Horror : Kiarina Kordela

Now we can spell out the relation among horror, terrorism, and this form of terror (for there is another terror too, addressed in the last section). Terror accompanies biopolitics as its affect, insofar as biopower is terrified by the fact that its norm is based on the superfluity of life, as its own transcendental principle—which is why it does not want to know anything about it. It is a constant affect experienced by power itself. Terrorism, on the other hand, and particularly in its exemplarily “horrifying” form of suicide bombing, is the blatant manifestation within the biopolitical normative situation (in which life is the objective) of its own exception/precondition: the superfluity of life. It is an act that is simultaneously a statement that renders the exception visible and potentially readable. Nobody misses the fact that in suicide bombing life is treated as superfluous and that this occurs within the normative situation. This is a statement, therefore, that, if further scrutinized, could lead to deciphering the fact that the superfluity of life is the basis of the biopolitical normative situation—as it cannot ground itself but on the exception of its transcendental preconditions: (a) of inflicting violence and death (in the spheres that are designated as transcending the normative situation, that is, war and all acts of violence perpetrated by State power); (b) that in order to practice this legitimately it must first erect a divide between human and superfluous subhuman life; and (c) that within the realm of its transcendental preconditions, beyond the destruction of subhuman life it strives for the superfluity of human life. In other words, far from being a defense (prophylaxis) against a constitutive terror of biopower, terrorism is the return of the repressed/foreclosed cause of biopower’s terror. And, finally, horror—as the affect that can seize individuals, thereby rendering them incapable of reading, speaking, and understanding—along with the incitement to it, is the defense against reading the message stated by terrorism.

Refreshing our memory of basic Freudian knowledge, the repressed is always a signifier, and its return can occur only in the form of another signifier, a code that stands for the first, repressed signifier. The state of being in horror, on the other hand, is non-discursive whatsoever, and, as such, it blocks the perception of the manifest code as what it is, namely, a signifier. Thus, once—through discursive incitement, the spectacularization of disfigured bodies, etc.—horror sets in as a physical state of being, it turns what must not be understood into what can not be understood. Thereupon, the official voice of the biopower can triumphantly retreat, since its injunction to the silence of horror is now experienced as an instinctual affect, not unlike nausea. In short, horror is the mechanism that renders the return of the repressed signifier unintelligible, thereby effectively foreclosing what was supposed to be only repressed. And, as those familiar with psychoanalysis know, this is dangerous, because the foreclosed does not return as a signifier but as an act—an act that could eventually be committed not by a suicide bomber but by one of the superpowers. If suicide bombing and, for that matter, any act of violence against oneself and/or others, is, to put it in Lacanian terms, a passage to the act (to the real), horror is its counterpart reaction: a passage to the real qua pure state of being—but for how long?

5. Terror of Monistic Universals, and Monistic Resistance to Horror

Beyond biopolitics, two of the most notorious concepts that constitute monistic universals—concepts based on their respective opposite concepts as their transcendental preconditions—are: consciousness, which presupposes the unconscious, and the pleasure principle, which is based on the death drive. As Gilles Deleuze puts it, in his reference to the death drive Freud “is concerned not with the exceptions to this principle [of pleasure] but with its foundations.” For “[w]hat we call a principle or law is, in the first place, that which governs a particular field,” say, the field of consciousness, or of the pleasure principle, or of the normative biopolitical principle that life is its objective. “[I]t is in this sense,” Deleuze continues,

that we speak of an empirical principle or law . . . But . . . in virtue of what is a field governed by a principle; there must be . . . a second-order principle, which accounts for the necessary compliance of the field with the empirical principle. It is this second-order principle that we call transcendental.18

The superfluity of life is the second-order or transcendental principle that accounts for the necessary compliance of the field of biopolitics with its empirical (normative) principle (life as its objective). So far, all we have managed to produce, and to know, regarding both subjectivity and society is structured in a monistic way: the set of the norm depends on its exception for its functioning.

Émile Durkheim would see a continuity between the above monistic conceptualizations—whether isolated (Bataille) or universal—and his conclusions from his anthropological examination of archaic societies, according to which, “[t]he totemic cult is addressed neither to specific animals or plants . . . but to a sort of vague power” that “permeates all things,” and which “is the basic material . . . that religions of every era have sanctified and worshipped”; “at the . . . basis of religious thought we find, not particular and distinct objects or beings . . . but . . . anonymous forces . . . because religious forces are . . . incapable of . . . individualization.” Moreover, as is known, “the first systems of representation which man made of the world and of himself were religious in origin,” so that religion is not only “a speculation of the divine” but also “a cosmology”; hence, “if philosophy and the sciences arose from religion, it is because religion itself began by playing the role of science and philosophy,” hence, religion “has not merely enriched a preformed human mind” but rather “has helped to form that mind,” so that humans “owe to religion . . . the form in which this knowledge is elaborated . . . the essential notions that dominate our entire intellectual life . . . what the philosophers . . . have called the categories of understanding.” Therefore, one could attribute monism as a constitutive structuring principle of the most fundamental categories of modernity—ranging from human subjectivity to the form of power—to the most archaic, fundamental, ultimately natural and ontological (here the two concepts converge) characteristic of human beings: the inability of complete individuation. In this case, the ultimate source of our terror, and of our need to revert to horror so as to avoid it, would be our own non-individuating nature. However, concomitant to this characteristic is our equally primal tendency toward individuation, as the condition of establishing religion as an institutionalized norm with its own laws. In Durkheim’s words, “the hallmark of religious thought” consists in that it “presuppose[s] a classification of things . . . into two classes, two opposite kinds . . . designated by two distinct terms . . . profane and sacred.”19 It follows that our categories of understanding are marked by a double, self-contradictory, determination: the inability of individuation and the impulse toward a sharp individuation between two opposite and hierarchically unequal classes. Evidencing the tension between these two determinations of the intellect, modern philosophers have actually classified all theories as either monistic or dualistic, as if in a kind of division of intellectual labor, according to which thought can be devoted either to the principle of non-individuation or to belaboring individuation.

As for power, throughout the era of sovereignty it declared itself exclusively as an ally of individuation, defining itself explicitly as the right to draw the line between the sacred and the profane, from the norm and its exception to who can live and who must die. But, by accepting the illegitimacy of the sovereign decision and declaring all life as sacred, modern biopolitical power finds itself based (officially) on the principle of non-individuation and, thereby, becomes enmeshed in the paradox that has been described here: the fact that it constitutes a monistic universal, since its official principle presupposes its opposite (individuation). It is for this reason that the problematic of the sovereign decision becomes in the realm of biopower in truth obsolete. The principle of the division between the sacred and the profane, which used to be the prerogative of sovereign power, now cuts through biopower itself, to divide it between its sacred norm and its profane exception as its own transcendental precondition, between life as objective and the superfluity of life.

18. Gilles Deleuze, Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in Furs, trans. Jean McNeil and Aude Willm (New York; Zone Books, 1994), 112-13.

19. Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Carol Cosman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 36, 147-148.

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