Notes on The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures of the Collège de France 1978-79. Michel Foucault, trans. Graham Burchen

Michel Foucault’s seminar of 1978-1979 at The Collège de France explores what “biopolitics” could be. Biopolitics is what explains why governmentality and governance are frugal at the end of XX century. What is at the core of the frugality of governmentality is population, and to understand this Foucault proposes to reconstruct the praxis of the English liberals, the German ordoliberals, and the American Neo-liberals. It is, afterall, that the XVIII century, present in other works of Foucault, was when many of what he calls “transaction realities” were born. To that extent, biopolitics is, like madness, civil society, literature, sexuality, and other notions explored by Foucault elsewhere, contingent technology. Such technologies “have not always existed [and] are nonetheless real, are born precisely from the interplay of relations of power which constantly eludes them, at the interface, so to speak, of governors and governed” (297). The problem, however, is that at the end of the last lecture, Foucault does not conclude with the announcement of biopolitics, but of, simply, politics. 

The disparity between what the seminar wishes to address, and what was addressed perhaps is not a minor detail. That is, the difference between politics and biopolitics is blurry. The concluding lines of the last lecture asks and concludes, “what is politics in the end, if not both the interplay of these different arts of government with their different reference points and the debate to which the different arts of government give rise? It seems to me that it is here that politics is born” (313). Politics, or biopolitics, then, is born when there are several arts of government at game, where there are different reference points. For an interplay to be the way various things affect each other, then, biopolitics is the terrain of affects, of the possibilities of what happens when two bodies interact with each other. While Foucault focuses on the XVIII and XIX centuries, one wonders if what is said about the civil society, that foundation of governmentality and government, could also apply to all forms of social organization. If civil society serving as the medium of economic bond “brings individuals together through the spontaneous converge of interests, [while] it is also a principle of dissociation at the same time” (302), and by extension, individuals do not get together by economic interests only, nor because they are naturally inclined to be together, then, individuals get together by a “de facto bond which links different concrete individuals to each other” (304). Civil society, and by extension biopolitics, is a tool of and for domination. The radical question that Foucault invites us to ask is if it could be possible to rethink domination, or if domination should be considered as something to overcome of the field of social organization. 

While the lectures do not address the problem of cohesion or domination, it is clear that all the reflections on what the market, or the individuals do are part of the supplement of power, of domination. That is, power only exists precisely because it cannot do certain things: it cannot dominate the market and cannot dominate the individuals fully. It happens then, that the homo oeconomicus, for instance, “strips the sovereign of power inasmuch as he reveals an essential, fundamental, and major incapacity of the sovereign, that is to say, an inability to master the totality of the economic field” (292). Inability moves power. And things stay, somehow, as the quote Foucault mentions in the first lecture, “do not disturb what is at rest.” In the other hand, things have never been, it seems, at rest. If politics have always been biopolitics, then, biopolitics is born every time something moves the habitual arrangement of that which seems at rest.  

Notes on Afropessimism (2020) by Frank B. Wilderson III

Frank Wilderson III’s Afropessimism offers a study of the meta-aporias that Black exposes to that thing we call Human. If an aporia is an impossibility, a meta-aporia is an impossibility about impossibility. For Wilderson, Black people “are both barred from the denouement of social and historical redemption and needed if redemption is to attain any form of coherence” (12). A wrench, a tool, that is also a sentient being, Black is that which presupposes and exceeds all claim to Humanity and social justice, all project of insurgence and revolution, and even all gender revindication. This precisely why “Black people embody (which is different from saying are always willing or allowed to express) a meta-aporia for political thought and action” (13). Hence, afropessimism “argues, Blacks are not Human subjects, but are instead structurally inert props, implements for the excecution of White and non-Black fantasies and sadomasochistic pleasures” (15). There is then, no possibility of understanding what Black is in terms of the Human. There is no analogy which can compare what the Black and the Human feel, want, do, or live. There is then, no other attitude than a radical pessimism when it comes to discussing race and by extension all that Human vainly proclaims as universal. 

Divided in 2 parts and an epilogue the book retells some passages that Wilderson himself lived. In between non-fiction but also theory, the book exposes to what extent every-day life of any Black person is positioned as the ultimate point of exhaustion but also redemption of all that is White and non-Black. That is, from daily habits as kids playing in an abandoned house, or university conferences, the Black sentient being is the one who both guarantees the ground zero of suffering and by the same token the possibility for reassembling all form of order and organization. Slavery, then, is not something dead and gone, but a paradigm impossible to split from Blackness. Black experience social death, “the knowledge and experience of day-to-day events in which the world tells you you are needed, needed as the destination for its aggressivity and renewal” (41). To put it in other words, the Latinx worker who suffers exploitation and discrimination in the United States, let’s say, comforts themselves at the end of a long day of work because after all, they are not Black. This comfort is precisely what allows the worker to return to work the day after and also what places Black as the infinite act played in a theatre of cruelty that uses and abuses of Black but does not include it as part of the characters of the play. 

The radical lesson of afropessimism is that “there was never a prior meta-moment of plenitude, never equilibrium: never a moment of social life” for Blackness, and by addition for the Human. To that extent, afropessimism shows that there is no hegemony nor civil society, or if they exist, they only do as sadomasochistic fictions rituals that guarantee White and non-Black existence as Humas. Since Blackness cannot be separated from Slavery, then, there is no possibility of understanding a Black time nor space. Even violence refuses to give explanations of what Blackness entails. Since the Black is the one that who embodies “a regime of violence that bore no resemblance to the regimes of violence that subjugated /subjugates the others [the Humans]” (216), violence is always connected to Slave violence, an open-ended relationship. Then, the Slave suffered, the Black suffers, the Black suffered, the Slave suffers. White violence can be causal, provoked, but the violence that the Black suffers is “gratuitous, without reason or constraint; triggered by prelogical catalysts that are unmoored from her transgressions and unaccountable to historical shifts” (216-217). There is, then, only the chance to refuse politics, to refuse to affirm the Human, and rather to embrace disorder and all the possibilities that civil war could open, as this precisely “becomes the unthought, but never forgotten, understudy of hegemony” (251). In the struggle of all against all Humanity crumbles, something else breaths and feels. 

Desfacedor de entuertos y malas cuentas. Notas a Imperiofilia y el populismo nacional católico (2019) de José Luis Villacañas

Si José Luis Villacañas hubiera sabido que todo lo que trataba de prevenir y denunciar en Imperiofilia y el populismo nacional católico (2019) iba a reactualizarse, reforzarse y volverse el pan de todos los días en estos días de pandemia en España, quizás Villacañas hubiera escrito otro libro, o tal vez no. La importante tarea que motiva a Imperiofilia no es sólo la de responder a Imperiofobia y leyebda negra. Roma, Rusia, Estados Unidos y el Imperio español de María Elvira Roca Barea, sino también reformar cierto “amor” por España. Esto es, si Roca Barea denuncia el miedo a “la grandeza española” por parte de otras naciones europeas, Villacañas denuncia el desmedido amor a España. Desde esta perspectiva, Imperiofilia es menos un libro de amor loco por la patria y más uno que procura modular y sopesar el amor nacional. Entre Imperliofilia Imperiofobia hay, entonces, dos polos afectivos, uno movido por el amor loco, otro por el miedo y la victimización. Roca Barea representa populismo “intelectual reaccionario” que actúa bajo criterios que clásicos del populismo (un necesario otro exterior constituyente, un enemigo para atacar y unir al grupo para marcar un nosotros y un ellos) pero también lleva al extremo la necesidad de destruir al enemigo, de demonizarlo y acabarlo (14). Las lecciones de Imperiofilia, entonces serían “desfacer” los entuertos de Imperiofobia, pues “su esencia reside en mezclarlo todo, confundirlo todo, y en ese maremágnum no ofrecer razón atendible, sino solo un tu quoque infinito” (14). Villacañas, entonces, apuesta por un populsimo intelectual mesurado y comprensivo, que no mezcla y no confunde, que da buenas razones y sobre todo trata de evitar el “fácil” tu quoque. El problema, por otra parte, radica en que dentro de la hegemonía todo a la larga es un tu quoque. 

Todo el libro de Imperiofilia es una corrección a Imperiofobia. Lejos de escribir como Roca Barea, que se excita con todo. Recorre los siglos, acumula noticias que le afectan y como el penitenciario en Semana Santa le duelen los latigazos sobre la espalda desnuda” (109-110), Villacañas escribe desde “la distancia adecuada” (como se repite varias veces en el libro). Así, saber bien de política, de historia y de cualquier cosa en general es saberse medir, saber calcular. Sin arriesgarse mucho, la lección de libro sería saber medir el miedo y el amor. Pues amobs no están mal, pero hay que tener dosis adecuadas de éstos. El asunto es que la medida de los afectos y su posterior cristalización en emociones o su devenir máquina en pasiones, no responden nunca a una fórmula adecuada. De hecho, el mismo Villacañas parece sugerir que no es tarea fácil determinar cómo es que ciertas cosas nos han afectado y luego éstas se cristalizan en la vida cotidiana. Cuando se escribe sobre la inquisición, se dice que lo necesario sobre esta institución: 

 “es que los españoles logremos un relato de la manera en que nos afectó esta institución y apreciemos lo específico de la misma, no que nos enrolemos en una guerra de cifras y de muertes, de pequeños detalles sin densidad significativa. Lo relevante es lo que significó para nosotros como pueblo y la manera en que afectó a la constitución de nuestra inteligencia y a la formación de elites; a la manera de ejercer la dirección y de lograr obediencia y confianza” (143) 

Si es tan difícil saber eso que la inquisición significó y cómo afectó a “la inteligencia y a la formación de élites”, ¿cómo presuponer que “el pueblo” (o un pueblo) estuvo ahí para recibir esos afectos?, ¿no es más bien, como se sugiere en otras secciones del libro, que en “los gloriosos años del imperio” la formación social de la península ibérica era múltiple y por tanto carente de una idea de pueblo?, ¿no es más bien que precisamente la inquisición afecto a “España y las colonias” al grado de convertirlas en pueblo? Consecuentemente, esos “detalles sin densidad significativa” se convertirían en los resabios de aquello que procuró la formación de pueblo. 

De hecho, las diferencias entre los enfoques de Villacañas y Roca Barea están en las formas de contar, ya sea la historia y/o los “detalles sin densidad significativa” que forman la historia. Para Villacañas, Roca Barea se la pasa contando, acumulando, para ella “todo reside en saber quién mató más” (111) entre la Inquisición y el Calvinismo. Al mismo tiempo, cuando se llega a discutir la lista de libros prohibidos por la inquisición, Villacañas comienza su conteo de detalles nimios. “No hace falta recorrer todo el índice del 1922 para darnos cuenta de que para la casta sacerdotal que guiaba con paso firme a la humanidad católica hacia la ciencia y el progreso, no se podía leer nada de la historia del pensamiento humano” (205). Desde esta perspectiva, se puede decir que la fobia y la filia del Imperio invitan a que a las masas, y a las élites conservadoras, los conmueven los muertos y a la “valiente” sociedad civil, la prohibición de libros. Si dentro de los “juegos” populistas todo es conteo y suma, espejo y reflexión para proyectar a y en un “otro” aquello que “uno” no quiere ser, ¿de qué le sirve a la política contar(se)? A su vez, sin la cuenta, ¿cómo saber que el “eterno retorno” y la línea progresiva de la historia han cambiado? Tal vez valga menos “desfacer” enredos y proyectar otros afectos, incluso, tal vez, desde la risa, como el cómico Ignatius Farray ya lo ha sugerido: más valdría jugar a una verdad y un conteo afectivo, que a una reparación emotiva, didáctica y empalagosa.