The Death of One’s Own : The Sovereignty at its Limit

, par Pao-Wen Tsao

While stating in plain words that modern politics is characterized by the irreducible indistinction of the realm of bare life and that of the political, Girogio Agamben in a rather less conspicuous passage in this introduction for his book Homo Sacer said that “When its borders begin to be blurred, the bare life that dwelt there frees itself in the city and becomes both subject and object of the conflicts of the political order, the one place for both the organization of State power and emancipation from it.” But the latter was not followed up on with the same clarity.

This paper is not an attempt on verifying this claim about the possibility of emancipation ; rather, it is an inquiry into this indistinct political realm seen from the point of view of bare life, and an exploration of the limit of sovereign power at the point of death. Starting by contemplating an incident of self-immolation as an exemplar, this paper proposes a model of two coinciding deaths, by which it asks about how and why these self-imposed bare life bodies threaten or ridicule State power, triggering State measures that while being incapable of securing effective prohibitions, bring about the realization of ‘life capable of being killed but not allowed to be sacrificed’. Behind the ban on martyrdom and suicide lies the tension of the confrontation between state power and the body, and this tension is precisely that which needs to be captured and thought from a different perspective---- one that lays eyes on the complete submission of the body that somehow happens to expose the emptiness of power. By the same token, this paper suggests a kind of political resistance that is not one that leads to the empowerment and freedom of bare life as a subject, but rather one that reveals the moment in which power ultimately loses its object.

Keywords : Agamben, bare life, impotentiality, death, hunger-strike, self-immolation, suicide.

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