Misericordia University, EE. UU.
She is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania. Her article «From Abbreviation to Affirmation: Nietzsche’s Styles and the Transformation of Origin» is forthcoming in Semiotics 2008.
«The Internalization of Man»: Nietzsche, Agamben, and Biopolitics
This paper will open a dialogue between Book II of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals and Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Bare Life and Sovereign Power. I will argue that Nietzsche’s account of the origins of the bad conscience offers important revisions for the concept of life that emerges in Giorgio Agamben’s account of biopolitics. Agamben argues that the origin of Western politics is a sovereign power that founds itself by forming a state of exception. In founding itself in a state of exception, sovereign power simultaneously produces «bare life» —a life understood strictly in terms of its ability to be killed. The camp, then, whether concentration or humanitarian «is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West» because it is the space where life is reduced to its mere ability to be alive or dead. For Agamben, Western politics’ foundation in the sovereign state of exception destines it to produce the space of the camp and reduces the concentration camp and the humanitarian camp equally to the realization of that logic.
In Nietzsche’s account of the bad conscience, the bare life of the animal-man is a foundational political experience, but it is foundational as a moment triggered by an unpredictable, contingent event, in which life responds by taking on a new form. With the new order of a state imposed upon him, the animal-man lacks an outward space to discharge his aggressive instincts, and so he must turn inward. Surely, given his aggressive instincts, the animal-man resists this imposition of order, but the imposition of the state must leave him with two options: to redirect his instincts or die. Therefore, it is not simply the case that he loses the space for outward aggression; rather, he gives it up in order to avoid being killed. The successful imposition of the state thus depends upon reducing the animal-man to bare life. Yet in this account, the foundation is transformed into something other than itself, and the foundation does not prescribe a logical course of development. Bare life itself is not the subject of politics in Nietzsche’s account, but is instead an experience that contributes to the formation of a political subjectivity that moves beyond bare life. This experience provokes an internalization in which life turns against itself, but in this sickly reversal of instincts, distinct new capacities and a new way of life develop.
Nietzsche’s account of the animal-man’s internalization makes bare life a phenomenon always
haunting the heart of politics without for that reason constituting its driving force and essence. Returning to Agamben’s biopolitical concerns with Nietzsche’s insights will allow us to see bare life not as an inevitable logic running its course in modern practices, but rather as a possibility requiring vigilance as we ask the Nietzschean question of whether a practice is good for life.