Friday, November 02, 2007



DEATH AS THE FINAL ESCAPE?



Foucault is endlessly fascinating in his elliptical and paradoxical conclusions. I have been reading his lectures at the College De France from 1976 which dealt mostly with the theme of war as the determining factor in civil society. In a nutshell, the dynamics of power in a state are determined by the results of the last war it fought in. Fascinating as this idea is, I was taken by another point in one of the lectures. Foucault tells us that since the 19th century the state has practiced a kind of bio-control with its plethora of statistics and information about life expectancy, population growth and medical treatment of illness. Foucault makes the point that before the 19th century death was seen as an occasion for a great ceremony that symbolically marked the transition from earthly to heavenly dominion. However, since the onset of bio-control death has been hidden away as the secret that cannot speak its name. In fact, Foucault makes the point that death has replaced sex as the taboo subject in modern society. The reason, for this, according to Foucault, is that death represents something that bio-control doesn't want to admit to: the limits of its own power. Death is precisely the moment when the individual is finally able to escape from the all encompassing power of the bio-state. The individual, upon his/her death retreats into a region where the bio-state no longer has dominion and, for this reason, it faces bureaucracy with the reality of its own inevitable failure.

Now this is all very interesting, but it occurred to me that it might be possible to give an extra Foucauldian twist to this idea. Is the call for the abolition of the death penalty no more than an attempt by the bio-state to maintain its power over criminals for a little longer? Surely, to immediately send them off to a place where the bio-state can no longer touch them, no longer control them, doesn't seem like a punishment at all. Why not keep them alive and in suffering instead?

An appropriately Foucauldian--if somewhat Mephistophelian--thought!

3 Comments:

Blogger pluto85 said...

Illuminating!

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Deleuze said...

Original piece.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous sarchetto said...

I read it, and I think I agree, although I never experienced life under a death penalty government. The passage from 'let's educate them in the next, say, thirty years' to 'let us get rid of them for the sake of your safety' would result uncomprehensible to me.

12:59 PM  

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