In short, if there are subjects of history, there must be the subjugated of history. As Foucault puts it on page 72
The role of counterhistory will, then, be to show that laws deceive, that kings wear masks, that power creates illusions, and that historians tell lies. This will not, then, be a history of continuity, but a history of deciphering, the detection of the secret, of the outwitting of the ruse, and of the reappropriation of a knowledge that has been distorted or buried. It will decipher a truth that has been sealed.
This counter-history does not come from amid the light and brilliance of the sovereign, but rather from the shadows where the discourses of the subjugated race resides. It is not coincidental that Subcommandante Marcos refers to the Zapatistas as “shadows of tender fury.” History is no longer Jupiterian but rather Janus-faced. The white magic of sovereignty is replaced by a black magic that uncovers the sovereign power of enslavement.
This counter-history is not Roman, but biblical. The biblical history serves not just to chart the oppression of a conquered people, but also served the dual purpose of a promise of an eschatological victory for the oppressed. The history built the foundations for a discourse about the end of the conquers and the victory of the minority race that were forced into submission. Therefore under the façade of peace was this constant tension and threat of the race struggle, the great war that never ends. The State and all its tools, rather than being seen as the glorious unifier of people and guarantee of social stability was seen to have blood on its hands. The State was revealed to be an apparatus of constant oppression and military subjugation. Therefore this biblical historical discourse became the foundation for all occidental revolutionary rhetoric. Marx, in a letter to Engel in 1852, tells him that the basis for the class struggle was rooted in the French race struggle historians. But this is actually where the great change occurs.
When the rhetoric of the race struggle became replaced by the rhetoric for a class struggle, when race was specifically rejected as the focus of revolutionary struggle, it was actually in that moment that racism as we understand it was born. The State suddenly inverted the revolutionary discourse, filled the void where the race struggle had articulated the divisions of society. Power’s brilliant counterrevolutionary move was to produce this concern for racial purity that had not existed before. The State had first been legitimatised as a glorious unification of the social body, then delegitmized as an oppressive organ, only to find a new legitimization: the protection of the racial purity of society. At the heart of race struggle is a belief in the plurality of races, but at the heart of racism is the belief of the purity of one race. In short, racism is a discourse about “protecting” whole populations. Racism sees only one race that is important and true, all others become remainders (which eventually have to be solved for, as the Nazi’s showed). The State grounds itself in a discourse of defending society against racial otherness. It is not coincidental at all that it is during times of great social upheaval, during times in which the State’s existence is called into question, that we see the most vile and virulent discourse of racism emerge from the State.
So this counter-history of the race struggle is not a ground or guarantor of a libratory politics. To exemplify this Foucault ends his January 28th lecture with this question, “‘And what if Rome once more conquered the revolution?’” Or to state it in another way, “What if sovereignty acquires the counter-history?”. Considering counter-history is a biblical history, then, following Schmitt’s famous statement that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts” we have the grounds for a biopolitical theology.