This essay advances a new theory of biopolitics by first showing that the shortcomings of both Michel Foucault's and Giorgio Agamben's theories are due to the fact that they do not approach biopolitics as both a historically specific and a transhistorical phenomenon. Based on a synthetic reading of Karl Marx's analysis of capital, labor-power, and commodity fetishism; Spinozian monism; Lacanian psychoanalysis; Claude Lévi-Strauss's analysis of the incest prohibition and the relation between nature and culture; Georges Bataille's theory of religion; and Étienne Balibar's differentiation of state capitalism as the era of ideology and market capitalism as the era of commodity fetishism, this new theory argues that biopolitical mechanisms are organized around the transhistorical prohibition of self-referentiality—a prohibition that constitutes the very precondition for any society to function. It then traces the concrete historical manifestations of this prohibition from archaic societies through the state and sovereignty to capitalism and its distinct phases. After showing that the primary referent of the prohibition of self-referentiality is blood—as in the incest prohibition of archaic societies, that is, the interdiction of same-blood marriage—the essay follows the subsequent historical “transubstantiations” of blood through theocracy and sovereignty to state and market capitalism. It concludes by addressing the contemporary biopolitical need for a racism—defined, following Foucault, as the break between those worth living and those who must die—that is based on a radical reconceptualization of humans as immortal beings.
A. Kiarina Kordela; Biopolitics: From Tribes to Commodity Fetishism. differences 1 May 2013; 24 (1): 1–29. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2140573
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