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Rozsa G.

Rozsa, George Gregory
AMST 5000
25 September 2015
The Birth of Tragedy

I remember my first introduction to theory came by way of Nietzsches The Birth of

Tragedyrequired reading for a graduate seminar in Art History I took back in the summer of
2009. What really stood out for me in the text was Nietzsches contrasting of the Dionysian spirit
against Apollonian reason. This was way before I had any (mis)understanding of Lacanian
psychoanalysis, and I knew nothing of the real let alone the symbolic. But it appeared to me that
the Dionysian occupied a zone or region set apart from language. Later, I would come to
understand this place as the real, but even back then, it seemed like the Dionysian resisted
signification. Moreover, the pure chaotic energy of Dionysus reminded me of the
creative/destructive potential of the Hindu deity Shiva. If only this chaotic energy could be
harnessed and utilized for emancipatory projects. Then it occurred to me that the Dionysian
might be channeled through an Apollonian lens and focused towards such ends. The Dionysian
energy would thus retain its liberatory potential while moving from one register (the real) to
another (the symbolic). Again, I knew nothing of Deleuze and Guattari, nor the possibility of
(re)capture by State power. Six years later, and countless mental wear-and-tear while treading
over a plethora of liberatory texts, I have not given up on the Dionysian potential, but I do realize
that either the shape or place (space) of its liberation must necessarily change in response to its
vulnerabilities within the symbolic. This paper addresses the Dionysian potential for liberation
through the Greek concepts of zo and bios.1

Please note that this theory is really, really, in its infancy.

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It Is All Greek to Me
There is no single word in the Greek language for what we call life. Instead, the Greeks
make a distinction between an instinctive, animalist form of life, which they call zo, and a
participatory form of civic life, which they refer to as bios. Agamben interprets zo as a simple
fact of living common to all living beings whereas bios refers to a qualified life or a particular
way of living (Agamben 9). This distinction is crucial for Agambens theoretical framework on
sovereign power, as zo is necessarily excluded from the body politic. Agamben couches his
theory of modern sovereignty in the figure of the homo sacer, the sacred man of Roman law,
who may be killed and yet not sacrificed (Agamben 12). Homo sacer is an individual who has
been banished from the polis by sovereign exception and exists in a liminal state of bare life,
somewhere between zo and bios. Through the homo sacer, Agamben argues that bare life gets
included in the juridical order solely in the form of its exclusion (that is, of its capacity to be
killed) (Agamben 12). For Agamben, this exception constitutes the original nucleus of
sovereign power, and in contradistinction to Foucaults earlier work on biopower, the inclusion
of bare life through its exclusion, produces the original biopolitical body of power (Agamben
Foucault, on the other hand, argues that the authority to grant or take life is the sovereigns
most fundamental right under the classical theory of sovereignty. [I]t is at the moment when the
sovereign can kill, Foucault claims, that he exercises his right over life. (Foucault 240).
Beginning in the seventeenth century and concomitant with the rise of nation states, there was a
proliferation of disciplinary technologies, which focused on the physical body of the individual
subject, and served to secure both his visibility and control (Foucault 242). From the late
eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, however, Foucault notes there was a significant

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transformation in the sovereigns focus from taking life or letting live to make live and let
die (Foucault 240). During this period, new non-disciplinary technologies, applied to man as a
living man, to man-as-living-being; ultimately, if you like, to man-as-species, emerged so that
the acquisition of power over man insofar as man is a living being that the biological came
under State control (Foucault 239). These new forms of biotechnology addressed fertility and
birth rates, mortality rates and longevity, rates of production, illness and epidemics, etc. Foucault
subsumed these emergent technologies under the rubric of biopolitics, which takes the population
at large, or bare life, as its object[] of knowledge and the target[] it seeks to control (Foucault
This entry of zoe into the sphere of the polis the politicization of bare life as such
constitutes, for Foucault, the decisive event of modernity and signals a radical transformation
of the politicalphilosophical categories of classical thought (Agamben 10). Agamben,
however, insists that this Foucauldian interpretation of modern power be revamped. What is at
stake within modern politics, Agamben notes, is not so much the inclusion of zo in the polis
nor simply the fact that life as such becomes a principal object of the projections and calculations
of State power, but rather, the realm of bare lifewhich is originally situated at the margins of
the political ordergradually begins to coincide with the political realm (Agamben 12).
Moreover, exclusion and inclusion, outside and inside, bios and zo enter into a zone of
irreducible indistinction, in which formerly defined borders become increasingly fluid and
flexible (Ibid). For Agamben, it is within this irreducible zone of indistinction that the bare life,
which inhabits the polis 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 (Agamben 12).
Agambens conclusions, however, are fatally flawed. Zo, in the form of bare life, which
breaches the polis, necessarily subjects itself to State power through technologies of the self by

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which processes of subjectivization bring the individual to bind himself to his own identity and
consciousness and, at the same time, to an external power (Agamben 11). Such subjectivization
limits zos emancipatory potential by reterritorializing it under hierarchical control, be it a form
of institutional power or any other centralizing technology of the polis. Bare lifes true
emancipatory potential, therefore, lies in zo and its exclusion from the polis.
We can think of zo in terms of Nietzsches Dionysianas a purely chaotic energy or life
force that resists signification because it resides in the real. As such, zo cannot be captured by
State power. Conversely, we can view bios in terms of Nietzsches Apollonian. Bios is that part
of zo, which has been captured by the polis precisely because it lies within the symbolic and has
been signified through language. No part of zo as bios, therefore, can ever be truly
emancipatory in the sense of escaping power. The polis exists, because man is [a] living being
who, in language, separates and opposes himself to his own bare life and, at the same time,
maintains himself in relation to that bare life in an inclusive exclusion (Agamben 12). The polis
is a hierarchical space of power and signification. Deleuze and Guattari would also call it
arboreal and striated.
In contrast to the striated space of the polis, zo exists within the smooth spaces of
exclusion and exception. Smooth space, for Deleuze and Guattari, is filled by events or
haecceities, far more than by formed and perceived things. It is a space of affects, more than one
of properties (Deleuze and Guattari 479). And while the striated space of the polis organizes
society and simultaneously restricts its free movement, the smooth space of zo operates on a
plane of consistency, as pure intensities within a Body without Organs (BwO). The logic of bios
is binary, the one which becomes two; zos intensities, however, operate on the level of
multiplicity. Zo, by extension, flows rhizomatically through this smooth space (Deleuze and
Guattari 6).

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In their seminal A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and
Guattari enumerate certain characteristics of rhizomes, for which zo may also be described. The
first and second of these principals concern a rhizomes connectivity and heterogeneity. [A]ny
point of a rhizome, Deleuze and Guattari argue, can be connected to anything other, and must
be (Deleuze and Guattari 7). This differs fundamentally from arboreal projects, like State
power, which reproduces itself through dichotomy, mimesis, and semiotic chains, which
themselves, are connected to very diverse modes of coding (biological, political, economic,
etc.) (Ibid). In contrast to these binary modalities, rhizomes operate under a third principal of
multiplicity. Multiplicities, Deleuze and Guattari theorize, have neither subject nor object, only
determinations, magnitudes and dimensions (Deleuze and Guattari 9). As such, there exist no
units of measurement, which can be applied to rhizomes, only lines, which delineate their
maximum number of dimensions. Surplus dimensions simply do not exist for these
multiplicities; therefore, they are incapable of being overcoded, nor can they increase in number
without a concomitant change in their nature. (Deleuze and Guattari 9).
The principle of asignifying rupture marks Deleuze and Guattaris fourth characteristic of
rhizomes. In contrast to oversignifying breaks, which can sever and severely cripple arboreal
structures, Rhizomes, may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but [they] will start up again on
one of [their] old lines, or on new lines (Deleuze and Guattari 9). These points of rupture
correspond to certain lines of segmentarity for which all rhizomes are to some degree,
territorialized. Conversely, all rhizomes contain lines of deterritorialization for which it flees
from these territorializing structures (Ibid). Ruptures occur whenever segmentary lines explode
into a line of flight (Deleuze and Guattari 9). However, Deleuze and Guattari warn that these
lines of flight are already always tied back to the rhizome from which it fled. Therefore, they
argue that any escape necessarily entails the possibility of recapture.

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When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker introduced his Budget Repair Bill, Act 10, with
the intention of eradicating collective bargaining rights among public-employee unions, he was
met with swift and immediate resistance. Student-led protests were followed up by twelvethousand and thirty-thousand-protester marches only days later, culminating in a seventythousand-man occupation of the Capitol that first week (Wang and Lampert 125). Moreover,
public school student walk-outs were joined by a three-day teacher sick-out while police officers
walked hand-in-hand with firefighters and other public employees. [E]ach act of unexpected
militancy on the part of one constituency pushed all other constituencies toward taking their own
risk. This was the moment of a collective, leaderless, and organic constitution of a social
movement (Wang and Lampert 125).
Then on February 17, 2011, less than a week after Walker introduced Act 10, fourteen
Democratic Senators fled Wisconsin to Illinois to stall the vote on Act 10, with an absence of a
quorum. When these Senators returned, they saw a political opportunity in the movement and
subsequently took control of its leadership. Opting to forego its autonomist character and
strength, the Democratic leadership channeled the movement into an electoral strategy of recall
elections, to which the major labor union leadership signed on (Wang and Lampert 126). Union
leadership, Wang and Lampert, argue, was like the Democrats, wedded to a narrow and
ultimately conservative set of interests, which included among other things, union dues and the
job security of its membership (Wang and Lampert 129). The constellation of these interests,
they further argue, set the unions apart from the greater public good (Ibid). Once within the
traditional boundaries of electoral politics, the outrage and energy that founded the movement
dissipated, and the movement itself came to an abrupt halt.

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This outrage and energy is nothing other than the pure affect of zo, which welled up in
an autonomist response to a perceived injustice. Zo exists between all living beings. And must!
Zo exploded in a line of flight from one constituency to another, always producing additional
multiplicities and dimensions, therefore forming new assemblages and establishing new
connections with each and every additional leap. This zo did not infiltrate the bios. Rather, it
influenced it like those annoying FEELINGS, which tell you that you should or should not be
doing something. Zo is affect.
You mean it controls your actions?

Partially, but it also obeys your commands.2

"It's a state of mind; it's that place where you lose yourself and find yourself."
You're not gonna start chanting or anything are you?

I might.3
And it was zo that spawned this collective, leaderless, and organic movement. It was only
when zo entered the polis, the realm of electoral politics, that it was able to be captured. Filtered
through the Apollonian lens of the Democratic Senators, zo became signified with recall efforts,
first with the recall of Republican Senators who voted for Act 10, and later with Scott Walker,
himself. Zo eluded capture when it remained purely angst and unrest. Like the real itself, these
feelings resisted signification. But once this angst was codified and territorialized by the
Democratic leadership, they became signified and subject to capture as Deleuze and Guattari
have warned above.
Bare Life
Settler colonialism did not find North America tabula rosa. In fact, this continent was
populated by a wealth of indigenous nations, which predate the founding of America. 4 But settler
colonialism advances through territorialization, which necessarily means deterritorializing extant

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Point Break 're not gonna start

The United States of America.

chanting or anything are you?

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indigenous political, economic, and cultural structures that stand in its way. Agamben
demonstrated how sovereign power excludes the homo sacer from the polis, and thus reduces
him to bare life. Colonial structures of power can be seen in the same sovereign light where
indigenous bodies are removed from civil society and banished to the reservation, thus rendering
them killable with impunity, or bare life. Anishinaabeg professor Phil Bellfy relayed a story
about Chief Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk, who challenged the rights of half-breeds to allotment of
Anishinaabeg land. Bellfys uncle disagreed and took him to task by having him killed. As
Bellfy advised, At that time it was not illegal for Indians to kill another Indian (Bellfy 167).
Colonial power permeated every aspect of native life, from who could be counted or
included in tribal rolls through the artifice of blood quantum, to the allotment of native lands
based upon that fiction. Other colonial fictions were impressed upon them due to their absence
from civil society. Anglo Americans, wanted to tell a story in which Indians were absent, Jill
Doerfler, assistant professor of America Indian Studies and Anishinaabe writes, and they did so
by telling the story many people today still think that real Indians no longer exist (Doerfler
232). In fact, the trope of the vanishing Indian is one of the main myths used to keep Native
Americans subjugated under colonial power today.
Bare life for Native Americans is not the same as zo, though zo figures highly in
indigenous life and culture, imbuing much if not most of who they are and what they produce.
Instead, bare life lies on the continuum between zo and bios, but always on the excluded side of
the polis. Bare life, therefore, is also excluded from bios, and bios, is the biopolitical subject par
excellence. Bare lifes exclusion from bios, and by extension, the polis, gives it a distinct
advantage in challenging the very power structures that excluded it to begin with. Most (but not
all) forms of colonial power (a fiction in themselves) cannot penetrate the fictitious borders of
the reservation, thus turning the reservation, itself, into a significant zone or site of resistance to

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colonial power. That is, as long as resistance remains in bare life and maintains its separation
from the polis.
Indigenous resistance to colonial power can take many forms; however, two primary forms
emerge from Anishinaabeg interviews within Deep Routes: The Midwest in All Directions
tribalography and survivance. Tribalography, Doerfler explains, is the idea that Native writers
often tell stories that combine autobiography, history, and fiction (Doerfler 229). These stories,
are not about Truth, but rather they are pedagogical tools meant to instruct and to show their
place within [their] families, communities, nations, and the world (Ibid). Tribalgraphic stories
are rhizomic, connecting ones own autobiography with the past, present, and future. They are
full of affect, full of zo. They deterritorialize space, open[ing] spaces for indigenous scholars to
defy the idea of fact and fiction (Doerfler 229).
Where much of native history focuses on the victimization and the disappearance of the
Indian, survivance embodies an active native presence in the world that throws into relief
colonial discourses of power. And as opposed to mere survival, survivance is agency. It mocks
colonial structures of power that put its faith in pure blood and mocks the allotment strategies
based upon it. Rejecting the idea that those who are mixed blood cannot create new
generations of Indian people, [survivance] works against the idea of racial and cultural purity
(Doerfler 231). Moreover, it works to destabilize the image of the vanishing Indian by presenting
the modern Indian as the creator of his/her own tales, myths, and history. Within bare life these
stories can be told and retold to Natives as well as non-Natives alike, but once within the ream of
the polis, once within bios, such stories of Native agency can be appropriated and made to serve
the colonial structures they seek to destabilize.

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A New Paradigm
Rosi Braidotti acknowledges the revolutionary potential of zo in The Politics of Life
Itself and New Ways of Dying. Drawing on early Christian beliefs, which posit a natural
hierarchy between bios (intelligent life) and zo (animalistic life), Braidotti notes that zo and
bios, intersect in the human body turn[ing] the physical self into a contested space and into a
political arena (Braidotti 207). Zo, she claims, is always deemed lesser by comparison, and
reserved for the others of civilized society: the sexual other (woman) as well as the ethnic
other (the native) (Ibid). Moreover, zo is intrinsic to human life yet impervious to its will. Thus
she claims, it is capable of eluding the self-policing technics of the polis. Zo exuberantly
exceeds bios and supremely ignores logos (Braidotti 208).
Braidotti calls for a nomadic subjectivity, saturated with zo, which perpetually exists in a
liminal state of becoming, becoming animal, becoming other and ultimately, becoming death
(Braidotti 208). By incorporating death into her equation, Braidotti complicates life in a way that
reevaluates the relationship between the self and the other in nonhierarchical terms (Braidotti
209). [T]he mark of difference, She claims, now falls on the other thanatosthe dead
body, the corpse or spectral other (Ibid). She criticizes Agambens notion of bare life, which she
interprets as existing solely in its exclusion from sovereign power. This she argues inscribes
fluid vitality at the heart of the mechanisms of capture of the state system and produces a
gloomy and pessimistic vision of power (Braidotti 209). Braidotti, on the other hand, favors
a more generative vision of zo.
Equating pain with suffering creates a culture of compensation. Some pain and wounds,
however, are so horrific that they exceed any possibility of justice or closure; therefore, Braidotti
urges an ethics that accept[s] the impossibility of adequate compensationand living with the
open wound (Braidotti 210). Such an ethics of affirmation, she claims, resists the logic of

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retribution or rights (Ibid). We see this in Phil Bellfys interview with Dylan Miner, concerning
a community discussion over the Jay Treaty, which ceded certain Anishinaabeg lands to the
United States. Rather than dwelling on what was lost, the community rallied around Sugar
Island, which was never ceded. This opened up the possibility of further investigations, which
revealed that none of the twenty-five thousand or so Anishinaabeg islands within Lake Huron
were ever ceded to Canada or the United States (Bellfy 170). This, she claims, is neither fatalism
nor resignation, but rather a reworking of the negative by which one may achieve positive
transformations (Braidotti 214). For Braidotti, this is freedom, freedom from the burden of
negativity, freedom through the understanding of our bondage (Braidotti 215).
I do not exactly know how I feel about Braidottis generative vision of thanatos. I do not
even know if I am reading her right, but while I agree there is a certain freedom in death, I
question its reproductive capacity to maintain itself. Rather than physical death of the body, I
prefer to look at this death metaphorically, as in social death, or bare life. As argued above, bare
life provides a space for resisting the power structures responsible for its creation. Social suicide
in this case could mark the potential for radical change. This is not fatalistic either, as Native
Americans have been resisting colonial structures from outside the body politic for nearly two
hundred years. Zo is about affect, which can be generative in bare life or potentially detrimental
in bios:
You know the days when you get the mean reds?
The mean reds. You mean like the blues?

No. The blues are because youre getting fat, and maybe its been raining too
long. Youre just sad, thats all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly youre
afraid, and you dont know what youre afraid of.5
Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to
come true.6

Breakfast at Tiffanys
Point Break

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Works Cited
Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 1995. Print.
Bellfy, Phil. Baawating. Deep Roots: The Midwest in All Directions. Chelsea, Michigan:
Sheridan Books, 2012: 166-171. Print.
Braidotti, Rosi. The Politics of Life Itself and New Ways of Dying. New Materialism:
Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Eds. Diana H. Coole and Samantha Frost. North Carolina:
Duke University Press, 2010: 201-220. Print.
Doerfler, Jill. Spirit Island. Deep Roots: The Midwest in All Directions. Chelsea, Michigan:
Sheridan Books, 2012: 228-232. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.
Foucault, Michel. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France. New York:
Picador, 1997. Print.
Wang, Dan S. and Nicolas Lambert. Wisconsins Lost Strike Moment. Deep Roots: The
Midwest in All Directions. Chelsea, Michigan: Sheridan Books, 2012: 122-134. Print.