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Paolo Palladino 'Being towards Death: Heidegger and the politics of life itself'

Date: 28 October 2008 Time: 16.15-18.00 - IAS Meeting Room 2-3

Dr Paolo Palladino, Department of History, Lancaster University.

In Being and Time (1927), Martin Heidegger sought to reformulate the existential questions posed by Western philosophy outwith any metaphysics and he did so by positing awareness of finitude, 'being towards death', as the sole ground of 'authentic' existence. This answer was critically important to Michel Foucault's method and analysis of the modern historical formation, but it would seem that we are currently witnessing a transformation of corporeal life that calls for a reassessment of the argument. Drawing on Foucault, a number of social theorists speak of the advent of a politics of 'life itself' insofar as the individual of the nineteenth century bio-political imaginary, a human body whose biological constitution is irremediably fixed at birth, would appear to be giving way to an understanding of the human body as an assembly of bio-molecular components that can be freely recombined so as to maximise the resultant unit's cultural, social and political productivity. Some of these same theorists also admit to uncertainty about the epochal nature of these changes, however. I suggest that to address the question it is important to ask about the fate of death within this reconfiguration of corporeal life. Sociological research clearly indicates that the process of ageing, which has often been construed as prefiguring death, is today being reconfigured so as to undermine the partitioning of the life cycle into birth, sex and death. Furthermore, the avoidance of ageing and the pursuit of immortality are becoming normatively binding. Equally clearly, these shifts are related to both the increasing organisation of health care around the mode of consumption and a re-orientation of biomedical research and practice towards the bio-molecular characterisation pathological processes associated with ageing, aiming to offer new, preventative modes of intervention in these processes. This said, little attention has been paid to the concomitant reconfiguration of death as a strictly biological phenomenon, a reconfiguration that raises some difficult questions about the alignment of the existential, epistemological and ontological orders required to sustain the notion that we are witnessing a properly epochal transformation. I attempt to clarify some of the difficulties by attending to the short-story with which Thomas Kirkwood concludes Time of Our Lives (1999), his very aptly entitled, popular account of contemporary developments within the field of bio-gerontology.1

1 Kirkwood, Thomas (1999) Time of Our Lives: The Science of Human Aging. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 243-256.

After the seminar we will be eating dinner at Bistro 26, from 7.15pm. All are welcome (at own cost). Please contact Joe Rigby ( no later than the morning of 28th October if you wish to attend.


Who can attend: Anyone


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
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