Horror beyond Death: Geopolitics and the Pulverisation of the Human (New Formations 89, 90, Autumn/Winter 2016)

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Publication date: May 1, 2017

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François Debrix

From territorial conquests or wars of attrition to the concentration camps or policies of control of displaced populations, the biopolitical capture of human life in configurations of geopolitical power has often involved the putting to death of populations. While, following Foucault’s work, we can argue that late modern political power has been concerned with the management of people’s lives or with the ‘health’ of a population, this capacity to ‘make live and let die’ (as Foucault put it) is never separate from a modality of force premised upon a right to put to death. Thus, the distinction between biopolitics and what has been called thanatopolitics or necropolitics can no longer be guaranteed. The goal of this essay is to push further the biopolitical/necropolitical argument by showing that, in key contemporary instances of geopolitical violence and destruction, the life and/or death of populations and individual bodies is not a primary concern. What is of concern, rather, is what I have called the pulverization of the human. I consider this targeting of the human, or of humanity itself, to be a matter of horror. Horror’s aim, when it enters the domain of geopolitical destruction, appears to be to put bodies to death. But, more crucially, its aim is to render human bodies, beyond the fact of life and death, unrecognizable, unidentifiable, and sometimes undistinguishable from non-human matter. Horror does not care to recompose human life or humanity. This essay briefly details the argument about horror and horror’s ‘objectives’ beyond death. It also takes issue with recent theories that have argued that traces of human life can be recovered from contemporary instances of geopolitical violence and destruction. Finally, this essay offers two contemporary illustrations of horror’s targeting of the human by examining the role and place of horror in suicide bombings and in drone attacks. 

DOI: 10.3898/NEWF:89/90.05.2016More from New Formations