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differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 14.1 (2003) 125-162

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Technologies of Humanness, Aporias of Biopolitics, and the Cut Body of Humanity

Athena Athanasiou

What is nazism if not also the worst moment in the history of technology? “Worst” can serve as a rhetorical qualification of “moment,” which may not be restricted or an indication of closure. The worst moment in the history of technology may not have an off switch, but only a modality of being on.

—Ronell 16

Today politics knows no value (and, consequently, no nonvalue) other than life, and until the contradictions that this fact implies are dissolved, Nazism and fascism—which transformed the decision on bare life into the supreme political principle—will remain stubbornly with us.

—Agamben, Homo Sacer 10

Technologies of the Human at the Limit of Representation

How does one reckon the technologies of the human? But there is no such thing as the human. Instead, there is only the dizzying multiplicity of the cut human, the human body as interminably cut, fractured. In the clefts of history and at the limits of representation, the cut body of humanity tells the story of the indeterminability that haunts the dreams and nightmares of the “fully there.”

In this essay, my inquiry concerns technology and the human, though not technologies that humans use, invent, invoke, hail, or deploy in order to overcome the limitations or shortcomings tied to the human body and its nature. I propose, rather, to set out in the opposite direction; I propose a meditation on the technologies that define, circumscribe, enact, constitute, and reconstitute the very intelligibility of that which is human. This will, I hope, lead us to look at technology not as an organic instrumental totality of fulfillment or alienation, but rather as a condition of the human and the fractionings that form the scarred horizon of its cultural signification. In its multiple registers of ontological and [End Page 125] topological genealogy, namely, the demand for the genesis of the new, the promise of eternally renewing metamorphosis, the lingering specter of the catastrophic eschaton, or the always emerging monstrous contamination, technology is related to birth and death, the intercorporeal tension between life and death, with reproducibility as a pulsation animating its workings and unworkings. What follows, then, is a reflection on the ways in which “technology” and the “human” determine and in-determine each other as conditions of possibility in the disciplinary realm of biopolitics, where the very intelligibility of life/non-life, as well as body/non-body, is supposedly managed in late modernity.

What will centrally concern me here is the aporia at the heart of technomediated representation, this supplement of presence (parousia) and authority (exousia) that stands in for the body in the absence (apousia) of the body. In the proper sense of the word, if such a thing exists, representation is modeled on the vestigial fluctuations of essence (ousia) between presence and absence, rupture and substitution. In the wake of the endless finitude of the human that exceeds any representational appropriation in the age of political mass death, representation assumes a special connection to the figure of death and thus implicates a rhetoric of limits, an exigency of terminal symptoms.

I attempt to read the contours, some of the limits and intersections, of representation, sovereignty, technology, annihilation, and the human in the context of the return, or perhaps persistence, of biopolitical sovereignty in the contemporary world. Inevitably, then, this essay touches not only upon the insurmountable aporetic rifts that define the splits of the human in relation to the Other body (in particular, the persecuted, injured, or slain body) and the limits of human relation to the death of the Other, but also upon the relation of such splits and limits to language, in their very being-in-language. I take my cue from Judith Butler’s significant formulation of the inevitable co-implication—“chiasmic relation”—between language and the body:

The body is given through language but is not, for that reason, reducible to...


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pp. 125-162
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Archived 2004
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