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Toward an Ontology of Style

Form-of-life is not something like a subject, which preexists living and gives it substance and reality. On the contrary, it is generated in living; it is “produced by the very one for which it is form” and for that reason does not have any priority, either substantial or transcendental, with respect to living. It is only a manner of being and living, which does not in any way determine the living thing, just as it is in no way determined by it and is nonetheless inseparable from it.

Medieval philosophers were familiar with a term, maneries, which they traced back to the verb manere, while modern philologists, identifying it with the modern “manner,” have it derive from manus. A passage of the Book of Muhammad’s Ladder instead suggests a different etymology. The author of this visionary work, which must have been familiar to Dante, at a certain point witnesses an apparition of a pen, from which “ink issued” (manabat encaustum). “And all these things,” he writes, “were done in such a manner that they seemed to have been created in that very instant” (et haec omnia tali manerie facta erant, quod simul videbantur creata fuisse). The etymological juxtaposition manare/maneries shows that maneries here means “mode of welling up”: all these things emanate from the pen in such a way that they seem to have been created in that very instant.

In this sense, form-of-life is a “manner of rising forth,” not a being that has this or that property or quality but a being that is its mode of being, which is its welling up and is continually generated by its “manner” of being. (It is in this sense that one is to read the Stoic definition of ethos as pegè biou, “rising-forth of life.”)

It is in this way that we must understand the relationship between bios and zoè in form-of-life. At the end of Homo Sacer I, form of life was briefly evoked as a bios that is only its zoè. But what can “living (or be­ing) one’s own zoè” mean? What can a mode of life be that has for its object only life, which our political tradition has always already separated into bare life? Certainly it will mean living it as something absolutely inseparable, causing bios and zoè to coincide at every point. But above all, what are we to understand by zoè if it cannot be a question of bare life? Our corporeal life, the physiological life that we tend to always already separate and isolate? Here one sees the limit and, at the same time, the abyss that Nietzsche had to have glimpsed when he speaks of “great poli­tics” as physiology. Here the risk is the same one that the biopolitics of modernity has fallen into: to make bare life as such the preeminent object of politics.

Read the full article here.