Bios : Brooke Holmes

Rachel Sussman / Underbrush, Crete
Rachel Sussman / Underbrush, Crete

Bios : Brooke Holmes


What kind of work is needed to map the concept of bios?1 The word is ancient Greek. Its translation as “life” will be recognized as partial by most readers as a result of the ubiquity of the claim, made most forcefully by Giorgio Agamben (with acknowledged debts to Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault), that ancient Greek “life” is divided at its core into bios and zōē. On Agamben’s well-known analysis, bios defines life in the robust sense of the life lived by the proper political subject, whereas it falls to ē to designate what he calls “natural life” or “bare life.” Far from lying outside of politics, zōē haunts the political from within by marking a state of exception. Life in this zone of exception is defined by its total vulnerability to sovereign power: it is the life that can be killed with impunity. For this reason, Agamben argues, “the inclusion of bare life in the political realm constitutes the original—if concealed—nucleus of sovereign power.”2 In this way, Agamben puts bios in relationship to ē not only to articulate the foundational structure of politics but also to establish politics itself “as the truly fundamental structure of Western metaphysics insofar as it occupies the threshold on which the relation between the living being and the logos is realized.”3 The proposed semantic split in Greek “life” is thus invested by Agamben with far-reaching structural–conceptual implications for metaphysics and politics in “the West.”

We can begin by observing that bios has become a lexeme inseparable from the work it does for Agamben, and those who repeat his claims, in establishing both a space of protection from the naked exposure of ē and a site of inquiry that is original, fundamental, and foundational. Its recent history means that the work of mapping that I undertake in this essay will have little to do with translation, or even with the scope of “life,” however we wish to locate or define it, in ancient Greek texts. Rather, I propose here a critical interrogation of how bios behaves on a field of operations that is shaped by the questions it raises as the transliteration of an ancient Greek word: questions about the historicity of “life,” the antiquity of a politics of life, and the purchase of “the Greeks” on the ways in which a mutable “we” conceptualizes livable life in the present. In pursuing this interrogation, I will focus on how bios works on this field in relationship to the antonym that travels together with it—that is, zōē. I will also look at how the relationship between bios and zōē is triangulated by the prefix bio-. The prefix bio– can be easily mistaken for—even conflated with—bios. At the same time, bio- has done considerable work in establishing the discontinuity between antiquity and modernity within a domain whose name has become, in the two decades since Agamben’s Homo Sacer was published in English, even more of what Adi Ophir has called a “discursive celebrity”—namely, biopolitics.4 It is the flourishing of biopolitics that makes a critical interrogation of bios especially urgent.

Now, if I were going to proceed with an analysis of bios in classical Greek, or in the Aristotelian corpus, or even in Aristotle’s Politics, it would make sense at this point to return to the original text(s) and assess the validity of Agamben’s claims. It would be straightforward enough to challenge Agamben’s definition of bios in its pas-de-deux with zōē on philological grounds, as others have done in detail.5 For one thing, Aristotle nowhere contrasts the two terms with the stark oppositional logic that they have come to incarnate. Moreover, later grammarians will struggle to divide territory neatly between the two terms, usually when explicating not Aristotle but Hippocrates (the words come from the same Indo-European root and are both cognate with the Latin vita).6 Nor is it clear that the contrast that does matter to Aristotle in the opening of the Politics, between “living” and “living well” (zēn and eu zēn), aligns so easily with the opposition of zōē and bios, as Agamben asserts. In practice, too, Aristotle’s use of zōē and the verb zēn resist the reduction of natural life to “bare life” in the sense that Agamben invokes. For Aristotle, zēn characterizes, rather, that which is most intimate to and definitive for a given nature. For humans, these defining activities are perceiving and thinking, both crucial to the functioning of the human being as a political animal (zōon), another notorious Aristotelian formulation that we will come back to. As for bios, Aristotle can speak of “living the life of a plant” (zēn phutou bion), an expression that appears a couple times in the Generation of Animals to describe the very early stages of animal life, when only nutritive soul is operative.7 Even this cursory account makes it clear, then, that the Greek fails to yield the clarity Agamben or his readers want. Nothing there is so simple, so natural, so bare.

Nevertheless, despite the acuity of the philological critique of Agamben’s formulation, there are problems with addressing bios as an object of philological inquiry alone. First, as I have already indicated, an exclusive focus on the word’s semantic field in ancient Greek neglects the contemporary dimensions of the semantic field in which bios now operates. That is not to say ancient Greek texts have nothing to tell us about bios, or zōē, or life: I believe they have a good deal to say, and my own work has been largely motivated by trust in that potential. Undertaking a project of that kind here would require displacing ourselves from a single talismanic transliteration (or a pair of them) as revelatory of Greek wisdom and instead plunging into the conceptual work that extant texts from the ancient Mediterranean themselves perform. The lexeme is a guide to this work, functioning as a portal onto conceptual dynamics that exceed it but can also be traced from the situated perspective that a lexeme enables (not just bios but physis, or psykhē, or aretē, or sōma, or sympatheia—the pluralization of lexemes is also critical). Yet the choice of a lexeme, ancient or modern, is itself a situated and strategic decision, embedded in negotiations with the present. The reason I do not take up bios as an ancient concept here is because I believe bios requires further inquiry at this point in history into the labor that it performs as both originary and not-impoverished, not only in contemporary biopolitical discourse but also on the terrain of biopolitics as it is commonly figured as a product of modernity. Insofar as its capacity to perform this labor is embedded in its being Greek, as I will argue further, we have to engage the status of bios as a transliteration circulating in the discourse of biopolitics.

There is another risk, closely related to the first, that a philological critique would only reinforce the ways in which the bios/zōē pair created by Agamben has come to define Greek “life” as the origin and foundation of Western metaphysics and Western politics. It is true that even a reader without Greek can see in the first pages of Homo Sacer that Agamben’s adoption of Aristotle’s terms is not exactly about recovering the ancient meaning of bios—or, for that matter, of zōē, the real protagonist of the book. For in order to function as “bare life,” zōē requires the concept of the state of exception (itself informed by Walter Benjamin’s notion of bloßes Leben and Carl Schmitt’s Ausnahmezustand). Agamben traces the state of exception not to Aristotle but to the early Roman legal category of the homo sacer—the “life” that is sacred, and so able to be sacrificed with impunity—and to the sovereign’s power of life and death (vitae necisque potestas). It is Agamben, then, who composes Greek zōē with the Latin homo sacer to create the antonym to bios. At the same time, he also presents this chimera as the triumphant disclosure of the “hidden point of intersection between the juridico-institutional and the biopolitical models of power” and therefore as an organic whole whose unity is secured by the adjectives “Western” and “ancient.” So despite the fact that Agamben composes the bios/ē pair around a hybrid zōē that also requires the Roman sovereign (and Schmitt, Benjamin, and Arendt), he also casts zōē as the “bare” exposure of life to power at the birth of politics. It can therefore function as the transhistorical antonym of bios, which is cast, in turn, as the originary Other to (a) life defined in terms of impoverishment and vulnerability. By plotting “bare life” as zōē within the primal scene of Aristotle’s Politics as a somber performance of philological and hermeneutic expertise, Agamben has licensed the viral circulation of the bios/zōē pair as the last word on Greek life—and, indeed, on “life” qua object of politics as an inheritance from an ancestral source. In denouncing Agamben’s “philology for show” as a philology designed to mystify readers who do not possess the means of verification, Laurent Dubreuil is scathing but not unfair.8 By promising to decode Aristotle for the uninitiated through the opposition of bios and zōē, Agamben does exploit the authority of the ancients at its most petrifying—an authority, that is, that seeks to shut down debate by invoking a classical past whose revealed truth secures the totalized reification of “the Western tradition” and the force of the vatic utterance: classicism at its most iconic and its most insidious. Nothing is this simple, this natural, this pure.

In what follows, I first track the entangled relationships between bios, zōē, and bio– as they emerge in attempts to grapple with the historicity of biopolitics and, more specifically, the contested status of biopolitics as a product of modernity, taking Foucault’s work as a starting point and engaging with the definition of bios in Roberto Esposito’s work of the same name. Following the threads of these relationships, I argue that the concept of bios should be approached as the concept through which we confront the problem of the relationship between “natural” life and politics as what I call “a Greek problem.” In the rest of the paper, I trace two aspects of bios as a concept understood in this way: first, the persistent value accorded to bios, understood as a form of life that is at once flourishing and protected; second, the ways in which the valuing of bios is shaped by the dynamics of historical continuity and discontinuity as they are expressed in an opposition between antiquity and modernity. I argue that we cannot separate out the way bios functions as a place of refuge from manifold forces of violence and dehumanization from the function of ancient Greece itself as at once origin and point of refuge from modernity. My aim is neither to unmask a fantasy nor to rehabilitate it, but rather to counter the ways in which bios has come to function in biopolitical discourse as a form of life that is either ancestral or obsolescent. In so doing, I hope to clear more space for grappling with the ever-open question of how working with ancient Greek texts addressed to the problems of embodied life as collective life participates in what Foucault famously called the history of the present.

The lexeme zōē, I have suggested, conceals the hybridity of what it has come to signify. By contrast, biopolitics broadcasts its composition from pre-existing forms. For the conjunction of bio- and politics flagrantly stages a conflation that has come to be taken as a, if not the, founding gesture of modernity. In the final pages of the first volume of the History of Sexuality, Foucault writes that what he calls a society’s “threshold of modernity” has been reached “when the life of the species is wagered on its own political strategies.” He continues, “For millennia, man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for a political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question.”9 Foucault marks the form of power emergent here with the neologism “biopower,” a term that has been largely superseded, in the wake of Foucault, by biopolitics (for Foucault, biopolitics and “anatomo-politics” are the two major conduits of biopower). Both terms nevertheless enact the migration of “the living animal” (zōon) or man’s “existence as a living being” into the zone of knowledge/power or politics. Two things that were historically kept apart, the living animal and (his) political existence, have now become, with the onset of modernity, fatally bound together. By rhetorically disaggregating zōon and politikon in Aristotle’s famous—and often misunderstood—definition of man as the condition of their distinctively modern conjunction, Foucault sets up the polar opposition of bios and zōē drawn by Agamben.10 Agamben, in turn, goes beyond acknowledging his debt to Foucault at the beginning of Homo Sacer in order to situate his own work as elaborating the theorization of biopolitics that was foreclosed, he claims, by Foucault’s death.11 Indeed, a good deal of the enormous, growing body of work that has come to shelter under or define itself against “biopolitics” has presented itself as the working out of what Foucault left unfinished.

These expansions of the biopolitical project after Agamben often extend Foucault’s work on biopower from the mid-1970s forward into the twenty-first century along the future-oriented axis of an ever-intensifying politics of life. The heightened attunement to the recent past and the present is understandable in light of the rapid growth and capitalization of biotechnology, the advent of concepts like the Anthropocene and posthumanism, and an intensified collective consciousness about the technological manipulations of life and nature and the ricocheting implications of these manipulations. Yet insofar as biopolitics is necessarily defined as a phenomenon whose very name performs its historicity and its modernity, bios—a transliteration that speaks at once of origin, continuity across time, and epochal rupture—is integral to its dynamics.

Nevertheless, it is no easy task to determine the relationship of bios to bio-politics. If the naming of biopower and biopolitics designates (and re-enacts) a historical conjunction or fusion of two zones, how stable or self-same is the “life” that sits on either side of the border between antiquity and modernity? After all, bios is not synonymous with the prefix bio-.12 The fateful coupling of bio- with logos at the start of the nineteenth century to name a new branch of knowledge looks more like a marriage of convenience dictated by the late eighteenth-century norms of scientific discourse (and the existing claim on zoo-logy) than a christening motivated by a self-conscious reconceptualization of bios.13 Foucault himself declared in The Order of Things that life as the object of biology does not exist prior to the nineteenth century; only, rather, “living beings, which were viewed through a grid of knowledge constituted by natural history.”14 The naming of biology, far from marking the survival of bios into modernity, seems to cast bios as only a spare lexeme, a tool at hand when the new discipline was taking shape in emergent institutional configurations only nominally loyal to classicizing authority.

There is the further problem that in Foucault’s composition of biopower, the prefix bio- technically captures not bios but Aristotle’s zōon. More problematic still, if we do remain within the terms of the opposition between bios and zōē established by Agamben, we run into the difficulty that the bare life of the bio-political body as a transhistorical phenomenon is supposed to be designated with zōē, not bios. It is this infelicity that attracts the attention of Roberto Esposito in Bíos: Biopolitics and Philosophy. Taking his cue from Agamben’s mapping of bios and zōē as polar opposites, Esposito makes the non-equivalence of bios and bio– as foundational to his own biopolitical project. That biopolitics is “inhabited by a term that does not belong to it and indeed risks distorting it” is one of the reasons the concept abides, in Esposito’s words, in a zone of indiscernibility: it is an enigma, at risk of meaning nothing, of literally being “emptied of content in the same moment in which it is formulated.”15 This risk is why we need the ultimately affirmative biopolitics of Bíos, Esposito argues—that is, a biopolitics organized around a reclaimed bios that allows for no separation of a zōē that can come back to haunt it. In making this argument, Esposito uses zōē to designate a reductive sense of biological life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, thereby merging zōē and bio-. That is, it is in response to the modern trap of bio-logical life qua zōē that Esposito uses bios to name the life-to-come of his affirmative biopolitics, a life that is both held in common and individuated by the impersonal singularity of a life (in the spirit of Gilles Deleuze’s late work on pure immanence and the work of George Canguilhem on individuation), rather than the life that belongs to the individual in neoliberal bioethics as something owned and other. Esposito’s bios thus looks to the future, not the past, in its promise of a transmutation of bio-/zōē into a life symbiotic with politics.

For Foucault, too, bios is a mode of access to the present and the future. But, in contrast to Esposito, his shift of attention from bio- to bios in the late 1970s and early 1980s was embedded within a systematic and far-reaching engagement with the Greeks. As he writes in the introduction to the second volume to the History of Sexuality, he came to see the return to antiquity as entailed by the trajectory he had begun in the first volume. The path that Foucault mapped for his work is often occluded by the rhetoric of “working out” Foucault’s unfinished project—found in both Agamben and Esposito, as well as in many other theorists of biopolitics— a rhetoric that implies or states outright that Foucault’s untimely death cut short his ability to elaborate his concept of biopolitics. In fact, the canonical discussion of biopower occupies only about ten pages in Part 5 of the first volume of the History of Sexuality, and although Foucault brings up biopower in his final lecture of 1976 at the Collège de France, its significance quickly fades when he resumes teaching in January 1978. What comes to the foreground is instead governmentality, introduced by Foucault as a way of understanding the technology of power proper to the state and exercised on populations.16 Bio- is therefore transformed as Foucault begins to see the problems first presented in terms of biopower through the lens of governmentality.

At the same time, as Foucault becomes more and more interested in the longue durée of governmentality and, more specifically, the premodern history of pastoral power, bios emerges as a site of conceptual investment.17 Having traced a winding path into early Christianity and the Greco-Roman world of the first centuries ce, to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then back again to antiquity, Foucault eventually arrives in January 1981 at bios—and, more specifically, the tekhnē (or tekhnai, pl.) peri bion, that is, the tekhnē (art, science, craft) that “concerns existence understood as life to be led, the technique that enables this life to be fashioned.”18 Foucault explicitly rejects the translation “bio-technique” for these techniques on the grounds that such a term would distort the sense of the Greek. He is thinking not only of the non-coincidence of bio- and bios, but also suggesting that the prefix bio– injects an alien notion of biopolitics into the ancient Greco-Roman ethical system. Foucault also draws a contrast between bioun and zēn (not bios and zōē) at this moment in his lectures in order to differentiate between the quality of being alive and the quality of being capable of leading one’s life in a particular way. What is most crucial in the differentiation of these two meanings of “life” is the form of agency that Foucault will develop through his theorization of a hermeneutics of the self. We share only the first kind of life, marked by zēn, with non-human animals. Your bios, however, is “the life one may make oneself, decide oneself,” and it goes without saying, Foucault goes on, that this is not “‘life’ in the biological sense of the term.”19 We can see, then, that Foucault’s definition of life as bios is triangulated by the form of the life named by bio-, defined by its capture through modern politics, and the form of life named by zōē, defined primarily as what is given (to all animals) rather than the life that is made by the ethical subject through the act of constituting himself in relationship to truth. There is also another critical counterpoint to Foucault’s bios. Insofar as one of Foucault’s major aims is to articulate an ancient Greco-Roman ethics against Christian morality through the model of a philosophical life (bios philosophikos; also a “true life,” bios alēthēs), bios also stands against the not-of-this-world life targeted by pastoral care and salvific truth in Christianity, a counterpoint to which we will return.

It is, I hope, by now clear why, as a post-biopolitical concept, bios can neither be assigned a meaning in Greek nor dismissed as a negligible archaism, remaindered by modernity. On the terrain of biopolitics recognized as a historical phenomenon, it is triangulated with bio-, understood as a prefix signaling the modernity of modern life, and with a chimerical zōē that instantiates an impoverished form of life. It is shadowed, too, in its guise as a pagan concept, by a rival vision of human flourishing in a life beyond this life, in the city of God, especially as a result of the late work of Foucault on subjectivity and truth.

None of this means that the status of bios as an ancient Greek lexeme is irrelevant to its circulation. On the contrary, as I have already suggested, we might best map bios as the concept through which we confront the problems posed by the relationship between “natural” life and politics—and ethics, too—as Greek. By “Greek,” I mean three things. First, I am describing problems that are traversed in extant texts of ancient Greek philosophy, literature, medicine, ethics, life science, and natural history. Second, I am referring to the way these problems travel as Greek (but also ancient, classical, premodern, Western—all terms that usually point back to the Greeks) in modern and contemporary discussions of life, politics, and ethics through the use of transliterated ancient Greek words, readings of ancient Greek texts, and engagements with thinkers from a wide historical spectrum whose own writings and concepts are shaped by their readings of and engagements with ancient Greek texts and concepts (not only such thinkers as Nietzsche and Arendt but also Cicero, Ibn-Sīnā, and Spinoza)—that is, through specific, embodied, multiply mediated, and multi-relational encounters rather than as a monolithic, univocal Western tradition. Finally, I mean to describe the problem of our relation to “the Greeks”—and the polymorphic, iterated constitution of a “we” around that relation (e.g., we moderns, but also we Westerners, we Europeans, we philosophers, we colonizers, we colonized, we subjects of neoliberalism or biomedicine, etc.)—where “the Greeks” are understood as a people believed to be somehow kindred to this “us” and capable of a form of life that is not impoverished in comparison with some undesirable alternative (Christianity, modernity, technoscience, pre-classical or pre-Greek societies, superstition, and so on); a people capable, too, of theorizing that life, and the life that falls short of it. If we delineate the space of bios in this way, it will not work to offer a philological correction as a means of reining in the errancy of bios in the hands of modern readers, with the hope of recovering an ancestral truth. Nor will it be any more workable to set bios free from the past on the grounds that it has become only a projection of those readers’ hopes and ambitions, their delusions and illusions, and so belongs wholly to them, either to do what they will with or as the cause and symptom of their self-deception. Defined as a concept that names a Greek problem, bios encompasses what we say life is through a reading of ancient Greek sources and their reception as well as the question of why we, whoever we (believe we) are, think bios says anything to us at all about the relation between life and politics, life and ethics.

I want now to consider in greater detail two dimensions of bios that have started to emerge as we have tracked its relations with both the prefix bio- and the chimerical zōē of bare life. Each of these dimensions is implicated in the other; each is critical to the being-Greek (ancient, classical, premodern, Western) of bios and, more specifically, its being-Greek in relation to an imagined “us.” The first concerns the abiding power of bios—its charge, we might say, or its value—where obsolescence stands as its obverse. The second concerns the dynamic between historical continuity and discontinuity. It might seem to be the case that historical discontinuity should entail obsolescence. The nature of classicism, however, speaks against that conclusion, insofar as classicism is a form of valuing defined in large part by the perception of rupture and loss. For this reason, as we will see further, the question of the power or value of bios is not obviated by an inquiry into how the dynamics of continuity and discontinuity define the concept. In fact, these two aspects of the concept have to be thought together.

It is easy, however, to lose sight of how these aspects of bios support one another the more biopolitical discourse turns to the present and to the future. For the more the prefix bio– is understood as signifying the life in some sense produced by the nineteenth-century discipline of biology and its allied sciences or by the increasingly consequential consolidation of biopower in new technologies, institutional formations, and economic networks, the more likely it is that the ancient Greek domain of life will be seen as irreparably estranged from and, so, irrelevant to modernity. From this perspective, it is not only bios that is discontinuous with bio- but also zōē, whose “bareness” or “naturalness” is not sufficiently biological to form a continuum with the “bare life” that modern and contemporary forms of knowledge/power have made their object.

Indeed, it is in part as a push back against the vastness of Agamben’s chimerical zōē and other totalizing biopolitical projects (such as Esposito’s affirmative biopolitics, or Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s celebration in Empire of the multitude as a collective subjectivity at once created by biopolitical capitalism and capable of resisting it) that other post-Foucauldian biopolitical projects have sought narrower confines within a bio- that accords with the parameters of contemporary medicine and the life sciences. Nikolas Rose and Paul Rabinow, for example, have defended the need for “preliminary diagnoses” of a new biopolitical rationality “at a smaller scale” by returning to the Foucauldian texts and the “precise” historical phenomena that they attend to, such as birthrates, mortality rates, and the effects of the environment on public health.20 Then again, much of what is at stake in biopolitics is whether the “sciences of life” can be so easily circumscribed—that is, whether their hyperbolic growth is overwriting the political altogether. It is precisely the exploding power of biology, medicine, and biotechnology to define livable life and the intensified politicization of individual and collective health that has been taken up in many recent approaches to biopolitics, especially in queer theory, critical race theory, feminism, new materialism, and disability studies, all areas of theoretical work where embodied life is also being taken up as a site of resistance. Nevertheless, to the extent they are oriented toward a hyperbolically biopolitical present, all these lines of inquiry assume a break with zōē as a Greek concept: genealogy, if it matters at all, will start on the threshold of modernity. This is what we see, for example, in Esposito’s Bíos. Esposito’s definition of biopolitics certainly works on a totalizing scale. Responding to Arendt, he argues that it is biopolitics, not totalitarianism, that is the appropriate concept for retrospectively diagnosing the political pathologies of the twentieth century. But if Nazism must be seen as a full-fledged “biocracy,” the prefix bio- signals biological life as modern rather than as transhistorical bare life. Esposito in fact faults Foucault for not being clear enough about the modernity of biopolitics and its radical break with the premodern past.

Esposito is right that the dynamics of rupture and continuity in Foucault’s work on bio– and bios are complicated. I see this as a virtue of Foucault’s project. Before coming back to these dynamics in Foucault, however, I want first to raise a problem within the relations between bios, zōē, and bio- that gets obscured by the question of whether the life of bio- is so radically new as to render premodern “life” (zōē, bios) fully superseded, a problem that nevertheless has a bearing on what is at stake in the axiological logic governing claims of rupture and continuity. For bios also turns up at the heart of the bio- of biopower and biopolitics as they are first read by Foucault in terms of State racism and thanatopolitics—that is, as the determination of who must die to ensure the flourishing of a population conceived of as a racially pure community—in ways that are usually not acknowledged but cannot be quarantined from our concept. It is surprising that for all that Esposito details the workings of the Nazi biocracy and the double-edged sword of Nietzschean vitalism in Bíos, he leaves untouched the deep complicities between biopolitics and European philhellenism, including in Nietzsche himself.21 The very norms of life, health, and beauty, and racial purity integral to the modern biopolitical imaginary have been systematically and repeatedly read as (ancient) Greek and claimed for their rightful descendants. Nineteenth-century racial science sought to elevate the ancient Greeks vis-à-vis their immature or decadent neighbors to the East and the South while rupturing claims of kinship between modern and ancient Greece, as well as between the original Aryan race and the modern inhabitants of India.22 Following on Romantic philhellenism’s Heimweh for Greece and the mythologization of the Dorians as the progenitors of Hellenic culture, linking ancient Greece to Germany, the massive idealization of Greco-Roman antiquity in National Socialism, and especially the idealization of the classical Greek body, staked the rights of inheritance on biological—that is, racial—heredity.23 The kinship with the ancient Greeks is not only ostensibly given but can also be affirmed through the deliberate return to bios as an ideal. When in Outline for a Political System, written in 1920, the Swedish political scientist Rudolph Kjellén composes the term “biopolitics” in theorizing the State as an organism in need of physicians who can root out its pathologies, he is self-consciously appropriating bios as an ancient Greek term in order to designate “cultural life” over and above “natural and physical life,” as Esposito himself recounts.24

The nineteenth- and twentieth-century biopolitical imaginary was fixated on an idealized Greek past thought to run in the blood as the elixir of life. It is not an accident that resurgent nationalisms and Far Right movements in Europe and the US have once again staked claim to classical antiquity as the font of a white European identity under threat of miscegenation and a renewed enthusiasm for a racial science entrusted with producing truths about an ancestral past that can legimate violence, oppression, and immiseration in the present.25 The biopolitical imagination produces its own genealogies in its demands for a better, healthier present and future. The life of “the Greeks” has been integral to these genealogies, both as a racialized inheritance and in the use of bios to imagine the health of an individual or a community under threat from the foreigner and the perversity of modernity. The point is not that every appeal to bios or “the Greeks” must be defined only as the symptom of a covert racism. Nor is it that a regime requires the ancestry of an idealized Hellenism to qualify as biopolitical (though myths of ancestry are obviously crucial to the logic of State racism). Rather it is that bios is impure, and it is impure because it is chimerical (hybrid and mythical). Regardless of whether theorists of biopolitics deem Greco-Roman antiquity or premodernity to have been superseded in the various quests for a better future that both define and exceed the present, then, we need to see bios as a site of active contestation, precisely because vitalism has historically worked together with Hellenism as a double-edged sword. Keeping this in mind, I want to turn back to Foucault.

Foucault explains his decision to attend to the tekhnai peri bion in his 1981 course, “Subjectivity and Truth” by suggesting that, through a close study of these arts of living, “we could doubtless identify the way in which, in the Hellenistic and Roman period, a certain mode of connection between their relationship of self to self and to the truth was proposed to individuals. . . . The subjectivity-truth connection,” he continues, “is particularly legible in these arts of living. I am not saying that it is legible only there, [but it] is legible in them in big letters, as if through a lens.”26 Foucault here frames his decision to focus on the Greco-Roman tekhnai peri bion in terms similar to those used by Socrates when he defends his decision in Plato’s Republic to talk about the justice of the soul (psykhē) by talking about the justice of the city (polis): because the city is larger than the individual, he says, its justice will be correspondingly larger and, so, easier to inspect (368e). This is not the only justification Socrates gives for his method. Elsewhere he argues that the soul and the city are related causally, insofar as the justice of individuals produces the justice of the city. Still elsewhere, he says that they are related structurally, enabling analogical comparison. But at 368e, what is privileged is only the claim that the city, because of its size, provides the best conditions of visibility for a phenomenon (justice) whose belonging to the target object of inquiry, the soul, rests on an unspecified kinship between the soul and the city. It is kinship, Foucault says in his first lecture of 1981, that binds us to the ancient societies that will concern him in “Subjectivity and Truth.” And yet, he goes on, the solidity of these bonds is a subject requiring further examination.27 At this point in the lectures, then, the relation with these ancient societies is at once assumed, underdetermined and, above all, functional, to the extent that it sets up the texts in question to magnify a problem with a purchase on the present—namely, the problem of subjectivity-truth that is located, in Greco-Roman antiquity, on the terrain of bios.

Yet just as Socrates does not limit himself to proposing the hermeneutic value of the polis in terms of magnification and scale alone, Foucault is elsewhere clear about his investment in Greco-Roman antiquity as a critical stage within a genealogy of the desiring subject in the West. In the account that he gives of his sustained attention to ancient Greek and Roman texts in the introduction to the second volume of the History of Sexuality, he describes the direction of his research as a deviation from his initial plan, but one that was motivated by his conviction that the project required an expansion of the historical parameters of the “games of truth” that have given shape to the desiring subject of the present.28 At the same time, such an expansion works together with the logic of rupture and discontinuity rather than opposing it. Even as Foucault turns to Greco-Roman technologies of the desiring subject as precursors to Christian sexual morality, he also emphasizes the decisive break with the “pagan” past represented by Christian pastoral care, itself differentiated, on Foucault’s analysis, from models of pastoral care attested in ancient Near Eastern traditions. Moreover, the threshold between the premodern and the modern that had helped constitute the very concept of biopower or biopolitics in the 1970s remains active in Foucault’s later work, for it marks the incorporation of pastoral care into the State’s technologies of power. One of the reasons why the tekhnai peri bion matter so much to Foucault is because the pastoral care of Christianity, which the fourth-century CE theologian Gregory of Nazianzus referred to as the tekhnē tekhnōn (the art of arts; technique of techniques) usurps the proper work of philosophy (before eventually handing the care of life on to the State). The discontinuity created by these ruptures is part of what makes the ancient Greco-Roman texts valuable as sites of resistance in and to the present. But it is also the perduring but indeterminate kinship between present and past that enables them, for Foucault, to magnify the very problem on which that resistance turns—that is, the relationship of subjectivity and truth—in ways that yield refuge and hope.

The figure of refuge, with the related ideas of security, protection, and shelter, has been instrumental to the concept of bios within the theorization of biopolitics. Insofar as all of these terms are constellated, in the negative, vis-à-vis zōē as “bare life,” they have indelibly shaped the concept of bios not only as what is more than “bare life” but as the flourishing of human life shadowed by the threat of impoverishment, whether bare life is understood as the naked exposure to sovereign power; or as animal life—“simply natural” life—that necessarily remains subjected to the law of nature or is only given to us; or as the life defined and captured by biopolitical technologies of power (state-sponsored, medical-industrial, neoliberal, consumer capitalist, etc.). In this sense, bios holds out not only shelter but also freedom and, more specifically, a freedom that is understood to be vital and natural, which is to say a freedom that is not created by the ruthless domination of nature or others but expresses, rather, the fullest realization of human life as at once singular and collective. It names a freedom whose conditions are destroyed by dehumanization, however that is defined.

But the space of refuge that bios holds open is also determined against bio- insofar as the prefix names a decisive shift in the relationship of life to power and politics, a shift that stands for modernity defined against an ancient or premodern other and so activates the lexeme as a transliteration of an ancient Greek word. As Foucault well understood, the figuration of the relationship between antiquity and modernity can itself be understood historically. In the last part of the lecture where he introduces the tekhnai peri bion, he recognizes the ways in which the catch-all category of paganism was constructed first by early Christian authors before resurfacing in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century authors of the “Classical Age.” It was in the nineteenth century, he goes on to observe, that a robust paganism—associated with the close kinship of gods and men, a privileging of matter and sensuality, and an ethical tolerance for sexuality in Greco-Roman antiquity—came to assume a specific, and potent, role in what Foucault calls “the self-analysis of the West.” Its role is realized in two complementary ways. On the one hand, the pagan world is absolutely Other to us, severed by a Christianity from which we must, in turn, free ourselves. On the other hand, paganism is not only Other but also “a certain ground of ourselves” that affords us the capacity to critique the present and so enables our liberation.29

Foucault’s analysis calls into question the very category of paganism within any historical methodology. Such a category is “at most the object of an historical study.”30 Many historians have indeed examined nineteenth-century figurations of “pagan” antiquity, and especially Greece (classical, or archaic, or Dorian, or after Arthur Evans’ excavations of Knossos and the rise of modernist aesthetics, Minoan), as a refuge from a present conceived of not only in religious terms but also in political, economic, technological, racial, and philosophical ones. These figurations of ancient Greece as refuge extend far earlier than the nineteenth century, to what Mark Payne has called the “depressive anthropology” inaugurated by Rousseau, or the classicizing nostalgia of Greeks living under Rome in the first centuries CE.31 They are integral to European and American nationalist and fascist discourses of origin, purity, and racial inheritance in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They are also integral to a far broader spectrum of utopian visions, affective investments, mimetic performances, pluralized identifications, and affirmations of affinity—all of which do not cancel out classicism’s deep complicity with a nineteenth-century racialized biopolitics, and indeed, cannot be thought or enacted outside of it, but which do challenge and multiply the terms in which bios might matter to (or be devalued by) communities in the present and expose the complicated stakes of any attachment to an ancient or ancestral past. These earlier figurations of classical, or Greek, or sometimes Greco-Roman antiquity as a refuge remain in play in the activation of the Greeks as forerunners, ancestors, and interlocutors in bios even as the concept shifts its shape under the pressure of local contingencies, especially in its relation with bio- and zōē. Foucault’s self-distancing from paganism as a nineteenth-century historiographical fiction does not preclude his own engagement with the Greeks as a privileged site for reimagining the relationship of truth and subjectivity, an engagement that is of course in deep dialogue with Nietzsche and especially Nietzsche’s conceptualization of ancient Greece as a means for critiquing our own society and envisioning new forms of life. Nietzsche’s understanding of classical studies as offering the possibility of “acting counter to our time and thereby acting on our time and, let us hope, for the benefit of a time to come” is precisely what generates his definition of the untimely.32

In its function as what Foucault might call a heterotopia, antiquity cannot be disentangled from its persistent and powerful historical figuration as a place of refuge (from the Roman Empire, from Christianity, from modernity, from biopolitics) and, more specifically, a place of refuge that holds out a hope for freedom that can neither be written off as romantic nor uninterrogated for its costs.33 In this way, classical antiquity mirrors the way in which bios has itself functioned to name a “life” that is somehow “more than”—more than the animal, more than the body, more than the life that can be sacrificed with impunity, more than biological. Working with the concept of bios shows that the use of the Greek lexeme to hold this space open is not superficial or “simply” classicizing. It points to the ways in which classical Greek antiquity has long functioned in the discourses of biopolitics and the politics of “life,” because it is at once same and Other, to figure a world other than the one we inhabit in the present and a model for imagining otherwise our relation to ourselves and to truth. More specifically, it points to the work done, especially since the early nineteenth century, by both life and a form of life in the naming of what the ancient Greeks offer to the present, even when bios is being separated out from bio– as a relic of the past.

In reading the way that bios functions as refuge and flourishing against the antonym of a chimerical zōē—that is, “bare life”—together with its function as refuge and flourishing vis-à-vis a “modern” politics of life defined by and through bio-, I am not claiming that every theorization of livable life requires the Greeks. What I want to draw out, rather, is the kind of work bios does on the terrain of biopolitics, a terrain where history and historiography and the politics of how we value the ancient past—together with the forms of community enacted by this valuing—have mattered deeply to strategies of critique and reimagination.

I want to suggest further that in seeing the labor that bios performs with respect to both zōē and bio-, we can ask about the ways in which utopian or “romantic” investments in antiquity are implicated in the idealization of bios against its polar opposite zōē, and vice versa; that is, the mutual support provided by two forms of polarization: the good life vs. “bare” life; ancient vs. modern. The risk is that a reductive opposition of bios and zōē, working together with the conflation of biological life and bare life, casts the value of the ancient Greek texts themselves too narrowly in the terms of refuge and a redemptive sense of origin while enforcing a purity of periodization that can both sequester ancient from modern and posit a clean line of descent from father to son. It licenses practices of reading ancient texts that, through both the pretense of philological purity and the mystification of what is not bare life that Agamben exemplifies, can shut down contestation over what counts as livable life in the present and the theorization of forms of life that are lived not despite complicity, harm, entanglement, need, vulnerability, and impurity but as complicit, harmed, entangled, needy, vulnerable, impure—and, positioned as such, are enabled to seek and to support the contingent flourishing of self and others.

The problem is not just that bios and zōē have a messier, more entangled relationship than the viral opposition of bios and zōē suggests. It is that when we fixate on a single, neatly opposed pair of lexemes, especially within a single, canonical site of origin (Aristotle’s Politics), we lose sight of the complexity of all of the texts addressed to the relationality of embodied lives (human and non-human) and the internal heterogeneity of the self that are extant from Greco-Roman antiquity and that are repeatedly read and reread not within a neatly contained “West” but across diasporas created by millennia of conquest, translation movements, imperialism, colonialism, and the Atlantic slave trade. As I suggested at the outset, the pluralization of ancient concepts and texts in itself resists the mythologization of classical antiquity that undergirds its function as utopian refuge from the present as well as the permutations of that myth (e.g., classical antiquity as the source of all our problems). It resists, too, the ways in which the premodern is quarantined from the modern as obsolescent and surpassed while continuing to define modernity as its internal Other, thereby reifying a monolithic modern.34

By exposing the choices we make in seeking value from the ancient Greeks and Romans, the pluralization of concepts and texts also asks us to take more responsibility for those choices as they are shaped by the critical interventions we hope to make in a fluid present. Foucault was adamant that he didn’t see the Greeks as the solution to a problem in the present but, rather, as part of the genealogy of problems and, for that reason, part of “the ethico-political choice that we have to make every day”—namely, “to determine which is the main danger.”35 Nor are the logics of continuity and discontinuity given in advance. They, too, are chosen and, above all, impure and troubled, in the sense that Donna Haraway defines “trouble” via its thirteenth-century French root in the opening lines of Staying with the Trouble: “to stir up,” “to make cloudy,” “to disturb.”36 If we have never been modern it is not because we have always been—and still are—premodern, forever locked within the two neatly opposed terms for life that Agamben locates in his vatic reading of Aristotle’s Politics. The problem with what biopolitics has become as a variant on Bruno Latour’s claim about the hidden impurity of nature and culture in modernity is that it assumes that modernity has a monopoly on the concept of impurity in the relationship of life and politics.

Given how important it is to keep troubling the categories of ancient and modern, there is value in readings that involve us in a process of actively choosing not only where we locate lines of continuity and moments of newness within materialized, diasporic reception traditions (e.g., around a concept of a body defined by its nature) but also what to value as generative in these texts and what to resist and challenge. By this I mean readings that negotiate affinity and indifference, or intimacy and strangeness, as provisional and open to challenge and reconfiguration as the nature of the “we” seeking value in these texts shifts. It is fascinating, for example, how the bios/zōē opposition, built out of the differentiation drawn by Aristotle in the Politics between merely reproductive life within the family and political life, has traveled so effortlessly compared to the reception of the Antigone, a text that has supported the enactment, again and again, of the mixing of family and state, woman and citizen, kinship and politics within a reception history that has challenged, again and again, the purchase of “the West” on an ancient Greek past.37 Even within Aristotle, the separation of reproductive or biological life from politics is hardly without costs, nor is it unthreatened by Aristotle’s struggles elsewhere, in the ethical and especially the biological works, to quarantine mind and body, human and animal, master and slave, male and female. Indeed, one of the greatest costs of the bios/zōē opposition is the way it can sustain a dualism of mind and body that reinforces attempts to protect soul from body in many ancient Greco-Roman texts, while at the same time using the language of a vital flourishing to hold at bay the transcendentalizing qualities of the soul and the anxious masculinity and ethnocentrism of elite autarchy.38 Of course Foucault was critiqued, with reason, for the normative dimensions of the subjectivity at stake in his bios. Less remarked is how the use of the reflexive pronoun in the “care of the self” (epimeleia heautou) conceals vigorous debate in extant Greco-Roman texts about the nature of the object of care. The soul is not only set against the body here but is folded into embodied life as both a problem and the condition of agency in a messy, interconnected cosmos.39 The bio- of biopolitics and a viral zōē together keep bios in play as a form of refuge still shaped by anxieties about the vulnerability, entanglement, and self-alienation of embodied life.

It is therefore because bios is a concept so implicated in the largely hidden dynamics of biopolitics as a historical formation that it appeared best used here to open up the fraught and critical relationship between ancient Greece and life as something un-impoverished on the theoretical ground staked out by biopolitics over the past several decades. In pursuing this path, I have tried to follow bios as a concept that keeps open the question of what is at stake in reading the relationship of life and politics (and life and ethics) as what I have called a Greek problem. Understood in this way, bios is an irreducibly chimerical concept.


Brooke Holmes is the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Classics at Princeton University.


Published on May 24, 2019

1. I owe a particular debt of thanks to Adi Ophir for his careful, incisive, and generous comments on drafts of this essay, which have much improved it. I am grateful, too, to feedback from the audience at the “Political Concepts” conference, especially Drucilla Cornell, Alexis Dianda, Jacques Lezra, and Cornel West, and to Sara Brill, Zahid Chaudhary, Stathis Gourgouris, Miriam Leonard, Allen Miller, Charles Stocking, and Victoria Wohl for their encouragement and comments on the written version.

2. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 6.

3. Agamben, Homo Sacer, p. 8.

4. Adi Ophir, “Concept II,” Political Concepts.

5. For these critiques, see Laurent Dubreuil, “Leaving Politics: Bios, Zōē, Life,” Diacritics 36:2 (Summer, 2006), pp. 83–98; James Gordon Finlayson, “‘Bare Life’ and Politics in Agamben’s Reading of Aristotle,” The Review of Politics 72 (2010), pp. 97–126; Sara Brill, “Aristotle’s Meta-Zoology: Shared Life and Human Animality in the Politics,”Antiquities beyond Humanism, ed. Emanuela Bianchi, Sara Brill, and Brooke Holmes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 97–­122; Paul Allen Miller, “Against Agamben: or Living your Life, Zōē versus Bios in the late Foucault,” in Biotheory, ed. Jeffrey R. Di Leo (London: Anthem Press, Forthcoming).

6. Dubreuil, “Leaving Politics,” p. 85.

7. See Arist. Gen an. 2.3, 736b13: “for at first, all such ones [sc. seeds and embryos] seem to live a plant’s life” (πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ ἅπαντ’ ἔοικε ζῆν τὰ τοιαῦτα φυτοῦ βίον); cf. 5.1, 779a1–2. It is the plant that does seem to exemplify life at its simplest. Aristotle says that plants manifest life at its most stripped down (only the nutritive capacity), while Galen later speaks of finding in the plant a form of life that is pure and, literally, not bastardized or hybrid (Foet. Form. 3.14, 5.665–66 Kühn, 68,21–23 Nickel)). On plant life as bare life in ancient Greek medicine and philosophy, see further Brooke Holmes, “Pure Life: The Limits of the Vegetal Analogy in the Hippocratics and Galen,” in The Comparable Body: Imagination and Analogy in Ancient Anatomy and Physiology, ed. John Wee (Leiden: Brill, 2017), pp. 358–86.

8. Dubreuil, “Leaving Politics,” p. 90. The critique is repeated and extended in Finlayson, “‘Bare Life,’” pp. 116–8.

9. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1978), p. 143.

10. Aristotle’s formulation of the human as a political zōon is often misread as seeing only man as a political animal. But “political” is a defining qualities of other species, as well (see Brill, “Aristotle’s Meta-Zoology,” esp. 103–5).

11. Agamben, Homo Sacer, pp. 119–20. Foucault doesn’t mention Arendt, but it is worth noting that Agamben observes the resonance between his historical argument about biopower and Arendt’s argument in The Human Condition that modernity is marked by the erosion of scope for genuine political action by an ever-narrowing focus on production and consumption that reduces humans to the conditions of animal life. Arendt also describes such life, at times, as zōē, and valorizes Aristotle’s notion of the bios politikos.

12. Nor is politics itself so self-same, as Chiara Bottici has pointed out. See Chiara Bottici, “Rethinking the Biopolitical Turn: From the Thanatopolitical to the Geneapolitical Paradigm,” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 36:1 (2015), pp. 175–97.

13. Peter McLaughlin, “Naming Biology,” Journal of the History of Biology 35:1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 1–4.

14. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Pantheon, 1970), p. 139.

15. Roberto Esposito, Bíos: Biopolitics and Philosophy, trans. Timothy Campbell (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), p. 15.

16. Vernon W. Cisney and Nicolae Morar, “Introduction: Why Biopower? Why Now?,” in Biopower: Foucault and Beyond, ed. Vernon W. Cisney and Nicolae Morar (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016), pp. 1–25; Cisney and Morar give a detailed account of the crucial shift from “biopower” to “governmentality” in January 1978 (pp. 4–14). The term “biopolitics” is first used in a lecture Foucault gave in 1974.

17. It is worth emphasizing that Foucault’s engagement with ancient Greek texts, mediated by the work of Jean-Pierre Vernant, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, and Marcel Detienne, is already deep in the early 1970s: see Miriam Leonard, Athens in Paris: Ancient Greece and the Political in Postwar French Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 71–85; Charles Stocking, “Hesiod in Paris: Justice, Truth, and Power between Past and Present,” Arethusa 50:3 (2017), pp. 385–427, esp. 393–401.

18. Michel Foucault, Subjectivity and Truth, Lectures at the Collège de France 1980–1981, ed. Arnold I. Davidson, trans. Graham Burchell (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), p. 34.

19. Foucault, Subjectivity and Truth, p. 251.

20. Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose, “Biopower Today,” BioSocieties 1 (2006), pp. 195–217; reprinted in Biopower: Foucault and Beyond, ed. Vernon W. Cisnay and Nicolae Morar (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016), pp. 297–325, 308.

21. For Nietzsche, see J. I. Porter, “Nietzsche’s Untimely Antiquity,” in The New Cambridge Companion to Antiquity, ed. T. Stern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 49­–71. Porter compellingly reads Nietzsche’s vitalist antiquity as another myth of modernity produced for critique but he also acknowledges that the reception of Nietzsche has systematically taken Nietzsche “at his word”—hence, the double-edged Nietzsche. Nor does Esposito reflect on the ways in which both Canguilhem and Deleuze engage with antiquity to think through vitalism and what Deleuze calls “naturalism”: on Deleuze, see Brooke Holmes, “Deleuze, Lucretius, and the Simulacrum of Naturalism,” in Dynamic Reading: Studies in the Reception of Epicureanism, ed. Brooke Holmes and W. H. Shearin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 316–42; Brooke Holmes, “Canguilhem and the Greeks: Vitalism between History and Philosophy,” in Ancient Holisms, ed. Chiara Thumiger (Forthcoming).

22. See Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. Vol. 1: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece (1785–1985) (New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987); Stathis Gourgouris, Dream Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization, and the Institution of Modern Greece (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), esp. 122–54; Partha Mitter, “Greece, India, and Race among the Victorians,” in African Athena: New Agendas, ed. Daniel Orrells, Gurminder K. Bhambra, and Tessa Roynon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 57–69; Denise McCoskey, Race: Antiquity and Its Legacy (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012), esp. 167–99; Phiroze Vasunia, The Classics and Colonial India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 9­–20, 133–50.

23. See esp. Johann Chapoutot, Greeks, Romans, Germans: How the Nazis Usurped Europe’s Classical Past, trans. Richard R. Nybakken (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), where Nazi eugenics and Nazi myths of antiquity are entwined at every level. See also J. M. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 4–16; Cathy Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), pp. 17–48; Nell Painter, The History of White People (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010), pp. 59–71.

24. Esposito, Bíos, pp. 16–7.

25. For documentation, see the online project Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics. For the implication of classics in these logics, see Mathura Umachandran, “Fragile, Handle with Care: On White Classicists,” Eidolon (June 5, 2017),; Denise McCoskey, “Black Athena, White Power: Are We Paying the Price for Classics’ Response to Bernal,” Eidolon (November 15, 2018).

26. Foucault, Subjectivity and Truth, p. 35.

27. Foucault, Subjectivity and Truth, p. 14.

28. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1984), p. 6.

29. Foucault, Subjectivity and Truth, p. 39.

30. Foucault, Subjectivity and Truth, pp. 40–2.

31. Mark Payne, Hontology: Depressive Anthropology and the Shame of Life (Winchester: Zero Books, 2018). On nostalgia in antiquity, see Simon Goldhill, “Whose Antiquity?,Whose Modernity? The ‘Rainbow Bridge’ of Exile,” Antike und Abendland 46: 1–20.

32. Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 60. See further Porter, “Nietzsche’s Untimely Antiquity.”

33. Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias,” trans. by Jay Miskowiec, Diacritics 16 (1986), pp. 22–7. Foucault, importantly, called for many heterotopias.

34. On the need to recognize the multiplicity of the concepts of sovereignty—and so, the biopolitical—in play in modernity, see Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” trans. by Libby Meintjes, Public Culture 15 (2003), pp. 11–40, esp. 13.

35. Michel Foucault, “On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of a Work in Progress,” in Essential Works of Foucault: 1954–1984, Volume 1: Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow and trans. Robert Hurley and others (New York: The New Press, 1997), p. 256.

36. Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), p. 1. Haraway’s book itself moves between, on the one hand, opposing utopian/dystopian thinking in the face of a new epoch of terrestrial history that Haraway christens the Chthulucene and, on the other hand, being seduced by the language of the chthonic, from the Greek khthōn. On the (biopolitical) risks that Haraway courts with the chthonic and Chthulucene, see Sophie Lewis, “Cthulhu Plays No Role for Me,” Viewpoint Magazine (May 8, 2017).

37. For the recent reception of Antigone, especially in political theory and continental philosophy, see Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim: Kinship between Life and Death (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000); Fanny Söderbäck (ed.), Feminist Readings of Antigone (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010); S. E. Wilmer and A. Žukauskaitė, (eds)., Interrogating Antigone in Postmodern Philosophy and Criticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Tina Chanter, Whose Antigone?: The Tragic Marginalization of Slavery (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011); Brooke Holmes, Gender: Antiquity and its Legacy (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012); Bonnie Honig, Antigone, Interrupted (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Tina Chanter and Sean D. Kirkland (eds.), The Returns of Antigone: Interdisciplinary Essays (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014). For its reception history in performance, see Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson, Crossroads in the Black Aegean: Oedipus, Antigone, and Dramas of the African Diaspora (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Erin B. Mee and Helene P. Foley (eds.), Antigone on the Contemporary World Stage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

38. See also Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” p. 12–4.

39. See Brooke Holmes, The Symptom and the Subject: The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), esp. chs. 5–6; Emanuela Bianchi, Sara Brill, and Brooke Holmes, “Introduction,” in Emanuela Bianchi, Sara Brill, and Brooke Holmes (eds.), Antiquities beyond Humanism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019); Brooke Holmes, The Tissue of the World: Sympathy and the Concept of Nature in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Forthcoming).