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Technologies of Life and Death

From Cloning to Capital Punishment

Kelly Oliver

Publication Year: 2013

The central aim of this book is to approach contemporary problems raised by technologies of life and death as ethical issues that call for a more nuanced approach than mainstream philosophy can provide. To do so, it draws on the recently published seminars of Jacques Derrida to analyze the extremes of birth and dying insofar as they are mediated by technologies of life and death. With an eye to reproductive technologies, it shows how a deconstructive approach can change the very terms of contemporary debates over technologies of life and death, from cloning to surrogate motherhood to capital punishment, particularly insofar as most current discussions assume some notion of a liberal individual. The ethical stakes in these debates are never far from political concerns such as enfranchisement, citizenship, oppression, racism, sexism, and the public policies that normalize them. Technologies of Life and Death thus provides pointers for rethinking dominant philosophical and popular assumptions about nature and nurture, chance and necessity, masculine and feminine, human and animal, and what it means to be a mother or a father. In part, the book seeks to disarticulate a tension between ethics and politics that runs through these issues in order to suggest a more ethical politics by turning the force of sovereign violence back against itself. In the end, it proposes that deconstructive ethics with a psychoanalytic supplement can provide a corrective for moral codes and political cliches that turn us into mere answering machines.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: Moral Machines and Political Animals

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pp. 1-18

With advances in technoscience, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish nature from culture, the grown from the made. Geneticists can enhance the DNA of almost any living creature, including human beings. Cloning is a reality, no longer just the stuff of science fiction. New genetic engineering and organ transplantation technologies raise legal questions ...

Part One Sex Machines

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One Genetic Engineering: Deconstructing Grown versus Made

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pp. 21-50

The young runner Caster Semenya was propelled into the international media spotlight when she won the women’s world championship 800-meter race in Berlin in 2009. Her instant stardom was not the result of her being the fastest runner in the world, but rather because her competitors “accused” her of being a man and not a woman. The eighteen-year-old reportedly ...

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Two Artificial Insemination: Deconstructing Choice versus Chance

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pp. 51-82

In an age when a child could have as few as one or as many as three genetic parents, maternity and paternity have become tricky business. For example, only one “parent” is necessary for cloning, while current experiments make it possible to combine nuclear DNA from one woman, mitochondrial DNA from another woman, and DNA from a man’s sperm, which makes ...

Part Two Medusa Machines

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Three Girl Powered: Poetic Majesty against Sovereign Majesty

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pp. 85-114

Recently we’ve seen a growing fascination with girls and wolves, whether it is the virgin high-schooler Bella Swan from Twilight, whose best friend turns out to be a werewolf, or sixteen-year-old virgin Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, who hunts and kills wild dogs and other wild animals to feed her family and to have meat to trade for supplies, and is ...

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Four Rearview Mirror: Art, Violence, and Sublimation

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pp. 115-134

If we interpret deconstruction as a form of translation as transference, we have moved into the territory of psychoanalysis. Indeed, if poetic majesty acts to unseat sovereign majesty through the cut that carries with it rebirth, as in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, then psychoanalysis may be the discourse best equipped for articulating the dynamics of this wound ...

Part Three Death Machines

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Five Elephant Autopsy: Optic Machinery and the Scale of Sovereignty

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pp. 137-165

Derrida asks us to read (hear) his seminar The Beast and the Sovereign as a fable, similar to the fables of La Fontaine that punctuates the text. Just as La Fontaine’s fables often employ two (or more) characters—animals— to teach us lessons about political power, the seminar is the story of two characters—two animals—the beast and the sovereign, engaged in a life-and- death...

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Six Deadly Devices: Animals, Capital Punishment, and the Scope of Sovereignty

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pp. 166-187

Can animals be sentenced to death? Can they be assassinated, or become victims of genocide? Certainly in our common parlance, these dubious rights are reserved for man; murder, assassination, genocide, and the death penalty are proper to man alone. Even in death, we insist upon separating...

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Seven Death Penalties: Ethics, Politics, and the Unconscious of Sovereignty

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pp. 188-218

Insofar as Western philosophy, like Christianity, begins with a scene of capital punishment—that of Socrates being sentenced and put to death— doesn’t it also have its beginnings in the death penalty? Derrida answers that philosophers from Kant to Levinas justify the death penalty and “just” wars on the basis of lex talionis, which takes us back not only to its ...


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pp. 219-234


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pp. 235-254


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pp. 255-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780823251100
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823251087
Print-ISBN-10: 082325108X

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth