- Unpolitical LifeMichel Henry and the Real Limits of Biopolitics
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What is outside politics? This is an increasingly important question that is difficult to answer in a time when the globe has been fully claimed by the system of the nation-states, when there is no longer terra incognita to absorb the excesses of modern politics and, most importantly, when life itself has become the object of political interventions. In modernity politics tends to account for the totality of human experiences and interactions and appears as the means of “salvation” of secularized Western societies from their “wrongs.” However, in order to avoid a tendency toward a new form of totalitarianism, politics must direct its gaze toward its exteriority, which is the task of thinking the unpolitical. What is at stake here, then, is a reconstitution of the “great outdoors” of politics,1 which would allow a non-objectifiable experience of living to play a role in presenting what might constitute happy life, togetherness, and community.
In order to open up to the possibilities of living differently in this world and, perhaps, of transforming this world, I will present a case for living that is not uniformly defined in political terms. In the midst of the numerous attempts to rethink politics, so that this politics, in turn, becomes capable of addressing the problems that haunt contemporary societies, my call for an unpolitical perspective is a call for an articulation and affirmation of the possibilities of thinking, living, and being together that are free from political conceptions and demands. Importantly, this project is not an affirmation of apathy, withdrawal, or political absenteeism. It is not a rejection of politics, but rather a recognition of the unpolitical “inner” reality of living that is prior to any manifestation of the political. The unpolitical outlines a ground for the unconditional experience of living and enjoying life amid the multiplicity of its projections in the world.
The scholarly attention to the question of the outside of politics is often framed in terms of “negative politics,”2 of what remains unthought in modern political thought, and what can be eventually brought into the light of political “consciousness.” Unpolitical thinking also originates in the repressed or the unconscious of modern political philosophy: it begins where politics does not dare to go in the fear of its disappearance. However, the unpolitical does not demand a definition of its experience in terms of mere negative politics; it does not look up to the political but signifies its displacement.
An example of unpolitical thinking that goes beyond the concerns of political negativity is the recent work of Laurent Dubreuil, who postulates the problem of the totalizing tendency of the political in a way similar to the one advanced here. Dubreuil maintains that “many contemporary thinkers forget what even Aristotle had not omitted: the totalizing ambition of politics should be contradicted by an affirmation of life itself, notwithstanding the political order that attempts to contain it.”3 Dubreuil’s efforts are motivated by “the dream of breaking away not only from the police, but also from all forms of politics and the political,” resulting in the affirmative contradiction of “apolitics.”4 The latter is envisioned as “a movement of critique, refusal, separation, and proclamation where those involved, while not losing sight of the fact that policies may clash, still insist that it is inherently insufficient to simply settle wrongs.” The settlement of these wrongs is at stake for politics, the task of which is to organize and manage lives merely “lived,” while apolitics “simply allows us to make life more livable.”5 This notion [End Page 85] of “livable life” constitutes the ground for Dubreuil’s project of the affirmative refusal of politics.6
In a similar way, the main suggestion of this essay is that the unpolitical can be found in the real experience of living beyond politics. However, contrary to Dubreuil’s understanding of apolitics, i.e., as instances of exposing livable lives in terms of “a refusal” or “a rupture that would not be integratable” into politics, I see the unpolitical as the a priori of politics and not an instance of rupturing...