Space Generating Bodies and Vice Versa

According to Foucault, racism is an inevitable tool of the nation state, which it uses to stratify and modify its citizen. Racism is not occasional slippage of the system, it is a part of the system, its integral, system-generating part. (I’d say that the same is true in regard to misogyny.)

Biopolitics is concerned with great masses of people, as opposed to the old (pre-eighteenth century) sovereign power, which concentrated on attaining control over the individual bodies. The control over bodies did not disappear, but was permeated with new types of control, subtler, and more nuanced. If in the sovereign power was the right to let live and make die, in a new era, the era biopolitics, it was a power of ‘“make” live and “let” die.’ (241)

This new mode of power, the mode of ruling over the human-being-as-a-species, rather than human-being-as-an-individual, required new methods of control, care, and management. And such methods emerged—hygiene routines, insurance, safety trainings, mandatory medical service, and so on.

Foucault critics Socialism as being but another version of capitalism, because Socialism re-implemented all these methods and tools, and never offered any critique of them—to the contrary, embraced the new Leviathan of biopolitics, still more devoid of individual features than ever, and no any less horrifying than in the Hobbesian imagination.

It is in these settings that camps appear, according to Agamben. Agamben conducted a revolution in the understanding of camps. Rather than attempting to decipher the nature of camps from the events that took and are taking place there, he asked, to the contrary, what are the nature of things which happened as derived from what camp is (Agamben, 2003). In it, he follows Benjamin, who, and this is a Marxian insight, positioned “space” before the “events,” “space” before the “bodies” which it produced (and not vice versa). Agamben shows that camp is intrinsic to the new social order—the camp, where all laws are suspended, is a place inevitably resurfacing in the biopolitical mode of power, in a nation state which is busy with its endless purification and sustaining of its population.

Dehumanized “zoe” is both camp’s production and its first victim, whereas “bios,” political life, as long as it remains in power at least. Perhaps it is possible to think about “zoe” and “bios” as about a cast division of our times, and this division has class, racial, gender, sexuality, and mental health dimensions. There is always a possibility for “bios” to slip into “zoe,” but there is hardly any possibility for “zoe” to rise to “bios.”

 

References

Agamben, Georgio. Means Without End: Notes on Politics. University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Foucault, Michel. Society Must Be Defended. Pikador, New York. 2003.

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First Writing of the Semester, Expressive Culture (Professor Elizabeth Lewis)

The students were asked to write a mini-ethnography, engaging with the theory they were forced through, and based on their own choices of site and method.

They produced writings on:

sorority gatherings
laundromat Sunday attending
Super Smash Bros. tournament
church sermons of different kinds
Black Lives Matter event (a disruption of continuity; written by a black student)
baby shower
softball game
soccer game
wedding
gym
YMCA
library
cemetery with an occasional funeral
Student Activity Center (slumbering on the pillows, mostly)
classroom
ballroom
coffee shops of all shapes and sizes
immigrant gatherings
homeless on Guadalupe
biology laboratory
Mexican restaurant (always a great site for observations)
the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (the only instance I advised an outside writing, namely Agamben “On Security and Terror”)
UT street market
pool
comedy open mic

And so forth, some 250 pages total. In short, all the colorful kaleidoscope of Texas [mostly blissful middle-class] life, or at least written from the positionalities of people endowed with such a life.

I read it with a great interest; it was full of curious observations, and some of this writing was reflective and reflexive. I was particularly glad to read on UT street market and Guadalupe homeless gathering; had passing thoughts about writing on both. Another particular excitement is the sorority gatherings, but I could not entertain a hope of once writing about them. Now that I finished grading, the landscape of UT is somewhat more densely inhabited.