Edinburgh Research Explorer

Bared and grievable: Theory impossible in no man's land

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMobilizing Cultural Identities in the First World War
Subtitle of host publicationHistory, Representations and Memory
EditorsFederica G Pedriali, Cristina Savettieri
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)9783030427917
ISBN (Print)9783030427900
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020


In this chapter, I capitalize on the ambiguous operations performed in and around No Man’s Land to enter into productive friction with dominant theoretical positions in biopolitics, in particular Agamben’s homo sacer and the spatiality of the ban, and Butler’s ungrievable lives. My starting position is that making culture produces war, and that the need for war is socially constructed to reflect the evolving modes and cycles of cultural reproduction. A further circular premise is that a culture has been deemed to be indeed fully reproductive and deserve its chance of survival, if it can command (arrange, mobilize, deploy) the entire country (its people, its blood, its territory) for the division of labour required by the maintenance of a semblance of separation from nature. Within these premises, mobilization for war thus becomes but part of a demobilization-impossible state of affairs of our civilizational practices. And within the latter, or rather, within the escalation in our global ability to produce the devastational contraptions of cultural capital, World War I and No Man’s Land mark not merely a further tragic stage of that impossibility. What, in fact, more than any other zone of attack in history No Man’s Land makes sensible is the ultimate demarcation between civilizational space (qualified life) and unrestrained devastation (within the enclosure extra muros produced by the ban) which the converging collusions of war generate from the immediate logistics of combat. This spatial and phrasal marker, in turn, allows me to explode two core biopolitical tenets: that bare life is primarily and radically other (other blood, ethnically understood), and that it will not be grieved. The millions bared (reduced to bare life) in No Man’s Land within the legality of an exclusion co-managed by the two warring sides, I will insist, have certainly been grieved. And it is this deeper civilizational horror, the cohesive rebooting of one’s blood under the excuse of war against the enemy, that makes the overlap between the concentrationary husbandry perpetrated in the concentration camps proper (the only extermination paradigm currently verified by biopolitical thinkers) and the regenerative culling performed by the nation on the nation in the killing fields of the Great War all the more mind-shattering.

    Research areas

  • human capital and war, No Man’s Land, puer sacer, grievable lives, Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault

ID: 31116123