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draft introduction to a journal issue on “life”

Introduction to The Meaning of “Life”

Louis-Georges Schwartz

I: The Ghosts of “Life’s ” Present Meaning

If the recent turn towards the  meaning of “life” in the humanities were analyzed, perhaps we would find a threat of death motivating it. The current period in the history of the humanities might be defined as starting with the mid nineties “end of theory” and coming to fruition with the current death threats against university humanities departments[1]. While we should not be surprised to find in this period when “zombie capitalism” (Haraman) caused necrosis in the university intensified theoretical attempts to elaborate a concept of “life” as something that includes survival but reaches far beyond it to the creation of new values, the contemporary inquiry into the meaning of “life” has its’ own, longer, periodicity.

In the mid 1960s, near the peak of capitalist expansion, publications by Michel Foucault and Georges Canguilhem on “life” brought the modern inquiry into word, concept and value into focus. In 1965’s“Le concept de la vie” (published in the revised edition of La Connaissance de la vie(1952)) Canguilhem gives an account of the concept from Aristotle’s time to the discovery of DNA, and in 1966’s Les Mots et les chose Foucault argues that the concept of life as such originates along with two other “quasi-transcendentals” at the end of the classical age in the eighteenth century (127-8[2]). Foucault shows that “life” detaches itself from the “living being” in a conceptual break which makes possible the shift from natural history to biology. The difference between “life” and the “living being” produces new values as well as changes in the use of words and concepts. Foucault narrates a shift from the “living being” based on the paradigm offered plants to “life” understood according to the paradigm of the animal and invokes the Marquis de Sade to contend that after this transition “life can no longer be separated from murder, nature can no longer be good, or desires from anti-nature” (277-8.)

Canguillem argues that the discovery of the double helix and the emergence of molecular biology redefine “life” as information and that contemporaneous accounts of mutation as the failure in the transmission of genetic information suggest that life should produce a new concept of life as that which “by error produces a living thing capable of error.” That formulation revises the value conventionally attributed to error as well, rendering the value of life highly problematic. Both writers took a genealogical approach to the question of “life.” They each track usages of the term historically, denaturalizing it and opening it to contestation.

The examples of Foucault and Canguilhem show that the genealogical approach does not determine a stable semantic reference across all usages of a term, it rather exposes the lines of historical force that alter a word, concept and value over time[3]. Writing “meaning,” rather than “meaning” indicates the differential shifts disclosed by genealogies. Canguilhem’s and Foucault’s genealogies both transvalue[4] “life” by historicizing its pervious semantics and opening space for the word to be used in the creation of a new concept and value.

Over the course of Foucault’s career, his interest in “life” led to the development of the concepts of biopower and biopolitics. Foucault came to believe that modern states regulated the lives of subjects instead of governing through the power to kill. Foucault’s later work names the relations between “life” and state power: “biopower.” He articulated these ideas in lecture courses in the mid 1970s and they first appeared in print in 1976’s Histoire de la sexualité.  Foucault characterized biopower as the way states exercise power over “man in so far as he is a living being.” Starting at the end of the 18th century (Foucault 2003, 240), for example, the government attempts to control disease and birthrates. According to Foucault, states exercise biopower over populations rather than individuals and use statistical methods of calculation to do so. These shifts allow Foucault to conclude that genocide rather than execution is the “dream of modern societies” because “power is situated and exercised at the level of life, the species, the race and the larger scale phenomena of population” (Foucault, 1978, 137.)  The development of Foucault’s thought about “life” involves a shift in his genealogical approach, which had focused on the term and passed to the consequences of its becoming a key concept in governance as well as science.

In 1996, the publication of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Il potere sovrano e la vita nuda intensified and proliferated research on the meaning of “life.” Agamben traces the concept of life from classical Greece to the present day in the form of a division between bios, quality bearing life capable of citizenship, and zoê, bare life reduced to it’s biological aspect or it’s survival. Agamben calls the conceptual operation separating the two “the ban” or “abandonment” and argues that it founds sovereignty. He tracks the modulations of that division through history. In the second section of Homo Sacer, Agamben introduces Hannah Arendt’s writings on totalitarianism, emphasizing her use of the term “life” and articulating it with Foucault’s project. By attending to “life” as word, concept and value in Arendt’s writing, Agamben advances a genealogic project, showing that her work contributes to the development of the term in 1951, a decade and a half before the publication of Les Mots et les chose. He shows that in the twentieth century, in both totalitarian societies and mass consumer societies, paradigmatic governance shifts from the regulation of bios to reducing the lives of governed populations to zoê .

In an essay entitled “Pure Immanence” published the same year as Homo Sacer, Agamben explicitly calls for a genealogy of “life” across a variety of fields. The essay focuses on the final works published by Foucault and Gilles Deleuze during their life times, both of which take up the problem of “life.”  Agamben points out that “life” has been a key term in the work of a variety of continental twentieth century philosophers. He organizes their work into a chart tracing the differences and intersection of a transcendental though and an immanent though on the subject. According to Agamben, the genealogy of the term life will allow philosophy to come to take up its main task, the production of a new concept of life as beatitude:  a concept of life that does not differentiate between “organic life and animal life, or even between biological life and contemplative life and between bare life and the life of the mind” (239.)

Along the transcendental line of Agamben’s chart we find Immanuel Kant, Edmund Husserl, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida; on the immanent Spinoza, Nietzsche, Deleuze and Foucault; Heidegger sits in the middle amidst intersecting lines that connect the transcendental to the immanent. The chart provides productive suggestions for further genealogical work. One can imagine reading the philosophers that appear on it with special attention to “life” and closely related terms. Rereading Derrida, for example, reveals that “life” has been an important term in his writing since very early in his career. Derrida began attending to the deconstruction of the philosopheme life/death[5] from his first published writings. The continuity of his attention to that problematic can be felt in his later development of “hauntology” and the theme of the ghost[6]. The recently published seminar entitled The Beast and The Sovereign confirms the centrality of “life” to Derida’s project. The seminar explicitly takes up the theme of “life” and works, in part, as a jealous critique of Homo Sacre, as the near correspondence between Agamben’s subtitle “Sovereign Power and Bare Life.” and Derrida’s title suggests.

Agamben’s work comes from Italian thought that includes the work of autonomists combining Michel Foucault’s concepts  of biopolitics and biopower somewhat uncomfortably with a certain Marxism. The autonomists consider the life of the multitude as a force of production and attempt to organize a politics around a struggle for control over that life.

In Empire, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt invoke biopower as a key concept in their study of what makes revolution possible in the contemporary world. They define biopower as the “form of power that regulates social life from its interior by “investing life through and through” in order to “administer it” (23-5.) Negri and Hardt see biopower as the form of power in what Foucault called societies of control in which “social command” “becomes ever more immanent to the social field” (23) and they connect such societies to Marx’s phase of economic development when the real subsumption of labor under capital occurs (25.)  The rise of “immaterial labor” and the massive economic importance of communication technologies and all things somatic transform biopower into a force of production in the Marxist sense. The authors place biopower within a genealogy that includes Marx, Deleuze and Guattari as well as various Italian Autonomists in an attempt to turn the concept taken from Foucault into a viable site for militancy. These conditions lead to the outstripping of Marx’s general intellect embodied in machines by mass intellectuality supported by the body of the multitude. They conclude that the seizure of biopower constitutes the only effective form of militancy in today’s world, a seizure that takes the form of replacing empire’s domination of “mass intellectuality and affective networks” (413) with a loving self regulation of these same factors. Such autonomous regulation of the multitude’s life can be understood as an affirmative biopolitcs as opposed to the critical endeavor of describing empire’s domination of life.

In Grammatica della moltitudine: Per una analisi delle forme di vita contemporanee (2001) Paul Virno interprets Foucault’s formulation of biopolitics as a term “applied to changes that took place in the concept of “population” between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century” (81.) Virno sets biopolitics in an original genealogical context by deriving it from the concept of “labor power” (81,) which he says is “discussed everywhere in the social sciences and that Marx defines as “the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality of the human being” (Capital V I quoted, in Virno, 81.)  According to Virno, only the current Post-Fordist era fully realizes labor power by exploiting the mental as well as physical capacity of the multitude. A pure potential, labor power has no existence independent its substratum, the body of the worker. Virno argues that it takes the form of pure and simple bios, and for him “bio-politics” can only be used to name a situation in which politics issues from the commerce in human potential — from traffic  in labor power.

Despite the genealogical efforts of Virno, Negri and Hadrt, the attempt to cast biopower as a means of production and affirmative biopolitics as a privileged form of counter-power, the articulation between these concepts and Marxism remains uncomfortable, especially in light of the recent resurgence of dialectical and historical materialism in the political economics of David Harvey, Luc Blotanski and Naomi Kline[7] — a resurgence fueled by the very same economic crisis killing universities and unconsciously motivating contemporary interest in the meaning of life . The discomfort arises partly from the fact that, as Negri and Hardt acknowledge, Foucault originally posited biopolitics as an alternative to Marxist analysis. For example, while Marxists treat the real subsumption of labor under capital dialectically, Foucault treats biopolitics as a matter of “plurality and multiplicity”[8] (Negri and Hardt, 25.) Read in light of the new political economists, the regulation of the multitude’s life simply cannot produce value as such and Foucault’s attempt to fold the superstructural into the base remains illegitimate, as does that of the neo-Foucaultians.  For the Autonomists “life” can become the site of revolutionary struggle precisely because they posit it as a means of production; but for Marxists, it cannot be a means of production since it does not produce surplus. The Autonomists cannot show how communication or sociality itself directly creates surplus value simply because it does not do so. Thus biopower cannot initiate a new phase of semiotic or communicative capitalism[9]. In Marx’s own writings, capital determines life as particular “life forms,” and life “itself” cannot be construed as a productive force: thus struggle must focus on the actual forces that mutilate the lives of proletarians. The failure of the Autonomists to convince Marxists that biopower becomes a productive force in our time might be understood in part as a limit of the genealogical method in so far as it can track the meaning of cultural values, but not economic value since, under capitalism, the concept of economic value does not change.  Yet patient genealogical work on Marx’s use of the term remains to be done and constitutes one of the most important future responses to Agamben’s call for a genealogy.

Whether directly or by implication, the Autonomists refer both affirmative and critical biopolics to Agamben’ distinction between bios and zoê. To the extent that their deployment of the distinction replicates a certain phobia about or distaste for zoê, their work encounters a recent feminist call for revision as well as Marxists critique. In 2006, Rosi Briadotti published Transpositions, a book that takes Agamben to task for having inherited an implicitly masculine fascination with finitude from his teacher Martin Heidegger, and for assimilating “zoê to non-life in the sense of a failure of humanness” (39.) Rather than following Agamben in figuring zoê as the unattainable limit of otherness (she compares Agamben’s account of zoê to Jacques Lacan’s work on the pre-discursive, Julia Kristeva’s chora and Luce Irigaray’s maternal feminine all of which install mortality as the “trans-historical horizon of life” (39)  and function to support a melancholic theoretical affect), she proposes a thought of zoê supported by the theory of virtuality and capacity that Deleuze and Guattari derive from their readings of Baruch Spinoza[10].  Such a revision might be seen as an intensification of themes already present in Agamben’s work, and their extension into his theorization of “life” could be said to valorize the generative capacity of zoê, blocking it’s implicit association with a monstrous figuration of the feminine by associating it with the generative and gestational potential supported by a female substratum.

Paul Rabinow  has taken up a theoretical lineage running from Foucault through Deleuze that analyzes human finitude as itself unlimited and uses it to analyze scientific “practices of life” emerging around genetic technologies. Rabinow’s project investigate both the development of biological machinery and the ways in which genetic research might produce a new “episteme” changing modern forms of rationality as well as social and ethical practices (182). He contends that work on the human genome profoundly re-maps all prior distinctions between the artificial and the natural, a claim with profound implications, particularly for contemporary understanding of race and medical treatment.

Thus, in the 21st century, research into the meaning of “life” has flowed along three main streams: directly genealogical work tracking usages of “life” and related terms in order to transvalue them; work on biopolitics, taking a critical form that points to the regulation of life by power and an affirmative form that affirms the ability of the multitude to regulate it’s own life; and research into growth of biological technologies and commodities.

II: The Ghost of “Life’s” Past Meaning

My own research into moving images and written accounts of them, loosely known as “film theory,” provides a fecund genealogical field for investigating the meaning of life. The term has often, in a variety of ways, been used to name that which the cinema records, captures or produces. In other cases, such as the wring of Guy Debord, the cinema functions as a paradigm for social death[11]. Somewhat surprisingly, the literature of film theory even contains something very close to Agamben’s call for a genealogy of “life,” to be found in Seigfried Kracauer’s Theory Of Film.

Published in 1960, Krackauer’s expression of interest in the history of “life” came six years before the publication of the works by Georges Canguilhem and Michelle Foucault I cited previously.  Kracauer wrote theory of film surrounded by the ghosts of WWII and during a period of urban life in the US characterized by the increasing reification of everyday life and it’s exploitation as a source of corporate profits. Against such a lethal background, Kracauer’s book mourns the suburbanization of street life, the intolerable trauma of World War 2 and the triumph of industrial quantification of experience invoking the cinema as an anodyne.

“Life” appears throughout the book in analyses of cinematic form and of the movies’ privileged subjects. Kracauer uses the term to refer to cinema’s almost paradoxical capacity to capture a form of pure potential which cannot be seen in and of itself.  The word even appears in a note Kraucuer wrote as a boy and cited in his preface to Theory of Film. Kracauer writes that he started his first “literary project” after seeing his first film, which included images of a puddle reflecting the facades of houses and the sky. The young critic entitled his project Film as The Discoverer of the Marvels of Everyday Life. The word “life” appears embedded in a cliché phrase, which has come to refer to a major area of research in the humanities and social science, yet the idiom cannot hide it’s specific valance. The paradigmatic image of the reflecting surface of a puddle rippled by the wind blows the word “life” towards the notion of quality, towards the marvelous, inflating its semantics to include more than mere daily biological survival.

Kracauer takes up the word, concept and value “life” explicitly near the middle of the book,[12] as if it were one of Proust’s characters, appearing fleetingly as one word among others at the beginning and then taking on central importance. In the section entitled “Gratifications” (166), on what the audience gets out of cinema, Kracauer names “life” as the main desideratum of filmgoers. In this section, “life” functions as an evolving value to be transvalued through historicization as well as a term in Kracauer’s argument.

Works that transvalue “life” typically use the term within arguments and mention the term in genealogical procedures. The more daring transvaluative texts, such as Kracuaer’s, exploit the fragility of the distinction between use and mention in order to sensitize readers to their previous transvaluations of the term through a kind of deferred action; later, explicitly genealogical mentions in a text ask the reader to revise their understanding of previous uses. (In this sense, Agamben’s understanding of Foucault’s genealogical work allows him to complement the latter’s work on biopolitics with Arendt’s use of “life” by attuning him to the term). In Theory Of Film, Kracauer’s sustained investigation of the term in the middle of the book sends the reader back over all the previous uses, causing the word to emerge all the more forcefully from the phrase “everyday life” in the preface and suggesting that the history of the study of “everyday life” would provide rich material for the genealogy of “life.” The deferred action between genealogical mentions and constative uses exemplifies meaning in so far as the differences between the uses and the mentions produce an opening instead of a semantic field — an opening within which the word can shift yet again, the concept can enlarge or contract, and a new value can be created. Thus, the differentials between using and mentioning a term can be understood as the enactment of genealogy or transvaluation as such.

In the ‘Gratifications” section, Kracauer points out that the concept of “life as a powerful entity” has a “relatively recent origin,” (169.) He writes that  “it would be tempting to try to follow the evolution of” the concept “life” “from the time of the Romantics via Nietzsche and Bergson up to our days,” (169) but such a project lies outside of the prevue of Theory Of Film. The beginning of the period Kracauer delimits and the claim that “life as a powerful entity” originates with the romantics correspond to Foucault’s claim that before the 18th century life did not exist.

Kracaur’s temptation and his treatment of “life” must be understood within a genealogy of “life” including the work of later authors and as transvaluative in itself. Kracauer’s unwritten history would historicize the term between the 18th and 20th centuries and the very suggestion of such a project begins the denaturalization of the value “life,” especially because it posits a recent origin for “life as a powerful entity.” The power of that “life” comes precisely from its ability to function as both a particular value and a source of values. Showing that “life” has not always existed also shows that other values can stand in its place and that the term itself can refer to a changing set of values.

Kracauer ‘s language in this sentence registers the always double character a value becoming transvalued. He writes of the “evolution” of the concept as if “life” were itself alive and subject to biological differentiation over generations: as if to mark doubleness of “life” as constative use and genealogical mention in Theory Of Film; as if to emphasize “life’s” status as a value and that which makes values possible. Though Kracauer does not make the argument explicit, the subsection on “the concept of life” as such (169) casts life as potential, releasing the transvaluative force of moviegoers’ desire. The moviegoer seeks “the opportunity of drama rather than the drama itself” (171). These passages read as if the predictability of everyday life in mass society has stripped the spectator of any ability to imagine the future.

Kracauer grounds his argument that “life” provides the main gratification of cinema on the claims of various sociologists who show that filmgoers cite “life” as the reason they go to the movies. After a brief introduction justifying his interest in the gratifications of cinema during the age of television, Kracauer begins a subsection entitled “The Hunger for Life” with a consideration of “The Substitute for Dreams,” a 1921 article by Hugo von Hofmannsthal concerning urban proletarian moviegoers. In Kracuaer’s account, Hofmannsthal argues that such audiences go to “silent” films to escape from the “kind of life” (167) forced upon them by society and its language. Although one might take the absence of speech in the films of the late 1910s and early 1920s as detriment to the illusion of life,  those audiences experienced language as an instrument of society’s control over them which led them  “further away from what there senses” told them was “life itself” (167). Freed from the language of the newspaper and the party meeting, cinema offered them “the fuller life which society denies them” (167). “Fuller life” not in the sense of greater fulfillment of economic need, but “life in it’s inexhaustibility” (168). The transvaluative force of Kracauer’s consideration of life as one of cinema’s gratifications lies in his consistent use of the term to mean something other than either survival or access to certain goods. In Theory of Film, Kracauer presents filmgoers’ desire for life as a desire for the possibility of an existence beyond the merely biological and material. “Life” indicates that which makes values as such possible, a potential capable of sustaining desire.

Hofmannsthal’s article suggests that modern life rendered the proletariat unable to dream and that they escape from what they feel into the cinema. Kracauer focuses on Hofmannsthal’s descriptions of the ways that industrial urban life leads the masses away from “life itself.” This usage of “life itself” refers not to biological existence, but to a field of rich and non-alienated existence and shifts the value referred to by the term from the exclusively biological to the self-regulating experiential plane filled with qualities and the promise of autonomy. Furthermore, Kracauer understands the “life” that the moviegoers desire as both a specific entity that industrial society deprives them of and as that which makes values as such possible. His argument draws attention to the possibility that the “life” moviegoers desire functions as the “underlying substratum” of “normative incentives” (169). According to Kracauer, industrial society replaces the qualities of lived experience with quantities, depriving subjects of any basis for extra-economic valuation. Kracauer’s work on that survey reveals that the desire for that substratum effects a nostalgic critique of what “modern mass society” makes of lived experience by positing the perceived source of value as a value in and of itself. In other words, Kracauer discovers that the desire of the movie audiences in the surveys is transvaluative in itself. Instead of referring to that which moviegoers want to survive under any circumstances, “life” here refers to the capacity to create.

In order to show that the desire for creative life is not limited to proletarian audiences, Kracauer relies on responses to a survey included in a 1940 dissertation by Wolfgang Wilhelm to argue that “life” was the primary desideratum for “film addicts” (169) in general. The survey of twenty students and teachers as well as 23 people from various occupations and ages (168) shows that they all go to the movies to redress a lack of “life.” The isolation of individuals in modern life leads to a sense of alienation from “life” shared by all social classes. Kracauer’s interpretation of this survey uses “life” as the treatment for the “alienation” and “loneliness” suffered by all those who feel “the urge to frequent the movie houses” (169.) Although “life” becomes the potential to create non-material values in Kracauer’s writing, it also sustains the drive to attend the cinema which sustains the cinema economically.

“Life” refers not only to satisfactory relations with other members of society, but also with the world itself. A member of society needs to be in touch “with the breathing world about him, that stream of things and events which, were it flowing through him, would render his existence more exciting and significant” (169.)  When Kracauer enlarges the semantics of “life” to include the relationship between the individual and the world, his language retains a reference to biological bodies, making the transvaluative character of his project evident. Kracauer characterizes the world as “breathing” like a biologically living being, and he calls things and events a “stream” that could be “flowing through” individuals like their blood.

Even if read as metaphorical, Kracauer’s use of a biological vocabulary to describe moviegoers works to conflate the terms of biological survival with “life in its fullness” (169.)  Kracauer writes as if it were possible to imagine a world where biological survival produces a full existence capable of sustaining values and qualities, leaving no rhetorical space for what Agamben names “bare” life or mere biological or nutritive survival. His vocabulary and argument imply that industrial society places an economic value on survival in so far as it depends on the continued existence of workers and consumers in order to function. “Life” as valued by industrial society does not exist for itself, it only exists for the interest of those who profit from that society. The cinema supplements this with the illusion of a life that exists for itself. Such life must function as a value and that which makes values in general possible — it can only be a life judged and valued by and as itself. Kracauer’s use of the same terms to refer to both meanings of life in the same argument where he distinguishes between the two meanings works to denaturalize the ordinary semantics of the term and attempts to change it, transvaluing life. The surveys and the sociological analyses of “life” as the main gratification offered by the cinema serves as a fragment of a “history” or genealogy of the term focusing on its use in a particular cultural practice during a specific historical period. Kracauer discovers that the filmgoers’ usages of the term differ from a more conventional usage and roughly corresponds to the literary philosophical usage whose history he says he is tempted to write.

“Life” appears in this section of Theory Of Film as the main satisfaction or pleasure offered at movie theaters, but in the course of explaining and generalizing the satisfaction offered by the cinema, Kracauer posits a lack in all of society. The lack of life creates the need met by cinema and the basis for a critique of industrial mass society as a whole. Clearly, Kracauer does not mean that society lacks biological survival. The lack of life refers not only to isolation from human relationships, but to “satisfactory human relationships.”  Social relationships as such do not meet the criteria for Kracauer’s use of the term life. Those relationships must be able to be valued, they must be such that they can sustain the quality of satisfaction. He sees the satisfaction of the cinema as satisfaction in general, but in the form of life or an “illusion of life” (169).

Melancholy and loss saturate Theory Of Film. The prose and arguments portray a traumatized world marked by loss and this limits Kracauer’s analysis of life as cinematic gratification. He allows moviegoers life and the illusion of life and implicitly criticizes the confinement of life to the cinema, but a writer who could still hope for revolution and profound social change might explicitly point out that by providing an illusion of life, films make deadening industrial survival more tolerable and thus dampen the impulse to change the world. Such change seems more or less impossible to the author of Theory Of Film. Movies can only allow us to look at intolerable events and phenomena whose intensity would blind us and make us turn away in the world outside the cinema. Kracauer likens films that allow us to look at that which we otherwise could not bear to the shield of Perseus which allows him to look at the medusas reflection and decapitate her, but he points out that Athena recovers the monster’s head and uses it for her own purposes. In the end he limits Perseus’s achievement, and that of filmmakers, to the ability to make looking at the monster of history possible. Kracauer must be content with a redemption of physical reality confined to making that reality visible (305).

III The Ghosts of “Life’s” Meaning Yet to Come

The articles in this issue all seek a passage beyond merely making visible the usages of life and biopolitical modes of power that they describe. Each piece attempts to open onto a future less subject to the brutalities of domination’s current modes through a reconfiguration of life, not through an economy of representation, but through action in the world or withdrawal from it. Exemplary in it’s commitments, David Oscar Harvey’s[13] brilliantly militant essay on unprotected gay male anal sex understands the political saturation of even the most intimate aspects of the life of individuals and the socious as biopolitical. He focuses on the abandonment of homosexual males during the AIDS epidemic — a shift that installed heteronormative practices in gay communities and punished “dangerous” practices in the name of protecting and maximizing heterosexual life. Harvey works with the notion of biopolitics elaborated by Foucault in The History Of Sexuality, emphasizing its necropolitical aspect by reminding readers of Foucault’s argument that despite the passage from the exercise of power by ending life to government through the regulation of life, the state still deploys the power of death over populations perceived as threatening the health of others. Harvey points out that gay, HIV positive men constitute the paradigmatic case of a population subject to the power of death in biopolitical regimes.  The situation led to the brutal and unrelfexive transvaluation of gay male sexuality and refigured anal sex between men as a “giving birth to death.”  In the course of his analysis, Harvey shows how the effects of transvaluation can have negative effects on the lives of those who hold the values under revision. Specifically, the transvaluation at work here reduces the life of gay males to zoê and seeks to exclude it through a ban operating in the name of preserving dominant power’s bios. In this context gay male barebacking becomes a mode of queer (dis)identification with the potential to initiate radical auto-valorization and contestation of power’s regulation of gay life via a transvaluation of gay life by gay men themselves radically contesting the biopoltics of the state.

In her essay on Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001,) Maja Manojlovic describes the experience of driving out of the movie theater’s garage after a screening of the film and relates it to what she calls the film’s “digital aesthetics.” According to Manojlovic a digital aesthetics pervades contemporary culture and opens our waking lives to what Deleuze calls a “plane of immanence,” similar to the field we move through in our dreams. She relies on Manuel Castells’ notion of a “space of flows” in an elaboration of the destabilization of time effected by vision in today’s world, analyzing the phenomenon in terms of Henri Lefebvre’s “differential spaces.” Manojlovic’s original use of autobiography allows her essay to follow the continuity between the disorientation experienced while watching Waking Life and within the subjectifications that in-form our consciousness while navigating contemporary cities. Her critical technique recalls that of the poet HD as exemplified in writings anthologized in Close Up 1927-1933: Cinema And Modernism (Donald et al., 2001.) She develops a new mode of cartography in which the critical essay becomes a map that articulates both visual and social spaces on the plane of “a life.” Her usage of “life” implies a powerful and necessary revision of the concept of “aesthetics,” which under the influence of her writing’s delirium allows us to comprehend the totality of experience regardless of whether a particular moment involves that which we still refer to as “art.[14]

Barbara Kennedy’s article on Memoirs of a Geisha develops the work she began in her book Deleuze and Cinema: The Aesthetics of Sensation (2003.) Here, she focuses on how “life assemblages of enunciation” and machinic connections might be explained in terms of the process of film. Her project should not be confused with an investigation into cinematic spectatorship. It demands to be understood as an analysis of the pleasure we take in the movement of life guided by the cinema. Kennedy illuminates discussions of “life” by insisting on its corporeal substratum, introducing concepts such as viscerality, proprioceptivity and synaesthesia to current film studies’ considerations of the immersive body. Kennedy forcefully argues figures of embodiment drawn from such concepts continue Deleuze and Guattari’s  schizoanalytic work with special attention to “life flows,” a notion Kennedy relates to Deleuze’s essay “Immanence: A Life.[15]” Kennedy’s essay makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of “Immanence: A Life,” an articles that in many ways remains unread. By using “life flows” to underline Deleuze’s concern with “a-subjective consciousness” Kennedy allows her reader an insight into Agamben’s stress on “desubjectification” in his consideration of “Immanence: A Life.” Working a highly elaborated notion of “choreography” Kennedy writes about a performance sequence in Memoirs of a Geisha in such a way as to assemble its movements with those of extra-cinematic lived experience. Like Manojlovic, Kennedy establishes cinema on the same plane as other experiences. For her, the immanence of choreographed cinematic synestheisa and corporeal life results in biograms, or the bringing together of all the senses in quasi-corporeal movements. Kennedy’s concept of the biogram offers limitless potentials to schizoanalysis by offering it a new mode of virtuality absolutely correlated with the lived. Not only does the biogram explain the lived character of cinematic affects, it also offers valuable material for future genealogists seeking to elaborate the folding of “life” into virtuality.

Olivia Banner’s essay “The Post Racial Imagination: Gattacas Imperfect World” assess the rhetoric of genetics in a world of biological commodities as figured in the film Gattaca and relates them to the confluence of race and biology in our time. Attending to accounts of ideologies and practices of researchers who work on the human genome and pharmacology, she brings out the field of contradictions that forms contemporary accounts of race. In her article the film becomes a means of breaking apart the human genome project’s account of the human commonality as a quasi-universal form of race based medical treatment. Banner chooses Gattaca as the central text of her study precisely because of its combination of a biological model of race and a “liberal multiculturalist typecasting.”  She argues that the tension in the film reflects the problematic of race in contemporary culture. Her article deepens and complicates the problematic set forth by Rabinow’s work in different terms.  Her detailed, brilliant reading of the film does the genealogical work of presenting race as an institution of difference while stressing the ways in which it’s fictional science breaks apart the illusory unity of the body, allowing the temporality of race to emerge and releasing biotechnology’s potential transformation of our understanding of race.

John Dittrich’s essay also provides a genealogy of non-organic life in the work of Wilhelm Worringer, Deleuze and Guattarri, showing that the contradictions in Worringer’s 19th century though limit the possible elaborations in the conceptualization of “life.[16]” Dittrich’s article also makes a major contribution to the articulation of the meaning of “life” with Marxism through careful consideration of Georg Lukács’ critique of Worringer’s work on expressionism. Lukács argues that, arising after the proletariat revealed itself as the true subject of history, expressionism functioned as a bourgeois apology for capitalism. Under Lukács’ reading, non-organic life appears as subjectivist flight from the realities of economics and produces a false synthesis of subject and object. In art history this leads to a false dialectic that reduces objectively recognizable style to the expression of subjectivity and produces false concepts of “experience” and “life.” According to Dittrich, Deleuze and Guattarri’s readings of Worringer in Capitalism and Schizophrenia lead them to account for power as an oscillation between two poles with one of the poles becoming valorized, as for example in the polarity between war machine and the state. Though Deleuze and Guattarri use “the non-organic life of things” to explain both the polarities and the valorization of one of the poles, the also point to the limited and contradictory status of this concept of life, yet, for Dittrich, they fail to provide an alternate conception, relying on the notion of a “line of flight” to escape from every contradiction. Dittrich’s reading of Lukács and his deployment of it on Deleuze and Guattari’s terrain comes at the discomfort between Marxists and theorists of the biopolitical from a different angle than my articulation of it above; instead of treating the debate in terms of what counts as a productive force, he points to the differences between the metaphysics of each camp. For Dittrich, the concept of “life” tends to fail as an expression of the social conflict’s driving history because it finds itself invoked in non-dialectical theories.

Nathan Gorelick’s contribution “Life in Excess ––– Insurrection and Expenditure in Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty” reads Artaud’s work as an uncanny corpse or shell of a life, that tends to fall part under criticism which he valorizes in terms of Aurtaud’s descriptions of “life” as a form of excess. Gorelick’s presentation of Artaud carries a strange echo of Canguilhem’s definition of life as that which through error brings forth beings capable of error in so far as both oppose “life” to a deadening rationality and refuse to subject life to management. Gorelick brings out the political potential in Artuad’s thought of “life” without instrumentalizing it, which would vitiate it’s political potential by subjecting “life” to the very same rationality it opposes. Gorelick stunningly develops Artaud’s notion of life as a shocking force which “forces us to live” — a form of hunger irreducible to what Artuad calls digestive concerns. Articulating Artaud’s tetxts with Derrida’s Writing And Difference as well as Deleuze and Guattarri’s A Thousand Plateaus, Gorelick allows the impower of Aurtaud’s expression of life to transvalue traditional concepts of work, art and belief.

These writers have all attempted to clear the ground for new, critical thoughts of life not in order to differ a change in the world, as part of the activity of creating new modes of life. The thoughts expressed in their articles do not differ to a future thought of life but immediately mutate the reader’s habits of though, spawning creative valorizations and giving each of us the opportunity to participate in the ongoing transvaluations of “life” and enabling the resistant potential within each of our bodies — bodies that we must willingly expose to the dangers inherent in any actual opposition to power if we are to stop describing the world and change it.

List Of Works Cited:

Agamben, Georgio. Homo Sacer: Il potere sovrano e la vita nuda. Einaudi . Torino. 1995

—— Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Daniel Heller-Roazen Trans. Stanford University Press. Palo Alto. 1998.

Potentialities :Collected Essays In Philosophy. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Trans. Standford University Press. Palo Alto. 2000.

Andrew, Dudley. “Introduction.” In André Bazin: What Is Cinema? Volume I. University of California Press. Berkeley. 2005.

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins Of Totalitarianism. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. New York. 1973.

Berardi, Franco. Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation. Minor Compositions. 2009.

Boltanski, Luc and  Eve Chiapello. The New Spirit Of Capitalism. Gregory Elliott, Trans. Verso. London. 2007.

Bordwell, David and Noël Carol. Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. University of Wisconsin. Madison. 1996.

Briadotti, Rosi. Transpositions. Polity Press. Cambridge. 2006.

Canguilhem, Georges. La connaissance de la vie. Vrin, Paris, 1965.

–– A Vital Rationalist: Selected Writings from Georges Canguilhem. Arthur Goldhammer. Zone Books. Cambridge MA. 2000.

Haraman, Chris. Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx. Bookmarks. London. 2010.

Derrida, Jacques. The Beast And The Sovereign Volume I. Geoffrey Bennington. University Of Chicago Press. Chicago. 2010.

–– The Politics Of Friendship. George Collins, Trans. Verso. London. 2006.

–– Specters Of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning & the New International. Peggy Kamuf, Trans. Routledge. New York. 1994.

Foucault, Michel. Histoire de la sexualité tome 1 : La Volonté de savoir. Gallimard. Paris. 1976.

–– Les Mots et les chose.Gallimard. Paris 1966.

–– The History of Sexuality Volume 1: The Will To Knowledge. Robert Hurley, Trans. Random House. New York. 1978.

–– The Order Of Things. Pantheon. 1970.

–– “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collége de France, 1975-1976. David Macy, Trans. Picador. 2003.

Hansen, Miriam Bratu. “Introduction” in Siegfried Kracauer: Theory Of Film. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1997.

Harvey, David. The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. Oxford University Press. New York. 2010.

Inside Higher Ed. “Disappearing Languages at Albany.” http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/10/04/albany. Accessed  January 3, 2011.

“Joint declaration of the European Ministers of Education convened in Bologna on the 19th of June 1999.” http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/educ/bologna/bologna.pdf. Accessed January 3, 2011.

Kaufman, Walter. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton University Press. Princeton.1975.

Kiderra, Inga “Innovative Class Examines State Budget Crisis in Public Education.” This Week @ UCSD. March 3, 2010. http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/thisweek/2010/03/22_statebudget.asp. Accessed January 3 2011.

Kline, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Metropolitan Books. New York. 2007.

Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory Of Film. Princeton University Press.  Princeton.1997.

Marazzi, Christian. Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy. Gregory Conti, Trans. Semiotext(e). New York. 2008.

Negri, Antonio and Michael Hardt. Empire. Harvard University Press. Cambridge MA. 2001.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On The Genealogy of Morality” And Other Writings Revised Student Edition. Carol Diethe Trans. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 2006.

Rabinow, Paul. “Artificiality and Enlightenment: From sociobiology to Biosociality.” In Anthropologies Of Modernity: Foucault, Governmentality and Life Poltics.

Richardson, Hanna. “Humanities to Lose English Universities Teaching Grant” BBC. October 26, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11627843. Accessed January 3, 2011.

[1] Giorgio Agamben published Homo Sacer: Il potere sovrano e la vita nuda in 1995, the book that gave impetus to current research on “life.” 1996 saw the publication of  David Bordwell and Noel Carroll’s The End Of Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies, a book that declared the era of theory over. By 1999 the process of privatizing education that had started in many countries in the early 1990s had become an official policy goal of the European Union, expressed in the “Bologna Declaration.” By 2010, educational reform had lead to the destruction of language department in US universities (Inside Higher Ed, 2010;) Privatization had become accelerated and threatened the humanities at the University of California that in addition to student protests and occupations, humanities and social science faculty at UCSD taught a class on the problem (Kiderra.) In the UK, privatization also lead to massive student unrest and the drastic reduction to funding in the humanities (Richardson.)

[2] While publication dates for texts in languages other than English in my text refer to the original language versions, the page references refer to the standard translations.

[3] In On The Genealogy Of Morality, Nietzsche mocks English psychologists who attempted a history of morals because they assumed a trans-historical continuity of meaning in words for “good.” They argue that “unegoistic acts were praised and called good by their recipients, in other words by the people to whom they were useful; later everyone forgot the origin of the praise and because such acts had been habitually praised as good, people also began to experience them as good — as if they were good as such” (11.) Nietzsche contradicts them by positing that concept of goodness originated with those who did the deeds rather than those the deeds were preformed upon and that “good” originally referred neither to selflessness or usefulness, but to a social differentiation between the common and the superior. His genealogy then follows the series of historical ruptures that convert “good” as superiority into good as selflessness and compassion. For Nietzsche and all proper genealogists in his wake what counts are the differences between usages, or what I have attempted to write as “meaning.”

[4] I take “Transvaluation” as a translation of Nietzsche’s word “Umwertung” from Walter Kaufman (Kaufman.)

[5] Agamben’s chart and his call for a genealogy of life have clearly influenced readings of Jacques Derrida. Research on Derrida’s work published early in 21st century largely ignored the theme deconstruction of life/death, despite Derrida’s emphasis on the term from very early in his career (see for example the analysis of Husserl’s “living present” in Derrida’s 1962 introduction to The Origin Of Geometry.) Though the term life sometimes appears in their analyses, it is not developed as a theme and does not appear in the indexes of Later Derrida (Herman Rapaport, 2003) The Philosophy Of Derrida (Mark Dooley and Liam Kavanagh, 2007) The Politics Of Deconstruction: Jacques Derrida and the Other of Philosophy. (Martin McQuillan Ed, 2007,) Derrida and Feminism: Recasting the Question of Woman (Ellen K. Feder, Mary C. Rawlinson and Emily Zakin, 1997,)  Jacques Derrida And The Humanities: A Critical Reader (Tom Cohen, 2002) A Derrida Dictionary (Niall Lucy, 2004) and Derrida Dictionary (Simon Wortham, 2010) do thematize life, though the two dictionaries don’t have indexes and only Derrida and Feminism contains an entry containing a closely related entry “living feminine.” The paucity of index entries for “life” indicates that the deconstruction of life/death did not seem like an important aspect of Derrida’s work to his Anglophone readers until recently. In sharp contrast, the description of Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008) ends with the sentence “ However, Derrida cannot subscribe to a simplistic version of animal rights that fails to follow through, in all its implications, the questions and definitions of “life” to which he returned in much of his later work.”

[6] On “hauntology” and ghosts, see Specters Of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning & the New International and The Politics Of Friendship.

[7] See Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, (Blotanski, 1999;) The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (Harvey, 2010) and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Kline, 2009.)

[8] I extend thanks to poets and scholars Christopher Nealon, Joshua Clover, and Jasper Bernes for a correspondence on a social networking site in which they pointed out the explicitly counter Marxist character of Foucault’s original project.

[9] On “communicative” or “semiotic” capitalism, see Christian Marazzi’s Capital and Language, a book that despite having sever flaws from the point of view of traditional Marxists, contains a very useful analysis of the conversion of savings into equity in financialization.

[10] It seems necessary to articulate Briadotti’s thought with Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s recent essays on “joyous pessimism” which seem to argue that a fear of depressive affects lies at the core of masculine subjectivity; See, for example Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation.

[11] See, for example, the commentary referring to “petrification” diverting an advertisement for super 8 cameras reprinted in Internationale situationnist 2 on page 57.

[12] Kracauer’s Anglophone exegetes have almost entirely ignored this section of Theory Of Film. Gertrud Koch does not mention it in Siegfried Kracauer: An Introduction although it contains a sustained reading of Theory Of Film , nor does Miriam Bratu Hansen refer to it in her introduction to the current edition of the book, although she does take up some of Kracauer’s other uses of the term. This omission in the “secondary” literature doubtless came about because, as Dudley Andrew points out in his introduction to André Bazin’s What is Cinema, starting in the mid 1960s, the emergence of semiotic and Marxist approaches to film required the suppression of realist film theory and produced a dominant interpretation of such work as naïve ideological illusion as opposed to the new, supposedly scientific, methodologies. Although Bazin remained in circulation thanks to the efforts of his translator Hugh Gray and Andrew himself, serious readings of Kracauer’s book have only just begun.

[13] This issue of Discourse owes Harvey a huge debt for editorial work early in it’s long path to publication. Without his work on it while he was a research assistant at the University of Iowa’s department of Cinema and Comparative Literature, the issue would not exist.

[14] Manojlovic’s invocation of “aesthetics” in the noun phrase “digital aesthetics” harmonizes with, but cannot be reduced to the word’s resonance in the contemporary anthropological notion of “social aesthetics;” see for example David MacDougall’s The Corporeal Image (2006)

[15] Agamben’s “Pure Immanence,” referred to earlier in my introduction refers to “Immanence: A Life.” Although Deleuze does not write “life flows” in his article, Kennedy successfully shows how such language might an appropriate description of the transcendental field and particularly to the “pure stream of a-subjective consciousness.” “Life flows” might thus be seen as illuminating  Agamben’s interest in “desubjectification.”

[16] In many ways, Dittrich’s article can be read as the inverted compliment to Nathan Brown’s “The Inorganic Open: Nanotechnology and Physical Being.” (Radical Philosophy 144.) Brown uses nanotechnology to elaborate the difficulty of articulating Agamben’s understanding of zoê and Heidegger’s da-sein with conceptualizations of the object. In the course of his argument brown demonstrates the inability of any concept of life to “specify the site at which power’s ‘supreme ambition’ operates in the case of nano-technology,” as well as the lack of any form of agreement over the definition of the term life. Among other virtues, the genealogical aspect of brown’s piece brings out the Heideggerian heritage in Agamben’s attempt to think life, a crucial contribution given the latter’s intellectual formation. Although Brown holds out the hope of finding a new approach to the inorganic open extrapolated from an aporia in neo-heidegarian thought, much of the essay implies that failure to account for certain features of nanotechnology points to the ideological functions of the vagueness inscribed in the thought of life.

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