Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Mark of Cain and the Biopolitics of the Flesh In Negative Certainties

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. [Gen. 4:13-16, NIV]

Cain was mistaken: he thought he was fated to be the first homo sacer, but the Lord said 'not so.'  If we take as points of departure Agamben's paradox of sovereignty in his Homo Sacer, and Marion's coalescence of 'proscription' and 'prescription' as the event of such sovereignty in Negative Certainties, we might conclude that there can be no univocity of sovereignty between God and the agency of the 'state of exception.' Indeed, to predicate sovereignty of God is to commit the idolatry of the concept. God does not place Cain under the ban, but instead, in a subversion of sovereignty, marks Cain as not only unsacrificeable, but un-killable a well. Even as the soil cries out the blood of Abel, God does not deem Cain unworthy of life; his life is given to posterity in a generosity inconsistent with sovereignty.

While Marion nods to Foucault and Antelme (The Human Race), there is no trace of a nod to Agamben, even in Marion's most political statement yet:

...even the philosopher, and perhaps he above all, has the means to confirm and thus also to put into question the humanity of other men: it is enough to establish that man defines himself as Greek, European, Aryan and so on...thus defining in the end which are not human. Every political proscription, every racial extermination, every ethnic cleansing, every determination of that which does not deserve to live: they all rest on the claim to define (scientifically or ideologically, because in the end the difference is canceled out) the humanity of man...(NC, 36).

Certainly Agamben's work resonates in these lines: when prescription melts into proscription, and biopolitics (Marion's science and ideology) determines the humanity (the bare life) of man,  determines the very status of man as included and/or excluded and therefore as the exception, determines even the status of man as undeserving of life, Marion describes the historical event of sovereignty. Forms of life (bios) collapse into 'bare life' (zoe) in proximity to sovereignty; these terms as appropriated by Agamben play out in the phenomenon of the flesh and its diminishment to the body in Marion's analysis of the medical gaze, the un sans papiers, and the 'economic agent,' all of which are versions of the biopolitical commodification of the human being. The flesh/body distinction under the medical gaze points to a certain hylomorphism: the ego is the form of the flesh, as (in classical sacramental theology) the soul is the form of the body. As the human creature is always a saturated phenomenon to itself, even the sovereign (himself a human creature) of the polis cannot legitimately declare the homo sacer, though as the agent outside the law that bans the sacred man to both inside and outside the law, he, as the Zizekian pervert par excellence, overturns the non-intersecting registers of the real and symbolic orders, and writes the real into the symbolic without translation. The flesh as saturated phenomenon finds its excess not in distance, but in closeness---relationality approaches not infinity but zero, as the flesh cannot see itself as self or ego. By rendering both 'forms of life' and 'bare life' as objectness, the perverted sovereign stages a bizarre hylomorphism and sacramentality: the sacrament of sovereignty is the man who is unsacrificeable and killable.

Agamben notes:

One of the essential characteristics of modern biopolitics (which will continue to increase in our century) is its constant need to redefine the threshold in life that distinguishes and separates what is inside from what is outside. Once it crosses over the walls of the oikos and penetrates more and more deeply into the city, the foundation of sovereignty – non political life – is immediately transformed into a line that must be constantly redrawn. Once zoē is politicized by declarations of rights, the distinctions and thresholds that make it possible to isolate a sacred life must be newly defined. And when natural life is wholly included in the polis – and this much has, by now, already happened – these thresholds pass, as we will see, beyond the dark boundaries separating life from death in order to identify a new living dead man, a new sacred man.  (Homo Sacer, 77).

Marion, in apparent sympathy with this delineation of 'threshold,' can observe, that under the medical gaze, 'the suffering of my flesh will be transmuted into a disease of my body' (CN, 28). Because the flesh is immense, only the parameters of the body fall under the physician's eye, which can only see that body as a machine defined by numbers (e.g., laboratory values), and whose gaze "opens the fearsome region where man as doctor must decide if, and when, that which the machine maintains as functioning in this particular sick man still deserves consideration  as a life. And if this life can still claim to be human" (CN, 28). The very threshold that delineates sovereignty's distinction of 'inside from...outside' is a clinical threshold. The very anthropometrics Agamben identifies in the politicization of bare life, for Marion become the biometrics that determine identity in the event of sovereignty--- the proscription and prescription of the unpapered being, whose identity requires an ever escalating 'constant verification' (CN, 34). For Agamben's "new living dead man," that verification is always sought but never comes, even as the sovereign becomes for the sacred other, the object of desire, ever so bitterly, in the jouissance of sovereignty itself.

Marion's analysis of King Lear sympathizes with Agamben's axiom that "The camp is the space that is opened when the state of exception begins to become the rule. In the camp, the state of exception, which was essentially a temporary suspension of the rule of law on the basis of a factual state of danger, is now given a permanent spatial arrangement, which as such nevertheless remains outside the normal order" (Homo Sacer, 96). While there is no actual 'camp' in the tragedy, the conceptual space drives the action: the reduction of Lear from bios to zoë, from sovereign to persona non grata, from a state of ousia to a state of non-being. The permanence in Lear is not all that permanent, of course, and the reintegration of what it means to be human with the politics of the tragedy requires the reestablishment of love at great personal cost.  The stakes are always high when the very definition of the human creature must rest in its indefinition in order to maintain humanity itself.

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