Esposito – Chapter 3 notes “Biopolitics and Biopotentiality”

Esposito here goes to Nietszche to provide an alternative genealogy of the biopolitical. This clearly dovetails with his account in chapter 1 of the semantic origins of the term. See p. 82:

“The grand politics places physiology above all other questions – it wants to rear humanity as a whole, it measures the range of the races, of peoples, of individuals according to…the guarantee of life that they carry within them. Inexorably it puts an end to everything that is degenerate and parasitical to life.”

Nietszche lacks the specific word “biopolitics” but in most other ways is closer here to Foucault’s rendering in the College de France lectures than, for example, the French “neo-humanists.” But Esposito is going to Nietszche to do many different things. He’s also drawn on for his vitalism and political immanence (mirroring the organists and Schmitt), his emphasis on the “tumult of bodies and proliferation of errors,” as opposed to the supposed importance of grand principles, and the spread of polyvalent conflicts that give the lie to contractualism. (p. 80)

Nietszche is also seen as fundamentally ambiguous, anti-modern, capable of recognizing immunity (p. 89) as a central dynamic, but also obsessed with “cleanliness,” (p. 96), as is also evident in the first quote above. His aristocratic impulse elaborates another linkage with race war as a historical trajectory, and Esposito usefully cites de Boulainviller as a source for Nietszche. Foucault also draws on the French aristocrat (it seems clear that this is the source material for the discussion at the end of the College de France lecture we read, which wasn’t specifically traced to sources older than Marx in that edition); de Boulainviller was a late 17th century hyper-aristocrat and court intellectual, translated Spinoza, and developed an early theory of race war as a way to implicate the French sovereign as being compromised in an alliance with the racially-inferior 3rd Estate (from Wikipedia).

Nietszche is put into tension with himself at multiple points, but ultimately remains ambiguous. Ambiguities include:

The role of decadence (p. 97)

Nietszche’s “subaltern” position regarding immunization and nihilism (p. 96) Survival/will to health vs. the will to power (p. 87)

Of course, the relationship to “parasites.”

The discussion of bodies and conflict, and the limits of individuality, on p. 83-84 was very helpful. The question of Nietzsche’s blockage, in his “negation of the negation” regarding immunity leads to a very concise summary of the issue of immunity and its limits at the bottom of p. 96.

I preferred to read this chapter as a whirlwind exegesis of political Nietszche, and was skeptical of its resolution in the “Posthuman” section. Esposito evokes the individualist Nietszche but never really seems to put him into tension with the biopolitical Nietzsche constructed in this chapter. The Gay Science is a frequent reference point, and I couldn’t help but go back to aphorism 283, “Preparatory Human Beings” (“live dangerously, build your cities on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius,” etc.) and related passages, which seem to provide a much more chaotic, aristocratic conception of self-overcoming. At one point, Esposito argues that Nietzsche is more fruitful a source than Foucault on these questions, but ultimately the question of biopotentiality and Nietzsche’s contribution to it is ambiguous.

This is important because Nietzsche is obviously seen as a potential source for the affirmative biopolitics that Esposito seeks. Maybe we can work together to try and unpack exactly where that happens, vs. where Nietzsche appears very differently (as a source for thanatopolitics)?

Various questions remain for me. One is the issue of exteriority, vs. “interiorization,” see the discussion of childbirth on p. 108. This seems like a framing bipolarity, also related to vitalism as a whole impulse, but I don’t have the background on it.


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