The Political Unconscious of the Anthropocene: A conversation with Frederic Neyrat by Elizabeth R. Johnson
With translation assistance from David B. Johnson
Frédéric Neyrat is a French philosopher and former program director at the Collège International de Philosophie. He is currently a visiting professor at the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While his work largely remains to be translated into English, his writings–which integrate cultural theory, biopolitics and immune-politics, Marxist political economy, and critiques of liberal eco-politics–offer productive intersections with much of the ongoing work in critical theory and human-environment geography in the Anglo world.
His recent work includes books on Heidegger (L’indemne. Heidegger et la destruction du monde, 2008), eco-politics, immuno-politics and catastrophism (Biopolitique des castastrophes, 2008), Antonin Artaud (Instructions pour une prise d’âmes: Artaud et l’envoûtement occidental, 2009), capitalism and ecopolitics (Clinamen: Flux, absolu et loi spirale, 2011), terrorism (Terrorisme: Un concept piégé, 2011), Jean-Luc Nancy (Le communisme existentiel de Jean-Luc Nancy, 2013), and a manifesto for philosophy (Atopies, forthcoming 2014). He is also the author of several essays on ecopolitics and the Anthropocene and is a member of the editorial board at Multitudes. Neyrat maintains the blog Atopies.
Elizabeth Johnson: Your scholarship integrates cultural theory, biopolitics, Marxist political economy and critiques of liberal eco-politics. A segment of critical human-environment geography has for some time been occupied with this confluence of critical theory and eco-politics, but this is perhaps only recently becoming more mainstream in academic scholarship. Could you tell us a bit about your background coming out of France and your work with Multitudes. What commitments ground the synthetic nature of you work?
Frédéric Neyrat: You’re perfectly right to mention the journal Multitudes, which was in the 2000s a real and powerful intellectual laboratory. During this period, it became crystal clear to me that the study of “cognitive capitalism”, that is to say, of contemporary capitalism based on the production and the exploitation of knowledge, was inseparable from a questioning of environmental disasters and of new biopolitical technologies. My book Biopolitics of Catastrophes was devoted to this triple perspective, simultaneously economic, environmental, and biopolitical. Yet the relation between these three dimensions is anything but obvious: how is it possible to reconcile the idea that contemporary power produces and enhances life, that is to say the biopolitical perspective, with environmental studies showing the degradation of the conditions of life? How can we reconcile the euphoric discourse that analyzes capitalism via the notion of “the immaterial” (knowledge, the powerful cooperative web of brains of the “general intellect”, all the concepts coming from Operaismo and post-Operaismo), with the necessity to materially consider the industry of the immaterial and its material ecological footprint? Do these very material feet and supposedly immaterial brains not belong to the same world? I could only answer these questions by invoking, to use an expression from Freud, the “other scene” of biopolitics, economy, and ecology: something that I call – combining Freud, Derrida, Sloterdijk, and Esposito – an immunological unconscious, or the fantasy of an absolute immunization.
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