Biopower Foucault and Beyond
edited by Vernon W. Cisney and Nicolae Morar
University of Chicago Press, 2015
Cloth: 978-0-226-22659-0 | Paper: 978-0-226-22662-0 | Electronic: 978-0-226-22676-7
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Michel Foucault’s notion of “biopower” has been a highly fertile concept in recent theory, influencing thinkers worldwide across a variety of disciplines and concerns. In The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Foucault famously employed the term to describe “a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them, rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or destroying them.” With this volume, Vernon W. Cisney and Nicolae Morar bring together leading contemporary scholars to explore the many theoretical possibilities that the concept of biopower has enabled while at the same time pinpointing their most important shared resonances.
           
Situating biopower as a radical alternative to traditional conceptions of power—what Foucault called “sovereign power”—the contributors examine a host of matters centered on life, the body, and the subject as a living citizen. Altogether, they pay testament to the lasting relevance of biopower in some of our most important contemporary debates on issues ranging from health care rights to immigration laws, HIV prevention discourse, genomics medicine, and many other topics. 

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Vernon W. Cisney is a visiting assistant professor of philosophy at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Derrida’s “Voice and Phenomenon”: An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide, as well as coeditor or cotranslator of several other books. Nicolae Morar is assistant professor of philosophy and environmental studies and an associate member with the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Oregon. He is coeditor or co-translator of several books, including Perspectives in Bioethics, Science and Public Policy.

REVIEWS

Biopower is a remarkable book. Although it contains essays written by the most important and well-known commentators on Foucault, it is really more than a study of Foucault’s concept of biopower. The majority of the essays expands, extends, and transforms the concept of biopower. Like all of the essays in the volume, the introduction written by Morar and Cisney is excellent. They are to be congratulated not only for organizing such an impressive volume, but guiding us through it with their analysis. This will be the definitive volume on biopower for decades to come.”
— Leonard Lawlor, Penn State University

“With Biopower, Cisney and Morar have assembled a stellar collection of essays from some of the leading scholars working in Foucault studies today. One of the volume’s strongest features is its dissemination of the concept of biopower beyond Foucault’s use of it. Topics as diverse as the life sciences, the birth of statistics, contemporary medicine, HIV prevention, race, gender, and the Arab uprisings are all examined from the viewpoint of the concepts of biopower and biopolitics, demonstrating their continuing relevance. This will be a crucial book for Foucault studies, for biopolitical studies, and for our contemporary understanding of what Foucault called ‘the history of the present.’”
— Daniel W. Smith, Purdue University

TABLE OF CONTENTS

-Vernon W Cisney and Nicolae Morar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0000
[Sovereign, Governmentality, Sexuality, Population, Capitalism, Scarcity]
The introduction has four goals, to: (1) introduce Michel Foucault's concept of 'biopower'; (2) articulate the shift in Foucault's thinking from biopower to 'governmentality'; (3) demonstrate the lasting marks that the concept of biopower leaves on Foucault's work and on continental philosophy generally; (4) situate these concepts and marks in the context of the volume's contributions. Biopower, we show, signifies a conceptualization of power relations that, against traditional restrictive or delimiting modes of power—'sovereign power', as Foucault calls them—seek the expansion and arrangement of certain modes of life. It encompasses two distinct but related fields: a micro-level, referred to by Foucault as the 'anatomo-politics of the human body'; and a macro-level, that he calls the 'biopolitics of the population.' These two poles become unified with the rise of industrial capitalism; and the dark underbelly of these discourses of life is, we show, an emphasis on purgation and death. We then demonstrate the evolution of Foucault's language, away from the concept of biopower to the broader term of 'governmentality', through a discussion of his exploration of population, and specifically the phenomenon of scarcity. Nevertheless, we claim, the characteristics of biopower—power conceived as expansionary rather than delimiting, and as ubiquitous throughout all other relations, the centrality of life and living practices, and the constitution of subjectivity—mark much of Foucault's work throughout the remainder of his life, as well as much of the continental tradition writ large. Finally, we speak to the importance of these concepts in the specific contexts of each contribution in the volume.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Judith Revel
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0001
[Raymond Roussel, Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Discourse, Ferdinand de Saussure, Literary, Language, Sign]
This chapter attempts to root Foucault's concept of biopolitics in the context of Foucault's literary and linguistic writings—on figures such as Blanchot, Roussel, and Bataille—from the mid-1960s.To speak of a 'literary' birth of biopolitics means tying back together the threads of two inquiries that never ceased to operate within Foucauldian analyses: on the one hand, a reconciliation of a radical critique of the subject with a reinvestment of subjectivity free of prior objectivation; and on the other, the passage from a spatial analysis of difference to a temporal ontology of creation. I demonstrate that what fascinated Foucault about the literary experience of his 1960s work was the possibility of an invention of new linguistic forms, different structures, unforeseen codes—in sum, a creation. Likewise, what fascinates Foucault in the idea of biopolitics is the fact that the power [puissance] of life can respond to a power [pouvoir] over life. This is another way of saying that one never finishes creating.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Antonio Negri
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0002
[Class, Marx, Factory, Multitude, Vitalism, Fordism, Operaismo, Dispositif, Militant, Outside, Immanence]
This chapter follows the variant, heterodox currents of Western Marxism, in particular those of Italy and France, to reveal how such philosophies contributed to the development of the biopolitical framework during the 1960s and 70s. In the social milieu of Italian operaismo, it seemed that the proletariat, in freeing itself, might also destroy society's capitalistic forces. However, a counter-revolution ensued: thanks to outsourcing, industrial capital became financial capital. At this juncture the question became: does the working class still exist as a central, political subject in the criticism of capitalism? Most important regarding the passage from the modern to the post-modern, or rather from the political to the biopolitical, is that at the very moment in which the period is unambiguously defined as "postmodern," one witnesses a concurrent critical dissolution of that concept. Crucial to this change is that the subject ceases to be singular, and re-emerges as a plurality. The multitude, though not explicitly united, possesses power. Multitudinis potentia. Every body is a plurality, but not every plurality is a body. Rather, it may be termed a collection of bodies possessing newly augmented freedoms. Our analysis reveals the biopolitical to be, in Sartrean terms, an "experience of existence." In a clear contrast to biopower, dominance is of no import to biopolitics. As such, the future of the biopolitical will possess neither a center nor a "heart," but rather freedom-conferring "love."
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Ian Hacking
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0003
[Biopower, Statistics, Population, Census, Taxation, Thomas Malthus]
This chapter develops an aspect of Foucault's analysis of the second pole of biopower—the biopolitics of the population. I explore what I call the 'avalanche of printed numbers', the inception and fervently exponential growth of a fetishism for categorial denumeration of segments of the population, as it develops in the decades from 1820 to 1840. I argue that while the techniques of manipulation exacted by governments in response to the statistical data of this period were predicated upon often misguided figures, and that they often failed in their intentions, nevertheless the lasting impact of this period is the emergence of bureaucratic apparatuses which, to this day, are significantly determinative of categories of human subjectivity.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Catherine Mills
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0004
[Giorgio Agamben, Bare life, Errancy, Michel Foucault, Immanence, Immunity, Life, Norms]
This paper examines the way several influential approaches to biopolitics construe the relationship between life and politics. I show that Agamben is unable to theorize biological life except in a negative relation with biopolitics. Following this, I consider the empirically focused approach to biopower developed by Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose, to show that it also eschews articulation of a conception of life independently of the discourses of biomedicine. Then, I discuss Roberto Esposito's theorization of an affirmative biopolitics in which the norm is an immanent impulse within life. Finally, I turn to the relation of life and norms in Foucault's discussions of biopower, which I place in the frame of his essay on Canguilhem, in which he emphasises the productive capacity for error internal to life. I argue that the shift in perspective to errancy highlights the limits of biopower and the reactivity of the biopolitical state in relation to life. It allows for an understanding of life that is not outside or beyond biopower, but is nevertheless engaged in a productive or positive relation with it.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Paul Patton
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0005
[Biopower, Biopolitics, Governmentality, Power, Racism, Right, Security mechanisms, State]
Foucault is widely credited with having invented new concepts of biopower and biopolitics, despite the fact that they do not play a major role in his work. These terms appeared in lectures and published work in 1976 and 1977. They were superseded by the concepts associated with his analysis of the different ways in which governmental power has been exercised by modern states. In Foucault's lectures, biopolitics gave way to governmentality and biopower to the government of free economic agents. This chapter argues that "biopower" and "biopolitics" are confused and confusing terms that never achieved the status of determinate concepts in Foucault's work and that disappeared from subsequent work for good reason. After retracing their brief career, I identify some of the confusions involved in his use of these terms. These involve, in the first instance, the scope of biopolitics and the epochal claims advanced in the name of biopower. Second, they involve the confusion between the study of power at the level of its theorization and legitimation (power as a form of right) and the study of power at the level of its exercise (power as technique). Foucault suggests that "one of the greatest transformations" in political right during the nineteenth century involved the permeation of the old right to take life or let live by the new right to make live and let die, but then exemplifies this transformation by reference to "jurists" of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who effectively preceded the transformation in techniques for the exercise of state power at the end of the eighteenth century.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Mary Beth Mader
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0006
[Life sciences, Visibility, Possibility, Abstraction, Function, Modernity, Taxonomy, Cuvier, Ontology, Epistemology]
In Les Mots et les Choses, Foucault famously argues against a standard view in the history of biology that construes Cuvier's contributions to biological thought as essentially fixist ones and thus as obstacles to the development of evolutionary biology. Instead, Foucault held, Cuvier's functionalist taxonomies in fact conceptually prepared the way for Darwin's liberation of animal forms from atemporal and agenealogical understandings of speciation. For this reason, he claimed, Cuvier was in fact a signal intermediary figure in the history of the emergence of a specifically evolutionary science of life. The full dimensions of Foucault's argument for this claim have not been simple to grasp, though, as they were frequently presented in condensed argumentation or implicit suggestions. The chapter thus seeks to clarify several of these dimensions. Its chief thesis is that Foucault's analysis aims to reveal historically varying versions of visibility, possibility and abstraction in the context of the emergence of the life sciences. He does this through his historical account of the transitions from Classical natural history, through Cuvier's functionalist notion of life, to the Modern science of life. The chapter argues that the changes Foucault identifies constitute genealogies of visibility, possibility and abstraction. His profound historicization traces the changing ways in which the natural world can be visible, possible and abstract in Western society from the Classical to the Modern era. The chapter suggests that present interest in Foucault's analyses of the history of biological thought is warranted if we wish to discern vestigial versions of visibility, possibility and abstraction that our present practices continue, so as not to be determined by them.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Jeff T. Nealon
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0007
[Animal Studies, Transcendental, Animality, Human, History of Madness, Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben]
Recently there has been an explosion in scholarly literature dedicated to the intersections of Foucault's notion of biopower with the burgeoning field of animal studies. Much of this literature shares a common critique: Foucault is given credit for calling attention to the central question of life within modern political existence; but he's just as quickly disciplined for confining his analysis to humans, thereby doubling down on the nefarious ethical exclusion of animal life from the discussion. This chapter argues against this pervasive trend, through a careful reading of key parts of The Order of Things, that animal life is not jettisoned or abjected at the dawn of humanist biopower in the 19th century, but instead, animality is fully incorporated into biopower as the template for life itself.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Eduardo Mendieta
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0008
[Interspecies Cosmopolitanism, Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Biohistory, Biopolitics, Biophilic, Feral Ontology, Bestiary, Übermensch,, Übertiere]
In this I chapter begin by invoking a certain reading of Nietzsche that places him within what Norris called a 'biophilic tradition' and what the Acamporas called becoming feral, or wild. Nietzsche's injunction that we should aim to transcend the human does not mean that we should cease to be animal. On the contrary, to become Übermensch means also to become an Übertier, that is an animal that has refused the technologies of docility and domestication that had turned us into slaveanimals (Sklaventiere). We are the slaveanimals of our biopolitical technologies of subjection and normalization. For Foucault, however, the concept of biopolitics was a placeholder, or more precisely the name for a distinct regime of governmentality. I suggested, in fact, that we ought to understand this new regime as the opening up of a new horizon of the political in which possibility and the necessity are determined according to a certain imaginary. In Foucault's work we can't talk about biopower, biohistory, and biopolitics without also considering that for him the 'power' that circulates because of biopolitics is both generated and contested by the interaction among: forms, or games, of veridiction, procedures of governmentality, and pragmatics or technologies of the self. I explored this biopolitical imaginary through an analysis of three artists, chosen deliberately because they are dwellers of border cultures, performers of counter-conducts, skeptics of the regimens of governmentality that forces us to continuously to mark, build, and police boundaries among ourselves, with our technologies, and against our 'companion species,' incite us with their powerful aesthetic creations to invent, fashion, live out our own counter-conducts against our modern, biopolitical form of governmentality.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Carlos Novas
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0009
[Patient activism, Orphan drugs, Rare diseases, Biopolitics, Health technology assessment, Pharmacoeconomics, Orphan Drug Act, Pharmaceutical industry, Biotechnology industry]
This chapter examines the forms of activism that have emerged around orphan drugs from the late 1970s to the present. The first section of the paper will illustrate the multiple arenas in which the problem of developing drugs aimed at treating rare diseases was made knowable to political authorities in the United States through a combination of patient group activism, congressional hearings, surveys, and academic conferences. Through the formation of an effective coalition, patients' associations were able to aid the passage of legislation specifically concerned with altering the economic and regulatory circumstances which had previously prevented pharmaceutical companies from developing treatments aimed at rare diseases. The chapter then moves on to discuss how the US Orphan Drug Act (1983) has been adopted as a policy model in a number of countries such as Singapore, Japan, Australia, and most recently, the European Union. Lastly, the chapter will conclude by examining some of the contemporary biopolitical problems which orphan drugs pose in terms of the high cost of a small number of these types of therapies Through this chapter, I propose to examine how patient activism around orphan drugs has shifted from attempting to shape the economic and regulatory circumstances which prevented orphan drugs from being marketed to attempting to challenge the administrative and bureaucratic procedures which prevent patients from having access to orphan drugs.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-David M. Halperin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0010
[HIV, Queer Studies, Gay and Lesbian subjectivity, Sexually Risky Behaviour, Unsafe/ safe sex]
Contemporary practitioners of queer studies sometimes speak of gay male "subjectivity," but we avoid delving into the subject in any kind of depth or detail. There are many reasons for this avoidance: a wish to escape the pitfalls of essentialism, a psychoanalytically-informed reluctance to believe that subjectivity itself is differentiated along the lines of social identity, a new triumphalism about the progress of gay rights and the imminent integration and assimilation of gay people into mainstream society—a prospect threatened by the notion that gay men might have a distinctive subjectivity of their own. In this chapter, I raise the question concerning how many gay men engage in sex that carries a real risk of transmitting HIV, how many of us take what kinds of risks, to what extent we succeed in minimizing those risks, or what the demographic distribution of gay risk-takers is, either in the United States or around the world. While even the most sophisticated statistical analyses of gay men's risk-taking tend to be based on partial, incomplete, unrepresentative, or flawed information, this creates a particular problem for the construction of gay men subjectivity. When gay men's indigenous safe-sex inventions are turned around by public health authorities and then imposed on gay men as obligations, as behavioral norms, as duties, or as emblems of good hygiene, moral virtue, and patriotic citizenship, they cease to be weapons that we use to defend ourselves and our pleasures from a homophobic society, on the one hand, and from an intolerant public health establishment and other biopolitical institutions, on the other, and become instead a new kind of discipline to which we must submit, if we want to show our straight friends (and some gay ones) that we are good gay men, not those evil, irresponsible, sex-obsessed sluts that everyone thinks we are—not unjustifiably.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Jana Sawicki
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0011
[Biopower/biopolitics, Normalization, Vulnerability, Psychoanalysis, Scientific racism/racism, Ethics, Precariousness, Popular sovereignty, Desubjectification, Humanism]
What role does Foucault's analysis of biopolitics play in Judith Butler's work? What are her most salient and important creative deployments of Foucault? Where does she bend his work to a different purpose? Extend his project? Supplement it? In this paper I address three areas in which Butler responds to Foucault's project: (1) the importance of the concept of normalization in her account of subjection and resistance, (2) the way she takes up the biopolitical in her writings on precarious life, and (3) her turn to the ethical.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Todd May and Ladelle McWhorter
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0012
[Disciplinary Power, Normalization, Neoliberalism, Indigenous people, Racialized Minorities, Wealth Disparities]
A number of commentators have asserted in recent years that, with the rise of neoliberalism, the ways in which power operates have changed significantly. Such a point is made, for example, by Gilles Deleuze when he suggests we are becoming more of a control society than a disciplinary society; discipline and normalization are no longer utilized as means to control populations. Our view, however, is that such arguments are not nuanced enough. The question is not whether discipline and normalization still exist—they most certainly do—but, instead, who is being disciplined and normalized, and how. Areas of the world where industrialization is a significant aspect of the economy still experience discipline of the kind Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish. In other areas, such as wealthier Western ones, neoliberal techniques that focus on populations tend to discipline some people and not others. For instance, elites in Western nations receive certain disciplines that cultivate their abilities while marginalized people (impoverished members of indigenous peoples and racialized minorities, for example) receive little or none at all but are, instead, simply subjected to management techniques that resemble the old sovereign power of the sword. This, alongside economic policy, helps explain the growing disparities of wealth characteristic of the neoliberal epoch.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Frédéric Gros
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0013
[The Birth of Biopolitics, Liberalism, Governmentality, Biopolitics, Citizens' Rights, Domination, Exploitation, Capture]
In this chapter, I offer some reflections on the course that Foucault gave at the Collège de France in 1979, entitled "The Birth of Biopolitics." The course was very unique for several reasons. First, Foucault experiments with a certain number of theoretical hypotheses that would never be taken up elsewhere, not at conferences, in books, or in interviews. We find a series of studies on liberalism in this course that is completely extraordinary and rare. Secondly, it is in this course that Foucault analyzes immediately contemporary facts for the first time. Thirdly, this course is enigmatic: while its title is "The Birth of Biopolitics", Foucault actually gives a course on liberalism and almost never speaks about biopolitics. Faced with this enigma, we can react in one of two ways: either we can consider that this is one of the hazards of research, and that Foucault abandoned his initial project in order to exploit new theoretical paths that he was in the midst of discovering; or we can consider that by analyzing liberalism, Foucault offers a new dimension of biopolitics: a liberal biopolitics. Last, "The Birth of Biopolitics" causes room for pause in relation to Foucault's political identity. In fact, these studies of liberalism do not include any condemnation of the principle itself, and certain commentators believe that Foucault might even express a kind of sympathy for liberal ideology. Thus, this course from 1979 is truly unique, and raises many questions, especially how liberalism can constitute a biopolitics and can sustain citizens' rights.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Martina Tazzioli
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0014
[Africa, Mediterranean, Italy, Migration, Migrant, Arab Uprising, Movement, Emergent, Emergency]
In this chapter, I explore the spatialities of recent migrant upheavals around the Northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. My analysis focuses on three specific 'snapshots'—the North African Emergency, the 2011 upheavals in Italian detention centers, and the urban occupations of migrants in Brescia and Messa—demonstrating the coexistence of new spatial relations of exteriority. This exteriority consists of 'emergent' and 'emergency' aspects—'emergent' meaning the abrupt creation and 'emergency' meaning of a temporary nature. I argue that, if political technology continuously creates novel spaces in order to govern the movements of peoples, then reciprocally, the practices of migrants in response to these spaces not only challenge these spaces themselves, but also put into play different modalities of persisting within them. Thus, contra Agamben's designation of 'the camp' as the space of exception, I argue that the power over/of migrants' lives designates a space of ever unique and constantly heterogeneous exteriority.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0015
[Biopower, Biopolitics, Foucault, Agamben, Negri and Hardt, Race, Reproduction, Genomic Medicine]
In this chapter we undertake some conceptual clarification of the concepts of biopower and biopolitics, and argue for their utility in contemporary analysis. We consider Foucault's development of these concepts, and differentiate his view, which is close to ours, from the philosophical take-up of the terms by Giorgio Agamben and Antonio Negri. Biopower, we suggest, entails one or more truth discourses about the 'vital' character of living human beings; an array of authorities considered competent to speak that truth; strategies for intervention upon collective existence in the name of life and health; and modes of subjectification, in which individuals work on themselves in the name of individual or collective life or health. We argue that, while exceptional forms of biopower, especially in conditions of absolutist dictatorship, and when combined with certain technical resources, can lead to a murderous 'thanatopolitics'—a politics of death—biopower in contemporary states takes a different form. It characteristically entails a relation between 'letting die' (laissez mourir) and making live (faire vivre)—that is to say strategies for the governing of life. Using examples from our own current research, we consider recent developments in biopower around three themes: race, population and reproduction, and genomic medicine.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Ann Laura Stoler
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0016
[Race, Colonial Studies, Education of Desire, Sexuality, Normal, Abnormal, Imperial Politics]
Race and the Educations of Desire led me to pursue some issues that were more predictable than others. Engaging the interface of Foucault's work on the nature of racial discourse and on the history of sexuality prompted rethinking the technologies of colonial rule and their sites of production. What are the premises and "ready-made syntheses" that have made comparative studies of colonialism possible? Can one compare colonialisms without defining the protean criteria for assessing race? What sorts of comparisons are invidious, and which are not? What assumptions allow a comparison between "mixed-bloods" in the Indies and "coloreds" in South Africa and métis in Indochina? Such questions place comparison itself as a political project and incommensurable, non-viable comparisons as a political choice. The task of writing new colonial genealogies then is an opportunity of many sorts. It presses us to learn from Foucault as we push past his insights and push our own further to think harder about how the making of race has figured in placing sexuality at the center of imperial politics. I ask about the colonial state's investments in managing the assessment of what was normal and what was not; how the management of sexuality in part framed what sentiments could be expressed and to whom they could be directed. Colonial states had a strong interest in affective knowledge and sophisticated understanding of affective politics. While the politics of sentiment figures more centrally in my own work than Foucault's, I ask what we might glean from his insights and where we have not yet taken them.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-Roberto Esposito
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226226767.003.0017
[Totalitarian, Democracy, Hannah Arendt, Nazism, Jacob Talmon,, François Furet]
A philosophical interpretation of the twentieth century: what does such an expression refer to and what kind of weight do we want to give it? The first response is one that overturns its logic. Rather than subordinating the movement of history to the logic of a given philosophy, it sees events as consisting of elements that are themselves philosophical. Meaning is no longer stamped on events from an external philosophical perspective, but originates in and is constituted by facts themselves. Second, if contemporary events enjoy a philosophical depth, then our task is no longer to supply a proper meaning to how history is composed but rather to attend to the meaning that is originally present in events under examination. All this because history is constituted by the intersection of a number of different vectors of meaning that compete with each other. Events charged with significance, such as the attack on the Twin Towers, are precisely those that invert previous meanings and instantly open up new horizons of sense. These two modalities for understanding contemporary history – that of the more traditional philosophy of history and that of history as philosophy – are often confused and superimposed, and in my view they are mutually exclusive in their presuppositions and effects on meaning. These are the paradigms of totalitarianism and of biopolitics. What is certain, however, is that in order to begin thinking in this direction all of the old philosophies of history and all the conceptual paradigms that refer to them must be dismantled.
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press