Cary Wolfe – Biopolitics, Biopower, and the (Non-Human) Animal Body

Event Date 14 June 2011
Flett Lecture Theatre
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road (Exhibition Rd Entrance)
London SW7 5BD


Unruly Creatures: The Art and Politics of the Animal

The London Graduate School is holding a one-day conference at the Natural History Museum on June 14 2011 entitled ‘Unruly Creatures: The Art and Politics of the Animal’. Its purpose is to analyse and discuss the numerous ways in which animals have been used in contemporary art and the humanities, the political and philosophical implications of this use, and, especially, the manner in which animals have also resisted such employment. With examples taken from philosophy, fine art, and recent films by Phillip Warnell and Vinciane Despret, we will examine whether there is an art, politics, and thinking that is peculiarly ‘animal’.

Cary Wolfe (Rice University) – Biopolitics, Biopower, and the (Non-Human) Animal Body

One of the central insights of biopolitical thought since Foucault is that the body itself, in the broadest possible sense, becomes the direct object of political power, eclipsing the “thin” subject of law and rights anchored in the political paradigm of sovereignty. To put it more bluntly still, under biopolitics in its modern form, we are all potentially “animals” before the law (“before” here meant in both senses). Moreover, one of the key contributions of biopolitical thought in Foucault, Agamben, Esposito, and others is to realize that the distinction between bios (or political form of life) and zoe (or bare life) is not entirely isomorphic with the distinction between “human” and “animal.” They are floating distinctions which may be superimposed on each other in diverse ways for strategic political ends. While this fact has led to an overwhelmingly thanatopolitical drift in contemporary biopolitical thought (not least, under the influence of Agamben’s reading of the Nazi death camps as the hidden nomos of the political space in which we are still living), I am interested in asking whether this redefinition of the political body might contain an affirmative potential, one that puts all the more emphasis on our taking seriously the shared subjection of human and non-human animals to the dispositifs of biopolitical power. In this light, we will want to ask, for example, whether in fact factory farming in its contemporary form is not just an ethical issue but also, in the era of biopolitics, a directly political one.








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