This thesis examines the representation of the violence of normative power in contemporary biopolitics, and its allegorical expressions in the art and literature of Géricault, Dix, Salomon, Magritte and Kafka. My approach is interdisciplinary, ranging from art history/theory, philosophy to social science, particularly referring to T. L. Adorno, G. Agamben, W. Benjamin, J. Butler and M. Foucault. This violence may be invisible. In Foucault’s thought modern power functions as a normalising system that goes beyond the state. In Agamben violence is ubiquitous, realised in a dispersed mode of sovereign power as a state of exception from the law. In addition to those thinkers my investigation is nurtured by Benjamin, Adorno and Butler. Butler and Agamben rearticulate Foucault’s biopolitics through Benjamin’s idea of ‘bare life’ in which the law is manifested as violence by its very nature.
I argue that Magritte’s paintings illuminate the ubiquitous violence of the state of exception as proposed by Benjamin, and developed by Agamben. Discussing the simulacrum I argue that Magritte problematises Agamben’s idea of threshold as a device for inclusion by way of exclusion. I conceptualise the hunched figures in Géricault, Dix and Salomon as a dark presence generated by the normative power that produces the human subject. I move on to the hunchback in Kafka discussed by Benjamin and Agamben. The Muselmann in Auschwitz as described by Agamben is the hunchback’s re-appearance in contemporary biopolitics, an ‘uncanny’ double of the normalised upright human figure. The ideas of threshold and hunchback are held together by Kafka’s hunched object-creature Odradek who resides on the threshold of the household. Odradek, a figure made of various distortions, conceptualises the threshold as a place of subjectification that makes visible the inhuman within the human itself. In the light of Adorno’s conception of aesthetic experience, Odradek is an allegorical expression of what makes social criticism possible. Odradek represents my central question: how to make symbolic violence intelligible aesthetically when violence itself deploys aesthetic qualities?