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Giorgio Agamben and the Politics of the Living Dead Author(s): Andrew Norris Source: Diacritics, Vol. 30, No.

4 (Winter, 2000), pp. 38-58 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 05/10/2008 15:30
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Death is mostfrightening, since it is a boundary. -Aristotle, NicomacheanEthics And as the same thing there exists in us living and dead and the wakingand the sleeping and young and old:for these things having changed roundare those, and those having changed roundare these. -Heraclitus, Fragment88 Whatis politics today?Whatis its relationshipto the traditionfrom which it emerges? The questionsare difficult ones to answerin partbecause contemporary politics seems so schizophrenic.In affluentWesterncountriespolitics is increasinglya matterof spectacle on the one handandmanagedeconomies on the other.HannahArendtseems quite is confirmedin her claim thatthe once-gloriouspublic realmof appearance fundamento when it is overrunby concerns more appropriate the privaterealm, tally degraded such as household managementand gossip. If this "unnatural growth of the natural" inclines us to nostalgiafor a time when the two realmswere more decisively sepa[47] rated, such nostalgia is likely intensified by the "ethniccleansing," rape camps, and and But genocide that we now associate with names such as "Yugoslavia" "Rwanda." as improbableas any flight to the past may be, it is even less likely thatthe politics of that past could help us navigate the treacherouswaters of our currenttechnological society. I have in mind not only the familiarclaim that the attemptedgenocides of our time are only made possible by quite modem forms of technology, organization,and but experience,1 also recent scientific and "medical"advances.Considerjust two: first, the corporatedriven and controlled development of biotechnologies, in which huge such as "all humanblood are multinationals acquiringpatentsto genetic "information" cells that have come from the umbilical cord of [any] newbornchild." If there is any doubt that such developmentswill lead us to redefine the humanbeing, these may be laid to rest by the case of John Moore, an Alaskan businessmanwho found his own body partshadbeen patented,withouthis knowledge,by the Universityof Californiaat Los Angeles andlicensed to the SandozPharmaceutical [Rifkin60-61 ]. So Corporation much for Locke's attemptto groundthe institutionof privatepropertyin the fact that "every Man has a Propertyin his own Person"!2In its place we seem to be moving Hans Bill Tom I amgrateful Giorgio to Joe Agamben, Campisi, Connolly, Rockmore, Sluga,and
Eric Wilson their helpful commentson earlier drafts of this essay. I would also like to thank for Yasemin for her help. Ok 1. For an excellent discussion of this, see Baumanl2-30. 2: 2. Locke,Two Treatisesof Government 27. Thereis, however,no necessarycontradiction


diacritics 30.4: 38-58

constitutesthe decisive event of modernityand signals a radical transformationof the political-philosophical categories of ancient is thought"[4]. it exists for the sake of a good life" [1.andthatour tacitconsent the institution money takesus beyond limitations theinitial the [2: of of formof private property 6.from whose book Homo Sacer: SovereignPower and Bare Life I takeboth this last grisly example andits analysis. and argues.2." For Foucault. Whereonce deathwas defined by the cessation of the movementof the heartand lungs. Notcompletely of course.albeitone (the of thathas beenin genesis twothousand timehas comewhenwe haveto payfor for years.As in Nietzsche's discussion of nihilism. "Whatmight be called a society's 'thresholdof modernity. a phenomenonthat scientists and lawyers arehaving a harderand hardertime pinningdown.if andwhen technology is developedthatallows [ for braintransplants. biopolitics fulfills the potentialof its origin in turningagainst thatorigin." " and deadnoralive.butonecanhardly a lackof either industriousness a desireto makeuseof all thatGodhasgivenus.8]. 50]. GiorgioAgamben. Agambenrightly arguesthatthis distinctionhas served that to here.because the brainis the one organthat can't be transplanted"163]. recent life supporttechnologies have forced scientists to define death in terms of such technologies. modem man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question" [143].3Hence. WitnessDoctor NormanShumway'sdefense of the definitionof deathas braindeath:"I'm saying that anyone whose brainis dead is dead. Sandoz so. for instance.His analysis both builds upon andcorrectsMichel Foucault'sclaim thatpolitics in our time is constituted by disciplines of normalizationand subjectificationthat Foucaultlabels "bio-power. on Agamben's analysis..contrary appearances.arguesthat.andhencebeyond purview rights the that of pulsating.AgambenarguesagainstFoucaultthatlife in some sense always has been the definitive object of politics.we arelostfor a while" [Nietzsche. urinatingareneither us into cite might protect (?)frombeingturned organ farms. It is the one determinantthat would be universallyapplicable. ."' writes.towardsomethingmore like the "logical synthesis of biology and economy"called for by the National Socialist Institutallemand in Paris in 1942 [Agamben. that "the politicizationof bare life as such . If politics was an "additional capacity"withAristotle. to Power20]. Onecanobject was for [2: on a number grounds ghoulish to to bodiesthat. the look to "As as proponents organ of farming might for support Locke's spoilagelimitation: much use it anyonecanmake of to anyadvantage lifebefore spoils.Homo Sacer 145].. or politics is of ouressence. "hasbeen reachedwhen the life of the species is he wagered on its own political strategies. "The for havingbeenChristians twothousand years:we are losingthecenterof gravity virtue by of whichwe lived. By implication.still "warm. but thatit is more political. A similarprocess of redefinitionis alreadyunderwayin the field of death. biopower is fundamentallymodem. This passage seems to imply not only that modernityis political in a different way than the previousmillenniahad Lockealso maintains ourbodiesbelongto God.anda defender the first book of Politics. and life has become its object. of proposals develop"neomorts. even essentially so. even those whose brainsare "dead"will be broughtback to some kind of life. to such developmentsdo not representa radicalbreakwith the tradition. of corporation. But he also maintainsthat this transformation made possible by the metaphysicsof those very ancientcategories. Will diacritics / winter 2000 39 . It maytakecenturies a peopleto experience disgustwithlife thatinitially the made for them people:theexhaustion Europe deathof God)is a contemporary a event. between bare life (to zen) and the good life (to eu zen): "we may say thatwhile [thepolis] grows for the sake of mere much hebyhislabourfix of may a Property in. Nothing madebyGod Manto spoilor destroy" 31]. His argumentbegins with a review of Aristotle's distinction. perhapsas organfarmsfor otherswho are less ambiguouslyalive. Agamben echoes such claims at times. . the or 36. man remainedwhat he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additionalcapacity for political existence.For millennia.

Thedebatebetween regulates conflicts but is andJohnRawls. instance. Politics1. But to treat the this as nothingmore than a historyis to misunderstand natureof the boundarythat humanbeings cross when their communitybecomes self-sufficient. structure say. notovertherelevance theAristotelian distinction. is an of the political association"[Politics 1. that political life can be simply added on to humanlife.66].It is simply but eliminate categorical redefines doesnotentirely a one thatin liberalism "goodlife"is increasingly procedural the matter. but because the schema has itself.. Agamben notcite-strikesus surprisingly. which is the determination whatis just.or has no need because he is alreadyself-sufficient-is no partof the polis. binaryoppositions performative constative (of. such as family life. Because the end of is differentfromthatof the variousrealmsof barelife. liberal between goodlifeandmere hashardly the from political philosophy turning life precluded that the backand subordinating publicrealmto the interests theprivate-a subordination of the the distinction between two.2. then they acquiredslaves and formed villages.. unravel.I am usingthe termquite way tangled a it finds theassertions treatsto require logical looselyhereto referto a modeof analysisthat and suchas logic and rhetoric. slave politics holding.2. Sandel to Compare project.14. contributing theAristotelian 317ff his 5.4 projecttoday standswithAgamben.5 deconstructed Whatis the instabilityhere thatwould allow for this? When we readthe first book of Politics it appearsthatAristotle is laying out a chronologicalaccount of the rise of the polis. accepting fundamental distinction appearin public"[Human 46].2.however. namely the categorical distinction between bare life and the good or political life. forjustice. But languageserves to. and is thusa facultythatbelongs to animalsin general.. And this is not because an element foreign to Aristotle's schema has polluted or subvertedit. and to the foundationof the Westerntraditionof political philosophy. ordering the vast majorityof contemporary politicalphilosophersareunitedin theircommitment to this self-reflexive project. Agamben one. innerandouter. untilfinally they achieveda self-sufficient(autarkes)mode of life.If thisstatement-which. Ethics as hyperbolic.however. ForAristotle the "somethingmore" that distinguishesthe political is the realizationof the human capacity to structurea just common life in the community'snoncoercive. does 6.16]. as Foucaultdoes in the passage cited above."6 be trulyhumanone mustbe a memberof a polis.suggests thatthis politico-philosophical out the foundationsthat Aristotle proposed for it. and to its identification of the political and the just. 40 . Be thatas it may. and must thereforebe eithera beast or a To god. Thismayseemto contradict Arendtian accepts-that "Socielse for dependence thesakeof life andnothing asety is theformin whichthefact of mutual to with are and the connected sheersurvival permitted sumes publicsignificance where activities as the Condition However. (the froma deconstructive apparently discussion distinguishes analysis enallowsitselfto become on that is uncharacteristically unclear) thegrounds deconstruction in withparadoxes an unhelpful [54]. Aristotle. and village association. Humanbeings began living in families. thatmostefficiently MichaelSandel our between discrete the privatelives.deliberative reflection upon the question of what justice is and what concrete measuresit entails: of "Justicebelongs to thepolis. politicallifeandbarelife)thattheythemselves language.its principleof orderis differentas that politics has been distinguishedfrom essentially private enterpriseson the groundsthat it is conof cernedwith somethingmorethanthe perpetuation biological life. needonlyrecallthemoregeneral we pointthatBook10 of Nicomachean within because particularly human arete onlybe realized can the endswitha callfor thePolitics a politicallife. This conceptionof the humanlife as not simthe claim-whichAgamben 4. declare what is just and unjust"[Politics 1.. overthe of for to understands and himself be of definition preconditions justice. For all of their disagreements..Henceeachpartyto thedebate andRawls424ff.expressly denies this: "Theman who is isolated-who is unable to share in the benefits of political association. for it is only as such thatone can truly speak:"Themere makingof sounds serves to indicatepleasureand pain.

If thisis so. of our becoming moral. HomoSaceris divided three into introduction. is necessary separate fromtheworld theliving. at the same time. and thatcan truly speak.just. however. once"[115]. thatof the confusion path of this with discussion politicsandlife.Agambenin contrastfocuses on the life thatfails to achieve humanity..which foundin thefirst "Threshold": thewords are "In of it to the 'to it Benveniste. ("therelationship abandonment nota relation"). Compare ("Thesovereign is is exception thusthefigurein whichsingularity representedas such.maintainshimselfin relationto that bare life in an inclusive exclusion [un' esclusione inclusiva]. [8]7 "Threshold" a word thatoccurs again and again in Agamben'stext.the remains. in thatthe good life is both whatbarelife is not andwhatbarelife becomes. I say "as it were. appears as the trulyfundamentalstructure[struttura]of Western metaphysicsinsofaras it occupies the threshold[soglia] on which the relation between the living being and the logos is realized [si compie]. separates and opposes himselfto his own bare life [nudavita] and.But this project.whichis to say. 44 and compare ff. and the discussion Heidegger of Levinas 150-53. diacritics / winter 2000 41 . strippedof both the generand the specificity thatlanguagemakes possible. This is not a dialectic between two comparablemomentsof the of such. "asif politics were the place in which life had to transformitself into good life and in which what had to be politicized were always alreadybare life" [7].. Insideandoutside. thoughperhapsnot fully so.. to itself presupposedas nonrelational"). at 8. Bare life is mute. . we Caravaggio's we arealwaysthere. a distinction that can be neither maintained nor eliminated. In his discussion of Aristotle'sPolitics Agambenarguesthat Politics . eachpartof thebookendsin the "no-man's-land" between [159] killing'" life and death.. Bare life is a necessarypartof the good life. undifferentiated. Compare conception thethreshold Jean-Luc of Nancy's of Deathof theVirgin his essay "OntheThreshold": in "Death: areneverthere. Eachof theseendswitha section of "Threshold" doesnotannounce butI believethewordis derived this. secondto thatof theHomoSacerof thetitle. first is deThe parts. Agamben from to andmeant refer backto theselines. 182.. Thereis politics because man is the living being who. at 24 9. nella stessa misura.withan additional the votedto thenature sovereignty. un'implicazione) della nuda vita]"[7]."because "merelife" cannottruly be exuviated. of it is necessary cross the threshold separates two universes: is the aim of the to that the this [66]. to consider only the good andjust life to which we aspire. insofaras it is unrepresentable").that is always in the terms and in the service of what it is not: political life..9 . and political.8 The fundamental political distinctionbetween bare life and the good. Onpoliticsas metaphysics. If it is relatedand comparedand ality evaluated. in language. ("thesimple 29 positingof relation thenonrelational"). It too is humanlife. But since political life defines itself in termsof its genesis from and its nonidentitywith barelife.Eachtherefore servesas a different to the samegoal. . relies upon "theexclusion (which is simultaneously an inclusion) of bare life [una esclusione (che e. render victim sacred. just life lived in accordancewith the logos proposeshumanityas a project. "Exteriority it were. and it invariably is signifies a passage that cannot be completed. with 60 is and of 110("Thebanis essentially thepowerof maintaining in relation something .. political life is defined by its relationwith the nonrelational.Most of us tend..for it is only political life thatis trulylived in language.ply a given but an achievementis definitive of the notion of humanculture. (Soglia). In the "politicization"of bare life-the metaphysicaltask par excellence-the humanityof living man is decided [si decide].andthethird of " to "the as entitled Camp Biopolitical Paradigm theModern.

a structural parallel between the ambiguousplace of deathwithin the humanlife and the place of indicationwithin language.Negation as the dialectical and historicalmovement of Reason therebyultimately producesor reveals itself to be a harmonious. Hence.The essential relation between deathand languageflashes before us. for they aresaying thatidentityis differentfromdifference.since this mustat the same time be admittedto be the natureof identity. to be different"[Hegel 413]. 42 . He goes on this to try to "think" relationthrougha considerationof the originarynatureof negativity in Heidegger'sthoughtof Da-sein and Hegel's thoughtof the Diese. provesto be a law of contradiction: those who assertthe principle"A= A. In an earlier workAgambenwrites of "an unwrittenbook" on this theme. but remainsunthought" [xi].. More significantthan the differencesbetween Agamben and Hegel is the fact that for both it is the movementthroughnegation that is essential. politics must again and again enact its internal distinctionfrom bare life. This accountof the paradoxicalinclusive exclusion of barelife in the metaphysics of politics can be seen as a more radicalversion of Arendt'sparadoxicalclaim in The that Originsof Totalitarianism "aman who is nothingbut a man has lost the very qualities which make it possible for other people to treat him as a man" [300]. do not see thatin this very assertionthey arethemselves saying thatidentityis different. of which his writtenworksafter 1977 serve as theprologue and afterwords. in Schnddelbach46].In contrast. Similarly.and as such it allows him to reconcile his claim that history progresses with the evident fact that the most glorious and praiseworthyempires are inevitably ground under in the course of that progress. reveal and disclose this same dwelling place as always alreadypermeatedby and foundedin negativity" [xii].10 The analysis of the metaphysicalmovement of the living being "into"language these claims has been an ongoing concern of Agamben's.sonderndas ihn ertdgtund in ihmsich erhalt. There is. trulythe innermostcenterof the political system. Agambenbegins the book by citing the former'sclaim (from On the Wayto Language) that "Mortalsare they who can experience death as death.inasmuchas they open for humanitythe most properdwelling place [la sua dimorapiu propria]. but in its own self.on Hegel 'saccount it must: "nichtdas Leben."l earlier His that undergirds Languageand Death: ThePlace of Negativityinvestigatesthe metaphysicalconnection as between humanmortalityand the humancapacityfor languageparticularly it is delineatedin HeideggerandHegel. as this.the Aufhebungof politics is never achieved:barelife and political life are never reconciled. ist das Lebendes rein Geistes" [qtd.rationaltotality. in its very nature. and political life's every attempt-the attemptthat defines political life-to mediateits own relationshipwith the life that it is not fails in the end.The Human In Voice. not the fiction of a static result. Agamben argues. But animals cannot speak either.Infancyand History3 and 7-8]. this unwritten workthereare "numerous drafts" transcribingthepassage in Politics whereAristotlebases man'spolitical natureuponhis ability to speakofjustice and injustice[see Agamben.. Indeed. It must repeatedlydefine itself throughthe negationof bare life-a negationthatcan always take the form of death. The resultingconcept of negation is for Hegel the engine of history. andthe political system lives off it" [36].das sich vor dem Todescheuntund vor der Verwiistung bewahrt.on Agamben'saccount.their assertionimplies that identity.Each serves as a limit or thresholdwhich one can place neitherwithin nor without the life or system 10. Animals cannot do so. on Agamben's account.not externally. and arguesthat "boththe 'faculty' for languageand the 'faculty' for death. Agamben's more radicalaccount of the logic at work here has obvious affinities with anddebtsto Hegel's analysisof the law of identityas a self-contradictory principlethat.

is that that the 14. nor does Agamben spend much time drawing out the implications of this metaphysics for the The body.The two momentsof the "speaking "fromthe dawn of Greekthought. "language of tion"[11]..Compare or and abodeof man"rather ing "the Language " "Letter Humanism258. For evidence Agamben conception on that 's Death93 it is on thisbasisthathe concludes Heidegger in theendto escapemetaphysfails that as ics-a conclusion is hardly providing it does thejustification muchof insignificant. Agamben's given interpretation "ethos" namof thantheindividual's character habit. '"And whatis one summoned? one'sown self.thatit defines. and only two or threetimes of "politics. yetis notat all obscure indefinite. Thisdistinction. in BeingandTime252. Thecall is lacking kindof to any and and Conscience It utterance. and as in "meaning" Heidegger's early insistence that the authenticor properresponse to humanmortality entails heeding the silent call of conscience. 88.death assumes a privileged place in the logic of the of human life. andin so doing serves as the revelationof the negativegroundof the human. Logico-Philosophicus6. doesnotevencometo words. Death is somethinglike an ostensive definitionwith which one seeks to pick out the nonlinguisticrealitythatlanguagediscusses andthatmakeslanguagemeaningful.SeeLanguage Death:"Metaphysicsnotsimply thought thinks experiand it thinks expethis enceof language thebasisof an (animal) on voice. whilesignificant. retains as to familiarconnotations privacy opposed thepublicity of of theethicalnonetheless of the political. Both is to here and in his appendix The ComingCommunity. I should thatthisstatement the makesit clearthatit is Agamben's considered However. 15. that view. Lanspeakssolelyandconstantly themodeof silence"[Heidegger. diacritics / winter 2000 43 .the humanexperience cast into an endless struggle: of language(thatis. the experienceof the humanas both living and speaking. see Languageand Death 107. guageandDeath54-62].Arendt."4 namesFoucault. by Agamben influenced the early statusof ethicsandhis related insistence the that understanding themystical of Wittgenstein's As in to restsupon to language's ability show(zeichen) things.and when Agamben does speak of the practicalimplications of metaphysics(that"whichenacts [compie]the experience[I'esperienza]merely shown [mostrare]by logic" [Languageand Death 88] he speaksof "ethics"repeatedly.In Languageand Death the metaphysicalmovement into a relationshipwith the logos does not essentially involve the living body.a natural and a logical being) has appearedin the tragic spectacle divided by an unresolvable conflict. the developmentandextension of the analysis does not alterits fundamentalstructure. and shouldnot be to as commitmenttheHeideggerian exaggerated. ability say(sagen) things language cannot contain analysisof theconditions its ownapplicaan DavidPearsputsit.4311. Languageand Death 17 and remains thathisattempt do thisis in manywaysa working of theproblem theplace of theanimalinfundamental out of a that and detailbyDerrida of ontology thecritique metaphysics. andin its considerationof the distinctively political aspect of this movement. cf."12 Because of this structural parallel. deathshows what languagecan never say.butrather. See Language Death86-88. for to That true to own Agamben's attempt movebeyond Heidegger."15Nonetheless.13We might animal"arethereby say thatdeathbecomesbeautiful.problem is laidoutinadmirable in the sixth chapterof his Of Spirit:Heidegger and the Question.. 105-06]. As in the passage cited from Heidegger above. said. alwaysalready dimension a Voice" note is rienceonthebasisof thenegative of [61]. Just as "the limit of language always falls within language"such that it "is always containedwithin as a negative."The formthis conflict takes is thatof the sacrificialviolence thatserves as the ungroundedgroundof all praxis [Languageand Death 58-62. Tractatus 12. 91.. context phrasedas a conditional.and Schmitt-each of which figureprominentlyin Homo Sacer-do not appear. Homo Sacer advancesthis analysis in at least two ways: in its reflectionsupon the kind of "life"thatis involved in this process." so death both is and is not "an event of life. To 13.

. and shoes" [372a]. . Adeimantusreplies."'Perhapswhat you say is fine. SocrateshardlyembracesAdeimantus'stentative. and each particular finds its meaning and its satisfactionin the balancedwhole.We mightconsideras well the second book of Plato's Republic:this gives us as clear a pictureof politics as the metaphysicalmovementdescribedby Agambenas any other.Socrates.It is more likely thathe says pigs were unnecessary in the "healthy"city because. We might begin by comparingthe passages fromAristotleupon which Agambenfocuses with Socrates'sstrikinglysimilarclaim in the Critothat"thereally important thing is not to live.initial formulation with enthusiasm. When he asks "where. Though this sounds very much like the picturewe ultimately of get.." a city whose exclusive focus upon the satisfactionof bodily need prohibitsSocratesand his companionsfrom discerningthe natureand origin of justice." This claim is in fact the centralmove in Socrates'sjustification of his active participationin his own of execution. 333a]. as is at least the abstractpossibility of war [372b]. This silent agreementleads Socratesto help in the constitutionof Glaucon's"feverish"city.He in otherwordsenactsthe sacrificeof barelife thatthe prioritization the life they producenothingmorethanan almostcomically banallist of the materialarrangements the city.In so doing. the citizens themselves were pigs. "'It must really be consideredand we mustn'tback away"' [372a]. Aristotle's use of this formulationto describe a political life that is good meant to endure on both the level of biology and virtue is obviously more problematic-a fact thatmay go some way towardexplainingAristotle'sown celebrationof the kalos death. we could probablysee in what way justice and injustice naturallygrow in cities" [372e]. in which justice is a matterof the internalstructure the city... however. clothing. In the first book of the Republicjustice is conflict [332e. becausethey were not in a position to answerthe questionof justice? The answeris thathe has silently accepted Glaucon'scriticismsof the city of mere life. "'I can't think. Yet Socrateshesitates to say this. many of whom are weariedby the abstractness the density of this language. they open his analysis to the threatof quiet dismissal by political theorists.Tradeis present tentativelyassociatedwith tradeandwith interstate in Adeimantus'scity. For Socrates to say this of the city Glaucon has moments before termed "a city of sows" would appearto be an ironic confirmationof Glaucon's objection: it is unlikely that Socrates believes pork to be necessaryto the feverish life of luxury."' he replies.. When Socratestakes up Glaucon'ssuggestionthatthey must considera city that is driven by the desire to satisfy more than the needs of mere life. consumption It is at this point thatGlauconloses patienceand objects thatthis is no humancity at all.In this regardit and is crucialto note how well Agamben'sanalysis accountsfor otherwiseobscurefeatures of canonicaltexts thathe himself ignores. where each person does his own. This acceptanceis implied when Socrates says of pigs: "'This animal wasn't in our earliercity-there was no need-but in this one there will be need of it in addition"'[373c]. and so one might assume thatjustice will be as well. as Glaucon claims. where the aspirationto satisfy more than the needs of life will requirethe sacrificeof life in war.. Nor is this the only such momentin the Platoniccorpus. Why have they not been able to do so up to now? Why does Socratesimply thatAdeimantus'sanswerwas inaccurate. propertask. as 44 . its procreation its productionand of and of "bread. would justice and injusticebe" [37le] in such a city. are entirely circumscribed the guiding assumptionsof the city's founderconby cerningneed and satisfaction. but to live well.generatingas it does ajust city from the inadequaciesof Adeimantus's"city in speech. he notes that "in considering such a city . unless it's somewherein some need these men have of one another"[372a].It is this city which ultimatelyissues forththejust city which.The termsof this discussionmakeplainAgamben'sdebtto Heidegger. The considerationsthat follow.

to the point of ultimately coinciding with the biological life [vita biologica] of the citizens.a just city."Itis a mistaketo believe that the 'statesman'is the same as the monarch of a kingdom. but it is clearly incompatiblewith the claims made earlier in the book. 4]. 18. a line that is moving into zones increasingly vast and dark. "which[in ancient Greek] indicated theform or way of livingproper to an individualor a group" [1. Presumablythis is because simple natural life is not in itself in relation with political life. or the master of a numberof slaves" [1. for instance.on 88 "simplenatural life" ("la semplice vita naturale") is contrastedwith "lifeexposedto death(bare or sacred life)" ("la vita esposta alla morte[la nuda vita o vita sacra]"). which both is and is not a momentof the life of the of polis. pace Plato 'sStatesman. and sacred life is defined by precisely that relationship. Agambenbegins by identifyingbare life with zoe.the distinctionbetween bare life and political life is between two variantsof zoe. The Human Condition 37."the practiceof which involves thatthe doctor"let die the ones whose bodies are [corrupt]." On theface of it the structureof this paradox would appear to exactly replicatethat ofAgamben'sbare life. 120]. but this appearance is deceiving: it is because biopolitics in the form of sacred life defines both bare life and political life that these definitionscan change. as is signaled by the fact that politics is both the passage from bare life to itself and what lies beyond this passage. Socrates here openly accepts that his biopolitics must at the same time be a thanatopolitics. that of life: "Thereis more in my life than any official definitionof identitycan express. Indeed.17Politics thus entails the constant negotiation of the thresholdbetween itself and the barelife thatis both includedwithin and excluded from its body. this seems to come closest to Agamben'sconsideredview. Nonetheless. But in thepassage fromAristotle'sPolitics upon which he places such importance. 109].It is also unclearhow consistentit is withAgamben'ssuggestions that his bare life is or can be a form of "purelife" ("pura vita") [171]. Moreover. Socratescalls for more than simple breeding:the political "artof judging" is in fact made possible by an "artof medicine. Wemustthen ask whetherthe acknowledgment a life that "I" live but that is not "mine" can avoid the metaphysicalquandariesofAgamben'sanalysis [see Connolly64.and the ones whose souls have bad naturesand are incurable.they themselves will kill" [409e-410]. This is corroboratedby Agamben'sassertion on 90 that sacred life is "neither political bios nor naturalzoe" but rather "thezone of indistinctionin which zoe and bios constituteeach other in includingand excluding each other" [and see 106.manyof the confusions that seem to plague Agamben'suse of the term "bare life" are only superficial: on 114-15. The order of thefamily is not "the determinationof what is just" but the rule of thefather and hus- diacritics / winter 2000 45 . he writes that "Sacrednessis a line of flight still present in contemporary politics.1. For a more contemporary example of the relevance of Agamben'sanalysis. "thesimplefact of living commonto all living beings." This might appear to repeat the same contradictionto which I have just pointed.or the manager of a household."Significantlythis greater me is not me: "thisabundance is in me but is neitherme nor mine". consider WilliamConnolly'sclaim that "Identityrequiresdifferencein order to be. literally breeds its inhabitants-that is to say. If we take thisprocess as the metaphysicalmovementof politics." as opposed to bios. a city that self-consciously reenactsthe genesis of the just life from bare life. we can see that Arendt is both exactly right and exactly wrong when she arguesthat "politicsis never for the sake of life.collapse into one another. 17. I am not exhaustedby my identity. as in modernity. The instability of the distinction between political and apolitical life may already be signaled in Aristotle'stext: This entirediscussion is an explicationand defense of his claim that.Connollyhoweverhas remindedme that his analysis here of self and other is open to a thirdelement.'8The titles of the 16."On the face of it it would appear that Connolly'sanalysis of the paradoxes of political identity is limited to a discussion of our need to distinguish ourselvesfrom other individualsand groups without reifying that distinction by claiming that the other is so differentas to be inferior or threatening. and even. perhapsmore clearly than in the few lines from Aristotle upon which Agamben focuses. and it convertsdifferenceinto otherness in order to secure its own self-certainty. But such a thresholdis hopelessly unstable.Here."16 It is the movement from bare life to political life that defines both bare life and political life.2]. hence it "can help me to recognizeand attendto the claims of the other in myself.

buttheperpetuation just in assertsthatourperceptions goodandeviland of so doing.. as in a state of martiallaw or the Schmittianstate of emergency. a normal situationmust exist.between whatis outsideandwhatis inside. it is certainly for et theme is defined that a thathisborrowings Heidegger. al. instead an expressionof the innerdynamicsof the logic of politics."and "TheCampas Biopolitical Paradigmof the Modem. than 20.on this account. Soverbut eignty. "nonormapplicableto chaos. In identifyingthe thresholdbetweenthe legal andthe Schmittwrites. all understoodin these terms.but the normalorderis only the absence of a state of emergency.the rule. Once the rule acknowledgesthatit gives rise to exceptionsfor which it cannotlegislate. theordering of principle.12].sovereigntydefines them both. gives rise to the exceptionand.21 Agamben's gloss on this is that The exception [l'eccezione] does not subtract itself from the rule [regola]. For a legal orderto make sense.Schmitt. [ 1819]. see Here. is deliberation. rather. HomoSacer35-36]. every case can. has the legal authorityto decide who shall be removed from the purview of law. "Thereis. The sovereign decision [La decisione sovrana] of the exception is the orginary juridico-political structure[struttura]on the basis of which what is included in thejuridical orderand what is excludedfromit acquiretheirmeaning. It should clearthatthisdoesnotnecessarily be repeat The the sourceof decideson the sovereign. 46 . one pertainingto the outermostsphere"[5].""HomoSacer. wherelaw is definedas command." Withthe rise of sovereigntywe witness the constitutionof a politicalauthority that correspondsto the ambiguitiesof this thresholdmore closely then did the polis. The sovereign. inAgamben discussion. in principle.However.19As to (1'eccezioneor die Aus-nahme).threepartsof Agamben'sbook markthe differentmomentsof its unraveling: "TheLogic of Sovereignty..Sovereigntyis the law's thresholdwith the nonlegal..first constitutes itself as a rule . as theendis notthegoodlife. A state of emergencyis the productof the collapse of the normal order. Agambenhere follows Carl Schmitt's analysis of the sovereign as "he who decides on the exception" [5].who is analogous a slave-owner a monarch. and he is sovereign who definitively decides whetherthis normal situationexists" [13]. Fora verysimilar discussion on (albeitoneconducted a lessmetaphysical plane)of the 's the enriseof sovereignty.. just andunjust to here true 19. domination. It might better say thatAgamben appropriates be Schmitt. 51]. from Hegel. betweenexceptionandrule"[25]. but then. compare is Bodin claimthatsovereignty 's 21. if thesovereign normas well[see Bodin38.20It is the point at which the law entersinto relationwith thatwhich has no legal standing.andnot simplyexcluded" etymologicalroot"refersto whatis "taken [18]. in other words. the word"exception" outside(ex-capere). theface of all of thisAristotle makeupboth"afamilyanda polis"[1." Schmittwrites. a destabilization which"whatformerly relegated politics fromitsmore nowmovesintotheverycenterof politicalactionandunderstanding" to theoutside [ not simply a momentof the rise of the nation-state. He concludes from this that "Whatemerges in the limit figure [figura-limite]is the radical crisis of every possibility of clearly distinguishingbetween membershipand inclusion. sourceof the law neednot be the doesdecideon theexception. suspendingitself. riseof sovereignty the tails the destabilization "theverydividethatpreviously separated insideof republican of " in was anarchic outside.2. it is "aborderlineconcept. maintaining itself in relation to the exception.pursue common morebyAgamben byhis sources. The only way to avoid this In not to and band. This is perhapsclearer in Schmitt's text than in Agamben's."according its Agambennotes..

barelife insofaras it operatesin an inclusive exclusion as the referentof the sovereigndecision" [85]. "Hegel. Bataille argues that the logic of the humanpractice of sacrifice is revealed in the Hegelian account of the role of death in the constitutionof the human. life that may be killed but not sacrificed-is the life that has been capturedin this sphere"[83].a life thatis excluded and includedin the political order. as a move in a differentand morefundamentaleconomy." one of the two Bataille to textscited in his bibliography. and-what is more-if death did not dwell in him as the source of his anguish-all the more so in that he seeks it out. and sacred life [sacra]-that is.I think. What Agamben terms sacred life is. holy. then man is trulya Man: he separates himselffrom the animal. But where sovereignty is a form of power thatoccupies this threshold. if he is the being. It is inside the legal order insofar as its death can be allowed by that order. even in those cases where the rule cannot legislate.. Agambendoes not define the sacredin terms of "whatis set apartfor worshipof the deity. sacer.which is to say. as in Aristotle. nonpoliticallife). The result is the paradoxof a sacrifice that is dedicatedto no legal or religious end [114] but thatparticipatesin and affirmsthe economy or logic of the legal/religious system as a metaphysical.. 101-02]. sacer).who risks (identical) being itself. as its etymology suggests..In other thatproducesa transcendenceinsteadof observingone.herethe stakesareconsiderablyhigher. This is the explicit revelation of the metaphysical requirement that politics establish a relation with the nonrelational[cf. historyor individual. complicates his account unnecessarily when he concludes that the killing of bare life does not constitutea sacrifice [114]: the point is that the term "sacrifice"is here understoodin a differentway.andthe gay mandie thatthe Germanmay affirmhis transcendence his bodily. Agamben'sanalysis hereowes a great deal to Bataille 's seminal essay. like the sovereign. the of Gypsy. thatexceptional cases areclearlydefinedas such by the rule.if he revels in what neverthelessfrightens him.thatis. One would have to argue.In this readingofAlexander Kojeve's reading of Hegel.conclusion is to arguethat.the sovereign decision is the realizationof the ambiguity of the distinctionbetweenbareandpolitical life. the originaryform of the inclusion of bare life [nudavita] in thejudicial order. from sacr-.political system." The simple extinc- diacritics / winter 2000 47 .Here this takes the form not. It is law (politicallife) thatis not law (insofar as it steps outside of the stricturesand limitationsof formal law) dealing with barelife (thatis. also from sacr-. Agamben. "The sovereign sphere [sfera] is the sphere in which it is permittedto kill without committing homicide and without celebratinga sacrifice [sacrificio]. "Sacrednessis . Thatsaid.sacredlife is nothingmore than a life that occupies this threshold. but ratherof a mute helplessness in the face of death. Death and Sacrifice. thoughonlybrieflyreferred in his text. Withthe rise of sovereigntywe witness the rise of a form of life thatcorrespondsto it. identical with himself. "Death alone assures the existence of a 'spiritual'or 'dialectical'being. both holy and cursed).and the syntagmhomo sacer names somethinglike the originary'political'relation. If the animal which constitutes man's natural being did not die.. and insofaras it does so thatnonpolitical(bare) life it treatsis political. cursed) as revealed in the life that is sacred (from Latin sacrare.of a metaphysicalpuzzle. both within and without the legal order(or."He is interestedin the more fundamental questionof the logic of sacrifice (from Latin sacrificium. it still does legislate in some impoverishedsense. Instead of an act of self-protectionon the part of the community [Girard4. sacrifice is the performanceof the metaphysicalassertionof the human:the Jew. note 8]. Where in Rene Girard's superficially similar account of sacrifice the victim is a scapegoat for the murderous desiresof the communitythatunites aroundher. animallife. desires it and sometimesfreely chooses it-there wouldbe no man or liberty.. But this is in effect to deny the reality of the exception and the need of the legal orderfor a sovereign decision upon it.22 22.but it is outside it insofar as its death can constitute neither a homicide nor a sacrifice.

I I .

Death is not truly death-that is. Whythen doesn'tAgamben discuss the Bataille article-why turnto Aristotleinstead?In hisfew commentson Bataille in this book. For when the animal being supporting him dies.Bataille is well aware of the paradoxes this entails: "In theory. the solution to this is sacrifice and "thenecessity of spectacle": the explanation the almost universalpractice of sacrifice is for that human beings do in fact need to undergo this sublation. the humanrealitywhich he places at the heart." Hence. that man is "'the anthropomorphic cisely thatofAgamben'sbare life: bare life is whatis notpolitical.. "Theonly true death supposes separation and. If we disregardBataille's emphasisupon religious ritual it is clear thathe is describingthe same AufhebungthatAgamben attributesto Aristotle-the differencebeing that Hegel and Bataille's referencesto death explicitly committhem to a process that endangers and rejects bare is his natural. it is not or does not allowfor the metaphysicalovercomingof the animal-unless " it is the death of a humanbeing. 19-20]. alonefounds the separation of elements and by founding it founds itself on it. Tolocate the genesis of that logic in Aristotle's Politics would make good this lack. to some extent that separation must already have takenplace in language.he would have to die. (It is in this context that Bataille cites Kojeve's "bizarre and animal. Perhapsthe clearest example is that of people in camps forcibly subjected to extreme medical tests and prisonerswho have been condemned to for death who are asked to "volunteer" the same: The particular status of the VPs [Versuchspersonen] was decisive: they were persons sentenced to death or detained in a camp. In effect.instancesof this thresholdlife abound. diacritics / winter 2000 49 . the entry into which meant the definitive exclusion from the political community. they came to be situated at a limit zone [una zona-limite] between life and death. is lost in the sea of life.. 15-16. This is something that Bataille is unable to do in part because he assumes that the logic of sacrifice and death is alien to Greek philosophyas a whole: "forHegel. On Bataille's account this is because "language.His anthropologyis that of the JudeoChristiantradition"[12]. it remainspresent. he suggests thatBataille 'sanalysis of sovereigntyis compromised its insistenceuponthe by erotic nature of sacrifice [113] and by its too-ready acceptance of the early twentieth-century anthropologicalreadingof the sacred [75]. Like the fence of the camp.but the revelationnever takesplace. for which thefigure of Christ on the cross serves as the model of all transcendenceof the bestial. animal being whose death reveals Man to himself. In orderfor Man to reveal himself ultimatelyto himself.'") The circularityhere is preperfectly apt saying.of the totalityis very different from that of Greekphilosophy. it is replacedby anotherof its kind. One resultof this is that Bataille is not able to think out the specifically political natureof the logic of sacrifice he uncovers. the humanbeing himself ceases to be.from refugees andpeople in Contemporary whom we are tempted and concentrationcamps to "neomorts" figures in "overcomas" to turninto organfarms. throughthe discourse which separates. in which they were no longer anything but bare life [nuda vita]. and center. within a world of separated and denominatedentities.anotherthat does not differ essentiallyfrom it. inside and outside. but he would have to do it while living-watching himselfceasing to be" [Bataille 12. and yet were still biologically [biologicamente ancora vita]. For Bataille if notfor Hegel. on Bataille's account. Those who are sentenced to death and those who dwelt in camps are thus in some way unconsciously assimilated to homines sacres. what thepolitical life exuviates: and yet for it to performthisfunction it must in some sense be political already. If it ceases to live. and their solution to the above paradox is to kill an animal whosephysical life stands infor their own." The death of the animal life that is required the emergence of the for humanbeing is a death that no purely animal life could ever die. if death is requiredin orderfor the humanbeing to separate itselffrom its animal being. to a life that may be killed without the commission of homicide. Precisely because they were lacking almost all the rights and expectations that we characteristically alive attribute to human existence. language too is necessary.As in Agamben'sreading of Aristotle. the interval between death sentence and extion of the life of the animal body alone is not sufficient. the consciousness of being separated. The animal.

23 When the thresholdof deathrow holds more thanone or two victims. obey Creon.andhenceputting decisively beyond city-or. Agamben notmention does but Antigone. and in that sense he is a "living dead man" [131]. it moves into the thresholdthat defines it. which nevertheless incessantly decides [decide]betweenthem"[173].it is precisely insofaras he awaitsexecution that he remains alive: his life remains only to be taken from him in the moment of Deathin the experimentthusrevealsthe paradoxesof deathrow as a sphere punishment. In the of words theprophet Teiresias: havethrust thatbelongsabove / belowtheearth.[159] When.Creon proveherwrong by her in find condemning to thethreshold which politicsanddeath oneanother 50 . men condemnedto deathhave been offered the possibility of parole in exchange for "volunteering" undergotests that could not be imposed to uponthose with full rightsof citizenship[156-57].Agamben's characterization be understood an attempt moresystematically can as to workoutArendt's claim that "life in the concentrationcamps . foreignto theplay.strictly that its in 's speaking.But neitherwill thatdeathbe the impositionof the deathpenalty. Creon's between anddeath: Antigone dares of of incorporation thethreshold life If reaffirmationthecity's to insistthatthedeadaresimply andas suchbeyond will that. Here the exception becomes the norm-or.the total politicization of life that is the camp signals the collapse of this project.There manywaysto characterize Antigone's refusal but out. the result is the camp. Antigone1136-42]. .whose own body has itself become one with the law [184].Indeed. 23. If the Aristoteliandistinctionbetween polis life andbarelife with which we began was meantto secure and define the human. whileonethatbelonged theunderworld/gods havekepton thisearth without dueshare ritesof burial. and even attractivein its economy and "fairness": given that the personhas been condemnedto die. the distinctionbetween the two is wholly effaced. to the most extrememisfortunes. thatdelayed penaltymakes possible. in the United States. In the name of the healthof the body of the nation. thatof the thresholdbetween life and death. due the you /of of /a edictis a funeralofferings. more precisely. perhapsthe mostdirectis to say thatshe triesto sortthis confusion by the it the acknowlburying body. actionof theplay The of revolves around conflict thecity's a over duties toward bodythatisplacedneither a insidethecity noroutside thebodyis of oneof thesonsof thecity. it is itself an includedexclusion from the penal system [20. to be more precise.butonewhohasfoughtagainstit.Theresultis a monstrous life confusion deathand life. "The camp is the space [lo spazio] of this absoluteimpossibilityof deciding [decidere]between fact and law.thatis. or the edgingthatit alwayshasbeenbeyond outside thecity. he has essentially alreadylost his life. the reasoningwas the attemptto producea single and undividedpeople [179]. and in responseto the decision of the Fiihrer. Hence therewill be no crimeagainsthim if his life is "lost"again.exception and rule. rule and application. a thresholdthathas awaitedit since Aristotle'sPolitics.ecution delimits an extratemporaland extraterritorialthreshold[soglia] in which the humanbody is separatedfrom its normal[normale]political status and abandoned. As far as the law is concerned his life is no longer his own. 166-67].consider culmination Creon soverto to tomb-which 's eigndecision condemn Antigone anunderground symbolizes perfectly Agamben threshold between anddeath. stands outside of life and paradoxical death"[Originsof Totalitarianism 444]. hence fromdeath. thisseemsan imposition If themes are.andnot in theburial plot thatwouldmarkits are criminal to passageout of thisworld. the nation takes on the endless task of its self-delineation. corpseunhallowed" [Sophocles. politics. his discussion thesymbiosis sovereignty of of and sacredlife is surelyreminiscent thismostpoliticalof tragedies. Historicallydeveloping out of martiallaw. in a state of exception [in stato di eccezione].and one of "you dishonored/a her to / indeed bitterly livingsoulbylodging in thegrave. andas it: a resultit lays in thefields outsidethecitywall. .in thesensethatit is notwithin of and to city'sauthority holdit back of fromburial.

as Agambendoes. of transgressions JamesII andother"Beastsof Prey"and "noxiouscreatures.ratherthancriticizedor deconstructed. These are horrorsthat invade our political lives and our political thinking from without. is a conservativeone that simply attemptsto it retreatto a kinder. a typically gesture false confiof dence.25 the one hand. not a set of moraltruthsaboutthe laws of God or nature. and not at all to questionthe distinctionbetween political life and bare life upon which the conception of rights rests. Arendt's argumentis that the direct defense of humanrightswill alone be insufficient. 25. This insistence upon the foreign and external natureof these evils is both confirmed and underminedby the suggestions of Tadeusz Borowski or Primo Levi that the camps operatedin a sphere beyond good and evil. the mereexistence of camps andof Versuchspersonen a the need for as sweeping and fundamental critiqueof the traditionas Agamben's. how much of our ordinarymoral world could survive on this side of the barbedwire" On [92].' 'just' and 'unjust'.gentlerage. It does not attemptto understand logic of the campor the the Versuchsperson. Arendt'sargument The that Origins of Totalitarianism the emergenceof the camps signals the extremelimitations of the politics of human rights. of " Man. the final denialof the dignityof the camp victim. then the obligationto be just remainsjust that:an obligation. is by no meansa confident rhetorical In American question. we should like to answerthat moralityandjustice mean there just whatthey meanhere. the I of fromwhich amquoting.humanrights are civil rights:they arebased on forms of humanaction.It is as political. though.or. Consider the effect of readingBorowski's stories.and it is throughpolitical action that we defend those rights. diacritics / winter 2000 51 . not legal. or Levi's invitation"to contemplatethe possible meaningin the Lager of the words 'good' and 'evil."24 This basis Arendtfinds in political action.does not in itself signal Now.As readers Leviknow. actorsthat we are grantedrights. Agamben brings this out nicely in a discussion of Bruno Bettelheim's argument that the Muselmannhas passed beyond the limit of the human and the moral by renouncinghis freedomandby losing sight of the limit beyond which his life would have 24.let everybody judge. on the basis of the picturewe havejust outlinedandof the examplesgiven above.thatas a practicalmatterthis solutionhas not been particularly tive up to this point. If moralityis not suspendedin a camp.Morality is not grace." in Agamben himself characterizesthe Versuchspersonen just these terms: it is "precisely because they were lacking almost all the rights and expectationsthatwe characteristically attributeto human existence" and yet were still alive that they could "be situatedat a limit zone between life and death. Origins Totalitarianism Arendt of 296.For one might well conclude thatwhat is called for is simply a reassertionof humanrights as understoodby the tradition. to put the point on the explanatorylevel. if only with the temperingof a forgivingequity.On her accountwhatis neededis rathera recognition of the ultimatebasis of civil rights-what she termsthe "rightto have rights. More importantly. effecNote. that the politics are conceptuallyof a piece with the genocides and rapecamps of contemporary Afterall. we presumeto judge the victims of the camps. makes argument sketch herein thelast the I out sectionof theImperialism "The Declineof theNation-State theEndof theRights and volume. titleof thefirstof thesevolumes. in might seem sufficienteven if one accepts. But in the presentcase we might interpretthis as nothing but a call to indirectlydefend humanrights. a blandassertion whichquite obscures Levi's precisely question.Anythingless feels like collusion with the Nazis."On this accountthe horrorsof modernity are nothing more than violations of the norms of the tradition-a traditionthat And this response simply needs to be reasserted. But if we assertthis. Properlyunderstood. If This Is a Man has been changed in the American edition to Survival in Auschwitz.

and moral space. I do notwishto suggest silenceis inappropriate.Remnantsof Auschwitz56.With the Muselmannwe find the limit of limits: clear boundariescan no longer be drawnhere [Agamben. We must decide whethera neomort-a body whose only signs of life are that it is "warm.28 Did 26. "Whenlife andpolitics-originally divided. that Claude Lanzmann's to poratessuchsilencetoprofound effectin its oblique approach thecamps. Ironically. wanting both to affirmand to deny thatthese categoriesapply here."rather "is the site of an experimentin which morality and humanityare called into question.It is this thatleads him to conclude thatthe camp is the as-yet-unrecognized paradigmof the modern. of Bettelheim'slimit of the humanis denied. Though does it. they too are set aside in favor of a respectful silence.are we to do when we are dealing with agents or incomprehensible."one and renouncesethical terminology. all life becomes sacredand all politics becomes the exception"[148]. thathave not alreadybeen recognizedas the bearersof rights?Herethe reassertion things of rights is simply not an option."he is "a limit figure of a special kind. In such cases. Thislineof analysisis alsofollowedin thesecondchapter Slavoj Zizek's Someof bodySayTotalitarianism? Shoah incor27.ForBettelheim. and urinating"-is in fact a human being at all." To acknowledge the Muselmann's compromised humanity. of of Agamben notdiscuss oneof thebestexamples thiscollapse therule and intotheexception ofpoliticsintolifemaybe thecorporate and of investigation purchase the 52 .regardlessof the conditions. But if Agambenis right."The Muselmann"does not accept he merelyembodya moraldeath. we should hardly be surprisedto find ourselves torn.26 The point is not thatthe liberalrefusalto considerthe camp as thresholdrules out a solutionto this dilemmafromthe start.for instance. and linked togetherby means of the no-man'sland of the state of exception that is inhabited[abita] by bare life [la nuda vita]-begin to become one. which as such acquirea political meaning precisely only througha decision" [Homo Sacer 164].to avoid the moralbarbarism an imagined confrontationwith a Muselmannin which one judges his "character habits. Finally.27In contrast. As for the difficultquestionsthis emerginglimit of the moral might raise. The point is ratherthatthe liberalresponsecan make no sense of its own confusion.the physician and the scientist move into the no-man's-land[terradi nessuno]into which at one point the sover[159]. a humanbeing can avoid becoming a Muselmannby "acceptingdeath as a humanbeing. 28. in which not only categoriessuch as dignity andrespectbut even the very idea of an ethical limit lose their meaning.the concept of the marginis itself being swept away.Agamben's conception of the thresholdat least promises to more precisely delineate these confusions: the camp both is and is not a legal. personcondemnedto a camp is neither capableof moralitynorincapableof it."ButAgambenarguesthat"Simplyto deny the Muselmann's humanitywould be to the verdict of the SS and to repeat their gesture.The The camp is simply evil and be sacrificedin defense of thatfreedom.pulsating.such decisions are increasinglymade by scientists. political.As the logic of the sovereign exception comes unraveled(or is realizedthis paradoxbeing a necessaryfunctionof thatlogic). the liberal strategyreveals its limitationswhen we recognize that the notion of the thresholdis in fact expandinginto areaswherewe will not have the luxuryof refusing to consider the inner logic of phenomenawe should like to reject as evil and What. and the impossibilityof categorically distinguishingbetween exception and rule is made manifest.The very idea of a solutionhere seems offensive. Hence. "life and death [cease to be] properly scientific concepts [and become] political concepts. an agent or a thing. 63]. and not by politicians: "In the biopolitical horizon [orizzontebiopolitico] that characterizes modernity. These are still marginalfigures in our currentpolitieign alone could penetrate" cal life. the distinctionbetween barelife andpolitical life is hopelessly confused.

Whatthe State cannot tolerate in any way. the attemptto resist this throughthe assertionof humanrights ignores the connection between the humanismthat undergirdsthe concept of rights and the is events thatseem to conflictwith it."The Allied responseto the Nazi extermination the Jews is instrucof tive in this regard. SeeHomoSacer 47. "Inthe final instancethe Statecan recognize any claim for identity. and compare of Nancy(whoseinfluence Agamben HomoSacer):"thethinking community essence. What he does argue is that there is a deep affinity horrorsand the traditionof political philosophy to which between such contemporary we might turn in an effort to understandand combat such phenomena. Thedefinition thehuman will too being. To breakout of this vicious cycle. is that the singularitiesform a community without affirmingan identity...Ratherthan acknowledgethe sacredcharacterof the Jewish people (as a people whose extermination"was not conceived as a homicide by [either] the executioners [or] the judges"). nor does he claim that they "caused"the Holocaust (a term to which he objects [114]). any in Beingin common itselfbe absorbed a common form. Politics is always a matterof the itself lacks identity. namely insofar it is in common letting into substance.In the end.that humansco-belong without an representable condition of belonging. cf. both will follow Heidegger(thoughhardlywithoutcriticism)in his attempt to develop a poetic mode of speech beyond metaphysics.This opens up the possibility of a mode of being thatescapes the metaphysicsof politics. on and and will not scientists." of of diacritics / winter 2000 53 . in racism.which itself became the source of new massacres" 87-88. [Coming Community follows Jean-LucNancy in attemptingto "think" Agamben communitywithoutunity. 60. they "triedto compensatefor this lack of identity with the concession of a State identity.he arguesthatthe sacredbearswithin itself subversivepotential.The practical implicationwould not be thatthereis no differencebetweenAristotleor Hitler. become fluidto serveas a guide of for thejudgments itsmodifications.30 In so doing. and "The 'body' is always alreadya biopoliticalbody" [187]. Jean-Luc ac150-53.but that Aristotle will not provide a stable point from which to critiquethose who follow after Thereis no Archimedean him. * * * If Agamben'sanalysis and descriptionof this dilemmaof the formationof the political and of political identity is strikinglyoriginal.likethatof death. [and]naturalism" OnSpirit 30. is in effectthe as of knowledges throughout closure thepoliticalbecause assignsto communitycommon it a is of being. [56]. andhence of thanatology.whereas community a matter something existence as without of quitedifferent. meansno longerhaving.WhatAgambenadds to this is his emphasisupon bare life: human The on the genome. however. Homo Sacer 114].In an earlierdiscussion of the politics of the sacred. lawyers. politicaltheorists simply be ableto charttheexpansion ourpresent into boundaries thedarkseas thatconfront that as a marginalsupplementof political identity. . dayis at handwhenthedecision thehuman beingwill become rule.. Derridastrikesa similarly ambivalent attitude toward humanism woulddethe that nounce"biologism.29 point outside biopolitics. or from which to constructan alternative. havetriedto indicate tations thisstrategy "Jean-Luc in NancyandtheMyth theCommon. of 29. . the nonmetaphysicalalternativetoward which he gesturesin responseis morefamiliar.and. such a substantialidentity. an indication theultimately 44. in any empiricalor ideal place.and sharingthis "lack of iden- Thisis what I calls 'finitude"' someof thelimiphilosophy tity. Agamben'sargument not thatAristotle'sor Locke's reflectionson politics carrywith them an implicit commitmentto the substantiveracist policies of National Socialism." [xxxviii]. for of Heideggerian nature this strategy. 182-88.

330].therewould be nothingto be eitherpoliticallymeaningfulor meaningless. For a survey of other places it can be found... the formerrefers to the empiricaldata of actions andevents and the latterrefersto the system of meaningor intelligibilitywithin which the empiricalmanifestsitself. Rather."Question ConcerningTechnology" Picture" 116. 50-52. see Dallmayr. 326-27.Politicalpracticereproducesthe older structureswe find in westernpolitical philosophynot because it is producedby thatphilosothat is distinct from each. Thepoint is significant only because it demonstrates how vague this distinctionremainsin most cases. . 340. When Agamben writes that political practiceis "governed"by "the link between bare life and politics" we must be carefulto note that this link is not one thathas been forgedby willful or culpablephilosophers.will be able to . a claim thatis at the heartof his own attemptto develop a distinctionbetween politics and the political.a heraldwhose provenanceis still unknown.....Conversely.on this model. changes everything. return to itspracticalcalling[restituire pensieroalla suavocazione il thought Sacer 4-5] practica]. This distinctionis generallyderivedfrom Heidegger. He suggests. is by itself nothingpolitical"["Inthe Name of. scientific theory itself arises in response to the technological demand that naturebe reducedto "a calculablecoherence of forces"that can be representedand used for the and representation applicationof force.. It should be noted thatDallmayr'senthusiasmfor the distinctionleads him to gloss over differencesbetweenthe variousformulationsof it. The best and most relevantversion of this distinctioncan befound in Philippe LacoueLabartheand Jean-LucNancy.In the absenceof the latter. however. Heidegger. "Modernphysics is the heraldof enframing. CompareRetreatingthe Political 109. [Homo This emphasis. Retreatingthe Political. Heidegger argues that technology is not the applicationof scientific the absenceof a conception of what meaningis and how it can achieved. 87-88.Onlya reflection[una rifflessione] that ."Hence as well his cautionthatwe neitherrespondwith "a stultified compulsion to push on blindly with technology [nor].and it is worth detailing the distance it places Agambenfrom Heideggerand the work he has inspired."32 Although the technological mode of reone in which instrumental reason reigns supreme..that reason is vealing is a nihilistic itself not an instrument. and suggested that "theessence of the political.thatSchmitt's conceptof thepolitical is analogousto Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy'sessence of thepolitical [Dallmayr 50]. a mode of revelation it is "the destining of revealing"or As Being in our behaviorcould rise to the statusof political action at all.31 One advantageof this quasi-theatrical schema is that it allows us to conceive of politics and political philosophy as distinct things that nonetheless map onto one another:the system of intelligibility is an intelligibility of events and actions andintentions. He offers the helpful suggestion thatthe relationshipbetween politics and the 31.particularly9. Compare"TheAgeof the World 32. a linkthatsecretlygoverns[govema] the modernideologies seeminglymostdistant from one another. rebelhelplessly againstit andcurseit as the workof the devil" ["QuestionConcerning Technology"330. "the essence of technology is nothingtechnological." 71]. has Lacoue-Labarthe echoed Heidegger's claims here. 41. what comes to the same.. thematicallyinterrogatesthe link betweenbarelife [nudavita] andpolitics.for instance.ultimatelyfrom his thinking of the ontological distinctionand most immediatelyfrom his writings on technology. This phy but because both express a metaphysicalquandary way of putting the mattersuggests that the relation between the two is one between "politics"and "thepolitical". 54 . but the latter two takepains to note that this is not so. Hence Heidegger's famous dictum..

one thatinevitablycomes unraveledon of the level of (empirical)politics. the same thing as the blockades and the reducTo tion of countriesto famine. the dangerit poses to thought. this is all for the better. the thematicsubjectof [momentsof] Aristotle'sPolitics) and politics (for example. It is fairly clear thatAgamben would claim the same. Agambencannot take such a tack.33 infamousequationof the deathcamps with is the mechanizedfood industryis wholly consistentwith this: "Agriculture now a moof torizedfood industry." In so emphasizingthe pathosof politics over thatof the politicalAgambensharply As distinguisheshimself from Heidegger. butthe dangerit poses to the dignityof the humanbeing as thinkerHis thatis. Citedin Zimmerman Zimmerman 43..But it does resultin a privilegingof one of the two of expressions of the metaphysicalquandary politics that we would not find purported in a purely Heideggeriananalysis. essentiallythe same thing as the fabrication cadaversin the gas chambersof the exterminationcamps."34 is food industry" "essentiallythe same thing"as "thefabrication say thatthe "motorized of cadaversin the gas chambersof the extermination camps"would seem to imply that the converse is trueas well: the metaphysicalsignificanceof Auschwitzis precisely that of a factory farm. "What dangerous nottechnology. He sets out to address the catastropheof our time.political be conceived along the lines of the relationshipbetween "a-more or less and of fully-developed photograph a negative"["Spirit NationalSocialism"150]. 34...Even if we grantthatthe relationbetween the politian important cal (for example. the same thing as the fabricationof hydrogenbombs.the source of much of our 33. For those appalledby the roughequatingof the food industryand the deathcamps. a destining is is as of to is revealing. though he does succeed in that. the deathcamps) is a noncasualone in which both are expressionsof the essence of metaphysics.I have alludedabove to Agamben'sown discussions of the laterHeidegger's thinkingof death. The strengthof Agamben's analysis is that it does not merely add something to Heidegger'sown in the openingparagraphs my own article. there remains a fundamentaldiscrepancybetween the roles these two play in Agamben's argument. Indeed.while also retainingthe necessary reminderthat both politics and the political are what they are because they represent somethingelse.Instead choseto viewtheHolocaust a typical era episode thetechnological afflictof ing theentireWest" [43]. diacritics / winter 2000 55 ..I should like to conclude by noting the mannerin which the problem of life dogs Heideggerfrom the start.. thedanger. it is recent empiricalevents thatprovidethe pathos and the urgencyto Agamben'sdiscussion.In Agamben's work canonical texts are depicted as giving expressionto an unstablelogic.who if anythingtakes the opposite approach. And it will ultimatelybe addressedby that "whichenacts the experience merely shown by logic.Because of his emphasisupon bare. Compare discussion thedignity thehuman essenceon 337.. notesthatHeidegger here "glided over correctly thefact thatthe Holocaust a German was the phenomenon involving slaughter millionsof of he as Jews. Theessenceof technology.embodiedlife.Theruleof enframing " the himto enterintomore and truth original revealing henceto experience callof a more primal the ["Question Technology" of Concerning of 333].from Being and Time. Thethreat mandoesnotcomein the fromthepotenfirst instance The and has man tiallylethalmachines apparatus technology. and repeatedlystates. This nicely capturesthe relativepriorityof the philosophical. But there is shift here in his work. It is as if Agamben's text were enacting what he claims is the characteristically paradoxicalinclusion of life within metaphysics. actualthreat already of afflicted in threatens withthepossibility it couldbe deniedto man that his essence.butit allowsus to see how thelatterevadestheproblems Agamben confronts. Agambendoes not set out only to provideus with an insightfulway to readthe canon. the dangerof technology is not the threatit Heideggerexplicitly poses to humanlife.

determines[bestimmt] what must be the case if therecan be anythinglikejust-being-alive.Why "especially" biology?Why does Heideggerin his 1929-30 lecturecourse returnto the question of the biological. for example. and In the orderof possible understanding interpretation.36 is neitherpure objecLife tive presence. It is. in otherwords. but is essentially [wesenhaft] accessible only in Da-sein. toriographypursue in all differentways and to varying extents the behavior. Da-sein should never be defined [bestimmen] ontologically by regardingit as life-(ontologically undetermined[unbestimmt])and then as somethingelse on top of that. although not exclusively [ausslieBlich] in it. possibilities." 56 . Nur-noch-lebenis neitherdecisively includedin nor excluded from the ontology of Da-sein. that by way of "a privativeinterpretation" begins with Da-sein as being-in-the-world. Heideggerquickly turnsto the rejectionof "a generalbiology"as a science that might provide the "ontological foundations"(ontologische Fundament)that anthropology neglects.and especially biology [erst recht Biologie]" [42]. Heideggerseeks to distinguish his own projectfrom the work of Dilthey and Bergson and Nietzsche even as it builds upon that work. In each case Heidegger is anxious to propose his fundamental ontology as the science that can do what these ontic sciences fail to do.Heideggerbetrays an anxiety concerningthe distinctionbetween fundamental ontology and biology-an anxiety that correspondsto the introduction'ssuggestion that the former will either indicate or enact a true politics: "The existential analytic of Da-sein is prior to any psychology. anthropology. powers. perhaps better.thinkingof the ontological distinctionthatAgamben'semphasisupon life both follows andchallenges. includedas a problem-or. conceptprovesto be insufficientto delineatethe ontologyof the worlding this of the world [see.thoughHeidegger suggests thathe pursuesa concept of the natural. On the other hand. and destinies of Da-sein" [14]. Simon Sparksdiscusses the allusion to politics in his introductionto Retreatingthe Political [165nl6].FundamentalConcepts of Metaphysics]? The immediateansweris that. The ontology of life takes place by It way of a privative interpretation. so etwas dafi wie Nur-noch-lebensein kann. But the terms in which he does so are strikingindeed: in a paragraph that begins with the considerationof the anthropologicaltendencies of psychology. Concerningthe relationof Being andTime to politics. nor is it Da-sein. anthropology. Life has its own kind of being.35One wonders. considerthe use of scare quotes in thefollowing: "Philosophicalanthropology.and hisfaculties. can But neitheris it the case thatsuch an interpretation fully accountfor life-for life is not merely an abstractionfrom the unity of Da-sein-it is not exclusively founded in the ontology of Da-sein. 36. 'politics. and addressbiology alone as a metaphysically significant positive science [see Heidegger. [Being and Time46] The concluding claims are familiarenough: Da-sein is not an aggregationof life (the each of these is seen as whatit is only rather. What it would be remainsa mysteryalbeit perhapsone producedby our uncannyinabilityto see what is nearestto us. If the humanbeing could be reducedto the level of bare life it would be neitheran object nor Da-sein. In the openingpages of PartOne of Being and Time.includedas an exclusion.'biography. animal)and"somethingelse" (rationality). Heidegger'sGermanis morecategorical: "sie bestimmt das. was sein mufJ. biology as the "science of life" is rooted [fundiert] in the ontology of Da-sein. Being and Time59-60].ethics. 35.

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