Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Mark F. N. Franke


This study presents a critique of post-foundational political thought, suggesting that it lacks a positive account of the unpolitical, of a radical outside of politics. I argue that political thought that oscillates around the distinction between “politics” and “the political” is correlationist and totalizing, resulting in the forgetting of its “Great Outdoors.” This critique is advanced through a close analysis of texts by Carl Schmitt, Michel Foucault, Jacques Rancière, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy. Against this background stand out Massimo Cacciari's and Roberto Esposito's categories of “the impolitical,” and Giorgio Agamben's notion of “bare life.” “The impolitical” is positively defined as a critique of the modern political and of its valorization. However, I suggest that Cacciari and Esposito do not succeed in taking the impolitical to its limit: it remains attached to the political as its shadow and its internal critique. Agamben's account of the impolitical in terms of “bare life” introduces into our discussion the real experience of living outside of politics. Even though Agamben views the impolitical only negatively, he suggests an avenue for further research in his notion of “form-of-life.” The latter, nevertheless, addresses the problem of “bare life” only by redeeming its politicalness and thus, ultimately, fails to engage the unpolitical. I turn to the radical phenomenology of life of Michel Henry in order to address the problems of correlation and the totalizing ambition of politics. From this perspective, the unpolitical is conceived as life: an a priori positive and real experience of self-affection that manifests itself in the radical reduction of the world. This conception reverses the way in which living beyond politics is addressed in contemporary scholarship. In particular, it recasts the modern figure of the refugee in terms of a historically situated epitome of life's becoming-unpolitical. The unpolitical allows for an affirmation of life as an immediate experience available to the living regardless of their relation to the world, and of pure movement as a projection of life's movement of self-revelation and transformation.