Friday, September 26, 2008

outline of my field paper I am writing. Any and all feedback welcomed.


Critical Animal:
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.