[SydPhil] Critical Antiquities Workshop - Sara Brill, ‘Aristotle, Biopolitics, and the Iliad.’
tristan.bradshaw at sydney.edu.au
Mon Mar 29 11:36:04 AEDT 2021
At the next Critical Antiquities Workshop, Professor Sara Brill (Fairfield University) will be presenting her paper, ‘Aristotle, Biopolitics, and the Iliad.’ The meeting will take place on Friday, April 9 10-11:30am Sydney time (that’s Thursday, April 8 8-9:30pm in the eastern US). The abstract is posted at the end of this email.
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Tristan Bradshaw and Ben Brown
Aristotle’s emphasis in Politics 7 on engineering the bodily as well as psychical character of
citizens recommends comparison with contemporary theories of biopolitics, a comparison Mika Ojakangas
has drawn with particular clarity (Ojakangas 2016). To be sure, Aristotle’s eugenics legislation is designed
to hold the generation of life under the harness of the political partnership. But it is far from clear that bios
is the sole, or even main, target here and, as Brooke Holmes has pointed out (Holmes, 2019), we should
guard against assuming too quickly the synonymy of the Greek bios and the prefix “bio-.” When, in the
central books of the Politics, Aristotle considers the various forms that collectives of humans may take, he
does so precisely in order to observe the differences both between and within kinds, and the work these
differences do in forming communities with very particular characters. Aristotle’s emphasis on different
kinds of human collectives connects his political theorizing with his zoological research, and with broader
cultural tropes that treat vitality in close proximity to vividness. That is to say, while the specific legislation
Aristotle designs invites comparison with biopolitical concerns, the end at which this legislation aims is
determined within a conception of zoˉ eˉ whose political valence has not yet been fully charted.
This paper develops a genealogical lens for viewing Aristotle’s thinking about the nature of the human
multitude. The examples of political animals Aristotle offers in the History of Animals—bees, wasps, ants,
and cranes (1.1.487b33)—figure prominently in the Iliad’s depictions of Achaean and Trojan forces, who
are likened to swarms and flocks and herds of all kinds. When we examine the imagery Homer employs to
depict the actions of the collective Achaean and Trojan forces, we encounter an iconography of shared life
that profoundly shaped how Aristotle thinks about the work of the polis. My primary claim is that Aristotle’s
sense of the sharing of the perception of justice as the common deed that comprises human political life is
informed by an Iliadic model, the harnessing of aisthesis and logos alike for the pursuit of a common task.
And, as with Aristotle, the root of this model is found in the very conception of living as it is accomplished
by a variety of animal kinds. In both cases, living emerges as a collectively pursued enterprise requiring
fluid combinations of coalescences and diffusions of force and capacity, a variety of “organizations” in a
very particular sense. Prior to the reduction of people to things so powerfully observed by Simone Weil,
armies have become packs and swarms, heroes have become walls and rivers, peoples have become
sand and stars. I aim, then, to trace the model of political power—as the power to generate what Homer
calls the “boundless people [demos apeiron]” (24.776)—that emerges from out of the animal imagery for
human collective action employed throughout the Iliad, in order to illuminate the conception of zoe that
undergirds Aristotle’s understanding of the formation of people and that complicates our assessment of the
“biopolitical” character of Aristotle’s thought.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow | Co-director, Critical Antiquities Network
The University of Sydney
Department of Classics and Ancient History
School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Office: H606, Main Quadrangle | The University of Sydney | NSW | 2006
+61 406 747 955
tristan.bradshaw at sydney.edu.au<mailto:tristan.bradshaw at sydney.edu.au> | fass.can at sydney.edu.au<mailto:fass.can at sydney.edu.au>
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