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Egenis · Events

'Being towards death': Heidegger and the politics of 'life itself'

Seminar   24.02.2009






Dr Paolo Palladino, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University

Organised by



University of Exeter,Egenis,Byrne House,St Germans Road,Exeter, EX4 4PJ

Room no: GF7, Byrne House

Event details

Time: 3:30 - 5:00 PM

Title: 'Being towards death': Heidegger and the politics of 'life itself'

What are the conditions of possibility of knowledge? In Being and Time (1927), Martin Heidegger answered the question by arguing that it rests on awareness of our finitude, on ‘being towards death’. This answer was critically important to Michel Foucault’s method and analysis of the modern historical formation, but it would seem that we are currently witnessing a transformation of corporeal life that calls for a reassessment of the argument. Drawing on Foucault, a number of social theorists speak of the advent of a politics of ‘life itself’ insofar as the individual of the nineteenth century bio-political imaginary, a human body whose biological constitution was irremediably fixed at birth, would appear to be giving way to an understanding of the human body as an assembly of bio-molecular components that can be freely recombined so as to maximise the resultant unit’s cultural, social and political productivity. Some of these theorists admit to uncertainty about the epochal nature of these changes, so it seems important to ask about the fate of death within this reconfiguration of corporeal life. Sociological research indicates that the process of ageing, which has often been construed as prefiguring death, is today being reconfigured so as to undermine the partitioning of the life cycle into birth, sex and death. Furthermore, the avoidance of ageing and the pursuit of immortality are becoming normatively binding. These shifts are clearly related to both the increasing organisation of health care around the mode of consumption and a re-orientation of biomedical research and practice towards the bio-molecular characterisation pathological processes associated with ageing, aiming to offer new, preventative modes of intervention in these processes. This said, while attention is now being paid to the reconfiguration of death as a strictly biological phenomenon, these inquiries also raise difficult questions about how to align the existential, epistemological and ontological orders in a way which will admit the possibility that the modern calculus of finitude is giving way to infinite recombination. I attempt to clarify some of these difficulties by attending to the short-story with which Thomas Kirkwood concludes Time of Our Lives (1999), his very aptly entitled, popular account of contemporary developments within the field of bio-gerontology.11 Kirkwood, Thomas (1999) Time of Our Lives: The Science of Human Aging. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 243-256.

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