( Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 1) - PDF

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( Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 1) Note: The following is taken from the introduction to Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy by Roberto Esposito (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007). My thanks

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( Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 1) Note: The following is taken from the introduction to Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy by Roberto Esposito (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007). My thanks to them for their permission to include here.//tim Campbell Bíos, Immunity, Life: The Thought of Roberto Esposito by Timothy Campbell No term has captured the interest of political philosophy more in the last decade than biopolitics. Philosophers from traditions as diverse as Marxism, post-structuralism, and psychoanalysis have utilized the term biopolitics to describe what are seen as radical changes occurring in the nature of life. This focus on biopolitics comes naturally since the term seems to capture in its fusion between biology and politics a shift in the way politics is understood and theorized. This shift is measured not only by philosophy of course but also in popular media such as television and the internet. Whether it be immigrants wading ashore in Sicily and the political (and ultimately police) response to it, or the terrorist who blows himself or herself up with the fervent hope of taking as many lives as possible in the process for supposed political or religious gain, we can sense that politics and power today are concerned more than ever before with life itself, with using life as a means to power or life as an instrument of power. Yet for all the interest the term has generated, which is witnessed in the increasing space devoted to lexicons and anthologies of biopolitics, few have asked two fundamental questions: where does biopolitics originate and what does it mean to fuse the lemmes bíos and politics together into one term? The failure to do so has meant the lack of a proper genealogy of biopolitics; the absence of analyses that attempt simultaneously to historicize the term while seeking to decide whether biopolitics has positive or negative connotations. Into this void stepped philosopher Roberto Esposito with his magisterial work from 2004 entitled appropriately Bíos: biopolitica e filosofia. Both a mapping of biopolitical dispositifs currently in operation as well as an stunning history of biopolitics from Hobbes to the current war on terror, Bíos, as well as his two earlier works that with Bíos form a trilogy, Communitas and Immunitas, allow us to register how it is that politics has come to be inflected so deeply by an interest in human life. Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 2 That Esposito should be the first to do so isn't surprising. For the better part of twenty years he has been intimately involved with problematizing the origins of the most used categories in contemporary political and philosophical categories. Beginning with the notion of the impolitical in Categorie dell'impolitico and the origin and destiny of community as he subtitled his 1999 work, Communitas, Esposito has given us an avowedly postmodern and deconstructive perspective on politics. What makes Bíos especially significant is his attempt to uncover in the relation between community and immunity something like an immanent mechanism underpinning biopolitics. In this sense Esposito uncovers in immunity the unthought (or indeed the repressed) that returns in current discussions of biopolitics, be they in the obsessive emphasis on the negative figure of homo sacer and the state of exception or the incantations of a vital biopolitics of the multitude. In the following introduction to Esposito's thought, I want to make explicit what I see as his critique of how biopolitics has come to be deployed today in Italy and elswhere. But Bíos and Esposito's thought is much more than that. It represents one of the most powerful lenses available to observe life and how it continues to be appropriated and crushed by the political. It is also a brilliant attempt to construct out of a negative conception of biopolitics the horizon in which a postive biopolitics must be situated. *** To do so I first sketch the parameters of Esposito's contribution to our current understanding of biopolitics, particularly as they relate to the conceptual centerpiece of Bíos, the paradigm of immunization. Immunity of course enjoys a long and well-known history in recent critical thought. Niklas Luhmann, for instance, placed immunity at the heart of his systems theory in his 1984 opus Soziale Systeme; Donna Haraway deployed an immune system discourse in her seminal reading of postmodern bodies from 1988; while Jean Baudrillard in the early 1990s spoke of artificial sterilization compensating for faltering internal immunological defenses. 1 For them and for many writing today on immunity, the term quickly folds into autoimmunity, becoming the ultimate horizon in which contemporary politics inscribes itself. Others continued to discuss immunity throughout the 1990s -- Agnes Heller most prominently -- as well as Mark C. Taylor, but no one placed it more forcefully at the center of contemporary politics then did Jacques Derrida in a series of interviews and writings after the events of September Speaking of auto-immunity aggression and suicidal auto-immunity, Derrida affiliates the figure of immunity with trauma and a repetition compulsion. 3 As the reader will soon discover, Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 3 much sets apart Esposito s use of immunity from Derrida s as well as the others mentioned above, especially as it relates to Esposito s radical inversion of immunity in its communal antinomy and the subsequent effects on our understanding of biopolitics. In the first section, therefore, I attempt to trace where Esposito s use of the immunity paradigm converges and diverges with Derrida and others. In the second part I situate Esposito's thought more broadly within current thinking on biopolitics. Here obviously the work of Michel Foucault in his seminars from 1975 and 1976 on biopolitics and racism merits considerable attention since it is precisely upon these discourses that Esposito will draw his own reflections in Bíos. 4 But as anyone who has followed the recent fortunes of biopolitics knows, two other Italian figures dominate contemporary discussions of life in all its forms and they both originate in Italy: Giorgio Agamben and Antonio Negri. In Homo Sacer, Remnants of Auschwitz, and The Open, Giorgio Agamben declines biopolitics negatively, anchoring it to the sovereign state of exception that separates bare life (zoé) from political forms of life (bíos). 5 For Toni Negri writing with Michael Hardt, biopolitics takes on a distinctly positive tonality when thought together with the multitude. 6 It is between these two contradictory poles that Esposito's focus on bíos must be understood. Indeed, as I argue here, Bíos comes to resemble something like a synthesis of both Agamben and Negri s positions, with Esposito co-opting Agamben's negative analysis of biopolitics early on, only to criticize later the anti-historical moves that characterize Agamben's association of biopolitics to the state of exception. 7 In some of the most compelling pages Esposito has written, he argues instead for the modern origin of biopolitics in the immunizing features of sovereignty, property, and liberty as they emerge in the writings of Hobbes and Locke. It is at this point that the differences with Hardt and Negri become clear; they concern not only what Esposito argues is their misguided appropriation of the term biopolitics from Foucault, but also their failure to register the thanatopolitical declension of twentieth-century biopolitics. Essentially, Esposito argues that Hardt and Negri aren t wrong in pushing for an affirmative biopolitics a project that Esposito himself shares -- but that it can only emerge after a thorough-going deconstruction of the intersection of biology and politics that originates in immunity. Clearly understanding these Italian contributions to biopolitical discourse is crucial if we are to register the originality of Esposito s argument. Equally though, other critical texts will also help us in situating Bíos within contemporary work on biopolitics -- Judith Butler's reflections on Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 4 mourning and community in Precarious Life and Giving an Account Oneself come to mind as do Keith Ansell Pearson s Deleuzian musings on symbíosis and viroid life, as well as Peter Sloterdijk's Regole per il parco umano: Una risposta alla Lettera sull'umanismo di Heidegger, Jürgen Habermas s recent The Future of Human Nature, and Ronald Dworkin's essays on euthanasia and abortion. 8 Here too Esposito s work shares a number of areas of contact with them, ranging from the notion of community, to the genetic engineering that promises to prevent lives unworthy of life in Binding and Hoche's phrase. 9 But other texts figure as well, especially as they relate to Esposito's reading of community/immunity. I ll introduce them at appropriate moments so as to tie up some of the loose ends that inevitably result when broad introductions of the sort I'm attempting here are made. In the final section of the essay I offer some general considerations concerning Esposito positive inflection of biopolitics, especially through the dispositifs of immunity and how we might use them to develop an immunitary critique of neo-liberalism. What practices might we develop, what kinds of discourses are available to us that make it more difficult to reproduce the immunitary and hence negative biopolitical inflection of modernity. As Esposito argues, no more important question requires a response from us than this one. Community/Immunity In order to appreciate the originality of Esposito s understanding of biopolitics, I first want to rehearse the relation of community to immunity as Esposito sketches it, not only in Bíos but in his two earlier works, Communitas: Origine e destino della comunità and Immunitas: Protezione e negazione della vita. Reading the terms dialectically, Esposito asks if the relation between community and immunity is ultimately one of contrast and juxtaposition, or rather if the relation isn't part of a larger move in which each term is inscribed reciprocally in the logic of the other. The launching pad for his reflections concerns the principles on which communities are founded. Typically of course, when we think of community, we immediately think of the common, of that which is shared among the members of a group. So too for Esposito: community is inhabited by the communal, by that which is not my own, indeed that begins where my own ends. It is what belongs to all or most and is therefore public in juxtaposition to 'private,' or 'general' (but also 'collective') in contrast to particular. 10 Yet Esposito notes three further meanings of communitas, all associated with the term from which it originates: the Latin Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 5 munus. The first two meanings of munus -- onus and officium -- concern obligation and office, while the third centers paradoxically around the term donum, which Esposito glosses as a form of gift that combines the features of the previous two. Drawing on the classic linguistic studies of Benveniste and Mauss, Esposito marks the specific tonality of this communal donum, to signify not simply any gift, but a category of gift that requires, even demands, an exchange in return. 11 Once one has accepted the munus, Esposito writes, then one is obliged to return the onus, either in the form of goods or services (officium), 12 Munus is, therefore, a much more intense form of donum since it requires a subsequent response from the receiver. Here Esposito distills the political connotations of munus. Unlike donum, munus subsequently marks the gift that one gives, not the gift that one receives, the contractual obligation one has vis-à-vis the other, and finally the gratitude that demands new donations on the part of the recipient (emphasis in original). 13 Here Esposito's particular declension of community becomes clear: thinking community through communitas will name the gift that keeps on giving, a reciprocity in the giving of a gift that doesn't, indeed, cannot belong to oneself. At its (missing) origin, communitas is constructed around an absent gift, one that members of community cannot keep for themselves. According to Esposito, this debt or obligation of gift-giving operates as a kind of originary defect for all those belonging to a community. The defect revolves around the pernicious effects of reciprocal donation on individual identity. Accepting the munus directly undermines the capacity of the individual to identify himself or herself as such and not as part of the community. I want to hold the defective features of communitas in reserve for the moment and reintroduce the question of immunity since it is precisely the immunitary mechanism that will link community to biopolitics. 14 For Esposito, immunity is co-terminus with community. It does not simply negate communitas by protecting it from what is external, but rather is inscribed in the horizon of the communal munus. Immune is he and immunity is clearly gendered as masculine in the examples from classical Rome that Esposito cites -- who is exonerated or has received a dispensatio from reciprocal gift-giving. He who has been freed from communal obligations or who enjoys an originary autonomy or successive freeing from a previously contracted debt enjoys the condition of immunitas. The relationship immunity maintains with individual identity emerges clearly here. Immunity connotes the means by which the individual is defended from the expropriative effects of the community, protecting the one who carries it from the risk of Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 6 contact with those who do not (the risk being precisely the loss of individual identity). 15 As a result, the borders separating what is one s own from the communal are reinstituted when the substitution of private or individualistic models for communitarian forms of organization take place. 16 It follows therefore that the condition of immunity signifies both not to be and not to have in common. 17 Seen from this perspective, immunity presupposes community, but also negates it, so that rather than centered simply on reciprocity, community doubles upon itself, protecting itself from a presupposed excess of communal gift-giving. For Esposito, the conclusion can only be that to survive, a community, every community is forced to introject the negativity of its own opposite, even if that opposite remains a contrastive and lacking mode of the community itself. 18 It is this introjection of negativity or immunity that will form the basis of Esposito's reading of modern biopolitics. Esposito will argue that the modern subject who enjoys civil and political rights is itself an attempt to attain immunity from the contagion of the possibility of community. Such an attempt to immunize the individual from what is common ends up putting at risk the community as immunity turns upon itself and its constituent element. Immunity and Modernity Those familiar with Jean-Luc Nancy s writings on the inoperative community or Alphonso Lingis' reflections on the shared nothingness of community will surely hear echoes of both in much of the above synopsis. 19 What sets Esposito's analysis apart from them is the degree to which he reads immunity as a historical category inextricably linked to modernity. That politics has always in some way been preoccupied with defending life doesn't detract from the fact that beginning from a certain moment that coincides exactly with the origins of modernity, such a self-defensive requirement was identified not only and simply as a given, but as both a problem and a strategic option. This means that all civilizations past and present faced and in some way solved the needs of their own immunization, but that only in the modern ones does immunization constitute its most intimate essence. One might come to assert that it wasn't modernity that raised the question of the self-preservation of life, but that selfpreservation raises itself in modernity's being (essere), which is to Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 7 say it invents modernity as a historical and categorical apparatus that is capable of coping (risolvere) with it. 20 For Esposito, modernity doesn't begin simply in the institution of sovereign power and its theorization in Hobbes as Foucault argues. Rather modernity appears precisely when it becomes possible to theorize a relation between the communitarian munus, which Esposito associates with a Hobbesian state of generalized conflict, and the institution of sovereign power that acts to protect, or better to immunize, the community from a threatened return to conflict. If we were to push Esposito's argument, it might be more appropriate to speak of the sovereign who immunizes the community from the community's own implicit excesses: the desire to acquire the goods of another, and the violence implicated in such a relation. When its individual members become subject to sovereign power, that is when it no longer is possible to accept the numerous threats the community poses to itself and to its individual members, the community immunizes itself by instituting sovereign power. With the risk of conflict inscribed at the very heart of community, consisting as it does in interaction, or perhaps better, in the equality between its members, immunization doesn't precede or follow the moment of community, but appears simultaneously as its intimate essence. The moment when the immunitary aporia of community is recognized as the strategic problem for nascent European nation-states signals the advent of modernity since it is then that sovereign power is linked theoretically to communal self-preservation and self-negation. 21 Two further reflections ought to be made at this point. First, by focusing on the immunizing features of sovereignty as it emerges in modernity, Esposito takes issue with a distinction Foucault makes between the paradigm of sovereignty and that of governmentality. We recall that for Foucault, governmentality marks the tactics of government which make possible the continual definition and redefinition of what is within the competence of the State and what is not, the public versus the private, and so on. These tactics are linked to the emergence of the population as an objective of power which culminates at the end of the eighteenth century, particularly regarding campaigns to reduce mortality. 22 A full-fledged regime of governmentality for Foucault cannot be thought separately from the emergence of biopower that takes control of life in general - with the body as one pole and the population as the other in the nineteenth century. 23 Esposito, however, shows how Foucault oscillates between sovereignty and governmentality precisely because of his failure to theorize the immunitary Bíos, Immunity, Life, Page 8 declension of both terms. Both are inscribed in a modern biopolitical horizon thanks to a modernity that strengthens exponentially its own immunitary characteristics. Second, Esposito's focus on immunity ought to be compared to recent attempts, most notably by Judith Butler, to construct a conceptual language for describing gender and sexuality as modes of relation, one that would provide a way of thinking about how we are not only constituted by our relations but also dispossessed by them as well. 24 Esposito's language of an always already immunized and immunizing munus suggests that Butler is clearly right in affirming the importance of relationality for imagining community, but at the same time that any hoped for future community constructed on the social vulnerability of bodies will founder on the implicit threat contained in any relation among the same socially constituted bodies. 25 In other words, an ecology of socially interdependent bodies doesn't necessarily ensure vulnerability, but might actually augm
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