WHAT IS AN

APPARATUS?
MERIDIAN
Crossing Aesthetics
Werner Hamacher
Eitor
WHAT IS AN
APPARATUS?
and Other Essa
y
s
Giorgio Agamben
lranlud by D(wid KisJuk
and S PItuell
S'I'ANlURD UNIVfItSITY PRESS
STAl:ORll. CALIFORNIA !009
Stanford Univcrsil Pre
Stanford. Cli fornia
Englis trnslation and Tslator' Note © 109 by the Board of Trtees
of the Lland Staford Junior Univeril. All rights rr.
"Wat Is an Appar!lJ?" w originally published in Italian in 20 under
te tte C cos' U� dipos;t;wtO 20. Nottetemp. "Te Friend w
originaly publihd in Ita in 20 uer te tite L'mir © 27.
Nottetemp. "Wt" the Cntempra?" wa orinay publihed in Ital
ian in zo under the tide Ch cos� il cont
j
rann?© 208. Nonetempø
No pa of thi bk may b rpruce or trmited in any fr or by
any mrRS. detrnicor mechanical. including phorocpyng ad rcr­
ing. or in ay inormtion storg or retriel sysem withom the prior
wrtten prmiion of Stnfr Univeril Pr.
Printe in the United States of Americ on acid-fre. arhiva quail paper
Libral of CngrC Ctlogn-in-Pblication Data
Agmbn. Giorgo. 1942-
[Ey. Engih. S1=onsl
Wat is a apptu? ad othe ey I Giorgio Agamben ;
ualate by David Kshik and Stefn Pedaella.
p. cm.-(Meridia. crsing aethetic)
Indu< bibliogaphica rferc.
ISBN 978 0 8047 6219 8 (clot: ak ppr)
ISBN 978-0807-6230-4 (pbk. : alk. P1P)
I. Power <Philosphy) 1. Kowlege¶ Tery of. 3. Fucult. Michel.
1926-1984. 4. Friendship. 5. Cntempr. Te.
I. ltle. II. Srie: Meridian (Stanfr. (.alit
B3611.A4ZEs 1009
19S-dc22
108043113
I
Frontispiece image: Dt:il of Giovnni Srodin. 1 ApJteJ Peu am Paul
on t Rd 1 Mlrtm (162 45). oil on clOth. Rome. Paa Babrini.
Contents
Tranltor Not
§ What Is an Apparatus?
§ The Friend
§ What Is the Contemporary?
Notes
I
25
3
9
55
Translators' Note
English translations of sC<lloary sources have
been amended i n order to take i nto account the au­
thor's someti mes distinctive Italian transl ations. Man­
dclstam's poem on pages 42-4
3
was translated from
the Russian by Jane Mikkelson. We would l i ke to
thank Giorgio Agambcn for his generous assistance,
which has i mproved the grace and accuracy of our
translation.
WHAT IS AN
APPARATUS?
§
What Is an Apparatus?
I.
Terminoloical questions are i mportant in philoso­
phy. As a philosopher for whom I have the greatest re­
spect once said, terminology is the poetic moment of
thought. This is not to say that philosophers must al­
ways necessarily defne thei r technical terms. Pato
never defned idea, his most i mportant term. Others,
l i ke Spinoza and Lei bni z, preferred instead to defne
thei r termi nology more geometrico.
The hypothesis that I wish to propose is that the
word dispositi or "apparatus" in Engl ish, is a decisive
technical term in the strategy of Foucault's thought.·
He uses it quite often, especially from the mid 1970s,
when he begi ns to concern hi msel f wi th what he
calls "governmental i ty" or the "goverment of men."
Though he never offers a complete defniti on, he
2 What Is an Apparat?
comes close to something like it i n an interview from
1977:
What I'm trying to si n
g
le Ollt with thi s term i s, frst and
foremost, a thoroughly hetergeneous set consi sti ng
of di scourses, instituti ons, architectural forms, regul a¯
tory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientifc
statements, philosphical , moral, and philanthropic
propositions-in short, the said as much as the unsaid.
Such are t he elements of the apparats. The apparatus it­
sel f is the network that can be established between these
elements ...
. . . by t he term "apparatus" I mean a kind of a forma­
tion, so to speak, that at a given historical moment has as
its major function the response to an ur
g
ency. The appa­
ratus therefore has a dominant strategic function . ..
. . . I said that the nature of an apparatus is essentially
strategi c, which means that we are speaking about a
certai n manipulation of relations of forces, of a rational
and concrete interventi on i n the relations of forces, either
so as to develop them i n a particular di rection, or to
block them, (0 stabi l i ze them, and to util ize them. The
apparatus is thus always i nscribed into a play of power,
but i t is also always l i nked to certain l i mits of knowl edge
that ari se from it and, to an equal degree. condition it.
The apparatus is precisely this: a set of st rate
g
ies of the
rel ations of forces supporti ng, and spported by, certain
tpes of knowledge.2
Let me briefy summarize three points:
a. It i s a heterogeneous set that includes vi rtually
anythi ng, l i nguistic and non l i ngui stic. under [he
2.
Wlt Is an Apparat?
3
same heading: discourses, institutions, bui ldi ngs,
l aws, police measures, phi losophical proposi¯
tions, ad so on. The a
p
aratus itself is the net¯
work that is establ ished between these elementsµ
b. The apparatus always has a concrete strate­
gic function and is always located in a power
relation.
c. As such, it appears at the intersection of power
relations and relations of knowledge.
I would l ike now to try and trace a brief genealogy
of thi s term, frst in the work of Foucault, and then in
a broader histori cal context.
At the end of the 196s, more or less at the time
when he was wri ti ng The Archeolog of Knowledge,
Foucault does not yet use the term "apparatus" in or­
der to defne the object of his research. Instead, he uses
the term p
o
sitivit!, "positivity," an etymological neigh¯
bor of dispositi again without offering us a defni tion.
I often asked myself where Foucault found this
term, until the moment when, a few months ago, I re­
read a book by Jean Hyppol ite entitled Introducion a
la philoJophie de l'bistoire de Hegel. You probably know
abollt the strong l ink that ties Foucault to Hyppolite§
4
What I an Apparat?
a prson whom he referred to at time as "my mas­
ter� ( Hyppol ire was in fact his teacher, frst during the
khJge i n the Lycee Henri-IV [the preparatory course
for the Ecole normale superieure] and then in the
Ecole norma Ie).
The thi rd part of Hyppol ite's book bears the tide
"Raison et histoi re: Les idees de positivitc et de des­
ti n" ( Reason and History: The Ideas of Posi tivity and
Desti ny). The focm here is on the analysis of two
works that date from Hegel's years i n Bern and Frank­
furt (1795-96): The frst is "The Spi rit of Christianity
and I ts Desti ny," and the second-where we fnd the
term that i merests us-"The Positivity of the Chris­
tian Rel i gion" (Die Positivitit der christliche Religion).
Accordi ng to Hyppolite, "desti ny" and "posi tivity"
are two key concepts in Hegel's thought. In particu­
l ar, the term "positivity" fnds in Hegel its proper place
in the opposition between "natural rel igion" and "posi­
t ive religion." While natural rel igion is concerned with
the i mmediate and general relation of human reason
with the di vi ne, posi ti ve or historical rel igion encom­
passes the set of bel iefs, rules, and rites that i n a cer­
tai n society and at a certai n hi storical moment are ex­
teral ly imposed on i ndividual s. "A posi ti ve rel igion,"
Hegel writes in a passage ci ted by Hyppol ite, "i mpl ies
feel i ngs that are more or less impre�sed through con­
strai nt on suul s; these are actions that are the effect of
What Is an Appardtu?
5
command and the result of obedience and are accom­
pl i shed without di rect i nterest.f.
Hyppol i te shows how the opposition between na­
ture and positivity corresponds, in this senseg to the
di alectics of freedom and obligation, as well as of rea­
son and hi story. In a passa
g
e that could not have fai led
to provoke foucault's curiosity, because it in a way
presages the notion of apparatusg Hyppolite writes:
We see here the knot of questions i mpl icit in the concept
of positivity, as well as Hegel's successive attempts to
bring together dialectically-a di alectics that is not yet
conscious of itself-pure reason ( theoretical and aove all
practical) and positivity, that is, the historical dement. I n
a certain sense, Hegel consider positivity as an obstacl e
to the freedom of man, and as sllch it is condemned. To
i
nvestigate (he positive elemenrs of a religion, and we
might add, of a social state, means to di scover in them
that whi ch is imposed through a constraint on man, that
which obfuscates the purity of reason. But, in another
sense-and this is the aspect that ends up havi ng the
upper hand in the course of Hegel 's development pos­
iti vity must be reconciled wi th reason, whi ch then loses
its abst ract character and adapts to the concrete richness
of l ife. We see then why the concept of positivity is at the
center of Hegel ian perspective:
If"posi ti vjty" is the name that, accordi ng to Hyp­
polite, the young He
g
el
g
ives to the historical ele­
ment-loaded as it is wi th rules, rites, and i nstitutions
that are i mposed on the i ndi vidual by an external
6 What Is an Apparatu?
power, but that become, so to speak. i nternal i zed i n
the system
s
of bel iefs and feel i ngs-then Foucault,
by borrowing this term ( later to become "apparatus"),
takes a position with respect to a decisive problem,
whi ch is actually also hi s own problem: t he rcl ation
between i ndividuals as l i vi ng bei ngs and the hi stori­
cal element. By "the historical element," I mean t he set
of i nstitutions, of processes of subjectifcation. and of
rules i n which power relation
s
become concrete. Fou­
cault's ul timate aim is not, then. as i n Hegel, the rec­
oncil iation of the two elements; it is not even to em­
phasize their confict. For Foucaul t, what is at stake
is rather the i nvestigat ion of concrete modes in which
the positivities (or the apparatuses) act within the rela­
tions, mecha nisms, and "plays" of power.

It should now h clear in what sense I have ad­
vanced the hypothesi s that "apparatus" i s an essen­
tial technical term in Foucaulc's thought. What is at
stake here is not a parti cul ar term that refers only to
this or that technology of power. It is a general term
that has the same breadth as the term "positivity" had,
according to Hyppol itc. for the young Hegel. Withi n
Foucault's st rategy. it comes to occupy the place of
one of those terms that he defne
s
, crit ical ly, as "the
What Is an Aparatu?
7
universal s" (ls univeux). Foucault, as you know, al ­
ways refused to deal with the general ctegories or
mental constructs that he calls "the universals," such
as the State, Sovereignty, Lw, and Power. But this is
not to say that there are no operative concepts with a
general character in his thougt. Apparatuses are, in
point of fact. what take the plce of the universals in
the Foucauldian strategy: not si mply this or that po­
lice measure, thi s or that technology of power. and not
even the generality obtained by their abstraction. In­
stead, as he clai ms in the interview from 19. an appa­
ratus is "the netork [Ie rleau1 that can be established
b
etween these elements."
If we now try to examine the defnition of "appara­
tus" that can be found i n common French di ctionar­
ies, we see that they distinguish between three mean­
i ngs of the term:
a. A strictly juridical sense: "Apparatus is the part of a
judgment that contai ns the decision se
p
arate from
the opinion." That is. the section of a sentence that
decides. or the enacti ng clause of a law.
b. A technological meani ng: "The way in which the
parts of a machi ne or of a mechanism and. by exten­
sion. the mechanism itself are arranged."
c. A mi l
i
tar use: "The set of means arranged in confor­
mity with a plan.
"
8 What f an Appart?
To some extent, the three defniti ons are al l pres�
ent in Foucault. But dictionaries, in
p
articular those
that lack a historical�etymological character, divide
and separate thi s term into a variety of meani ngs. This
fragmentation@ nevertheless, generally corresponds
to the hi storical development and articlliacion of a
unique original meani ng that we should not lose sight
of What is this original meaning for the term appa�
ratus"? The term certainly refers, in its common Fou�
callidi an use, to a set of practices and mechani sms
(both linguistic a nd nonlinguisticg juridical , techni­
cal, and milit ary) that aim to face an urgent need and
to obtain an efect that is more or less immediate. But
what is the strategy of practices or of thought, what is
the historical context, from which the modern term
originates?

Over the
p
ast three years, I have found mysel f i n�
creasi ngly involved i n an i nvestigation that i s only now
beginni ng to come (0 its end, one that I can roughly
defne as a theological genealogy of economy. In the
frst centuries of Church history-lt's say, between
the second and sixth centuries c.E.-the Greek term
oikonomia develo
p
s a decisive theological function. In
Greek, oikonomia signifes the admi ni stration of t he
oikos (the home) and, more general ly, management.
What Is an Apparat?
9
We are deal i ng here, as Ari stot le says (Politics 1155b21),
not with an epistemic paradi gmg but with a praxi s,
with a practical activity that must face a problem and
a particul ar situation each and every t i me. Why, then,
did the Fathers of the Church feel the need to intro­
duce this term into theological di scourse? How did
they come to speak about a divi ne econom
y
"?
What is at issue here, to be precise, is an extremely
del i cate and vital problem, perhaps the decisive ques­
tion in the history of Chri stian theology: the Trini ty.
When the Fathers of the Church began to argue dur­
ing the second century about the threefold nature of
the divine fgure (the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit), there was, as one can i magine§ a powerful re­
sistance from reasonable-mi nded people in the Church
who were horri fed at the prospect of rei ntroduc-
i ng polytheism and paganism to the Christian faith.
In order to convi nce those stubborn adversaries (who
were later called "monarchiam," that is, promoters of
the government of a si ngle Go), theologians such as
Tertul l i an, I renaeus, Hippolyts, and many others
could not fnd a better term to serve their need than
the Greek oikonomia. Thei r arument went some­
thing l ike this: "God, insofar as his bein
g
and sub­
stance is concerned, is certai nly one; but as to hi s oiko­
nomia-that is to say the way i n whi ch he admi ni sters
hi s home, his life, and the world t hat he created-he
10 What Is an Aparatus?
is, rather, triple. JUSt as a good father can entrust to
his son the execution of cenai n functions and duti es
without in so doing losing his power and his uni ty, so
God entrusts to Christ the 'economy,' the administra­
tion and government of human history." Oikonomia
therefore became a special i zed term signi fyi ng in par­
t icul ar the incarnation of the Son, together with (he
eonomy of redemption and salvation (this is the rea­
son why i n Gnostic sects, Christ is called "the man of
eonomy," ho anthropos tes oikonomias). The theolo¯
gans slowly got accustomed to distingui shi ng between
a "discourse-or lgos-of theology" and a "logos of
economy." Oikonomia became t hereafter an apparatus
through which the Trinitarian dogma and the idea of
a divine
p
rovidential governance of the world were in­
troduced into the Christian faith.
But, as often happens, the fracture that the theo­
logians had sought (0 avoid by removing it from the
plane of God's being, reappeared in the form of a cae­
sura that separated in Him being and action, ontoloy
and praxis. Action (economy, but also pol itics) has no
foundation in being: this is the schzophrenia that the
theological doctrine of oikonomia left as its legacy to
Western culture.

What Is an Apparts? 11
I thi nk that even on the basis of t his brief exposi­
ti on. we can now account for the central ity and im­
portance of the function that the notion of oikonomia
performed i n Christi an theoloy. Already in Clement
of Alexandria. oi
k
onomia merges with the notion of
Providence and begins to indicate the redemptive gov­
ernance of the world and human hi story. Now, what is
the translation of this fundamental Greek (erm in the
writi ngs of the Lati n Fathers? Dispositio.
The Lat i n term
d
ispositio, frm which the French
term
d
ispositi or apparat us. derives. comes therefore
to take on the complex semantic sphere of the theo­
logical oi
k
onomia. The "dispositi fs" about which Fou­
cault speaks are somehow l i nked to this theological
legacy. They can be in some wa
y
traced back to the
fracture that di vides and. at the same ti me, articulates
in God being and praxis. the nature or essence, on the
one hand. and t he operation through which He ad­
mi nisters and governs the created world, on the other.
The term "apparatus" designates that in which. and
through which, one realizes a pure activity of gover­
nance devoid of any foundation in bei ng. This is the
reason why apparatuses must alwa
y
s i mply a process of
subjecti fcation. that is to say, they must produce t hei r
subject.
12 What Is an Aparat?
In l ight of thi s theological genealogy the Foucaul­
dian apparatuses acquire an even more pregnant and
deci sive signi fcance, si nce they intersect not only wit h
the context of what the young Hegl cal led "positiv¯
ity," but also with what the later Heidegger called Ges­
tel (which is similar from an etymological poi nt of
view to dis-positio, di-ponere, just as the German stl­
im corresponds to the Latin ponere). When Heidegger,
in Die Tchnik un die Kehre (The Question Concern­
ing Technology) , writes that Ce-stl means in ordi­
nary usage an apparatus (Cerit), but that he i ntends
by this term the gathering to
g
et her of the (in}stalla­
tion [Stelm] that (in)stalls man, this is to say, chal­
lenges hi m to expse the real in the mode of orderi ng
[Bestelm]," the proxi mity of this term to the theologi­
cal dispositio, as well as to Foucauh's apparatuses, is ev­
ident.
'
What is common to al l these terms is that they
refer back to this oikonomia, that is, to a set of prac­
tices, bodies of knowledge, measures, and institutions
that aim to manae, govern, control, and orient-i n
a way that purports to be useful-the behaviors, ges­
tures, and thoughts of human bei ngs.
6.
One of the met hodological pri nciples that I con­
stantly follow in my i nvestigations is to identif in the
texts and contexts on which I work what Feuerbach
What Is an Apparl? 13
used to cal l the phi losophical element, that is to say,
the poi nt of their Entwicklunghigkeit (l iterallyg ca­
paci ty to be developed), the locus and the moment
wherei n they are susceptible to a development. Never­
thelessg whenever we i nterpret and develop the text of
an author in thi s way, there comes a moment when we
are aware of or inability to proceed any further with­
out contraveni ng the most elementary rules of herme¯
neutics. T
h
is means that t
h
e development of the text
in question has reached a point of undecidabi l ity
where it becomes impossible to disti nguish between
the author and the i nterpreter. Although this is a par­
ti cul arly happy moment for the i nterpreter, he knows
that it is now time to abandon the text that he is ana­
lyzi ng and to proceed on his own.
I invite you therefore to abandon the context of
foucauldi an phi lology in which we have moved up to
now i n order to situate apparatuses in a new contextø
I wish to prpose to you nothing less than a gn­
eral and massive parti tioning of beings into two large
groups or classes: on the one hand@ living bein
g
s (or
substances), and on the other, apparatuses in whi ch
living bei ngs are incessantly capturede On one side,
then, to return to the termi nology of the theologians§
l ies the ontology of creatures, and on t
h
e other sde,
the oikonomia of apparatuses that seek to govern and
guide them toward t he good.
]
4
What J$ an Apparat?
Further expandi ng the already large class of Fou­
cauldian apparatuses, I shall cal l an apparatus literally
anythi ng that has in some way the capaci ty to capture,
orient, determine, i ntercept, model, control, or secure
the
g
esturesg behaviors, opi nions. or discourses of liv¯
ing being
s. Not onlyg therefore. prisons. madhouses.
the panopticon. schools. confession. factories§ disci­
plines@ juridical measures. and so fort h (whose connec­
tion with power is in a certain sense evident), but also
the pen, wri ti ng@ literature, phi losophy. a
g
ricult ure,
cigarettesg navigation, computers, cellul ar telephones
and-why not¯l anguage itself. which is perhaps the
most ancient of a
p
paratuses-one i n which t housands
and thousands of years ago a pri mate i nadvertently let
hi mself be capturd, probably without real izi ng the
conse
q
uences t hat he was about to face.
To recapi tulate. we have then two great classes: l iv­
ing bei ngs (or substances) and apparatuses. And. be­
tween these two. as a third classg subjectsø I call a sub­
ject that which results from the rclation and. so to
speak. from the relentless fght between livi ng be­
in
g
s and apparatuses. Naturally. the substances and
the subjects¶ as in ancien metaphysics. seem to over­
lap. but not completely. I n this sense, for example§ the
same indi vidual§ the samc substance§ can be the place
of mul tiple processes of subjecti fcation: the lIser of
cel l ul ar phones, the web surfer. the writer of stories.
What Is al Apptrtu? 15
the tan
g
o afcionado, the anti¯global izt ion activist,
and so on and so forth. The boundless growth of ap­
paratuses in our ti me corresponds to the equal l y ex­
treme prol i ferat ion in processes of subjectifcation.
This may produce the impression that in our time, the
categor of subjectivity is waveri ng and l osing its con­
sistency; but what is at stake. to be precise. is not an
erasure or an overcomi ng. but rather a di ssemi nation
(hat pushes (0 (he extreme the masquerade that has al­
ways accompanied every personal identi ty.

It would prbably not be wrong to defne the ex­
treme phase of capital i st development i n which we l ive
as a massive accumulation and prol i feration of appara­
tuses. It is dear that ever si nce Homo sapiens frst ap­
peared. there have been apparatuses; but we could say
that today there is not even a single instant in which
the l i fe of i ndividuals is not modeled, contaminated,
or control led by some apparatus. In what way, then,
can we confront this situation, what strategy must we
fol low in our everyday hand-to-hand st ruggle with ap­
paratuses? What we are looki ng for is neither si mply to
destroy them nor, as some naively suggest, to us them
in the correct way.
For example, I l i ve in Italy. a country where the ges­
t ures and behaviors of i ndivi dual s have been reshaped
16 What Is an Apparat?
from top to toe by the cel l ul ar telephone (which the
Ital ians dub the tlenino). I have developed an i mpla¯
cable hatred for this apparatus, which has made the re­
l ationship between people al l the more abst ract. Al­
though I found mysel f more than once wondering
how to destroy or deactivate those telefnini, as wel l
as how t o el i mi nate or at least to punish and imprison
those who do not stop using them, I do not bel ieve
that this is the right solution to the probleme
The fact is that accordi ng to al l i ndications. appa­
rtuses are nor a mere accident in which humans are
caught by chance, but rather are rooted in the very
process of "humanization" that made " humans" out
of the ani mal s we classif under the rubric Homo sa­
piense In fact, the event that has produced the human
constitutes. for the li vi ng beingg something l i ke a divi­
sion, which reproduces i n some way the division that
the oikonomia i ntroduced in God between bei ng and
acti on. Thi s di vi sion separates the l ivi ng being from it­
sel f and from its i mmediate rel ationship wi th its envi­
ronment-that is. wi th what Jakob von Uexktll and
then Heidegger name the ci rcle of receptors-di si nhib­
itorse The break or interruption of this relationshi p
produces in l i vi ng beings both bordom-that is. the
capacity to suspend (hi s immediate relationshi p with
thei r disi nhibitors-and the Open§ whi ch i s the pos­
sibi l i ty of knowi ng bei ng as such. by const ructi ng a
Whlt Is ln Apparts? 17
world. But. al ong with these possibilities. we must also
i mmediately consider the apparatuses that crowd the
Open with instruments. objects. gadgets. odds and
ends. and various technologies. Throu
g
h these appara­
tuses. man attempts to nulli fy the ani malistic behav­
iors that are now separated from hi m. and to enjoy the
Open as such. to enj oy bei ng insofar as it is beinge At
the root of each apparatus l ies an all-too-human de­
sire for happiness. The capture and subj ecti fcation of
thi s desi re i n a separate sphere constitutes the specifc
power of t he apparatuse
8.
Al l of this means that the strategy that we must
adopt in our hand-to-hand combat wi th apparatuses
cannot be a si mpl e one. This is because what we are
dealin
g
with here is the l iberation of that which re­
mai ns capt ured and separated by means of appara¯
t uses, i n order to bri ng it back to a possible common
use. It is from this perspective that I woul d l i ke now
to speak about a concept that I happen to have worked
on recentlye I am referring to a term that origi nates
in the sphere of Roman l aw and rel igion (law and re­
ligion arc closely connected, and not onl y i n ancient
Rome): profanation.
Accordi ng to Roman law§ objects that belonged
in some way to the gods were considered sacred or
18 What Is an Aparatu?
rel igiousø As such§ these t hi ngs were removed from
free use and t rade among humans: they could nei�
ther be sold nor given as securityg neither rel i nquished
for the enjoyment of others nor subjected to servitude.
Sacri legious were the acts that violated or transgressed
the speci al unavail abi l ity of t hese objectsg whi ch were
reserved either for celestial beings (and so they were
properly cal led "sacred") or for the bei ngs of the neth�
erworld (i n thi s case, t hey were si mply cal led "rcli�
gious"). Whi le "to consecrate" (sacrare) was the term
that designated the exit of thi ngs from the sphere of
human l aw, "to profane signi fed, on the contrary, to
restore the thi ng to the free use of men. "Profane," the
great j urist Trebatius was therefore able to write, "is, in
the truest sense of the word, that which was sacred or
rl igiousg but was then restored to the use and prop�
erty of human beings."
From thi s perspctive, one can defne rel igion as
that which removes thi ngsg places§ animal s. or peo�
pie from common use and transports them to a sepa�
rate sphere. Not only is there no rel igion without sep�
aration, but every separation contai ns or conserves in
itself a genui nely rel igious nucleus. The apparatus that
acti vates and regul ates separation is sacri fce. Throuh
a series of mi nute ri tual s that vary from cul ture to cul�
ture (which Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss have
patiently i nventoried) , sacri fce always sanctions the
What Is an Apparatu? 1
9
passage of something from the profane to the sacred,
from the human sphere to the divi neø But what has
been ritually separated can also be restored to the pro­
fane spheree Profanation is the counter-apparatus that
restores to common use what sacrifce had separated
and divided¤

From thi s perspectiveg capitalism and other modern
forms of power seem to general ize and push to the ex­
t reme the processes of separation that defne reli
g
ione
If we consider once a
gain the theological genealo
g
y of
appa ratuses that I have traced above (a genealogy that
connects them to the Christian paradigm of
o
ikon
o
­
mia, that is to say, the di vi ne
g
overnance of the world)@
we can then see that modern apparatuses di ffer from
their traditional predecessors in a way that renders any
attempt to profane them particularly problematic. In­
deed, every apparatus i mpl ies a process of subjecifca­
tion, without which it cannot function as an apparatus
of
g
overnance, but is rather reduced to a mere exercise
of violence. On t his basis, Foucault has demonstrated
how, in a di sciplinary society, apparatuses ai m to cre­
ate-through a series of practices¶ discourses, and
bodies of knowledge-doci le, yet free, bodies that as­
sume thei r ident ity and t hei r "freedom" as subjects in
20 What Is an Apparat?
the very process of their desubject ifcation. Apparatus,
then, is frst of al l a machi ne that produces subjectif­
cations, and onl y as such is it also a machi ne of gov­
ernance. The exmple of confession may elucidate the
matter at hand: the formation of Western subjectivity
that both splits and, nonet heless. masters and secures
the self is i nseparable from thi s centuries-old activity
of the apparatus of penance-an apparatus i n which a
new I is constituted through the negati on and, at {he
same time, the assumption of the old I. The spl it of
the subject performed by the apparatus of penance re­
sulted, therefore, i n the production of a new subject.
which found its real truth i n the nontruth of the al­
ready repudi ated si nni ng I. Analogous considerations
can be made concerni ng the apparatus of the prison:
here is an apparatus that produces, as a more or less
unforeseen consequence, the constitution of a subj ect
and of a mi l ieu of del i nquents. who then become the
subject of new-and, thi s ti me, perfectly cal cul atcd­
techniques of goverance.
What defnes the apparatuses that we have to del
wi th in the current phase of capi tal ism is that they no
longer act as much through the producrion of a sub­
ject, as through the processes of what can be called
desubjecti fcaLiun. A desubjecti fing moment is cer­
tai nly i mpl icit i n every process of subjecti fcation. As
we have seen, the peni tenti al sel f is consti tuted onl y
Wat Is an Appartu? 21
t hrough its own ne
g
ation. But what we are now wi t­
nessing is that processes of subjectifcation and pr­
cesses of desubjectifcation seem to become recipro­
cal l y i ndi fferem, and so they do nor give rise to the
recomposition of a new subject g except i n laral or,
as i t were, spetral form. I n the nuntruth of the sub­
ject, its own trut h i s no longer at stake. He who lets
hi mself be captured by the cellular telephone appa­
rat us¯whatever the intensity of the desi re that has
driven hi m¯cannor acquire a new subjectivity, bur
only a number t hrough which he can, eventually, be
contrl led. The spectator who spends hi s eveni n
g
s i n
front of the t elevision set only gets, i n exchange for his
desubjecti fcarion, the frustrated mask of the couch
porato, or hi s i nclusion in the calculat ion of viewer­
ship rati ngs.
Here l ies the vani ty of t he wel l¯meani n
g
discourse
on technologyg which asserrs that the problem with ap­
paratuses can be reduced to the question of their cor­
rect use. Thos who make such cl aims seem to ignore
a simple fact: If a certai n proces of subjecti fcation (or,
in this case, desubjecti fcat ion) corresponds to every
apparatus§ then it is i mpossible for the subject of an
apparatus ro use it "i n the right way." Those who con­
ti nue ro prmote si milar arguments are, for their parr,
the product of the medi a apparatus in which they are
captured.
22 What Is al Apparat?
10.
Contemporar societies therefore present them­
selves as i nert bodies going through massive proceses
of desubjecti fcation without acknowledging any real
subjectifcation. Hence the ecl i pse of pol itics, which
used to presuppoe the existence of subjects and real
identi ties (the workers' movement, the bourgeoisie,
etc.), and the triumph of the oikonomia, that is to sy,
of a pure activity of government that ai ms at noth­
i ng other than its own repl ication. The Right and
the Left, which today al ternate i n the managemem
of power, have for thi s reason very little to do with
the pol i tical sphere i n which they origi nated. They
arc si mply the names of two poles-the frst poi nt i ng
without scruple to desubjecti fcation, the second want­
i ng i nstead to hi de behi nd the hypocri ti cal mask of
Lile good democratic citizen-of the same governmen­
tal machi ne.
This, above all, is the source of the pecul i ar uneasi­
ness of power preci sely dui ng an era in which it con­
fronts the most doci l e and cowardly social body that
has ever existed in human history. It is only an appar­
em paradox that the harmless ci ti zen of posti ndust ri al
democracies (the Bloom, as it has been effectively sg­
gested he be cal l ed)," who readi ly does everythi ng that
he i s asked to do, i nasmuch as he leaves his everyday
What Is an ApplrNS? 23
gestures and his health, his amusements and his occu­
pations, his diet and hi s desi res, to be commanded and
controlled in (he smallest detail by a
pp
aratuses, is also
considered by power-perhaps precisely because of
t hi s-as a
p
Olemial terrorist. Whi le a new European
norm i mposes biometric appartuses on al l its ci ti zens
by developi ng and perfecting anthropometric technol­
ogies i nvented in the ni neteenth century in order to
i dentify recidivist cri mi nal s (frm mug shots to fn­
gerprinting) , surveillance by means of video cameras
t ransforms the publi c space of the city i nto the interior
of an i mmense
p
rison. In the eyes of authority-and
maybe rightly so-nothi ng looks more l i ke a terrorist
than the ordi nary man.
The more apparatuses pervade and dissemi nate
their power in ever feld of life, the more government
wil l fnd itself faced with an elusive element, which
seems to escape its grasp the more it docilely submits
to it. This is neither (0 say t haI (hi s element consti ­
tutes a revol ut ionary subject in its own ri ght, nor that
it cn hal t or even t hreaten t he governmental machi ne.
Rather than the proclaimed end of history, we are, i n
fact, witnessi ng the i ncessant though ai mless mot ion
of this machine, which, in a sort of colossal pardy of
theological oikonomia, has assumed the legacy of the
providential governance of the world; yet i nstead of re­
deeming our world, thi s machine (true to the origi nal
24 What Is an Aparatu?
eschatological voation of Providence} is leadi ng us to
catastrophe. The problem of the profanation of appa­
ratuses-that is to say, the restitution to common use
of what has been captured and separated in them­
is, for thi s reason, all the more urgent. But thi s pro­
lem cannot be properl
y
raised as lon
g
as t hose who
are concerned with it are unable to i ntervene in thei r
own processes of subjectifcation, any more than in
their own apparatuses, in order to then bring to light
the Ungovernable§ which is the beginning and, at the
same ti me. the vanishi ng point of every politicsø
§
The Friend
I.
Friendship i s so t ightly li nked [0 the defni ti on of
phi losophy that it can be said that wi thout it, philos­
ophy would not really be possI blee The intimac be¯
tween friendship and phi losophy is so profound that
phi losophy contains the philos, the friend, i n its very
name, and§ as often happens wi th such an excesive
proxi mityg the risk runs high of not makin
g
heads or
tai l s of it. I n the classical world, thi s promi scuity, thi s
near consubstantiality, of the friend and the phi loso­
pher was taken as a given. It is certai nly with a some­
what archai zing i nttnt, t hen, [hat a contemporary phi­
losopher-when posing the extreme question "What
is phi losophy?" -was able to write that this is a ques­
tion to be discussed entre ami;, between friends. To­
day the relationship between friendship and phi loso­
phy has actual ly fallen i nto discredit, and it is with a
26 The Friend
ki nd of embarrassment and bad conscience ( hat pro­
fessional phi losophers try to come to terms wi th thi s
uncomfortable and, as it were, clandesti ne partner of
t hei r thought.
Many years ago my friend Jean-Luc Nancy and I
had decided to exchange some let ters on the theme of
friendship. We were persuaded that this was the best
way of drawing closer to-al most "stagi ng"-a prob­
lem that otherwis seemed to resist analytical treat­
ment. I wrote the frst letter and awai ted hi s response,
not without trepidati on. This is not the place to at­
tempt to comprehend what reasonsor, perhaps, what
mi sunderstandi ngs-signaled the end of the project
upon the arri val of Jean-Luc's Icner. But it is certai n
that our friendship-which we assumed would open
up a privileged poi nt of access to the problem-was
i nstead an obstacle. and that it was, in some measure,
at l east temporari ly, obscured.
It is an analogous, and probably conscious, sense of
discomfort ( hat led Jacques Derrida (0 choose as a leit­
motif for hi s book on friendshi p a sibyl l i ne motto, at­
tribured to Aris(Otl e by t radi tion, that negates friend­
ship with t he very same gesture by which i t seems to
i nvoke it: 0 phi/oi, oudeis phi/os, "0 friends, there are
no friends." One of the themes of the book i s, i n faer,
the critique of what the aurhor defnes as the phal lo­
centric notion of friendshi p that has dominated our
TIle Fried 2
7
phi losophical and pol itical tradi tion. When Derrida
was sti l l worki ng on the lecture that would be the ori­
gin of the book, we discussed together a curious phi lo­
logical problem concerni ng the motto or quip in ques­
tion. It can be found in Momaigne and i n Niet7.sche,
both of whom woul d have taken i t from Diogenes
Laertius. But if we open a modern edition of the lat­
ter's Lives of Eminent Philosopher to the chapter dedi­
cated to Ari stotle's biography (pI), we do not fnd the
phrase in question but rather one to al l appearances al­
most identical, whose signi fcance is nevertheles di f­
ferent and much less mysterious: oj (omega wi th iota
subscript) phioi, oudeis phil as, "He who has (many)
friends, does not have a si ngle friend."·
A visit to the l ibrary was al l it took to clarify the
mystery. In 1616, a new edi tion of the Lives appeared,
edited by the great Genevan phi lologi st Isaac Casau­
bon. Reachi ng the passage i n question-which sti l l
read a philoi (0 friends) i n the edition establ ished by
hi s father-i n-law Henry Estienne-Caaubon without
hesitation corrected t he enigmatic lesson of the man­
uscripts. which then became so perfectly i ntel l igible
that it was taken up by modern editors.
Si nce I had immediately i nformed Derrida of the
results of my research. I was stunned not to fnd any
trace of the second readi ng when his hook Poltiques
de l ' amitiewas publ i shed. 1 I f the mot to-apocryphal
28 The Fied
accordi ng to modern phi lologists-was reproduced i n
the origi nal form, i t certai nly was not due to forgetfl ­
ness: it was essenti al to the book's strategy that friend­
s
hip would he at once affrmed and revoked.
In thi s sense, Derrida's gesture is a repeti tion of
Nietzsche's. When he was sti l l a smdent of philology,
Nietzsche had begun a work on the sources of Dio­
genes Laertius's book, and so the textual hi story of the
Lives ( hence al so Casaubon's amendment) must have
been perfectly known to hi m. Nevertheless, the ne­
cessi ty of friendshi p and, at the same ti me, a certai n
distrust of friends were essential to Nietzsche's phi lo­
sophical strategy. Hence his recourse (0 [he uaditional
lesson that was al ready out of date by Nietzsche's time
(I luebncr's 1828 edition adopts the modern versi on,
addi ng the annotat ion, " lgebatur 0 phi loi , emendavit
Casaubonus").
2.
I t is possible that t he pecul i ar semamic status of
the term " friend" has contri buted [ Q the di scom-
fort of modern phi losophers. It is common knowl­
edge that no one has ever been able to satisfactori ly de­
fne the meani ng of the syntagm "I love you"; so much
i
s
thi s the case t hat one might think that it has a pcr­
format ive character: that i ts meani n
g
, i n other words,
The Friend 29
coi ncides with t he act of its uturance. Analogous con­
siderations could be made regardi ng the expression, "I
am your friend," although recourse to the performa­
dve category sems i mpossible here. I maintai n. rat her,
that " friend" belongs to the cl ass of terms that l in­
gui sts defne as nonpredicative; these are terms from
which it is not possible [0 establ ish a class that in­
cludes al l t he t hi ngs to which the predicate i n ques¯
t ion is attributed. "Whi te," "hard," or "hot" are cer­
tai nly predicative terms; but is it possihle to say that
"friend" defnes a consistent class i n the above sense?
As strange as i t might seem. " friend" shares [his qual­
ity with another type of nonpredicative term: i nsults.
Linguists have demonstrated that i nsults do not offend
those who are subjected to them as a resul t of i nclud­
i n
g
the i nsul ted person in a particul ar category (for ex­
ample, that of excrement or the male or female sexual
organs. dependi ng on the l anguage) -somethi ng that
woul d simpl y be i mpossi ble or. anyway, fal se. An i n­
sul t is effective precisely because it does not function as
a constative utterance. bur rather as a proper noun; be­
cause it uses language in order to give a name in such
a way that the named cannot accept hi s name, a nd
agai nst whi ch he cannot defend hi msel f (as if someone
were to insist on cal l i ng me Gastone knowi ng that my
name is Giorgio). What is offensive in the i nsult is, i n
30 The Friend
other words, a pure experience of l anguage and not a
reference to the worldo
I f thi s is true, M friend shares its condi tion not only
with insul ts but also with phi losophi cal terms-terms
that@ as i s wel l known, do not possess an objective de­
notati on, and, l i ke those terms that medieval logi cians
defne as "transcendental ," si mply signi fy bei nge
3 ·
I n the col lecti on of the Gal leria nazionale di am
antica i n Rome, t here i s a pai nt i ng by Giovanni Se­
rodi ne that repreents the meeti ng of the apostles Pe­
ter and Paul on the road to thei r martyrdomo The twO
saints, i mmobi le, occupy the center of the canvas, sur­
rounded by the wi l d gesticulations of the soldiers and
executioners who are leadi ng them (0 their torment .
Critics have often remarked on the contrast between
the heroic forti tude of the two apostles and t he t umul t
of the crowd§ highl ighted here and there by drops of
l i ght splashed al most at random on arms, faces§ and
trumpets. As far as I am concerned, I mai ntai n that
what renders thi s pai nti ng genui nely incomparable i s
that Serodi ne has depicted the two apostles so close (0
each other (thei r foreheads are al most stuck together)
that there is no way that they can see one another.
On the road to martyrdomg they look at each other
The Frmd 31
without recogni zi ng one another. This impression of a
nearness that is, so to speak, excessive is enhanced by
the si lent gesture of the barely visible, shaki ng hands
at the bottom of the pai nti ng. Thi s pai nti ng has al­
ways seemed [0 me to be a perfect al legory of friend­
shi pø I ndeed, what i s friendship other than a proxi mity
that resists bot h representation and conceptual izati on?
To recognize smeone as a friend means not bei ng able
to reco
g
nize him as a "somethi n
g
." Cal l i n
g
someone
" friend" is not the same as cal ling hi m "white," "Ital­
i an," or " hot," si nce friendshi p i s nei ther a property
nor a quali ty of a subject.

But i t i s now t i me to begi n rcadi ng the passage by
Aristotle that I was planni ng to comment on. The phi¯
losopher dedicates to the subject of friendshi p a t rea­
ti se, which comprises the eighth and ni nth books of
the Nicomachtn Ethics. Si nce we are deal i ng here
with one of the most celebrated and widely di scussed
texts in the enti re history of phi losophy, I shal l as­
sume your fami l i arity wi th its well-known theses: that
we cannot l i ve wi thout fri ends; that we need to di sti n­
guish between a friendshi p based on utility or on plea¯
sure and vi rtuous friendshi p, where the friend is loved
as such; that it is not possible to have many friends;
32 The Fiend
that a di stant friendship tends to lead to obl iviong and
so on. These poi nts are common knowledge. There
is. t hough, a pasage in the treatis that seems to me
to have received i nsuffcient attention, even though it
contai ns. so to speak. the ontological basi s of Ari sto­
de's theory of friendship. I am referri ng to 1170a28-
1 17Ib35. Lets read i t together:
He who sees senses [aisthanettl that he is seeing. he who
hears senses that he is heari ng. he who walks senses that
he is wal ki ng. ad thus for al l the other activities thee
is somct hi ng that senses that we are exerting them [hot;
energoumen) . in such a way that if we sense, we sense
that we are seming. and i f we thi nk. we sense that w are
thinki ng. This is the same thing as sensing existence ex
i sti ng [to e;liul means in fact sensng and thinki ng.
Sensi ng that we arc al i ve i s i n and of itself sweet. fr
l i fe i s by nature good. and it is sweet to sense that such a
good bdongs to us.
Li vi ng is desirable. above all for those who are good.
si nce for them existing i s a good and sweet thing.
For good men, "con-semi ng" [sna;slhalommoi. sens­
ing together) feels sweet because thcy recognize the good
itself, and what a good man feels wi t h res
p
ect to hi msel f
he also feels with respect to hi s frind: the friend is. i n
fact . an other self [heteros autos] . And as al l people fnd
the fact of their own exi stence [to aulon tilll desi r­
able. the existence of t hei r friends is equal ly-or al most
equal l y-desi rable. Exi stence i s dcsi rable because one
senses that it is a good thi ng. and this sensation
(aisthisisl i s in itself sweet. One must t herefore also

Tht Frimd 33
"con-sent" that his friend exists. and this happens by
living together and by sharin
g
acts and thoughts in com­
mon [koinontinl . In thi s sense, we say that human l ive
together [syznl , unl i ke cattle that share the pasture to­
gether . . .
Friendship is, in fact. a communi ty; and as we are
wi th respect [0 ourselves, so we are. as well, with rspect
to ou friends. And as the sensation of existi ng (aithisis
hoti tstin) i s desi rable for us, so would it al so be for our
friends.
We are deal i ng here with an extraordi nari ly dense
passage, because Aristot le enunciates a few theses of
frst phi losophy that wi l l not recur in thi s form in any
of his other writi ngs:
I. There is a sensation of pure being, an althisis of
existence. Aristotle repeats I hi s pi nt several ti mes
by mobilizing the technical vocabul ary of ontology:
ajsthanom�/ha hOli �smen, aisthisis hoti estin: the hoti
estin is existence-the quod est-i nsofar as it opposes
essence (quid est. ti min).
2. This sensation of existi ng is in itself sweet (hidys).
3. There is an equivalence between being and livi ng,
beteen sensing one's exi stence and sensing one's l i fe.
It i s a decided anticipation of the Nietzschean thesis
that states: "Being-we ha\'e no other way of i magin­
i ng it apart frm ' l ivi ng.' "} (An analogous, if more ge-
3
4
The Friend
neric. clai m can be found in De anima 41 Sb1 3: �8ei ng.
for the l ivi ng. i s l i fe. ")
4. Withi n thi s sensat ion of existing there is another
sensation. speci fcal ly a human one. that takes the
form of a joi nt sensation. or a con-sent (snaisthanet­
hal) with the exi stence of the friend. Friendship iJ the
instance of tbis "con-sentiment " ofthe existence of the
fiend withi" the sentiment ofexistence itsel But thi s
means that friendshi p has an ontological and politi
cal stat us. The sensation of being i s. i n fact. always
al ready both di vided and "con-di vided" [con-divisa.
shared1 . and friendshi p is the name of thi s "con­
division." Ti s shari ng has norhi ng whatsoever to
do with the modern chi mera of i ntersubjecti vi ty. the
relationship between subjects. Rather. bei ng itself is
di vided here. i t is nonidentical to i tself. and so th I
and the friend are the two faces. or the two poles. of
t hi s con-division or shari ng.
5. The friend is. therefore. an other sel f a heteros au­
tos. Through its Lati n translation. alter eo. thi s
expression has had a long hi story. which cannot be
reconstructed here. But it is i mportant to note that
t he Greek frmulation is much more pregnant with
meani ng than what is understood by the modern ear.
Fi rst and foremost. Greek. l i ke Lati n, has to terms
for alterity: alos (l at. Illius) i s generic al teri ty. while
heteos (lat. alter) i s alterity in the sense of an opposi­
tion btween t wo. as i n heterogeneity. Moreover. the
Lati n
e
o is not an exact transl at ion of autos. which
means "sel f." The friend i s not an other I. but an
otherness i mmanent [0 scl fness. a becomi ng other of
6.
The Frimd 35
the self. The point at which I perceive my existence
as sweet, my sensation goes through a con-senting
whi ch di slocates and deports my sensation toward the
friend, toward the other sel f Fri endshi p i s t his desub­
jecti fcation at the very heart of the most i nti mate
sensation of the self.
At thi s poi nt we can take the ontological status o
f
friendshi p i n Aristotle's phi loso
p
hy as a given. Friend­
ship belongs to proti philosophia, si nce the same ex­
perience, the sme "sensation" of bi n
g
, is what is
at stake in bmh. One therefore comprehends why
"friend" cannot be a real predicate added to a concept
in order to be admitted to a certain class. Usi ng mod­
ern terms, one could say that " friend" is an existential
and not a categorial . But this existenti al-which, as
such, cannm be conceptualized-is sti l l i n
f
used wi th
an i ntensit
y
that charges it wi th somethi ng l i ke a po­
l itical potential i ty. This i ntensilY is (he SY'I, the "con-"
or "with," that divides, dissemi nates, and render shar­
able (actual l
y
, it has al ways been shared) the same sen­
sation, the same sweemess of existi ng.
That this sharing or con-division has, for Aristotle,
a political signi fcance is impl ied in a passage i n the
text that I have al ready analyze and to which it is op­
portune to retur:
36 The Frmd
One must therfore also "con-sent" that hi s friend exists.
and this happens by living together [s
y
znj and by shar­
ing acts and thoughts in common [koinoneinj . I n thi
sense. we say that humans l i ve together. unl i ke ca
t
tle that
share the pas
t
ure together.
The expression that we have rendered as "share [he
pasture together" i s e toi autoi nemesthai. But the
verb nemo-whi ch. as you know, is rich with pol it ical
i mpl ications (it i s enough to thi nk of the deverbative
Tomos)-also means in the middle voice "partaki ng,"
and so the Aristotel i an expression could si mply stand
for "partaki ng in the same." I t i s essenti al at any rate
that the human communi ty comes [0 be defned here,
in contrast to the ani mal communi ty, through a l i vi ng
together (syzi acqui res here a technical meaning) that
is not defned by the participation in a common suh­
stance, but rather by a shari ng that is purely existen­
ti al , a con-division that, so to speak. lacks an obj ect:
friendship, as the con-senti ment of the pure fact of be­
i ng. Friends do not share something (bi rth. law. place.
taste) : they are shared by the exprience of friendship.
Friendshi p i s the con-division that precedes every di­
vision, si nce what has to be shared is t he very fact of
existence. l i fe itsel f And it i s this shari ng without an
object, thi s original con-senti ng. that constitutes the
political.
The Frimd 3
7
How t hi s origi nary pol i ti cal "synaest hesia" became
over time the consensus to which democracies today
entrust their fate in this last, extreme, and exhausted
phase of their evolution, is, as they say, another story,
which I leave
y
ou to reRect on.
§
Wat Is the Contem
p
orar
y
?
I .
The quest ion that I woul d l ike t o i nscribe on
the t hreshold of this semi nar is: "Of whom and of
what are we contemporaries?" And, frst and fore­
most, "What does it mean to be contemporary?" I n
the course of t his semi nar, we shal l have ocasion to
read texts whose authors are many centuries removed
from us, as wel l as mhers (hat are more recent, or even
very recent. At al l events, i t is essential that we man­
a
g
e to be in some way contemporaries of these texts.
The "ti me" of our semi nar is contem
p
orari ness, and
as such i t demands l esigel to be contemporary with the
texts and the authors it exami nes. To a great degree,
the success of this semi nar may be eval uated by its­
by our¯capacity to measure up to this exigency.
An i niti al , provisional i ndication that may ori¯
ent our search for an answer to the above questions
40 Wt Is th� Contnporr?
comes from Nietzsche. Rol and Barthes summa-
rizes thi s answer i n a nOle from hi s lectures at the
College de France: "The contemporary is the un­
ti mely." I n 18]4, Friedrich Nietzsche, a young phi lolo­
gi st who had worked up to that poi nt on Greek texts
and had to years earl ier achieved an unexpected ce­
lebrity with The Birth of Tragedy, publ ished the Un­
zeitgemie Betrachtungen, the Untimel Meditations, a
work in which he tries to come (0 terms wi th his ti me
and take a position with regards (0 the present. "This
meditation is i tsel f unt i mely," we read at the begi n­
ni ng of the second meditation, "because it seeks (0 un­
derstand as an i l l ness, a di sabi l ity. and a defect some­
thi ng which this epoch is qui te rightly proud of that
i s to say, its historical cul ture, because I bel ieve that we
are all consumed by the fever of history and we should
at least real i ze it:" In other words, Nietzsche situates
hi s own cl ai m for "relevance" [atialit], his "contem­
porari ness" with respect to the prsent. in a disconnec­
tion and out-of-joi ntness. Those who are truly contem­
porary. who truly belong to thei r ti me, are those who
neither perfectly coi ncide wi th it nor adj ust themselves
to its demands. They are thus in ( his sense i rrelevant
[inattuale] . But preci sely because of this condi tion,
preci sely through thi s disconnecton and thi s anachro­
nism, t hey are more capable than others of perceivi ng
and graspi ng thei r own time.
What Is the Conte
p
on
r
?
4
1
Natural ly, thi s noncoi ncidence, this "dys-chrony,"
does not mean that the contemporary is a person who
l ives in another ti me, a nostalgic who feels more at
home i n the Athens of Pericles or in t he Paris of
Robespierre and the marquis de Sade than i n the city
and the time in which he l ives. An i ntell igent man
can despise his ti me. while knowi ng that he neverthe­
less i rrevocably belongs to it, that he cannot escape hi s
own ti me.
Contemporari nes i s, then, a si ngul ar relationshi p
wi t h one's own ti me, which adheres to i t and. at t he
same time, keeps a distance from it. More precisely, it
is that reltionship with time tht adheres to it through
a disunction and an anachronism. Those who coi ncide
too wel l with the epoch, those who are perfectly tied
to it i n every respect. are not contemporaries, precisely
because they do not manage to see it; they are not able
to frmly hold thei r gaze on i t.
2.
I n 1923, Osi p Mandelstam wri tes a poem entit led
"The Century (though the Russi an word vek al so
means "epoch" or "age"). It dos not contai n a refec­
tion on the century, but rather a refection on the rela­
tion between the poet and his time, that i s to say, on
contemporariness. Not "the century," but. accordi ng
42 What Is th( Conumporar?
to the words that open the frst verse. "my century· or
"my age" (v�k mOl):
My century. my bestg who wi l l manae
to look i nside your eye
and weld together with hi s own blood
the vertebrae of to cent urie?
The poet. who must pay for hi s contemporari ness
with his life. i s he who must frmly lock hi s gaze onto
the eyes of his century-beast. who must weld with hi s
own blood the shattered backbone of ti me. The two
centuries. the two ti mes. are not only. as has been sug­
gested. t he ni neteenth and twentieth. but also. more
to the poi nt. the length of a si ngle i ndividual 's l i fe (re­
member that sd(culum origi nally means the period of
a person's l i fe) and the colleclive hi storical period that
we call in this case the twentieth century. As we shall
learn i n the last strophe of the
p
oem@ the backbone of
this age i s shat tered. The poet. i nsofar as he i s con­
temporary. is lhis fract ure. i at once that which i m­
pedes ti me from composi ng itself and the blood that
must suture this break or this wound. The paral lel­
i sm between the t i me and the vertebrae of the crea­
ture. on the one hand. and the ti me and the vertebrae
of the age. 01 th other. consli tules one of the essential
themes of the poem:
So long as t he creature l i ves
it must carry forth i ts verr ebrae.
a the waves play along
with an invisible spine.
Whlt Is the ContempoTr?
4
3
Like a chi l d's tender crti lage
is the century of the newborn earh.
The other great t heme-and thi s, l i ke the preced¯
i ng one, is also an i mage of contemporari ness-is that
of the shatterng, as wel l as of the wel ding, of the age's
vertebrae, both of which are the work of a si ngle i ndi¯
vidual (i n this case the poet):
"10 wrest the century away from bndage
so as to start the world anew
one must tic together with a Rute
the knees of all the knotted days.
That this is an i mpossible task-or at any rate a par­
adoxical one-is proven by the fol lowi ng strophe wi th
which the pom concludes. Not only does the epoch­
beast have broken vertebrae, bt vek, the newborn age,
wants ro turn aroll nd (an i mpossible gesture for a per­
son with a brken backbone) in order to contemplate
its own tracks and, in this way, to display its demented
face:
But your bakbne ha been shattered
o my wondrousg wretched century.
With a senseless smile
l i ke a beat [hat wa once l imber
you look bak. weak and cruel ¶
to contemplate your own track.
4
4 What Is thf Conrnnporar?

The poet-the contemporary-must frmly hold hi s
gaze on his own t i me. But what does he who sees hi s
r i me actual ly see? What i s thi s demented gri n on the
face of his age? I would l i ke at t his poi nt to propose a
second defnition of contemporariness: The contempo­
rary is he who frly holds his gaze on hi s own t i me
so as to perceive not i ts l i ght, but rather its darkness.
All eras, for those who experience contemporari ness,
are obscure. The contemporary i s precisely the persn
who knows how to see thi s obscurity, who i s able to
wri te by dippi ng his pen in the obscuri ty of the pres­
ent. But what does it mean, "to see an obscurity," "to
perceive the darkness"?
The neurophysiology of vi sion suggests an i ni-
ti al answer. What happens when we fnd ourselves i n
a place deprived of l ight, or when we close our eyes?
What is the darkness that we see then? Neurophysiol­
ogists tel l us that the absence of l ight act ivates a series
of peripheral cells in the reti na cal led "off-cells." When
activated, these cel ls produce t he parti cul ar ki nd of vi­
sion that we call darkness. Darkness is not, therefore, a
privat ive notion (the si mple absence of l ight, or some­
t hi ng l i ke nonvision) but rather the result of the acdv­
it y of the "off-cel ls," a product of our own reti na. Thi s
means, i f we now return to our thesis on the darkness
Wht Is the Contemponr?
4
5
of contemporari ness_ that to perceive thi s darkness is
not a form of i nerti a or of passivity, but rather i mpl ies
an activity and a singul ar abi l ity. In our case, this abi l¯
ity amounts to a neutral ization of the l ights t hat come
from the epoch in order to di sover its obscurity, its
speci al darkness, which is not@ however, separable from
those l ights.
The ones who can call themselves contemporary are
only those who do not al low themselves to be bl i nded
by the l ights of the century, and so manage to get a
gl i mpse of the shadows i n those l i ghts, of thei r i nti ­
mate obscurity. Havi ng said thi s much, we have nev­
ertheless sti l l not addressed our quest ion. Why should
we be at al l interested in perceivi ng the obscurity that
emanates from the epoch? Is darkness not precisely an
anonymous ex
p
erience that i s by defni tion i mpenetra¯
ble; somethi ng that is not di reted at us and thus can­
not concern us? On the contrary@ the contemporary i s
the person who perceives the darkness of hi s t i me as
somethi ng that concerns hi m, as somethi n
g
that never
ceases to engage hi mø Darknes is somethi ng that­
more than any l ight-turns di rectly and singul arly to­
ward hi m. The contem
p
orary is the one whose eyes
are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from
hi s own ti me.
46 What Is the Cnteporar?

I n the frmament that we observe at nightg the stars
shine brightly§ surrounded by a thi ck darkness. Si nce
the number of gaaxies and l umi nous bodies in the
universe i s al most i nfnite, the darkness that we see in
the sky is somethi ng that, accordi ng to scientists, de­
mands an explanati on. It is precisely the explanation
that contemporary astrophysics gives for this darkness
that I would now l i ke to discuss. In an expandi ng uni­
verse, the most remote galaxies move away from us at
a speed so great that thei r l ight is never able to reach
us. What we perceive as the darkness of the heavens
is this l ight that, though travel i ng toward us, cannot
reach li S, si nce the gal axies from which the l ight origi­
nates move away from us at a veloity greater than the
speed of l ight.
To perceive, in the darkness of the present, thi s light
that strives to reach us but cannot¯this is what it
means to be contemporary. As such, contemporaries
are rare. And for t hi s reason, [0 be contemporary is,
frst and foremost, a question of courageg because it
means bei ng able not onl y to frmly fx your gaze on
the darkness of the epochg but also [0 perceive in this
darkness a l ight ( hat, whi le di rected toward us, i nf­
nitely distances itsel f from us. I n other words, it is l i ke
being on ti me for an appoi ntmem that one cannot but
mIss.
What Is the Conumporar?
4
7
Thi s is the reason why the present that contempo­
rari ness perceives has broken vertebrae. Our t i me, the
present, is in fact not only the most distant: i t cannot
in any way reach us. Its backbone is broken and we
fnd ourselves in the exact point of thi s fracture. Thi s
is why we are, despite everything, contemporaries.
It is i mportant to real ize that the appointment that
is i n question in contemporariness does not si mply
rake place i n chronological ti me: i t is somethi ng that,
working withi n chronological t i me, urges, presses, and
transforms it. And t his urgency is the unti meli nes,
the anachroni sm that permits us to grasp our time in
the form of a "too soon" that i also a "too l ate"; of an
"already" that is also a "not yet." Moreover. it al lows
us (0 recognize in the obscurity of the present the l ight
that, without ever being able to reach us, is perpetual ly
voyaging toward us.

A good example of t his special experience of ti me
that we call comemporari ness is fashion. Fashion can
be defned as the i ntroduction i nto t i me of a pecul i ar
disconti nuity that divides i t accordi ng to i ts relevance
or irrelevance, i ts being-i n-fashion or no-Ionger-bei ng­
i n-fashi on. Thi s caesura, as subtl e as it may be, is re­
markable i n [he sense that those who need to make
48 What Is the C(nteporar?
note of it do so infall ibly; and in so doing they at-
test to thei r own being in fashion. But i f we try to ob­
j ecti fy and fx this caesura withi n chronological t i me,
it reveals itsl f as ungraspable. I n the frst pl ace, the
"now" of fashi on, the instant in which it comes i nto
being. is not ident i fable via any ki nd of chronometer.
Is thi s "now" perhaps t he moment in which t he fash­
ion designer conceives of t he general conce
p
t , t he nu­
ance that wi l l defne the ne style of the clothes? Or is
i t t he moment when r he fashion designer conveys the
concept to hi s assistants, and then to t he tai lor who
wi l l sew the prototyp? Or. rather, is it the moment
of the fashion show, when the clothes are worn by t he
onl y people who are always and only i n fashi on, the
mannequin, or moel s; those who nonet heless , pre­
cisely for thi s reason, are never truly in fashi on? Be­
caue in this last i nstance, the being i n fashion of the
"style" wi ll depnd on ( he fact that the people of fesh
and blood, rather than the mannequin «(hose sacri f­
ci al vict i ms of a faceless god), wi l l recogni ze it as such
and choose that s tyle f)r their own wardrobe.
The t i me of fashion, therefore, consti t utively ant i c­
ipates itsel f and consequently is also always roo l ate. It
always takes t he form of an ungraspable threshold be­
tween a "not yet" and a "no mor." It is quite prob­
able that, as the theologians suggest, t his constel la­
tion depends on the fact that fashion, at least i n our
What Is th( C01lttpoar?
4
9
culture, is a theological signature of clot hi ng, which
derives from the frst piece of clmhing that wa sewn
by Adam and Eve after the Orginal Si n, in (he form
of a loi ncloth woven from f
g
leaves. (To be preci se,
the clothes that we wear derive@ not from this vege-
tal loi ncloth, but from the tnicae peliceae, the clothes
made from ani mals' skin that God. accordi ng to Gen­
esis 3: 21 , gave to our prgeni tors as a tangi ble symbol
of si n and deth i n the moment he expel led them from
Paradise.) In any case, whatever [he reason may be, the
"now," the kairo$ of fashion is ungraspable: the phrase,
"I am in thi s i nstant in fashion" is contradictory, be­
cause the moment in which the subjec pronounces i t,
he i s al ready out of fashi on. So, bei ng i n fashion, l i ke
contcm
p
orri nes, entai ls a certai n "ease," a certain
qual ity of bei n
g
out-of-phase or out-of-date, in which
one's relevance include wi thi n itsel f a small par of
what I ies outide of itself a shade of dodt, of be-
ing out of fashion. It is in this sense that it was said of
an elegant l ady i n nineteenth-century Pari s, Elle est
contemporai ne de tout Ie monde," "She i s everybody's
contemprary."
Bur t he temporal ity of fshion has another character
that relates it (0 contem
p
orari ness. Fol lowi ng the same
gesture by which the present divides time accordi n
g
to
a "no more" and a "nm yet," i t also establ ishes a pCll­
l i ar rlati onship with these ot her ti mes"-certai nly
50 What Is the Conumpora
r
?
with the past. and perhaps also with the future. Fash­
ion can therefore "cite." and in this way make rele­
vam a
g
ain, any moment from the past (the 192S, the
1970s, but also the neoclassical or empire style). It can
therefore tie to
g
ether that which it has inexorably di­
vided-recall, re-evoke, and revitalize that which it
had declared dead.
6.
There is also another aspect to this special rel ation­
ship with the past.
Contemporariness inscribes itself in the presem by
markin
g
it above all as archaic. Only he who perceives
the indices and si
g
natures of the archaic in the most
modern and recem can be contemporary. "Archaic"
means close to the arkhi that is to say. the origin. But
the ori
g
in is not only situated in a chronolo
g
ical past:
it is contemporary with historical becoming and does
nor cease to operate within it. just as the embryo con­
tinues to be active in the tissues of the mature or­
ganism. and the child in the psychic life of the adult.
Both this distancin
g
and nearness. which defne con­
temporariness. have their foundation in this proxim­
ity to the origi n that nowhere pulses with more force
than in the presem. Whoever has seen the skyscrapers
of New York for the frst time arriving from the ocean
What I the contemporary? 51
at dawn has immediately perceived this archaic fcies
of the present, this contiguousness with the ruin that
the atemporal images of September lIth have made ev­
ident to all.
Historians of literature and of art know that there is
a secret affnity between the archaic and the modern,
not so much because the archaic forms seem to exer­
cise a particular charm on the present, but rather be­
cause the key to the modern is hidden in the imme­
morial and the prehistoric. Thus. the ancient world in
its decline turns to the primordial so as to rediscover
itself. The avant-garde, which has lost itself over time,
also pursues the primitive and the archaic. It is in this
sense that one can say that the entry point to the pres­
ent necessarily takes the form of an archeology; an ar­
cheology that does not, however. regress to a historical
past, but returns to that part within the present that
we are absolutely incapable of living. What remains
unlived therefore is incessantly sucked back toward the
origin, without ever being able to reach it. The present
is nothing other than this unlived element in every­
thing that is lived. That which impedes access to the
present is precisely the mass of what for some reason
(its traumatic character, its excessive nearness) we have
not managed to live. The attention to this "unlived"
is the life of the contemporary. And to be contempo-
52 What ! th� Conteporr?
rary means in this snse to return to a present where
we have never ben.

Those who have tried to thi nk about cmemprar­
i nes have ben able [0 do so only by spl itti ng it up
i nto several ti mes, by introducing into ti me an essen­
ti al dishomogenei ty. Those who say
"
my time" actual l y
divide ti me-they i nscri be i nto it a caesura and a di s­
continuity. But precisely by means of this caesura, t hi s
interpolation of the present i nto t he i nert homogenei ty
of l i near ti me, the comemporary puts to work a spcial
rel ati onshi p btween the different t i mes. I f, as we have
seen, it is the contem
p
orar
y
who has broken t he verte­
brae of ll is l i me (or, at any rate, who has percei ved i n it
a faul t l i ne or a breaki ng poi nt), t hen he also maes of
t his fract ure a meel i ng place, or a n encounter betwen
t i mes and generarions. There i s nothi ng more exem­
plary, i n t hi s sense, than Paul 's gesture at the poi nt
in which he experience and announces to hi s broth­
ers rhe contemporari ness par excellence that i s messi­
anic ti me, the bei n
g
-contemporay with (he Messiah,
which he cal l s preci sely the "ti me of the now" (ho nyn
kairo). NOI only i s thi s ti me chronologically indeter­
mi nate (t he parousi, the retur of Chri st that signals
the end i s cenain and near, though not at a calculable
What Is tht Contt
p
ora
r
?
53
point), but it also has the singul ar ca
p
aci ty of puni ng
every i nstant of the paSt in di rect relationshi p with it­
sel f of maki ng every moment or episode of bibl ical
hi stor a prphecy or a prefguration ( Paul prefers the
term tpos, f
g
ure) of the prsent (thus Adam, through
whom humanity received death and si n, is a "type" or
fgure of ( he Messi ah, who bri ngs about redemption
and life to men).
This means that the comem
p
orar
y
i s not only the
one who, perceiving the darkness of the prsent. grasps
a l i ght t hat can never reach its desti ny; he is also the
one who, di vi di ng and i nterpolating ti me, is capa-
ble of transformi ng it and putti ng it in rel ation with
other t i mes. He is able (0 read history i n unfreseen
wys, to "cite i t" accordi ng (0 a necessity that dos not
arise in any wa
y
from his wil, but from an exigency
to which he cannot not respond. It is a i f this i nvis­
i ble l ight that i s the darkness of the present cast its
shadow on the past. so that the past, touched by this
shadow. acqui red the abi l i ty to respond to the dark­
ness of the now. It is somethi ng al ong thes l i nes that
Michel Foucaul t prbably had i n mi nd when he wrote
that hi s hi storical i nvest igat ions of the past a re onl y
the shadow cast by hi s theoretical i nrerrogati on of the
present. Similarly. Walter Benj ami n writes t hat t he
hi storicl index contained in the i mages of the past in­
di cates that thee i mages ma
y
achi ev l egi bi lity only
54
What I th� Conteprar?
in a determined moment of thei r hi story. It is on our
abi l ity to respond to this exigency and to this shadow,
[0 be contemporaries not only of our century and the
"now," but also of its fgures in the texts and docu­
ments of the past, that the succes or failure of our
semi nar depends.
Notes
What Is an Apparat?
I. Translators' note: We follow here the common English
r ransl ari on of Foucult's term disiti a uappara(. � In ev­
eryd
y
we, the Frnch word cn designate any sort of device.
Agambn poi nts out that the trur mcine frm Kfa's In
fi Peal Colny is called an Aparat.
2. Michel Foucaul t. Pwer/Knowldge: Selcted Interviews
and Othu Writing, 1972-1977. ed. C. Gordon ( New York:
Pantheon Book. ' 980) . ' 94-96.
3. Jean Hyppl i te. Intdcion to Heel' Phih} of His­
tor, crans. B. Harris and J. B. Spulock (Ganesville: Univer­
si ty Prss of Florida. 1996) . 2.
4. Ibid e • 23.
5. Marti n Heideer. Blic Wrting. e. D. F Kel l ( New
York: Harper Col l i ns, 1993), 325.
6. Trslaors' noce: See Thorie d Blom (Pai: Fabrique,
2(00) , by the French col l etive TqqUJ1 . The all usion is to
lopold Bloom. [he mai n character in James Joyce's Ulsses.
56 NOles
The Friend
I . Di ogencs Laerti us. The lile of Eminet Philsophtrs.
vol . I . rrans. R. D. Hi cks (Cambridge, Mas.: Ha Uni ­
veri t Pres. ( 972) , 465.
2. Jacques Drrida. Politics ofFrmdhip, trans. G. Col l i ns
(Lndon: Verso. 1997) .
3. Frierich Niet�che, The Win to POU". rras. W Kauf­
mann and R. J . Hol l i ngdale (New York: Vintage Books,
( 968) . 3 1 1. §582.
What Is the Conemporar?
J . Friedrich Nietche. "On (he Uses and Ause o
f
His­
ror ro Lfe, " i n Untimel Mtdittiom trans. R. J. Holli ngde
(Cabridge: Cabridge Universit Pres. (997) . 60.
M E R I D I A N
Crsing Aesthetic
Bernar
d
Sti egler. Trchnics and Tim�. 2: Disorentation
Bernard Sti egler. Acin
g
Ou
Susan Bernstei n. Housing Fobln: Wriling and
Archilecture in Goeth. Walok. Freu and Heidfger
Marrin Hagglund. Radcal Atesm: D�rid and th� Tmr
o
f Lf
Cornelia Vismann. File: Law and Media uchnoJ
g
Anne-Lise Fran-ois. Open Screts: The Liurature of
Uncount�d Eperime
Jean-Le Nanc, The Discolrs o the Syncope:
Lo
g
od�dalu
Carol Jacobs, Skirting the Ethica: Sohocs, PMto,
Hmann. Sea, Campion
Corndius Casroriadis, Figres of the Tinkable
Jacque Derrida, Psce /nwntiom Of the Otk, 2
volumes. edired by Pegy Kamuf and Elizbe(h
Rottenberg