Review of Kate Schechter 2014 ‘Illusions of a Future: Psychoanalysis and the Biopolitics of Desire’ by Justin Clemens

Review of Kate Schechter 2014 ‘Illusions of a Future: Psychoanalysis and the Biopolitics of Desire’ by Justin Clemens.

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Boundary Work: Post- and Transhumanism, Part I, James Michael MacFarlane

Originally posted on Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective:

Author Information: James Michael MacFarlane, University of Warwick, J.MacFarlane@warwick.ac.uk

MacFarlane, James Michael. “Boundary Work: Post- and Transhumanism, Part I.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 1 (2014): 52-56.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1QT

post_and_transhumanism

Post- and Transhumanism: An Introduction
Edited by Robert Ranisch and Stefan Lorenz Sorgner
Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften
313 pp.

Ranisch and Sorgner’s Post- and Transhumanism: An Introduction (2014) sets out to explore the connecting and diverging factors of transhumanism and posthumanism at a time of marked ambivalence towards the nature and status of humanity. Amidst a growing body of work concerned with examining each of the named movements respectively, this volume’s self-announced distinctiveness comes from it’s attempt to creatively juxtapose the two with regard to common foundations, topics, and sources of influences (18).

To this end, the text comprises 5 thematically organised sections each corresponding…

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Braidotti’s The Posthuman Chapter 3

posthuman

I want to provide a lengthy discussion on Rosi Braidotti’s The Inhuman Life beyond Death which is situated in her excellent treatise The Posthuman.  This is chapter three.  As you can tell from the title of the chapter Braidotti seeks to deal with the concept of the inhuman within the framework of a Posthuman ethics.  If you are looking for a primer on what exactly posthumanism is I will provide this link http://enemyindustry.net/blog/?p=5282  .  I am starting with Chapter three in Braidotti’s book because it seems to pose some serious questions regarding posthumanism that must be addressed.  It also makes an assertion on Giorgio Agamben’s philosophy that I find troublesome.

It is there I shall begin.  Braidotti writes “For him ‘bare life’ is not generative vitality, but rather the constitutive vulnerability of the human subject, which sovereign power can kill; it is that which makes the body into disposable matter in the hands of the despotic force of unchecked power”  First it is imperative we understand that for Agamben bare life is not the same as zoe or biological life but instead it is the leftover from the originary split between zoe and bios.  Bios is a political life and zoe is a biological or nutritive life; Agamben is making a distinction because he is showing us that biological life has always been a part or non-part of western political thought and it is not something modern.  This does not mean he finds no difference in the way democracy functions, “(modern democracy) presents itself from the beginning as a vindication and liberation of zoe, and that is constantly trying to transform its own bare life into a way of life and to find so to speak the bios of zoe” (homo sacer, 10)  In other words modern democracies seem to use apparatuses (dispotif) in order to capture the subject, but to state that Agamben does not see a way out of this ignores his entire project of a politics of indifference.

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Braidotti also states something peculiar when she writes “The colonial plantation is the prototype of this political economy and the enslaved human almost the epitome of ‘homo sacer’, and there is no mention of the paradigm of the camp which Agamben uses much more than the plantation.  Most of the critique Braidotti makes on Agamben seems to have come from Timothy Campbell’s Improper Life.  Campbell in his book wants to show the similarity between Agamben and Heidegger which emphasizes the proper and the improper and how this relates to technology.  No wonder Braidotti writes that there is an over-emphasis on mortality and perishability in contemporary social theories if she follows Campbell’s one sided critique on Agamben’s distrust of modernity.  For posthumanity technology is extremely important, and this critique on Agamben’s distrust in even the emancipatory potential of technology stands.

Moving on from Agamben and actually shifting backwards to the beginning of the chapter.  Braidotti locates the inhuman within the Marxist framework by stating that, “The commodification process itself reduces humans to the status of manufactured and hence profit-driven technologically mediated objects.”  Braidotti shows us with a very quick paragraph that for Marx and Marxist such as Lenin technological innovation was important.  She writes that Marx was an anti-essentialist, but Marx also saw something we need to begin q uestion in our framework the idea that the human being is a tool maker or animal laborans.  Marx and now Bernard Steigler realize that technology is man, and man is technology or in other words, “Humans first distinguish themselves from other animals not through higher mental powers but by producing the means of their existence, indirectly producing their material life” (Casey, 46)  It is here where we move back to Braidotti because she realizes that the technological and the posthuman/inhuman results in expedient cruelty and violence which she quotes Mbembe, “We have rather entered the era of orchestrated and instrumental massacres, a new ‘semiosis of killing leading to the creation of multiple and parallel ‘death worlds’. ” How is she theorizing the inhuman and how is it related to the posthuman?

She states that Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition is a critical piece to this chapter.  Lyotard defines the inhuman “as the alienating and commodifying effect of advanced capitalism on the human”.  The inhuman is very much related to the abject in Kristeva, and the Real in Lacan.  Here Kristeva writes about it, “Abjection preserves what existed in the archaism of pre-objectal relationship, in the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be” (Power of Horrors)  Braidotti finds potential here, and this is moving us towards an idea of the posthuman where we must dismantle the existing categories in order for an event to occur.  The event must exist prior to the symbolic and at the moment of a collapse of meaning.  She relates this to the mirror image and the image of the (m)other.  The violent confrontation with the father’s law and the mother’s body is exactly where the posthuman resides.  We dismiss Agamben’s ludditism and concur with Braidotti, “the nature of the human-technological interaction has shifted towards a blurring of the boundaries between the genders the races and the species, following a trend that Lyotard assesses as a distinctive feature of the contemporary inhuman condition.”  As she states the posthuman is not the transhuman in that we prescribe to the idea that we just need more technology to bring us to a utopian techno-heaven but again as Braidotti so wonderfully puts it, a “dislocation of the traditional understandings of the human.”  Here we move on with Braidotti to think about a posthuman theory on death.

beauty

Braidotti makes it clear that we need to begin to think of death, or ways of dying in a new way, in a posthuman way.  She writes that for her and her vitalist materialist way of thinking, “Life is cosmic energy, simultaneously empty chaos and absolute speed or movement.  It is impersonal and inhuman in the monstrous, animal sense of radical alterity: zoe in all its powers.”  She then writes what she thinks death is, “death is the inhuman conceptual excess: the unrepresentable, the unthinkable, and the unproductive black hole that we all fear.  Yet, death is also creative synthesis of flows, energies and perpetual becoming.”  Braidotti here sounds very similar to the Buddhist understanding of death, which is not a critique but an observation.  She recalls the impermanence of life and states that death is always past, and we have always already been conscious of death.  This conscious awareness of death should allow us to move beyond the terror of our finitude.  She then writes something I find extremely interesting, “life is an addiction like any other”.  She is of course correct, that to think of the posthuman is to defamiliarize ourselves even in the wake of the most terrible thing we can think of, the extinguishing of our life, to imagine ourselves not being there.  To think of death as we have always done, stuns us into a complacency instead as Braidotti writes, “death as process from the specific and highly restricted viewpoint of the ego is of no significance whatsoever.”  Individualism dies in this understanding, and we must think of ourselves as a movement of parts to a whole.  Lastly I will quote one more way of thinking, or postthinking, “life in you is not marked by any master-signifier and it certainly does not bear your name”

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Killing Yourself to Live: Foucault, Neoliberalism, and the Autoimmunity Paradigm (2014)

Originally posted on Foucault News:

Jason Maxwell, Killing Yourself to Live: Foucault, Neoliberalism, and the Autoimmunity Paradigm, Cultural Critique, Number 88, Fall 2014, pp. 160-186 10.1353/cul.2014.0038

Further info

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Since the English translation first appeared in 2008, Michel Foucault’s The Birth of Biopolitics has become an object of intense fascination within academic circles. While any new translation of Foucault’s work reliably draws a substantial crowd, this lecture series from 1979 solicited more attention than usual because its contents resonated so strongly with the present historical moment. Indeed, The Birth of Bio-politics staged a long-awaited confrontation between two hugely influential discourses. In one corner stood Foucault, who even two decades after his death still received more citations than any other thinker in the ever left-leaning humanities. In the other corner stood neoliberalism, the economic doctrine that had underwritten American conservative political practice since Reagan…

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Pilate and Jesus | Giorgio Agamben Translated by Adam Kotsko

Pilate and Jesus | Giorgio Agamben Translated by Adam Kotsko.

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Posthumanism 101: Non-Fiction and Fiction

Posthumanism 101: Non-Fiction and Fiction.

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Reflection on Fringe, The Future, and The Anthropocene

I have recently finished the television show Fringe which began in 2008 and finished in 2013 with 100 episodes.  The last season dealt in the evolution of a species called the Observers.  This species seems to have been created through synthetic biology.  One of the interesting questions I think the series asks in this particular story-line is what makes us human and what exactly is the price we pay by thwarting or changing Natural Selection.  The Observers are a species that at first seems to have evolved to be much more intelligent than homo sapiens, but lack emotional responses we would deem human like.  Love is no longer an emotion this species feels because it seems to be the thing that makes our species weaker (according to the Observers).  Of course this is exactly the question of the series.  Does emotion make us stronger or weaker as a species?  How will evolution be directed by us?

Fringe - Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Anna Torv

This last question is not without some controversy.  Let me start with the idea of the Robot Rebellion (a book written by Keith Stanovich).  Stanovich in chapter one seeks to shatter any illusions that we are anything except vehicles for our genes, and not the other way around.  This of course follows Dawkins in his idea behind the selfish gene.  We are simply cyborg (he uses the term robots) pawns which allow genes to replicate into the future.  Our telos is simply or not so simply to allow the gene to survive and replicate.  We are often controlled by a mental system which reacts to automatically to “domain relevant stimuli which he calls TASS (The Autonomous Set of Systems).  TASS allows us to make quick decisions in once very dangerous situations (predatory ones).  Very often we are unable to explain our behavior but only to add false testimony in order to explain it.  This is exactly why Lacan and to some extent Freud rarely believed in explanations but instead tried to understand why exactly the particular words are used in order to narrate the behavior, but I regress.  Now imagine for one second the Observers that are created without this system and everything is explainable, “You behaved this way because your amygdala sent an electrical response to your hypothalamus, which resulted in an aggressive reaction instead of a peaceful one, our species has regulated all of this and we no longer feel this aggressive tendency”.  Will we evolve less emotive responses in the future and will this be something we want?  If there is a correlation between intelligence and emotive response will this be something we want to examine?

 

Dr. David Comings made an extremely controversial assertion in his book The Gene Bomb.  His assertion is that genetically inherited disorders are increasing in the human population.  Our species is evolving ever greater number of behavioral disorders such as ADHD, depression, addiction and impulsive, compulsive, cognitive disorders (think Autism Spectrum Disorders).  Selection can select for these things if they allow an advantage and these things will increase in the gene pool.  Can these ways of being offer an advantage?  The Observers as very Asperger like characters seem to be asking the question whether or not emotion thwarts the ability to rationalize and analyze logical situations effectively.  Stanovich actually points to the fact that so called “lower animals” (I absolutely do not believe in this classification) show a higher degree of what is called an “axiom of rational choice”.  This of course shouldn’t be surprising since homo sapiens are vocationless, and must create a vocation for ourselves.  This vocation has even changed the very idea of evolution and natural selection for us.

Natural Selection is simply a logical necessity, something will always be selected for, but we have changed the predatory relationship, we have stopped hunting and gathering which allows a stasis in our food supply, medicine and technology has allowed us to live longer and longer.  We will also merge closer and closer with technology building a symbiosis with machine.  This will also be something that is necessary into the future not necessarily to allow the human to exist, but instead allow a consciousness that does not rely on the signifier, no longer caught in the dialectic of a master slave relationship and to move further, understand that the human subject is not an individual entity shut off from the ecological and technological objects surrounding it but in a symbiotic network that is in the midst of becoming which is similar to Rosi Braidotti’s Nomadic Subject.

In the last few episodes of Fringe we see a character called Michael.   Michael communicates without signifiers, he lacks what we would call emotional responses (he does tear up once), but also characters seem to bond with him quickly.  Michael is in a sense a human that no longer functions according to a symbolic structure, instead he envisions time as a flattened space, uses no tenses in his speech because he doesn’t use words.  He allows us to envision something that comes after the human, a posthuman future.

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Two Resources on Ebola

Two great resources on Ebola

http://www.eboladeeply.org/

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n20/paul-farmer/diary

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Ebola: Past, Present, Liminal. (working)

On October 15th, 1976 the WHO released a bulletin that read:

Haemorrhagic Fever of Viral Origin.  Between July and September 1976, it was observed in the region spanning N’zara to Maridi, in southern Sudan, sporadic cases of fever with haemorrhagic manifestations. It is thought that the first cases occurred among agricultural families.  During the last week of September, the situation worsened considerably, 30 of 42 cases occurred in Maridi hospital among members of the staff; it is thought the disease was spread directly from one person to another.  By October 9, 137 cases, 59 deaths, were reported for the region comprising N’zara, Maridi and Lirangu.  The epidemic has caused panic on the local level…Samples from Sudan and Zaire have revealed the presence of a new virus, morphologically similar to Marburg, but antigenically different

This bulletin we read here is the beginning of the written and classification of what is now known as Ebola virus disease.  Now in 2014 we see the headlines “A potential threat of a human catastrophe unparalleled in modern human times”, and President Obama stating it is “spiralling out of control, getting worse … with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us”.  The CDC stated that the worse case scenario is that 1.4 million will be infected by January.  However, with that said the EU stated that the threat to Europe of contacting Ebola is “low” which perhaps explains why the response from the global powers has been equally so.

Adia Benton at somatosphere.net writes a piece titled Race and the immuno-logics of Ebola response in West Africa which provides us with an example of a response or lack of response to the contagion of Sierra Leonean’s Dr. Olivet Buck by WHO officials.  Adia states that. “this operating logic has a racial dimension, which has for too long gone unexamined and whose impact has been woefully underestimated”.  With race comes intentional and not so intentional dividing practices.

Ebola Virus Disease is classified as a filovirus which are RNA viruses.  The genetic makeup or material that makes up their genes is composed of ribonucleic acid.  One of the most common viruses of the RNA type is the common cold which like Ebola and other RNA type viruses has a high mutation rate (due to the lack of DNA “proofreading”).  The “specific components of filovirus infection are hemorrhage and disseminated intravascular coagulation” this hemorrhage is caused by blood clotting within the capillaries.  This results in the body releasing chemicals which results in fever, swelling, and a drop in blood pressure.  glycoproteins in infected cells results in a suppression of the immune response, which can eventually destroy the immune system.  Different outbreaks (different species) have different mortality percentages.

With this short description of the pathogenesis of filoviruses we now must ask the question where does it come from, what is the origin story or reservoir and where is the virus when it hides?  This spatial aspect of the disease is rarely thought about in the general public because the idea that contagions exist among (without actually causing symptoms) us still seems to be an esoteric idea.  As we can see from the conspiratorial news starting to go viral (intended) on social media the origin is now either the United States Government or ISIS.  It makes little sense if any sense at all this is the case in regards to this outbreak.  However (to not mention this would be a disservice), because there is documentation that the United States discontinued their biological weapons program in 1969, and The Soviet Union continued theirs much longer and because other outbreaks have occurred in the past due to accidents (Marburg in 1987 and 1998) that have occurred in labs the possibility that these programs could be implicated in some way is not completely impossible.  The case of negligence and apathy for the marginalized and poor is much more guilty: in other words inaction and not action should be put on trial.

The outbreak in Zaire in 1976 was not random at all as Paul Farmer explains, “This epidemic was anything but random, for it was amplified by substandard medical practices”  Farmer recounts a page from Richard Preston’s best-seller The Hot Zone: “It hit the hospital like a bomb.  It savaged patients and snaked like chain lightning out from the hospital through patients’ families.  Apparently the medical staff had been giving patients injections with dirty needles.”  In Zaire the disease was spread by nosocomial means:  “only five syringes were issued to its nurses (who were actually nuns with little if any medical training) each morning, and they were used and reused between 300 and 600 patients each day.”  This was in 1976, and now in 2014 where established state of the art BSL facilities exist (a new one being built in the US to be ready in 2017) we are seeing a classificatory Public Health Emergency of International Concern (WHO) issued only for the third time.

As Benton stated above and as Paul Farmer puts it here:

Much was made of the fact that non-communicable pathologies such as coronary artery disease and malignancies caused the majority of all world deaths in 1990.  A very different picture emerges however when we compare causes of death among the wealthiest fifth of the world’s population to the afflictions that kill the poorest fifth: although only 8 percent of deaths among the world’s wealthiest were caused by infections or by maternal and prenatal mortality, fully 56 percent of all deaths among the poorest were caused by these pathologies, with infectious diseases at the head of the list.

Instead of the current blaming of the victims in the media (they are combative, paranoid, primitive) J. Daniel Kelly writes in Nature: “But the desperate shortage of Ebola diagnostic centres in Sierra Leone is fuelling the Ebola outbreak.  People who think that they might have the disease do not want to spend several days trapped in an isolation unit, away from their families and surrounded by workers in spacesuits.”

The spacesuit is a sign of affluence and power which separates even more.  The spacesuit acts as a liminal space between life and death.  This space is of course part of the symbolic universe of all the participants.  This is the place where imperialism lies and even the place where a determination of zoe and bios (infected not infected) resides.  Our symbolic universe is tied up with the imaginary, the imaginary is the place where a lack of decision was made regarding the first case (of just this outbreak) which happened in 2013.  Now that a case in Texas has occurred and the possibility remains that others can become infected ‘which could be me and not them’ I am vigilant and this has entered what we (United States citizens) deem important.  We can even create our myths in order to deal with a lack of the Big Other.  There is something to see here.

Cited

Farmer, Paul Infections and Inequalities 1999 University of California Press

Kelly, Daniel J Making Diagnostic centres a priority for Ebola crisis Nature, September 11,2014 pg 145 Print

Smith Ph.D, Tara C Ebola and Marburg Viruses 2011 Chelsea House Publishers

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The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society (2014)

Originally posted on Foucault News:

vatterMiguel Vatter, The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society, Fordham University Press,June 2014

ISBN: 9780823256020

Further info

Details of workshop on book below description.

This book takes up Foucault’s hypothesis that liberal “civil society,” far from being a sphere of natural freedoms, designates the social spaces where our biological lives come under new forms of control and are invested with new forms of biopower. In order to test this hypothesis, its chapters examine the critical theory of civil society — from Hegel and Marx through Lukacs, Adorno, Benjamin, and Arendt—from the new horizon opened up by Foucault’s turn to biopolitics and its reception in recent Italian theory.

Negri, Agamben, and Esposito have argued that biopolitics not only denotes new forms of domination over life but harbors within it an affirmative relation between biological life and politics that carries an emancipatory potential. The chapters of…

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