Sunday, July 4, 2010

Second Thesis on the Concept of Form of Life

Whether they know it or not, all established apparatuses of power tend to agree on one basic point, formulated in the clearest terms by the best theoretical minds of the Third Reich: that since “no political system can survive even a generation with only naked techniques of holding power,” politics is basically the practice of “giving form to the life of the people.” To complicate our basic dichotomy, it must be admitted that what the power over life is concerned with above all else is how, and not just that, we live. It is only when the powers that be realize that they did not manage to achieve the desired result, when life did not care to conform to a certain form, that the opposite practice is unleashed: the stripping of life from its form (whatever it may be), this diabolical metamorphosis from caring (for the form of life) to forsaking (bare life), as power yields to violence and biopolitics transforms into “thanatopolitics”--a politics concerned with death rather than with life. Bare life is by no means a manifestation of sovereign power, but a proof of sovereign powerlessness, that is, its failure to influence or protect the way we live. Nothing is simpler than to subject a bare life to power (indeed, the desire to do so is usually a mark of weakness); but it is extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to completely subject a form of life to a power external to it. No matter how awesome the powers of the state, the law, the sovereign, the government, the police, or the army are, they can only contain the explosive power of the multitude of forms of life with limited success. A life completely devoid of a form, like a point without extension, is a fiction. In the same way that outside the theoretical realm of Euclidean geometry there is no point with zero dimensions, there is no absolutely bare life in the actual world, outside Agamben’s political theory, though horrifying limit cases, like the Muselmann, do exist. (By the same token, we could add that there are no pure forms of life that are totally separated from actual physical life outside Debord’s theses on The Society of the Spectacle, though beatific limit cases, like cartoon characters, do indeed exist.)

1 comment:

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