American Anthropological Association Meeting, Minneapolis, 2016

On the 19th of November at the American Anthropological Association meeting (Minneapolis, Minnesota) I presented my work entitled “Archeology of the Robotics: Remnants of Soviet Robots” on the panel “Affect and the Materiality of Ruins: Radioactive Subjects, Contested Futures, and Evidence of Lost Worlds” that we put together with Magdalene Stawkowski and Kelly Alexander. They both presented their work, as well as Mark Gardiner. Alison Cool was the discussant. The panel enjoyed the attendance of anthropologists, and the discussion was so lively that questions and remarks went for five minutes beyond the time.

The key event of the AAA meeting in 2016 for me was a panel “Sleepwalking Into Extinction: Elaine Scarry’s S.O.S. to Anthropologists” on the same day.

I read Elaine Scarry’s book “The Body in Pain” and used her concept of the room of torture as a tool of torture to extend it to the landscape of torture as a tool of torture, in case of the ISIS performative executions, and was lucky to talk to her about it briefly after the panel.

Elaine Scarry’s S.O.S. is related to un-abolished nuclear weapons. I, as a child of the Cold War, did have nightmares and fears of the world dying in the nuclear catastrophe, which is a shared experience for my generation. It is true that the nuclear threat fell into the background (one of Scarry’s arguments). And it is reasonable to join Elaine Scarry in the statement that this should not be so. For indeed it was Foucault who first noted that the supreme new tool of biopolitics, nuclear weapon, could eliminate its creator. Elaine Scarry adds to that (or reminds)–not only its creator, but all the life on the earth.

I could not help but caught myself on the thought that, as much as the nuclear threat is important and real, there is also a tinge of nuclear nostalgia to the conversation about it. The question for me is: what kind of shared nightmares today’s children have?

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.