fifty-fourth part, called “subject matter LIV,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subject matter

The role of political management over the last two years of pandemic, or, to be histrionic, plague, has looked to be a direct use of biopolitics. Control of populations has been control of bodies, control of movement. And there looks to have been something sacrificed.

Biopolitical policing of populations, infected populations, has seemed to bring about a concession of the kind, since it is on a global scale, not seen since the mass mobilisations at the time of the globalisation of warfare, in the first and second world wars. Apparently it turns on matters of economy, this concession, where it is both disincentive to ‘growth’ and incentive to a type of specialised ‘wartime’ economy, to which the first makes its concession. Or sacrifice. But the sacrifice the political apparatus makes to biopolitics is of itself.

I think we can see this in a small change made in the vocabulary of New Zealand government representatives. As if by policy, for political reasons, the change has been from speaking of the vaccination metric in terms of the ‘protection’ of populations to speaking of it as immunisation. From a medical, scientific standpoint, this change seems unmotivated.

In consideration of climate change could or would we similarly replace environmental protection with environmental immunisation at stake might be human affairs in their entirety. The environment would need to be immunised against every human action. Can we imagine what this immunity might look like?

It has been said that it is capitalism, the capitalist plunder of resources, from which we must protect the environment. OK, why not immunise it? The thought is also there that we might do so by introjecting the problem—of capitalist plunder of resources—into the economic form of capitalism. The carbon market to trade in pollutant emissions seems exemplary in this respect. And the thought is there too, and to the contrary, that pandemics are natural forms of defenses: that is, the nonhuman environment’s immunity system.

We can, however, lay human affairs in their entirety at the door of politics. Or should that be at its feet? Then, I would have thought, since the forms of social organisation of politics are sacrifice, it is at its feet that they already lie. And herein the concession: biopolitics in fact looks like an abrogation of politics and a reduction in its political means such that it has no power. Or, it is immune to the charge making it responsible. Is immune to being asked to take responsibility: for what? human affairs in their entirety; every human action.

Politics no longer answerable, the forms of social organisation of politics sacrifice, the immunisation of populations as a political project: well, what meaning does this have other than the auto-immunity of political systems? That is, it’s no longer about the suppression of symptoms symptomatic to power but of political immunisation against those powers. They slide off, like the skins of images. So that the most obviously biopolitical plays into the freedom of politics from tragic necessity, from the tragic necessity of responsibility, plays as, slipping up on its own skin, comedy.

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