Rhetoric Society of America Conference
San Antonio, TX
22–26 May 2014

Pronouncing Death: Biopolitical Affirmations

What, then, calls me into question most radically? Not my relation to myself as finite or as the consciousness of being before death or for death, but my presence for another who absents himself by dying.     —Blanchot, The Unavowable Community 

The suicide bomber is unimaginable: irreparably irrational, radicalized, Islamicized. However, few figures circulate more widely in the War on Terror, operating as its ultimate raison d’être. This paper argues that the suicide bomber is the “unimaginable” and generalized face of “the terrorist”—enemies of the state who will their own deaths, revoking their lives, such that killing is little more than passively “letting die” those who are figured as “already dead,” unsurvivable. To kill is little more than pronouncing death, a biopolitical pronouncement spoken anonymously in the name of life itself. The sovereign spectacle of the scaffold is displaced by a disappearing public sphere: “black sites” like Guantanamo, the vaporized victims of drone strikes, clandestine burial at sea. Producing the death it disavows, foreclosing on compassion and identification with the dead, what hope is left for an ethical intervention in the War on Terror? In whose voice would it speak?

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