Cover image for The Living from the Dead: Disaffirming Biopolitics By Stuart J. Murray

The Living from the Dead

Disaffirming Biopolitics

Stuart J. Murray

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$109.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09341-3

$27.50 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09340-6

Available as an e-book

218 pages
6" × 9"
2022

RSA Series in Transdisciplinary Rhetoric

The Living from the Dead

Disaffirming Biopolitics

Stuart J. Murray

“A meticulously conceptualized and eloquently argued ethico-rhetorical critique of neoliberal modernity and an impassioned disaffirmation of its biopolitical rationality. Murray excuses no one, least of all himself, from complicity in the necessarily lethal but disavowed infrastructural conditions and social norms of our economic and political present. Making live and letting die: A necessarily twinned, fateful, but cunningly intransitive symmetry. This is a book not just to be read and then read again, but also to be thought about for a very long time.”

 

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In a society that aims above all to safeguard life, how might we reckon with ethical responsibility when we are complicit in sacrificial economies that produce and tolerate death as a necessity of life?

Arguing that biopower can be fully exposed only through an analysis of those whom society has “let die,” Stuart J. Murray employs a series of transdisciplinary case studies to uncover the structural and rhetorical conditions through which biopower works. These case studies include the concept of “sacrifice” in the “war” against COVID-19, where emergent cultures of pandemic “resistance” are explored alongside suicide bombings and military suicides; the California mass hunger strikes of 2013; legal cases involving “preventable” and “untimely” childhood deaths, exposing the irreconcilable claims of anti-vaxxers and Indigenous peoples; and the videorecording of the death of a disabled Black man. Murray demonstrates that active resistance to biopower inevitably reproduces tropes of “making live” and “letting die.” His counter to this fact is a critical stance of disaffirmation, one in which death disrupts the politics of life itself.

A philosophically nuanced critique of biopower, The Living from the Dead is a meditation on life, death, power, language, and control in the twenty-first century. It will appeal to students and scholars of rhetoric, philosophy, and critical theory.

“A meticulously conceptualized and eloquently argued ethico-rhetorical critique of neoliberal modernity and an impassioned disaffirmation of its biopolitical rationality. Murray excuses no one, least of all himself, from complicity in the necessarily lethal but disavowed infrastructural conditions and social norms of our economic and political present. Making live and letting die: A necessarily twinned, fateful, but cunningly intransitive symmetry. This is a book not just to be read and then read again, but also to be thought about for a very long time.”
“Stuart Murray is a beautiful writer and a meticulous thinker. Each of the case studies in this pathbreaking book offers a moving close-up designed to challenge biopolitics from the inside, mounting a defense against its ontologizing of life by homing in on the death that it necessitates. Murray invites the dead and dying to haunt the logics and spaces of biopolitical life and (so) exposes ‘our’ complicity in a regime that delivers death in the name of life.”
“Murray’s account of biopolitics in an age of neoliberalism is timely, lucid, and original. Rather than attending to the management of populations and the production of norms of life, Murray poses the urgent and necessary question of the deaths that make life and its affirmation possible. Arguing for a political paradigm shift in the norms and demands of life, Murray focuses on the loss, death, and silence that makes contemporary biopolitics possible. This is a remarkable and valuable book.”

Stuart J. Murray is Professor of Rhetoric and Ethics in the Department of English Language and Literature at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He holds affiliate appointments in the Department of Health Sciences and the Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art, and Culture.

Acknowledgements

Introduction

1. The Cost of Living: On Pandemic Politics and Protests

2. Speech Begins After Death: On Claiming the Human Right to Die

3. Necessaries of Life: On Law, Medicine, and the Time of a Life

4. Racism’s Digital Dominion: On Hate Speech and Remediating Racist Tropes

Refrain: And Who by His Own Hand?

Notes

Index

Download a PDF sample chapter here: Introduction