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Biopolitical? Is That Like A Body Politic?

By on 10.10.08 | 3:08PM

I've taken plenty of obnoxious-sounding, esoterically-oriented graduate courses before, but this takes the cake. Official description of an NYU course offered next spring:

"Mediating the Biopolitical Body":

This seminar will engage the material histories, philosophy and political culture of embodiment/disembodiment. The body is situated as the interface of our era’s most contentious political terrains including human rights violations, epidermal stigma, gendered gazes, targeting gazes, and confinement in refugee, detention, torture and concentration camps. For Foucault the formation of the political subject is isomorphic to the formation of the body as a mediating and mediated site. The body has become the screen, the archive and the stylus for political inscription and encryption. For Foucault, Agamben and Esposito the political is concerned with producing forms of life as biopower-- the governing of life and death through subject forming and deforming body-media from surveillance to violence. Previously Hegel, Kojeve, Lacan and Fanon theorized political domination as the spectral occupation and inhabitation of one body by another. Derrida described the current war on terror as the shift from communitas to immunitas, to auto-co-immunity in which the body-politic sacrifices its actuality to protect itself as virtuality. In the above theories the body unfolds as the place where our current historical actuality originates and culminates in a politics of somatic virtuality centered on rogue bodies, illicitly circulating bodies, bodies of animality, disabled, and disabling bodies, and bodies of ideological and bio-medical contagion. 

We will examine the body as a political semiotechnique, as material support for political ideology and spectacle and as enabled/disabled by techno-political prosthetics and as the means of political virtualization. We will track several orienting genealogies of the body that roughly run from Hegel and Kojeve to Lacan and Fanon; from Spinoza, Nietzsche and Heidegger, to Deleuze, Foucault, Agamben, Esposito and Derrida; from Merleau-Ponty to Lefort and Ranciere. Among the themes to be explored are: exposability and disposability of the body; torture, embodied witnessing and truth; postcolonial typographies of the body; second bodies, subversive mimesis and political virtuality; political animality and monstrosity; communicable and excommunicated bodies; political violence as auto-immunization.

Only someone with a severe inferiority complex would feel compelled to use such preposterous words to describe what can very concisely be explained as a course on the political relevance of the body. There is no such thing as "biopolitical."

I bet the professor of this course goes up to grad students at Peculiar Pub and says stuff like, "I want to map my epidermal stigma on your biopolitical body."

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