Gil Anidjar – “The Meaning of Life” (2011)

Just some important excerpts…

Gil Anidjar, “The Meaning of Life,” Critical Inquiry (Summer 2011)

To repeat: although the exclusivity of biology can hardly be granted, the dominant understanding of life since the eighteenth century at least, has conceded it. We have relinquished and abandoned ourselves to biology. Life is now first of all biological. This is not a simple tautology.

Modernity, one could further assert, is life as novelty, life as new. Or, as Arendt might put it, modernity is the subjection of life to the rhythm of the new and renewed, the rhythm of the biological. It is the subjection of everything to life, elevated.

Agamben gives us a way to think life non-biologically, by emphasizing that before life could become biological, it first of all had to become sacred. But obscures what this “before” is…

Where Foucault sees life as a novelty, a becoming-biological, Agamben sees life as an ancient problem, the site of an older division between biological life (“the simple fact of living common to all living beings” or zoe) and political life (“the form or way of living proper to an individual or a group” or bios) (HS, p. 1)

One might have expected fromAgamben some extended uptake of Benjamin’s suggestion. “It might be well worth while,” Benjamin famously wrote, “to track down the origin of the dogma of the sacredness of life.”

There is no such thing, then, as a merely biological life.

Christianity, in short, creates the idea of sacred life, and with it, the idea of biological life. Tracking the emergence of “mere”

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