Saturday, November 17, 2007

Homo Sacer

This is not the U.S.--it's Canada this time: Vancouver. But this type of thing is extremely important, as it could easily have happened here, and has come to pass plenty of times in our recent past, so that it is slowly, inexorably becoming a fact of life, normal.

Here are the particulars: a Polish guy emigrating to Canada without speaking any English lands in the airport where he planned to meet his mother strightaway but gets stuck for 10 hours; he panics, throws a small table at the glass partition where he is stuck, but attracts the police; he gets tazed twice and dies on the spot. Ah--but the whole thing is being filmed by a nearby civilian, he hands over the tape to the cops, who at first refuse to return it. But now the thing is public; here is the BBC site.

Hideous, you'll agree.

It struck me as a poignant confirmation of Agamben's homo sacer thesis--from 1998 (i.e. years before 9/11). The thesis? The concentration camp, a space where extralegal atrocity is readily accessible and ready to hand, is potentially anywhere in the fabric of everyday life, where before the camp was localized behind barbed wire and guard towers.

I am not sure the police in the case will be prosecuted; if they are, that would show Canada tending to eliminate that kind of space from the fabric of its normal life. Good. Even so, the fact a decision has to be made about the case post factum, and in this case seems to be made without a clear conception of what is at stake, shows how dangerous our situation is: in the name of state interest, we are backing ourselves into an unprecedented position of subjection to political power. Sure, it might "make better sense" in the wake of 9/11, but can we back away from such subjection at any time after 9/11 when already such subjection is becoming routine?

"So what?" you say: "All that crap doesn't concern me. Why should I give a damn? I'm busy."

(1)Well now, get your Girard on; Agamben's sort of tendency confirms portions of Girard's thinking about the scapegoat, the Cross and satan. Looking for something to preach on Veterans' Day, or Independence day, or during Advent? Do you really want to "hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other"?

(2)Get your Foucault on, from the first volume of his History of Sexuality where he discusses biopolitics; Agamben builds on Foucault. It seems to me advocates of GC2003 could only cherry-pick from Foucault for "support". There isn't any solace there for anyone thinking of homo- or heterosexuality as authentic aspects of one's genuine self, where the task of liberation theology should be to expunge irrational repression from ecclesial institutions, say.

From a Foucault-informed point of view, the social construction of homosexuality as a discrete concept is old news, and even beside the main point; rather, GC2003 and associated drama in the Anglican Communion are symptoms of an extension of state power similar to that in evidence when police get to taze an innocent foreigner to death. Liberation may be a good thing, but it is played out against a backdrop of subjection to and penetration by political power left entirely intact--and even strengthened--by the movement to liberate.

Where to go with Agamben, Girard, Foucault? At the very least, we might get an initial impression of something potentially very big and very bad emerging in the "life of the christianist West" which seems rather different from the other bad things we might have expected to emerge, and of whose final shape we can only as yet scarcely imagine: some new, satanic, iron form of human degradation eventually destined--as all things opposing the Kingdom--to accompany those already consigned to the dustbin of history. But what exactly will emerge in the near term? How will all this develop?


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