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Towards a Bureaucracy of the Body

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The objective of this article is to explore the evolution of what Beatrice Hibou calls the bureaucratisation of the world through a cultural history of the idea of bureaucracy in the western canon, taking in readings of Max Weber, Franz Kafka, Hannah Arendt, and Michel Foucault. The purpose of this historical survey is to reveal the essential problem of bureaucracy relating to the estrangement of body and writing in a state of modern technological abstraction. In order to set up this cultural history the first part of the article concerns perhaps the originary moment of the estrangement of humanity from writing, Socrates' story of the gift of writing from Plato's Phaedrus. Following exploration of Socrates' story, the article considers Derrida's famous analysis of the pharmakon of writing and suggests that what Derrida considered the original problem of speech and writing (that is, the need to decentre the proto-totalitarian idea of presence) no longer applies in the contemporary bureaucratised world where writing itself has evolved its own totalitarian form – abstract bureaucratic language that no longer speaks to the human. The article goes on to trace the evolution of this strange form of writing through exploration of the key works of Weber, Kafka, Arendt, and Foucault, before concluding by suggesting that what is required to move beyond the bureaucratisation of the world is the reversal of Derrida's pharmakon towards a situation that recognises the presence of human being in the world. Extending this point, the final section of the article concludes by suggesting that it is possible to find this argument in Bernard Stiegler's work and explaining that his theory of the neganthropocene may contain a solution of the problem of estranged writing and the totally bureaucratised world.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2020

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  • new formations is an inter-disciplinary journal of culture, politics and theory. It covers a wide range of issues, from the seduction of perversity to questions of nationalism and postcolonialism.

    'essential reading for those who want to understand politics in the light of the most important trends in contemporary theory' Chantal Mouffe.

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