The Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities
Georgetown University Law Center
Washington, DC
6–7 March 2015

The Human Right to Die

From Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp to Pelican Bay State Prison, in recent years a discourse of human rights has been mobilized to justify the forced feeding of hunger striking prisoners. Keeping alive at all costs, the biopolitical logics of forced feeding are counterposed to suicide, which is presented as an aberration of human life, a temporary deviance in need of correction. Taking solitary confinement as its scene of study, this paper considers suicide as thanatopolitical—that is, as a threat to, interruption of, and corporeal critique of neoliberal biopolitics. But it is not simply death, in opposition to bare life, that is at stake for the suicide: it is what Blanchot theorizes as “the Openness of a community.” This Openness is a condition for human rights, which must be founded in community, and not upon bare biological life. In other words, “the right to have rights,” to use Arendt’s phrase, depends upon the relevance of speech, which is radically undermined by solitary confinement, but which nevertheless emerges in flickering moments of solidarity across the solitary archipelago. Conceived in this manner, the Openness of community must be underwritten by suicide—the only death that actively contests the biopolitical state power “to make live and let die.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s