We completely misunderstand the nature of the great totalitarian experiments of the twentieth century if we see them only as a carrying out of the nineteenth-century nation-states’ last great tasks: nationalism and imperialism. The stakes are now different and much higher, for it is a question of taking on as a task the very factical existence of peoples, that is, in the last analysis, their bare life. (Giorgio Agamben, The Open, 76)
taking on bare life as a task:
The traditional historical potentialities—poetry, religion, philosophy—which from both the Hegelo-Kojevian and Heideggerian perspectives kept the historico-political destiny of peoples awake, have long since been transformed into cultural spectacles and private experiences, and have lost all historical efficacy. (76-77)
the failures of poetry, religion, and philosophy—their lapsing into spectacle and personal, private experience:
Faced with this eclipse, the only task that still seems to retain some seriousness is the assumption of the burden—and the “total management”—of biological life, that is, of the very animality of man. Genome, global economy, and humanitarian ideology are the three united faces of this process in which posthistorical humanity seems to take on its own physiology as its last, impolitical mandate. (77)
if all you are is (in) your genes, if your humanity is your body, then the job of the polis ceases to be governance and becomes instead the mastery and maintenance of bare life in the body.
in this, abstruse, esoteric, unapologetically theoretical writing, you, agamben, have given me a moment’s rest. world was cleared. and i stared down at the frustration of the utter failure of mastery and maintenance to finally, or, in the last place, succeed in its discipline of the body. because (even) when (if) it does succeed, it is only as an experiment in totalitarianism.