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Chiara Bottici’s General Seminar Lecture: Rethinking the Biopolitical Turn

“Let me begin, actually, by introducing the devil.” With these words, on March, 4, 2015, Chiara Bottici opened her presentation to the General Seminar of the New School for Social Research, founded by the original members of the University in Exile and continuously running ever since. Bottici, quoting the words of Mephistopheles in a scene from Goethe’s Faust, “for just where meaning fails, you see, a new word will come in…”, elegantly set out her task: to demonstrate and examine fundamental political change, as revealed by fundamental changes in the way we understand politics. She asks: “What was politics before and what has it become after the so-called biopolitical turn?”

Bottici ranged broadly, moving between ancient and contemporary usages and practices. She provocatively proposed that politics as a set of practices, and not as a science, is a modern creation. She maintained, further, that biopolitics has been conceived in death and speculates what would happen if it was imagined in the terms of birth. She proposes, as I understood her, a radical feminist account of the biopolitical, very specifically beyond Foucault and those who have been informed by his path breaking work. The discussion following her elegantly presented lecture was very much in the tradition of the General Seminar: critical, passionate, informed by history and interdisciplinary. In the new tradition of Public Seminar, it simultaneously addressed pressing contemporary problems and enduring problems of the human condition. -J.G.

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Jeffrey C. Goldfarb

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