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  • Technology Tomorrow, Terror Today – Campbell’s Improper Life
  • Tamkin Hussain (bio)
Timothy C. Campbell, Improper Life: Technology and Biopolitics from Heidegger to Agamben, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. $25.00 (paper) $75.00 (cloth). 232 pages. ISBN 978-0-8166-7465-7

The ontology of Being and biopolitics form a dialectical limit to each other, wherein the problem of situating death as an object of thought presents itself. Campbell’s study is a synchronic demonstration of how “techne” as originating in Heidegger’s conception of Being has resulted in a legacy of biopolitical thought that continues to regard technology as a pernicious indicator of global overdeterminism, constructing an “impolitical” human stripped of agency only to hurl into the impending apocalypse of its own theoretical making. If biopolitics is to confront its own futurity as an affirmative praxis, it must begin by reconfiguring its history by identifying tendencies of conceptual binarism, which have implicitly snowballed into an institution of thanatology, witnessed in the inability of contemporary political theory to reconcile community with individual creativity.

At the heart of his meticulous undertaking, (encompassing biopolitics from its transcendental roots up to its “critical immanences”), loom two issues: firstly, a critique of the space of separability within iteration, tantamount to the separation of the human and the technical; the human and the animal; the divine and the mortal; communal and individual; life and death. Second is the question of operability of such divisions as the spatial arbitrator of succor, in the imperative of protection by presupposing threat prior and external to life itself. For Campbell, these two tendencies mark the fatal drift of biopolitics towards what he (borrowing from Foucault) terms as a “crypto-thanato-politics.” The task of philosophy today is “thinking life beyond merely zoē and bios.”1 A negation of thanatopolitics, according to Campbell, must isolate the provenance of death within life, and along with it all the processes of dehistoricization and divestiture of man, which have resulted in the ossification of action under the pretext of one’s alienation within modern networks of linguistic transcription. In other words, the brunt of opprobrium must be borne by ontology itself.

Campbell rests the weight of his entire argumentative trajectory upon a re-examination of Heidegger’s notion of the proper (Eigentlichkeit) in relation to the hand that writes as opposed to the improper of the hand that types. This produces “an ontological tear” (2) whereby “life [becomes] divided against itself” (33). The result is a dangerous complicity between the machinery of death and power regimes, which remains unquestioned within the biopolitical tradition including Agamben, Esposito, Foucault and Sloterdijk. However, the vector of thanatopolitics is coterminous to metaphysics, whose main malefactor, in Campbell’s viewpoint, is Heidegger. As such, Campbell’s concern is neither an archeology of Being in Foucault’s sense, nor an investigation of “the essential equivocity of the ‘end of man’”2 in Stiegler’s or Derrida’s vein, but rather a break with ontological paradigms, which in his opinion, necessarily lead to an overdetermination of Dasein. The predominance of Being is the paradoxical consequence of the gap between the proper and the improper of writing, which does not anticipate a positive future for humanity, but rather opens a limitless gap of empty waiting where nothing arrives upon the horizon. Campbell criticizes the movement of “appropriation” as a search for “a more originary relation of revelation to man’s own proper essence,” (14) which he emphasizes is for Heidegger the modern, Western man. Technicity as temporal extension given in the difference between appearance and withdrawal, endlessly replicates the difference between the proper and the improper, making man a helpless object of technology. The spectral replication of the improper exposes the essence of man as threatened, making possible the entry of death within life. Such is the dilemma of the withdrawal of Being.

[What] Heidegger doesn’t state explicitly, namely, that the greater or lesser use of technology can in fact be used by states or political parties to create a situation in which it becomes easier to take the lives of those from whom Being has withdrawn


Campbell proceeds to designate Gestell (the mode of revelation as destining...

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