Resisting the Present: Biopower in the Face of the Event

CR: The New Centennial Review 19 (3):99-128 (2019)
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Abstract
In its hegemonic definition, biopolitical governmentality is characterised by a seemingly infinite capacity of expansion, susceptible to colonise the landscape and timescape of the living present in the name of capitalistic productivity. The main trait of biopower is its normative, legal and political plasticity, allowing it to reappropriate critiques and resistances by appealing to bioethical efficacy and biological accuracy. Under these circumstances, how can we invent rebellious forms-of-life and alternative temporalities escaping biopolitical normativity? In this essay, I interrogate the theoretical presuppositions of biopolitical rationality. I provide a deconstruction of the conceptual and temporal structures upholding the notion of biopolitics, in view of laying the ground for new forms of resistance. The articulation between life and power has a long philosophical history, which has been largely ignored by social theorists and political thinkers using biopolitics as an interpretative model. I re-inscribe this model within the tradition of critical materialism, by articulating Foucault’s ‘critical ontology’ to recent philosophical works on biological plasticity (Malabou). In these discourses, the logic of biopower depends on a representation of life – ‘the living’ – as living present. Biopower finds itself anchored in the authority of the present, that is to say, of being-as-presence (ontology); it sustains presentist definitions of life and materiality, be it under the form of a ‘plastic’ ontology. By drawing on Derrida’s notions of ‘spectrality’ and ‘life-death’ and Francesco Vitale’s work on ‘biodeconstruction’, I deconstruct these discourses on life and materiality and attempt to dissociate them from their ontological grounding, in order to suggest new paths of resistance to biopower. In particular, I follow the tracks of “the monster” in the work of Foucault, Derrida and Malabou. Foucault tells us that the monster is a singular figure, parasitic and subversive, beckoning a life beyond life, at once organic and non-organic, located at the limit between the normal and the exceptional, and exceeding the scope of biopolitical normativity in both theoretical and practical terms. It exists at the intersection of what Foucault names “the symbolics of blood” and “the analytics of sex”. As such, it materialises a self-transformative dimension of the living which remains, I argue, inadequate to Malabou’s representation of plasticity. The monstrous is a self-deconstructive motif calling for another biopolitical rationality, before or beyond ontological reductions or reconstructions.
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