The Birth of Immunopolitics

First pages of an essay published on Parrhesia and translated by Arne De Boever:

Click to access parrhesia10_neyrat.pdf

(This essay was first published as the introduction to the French translation of Roberto Esposito’s Termini della politica, titled Communauté, immunité, biopolitique: Repenser les termes de la politique [Paris: Les Prairies Ordinaires, 2010]))

There is a threat hanging over forms of life today. They groan under the oppression of an entire global apparatus of political decisions, economic practices, and techno-industrial constructions. And this disconcerting weight is properly speaking not even “hanging over” us, given that today, we have become the technical masters of a sky that we were unable to leave to the “angels and the sparrows.” No, it resides at the heart of a world that has turned the human being into a geological force that is entangled with the biosphere. Something like a climate turn2 appears to inflect cutting-edge contemporary thought towards a consideration of the unrecognized foundations of our historical situation.3 To the point that we would declare non-contemporary, that is to say: sterile and sterilizing, any thought that theoretically reinforces the causes of the disaster by continuing the same motives of emancipation, the same political categories, the same philosophical concepts as those that will have lead us to the perhaps irreversible deterioration of forms of life.

Roberto Esposito’s philosophy is contemporary. It developed at the same time as what was happening; as what was happening to us; and as what was not happening to us. These are the three slopes of a philosophy that tries to think the presence of a being-in-common that is always still lacking something [démuni].4 That wants itself to be an “ontology of the present [actualité]” (to recall Michel Foucault’s formula): Bios, published in 2004, begins with a description of the salient traits of our belated modernity (the Perruche affair, the humanitarian bombardments in Afghanistan, the massacre at the Dubrovka theatre)5; at the same time, Esposito’s philosophy wants to be the present of ontology, the necessity and self-defense of metaphysics, this “possibility to think beyond itself, in the Open,” this “form of consciousness in which one seeks to perceive more than that which happens, or that does not content itself with that which happens” (Theodor W. Adorno)6. To be contemporary doesn’t at all mean to stick to the present; it means, rather, to take up the distance of an interface between that which happens and that which doesn’t happen. Between that which saturates the present, and that which the present is lacking.

Communauté, immunité, biopolitique [Community, immunity, biopolitics], which was published in 2008 in Italian as Termini della politica, gives an almost chronological account of the constitution of this interface, of the process through which in Esposito’s work the present and ontology have become engaged in a fruitful association. The book is put together of articles or texts written between 1996 and 2008, and they mark out the publication of the key books that motivated the French translation of Termini: Communitas (1998), Immunitas (2002), Bios (2004), to which one should add Terza persona (2007). But these “roadmarks” aren’t just “marking” Esposito’s path: a careful reading of Communauté, immunité, biopolitique reveals a very singular movement of thought that one would perhaps unjustifiably attribute to every thinker. They outline an organic development, in the sense that each new article, and each new book, appear to produce a conceptual fruit that the plant coming before it was preparing. In other words, Communauté, immunité, biopolitique gives the impression of profound continuity. And the latter is certainly not without relation to the ethico-political demand that emerges from Esposito’s works: to choose life.

Of course! But which life? It is perhaps around these questions that our future is being decided, on which the very possibility of a future depends. Such a future will not happen without a fundamental rethinking of the terms of the political—of its words, ends, of the fruit as well as the compost that it produces. Esposito’s book takes up this task: it aspires to a terminological reform dedicated to life.

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