Life, in Theory
European Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts
3–6 June 2014
Towards an Etho-Rhetorical Critique of “Affirmative” Biopolitics
This paper stages an encounter between Heidegger and Foucault, offering an ontology of care as a critical response to recent scholars who propose an “affirmative” biopolitics (Campbell, Esposito, Hardt & Negri, Rose, Santner). Heidegger’s Being and Time characterizes human being as “distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.” This self-reflexivity revolves around the ontological structure of care. In his late work, Foucault turns to the Hellenistic “care of the self” (epimeleia heautou) and argues that the self’s relation to itself represents an ethic of care. For both thinkers the tropological constitution of the human subject is paramount. My contention is that “affirmative” biopoliticians have not understood the rhetoricity of narrative and are caught within a utilitarian, neoliberal ethic. I offer a reading of the crucial midway point of Being and Time (§42), where Heidegger cites Hyginus’ first-century CE fable, “Care [Cura].” Significantly, this is the only moment in which his text deploys narrative, mythological or otherwise. I examine this radical shift in rhetorical registers and argue that the fable, which narrates the creation of the human, also functions performatively by prompting a meditation on language and death.Foucault’s “care of the self” is relevant here because the self-relation is rhetorical, based on the non-instrumental understanding of “use” (chresis). Care, then, is the “use” the self makes of itself, mediated through an aesthetics of existence—a rhetorical conception of life (bios), evidenced through Foucault’s final lectures on the fabled death of Socrates.