Graduate seminar: Life Itself

Engl 226/F&M 252 | UC Santa Barbara | Fall 2009

Archive for October, 2009

New journal issue on Security

Posted by vashkor on October 27, 2009

Virtual Issue: Security (Cultural Anthropology; October 2009)

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Week 5: Biocapital continued

Posted by zachhortonucsb on October 26, 2009

Continuing our discussion of biocapital, it seems useful to consider this week’s readings in relation to the possibility and mechanisms of commodification and exchange of the biological (life). In each of these articles, the author considers the increasing degree to which aspects of life emerge as economic entities through evolving biotechnologies, and the cultural reverberations of this process.

Thacker analyses the globalization of a biotechnological economy via the intersection of Foucault’s notion of biopolitics and Marx’s theory of species-being. Foucault focuses on the ways “life itself” becomes the subject of political calculation; Thacker sketches out the ways in which this process consolidates and extends itself through bioinformatics: “Biopolitics mediates between genetics and informatics. The point of mediation is a certain notion of ‘information’, which derives from communications, cybernetics, and information theory.” (Thacker 28) The second prong of Thacker’s inquiry is Marx’s notion of the species-being–the human being as unique through its capacity of productive activity: “…What defines the species-being for Marx is the way in which human production and productive activity differ from the production of animals… human beings produce intellectually and physically, and both forms of production constitute a material production that can exist ideally before it exists actually.” (33) Thacker combines these two notions into a theory of biomaterial labor, “A novel kind of material labor [that] has evolved out of the biotech industry… this kind of labor, as already noted, is fully biological and yet is inseparable from political and economic effects. It is strangely nonhuman… it never stops working… it is fully informatic… but it never completely relinquishes its affiliation with the material, messy, ‘stuff’ of biology.” (40) For Thacker, identifying this new category of biomaterial labor allows us to identify the nexus of the human with the globalized, informatic economy through the rapidly-expanding sector of biotechnology.

From this broad theoretical viewpoint, we can consider the other articles as particular instantiations of this problematic.

For example, Nicole Shukin’s notion of biomobility, “The threat of telecommunications’ pathological double, the potential of infectious disease to rapidly travel through the social flesh of a globally connected life world,” arises out of the species definition Thacker elaborates. This is to say, in our globalized world, the potential for disease to jump species simultaneously unites and divides humanity. Where the threat of disease was once local (the epidemic), it has now become global (the pandemic), and generative of a cultural form–fear of pandemic–that recognizes our global connectivity as species-being and economic exchange through biomaterial labor. The resulting pandemic discourses end up fragmenting the human along racial and ethnic lines, “racialized recinscriptions of cultural difference within the ‘bare life’ of the biologically continuous humanity it invokes.” (187) This discourse becomes an extension of neoliberal economics and “colonial nostalgia”, as the likely site of infection (in animal-human contact) becomes identified with the non-white, non-European Other. Even in cases where interspecies intimacy is positioned as a counterforce to the destructive tendencies of globalization, as in the of Colbert’s “migratory” animal museum, Shukin argues that this discourse is divisive and racializing–nothing more than a new version of orientialism–as Colbert’s iconography reinforces racial and colonial categories even as it seeks to unite life beyond species.

In the same way that Shukin elucidates a cultural discourse that arises out of a globalized world of biomaterial labor, the essays collected in “Commodifying Bodies” address various cultural manifestations that showcase the fault lines between biology and economics. For example, “The Other Kidney” examines the duality of tissue exchange: the biomedical economy allows us to consolidate our understanding of the human species as unitary through the technological suppression of biological difference, while at the same time reinforcing racial and class divisions through the dynamics of neoliberal exchange.

This constellation of ideas suggests that the continuing evolution of biopolitics as driven by global capital and biotechnology delineates a key site for critical reflection and engagement. In this case, we might conclude by asking the following questions:

Does the recognition of this process, whereby suppressing biological difference reinforces racial and class distinctions, allow for a new ethics of the present, as Shukin suggests, following Butler and Derrida?

Thacker locates a contemporary form of alienation in “biomaterial labor”. Does his analysis of this process allow us to reconcile labor with the species by re-inscribing it within human being?

Thacker posits biomaterial labor as a theory of the present, dependent on the conflation of biology and information. If this is the case, how does it interface with or account for older, persistent forms of biocapital exchange, such as sex work or boxing?

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Neoliberal Biopolitics and Time

Posted by Dana Solomon on October 15, 2009

We have organized our discussion thematically.  We are using time and temporality as a framework for examining three areas of interest in Melinda Cooper’s Life as Surplus and Kaushik Sunder Rajan’s “Experimental Values.”  These three areas are structural violence, capitalist delirium, and preemption/emergence.

1.) Structural Violence

“Even if all clinical trials conducted in India or other Third World countries adhered to the letter of the law and the spirit of ethical codes, the very structure of this network would remain one of exploitation” (Rajan 67).

What are the intersections between notions of structural violence and notions of political subjectivity, most specifically in Rajan’s article?  Where is agency located?

How is time working in these structures of violence? More specifically, how are the trial populations included or excluded from a neoliberal temporal structure?  What might a neoliberal temporal structure look like?

2.) Capitalist Delirium

“…the delirium of contemporary capitalism is intimately and essentially concerned with the limits of life on earth and the regeneration of living futures–beyond the limits” (Cooper 20).

How are the ideas of promise and speculation implicated in capitalist delirium? How do these concepts displace time within this context?

3.) Preemption and Emergence

“In short, the very concept of the catastrophe event seems to suggest that our only possible response to the emergent crisis…is one of speculative preemption” (Cooper 83).

“The new public health discourse calls our attention to emerging and reemerging infectious disease…It defines infectious disease as emerging and emergent–not incidentally, but in essence. What public health policy needs to mobilize against, the new microbiology argues, is no longer the singular disease with its specific etiology, but emergence itself, whatever form it takes, whenever and wherever it happens to actualize” (Cooper 80).

This emphasis on emergence and preemption leads to what Cooper calls a state of emergency or the militarization of life in its biospheric dimension.  How is this different from other extratemporal states we have encountered so far, like Agamben’s state of exception? Does Cooper’s argument for the distinction between state of emergency and state of exception hold? (Cooper 63)

How is a neoliberal temporal structure at work in the state of emergency?

–Dana Solomon and Lindsay Thomas

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Bio-Sovereignty Discussion Qs

Posted by Sarah Harris on October 12, 2009

Hello! Here are some questions on week 2’s readings.  Feel free to pick up one and go with it.. add comments, add more questions. We’ve divided them up by readings, but they kinda apply accross readings as well. : ) Mira, Anastasia and Sarah

Aihwa Ong, “Scales of Exception: Experiments with Knowledge and Sheer life in Tropical SouthEast Asia”

1.  Is resisting global capitalism for the protection of ‘sheer life’ an act of oppsition, an alternative mode of neoliberal participation, or simply an ethical imperative?

2.  Is ‘political cartography’ responsible for the construction of ‘partial citizenship’ and ‘postnational’ citizenship?

3.  Is this interactive citizenship Ong describes the logical evolution of sovereign power? How have classifications of life changed in this model of citizenship?

4. Do the examples of Indonesia and Singapore as divergent interactions with neoliberal politics suggest that a society or nation must choose between ethics (exclusion) and participating in knowledge capital (inclusion)?  Is seems impossible to argue without defining what it means to be human, and what it means to be a sovereign citizen…


Saree Makdisi, Palestine Inside Out

1. While citizenship and space have become  mutable categorizations how have we come to understand the stability of Israeli state? And how do we classify the Israeli state as a sovereign presence?

2. Has the system and geography of the occupation created a new visual language to express sovereign power? Is this bio-sovereignty?

3. In what ways is Agamben’s writing on camp applicable to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? How about Foucault’s discussion of the state using biopolitics to “make live and let die”?

4. The descriptions of the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem often approximate the treatment of human waste in the Moore article. There is a lack of human contact in the Israeli police/military forces highly regimented control of Palestinians’ movement (for example, Makdisi writes about the use of glass to separate the other, the use of video cameras to monitor Palestinians as they pass through the gates, and electronically controlling the gates to stop a Palestinian’s movement at any time).  How does this distanced approach relate to a classical scientific approach and to the medicalization of a body politic? If in the Moore reading, state law, corporations and researchers view patients’ diseased tissues as a homogenous field of donated waste carrying potential/constitutive value, then what can we say about how the Palestinians are viewed by national and transnational states?

5. How can we characterize Palestinian life in lieu of the examples presented in the book? What kind of life is it? Is it successful to invoke the trope of the refugee as explicated by Agamben?

Catherine Waldby and Robert Mitchell, Tissue Economies: Blood, Organs, and Cell Lines in Late Capitalism

1. Where has sovereignty been relocated in a gift system of blood/tissue exchange? In a commodity system of exchange?

2. Can there ever be a ‘social contract’ that realistically functions?

3. The “political economy of health/hope” that Rose describes through rose-colored glasses is interpreted here as “speculative social ecology” or “speculative biotechnology.” How does the introduction of speculation change the rules of negotiation and power within systems of biological and technological innovation and exchange? How does the idea of the future factor into maintaining/transforming these systems? How are biological emergence and market speculation interrelated in the readings?

3. How can we delineate and defend patients’ rights within a speculative social ecology that Mitchell describes? Were patients’ rights within the post WWII gift-exchange system any better? Is there an alternative system, outside of gift and commodity, or perhaps, found in-between the two? How can Ong help us with this dilemma?

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biomarketing / some dreaded rhetoric

Posted by kellykawar on October 11, 2009

I was looking for a bike (a cheap, used one, I should mention), and came across this:

http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/road/

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Art Exhibit of Interest (far away)

Posted by vashkor on October 8, 2009

Semiose galerie presents Piero Gilardi

Solo exhibition Piero Gilardi
live and work in Torino (Italy)

This exhibition, which is dedicated to Piero Gilardi, born in 1942 in Turin, signals the comeback to the French scene of an artist who was a decisive contributor to the birth of a movement that was to change European art drastically in the middle 1960’s.

The brilliant inventor of the “Nature Carpets “, which facilitated the dissemination of his works, Piero Gilardi endeavoured, from the start of this movement, to theorize and to guide reflection towards an “inhabitable” and “micro-emotional” art, a style that he claims himself in the name of the permanent interaction between the individual and his environment. A specific search conducted in the midst of a movement that advocates unfaltering commitment to bringing art and life together. This profoundly humanistic vision was expressed over the years equally in plastic, theoretical, and activist ways.

His plastic art proceeds almost exclusively by introducing nature fragments, daily life objects recreated in painted polyurethane foam, into the domestic living space, to invite the art lover to experience and to seize the works in concrete terms. But far from replaying a simple mimetic action, Piero Gilardi subjects the passage from source object to produced object to an aesthetic interpretation as well as to a physical interaction. In this sense, Gilardi’s works often, if not always, overlap with questions concerning design.

The exhibition shown at the Semiose galery from October 9th will bring together old and recent works to offer a glimpse of the patchwork of a comprehensive and atypical artist’s path.

Semiose galerie
3 rue des Montibœufs
75020 Paris / France
France
b.porcher@semiose.com
http://www.semiose.com

41 Essex Street, New York City, 10002 USA
info@art-agenda.com | Contact | Unsubscribe

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you can’t comb the hair on a coconut

Posted by wolftype on October 7, 2009

you can’t comb the hair on a coconut
(a refuge for some potentially useful notes before we move on)
1. on suicide as subspace: remember the hunger strike at guantánamo (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/09/us/09hunger.html)
anyone know a robust history of this form of protest?  Force-feeding in states of exception seems relevant.  In gitmo prisoners actually threw-up after force-feeding.  Even after Wiseman’s “Titticut Follies” force-feeding is still not considered a form of torture (because it is life-perserving).
2. on medicine as media: convergence culture / fandom — doctors proscribe and patients subscribe to a cornucopia of dramas (which “melrose character are you?” and which “anti-depressant are you?”).  Prozac weekly serializes the publication of drugs.  Big Pharma and Big Media, the “political economy of hope” is like the “political economy of heresy”.  Generally, I don’t think this comparison de-sanctifies disability any more than it sanctifies fantasy (though that equivocation doesn’t necessarily make it a good one).
3. on refugees as thought: Energy (potentiality) and force (futurity) are different graphs of the same information . . . specifically potentiality is a higher order concept than futurity (which is its derivative).  this is surely too pat.  i don’t really know what futurity is, but I’m willing to bet we make the same mistaken assumptions about it as we do about “force” (the derivative of energy).  Perhaps what refugees “DO” is eliminate the potential wells (points of lowest energy) by inhabiting states of exception (the combination of all potential states of a system is a “phase-space”*)  Bergson’s texts may work here, where consciousness is a center of uncertainty in phase-space (combined we get the refugee-as-consciousness-as-form-of-life).
4. on racism as ?: worth taking a look at appadurai’s “fear of small numbers” for a re-address of race-based violence as the last stand against ‘vertebrate’ solvency in the ‘cellular’ global era. (I haven’t read as much theory as everyone else, so what I have read, I’ll push)
* Certain preliminary conditions cause a dynamic system to move in certain directions over time and space, and a map of all preliminary conditions with their directions of movement is a vector field which usually looks like a turbulent field of wheat or a bad haircut, with eddies, orbits, sinks and sources of flow.  On the surface of a sphere like the Earth (I will argue the relevance of the Earth’s physical roundness later), this relates to the “hairy ball” theorem: you can’t comb the hair on a coconut in one continous motion without some of the hairs sticking up.

thought i’d throw out a vital refuge for potential notes before we move on – though I tend to wander

1. suicide as subspace:  the 2007 hunger strike at guantánamo. Anyone know a robust history of this form of protest?  Force-feeding in states of exception seems relevant.  In gitmo prisoners actually threw-up after force-feeding.  Even after Wiseman’s “Titticut Follies” force-feeding is still not considered a form of torture (because it is life-perserving of course).

2. medicine as media: convergence culture / fandom — doctors proscribe and patients subscribe to a cornucopia of dramas (which “melrose character are you?” and which “anti-depressant are you?”).  Prozac weekly serializes the publication of drugs.  Big Pharma and Big Media, the “political economy of hope” and “political economy of heresy”.  Generally, I don’t think this comparison de-sanctifies disability any more than it sanctifies fantasy.

3. refugees as research: Energy (potentiality?) and force (futurity?) are different graphs of the same information . . . specifically potentiality is a higher order concept than futurity (which is its derivative).  this is surely too pat.  i don’t really know what futurity is yet, but I’m willing to bet we make the same mistaken assumptions about it as we do about “force” (which I am told is the derivative of energy).  Perhaps what refugees “DO” is eliminate the potential wells (points of lowest energy) by inhabiting states of exception (the combination of all potential states of a system is a “phase-space”*)  Bergson’s texts may work here, where consciousness is a center of uncertainty in phase-space (combined we get back to the refugee-as-consciousness-as-form-of-life, so no logic-monsters here).

4. racism as reactant: worth taking a look at appadurai’s “fear of small numbers” for a re-address of race-based violence as the last stand against ‘vertebrate’ solvency in the ‘cellular’ global era. (I haven’t read as much theory as everyone else, so what I have read, I’ll push)

* Certain preliminary conditions cause a dynamic system to move in certain directions over time and space, and a map of all preliminary conditions with their directions of movement is a vector field which usually looks like a turbulent field of wheat or a bad haircut, with eddies, orbits, sinks and sources of flow.  On the surface of a sphere like the Earth (I will argue the relevance of the Earth’s physical roundness later), this relates to the “hairy ball” theorem: you can’t comb the hair on a coconut in one continous motion without some of the hairs sticking up.

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Message from bookstore (Malabou)

Posted by rraley on October 6, 2009

Copied below (email addresses removed):

Subject: F09 ENGL 236 & FLMST 252LI
From: Tammy Streeter
Date: Thu, 30 Jul 2009 08:39:24 -0700
To: Shayna Ingram, Dana Welch

Hi Shayna and Dana,

The book for these classes, What Should We Do with Our Brain, is not available from the publisher in paperback; however, they have offered to sell us the hardcover at paperback price.  The new isbn you will see on our website will reflect the hardcover which is 9780823229529.  Please let me know if there are any questions.

Thanks,
Tammy Streeter
UCSB Bookstore
Textbook Buyer

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Biopolitics: Agamben and Foucault in Conversation

Posted by kks on October 2, 2009

In anticipation of our discussion on biopolitics, we have developed some questions inspired by the readings. Please feel free to post answers, additional questions or topics you feel merit our attention:

In addition to identifying the development and modern manifestations of biopolitics both Foucault and Agamben imagine the possibility of a reinvestment of life with “the claims of bodies, pleasures, and knowledges” (Foucault HS: 157) or “thought” as form-of-life” and the guiding concept of a “new politics” (Agamben MWE: 11-2, 34). Are we able to imagine a heuristic of practice that might meet Agamben or Foucault’s calls? What would that look like?

What of this ‘multiplicity’ or ‘plurality’ both seem to want to engage? Do the communities that Rose examines in any way constitute such?

How do these theories address capital? If, for a moment, we look at the current so-called ‘crisis’ in the global economic system, do we see disruptions that don’t fit into or do fit into the frameworks Agamben and Foucault propose? Some potential sites of analysis: the U.S. government’s response to hurricane Katrina, extra-state spaces such as the detention center at  Guantanamo Bay, poverty tourism in Brazil (or other countries).

What are the successes and failures of the three different methodologies (Foucault’s historico-genealogical analysis, Agamben’s juridico-legal and Rose’s socio-medical)?

Can we think about the perpetual state of exception as a global phenomenon? What would that mean for the state, various institutions, etc.?

Does Rose effectively interrogate or explicate the concept of ‘citizenship’?

Foucault’s interrogation of institutions of power as “the great instruments of the state” (HS 141) has come under recent criticism as an outdated model of the exercise of power. In the contemporary global economy can we still think about institutions as the primary sites of biopolitical control? Should our considerations take into account more diffuse and distributed methods utilized in the control and regulation of life?

–Your comrades, A.M. Schifani and K.L. Kelp-Stebbins

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Biocultures: An Emerging Paradigm (PMLA)

Posted by rraley on October 2, 2009

Some of you may be interested in the “conference debates” section of the most recent issue of PMLA (May 2009). The topic of the month is “Biocultures: An Emerging Paradigm” (available online through a campus network or with a proxy server).

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