Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Crisis of Our Vitalist Politics

This is a striking quote from Giorgio Agamben's The Open, in which he describes the current state of the West. I'm not sure about all the implications, but it's worth pondering on:

We completely misunderstand the nature of the great totalitarian experiments of the twentieth century if we see them only as a carrying out of the nineteenth-century nation-states' last great tasks: nationalism and imperialism. The stakes are now different and much higher, for it is a question of taking on as a task the very factical existence of peoples, that is, in the last analysis, their bare life [Roughly defined, this is a formless quality conceptualized as beneath the practices and expressions, that is a vitalism found in how juridco-medically there is ambiguity on what 'life' means, presupposing there is some something that lie beneath, and thus observable and controllable, the empirical--CP][...] man has now reached his historical telos and, for a humanity that has become animal again, there is nothing left but the depoliticization of human societies by means of the unconditional unfolding oikonomia, or taking on biological life itself as the supreme political (or rather impolitical) task.
It is likely that the times in which we live have not emerged from this aporia. Do we not see around and among us men and peoples who no longer have any essence or identity-who are delivered over, so to speak, to their inessentiality and their inactivity-and who grope everywhere, and at the cost of gross falsifications, for an inheritance and a task, an inheritance as task? Even the pure and simple relinquishment of all historical tasks (reduced to simple functions of internal or international policing) in the name of the triumph of the economy, often today takes on an emphasis in which natural life itself and its well-being seem to appear as humanity's last historical task-if indeed it makes sense here to speak of a "task",
The traditional historical potentialities-poetry, religion, philosophy-which [...] kept the historico-political destiny of peoples awake, have since been transformed into cultural spectacles and private experiences, and have lost all historical efficacy. Faced with this eclipse, the only task that still seems to retain some seriousness is the assumption of the burden-and the "total management"-of biological life, that is, of the very animality of man. Genome, global economy, and humanitarian ideology are the three united faces of this process in which posthistorical humanity seems to take on its own physiology as its last, impolitical mandate.
It is not easy to say whether the humanity that has taken upon itself the mandate of the total management of its own animality is still human, in the sense of that humanitas which the anthropological machine [Roughly defined, the conceptual tool which man, by seeing that which is not man, most especially that which like man but not, like an ape, reveals man as distinct from the animal-CP] produced by de-ciding every time between man and animal; nor is it clear whether the well-being of a life that can no longer be recognized as either human or animal can be felt as fulfilling. (76-77) 

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