The 29th Annual SLSA Conference 2015 - Houston, Texas
BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) * located within the Houston Medical Center
(3CT) Center for Critical and Cultural Theory at Rice University will be hosting the 29th Annual (SLSA) Society for Literature, Science and the Arts Conference.
From Misrecognition to Pattern Recognition, from Biopolitics to Bioinformatics:
Adventures of Blood, Sex and Soil in Annihilation Films.
Cristina Iuli, Universitá degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale
If popular culture is the discursive terrain where scientific, social, and political anxieties are regularly played out and tested, the current crisis of biopolitics both as a conceptual paradigm and an institutionalized constellation of governmental practices is no exception. Biotechnological and digital innovations, reclaimed by an intensified politics of risk management increasingly based on the algorithmic processing of massive data, suggests that a cultural drift from a biopolitical to a “logarithmic governmentality” (Antoinette Rouvroy), or to datapolitics (Jean Amois Lecat-Deschampes) is currently underway. Narratives of disaster and human and post-human annihilation offer a privileged site for the observation of how “blood, soil, and sex” are culturally renegotiated in the neoliberal rescaling of “life itself” from the biological to the digital and to the politico-economical, all along contributing to allow for powerful reconfigurations of post-human evolutionary narratives. I will look at recent films that -- considered together -- engage the shift from a cultural politics primarily focused on the management of the bios to one primarily focused on the management of the bioinformatic: Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth’s cult, La Cinquieme Saison (2011), George Miller’s Mad Max: the Fury Road (2015) and Joss Whedon’s, Avengers 4 (2015). The first suggests a near-future annihilation of life, and exposes the autoimmunitary logic of a self-protecting, self-governing community; the other two celebrate the prospective annihilation of human life as we’ve known it by scaling the evolutionary narrative up, on bioinformatic superheroes. The paper will argue that the tension between life and death that the films trace in the shift from corporeal extinction to digital evolution should be seen within the larger epistemological fold that reframes life itself from the biopolitical to the pressing biometrical, from test sampling to the gathering and managing of data, from bodily extinction to digital evolution. Representations of this shift tend to minimize the impact of humans, their materialities and their institutions (states, organizations) in algorithmic evolutionary narratives: whereas the biopolitical logic of La Cinquième Saison is consistent with the conceptual-historical frame of the anthropocene, the logarithmic evolution of Avengers 4 and the mixed evolution of Mad Max reverse that logic by scaling down the role and function of humans in evolutionary perspective. In this cultural nexus where present data and future projections converge, the critical work of keeping levels of significance distinct becomes a relevant political act, because it runs against the neoliberal production of death, illness, extinction and the depletion of resources as matters of techno-scientific management, rather than problems to be addressed politically.
Biopolitical Junkyards, Remediation and Risk: Blood, Sex, and Soil
Aaron Jaffe, University of Louisville
My paper investigates the Goiânia incident, “one of the most serious radiological accidents ever to have occurred,” according to the Report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, 1988, which assesses its consequences as even more pernicious than Chernobyl. In early September 1987, an abandoned radiation teletherapy machine, formerly employed for cancer treatment, was salvaged by scrappers in Goiânia, Brazil. Over the following few weeks, the machine was haphazardly dismantled in various junkyards around the Goiânia slums, its source capsule ruptured, and its radioactively iridescent contents - extremely soluble and readily dispersible granules of caesium-137 - handled by numerous residents of the city, unwittingly and sometimes fatally exposing themselves, their contacts and their environments to significant external and internal contamination. When this contamination was finally recognized as such by expert observers, a massive administrative effort led by national and international agencies labored to remediate the accident, involving waste disposal, improvised medical triage, and the mitigation, measurement and management of past, present and future hazards, according to a particular biopolitical calculus. My talk considers blood, sex, and soil as the dominant focus not only for biometric damages (measuring hematomal, chromosomal, and terrestrial contamination) but also as the infrastructural materials for remediating (future) biopolitical malfeasance - appropriation by pollution, to invoke a sense of the term provided by Michel Serres. One thing that makes the Goiânia accident interesting is the period between critical exposure and the introduction of biopolitical governmentality. The focus of the Vienna Report - which is my primary archival material- is this junkyard non-space of extreme risk and the ways that its (re-) appropriations strategize collateral damages of the waste zone and their inhuman consequences.
Bloody Orgies of the Emergent Metropole: System, Scene, Soiled
Ted Geier, Rice University
Informatics of Inscription
Jonathan Beller, Pratt Institute
The continuous amortization of consciousness through its sedimentation (might we say encryption?) in the very techniques and instruments of rationality as fixed capital (machines, archives, the built environment) is here understood as the precondition not only of industrial machinery, the factory floor, the slave ship’s manifest, the spread sheet, the stock exchange and electronic computation (the digital computer), but of computational society itself. If, as I argue (perhaps a bit too emphatically), the last five centuries have approached a state in which, the medium is (the media are), in the most general sense capital, then so too is the message. In a consideration of the general formula for capital, M-C-M’, we might grasp that McLuhan’s most famous phrase was made precisely of and for that medium, even if he did not recognize it. Was it really print, as McLuhan suggests in his consideration of “the Gutenberg Galaxy” that got linear history unfurling, or was print already becoming a medium of capital? Considered here are theories of codification, inscription and calculation from Jorge-Luis Borges, Alan Turing, and Claude Shannon as might be understood from the standpoint of a Marx who had fully absorbed the lessons of post-Fordist, which is to say, cognitive capitalism, while still committed to a revision of the labor theory of value.
Just Another Manic Monad: Of Glass, Bees, and Glass Bees
Dominic Pettman, New School for Social Research
This paper offers the glass bees, as found in Ernst Junger's singular novel of the same name, as an exceptional collective figure - or swarming totem - to help us think through the post-historical object qua moment (and vice versa). Comparing the entomological preoccupations and analogies of both Junger and Frisch, this talk seeks to better understand what happens when bees are rendered and replicated as technical creatures, for the sake of making nature more efficient. In focusing on Junger's crystallization of glass and bees, I claim, we can better appreciate the stakes in recent debates around the fate or status of "the object," and its ontological valence (or lack of). (Debates, for instance, around the question: "Can a bullet be racist?") With reference to both Leibniz and Tarde, this paper argues for a new political or historical "monadology": one which accounts for the unprecedented and intimate intertwining of ecology and economy.
Mickey Mouse Science: the Molecular Biopolitics of Visual Media
Adam Nocek, Arizona State University
Molecular animation is a growing field of biological data visualization. As many in the field attest, the technology combines sophisticated computational biology with cutting-edge visualization tools to render molecular data visible and more intelligible. What goes unnoticed, however, is that the technology also lies at the intersection of two industries: the entertainment and the biotech industries. In particular, this talk investigates how the biotech industry has mobilized Hollywood graphics and editing techniques (those found in Pixar and DreamWorks productions) to market its products. Connecting these insights to Gilles Deleuze’s fears in the 1980s and 1990s over the neoliberal control of cybernetic biology and the cinema, as well as to the increased reliance on visual media in biology labs, the paper claims that the molecular world increasingly “looks like a bad film” (Deleuze 1989: 171). In the end, the paper proposes that molecular animation offers us a unique, if discouraging, glimpse into the molecular biopolitics of visual media today.
The Sexual Politics of Krill: Mammalian Indigestions from Blackfish to Breast Milk
Margret Grebowicz, Goucher College
This will be the outline of a map of an imagined encounter between two apex (top-of-food-chain) predators, killer whales and humans (an an apex predator only in anthropocene conditions). Such predators end up with the highest levels of concentration of pollutants in their bodies, and both human and killer whale milk have recently come under close scrutiny as vehicles for toxins in unprecedentedly high concentrations. National Geographic reports that killer whales are a measure of the health of our oceans, and our oceans, where the lowest food chain animals like krill bioaccumulate pollutants, are “a toxic sink.” Meanwhile, Internet milk banks compete with each other, each claiming to have the purest breast milk for sale. The newest market for human milk is high performance athletes, who drink it as an energy drink. Perhaps not surprisingly, a budding sex industry is emerging in this area—men visiting women to buy the milk straight from their breasts and/or fetishists of “adult nursing” are sometimes buying traditional sex also—and the risks of buying unregulated breast milk are the same as those of buying unregulated sex: HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis. What cultural work is being done by this connection between whale milk and human milk, with its attendant erotics, at a moment when the most famous whale in captivity is the one who perversely (because “unnaturally”) ate his devoted female trainer? Blackfish is an argument for the personhood of killer whales, but this personhood is demonstrated not by the usual means (intellectual complexity, elaborate social structures), but by Tillikum’s aggression. Since humans are not a natural part of the killer whale diet, Blackfish presents viewers with the horror of the food chain’s pervertibility.
Legacies of the Manhattan Project: Precarious Lives in Nuclear Ecologies
Gaby Schwab, University of California, Irvine
This presentation explores representations of what Ward Churchill calls the "radioactive colonization“ of indigenous lands by the extractive economy that developed during the Cold War, predominately on reservations in the United States. Drawing on Martin Cruz Smith's Stallion Gate, a novel about the Manhattan Project and the first nuclear tests in New Mexico as well as Joseph Masco's ethnography Nuclear Borderlands, it emphasizes the impact of this emergent nuclear politics on individual protagonists and their collective struggles for survival. In particular, it foregrounds a cultural climate of secrecy and deception as well as the emergence of "nuclear subjectivities" marked by a psychic toxicity that parallels the radioactive poisoning of bodies and land. Finally, it explores the transgenerational nuclear trauma that marks individuals and cultures alike.
Iwakami Yasumi and the Stoics of Fukushima Prefecture
Margherita Long, University of California, Irvine
This paper reads a series of Fukushima testimonials from summer and fall 2011, when people living just outside the 20-kilometer mandatory evacuation zone were deciding whether they too should becom nuclear refugees. Collected by internet news pioneer Iwakami Yasumi, the testimonies are riven with the paradoxes of living with government assurances that “Annual exposure to one hundred millisieverts of radiation is safe.” Analytic philosophy tells us that in order for such a proposition to be true, all three of its “dimensions” must also be true – denotation, manifestation and signification. My paper opens with some background on the disaster by sketching the faulty science (denotation), perverse politics (manifestation) and lexical traditions (signification) that subtend the government’s logic, and have become the target of anti-nuclear groups. Then I analyze a number of much more sincere propositions offered in the testimonials themselves by people struggling to do the right thing for their families and their communities. That these too are paradoxical helps us appreciate what Deleuze in The Logic of Sense calls “the fourth dimension of the proposition,” namely sense. Can we say that sense, which Deleuze calls the discovery of the Stoics, is being discovered anew after 3.11? Is there a way in which the event of 3.11, neither material nor ideal, is becoming, as with the Stoics, the basis of an ethics? I discuss the high number of internet activists among Iwakami’s informants and propose that many are using digital networks not to subject themselves to a Control Society, but to transform what Deleuze calls “the most personal relation with a wound” into something preindividual and impersonal.
Killing Times: the Temporal Technology of the Death Penalty
David Wills, Brown University
In the 1999-2001 seminar that Jacques Derrida devoted to the death penalty he concentrates on how capital punishment manufactures a precise moment of death, instituting for the condemned person a countdown that is qualitatively different both from other violent deaths, and from the normal situation of the living, who cannot calculate the instant of their own death: “in the process of the condemnation to death, what is most cruel . . . is indeed, beyond everything, beyond the conditions of detention, for example, and so many other torments, the experience of time” (The Death Penalty. Volume 1 [Chicago UP, 2014], 220). My paper will analyze elements of the experience of time—and by extension of life--as it relates to the death penalty. For if the death penalty uses technology to bring about an “artificial” end to life, contriving that end so that it occurs at a precise moment, that “precipitation” of the end of life is paradoxically in tension with various mechanisms of suspension or delay, ranging from practices of torture designed to make execution slow and painful, through the emphasis on due process, to contemporary methods of putting to death that aim at being instantaneous. I plan to argue that time comes into focus, in the case of the death penalty, as a form of technicity, a machine whose operations in no way reduce to the chronological linearity that we normally ascribe to time, producing instead a whole “new” or different set of simultaneities, terminations and suspensions.
Return Statements: The Critique of Post-Secularism
Gregg Lambert, Syracuse University
There is an internal logic of “the return of religion" in contemporary philosophy, which has three distinct levels. On the first level, there is the emergence of the so-called “post-secular turn.” My critical response to this phenomenon is primarily motivated by a series of questions concerning its relationship to another sense of the post-secular turn that was taking place globally following 9/11. The book asks how these two returns of religion could be taking place in such proximity to one another without appearing like the same horizon viewed from opposing perspectives of the globe? The next level addresses the absence of any original or “proper meaning” of the word religion, as Derrida argues in “Faith and Knowledge.” Consequently, the "return of religion" is each time unique. Following this thesis, in what sense can religion above be said to be “returning” in philosophy today? Finally, on a third level, I return to underscore the irony that the urgent need “to escape” from the past that determines our stage of Enlightenment, and the negative role played by a certain "return of religion," still determines what Foucault defined as our critical ethos. Thus if the Kantian definition of the Aufklarung defined the present from which humanity needs to escape as “immaturity,” there are a number of critical themes that belong to the tradition of western humanism that can equally stand for this negative state, including colonialism, racism, sexism, speciesism, and a host of other “fundamentalisms” in the postmodern formations of biopoliticial life, human capital, and the global war on terror. Can the critical ethos that is expressed by our contemporary philosophical theories be actually understood to participate and to perform “the reactivation of an attitude” that pertains to our own particular Enlightenment, or at least, the current stage of “immaturity” that precedes it?
The Refusal of Politics
Laurent Dubreuil, Cornell University
This paper is a dense and elliptic essay of political theory. In many ways, it belongs to a particular tradition of ‘radical’ thought, at the crossroads of French leftism (from the Situationists to Jacques Rancière), Italian contemporary philosophy (from operaismo to authors such as Giorgio Agamben or Roberto Esposito), and English-speaking academic activism (with figures such as Herbert Marcuse, Judith Butler, or Slavoj Žižek). As such, this book develops a conceptual critique of today’s bout of totalitarian democracy v.2.0. However, I am making a much more scandalous claim. I argue that, although we need to elaborate a forceful and precise attack against the present forms of domination, we can locate their roots within politics itself. In other words, while differences between regimes, societies and subjective productions do exist, the deeds of every kind of politics we know of are ultimately a consequence of the very nature, structure and destination of political order. Therefore, we must simultaneously “live and leave politics.” Apolitics, as I conceive it, is not “apolitical” in the usual sense of the term: the idea is not to turn one’s back to political engagement, or to withdraw from the political scene once and for all. On the contrary, I propose that a certain kind of political extremism is capable of finding a way out, on the extreme shore of power. Apolitical interruptions are doomed to be nothing but flashes, intense moments and movements beyond the City’s limits, or the experience of the defection of political promises. However, this does not entail that we should forget about such cracks, or try to obliterate or repair them. There is a way of rethinking the limits of politics from the vantage point of its evanescent outside.
Derrida’s Secret: Perjury, Oath, and the Social Bond
Charles Barbour, University of New South Wales
On March 12, 2012 Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee. While under oath, he was asked whether the American government was conducting a large scale surveillance operation targeting its own citizens. Clapper’s answer was ‘no’. About a year later, Edward Snowden released documents showing that, in fact, it was. As these revelations appeared, Glenn Greenwald began to ask whether Clapper would be charged with perjury. To avoid the charge, Clapper came up with a flimsy excuse. He maintained that, while what he had said before the Intelligence Committee was undeniably false, it was not a lie or perjury because, at the time he was asked the question, he did not understand what it meant. Thus the Director of National Intelligence avoided a perjury charge by asserting that he was not a liar, only a fool – not someone capable of deceiving the public, only someone incapable of comprehending a direct interrogative sentence. While it certainly appears contrived, Clapper’s defense does have a logic – one that opens up important questions about politics, law, and society as such. For, while we might harbor doubts, it will never be possible to prove that Clapper lied. Indeed, it will never be possible to prove that anyone has lied. For a lie does not concern an external, objective reality. It is not a falsehood about the world. Rather, it concerns the state of the liar’s own mind – not what is true, but what they believe to be true, or their inner, secret convictions. And because we have the capacity to lie, or conceal our thoughts behind our expressions, every relation is structured by a kind of faith, trust, or belief – what Derrida often called an ‘oath’, and even a ‘sacred oath’. This essay consists of an exploration of the concept of the secret and the oath. Both and examination and an application of Derrida’s thought, it argues that secrecy is not one political phenomenon among many, but a structure or condition of public life, or being-in-common. Enigmatically, we are held together by what holds us apart.
On Grace in Disgrace: The Biopolitics of Impersonality in Coetzee’s Fiction
Richard Barney, University at Albany, SUNY
Elizabeth’s Costello’s impassioned argument about the brutal treatment of animals in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals—including her bracing comparison of the meat industry to the Nazi Holocaust—tracks a logic similar to that employed by contemporary activists that the better treatment of animals depends on conferring on them the benefit of rights as they have already been framed for human beings. As compelling as that argument is, however, the larger context of Coetzee’s other work, especially Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace, indicates that for Coetzee, reformulating the relationship between the human and animal worlds may rely less on the analogic transfer of rights from one domain to the other than on the generation of an intermediary space in which both domains are fundamentally reimagined. Drawing on the recent work of Giorgio Agamben, Cary Wolfe, and Roberto Esposito, my paper will explore how their critique of the conceptual foundations of rights provides a useful framework for assessing how Coetzee complicates rights-based perspectives on human-animal relations. In rejecting the philosophical dualism of self/other or person/nonperson on which rights-based thinking has traditionally been conceived, Esposito’s work proves particularly valuable by arguing for the “impersonal” as a third category that erodes—perhaps even dissolves—the conventional boundaries of human personality, thereby formulating new versions of community that resist denigrating the nonpersonal. The primary example of this pattern will be considered in the case of David Lurie in Disgrace, who revaluates his conception of animals in the face of the ontological implications of his personal crises, thereby tracking the potential of a “third way” for renegotiating human-animal relations.
The Biopolitics of Double Affirmation
Philippe G. Lynes, Concordia University
In this paper, I will seek to mobilize Derridean resources to complicate recent frameworks of affirmative biopolitics. Perhaps begun in the work of Hardt and Negri, biopolitics has been seen to necessitate a Nietzschean affirmative turn to life, which finds its radicalization in the work of Roberto Esposito in a Deleuzian and Simondonian ontology of immanence. As has been argued, however, affirmative biopolitics only engage the first part of an aporia or, as I suggest here, the first part of an affirmation: one of unconditional possibility, power and potentiality, and does so at the expense of addressing the thanatopolitical, finitude, and the impossible. Derrida’s account of double affirmation, however, allows for precisely such an engagement. Rather than grounding life in an ontology of immanence, the biopolitics of double affirmation I propose begin from Derrida’s quasi-transcendental account of the living as survivance or la vie la mort; the ineradicable and constitutive exposure of life to alterity, time, and death. Indeed, as Foucault wrote that sovereign power consisted in the ability to let live and make die, and biopolitics the power to make live and let die, I worry that the affirmative biopolitics above veer dangerously towards indistinguishability from the framework of 21st century techno-biopolitics, which Agamben characterizes as the power to make survive. Given that Derrida (despite his trenchant critique of the latter elsewhere) refers to the annihilation of certain animal species as “occurring through the organization and exploitation of an artificial, infernal, virtually interminable survival”, a deconstructive response to these issues seems timely in addressing the biopolitical implications of our current ecological crisis. Located before and beyond these modalities of the power to make and let, the biopolitics of double affirmation can think a passive letting live-on through a certain powerlessness, and is thus more attuned to the finitude we share with all living beings.
Toward a Biopoetics: Bataille, Kleist and the Avowal of Sovereignty
Kir Kuiken, University at Albany, SUNY
Toward the end of part two of Homo Sacer, Agamben claims that Bataille is unable to master the notion of “bare life” given the predominance of the motif of sacrifice in his work, since “bare life” is defined as life that cannot be sacrificed, only killed. My paper returns to Bataille’s Accursed Share in order to examine the extent to which his conception of sovereignty breaks with Agamben’s account of the “thanato-politics” that emerges out of the imbrication of bare life and the sovereign ban. I argue that Bataille’s unique conception of sovereignty provides important resources for re-thinking the relation between sovereignty and what Agamben calls the necessary “fictio” of its relation to bare life. Bataille’s conception of sovereignty is predicated on expenditure, on that which exceeds utility, and thus on a notion of sacrifice that surpasses any determined end. Thus, I examine the special place Bataille reserves for literature in his account of sovereignty, and I argue that it not only exceeds questions of utility, but provides the crucial means, the “fictio,” by which the “nothing” that grounds sovereignty is given shape. The literary, in Bataille’s account, introduces precisely an element of fictio that cannot be unmasked, but that also disarticulates any necessary relationship between sovereignty and (bare) life. In this presentation I examine the repercussions of Bataille’s conception of sovereignty through Kleist’s novella, “Betrothal in San Domingo,” which is set during the Haitian Revolution. I argue that Kleist’s text attempts to articulate a new form of community made possible by the fictional moment of a secret avowal. I conclude by claiming that both Kleist and Bataille gesture toward the possibility of a “biopoetics”: a form of “life” linked more closely with fictio than bios.
Control, Conspiracy, and Cognitive Mapping
Frida Beckman, Stockholm University
This paper tries to map some tensions and possibilities in combining a Deleuzian conception of control with a Jamesonian understanding of cognitive mapping. Going back to the literary and paranoid starting points for the notion of control as the post-disciplinary political logic that Deleuze outlines, it compares these with the paranoid imaginings that Jameson conceives as either misrecognizing totality and totalitarianism or attempting “to represent the unrepresentable by analogy.” Somewhat playfully pitting William Burroughs’s statement that “A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on” with Jameson’s that conspiracy theory is “the poor person’s cognitive mapping in the postmodern age,” the paper discusses the conceptual tensions and overlaps that would enable us to construct and/or critique a project of cognitively mapping control society.
The Paranoid Style of American Liberalism
Gregory Flaxman, University of North Carolina
This talk takes as its point of departure the insistence that control societies correspond to a particular mode of capitalist production—or what we typically call neoliberalism. While a great deal has been written about neoliberalism, especially in light of Foucault’s extensive history of the term, my aim in this paper is grapple with the term as a matter of its specifically “American” idiom. The Birth of Biopolitics traces the discourse of liberalism from its emergence in the eighteenth century to the efflorescence of neoliberalism (the Chicago School) that are virtually contemporaneous with these lectures (1978). Thus, even as The Birth of Biopolitics constitutes Foucault’s most enduring encounter with American intellectual history, the encounter is limited to by the itinerary of an analysis that moves from English liberalism to German ordo-liberalism before we discover the post-war neoliberalism in the “homo economicus” of Friedman, Becker, and others. The question that remains is how we (in America) became neoliberal, and I argue that as a matter of both intellectual history and political economy, the case presents its own problems. American liberalism derives from a conviction in relatively unfettered space (unbordered, wild) and relatively unpopulated land (cheap, available), but how can we square this longstanding mythos with its diminishing conditions? It’s in this respect that I turn to Richard Hofstader’s post-war histories of the American Right, anti-intellectualism, and conspiratorial thought, and insofar as these works diagnose the pathologies of liberalism, even from the perspective of the left, they also unwittingly augur the intellectual impasses with which neoliberalism confronts us today.
Ron Broglio, Arizona State University
Artists use control technologies as technologies of art, such as surveys, statistics, public records, surveillance cameras, and citizenship documents While the apparatus of the control society have framed the citizen subject, artist fashion works which make visible or which resist the enframing while still speaking within culture. This talk develops thematics among select artists who use the apparatus of control as a medium for making such control visible or for finding modes of resistance. Information art and systems works has its roots in Hans Haacke’s Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971. The work showed the business and personal connections of Guggenheim Museum trustees to slum lords in New York and so called into question the prestige of the well funded art institution. Mark Lombardi’s diagrammatic art furthers Haacke’s work as in George W. Bush, Harken Energy and Jackson Stephens, ca 1979–90 which traces the global business connections between the Bush and Bin Laden families. Connected to systems work are artists mapping CCTV cameras or performing for the cameras such as Jill Magid’s Evidence Locker and Lincoln Ocean Victory Eddy where she takes the New York subway announcement literally and requests for policemen to search her (and most refused). A number of artists repurpose everyday objects that have been coopted by systems of control. The art works against homogenization of labor and desire through the capital market and monetary systems.
Crafty Care: From Biopolitics to Eco-Technics
Silvia Cernea Clark, Brown University
Roberto Esposito’s work trusts in the promise of a redemptive biopolitics, specifically the political promise of “common life,” which “breaks the identity-making boundaries of individuals” and is, in this sense, impersonal. At the same time, Esposito’s work points to a tension inherent to biopolitical thought today between form (of life, bodily, legal) and the plural, shared dimension it seeks to regulate (e.g., Rancière’s sensible, Deleuze’s life). In other words, life and apparatus collapse into a flat binary that undercuts the promise of an affirmative biopolitics. Should we read this failure as inherent to any redemptive biopolitical project? Where can we look for figures that draw attention to this conflict without compromising its promise? I argue one answer to this question can be traced back to Heidegger’s notion of Sorge (care). This claim not only pushes Agamben’s genealogy of the notion of apparatus even earlier than Gestell, but it reaffirms the importance of the (unackowleged) body in Heidegger’s work. Putting Sorge in relation to Gestell makes legible the ways in which attempts at an ontology of the body (Merleau-Ponty) and an ontology of technology (Simondon, Stiegler) cannot be thought apart from one another. As long as technology and the body are considered separately, the danger of one turning against the other persists. Thanatopolitics draws its strength from this opposition. An affirmative biopolitcs, then, has to articulate the body, in Jean-Luc Nancy’s words, not as “an image-of,” but rather as the “techne of a coming to presence.”
Émile Durkheim’s Sociology of Energy
Lynn Badia, University of Alberta
This paper offers a new interpretation of Émile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912) as the basis for reconsidering the Tarde-Durkheim debate of 1903 and the divergence between a theory of social force and a theory of assemblage in sociological thought. Resisting traditional interpretations of Durkheim’s scientism, this essay traces how concepts of force and energy are centrally developed in the Elementary Forms to draw new lines between epistemology to ontology for twentieth-century theory. I argue that Durkheim develops an “energetic epistemology” that conceives of the human capacity for shared meaning as a product of invested energy in the form of continually enacted material development, thought, and attention. According to Durkheim, when a member of a collective perceives a god or feels belief, he or she actually perceives the accumulated energy in the on-going creation and maintenance of the object or idea by members of collective. Sacred objects, images, and ideas bear the trace of collective energy the more they are carefully crafted, maintained in spaces that are specially arranged, and written into behavioral codes. This reading of Durkheim allows us to consider him in a lineage of social constructivists and, particularly, in relation to Ludwik Fleck, who references Durkheim but who has been largely confined to different theoretical discussions. By reconsidering Durkheim, we have occasion to rethink his sociology and understand how he redrew the lines between thought and action through the material framework of energy and force.
Jakob von Uexküll, Chronophotography, and the Discrete Subject of Biopolitics
Antoine Traisnel, University of Michigan
In the biopolitical age marked by the transition from intermittent and exemplary to continuous and ordinary practices of power, legal subjects give way to docile specimens tirelessly shaped and controlled by apparatuses of all kinds. Does this mean that ‘subjectivity’ has become obsolete under governmentality? Or, as Agamben deplores, that it is nothing but an inauthentic category ‘devoid of any foundation in being’? What, if anything, is the subject of biopolitics? To answer this question, I look at the work of biosemiotician Jakob von Uexküll, whose groundbreaking gesture consisted, pace behaviorist or mechanist approaches, in viewing living beings as ‘subjects’ of their environments. If environments are described as sensorial monads closed upon themselves, however, Uexküllian subjects do not have an ‘immediate relationship with their environment,’ contrary to what Agamben has suggested, but rather are ‘readers’ of what proves to be a highly mediated world. Subjectivity thereby rests on a subtle dialectic between continuity and discontinuity. To apprehend this new subjectivity, I examine the central role that Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey's chronophotographic experiments played in the work of Uexküll.
For more information, please visit the conference website: SLSA Houston 2015