Papers from the Society for the Study of Biopolitical Futures

SLSA 2017: Out of Time

The 31st Annual Conference of SLSA (Society of Science, Literature and the Arts) in Tempe, AZ.

Event Date: 10-Nov-2017

November 10 - 11, 2017

Arizona State University

Tempe Campus


Friday, Session 4 11:00am-12:30pm

4B “The Time(s) of Life, Temporalities of the Living and Non-Living, I: Geontology, Biopolitics, Governmentality” Papers from the Society for the Study of Biopolitical Futures Chairs: Ingrid Diran and Antoine Traisnel

This panel proposes to reflect on biopolitics’ relevance, in the logical and temporal senses of the term, at the moment when the destinies of the living reveal themselves critically contingent on those of the nonliving. In Geontologies, Elizabeth A. Povinelli suggests that biopolitics has run its course as an analytic of power in late liberalism and needs to be supplemented by what she calls “geontopower,” a formation of power that presumes and enforces a strict differentiation, not between life and death (bios and thanatos), but Life and Nonlife (bios and geos). If only because biopower is entirely subtended by geontopower, Povinelli cautions, geontology is not simply meant to replace biopolitics but rather to mark that, under the influence of recent phenomena such as climate change and mass extinction, which take us “to a time before the life and death of individuals and species,” the self-evidence of the distinction between Life and Nonlife has started to crumble, or at least tremble. This self-evidence might have been the bedrock of Western biopolitics, Povinelli insists, but it never appeared as such to the populations most directly affected by settler late liberalism. Thus a critique of biopolitics necessarily entails a critique of geontopower, in which the concept of “earth” or even, of “ecology” as something like a metabolism between Life and Nonlife, is grasped as the threshold of governmentality. This panel considers what significance biopolitical critique retains, loses, or acquires upon a political horizon defined by the non-living, the mineral, and the metereological.


(Non) Life of the Neoliberal Market: Between Biopolitics and Political Theology

Medovoi, Leerom (University of Arizona;

In this paper I consider the production of neoliberal subjects and populations in their relationship to the ambiguous life/nonlife of the market. As an abstraction grounded in the promise of investments in the future, the neoliberal understanding of the market (and the so-called “entrepreneurial subject”) is suspended somewhere between a biopolitical management of populations and a convenantal theology of faith in the providential future. The calculation of a profitable future based on ROI (return on investment) produces in the neoliberal subject a relationship to temporality that is grounded in a biopolitical promise of the predictability of natural laws, whether they apply to living or non-living phenomenon. But at a deeper level, this expectation that predictive capacity is adequate to the management of risk vacillates between the twin theological futurities of providential and apocalyptic promise. These are logics where the distinction between life and non-life (and also religious and secular modalities) break down even as the purpose of the political persists.


Receptivity, Immigration, Biopolitics

Ty, Michelle (Clemson University;

This paper takes as a point of departure a linguistic recurrence that illuminates affinities between psychoanalytic conceptions of psychic fortification and contemporary strategies for re-framing immigration in terms of critical projects of national defense. During the current refugee crisis, concern has been raised in Germany, among other nations of the global north, that the limits of “our” receptive capacity [Aufnahmefähigkeit] have been reached. Writing in the twenties, Freud uses the same term in his account of the formation of (psychic) interiority as a bounded locus of receptivity. Psychoanalytic and political theory have supplied a robust vocabulary with which to speak of the analytics of defense and the different responses that may be undertaken by the ego/nation, when confronted by “economic disturbances” (Freud’s term). Aggression and disavowal, for instance, have correlates in governmental practices, such as the militarization of borders and the various forms of legal exclusion that deny recognition to the foreigner within. This paper seeks to give consideration to receptivity as essential to understanding governmentality--and not merely as a backdrop for psychic and political contestation. What, quite apart from a Schmittian agonism between friend and enemy, may be at work in the specification of a receptive capacity—an articulation of what can be imagined to be absorbed? Why does receptivity appear temporally as a retroprojection of closed (psychic) territory? The paper proposes a connection between contemporary anti-immigrant discourses and biopolitical practices advanced by colonization, particularly the assessment of the “carrying capacity” of the land for sustaining nonhuman populations.


The Secret Life of Norms

Diran, Ingrid and Antoine Traisnel (University of Michigan;

In his influential 2009 essay “The Climate of History,” Dipesh Chakrabarty asserts that “theories of globalization, Marxist analysis of capital, subaltern studies, and postcolonial criticism over the last twenty-five years” fail to account adequately for the realities of climate change insofar as the latter erodes the distinction between geological and human time. In this paper, we argue that the apparent crisis of Marxist thought to which Chakrabarty attests is itself symptomatic of a larger threat that the Anthropocene poses to traditional thought: the extinction of a critique of historical time as such. Even the timely and necessary proposals to rename Anthropocene as Capitalocene are, we argue, implied in this trend, since they unproblematically retain the temporal concept of an internally continuous “cene” (literally, a newness) even as they supplant its content. In this paper, we ask to what extent climate change destabilizes the distinction not only between human and non-human histories, but also the conceptual conditions for imagining time as a continuous duration befalling the living and non-living alike (whether the latter is defined as inorganic matter or abstract substance, including the value form). Heeding Amitav Ghosh’s suggestion that the temporality informing terms like “anthropocene” or “capitalocene” assumes a probabilistic universe, and that the idea of such a universe has been perfected not just in the hard sciences but in the imaginative laboratory of the modern novel, we turn to an alternative literary genealogy, one crystallized for us in the parabolic narratives of Nathanial Hawthorne and Octavia Butler, to test not only the viability of a normative universe, but its very desirability.


Farming by the Pull of the Moon

François, Anne-Lise (University of California, Berkeley;

Recent work on the Anthropocene such as Andreas Malm’s Fossil Capital has focused on the ways in which petrocultures and extraction economies have “messed” with our relationship to the sun: if scientists are now proclaiming the end of seasonality, it’s in part because, as Malm and E.A. Wrigley before him have argued, with fossil fuel extraction capitalism no longer depends on the “yield of present photosynthesis” (as earlier forms of agriculture did) but avails itself of the millennia of solar years stored in coal and oil. This paper takes as a starting point the idea that in this time of accelerated climate disruption and intensified seasonal instability what hasn’t changed is the lunar cycle and the mini-monthly seasons determined by the moon’s rotation around the earth. In a related essay I have examined lyric’s and technology’s power to expand and compress, accelerate or distort circadian rhythms in terms of the sun and solar years, but in this paper I turn to the other, more shadowy, secondary but no less structuring—governing measure of time—the moon. After examining the resurgence of attention to the gravitational patterns of celestial bodies in biodynamic farming and contemporary astrology, I finish with a reading of the lines concerning the “rosy-fingered moon” in Sappho’s Fragment 96.


Friday, Session 5 2:00-3:30pm

5B “The Time(s) of Life, Temporalities of the Living and Non-Living, II: Mountains and Time” Papers from the Society for the Study of Biopolitical Futures Chair: The Transhuman Alliance for Climbing Theory (Nicola Masciandaro, Bo Earle, Margret Grebowicz)

“Then a new idea took possession of me, and I shifted my thoughts to a consideration of time…” (Petrarch, Ascent of Mt. Ventoux). Among other things, Petrarch’s alpine anti-epiphany, wherein he realizes that the mountain he has climbed is not the one he needs to, is paradigmatic of the modern form of subjectivity. The latter finds itself less somewhere in the universe than somewhen, dwarfed by expanding horizons of timescales before which even the highest of earth’s mountains appear to shrink, humiliated by the cosmic depth of the very processes that generate them. The modern experience of mountains is haunted and thrilled at every turn by their in/trans-human temporality—from early modern speculations into the sacred history of orogeny to the sublime geologies of romanticism. This panel’s historical investigations of said hauntings and thrills hope to arrive at a point from which to begin ask what mountains mean “today” (whenever that may be), after the “age of mountains.”


Hideous Vociferations: On Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and the Sound of Time

Masciandaro, Nicola (Brooklyn College, CUNY;

As if telescoping modern and medieval alpine aesthetics, the dialectic of ‘mountain gloom’ and ‘mountain glory’ famously explored by John Ruskin in Modern Painters, H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness plunges the Romantic sublime into an abyss of neo-medieval cosmic terror wherein the nearly gnostic fallenness of terrestrial nature and the mystical heights of its beauty become maddeningly indistinguishable: “For a second we gasped in admiration of the scene’s unearthly cosmic beauty, and then vague horror began to creep in our souls.” Given the geological framing of the story, its forays into the horror of deep time are to be expected, such as when we are presented the fossilized “print of some bulky, unknown, and radically unclassifiable organism of considerably advanced evolution.” Less explicable is Lovecraft’s attention to sound in this text, which is also conspicuously correlated with time, as in the bathetically monstrous appearance of a penguin’s squawk, in which the narrator’s sensibility verges on parody of the assumptions of supernatural horror: “What we heard was not the fabulous note of any buried blasphemy of elder earth from whose supernal toughness an age-denied polar sun had evoked a monstrous response. Instead, it was a thing so mockingly normal and so unerringly familiarised by our sea days off Victoria Land and our camp days at McMurdo Sound that we shuddered to think of it here, where such things ought not to be. To be brief—it was simply the raucous squawking of a penguin.” As this example suggests, sound may operate as a weird kind of mirror or hinge between time’s dimensions, bringing past, present, and future into correlations invisible to spatial experience. So in the conclusion of the tale, Lovecraft constellates the last “demoniac glimpse … of what lay back of those other violet westward mountains which the Old Ones had shunned” with the haunting piping sound of the Shoggoths, now crystallized into unhinged graduate student’s “repetition of a single made word … ‘Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!’” Beginning with an exegesis of this complex moment in light of its verbal source in Edgar Allen Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, this paper will explore the significance of the empirically counter-intuitive concept of the ‘sound of time’ in the context of Lovecraft’s mountain aesthetics and the cultural history of mountains more generally. In what sense does the figure of the mountain represent for human culture not only a factual concept full of multifarious meanings, but a veritable sonic image of what most terrifyingly makes no sound at all: time?


Climbing without Ascent: The Rhythms of Nietzschean Pretension

Earle, Bo (University of British Columbia;

As a metaphor for knowledge, enlightenment organizes space and time toward the aim of elevation from and repudiation of the earth. We climb to the light, excavating ourselves from the earth and the dark senses. Paul Ricoeur characterized the founders of modern critique of enlightenment--Nietzsche, Marx and Freud—as “masters of the hermeneutics of suspicion.” Whereas Freudian and Marxian critique hinges on empiricism, Nietzschean critique is more often a function of style. Marx and Freud gave new focus to materiality but generally from the rather timeless, rational, objective perspective. Hence the descending trajectory of their thought: excavating the subconscious beneath consciousness, the base beneath the superstructure. But Nietzsche's signature notion, overcoming, is arguably reducible to this ascending pretension. As pre-tension, however, ascent engages the crucial temporal dimension of Nietzsche's critique. Whereas Ricoeur characterizes the method of Marxian and psychoanalytic critique as unmasking, Nietzsche’s stylistic critique presumes that masks are inevitable, that there is no true world underneath the apparent one. Likewise, whereas unmasking relies on what Aristotle called moments of tragic reversal and recognition, Nietzsche insists such moments are always disguised parodies of themselves, pretensions to insight. Overcoming enlightenment's spatial condescension toward the earth and body means overcoming the condescending temporality of narratives of punctual revelation: bodily liberation means bodily levitation, bodily upheaval registered in the open-ended, reeling rhythms of eternal return. "In every Instant being begins; around every Here rolls the ball There. The middle is everywhere." Hence "the path of eternity" is "crooked," but this crookedness is itself organized by the rhythm with which each articulation of Here and There rolls into the next, the rhythm of this recurrent mutual mediation. This essay considers this rhythmic aspect to critique of enlightenment in Nietzsche's own text and in Romantic and Modernist poetry.


The End of Everest: Upward Mobility and the Time of Climbing

Grebowicz, Margret (Goucher College;

One of the most astonishing images of Anthropocene congestion to emerge in recent years is National Geographic’s photo of climbers ascending the Lhotse Face in a dotted line, one after another, like tiny ants, dark against the white snow. As it becomes easier to climb than ever, more and more Everest deaths are attributed not to falls or the effects of oxygen depriavtion in the Death Zone, but to climbers having to wait—thereby becoming more fatigued—before they even reach that altitude. Furthermore, inexperienced climbers are causing bottlenecks and accidents, and they sometimes don'tt follow protocol with climbers who are injured or in trouble. People are left for dead who might have been rescued by climbers who were not as new to the game or such a hurry to summit because this was their only chance. Thus, compared to the rest of the Himalaya, today's Everest deaths are nondramatic and unglamorous, with distinct inflections of social and environmental loss. Meanwhile, the mountaineer has become an icon of what Dominic Pettman calls “the corporate sublime.” Today’s climbing body is more often than not presented as a convergence of the values of performance, speed, and efficiency, in perfect compliance with neoliberal fantasies of the individual who overcomes adversity, as well as biopower’s demand for docile bodies. This paper takes the recent death of speed solo climber Ueli Steck, one of the most "optimized" bodies in the history of the sport, as an opportunity to re-examine Everest—at once the symbol of mountainness itself and an icon of the end of Nature. What does it mean in today’s climbing industry? And what does climbing-as-industry mean in late capitalist imaginaries of upward mobility and gaining time?


Friday, Session 6 4:00-5:30pm

6B “Biopolitical Thought and Ecological Thought: The Emerging Conversation” Papers from the Society for the Study of Biopolitical Futures Chair: Gregg Lambert

Externalities and the Nuclear Absurd-Sublime

Seshadri, Kalpana (Boston College;

Non-scientific disquisitions of neoliberalism and the contemporary global economy invariably find their political and moral grounding by referencing climate change and the negative environmental consequences of economic growth. One of the logical encumbrances of this approach is the bio-political concept of Capitalism itself as a totalizing and irrefutable system that nevertheless must be opposed. The epistemological challenges taken up in this paper are methodological and attitudinal. The methodological questions are: a) how can bio-political critique serve as the barometer of the way in which the contemporary episteme functions to separate economy, ecology, the ethical and the political as so many “calculably indeterminate” interests? This is not mainly an archaeological (exhuming the rules of discourse) or a genealogical (tracing shifts) project, but an instrumental (measuring) one focused on separations. b) Instead of looking at discursive rules or shifts, we activate discourses to think with each other—in this case economic theory in a relation of pressure with ecological concepts—in order to de-form and re-form old objects of critique, and if we are “lucky” proliferate new ones. Pressure entails nodal points, and the one taken up here is the de-formation of Externalities in relation to nuclear power generation. The other epistemological challenge is attitudinal and pertains to comportment: hanging on for-dear-life to the absurd at the heart of the sublime and honoring the sublime at the heart of the absurd. This paper confronts these challenges through the concept of externalities—mainly “spent” nuclear fuel and radioactive waste—generated by nuclear power as a “discourse reactor.” Rather than focus on conventional questions of time and responsibility (the ethical and political perspective) or security and danger (the practical and scientific perspective), this paper investigates what discourse communities (economic and environmental) mean when they talk about nuclear waste as an externality, and how they talk about it, i.e. with what effects? In other words, what kind of discourse activity gets radioed when the so-called externalities of nuclear power undergo fusion? By resolving to answer this question with a modicum of certainty, this paper argues that we will be saved in perpetuum by the absurd-sublime.


Nuclear Necropolitics

Schwab, Gabriele (University of California, Irvine;

“Nuclear Necropolitics” traces the entanglement between the biopolitical and the psychopolitical in the uses and abuses of nuclear power for warfare and/or energy production. My presentation draws on Achille Mbembe’s seminal concept of necropolitics in order to explore this entanglement and outline the most basic specific features of what I call nuclear necropolitics. I also revisit some of the classics on nuclear politics (Jonathan Schell; R. J. Lifton) in light of current debates about limited nuclear war and the emergence of a new arms race.


Bell Frogs in the Brick Pit: Flourishing in Toxic Zones of Abandon

Kirksey, Eben (University of New South Wales, Australia;

Multiple species of endangered frogs are flourishing in polluted areas. As a microscopic fungal disease is sweeping through amphibian populations, driving many frogs and salamanders extinct, some species are finding refuge in toxic zones of abandonment. Post-industrial landscapes awash with dioxins and heavy metals, have become emergent ecosystems for amphibians that have vanished from areas protected by conservationists. Green and Golden Bell Frogs, an endangered species, live in the Brick Pit of the Sydney Olympic Park, an area of urban renewal once surrounded by chemical industries, a fuel terminal, an oil refinery, and a prison. Building on calls for new forms of collaboration in cultural anthropology, I formed an interdisciplinary team with biologists to study possibility that toxins of the Brick Pit have the indeterminate properties of Isabelle Stenger’s pharmakon. The pharmakon is a poison that can become a cure, a substance with unstable attributes. We considered the possibility that dioxins and heavy metals can cure Bell Frogs infected with pathogenic chytrid fungi. Drawing on tricks from the Tactical Media movement, making creative and rebellious uses of standard scientific techniques, we studied the contours of microbial ecosystems with microscopy and environmental DNA protocol. Artifacts from our experiment in sensing microbial communities living in toxic sediments will be showcased in this paper. Fragile bubbles of happiness, worlds, have emerged at the intersection of oblique powers. Sudden shifts in political and economic systems, or emergent practices of environmental management, could shatter these ephemeral and unstable ecological assemblages.


“There is No World”: Deconstruction and Theoretical Biology

Wolfe, Cary (Rice University;

This paper will argue that what deconstruction and theoretical biology (of the sort we find in Maturana and Varela and in Stuart Kauffman’s recent book Humanity in a Creative Universe) have in common is the understanding that “there is no world” (as Derrida puts in the second set of seminars on The Beast and the Sovereign). Derrida’s contention can be redescribed in robust, naturalistic terms whose genealogy we can now excavate, reaching from von Uexkull’s work on human and animal “umwelten,” through Heidegger’s interest in the question of “world” (limned in obsessive detail by Derrida), to contemporary work in theoretical biology (by Conrad Waddington on chreodes and “developmental landscapes,” to recent work in epigenetics and immunology, to Kauffman’s insistence that there are “no entailing laws” for the evolution of the biosphere). What they all have in common is their insistence on the importance of the contingency and radical overdetermination of the organism/environment relationship as one of non-generic temporalized complexity. And this has quite direct implications for biopolitical thought. In short, as in biopolitical thought, we find here the insistence on the contingent and non-generic character of the “who” or “what” and its “world” which demands a different conjugation of the relationship between “Life and “the living.” But here, we find an “ecologization” of that realization in a way that canonical biopolitical thought, given its philosophical genealogy, has been unable to undertake.


Saturday, Session 7 9:00-10:30am

7B “Forms of ‘Life,’ Norms of ‘Life,’ I: Articulations” Papers from the Society for the Study of Biopolitical Futures Chair: Jeffrey Nealon

Precariousness: On the Uses and Abuses of Credit and Debit for Life

Jaffe, Aaron (Florida State University;

Oddly, Judith Butler’s Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, her post-9/11 mediations on terrorized life, does not mention the terrorizing character of escalating debt. Existential hazards constitutive of identity formation are credited to invisible forces of political control over subjects rather than debited to damaged objective relations between their modes and means of existence. Against the primacy of intersubjective politics as elaborated in the affective turn, my talk proposes to explore hidden relations between the inhuman mechanisms of debt and the hidden epistemological yields that surplus alienation develops in strains of media theory. These are articulated in Sigfried Giedion’s Mechanization Takes Command, Boris Groys’s Under Suspicion: A Phenomenology of the Media, and elsewhere. I’ll give particular attention to the example of The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present “curated by” Shumon Basa, Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist. Here, the criticality ascribed to forms of ontological suspicion gets mediated by and mutated by endless biopolitical emergencies and disruptive kinds of technicity and relentless existence-as-obsolescence associated with them. Homo precarious, in other words, the media worker-curator, marks a certain reorientation (re-sequencing) of the avant-garde and the vanguard, simultansously/reflexively reorienting pasts, presents and futures. For homo precarious, the development of time not space is uneven pars pro toto. As Bifo has recently noted, “the condition of the artist is the most extreme manifestation of the precarious worker, and its competiveness, but it’s also freedom from slavery, from salaried work.” In effect, I’m interested in the repressive desublimation in play in life on-line, oriented in and through the workings of biopolitical administration.


Songs in the Key of Life: Biopower and Popular Music

Nealon, Jeffrey T. (Penn State;

“Music is prophetic. Social organization echoes it.” --Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music

This paper argues that popular music has a linchpin place in tracking the shifts from a society of rigid disciplinary training to a biopolitical society of individual lifestyle goals and desires over the past half-century. In 1976, Vaclav Havel sums up the global distinctions between a dominant discipline and an emergent biopower in terms of Western rock music, or more precisely in terms of the communist regime’s attempts to ban rock music in Eastern Europe. What you see in that drama of the repressive state versus popular music, as Havel writes, is not “two differing political forces or conceptions, but two differing conceptions of life. On the one hand, there was the sterile Puritanism of the post-totalitarian establishment; and, on the other hand, unknown young people who wanted no more than to be able to live within the truth, to play the music they enjoyed, to sing songs that were relevant to their lives, and to live freely in dignity and partnership.” Here, Havel lays out concisely the biopolitical importance of popular music within a disciplinary framework: the musical stake here is not merely entertainment. Rather, listening to popular music goes all the way into the tall grass surrounding differing conceptions of “life” itself: whether life is all about doing your disciplinary part for the greater good of the state and the authorities (society understood as an assembly line, each with his or her own job in the factory that is the nation); or whether your individual rights to happiness and freedom trump everything else – a biopolitical world where everyone would be allowed and even encouraged to “sing the songs that were relevant to their lives.” In short, this paper argues that the biopolitical, neoliberal consumption logic of the 21st century finds its roots oddly in the counter-cultural popular musics of the late 20th century, and pop music fans’ almost slavish dedication to the authenticity of their music, whatever genre or style it may be (new country has hard-core fans, just as conscious rap does). Producing and maintaining this wonderfully oxymoronic mass-produced authentic individualism has been the primary cultural work of popular music over the past half-century. In short, I argue that biopower’s individual “authenticity” discourse has migrated from its home turf of popular music discourse and practice, to become something like the logic of the whole in the American present.


The Political Novel after Discipline

Beckman, Frida (University of Stockholm, Sweden;

The birth of the novel, as new historicists tend to point out, is intimately connected with the emergence of disciplinary society in the late 18th and early 19th century. Indeed, some even argue that the novel itself constitutes one of the institutions of discipline as it provides not just its characters but also its readers with “correct training” in the Foucauldian sense. As contemporary literature responds to the increasingly fluid control mechanisms that, as Deleuze has shown, begin to evolve beyond strictly disciplinary structures with some force after the Second World War, we can see how it struggles to accommodate for such changes. Even as they are thematically concerned with contemporary control mechanisms, such novels, as I will show, formally tend to fall back on disciplinary structures. And indeed, what would a novel that really reflects the “self-deforming cast” of control society look like? In this paper, I will explore the challenges to the novel form that come with control but also discuss how the formal properties of the novel may delimit its possibilities of responding to contemporary forms of political power.


Control/Shift: Thinking Young People and the Digital

Third, Amanda (Western Sydney University;

Theorizing the digital as a key feature of the contemporary everyday, this paper analyses how dominant policy, practice and popular discourses in the English-speaking world have overwhelmingly constructed young people’s digital engagements in relation to a logic of control. I argue that young people’s digital practices are constituted through a series of double movements that oscillate between the dystopian and the utopian, between risk and opportunity, and between control and liberation. These double movements are the ‘binary code’ through which young people’s digital practices are discursively produced as the objects of forms of control. Further, the impulse to control is exacerbated by the imagining of young people as inhabiting a crucial position at the nexus between past and future. This paper calls for ‘Shift/Control’; a shift away from the domination of the control paradigm, not to “liberate” young people or the digital but to channel competing investments into the reimagination of our relationship to the digital.


Saturday, Session 8 11:00am-12:30pm

8B “Forms of ‘Life,’ Norms of ‘Life,’ II: Contextualizations” Papers from the Society for the Study of Biopolitical Futures Chair: John Protevi

Economies of Violence

Protevi, John (Louisiana State University;

In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari write of the differences among imperial States, juridical States, and what they melodramatically call "war machines": "Violence is found everywhere, but under different regimes and economies." A regime or economy of violence would be the pattern of approved and disapproved violent and peaceful (violence-avoiding, conflict-resolving and mitigating) acts and responses characteristic of a particular social system. I want to shift the focus away from the preoccupation of political philosophy and political theory – the constituted state and its others (domestic criminals, foreign enemies, marginal terrorists) – to look the economy of violence inherent in the practice of "statification" – the ongoing process of producing the state form of social relations as it intersects various non- state socialization practices. ("Statification" is the ugly translation of étatisation, but at least it's better than "statizing"). So in a formula, I want to broaden political philosophy / theory to include concerns often confined to anthropology. I will follow Deleuze and Guattari, and some of their anthropological sources on "societies against the state," Pierre Clastres, Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (1972), and a very good recent book by Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, Politique et État chez Deleuze et Guattari (2013). In addition, James Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed (2009) will be in the background here, as will Christopher Boehm's Moral Origins (2012).


Cray Wisdom: The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick

Doyle, Richard (Penn State University;

“The delusions of a penurious science fiction writer might seem of marginal interest, except that Philip K. Dick was not just any science fiction writer.” Charles Platt on Philip K. Dick's Exegesis

“...we explore further and further and further without looking for an answer. [...] We look further and further. We ask: "Why is this so?" Why is there spirituality? Why is there awakening? Why is there this moment of relief? Why is there such a thing as discovering the pleasure of spirituality? Why, why, why?" We go on deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, until we reach the point where there is no answer. [...] At that point we tend to give up hope of an answer, or of anything whatsoever, for that matter. [...] This hopelessness is the essence of crazy wisdom. It is hopeless, utterly hopeless.” Chogyam Trungpa

Between 1974 and 1982, writer Philip K. Dick composed a massive “Exegesis” in response to a mystical event of 1974. Whose was it? Dick's writings, composed in daily entries, ranged over scientific, philosophical, religious and spiritual ideas in order to make sense of what he eventually dubbed an ongoing event of “ultra meta cognition.” Dick's relentless quest to observe and fathom the nature of consciousness – what was he such that he could imagine being in unavoidable contact with what he called a Vast Living Intelligent System ( VALIS)? - has been frequently met by responses such as Platt's above. Dick's intensely acute observations of his own consciousness - “ultra meta cognition” - are often viewed as “hallucinations” or “delusions” even while Dick himself insightfully articulates his experience through learned readings of monistic thinkers such as Shankara, Plotinus, and Spinoza, hardly the realm of raving madness This tension between the learned and intensely erudite writings of Dick and the response of contemporary readers to it as 'delusion” suggests that for contemporary audiences, intensely pursued introspection is itself “cray.” What role does this exclusion of intensive subjective experience play in the ongoing articulation of a biopolitical governance? This talk will explore the Exegesis as a manifestation of what Chogyam Trungpa dubbed “Crazy Wisdom”, a relentless search for enlightenment that surrenders any hope for an answer. Was it precisely in this surrender that Dick perceived what he observed as the pink light of Valis?


Time Before Biopolitics in Derrida's Advances

Lynes, Phil (University of California at Irvine;

Originally published as a foreword to Serge Margel’s Le Tombeau du Dieu Artisan [The Tomb of the Artisan God] (Paris, Minuit, 1995), Derrida’s Avances (1995) builds on the former’s radical rereading of Plato’s Timaeus. As Derrida explains, the sensible world created by the Demiurge would be vowed to an irreversible dissolution, having as its condition a time of pure expenditure or consummation, anterior to any transcendental, phenomenological or ontological concept of time. The Demiurge himself would constitute a finite, inoperative god, powerless in his inability to indefinitely maintain the sensible world in the image of the intelligible ideas. But ‘we’ – a ‘we’ irreducible to any human intersubjectivity, would thereby be charged with inheriting the world as a promise, a promise to make it so that the world live-on. A question, as Derrida recognizes, of the utmost urgency in our current ecological and political crises, where the possibility of giving ourselves death and the end of the world is more real than ever. Advances thus expands Derrida’s reflections on the Timaeus in “Khōra” while engaging the equally essential matters of the gift, the promise, messianicity, temporalization and living-on discussed throughout his work.


“We Refugees”: Biopolitics and Refugee Ontology

Taek-Gwang Lee, Alex (Kyung Hee University, Korea;

There are many definitions to indicate the risky aspects of human life in the age of globalization, such as liquidity, precariousness, worldlessness, etc. However, the ontological meaning of life is configured as the refugee’s homelessness. A refugee is not a specific ontological condition, but rather the universal state of bios. There have been two indicators by which we can approach the existential question of the refugee since Enlightenment thought: nationalism and cosmopolitanism. As Immanuel Kant suggests, the ultimate goal of enlightened maturity for a civilized human being is to be cosmopolitan, not limiting him- or herself to the national borders. However, the status of the refugee shows how disturbing this idea of the Enlightenment can be. The refugee is evicted, dispossessed, and excluded from the nation-state, and occupies a preliminary stance before being captured by a particular state. He or she as a refugee lives in the ‘inter’-national space, i.e. the borderline between the nation-states. The status of the refugee is thus not just temporary, but rather reveals the substantial meaning of life today, the life which is trapped by global capitalism. It’s not the problem of the Enlightenment as such. What is at stake here is the question as to why the Kantian project, i.e. becoming cosmopolitan, does not work out, why people are easily fallen into refugee status rather than existing as “inter”-national beings. As Hannah Arendt points out, “once they had left their homeland they remained homeless, once they had left their state they became stateless; once they had been deprived of their human rights they were rightless, the scum of the earth”. As Arendt’s discussion of the refuges suggests, it is not so easy to insist on human rights in general if person’s cannot belong to a specific national territory. Refugees are nothing less than homeless, stateless, rightless-- people who are out of their locations become “the scum of the earth” when they leave off the borders of any nation-state. Nationality is thus the pre-condition to human rights. The right of a person is thus not automatically given by natural law, but is rather obtained by citizenship and nationality. This is the paradox of human ontology in the modern age; we human beings have no self-evident right to reside in any place without nationality, even if we travel across international borders. This means that refugees, those who do not have any national identification, are useless because they have no legal right to work; they cannot be easily exchangeable in national relations of production. Thus, if a refugee wants to be exchangeable across specific nation-states, he or she must become a commodity. Under global capitalism, only the commodity can freely cross the borders of nationality. The commodity is the opposite being of a refugee. From this perspective, my presentation will argue that today’s situation for the refugee problem is not about human rights, but rather reveals the biopolitics of the relationship between life and law in the global division of labor.


Saturday, Session 9 2:00-3:30pm

9B “The “Political” After Biopolitics: Philosophical Genealogies” Papers from the Society for the Study of Biopolitical Futures Chair: Cary Wolfe

A Short History of Self-Interest: From Phronesis to Self-interest

Vardoulakis, Dimitris (Western Sydney University, Australia;

This paper will trace the transformation of phronesis in Aristotle and Epicurus to the idea that the basis of rational calculation is self-preservation in Hobbes and Spinoza and then to the concept of self-interest in Adam Smith and Kenneth Arrow. I will aim to show the key moves that account for the transformation of this concept, as well as how our understanding of the political is also transformed in this movement toward the biopolitical and neoliberal conception of the person.


Bare Subjectivity and the Biopolitical Will

Campbell, Timothy (Cornell University;

In The Philosophy of Right, Hegel attempts to pry apart what he calls bare subjectivity ("bloße Subjectivität") from the will. To do so he posits an object with which subjectivity struggles; it doesn't matter what kind object it is so long as in the moment of understanding the will becomes the owner of the perceived object. To do so, Hegel says, the will must adopt a standpoint over the object such that the will understands what is lacking for mere, bare subjectivity. This may explain why the will on Hegel’s read is ultimately to be understood not in terms of its content but its form; the form with which the will takes leave of bare subjectivity. In this paper I will try to translate this peculiar moment of subjectivity and will in terms of a Foucauldian biopolitics. Rather than hearing only echoes of bare subjectivity in Agamben's bare life, I ask if it's possible for bare subjectivity to be understood not as a form of life primarily but rather as essentially a moment of awareness of the subjectivity's own lack which doesn't require or inevitably lead to a dialectical outpouring into the will, into biopower. An avowedly Lacanian reading, my paper is an attempt to recuperate part of a Hegelian dialectic for an understanding of bare subjectivity as the form of life that lacks and knows this lack.


On the Deformation of the Concept of “Biopolitics”: Foucault and his Interlocutors

Lambert, Gregg (Syracuse University;

Since Foucault’s untimely death in 1984, there have many interpretations of Foucault’s concepts of “biopolitics” and “biopower,” and this trend has only intensified recently with the publication of the lecture courses beginning with “Society Must be Defended” in 2003. My talk will take an itinerary through the genealogy of these concepts and their original sources. I will highlight two dominant interpretations of the concept of biopower, in particular, that in many ways have reshaped its original application to social phenomena, either causing a mutation of its historical specificity, according to the major interpretation offered by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, and perhaps even the deformation of its positive genealogical sense in favor of a more ontologically inflected reading offered by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben.


Download the full conference program:

SLSA 2017 SLSA 2017 (2542 KB)


For more information, please visit the conference website: SLSA 2017

Back to Top