Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Heimat of bio-power

I guess you follow a bit what happens in Italy at the moment. The baleful dwarf (alias Berlusconi) is not satisfied to have finally shown the farcical security of the Rechtsstaat, to have brought into light the smarmy level of decadence of more than a half of the Italian people and the criminal hypocrisy of Vatican land. These are quite important achievements, but he is not happy yet. What the dwarf seems to desire more than anything is the Foucaldian nightmare of bio-power. A law has just been made according to which only the Pope and the State (i.e. Berlusconi-Bonaparte) have the right to decide over the life and death of a young woman, who is in a vegetative state since 1992 ( Yet, this is not the bottom line. In the same week, the Italian Senate approved a law that obliges doctors to denounce “illegal” migrants if they ask for medical help. In other words, migrants have the choice either to die on the streets or in a jail.

The feeling of nausea is reaching unbearable levels. It is hard to comment on these events with a lucid analysis and without a profound distrust in humankind.
However, it is important to understand and bear in mind how strongly these epiphenomena are related to the present historical conjuncture, on the one hand, and to the intrinsic violence of capitalism on the other.
Foucault grasped well the ‘conjunctural’ level when, in The History of Sexuality, he described Biopower as the power over other bodies, “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations”. In Foucault’s account, the level of biopower is a step of sophistication of State power under the dominance of the capitalist mode of production (as I understand it).
Now, this level of ‘institutional’ violence over unarmed bodies, the constituent cruelty of capital, reminds me of what Marx writes at the very end of the second part of Capital Volume one. These words have always rumbled in my head as the most lucid portrayal of violence over a body, as the most tragic visual representation of De profundis.

“When we leave the sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which provides the “Free-trader vulgaris” with his views, his concepts and the standard by which he judges the society of capital and wage-labour, a certain change takes place, or so it appears, in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He who was previously the money-owner now strides out in front as a capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his worker. The one smirks self-importantly and is intent on business; the other is timid and holds back, like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing to expect but — a tanning” (p. 280).

Capitalist society, in the end, is a tannery!!


  1. Yes, a tannery - brilliant! So the Vatican shows its true fascist colours again.

  2. Hi Roli, yes they feel more comfortable now that fascism has been fully legitimised institutionally. There was an interesting article on Liberazione a couple of days ago on "right-wing gramscism". Fascists are the ones producing senso comune nowadays...