Giorgio Agamben (1942–

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Giorgio Agamben is one of the leading figures in Italian philosophy and radical political theory, and in recent years, his work has had a deep impact on contemporary scholarship in a number of disciplines in the Anglo-American intellectual world. Born in Rome in 1942, Agamben completed studies in Law and Philosophy with a doctoral thesis on the political thought of Simone Weil, and participated in Martin Heidegger’s seminars on Hegel and Heraclitus as a postdoctoral scholar. He has taught at various universities, including the Universities of Macerata and Verona and was Director of Programmes at the Collège Internationale de Paris. He has been a Visiting Professor at various universities in the United States of America, and was a Distinguished Professor at the New School, University in New York. He caused a controversy when he refused to submit to the “biopolitical tattooing” requested by the United States Immigration Department for entry to the USA in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Agamben’s work does not follow a straightforward chronological path of development either conceptually or thematically. Instead, his work constitutes an elaborate and multifaceted recursive engagement with the problems introduced into Western philosophy by the highly original and often enigmatic works of Walter Benjamin, most notably in his book on German trauerspiel, The Origins of German Tragic Drama, but also in associated essays and fragments, such as his “Critique of Violence.” This is not to say that Agamben is not influenced by, nor engaged with, a number of other canonical or contemporary figures in Western philosophy and political, aesthetic and linguistic theory. He certainly is, most notably Heidegger and Hegel, as well as the scholarship that follows from them, but also Aby Warburg’s iconography (Agamben worked at the Warburg Institute Library in 1974-5), Italian Autonomism and Situationism (especially Guy Debord’s influential Society of the Spectacle), Aristotle, Emile Benveniste, Carl Schmitt and Hannah Arendt amongst others.. Beyond this philosophical heritage, Agamben also engages in multilayered discussions of the Jewish Torah and Christian biblical texts, Greek and Roman law, Midrashic literature, as well as of a number of Western literary figures and poets, including Dante, Holderlin, Kafka, Pessoa, and Caproni to name but a few. This breadth of reference and the critical stylistics it gives rise to no doubt contribute to the appearance of intimidating density characteristic of Agamben’s work. Even so, Agamben’s engagement with these figures is often mediated by his deep conceptual and thematic debt to Benjamin (he served as editor of the Italian edition of Benjamin’s collected works from 1979 to 1994) evident in his central focus on questions of language and representation, history and temporality, the force of law, politics of the spectacle, and the ethos of humanity.

Table of Contents
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Language and Metaphysics Aesthetics Politics Ethics Messianism References and Further Reading

in which the banality of everyday life cannot be experienced per se but only undergone. Agamben draws upon the linguistic notion of deixis to isolate the selfreferentiality of language in pronouns or grammatical shifters. as a condition of experience that precedes and continues to reside in any appropriation of language. Language and Metaphysics As Agamben indicates in the 1989 preface to the English translation of Infancy and History. Agamben reinvigorates consideration of philosophical anthropology through a critical questioning of the metaphysical presuppositions that inform it. In taking up this question. by casting Daand Diese as grammatical shifters that refer to the pure taking place of language. While this collapse of metaphysics into ethics is increasingly evident as nihilism. Beginning from Heidegger’s suggestion of an essential relation between language and death. play. . what it means that “I speak. though. not in a temporal or developmental sense of preceding the acquisition of language in childhood. originally published in 1982. Infancy. since it is only in language that the subject has its site and origin. Agamben seeks to understand and ultimately escape this collapse through a rigorous philosophy of the experience of language suggested in Infancy and History. and most recently. Agamben argues that the recuperation of experience entails a radical rethinking of experience as a question of language rather than of consciousness. contemporary thought has yet to escape from this condition. which he argues do not refer to anything beyond themselves but only to their own utterance (LD. The problem for Agamben. and in particular.” In taking up this question throughout his work. Language and Death. In his analysis of Heidegger and Hegel. In this.1. the key question that unites his disparate explorations is that of what it means for language to exist. and most explicitly in texts such as Infancy and History. Agamben continues this reflection on the self-referentiality of language as a means of transforming the link between language and metaphysics that underpins Western philosophical anthropology inLanguage and Death. Agamben argues that Western metaphysics have been fundamentally tied to a negativity that is increasingly evident at the heart of the ethos of humanity. conceptualizes an experience of being without language. and the limits of language become apparent not in the relation of language to a referent outside of it. Infancy and History constitutes one of Agamben’s earliest attempts to grasp and articulate the implications of such an as experience of language as such. Here. Agamben argues that the contemporary age is marked by the destruction or loss of experience. the claim that the defining essence of man is that of having language.. a condition which is in part brought about by the rise of modern science and the split between the subject of experience and of knowledge that it entails. but rather. then. 16-26). Agamben isolates their reliance upon and indeed radicalization of negativity. and gesture. particularly in the eponymous essay of the edition on the concept of infancy understood as an experiment of language as such. temporality. is that both Hegel and Heidegger ultimately maintain a split within language – which he sees as a consistent element of Western thought from Aristotle to Wittgenstein – in their identification of an ineffability or unspeakability that cannot be brought into human discourse but which is nevertheless its condition. Consisting of a series on interconnected essays on concepts such as history. Against this destruction of experience. The Open. Infancy and History provides an importance entrance to Agamben’s later work on politics and ethics. Published in Italian in 1978.. which is also extended in modern philosophies of the subject such as Kant and Husserl. but in the experience of language as pure self-reference. Agamben proposes the necessity of an“experimentum linguae” in which what is experienced is language itself.

according to Agamben. the first of these lies in the broad domain of aesthetics.” Thus rejecting a straightforward prioritization of poetry over philosophy. This suspension. there will be nothing able not to be. the relation of potentiality to actuality described by Aristotle accords perfectly with the logic of the ban that Agamben argues is characteristic of sovereign power. As Agamben concludes. ‘“an act is sovereign when it realizes itself by simply taking away its own potentiality not to be.” Agamben argues that both philosophy and poetry attain toward the unspeakable as the condition of language. he suggests. the rethinking of which Agamben takes to be central to the task of overcoming contemporary nihilism. this is only possible in an experience of infancy that has never yet been: it is only in existing “in language without being called there by any Voice” and dying “without being called by death” (LD 96) that humanity can return to its proper dwelling place or ethos. Citing Aristotle’s proposal in Book Theta of his Metaphysics. While this relation is central to the passage of voice to speech or signification and to attaining toward the experience of language as such.” (in HS. does not amount to a destruction of im-potentiality. Agamben raises the question of the relation of philosophy and poetry by asking whether poetry allows a different experience of language than that of the “unspeakable experience of Voice” that grounds philosophy. 2. which in turn requires rethinking community. One further dimension of Agamben’s engagement with Western metaphysics and attempt to develop an alternative ontology is worth mentioning here. Agamben concludes that . since it reveals the undetermined or sovereign founding of being. for Agamben’s conception of the destruction of experience and of potentiality directly feed into an analysis of the political spectacle and of sovereignty. since it is one of the most consistent threads throughout his work. though. or the potentiality to not be. From a brief reflection on Plato’s identification of poetry as the “invention of the Muses. Aesthetics In Language and Death.Agamben calls this mute condition of language “Voice. a reformulation of ethics as ethos. which he addresses in his subsequent work. This is the problem of potentiality. that is. in which Agamben considers the stakes of the appropriation of language in prose and poetry in order to further critically interrogate the distinction between philosophy and poetry. when the act of which it is said to be potential is realized. letting itself be.” and concludes that a philosophy that thinks only from the foundation of Voice cannot deliver the resolution of metaphysics that the nihilism toward which we are moving demands. through the turning back of potentiality upon itself. but rather to its fulfilment. 45) Agamben argues that this ought not be taken to mean simply that “what is not impossible is possible” but rather. thereby revealing the fundamental integration of metaphysics and politics. Instead.that “a thing is said to be potential if. giving itself to itself’” (HS 46). These also necessitate.” im potentiality. to which it has never been and from which it has never left. The second lies in the domains of politics and ethics. is fully realized in its own suspension such that actuality appears as nothing other than the potentiality to not not-be. which amounts to its “giving of itself to itself. there will be nothing im-potential (“that is. though both also “demonstrate this asunattainable. Agamben also claims that in this formulation Aristotle bequeaths to Western philosophy the paradigm of sovereignty. These reflections on metaphysics and language thus yield two inter-related problems for Agamben. highlights the suspension or setting aside of impotentiality in the passage to actuality. In this way then. or verse over prose.

against both philosophy and poetry. The urgent task of thought. he also questions the “primordial situation” of the distinction between the signifier and the signified. is in Agamben’s view. . 156). Rather. Agamben argues that Derrida does not achieve the overcoming he hopes for. claiming that Saussure’s triumph lay in recognizing the impossibility of a science of language based on the distinction of signified and signifier. Agamben argues in Stanzas that to the extent that Western culture accepts the distinction between philosophy and poetry. dandyism. understood as the “topological game of putting things together and articulating” (S 156). Hence. In order to pursue this task. the psychoanalysis of toys. the origin of Western metaphysics lies in the conception that “original experience be always already caught in a fold…that presence be always already caught in a signification” (S 156). rather. xvii). confirmed by Jacques Derrida’s formulation of grammatology as an attempt to overcome the metaphysics of presence that Derrida diagnoses as predominant within western philosophy from Plato onwards. but knows the representation” (S. and the myths of Narcissus. would be the true human language” (LD. an attempt to truly overcome metaphysics requires that the semiological algorithm must reduce to solely the barrier itself rather than one side or the other of the distinction. Ultimately. criticism “opposes the enjoyment of what cannot be possessed and the possession of what cannot be enjoyed” (S. and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring. 78). Agamben develops a model of knowledge evident in the relations of desire and appropriation of an object that Freud identifies as melancholia and fetishism. also most evidently bears the influence of Aby Warburg. This thematic subsequently drives Agamben’s contributions to aesthetics. entailing engagement with modern linguistic and philosophy. and in doing so. experience and ethos. the distinction between philosophy and poetry grounds a complex exercise of language and representation. In this. and particularly that which Agamben names “criticism. Metaphysics is not simply the interpretation of presence in the fractures of essence and appearance. developed throughout his works in this area and designed to surpass the distinction itself as well as those that attend it. He concludes this study—which encompasses discussion of fetishism and commodity fetishism.” (S 155) This idea of a link between the notion of the unity of the sign and Western metaphysics. While dedicated to the memory of Martin Heidegger. logos is the fold that “gathers and divides all things in the ‘putting together’ of presence” (S. sensibility and intelligibility and so on.” is to rediscover “the unity of our own fragmented word. since he has in fact misdiagnosed the problem: metaphysics. Eros and Oedipus amongst other things—with a brief discussion of Saussurian linguistics. Thus. then.” in which criticism “neither represents nor knows. in which he develops a dense and multifaceted analysis of language and phantasm.” Criticism is situated at the point at which language is split from itself —in for instance. the distinction of signified and signifier and its task is to point toward a “unitary status for the utterance. Agamben’s first major contribution to contemporary philosophy of aesthetics was his acclaimed book Stanzas. as well as psychoanalysis and philology. However. xvii).“perhaps only a language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word. to which Western reflections on the sign are beholden. Yet. to isolate the sign as a positive unity from Saussure’s problematic position is to “push the science of the sign back into metaphysics. whom Agamben here names as the last of Western philosophers within this book. xvii). knowledge founders on a division in which “philosophy has failed to elaborate a proper language…and poetry has developed neither a method nor self consciousness” (S.

This is because in modern democracies.It is in the framework established here then that Agamben’s next work in aesthetics. the aphorism and the short story. The Idea of Prose. Suggesting that Foucault has failed to elucidate the points at which sovereign power and modern techniques of power coincide. is not so much the integration of biological life into the sphere of politics. but rather. Foucault writes that “for millennia. Whereas sovereign power was characterized by a right over life and death.” For Foucault. politics. in which thought is returned to a prosaic experience or awakening. Thus. It is in this book that Agamben develops his analysis of the condition of biopolitics. Undoubtedly. In bringing into play various literary techniques such as the fable. the fact that modern State power brings the nexus between sovereignty and the biopolitical body to light in an unprecedented way. man remained…a living animal with the additional capacity for a political existence. Foucault argued that modern power was characterized by a fundamentally different rationality than that of sovereign power. Politics The most influential dimension of Agamben’s work in recent years has been his contributions to political theory. though in fact he rejects a number of Foucault’s historico-philosophical commitments and claims. In the light of the foregoing though.” (HS 6) What distinguishes modern democracy from the Ancient polis then. prose.” modern power is characterized by a productive relation to life. In this volume. 3. he claims that biopower and sovereignty are fundamentally integrated. in which what is known is representation itself. to the extent that “it can even be said that the production of a biopolitical body is the original activity of sovereign power. Agamben rejects the thesis that the historical rise of biopower marked the threshold of modernity. bare life has the peculiar privilege of being that whose exclusions found the city of men. a contribution that springs directly from his engagements in metaphysics and the philosophy of language. the riddle. claiming that he aims to “correct or at least complete” it. language. summarized by Foucault in the dictum of “killing or letting live. the “threshold of modernity” was reached with the transition from sovereign power to biopower. Agamben is explicitly engaged with Foucault’s thesis on biopower in Homo Sacer. might be said to achieve its real importance…. in which the “new political subject” of the population became the target of a regime of power that operates through governance of the vicissitudes of biological life itself. This enigmatic text is perhaps especially difficult to understand. Instead. encapsulated in the dictum of “fostering life or disallowing it. modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question” (HS1 143). because these fragments do not constitute a consistent argument throughout the book. Agamben is practically demonstrating an exercise of criticism. The Idea of Prose takes up the question of the distinction between philosophy and poetry through a series of fragments on poetry. love and shame amongst other topics. “In Western politics. justice. Published in Italian in 1985.” (HS 7) . and probably also the most controversial. first identified by Michel Foucault in the first volume of his History of Sexualityseries and associated texts. that which was originally excluded from politics as the exception that stands outside but nevertheless founds the law has now become the norm: As Agamben writes. in his critical revision of Aristotle. it is possible to say that what Agamben is doing is performing and indeed undermining a difference between poetry and philosophy by breaking apart the strictures of logos. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life is Agamben’s best-known work.

understanding this claim also requires an appreciation of the notion of “bare life” that Agamben develops from the Ancient Greek distinction between natural life—zoe—and a particular form of life—bios. then. This is a condition that he identifies as one of abandonment. Further. Of the first of these. is directly analogous to the structure of the ban identified by Jean-Luc Nancy in his essay “Abandoned Being.” (HS 115). Benjamin posits in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History” that the state of emergency has in fact become the rule. has in fact become the rule. the sacredness of homo sacer does not so much indicate a conceptual ambiguity internal to the sacred. As provocative as it is. Importantly. it might be argued that the key motivation within Homo Sacer is not so much an attempt to correct or complete Foucault’s account of biopolitics. More importantly though. while also allowing for the specificity of the good life characteristic of participation in the polis—bios politikos. In addressing this conflict between Schmitt and Benjamin.Several theoretical innovations inform this thesis. he states that in our age. The first is a re-conception of political power. of how life itself or natural life is politicized. for Agamben. especially as it is articulated in Aristotle’s account of the origins of the polis. The answer to this question is through abandonment to an . it is precisely in the capacity to decide on whether a situation is normal or exceptional. which is taken from Roman law and indicates one who ‘“can be killed but not sacrificed. and thus whether the law applies or not—since the law requires a normal situation for its application—that sovereignty is manifest. developed through a complex reflection upon Aristotelian metaphysics and especially the concept of potentiality. The subject of the law is simultaneously turned over to the law and left bereft by it. in which the law is in force but has no content or substantive meaning—it is “in force without significance. For Schmitt. In Political Theology. The sacred man is “taken outside” both divine and profane law as the exception and is thus abandoned by them. what is required is the inauguration of a real state of exception in order to combat the rise of Fascism. alongside a critical engagement with the theory of sovereignty posited by Carl Schmitt. as the abandoned status of sacred man in relation to the law. rather. the state of exception identified by Schmitt in which the law is suspended by the sovereign. here understood as a nihilistic emergency that suspends the law while leaving it in force. as an attempt to complete Benjamin’s critique of Schmitt. Against this formulation of sovereignty.” According to Agamben. two of which are especially important. as many have argued.. “we are all virtually homines sacri. which is developed through Walter Benjamin’s own engagement with Schmitt. for Agamben. The second innovation introduced by Agamben is his provocative theorization of “bare life” as the central protagonist of contemporary politics. this indicates the fact that Western politics is founded upon that which it excludes from politics—the natural life that is simultaneously set outside the domain of the political but nevertheless implicated inbios politicos. in which Nancy claims that in the ban the law only applies in no longer applying. The importance of this distinction in Aristotle is that it allows for the relegation of natural life to the domain of the household (oikos). the fact that the exception has become the norm or rule of contemporary politics means that it is not the case that only some subjects are abandoned by the law. Agamben argues that in contemporary politics. The question arises. The figure that Agamben draws on to elaborate this condition is that of homo sacer. he suggests. Carl Schmitt— the German jurist infamous for joining the Nazi party and becoming one of its strongest intellectual supporters—summarizes his strongly decisionistic account of sovereignty by claiming that the sovereign is the one that decides on the exception.” The structure of the exception..

Agamben’s theorization of the “coming politics”—which in its present formulation is under-developed in a number of significant ways—relies upon a logic of “euporic” resolution to the aporias that characterise modern democracy. (cf. Neither bios nor zoe.” especially in the form of sovereign violence. and it is only by overcoming the central dogmas of Western metaphysics that a new form of politics will be possible. even as it dwells in the polis by letting its own bare life be excluded. but in fact reveals the ‘“nomos of the modern’” and the increasing convergence of democracy and totalitarianism. within it” (HS 8). In Means . which. it is the politicized form of natural life: neither. the rift or caesura introduced into the human by the definition of man as the living animal who has language and therefore politics is foundational for biopolitics. however. in which bare life becomes the “threshold in which law constantly passes over into fact and fact into law” (HS 171). As such though.unconditional power of death. the implications of which are made most evident in the camps. In this way then. is perfectly analogous to the relation of the transition from voice to speech that constitutes the political nature of “man” in Aristotle’s account.” Importantly. for Agamben. in addition to this. it is this disjuncture that allows the human to be reduced to bare life in biopolitical capture. According to Agamben. but is actually characteristic of our present condition. the power of sovereignty. Agamben writes that the question of how natural bare life dwells in the polis corresponds exactly with the question of how a living being has language. HS 88) The empirical point of conjuncture of these two theses on the exception and on the production of bare life is the historical rise of the concentration camp. since in the latter question “the living being has logos by taking away and conserving its own voice in it. the camp is the space opened when the exception becomes the rule or the normal situation. For Aristotle. then the normative crisis evident in them is not specifically limited to them. Agamben argues. This damning diagnosis of contemporary politics does not. a condition that Agamben describes as one of “imperfect nihilism. as was the case in Germany in the period immediately before and throughout World War 2. Further. for here it is no longer the case that the rule of law bears upon or applies to the living body. For bare life is not natural life per se—though it often confused with it in critical readings of Agamben. since speech makes possible a distinction between the just and the unjust. constitutes the state of exception par excellence. what is characteristic of the camp is the indistinguishability of law and life. it is not an extraordinary situation in the sense of entailing a fundamental break with the political rationality of modernity. including the aporia of bare life (P 217). partly as a consequence of Agamben’s own inconsistenc y— but rather. bare life emerges from within this distinction and can be defined as “life exposed to death. This indiscernability of life and law effectively contributes to a normative crisis. metaphysics and politics are fundamentally entwined. but rather. as an exception. lead Agamben to a position of political despair. Agamben argues that the logic of the “inclusive exclusion” that structures the relation of natural life to the polis. What is especially controversial about this claim is that if the camps are in fact the “nomos” or “hidden matrix” of modern politics. it is exactly in the crisis of contemporary politics that the means for overcoming the present dangers also appear. that is. Rather. Hence. It is in this abandonment of natural life to sovereign violence—and Agamben sees the relation of abandonment that obtains between life and the law as “originary”—that “bare life” makes its appearance. the living body has become “the rule and criterion of its own application” (HS 173) thereby undercutting recourse to the transcendence or independence of the law as its source of legitimacy. the transition from voice to language is a founding condition of political community.

rather. Agamben claims that the coming politics must reckon with the dual problem of the post-Hegelian theme of the end of history and with the Heideggerian theme of Ereignis.” in which bare life is never separable as a political subject and in which what is at stake is the experience of communicability itself. In developing this claim. the people and democracy. writing that “politics is the sphere neither of an end in itself nor of means subordinated to an end. Taking up the problem of skepticism in relation to the Nazi concentration camps of World War II—also discussed by Jean-Francois Lyotard and others—Agamben castsRemnants as an attempt to listen to a lacuna in survivor testimony. In this. he suggests. However. Agamben is not concerned with the epistemological issues that this noncoincidence of “fact and truth” raises. a term that is taken to encompass normative discourse in its entirety. Ethics Given this critique of the camps and the status of the law that is revealed in. and in that calls into question the moral distinctions that rest on this designation. Instead then. it is no surprise that Agamben takes the most extreme manifestation of the condition of the camps as a starting point for an elaboration of an ethics without reference to the law. with the ethical implications. our age has as yet failed to reckon with.without End. in which the Muselmann is put outside the limits of human and the moral status that attends that categorization.The Muselmann…is the guard on the threshold of a new ethics. he rejects recourse to standard moral concepts such as dignity and respect. requires the formulation of a new “happy life. claiming that “Auschwitz marks the end and the ruin of every ethics of dignity and conformity to a norm…. 4. an ethics of a form of life that begins where dignity ends” (RA 69). This “experiment” of a new politics without reference to sovereignty and associated concepts such as nation. Agamben argues that such a stance would merely repeat the experiment of Auschwitz. . but rather. Agamben develops an account of an ethics of testimony as an ethos of bearing witness to that for which one cannot bear witness. it is the sphere of a pure mediality without end intended as the field of human action and of human thought” (ME 117). however. is whether there is in fact a “humanity to the human” over and above biologically belonging to the species. and it is in reflection upon this question that Agamben develops his own account of ethics. the exceptional space of them. or those in the camps who had reached such a state of physical decrepitude and existential disregard that “one hesitates to call them living: one hesitates to call their death death” (Levi cited in RA 44). in order to formulate a new life and politics in which both history and the state come to an end simultaneously. published as the third instalment of the Homo Sacer series. But rather than seeing the Muselmann as the limit-figure between life and death. As the threshold between the human and the inhuman. the Muselmann does not simply mark the limit beyond which the human is no longer human. InRemnants of Auschwitz. The key question that arises for Agamben then. he argues for a politics of pure means that is not altogether dissimilar to that projected by Walter Benjamin. The key figure in his account of an ethics of testimony is that of the Muselmann. the Muselmann indicates a more fundamental indistinction between the human and the inhuman. in which it is impossible to definitively separate one from the other. which. but by no means limited to. in which the factual condition of the camps cannot be made to coincide with that which is said about them. Agamben argues that theMuselmann is more correctly understood as the limit-figure of the human and inhuman.

the human is able to endure the inhuman. since Agamben sees Levinas as simply radicalising the juridical relation of sponsorship in unexpiatable guilt. must be thought without reference to the law. Messianism . “in the absolute present of the event of discourse. testimony is no longer understood as a practice of speaking. he argues that the subjectification effected in this appropriation is conditioned by a simultaneous and inevitable de-subjectification. is to highlight the point that while testimony is the proper dwelling place or “only possible consistency” of the sub ject. but as an ethos. he suggests. The additional twist that Agamben adds here to avoid a notion of returning to authenticity in testimony. Responsibility. Because pronouns are nothing other than grammatical shifters or “indicators of enunciation. that is. debt and culpabililty. as something which the subject is consigned to. Against juridical accounts of responsibility that would understand it in terms of sponsorship. it is not strictly the “I” that speaks. and nor is it the living individual: rather. understood as the only proper “dwelling place” of the subject. This also gives rise. to bring out a double movement in the human being’s appropriation of language. Agamben returns to the definition of the human as the being who has language. 130). there can be no simple appropriation of language that would allow the subject to posit itself as the ground of testimony. and nor can it simply realise itself in speaking. In an analysis of pronouns such as “I” that allow a speaker to put language to use. if the “I” stands suspended in this disjunction” (RA.” such that they refer to nothing other than the taking place of language itself. he claims. the appropriation of language in the identification of oneself as a speaking subject requires that the psychosomatic individual simultaneously erase or desubjectify itself. Agamben argues that it is precisely this non-coincidence of the speaking being and living being and the impossibility of speech revealed in it that provides the condition of possibility of testimony. Instead. he suggests. More generally then. it is… the doctrine of happy life” (RA 24). 5. bearing witness to the impossibility of speech and making it appear within speech. The question that arises here then is what Agamben means by testimony. Agamben argues that responsibility must be thought as fundamentally unassumable. since it is clear that he does not use the term in the standard sense of giving an account of an event that one has witnessed. Testimony. as Agamben writes. but which it can never fully appropriate as its own. Instead.In order to elaborate on or at least provide “signposts” for this new ethical terrain. testimony remains forever unassumable.” (RA 117) Importantly. Agamben argues that “ethics is the sphere that recognizes neither guilt nor responsibility. to Agamben’s account of ethical responsibility. In distinction from this. it is not something that the subject can simply assume as its own. In this way. Consequently. then. as a domain of “irresponsibility” or “non -responsibility” that necessarily precedes the designations of good and evil and entails a “confrontation with a responsibility that is infinitely greater than any we could ever assume…” While it may seem as if Agamben is leaning toward a conception of ethical responsibility akin to Emmanuel Levinas’ conception of infinite responsibility toward the absolute Other. this is not wholly the case. As the account of subjectification and desubjectification indicates. subjectification and desubjectification coincide at every point and both the flesh and blood individual and the subject of enunciation are perfectly silent. is possible only “if there is no articulation between the living being and language. as well as his earlier analyses of deixis. he argues that what is at stake in testimony is bearing witness to what is unsayable.

grounded on itself alone. In the concept of “happy life” or “form of life. Agamben enters into a broader engagement with this concept by others such as Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy. but also because they gesture toward a new politics and ethics that remain largely to be thought.Clearly then. which. Happy life will be such that no separation between bios and zoe is possible. while happiness is not and cannot bring about the redemption of Messianic time on its own. Agamben appears to construe happiness as that which allows for the overturning of contemporary nihilism in the form of the metaphysico-political nexus of biopower. the conception of politics and of ethics that Agamben develops converge in the notion of “happy life. since the Messianic kingdom is “not the goal of history but the end (TPF 312). one of which indicates the force of historical time and the other that of Messianic time.” What is also common to all these concepts is a concern with the figuration of humanity at the end of history.” and the notion of “whatever singularities. The “happy life”on which political philosophy should be founded thus cannot be either t he naked life that sovereignty posits as a presupposition so as to turn it into its own subject or the impenetrable extraneity of science and of modern biopolitics that everybody tries in vain to sacralize.” It is here that Agamben most explicitly addresses the rethinking of community that his early analyses of language and metaphysics suggested was required. he seeks a politico-philosophical redefinition of life no longer founded upon the bloody separation of the natural life of the species and political life.” or what he calls “form-of-life” at other points. What Agamben means by this is particularly unclear.” a short text in which he paints a picture of two arrows pointing in different directions but nevertheless reinforcing each other.” that has reached the perfection of its own power and its own communicability – a life over which sovereignty and right no longer have any hold (ME 114-115). particularly those of “infancy. . Drawing on this figuration.” “happy life” and “form-of-life.” In this then.” Agamben points toward a new conception of life in which it is never possible to isolate bare life as the biopolitical subject. and in the Anglo-American scene. correlative to that. in “the perfection of its own power. What is clear within this though is that Agamben is drawing upon Benjamin’s formulation of the necessity of a politics of pure means and. but which is beyond every form of relation insofar as happy life is life lived in pure immanence. For Benjamin. In taking up the problem of community. an absolutely profane “sufficient life. and life will find its unity in a pure immanence to itself. This “happy life” should be rather. he argues ought to provide the foundation of political philosophy. As he states. which taps a deep vein of messianism that runs through Judeo-Christian thought. This vein of messianism emerges in Agamben’s thought in a number of formulations. This debt also brings into focus Agamben’s reliance on the Benjaminian formulation of communicability as such. This conception of a “form of life” or happy life that exceeds the biopolitical caesurae that cross the human being is developed in reference to Benjamin’s conception of happiness as he articulates it in “Theologico-Political Fragment. his conception of temporality and history. in which he develops the notion of “whatever singularities. it is nevertheless the profane path to its realization – happiness allows for the fulfilment of historical time. a concern that Agamben develops in discussion of the debates between Bataille and Kojeve over the Hegelian thesis of the end of history. a thematic which emerges more strongly in Agamben’s somewhat anomalous essay published as The Coming Community. not least because he sees elaboration of these concepts as requiring a fundamental overturning of the metaphysical grounds of western philosophy. or communicability without communication.

century Hebrew Bible. in this or that mode.Alphonso Lingis. The Coming Community. States of things are irreparable. Agamben’s conception of “whatever singularity” indicates a form of being that rejects any manifestation of identity or belonging and wholly appropriates being to itself. Agamben concludes this text—which is pragmatically an extended reflection on the Bataille-Kojeve debate—with the warning that what is required to stop the “anthropological machine” is not tracing the “no longer human or animal contours of a new creation. Thus. 92). Agamben begins this text with reflection on an image of the messianic banquet of the righteous on the last day. in which the righteous are presented not with human heads. this entails neither a mystical communion nor a nostalgic return to a Gemeinschaft that has been lost.. Michael Hardt. for Agamben. 6. atrocious or blessed. This articulation of the unsavable reiterates a number of Agamben’s previous comments on redemption and beatitude and provides some clearer articulation of his resolution of the dilemma of the post-historical condition of humanity as distinct from those of his precursors. for the existence of whatever singularity is always irreparably abandoned to itself. preserved in a thirteenth. the coming politics do not entail a sacralization of humanity. Agamben suggests that the righteous or “concluded humanity” are effectively the “remnant” or remainder of Israel. a struggle between the state and humanity as such.” in nothing other than the “co-belonging” of singularities itself. But how Agamben will develop this resolution and the ethico-political implications of it in large part remains to be seen.” Whatever singularity allows for the formation of community without the affirmation of identity or “representable condition of belonging. that is. how the world is—this is the irreparable…. Correlatively. Agamben argues in this elliptical text that the community and politics of whatever singularity are heralded in the event of Tianenmen square. University of Minnesota Press. The broad aim of the engagement is to develop a conception of community that does not presuppose commonality or identity as a condition of belonging. How you are. The enigma presented by the image of the righteous with animal heads appears to be that of the transformation of the relation of animal and human and the ultimate reconciliation of man with his own animal nature on the last day. ‘“The Irreparable is that things are just as they are. whatever they may be: sad or happy. who are still alive at the coming of the Messiah. Within this. consigned without remedy to their way of being. which he. instead. insofar as it exists in itself without expropriation in identity. The Open. 1990. Interestingly. (CC) .” but instead indicates a zone of non-knowledge that allows them to be outside of being. References and Further Reading  Agamben.”(CC 90) Agamben returns to this thematic within a critical analysis of the definition of man as the being that has language in his recent book.” but rather risking ourselves in the hiatus and central emptiness that separates the human and animal within man. In taking up the rabbinic tradition of interpretation of this image. the coming community has never yet been. “saved precisely in their being unsavable” (TO. Importantly though. “the righteous with animal heads…do not represent a new declension of the man-animal relation. in its own “being-in-language. La communità che viene. Minneapolis. but. He takes this event to indicate that the coming politics will not be a struggle between states. Giorgio. but with those of animals. instead. 1993. as Agamben writes. Einaudi. But for Agamben. tr. reflection on the enigma of the posthistorical condition of man thus presented necessitates a fundamental overturning of the metaphysico-political operations by which something like man is produced as distinct from the animal in order for its significance to be fully grasped.

Stanford. Bollati Boringhieri. London. Marsilio Editori. Foucault. Edmund Jephcott. Il Stato eccezione. ed. Giorgio. tr. Turin. L’aperto: L’uomo e l’animale. Edmund Jephcott. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. Aphorisms. 2005. State of Exception. Stanford University Press. Pinkus. and tr. Pinkus and Michael Hardt. 1991. Stanford. Hannah Arendt. Stanford. Mezzi sensa fine. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. University of Minnesota Press. tr. New York. Harry Zohn. University of Minnesota Press. (P) Agamben. 1999. tr. 1985. Giorgio. Author Information: Catherine University of Email: catherine. Martinez. Aphorisms. 1991. 312. New York: 1978. Agamben. Il linguaggio e la morte: Un Seminario sul luogo. Giorgio. Kevin Attell. Giorgio. L’”uomo senza contenuto. Bollati Boringhieri. Quel che resta di Auschwitz. Peter Demetz. Giorgio. 2002 (TO) Agamben. tr. Minneapolis. Stanford University Press. Idea della prosa. Giorgio. 1977. Karen E. Giorgio. 1973. Giorgio. Einuadi . Minneapolis. Stanford University Press. Penguin.mills@unsw. Giulio. ed. Remnants of Auschwitz. Zone Books. 1999.” Reflections: Essays. Schocken Books. Infanzia et storia. Giulio Einuadi. tr. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. (HS) Agamben. Means without End: Notes on Politics. Quodlibet. tr.                 Agamben. Peter Demetz. tr. The University of Chicago Press. University of Minnesota Press. Agamben. Ronald L. Agamben. 1993. Stanford. Albany. Daniel HellerRoazen. Karen E.au New South Mills Wales Last updated: October 10. Bollati Boringhieri. University of Minnesota. Giorgio. Giorgio. “Theologico-Political Fragment. 1978 (IH) Agamben. Giulio Einuadi. tr. Walter. (S) Agamben. 2005 | Originally published: October/10/2005 . Giulio Einuadi. tr. Giorgio. tr. tr. tr. 1994. Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture. (TPF) Benjamin. Minneapolis. Milano. Kevin Attell. Volume 1: An Introduction. Infancy and History. Schocken Books. 2000. History of Sexuality. Autobiographical Writings.” Reflections: Essays. 1993. Walter. Benjamin. ed. “Critique of Violence. New York: 1978. M. Giorgio. Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. Stanze: La Parola e il fantasma nella cultura occidentale. (SE) Agamben. 1982. Georgia Albert. The Idea of Prose. ed. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino. Fontana. The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics. Daniel Heller-Roazen. 1982. tr. (EP) Agamben. (RA) Agamben. 1999. The Man without Content. “Theses on the Philosophy of History” Illuminations. Chicago. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt. Giorgio. 277-300. Stanford. Verso. Minneapolis. tr. 2004. 1996. 1998. (ME) Agamben. Stanford University Press. 1999. Categorie Italiane: Studi di poetica. SUNY Press. Stanford University Press. The Open: Man and Animal. London: 1981. 1995. Giulio Einuadi. 2003. Il linguaggio e la morte: Un seminario sul luogo della negatività. R Hurley. Autobiographical Writings. 1995. 1996. Giorgio. (LD) Agamben. Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. tr. Homo sacer: Il potere sovrano e la nuda vita.edu.

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