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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Impossible subjectivities : negative agency and the biopolitical order of Nazism Franzen, Carolina


“Impossible Subjectivities” describes Nazism by analyzing practical paradoxes that concern either the SS or the German Nazi concentration and death camp prisoners. Intellectually we are faced with a variety of impossibilities: Nazism’s SS judiciary, for example, investigated SS officers’ illegal killings of prisoners in the German Nazi concentration and death camps. Also Nazism’s murder was ideologically framed as “decent.” Furthermore self-identifying National Socialists who were vocally fond of unity and obedience have been corrupt and some high-ranking officers treated Jewish prisoners as if colleagues. By contrast, memories that remain from concentration and death camp prisoners suggest that the drive to survive was as much collaboration as a fight against suicide. The prisoners paradoxically report of prisoner sadists, of a general self-distancing of prisoners from the weakest in the camps, while many survivors identify with the strength of their will to survive and insist on the body’s memory as much as on hope. These socio-historical narratives represent ideational and physical complications. They imply that juridical (un)consciousness, Kant’s subject or Foucaultian discourse, is insufficient to describe the human, affected, affective and paradoxical bodies that individuals performed from within their systemic position: By focussing on situations in which people were producing a difference within the biopolitical order in which they existed, and where still nothing systemically changed, “Impossible Subjectivities” addresses the relation between biopolitics and subjectivity, between both affected but unchanged discourse as forms of “negative agency.” This project shows why rationality and social norm applications alone cannot suffice to resist biopolitical oppression. It shows how Nazism, too, idealized heroism and rationality. It shows how human bodies can even systemically-subjectively and disruptively relate to one another without that anything fundamentally changes. And it asks: Can the historical threshold of Nazism’s particular impossible subjectivities tell us anything about our contemporary modes of oppression? Methodologically, “Impossible Subjectivities” focusses on philosophies of difference – from existentialism to performativity – in order to analyze historical source material such as diary entries, memoirs, letters, recordings to drawings and sculpture. Categories such as tone, voice, feeling, affect, receptivity, weak will, drag and naked life are core conceptual parameters for the inquiry.

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