One of the great ideas that must be traversed in any post-human or emancipatory politics is the idea of violence. Do all political projects become perverted into a thanatopolitics? Here I will trace Oksala’s trajectory by going chapter by chapter with notes and commentary on the text.
Chapter 1 Politicization of Ontology
Oksala states that she will be arguing in this chapter for the importance of “ontological inquiry in political philosophy”. She feels that ontology and politics are unable to be separated. Let me move on from the many arguments that have been presented on this question because this will bring me to a much longer post than I have intended. However, if you want to go down that rabbit hole for a bit you can start here . Oksala defines her term when she is speaking of political ontology however by stating it is a “politicized conception of reality”. She takes some of the ideas of Michel Foucault that starts with the premise that “power is everywhere”.
For Foucault all social practices contain or incorporate power relations, something he would even call capillary power relations which allows the entire edifice to run. Foucault in an interview once stated he is not a relativist as he has been charged so often with and he explained that if he had a child and this child was writing on the walls he of course would tell the child to stop and not allow the walls to be written on. For Foucault we need to question these relations and how these relations become sedimented into our discursive and non discursive practices. This is what Oksala is doing in chapter 1 as well, she is thinking against any essentialist notions of politics or the political or again as Foucault would state “nothing is fundamental”.
Within these social practices that are performed new objects are created (never a priori) and new concepts are created which creates subjects (ie. a sick, an insane person). As Oksala writes Foucault “attributes to Nietzsche the claim that there is no natural or necessary resemblance, no a priori affinity between knowledge and the things that are known”. In this sense we have a historical ontology. Within these relations we conceive of a reality, “power produces, it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth”.
Oksala tells us that for Foucault the term governmentality has two meanings:
1. In 1978 lectures she states that Foucault meant this term to mean the techniques of government that allowed the formation of the state
2. 1979 and onward it took on the meaning of an “analytical grid for relations of the state”.
However, Foucault often criticized the simplicity in the argument to just demonize the state. For Foucault the state is not a transcendental entitity that exist with its own logic and essence much believed in early political thought perhaps as he writes in his essay governmentality before Machiavelli’s The Prince. Foucault taking this a step further explains to us that “the state is a practice” much like the idea of Machiavelli’s in which to be a prince requires a certain performativity. However for Oksala and Foucault this performativity is exactly how we come to feel that reality is a given unchangeable necessity.
For Foucaut, “The common world is already a sedimentation of power relations and not simply a given and objective space containing the plurality of individuals who inhabit it”. I found this statement striking in that we see a particular geological reference that we find a lot of in Deleuze’s A Thousand Plateaus of rhizomatic networks where Deleuze is trying to purge the sedimenation of power relations that Foucault systematically showed us in his genealogical writing.
Oksala then begins to explain to us in a Gramscian/Foucault fashion that since the “ontological order of things is inevitably the expression of hegemonic power relations–then the differing interpretations of the world, social order, and human life cannot, in principle be reconciled in a harmonious and homogenous unity (32) I feel this is one of the major points in this chapter because it begins to show us that in order to think ourselves out of violence it will require us to traverse the binary either/or way we form our world or a master/slave dialectic where the master needs the slave as much as the slave needs the master.
Wrapping up this chapter Oksala begins to write about what she terms the “ubiquity of the political”. As Foucault and now Agamben theorize the separation between a political life and a life seems to have blurred into a zone of indistinction in which ” modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question” (History of Sexuality Volume I) As Agamben has explained often, he in a way is doing the same project that Foucault worked on, the idea of ‘problematization’. Why exactly do certain forms of behavior become problematized, which means why are these practices subject to what he would called disciplinary society–a society built around structures of power such as the prison, hospital, etc? Oksala with Foucault, Agamben and others seems to be heading in the direction of calling into question these idea of violence and politics necessary and allowing us to see that only within the current structural apparatus do we have this inevitable political violence. We must contest necessity in favor of contingency. Looking forward to chapter 2.