- Biopower below and before the Individual
Paul B. Preciado, translated by Bruce Benderson
New York: Feminist Press, 2013. x + 427 pp.
Rachel C. Lee
New York: New York University Press, 2014. vi + 325 pp.
Kyla Wazana Tompkins
New York: New York University Press, 2012. xiv + 276 pp.
After being arrested in 1952 for public indecency and sexual perversion, Alan Turing was sentenced to estrogen injections that the Hollywood film Imitation Game (Tyldum 2014) portrays as destroying his manhood as well as his mind. Homosexuality was coincident with Turing’s greatness, The Imitation Game insists, but endogenous hormones were intrinsic to his brilliance.1 Yet the film also offers a glimpse into the larger political machinery in which Turing operated, a system that new queer studies scholarship on biopower helps illuminate. This broader frame renders Turing a figure unwittingly located at the nexus of three major vectors of Foucauldian biopower: the emergence of the homosexual as a medical-juridical subject, the administration of the population through the calculation of risk, and [End Page 629] the circulation of hormones as tactics of securitization. Turing had helped devise both a foolproof method of decoding Nazi communiqués and a systematic approach to choosing when to redirect targeted Allied missions away from the impending attack. There could not be a starker image of biopolitics: the rational computation of risk that sacrificed the majority of Allied sailors for the benefit of the war effort as a whole, which the film’s most poetic line extols as Turing’s “blood-soaked calculus.” Less than a decade later, however, Turing became a participant in another key development in biopower—the invention of medicalized gender—though this time he figured among the condemned. Midcentury medical and pharmacological techniques, Paul B. Preciado argues, led to the rise of the biomedical subjectivity “gender” as well as the broad circulation of hormones among the population: estrogen was soon to become the most widely marketed pharmaceutical molecule in history. Turing himself chose one year of estrogen treatment, also known as “chemical castration,” as an alternative to jail time, and although he complained of the resultant gynecomastia, he continued his work apace (Copeland 2014). Turing was thus not only the victim of the hormonal treatment of homosexuality but also a coerced participant in the rise of medicalized gender.
The books reviewed here, Preciado’s Testo Junkie, Kyla Wazana Tompkins’s Racial Indigestion, and Rachel C. Lee’s Exquisite Corpse, signal a significant turn in biopolitical theory. In this scholarship we can see the emergence of a third bio-political entity, one that plays a key role in Turing’s story. We might call the entity materializing in recent queer-feminist work “force.” Force materializes within and alongside the two social formations Michel Foucault named: the individual and the population. The individual is the product of disciplinary personhood, of the orchestration of social space to manage the individual organism, while the population is understood to be a biological phenomenon in its own right, characterized by rates of birth, death, illness, and economic productivity that become the very tactics of its administration. Force comprises affects, molecules, morsels, organs, microbes, animacies, tissues, cells, hormones, energies, textures, apertures, calories, pheromones, stimulations, and other particles and intensities that circulate throughout the individual, population, and milieu. Force exists adjacent to and within the administrative vectors of the individual and the population, circulating throughout a milieu independently, accumulating within and as persons, and forming links among matter that forge bodies and populations.2 Force helps turn a space into a milieu, an environment in which species and objects affect one another, even at a distance. Force aggregates as gender and racial difference, through the extraction and traffic in particles and vitalities that flow in and out of individual bodies and national populations, such as the increased estrogen streaming through Turing’s [End Page 630] body.3 Across these three books, regulating, marketizing, and optimizing the flow of force emerges as a key function of biopower.