Arthur Bradley, Unbearable Life. A Genealogy of Political Erasure, Columbia University Press, 2019
In ancient Rome, any citizen who had brought disgrace upon the state could be subject to a judgment believed to be worse than death: damnatio memoriae, condemnation of memory. The Senate would decree that every trace of the citizen’s existence be removed from the city as if they had never existed in the first place. Once reserved for individuals, damnatio memoriae in different forms now extends to social classes, racial and ethnic groups, and even entire peoples. In modern times, the condemned go by different names—“enemies of the people;” the “missing,” the “disappeared,” “ghost” detainees in “black sites”—but they are subject to the same fate of political erasure.
Arthur Bradley explores the power to render life unlived from ancient Rome through the War on Terror. He argues that sovereignty is the power to decide what counts as being alive and what does not: to make life “unbearable,” unrecognized as having lived or died. In readings of Augustine, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Robespierre, Schmitt, and Benjamin, Bradley asks: What is the “life” of this unbearable life? How does it change and endure across sovereign time and space, from empires to republics, from kings to presidents? To what extent can it be resisted or lived otherwise? A profoundly interdisciplinary and ambitious work, Unbearable Life rethinks sovereignty, biopolitics, and political theology to find the radical potential of a life that neither lives or dies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Arthur Bradley is professor of comparative literature at Lancaster University. His books include Originary Technicity: The Theory of Technology from Marx to Derrida (2011).