Etikettarkiv: Biopolitics

Organically Grown Capitalism

When foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s first bestseller The World is Flat came out a few years ago, he hailed himself as the Man with The Answer. hot-flat-and-crowdedNow, he proclaimed, he would solve all major obstacles in society and redirect world politics using his neologism ”Flat”. He was speaking about a world where the ”middle” of everything was growing fast, thus leveling the playing field on the global scene. This thrice pulitzerized columnist for The New York Times has since been both rhetorically destroyed by a few writers but also compared to the likes of Walter Lippmann, who had a similar job back in the days.

Lippmann was as bright as a lighthouse but also a fierce critic of the concepts of politics and journalism themselves. Friedman here, sounds more like a PR-agent for the global crisis as well as haters of current disaster capitalism when he writes. In his latest book Hot, Flat and Crowded he develops his arguments for a greener economy by literary scaring us to complience. In my review of it I am both impressed and scared. Jump the link for the review in Tidningen Kulturen.

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What is Biopolitics Pt. 1 – The Vatican Answers

I get a lot of questions from time to time about the nature of the all-so-obscure concept of biopolitics. It eludes myself many a times, while it always stays much alive in theoretical debates on racism, ecology, activism or health care regulation. The concept of Biopolitics or Biopower is grounded in Michel Foucaults writings in The Will To Knowledge and in lectures collected in The Birth of Biopolitics, for example. He saw biopower as completely and utterly connected to his philosophical analysis of political power, and to the concept of governmentality. Foucault saw the modern western state and its regulation of its subjects (citizens) through ”an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations.” But I would not build my analysis of today’s political organisation of the state technology of control solely on Foucault, since he clearly states in his lectures at College de France between 1978-1979  that he has no intention to study the development of governmental practice, the problems raised, the tactics chosen etc.

For me his view was interesting but very limited and most people use a hybrid concept that derives from people such as Donna Haraway, Giorgio Agamben and Michel Hardt and Antonio Negri for a contemporary update of the term. Foucault was deliberately vague in his writings and definitions of the term ”life”, which is of course fundamental to his thoughts on biopolitics, which is a useful enterprise, since the ever changing field of the life sciences have constantly redefined the notion of life in accordance to developments in medicine, neuropsychology and genetics during the last 200 years. So we today see some of the most important political force of biopoltics in the political economy well as in genetic selection and human reproduction in medicine;  Regulation and law in the areas of abortion, euthanasia, artificial insemination etc present hard practical dilemmas in newly formed areas such as bioethics and neuroethics: how to control or let people live free in the (post)modern state?

A current area of debate in this pressing matter is of course the issue of contraception as recently was commented in a now (in)famous preaching by Pope. New York times wrote a devastating blow to the Pope’s weak rhetoric and The Economist provides an interesting analysis as well. What is at the core is a fight over the interpretation of human sexuality, as a means of upholding ideology between rigid scripture and pragmatist modernity. Since the Vatican is an institution of control – control over interpretation and practice of Catholicism – it struggles between upholding the means of control and the unequivocal research showing that condom use is  positive in the war on HIV, not negative as the Pope suggested. 

Stay tuned for next chapter on BioPolitics! 

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Obama to Jump Back on The Stem Cell Wagon

Meistre Obama creates goodwill as well as uproars around the world with the announcement that he is reversing the Bush administration limits on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research as part of his thrust forward for science. Stem cell research is an uncontroversial issue in the world few secular societies but have been a severe controversy not least in the USA since  scientists Martin Evans, Matthew Kaufman, and Gail R. Martin in 1981 derived mouse embryonic stem cells and coined the term ”Embryonic Stem Cell”. This concept is not to be mistaken for ”Adult Stem cells”, which can be retracted out of the bone marrow of adult humans, alas, the quality of these cells are inferior to that found in embryos, therefor the controversy. Pope John Paul II in a famous speech on July 2001, addressed to GW Bush, asked for fall back of American support to stem cell research:

Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process. (An excerpt from the Pope John Paul II’s address to President Bush at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, July 23, 2001. )

stem-cell-research1Obama now fulfills a mission started in 2005 with his vote for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which proposed the conducting and supporting of research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells, regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo. The controversy, basically an ontological issue has two sides as reported by the medical doctor Robin Cook: 1. how embryonic cells are created and harvested, and 2. the point at which an embryo becomes a human life. The controversy is a truely a matter of pragmatism and deontology, utilitarianism and moral faith, basically it surrounds the blastocyst, an embryo at an early stage of development, comprising around 120 undifferentiated stem cells. These cells can differentiate into any cell type, including other so called totipotent cells. So while for some the human life enters this world right after conception, for some it starts about 14 days after fertilization, when they become individualised, before that time they can develop into any sort of cell for any individual. When life actually starts, I am not the right person to argue, fo sho, but I am a certified pragmatist, thus embracing most research that develop social consequences toward the greater good – a truth as sure as anything when it comes to stem cell research.

What is important with Grandmaster Obama is not that he has philosophically more poignant arguments than had Bush for his policies (rhetorically, yes definitely!), but that after eight years, it is time to move to a different path, with more and more funding going to both the arts and science than it did during Bush. Very exciting times for the life sciences indeed let’s extract some undifferentiated stem cells and save some brains!

Reports by New York Times, Washington Post and me favorurite Scientific American

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We Don’t Need No Stinking Provocations – Konstfack Drops Their Internal Report

The Anna Odell/NUG affair at Konstfack, blogged about here a few week ago, have just taken a new turn with the release of the Konstfack internal report on the evens taken place in recent weeks. The report is written by Anders Stening, Prof Jonas Bohlin, Ann-Charlotte Jensen and Elisabet Nordwall. In a rare instance in yesterday’s newspaper DN, Ivar Björkman, who has shunned all media interaction prior to this report being finished, wrote a defense of the school. the report stinks, as critic Mårten Arndzén smells it; The students are not allowed anymore to transgress any ”moral laws”, they are not allowed to defame anyone or anything, be it an organisation or an individual. The graffiti artist NUG and his abrasive video Territorial Pissing is hardly mentionaed, as it is not considered to be Konstfack’s responsibility since it was made outside of curriculum. This surely is an act of institutional biopower in the sense of a constitutive forming of bios, a political self that is repressed into acting and thinking a certain way rather than just the zoe – just living. The report further announces that Anna Odell have created pain and misery AND a ”public doubt regarding Konstfack” in general. Yes, they are actually blaming her for the media spectacle taken place the past month! If this is not a an act of a coward, then nothing really is.


Waiting for your project presentation Anna, hang in there!

Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the students will be frightened into self censorship, as Arndzén does, artists haven again and again proven to have an explicable sense of disobedience towards biopower. What is clear is the problem of handling a national debate with art, morality and law at its core, without a dean of the school with any knowledge or balls. The blame should rightly be placed where it belongs – the dean of Konstfack Ivar Björkman – for not standing up to the students in any way. The report and his statement in DN only goes to prove that he is looking after the sanctity of a slow and trepid institution instead of the boarder crossings of its most important inhabitants – the students. Anna Odell has possibly hurt a few people by her interaction, most likely not broken any current laws, we know this only from slanted media reports, so before anyone cast judgment or her work, I would like to see, hear and experience her version of the events. If we are to institute her action as a piece of profound art or not must be a question underlined by as much respect for her project as we demand her to show all parties involved. I will be waiting for her presentation in May, let’s continue the debate when all cards are put on the table.

Reports by Sydsvenskan, Dagens Nyheter, Swedish Public Radiopress release from Konstfack

Sign up for the group I väntan på presentation av Anna Odell at Facebook and become humble and critical in an instance!

In case you missed the NUG video Territorial Pissing: Voilà!

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Anna Odell and the problem of artistic morals

The shit has once again hit the fan, when Konstfack art student Anna Odell a few days ago made a socially investigative action in Stockholm, pretending to be psychotic and suicidal. The story goes like this: She appeared on top of a bridge in the midst of Stockholm, where she attracted so much attention that policemen by force coerced her to a emergency psychiatric ward at the S:t Göran Hospital where she reacted with such frenzy that she was given soothing medication. After a few hours she revealed that it was part of an art project and she was let go, but nono, not by the media. This time it was blown out of proportion, but, nota bene, Odell herself had not planned this, but, according to a reliable source from the institution, she has been working on this project for more than a year, already. One problem with the above narrative is that is is already being criticised for lacking in reliability. Read more reports of it here and in English here.

The staff at the emergency ward soon after filed a police rapport and now publicly demand an apology and a refund of the cost that was needed to hold a ‘perfectly sane person at the emergency clinic for several hours’. An arketypical reaction from the artworld would be: leave the artist alone, her intentions are yet to be revealed and they will re-contextualise the possible agony caused by the whole of the project and disclose a higher purpose. A typical reaction from outside the artworld would be: by acting off of others’ goodwill and resources as well as causing harm, the artist needs to apologize or, at best, try to explain what the h*** she did and why, before it can be principally defended.

Well, first of all the project seems highly speculative in its first reification; it is clear that artist Anna Odell could have documented, observed or (publicly, but carefully) reenacted a statement about the psychiatric world without risking to commit a crime. With this being said, we must consider that this is only a first part of a projct to be presented in May 2009 for the annual Graduation show at Konstfack and it is not unheard of to seek a maximum of subversion whilst in art school. For this reason it is not in the interest of neither Konstfack nor Odell to be plain, conformist or latte-liberal, but rather find a way to spur debate and a public outcry reaction. And debate was apparently something she wished for , but as many bloggers point out, she had initially wished for a more specific debate vis-a-vis the psychiatric industry, which did not fly very well, as of now, at least.

The two arguments that her professors and teachers at Konstfack brings forth in DN, 1. that the action should be compared to journalistic methods like Wallraff and thus seen in the light of biopolitics and cultural critique and 2. the work is not yet finished, thus nothing should yet be stated about the means for the upcoming end.

Argument 1 is one that artists and art theorists usually use when defending the right of subversion in public space, as a democratic splinter, oozing critique on areas that requires other method. Not for speculation or provocation or fame, but as a means for another for of criticism, what Hal Foster refers to as the turn to Anthropology. Well one problem with this argument is that is avoids the full comparison with subversive research or journalism; when Odell will exhibit her project, it will not necessarily be in a matter that satisfies or communicates with a ‘public’. In fact, it is of grave importance that art project usually don’t emulate methods of subversion that are commonplace, since it would of course risk being reduced to journalism.

Argument 2 only has bearing if we accept a pragmatist view of contemporary culture; if art can defy laws or moral codes of conduct in order to send an esoteric message to a small group of artworks denizens, does not this fact reduce it to a form of liberal, calculating economism? We must consider the possibilities that neither critics nor audience at large will be satisfied by the entirety of the project, what then? Will critics like Ingela Lind condemn the work or just keep defending the moral law with one hand while paving the way for breaking artistic tabus with the other? This argument could be as a cynical trade-off by Odell: 10 000 kr(the cost of treating her during her stay at the emergency room) + the discontents of a psychiatric ward and a few bloggers and Op-Eds against a project being view mainly by an art audience, commented mainly by and art audience and research mainly extended toward an art audience.

Now I truly hope Anna Odell proves me wrong, hope it really was worth it, but this case should not be left unmarked by all critics interested in the political powers of art. Ii will be back with more analyses of this case from behavioral economics (what gain is in it for the artist, or loss for the ER?), biopolitics (to what extent is her body reduced to a vessel for upholding an ideology?), ethnology (how much of the project has culture as its subject?) and art criticism (but is it art?).

Stay tuned.

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