Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Esposito (week 12)


  1. Perhaps this is off or a little too bold, but as I finished up the book, I felt compelled to make Esposito a bumper sticker:

    Life comes first.

    Now, now, I’m obviously not pushing some pro-life propaganda (Sidenote: the portion about Nazism, pro-natalism, abortion, & the privileging of animal life set my brain on fire), but much like Hardt & Negri's move to tell the story of the biopower from the viewpoint of the Multitude/living labor, I think Esposito is asking us to understand biopower and immunization from the standpoint of life. He writes (rifting off Canguilhem), “To think life philosophically, to make life the pertinent horizon of philosophy, signifies for him distancing it from an objectivist paradigm that, thanks to its alleged scientificity, ends up canceling its dramatically subjective character” (189).

    While this sets up Esposito to walk us through individuation in a super lucid way, it does become the level for politics (or at least undoing the Nazi assumptions that went into immunization & biopower). If we recognize that all zoe is simultaneously bios (due to individuation), our fears of the enemy as degenerates & threats to the bloodline/species can fall away. I'm not saying they do (cue failed War on Terror immunization), but perhaps? Indeed, we’re all made up of the same star stuff, so the logics of immunization, the nation state as fraternal order, and other sanguine relations can be shown to be the iterations of power and unsustainable ontologically. Yes, I’m ascribing some big ol’ agency to people politically, but I need a little hope in the potentiality of life.

    I've been trying to think of examples all day as to what a 2016 immunization logic would look like, & I've had fleeting success-- I look forward to thinking through how we can bring this (added texture to the camp) to life!

  2. Having never read nor really interacted with Esposito's work in any substantial manner, I very much enjoyed reading Bios for framing the conceptual problem of community in terms of immunity. As Timothy Campbell notes in his introduction, immunity offers an inflection of community that accentuates the inherent conflict within a relationship that attempts to negotiate difference and similarity. Not only does immunity render the internal tension and resistance that facilitates biopolitics, but it renders how “biopolitics has the assignment on the one hand of recognizing the organic risks that jeopardize the body politic and on the other of locating and predisposing mechanisms of defense against them” (18). I found this pathological variation fulfilling in some ways, as it, to my understanding, at least attempts to interface H&N’s formulation of a radically resistant community with Agamben’s detection of an immunological, and perhaps autoimmunological, process in the communal self-preservation and self-negation of nascent European nation-states.

    What I would like to discuss in this post are just some preliminary musings about the similarities between Esposito’s figural scheme for bios, as expressed through the history of “The Enigma of Biopolitics”, and the way some literary theorists conceive of personification’s rhetorical trajectory. In some ways, perhaps obvious ones, the two are concerned with the animation and figuration of human life. Presumably, personification is the figural act of animating or endowing a non-human entity with human qualities or giving it a sense of human agency. The question and meaning person-ification is largely one of political exclusion. What do we understand by “person” and how do we want to think an agency that directly addresses it? What counts as a non-human entity when the human body appears to be increasingly objectified and literally traversed by various fabrications? Is it even possible to conceive of the non-human? These are all questions of personification, but the rhetoric and hermeneutic schema are all shared by Esposito’s investigation of bios. Much like elaborations of biopolitics, personification is often laid out as the interpretive problems that proliferate from the relation between the subject and object of politics. Much like discourses on personification, Esposito provides a history about biopolitics and the emptiness of bios that largely results in subjectivization and death. In the figural schema of either, non-human entities are either properly transmuted into something qualified as humanistic, or they remain inanimate. These are, admittedly, just some test-run thoughts. But I did leave “The Enigma of Biopolitics” wondering: a) Is it useful to map Esposito’s elaboration of bios onto the figural schema of personification? b) Can we find some sort of stylistic congruency between those terms that renders the relationship between the sovereignty and biopolitics?

  3. I sat with chapter three for quite some time trying to follow Esposito’s interpretation of Nietzsche as compared to Deleuze’s. It appears the main difference is that Esposito reads Nietzsche in terms of biology whereas Deleuze reads him in terms of values. For instance, Esposito (97) quotes Nietzsche “What needs to be fought against with all one’s strength is the contagion of the healthy parts of the organism.” Esposito then explains this as part of a contradictory drive by the strong to try and create stronger biological barriers between the healthy and sick that eventually end up negating what develops life. On the other hand, Deleuze, in Nietzsche & Philosophy, quotes Nietzsche “The strong always have to be defended against the weak” (58). This is a similar quote to Esposito’s use of Nietzsche, but here, Deleuze uses this to show that an interpretation of forces and wills is needed to show whether it is an active or reactive force or whether it is the will to power or will to nothingness animating a body. Law, modern positivism, morality, are criticized for separating forces from what they can do, and therefore, not going to the limit of what they can do. For Deleuze’s Nietzsche, the “strong are contaminated” (60) not in any biological sense, but in the sense that they preserve the reactive forces and values of the church, law, positivism, etc. without being able to give rise to new affirmative values.

    Esposito does end with a reading similar to Deleuze’s, that is, that Nietzsche realizes that too much of a self-preservation logic will lead to disaster and moves towards difference, rather than identity. It is interesting to note that the Nietzsche quotes utilized by Esposito in this later portion of chapter 3 refer to “the educator” and “the real philosopher” (106), rather than “the physician” (101).

  4. Esposito identifies an interesting separation within the study of biopolitics: a focus on truth (Foucault) or desire (Deleuze). In “How Much Does it Cost for reason to Tell the Truth,” Foucault (1983) identifies his question as centering on truth, while Deleuze in concerned with pleasure. While truth does concern the production of true statements but creating the ground upon which and from which the true/false and illusion/reality emerge, it is always ‘immanent to’ a given situation. The paradigm is ‘immanent to’ the field that it constitutes. Desire, however, ques us to a different feature of biopolitics.

    While the question of truth concerns a the conditions of truth and falsity immanent to political field, desire is immanent. It does not call forth or exudate the field through a paradigmatic analysis, but resides within the interplay of the singularities form an assemblage on a filed of immanence. Here, Espositio’s immunization paradigm becomes sensible.

    The transcendence that immanence cannot reabsorb are precisely those political categories that mediate immunization (33). To immunize subjects from the uncertainties of life, transcendental categories (31), emerging form the immanent field of action, emerged to inoculate the population. With the decline of the theological matrix, the protective communal shell (Sloterdijk) found within the medieval “transcendental order” (28) required the emergence of new immunological systems emergent from alternative spheres, new bubbles that could keep a population from contamination with an inhospitable outside (Sloterdijk). Here, the emergence of contract theory establishes (1) the immanent conditions for justifying the emergence of transcendentals that (2) unmoor the transcendentals from the immanent conditions that justified their creation: “Here we can begin to make out the constitutively negative character of sovereign immunization. It can be defined as an immanent transcendence situated outside the control of those that also produced it as the expression of their own will” (32). What began as transcendentals become transcendent in the process of immunizing the population.
    Returning to Foucault and Deleuze, within the biopolitical sphere, what is needed is precisely the return to desire (which replaces Agamben’s voice as the constrained element within the biopolitical system, which work with H&N’s discussion of the multitude). In The Third Persona, Esposito clarifies the difference. Where as Foucault begins with death as the starting point from which to arrive at life, which requires Foucault to mover through the discovery of transcendentals within in system (17), but Deleuze begins with immanent that allows him to recognize, and begin, with an impersonal life that has not been captured by the apparatus of the person. Through beginning from immanence, Deleuze can circumnavigate the person, which allows for life to take on the foundation role, which founds biopolitical resistance in the affirmative play of a life’s contingent becoming.

  5. I’ve recently been thinking about the role and status of sexuality in relation to biopolitics. I’m particularly interested in the intersection of the juridical and sexuality, such as the criminalization of sex work and certain forms of sexuality. It seems that Esposito’s logic of immunity may offer some interesting insights into a more traditionally Foucauldian analysis of this intersection. From the standpoint of Foucault’s biopolitics, the legislation of sex and sexuality should appear to be the logical outcome of biopower’s intensification as it saturates every aspect of life. I’m left wondering why something like sex work is outright criminalized, rather than regulated and corralled under the utility of biopower. Sex and sexuality seem to have been major focal points of biopolitical control throughout modern history. This may be explained in part by their individualized and private nature, something that would seem to stand in opposition to Foucault’s biopower. Esposito asserts that immunization has become the essential characteristic of modern civilizations (55). If I understand his conception of immunity correctly, it is a process of inserting that which is antithetical or negative to the community in an act of protective inoculation. So, if to Foucault’s biopower sex and sexuality pose a threat to be put under complete control, it seems in Esposito’s immunity framework sex and sexuality would take the position of the immunity. They are introduced into community as the negative logic that drives production. I don’t believe Foucault’s biopolitics would be unable to account for contemporary trends of decriminalization of sex and sexuality, but it seems Esposito’s addition allows us to account for it more easily.