Starve and Immolate: The Politics of Human Weapons (New Directions in Critical Theory)
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Starve and Immolate tells the story of leftist political prisoners in Turkey who waged a deadly struggle against the introduction of high security prisons by forging their lives into weapons. Weaving together contemporary and critical political theory with political ethnography, Banu Bargu analyzes the death fast struggle as an exemplary though not exceptional instance of self-destructive practices that are a consequence of, retort to, and refusal of the increasingly biopolitical forms of sovereign power deployed around the globe.
Bargu chronicles the experiences, rituals, values, beliefs, ideological self-representations, and contentions of the protestors who fought cellular confinement against the background of the history of Turkish democracy and the treatment of dissent in a country where prisons have become sites of political confrontation. A critical response to Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish, Starve and Immolate centers on new forms of struggle that arise from the asymmetric antagonism between the state and its contestants in the contemporary prison. Bargu ultimately positions the weaponization of life as a bleak, violent, and ambivalent form of insurgent politics that seeks to wrench the power of life and death away from the modern state on corporeal grounds and in increasingly theologized forms. Drawing attention to the existential commitment, sacrificial morality, and militant martyrdom that transforms these struggles into a complex amalgam of resistance, Bargu explores the global ramifications of human weapons' practices of resistance, their possibilities and limitations.
for example, has entered the modern political scene with the actions of British suffragettes in the early twentieth century and became well-known through Gandhi’s repeated hunger strikes, which were formative for the constitution of modern India.23 What I want to underscore, rather, is an intensification: both an ever more frequent resort to this form of political action as well as a growing tendency to orchestrate this technique with the coordination of a multiplicity of individuals, ranging
exploration of the biopolitical problematic. FROM SOVEREIGNTY TO BIOSOVEREIGNTY Sovereignty and violence are intimately linked. As Max Weber defines it, the modern state has the “monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”13 The modern state is vested with sovereignty, the supreme power of the political entity, by which it legitimately claims to hold at its disposal the life and death of the inhabitants of that territory within which it commands the monopoly of
without contestation, that the tactics of domination “have always met with resistance; they have given rise to struggles and provoked reaction.”94 He particularly notes the emergence of Biosovereignty and Necroresistance struggles in prison.95 As for the individual prison revolts themselves, we do not learn what motivates them, which prisoners participate in them, how they are organized and conducted, their modes of operation, and finally what they achieve. Even though we know that Foucault’s
democratic field of contestation.31 In fact, it set strong limitations on what could count as legitimate political contestation and created an enduring bifurcation between the state and politics, the former not only as an active agent in the latter but also as the underpinning guarantor that continuously inspects it, controls its development, and keeps it within assigned limits defined by Kemalism. In this context, the Democrat Party (Demokrat Parti), against which the Republican People’s Party
its warfare, in individualized form, by “saving” the lives of hunger strikers, resuscitating them by nonconsensual medical interventions. And finally, it made peace, giving prisoners a second lease on life through the granting of selective pardons. Paradoxically, it was the traditional markers of sovereign power that were deployed in putting into place a disciplinary penal regime that would become the building block of biopolitical government. However, in the process, these classical instruments