Graduate seminar: Life Itself

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

Thoughting Death

Posted by dianapozo on November 23, 2009

Circulation of Frames and possibilities “of/in” Apprehending

“What we are able to apprehend is surely facilitated by forms of recognition, but it would be a mistake to say that we are utterly limited by existing norms of recognition when we apprehend a life” (Butler 5)

“…the frames that, in effect, decide which lives will be recognizable as lives and which will not, must circulate in order to establish their hegemony” (Butler 12)

Referring to the pictures taken by soldiers at Abu Ghraib, Sontag writes that “words…are easier to cover up in our age of digital self-reproduction and self-dissemination…pictures will continue to ‘assault’ us” (5).

  1. If “apprehension” can be understood as way of potentially transgressing the limits set by “norms of recognition”, does Butler’s notion of “apprehension” relate to Casarino’s notion of “surplus common”?
  2. For Butler, apprehending precariousness entails obligations (13-14) towards others, which is different from “relations of love or even of care” (14). Is this a justifiable claim? How can we position this argument with respect to Casarino’s notion of “friendship” and Milburn’s imagining of the “openness to the other inside” as “love”?
  3. What affect does endless self-reproducibility support? If frames serve to establish “hegemonies,” what sorts of hierarchies and hegemonies are created? What does “life itself” mean when to “live is to be photographed…[the] grin is a grin for the camera”? (Sontag, 3) What is life when life is “circulation”?

Biopower <-> Necropower

“The most original feature of this terror formation (colony and apartheid regime) is its concatenation of biopower, the state of exception, and the state of siege” (Mbembe 22)

“…biopower is insufficient to account for contemporary forms of subjugation of life to the power of death…necropolitics and necropower…account for the various ways in which in our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in interest of maximizing destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living-dead” (Mbembe 39-40).

  1. Foucauldian biopolitics/biopower is crucial for Mbembe and he seems to be testing the applicability of the same to various oppressive regimes like colonialism, slavery and Nazism. However, he seems to suggest that late modern regimes cannot be explained through the lens of biopower, which brings us to three interrelated questions.
  • What according to him has fundamentally changed as we have moved to late modernity?
  • What does necropolitics offer that biopolitics does not?
  • Is the shift just a scale change and in that case can we think of biopolitics as encompassing (being a super-set of) necropolitics?

Horror and Precarious Necropolitics?

“Horror…is not the extreme form of fear that we call ‘terror’… Horror explodes the imaginary” (Asad 68)

“No: the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken—with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives” (Sontag 2).  Highly Disturbing Photos from Abu Ghraib

“Lives are by definition precarious….this is a feature of all life and there is no thinking of life that is not precarious…precarity designates that politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support and become differentially exposed to injury, violence, and death…” (Butler 25).

“In other cases, in which physical amputation replaces immediate death, (their) function is to keep before the eyes of the victim – and of the people around him or her  – the morbid spectacle of severing” (Mbembe 35)

  1. For Asad, Butler, and Sontag, what role does “horror” play in determining which lives are valued and which are not? Or, in Butler’s terms, in determining which lives are “grievable”?
  2. Considering Butler’s concept of frames, what breaks from confinement when bodies are severed from precariousness and how might “precariousness” interrupt Mbembe’s conceptualization of “Necropolitics”?
  3. For Mbembe, “[under] conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred” (Mbembe 40). Is affect (love, terror, and horror) also blurred? (Does necropolitics imply the loss of “horror”?)

Moralizing and/or Analyzing

“Etienne’s suggestion that the suicide fighter wishes to die because she lacks political imagination is not only implausible, …it also rests on the assumption…that politics and violence are mutually exclusive” (Asad 52).

“…suicide bomber belongs in an important sense to a modern western tradition of armed conflict for the defense of a free political community. To save the nation (or to found its state) in confronting a dangerous enemy, it maybe necessary to act without being bound by ordinary moral constraints”  (Asad 63).

“The uniqueness of suicide bombing resides…not in its essence but in its contingent circumstances” (Asad 84)

  1. Asad eschews moralizing and embraces analyzing in his approach towards understanding suicide bombing and terrorism. Emphasizing the intricate connection between violence and politics, Asad throughout stresses that suicide bombing is a political act and has political implications. One can however argue that even though war may be “pursuit of politics by other means,” morality and politics are also very much intertwined. One might as well ask –
  • What role does morality/ethics play in the political action of terrorism?
  • Does this morality have a visceral affective dimension or is it just discursively framed appealing to truth and reason of democratic institutions?
  • From Asad’s reading of “suicide bombing”, can we even remotely construe it to fall within a certain “culture of resistance” involving transgression?
  • How do truth and reason fare in embodied power relations? Stanford Prison Experiment (Phillip Zimbardo). What is the place of “morality” in a posthuman, necropolitcal world?
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