Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nicole Shukin - Lucy: The Practice of Pastoral Counterconduct and Posthuman Cosmopolitics

As Matthew Calarco has argued in relation to Giorgio Agamben’s theorization of bare life - and as Anand Pandian similarly contends vis-à-vis Foucault’s analysis of pastoral power - biopolitical metaphors that hinge on figures of animal existence have a habit of displacing actual non-human animals from the stakes of the discussion. Pandian calls for the pluralization of Foucault’s study of pastoral power – in Foucault’s own words, “politics seen as a matter of the sheep-fold” (130) - by tracing how the government of human and the government of non-human life are practically entangled within (post)colonial and rural contexts beyond Europe. Indeed, Pandian contends that “material engagements with nonhuman beings in rural settings may constitute an important domain of the ‘unthought’ within Foucault’s own conceptualization of pastoral power” (92).

To continue probing for the unthought within Foucault’s work I take up a novel that not only resituates pastoral power in rural, (post)colonial space, but compels us to think the biopolitical and the literary senses of pastoral simultaneously: pastoral in the sense of techniques of governmentality (more, environmentality) as well as pastoral as a heterogeneous ensemble of literary conventions involving idyllic visions of living-in-nature. J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) – a novel set in postapartheid South Africa that has catalyzed numerous postcolonial and posthumanist readings – renders it impossible to separate the settler-colonial tradition of the plaasroman (farm novel) from technologies of sovereign and pastoral power that at once violently and lovingly govern land, labour and life through shifting ratios of control and care. Incessantly implicating himself in the pastoral tradition of “white writing” that served colonial and apartheid rule in South Africa, Coetzee pursues an immanent critique of pastoral through the figure of Lucy.

What, I ask, can Lucy teach us about inheriting and inhabiting a promise of pastoral life that is historically overdetermined not only by settler-colonialism and sovereign whiteness, but by a human exceptionalism (the sort of human exceptionalism that also underpins normative assumptions that worldliness and cosmopolitanism are projects that concern humans - usually in the form of national populations - peacefully cohabiting the globe)? The eco-cosmopolitanism represented by Coetzee’s Lucy suggests that worldliness begins with a biopolitical recognition that land and other animals, as well as human neighbours, are collectively constitutive of a life. Lucy’s eco-cosmopolitanism can be read as a practice of pastoral “counterconduct” (Foucault) that refuses liberal conceptions of human freedom and pastoral flights from history. She helps us to radically reimagine pastoral as a form of biopolitical bondage to land, the work of gardening, and history, as well as to the violent afterlives of apartheid’s racial rule against the fantasy of a Kantian perpetual peace.

The name of this pivotal character in Coetzee’s Disgrace itself conjures a time both before and after the human, and hence the possibility of a posthuman cosmopolitics. After all, Lucy is name given to the ancestor of early humans whose bones were found in Ethiopia in 1974, as well as the subject of a Wordsworth poem that depicts Lucy being folded back into an ecological immanence in death, “roll’d round in earth’s diurnal course, with rocks, and stones, and trees.”

Works Cited:

Matthew Calarco, Matthew. “Jamming the Anthropological Machine.” Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Ed. by Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli. Stanford: Stanford University Press (2007): 163-179.

J.M. Coetzee. White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

---. Disgrace. New York: Penguin, 1999.

Michel Foucault. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-1978. Ed. by Michel Senellart, transl. by Graham Burchell. New York: Picador, 2007.

Pandian, Anand. “Pastoral Power in the Postcolony: On the Biopolitics of the Criminal Animal in South India.” Cultural Anthropology. Vol. 23, Issue 1 (2008): 85-117.

No comments:

Post a Comment