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Containments of the Unpredictable in Arendt and Foucault

Marcelo Hoffman’s “Containments of the Unpredictable in Arendt and Foucault” appears in Telos 154 (Spring 2011). Read the full version at TELOS Online website.

This article takes as its principal provocation Giorgio Agamben’s claim that Hannah Arendt’s analyses of totalitarianism do not obtain a biopolitical perspective and that, conversely, Michel Foucault’s analyses of biopolitics fall short of adequately addressing totalitarian states, thereby leaving us with mutually compatible absences. I offer an alternative to this dichotomous reading that ultimately develops into a critique of Arendt’s treatment of birth. I suggest that even as Arendt’s analyses of totalitarianism and Foucault’s analyses of biopolitics express diverging arguments about transformations in Western political theory and practice, they nevertheless accentuate the production of predictable states of life. In light of this broad affinity, what stands out is Arendt’s identification of birth as a source of the disruption of predictable states of life whereas Foucault implicitly contests the disruptive potential of birth. This difference matters because it opens up a critical space wherein Arendt appears to fall back on a biological position that she eschews elsewhere and wherein Foucault provides a much-needed remedy to this position.

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