As I said earlier, this preoccupation with self-protection doesn’t only belong to our age. The threshold of knowledge with respect to risk becomes quite different over the course of time, until it culminates precisely in our own period. This is due to a series of concurrent causes not far removed from what is called globalization, in the sense that the more humans — but also ideas, languages, technologies — communicate and are intertwined, the more is generated, as counter-thrust, a demand for a preventive immunization. The recent identification with local groups can be explained as a sort of immunitarian rejection of that global contamination that is globalization. The more the“self” tends to make itself “global,” which is to say the harder it tries to include what is located outside itself; the more it tries to introject every form of negativity , the more negativity it reproduces.

BioPolítica: “Immunization and Violence” by Roberto Esposito, originally published in 2008. Translated from Italian by Thimothy Campbell, p. 6, PDF. See below for more information.

In “Immunization and Violence”, Roberto Esposito starts by reminding the reader that for Michel Foucault, the task of philosophy today takes the form of a “historical ontology of ourselves”:

This is the task of philosophy as the ontology of the actual: while on the level of analysis, locating the difference between that which is essential and that which is contingent, between superficial effects and profound dynamics that move things, that transform lives and that mark existences. We are concerned here with the moment, the critical threshold, from which today’s news [cronaca] takes on the breadth of history. (p. 2)

This introduction provides Esposito with a frame within which he is able to situate his own work. Indeed, among currents events, how is one to distinguish the noise from the signal? What qualifies as an important motif as opposed to a passing trend? Without the help of historical perspective, the analysis of the present in which we are constantly immersed is far from being obvious. Esposito’s very own effort at answering such a difficult task is to be found in the category of immunization:

My work over the years was born here from this question and choice. It concerns the attempt, anything but easy, of locating the key words and the paradigms around which the coordinates of a certain historical moment can be structured, even if they are not in a form that the naked eye can always see. This, at least, is the question with which I began and to which I attempt to respond: what are the conflicts, the traumas, the nightmares — but also the demands, the hopes — that characterize so our age so profoundly? For my part I believe I’ve sketched this key word, this general paradigm in the category of immunity and immunization. (p. 3)

The essay that follows is rather short, but constitutes an excellent introduction to the philosophical work of Roberto Esposito. Previously here: all post tagged “Esposito”.

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The text “Immunizzazione e violenza” was first published in 2008 as a chapter of Roberto Esposito’s book Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics (Milan: Mimesis Edizioni). It is included in the French translation of the book published in 2010 (Communauté, immunité, biopolitique. Repenser les termes de la politique, tr. by Bernard Chamayou, foreword by Frédéric Neyrat, Paris: Les Prairies ordinaires, pp. 129-144) as well as in the English translation published in 2013 under the title Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics (tr. by Rhiannon Noel Welch, Fordham University Press, pp. 57-66). However, the translation quoted above is from Thimothy Campbell and differs in some ways from the one published by Fordham University Press.

On November 29, 2010, when Roberto Esposito was invited by the Occidental College in Los Angeles to give a lecture, he actually read Thimothy Campbell’s English translation of “Immunizzazione e violenza”. The lecture was recorded as part of the College Agora Project. The video recording was uploaded to YouTube in nine parts (see part 1; a version where all the clips were merged into a single video is also available here).

Quality of the audio recording is not perfect, but it makes a interesting complement to the written text. Furthermore, after the reading, Esposito answers a couple of questions from the audience (which, obviously, are not part of the published essay). For this part of the event, Esposito speaks Italian and translation is provided live by Thimothy Campbell. The Q&A starts on Clip 5 at around 2 mins 45 secs.

Thimothy Campbell has already translated two of Esposito books, Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community and Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy (for which he also provided an excellent critical introduction), as well a a number of articles. Among other books, he is the author of Improper Life: Technology and Biopolitics from Heidegger to Agamben (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). One can read an interesting review of the book at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

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Black and white portrait of Roberto Esposito taken in 2008 by Jorge Ledo (Flickr). © All Rights Reserved.
Black and white portrait of Roberto Esposito taken in 2008 by Jorge Ledo (Flickr). © All Rights Reserved.

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