Friday, June 20, 2008
On Foucault's "Society Must Be Defended", Part one of a biopolitics of racism
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.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I wanted to post here the comment I made over there:
Interesting post. A few issues I have.
(1) The Task of Philosophy:
I think that whatever problems there are in Empire and Multitude (and sure, there are many), these books are not just works trying to describe a political situation, they are also trying to produce a political ontology. As Deleuze and Guattari put it in What Is Philosophy? “We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present. The creation of concepts in itself calls for a future form, for a new earth and people that do not yet exist” (p. 108). Empire and Multitude is about calling forth this new people, this multitude. I think we have to judge the exuberance of these two books partially upon a criteria of a “becoming-political of philosophy” (as Alliez puts it in The Signature of the World).
(2) On subsumption:
Few people have done more to advance the knowledge of transitions from formal subsumption to real subsumption than Negri. Indeed, one can see in the works of both Negri and Hardt a thorough look at capitalism’s move to a cognitive and affective capitalism. We can see the increasing disciplinarization and normalization of capitalism. Read Negri’s The Politics of Subversion for merely my favorite work on this issue. Also, a good read (if you haven’t already) is Jason Read’s The Micro-politics of Capital, which synthesizes the work of Negri and other autonomists and french political theory. The switch from formal subsumption to real subsumption and the rise of immaterial labor is clearly at stake in both Empire and Multitude, why then does your post imply that somehow it isn’t acknowledged? Your post implies that they somehow think that the categories of immaterial labor and real subsumption are somehow less oppressive. I don’t think they ever imply that (though maybe, in the general sense, that they imply that Empire is less oppressive than the days of nationalism). What they do argue in those texts (and perhaps more forcefully in other works) is that the stage of real subsumption is a stage of contestability. Similar to Foucault, if capitalism now inhabits every moment of our life, then every moment of life is a possibility to fight capitalism. The antagonism against real subsumption becomes the constitutive reality of the multitude.
It is the question of constitutive possibilities that seems to be real break you make with Negri and Hardt. Does capitalism contain creative, constitutive powers itself? Does it have poesies and potentia? The argument of Negri is unambiguous on this point, capitalism does not and cannot. (It is here that Agamben makes his criticism against Negri). If capitalism does not have its own constitutive powers, than it proceeds based upon control and normalization (and those words should be not be heard too far outside of their Deleuzian and Foucauldian registers). Perhaps then we should also hear the word monstrosity in its Foucauldian register. Foucault devoted an extensive amount of time to the idea of monstrosity, particular in his lectures on The Abnormal. In there we find that “the monster is essentially a mixture” (p. 63). But it is not enough for the monster to be a mixture. “There is monstrosity only when the confusion comes up against, overturns, or disturbs civil, canon, or religious law” (ibid). If capitalism is only parasitic, if it only has potestas and not potentia, if it has only constituted and not constitutive power, if it only can own the means of production but cannot produce itself; then it needs normalization and control. Capitalism may break taboos (may indeed depend on it), but only to create a new normal. Monstrous bodies are still bodies that need to be controlled or killed in our society. When Hardt and Negri align the multitude with a monstrous flesh, this is actually a very important moment. First of all, it sets up the antagonism between the multitude and those societies of control (deleuze)/societies of normalization (Foucault). Second of all, it contends that the common of the multitude will not be one of normalization. Communism is not and cannot be soviet socialism, it cannot be another way of normalizing, rather, the common of the multitude must be the monstrous. The singularity of the monstrous body, the creativity and productivity of the multitude against the normalizing control of capitalism.
That post makes me sound like I am in the tank for hardt and negri, which surely isn’t the case. It also didn’t express enough that I liked your post.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Arendt on human rights and animal rights
-hannah arendt, origins of totalitarianism, p. 289, 1954 edition.
I have more I want to say about this quotation later, but I also wanted to know if anyone knew if this was correct? Anything out there on the connection between human rights and groups against cruelty to animals?
Monday, June 16, 2008
Guest editors wanted for Journal for Critical Animal Studies
Please send e-mails of interest to Dr. Steve Best at -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Anthony J. Nocella, II
Assistant Editor, JCAS
(taken from H-net listserv)
On Agamben's The Open and biopolitics
I’ve given a lot of thought as to how to present The Open. I’ll begin with some background, then move to the middle of The Open, use the middle to bring in the first part of The Open, and then move on to the second part and the conclusion after that. (There really aren’t any “parts” per se, these are sort of random distinctions made by my readings).
Let’s randomly, again, sort of divide up Agamben’s works as pre-homo sacer , homo sacer/Remnants of Aushwitz, and The Open and State of Exception. Again, this division only makes sense if you are trying to chart a particular thought in Agamben (like his notion of life), if you were trying to map other concepts of Agamben different groupings would make sense.
In the pre-homo sacer group (including Infancy and History, The Idea of Prose, Language and Death, and “Potentiality”) Agamben seemed very invested in both trying to de-struckt the metaphysics of humanism while at the same time entailing a stronger anthropological divide. Take for example the distinction between human in-fancy and animal codes, the relationship of language and death as creating a non-essentialist finitude that still essentially defines the human (specifically in contrast with animals), etc.
The homo sacer series marks a very different move for Agamben. What is of interest here for Agamben is the state’s ability to divide up bare life from political life, to cut the zoe out of bios. In general, to enter a field of inclusive exclusion that allows us to treat some humans as non-humans. To include some humans into a political operation (like the creation of the camps) while at the same time excluding from any claim to a political life, leaving them with nothing but bare life/zoe. This operation of inclusive exclusion at the level of life is what Agamben will term the biopolitical (of course this term, from Foucault, is used in a very different way than Foucault used the term). The other operation of inclusive exclusion in which the law is suspended in order to create the law, Agamben will term sovereign. Perhaps in this way we can view his books The Open (published in the Italian in 2002) and State of Exception (published in the Italian in 2003) as the extensions of the ideas of biopower and sovereign power, respectively, originally found in homo sacer. But this sort of leaves a question, is the model/method of sovereign power is the state of exception, what is the model/method of biopower?
(One last aside, I use The Open as a provisional answer to this work. Agamben has promised to add to the Homo Sacer series a book on biopolitics/ Forms of Life, which still has not been written).
The Middle, The Beginning, and the Conclusion.
Agamben introduces in the middle of The Open a concept of the anthropological machine. The anthropological machine refers to various scientific, ontological, and political considerations about creating a fundamental caesurae between the human and the animal. This machine has both a modern/post-darwinian manifestation, and also a pre-modern/pre-darwinian manifestation. The modern anthropological machine is concerned with demarcating exactly what is human by animalizing certain parts of human life in order to declare those parts of human life that cannot be animalized as the definition of the human. Leading up to this understanding of the modern anthropological machine Agamben goes through various sections on arguments between Bataille and Kojeve, paleontology, and Linnaeus’ efforts at taxonomy (a word that Agamben doesn’t really get into, but whose etymology is the nomos of the taxis [arrangement]. As they say, you can escape everything but death and taxis). The pre-modern form of the anthropological machine is the inverse of the modern form of the anthropological machine. The pre-modern form (from Aristotle on) in which forms of animal life are humanized. Thus we see discourses of the infant savage, the werewolf (a figure we saw more of in Homo Sacer), the barbarian/slave, women, etc. Regardless of we are talking about the modern or pre-modern form, the anthropological machine has similar political effects: It generates the ability to create a non-human human. A monstrosity that we are allowed to do anything to. Agamben suggests that:
“. . . it is enough to move our field of research ahead a few decades, and instead of this innocuous paleontological find we will have the Jew, that is, the non-man produced within the man, or the néomort and the overcomatose person, that is, the animal separated within the human body itself.” (p. 37)
The second half of The Open has to do with a long reading of Heidegger’s understanding of the separation between the human and the animal. Most of this concentrates on Heidegger’s Fundamental Concept of Metaphysics. In short, Agamben traces Heidegger’s arguments about the animal as being poor in the world (and again, Agamben manages to both bring up the constant relations of the words Heidegger uses as being rooted in nehmen, but doesn’t then explore this connection to nomos. Weird miss again on the part of Agamben), and the human being world making. The human’s ability to be world-making has to do with the human’s ability to have access to the open. What is the open? In Agamben’s reading, we are all captivated by the world (both the animal and the human). However, humans have access to a profound boredom, which is the moment before captivation where we are able to know we are being captivated, this allows us (humans) the ability to therefore possible break from captivation, to apprehend the world as such. Profound boredom is, in Agamben’s reading, the Stimmung of Da-sein.
This reading still sets up a humanism, and therefore Agamben, as a conclusion, turns to another philosopher to think of a better relationship between the human and the animal. (I’ll give you exactly one guess to figure out who that other philosopher is).
In the conclusion Agamben becomes fascinated by two concepts of Benjamin: that of the “saved night” and “dialectic at a standstill.” The saved night refers to an understanding of the world, and all its inhabitants as fundamentally unsaveable, or irreparable in the language of Agamben. That is to say, that we therefore do not need a politics to change, shape, and control the world around us. This irreparability means that we can have a dialectic at a standstill. There are still distinctions between the human and the animal, but no longer a machine to create these differences and enforce them. That we can have a being outside of being, a suspension of suspension, a Shabbat of both animals and man, which will allow to simply leave animals alone.
This conclusion is vintage Agamben (including finding the limit of Heidegger's thought, and then parachuting Benjamin in at the end to set things right). Agamben describes the genealogy of a particular metaphysical machine (these machines are frequent in Agamben's Homo Sacer and beyond writings. A post should be given to finding and defining the machines in Agamben), it's function (all machines function is the same basic way, too, through a production of inclusive exclusions or exclusive inclusions), and then the solution is to render the working of the machine inoperative (though the word is strangely misspelled in both the English and Italian).
Sunday, June 15, 2008
It is, first of all, not that surprising that Heidegger included in his discussions of animals a strong rejection of all vitalistic philosophy (and for more on Heidegger's notion of Life philosophy, you should read Krell's Daimon Life http://www.mediafire.com/?xoqxzis1bah ).
Any vitalism has to begin at least with an understanding of what Robert J. Richards terms the romantic conception of life, especially focusing on the work of Schelling. (Two key works here are Jason Wirth's The Conspiracy of Life http://www.mediafire.com/?d3wugxhrzm0 and Iain H. Grant's Philosophies of Nature After Schelling http://www.mediafire.com/?jynmfcdcvcw . If you want something tying this with Heidegger's reading of Schelling, I might suggest Clark's essay "Heidegger's Craving Being-On-Schelling http://www.mediafire.com/?mbyfx3zzwtm ).
From Schelling, we move to Bergson. (Matter and Memory http://www.mediafire.com/?mtjz5bygi5h "The Metaphysics of Life." SubStance 36.3 (2007): 25-32. http://www.mediafire.com/?3dztbxdzcin Also necessary is Bergson's Creative Evolution. Also check out J. Alexander Gunn - Bergson and His Philosophy http://www.mediafire.com/?jd99gamtddm).
Perhaps though, what would be most useful is the post-bergsonian Deleuze.
And with him, the particularly feminist appropriation of Deleuze and Bergson by the likes of Grosz and Bradotti.
btw, thanks to the people from the critique forum from cross-x for most of those texts.
I'll try to make a real post of ideas rather than citations later on.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The Aporias of Killing Well: On Donna Haraway's When Species Meet (part one)
Killing well should be felt in a sort of tension, if not outright rejection, of the commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill. We can never escape that to live is to kill, and that “eating also means killing” (p.296). Outside of the Christian beginning and end (the Garden of Eden and the Jeremiahian prophetic end time when the lion shall down with the lamb), there is no way to escape this brute fact. This is where Haraway wants us to begin ethically (if by that word we mean the way to navigate the knotted kinships that emerge when species meet), in the unavoidability to killing. In order for one to follow the imperative Thou Shalt Not Kill, one has to decide that some lives are no longer lives. These lives can be bacteria, plants, animals, other humans; regardless one has to perform a god-trick that turns life into not life. This is why she believes that “[p]erhaps the commandment should read, ‘Thou shalt not make killable’” (p. 80). In other words, we can only say, “I do not kill” if we have made certains lives killable, utterly discardable. Thou shalt not kill can never be a commandment of the cosmopolitical, but only of the biopolitical (and those that hear the resonances with Agamben’s own brand of biopolitics are not mistaken. Not only is The Open mentioned, but Homo Sacer finds itself appearing in a footnote on chickens). Killing well, as an ethical principle, seeks to avoid the naiveté, innocence, and purity of those that seek not to kill; and introduce instead the very real and messy situation that is life. One should expect to get one’s hand’s dirty when species meet. Perhaps, though, this leads us to the first aporia of killing well.
The end of When Species Meet is taken up with trying to explore how to eat and kill well. In trying to explore this idea, Haraway relates the story of a departmental dinner. In this dinner, one member of the department who is hosting the dinner serves a feral pig that he hunted and killed and roasted in front of everyone. Haraway spends time to explain that the host is opposed to factory farming, and hunts only according to strickly conservationist principles. She also does her best to invite her own feelings of ambiguity to the dead pig roasting in front of her. The story continues, the guests become divided between those who feel there is nothing wrong with the pig being roasted, and those that feel the department should only offer vegan meals. She feels in what must be mutually exclusive discourses the possibility for cosmopolitics, for a real sharing and playful argument. Instead, the discussion is shut down for politeness sake, and rather than roasted pigs cold cut slices are served in the future. I share with her this sense of frustration, that a sort of liberal relativism came and shut down the possibility for politics. Indeed, can anyone truly argue that cold cuts are somehow a better option than roasted pig hunted by a conservationist? Here, though, something else is revealed. Among the story of this and another dinner, among the details of how careful the hunting is, among the possibility for possibilities, she slips this sentence in, “In the sense I have tried to develop in this book, I respect Lease’s hunting practices in my bones, and I eat his food with gratitude” (p. 299). And that’s that. No matter the “indigestion” she feels in the tug of war on her gut between vegans and the hunted meat, she made a choice. If to live is to kill, then that means we have to make choices. Who do we kill? How do we kill them? Even if we make no one killable, are some more killable than others? Would Haraway eat a feral dog if offered to her, or a feral human? I don’t mean these last questions facetiously, but to underscore the question: Are some lives more killable than others? And this last question seems to be dodged by the book (and by Haraway?) through her analysis of killing well. For her the political seems to reside in the back and forth of debate, in discussion, in playful and serious dialogue. The political is the space mediated, that she finds herself in, and where we are drawn in opposite directions. And I agree, the political can be found in disagreement. However, the political also has to be in the decision. One has to pick sides; that is also what it means to live in a world where living means killing. Her concept of killing well is clearly meant to be in the same pack as Derrida’s interview “Eating Well,” but perhaps it would have also been useful to look at his essay, “The Force of Law.” In that essay, Derrida traces out both the impossibility and inevitability of making a decision. Neutrality is the ultimate god-trick, and non-neutrality is both the mark and guarantor of immanence (for more on this last point see anything by William Haver. Particularly, “The Ontological Priority of Violence: On Several Really Smart Things About Violence in Jean Genet's Work” and “Queer Research; or, How to Practice Invention to the Brink of Intelligibility.”). To live is to kill, and discussions (no matter how cosmopolitical) does not escape that we must choose sides. This is the first aporia of killing well.
Where biopolitics comes from.
Most commonly, it is thought that Michel Foucault coined the term, biopolitics (this is something that even wikipedia gets wrong), this is incorrect.
It was actually coined by the swede, Rudolf Kjellén, in his 1916 book Staten som Lifsform (The State as Form of Life). 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 it's 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.
Indeed, this biopolitics becomes a completely naturalized in the 1920s essay, Staatsbiologie: Anatomie, Phisiologie, Pathologie des Staates by Jakob von Uexkull (if you can't place where you heard that name before, he is cited frequently by Heidegger, Deleuze and Guattari, and Agamben). Not only does this essay naturalize biopolitics, but also firmly brings it into the discursive economy of pathology. Biopolitics is tied to determining what is, in the word's of Foucault's teacher Georges Canguilhem, the normal and the pathological.
This is not the only use of the term biopolitics predating Foucault's use of the term (there was a distinctly neo-humanist use of the term by many french intellectuals in the early 60s, and also a different use of the term by a group of american intellectuals in the late 60s and early 70s). However, I think it is illuminating and useful to explore these original uses of the term biopolitics (uses that Foucault most certainly had to know of).
Now, someone already brought up to me the issue that this is not the first time that a state has been seen as a living form, indeed is this not the same conception of Hobbes?
One of the major differences is that Hobbes' Leviathan was an escape from nature, a purposefully artificial (and thus, no matter what it was, contestable) compact. The staatsbiologie was actually a return to a naturalism (and thus an uncontestable), a view that sees the organic reality of the state as necessary and universal (kant's two criteria for a priori).