THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Philosophy, Aesthetics and Cultural Theory Series Editor: Hugh J. Silverman, Stony Brook University, USA The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Cultural Theory series examines the encounter between contemporary Continental philosophy and aesthetic and cultural theory. Each book in the series explores an exciting new direction in philosophical aesthetics or cultural theory, identifying the most important and pressing issues in Continental philosophy today. Derrida, Literature and War, Sean Gaston Foucault’s Philosophy of Art, Joseph J. Tanke Philosophy and the Book, Daniel Selcer
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS
Continuum International Publishing Group The Tower Building 80 Maiden Lane 11 York Road Suite 704 London SE1 7NX New York, NY 10038 www.continuumbooks.com © William Watkin 2010 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: HB: 978-1-8470-6452-3 PB: 978-0-8264-4324-3 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Watkin, William, 1970– The literary Agamben: adventures in logopoiesis / William Watkin. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN-13: 978-1-84706-452-3 (hbk.) ISBN-10: 1-84706-452-3 (hbk.) ISBN-13: 978-0-8264-4324-3 (pbk.) ISBN-10: 0-8264-4324-9 (pbk.) 1. Agamben, Giorgio, 1942–Knowledge–Literature. 2. Literature–Philosophy. I. Title. B3611.A44W37 2010 2009030741 195–dc22
Typeset by Newgen Imaging Systems Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham, Wiltshire
a Emilia e Luca “Long have we laboured in miracle realms”
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Thinking Thought Poetic Thinking Poetry and Philosophy Communicability. The Thing Itself The Idea of Language Communicability. The Idea of Prose Poetic Gestures The Tablet. Philosophical Gesturality Potentiality
x xi 1 4 6 9 13 17 20 23 26 32
41 41 44 48 52 54 58 61 63
Acknowledgements List of Abbreviations Exoteric Dossier: The Literary Agamben Projection: There is Language Infancy: Animals and Children Ineffability and Experience The Stanza The Sign Negating Negation Subjective Enunciation The Semiotic Poetic Dictation FIRST EPISODE: ON THE WAY TO LOGOPOIESIS Chapter 1 Logos.
Thinking through Making Poiesis Praxis Techne The Art Thing Finitude Morphe. Thinking Tautology The Logo-Poiesis Tautology The Exemplary Tautology of Logopoiesis Infinite Poetry The Habits of the Muse Chapter 5 Enjambement. the Space of Thought The Caesura Apotropaics 117 119 122 124 129 135 135 139 144 149 153 155 162 166 166 174
. the Turn of Verse The Definition of Poetry Boustrophedonics Kle sis. Shape Entelechy Arche. The Messianic As Not ˉ Messianic Kairos Messianic Rhyme An Endless Falling Into Silence Tension: The One Line Chapter 6 Caesura. Modern Anti-Poiesis Chapter 3 Modernity.Chapter 2 Poiesis. Productive Anti-poiesis Living As If or As Not Auratic Twilight Shock! Profaning Scission Taste and Terror How to Exit Art Modern Aesthetic Desubjectivization
69 69 71 73 75 77 79 81 83 87 88 92 94 97 99 103 107
SECOND EPISODE: ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS Chapter 4 Logopoiesis.
Ease: The Proximate Space Corn: In The Corner of The Room Rhythm Recursion. the Turn of Thinking Notes Bibliography Index
180 186 189 194 203 218 229
Permission to use “Warrant” granted by Charles Bernstein. Finally. University. not merely because of the incredible support she has given me over this past. Barbara Montanari. The Man Without Content. more unexpected it was that sharing a home with a theoretical physicist would open up for me the very structural basis of poetry and thinking.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Thanks are due to my editors Hugh Silverman. 1983. 1984 by John Ashbery. granted by permission of Georges Borchardt. and Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy © 1999 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. intense. So it is that the last but also always the first expression of gratitude as ever goes to my wife. Chapter Two was presented as a seminar at Brunel University in March 2009. 1982. Obvious it is that sharing a house with an Italian is useful when writing a book on Agamben. and Sarah Campbell. Copyright © 1981. and my son. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. Language and Death © 1991 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota. Dearest Barbara.
. whose careful stewardship of the book in its latter stages was much appreciated.. living with someone so much more intelligent than I. but also for her many comments. Inc. and aids to translation. on behalf of the author. that is truly living. I must also thank Brunel University for granting me a year-long sabbatical to complete this work. suggestions. the title of this book is his. . miraculous year. the writing of this book coincided with the birth of my daughter . Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. Reprint of the final stanza from “Down By the Station Early in the Morning” from A WAVE by John Ashbery. I greatly appreciate the questions and remarks that followed which encouraged but also challenged me. .
Giorgio Agamben. trans. trans. In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. 1998). “Agamben’s Potential. trans. Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. trans. trans. Giorgio Agamben. The Coming Community (1990). Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press. 1995). no. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. The Century (2005). 2001). Giorgio Agamben. Giorgio Agamben. William Watkin. trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2000).
. 1993). Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience (1978). 2005). trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. 3–24. 2 (2000). PA: Bucknell University Press. Idea of Prose (1985). The End of the Poem (1996). trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995). Alain Badiou. 2007).LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
AP BT C CC
EHP EP HI
Leland De La Durantaye. Alain Badiou. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry (1981). Giorgio Agamben. 1999).” Diacritics 30. trans. Liz Heron (London: Verso. Martin Heidegger. Being and Time (1953). 1996). 1993). Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Handbook of Inaesthetics (1998).
Politics. 2008). Multiple Arts. P Potentialities (1999). Manifesto for Philosophy (1989). Para Paragraph 25. 1991). The Open: Man and Animal (2002). Simon Sparks (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Shklovsky. 2005). Language. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity (1982). trans. trans. The Man Without Content (1970). Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. OWL Martin Heidegger. NC: Duke University Press. Muses II. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1994). 2004). 2004). Philosophy. 1982). Peter D. trans. N Giorgio Agamben. MP Alain Badiou. trans.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
Jean-François Lyotard. 3 (2008). Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer (Durham. 2000). Silliman and Agamben. MWC Giorgio Agamben. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri.. “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the Work of Godzich & Kittay. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. 2008). Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 1971).” Paragraph 31. Literature. 1999). Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (1991). LD Giorgio Agamben. 2006). 2 (2002). Means Without Ends (1996). Margins of Philosophy (1972). 2008). M Jacques Derrida. trans. no. 344–364. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. LPN Shane Weller. Thought. 1971). trans. PA Catherine Mills. Poetry. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 1999). MA Jean-Luc Nancy. ed. 1999). OM William Watkin. PLT Martin Heidegger. PMD Andrew Norris ed. O Giorgio Agamben. Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. trans. trans. MWE Giorgio Agamben. Karen E. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. trans. The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. no. trans.
. MofP William Watkin. On the Way to Language (1959).
William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial.
. 2007). Literature. 2008). The Question Concerning Technology. R Plato. trans. Sovereignty and Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Three Poems (New York: Penguin. 2008). trans. 2005). WWB William Watkin. SL Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli eds. ST Giorgio Agamben. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. 2008). http://williamwatkin.com/.. RP Thomas Carl Wall. 1999). Republic. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1999). State of Exception (2003).no. 2005). 1993). WGA Justin Clemens. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. 1 (2008). Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (1977). Profanations (2005). trans. 1977). SP Alexander Pope. blogspot. SE Giorgio Agamben. 2002). TP John Ashbery. Blanchot and Agamben (Albany: SUNY Press. QCT Martin Heidegger. Nicholas Heron. Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. SAQ The South Atlantic Quarterly 107. TTR The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (2000). Ronald L. William Watkin’s Blog. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2007). Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. and Alex Murray eds. trans. 1993). Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. trans. trans. RA Giorgio Agamben. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. trans.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
Giorgio Agamben. Radical Passivity: Lévinas.
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This state of exception. Living perpetually in this denuded zone of indistinction between biological existence as such (zoé) and our social life (bios). whose sacred life was the possession and legitimization of the sovereign ready to be forfeited at any point without fear of legal repercussion. In this work Agamben presents his critique of our political modernity as a permanent state of exception/emergency. confrontational studies that make up the ongoing Homo Sacer project Agamben proposes a radical. now stretched to six volumes or around a third of his total published output.EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (b. often unremittingly negative critique of our Western modernity in terms of the political and its relation to life. That exception has become the norm is the basis of Agamben’s savage attack on our biopolitical modernity. the homo sacer. Like the homo sacer. 1942) first came to prominence in the field of political philosophy with the publication in 1995 of his explosive book Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. In particular through the consideration of sovereignty. bare life. This extended study of the categories of the political and modernity continues apace. the homo sacer and our current “state of exception. typically. what Agamben calls the biopolitical. perhaps.” he presents a convincing cartography of the political in our age that is. The sovereign’s legitimacy extends from the power of the state to reduce our existence to bare life or life as mere survival. In the complex and. makes of us that most despised figure from Roman law.
. through which he likens our advanced democracies to living in a camp. our bare life can be taken from us at any point without the state having to answer to the very apparatus of law from which is gains legitimated power through its right of occasional exception from legal norms. is overseen by sovereign power.
the uncanny unwelcome guest at the intimate if troubled feast that rages still tête-à-tête between metaphysics and politics. so desperate to negate the third Agamben.5 Thus Negri. unless under the auspices of dialectical resolution or archeunity. ponders. There is the one who lingers in the existential. and the one about whom I will have the least to say in the chapters that follow. through immersion in the work of philology and linguistic analysis. Canny enough perhaps. And there is another Agamben.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
the leading revolutionary political theory that we have. Numerous critics have noted a seemingly contradictory bifurcation in the Agamben methodology. and terrifying shadows. 111). This is the Agamben we are most familiar with. but no one can fully suppress the ability of the uncanny to undermine studiously erected structures of identity. Thus Negri is canny enough—well aware as he is that even though he dismisses the three books preceding Language and Death (1982) as a “literary apprenticeship” (SL. Away from the political/materialist Agamben there is another Agamben. the “literary” Agamben is not mere youthful promiscuousness but a serious and lifelong affair for his compatriot—to retain the propensity for plenitude to be found in dualistic metaphysics at the same time as he praises Agamben for finally putting an end to this tradition. where he is perpetually forced into a confrontation with the idea of death. attains the power of being (that is. who.
. one a philosopher of negative being and the other an etymo-philologer and habitué of material clues. one of Agamben’s great productive antagonists. the literary Agamben.4 This enforced subjective scission is strategic. As is often the case with the dual structures of metaphysics the energy between two terms leaves little space for the imposition of a third.3 Negri is far from alone in asserting that “Agamben” is a homonymic moniker referring to two thinkers of radical dissimilarity. he rediscovers pieces or elements of being. destining. by manipulating and constructing them). These are the metaphysical and the political Agambens respectively. sometimes so marked it is suggestive of the possibility that there are more Agambens out there writing philosophy than was first assumed.1 Antonio Negri. for example. rather infamously:2 It seems there are two Agambens. instead opens the door to just such a possibility of tertiary ruination.
absolved of the negativity of which it had been the bearer. Effectively.6
.EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Speaking of Agamben’s oft-cited application of the voice as such emptied of content as a solution for post-metaphysical negativity he concedes: “this nihilistic self-dissolution of being frees the voice— but another voice. adventurer in poiesis. if you will. It is this voice. 113–14). the literary Agamben. to the tones of the tern. intimidated by the sovereignty of metaphysical thought. Attend then. and yet always persistent and quietly insistent. it is now poiesis. muted by the clamour of the bios. that the following pages wish to augment. an absolute voice. beyond the learnéd and almost overwhelming conversation between the two Agambens and his many critics. inasmuch as it endures as the only power of this dissolved universe” (SL.
is able to predict the guiding topic of all one’s books. 5). in the preface to his third book. in which what is experienced is language itself. 30 years later one has to concede that the young thinker was either preternaturally prescient or. however. a characteristically confident Giorgio Agamben declares: “In both my written and unwritten books. cannot think its chirping. Such a pure exteriority of an empty language which yet still speaks is both the basis of Agamben’s “metaphysics” and of my claim that the literary Agamben is an essential element of that mode of thinking. in which one can encounter the pure exteriority of language” (IH. to make language appear before us such as it is. past and future. the centrality of literature to his work. after all.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
(The cricket. most pertinent to our study here.” In this thin sheaf of pages he explains that he is undertaking an experiment with language “in the true meaning of the words. Who.” Such an experience. what is the meaning of ‘I speak’?”2 This may seem like youthful exuberance and in the mouths of others at similarly early stages in their career might strike the seasoned observer as a touch hubristic. to let language speak
. This risk-bound declaration of intent occurs in the short piece that prefaces Infancy and History (1978) entitled “Experimentum Linguae. over the years. his metaphysics and. in its full material yet voided exteriority.)1 At the age of 36. . he suggests.4 To see language as it is. written and unwritten?3 Now. clearly. unbelievably obdurate for it is undoubtedly true that the questioning of the presence of language remains at the heart of Agamben’s political thinking. . I have stubbornly pursued only one train of thought: what is the meaning of ‘there is language’ [vi è il linguaggio]. requires that one “venture into a perfectly empty dimension .
differential. is this what we humans mean by language. The two interlocutions are. what is the meaning of “I speak”? or at the very least this demand will eventually lead Agamben to consider the political and anthropological implications of this assertion for the Western definition of human being in works such as Homo Sacer and The Open (2002). This unusual rumination leads to a series of related questions such as. and if we do not find a human voice. An adventure in the mind and in the word is how I would term such an experiment that can only commence through access to the singular nature of the relation between literature and linguistic exteriority that philosophy has traditionally termed poiesis. . returns again and again in Agamben’s early work.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
itself without being exhausted through its enunciation is the experiment Agamben conducts on thought as such in all his written works thus far.?” (IH. and Agamben has indeed not yet done so. where does this lead the classic philosophical definition of the human as zoon logon echon or “the living being which has ¯ ¯ language”? (IH. one will take his word for it that this is also the case. what is the relationship between voice and language in this regard. . The projection of the “problem” of empty linguistic exteriority from the experiments with language the youthful Agamben had been performing in the laboratory of his mind allows him to address with great speed in the pages which follow some of the major problems of philosophy. the possession of voice/language by the animal and the privation of voice in the human. This theme. bundled together in what might be termed his interim request. unpublished fragment of another great work Agamben never wrote. 4). In this incorporated and yet incorporeal work he asks: “Is there a human voice. what does it mean to have language. a voice that is the voice of man as the chirp is the voice of the cricket . As for the unwritten. La voce umana (the human voice).
. 3). To understand the relation between thought and literature through their complex. if there is a human voice. oversteps the threshold of his other great demand that primarily occupies the first two decades or so of his career.6 not posed until many years later. in effect. The first of these is extrapolated from an.5 It is the nexus wherein his great ontological question. and yet related responses when confronted with the empty plane of language or the sheerness of its suddenly uprearing edifice is our simple mode of conceptual transport here in this now-written work. or better drama. up to this point. what does it mean to live as a human being.
or as-such-ness. and language’s materiality. is this solipsistic. but is an ontological term for a state of being indicating a compound of questions pertaining to how humans have language and how this relates to their
. and voice is therefore foundational. Aside from the obvious fact that literature is composed of language and constitutes a profound experience with language. The cold light cast by this stelliform compound reveals for us linguistic exteriority defined as the very existence. Agamben uses the term infancy in his early work to describe an interim state between our pure state of grace in language. and second they are pre-possessed of their voice as soon as they come into being. and semiotic materiality therefore form the five arms of the guiding star of the Agambenian ontological constellation that shines above the empty and literally unwelcoming. (The difference between speech. tautological. purely exterior landscape of language as such. what if anything does the literary have to contribute to the arrival at the sheer face of the outcrop that is language’s exteriority? The answer resides in Agamben’s complex investigation of language as such through ideas pertaining to the acquisition of human voice. language. the role of language in subjective enunciation. what order of communication. and self-regarding entity?
INFANCY: ANIMALS AND CHILDREN
One of the earliest postings into the vast dossier of Agamben’s great experimentum primarily concerns what he calls human linguistic infancy or how we humans are expelled from language as such into linguistic and metaphysical scission. echoing that of the animal. the dependence of metaphysical definitions of language on division and negation. enunciation.7 What kind of language. negation. my contention is that in order to take up a position in relation to the literary in Agamben one must come to terms with language. however. they do not actually speak although they do possess language.) Infancy does not describe our actual early childhood. of language: communicability or a language that communicates itself without communicating any specific thing. and our acquisition of a voice. Acquisition of voice. First. Infancy as a concept originates in the observable phenomenon that humans learn to speak whereas animals do not in two significant ways.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Consistent with Negri’s remark and the critical community’s claims of the two Agambens. scission.
” Second. or at least he is uncomfortable with the uncritical ¯ ¯ acceptance of this formulation within philosophy. first. In this way the term infancy describes having language and privation of voice as fundamental conditions for human being establishing an important interplay between possession and privation that echoes throughout the whole of Agamben’s work. One can say the cricket chirps but not the human “. means they cannot be appropriated by “we who do” as a means of securing subjective self-definition:9 Animals are not in fact denied language. . This could be taken to mean how we come to language but this is not how Agamben views infancy. instead. (IH. if language is truly man’s nature . Thus. for infancy brings it discontinuity and the difference between language and discourse. the human has no voice of its own.8 In one basic sense infancy captures the process wherein human animals learn. Man. by implication. then man’s nature is split at its source. and chimpanzees. for that matter. of all animals. . . or a cricket’s chirping one also names the animal’s language and. has to constitute himself as the subject of language–he has to say I. by preceding speech. on the contrary. regardless of our tireless encouragement. The historicity of the human being has its basis in this difference and discontinuity. they are always and totally language . by having an infancy. . thus far have not. a dog’s bark.10 In contrast to this. or have speech foisted upon them. . splits this single language and. Animals do not enter language.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
apparently not having a voice of their own such as one finds in the cricket. 59) Infancy in this instance names the fact that human animals are the only ones to emerge from language into the ambiguity of the unidentifiable sound of the human voice. are the only beings that are not born with a clearly identifiable voice then they must come to their voice or arrive at speech. acquire. as indeed developmentally we seem to do. For the animal. as humans acquire
. . as we saw. In disputation with the Aristotelian inheritance Agamben does not accept that animals are without language which. Unlike the metaphysical tradition Agamben is not at ease with the Aristotelian definition of human being as zoon logon echon. If humans. language and speech are indivisible and when one speaks of an animal voice. they are already inside it. for example. in order to speak. their being.
Fourth. first silencing language and then. Infancy submits us to history expelling us from language as such and propelling us into a bifurcated sense of language as phone and logos. Yet it also involves us. is infancy. and this is a profoundly Heideggerian gesture. speech over language. this division and our awareness of it define human being as self-consciously different from all other beings. the follow-up text to Infancy and History.
. forming the basis of the meaning of our possession of voice. This is effectively the argument of Language and Death. language-speech. a period wherein we acquire speech. or lack of it. In losing language we become a human being and alive. that forms the bedrock of Agamben’s attack on metaphysics and modern ontology upon which all the various edifices of the numerous Agamben’s are placed. and as a critique of the basis of modern thinking on negation. Agamben argues. then as subordination. Third. that there are two infancies: infancy as that which we have lost. speech denies any experience of the nature of language as such comparable to the manner in which animals experience language. In reality these two nascent states are simply two elements of an overall infancy as an ongoing process of being.12 Thus one could put together the three great questions of Agambenian ontology by exclaiming that what it means for human beings to live is the fact that they “have” language as a silenced potential embedded within the human voice. Our entrance into this philosophical cul-de-sac is the fact that we humans have infancy.11 It is only because we have infancy that we have a history and it is only because we have a history that we are human and possess the potential to access the full meaning of this by a recuperation of our infancy. and silence. eventually. The only way out of this metaphysical dead end. the way we have language is first as bifurcation. It would seem. it is not the fact that we have language that defines our humanity. as Agamben is at pains to show. Life.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
their voice a clear division between speech and language in the human animal develops. in a destinal and possibly liberationist historicization. but the way in which we come to have it—not the zoon or the logon but the generally ignored echon ¯ ¯ that matters. Thus. language. and finally as negation. voice. voice itself. a return to a pre-divided idea of a pure language. and infancy as that which we must recuperate. from this. and voice are therefore separate yet inseparable terms within Agamben’s thought. in seeking to regain language we create the possibility of becoming something like a post-human.
the unsaid and the ineffable. “If every thought can be classified according to the way in which it articulates the question of the limits of language.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
INEFFABILITY AND EXPERIENCE
Infancy solves another problem for Agamben beyond that of the relation of the human to the animal via the faculty of speech as a negation of language. This is our old friend the experimentum linguae which Agamben renames here infancy. 4). a thing or a truth to be known. It is a concept without a name and knowledge without an object. 4–6). For language to signify and thus become the human language we are all familiar with. Accepting this to be the case the ineffable can be said to come to presence in that it only exists as pure thought or what language cannot say. As Agamben says. post-vocal divided language. presuppositionally negative (see LD. defining being and thinking along the way as first. “far from indicating the limit of language. the ineffable in philosophy. which seems to direct us towards pure thinking without language. Ironically. Erdmann knowledge independent of sensibility (see IH. instead “express its invincible power of presupposition. 54–65). and second. based on language. 4). actually comes to name language for this tradition. Kant calls this the “transcendental experience” of pure thought. there must be reference to something that is not language that it signifies. In contrast to this tradition of negation Agamben involves himself in an experiment.” a place where thought can go and language cannot. “in which the limits of language are to be found not outside language. Agamben goes on to read the experience of the ineffable in the work of Kant and German historian Carl Erdmann as an attempt to think a concept that can be known but which has no referent in the world. the concept of infancy is then an attempt to think through these limits in a direction other than that of the vulgarly ineffable” (IH.
. after Benjamin. the unsayable being precisely what language must presuppose in order to signify” (IH. to identify the singularity of language as such. Thought has become embroiled in thinking language in terms not of what it can say but of what it cannot. 4). namely that of the ineffable. as “not something ineffable but something superlatively sayable: the thing of language” (IH. In Language and Death specifically Agamben identifies a metaphysical reliance on ineffable unsayability as modern thinking’s greatest weakness leading philosophy into a reification of the unsayable as the negative basis for being in language.
“But what can an experience of this kind be? How can there be an experience not of an object but of language itself . even if all one is saying is that one can say something. 6)? This then is a second issue: Can one testify in thought to the significance of the fact that one speaks or that language exists without recourse to referential exteriority and difference? Can there be an experience of language as speaking but saying nothing in particular? This is not language as the ineffable. in its pure self-reference” (IH. in response to the problem that there is an object. forcing the thinker to seek for a concept that cannot be named. It then indicates our ability to conceive of a pure thinking not in terms of what cannot be said but what can.
. experience me.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
in the direction of its referent.referential language. but also testing. a morass it has proven impossible to escape from. rather it is language that is content-less speech.13 This problem has afflicted language for a good deal of time naming a clear division in philosophy between knowledge and experience. thus concluding that language always remains insufficient to name objects. Finally. language that says nothing other than here I am. Language as the basis of thought should be considered not in terms of what it cannot say. I am language. Agamben instead simply introjects the problem. a reification of the unspeakable. 15–49). for if it is not named there can be no shortfall of plenitude. 6). but in terms of what it can say if it does not refer to that which is outside of itself. that language exists” (IH. . Important in this regard is the fact that the words “experiment” and “experience” share the same Latin root and consequently the meaning of experience for Agamben originates not only in the act of sustaining or going through something.or ir. or a typical conversation in a British pub towards closing time. The subtitle of Infancy and History is On the Destruction of Experience and a significant portion of the book is a response to the philosophical belief that in modernity one does not go through an experience but merely observes events as spectacle from the outside (see IH. but in naming it we find that the name never entirely renders the object. as the pure fact that one speaks. . that which is outside of it (the referent). but in an experience of language as such. infancy names the problem of human experience. that we need language to name it. only to find that the name for such an experience is the ineffable or un-named as such. as a thinker. Rather than. pre. This great quest to move beyond modern philosophical ineffability isolates a third and final issue in relation to infancy. Infancy first names our coming away from being animal.
defining human being as “neither Homo sapiens nor Homo loquens. it is an impossibility of speaking from the basis of a language. via that infancy that dwells in the margin between language and discourse. but Homo sapiens loquendi” (IH. 8). Infancy names this third possibility: to maintain experience as knowing and as undergoing. namely as the imposition of scission as a means of creating human. Either our experiences are so unique that they are one-off events that can hold no meaning for “the human experience” at large. self-conscious subjectivity. which he takes to be the experience of experience itself.14 For Agamben the experience of language. cannot be undertaken exterior to language as he contends some philosophers have attempted. denying that the event in question actually pertains to how we live. is by definition bifurcated. evidenced by our endless pursuit of novel and new experiences. Maintaining the false division. Infancy reveals the confluence of language.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
Thus Agamben’s expressed project or experimentum linguae suggests that to understand the fact that there is language one must conduct an experiment on and undergo an experience with language. and then imposing unworkable unities to heal this rift is a habitual failing of Western thought. he concedes. or we observe events from the outside as judgemental critics. As he says: “In this sense what is experienced in the experimentum linguae is not merely an impossibility of saying: rather. Yet nor can it be experienced entirely from the inside as in some imagined. It is what Agamben means by thinking and what he takes to be the truth of the very existence of the possessed faculty of language as such. as Agamben sees it. Human language. a form of thinking that does not look at language
. To undergo an experience with language. between experience as knowledge and as going through. primordial being for whom the division between phone and logos has not yet come about. and being human within the very faculty of language that says nothing specifically but merely enacts the experience of having language before one succumbs to the way in which our tradition has chosen to possess this faculty. is to undergo a new form of experience as testing or thinking. therefore. 8). In the modern age the division between the two meanings of experience is most profoundly felt. it is an experience. thinking. To live as a human being means to live both from the outside of language as the being who knows but does not speak and from the inside as the being that speaks but does not know. of the very faculty or power of speech” (IH.
or psychosomatic empiricism behind our being with or having language. or occupy language and seek for exterior referents. If anything. One issue here is that the very choice of the name infancy is as confusing as it is illustrative. In a way. what does language say. which we might call infant being. is silenced. and Derrida’s on its privileging of speech over writing. zoological. but which accepts the presence of language as such as exteriority as such. 24). This is not to be conceived of as a return to a pre-human animal stage but is rather a moment between our emergence from the animal in our realization that we have no voice to speak of. yet refusing to succumb to the various aporias that have traditionally arrested the progression of thought on this matter. therefore. said relation to language. a human defined as life. suggesting a developmental. it opens up a zone that exists for thought and being between language as such and discourse. accepting their division as a fact of our ontological Geschichte or deep history (see QCT. 39–62). 54–5). which is not only impossible to ascertain but also not what Agamben intends. Infancy allows Agamben to name this alternative mode of thinking in relation to three key metaphysical problems for conventional thought: what is the human animal. While infancy is observable in children it would be a mistake to suggest that infancy is a psychosomatic or neonatal stage of our development (see IH. and what does it mean to experience something? Most specifically. therefore. and an in-between and constantly emergent human being. our actual infancy is merely a useful developmental analogue for an ontological temporality of development that presupposes a pre-human. and the imposition of a voice through the agency of speech.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
from the outside. If Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics resides in the tradition’s obfuscation of authentic Being. Infancy.15 his own philosophy is partly a colloquium of his two great predecessors: an attack on the metaphysical occlusion of being (in language) that was actuated historically by the prioritization of speech in the form of the voice. provokes our attention back to the quasi-mythological “moment” before the acquisition of speech when human beings had a more direct line of sight to language in that they did not possess language but were rather possessed or captivated by language (see O. while Agamben is critical of both Heidegger and Derrida. Agamben’s rests in large part within the silence as regards how we have language and the assumption that the human ontological relation to language depends on the voice to such a degree that the truth of human being.
but the asymmetric difference between experience.
In relation to Heidegger people often speak of the ontico-ontological difference between actual being-in-the-world. in other words. is an ancient problem relating to how language names truth. or the eradication of difference.18 He thus designates for himself an immensely difficult task and he sets about it by returning to the scission inherent in language through the theory of signification. To live as human means. Nor can it choose language over discourse. infancy is to be found within the human at all stages as both remnant of the animal and potential for the post-human. We must stress this is not the intention of infancy. endless deferral. for we are always in the world operating as already pre-divided beings. collapses the last great frontier of metaphysics. and as such is an ontological state of speechlessness within language that precedes the potential human being’s emergence into actual humanity.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
Nor should one suggest that Agamben is recounting an actual historical series: animal-infant-human. It cannot unify language and discourse into a single entity. Thus in-fancy. It is our existence in language before the primary scission of language into phone and logos. and being as such. to live our division.16 In a sense Derrida’s critical investigation of this difference. 13–16 & 21–2).
. Human being is this ontological caesura (see O. Dasein. reconfigured as the term différance. In some way Agamben’s thought must enter into the scission of being and resolve the conflict therein without recourse to pre-human unity. Certainly there are many forms of difference. the ontological. or better there are myriad differentiations to be made. to do with babies. although the term “before” needs careful reconsideration within what might be termed an ontological rather than historiographic or teleological temporality. simply put. If infancy is to resolve this difference then its hands are tied to some degree. Agamben sometimes writes it like this. much as Agamben might wish. Infancy has little. is nonspeech (see LD. This is perhaps best illustrated by the etymological root of the word wherein fans originates from fari or to speak. Rather. the ontic. but is the reliance of metaphysics on difference as such. the only remnant of the tradition that Heidegger leaves standing.17 This difference is not simply the difference between different technical senses of being in the work of one philosopher however. capitalized Being. 91). and knowing.
Again in the preface—Agamben has a penchant for the exoteric as well as the esoteric statement—he considers the various significances of the term stanza for poets of the twelfth. xvi). The space of the stanza. although taking as its main area of concern the art object. receptacle” (ST. By conflating a formal technique with a meta-thematic concern the troubadour stanza takes on the quality in poetry of a “receptive ‘womb’” (ST. In a way this is true although Agamben prefers to call it scission: The scission in question is that between poetry and philosophy. and open reception not only holds the words contained in the poem’s structural segmentation but also conveys the unique object of all the poetry of this period. For the troubadour poets the stanza was not just a structural designation but the “nucleus” of their poetry. but that has in modern times acquired a hegemonic character. a process Agamben emulates in his own work on the metaphysics of enjambement. between the poetic word and the word of thought. The split is so fundamental to our cultural tradition that Plato could already declare it “an ancient enemy. which he regularly cites along with that of the stil novists as the origin of all modern poetics. in its capacity. and his considerations of poetic space and rhyme. xvi). namely the joi d’amor or unattainable joy of love. defined as a “capacious dwelling. the
. The majority of the book proceeds to investigate the object of love ever since in the arts and has little to say about the stanza as such. the troubadour concept of the stanza provides a model for discovering metaphysical truths within the very prosodic operations of the poem itself. “when in fact it is the only thing truly worth interrogating” (ST. but in response to this ancient quest for the missing womb of art in our culture Agamben states that access to the destination of this labour is “barred by the forgetfulness of a scission” so ingrained in our culture that it goes without saying. for the entire tradition. dwelling-stability.” According to a conception that is only implicitly contained in the Platonic critique of poetry. xvi). In addition. brackets this fascinating topic in major statements on language and philosophy. The 1977 volume Stanzas.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Agamben’s first major intervention on language concerns linguistic scission as the precondition for the later establishment of infancy. Students of Heidegger will immediately recognize this structure of imposed forgetting of the most important thing due to its assumed obviousness as Being.and thirteenth-century troubadour tradition. caesura.
The poetic word. holds the key to language’s capacious inner chamber. prose. and enjoys the object of knowledge by representing it in beautiful form.” We will take this word from now on to be the poetic word. as we saw earlier. the thing here being language as such whose forbears can be found in the troubadour quest for the joi d’amour represented by the stanza. the word is thus divided between a word that is unaware. locates his philosophy within this scission between poetic joy and philosophical knowing in the capacious dwelling of the stanza as opened up and yet closed off. This is particularly because infancy resides between the poetic and philosophic word or. between language and discourse. “In the West.19 Here he effectively substitutes poetry for a number of terms—language as such. and philosophy entirely outside on the opposing side. infant form of language. as if fallen from the sky. (ST. This grave. poetry exists entirely in language on one side of the scission of the word. a direct experience of language as such within which resides the meaning of human being. therefore. In contrast. Poetry’s tragedy is possession of the thing without knowledge of the thing. Within our tradition. xvii). dissatisfied word is the immaterialized insensible word of Western philosophy. therefore. alone. “And a word that has all seriousness and consciousness for itself but does not enjoy its object because it does not know how to represent it” (ST. Poetry does not know what it has. very early on in his career. Agamben clearly does not hypostatize poetry as an ideal. Agamben. is now named as the closest we can get to an experience of language that speaks itself while not necessarily saying anything specific.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
scission of the word is construed to mean that poetry possesses its object without knowing it while philosophy knows its object without possessing it. xvi–xvii) These thoughts on the stanza in relation to unattainability and scission compose one of the first occasions that Agamben names the role of poetry within his overall experiment in language and is the open door for my own contention that the literary Agamben is essential to an understanding of Agamben’s work as a whole. while philosophy is able to test language it has no direct experience with language. experience—some of which we have already considered. by knowledge of what
. Both are victims of the cruel scission at the heart of human language and neither. stanza in Italian means room of course. because it can only experience language as going through or sustaining. Having said this. for example.
but knows the representation. one a modern quasi-philosophical discourse the other a historical prosodic-structural effect. whether in philosophy or. Yet he also begins a complex journey out of the abyss of philosophical nihilism onto the plain of a Benjaminian messianic positive philosophy to come through his approach to language. and directs a large part of his energy to resolving what he sees as the false caesura at the founding of our philosophy and culture which effectively cuts the room in two. Agamben explains that criticism is marked by a formula “according to which it neither represents nor knows. What he reveals for us in these early pages is the state of aesthetics in the modern age whether he likes it or not. He does not. and infancy are all manifestations of the tendency towards scission in Western thought imposed between two central modes of thinking language as such: philosophy and poetry. that which it cannot possess. To appropriation without consciousness and to consciousness without enjoyment criticism opposes the enjoyment of what cannot be possessed and the possession of what cannot be enjoyed” (ST. The stanza. Further. he states most openly that the assumed problem of metaphysics is to be revealed there in that room. For Agamben. While criticism differs in kind to the stanza. so modern criticism reveals the emptiness of the modern category of art by its imposition of a division between the artist as maker and the critic as she who judges creation. Just as the ancient stanza manifests.20 We are presented with a model
. so it is an ambiguous strength to say the least. both revealing it and rendering it inoperative. here. as Agamben calls it in relation to modern poetry and art. criticism.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
cannot be possessed and/or possession of that which can never be known. but he is also something of a fatalistic thinker. the missing thing of poetry via scission. contains nothing. through its empty capaciousness. in modern aesthetics. and we will investigate it in detail in the chapters to come. a nothingness that protects art’s most precious object. Agamben is widely critical of the modern nihilistic tradition of valorizing negation. xvii). xvii). The stanza of criticism. The power of criticism emerges out of its collapsing and nihilization of the category of art. metaphysical scission represented in the thirteenthcentury European culture by the poetic stanza reaches its apotheosis and crisis point within the epoch of modernity in the rather different form of criticism: “Criticism is born at the moment when the scission reaches its extreme point” (ST.
is. It exists as a containment space between opposing forces occupying the same zone of indifferent indistinction as infancy. leaving us with a dark legacy. hopeless space. reveal its ubiquity across our culture. and a possible solution. Agamben uses the figure of the stanza to bring this complex logic into relief. in terms of the future. an error for which we suffer but which may also be a productive and generative errancy. or how we have language. almost. second that there never was.
Agamben himself imposes a dividing caesura of over a hundred pages before he finally attends to the issue of linguistic scission in Stanzas through a consideration of the sign. Saussure’s development of the idea of the sign first divides the sign in a classic metaphysical gesture and then places the two components of the sign in an essential
. like being. On one side of the stanza is the poetic word. Rather their generic subdivision courtesy first of Plato and then of Aristotle. On the other is the philosophical word. or that there is language. This word is pure.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
of generic languages. art. meaningless pleasure: phone. this is pure. and being. Yet there is something “in the room. This location contains nothing specifically and in our age we have made the error of assuming that. currently withheld from view. because it is Being. on language. because of this indistinction. if disgruntled. Agamben’s great project. Language as such. language as scission. What language is is portrayed in this impossibly contracted history of everything. this is just the inheritance of negativity from the metaphysics of scission. and third there never can be. neutral medium. that is disguised. as a philological consideration of the troubadours’ idea of the stanza. is an attempt to veil the truth of the basis of all thought. Because we see that the room is empty we assume that first there is nothing in the room. and finally indicate the role poetry has to play in any future comments on metaphysics. The stanza is nothing other than a pure. but they are not genres at all. The division between the two “words” is not so much imposed by Plato as reified. or at least everything in metaphysics since the Greeks. one must valorize negation as such. scission as stanza.” namely the room as such and while to us this appears as an empty and. knowing: logos. poetic and philosophic. which all amount to the same thing.
then placed above material noise. 136). our conception of language as a mode of signification reliant on the sign is not actually language at all but the historical solution to this primary scission of presence from absence. a lack” (ST. These strategies. primarily because the symbol brings together S/s into a single unified entity. not only does this scission produce the sign. Justifying this claim. in the model of paradigm and copy. and the two are separated by a bar. For that matter. therefore. In this algorithm the phonic element of the word. In so doing it naturally foregrounds the imposition of false scission: “The symbolic. positive destiny. through a consideration of the aesthetics of the symbolic emblem. as he says: “Only because presence is divided and unglued is something like ‘signifying’ possible. especially for Hegel. and its being present. completing his narrative. In this way all signs can be said to be part-symbolic or. in the sense that its manifestation is simultaneously a concealment. is there the need to philosophize” (ST. and ejecting us for now from the spacious medium of Stanzas Agamben explains that while said scission is foundational and its “resolution” our only possible.” meaning that “all that comes to presence comes there as to the place of a deferral and an exclusion. is also the diabolic that continually transgresses and exposes the truth of this knowledge” (ST. yet the effect is not actual reconciliation but a painful reminder of this most destructive caesura. Symbolic acts. the signifier. rest in establishing one half of the division as more true than the other. . Meaning is separated from. it also creates the discipline of thinking called philosophy: “only because there is at the origin not plenitude but deferral . The symbol. it has been widely ignored by classic metaphysical strategies.21 Agamben comes to this “original fracture of presence that is inseparable from the Western experience of being. before access to materiality or intercourse between the two values is literally banned or barred. temporarily or artificially impose a unity on the primacy of scission in metaphysics. 136). the act of recognition that reunites what is divided. he argues.” In other words. familiar to us now. 136). All three gestures are typical of the metaphysical scission represented by Plato’s banning of poetry from the republic. .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
yet profoundly heterogeneous relation: S/s (with S representing meaning and s the material signifier). has been a source of metaphysical unease. and the relation of latent to sensible
. is located below the meaning of the word.
or Derridean différance without succumbing to said division. deferral. “In the reflection on language. Again here we can see the quasi-symbolic nature of the sign. that is. it betrays through its symbol-status the division at the heart of metaphysical systems of unity. but the barrier within the sign functions as metaphysic’s betrayer.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
manifestation. itself supposedly a symbol of unity. This scission is not specifically a division between one thing and another. this interpretation is crystallized in the notion of the sign as the expressive unity of the signifier and signified” (ST. with that omission. . Agamben is not an adherent to the science of signification. is the very thing that is the source of its inauthenticity and possible rehabilitation. the bar (/) of the graphic S/s . Agamben believes one can overcome scission. it contains within its own boundaries a sensuous representation of both unity and scission in the form of the bar. If the sign is a source of displeasure for Agamben. Unlike Derrida. but rather. Not only does it present a unity to mask the primary scission of language-thought. Stanzas is by far Agamben’s most sustained engagement with psychoanalysis. as Agamben believes contentiously that Derrida has (ST. 137). Aside from his regular use of the term semiotics. however. although the scission between presence and absence comes very close to being archetypal for Agamben. it is the structuring of thought qua scission. the bar. The bar is language as pure. within its graphicality in the figuration of the bar. . falsifies. in particular here “language. The sign represents for him the ultimate in metaphysical amnesia and until we overcome signification we remain trapped in a failed project of thinking that imposes false unities to obscure the original scission at the heart of thought. 156). 136). insignificant. which has always been par excellence the plane on which the experience of the original fracture is represented. the forgetting of the original fracture of presence is manifested precisely in what ought to betray it. It is therefore metaphysical structural scission that Agamben consistently takes to task. As Agamben presciently states: “In modern semiology. Every semiology that fails to ask why the barrier that establishes the possibility of signifying should itself be resistant to signification. In a Lacanian gesture. the very thing the philosophy of language does not see. and ultimately indifferent mediality.” Our idea of language as signification is false. as in Derrida. It exists in the form of a cancelled stanza more accurately represented as S [ / ] s than the Saussurian S/s.22
. its own authentic intention” (ST.
1–5 & 59–60). The first of these is a reliance on death as a means of defining being.25 Up to this point the normative mode of literature was performed poetry and if someone other than the narrator spoke.23 For Heidegger it is the impossibility of Dasein to ever actually occupy the space of its own being (LD. The second is the retention of ineffability within thought. there. Language and Death. then. an assumed quality of
. according to Godzich and Kittay. or something was referred to over there. philosophy’s reliance on deixis or pronouns to manifest being and the concomitant dissatisfaction they draw from this procedure. wherein the possibility of having an intra-textual technique for referring to assumed extra linguistic material or presences was developed. you. For Hegel this is the inability of the sensuous sign to render in full the material realm (LD. continues the development of the idea of infancy through a radical critique of the dependence of modern thought on negativity. that.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Agamben’s first sustained engagement with the metaphysical tradition. the jongleur or performer used a series of gestures known to his mime-literate audience to show that he was speaking as someone else. The dependency of our concept of being on finitude or death is usually taken alongside our having language as the basis of the fundamental difference between humans and animals. Deixis is a term used in linguistics to indicate the point of reference of a statement that relies absolutely on context. Reading Hegel and Heidegger he strives to demonstrate how nihilism dominates their thought in three ways.24 Deixis as a form of indication can be described as exophoric in that it refers to extra-linguistic material. Each of these three themes is of no small relevance to what we have already learnt of infancy. These are most commonly personal pronouns. this. but other pronouns indicative of space and time are also deictic: now. most famously in Heidegger’s being-towards-death (LD. 13–14). With the slow but inexorable rise of prose this bringing in of the outside into the text. This exophoric capability explains the rise of deixis as a literary device from the twelfth century onwards. The third is the reliance of both thinkers on deixis when trying to express language’s necessary insufficiency in relation to knowledge. here. I. 4–5). or of something else. As we have already dealt with the issue of the ineffable through an analysis of unsayability we are left with the third. it. most surprising and technical part of this critique.
Hegel’s interest in the sensuous versus Heidegger’s in ontological topography.” The “it” in this sentence is both deictic and anaphoric. Working at opposite ends of the rather colourless deictic spectrum. give it to me. Naturally. for Heidegger.”28 All three elements of deixis. exophoric context-dependent indication. “there” does little to convey. Imagine Islamic art. referring to the previously mentioned firearm (“firearm” in this sentence is anaphoric but not deictic). the complexity of either the world being occupies or how it occupies that world.29 and cataphoric projective reference. it can also function cataphorically such as in the opening of Paradise Lost wherein the subject of the opening sentence is not known until the very end of the long. They effectively use anaphoric/cataphoric deixis as shorthand for an already uttered or to be uttered authentic name of being. 4). the brevity and baldness of the pronominal will fail to convey the full complexity of a sensuous presence for Hegel.” “that door. In Language and Death Agamben foregrounds the importance of deixis for modern philosophy specifically in the use of the German words diese (this) in Hegel and da (there) in Heidegger (LD. or indeed anything of use about the where or the there. Agamben is most interested in how both thinkers by definition place being in negation by utilizing deictic pronouns to indicate an absence at the heart of language. inaugural syntagm: “And justify the ways of God to man. anaphoric recursive reference. the very thing
. both writers find that while language is essential to access truth the insufficiencies of the signifier mean that something in language always remains unsaid of the thing expressed: the world and our being in it.27 Deixis is also regularly utilized as a form of anaphora or internal reference that refers back to a subject.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
prose that differentiates it from the so-called “univocality” of the poem. noun. will come to hold a central importance in Agamben’s thought and its relation to poetry. by definition disappoints. It tells us where being is but says nothing of how or why it is. Venice. Finally. and in its anaphoric/cataphoric mode it is indeed nothing other than a convenience of abbreviation. and so on previously mentioned: “The gun. For both authors this referential shortfall is represented by the silent voice at the heart of being.” and so on. or the work of Lyn Hejinian. and then replace each with the reductive “this. There-being or being-the-there as Agamben re-translates Dasein (LD.26 was facilitated by simple phrases such as “he said. 19–26).” Similarly.
this or there. the metaphysical capitalization of the Voice as a condition of being in withdrawal.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
that enunciates being and yet leaves its truth unsaid. is not to try and render experience through language but to render experience as language. and the failure of speech to evince knowledge. a work every bit as important to the collapsing of metaphysics as Being and Time or Of Grammatology. the world or being. Agamben’s relation to the voice is complex. Voice. This returns us to the philosophical tendency to view language in terms of exterior objectivity due to the split assumed within the sign between language and discourse. he also seeks for solutions to negativity ostensibly through the voice. although Agamben does not write it like this. To sum up in more familiar terms. that the voice is defined by what it cannot say (the ineffable). valorize and exteriorize the signified only to discover a profound asymmetry in signification. Agamben systematically attacks the idea that human voice emerges from the animal. with the voice being set up as the failure to speak or the failure to mean within thought’s reliance on
. They then. Deixis is always used to indicate something exterior to language and so is shorthand for all the failings of language’s referential shortfall. There is the voice of the animal (especially in death). both Hegel and Heidegger succumb to a primary scission in the word between signifier. In effect there are numerous voices in Language and Death. One might then ask the question why thinkers of such sophistication resort to deictic indicators at all. which one could describe as the problem that a word does not totally contain its meaning or referent. and then perhaps the Voice under negation. The only solution to this problem. Agamben believes. in reality a synecdochic anamorphism wherein one element of linguistic scission comes to stand in for language as a whole. While he blames the valorization of the voice for the dominance of negativity in metaphysics. relies in each instance on an assault on the voice. classically. 106). through the idea of human infancy. If language as pure mediality has been artificially and with violence bifurcated in metaphysics into phone (voice) and logos (language as discourse). The tripartite critique of modern thought enacted in Language and Death. however diligently Proust attended to it. If one demands of language that it is a tool for reference one consigns language to inevitable failure as regards knowledge. the human voice as lack. and signified. “This” may not capture Venice but nor will the prose of Ruskin. which results in the negation of philosophical negativity by the end of the final seminar (LD.
albeit under negation. the Voice. not being as such but language as such. there-being. Agamben is inspired in particular by the ontological turn in the work of French structural linguist Emile Benveniste.
It might appear from Agamben’s critique of metaphysics that deixis is. To exit metaphysics. The problem is that either language fails to convey the profound texturality and diversity of the sensuous. Agamben calls this exasperation. means that we come to be human by
. this plangent insufficiency. one must pass through the negative abyssal gullet of the voice.30 The first theory allows us to think again about subjectivity. Yet it is central to his methodology to look for a productive projection out from the very heart of the source of negation and this is precisely the case with deixis as regards his theory of subjective enunciation. enunciate its own self through language. Benveniste’s theory of subjectivity is based on the idea of linguistic enunciation and specifically how this relies on deixis. mistakenly. then the voice is always both the villain and victim of philosophy.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
language. The possession of an articulated or bifurcated system of differential referentiality which we term. language is seen in modern philosophy as essential to thinking and yet source of thinking’s deficiency. I will deal with each idea in turn. or having to. culpable for modern negative metaphysics and this is correct. language. One can see therefore that Benveniste allows Agamben to. “this” thing is always a privation of the plenitude of the actual thing. Rather than attempt to remove the reliance of objective and ontological referentiality on deixis. Benveniste defines the condition of the human subject by its being able to. in part. or it struggles to sum up our whole world and our place within it. As we saw. specifically his theories of the subject of enunciation and the semiotic. Language brings to presence. synthesize his ideas on negation and scission in direct relation to language. but brings to presence truth or being as privation. therefore. instead he uses this very dependence to present a combined theory of referential ontology that he calls desubjectivization. the second about the scission at the heart of metaphysics between language and discourse that will ultimately lead us to view what Agamben believes philosophy has occluded. for Hegel and Heidegger. in part.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
our possession of self-consciousness and our ability to speak of this. Thus we can announce “I am” and in so doing we enunciate our subjectivity. Important in this regard is Benveniste’s conception that while the subject can enunciate its presence, speak its being, this act does not proceed from an already existent central being or subject. “I” in the phrase “I am” is a form of (de)subjectifying deixis. It appears to refer to an exterior presence, but, as Benveniste explains and indeed as my own work has investigated elsewhere (MofP, 347–9), deixis as a form of indicative reference does not refer to an actual exteriority but simply to the instance of reference as such. Accepting this to be the case, the “I” of “I am” only comes into existence in the act of enunciation via what Jacobson calls the power of pronominal shifting, or a movement from langue, the whole system and existence of language, to parole, a local instance of discourse. While in Saussure it is essential that langue and parole remain heterogeneous, deictic shifters present an opportunity to move from indication to signification, a journey that defines these two faculties, their complex interrelationship and, ultimately, undermines all our presuppositions about language and being. Agamben concludes from this: The sphere of utterance thus includes that which, in every speech act, refers exclusively to its taking place, to its instance, independently and prior to what is said and meant in it. Pronouns and the other indicators of the utterance, before they designate real objects, indicate precisely that language takes place. In this way, still prior to the word of meanings, they permit the reference to the very event of language . . . (LD, 25)31 Modern philosophy is already well aware of the ontological implications of the deictic phrase “I am.” It is, for example, central to one of Derrida’s most influential essays “Signature Event Context.” There we find that the subject’s capacity to enunciate itself reveals the subject’s ability to come into existence through the revelation of the division between presence and voice. That the subject can enunciate existence means they can step out of the experience of being, of being captivated like an animal,32 and self-consciously comment on said experience. This emergence from captivation to self-consciousness is the movement from language to speech in Agamben which is both the precondition for, and problem of, human being. The power of the
PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
subject to enunciate itself is brought to the fore in Derrida’s work more piquantly by his work on the sister phrase to “I am,” “I am not.”33 Not only can the subject enunciate presence, therefore, in so doing they also precipitate their lasting absence. Enunciation marks the advent of being and, simultaneously, its finitude. For Derrida this enunciative advent of finite being ruins any transcendental sense of subjectivity in that the subject dies as self-presence at the very moment it enunciates its existence and thus comes to life;34 one way of reading Heidegger’s being-towards-death. However, for Agamben, as soon as the subject comes to presence it is desubjectified and this is, in fact, its subjectivity. Subjectivity is not negated by enunciation as Derrida seems to suggest but actually founded through this process of negation. This reformulation of the theory of the subject allows Agamben to state that “the transcendental subject is nothing other than the ‘enunciator’” (IH, 53). If one can say “I am” one has already entered into a productively alienating subjectivity in language (RP, 128–9). Yet if one cannot say “I am,” within metaphysics at least, one cannot exist as the human is emergent from the biological indeterminacy of the animal precisely because they have the dubious power of self-conscious enunciation. As a realist Agamben cannot deny the fact that subjectivity is founded on its negation, but as the declared enemy of metaphysical nihilism he is unable to simply accept this. If one could isolate the moment, ontologically speaking, before the subject speaks but after they acquire language, what Agamben calls infancy, then one could perhaps instigate an alternative mode of being that is based on language but not on the voice as negation. This is Agamben’s intention. Before we get to that, and we may never in our epoch, we must accept the fact that, for Agamben, the subject of enunciation, once spoken, is the result of a permanent desubjectivization. At the moment the subject says “I am,” subjectivity comes to presence as nothing other than an instance of empty, technical indication. As he says: Benveniste’s studies . . . show that it is in and through language that the individual is constituted as a subject. Subjectivity is nothing other than the speaker’s capacity to posit him or herself as an ego, and cannot in any way be defined through some wordless sense of being oneself, nor by deferral to some ineffable psychic experience of the ego, but only through a linguistic I transcending any possible experience. (IH, 52)
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Mills’ interpretation of this is especially strong in the manner of how she first shows that “in taking the place of ‘I’ as speaking subject, the speaker must effectively alienate him/herself as a phenomenal or empirical individual” and her realization that “by entering into language as a mode of ‘communicative action,’ the speaker loses touch with the mute experience of language as such” (PA, 25). Thus enunciation denies the subject both its subjectivity and its infancy. However, because infancy is not a stage in a developmental teleology, no more is subjectivity or being human, none of these possibilities are lost for good when one says “I am.” In fact, they only come about because of enunciation, even if their happening takes place in an instant before, or due to, their negation. Agamben is treading a very treacherous and perhaps impossibly fine line here. Infancy is the precondition of subjectivity only in that it allows for desubjectivization through the act of losing or emerging out of infancy. It appears that Agamben’s childhood is potentially a troubled, but ultimately liberating time.
The powerful malleability of the deictic pronoun “I”is well known allowing for any number of ontological compressions, of selfpresence “I am,” self negation “I am not,” and self-alienation “I is another.” The last of these is a famous promulgation by Rimbaud often analysed by philosophers, but initially it is to English poetry and Keats’ missives on deictic desubjectivization that Agamben turns to in his own work in the field. In the dense, remarkable, and troubling book Remnants of Auschwitz (1999), Agamben finds himself reading Keats’ letter to Richard Woodhouse on 27 October 1818. As he does so he isolates four themes of poetic, deictic desubjectivization. These are not unfamiliar, so I will merely summarize them here: (1) the poetic I is not an I nor is it identical to itself, (2) the poet is therefore the most unpoetical of things, (3) the statement “I am a poet” is not a statement but a contradiction in terms, and (4) poetic experience is that of desubjectivization. The third of these, “I am a poet,” is contradictory because, as Keats argues, “if he has no self, and I am a Poet, where is the wonder that I should say I would write no more?”35 Here Keats encounters the universal condition of enunciative desubjectivization but, significantly, he poses it as a poetically contingent experience. The poet is, by definition, always other to
PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
himself, an experience confirmed by Rimbaud, Eliot, and the anticonfessionalism of poetry from the so-called New York, Language, and Cambridge schools. As Agamben says with misleading lucidity: “In the Western literary tradition, the act of poetic creation, and indeed every act of speech, implies something like a desubjectivization (poets have named this desubjectivization the ‘Muse’)” (RA, 113). Agamben will also go on in his work to regularly refer to this as poetic dictation, but before we get to that let us concentrate on that almost offhand remark “and indeed every act of speech.” While fascinated by poetic desubjectivization one can perceive from his comments here that he is most interested in it as a form of general ontology. Indeed it is true that all acts of enunciation utilizing the pronoun “I” in the moment of indicating subjective presence negate its ever coming to presence as we saw in his analysis of Benveniste. All speech acts are in this way “poetic.” The experience of the subject coming to being by negating its own subjectivity is, according to Agamben and innumerable poets, a poetic experience, justifying once again my claim that any analysis of the philosophy of Agamben, so centrally located on the movement beyond negative metaphysics through a theory of language and desubjectivization, is meaningless without recourse to the literary Agamben. However determined this study may be to prove the importance of poiesis to Agambenian ontology it would be disingenuous to ignore the most obvious question that comes to mind at this stage: How can Agamben begin to argue that every act of speech is an instance of poetic desubjectivization via the universal category of deictic desubjectivization? Rather the opposite must be seen to be the case: poetic desubjectivization ought to be simply an example of general, ontological enunciative desubjectivization. To justify Agamben’s and Keats’ claim on behalf of poetry, namely that the essence of modern ontology resides therein, we must now return briefly to Benveniste’s other great ontological development, the idea of the semiotic. In his work on the semiotic Benveniste, on the surface, does little more than refine the terminology of Saussure. The well-known terms langue and parole become semiotic and semantic, while the arbitrary nature of the sign becomes the semiotic definition of the sign. This definition has a familiar ontological ring to it in that it consists of two preconditions. Benveniste’s appropriation of the sign develops the law of the semiotic as first, existing, and second, not being any other sign. The sign as semiotic is defined as that it is,
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
and then that which it is by virtue of comparison with all that it is not which, admittedly by negation, matches precisely Heidegger’s ontological pairing of that there is something and how it is. Here how a sign comes to presence in the world (langue) is by not being any other sign replacing being-in-the-world with not-being-anywhere-elsein-the-world and opening up a space for linguistic being which, by its being uninsurable and subject to general negation, matches precisely the space of the stanzaic sign: S [/] s. The semiotic, therefore, is another name for language as a whole, as material presence (phone) and code (logos), before it means anything and yet always already available to mean. Its basic preconditions are presence and difference under the sign of a negation. It matters not how it exists, in terms of meaning or reference, or in which way specifically it is not other signs. Rather, for the semiotic, all that counts is that it can be identified as present and placed in a situation of quasi-singularity by one confirming it is what it is by its not being any other sign. This is structurally, at least, exactly the same as modern ontology. Being is proven by its existence and by its mode of being in the world but not being other beings. While Benveniste maintains his predecessor’s conviction that the semiotic and the semantic cannot meet one can see from his revisions that the semantic is seemingly dependent on a semiotic, quasi-presuppositional precondition. Discourse needs language as semiotic, material, yet neutral, presence to come into being. That said language only occurs to allow discourse to happen specifically as a mode of emergent human being through the process of desubjectivization which Agamben identifies as poetic. Further, it is only through discourse that language as such under negation courtesy of the voice of discourse becomes unconcealed for modern ontology. Language is the precondition for a discursive negation which precedes it. While the relation between poetry and desubjectivization becomes ever clearer, we still cannot be at peace with the assertion that modern ontological alienation is the result of contingent poetic alienation. To assist us in this regard we must return to Agamben’s consideration of poetic desubjectivization in Remnants of Auschwitz, which leads him into a wider philological consideration of “a fully desubjectivized experience in the act of speech” within the Western religious traditions, bringing poetic and ontological desubjectivization into more intimate proximity. Such a foray allows Agamben to make direct links between that other famous missive of modern poetic
which still has aesthetic and political repercussions for us today. opposite and revelatory experiences of the nature of language as such. Thus glossolalia confirms the first condition of the semiotic. and which is aggressively attacked by the work of Badiou. signs that we know are meaningful in a context but whose specific meaning we cannot glean. as we know.38 Bar-bar. is glossolalia and it has risen to prominence in investigations of the outer limits of poetic experience and experimentation. before and as precondition for discourse. 115). in effect.37 Additionally. thus establishing a tradition of civilization based on xenoglossia as a form of glossolalia. Nancy. Demeny (“for I is another”). is the phonetic transcription of languages the Greeks did not understand. The modern term for this experience or event of language as such. In xenoglossia we do not understand an act of speech but we assume it has communicative and referential meaning for the barbarians which speak it within their context. “it” in poetry.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
desubjectivization. “it” in philosophical discourse all have very different potential usages—indicative forms operate at the semantic level of discursive meaning. “it” in narrative. Rimbaud’s letter to P.36 Due to its Greek provenance. it hints at all post-Adorno poetics of responsibility that can be located in the work of Derrida. If we now combine the theory of the semiotic with that of enunciative deixis we can see that enunciation also partakes of the two sides of the semiotic. while xenoglossia gives us an experience of the second condition. in some ways. Glossolalia and xenoglossia are. glossolalia has associations with the term barbarism on which our preciously held concept of civilization hangs. Deixis and types of indicative linguistic technique such as anaphora work differently to all other forms of signification. Yet at the same time such terms
. devoid of meaning. the process of pushing discourse to its limit or the retention of a remnant of pre-discursive “pure” language. It is. 114).39 As Agamben explains: “The experience of glossolalia merely radicalizes a desubjectifying experience implicit in the simplest act of speech” (RA. In glossolalia we encounter the pure materiality of language away from any possible meaning. it simply and materially is. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he speaks of “lalein glosse ” or speaking in tongues (wherein ¯ ¯ the speaker speaks with no understanding of what they say) (RA. and another more ancient missive. and Lacoue-Labarthe. Agamben. In that they are entirely context dependent—“it” in conversation.
” (The becoming impersonal is a central moment in Agamben’s theory of the roots of poetry in desubjectifying dictation from the mouth of the muse. the psychosomatic individual must fully abolish himself and desubjectify himself as a real individual to become the subject of enunciation. loving not.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
are devoid of specific meaning. Agamben begins by expressing the contradiction at the heart of enunciation: “the passage from language to discourse appears as a paradoxical act that simultaneously implies both subjectification and desubjectivization” (RA. the historical “fall” of being is both the loss of being and its potential recuperation. but infancy also allows us a possible route back to language. hating not. However. once stripped of all extralinguistic meaning and constituted as a subject of enunciation. is so rich that it needs must be quoted in its entirety. just choosing so. deictic desubjectivization. for example “I” out of context means nothing and is basically glossolalic. rather. in Heidegger. just choosing so. so for Agamben infancy operates in the same god-like way echoing almost the sentiments of Browning’s Caliban as regards his sovereign dominion over crabs: “Let twenty pass. hating not. This language as such is ruined by our having infancy and the concomitant desubjectivization of differential scission. Indicative forms of this order are not pure noise but nor are they meaningful. In another it is pure contextual differentiation in that it is potentially referential but is always awaiting a context to come to mean. and stone the twenty-first.40 In one sense deixis is meaningless and empty reference. / Loving not. poetic desubjectivization. Just as.) “But.”41 The conclusion of the updating of Infancy and History. 116). that he has gained access to being always already anticipated by a glossolalic
. xenoglossia. they instead refer neutrally to the event of speech and language or what might be termed its passive taking place. Therefore deixis stages not a fixed meaning in language but language as such as medium for meaning’s transmission. to break this task down I will progress through the page-long summary step by step. and the semiotic are all examples of a possible experience of pure language or a language which speaks before voice and says nothing other than it exists as pure exterior presence. which is what the later sections of Remnants of Auschwitz constitute. the subject discovers that he has gained access not so much to a possibility of speaking as to an impossibility of speaking—or. He then proceeds to bulldozer and flatten both sides of this impasse with a Calibanesque heavy-handedness: “On the one hand. Glossolalia.
in seeming to access discourse (meaning) through the xenophora of deixis. which is the event of language as such. He cannot speak. Here. 116).42 However. “him that speaketh a barbarian” (cited in RA. once he is inside of discourse he becomes expropriated. subjectification and desubjectivization coincide at every point. This being the case. blurred or suspended as the subject uses deixis to access discourse only to find in place of discourse pure noise. such as deixis. he concedes that it makes no more sense to say “this I-other speaks”: For. sounds. 114). as Paul terms it. instead the subject finds himself “expropriated of all referential reality. In appropriating the “formal instruments” of discourse. post-alterity. The sound of language as such. This leads Agamben to a three-part. instead finds not meaning but the very absence of meaning. Setebos to the subject’s Caliban. This is the one and only moment that the radical difference between semiotic and semantic linguistic modes that Agamben locates at the root of Western metaphysics is. Lévinas and Derrida. and both the flesh and blood individual
. 116). In enunciating the I.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
potentiality over which he has neither control nor mastery” (RA. In the absolute present of the event of discourse. profound. letting himself be defined solely through the pure and empty relation to the event of discourse” (RA. and Agamben is well aware of the tradition he is potentially entering here. Those well-versed in contemporary philosophy may recognize this speck of alterity at the heart of self-presence from. which locates his work alongside Badiou as the only potential. an isle full of noises. if not removed.43 Explaining that “I speak” is as meaningless as “I am a poet. the final facet of his conclusion makes the radical step away from alterity and the philosophy of responsibility. feedback. independent of every meaning. This rather terrifying observation is crucial in our adventures under the leadership of the literary Agamben. wailing. this I-other stands in an impossibility of speaking—he has nothing to say. insofar as it is solely sustained in a pure event of language. for example. and potentially devastating conclusion. and thus affirmative philosophy of our age. Here she tunes in to white noise. and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. the subject.” for what I hope now are clear reasons in that I is always other. the subject becomes. rather he is spoken in the glossolalic language of barbarians. while as Agamben explains the subject of enunciation is composed entirely of discourse.
“Dante instead characterized poetic expression precisely as the dictation of an inspiring love” (ST. or what he often refers to simply as poetic dictation when. but language . . 127). This can also be expressed by saying that the one who speaks is not the individual. is not a modality of intellection but the combinatory theory of language as such in the European tradition as an unattainable yet present generative space for intellection represented by the prosodic
. Agamben prefers the term poetic dictation. namely the relationship between discursive prose and poetry: logo-poiesis. often called inspiration or the muse.
At the end of this remarkable passage of Remnants of Auschwitz Agamben then brings us back to our main project here. that poets need to be willing to “open to prose” the reasons for their poetry or face shame (his version of the troubadour razo de trobar or narrating of the inspiration for the composition of the work). 124). Love. rather than speaking of the poeticization of thought. takes note. he instead commits himself to thoughts about poetry.44 Repeating a quote from Dante’s Vita nuova. Staying with Dante. which also finds great utility in The End of the Poem (1996). Agamben notes that while on the surface this tercet conforms to the scholastic definition of language as “notation and sign of a passion of the soul” (ST. when he mentions that it is not surprising “in the face of this intimate extraneousness implicit in the act of speech” that poets feel a sense of responsibility and shame.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
and the subject of enunciation are perfectly silent. This relationship is marked by the experience of becoming impersonal that Agamben terms the poetic experience of ontological desubjectivization. 127). . an early theorization of poetic dictation can be found in the pages of Stanzas circulating about a tercet from Dante’s Purgatorio that goes as follows: “I am one who. Agamben proffers the touchstone to my whole study. poetry. in fact it radically calls into question the idea of language as a notation of intellection. 117) This experience of the powerful depersonalization of being spoken by language is a profoundly literary one. I won’t speak of the complex theory of shame Agamben mounts here as this has been done very well elsewhere. (RA. and in the manner that he dictates within I go signifying” (cited in ST. as we know. when Love inspires me.
is not a form of notation of thinking yet it is a form of notation and it does have a direct relation to thinking through its direct experience of language. 37) Having proposed a potentiality for a silent experience of materiality as such which is not unsayable but simply inexpressive and nonrepresentable presence. Agamben says of this experience of an event that it is neither experience nor event in actual fact but matter nothing more than the point at which we touch the limits of language . Glossing on Celan’s assertion as to the uniqueness of poetic language. we now battle alongside the poet as she attempts to find a voice for her experience of the poetic word. Where language stops is not where the unsayable occurs.46 in the essay “The Idea of the Unique” Agamben then goes on to consider in greater depth a conception of speechlessness in the face of language that is not simply unsayability. . . Knowing already that philosophy has fallen into the trap of misconstruing language’s neutral inexpressiveness as ineffability.” where Agamben considers enigmatically what he calls decisive experience. matter or wildwood. but rather where the matter of words begins. .PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
conception of the stanza. Agamben reveals that the experience of language is always doubled: There is. . (IP. what one might term a truly defining subjective event for which subjects habitually lack words. The language for which we have no words. as in a dream. even when they keep silent. (IP.45 Poetry. The theme of poetic dictation stays with Agamben coming to dominate the early pages of Idea of Prose (1985) through a series of considerations of the challenge of the poet’s intimate experience of their ability to speak of language as such. to be there before being . . The main body of the book commences with the essay “The idea of Matter. . Those who have not reached. Contrariwise there is another experience in which man remains absolutely without words in the face of language. 48) It can be deduced from this that within our tradition there are two types of language-experience/usage in accordance with the
. therefore. [is] the language of poetry. in fact. like grammatical language. this woody substance of language. are prisoners of representation. which doesn’t pretend. which the ancients called silva (wildwood). the experience of language that forever presupposes words .
it would seem. . which is to say. (IP. Elle s’expose. of course. it precedes words as vehicles for meaning and to whom can it occur if we are not yet speakers? Agamben. can experience the tree in terms of what it is made of. . and if one has words to speak of language one no longer has language before one of which to speak. and so lacks access to the language needed to express the nature of the matter of language as such. Agamben realizes immediately the aporia at the heart of any conception of a unique language accorded to poetic dictation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
traditional roles of philosophy and poetry respectively. no means of cutting a path through the wildwood of matter to an encounter of the forest as something composed of wood. through avowing its emptiness. Poetry is always in the experience. as Celan argues. But at that point. as Agamben responds. The poet is the infant who piously receives this promise and who. “Destiny is concerned only with the language that. and decides to remember that emptiness and fill it. its grammar and its tradition. Agamben’s great innovation here is to turn a dead end into a new clearing for thought: This vain promise of a meaning in language is its destiny. . to have forever . therefore. Such a destiny is. 49). language stands before him. so abandoned to itself that it can no longer in any way impose: “la poésie ne s’impose plus. . Discursive grammatical prose does not concern itself with the semiotic and has. vows to be able to encounter it. Having asserted this. of what order is such a destiny in that. calls this state of speechlessness before a language that precedes words infancy. a false eschatology for in speaking of the uniqueness of language one proves its impossibility. uniqueness is the destiny of language. and reflects that such a state knows nothing of destiny. 49) The easiest summation of this is that the poet would like to testify to their experience of pure language as such but they cannot because
. faced with the infancy of the world.” so Celan writes . Philosophy already has the words to convey the experience and thus can never undergo the experience. Only the poet. decides for truth. He explains “the unique language is not one language” in that it is always already split between words without language (philosophy) and being wordless in front of language (poetry). If. irrespective of the form it takes. Faced with the impossibility of seeing either wood or tree. as we have repeatedly seen. so alone. something to say of it” (IP.
retains an element from late Latin culture wherein the term refers to writing a literary work. amorous attachment to the present. while the razo of a poem (and a razo can often be internal to the poem such as one finds in works such as Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” and “The Solitary Reaper. and the memory that arises precisely out of the impossibility of this love. Dictation therefore names a midway point or tension between being as the intimacy of undergoing an experience of language. and that of the subsequent declamation of the experience in discursive prose: “Between the impossibility of thinking . and a power of only thinking. The combination of ideas of pure linguistic matter and language as subsequent philosophical discourse combine in “The Idea of Dictation. it is always written after the fact and so is obviously dictated by the already existent presence of the poem. and this intimate divergence is its dictation” (IP. testing the experience through thoughtful prose. stanza. say. dettato. between the inability to remember in the perfect. poetry is always divided. but only occurs in the instance of its exposition. 52). channelling the muse. and the distanciation of a proceeding recollection of the experience. . finds significant examples in the modern tradition in works such as Coleridge’s famous narrative of the composition of “Kubla Khan. This tradition still holds for Dante.” and is analyzed here in relation to twentieth-century Italian poet Delfini.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
their experience of pure language cannot translate beyond that experience. . between the experience of dictation as inspiration courtesy of the muse. a sense also to be found in the German word Dichtung that Heidegger often prefers in reference to poetry. Reading Delfini and Campana Agamben summarizes dictation as the space or locale. Such a poetic experience of language cannot impose itself in prose.” or works such as Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter”)47 is presented as the ontico-experiential basis of a work of poiesis describing. cannot be narrated after the fact.” A useful translator’s footnote in the English tradition explains that the Italian for dictation. This mediality of poetic dictation explains why “the lyric—which uniquely keeps to such dictation—is necessarily
. The essay begins with the tradition of the razo or ability to recount after the fact how the poet came to compose/dictate their work. the events that led to the dictation of a poem. Dictation. As Agamben notes more than once elsewhere. means both an authoritative declaration intended for preserving transcription and a mode of poiesis. therefore.
the source from which all arguments originate. produces life. inventive art was given the title argumentum because it was supposed that invention gave one access to the very place of speech as such. it is always transfixed on the verge of a day that has always already set . . and once one is abandoned by the muse the only tale to tell is of said abandonment.” (IP. Was it a vision. which the poet produces in the poem. While one is in the moment of inspiration one lacks the space to speak. Agamben supports his claim that language precedes life with citations from the theological tradition of the West. but a discovery through the belatedness of the razo or recounting of experience that yes. 93). As I have been arguing. and as his main theme is of course the political determinations of the category life. 76).48 In “The Dictation of Poetry” the relation of poetry to life is expressed in the more familiar and relevant question for us here: “What does it mean for a living being to speak?” (EP. for example the Gospel of John. before honing in on the specificity of the relation between poetry and the poet’s life in the development of the razo de trobar. Life. poetic dictation exposes for view the speechlessness of a direct experience of language that is itself not the result of the ineffability of that experience per se. but in this failure to recollect one is exposed to the dictatorial truth of poetry: recount and recall what cannot be said or remembered. and love. it is perhaps not surprising that Agamben more than once asks as to the direct relation between poetry and life going so far as to argue that: “The poet is he who.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
empty. poetry is central to the work of Agamben. or a waking dream? Fled is that music:—do I wake or sleep? This problem is reformulated in the essay “The Dictation of Poetry” in terms of the relationship between poetry and life. correctly spoken discourse. . the stanza. This ancient rhetoric of topics however became watered down over centuries so that the place of speech
. That said. 52). in the word. Agamben notes that in ancient rhetoric ratio or ars invendiendi (inventive art/argument) was juxtaposed with ratio iudicandi or truthful. withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. said experience cannot be recounted. suggesting that while it makes sense that life is the product of language it is predominantly the case these days that the obverse is taken to be true. What I hope becomes clear by virtue of this positioning of the lyric at a moment of linguistic twilight is that like infancy.
in other words. 80). is therefore neither a biographical nor a linguistic event. what the troubadours called the stanza of love. or the experience of inspiration becoming the tale of
.49 Agamben notes that over centuries this has given birth to the art of biography. . The brilliance of the troubadours is that they return the idea of topos back to its fundamental fount: “the troubadours want not to recall arguments consigned to a topos but instead to experience the very event of language as original topos” (EP. which we share in common with all life? How. Modern versions of the razo can be found in the work of Freud as much as in Joyce for example. caught as it is between the wordless experience of language as such and the language-less process of language about language.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
as arche-source simply became conventional arguments used as mnemonic techniques in oral cultures. so to speak. and finally the novel. from the poetic experience of language as such.” (LD. between lived experience and what is poeticized . an experience of the event of language as love. as the tight unity of what is lived and what is poeticized—now becomes a giving of reasons for experience” (EP. This allows Agamben to now explain once and for all the role of the razo in poetry: “The razo. ratio iudicandi. That psychology and narrative have taken over the razo simply deflects attention from the fact that poetry presents for us the central ontological problematic of our age. not only dramatizes the problematic of the emergence of human life out of language. . Clearly there is something about the original place of language. but also that of philosophy. More interesting than the slippery nature of topics/razo perhaps is the relation between lived experience and the experience of language which typifies dictation. 79). 79). Rather. The impersonality of dictation becoming the personal element of biography. How can life emerge from language in such a way that it is neither the specificity of a life (biography) or the unsayable nature of biological life. for again over time the meaning of the razo was diluted in the same manner as was observed in topics so that “What for the troubadours was an experience of the razo—that is. ratio iveniendi. and indeed our whole tradition. which lies at the foundation of poetry and which constitutes what the poet calls its dictation (dictamen). can there be an experience of language as the basis of thinking being that retains language as a thing that can be said but which itself is not reduced to merely saying something? Poetic dictation. that defies definition. then fable. the razo is a zone of indifference.
in-fancy. ontological. which is the basis of human being as both divided and potentially redeemed.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
inspiration. indifferent. is precisely the zone of indistinction between language and life that Agamben repeatedly seeks to reveal as the very place of a speechless language as such: dictated. This is why the fact that there is language. poeticized.
. cannot be addressed unless one listens with care to the dictates of the many pages that comprise the work of the literary Agamben.
ON THE WAY TO LOGOPOIESIS
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in a recent essay “The Author as Gesture” included in the collection Profanations (2005). THINKING THOUGHT
Going against the grain of the Platonic tradition and accepting as a given that poetry thinks. “Father dust who rises
. Foraging for the place of poetic thinking Agamben reads a poem by the famous author-function César Vallejo.CHAPTER 1
LOGOS. Accepting Foucault’s dictum that the author as creating subject is dead and replaced by the author-function. From the Latin gerere it is a type of bearing or carrying. the author is present in the text only as a gesture that makes expression possible precisely by establishing a central emptiness within this expression. Agamben wonders where precisely the thought of the poem occurs. Instead he retains a vestigial role for creative agency in defining the perished author as a gesture: “If we call ‘gesture’ what remains unexpressed in each expressive act. a place-holder for a subjective category convenience. . not a person as such who has the capacity for thought. . The gesture in question is. after all.1 a functionality that attenuates the presence of creative agency to a mere support for discursive distributions of power along lines of ownership rights and so on. empty.”2 Naturally. Gesture is rather an unconscious occupancy of the hands in conversation. Agamben is however unable to concede that there is no author as such in the text. a meaningless action. Yet if the author is merely a functional facilitation or a supporting inexpressive gesture then it makes little sense to suggest that the thoughts of a poem or indeed any work of literature take place in the “mind” of said gesture. we can say that . the location of poetic thinking would ordinarily be seen to take place in the mind of an author.
then thought occurs at the
. The only outstanding thinking subject involved in poetry. Aside from it being almost impossible to stipulate the exact moment that a poet “thought” what they wrote. Agamben is forced to conclude. “in the gesture through which the author and reader put themselves into play in the text and. are infinitely withdrawn from it.4 Instead. but desubjectivized ontology. The author is only the witness or guarantor of his own absence in the work in which he is put into play . 71). the author-function does not think but is a collaborating facilitator of social forces. 71). The reader becomes. can be located neither in the poem nor the author/reader-function. suggesting rather that they most probably only came to be known to the author as he was writing. speculating as to the exact location of the thoughts and sentiments contained in the work. 98 fn. if the thoughts of a poem are not in the mind of the author-function as they cannot be. then can they ever even be said to be the thoughts of the poet? It would seem not.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
from Spain” (Prof. in occupying the space vacated by the author becomes. thinking subject. therefore. or indeed even later as he was rereading his work. its actual taking place as a mode of thinking-feeling. If the poem “thinks” or presents thoughts and this thinking is not to be located in the mind of an actual.3 The place of the poem. at this point. . This being the case the author-function does not facilitate ownership or authority. touching the text into being through an act of empty. Author-functions play tag with the text. . “will occupy the empty place in the poem left by the author.?” (Prof. poetic thinking must be. must be the reader who. as Foucault would have it. gestural agency whose sole function is to come to presence as the “creator”’ of a poem through the marked presence of their absenting themselves from the work as subjective. Nietzschean. he will repeat the same inexpressive gesture the author used to testify to his absence in the work” (Prof. 12). Influenced no doubt by his own views on dictation he refutes the possibility that they simply blew in to the poet who then wrote them down. contrary to one’s assumptions. nor can a poem as object be said to think either. . creative. at the same time.” (Prof. “Does this mean that the place of thought and feeling is in the poem itself . in taking up the poem to read. a similarly evacuated subjectivity. Agamben adroitly comes to realize that this is equally impossible for thoughts imply by definition a thinking subject. willing agency. a reader-function. in effect. Here Agamben realizes that the reader. 71). . in effect.
thought no longer thinks some thing in its advent of singularity but is effectively what must be thought about some already presupposed thing. but nothing specific? Aristotle believes so and proves this by defining thought as the thinking of thinking which “is a kind of mean between thinking nothing and thinking something. and thus thinking being. 250–1). In contrast. The result is that the author and reader exist within the work as available subjects to facilitate thought not as actual present and thinking beings but gestures of being. They are examples of ontological deixis.LOGOS. touch upon each other. Thought that thinks itself neither thinks of an object nor thinks nothing. In an earlier piece “Bartleby. The author can only come to being as the supporting gesture of the text. It thinks a pure potentiality (to think and not to think)” (P.5 Aristotle illustrates this rather abstract point with reference to the
. At this impossible point thought is reduced to being a presuppositional representation of the thing. THINKING THOUGHT
moment that subject and object. which for Agamben is a form of language. thought would effectively think nothing as such. between potentiality and actuality. potential. bring each other into presence then immediately withdraw. anything. the work becomes the place of thought without one personifying the poem in some absurd way by declaring that it is an autonomous. this time the more familiar discipline of philosophical thought or thinking as such. Reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics Agamben presents the aporia of what thought actually thinks in terms of issues of potentiality and actuality. Each time thought thinks some thing therefore. Such a thought is obviously meaningless. Does thought actually exist as such as a general. thought and its expression. Yet if thought instead comes to actuality and thinks something. paternal. 72). From being the presupposition of a thing’s truth the thing becomes the presuppositional necessity of thinking. They point to the presence of beings but they do not possess actual being. Through this Cimmerian light one is able to discern the topos of a poetic thinking. but the text “has no other light than the opaque one that radiates from the testimony of his [the author’s] absence” (Prof. then paradoxically it ceases to be thought as such but a category subordinate to the thing. Aristotle contends. If thought were simply the neutral potential to think something then. available medium “to think” something. or On Contingency” Agamben is again attempting to think the place of thought through a consideration of literature.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
figure of a blank tablet upon which thought can be written but on which it has not yet been written. . as we saw. . producing an ontological caress. In his treatise on how to establish the ideal totalitarian state Plato immortally excludes poets from the republic. or at least Aristotle passes this belief on to Western metaphysics.6 Let us dwell momentarily on a common. The poem and the philosopheme share powerful affiliation at this exact point in terms of their both coming to being at the moment of a productive negation. a bolstering figuration that shares a clear equivalency to Agamben’s idea of gesture as an empty facilitation of thinking. which convinces me that the way we were trying to found our community was along absolutely the right lines . Thus to think thought is to think both the absence of thought as a thing to be thought. Yet if. They touch on being and. seemingly accusing them of false mimesis and warning of their power to convince the citizenry that their creations are better than reality itself: “the issue of poetry is the main consideration . . and its presence as a coming to be a thing to be thought. . If the philosopher’s vocation is to think then naturally to think what thought is would be their highest calling. Yet to think thought as potentiality leaves thought with nothing to think. hand-in-hand. Both seem to founder on an aporia between potentiality and actuality. yet generally ignored problem shared by poetic and philosophical thinking. which at the same time negates thinking as such. while to think of thought as a thing in the world and thus actualize it is to subordinate the process of thinking to an actual object and demote thinking to a form of representation or writing. of what potential is a poem the actualization of ? By definition potential must be the actualization of the potential to be and yet not be the author–reader of a thought expressed in the poem body. the author as individual does not exist as such in a text. That we flatly refused to admit representational poetry. surprising. The author in a text is a potential to be while the realization of her thoughts in the text seems to be an actualization.”7 Thus began proceedings for what Agamben translates as the “divorce” between poetry and prose
. coyly withdraw. The same is true for the philosopher.
POETRY AND PHILOSOPHY
Yet one would be wrong if one then declared some kind of lasting amity between poetry and philosophy.
came to remove from poetry thinking as a form of authentic modality. the place from which all places emerge. inevitably.LOGOS. of material pleasure. is there is another experience of language that does not depend on a foundation of unspeakability? “If philosophy is presented from the beginning as a ‘confrontation’ with (enantiosis) and a divergence from (diaphora. Defining philosophy as “the unspeakable experience of the Voice” (LD. They named the experience of the very advent of the poetic word. Poetry is a form of expression. he wonders. Perhaps it is in poetry that we find a concept of language that is not that of negation but rather a “reflection on the taking place of language” (LD. Plato. Aristotle was more than happy to begin the discipline of aesthetics or philosophical categorical thinking about the arts spawning a long and illustrious tradition. that not only typifies our culture’s response to the arts. . or even poetry’s role in thinking was. Although Troubadour love constitutes a promising avenue of inquiry. 66). until Hegel. So much so that today it seems strange perhaps to even argue a role for poetry as a mode of thinking. in particular. primarily excluded from the philosophical canon. Agamben suspects as much when he presents just such a possibility at the foundation of modern poetics in the razo de trobar. the very taking place of language as originary argument” (LD. an attempt to experience the very taking place of the poetic word in the form of the joy of love seems a long way from nihilism. but has also introduced a disastrous aporia into Western metaphysics based around the presupposed difference between poetry and thinking which. THINKING THOUGHT
(MWC. “And if love is presented in the
. Love is not only the term for the very event and advent of the poetic word it also comes to stand for the unattainable. 52). even radical disjuncture. but for most it is not a form of thought. In Language and Death.. But on the whole poetry as a form of thinking. 66). Not that philosophy then neglected poetry. then what is the extreme experience of language within the poetic tradition?” (LD. Agamben returns to the division imposed by Plato many times in his own work whenever he speaks of the abyss between language and thought or poetry and philosophy. of mimesis. 66). 68) as we have already seen. The stated intention of the Provençal poets’ razo de trobar was “to experience the topos of all topoi. for example. that is. Agamben soon uncovers a dark truth at the heart of troubadour poetics. . this abyss weighs heavy upon our philosopher’s mind. Republic 607b–c) poetry . love.
come together within the modern experience of metaphysics as negation detailed in Language and Death. The poetic and philosophical experiences of language are thus not separated by an abyss. only from this common negative experience is it possible to understand the meaning of that scission in the status of language that we are accustomed to call poetry and philosophy. philosophy and poetry. seemingly divergent yet. as such. 69). unattainable. to understand that which. to attain such an experience. alone. his philosophy of indifference. These issues come to full appearance for both disciplines during the period of
. Both poetry and philosophy seek an indifferent experience of language as such before the moment of its division into language and voice. and modern art and aesthetics as nihilism. unspeakability. Thus while poetry comes very close to an originary experience of language as such. but both rest originally in a common negative experience of the taking place of language. Agamben admits. resorting always to negative constructions of language as unattainability. and this experience. I showed this in the previous chapter by drawing parallels between algorithms for the sign S/s. and thus. These two traditions and experiences of the word as negativity. and the stanza S [/] s. as an ancient tradition of thought would have it. nothingness. 74) There is encased in this citation the basic structure that explains Agamben’s repeated return to poetry as he tries to establish a post-nihilistic philosophy of negated scission. The two empty resonators.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Provençal lyric as a desperate adventure whose object is far away. he is forced to conclude: Even poetry seems here to experience the originary event of its own word as nothing. also holds them together and seems to point beyond their fracture. and yet accessible only in this distance. seems necessarily to be marked by negativity” (LD. while separating them. in as much as the roots of European poetics lie precisely in the empty loveless stanzas of the troubadour lyric they mark the origin of an experience of poetic negativity which echoes that of modern metaphysics. and so on. the subject of The Man Without Content (1970). Perhaps. rather. (LD. that is because the experience of the taking place of language is at stake here. modern metaphysics and Provençal poetics are. so much so that Agamben is willing to hand over ontology to the “poetic” experience of desubjectivization. Neither is able.
He cites Heraclitus in describing this harmonia as “invisible” harmony before exhorting that “the last Western philosopher recognized a hint of this harmony in a painting by Cézanne in the possible rediscovered community of thought and poetry” (ST. 157). (He is referring here to Heidegger. 85). 108) and forms the conclusion of two major essays in the collection Potentialities (1999). poeticize philology so that the site of the division between poetry and philosophy “becomes a conscious. politics. In Infancy and History. without thereby becoming either philosophers of the voice or mere enthusiasts? Are we capable of reckoning with the poetic
. . he names this possibility harmonia or “the idea of a laceration that is also a suture. problematic experience rather than an embarrassed repression” (IH. or On Gesture” he brings together poetry. for example. 163). That poetry and philosophy share such commonalities is not a coincidence. He is not calling for a synthesis of poetry and philosophy here but a clear understanding of the actual conditions of their difference as opposed to those imposed upon them by Platonic exception. while in “Tradition of the Immemorial” he speaks of Hölderlin’s quest for an undivided being leading to his call for the abolishment of the “philosophy of the letter” in favour of a poetics of dictation.8 Agamben is moved to wonder in this regard: Are we capable today of no longer being philosophers of the letter . but rather the result of a mutual origin in thinking as such that. and philosophy in a characteristically ambitious denouement (P. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and a unity” (ST. gesture.) The abyss between poetry and philosophy occupies the last of Agamben’s thoughts in Language and Death (LD. In “Kommerell. . however.LOGOS. essentially. 157). Stanzas concludes with an attempt to relocate a post-nihilistic idea of presence located in the very fold or articulation between signified and signifier. THINKING THOUGHT
modernity. Ending books on a call for the healing of the fracture between poetry and philosophy then becomes something of a habitual gesture. yet the roots of their failure to find language go back several centuries at least. in the “Project for a Review” he ends the volume by calling for a radicalization of the ancient science of philology which would. Tracing this articulation back to ancient Greek sources. Again and again he returns to this theme. has been obscured by the Platonic tradition that Agamben habitually calls the “abyss” between poetry and philosophy.
therefore. in the fold or invisible harmony that. it resides somewhere in the division between poetry and philosophy. has always existed in the midst of the two fundamental experiences of language in our culture: language as sustaining (poetry) and as testing (philosophy).” Agamben recounts a story told by Plato in one of his letters of how. in the “last” essay of The End of the Poem. its resolution resting with neither party nor an idealized unity of the two but between them somehow. one could say. Agamben argues: “As for poetry. 115) I believe our point is well made. that it is threatened by an excess of tension and thought. The destination of many major works by Agamben is the revocation of the divorce between poetry and philosophy instigated formally by Plato in Republic. emerges where no voice calls us? Only then would tradition cease to be the remission and betrayal of an unsayable transmission . .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
presentation of the vocation that. Conceding this point. Agamben believes. as a nonpresupposed principle. Plato devised an apotropaic pedagogical methodology. while Agamben seeks for a true experience of language in poetry he is regularly disappointed. The answer to the problem of Western metaphysics can only be approached by the rehabilitation of poetry as a form of thinking but its solution does not simply emerge from poetry. 115). . within. citing the famous Wittgenstein declaration that philosophy should really only be poeticized. paraphrasing Wittgenstein.9 This usually takes the form of a summons to poeticize philosophy and expose philosophic prose to the semiotic presence of the poetic word. provides an opening up of the pathway towards a future for philosophy but alone it is not the destination of this track. THE THING ITSELF
In the opening essay of Potentialities entitled “The Thing Itself. Or. Rather. (P.
COMMUNICABILITY. and surrounding the two contesting ideas of thinking within our tradition. These two experiences form the basis of Agamben’s idea of the origin of all literature in dictation. on the contrary. pestered endlessly by the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius to once more attend his court. Poetry. One presents to the apparently eager student the whole thing of
. rather. However. but they also come together in Agamben’s idea of the communicability of language as such as the place between. that poetry should really only be philosophised” (EP.
is the apotropaic heart of philosophy. additional recondite element as the tradition has it. The thing itself. Rather than the thing as such being an unsayable and inaccessible part of being. all are dependent on the thing as such. however.LOGOS. its own knowability and truth” (P. name (onama). Yet. Agamben reconstitutes the thing as such as the ground or support of knowability. therefore. the thing is “nevertheless possible only in language and by virtue of language: precisely the thing of language” (P. as an object presupposed by language and the epistemological process. Much of this comes down to the problem of presupposition. Knowledge presupposes something as already existing about which it has knowledge whose veracity it can vouchsafe through the idea truth as agreement. If this thing is not a thing in the world nor is it. 32). but the very precondition of being: “no longer simply the being in its obscurity. there but never to be made available to presence. THINKING THOUGHT
thought and all difficulties attendant on that. Plato concedes. an arche thing impossible to retrieve. 31). 28) will realize the dolour of “the thing” and task their tutor no more. but the basis of knowledge on this very obscurity. Modern science is the archetypal epistemology in
. image (eidolon). Having presented this reading of Plato. Agamben then performs one of his classic gestures by rediscovering through his remarkable and controversial philological method that translations of Plato have perhaps misrepresented his thoughts on this most essential thing. definition (logos). If the student is sincere he or she will embrace this difficulty. “that by which the object is known. Rather said thing is to be brought to light “in the very medium of its knowability. the most difficult of all problems: the very thing of thought as such. in the pure light of its self-manifestation and announcement to consciousness” (P. otherwise those merely “tanned” by philosophy (P. Agamben’s translation finds that the four bases of being which define the Platonic theory of ideas. This thing then is not a fifth. The powerfully obscure nature of the thing dissuades the thinker but in so doing also attracts them to the very basis of philosophy’s being.” but. 33). a thing in the world or a thing than can be represented by language and thus known in this way.10 In accordance with the logic of apotropaicism it is precisely the thing’s unknowability and nonrepresentability in language that defines not simply the thing’s obscurity. while language cannot say the thing as such. and knowledge. This thing is not a thing in any ordinary sense of the term. the obscure nature of the presupposition of a thing.
nor even an arche thing forever lost to which thought aspires. the very open-ness at issue in language. I would argue. in language. . 33). cannot however be thought separately.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
this regard operating as the very opposite structure to that of an apotropaic thinking that is. why that which cannot be thought. One of the earliest and most important essays on Agamben’s work. what is the thing? “It is the very sayability. unsayability. 35). The thing itself of thought. declaring that the thing itself is not “something ineffable that must remain unsaid and hence sheltered” (P. Agamben strongly refutes this history of the thing. in using language as a means of accessing that about which one speaks. Communicability divided from communication. 34). . If the thing is not a thing in the world. and negation at the heart of epistemology. it is nothing but communication itself. it would take the form
. more typical of modern ontology. although not the same thing at all. without which. Such thinking. reveals that: “Language sup-poses and hides what it brings to light.11 their presupposition of the thing itself will always make said thing inaccessible. in the very act in which it brings it to light” (P.” Communication and communicability. What is the very thing of thought itself ? this tradition seems to ask. it is what we are always disclosing in speaking. . spends some considerable effort defining communicability through its source in Benjamin and establishing it as the heart of Agamben’s thought. an act of communication. nor a presupposition or hypothesis. Düttmann states: “Communicability always communicates itself. . The result is that the sayability of the thing said and the knowability of the thing known are both lost to presuppositional thinking. which. the thing could not come to presence. would not name the thing being communicated and so said thing would not be produced into presence and communicability never invoked and revealed. nor is it “horribly or beautifully unreachable in its obscurity” (P.” (P. what we are always saying and communicating . Yet communicability cannot be collapsed into communication in that in itself it cannot be communicated: “if communicability let itself be communicated. we always presuppose and forget . While language and knowledge presuppose the thing itself as already existing as a thing about which they can speak and have knowledge. inscribing a myth of absence. privation. 35). is the communicability of the very language that cannot express the thing but. Düttmann’s introduction to Idea of Prose. therefore.
Agamben’s analysis of the thing as such should therefore act as a warning.”12 Hence communicability is defined here as that which supports and facilitates communication but which itself is never communicated through an act of communication. Language is the very thing that allows thought to occur and it is thought that Agamben pursues. one presumes. Language cannot say the thing as such because the thing as such is the very sayability of language and knowability of knowledge (it cannot communicate communicability but it can pro-duce it. however far the thing as such is from Agamben’s ideas on enjambement or poetic rhythm. reducing itself to the simple communication of something.” poetry is fundamentally important to thinking but not necessarily fundamentally important in itself.LOGOS. which is also essential to Agamben’s ideas on poetry. It would not be possible to produce an Agambenian linguistics from it for example. one can see here that the communicability of language. Like Heidegger. Plato’s development of the thing itself as a concept is in response to the entreaties of the tyrant of Ortygia where Plato first travelled with the idea of setting up his republic and expelling.
. and communication. a structure we recognize from our considerations of thinking as such.” one ought to note that the explicit history of this term in Plato is of no small water to our own study. This does not mean communicability is unsayable or invisible. Agamben’s interest in poetry and the literary in general is only as a means of bringing him closer to language. While he has a great deal to say of poetry that is philological. is not precisely a comment on language. merely that the means of encountering it are not provided by communication of something specific. THINKING THOUGHT
of a thing. would erase itself immediately. a chattering mime of poets along the way. and the logic of the thing as not an object of presupposition but the very basis of objectivity and subjectivity is directly inherited from “the last philosopher. but at the same time allows us access to a profound realization. and his interest in language is piqued only as a way of revealing the very basis of thinking and being as such. and we as critics of literature can and must learn from him in these areas. In addition. historiographic. lead it forward into the light). and technical. The means by which this occurs is apotropaic in a historical sense in that the thing’s unsayability in philosophical language gives birth to the tradition of negativity. For example. Returning to “The Thing Itself.
13 This word/name therefore cannot say something about something as there is no something that precedes it. it is noted. “There is. Agamben calls this the movement of language’s “self-revelation. . must contain within it not merely content that human ingenuity has not yet conceived of. but more than that something that totally exceeds the process of human reason: this can only mean the following: the content of revelation is not a truth that can be expressed in the form of linguistic propositions about a being . en arkhe e ho ¯ ¯n logos (“In the beginning was the word”). nothing precedes the “big word” of God. Like the quasi-theology of the “big bang” theory of our universe. humans see the world through language but do not see language. meaning it also does not say some thing in the world.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
THE IDEA OF LANGUAGE
In the second essay Agamben has written under the title “The Idea of Language. Revelation. the first word of god. the very fact that language (and therefore knowledge) exists. (P. can presuppose nothing. Agamben explains that the beginning word. allowing Agamben to define that foundational theological declaration on language. a knowable thing that we did not previously know. as a statement on the ontology of language as such. “no word for the word” (P. This diversion through the tautegorical revelation.14 is a strategy on Agamben’s part to suggest that modern metaphysics is similarly dominated by the impossible
. The meaning of revelation is that humans can reveal beings through language but cannot reveal language itself . This is elsewhere reformulated as there being no name for the name.” or a heuristic tautegorical structure that says its essence through the act of saying but saying nothing as such. 40) This transparency of language within our tradition has come to be the very quality of god’s invisibility. Instead it says the thing as such of language. 41). .” he considers the influence of the concept of revelation on the Western metaphysical ideas of linguistic unsayability. . The absolute presupposition is itself non-presuppositional. or what Lyotard defines as thinking-feeling of something happening as the very happening in question. Glossing on John.” Agamben says making a point he often returns to. but is instead a truth that concerns language itself. .
. allow one to think language as such. then there would truly be no possible experience of the limits of language. mediation itself ” (P. The problem here is mapped out very succinctly.” but nor is an Idea some thing in the world outside: “it is a vision of language itself. THINKING THOUGHT
logic of revelation. for example. he wonders. Agamben sees the modern presupposition of language as profoundly aporetic in that it posits language as the presupposition to thought. Or what Plato calls the thing itself. Such language is not presupposed.LOGOS. however. a perfect language purged of all homonymy and composed solely of univocal signs would be a language absolutely without Ideas” (P. forcing it always to speak of something pertaining to the epochal closure of the metaphysical project. Yet the Derridean idea of language as subject to the logic of the trace. while locating one irrevocably within language and its endless deferrals and referrals (it must be remembered that the trace defers forward by simultaneously referring back to historical contextual usages that presage its deferrals to come). On the other hand. Language. as immediate mediation “constitutes the sole possibility of reaching a principle freed of every presupposition” (P. does not have a presence that can be named but nor is the Idea a nameless nothingness. “Can there be discourse that. without being a metalanguage or sinking into the unsayable. A metalinguistic approach to language is able to think language in its finitude as a thing of some order but it must lift itself from out of language as semiotic medium to do so. 47). that is. which for human beings mediates all things and all knowledge. The Greek sense of the Idea is not a word so cannot be named meta-linguistically. as ever the quarry in Agamben’s sights here. except language itself. and naturally enough he comes to call this the Idea of language. 46). Thus the conception of language as immediate mediation defines its communicability and reveals a possible way out of the nihilism of modern thought. Nothing immediate can be reached by speaking beings—nothing. Agamben believes that the Idea of Greek thought is one possible way of escaping the philosophical double bind of language’s polysemantic homonymy and its anonymous finitude. Thus. 47). “If every human word presupposed another word. The Idea. does not. “this is an Idea. As Agamben says. if the presuppositional power of language knew no limits. Agamben believes. Returning to Plato. says language itself and exposes its limits?” (P. 46–7). is itself immediate. yet it provides no direct means of letting language speak itself.
For example. which is understood by all humans
. does not understand what to say. or thought that does not find presuppositional commonalities but eliminates all presupposition leaving merely the great single object of true thinking. True philosophy in this way ought to be doubly silent. which is expressed in the formula ‘that there is language’? Is philosophy not concerned precisely with comprehending the incomprehensible?” (P. self-avowed project is negated here in true philosophical thought. THE IDEA OF PROSE
While an essential element of Agamben’s thought critics have. not in song but in a pure language?16 He says. the text Idea of Prose does not contain the source material of this intriguing construction that is to be found elsewhere in the third of our trinity of essays on communicability as such contained in Potentialities: “Language and History.” As the text opens we encounter Walter Benjamin speaking in notes for “Theses on the Philosophy of History” of the messianic world to come which he famously defines as one of integral actuality. or moment in history when all division is. Such a mode of thinking is not lost in the mire of unspeakability as one might assume and is silent on the subject about which it must speak only because it. via the mediation of Agamben’s text: “Its language is the idea of prose itself. “Was philosophy not perhaps the discourse that wanted to free itself of all presuppositions. he reminds us that the original task of thought was not to discern the presuppositional bases for thinking problems but the elimination of presuppositions. alone it tells us little. even the most universal presupposition. in isolation poetry’s reserved role as the closest experience we can have of immediate mediation via dictation is not Agamben’s main point. This object is the thing itself of thought defined by Agamben not by what it can know presuppositionally but what it cannot. like a number of thinkers since Heidegger. made over much of linguistic communicability. Similarly. for a second at least. as yet. perhaps. to solve the problem of philosophy itself rather than use philosophy to solve problems. suspended. Confusingly. He wishes. 45). One name for this voluble silence in Agamben’s work is the Idea of Prose.15 Such a moment ought to be celebrated should it not.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
COMMUNICABILITY. Silent on the problems it has solved and silent as it comprehends the problems that remain. In the pursuit of thought nothing is sacred. Even Agamben’s own.
as our tradition often has it.” a language not tied down to communication but existing rather as pure communicability. Discursive language is widely seen as a necessary evil to redeem the fall of language over time from a pure system of transparent signification. 48). Benjamin. accepts the scission at the heart of human language between pure signification. If. naming. THINKING THOUGHT
just as the language of birds is understood by those born on Sunday” (cited in P.17 What would such prose consist of ? Primarily names. At this moment what is
. Thus the Idea of Prose is a system of pure and transparent naming that names one thing: the universal. To put it succinctly. as there would be no exteriority for such endless deferral. nor can it refer to other names within language. How can this be? Agamben himself poses this question. Such a language does not have a content and does not communicate objects through meanings. simply to a universal system of nouns but to a totally transparent system of pure coincidence between sound and sense. as confusion can of course lead again to a diversity of names for such things. Such a name cannot refer to things in the world. discourse presupposes names then a name cannot be anything that would ever need discourse again. instead it is perfectly transparent to itself ” (P. like many thinkers. prose would name nothing other than the fact that it can name: nominal potentiality. not by taking up one single language and rejecting all others. to an impure process of attempted communication or trying to render transparent once more the opacity of signs. he writes. This Benjamin famously calls “freed prose. but in the integration of all languages into one pure language that is not written or spoken but simply celebrated. In the Idea of Prose we would not return. integrated.LOGOS. or communicability. humanity will resolve the issue of the Babelian profusion of languages. and communication. I believe we now have an answer that we can retrieve from the mysticism of Benjamin’s wonderful prose. Language as communicability is the moment of integral actuality when the thing as such of thought touches the medium of thinking. At the moment that history is redeemed from division into integral actuality. 52). naming the world. however. “The status of this Adamic language is therefore of speech that does not communicate anything other than itself and in which spiritual essence and linguistic essence thus coincide. language. discourse. and actual presence of language as such.
is to be totally comprehended. It has to be this way. philosophy. Language too requires immediate mediation as Agamben explains: “to say what they mean. In so doing it discovers this possibility through the very medium that momentarily facilitates this question. Is his prose therefore close to the Idea of Prose? At the resolution of the essay Agamben returns to the citation that commenced the discussion and its proffering of the “Idea of Prose. At this point it would cease to be a sustaining experience of language as transmission and would instead be a specific transmissible meaning. But this is exactly what they cannot do without abolishing themselves” (P. This vision of prose’s total invisibility in the face of semantic transmission is part of a tradition that I have analysed elsewhere and has come to form the very frontier of the future of
.” He finds precedents for this conception in Plato’s Idea of the thing as such that an uncited Aristotelian fragment describes as “a kind of mean between prose and poetry.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
revealed is that the medium that allows one to produce or perceive the thing as such. is the thing of such of thought. That said. that is. Benjamin’s choice of the confusing term prose.18 choosing to stay within language rather than distance himself from the source of all thought. seems to be promoted by an observation by Valéry that states “the essence of prose is to perish” (cited in P. and difference. answering the very pertinent question why he did not describe an Idea of Poetry. language. by actually trying to think it. 60). semiotic. so to speak. the poet says. unity. yet disregard for. The very meaning of language is its transmission of meaning as such. language as semiotic mediality. The destiny of perfect or pure prose. A thought that precedes language simply reiterates the aporias of philosophy’s reliance on. or material remnant. languages would have to cease to mean it. 54). transmit it.”19 However. Which is why. but to say this it would have to cease transmitting immediately and choose a side. or to leave no excessive. He is not a poet. ironically. A language that precedes thought places language in a position of presupposition immediately negating its true essence and making it a philosophical concept. He does not take dictation. Agamben opts for poetry. Agamben is a philosopher and purveyor of philosophical prose. given the weak choice of poetry or philosophy in the interim while we await the arrival of the Idea of Prose. Thought thinks how it is possible for thought to think away from presuppositionality.
Confusingly. it would seem. It does not unify because it exists pre-divisively in a completely other order of thinking that has no conception of scission and opposition. can pro-duce perfect prose.
. and thus Agamben. Only poetry. As Agamben says of such prose: Insofar as it has reached perfect transparency to itself. 60) A language of perfect transparency would accept no division and therefore can be described as totally indifferent. speech restored to the Idea is immediately dispersed. The Idea of language is language that no longer presupposes any other language. THINKING THOUGHT
poetry itself. This indifference is not the result of unity or dialectic synthesis. like Badiou. a poetry of materialized prose. naming and signifying. and finally in poetry and its complex presentation and experience of the materiality of language as such through dictation. (P. and Heidegger. which knows neither past nor repetition. now simply speaks.LOGOS. having eliminated all of its presuppositions and names and no longer having anything to say. resting solely on its own never having been. insofar as it now says and understands only itself. I will here concede however that at the very least it is the dream and beyond that also the Idea of Prose that its materiality should always finish in total immaterialization. surely. It is what is continually said and what continually takes place in every language not as an unsayable presupposition but as what. Derrida. Nancy.20 Accepting that there are certain presuppositional and aporetic elements to this view. it is the language that. in the collapse of philosophy into a linguistic presupposition of unsayability which ironically allows us to finally think of a silent language that speaks itself. the Idea of Prose. is forced to turn to poetry. Yet a pellucid language would not be reducible to dialectic either as the two elements. Agamben is reaching here. are no longer in opposition but in a state of integral actuality. sustains the life of language. if we are ever to arrive at that point. can no longer be pursued through philosophical prose. in never having been. but essentially. But remnants of it can be perceived first in the very communicability of language as such or as pure medium. for a messianic and impossible dream? Perhaps. it is “pure history”—history without grammar or transmission.
. however tense this dual occupancy may be. does it turn a res into a res gesta” (IH. He feels confident at this stage to then immediately make the jump of almost two millennia from the Roman scholar Varro to the French poet Mallarmé and his concept of the milieu pur: “a sphere not of an end in itself. inbuilt scepticism. and presents means which. 154–5).21 This early work begins in characteristic fashion with the philosopher bemoaning the loss of gestures in modern life. presents a new. are removed from the sphere of mediation without thereby becoming ends” (IH. this rapidly leads him to the conclusion that it is gesture as pure medium that allows us finally to understand the Kantian definition of beauty as “finality without purpose” or “without end” which is. combining Greek scholarship
. This is vintage Agamben. that potential for the gesture to interrupt it in its very being-means and only thus does it display it. but of a kind of mediation that is pure and devoid of any end” (IH. He first raises the issue in an essay called “Notes on Gesture” inserted into the appendices of Infancy and History.23 This definition of a means without determinate ends. the making visible of a means as such” (IH.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Although Agamben consistently affirms a common history and destiny for poetry and philosophy. Agamben’s third foray into the theory of gesture. perhaps due to the Platonic inheritance. in fact. as that which resides between the two sides of Aristotle’s famous distinction between action (praxis) and production (poiesis).22 He admits that Varro’s analysis of gesture as neither production nor enactment but “undertaking and supporting.” while owing much to Aristotle. .24 is what Agamben calls gesture: “Gesture is the display of mediation. and we will need to wait before we can fully comprehend this final leap of his imagination. as such. Astonishingly. He comes to define gesture. “in a means. the basis of Agamben’s presentation of form-of-life as a new mode of thinking in Means Without Ends (1996). 155). via the neo-Platonist Varro’s reading of Aristotle. 155). One solution to this problem resides in Agamben’s theory of the gesture with which we already have some familiarity from what is. 155). third kind of action: “if doing is a means in sight of an end and praxis is an end without a means. or simply the radical nature of Agamben’s claim. gesture breaks the false alternative between ends and means . it remains difficult for us perhaps to see how poetry and philosophy could even begin to be said to share a common ground.
a positive silence.26 It transpires that philosophy speaks of silence to fill in its memory lapse as regards its true subject for speech. so to speak. In itself it has nothing to say. The essay ends by explaining a relation the reader may already have discerned. which originates from the fact that pure mediality cannot be presented in the form of a proposition it being the unspoken base of all propositions. therefore. 156). in its solitary moments” (P. language as such. much reviled in Language and Death for example. presents Agamben with a double negation typified by the use of the term gag. This nothing to say. THINKING THOUGHT
forays into the European avant-garde and radical re-readings of the foundations of modern philosophy all within a few sentences. Gesture’s muteness. A presence in language more originary than conceptual expression. therefore. but in the aforementioned “Kommerell. poetry. The German defines gesture as closely tied but not reducible to. because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as a pure potential for mediation” (IH. is also a betrayal of its importance. 77). Lamentably the gag silences but it also inserts language into a hiatus which. it is “the stratum of language that is not exhausted in communication and that captures language. Agamben describes philosophy’s gag as being akin to that of what he calls the gesturality of cinema. Undeniably this silence muzzles the truth of human being but it is a mere interruption of amnesia whose very presence reveals the thing it promoted us to forget: language as pure medium. Defining the great twentiethcentury German critic as a “gestic” critic.
. These comments mark a fairly recognizable presaging of Agamben’s early thoughts on gesture here brought into the sphere of poiesis. however. while a distraction from the truth of language. or On Gesture” he brings philosophy closer to an art form more central to our study. here becomes a positive gagging or “an exposition of the human being’s being-in-language: pure gesturality” (IH. provides the potential for a silence to once more speak. while yet another example of the mute voice within our tradition is. namely that gesture is another name for the communicability of language as pure medium: “gesture is the communication of a potential to be communicated. The insertion of speech into silence. 156). the linguistic. Thus the muteness of philosophy. he reads Kommerell’s own comments on linguistic gesturality. in gesture.LOGOS.25 Agamben calls such positive silence a “gag” playing on the double meaning of a hindrance to speech and an ad lib inserted into a speech by an actor unsure of her lines.
bears a quantum of gestic mass. 78). the weight of language’s gestic muteness. He defines language as primarily conceptual and mimetic. then what is at issue in gesture is not so much a prelinguistic content as. Each word. the muteness inherent in humankind’s very capacity for language. It speaks not of the pre. This remaining mimetic element is its gesturality or what we can also call the semiotic. and poetry the mimetic. the other side of language. therefore. Kommerell proposes a decidedly odd equation of diminishing returns in this regard. becomes almost unbearable. A proposition that allows one to draw the conclusion that in-fancy is also gestural. before assuring us that prose is essentially the conceptual component of language. so to speak.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Kommerell. requires that we leave Kommerell in Germany and travel
.but sublinguistic support of the semiotic as such in language. to better illustrate his point. . then. remember we have already considered Aristotle’s blank tablet. If this is the case. graphicality. according to Kommerell poetry is subject to the gestic gag or as Agamben says: “something put in someone’s mouth to keep him from speaking and. its speechless dwelling in language” (P. and a common if divergent response to their being “gagged” by language’s tendency towards muteness within our culture. Like philosophy. already heightened for them by their semiotic rather than semantic use of language. Agamben calls this the tablet and our second encounter with it. Not that philosophy as such is gestural. Kommerell defines speech as originary gesture leading Agamben to conclude: “If this is true . it tends ever to the conceptual. 78). inexpressive materiality. . the actor’s improvisation to make up for an impossibility of speaking” (P. Quite the opposite. Having said that there is one aspect of the philosophical tradition that echoes the pure mediality of gesturality in poiesis. Gesture is one name Agamben gives for the very mediality of language’s communicability. there must always be something in the poem not exhausted by a reading of it in terms of meaning. its unspeakability as pure medium that Hegel identified in the inadequacy of the deictic diese. poets. the gestural is one of the means by which poetry and philosophy come together in Agamben’s work. language as pure. it would seem. noise. He says the more we have language the greater the weight of the unsayable. Aside from the common history and destiny shared by poetry and philosophy. Thus for those possessed of the most words. compares gestural loneliness as akin to that found in lyric poetry.
33). the pure potentiality of representation itself: the writing tablet! . in a flash the old philosopher realized the truth of thought: The uttermost limit thought can reach is not a being. 33). with many interruptions. not the origin of first principles but the place where language can be thought without reducing it to mere discourse and named without tying it down to a fixed. . “not an image. breath. This site of a place reminded him of nothing so much as the threshing floors of Damascus. 32). the Syrian city where he was born many years before. . no matter how free of any quality. . not a place or thing.LOGOS. . where the winnowing fans of thought and language separated the grain and chaff of everything?” (IP. THINKING THOUGHT
back in time many hundreds of years to the court of Koshrau I of Persia where a respected and aged philosopher once set himself the task of finally resolving the remaining problems of philosophy .
THE TABLET. he narrates how. (IP. . 34)
. Describing Damascius setting about writing down the idea of the threshing floor. it was not even a space. After three hundred days and three hundred nights of consideration. its own absolute potentiality. . how can one comprehend the incomprehensible” (IP. Agamben too finds the instigation of what he had been looking for since the inauguration of his great experimentum linguae. “Wasn’t what he was searching for exactly like the threshing floor. lengthy volume that the hand of the scribe had crammed with characters was nothing other than the attempt to represent the perfectly bare writing tablet on which nothing had yet been written. taking his hand from the writing tablet for a moment. . The entire. PHILOSOPHICAL GESTURALITY
In the sixth century AD. he was in despair “because how can thought pose the question of the beginning of thought . itself unthinkable and unspeakable. an image occurred to him that would guide him towards the completion of this impossible task. Then. but rather. or word might eventually take place . one night.27 From this charming story of ancient times. particular referent. in exile. . but something like the perfectly empty space in which only image. the ageing philosopher Damascius decided to devote his last years to an impossible work entitled Aporias and Solutions Concerning First Principles. but the site of a place” (IP.
28 Düttmann is somewhat dissatisfied with the translation of medio as “middle term” by Sullivan and Whitsitt. né poesia né prosa. One can see why the rather bland and non-suggestive “middle term” then is not to his or indeed my own liking. with its double sense of midst and milieu or “what takes place in the middle. remains surrounded by the milieu that characterizes such an intermediary state” (IP. a version of a kind of gestural or poeticized thinking. means he is unable to reconcile the conflict between writing that does not think (poetry) and thinking that cannot be written (philosophy). 5). no doubt with great bitterness (although the text of this great work was in fact written). Mean here retains the sense of middleness and of sharing a common ground but
. refer to an already presupposed medium waiting to be occupied. The closing words of the essay speak again of the enigmatic statement of Aristotle that Plato’s “idea del linguaggio” (“idea of language”). in the midst of poetry and philosophy. what. but their middle term”).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Courtesy of this epiphany Damascius understood that his work would be finished only at the moment he ceased writing and accordingly he broke the tablet in two. and the medium created by the bringing together of these two terms. per lui. namely mean. here represented by the medium of an as yet un-inscribed set of thoughts. Düttmann’s analysis of the translation of the key phrase from “The Idea of Prose” is important here. rather medio must signify being in the midst of a milieu and being a milieu of the midst. As Damascius discerned. Being a thinker not a poet he thus has no option but to break the tablet of material language and abandon his philosophical ambitions. preferring the German translation “mitte” or midst. The tablet is. the precondition of all thought on the materiality of a non-expressive language. That said Düttmann’s version seems to miss the most obvious translation of the term medio. Medio in this way would mean to be both in the midst of something. The term does not. ma il loro medio” (“was for him neither poetry nor prose. as Düttmann correctly asserts. Agamben has no such intentions towards a narrative of sour disavowal told by some future thinker fifteen hundred years hence and so alights with relish upon Benjamin’s Idea of Prose as a way out of perennial philosophical failure. “non era. This allegorical provocation is the threshold of Agamben’s first attempt to bring together the millennial project of poetry and philosophy and heal their painful divorce in Idea of Prose. therefore. not giving way to the extremes.
but indifferent being in that it is “such as it is.31 with Agamben explaining he does not mean an indifferent being in relation to a common property. Average is a most common meaning for medio in Italian. but their mean. is an example of a potential medium for thinking the thing of thought as such dependent on precisely this (re)translation of Aristotle’s definition of said thing as pure mediality: “neither poetry nor prose. while a consideration of ethics and community. aptly. is also a delineation of potentiality in terms of ontology as the opening essay “Whatever” reveals.”29 The tablet. suspension: “dialectic at a standstill. this time the tale of different form of tablet named “Bartleby the Scrivener. told twice over first as part of a co-authored book with Deleuze translated as “Bartleby. or the mean of communicability between poetry and prose. This portentous rhetorical portal opens up a debate on the meaning of “whatever” in terms of identity and being.32
. Singularity is thus freed from the false dilemma that obliges knowledge to choose between the ineffability of the individual and the intelligibility of the universal” (CC. While Agamben is talking about being and ethics here we can now clearly see that he is also discoursing on the traditionally assumed qualities of poetry (ineffability) and philosophy (intelligibility). stillness. 1).” It is a story Agamben has. 1). namely balance. tension. I believe that without the concomitant implication of averaging out.30 and again in the lapidarianally entitled “Bartleby.”
To draw together the diverse strands of Agamben’s theory of the medio. therefore. being French or being Muslim.LOGOS. Excited by this formulation he goes on to name this the quodlibet or whatever character of being in relation to that complex philosophical term potential originating in the work of Aristotle and finding radical reinvention in Heidegger under the terms of possibility. it is time to tell another story. midst and milieu do not quite capture what is the essential experience of the Idea of Prose. This second volume. For that matter he is also speaking of language. THINKING THOUGHT
importantly it adds a third sense: the average of two terms. middleness (Wall’s aforementioned radical passivity). It commences with prophesy: “The coming being is whatever being” (CC.” in The Coming Community (1990). or On Contingency” for Potentialities. specifically its ability to communicate nothing but its potential to communicate: whatever name.
but rather the existence of non-Being. we say of the architect that he or she has the potential to build. “What is essential is that potentiality is not simply non-Being. It ought now to be becoming increasingly clear how Agamben’s early ideas pertaining to authorial gesturality.” (P. The presence of an absence for Agamben is the true definition of potentiality. as indeed all makers are. 179). Akhmatova is a poet at the moment of her not-yet-having-written and. means that you can write a poem but not that you are writing one or even that you ever will. .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Agamben has said a number of times that the Western metaphysical tradition was part founded on the now generally ignored opposition between potentiality and actuality in Aristotle’s work. for the sake of argument let us say the poet’s potential to make a poem. 179). “Thus the architect is potential insofar as he has the potential to not-build.
. the poet the potential to not-write poems” (P. The poet here.33 He notes that in Aristotle potentiality. in-creation. . “‘in this sense.” but the chance that potential will remain solely potential—potential inaction. and communicability all come together here in a sustained consideration of potential as the desubjectivizing presence of absence in being. Being is defined in its singularity by precisely this ontological condition of neutrality and passivity. not the assumed movement from potentiality to actuality which we might call “creation” or “invention. simple privation. of the poet that he or she has the potential to write poems. is developed from the debate over what it means to have a faculty to do something and yet not be doing it. Agamben concludes. the simultaneous existence of not being within the very identity of one’s being. the presence of an absence . non-invention. is defined in terms of being through negation or desubjectivization. in an odd way she is less of a poet when she is fulfilling her potential and writing poems. Thus when Agamben goes on to define the artist.” the actual and surprising definition of poetic being is the possession of a faculty and not using it. so that potentiality is not simply actuality to be but also the refusal to actuate one’s potential. Thus. Indeed. Agamben uses here the example of Akhmatova’s avowal that she had the faculty to express the horror of the Russian purges before she had written a word. at every moment that the poet is not writing a poem they are in a state of potential privation: they could write but they choose not to. or whatever being. all potentiality is based on a choice not to do. To have a faculty to write a poem. tabularity. which comes to define being as the presence of the not to be.
it should now be clear that the reluctant scribe is the manifestation of potentiality embedded in his apparently self-destructive and nihilistic riposte to any request for action. Gesture is the touch and withdrawal of being. not yet being. THINKING THOUGHT
Akhmatova is a poet because she can write poems but she only has this faculty because she can also not write poems. there must be retained a part of potential being that is never fully realized. therefore. a blankness that is never entirely blank and that. it is equally certain that it is not capable of only this or that specific act.LOGOS. Gould’s power is that “he plays. As such he is an exemplar of Aristotelian thought as potential and his controversial and apparently unhinged performance choices are recognizable examples of masterful. he is able to consider his potential being beyond simply occupying this named position. even when written upon. the simultaneous coming to being and desubjectivization of identity that Agamben describes as the essence of the author-function. retains the element of blankness. or to turn his potential into actuality. Stating that any pianist can play or not play. Here gesture and tablet find a common medium in what I envisage as a tensile pairing that forms the communicability of language or the thing itself of thought. it is capable of its own impotence” (CC. being in its potentiality.
. 36). Returning to Bartleby. . 35). Such a being is located in the mean or medial position between potentiality. modern “poetic” thinking. . “I would prefer not to. with his potential to not-play” (CC. Clearly Gould is a thinker in his playing potential for rather than simply being a pianist. and actuality. must retain a remnant in each of its two manifestations. Noting that true power comes from the capability for power and impotence. “For if it is true that whatever being always has a potential character. the potential not to be a poet as the very actualization of the poetic subjective state. for those who are familiar with this remarkably prescient work by Melville. he celebrates Gould’s artistic power through a consideration of his potential to not not-play. the being that is properly whatever is able to not-be. Before being comes to be it already possess the remnant of a true being in that such a being is not full actualization but the retention of not-being even in the act of full coming to being. Once potential passes over into actualization however. Being. having been. The tablet is the medium of this touch or what is touched. so to speak.”34 Agamben calls this supreme power using the figure of Glenn Gould to better illustrate the power of whatever being. nor is it simply incapable .
stepping away from to play or not to play in favour of a position of playing to play and playing not to play.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Reading De Anima. . Thought is neither presence. 37). as such. thought is no longer thought as such. Or. Thought must have something to think. Aristotle compares it to a writing tablet on which nothing is written” (CC. simply put. . “a scribe who does not simply cease writing but ‘prefers not to’” (CC. rather. although Agamben notes that the correct term should be rasum tabulae or the layer of wax covering the tablet which the stylus engraves. But thought. is the archetype of pure potentiality as the passive writing medium upon which thought could. as possible or material intellect. This complex yet necessary logic not only dictates the potentiality of thought and willed creation but their interrelation through writing: “In the potentiality that thinks itself. This waxen screen allows thought to turn back on itself and think itself as the thought of thought. we can now reveal that it is the famous tabula rasa.” (CC. 37). 37).35 Just as Gould can think his own potentiality by playing with its negation. the construction of an experience of the possible as such. written. therefore. so thought can think itself as a pure medium. not thought considered as an object. but is the presence of absence within presence that both affirms and negates being. philosophy is a firm assertion of potentiality. in its essence. in other words. Being as pure absence remains nonbeing. that rasum tabulae that is nothing but its own passivity” (CC. action and passion coincide and the writing tablet writes by itself or. The perfect act of writing comes not from a power to write. “but that layer of wax. but being as presence becomes unthinkable. or On Contingency”: “In its deepest intention. and. Not thought but the potential to think. Having met with this tablet once before. 37). it would always already have passed through to the act and it would remain necessarily inferior to its own object. And Bartleby. but not in actuality think it for as soon as it is thought. writes its own passivity. as Agamben states midway through “Bartleby. this time more centrally to its relation to potentiality: “If thought were in fact only the potentiality to think this or that intelligibility . not writing but the white sheet is what philosophy
. but from an impotence that turns back on itself and in this way comes to itself as pure act . is pure potentiality. . neither an object nor its negation. Agamben glosses again on Aristotle’s definition of thought. . it is also the potentiality to not think. nor some negative theological absence. but is not yet and may never be.
a series of dots. Writer’s block is a phenomenon best explained by the ontology of potentiality. it is useless to tell yourself that just any pen will do. but as they write they murder the muse and assume her garb. the personal and impersonal (Prof. and the works never created: Mallarmé’s Livre. Poets are called by the muse to write. commences writing. The experience of the poet can be defined in precisely these terms as poetic dictation direct from the muse or the greatest experience of potential impotentiality. THINKING THOUGHT
refuses at all costs to forget” (P. On the Road. The author attempted to merely will them into existence. with what resides in us but does not belong to us. The impersonal is negated in the personal act of writing something specific. Agamben concludes: “To some extent we all come to terms with Genius. changes her mind. Or is it to be unearthed in his description of the capricious diffidence found at the desk of every writer of genius? “If in order to write you need—he needs!—a certain yellow paper.: “The ink.LOGOS. a certain special pen. 249). changes her mind. . withdraws the pen. 10). Going on to describe the essence of the poetic as the tension between the demands of ego and genius. Without being facetious.” The Magnetic Fields. as we saw. a certain dim light shining from the left. the drop of darkness with which the pen writes. Each person’s character is engendered by the way he attempts to turn away from Genius. They are the art of pure character. as the poet sets pen to paper. DeChirico. Or better a dot. however. is thought itself ” (P. not to write and to write. depersonalizes and desubjectivizes the writer. 14). . yet each act of writing. There are the great books that were never written. 17). 244). as is the writing of pure inspiration. Then there are the great works that were written purely through genius: “Kubla Khan. what do they see? Dressed in second-clothes. This white sheet is yet another version of the tablet of philosophy and the empty inscriptions imprinted upon it the gesturality that is at the basis of poetry’s experience of language as such. As I Lay Dying. Looking in the mirror of their art. These works did not come into being because they were not possessed of genius. they have become someone they are not. that any paper and any light will suffice” (Prof. Agamben’s La voce umana. to flee from him” (Prof. Agamben’s whole philosophical system of thinking as such could be reduced to the thoughtless doodling of ontology upon a blank sheet with an inkless pen. the late Rimbaud. Duchamp. then opts not to .
.36 Potentiality in the writer is precisely this tension between genius and character.
and that is the only way. . Their destiny is otherwise. Gesturality signs the long and chequered history of one’s being with language. 18).” (Prof. Does one fulfil one’s potential in the work? Never. or not to write. or to write as not writing. Some do not write and could never do so. There are those who can write and do so with facility and alacrity. The gesture alone is meaningless and sad. when genius has abandoned them? “It is the late and final stage when the old artist lays down his pen—and contemplates. A blank tablet acting as mere reproach to the woman of genius. that determine one’s subjective desubjectivity as a writer of potential. the great writers of genius. What does he contemplate? Gestures: for the first time truly his own. the powerful unfulfilment of true potential being. Their brilliance does not reside in what they write or what they excise or refute. too much character in one and overabundance of genius in the other. . the brush as it is lifted from the canvas not when it is applied. and so on. only now does the very long unlearning of the self begin . . for Agamben. And what of when a writer simply ceases to write. Then there are the few. . devoid of every charm . all one’s written and unwritten works as Agamben phrases it. Writer’s block and pure. fulfil. but in their ongoing and self-conscious game with writing: to write. inspired flow are two sides of an imbalance of writerly potentiality. Here the author seemingly had little or nothing to do with writing. The pen that grazes the page.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Kenneth Koch’s When the Sun Tries to Go On.
. They are happy with their lot and it would never occur to them not to write. or not to not write.
but is not limited to it. poiesis is “any cause” that results in creation. but the bringing into existence something that was not there before which could be an object.” Bringing something into presence could just as easily
. At the same time creation does not simply indicate the god-like making of a new object in the world. Yet if we pay careful attention to Plato’s words here. the process of actually making is rather less glamorous than that.CHAPTER 2
POIESIS.”2 Within the period of aesthetic modernity extending from Romanticism to our contemporary moment it has been common to interpret this dictum in such a way that poiesis could be taken to mean simply the willed making of something: creation. Finally. but could just as easily be a truth or observation. This view of creativity finds its culmination in Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power as Art or maker as creative genius. poetry has come to be the archetype of all the arts. Plato famously says in the Symposium: “any cause that brings into existence something that was not there before is poiesis. for the modern philosophical tradition. but its wider meaning is in fact creation. dark-browed genius does not necessarily have to work in the intermittent flashes of lightning accompanied by Wagnerian thunder and a rattling gurney to simply “bring something into presence. of filmic presentations of creation such as the various versions of Frankenstein. Such a view confirms the ontotheological and masculine activity of god-like invention as creation ex nihilo that has dominated modern ideas of the artist-creator. This includes willed creative agency therefore. say. A sweating. THINKING THROUGH MAKING
The Greek word poiesis1 is the origin of our term poetry explaining why.
thinking deeply about the “that” and the “how” of material.g. Presence need not be awful.” (QCT. the erecting of a statue in the temple precinct . The chalice makes one think of certain things in relation to ceremony and sacrifice. respecting the Greek provenance. and efficient cause (QCT 6–7)—he considers poiesis in terms of that which brings all these elements together into his chosen art object example: a silver chalice. Relying on the ancient Aristotelian four causes theory of philosophy—matter. form. or accompanying. purpose. toil. each of them must be made of matter that is formed to an end by a causality. form. but the causality that combines all the other elements together into the coming to presence of a truth is not someone deciding to make something but someone. It may be timorous. For Heidegger. unveiling values such as equipmentality. and purpose will all fit together causally. These four causes share the responsibility for “the silver chalice’s lying ready before us as a sacrificial vessel” (QCT. the relationship between gods. Note the emphasis on the object’s availability for use here. . Rather. reliability. Heidegger is careful to stipulate that the silversmith who makes the chalice is not the final and efficient cause of the chalice. The temple. 35). 21). at least not in the way in which they make the chalice. making the chalice is really an afterthought following on from deep consideration on the part of the maker as to how material.” a process he defines as “producing that brings forth—e. and the people through a precinct where earth and sky are gathered and composed together into a world where the gods seem to dwell among us. soil. guiding. Beauty may be a part of poiesis but it is not necessarily the purpose of poiesis. . poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as that which “lets what presences come forth into unconcealment. The statue makes one think of the materialization of a god within a temple. Van Gogh’s peasant shoes “let us know what shoes are in truth” (PLT. The chalice is to hand or possesses Heideggerian equipmentality. 9).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
mean coaxing. the temple. through making. The same would be true of the statue. that he presents as poiesis. and so on. It is what the chalice can produce for us as sacrificial vessel and all that entails. form. and their causality in such a way as they will bring to presence a truth or being that was not available for view before. purpose. rather than the beauty of the chalice.
. and utility..
Poiesis as pro-duction. lacks the subjective agency of an artist as a maker. Poiesis of this second. to praxis which meant to do something or to act in accordance with one’s will (MWC. Poiesis has in the modern age been mistaken therefore for praxis. 69). It is an easy mistake to make. Over vast tracts of time within our culture creation has emerged from the original Greek sense of pro-duction as passive experience of something coming to presence (to pro-duce literally means to lead forward) to a definition resulting in a god-like act of will on the part of man to make something or bring about something in the world that was not there before.3 Work. therefore yet today we often speak of creative production as practice and artists as practitioners. was directly tied into the biological processes of the human as animal and. to confuse poiesis with praxis. poiesis was. which is the Greek sense of experiencing truth as unveiling or a-letheia (un-forgetting.” is god-like fiat and lacks the sense of passivity and modesty inherent in the term’s original definition. was a concept at one remove from their
. for the Greeks. As Agamben explains: “The essential character of poiesis was not its aspect as a practical and voluntary process but its being a mode of truth as unveiling” (MWC.POIESIS. THINKING THROUGH MAKING
According to Agamben poiesis was opposed. poiesis. by making something new and wonderful in the world. voluntary. wilful action. If praxis meant doing something through one’s will to do that thing. un-concealment). This slip of the tongue unfortunately confines creation to the very process. That said the difference between the two terms could not be clearer. praxis. a doer. We ought not to feel excessive culpability or remorse in this regard. an experience of the production of something absent into presence and from concealment into the light. in that both seem to fulfil Plato’s stipulation that creation is bringing something new into existence. that of work. due to the reliance on that culture on the sustaining activities of slaves. what one might call modern “Romantic poiesis. a person able to bend their will to create themselves into being as The Artist. essentially guide or facilitator of truth. in contrast. 68). for the Greeks. that for many thinkers constitutes the opposite of what creation actually is. Poiesis does not share with praxis the element of practical. One of the reasons for this confusion between poiesis and praxis in the modern age relates to a third category. inaccurate order.
is replaced by the question of the “how. . pro-duction into presence. . 72). At the same time a significant shift occurred typified by the modern period wherein “will” comes to overtake the unveiling of truth as the essence of artistic creation: The central experience of poiesis. the original productive state of the work of art is all but forgotten except by certain poets and. For we “moderns” it would seem that making is something a subject does to
. . the shift away from truth to genius facilitated the elevation of work. “the point of arrival of Western aesthetics is a metaphysics of the will. 69). praxis. . and work has been lost. and the materialists. Smith. thus opening the space of truth (ά-λήθεια) and building a world for man’s dwelling on earth—and to the operari of the artist . That said. of life understood as energy and creative impulse” (MWC. of the process through which the object has been produced .”4 However different they are. this means that the emphasis shifts away from what the Greeks considered the essence of the work—the fact that in it something passed from nonbeing into being. Nietzsche’s definition of Will to Power as Art. although the Greeks did not indulge habitually in work. the highest.” to simply “I made this. As this theme develops through materialism and then through philosophy.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
lives. they were able to realize that work was “bare.” that is. Over the centuries the clear differentiation between poiesis. Instead. Greek and modern poiesis are both similarly ontological in basis in that both bring something into being and also operate as an act pertaining to one’s own being. than between praxis as will and poiesis as almost passive experience. (MWC. biological existence” in contrast to the way in which poiesis “constructs the space where man finds his certitude and where he ensures the freedom and duration of his action” (MWC. eventually. the lowest of the three categories for the Greeks to. Heidegger. that is. eventually. 70) As Agamben goes on to show through brief readings of Locke. it is much easier to find common ground between praxis and work understood as the basic production of all material life. most notably in the work of Nietzsche. The predominance of will over creation taken as a value of will. Marx. For example. is completely opposed to the Greek sense of poiesis and is perhaps best summarized in the shift from the subjective statement “this happened to me.
34). 1 flags up this problematic synonymity between poiesis and technics citing Aristotle as claiming: “Every art [tekhne] is concerned with bringing something into being.5
Staying with the Greeks a little longer one can see that the Nietzschean interpretation of poiesis as active. THINKING THROUGH MAKING
being. For them. Greek making defines being as the experience of making. which is precisely the point.”6
. and this confirms the artist’s being as god-like maker. “The arts were not derived from the artistic. the bringing to presence of the gods. This astounding declaration is partly founded on an earlier observation by Heidegger in “The Origin of the Work of Art” that there is a good deal of evidence that the Greeks would not have used the term art in the context of making but would prefer techne or skill. or as Heidegger interprets the Greek sense of truth as aletheia. Most especially poiesis does not make what we would term “art. the Being of beings. meant that. is bringing-forth [Her-vor-bringen]” (QCT. Modern making defines being as making something. willed creation ex nihilo. a premature seizing of the seat of the gods by presumptuous man.” becomes. making the artist a technites (PLT. willed making into being is. Art works were not enjoyed aesthetically. Art was not a sector of cultural activity” (QCT. and looks for technical and theoretical means of producing a thing which belongs to the category of possibility and the cause of which lies in the producer not in what is produced. as Heidegger suspects. The first is active participant.” As Heidegger exudes in the closing sections of his influential essay “The Question Concerning Technology.POIESIS. the second passive recipient. it merely lifts the curtain to reveal what is behind. Bernard Stiegler in his influential study of Technics and Time Vol. This retranslation in effect negates the possibility that creation as poiesis can be Nietzschean. it makes a new being. 10). 59). poiesis does not make anything new. These stipulations allow Heidegger to re-translate Plato’s definition of poiesis so that “any cause that brings into existence something that was not there before is poiesis. “Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis. For the Greeks making is something that can happen to being or the subject to produce an authentic experience of truth.” during the halcyon days of Greek culture in its ascendancy the task granted to poiesis.
instead of art. and techne as skilled knowing through doing. while it does not always make art. in this way or that way. is not simply craft or skill. First. if fleeting. praxis as simply doing. “the making of making as such” as Jean-Luc Nancy translates poiesis in its modern manifestation as poetry as the archetype of all arts. All of this hinges on a double sense of what it means to produce an art work with work referring both to the thing made and the process of its production. Techne. that for the Greeks the three terms were all elements of a process of what they called bringing something into presence or aletheia. Finally
. within what is present. poiesis as production of presence. there is no poiesis without making something. I believe we must accept two things at this stage. The work’s becoming a work is a way in which truth becomes and happens” (PLT. In this way poiesis is not making in the form of simple techne or skilful productivity—although the terms are necessarily linked and for Heidegger as for Stiegler ostensibly synonymous (chair makers for Heidegger have easily as much techne as Damien Hirst or Booker prize winning novelists)—but the activity of bringing to presence something that was not in a state of presence before: the truth of Being as such. Heidegger is helpful in this regard by asserting that there can be no poiesis without techne. Poiesis is the experience of the production or facilitation of the coming into the light of a truth. and the Greeks used instead the word skill. The Greeks conceive of techne. but for the Greeks a specific type of knowing through creative making or as he says: “to make something appear. we must come to terms with the making element of the term as well as the truth revealing or presencing element. As Heidegger states: “to create is to cause something to emerge as a thing that has been brought forth. can one trace any actual. 159). a form of artistic production. 60). producing. Yet surely. techne. is this not a definition of art but of philosophy? For poiesis to make any sense as creative act. our modern sense of creation is a muddle of these three Greek ideas. Praxis is the physical activity and will necessary to bring this about. in terms of letting appear” (PLT. therefore. direct relation between poiesis and art as such? Heidegger believes so in that for him pure poiesis. appearance.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
If there was no term for art as we conceive of it. Therefore while one cannot assume that poiesis is definable as simply making something. as this or that. he explains. makes art make being come to full. the unveiling of truth. Second. although alone making cannot simply will truth.
the work of art. then it can be termed poietic and as such art. It makes a small world effectively. and so poiesis and techne must function together for praxis in general to become artistic practice. or gathers a continuum around itself made up of all the elements of its truthpresencing. but again a gathering of ancient ideas of sacrifice. The art thing as one must now call it rather than the more common art object seems to negate one of the primary aesthetic aims
. etc. THINKING THROUGH MAKING
techne is an intermediary state dependent on real skill in pursuit of the truth. from a thing. Thus Van Gogh’s shoes are not an object. the gods. indeed they are not they are a mere image. instrumental. rather its thingly status depends on the truths it makes manifest for human beings on earth: sacrifice. transmissible traditions. Here Heidegger attentively distinguishes an object or something with clear limits that the subject can observe and indeed make. A thing is something in the world that composes and gathers together truths in the world. but certainly for a work of art to happen there needs to be work as process and work as thing. therefore. If not then such a process is merely making something and is artisanal. and so on. Even the chalice is not on object as such. but they are a thing: a point of gathering of truths about what it means to be on this earth and work this earth using equipment. or that poiesis will result in art. is not poietic as such but resultant from poiesis.8 Heidegger is careful to state that art is not simply a delimited made object in the world.
THE ART THING
Taking all of this to be the case. ceremony. equipmentality. the art object in this context.POIESIS. One might. after Heidegger makes this simple distinction: if an act of making produces being or truth by bringing it into the light.7 Yet this bringing forth of truth cannot occur without making something so that the idea of the work of art must be taken simultaneously as an activity and an object or better thing. There is no guarantee that techne will result in poiesis or the flashing bloom of truth. the religious world. if only briefly and partially. Knowing through skilled making prepares for the possibility of presencing in that it is a process of coming to know things about the world through skilful and directed making. What is poietic about the shoes and the chalice is how they allow objects to become things through the process of making something. or mechanical production.
3). each showing increasing levels of abstraction from the first. Conceptual art is as thingly as Westminster Abbey. simplification.” which is the bringing to presence of truth. compression. Other philosophical themes are regularly addressed
. In each instance the artist’s technical virtuosity does not simply allow them to make beautiful things but provides an opportunity for profound artistic truths pertaining to dimensionality. One of the most transparent examples of the interdependence of poiesis and techne is the move over time towards abstraction in a work such as “Back” by Matisse. from poiesis. Agamben notes how modern art has thought about being and subjectivity. the poietic art thing is not art for art’s sake but art for the sake of truth and world composition. We are now at the point where we can differentiate thinking. Poiesis must be hands-on. Both forms of thinking can often think the same things.” a form of “knowing in the widest sense . 89–96). Nancy speaks of poetry as the very moment of meta-making or thinking about making through making (MA. Similar gradations of abstraction are observable in the art of Picasso. Mondrian. abstraction. to be revealed as if for the first time through their ongoing skill and thoughtful experimentation. representational bronze. composition. As an opening up it is a revealing” (QCT. to be entirely at home in something. effectively negating subjectivity and defining so-called desubjectivization as the modern experience of the poeticization of being. even Turner. and so on. realistic. . Alain Badiou speaks in a similar vein of poetry’s ability to negate the category of the object (MP. and the sensuous realm. Kandinsky. stuff. representation. In “Back” four bronze reliefs of a back are displayed side by side. colour. which is the bringing to presence of truth through making. That said the art thing must subsist in matter. Pollock.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
of modern art: that the object made comes to stand in the world in a delimited and self-sufficient manner akin to that of rocks and flowers. to understand and be expert in it. Such knowing provides an opening up. Certainly. what Heidegger calls “Denken. techne is itself “something poietic. For critics this would be truth-revealing enough but it must be conceded that for thinkers of poiesis such as Heidegger and Agamben these quasi-truths would only be granted full truth status if they move the artist and observer towards greater truths such as the Being of beings for Heidegger or artistic desubjectivization for Agamben. If poiesis is dependent on techne. 13). . Its object-status is to some degree irrelevant.
A central element of the activity of poiesis is the complex issue of finitude or formal completion. THINKING THROUGH MAKING
by the arts. and Agamben. Thus a flower’s finitude is not its actual perfection but the perfection of flowers as such.9 or what I will go on to name “logopoiesis.POIESIS. subtlety. traditional Greek culture such as that imagined by Hölderlin. It seems obvious. propriety. A non-purposive finitude allows for the work of art to partake of the perfection of a completion that is not directed towards any ends other than finitude as such and the pleasure we habitually and inexplicably gain from perceiving perfectly finished. finitude. the case with works of art as well. happiness. contested status. 10). causality. makes a thing in the world in a way which provides a powerful point of difference between thinking as such and poietic thinking. that a flower is complete but its completion is not of the order of its physical borders. Such a procedure of thinking through making defines “poetic thinking” as Heidegger and Badiou have termed it. If we are to believe the philosophers. singularity. being in the world. ostensibly. mobile. Issues such as part and whole. not least because a flower is a living. and balanced made things. Heidegger. intuitive even. I want to concentrate instead on the more complicated issue of its finitude. One could judge their completion against communally held values pertaining to what perfect and thus finished work was. in itself ” (QCT. nature. The maker-thinker. growing. according to Heidegger. and complexity of the term poiesis the artist can now be described as a “maker-thinker. poised. which cannot be considered in terms of art even if. and decaying thing. The finitude of a work of art in a totally transmissible. not through pedestrian description or disciplined argumentation but through a form of thinking that occurs courtesy of the activity of making. and Being as such. law. His chosen example of poiesis in nature is “the bursting of a blossom into bloom. Rather than dwell here on the much-vaunted Wildean uselessness of modern art. infinity. Kant’s famous definition of the art work as that which has finitude without purpose is. in part.
. the human. death. this used to be. flowers are in possession of poiesis. after all. a means by which to differentiate beauty made by human hands and the beauty of flowers and so on. are all thought by poietic activity.” Due to the provenance.
critical sensibility. The frame may become the work or its faming in the museum its poiesis. For Agamben such a view is meaningless to modern. or marginalia that surround the art object may indeed now constitute the art object.10
. it does not. with delicious paradox. Further. Taking all this into consideration one has to conclude we live in an age of very Greek art. we value art for not conforming to any such model if it did indeed exist which. had always been. and truth was. It would be true to say that the modern art work lacks finitude in almost direct proportion to its attainment of ever new levels of non-purposiveness. unique object. Here is the first stanza of a poem by Charles Bernstein entitled “Warrant”: I warrant that this poem is entirely my own work and that the underlying ideas concepts. There is no communally held view as to what a Work of Art in general should be. and would unquestionably always remain. and conceptuality of art works mean it is now often impossible to determine the actual. objective. In our epoch the value of a work of art is precisely the opposite. or material (even temporal) limits of a work of art. frames. and make-up of the poem have not been taken from any other source or any other poem but rather originate with this poem.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
was not to be found around the borders of the work but the means by which the work matched the transmissible model of what art. virtuality. but in the endless process of the coming into presence of the being of art in a manner entirely separate from the simple activity of making something lovely. Finally. It was an act of mapping a perfect gestalt. We are also more than ever attuned to the material problems of delineating the work of art in that the parerga. not how it conforms to the model but how it is an original work that confounds modelling as a cultural process of imposed convention and cliché. material innovations in the performativity. value. for our ability to retain the term art at all is surely testimony to the means by which we consider art not as located within a carefully crafted.
of that productive action of which artistic doing is only a privileged example . does not designate here an art among others. .POIESIS.” (MWC. no actual delimited poem body here. That said he does not simply accede to Heidegger’s reading of the term.” then we need poiesis if only to keep hold of art. the principle and origin of its entry into presence” (MWC. But what is the status of the ancient Greek term poiesis in a contemporary modern art environment? This is a question that Agamben in his work on poiesis has tried to answer.” the one we are actually reading. that is. but is the very name of man’s doing. Agamben is able to admit that even nature could come under the term poiesis if it were not for a careful stipulation of Aristotle between a natural act of creation that “contains in itself its own άρχή [arche].
MORPHE. and ontology. either also called “Warrant” or perhaps nameless. poetry. if this is a work of art where does its artistic being emanate from? I would argue first that the poem is art and second that its art status comes from its poiesis. illimited art things such as “Warrant. but returns back to the Greek and applies his own philological skills in trying to resolve the complex problem of the exact relation of poiesis to human doing essential to his later formulations of potentiality as having the ability to do something. and that which finds its principle through
. aesthetic convention. SHAPE
Agamben sides initially with Heidegger in calling for a return to and development of the original Greek sense of poiesis as production into presence. law. in fact. therefore. the process of a coming into being of an idea about art as object within the market place. lineated legal prose and not “poetic” at all in any sense of profound techne. beyond the deictic “this” as an indication of the presence of a poem in its legally. THINKING THROUGH MAKING
This is one of several examples of self-annihilating meta-poiesis in the work of the greatest conceptual poet writing today. and as the poetry on view is. As there is no poem object as such to view. The deixis of “this poem” immediately reveals pure indication. 60). aesthetically. If modern and future art criticism and creation is based on a process of aesthetic judgement on nonpurposive non-objectal. in that the poem being described and warranted does not exist except as something indicated within another “poem. 59). and ontologically warranted absence. . Thus he declares: “Poiesis. There is.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
human productive activity instead. This second category enters into presence by virtue of techne or skill, especially at shaping, forming before our eyes the crux of the difference between nature and poiesis, and finally dispatching the idea to be found in Heidegger that nature is also poietic. Nature contains within itself the principle by which it enters into presence, what Kant terms purposiveness, while poiesis has the character of a hylomorphic and Aristotelian “installation into shape” (MWC, 60) by which Agamben explains it must take on a shape or form in order to make the transition from nonbeing into being—for example Bernstein’s ideas about the enframing of art by capital taking the shape of a poem. Poiesis then produces a shape or form but poiesis is not the creation of an object. If an art object is presented then this object is the result of poiesis. All art is, in this light, post-poietic waste product. The interrelationship between shape and poiesis production into presence is problematic for a theory of modern creation. The Greek word for shape, morphe, was associated with idea and image, as well as appearance, all essential components of the presencing or bringing forward of poiesis. What does it mean that coming to presence takes a shape in poiesis? For a Greek audience au fait with the concept of Ideal Forms perhaps such a question might never be raised. It is simply too obvious. The Form of nature which is outside of space and time comes to human perception, it appears, in particular instances of form all of which are representations, examples or manifestations of Form as such, but none of which constitute Form as such. Form, therefore, while appearing in many forms, is irreducible to its forms. Hence the question of shape/form, morphe, was easily resolved by reference back, up or out to a set of Ideal Forms for comparison. Yet within the epoch of modernity shape is not something one can have any confidence in as an unquestionable presence. Within English, for example, the many varied definitions of the term shape might lead one to conclude the term “shape” is itself rather baggy, a tad shapeless. It can mean creation and/or form, outline, the created universe as such, imaginary or ghostly forms, an indistinct person or form, the outward appearance of something, to mould, and to frame. There is as much definition in the term relating to framing and indistinctness as to moulding and forming, perhaps indicating a slow dissolution of Greek ideas of Ideal form over time resulting in a
POIESIS, THINKING THROUGH MAKING
notable indistinctness surrounding the activity of formation. Spiralling out from this word are multiple possibilities that all indicate the problematic of taking on a Greek definition of poiesis without the concomitant intellectual architecture of a theory of Ideal Forms. If one believes in Forms then it is clear how poiesis can be said to produce presence through making without actually creating or making anything new in the world. The form one’s thing takes gives revelatory access to the Ideal Form which is at the root of the Being of all beings and this determines its shape. Yet without a sustained and secure theory of Form as the foundation or lit projection of formed shape as frame any modern theory of poiesis stutters to a degree however essential it is. How can production be the conferring of form onto a presence if the very conception of form undermines itself and thus provides nothing but a leaky container for the already slippery and dissolute matter of one’s making? If poiesis is making as such dependent on an idea of shape as truthful agreement with an already existent Ideal form, what is making for us today in a postFormal world?
The question casts us back to and indeed brings together two key issues in Agamben’s philosophy: poetry and potentiality. Summarizing Aristotle, Agamben delineates how every act of pro-duction into presence, natural or man-made, has the character of what is usually translated as actual reality defined in contrast to potentiality. Agamben then explains that actual reality is a rather poor translation in that Aristotle also employs the term entelechy in relation to actuality. While entelechy is usually reserved for the very process wherein potentiality comes to actuality, Agamben philologically opens up the definition of entelechy as follows: “That which enters into presence and remains in presence, gathering itself, in an end-directed way, into a shape in which it finds its fullness, its completeness; that which, then, έν τέλι έχι, possesses itself in its own end, has the character of ενέργεια . . . means being-at-work, since the work, έργον, is precisely entelechy . . .” (MWC, 64–5). In contrast to entelechyactuality, Aristotle defines potential as that which, not (yet) being at work, doesn’t “possess itself in its own shape as its own end” but is merely available (MWC, 65). If this is the case, work as a result of poiesis cannot be simply potential because “it is precisely production
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
into and station in a shape that possesses itself in its own end” (MWC, 65). Entelechy is the final element that allows us to recuperate poiesis as a term for creation. Poiesis is a work but, according to the passages just cited, it is also the result of work. Even so, apart from modern art it cannot actually be “at work.” Poiesis as creation is made up therefore of three elements. The first is potential, the availability-for of a material and a skill that, however, without techne, cannot come into actuality. The second is actuality, which is potentiality realized in the form of being-at-work. We must define this as not being continually at work, in process, never coming to an end, but that actuality is being at and in the form and station of a work. Thus work in which there is no being is not a real work and is represented by Agamben by the industrial object. In that all objects result from potential and end up in actuality, the third term in play here, entelechy, is that which differentiates making from creation-making. Agamben’s extended definition of entelechy is complex and remains without full development in his own work, presumably because the terms are all already in play in Aristotle, but it seems essential to fully understand poiesis that we spend some time explaining these issues. As becomes increasingly apparent, poiesis is the direct product of entelechy or that which negotiates between potential and actuality. Indeed poiesis is definable as the messianic formula: potential— (entelechy)—actuality.11 Entelechy determines something that both enters into and remains in presence. Thus entelechy must emanate from nonpresence and remain in a state of presence. The Heideggerian term “gathering” is instructive in this regard in that it suggests the nature of nonpresence as disseminated or dispersed and the coming to presence of poiesis as not so much the revelation of a form hiding in a substance but the attraction of things towards and composition around a substance. The way, for example, a jug attracts issues of containment, shoes in Van Gogh concepts of equipmentality, or a statue in the precinct of a Greek temple makes manifest an ideal of the gods. All this leads up to the crucial element of entelechy as that which allows a work to find absolute finitude. Being-at-work therefore means the total coincidence of being and form, the total realization of eidos that is, as Agamben says, both full and complete. Complete indeed because the moulded shape is replete with being. The shape of the work of art, then, is all important, as the only differentiation
POIESIS, THINKING THROUGH MAKING
between potentiality and actuality is that potentiality does not possess a shape. Entelechy is the process of shape-making and shapefilling forcing upon us an unusual sense of creation. Making or poiesis consists of marshalling the energy of presence as potential work into presence-at-work or actuality. This is not the making of anything as such. Rather poiesis makes an outline or contour for being. One must presume that until entelechy is complete, and Agamben gives no definite time for this as clearly entelechy does not take a period of time but takes one from the atemporal zone of Forms to the temporality of work via his own conception of messianic temporality, this contour is not yet shaped. Until the impossible point of completion it remains shape in potential, an elasticity of an already closed but not yet finished line. As being makes its way into this lasso of work it comes to simultaneously fill and make the shape. When being touches every point internal to the line then the work is complete, full, and finished. Here we see a shift away from the definition of the work of art as the total coincidence of form and theme as is often stated, to that of an elastic and tensile coincidence of form and shape. Agamben names this “content” allowing him to define the modern artist, after Musil, as the man without content or creator away from form; shaper of shape as such; instigator of a pocket or gap within the tensile balloon of the work. Like Ulrich, such an artist is brimming over with abilities, but has no actual quality or content as he cannot apply his qualities to any one task and convert his potential into actual, subjective value and identity.12 His potential remains shapeless in other words, lacking in entelechy.
ARCHE, MODERN ANTI-POIESIS
Speaking of the period of aesthetic modernity Agamben notes that during our epoch the conception of the shaping of a unitary set of objects which do not come from nature but which possess finitude through agreement between shape and form has been split by the rise of modern technology and capitalism. With the infamous division of labour came also the division of making, leading to a differentiation or scission between things “that enter into presence according to the statute of aesthetics and those that arise purely by way of τέχυη [techne]” (MWC, 60–1). This downgrading of techne to mere making without poiesis promotes Agamben to reconsider poiesis in terms of
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
the modern doctrine of art being that which is original or authentic. He purports that within modern aesthetics any made thing that does not contain its own arche or origin within itself has been called original, the term meaning not so much unique but of proximity to an origin. During the modern period therefore: “The work of art is original because it maintains a particular relationship to its origin, to its formal άρχή, in the sense that it not only derives from the latter and conforms to it, but also remains in a relationship of permanent proximity to it” (MWC, 61). What this means in real terms is that poiesis refutes reproducibility through its claim to an originality that “maintains with its formal principle such a relation of proximity as excludes the possibility that its entry into presence may be in some way reproducible, almost as though the shape pro-duced itself into presence in the unrepeatable act of aesthetic creation” (MWC, 61). In other words, an original art work is pro-duced into the light from a proximate and preceding source. As soon as one reproduces the art work, one places it an extra remove from the source and indeed cancels out poiesis as pro-duction, for now it is re-pro-duction. And, for Agamben at least, that is not good at all. Agamben concludes that reproducibility is the essence of techne and originality the essence of the modern work of art. Yet, on the other hand, outside of Greek culture what does this modern quest for the origin actually consist of ? Agamben defines the arche as “the image, which governs and determines the entry into presence” (MWC, 61). In contrast, objects made simply according to techne do not have proximity to this image but rather the image preexists as an already pre-pro-duced mould with which the product must conform. Again, this issue depends on the presumption of an eidos or arche-image. In a transmissible culture, this eidos is the already existent content of any work of art that will be reproduced. In the Greek epoch of transmission, originality therefore is simply inconceivable in relation to creation. One does not create something new as in something novel but rather one creates a new body for an already existent idea which allows one to see this idea as if for the first time. Surprisingly, according to Agamben in the modern world, there is also no new work of art because there is no work or object that can be made that conforms both to the idea and the form of poiesis. Thus Agamben argues that originality totally destroyed the idea of the artist wherein “everything that in some way constituted the common space in which the personalities of different artists met
62). The object cannot attain presence and remains enveloped in shadow. the only two movements available at present for modern acts of creation. Ideas held in common. therefore. Pop art is all form with no proximity to the concept. (MWC. testifying as it does to its singular originality. With the ready-made an industrial object is alienated from its context and thus raised up into the sphere of art. Agamben demonstrates the paradox of modern originality brilliantly with reference to what he sees as the two most significant modern artistic investigations of the very presence of the art object. leaving poiesis as such as a place-holder of negation somewhere in between the two options: In both cases—except for the instant of the alienation effect—the passage from the one to the other status is impossible: that which is reproducible cannot become original. is poiesis in suspension. is modern art’s first and most lasting poiesis: artistic desubjectivization or creative self-alienation. These hybrid forms of poiesis are not simply two movements in modern art.POIESIS. While in the past traditional values and lack of originality determined greatness as being proximate to the source of poiesis. THINKING THROUGH MAKING
in a living unity” (MWC. became during our age simply the commonplace. in a sense. and that which is irreproducible cannot be reproduced. yet at the same time it is a comment on its rampant reproducibility. What need is there of a warrant if the work were not in danger of unwarranted reproducibility away from and damaging of the archepresence of the poem as such? The final brilliant twist being that
. now the artist is defined as the person who makes things that don’t fit the mould but which break with moulding. The curtain is grasped but never raised. The brilliance of Bernstein’s poem now becomes even more apparent in that he is able to demonstrate both situations in one single work. they are. With pop art the situation is reversed in that an art object is made utilizing techne then reproduced using industrial processes. for Agamben. Thus the artist brings to being the very end of the lasting concept of the artist as subject and this. It is pure eidos for its form and shape are irrelevant. 63–4) Modern art. the ready-made and pop art. On the one hand “Warrant” deals directly with the archepresence of the poem. suspended in a kind of disquieting limbo between being and nonbeing.
within the dark defiles of modern art itself. in contrast to the poet. Leading him. at the very least. wheels. the form in which privation itself comes into presence” (MWC. As Agamben says in reference to his chosen examples. categorical amnesia. the question shifts from the Greek inheritance of creation as the coming to presence of a being to the issue of being and nonbeing within coming to being. modern art works such as these “constitute the most alienated (and thus most extreme) form of poiesis. If it remains proximate to arche-presence it can take on no physical form and instead has to parasitically occupy an already existent. If it comes to find a shape it must allow that form to succumb to the techne of modern reproducibility carrying it permanently away from its originary presence. In modern aesthetic theory since Kant.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
arche-presence is undermined by there being no poem other than that indicated by the empty deixis of “this poem. Perhaps Agamben should have consulted with Bernstein for. he is writing in an age where the shape of the work. is problematized because it is bifurcated. to an epochal apostrophe: “how is it possible to attain a new poiesis in an original way?” (MWC. meaning he accedes to the Greek world of Ideal Forms.
. philosophical understanding of poiesis. which is perhaps why shape bears close proximity to indistinctness. The answer to this question must lodge. unlike Plato and Aristotle.” and thus there can be no reproduction of the work precisely because the warrant controlling this process is the work itself. its taking shape. its becoming something. he seems locked here into a set of almost impossible aporias. 64). Furthermore. The very shape of a work of modern art is permanently split. Agamben’s conception of creation depends on the Greek concept of poiesis. Like most of his peers. arche-mimesis. including the subjective nonbeing of the artist. as ever. and so on). in splitting poiesis. While this is a lamentable state of affairs for a full. Modern art is either poiesis without techne or techne without poiesis. 64). He is forced to take on the act of making as the transition from nonbeing into being and all that entails. in some fashion. and eidos. modernity has turned poiesis into a problem and thus made it visible for us after many centuries of easeful. industrial form (urinals.
Agamben is one of the most aggressive and suggestive critics of modernism that we have or ever will encounter. He calls this epoch.CHAPTER 3
MODERNITY. The Homo Sacer project and the metaphysical considerations of works such as Language and Death construct critical theories of political and philosophical modernity that are proving impossible to ignore. that is its destiny. a time that is both out of time in that it is beyond everyday linear time. This duality of temporality as regards being is the basis of what one might call ontological temporality. Yet. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
Since Heidegger questions pertaining to being are traditionally posed through two temporalities. and then. he has a name for the coming together of the two elements of ontological time in a moment of crisis that is first. potentially productive. Heidegger argues. This was not always the case and our dire situation will. He too sees the temporality of human being as both immemorial ecstasy and contingent historicity and. and indeed one of Agamben’s aims is the bringing of modernity
. modernity. is currently withheld from view in the modern age of instrumental technology because. at some juncture. historically. Being. change. like his great forebear. the very epoch of the epoch.1 Under pressure from such attacks modernity can barely be said to remain intact. The coming to presence of being in aletheia or manifestation of truth as unveiling and bringing to light typical of poiesis is a type of sempiternal event. he argues. and “out of time” in that it sounds the death knell of the metaphysical project and dispatches being into hiding for an indefinite period of time. being is also profoundly historical in a deep destinal way he calls Geschichte. Agamben’s work on time is indebted to but not uncritical of this model of ontological time. nihilistic.
This time that remains. while modernity is a temporal epoch it demands a reconsideration of temporality in terms of ontological epochality that must replace a simple linear representation of modern time as moving towards the eschaton of completion. 23). Agamben will not. his is a project that reoccupies the nihilised spaces of modernity through a productive negation of modern categories with the aim of moving beyond the modern by dividing it from itself internally. Rather. or the condition of the hos me “as not. That modernity allows us access to time as a remnant that will radically undermine the eschatological and chronological categories of modern time is both the tragedy of the modern and its lasting hope. subjective modernization is the realization of the radical change in the conception of time followed by the occupation of that site of transmutation as the only time left to us on this earth.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
to a form of non-eschatological resolution. which is a common representation of time within modernity (TTR. for example deixis. the issue of modern time is so central to Agamben’s work from his very earliest pronouncements to his most recent. Rather. takes the form of a messianic contracted time of remnants (TTR. In this way. But more relevant to debates on modernity is the way in which the call to
. 5–6). il tempo che resta. For this reason. and ending. the messianic the subject is called out of its current position and then required to occupy the process of its desubjectivization as its new subjective existence. indeed cannot abandon the dark and divided epochality of our modern age of aesthetic modernity. along with his mid-career investigations of the gesturality and the pure mediality of thought as potential. desubjectivization.” When called by ¯ ¯.3 and his complex revision of historiography. 62–3). The messianic kle emulates many elements of ¯sis Agamben’s earlier work on language. disallow him the simple act of finishing with the modern. and dictation. temporality. Agamben will never allow a movement from temporal modernity to ontological or subjective modernity.2 Yet Agamben’s realism. This ¯sis call to vocation he defines as the “revocation of every vocation” (TTR. some might call it fatalism.
LIVING AS IF OR AS NOT
In the early pages of The Time That Remains (2000) Agamben considers the Pauline call to a Messianic vocation through a philological reconsideration of the term kle (call or vocation).
as an ontological condition. aesthetics. but rather the now familiar suspension of actualization that exemplifies potentiality at its most powerful and creative. the archetypal example of living as if.” ending with Gaultier’s work Bovarysm. Agamben details a history of the philosophy of “as if ” which need not concern us except that it originates in a critique by Taubes of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory which Taubes believes advocates thinking through the despair of the modern age only as if it could be redeemed. The call does not negate subjectivity but calls subjectivity into presence through desubjectivity. 61–78). this is patently not the case as Agamben is at pains to demonstrate (TTR. the time that ¯sis remains within temporal contraction. So when Agamben posits the “as not” as a positive alternative to what he calls the “as if.5 This has no small importance for while Agamben regularly resorts to telling stories as an alternative philosophical method he rarely speaks of the fictive and narrative as such. a number of thinkers of modernity have come to see “as if ” as the great failing of thought in the modern era expressly as regards its role in aestheticization (TTR.” All the same Agamben presents a full analysis of the twentieth-century tradition of thinking the “as if. If “as not” is a negation of being that presages a positive coming of being to presence “after” negation (the messianic time that remains). and the arts in the most unexpected places. has not been seen to be the case by the critical heritage. 35–40). The phrases “as not” and “as if ” both play games with the idea of negation and creation. however. Rather. while messianic kle would seem to occupy a temporality of ending.” typical of modern thought about aesthetics. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
negation is not conceived by Agamben as just another form of modern nihilism but something potentially productive. This may seem less that auspicious terrain to seek out ideas pertaining either to literature or modernity but it is typical of Agamben’s work that one encounters comments about poetics. therefore. The “as not” is not negation as such. Finally. This alerts Agamben’s interest. one can begin to see how messianic time can be of great utility to ideas about modern art. as Agamben shows. to live “as if ” sounds initially like a creative potentiality for being. rather than aspiring towards actual redemption. which considers fiction.MODERNITY.4 This. not least because he finds it hard to accept that Adorno advocates an aestheticization of thought after he famously designates aesthetic beauty as “a spell over spells.6 This then is a rare mention
Agamben’s consideration of “as if ” is a side issue in his attempt to present a credible messianic condition of living “as. This maudlin yet typically modern stance leads Agamben to conclude: “The fact of having missed the moment of its realization is what obliges philosophy to indefinitely contemplate the appearance of redemption. . That is why aesthetic beauty cannot be anything more than a spell over spells” (TTR. and second. .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
of the possibility that just as poetry and linguistics can be seen to enter the field of ontology. .7 while it takes a truly brave thinker to live as one “who no longer knows the as if. What is the Will to Power as Art except turning as-if-ness into creative. Aesthetic beauty is the chastisement. . specifically his contention that “philosophy lives on because the moment to realize it was missed” (cited in TTR. This ontological condition does not stand up to the test of modern ontological thinking perhaps. ontology is reduced to pretending-to-be as a form of double ontological negation. Agamben is strongly critical of this stance rejecting immediately Adorno’s negative dialectics as typifying a defeatist “impotential” that is unable to find power in weakness that he feels the Pauline messianic tradition of potential excels in. of philosophy’s having missed its moment . he argues. but we will come to see it as the specifically epochal manifestation of desubjectivization in general. at the same time this impotent turning to the aesthetic at the point of thought’s failure is more than acceptable to him as a definition of the modern era. so too fiction might be a credible category of thinking about being. Gaultier defines the essence of human being as believing one is different to whom one is. 37). but pretends to be something.” in this instance “as not” rather than “as if. This being man’s essence. one pretends to be someone else because one is no one. According to his
. Yet. subjective agency value? In an age when god is dead. First. bringing to mind Heidegger’s definition of poets as demi-gods.” Such a subject “no longer has similitudes at his disposal . All of these considerations return Agamben’s attention back to Adorno. so to speak. 42). thinkers of the “as if ” live on the earth as if they were gods. he must now really live in a world without God” (TTR. in doing so one of course is pretending to be something other than what one is in that one is nothing. and Gaultier himself suggests that Nietzsche’s attempt to overcome nihilism was little more than an attempt to live the “as if ” of absent being through wilful and creative appropriation.” Yet it is significant. 37).
MODERNITY. to live the “as not” is far from being nihilistic. proving destructive and nihilistic in each instance. This as-if-ness requires that one ontologize the spell over spells that Agamben later says “may even aptly describe poetry” (TTR. tragic. For not only does the spell over spells cast a false veil over thinking it also misrepresents the poetic as well. thought. considering the failure of modern thought and the horrendous nature of modern history how else can one live except “as if ?” One cannot live the truth for the truth is nothingness.” that dreaded term aestheticization: aestheticization of philosophy. is added to the realm of the proper. Yet. One lives as if one is a character in a great.
.” while seemingly creative and thus an act of poiesis. Thus one lives as if one lives. The most familiar is the “as if. The second option is to live “as not. is: How does one travel from “as if ” to “as not”? To do this. but potentially redeeming modern novel. the empty violence of The Real. the aesthetic. therefore. it is itself the negation of modern negativity in the form of a messianic moment to come which is the true state of modern now-time. To get to a “new” poiesis. creativity. as if one has being. or so the argument of aestheticization goes. one first has to travel through the dread landscapes of aesthetic modernism. under the spell of living “as if. as indeed it does. and this is what Agamben’s early tome The Man Without Content ventures as he makes the first of several attempts to negate negation. If “as not” involves negation. living as such. 39). therefore. as if the philosophical pursuits of truth and happiness could be realized. turns out to be self-defeating both for thought and art. If “as if ” is a belated and blinded decadence.8 Nor can one live life itself for that has been reduced to horror and bareness. In each of these very modern formulations an assumed impropriety. one needs to traverse the problems of aestheticization and replace them with a radical poeticization. aestheticization of life. In contrast to this. I would argue. The life of the “as if ” is the modern condition of the handing over of the failure of thinking to the debilitating yet distracting pleasures of the text. of art even. The great question for modern thought. aestheticization of politics. a living through thought as if thought could still redeem itself but also accepting that we will always miss it if it does (a subtle swipe at Badiou perhaps?). the “as not” depicts an alternate futural moment of authentic being. the State. modern aesthetics has two potentialities available to it.” Aesthetics becomes. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
reading.” Living “as if.
.9 The arrest of transmissibility is. an idea also taken from Benjamin. you will recall. what we miss is a common experience that the modern subject can undergo. 15). and totally possess: “Thus experience is now definitively something one can only undergo but never have. perhaps an engraving commissioned at some expense from a Parisian atelier or a detailed description in a traveller’s journal first handed round by close friends then published and a runaway success? In other words. What is lacking in modernity is not the element of testing. due to two modern statements by the masters of modern thought. The essays that make up this remarkable study then primarily investigate the implications of the thesis of the end of cultural transmission. to go through and to test. This consideration of the negation of experience in the modern is a development of what Agamben calls the end of the transmissibility of common values and experiences within our culture. and the Heideggerian adage that art no longer dwells among us. he argues. the Nietzschean idea that god is dead. 38). indeed criticism is in essence all that modernity has become. another way of expressing the end of experience in post-transmissible cultures. has two meanings for Agamben. to the work of Walter Benjamin. reproductive age—note here how reproduction does not aid transmission of cultural value but eliminates it—what dictates the exact rate of the fading of a work’s aura? Does aura dim in direct proportion to the numerical potentiality of a work’s reproducibility. one must
. Experience is never accessible as a totality and never complete except in the infinite approximation of the total social process . or the possibility of sustaining an experience. test. as he so often does. for modern life is replete with new and exciting experiences. In the closing pages of The Man Without Content Agamben turns. In a post-transmission. Experience. specifically here highlighting a profound aporia in Benjamin’s work on the fading of the aura in modern art and culture.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
As we saw. in the debate presented in Infancy and History on experience Agamben is quick to agree with Benjamin that one of the preconditions of modernity is the negation of experience (IH. .” (IH. Rather. a gradual decline that rapidly accelerates as the industrial process and consumer demand increases? Or would it be more accurate to state that a work is divested of its aura at the moment of its first reproduction.
the further away from the source of its authority it is carried. a urinal is signed into being singular and thus art. becomes the very cipher of elusiveness. seemingly. This problem is not lost on Agamben. . With each copy. The best comparison here is made by Agamben himself elsewhere in this volume when he places together the two key examples of modern art. however. carries authenticity to extremes: technical reproducibility is the moment when authenticity. in effect. (MWC. like so many of the German thinker’s eclectic projects. comments on aura. its technical reproducibility . every text. probably Benjamin’s most astute and generous reader. Duchamp questioning the authority of the creator. 106) It remains hard to tell if Agamben is glossing Benjamin here or totally dismissing his most influential theory. remove the aura from the work of art: Far from freeing the object from its authenticity. a consumer item rather than a work of art. Agamben asserts. It becomes.MODERNITY. The more an art object is reproduced. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
determine if the auratic twilight of the modern is a historical process taking place over time or an a-chronological event. contains a historical
. incomplete. Pop art instead takes the process of industrial reproduction and applies it to the art object. The technical expertise that allowed for an industrial-scale reproducibility of art works thus removing from them their sacred quality. one might presume. states the opposite. Both are. Benjamin argues. As we saw the ready-made confers aura to an industrial object. This is to say: the work of art loses the authority and the guarantees it derived from belonging to a tradition for which it built the places and objects that incessantly weld past and present together. Properly speaking this is not at odds with Benjamin but is in accord with what Agamben defines as his great forbear’s messianic hermeneutic principle: “every work. . Not until a work is reproducible can the question of authenticity be raised for the first time by the distance introduced between original and copy by the industrial process. when he argues that Benjamin’s discovery of the loss of the auratic value of art is. perhaps the most central theory in the canon of cultural studies. by way of the multiplication of the original. it moves one more step away. Warhol the singularity of the work. the ready-made and pop art. besmirching them in the profanity of repetition and excess did not. Agamben.
Indeed. are both comments on cultural intransmissibility. it also depends on the transmissibility of this quality (by transmissibility here read unquestioned status). both actual in terms of rail travel and virtual in terms of the mass media and new technologies such as the telegraph. Reproducibility contributes to this malaise only by weakening the points wherein past and present meet. works of auratic art. does not inhere solely in the work’s unique singularity. 145). the defacement of the icon simply adds aura to it within a transitional culture of transmissible intransmissibility wherein the potentiality or perhaps simply desire for authenticity still exists. an activity that
Reproducibility as mass phenomenon occurs simultaneous to the end of cultural transmissibility within Western societies in the form of the negation of common experience by the end of the nineteenth century. If aura exists it only exists for us at the moment that we see it in accordance with Benjaminian hermeneutics. that there is only one or that it has the quality of a magical relic. and deface them (think of Magritte’s infamous vandalization of a reproduction of the Mona Lisa). The two great dicta of modern art’s destruction of tradition. Myopically peering through the murk. the religious icon say. the lights lowered to dissuade further fading. Modernists have often been called iconoclasts but according to Agamben this is literally true in that they take religious relics. reproducibility along with communicability.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
index which indicates both its belonging to a determinate epoch. as well as its only coming forth to full legibility at a determinate historical moment” (TTR. The authenticity and authority of the icon. god is dead and an art no longer dwells among us. What Agamben realizes is that within the modern moment. occur together technically as the result of the same forces initially on these very islands from which I am transmitting my code to the world. blinding anti-poiesis. we strain to see what is left of the concept of an authentic and singular work of art and in not being able to see authenticity it comes to view for the first time in a moment of tenebrous. What Agamben cannily reveals in reading Benjamin’s ideas on art under the heading of his ideas on history is that reproducibility is meaningless unless thought of in tandem with transmissibility.
The end of experience experienced as shocking is. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
replaces the communal places of common art. In both formulations. in other words. The paradox of the eternal transient is the more well known and its oxymoronic nature obvious. the fleeting. temple or festival.”10 easily confer upon him the honour of being the great precursor to contemporary reappraisals of modernity and aesthetics. 106). the lieu commun and the eternal transient. the ability of modern life and art to shock (for shock is the result of a happening for which a culture is not preprepared) and make shock the new locale of a common. Face to face with the dissolution of aura within a society where the authority of tradition was daily under attack. the other being the eternal and the immutable. At this juncture Agamben then begins to tinker ever so slightly with the terms in play when referring to the means by which Baudelaire saved art and created modernity. Baudelaire demonstrates the powerful forces at play in modernity’s embracing of reproducibility at the moment of intransmissibility by his creation of two impossible paradoxes. In effect. or commonplace wherein modern shock can become what we hold in common. In order to bring this mammoth prophylaxis/invention into play “the artist had to attempt to reproduce in his work that very destruction of transmissibility
. Baudelaire’s conception of shock. Baudelaire’s comments on modernity here. our new. the contingent. Shock is defined here as the “jolt power acquired by things when they lose their transmissibility and their comprehensibility within a given cultural order” (MWC. Baudelaire was confronted with the very collapse of art as a means for the transmissibility of common cultural values and thus the end of art as it had been conceived through the whole of transmissible Western culture. 106). along with his rumination that the modern is “the transient. Agamben realizes. modern experience.” Baudelaire “fulfilled this task by making the very intransmissibility of culture a new value and putting the experience of shock at the center of his artistic labour” (MWC. As regards the proposal of shock as the “common place” of a post-transmissible culture however. is the missing element of Benjamin’s great theory of aura. Baudelaire was tasked with inventing a new source of authority for the art work. common experience. it is the one half of art.MODERNITY. with the famous Baudelaire lieu commun. what Baudelaire attempts is to take the very value that ends tradition. Having to “invent a new authority.
it forms the basis of the whole of the epoch of aesthetic modernity and modern aestheticization. Attend here to the means by which Agamben repositions the meaning of the terms reproducibility and transmissibility. 106). More than that. reproduction is instead reserved for the praxis of the creator. The work of art must therefore cease to be an objectal work and become instead praxis or being at work whose materiality is reduced to the vehicular transportation of that which cannot be transported. Art did not act as a vehicle for transmission. and this alienation is in its turn nothing other
. Previous to the moment or epoch of shock there was in effect no “work of art” as art was environed seamlessly within the very culture it was able to transmit through time. Shock becomes not the collapse of meaning in art but the meaning of art as the collapse of meaning. This event alone produces what we now call modern art. absolutely and significantly finite. the alienation effected by the work of art. and relighting of aura’s eternal flame through the epochal hiatus between transmissibility and the transmission of a communal intransmissible experience of culture. The new work of art. that dissolves the finitude of the art object as a delimited and valued thing through its reproducibility and conversion into praxis. linking tradition with the present age. must be defined as a process of transmitting the very quality of intransmissibility. With the rise of reproducibility the work of art becomes severed from this community and ceases to transmit so that reproducibility is not the cause of the diminishment of aura but merely facilitates what is in fact the revelation. The work becomes a moment of shock. Instead of a work of art being a thing in itself whose reproduction undermines its sacral singularity effectively profaning the work.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
that was at the origin of the experience of shock: in this way he would succeed in turning the work into the very vehicle of the intransmissible” (MWC. in this light. art was transmission. It becomes. in effect. in the final analysis. expunging. At the same moment it brings the work of art into contact with history for the very first time: “The survival of the past in the imponderable instant of aesthetic epiphany is. unrecognizable from the work of art which precedes it but at the same time it operates as the lens through which that work can be called art. The alienation experienced within art serves as nothing else but the dissolution of the borders of said work through the revelation of the finitude of the work at the moment of its collapse.
The “now” ceases to be a moment in time but rather is the endless extension of tradition into the future. retrospectively. ¯. At this point. Agamben’s contention here is that the work of art in space and time is experienced for the first time in the moment of shock at the realization that the work no longer exists in a time-space continuum but is expropriated from both. of both the premodern and modern epochs of transmissibility and intransmissibility respectively. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
that the measure of the destruction of its transmissibility. effectively eradicates separation. Thus the end of art is a recursive glance back to the transmission of art through time that only comes into full view at the moment of its cessation. Transmissibility. occupying both the position of an event of major transition and the creation. temporal and spatial. it fulfils the double meaning of epoch to be found in its etymology: epoche a point in time and a delimited period of time. It would seem alienating shock is not the legacy of modern art but of self-satisfied traditional values. for example. of tradition” (MWC.MODERNITY. a recursiveprojective interplay that we will later come to term poetic structure. turning back to gaze over one’s fleeing shoulder. creating a continuum between tradition and the present that all but eradicates their difference. Indeed one could go one step further here and propose that aesthetic modernity not only reveals tradition through negation but in fact invents it for the first time. that is. each in violent contradiction—art is defined as the singular instance of the held in common—are seen critically for the first time. This experience of aesthetic epoche ¯ is Agamben’s definition of that epoch of epochs we call modernity. When the transmissible act of making something singular comes to replace the singularity of the work of transmissibility one is both exiting art and seeing it for the first time as art. singularity and transmissibility.
Both transmission and reproduction are dependent on metaphysical conceptions of scission and separation.
. In contrast. 107). Epoch of epochs for. Aesthetic modernity is the point in time when the epoch of the modern period of art is seen for the first time through its retrospective revelation via negation of the epoch of transmissibility which precedes it. the arche-epoch of art’s very first coming into being or the conditions for art.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
reproducibility removes the art object from its original authenticity establishing an impossible to traverse abyss between the idea of authenticity as origin and the work itself as literally present. Reproducibility, therefore, introduces an intransmissible space between poiesis and praxis working effectively as the destructive locum for anti-entelechy. Reproducibility is necessary for intransmissibility as such or the making permanently profane the sacred work which is the genius of modern art and its most valuable anti-poietic legacy. Yet, as we now know separation within Agamben is never straightforward and always to be questioned. In the essay “In Praise of Profanation,” for example, Agamben boldly declares that religion can be defined as “that which removes things, places, animals, or people from common use and transfers them to a separate sphere. Not only is there no religion without separation, but every separation also contains or preserves within itself a genuinely religious core” (Prof, 74). While Agamben, reading the founders of modern anthropology, defines the sacred as this passage across the zone of separation, he concedes that the differentiation profane/sacred is less important than “the caesura that divides the two spheres, the threshold that the victim must cross . . .” (Prof, 74). One of the simplest forms of such a crossing is contagion, he notes, the transmission of a disease that threatens to reproduce out of control. The “contagious” nature of separation, whose etymology is to be found in the word contact, allows us to understand the very roots of our transmissible culture in religion. Later, in the same essay Agamben is again reading a Benjamin fragment, this time “Capitalism as Religion,” wherein he finds Benjamin’s suggestion that capitalism appropriates the separating ability that defines religion and generalizes it in all domains: Where sacrifice once marked the passage from the profane to the sacred and from the sacred to the profane, there is now a single, multiform, ceaseless process of separation that assails every thing, every place, every human activity in order to divide it from itself . . . In its extreme form, the capitalist religion realizes the pure form of separation, to the point that there is nothing left to separate. An absolute profanation without remainder . . . (Prof, 81)11 This is naturally a description of commodity culture or the paradox of the separation of separation where the object becomes so profaned that it becomes impossible to profane as separation as such
MODERNITY, PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
is negated.12 In such a culture all objects are equally transmissible and therefore, in theory, equally sacred resulting in a sacralization of the profane. The consumer object is transmission’s evil doppelganger wherein the object no longer operates within transmissible, historically located cultural values, but instead all values become ahistorical products of the object defined purely as transmissible or exchangeable.
TASTE AND TERROR
In an age of artistic singularity and transmissibility, which is not an age per se but the precursor to the age of art as art, taste and terror are not qualities that the spectator ought to admit to. Inclination and repulsion, although naturally qualities that are unavoidable when observing any phenomenon, could not, during the time of tradition, be admitted into the role of the spectator of particular art works. Certainly, one could love art and one could fear it, especially from the position of actual or aspirational sovereignty such as one finds in Plato, but always as a whole or single entity. Judging art in totality was possible and common in the form of censorship for example, however such sovereign decrees would not depend on personal inclination on what we call today taste. One could not, in a truly transmissible culture, judge a work of art or even perhaps identify it. Art would be, during such an age, extensible with culture as a whole and culture synonymous with the polis. To judge art as bad would be to judge bios as bad. Only a sovereign can do that. Like Nancy, I am uncertain if a totally transmissible culture is anything more than the nostalgic yearning of certain poets and philosophers.13 Yet, irrespective of whether a truly and totally transmissible culture ever existed without remainder, the transmissibility of art was an assumed characteristic up until the moment that the nexus between tradition and the present came under critical consideration in France in the eighteenth century with the debate between the ancients and the moderns. Kant’s third critique on judgement, of course, along with Hegel’s assertion that in the modern period art was at an end, contributed to the development of the category of taste which enters into common usage in English round about the eighteenth century. Agamben however traces its origins back to the middle of the previous century with the rise of the figure of the man of taste who was reputed to have a sixth sense for art which allowed
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
him to identify the “point de perfection that is characteristic of every work of art” (MWC, 13). As taste develops as a concept Agamben notes how the roles of and relationship between the artist and spectator change accordingly: As the idea of taste increases in precision . . . the work of art (at least so long as it is not finished) starts to be regarded as the exclusive competence of the artist, whose creative imagination tolerates neither limits nor impositions. The non-artist, however, can only spectare, that is, transform himself into a less and less necessary and more and more passive partner, for whom the work of art is merely an occasion to practice his good taste. (MWC, 15) The resultant downgrading of the role of spectator in relation to transmissible art cultures is more than apparent here. From active participant in communal culture, of the same subjective value effectively as the artist, the spectator now becomes the one who sees, gazes, gawps from a distance and then, at the end, passes judgement. I like it/I don’t like it. In contrast, the artist’s role becomes far more pronounced for art made by such a creator cannot in effect be judged it being the very dismissal of all such strictures. It comes into being much as a Kantian flower might, and can no more be judged than a flower can or its creator, god. Finally, the relation between the creator and the spectator is now one of irrevocable disjunction. They are not participants in communal culture but two entirely different subjects in relation to a new, alien form. The artist invents so as to live, to attain subjectivity of a kind. The spectator merely observes with the aim of practising or perhaps better honing their new sixth sense: taste. While the rise of taste seems to provide the creator with a god-like power which Nietzsche comes to formulate as the Will to Power as Art, like all humans who attempt to emulate the gods the results are fearful and dangerous: “The artist, faced with a spectator who becomes more similar to an evanescent ghost the more refined his taste becomes, moves in an increasingly free and rarefied atmosphere and begins the voyage that will take him from the live tissue of society to the hyperborean no-man’s-land of aesthetics . . .” (MWC, 16). Taste and invention then seem to be bound together tragically by a rule of inverse proportions: “For, while the balanced figure of the man of taste becomes wide-spread in European society, the artist
MODERNITY, PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
enters a dimension of imbalance and eccentricity” (MWC, 16). The critic, in other words, becomes a stabilized subject by his increasingly professionalized and technically refined inclinations. The poet is gripped by holy terror. While the spectator becomes spectral through a process of endless refinement, his corporeal presence is literally attenuated into a tissue-thin membrane of exquisite judgements, it is the freedom afforded to the artist by the rise of judgement over mutuality that really opens up an uncanny landscape of diaphanous presences and gloomy open plains. The origins of this differentiation lie, according to Agamben, initially with Plato and then more recently with Nietzsche. Indeed, while we may assume that the fear of art is a contemporary issue manifested in people’s suspicious dismissal of art not as bad or even not art but as rubbish, the Greeks too felt the terror of art. The Man Without Content begins with a large tranche of Genealogy of Morals wherein Nietzsche makes his famous attack on the conception of Kantian disinterestedness before making his own case for an interested art. After this greedy bite of Nietzsche, Agamben goes on to note that Nietzsche’s attack on disinterestedness was not designed to bring about an alternative aesthetics but to purify the concept of beauty by decanting it from the sensory involvement of the spectator, so as to serve it up entirely to the pleasure of the creator. In a prophesy of modern art which Agamben goes on to debate throughout the rest of the essays in the book, modern art comes to be defined in terms of the experience of creation rather than the sensible apprehension of the spectator, as had been the case for Kant and Hegel of course. Art becomes, at this point, invention; art becomes modernism; art becomes shock. As ever with Nietzsche this is all very thrilling but there were good reasons for an ideology of aesthetic disinterestedness.14 As Agamben notes, there is a long history of repulsion as regards the rich dish of an interested and interesting art from the decree to raze the Roman theatres, the attacks of Saint Augustine on scenic games, to what Agamben calls “the first time that something similar to an autonomous examination of the aesthetic phenomenon in European medieval society” (MWC, 3) occurred (it was primarily concerned with the dangers of ars nova distracting the laity). Agamben goes further noting the infamous section of Plato’s Republic and Sophocles’ Antigone as contributors to a decidedly Greek fear/awe of art as a form of profound and politically threatening interest.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
An art of interest is, primarily, an art of involvement, complicity, often an art of seduction. The distance of the spectator is devoured by the interest they share in the performance in front of them. They are no longer spectators but participants in the very act of pure creation. Possessed by art’s contagion they begin to live as if they were heroes, queens, gods, and monsters. While some remnant of the Greek idea of an art of interest remains in such concepts as, say, catharsis, which is the archetype of an interested experience of art, and modern debates on censorship, it is perhaps hard for us to conceive of a work by John Ashbery as capable of the literal magic, as Artaud expresses it, of an interested art. The term Plato uses to describe the inspired imagination is “divine terror” (MWC, 4), and Agamben concedes this is a rather tasteless overplaying of the effects of art on the modern spectator. That said, returning to Nietzsche and the various exponents of an interested art, terror was very much on the minds of the modern artist. Fatuous explanations for the prevalence of early death, tragedy, suicide, murder, madness, and renunciation among artists usually look to modern psychological models of manic depression and perhaps a disturbed childhood for good measure. Lautréamont, Woolf, Baudelaire, Proust, Mayakovsky, Khlebnikov, Eliot, Pound; why did they lose their life, their health, their socialization, their minds? Agamben’s insight into the madness of modern art takes up an entirely different, unexpected and, for our understanding of the arts, profound recipe than that of simple psychology. At the same time as, in modern aesthetics, the spectator is able place art at one remove by virtue of disinterest: “For the one who creates it, art becomes an increasingly uncanny experience, with respect to which speaking of interest is at the very least a euphemism, because what is at stake seems to be not in any way the production of a beautiful work but instead the life and death of the author, or at least his spiritual health” (MWC, 5). This statement results in another equation wherein the increasing innocence of the spectator’s experience in front of the art work corresponds to the degree of danger central to the creator’s experience. Agamben backs this up with many now well-known expressions of the risk of art— Baudelaire, Hölderlin, Van Gogh, Rilke—suggesting an alternative messianism in his work, that of the self-sacrifice of the modern artist at the altar of an interested anti-aesthetics of creation as subjective state.
this most innocent of occupations. or perhaps more pungently. The essay then ends by jettisoning us out onto this calcified outcrop with the words of a mad prophet. This instigates a movement from the misty nostalgia of a Heideggerian art that dwells among us to a truly modern conception of art that immolates its very dwelling on this earth.MODERNITY. In this once rich land of cultural transmissibility a mismanagement of the environment has lead to barrenness and conflagrations on hill-sides once renowned for their fertility and festivals. not least literary criticism. . to return art to life. 8) the philosopher asks. lay out foundations. Such mad artists do not want to move to a fresh plain. and terror which is the result of interest? Taste seems to attract the spectator to participate in precisely
. . The landscapes of Agamben’s thinking are always appealing and slightly appalling. but not so as to make art transmissible in life again but rather to make life subject to the very alienation the artist feels when faced with the uncanny presence of pure poiesis. Nietzsche. statuary. and artistic scandals.16 a nihilistic art that seeks not so much innovation as is sometimes assumed (make it new). for artists only” (MWC. commissions. Having taken us across a ghostly plain we are now confronted with a burnt-out homestead. then perhaps we are today in a privileged position to understand the authentic significance of the Western aesthetic project” (MWC. calling for “another kind of art . whistling about our ears. but a devastation of the distanciation between art and life imposed by the presence of the spectator and the institutions that have arisen to support this concept.
HOW TO EXIT ART
“How can art. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
The death of poets leads Agamben to a typically messianic conclusion which calls for the destruction of aesthetics. 6). Here Agamben merely hints at the now classic definition of the avant-garde to be found in the work of Burger and others. how can modern art subsist on the ambiguous fare of taste based on universal disinterest. These artists wish to make artists of us all. Yes. a destruction perhaps already in place: “If it is true that the fundamental problem becomes visible only in the house ravaged by fire. museums. and build a new home that perhaps over time could become a city.15 but also easily identified in the statements of the artists themselves. an art for artists. with a senate. Rather they want to burn the very dwelling of art to the ground. 7). pit man against Terror?” (MWC.
like the Pygmalion myth. “It is the dream of a product that exists according to the statute of the thing” (MWC. In direct contradistinction. 9).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
what they cannot have. rhetoricians and terrorists. Frenhofer labours at his masterpiece for ten years to create a work of art that negates art and becomes. tones. kitsch.” Yet in reality the woman he has painted is reduced to mere colours and abstract forms: “a chaos of colors. but also to commence with breaking down the differentiation between rhetoric and terrorism. hesitating nuances. 8). His is an art of abstraction which repulses
. Agamben traces the relation between poiesis and terror to the distinction to be found in the mid-century French writer and critic Jean Paulhan between two types of writers. Agamben calls the terrorist a misologist. Agamben’s earliest work. 8). the dark face of his own beloved philology. of a thought in whose flame the sign would be fully consumed. an art which exits art through the door marked “To Art. indeed becomes transmissible with life. while terrorists “refuse to bend to this law and pursue the opposite dream of a language that would be nothing but meaning. a kind of shapeless fog” leading the young Poussin to exclaim “but sooner or later he will have to realize there is nothing on the canvas!” (MWC. 9). The rhetorician wishes to “dissolve all meaning into form” (MWC. 9). allows Agamben to begin to undermine not only the quest for the absolute in terror. putting the writer face to face with the absolute” (MWC. This remainder. and death.” Frenhofer invents a modern art. the artist is allowed to be totally consumed by the desire to create and yet this same desire leads to the pure intoxicating terror of madness. Loath as I am to succumb to the simple binary oppositions displayed in this. a “living reality. silence. in trying to create art that competes with. an art which is auto-anthropophaganous or self-devouring. of course. a kind of aesthetic wine-tasting where they can sample Picasso but cannot become drunk on Joyce. the distinction is clearly reflective of a tendency within modern Western (anti)aesthetics or at the very least the two extremes of that most extreme epoch aesthetic modernity. He notes. As Agamben rightly indicates. through a reading of the character of the artist Frenhofer in Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece that the dream of the terrorist is to create a work that exists in the world in the same manner as objects do: block of stone or drop of water. who “does not recognize in the drop of water that remains on his fingertips the sea in which he thought he had immersed himself ” (MWC.
10). Instead one can only escape the matter of art by removing it from oneself entirely. To truly exit literature one cannot make literature into a thing. between ‘the poems that he wrote and those he did not deign to write?’” Agamben then
. Speaking of Frenhofer’s ever-collapsing. But in the attempt. a mere representation of the artist in art). Fleeing from rhetoric leads him to terror. the more he has to concentrate on it to render it permeable to the inexpressible content he wants to express. Gogol’s disappointment that Dead Souls did not liberate the peasants is matched by Mallarmé’s inability to complete Le Livre. allowing only signs. which is the archetypal gesture of the modern artist: “But the paradox of the Terror is still present even in this extreme move. The terrorist is left. form. But. Roussel’s collapse when La Doublure did not change the world. the ultimate paradox is that the act of greatest terror is precisely that of aestheticoamputation. set up by aesthetics. Misology becomes philology. Such confusion over the source of the conflagration of art’s dwelling place. “In order to leave the evanescent world of forms. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
the disinterested spectre of Poussin (literally spectral here. isn’t the unknown masterpiece instead the masterpiece of Rhetoric? Has the meaning erased the sign. Agamben mentions Mallarmé’s statement that the only gesture available to this terrorist of poetry was to have poetry surgically removed from himself while he was alive. silence? Isn’t Rimbaud’s fame divided. then. rhetoric and terror. . De Chirico’s self-parody. as Blanchot rightly observed. convert poiesis into fiat lux. unpalatable masterpiece he says: “The quest for absolute meaning has devoured all meaning. 10).” (MWC. . terror flings him back into rhetoric. agitated and enflamed. Rimbaud’s flight from art. meaningless forms.MODERNITY. Yet. and the appetite for signs becomes a cause of disgust. or thought leads Agamben to posit the very paradox of the artist’s terror. namely. Returning to Rimbaud for a moment. in the very apotropaic hall of mirrors that is modern art. to survive. Agamben’s conclusion to the tale is a devastating and much overdue total foundering of the differentiation between form and thought. For what is the mystery we call Rimbaud if not the point where literature annexes its opposite. and Duchamp’s silence. the repulsion from signs becomes an impossible attraction. he has no other means than form itself. and the more he wants to erase it. he ends up with nothing in his hands but signs . or has the sign abolished the meaning?” (MWC. There are many famous examples of terrorism in modern art.
There is no resisting dictation in the modern age. His decision to have all his works destroyed at his death. As soon as one actively pursues the negation of art one creates anew an art of negation as such. but surely the greatest works of modernism are those which were never created: Lautréamont’s third book. most potently. destroyed but. risk accusations of the obvious. Consider the gesture we call author-function Rimbaud and Duchamp against those we call Malevich or Beckett. for what else have we been debating here? Not the loss of being through the semiotic necessity of its enunciation but through the enunciative necessity of the semiotic. Bruno Schultz’s first novel.17 does not the material depiction of silence. the final version of Le Livre. Which is the greatest artist.” As soon as one speaks of the creation of art one enters subjective negation. surely. Nietzsche’s Will to Power? What confers true genius on the modern artist is the very failure of terror in the pure silence of an absolute and thus truly terrifying rhetoric: the work of pure silence. 11). The way out of art into language is permanently barred by the very sign that indicates “Exit from Art. makes him the most pathetic and powerful of all modern artists: the man who sought silence and was thus then forced to speak. This is the ultimate desubjectivization of the poet.18 He sits. becoming even kitsch? To paint absence is one thing. never made. as Badiou shows. the most eloquent rhetorician? Who has the most fiendish savour for violence and fear? While Malevich and (late) Beckett. at the very nexus between the terrorist become rhetorician and the rhetorician facing up to the terror of the absolute void. Will there ever be an end to art that is itself not a work of art but a pure experience of the poetic?
. This is why Kafka casts such a shadow over Agamben’s work and the modern age as a whole. Rimbaud and Duchamp do not merely make and then choose not to make. ignored by his “friend” Brod. manifest the very condition of acsesis as both testament to the lack of events and precursive preparation for the event to come. over time.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
finally and fatally enquires: “isn’t this the masterpiece of rhetoric?” (MWC. Even silence succumbs to speech it would seem. decomposed. I mention this rhetorical flourish because it touches on the importance of the potential not to write that is the heart of the act of poiesis. In their choice not to make they make their greatest masterpieces: the pure rhetoric of the semiotics of the absent sign which is the sign under which all modern art is composed.
Kant’s theory of aesthetic disinterested judgement and Nietzsche’s conception of an interested art emanating from a god-like creator bracket the work of Hegel together forming a theory of modern.MODERNITY. As one can see. poiesis arrives. Enlightenment democracy. First it is subordinate to the idea. The modern art work becomes a means of presenting that there was once art but now such work is at an end. For Hegel modern art is a valorization of the sensible presentation of the idea. and Nietzsche. as it were. that poetry is the archetypal art in that it exists between language (the sensible) and image (idea). As we have seen at some point or over time in Western culture. once the space of
. This means that. at the presentation of its own dissolution: the collapse of poetry into prose. and negation. at each level of Hegelian aesthetics modern art is denigrated. Hegel. the power of art over the spectator collapsed into profane secularization only to rise again in the form of shock rather than awe. It arrives precisely at the moment that prose as bios or social ethics has inundated all during the period of Western. aesthetic double-desubjectivization which may be the only means by which art under negation during modernity might result in some form of pro-ductive poiesis after modernity.19 and that this age is marked by its being the epoch of the end of art. As Agamben shows in an extensive analysis of the history of the development of the museum from the ancient cabinet of wonder. courtesy of philosophy. Second it is a mere prosaic remnant of the poetic art that once dwelled among us. through four central tenets to Hegel’s overall aesthetic theory. Third its critical definition is also its negation. to accept its tripartite collapse or to turn these failings around and form from them a new lieu commun. art. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
MODERN AESTHETIC DESUBJECTIVIZATION
The Man Without Content is effectively a conversation between Agamben and the three fathers of modern aesthetics: Kant. These are that art is the sensible presentation of the idea. Hegel’s work is perhaps most central to Agamben’s reading of art under negation. the prosaic. or an art that celebrates subordination.20 The final element here is of greatest importance to aesthetic desubjectivization but this thesis makes little sense without all four elements of Hegelian proto-post-aesthetics. democratic. A choice lies before modern poiesis therefore. at the moment that poiesis becomes available for full view to us for the first time since the Platonic occlusion. that we currently live in the age of prose.
and does not need. secular shock. Art is now the absolute freedom that seeks its end and its foundation in itself. autonomous. All of her acts were the result of her consciousness so that when she made something she made herself as a subject within a unified culture. That Hegel placed art at the lowest level of the journey of the spirit from exteriority. In a very basic way this idealized act of creation was neither making something nor creating art as we moderns understand these terms. The definition of modern art at the point of its cessation in Hegel comes from the moment when the material of the work of art is seen by the artist as material as such and as art as such. through exterior interiority. is revelatory in this regard. Previous to that she had no direct selfconsciousness of material or making. any content. because it can only measure itself against the vertigo caused by its own abyss. Art got one ready for god who in his turn prepared one for Geist. This is the very essence of art as transmissibility. prosaic objectivity goes to one side. 35) Contained in the vaunting rhetoric here of Agamben’s reading of Hegel are the various stages of his complex ideas on poetry and
. which soars above the contents as over an immense repository of materials that it can evoke or reject at will. At this moment works of modern art are produced through the profanation of the relic into an art object already suffering auratic aphasia. or when the creator becomes critical spectator of their own work. as it were. substantially. (MWC.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
display of a valued object changes and the object is placed under glass the relation of the spectator to the object also changes. the poem. by which the inert world of contents in their indifferent. At this moment the work of poiesis enters the world of prose: The artist then experiences a radical tearing or split. At the moment that the creator steps out of the transmissibility of cultural traditions her relation to her material changes. For Hegel this scission within the subjectivity of the spectator is first enacted within that of the creator and transmitted. and to the other the free subjectivity of the artistic principle.21 They no longer pause in front of the object in religious awe but are as if rooted to the spot or transfixed by pure. religion. rather the subject-artist simply presented in sensible form the idea of her communally held spirit within an exterior form as a necessary step towards a final interiorization. contagiously through the art work.
MODERNITY.22 Contentless-ness: what the work of art now contains as content is the work of art as such. Having set up Hegelian aesthetics as permanently under negation. At this point perhaps the greatest paradox of modern art comes into view as we float or plunge above the void of self-founding self-negation. This shadow of art is the modern experience of
. . The work of art is moved from being encased in a continuum to floating within the void. that every time aesthetic judgement attempts to determine what the beautiful is. Freedom: defined here in a Nancyian manner as a nonfoundational self-founding. Scission: art is no longer defined through its place in the continuum but through its being excerpted from the continuum. 42). is thus definable by a conglomeration of the following quasi-events. Prose: at this juncture the meaning of the work becomes subject to the prose of the world. Therefore. namely that of Kant. Modern art. it holds in its hands not the beautiful but its shadow. Art becomes incommensurable in the moment that measuring art becomes possible through the Kantian discipline of criticism. Incommensurability: the much touted incommensurability of postmodernity hounded by Habermas in particular23 is surely simply an overstatement of the spatio-philosophical paradox of sublating negation that Agamben sets up here through his reading of Hegel. Art is no longer measurable against culture as either being of the same standard or co-extensive. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
modern art. as though its true object were not so much what art is but what it is not” (MWC. Height: the subjectivity of the artist is now defined as that of being above the territory of art’s dwelling on earth. so that the semantic is handed over to prose and meaning becomes the absence of meaning. purposiveness without purpose. confounding common denominator. Materiality: the work becomes a commodity fetish or non-utilitarian choice of the object purely for the sake of exchange. . which is art as such defined by Agamben as art under erasure. and normality without a norm “it seems . universality apart from concepts. floating in the sense that it both soars above and is endlessly falling away. Summarizing the four characteristics of aesthetic judgement as Kant delineates them he finds a single. Agamben then turns to the very aesthetic system from which Hegel’s work emanates but also seeks to depart from. or the moment at which the artist becomes her own spectator or the spectator becomes the judge of art. Central to the definitions of the object of aesthetic judgement as disinterested satisfaction. the only measure of art on earth is art itself.
The tautegorical nature of reflective judgement is to be found in the relation of judgement to the sensation which. He thus concludes that “our appreciation of art begins necessarily with the forgetting of art” (MWC. judgement merely operates between practical reason and understanding which is judgement’s famous heuristic capacity. for us. . nothing can be known” (MWC. We can recognize in this concentration by Agamben on the paradox of judgement as a non-knowing concept parallels with Lyotard’s reading of reflective judgement as tautegorical. The act of judgement produces the feeling of the activity of judgement. which is the quintessence of taste. Reflective thinking
. Agamben. therefore. In Lyotard’s remarkably detailed reading of the third critique he begins by telling the traditional story of Kant’s theory of judgement as the bridge between theoretical and practical knowledge. or as Lyotard says: “The strength of reflective weakness can be explained by the heuristic function of reflection. The moment that we engage the faculty of judgement we are negating the very object we are judging. which is the indication to thought that it is taking place. In finding the universal in the particular. so to speak. . This led to a widespread acceptance of the term judgement as finding the universal in the particular based on the regulative idea of the finality of nature. 43). or of discovering natural beauty defined as finality without purpose (objective perfection without teleology). 44). Agamben then moves to Kant’s dictum that judgement is “a concept . presents a critical synthesis of Kant and Hegel here to provide a model for creation (Hegel) and judgement (Kant) that is based on the commencement of the art object from the moment of its selfnegation. the tautegorical aesthetic shares in the weakness of this strength” (LAS. Considering Kant’s famous paradox that the judgement of taste is not based on concepts as it could be subject to proofs and yet that it must be based on concepts otherwise we would not quarrel about it (it would not in fact be taste). 6). from which . . This reading undermines the assumed legislative power of judgement and leaves it instead as a reflective faculty whose strength resides precisely in its legislative debilitation: because judgement cannot legislate it can supplement the contesting legislations. of understanding and reason. the only experience of art and also the first experience of art as a thing in itself. put simply.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
inexperiencible art which is. . is that judgement is the affect of the sensation of thinking.
thought’s thinking of itself as thinking through sensation: “Any act of thinking is thus accompanied by a feeling that signals to thought its ‘state. the spectator-critic. namely. the scission between genius and taste which defines aesthetic judgement and gives birth to modern criticism. 11). Natural beauty does not require a regulative concept. Agamben identifies the central point of his thesis on modern art. appears to him no longer as a truth that finds its necessary expression in the work. This scission submits all art to the law of the “degradation of artistic energy” which states that once one has passed judgement on a work of art. there is no way to return to it by way of the reverse path of taste” (MWC. . 47). . that is. therefore. the free creative-formal principle of the artist” (MWC. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
is. Yet while judgement seems almost to blame for the end of art thesis. it is in fact the content-less nature of the modern work of art that results in perhaps the ultimate. Judgments of taste are based. not on thinking something. he brings with him nonbeing and shadow” (MWC. indeed for Kant nature is the regulative concept for aesthetic beauty—the very thing Hegel takes issue with.MODERNITY. and which therefore he can legitimately believe himself capable of expressing” (MWC. but rather as something of which he is already perfectly aware as a thinking subject. therefore. we do need a concept of what the work of artistic beauty should be “because the foundation of the work of art is something other than us.’ But this state is nothing other than the feeling that signals it . is the very person who commits art to the realm of dark non-art: “whenever he exercises his reflection. but on the sensation of thinking thinking. 45). “one can never return to it from a state posterior to its creation”. At this juncture. The person whose job it is to shed light on modern art. 46). the content he perceives. or “once the work of art has been produced. concepts that could be known. The very self-presence of the spectator is the pre-condition of the work of
. 46). “What he sees of himself in the work. most powerful irony of modern aesthetics wherein the critic sees in the work of art the very contentless-ness that defines the subjectivity of the modern man without content. Having established this fundamental quality of the tautegorical nature of critical judgement Agamben then differentiates judgements of taste from those of natural beauty in Kant. In contrast. Pure reflection is first and foremost the ability of thought to be immediately informed of its state by this state and without other means of measure than feeling itself ” (LAS.
What we can conclude from aesthetic modern contentlessness is that the moment the spectator and the artist become two separate entities (the archetypal event of modern aesthetic metaphysical scission) ironically the artist no longer has anything new to say to the spectator for the spectator was party to the very scission that facilitated the shift from art to nonart that the artist thought they had created ex nihilo. The annihilation of content may be familiar. it belongs with them. The pure creative principle results in the alienation of art and the critic not only recognizes this theme-less theme. but the critic does not make modern art placing them/us in a doubly untenable position. The critic identifies her being in the alienation of the work which rejects or. is the very basis of his theory of the potentially productive nature of the historically contingent.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
art without content. and yet what they know is what they can never be. existing in both positions without any means of bringing the two together again. to use Hegel’s term. he has no other way of finding himself again than wholly to assume his contradiction. being-as-nonnart but not being art. it is the pure split and lack of foundation that endlessly drifts on the ocean of form without ever reaching dry land” (MWC. the critic knows all. at the same time the spectator is by definition not the artist. There is nothing the artist can teach the spectator. they are of course part of what makes it possible. but as something absolutely Other. but there is one simple fact separating the two. perverts any relationship between the genius of creation and the communality of culture. the critic cannot. What they see in the work of art is what they already know. being-for-itself has as its object its own being-for-itself. Agamben’s explanation of this double negation. leaves behind all support. he must split
. 48). but the critic cannot share in it. desubjectivized being of the critic/spectator : If the spectator consents to the radical alienation of this experience. The subject of judgement finds itself both subject and predicate of their judgement. as Agamben says both absolutely Other and immediately itself. and at the same time immediately as itself. and agrees to enter the circle of absolute perversion. The presence of the critic makes possible modern art. The genius makes art. Thus the alienation of art is their subject. That is. Yet. The result of this on all of us is devastating: “In the aesthetic judgement.
Yet. In this alienation he owns himself. to live the epoch or to live outside of it. and Agamben here names Rimbaud and Artaud as exemplary in this regard. “trying to make of the split that inhabits him the fundamental experience starting from which a new human station becomes possible” (MWC. Hence Agamben’s conclusion: “The artist is the
. there is no escaping the fact that. the artist is always living on what he calls “this side of his essence . can attempt to totally inhabit the split and try to live this violence. and in owning himself he alienates himself. Nietzschean genius he says: What the artist experiences in the work of art is. 55). Yet even if one chooses to live the split. that artistic subjectivity is absolute essence. the pure creative-formal principle. . however. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
asunder his own split. (MWC. (MWC. . . Of the creative. Having dealt with one half of modern aesthetic desubjectivization. Faced with this alternative. for Agamben at least. 54) Such a dire conundrum strands the artistic subject in a doubly desubjectivizing quandary. Thus the modern artistic subject can be defined as a radical split. he cannot neglect the other half: artist as god-like creator. however. 54). . 48) The position of the modern spectator. everything is a lie” (MWC. in fact. Yet here Agamben takes on critical desubjectivization and proposes at least a desire to convert ontological negation into a productive category. split from any content. beside his reality” (MWC. 55). for which all subject matter is indifferent. the heroic modern artist.MODERNITY. Which annihilates and dissolves every content in its continuous effort to transcend and actualize itself. 54). is the absolute abstract inessence. negate his own negation . if she then embraces pure subjectivity and ceases to seek for content she finds herself embracing her subjective inessence: “content in what is mere form” (MWC. which is the subjective position all but of a few of us occupy in front of the art work (perhaps indeed all as in modernity even the artist becomes spectator to their own poiesis) is akin to that described by Hegel as the selfannihilating nothing of Romantic Irony. If she places her faith in a specific content she realizes she is lying as her own pure subjectivity is everything. without content. “outside of this split.
thoughts about art. for the very first time. First as an example of poeticized desubjectivization. the critic/spectator and the artist are both examples of self-annihilating nothings.
. And finally third. .can result in a productive category hinted at in the terms of such a double negative: modern nonart as the potential for an exit from art into a futural and sustainable poiesis. This has various benefits of course. modern art. Yet. perhaps predictably. For Agamben. critically. how negation as such. are as pure subjective inessence. and certainly there is no greater negation than self-annihilating nothingness.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
man without content. It opens up to us the importance of tradition and transmissibility which we now see. Modern aesthetic double desubjectivization provides us with a prototype for the following three propositions in Agamben’s overall system. or all form without content.24 The end of art as art results in a double desubjectivization. modern art presents us with the most credible and challenging model of “poetic” desubjectivization as a solution to the failings of nihilistic ontology. 55). who has no other identity than a perpetual emerging out of the nothingness of expression . Either art is pure content without form. as if for the first time. Here one can see the importance of aesthetic modernity to Agamben’s wider philosophical project. The critic possesses knowledge of an entity they have no experience of and the artist experiences a process of which they can have no knowledge. as is indeed. Modern art is art that is under negation through the act of coming to view. Second in revealing the structural interdependence of philosophy and poetry in this process: formless thought or contentless form. in accordance with Benjamin’s hermeneutic principle. . most significantly in a manner only hinted at in the pages of The Man Without Content but which comes to full fruition over the intervening decades.” (MWC.
ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS
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and by their occlusion of the fact that their inter-division is a false divide which. At the same time. expropriating appropriative methodology. novels. a political philosopher. or as we will come to see him comparative. and the visual arts is merely as a means of approaching a post-nihilistic metaphysics. For reasons which I believe now are more than apparent it is not possible to overview the work of Agamben without accepting that his project will always resist being reducible to one side of the ancient division philosophy–poetry. thinker requires a compound and demonstrative term to present these tonal issues. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
The title of this volume proposes a compound construction or double thesis. Such a di-thetic approach runs the risk of being doubly unpopular in that for those who believe Agamben to be a philosopher or. the happy few who have come to understand that Agamben is one of the greatest thinkers of the arts in our tradition may be dismayed at the suggestion that all his talk of poetry. more pointedly. they must accept and actively live through. The tension between the philosophical and the literary in Agamben is the central animator of his whole intra-metaphysical. while at the same time striving to reveal how both traditions first fail to lift thinking out of negation by virtue of their being subsumed by scission. And so I present for general perusal and
. This cannot be helped. an ancient by-way thicketed by prejudice. the compound. that Agamben is “literary” and that the literary Agamben opens up a clearing around thinking through poetry/ poiesis that I am calling logopoiesis.CHAPTER 4
LOGOPOIESIS. Neither a thinker of philosophy nor poetry alone and unable to succumb to any of the traditional modes of thinking division. my suggestion that no understanding of Agamben’s indifferent ontology is possible without recourse to the literary might even seem frivolous. however.
There may be others. thinkers who accept the centrality of Heidegger but also look to poetry as a way beyond his ontology. Badiou is also a great logopoietic thinker of course and he. I will not here present a history of logopoiesis. for Agamben at least thought is or must be poeticized and poiesis is a mode of material thinking. convenient possibility. and poiesis. While. it does not accurately reflect the sophistication and tensile balance I intend to convey in the term logopoiesis. One would not want to neglect Blanchot in this regard also. 20). Other contemporary logopoietic thinkers therefore. perhaps more contentiously. one which thinks the very basis of thinking as such in the pure mediality of language the most
. As we have seen. nor is it a type of poetry that thinks. A fully worked out vision of logopoiesis would require detailed reading of all their work in conjunction with that of Agamben. as is now apparent. While this gesture is important and marks the roots of the term in the work of Heidegger. Agamben proposes various names for this alternate or “new” form of thinking. or not solely. Having now dealt in some detail with logos.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
perhaps initial scepticism or even weary derision my theory of logo-poiesis. like Heidegger before him. Poetic thinking is not thinking about poetry. The simplest definition of such poetic thinking is a turn to poetry to assist thinking to overcome the aporias of modern thought. would include Jean-Luc Nancy. indeed the inserts into such a narrative are sparse and inconclusive. or thinking through making. or thinking thought as such. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and. we are now in a position to propose logopoiesis as not merely a viable compound term but more significantly as a complementary coupling or comparative tonality. Jacques Derrida. 74). beyond stating that it was the later work of Heidegger and its emphasis on poetry and poetic thinking that commenced the tradition that was able “to hand philosophy over to poetry” as Badiou states it (MP. or not entirely. I do not intend here to establish a strict canon as logopoiesis is still in its nascent stages and presented here as little more than a provocative. and some comments would be reserved for the work of Deleuze. any designation of thought that hands over thinking either to philosophy or poetry is not properly “poetic” thinking but is in fact metaphysical thinking about poetry. as we saw. which is why logos and poiesis alone are not sufficient designations even if. uses the term “poetic thinking” to describe the centrality of poiesis to a new form of thinking that exceeds that of Heidegger in some fashion (HI.
Yet logopoiesis is not a neologism. logopoiesis has not come to be a developed rhetorical or critical term. For this reason. One term will naturally seek dominance over the other. witness Halliburton’s book on Heidegger of the same name.
. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
authentic experience of which is the poetic word (I hesitate to call it new. I have opted for the more obscure but also productively suggestive term. has found significant currency within philosophy.2 As such “poetic thinking” is destined to be a problematic and misleading designation whereas logopoiesis presents a balance between the philosophical and poetic elements of such modes of thinking even if the harmony is an uneasy one. and neglects the possibility of a poetry that thinks. and how indeed two terms can be placed in relation to each other simply by spatio-linguistic proximity are all issues to be taken rather seriously.
THE LOGO-POIESIS TAUTOLOGY
The creation of a compound term out of two ancient. as its novelty resides in the manner in which something original has been totally forgotten and then rediscovered centuries later). essentially name the same process of bringing to appearance. In contrast “poetic thinking. Certainly he does not use the term logopoiesis. Thus logopoiesis is essentially tautological in essence.LOGOPOIESIS. Heidegger tells us. however.1 While sporadically mentioned by critics. As should be the effect on both terms when placed in a zone of bound proximity. It first came to the fore as a term for a thinking poetry in Pound’s ABC of Reading in contrast to melopoiesis or the poetry of pure semiosis. The definition of the terms in play. much debated and contested terms is unwise.” which would be the translation of logopoiesis. Poetic thinking it could be logopoiesis it is. Poetic thinking ultimately stresses a form of thinking that relies on and appropriates poetry. especially considering the dangers of duality inherent within our tradition. and the fact that poetic thinking really names a form of philosophy that considers poetry. The dangers are heightened further when it comes to the combination of two terms such as logos and poiesis which. None of the thinkers I have mentioned do so. he does not hone in on one particular name or ever actually advocate a “poetic thinking” at all. One cannot blithely produce neologisms and not expect certain repercussions. a full understanding of categorical thinking and the problems of naming. balanced proximity giving way to a hierarchical topography and so on.
can speech be speech and also mean all of these other things that effectively form the very basis of discursive. 29). 26). the manifest” (BT. How. therefore. he ponders. Like logos. concept. but what does it mean to make something appear and how is this affected by mediation through language? Heidegger believes that the term appearance in the context of “what shows itself. makes logos and poiesis appear as synonymous and thus the term logopoiesis as tautological. 25) must be interpreted effectively as a symptom. Appearance. its definition as presencing. concept. and relation. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. rather it means that something makes itself known which does not show itself. Logos means speech as a means of bringing something out of concealment and making it appear not as the thing as such but as the concealed thing. quite the contrary he is a thinker of obfuscation). “does not mean that something shows itself. to discover them” (BT.
. bringing forth. definition. rely on the mediation of speech: making something appear which is hidden and remains so. judgement.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Heidegger explains that for the Greeks the term logos. has come to be translated/interpreted variously as reason. This is facilitated by the root of logos being Legein or the making present of something: “the simple apprehension of something objectively present in its pure objective presence” (BT. The knowledge generating powers of logos as reason. If we now return briefly to Heidegger’s foundational work on the term poiesis. 22). Yet the means by which poiesis does this differ from those of logos. to let them be seen as something unconcealed (alēthes). which effectively means speech. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as producing something into presence. meaning something that shows itself to indicate something else that does not show itself. Logos makes appear something in precisely this way: “to take things that are being talked about in legein as apophainethai out of their concealment. presuppositional philosophical thought? The answer he gives is that logos really means deloun or to make manifest what is being talked about in speech. ground. the self-showing. and so on. relation. judgement. Thus logos is definable as making something appear in speech. Therefore the fact that logos can simultaneously mean mediation and knowledge is revealed not as a possibility but in fact a necessity (it also negates once and for all the misconception that Heidegger is a thinker of revelation. It makes itself known through something that does show itself ” (BT.
This difference becomes clearer if we re-consider the role of production or techne in relation to presencing. Perhaps it is more illuminating to write the tautology out thus: (logos) the truth of production—(poiesis) the production of truth. Truth is now produced into presence by virtue of techne. rather in making something poiesis brings something that was hidden to presence.” (QCT. Thus logos means making something manifest through the mediation of speech. apportions itself into the revealing that brings forth and that also challenges . while free techne or poiesis exceeds the frame and produces freed thinking.
. Yet to do so runs the risk of obfuscating the truth that logopoiesis is essentially a form of tautological circular thinking. while poiesis is that form of revealing that “ever so suddenly and inexplicably to all thinking. one makes is not the thing produced by poiesis. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
whereas logos mediates presencing. production as instrumentality which he terms challenging-forth. Techne is the active process of bringing something to presence through making. which he also translates as presencing. As Heidegger’s work progresses and he becomes convinced of the restrictions of producing based around enframing (Gestell) or a predisposition within production that forces techne to serve pre-ordained dictates rather than facilitate free appearing. The difference between philosophical and poetic thinking. while poiesis means producing something into presence through the act of making. is that in philosophy truths are produced through the support of linguistic mediation. 29). Most certainly thinking and poetry produce truth in a different manner. To sum up.LOGOPOIESIS. therefore. logo-poiesis is primarily tautological as both logos and poiesis are mediating modes of producing truth. . . he differentiates two forms of producing forth. Here language is merely symptomatic of truth. What is important here in early Heidegger is simply that the mediation indicates that the production of truth is not the production of a thing as such but of truth’s appearance as something concealed. Gestell is instrumental and pre-ordained production. When one makes something the actual thing. while in poiesis they are produced through making. making. Enframed techne produces something to the dictates of the age in which it is produced. Yet in later Heidegger the emphasis has changed. Yet logos merely utilizes speech as a mediation. but ultimately logopoiesis says the same thing twice: the production of truth—the production of truth. and could indeed use another form of mediation. It could also be accused of using speech instrumentally as a form of Gestell.
it disallows philosophy or poetry to totally appropriate the term. we are repeatedly assured. Akhmatova’s ability not to write and Benjamin’s Idea of Prose are all.
THE EXEMPLARY TAUTOLOGY OF LOGOPOIESIS
We have already seen some examples of logopoietic thinking. These experiences are without truth. before or beyond its determination as true or false. “Bartleby. Perhaps it would be useful here to adumbrate a few more examples provided by Agamben in that central essay in the canon of logopoiesis. it cannot be proved right or wrong by testing it for agreement in relation to concepts or things in the world. in their way. 260). tautology is true to the Heideggerian roots of the conception.” He then proceeds to explain: “Not only science but also poetry and thinking conduct experiments. or On Contingency. 174 respectively) and indeed the centrality of the hermeneutic circle. . I would also call this an archetypal definition of logopoiesis: a form of thinking that is without truthfulness. Finally. models for logopoiesis. 260). First. for truth is what is at issue in them” (P. to recognize the Being of something as something” (P. Glenn Gould’s playing with not-playing. Second. they call into question Being itself. rather. . 190 and OWL. tautology names the specificity. Third. the most profound experience of which belongs. at the same time. as I said. Damascius’ consciousness of the tablet.
. These experiments do not simply concern the truth or falsity of hypotheses . with the poets.” Here he speaks of the prose of Robert Walser which the critic Walter Lüssi called “pure poetry” because it “refuses in the widest sense. Agamben declares that this ought to be the “paradigm for literary writing.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
The tautology of the term is relevant for several reasons and thus must be retained. is inimical to philosophical thought. perhaps indeed singularity of the projectiverecursive circular mode of thinking that is the quintessence of logopoietic thinking—itself a tautology we can now dispense with as logopoiesis names a modality of thought—and which. as we shall now go on to see. emulating as it does Heidegger’s own late tautological style in such formulations as the “language itself is language” and a thing’s thinging (See PLT. Such a truth resides in the fact that there is language as pure medium. but which produces truth as the very precondition for thinking. it touches on the debate as regards the tautegorical nature of logopoiesis.
He describes Condillac’s introduction of a statue to the sense of smell and Dante’s desubjectification of the “I” of the poet into the third person. he ends with Heidegger.” Here he experiments with issues of will. the transformation of limbs that changed it into a bird” (P. This is what Agamben calls the “irreducibility of his ‘I would
. 260). but a scrivener whose potential never arrives at actualization. I believe.LOGOPOIESIS. who “replaces the physical ‘I’ with an empty and inessential being that is only its own ways of Being and has possibility only in the impossible” (P. the only experiment to be conducted by logo-poets. effectively.” He speaks of Cavalcanti’s description of the poetic experience of being like an automaton. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
Agamben then goes on to list a history. the father of logopoiesis. for the reptile. power.3 Agamben stresses that Bartleby’s experiment with being and potential is of this kind. this is his form of life. Finally. Speaking of these notable poietic experiments with existence he says: “Whoever submits himself to these experiments jeopardizes not so much the truth of his own statements as the very mode of his existence. 94) indicates how integral in actuality is his vision of thinking and poetry. All poetic thinking. This is not. of remarkable logopoietic thinkers. he undergoes an anthropological change that is just as decisive in the context of the individual’s natural history as the liberation of the hand by the erect position was for the primate or as was. That Agamben uses precisely the same phrase when explaining that the importance of poetry is that it produces life (EP. being. but when asked to copy or write by his boss he replies that he would “prefer not to. He is a scrivener. all logopoiesis produces life out of desubjectivization or. 93). and potential. He remains a scrivener with the potential to write mimetically. and most significantly. It is not that he cannot copy. Rather he does not want to. if I may but temporarily coin that rather horrendous-sounding neologism. Each of these thinkers conducts an experiment in being which we should now recognize as that of desubjectivization. He is a scrivener. as we saw. 260). the moment when the subject “withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. He mentions Avicenna’s imagining of an eviscerated and dismembered being that can still state “I am. but as we saw desubjectivization is a central tenet in Agamben’s conception of the relevancy of poetry to philosophy and being. Of course he then recounts Rimbaud’s declaration “I is another” alongside Kleist’s use of the marionette as paradigm for the absolute.
as Keats demonstrates in the final line of “Ode on a Grecian Urn. between potential absoluta and potential ordinate. “The formula that he so obstinately repeats destroys all possibility of constructing a relation between being able and being willing. In that this ontology withdraws subjectivity from actual identity and biological indistinction. Logopoiesis is a truth-testing tautology that can only occur outside the realms of philosophy. Logopoiesis therefore must be a construction dependent on the logic of potentiality as Agamben finesses it. another name Agamben gives to this ontology is life. 261). It is the formula of potentiality” (P. Bartleby’s ontology of unfulfilled potential can not be submitted to truth conditions not because it is always true but because it is simultaneously true and not true. potentiality thus creates its own ontology” (P. 255). “Emancipating itself from Being and non-Being alike. he argues. form-of-life (HS. In the end there is little difference between this presentation of truth
. 259). A tautology is a form of thinking whose truth cannot be tested because it is always true. are somewhat dissatisfying. For a start Melville’s story seems to merely recount the conditions of potential in an allegorical or analogous form. 188).” poetry thrives on it. Philosophy cannot abide the tautology. as all illustrations are. but.4
While illustrative these examples. he would simply prefer not to. Such a process is in effect heuristically tautegorical in that one can only attest to the truth of its taking place through the sense of its taking place or not taking place. Potential shares with tautology the same truth-testing aporetic base in that its truth cannot be appraised not because it is always true but because it constitutes the very experiment or test of truth. The ontology of potentiality can also be termed that of logopoiesis confirmed by Agamben’s subsequent comments on the relation of the Bartleby’s formula to tautology “a proposition that is impenetrable to truth conditions on account of always being true” (P.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
prefer not to’. Agamben goes on to describe how the green screen (another version of the tablet perhaps) that isolates Bartleby’s desk “traces the borders of an experimental laboratory” wherein the scrivener who can copy but chooses not to frees himself from the principle of reason: either one is a scrivener and one copies or one is not and does not. or better.” It is not that he does not want to copy. Similarly.
along with an interesting interchange between “this” and “that. This is logopoiesis in its weakest state. that moves beyond what we have already learnt of deixis from other sources. specificity to generality. in particular his reading of Leopardi’s poem “L’infinito” proceeding directly out of the analysis of the troubadours’ noble if failed attempt to think the place of language as such—the ultimate logopoietic adventure for Agamben I would suspect. “L’infinito” begins: “This lonely knoll was ever dear to me. This is best illustrated by the centrality he gives to poetry in Language and Death. Yet Agamben is not to be accused. While the use of deixis is fascinating Agamben rightly asks what we can learn of the poem’s reliance on deixis as indicating the instance of discourse.” so that while we may assume that Leopardi did
. is this specific use of deixis singular to the poem when innumerable poems use the same technique? Agamben believes that Leopardi. And how. the impersonal genius of the wind interjects and “I find myself comparing to this voice / that infinite silence: and I recall eternity. Narrative. and back again. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
and that found in Plato’s dialogues or the fabulous Nietzsche.” Naturally.” moving one from proximity to distance. of merely allegorizing literature in the service of philosophy. most specifically the circular tautological nature of thinking under the auspices of logopoiesis.LOGOPOIESIS.” Author-function Leopardi is then struck by a sense of “interminable spaces” in the distant beyond. and dialogue have all been used by philosophy to make a point.” At this point. faced with the “immensity” of both infinite space and infinite time. indeed. which it undoubtedly does in the poem. poetry. as some have of Heidegger and Badiou.5 His is a truly engaged logopoiesis that gives as much attention to the operations of poetic thinking as to philosophical thought processes. absolute silence and “the living presence and its sound” the poet is overwhelmed: “And so / in this immensity my thought is drowned: / and in this sea is foundering sweet to me. He notes the deictic “this” is repeated six times in the poem’s fifteen lines.”6 Agamben’s analysis begins in technicalities which indicate the sincere philologer within him. / and this hedgerow that hides from view / so large a part of the remote horizon. like Hegel. marked by “supernatural silences.” with “this hedgerow” becoming converted later into “that. always conceives of the sense-certainty assumed by the “this” as always already “universal and negative.
Agamben’s use of prose was illustrative. already referentially deficient but still intimate. and rhythm work. in such a way. beyond the last horizon.” and then “this” for “that” suggests that. This. that the procedure of author-function becoming reader-function. reducing both subjectivities to mere gesturality. and third how poetic thinking differs totally from that of philosophy. he is immediately transforming the sense-certainty of the poem into a set of universal qualities revealing. The place of poetry is therefore always a place of memory and repetition.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
once perceive a knoll in his home town of Recanati. is indicated for example by how soon the “this” in the poem. in the instance of discourse that the habitual use of deixis indicates. in other words where and how poetry thinks? First. referentiality in poetry is always already moving away from reference to an actual thing towards
. Previously. the knoll. however. also converts the ontic object of the text as such into mere text-function. and into other realms of generality. toward an infinity of events of language. a That). reference. In the Leopardian idyll.” The rapidity and alacrity with which the poet abandons a noun for “this. and the wind in the poem have immediately moved beyond referentiality to an existential fact. Poetic language takes place in such a way that its advent always already escapes both toward the future and toward the past. is modified to become the more vague and distant “that. he believes. I believe. What are these qualities that typify the place of poetry. converting with haste Leopardi the existent-being into Leopardi the author-function gesture. the hedgerow. serving as the basis for the possibility of its infinite repetition. like the poet himself. as in the Hegelian analysis of sense-certainty. the “this” points always already beyond the hedgerow.7 He is reading a poem by Leopardi but. (LD. More precisely the instance of discourse is assigned to memory from the very beginning. 76) Although a consideration of one short lyric this is also an observation of great significance. second as to how poetic structure. that the memorable is the very ungraspability of the instance of discourse as such (and not simply an instance of discourse determined historically and spatially). here his analysis of poetry is exemplary and paradigmatic. first as regards the now fully fleshed-out conception of dictation. here the This is always already a Not-this (a universal.
as the object referred to in the poem is the very ungraspability of existential reality the poem is quickly transferred from a specific description of a lived reality. and thus available for perpetual repetition. this allows Agamben to make a truly profound revelation as to the nature of poetic structure.” There was a knoll but in the poem there is no knoll. there was a solitary reaper but in the poem she has already fled. He says that the poem “expresses the same experience which we saw as constitutive of philosophy itself. a poem is therefore always profoundly evental. The event as such is either always already prepared for. and yet as soon as the poet encounters daffodils. Agamben’s first conclusion from this astonishing reading is itself somewhat predictable but essential all the same. frog-spawn. The poem deals with a truth that is always already in place before the poet ever even wanders lonely as a cloud. The poem. Its advent is both pre-cursive and reflective. there was a Grecian urn but in the poem there is no Grecian urn. therefore. Although the lived experience always precedes the act of mimesis in our tradition. or conceptually through such considerations of space and time that we find in “L’infinito. the poietic poem. a gesture conjured up to support to presence of the poem as such (LD. fourth. A poem can never be an event. the uncertainties of memory down by the station early in the morning. is truly an event in that it negates the very possibility of its ever occupying this space and being termed as such. to a universal precondition of experience as such. that the taking place of language is unspeakable and ungraspable.” located as it is beyond the knoll in
. universal. 69). or has always already been converted from singular event to universal quality. something singular to the poet. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
the thing first standing for something else and then finally an indication of the thing of language as such. they have already entered into a field of repetition. the fiction of the razo creates lived experience simply to support the event of writing a poem that is long past.LOGOPOIESIS. Second. Finally. Third. This is a point he also makes in reference to the razo de trobar. Reference in poetry therefore is always an indication of the taking place of language either in actuality through use of heightened semiotic devices. namely. poetic referentiality is always marked by a belatedness transferring all poetic temporality into memorialization. This invention of an encounter or happening is in fact an act of false memory. At this point the poem shifts from being a specific instance of discourse to the truth of discursive ungraspability ceasing to be singular in becoming general.
the act of turning. . That said if philosophy is marked by language as negation then poetry too cannot escape this metaphysical nihilism. The verse (versus. is an essential part of poetry. Agamben’s definition of language’s sayability as pure medium being perpetually silenced by the instance of the Voice. 77). of course. Thus literature can get there first. 77). not quite. to return. Well.8 As Agamben says in response to this obvious yet seemingly invisible fact: The metrical-musical element demonstrates first of all the verse as a place of memory and repetition. as opposed to prorsus. The utilization of metrical forms in poetry.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
interminable silence (LD. This is no more the case than in the poem which demands to be read then re-read. Thus he is able to conclude in a phrase of some significance to my own theory of logopoiesis: “The poetic experience of dictation seems. . This is. to proceed directly. There are blessings and curses to be gleaned from this analysis. in all poetry even contemporary mainstream free verse and experimental poetics. He adds: “The word. that they will return again. This element is what he calls here poetry’s “super-shifter . Literature points to itself as an instance of discourse not merely when it plays games with reference and deixis but as soon as it takes place as a work. for this reason. weaving a complex planar and tabular matrix of anaphoric and cataphoric elements that are the essence of its form. the metrical-musical element” (LD. taking place in time. For a start Agamben excitedly notes in relation to Bartleby that Melville’s observations on will precede those of Nietzsche by three decades. if philosophy has already indicated this surely all that is left for poetry is to back philosophy up. comes about in such as way that its advent necessarily remains unsaid in that which is said” (LD. and that the instance of the word that takes place in a poem is. thus. Its role as a functioning meta-deixis although not often enough remarked upon is central to the literary experience as a whole. In addition. from verto. Poetry and philosophy are most certainly linked in terms of how they think language. to coincide perfectly with the philosophical experience of language” (LD. although in later studies he refers to it as the semiotic. 77). However the true significance of poetry is not that of winning a metaphysical race but lies elsewhere in the semiotic element of verse that philosophy simply cannot match.
. as in prose) signals for a reader that these words have always already come to be. 77).
reference and. where poetry thinks.
THE HABITS OF THE MUSE
Agamben’s conclusion to his reading of Leopardi is complex and subtle. This allows poetry to take possession of language’s unattainability in a way. it performs or at least demonstrates that the very place of poetry. Thus the poem is able to take possession of the unattainable as the positive basis for its own self-generation. in what I have called logopoiesis. indeed. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
ungraspable. Through the musical element. As the poem is always already in place before you even come upon it. But this placelessness has a place to be found in prosody itself. however. he believes. While philosophy is able to speak of the unspeakable giving us insight into negativity but no means of overcoming it. counting as one of the most profound reflections on the literary ever penned in any language at any time. modern poetic dictation is just as marked by negation as modern philosophical thinking. which is something philosophical language can never do unless it becomes poeticized.LOGOPOIESIS. the unattainable). is by definition a placeless one. Does it not. sound. 78) This is the essence of the nature of poetry for Agamben. There is. lineation. but the commencement of a possible shift away from the aporias of both logos and poiesis. You will recall that although poetry and philosophy both share as their object the unattainability of language as such. and has always already taken place and then begun again before you even get to the end. no quick solution to this problem. and while my formulation of logopoiesis advocates
. in poetry the unattainable is its very essence. finally. philosophy and poetry. This is prosody as such or poetry’s reliance on repetition in terms of stress. remain unclear in the detail as to why poetry’s reliance on semiotic repetition is able to potentially save the whole of Western metaphysics? I would suggest so. structure. (LD. Philosophy’s prose proceeds but poetry’s verse returns and this constitutes their essential difference. philosophical discourse cannot. poetry seems to prepare a portal through which one could emerge into a post-nihilistic world or word that philosophy does not have at its disposal. that is. poetic language commemorates its own inaccessible originary place and it says the unspeakability of the event of language (it attains. This is not the solution to our metaphysical problems.
This is not unique to this poem. sem-per. Just as the poem never ends always returning our attention back to that first line.” “This lonely knoll” and “this sea. symphonies. for Agamben. it never begins either commencing always on “always. “was ever dear to me” and “sweet to me. turning. an adventure indeed.is the Indo-European word for single. going backwards to go forwards. although always there in the metricalmusical element. the habit of its reversal. Second. placed at the head of the poem composing the poem’s advent word from which the verse is launched as always already being in place. First. The first rhyme already recalls the second. Every couplet is in miniature the ontological potential of the poem to save thought. For now we must satisfy ourselves with Agamben’s final point in relation to “L’infinito” as regards what might be called poetic habit. novels. of which he finds the sem. sempre. is. Consider rhyme as a simple example of this. Thus he defines the roots of always as meaning “once and for all. unlike in the English translation. All that Agamben is really looking for is an honest experience of linguistic/ontological unattainability or the definition of poeticphilosophical being as by definition the unattainable.” and the emphasis on dearness/sweetness.” This in fact is not a remarkable observation. is also referred to directly by the first line of the poem which in Italian reads: “Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle. When is one ever in the poem spatially or temporally. progressing only to refer back. the use of “this. and films recall their commencement in their ending.” Two elements at the poem’s end recall. its restless habitus. so many lyrics.” Here always. The poem proceeds through verse. the second harks back to the first. combined with a positive potential. if one is always proceeding and returning? One never is. the poem form is dominated by the advent-finitude tabular matrix.” a common enough construction of the experience of the always. In “L’infinito” the habitual. He thinks he finds this at the end of the poem where the poet admits his thought is drowned in the immensity of the unattainable before adding the proviso: “and in this sea is foundering sweet to me. This is the place of poetic thinking.” Agamben traces the etymology of sempre to the Latin semper which he first fractures into two elements. its advent. He then suggests: “The sempre that opens the idyll thus points
.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
this productive position for literature I cannot say at this point that call it anything more than a projection on my part.
But the drowning of thought in ‘this’ sea now permits a return to the ‘ever dear’ of the first line. Agamben’s second conclusion on the poem therefore is as follows: “The experience at stake in the idyll is thus the breaking apart of a habit. This is in a way a restatement of the logic of the name in Heidegger. cedes to thought its sovereign power in affairs of the mind but is wrong to do so. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
toward a habit.
. to hold this unattainability in suspense. Agamben now rereads the whole poem as an attempt to seize the habitual. the rupturing of a habitual dwelling into a ‘surprise’ . fully experiencing the unattainable of the place of language. In trying to inhabit the experience of the knoll. by the poet’s trying to haveever-dear the experience of the knoll. The thought is a movement that.9 that is. Poetry. Yet we know that in trying to have the knoll the poet is instead cast into the interminable space that dismays his heart. 80). Agamben believes this change in situation as regards thought is dramatized in “L’infinito” through the figure of drowning: “Thought drowns in that about which it thinks: the unattainable taking place of language. This “voyage” taken in the poem is “truly more brief than any time or measure. will even kill him if he is unable to change his situation. seeks to think. it represents the initial sempre as an interminable multiplicity . “Il pensiero dominante” he seems to embrace thinking which. .” the poet instead founders in the multiplicity of potential experiences of the knoll. the perpetual place of always. to measure its dimensions” (LD. . The singular cannot be attained except through its being named in language. yet the process of being named is the very thing that robs any event of singularity for the name allows the event to be reiterated and transmitted through space and time.LOGOPOIESIS. to occupy its singular once-ness for all time indicated in the “this. because it leads into the heart of the Same. . here. . Yet in a later poem. 79). 80). and the event in Badiou. 80–1). This is perhaps why in an early letter Leopardi writes of the way in which thought makes him unhappy. a having (habitus) that unifies (once) a multiplicity (all times): the having ever dear this knoll” (LD. although dominating is also sweet. Habit cedes to a thought that ‘feigns’. invention in Derrida. the that of the knoll or its endless repetition through its prophylactic and transmissible encounter in poetic language. the habitual dwelling with which the idyll began” (LD. as is ever the case at least since Plato’s time. It departs from a habit and returns to the same habit” (LD.
10 Plato sees the community between poetry and philosophy. the habit. therefore. is the name the Greeks gave to the “ungraspability of the originary place of the poetic word” (LD. 78). Use of the poetic word in fact is an expropriated appropriation in that one is possessed by the muse. amity. much more than a simple rivalry. for speaking man. Previous to this analysis Agamben draws ancient parallels between poetry and philosophy through the figure of the muse which as we know he also terms dictation. its utter. The name of this technique in poetry is the periplus. Muse. Periplus describes. Here. which.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
In contrast to our previous definition of thought as that which takes measure of the dimensions of the unattainable. in a nutshell. nothing that can be tested as being true in terms of agreement or reasoning. is responsible for giving the poetic word the character of being an eurema Moisan or invention of the muses. Plato. here thought cannot measure trapped as it is in the tautology of the same. Agamben believes Plato is correct in his calling philosophy supreme music and its muse the true muse. Agamben’s reading goes even further than this however: “The ‘confrontation’ that has always been under way between poetry and philosophy is. he explains. the circular journey immortalized by The Odyssey becoming a foundational recursive and tautological structure of so much Western art to follow. the circular structural basis of all logopoiesis. nothing new. thus. and instead of appreciating filiation. just sails around. 78). 78). “so that it necessarily escapes whoever tries to speak it” (LD. he claims. Wildean. Periplus as a term marks the structural pointlessness or meaninglessness of art. Agamben believes philosophy was born out of the very need to
. in the Ion. 78). philo-poiesis. inaccessible place of the word. In that “philosophy too experiences the place of language as its supreme problem (the problem of being)” (LD. he sees a rival to his claim for thought’s sovereignty. one encounters Plato’s problem with poetry as identified by Lacoue-Labarthe in his recent response to Badiou’s critique of his work on poiesis: competition. 78). anti-poiesis. that it takes us nowhere. The circular journey to nowhere brings to the fore the darkness of the poem. For Plato the meaning of the most beautiful song is “to demonstrate that poetic words do no originally belong to the people nor are they created by them” (LD. is the highest stake” (LD. radically productive uselessness. that it says nothing of worth. a project of which I think we can say Heidegger is the greatest master. Both seek to grasp that original. spoken by it.
lost at sea as we say. It does this. thought “in its drowning” is “now truly lost forever .
. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
liberate poetry from inspiration or to retrieve language from mystical music-making and return it to statements of truth. sets out from only to return back to the same. Thought in the poem. the most beautiful voice of the muse is voice without sound marking the origins of two essential and ultimately destructive events in Western thought. perhaps neither poetry nor philosophy.LOGOPOIESIS. Plato argues in Phaedrus. vocal silence at the very heart of being. Who will save us: poetry or philosophy? The answer is neither and both. Returning one last time. once and for all time. and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring. thought has many adventures during which thought’s silence and interminable nature miraculously ceases to be “a negative experience. that is. he argues. . (LD. no sooner launched the logopoietic bark is inundated by the cruel seas of the infinite and drowns. tautological logopoiesis. Agamben inserts the following: (For this reason. to Leopardi Agamben ends what is surely one of the great additions to the science of aesthetics in considering a logopoietic thinking that finds no measure of the infinite but is captured instead. would be the true human language). in the periplus logic of tautological habitudes. .”’ At sea. Perhaps only language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word. Yet. the trans-planar and tabular experience of the anaphoriccataphoric matrix of poetic recursiveness. Thought now experiences. and thus freed. The second the establishment of negative. The first is the scission of poetry from philosophy echoed by the bifurcation of language in the theory of the sign and dramatized in poetics through the development of the stanza. Yet. once and for all. 78) With this parenthetical wondering Agamben gives birth to the new discipline of logopoiesis. In parentheses as if an after thought which in fact is the advent of this whole impossible yet unavoidable enterprise. by transforming muse into spirit or Geist. neither verse not prose. along the way. as is often the case in such salty tales of the sea.” Thought has been truly poeticized by being sucked into the vortex of poetic periplus. you recall. will ever be able to accomplish their millennial enterprise by themselves. Yet.
without resorting to arche-presence of the false imposition of unity. 81). This logic is the tautological logic of poetic thinking. Through the projectiverecursive nature of poetic structure we are gifted with a model for a truly tautological mode of thought that draws together all the strands of Agamben’s attempt to think beyond the metaphysics of scission and negation. At this point the metaphysical and poetic Agamben will once more come together and take the measure of each other.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
in the poem. the very testing of truth through its own alienation. and eschatological futural time. its having-been and its coming to be . as the ethos of humanity” (LD. negativity as the breaking and making of the habit or of a poetic. dry off. in the exhaustion of the dimension of being. The result of this is a form of radical desubjectivization. Logopoiesis is the turn of verse in all senses of the word. its coming to be. and the very turn of poetry as a formidable alternative to the traditional modes of thinking which renounce the circular in every instance in favour of moving ever forward towards the truth. literary singularity born out of structures of repetition. time between times or between chronological time. Logopoiesis in its tautology names a certain experience of truth that emulates that of potential. it suffices to pull ourselves from the ocean and back onto the shore. its having been. and yet how much further we still have to travel. and reflect on how far we have come. . its versification of language. . For now.” its drowning and its tautological negation so that “in the negative dimensions of the event of language. a truly original idea of language and thought that exceeds all the traditions of thinking from Plato as far as Heidegger by simply escaping the craft of thinking through drowning in equivalence and pointlessness. the figure of humanity’s having emerges for the first time in its simple clarity: to have always dear as one’s habitual dwelling place. The result is the “extinguishing of thought. In both tautology and potentiality. however. for different yet related reasons. Later when we return to poetic structure we will see how Agamben’s recent work has come to name this in-between time messianic time. the truth of a statement cannot be tested.
. its habit and its versus. Everything hangs on the temporal-spatial essence of poetry. Yet the circularity of logopoiesis goes even further than this. Both the ability of poetic language to turn (projective-recursion) as a potential for a pro-ductive philosophy to come.
From this we are now in a position to ascertain that the prosodic element of poetry which concerns so much of Agamben’s work on literature. 96) If it were not already apparent that there is a profound interdependence in Agamben between thinking. the poem must die through a process of self-alienation to become what it is destined to be. the end of the poem. In Agamben’s hands the poem may be reborn into the service of a profound shift in metaphysics but at a certain cost to its own self-identity. language. consider the conclusion of the short essay on poetics entitled “The End of the Poem. 115). without remaining unsaid in what is said” (EP. and the arts. (BT. Never more powerfully apparent than here is it that Agamben is both negligent of the singularity of literature and yet entirely dependent on it. Like all other identities in Agamben.
. All of which gives a certain piquancy to his avowed project here. recurrence. THE TURN OF VERSE
THE DEFINITION OF POETRY
Bare space is still veiled. and finitude. interests him only in as much as it provides singular and privileged access to thinking the thing of thought as such: language.” Having spent several pages defining poetry in terms of lineation.CHAPTER 5
ENJAMBEMENT. he concludes on material seemingly at one removed from the technical concerns of prosody: “The poem thus reveals the goal of its proud strategy: to let language finally communicate itself. interruption.
and poetry is the archetypal tensile linguistic form. This is not merely due to the repulsive attitude of first philosophy to poetry. which was originally a paper presented in French. 109) This deceptively simple definition of poetry as reducible to the prosodic technique of enjambement that does not even belong with Agamben1 establishes a set of preconditions for poetry which. The fact that the poem comes to an end both allows
. but also that the specific tension of the poetic. this is. begins in a rather pedestrian vein that gives little indication of the direction it will eventually take: My plan. To do this. I will have to begin with a claim that. as you can see summarized in the title of this lecture. not least because the non-relational relation between two terms in a zone of indistinction that typifies the Agambenian method is best described as a tension. although widely attacked by Agamben cannot simply be eradicated. And so it becomes possible to see how this tension which occurs in the technicalities of prosody will open up for Agamben a possible route out of negation into pro-duction. happens to emulate precisely the tension at the heart of modern. strikes me as obvious—namely that poetry lives only in the tension and difference (and hence also the virtual interference) between sound and sense. If this tension were easy to maintain. is to define a poetic institution that has until now remained unidentified: the end of the poem. source of the tension he mentions here. yet as we saw poetry has a special place in this tradition. between the semiotic and the semantic sphere. by definition. perhaps Agamben might rapidly find what he is looking for in poetry but. we now realize. negative metaphysics. namely that such a scission demands separation and relation. It is notable that the essay title and Agamben’s initial declaration both refer not to the internal tension of the poem but its cessation: the end of the poem is the true definition of poetry. without being trivial. not the case. like all tension. (EP. that between the semiotic and the semantic. here in the scission between phone and logos. must also be those for thought. Rather the definition of poetry exists precisely in the ambivalence to be found at the heart of all structures of differential scission.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
The essay. Thus we can see that differential opposition. This may indeed be a truism for all entities the result of the metaphysical tradition.
starts to unravel. because at this point the whole texture of poetry. and instead becomes a true abyss of philosophical proportions. if poetry is indeed this tension. then.2 Yet there would be no tension without this probable eventuality. carefully woven according to Agamben from the tensile interchange of semiotics and semantics. it is inevitable that if the sequence cannot recommence then the thing in question at that point no longer exists. a gap which words can pause before and then overleap as in enjambement. THE TURN OF VERSE
one to define the potential of its internal tensions and to understand how. This space.
. poetry alone cannot be thought’s substitute. Does this mean that the last verse trespasses into prose? (EP. This fact is certainly trivial. If poetry subsists in the tensions it calls up between semiotic and semantic forces. the abyssal presence of absence edging all poetry into being. No wonder it is “as if for poetry the end implied a catastrophe and loss of identity” (EP. The poem is tense because it must end. Thus the final “verse” of any poem cannot be poetry for the tension is asymmetrically poised above a permanent rather than transitory space. most marked at the end of the line where semiotic demands of metrical counting and rhyme undermine the semantic expectations set up within the progress of the serial syntax previous to this point of transition from one line to the next. not a preference for the semiotic over the semantic but the balancing of one precariously against the other. it follows that the last verse of a poem is not a verse. 115). For if poetry is defined precisely by the possibility of enjambement. 112) If something is defined by a tensile dynamic between arrest and sequential recommencement. ceases to be a facilitator of poetic tension. here there can be no enjambement in the final verse of a poem. Verse is verse because it will at some point cease to be verse defining a structure of identity based on self-alienation we are now more than familiar with under the wider ontological heading of desubjectivization. yet it implies consequences that are as perplexing as they are necessary.ENJAMBEMENT. Agamben wonders: what happens at the point which the poem ends? Clearly. only pure. ongoing poetry of an impossible or virtual nature. teetering on a ledge above an abyss of pure space or universal prose. while a potential for thought. not least because without finitude there can be no poem.
Poetry is tense because it is permanently buffeted by recollected
. meaning that poetry is the natural or normative state of language and prose merely its interim interruption? Such an argument is historically supportable in the work of Godzich and Kittay. dissolving. losing its footing on a slippery way it must follow to its death.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
If. and hence poiesis. to be perpetually born to presence. but also disseminated or contaminated across the stretch of the line in the gaps between the words and the fading of certain syllables in the service of others. before the title. the famous Agamben tablet of potential? The end of the poem raises more questions than it answers but what is certain is that it is not precisely the tension between semiotics and semantics that allows the poem to come to presence. its uncanny angst. or the fake space of the blank page. not space at all but un-inscribed or zero-marked matter. tension. Poetry is not marked by finitude. foreshadowed in the worrying gaps between stanzas. or is it merely the period when there is no poetic tension? Where does this space end into. Surely the essay would be better named “The Death of the Poem. vacancy is just as present before the poem begins. This is the source of poetry’s Stimmung. outside the collection or book? Is it actual space. from this obvious if not trivial definition. by its ending. but rather the already inscribed future failure of poetry. but rather is the experience of projective and imminent finitude as such. Is the space before the poem the space between poems. Is prose. inevitable at the poem’s final footing on the edge before the abyss. composed of alinear but sequential marks.” because Agamben is speaking here of deathly negativity. if it indeed ever does begin as such and not simply strike up again on its guitar or lute. Just as being-in-the-world can only be disclosed through an admission of finitude so too the poem in the world is only a poem by virtue of its eventual negation by the Hegelian “prose of the world” of the everyday. This other tension is the tension of philosophical finitude. indeed all creation precisely in the terms of Heidegger’s beingtowards-death. and finitude. implied before the poem has even begun. questions begin to be asked of being. If space looms at the end of the poem. the beginning of the poem. between the title and the poem body. which is also a being-away-from-birth. certainly suggested at the end of each line whether it runs on or not. in other words. one might also wonder what happens at the point of incipit or the very birth of the poem. He comes to define poetry. its mood or attunement. For poetry is perpetually fading.
at some point of extension. None of which is at all trivial. Such plans always implicate the formation of a plane. after all. A plan. But we shall call poetry the discourse in which it is possible to set a metrical limit against a syntactic one (verse in which enjambement is not actually present is to be seen as verse with zero enjambement). for example. from this standpoint. 39) This is taken from Idea of Prose. A plane occurs whenever there are three points or where there are two lines which are not parallel for. maps out a planar surface. and the number of syllables—all elements that can equally well occur in prose—do not.
I will take Agamben at his word and read “The End of the Poem” as a plan for a poetic institution of foundational instability. and the intervening ten years between Agamben’s initial. among other things. A plan. Any line therefore at a slant—tell the truth but tell it slant—holds within it an invitation to some future assignation wherein its linearity will become planar. will meet at a third and mutual point (in perspective the vanishing point). is a geometric term pertaining to the point where any two lines meet one’s line of sight at the perpendicular and form a twodimensional flat surface or plane diminishing in accordance with perspective. THE TURN OF VERSE
premonitions and intimations of mortality. simply listing actions. provide sufficient criteria. quasi-scientific formulation and the more complex rhetoric of “The End of the Poem” allows Agamben to add
.ENJAMBEMENT. Quantity. rhythm. and Agamben’s plan for the institution of the end of the poem is born out of his obvious yet remarkable observation that: No definition of verse is perfectly satisfying unless it asserts an identity for poetry against prose through the possibility of enjambement. (IP. Prose is the discourse in which this is impossible. however obvious it may seem to be. those two lines each made of two points.
words in any real sense. and articulation charted here: the space between the words. the adoption of the terms semantic and semiotic to place atop of the initial bare skeleton of prose and poetry. in that speaking the words does not reproduce textual spacing or planar dimensionality. The first of these observations is. while the phonematic difference cannot contain the grammatological.4 So in grammatology one cannot “see” stress. which is a grammatological differentiation. The brain that cuts up this continual stream into single units identified as “words. Western. English. The second is less so and is based on scientific work on phonemes which establishes that when one speaks a stream of syntax. notice how hard is the conception of the phonetic as a line and the grammatological as a stream.” They are not. of course. undifferentiated utterance. although free verse has made the potential for this differentiation available in principle to all syntax with Agamben’s theory backing this up to some degree. Let us take a random and innocent syntagm in English to better illustrate the issue: “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.” There are two clear levels of segmentation. one utters a single. although of all of these mathematics also has a tabular potential.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
one additional element to this formula. alphabetic languages which are written although not necessarily spoken.3 Let us scientifically and geometrically proceed with this for a moment. difference. and leaves the world to darkness and to me. as you may have recognized when you
. by which I mean the simple appearance of the words does not reproduce stress. and in phonology one cannot hear “words. rather they are electrical impulses giving an impression of words. the ploughman homeward plods his weary way. which is phonematic. however. at least until one pauses for breath. resulting in the perfectly sensible and violently contested idea that the voice precedes writing. Latin.” These two realms rely on very different modes of sensation resulting in cognition of a language which remains permanently bifurcated and at odds with itself. and the regular. a designation which includes Italian. There is a fundamental disjuncture in such successive series between words as they are heard and how they are written. a third level of segmentation available to only a very limited number of syntagms. There is. and mathematics. metrical iambic rhythm. rather obvious. The grammatological difference cannot contain the phonematic. dare I say it. are all composed of successive series. for. This third difference is enjambement. the lowing heard winds slowly o’er the lea.
THE TURN OF VERSE
saw my example or felt when you read it. The first is the line taken by Agamben that without the line-breaks after every ten syllables this sentence is prose. revealing not simply Derridean différance but also the “topological game of putting things together and articulating” (ST. but in the fold of the presence on which they are established: the logos . And leaves the world to darkness and to me. While attestation suggests Agamben conceives of enjambement grammatologically. . Is such a break a grammatological or phonematic occurrence? The way Agamben presents it remains permanently unclear.5 So goes famously the first stanza of Gray’s exemplary “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The ploughman homeward plods his weary way. The first pertains to Agamben’s more general work on language and in particular his radical critique of Derrida’s theory of the trace conducted through Agamben’s own problematization of the idea of the gramma. the extract in question is more traditionally inscribed thus: The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. neither in writing nor in the voice. 156). The second takes us into a much more complex question as to what is actually meant by a line-break. And the human is precisely this fracture of presence” (ST.ENJAMBEMENT. there are a number of reasons why this cannot be the case. As one can see from my little experiment in linguistic presentation. 156). as proven by my example that until those breaks are spatially imposed the sentence in question holds off from become a verse. The remaining evidence is much more empirical. True one needs in
. so I have to extrapolate from his evidence the possibility that it is both and neither. . This leads to Agamben’s contention that gramma (writing) rather than destabilizing the pre-eminence of phone (voice) as full presence is actually the pre-condition or reverse face of such a pre-eminence: “the originary nucleus of signification is neither in the signifier or the signified. is the fold that gathers and divides all things in the ‘putting together’ of presence.” There are two levels of analysis to present here. enjambement is neither purely grammatological nor phonological. The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea. Agamben summarizes this ancient ontological counterpositioning in terms of the bar (/) that we found articulated the ban and articulation of the sign.
Enjambement in this manner demonstrates perhaps the only instance in language where the rivalry between the immediacy of speech and the mediation of writing is transformed into a constructive. Enjambement therefore not only establishes a tension between semantics and semiotics but it simultaneously eases or even eradicates another ancient antagonism. this time not between poetry and prose (philosophy) but between speech and writing.6 this is not essential but merely a contingency of
. more intangibly. until one has one’s suspicions confirmed by the graphical plan of the poem before one. while at the same time one can feel enjambement but it remains as discarnate as a feeling or uncanny sensation. While prose fills a planar page space.here page the of side hand left the at line the up takes then It This maps out three points: the beginning of the line. Enjambement artificially breaks the sequential line of language at the right hand side of the page here.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
some sense the spatial presentation of the break for the poem to be immediately perceptible as the visual entity called poem. All of which brings us back to the poetic plane. but its full force comes through the combination of the two. poetry is the becoming planar of an endlessly extendable two-dimensional field we call prose. and perhaps finally. But if one reads the four lines as one line. This is due to the perfection of the metrics here widely recognized as one of the most superlative and thus static examples of traditional English prosody. In fact you do not need to read the poem to visually apprehend it is a poem nor do you need to see the poem when you are reading it to know or feel it is a poem. its ending. . for indeed one cannot understand enjambement unless one understands the semantic content of the lines in view. which can be presented graphically as follows:
Geometrically speaking. entente. one still finds oneself pausing every ten syllables. if strained. and its recommencement. Certainly you can see a line-break or feel it. the use of zero enjambement facilitated by terminal caesurae at the end of every subsection of ten syllables. the almost genetic inclination of English speakers to allow their speech to fall into iambs organized into groups of ten syllables or so.
and reclaims that which it had the temerity to eject. In abstract terms the line of prose is always one single line. as it were. The paragraph. organization. Poetry affirms its identity at the very moment that it breaks the line indicating a preference for semiotic metrics and rhyme over semantic clarity and continuity. It hints at a passage of prose with the very gesture that attests its own versatility. the purely sonic unit of verse transgresses its own identity as it does its own measure. (IP. referring to the rhetorical term echoing the passage of an oxen along and between the furrows it ploughs wherein you write first from right to left and then from left to right. Poetry is the moment in which the plane of writing is opened through the addition of an extra point to the bi-punctal line of prose. Here voice shouts down writing. it is irresistibly drawn into bending over into the next line to lay hold of what it has thrown out of itself. Writing scribbles down voice. and transportation of prose writing. The cut folded back on itself always becomes a hinge except for the very last verse which remains severed not bent. Most avowedly the paragraph is not a stanza. spatial absence (the jagged abyss that looms at the right-hand edge of all poetry) the break is softened into a bend.ENJAMBEMENT. Paradoxically Agamben terms this accommodating recuperation a “dive into the abyss of meaning” for in recovering a state of stable continuity through the renunciation of the cut for the hinge. that it abandons sense for the abyss of grammatical. . Yet at the very point. but boustrophedonic.7 the verse finds that its very identity as verse is lost at the precise point of its being
. interrupted by the paragraph certainly but never for anything other than stabilizing semantic dictates within this line. neither poetic nor prosaic. distribution. and it is a point. By this headlong dive into the abyss of meaning. THE TURN OF VERSE
the development of the book as a technology for the preservation. 40) Agamben’s phrasing itself constructs something of a boustrophedonic folding logic. enjambement brings to light the original gait. As Agamben argues: In the very moment that the verse affirms its own identity by breaking a syntactic link. . I would argue. of poetry . although the closest entity in prose graphematically to the property of enjambement does not interrupt the dimensionality of the prose line into a poetic planar surface. namely sense. In this way.
cannot be cleared until the issue of time in poetry is resolved. and finally excision of an opening for suprasensuous thinking within the sensible body of a “work” of art. an essential logopoietic opening up of space for thought in a medium that. colonization. as a threshold.
– KLE SIS. rely on temporality. indeed poetry as such is based on the fundamental number three. immediately closed down again by the cut becoming in an instant a fold. and vice versa. What poetry “makes happen” geometrically is that it adds a third point. One of
. Students of metaphysics will be more than aware of how considerations of time become those of space. This plane of language first and foremost introduces writing to a fundamental experience of space as opposed to the simple activity of differential spacing: space as a second dimension. as a surround or framing device.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
founded. and abyss. Between the cut and the fold. therefore. At the point in the line when the line becomes a part of a plane the poiesis of poetry is revealed. to poetry as the tensile effect of this activity. If we take the structural shift of the metricalmusical element of the anaphora-cataphora projective recursive tabular matrix of poetic structure. THE MESSIANIC AS NOT
The space of thought within the poem. This experience of space produced by the boustrophedonic transition from line to plane. “Poetic” remains therefore at the level of praxis. the way it always refers both forwards and backwards. to refer to the activity of enjambement. one can see a dramatization of this dynamic in the grammatological presentation of the work while partially occluded in the phonematic in which voice unfolds in time. while poetry as such is poiesis. something that writing does. poetry is continually and permanently born to presence and withheld from view. since Plato certainly. More importantly we find here in the becoming planar of the line of sense an internal bifurcation in the category poetry as Agamben shifts from the adjective poetic. allows the poetic to become poetry. has suffered a ban.8 opening up a planar space in writing that is the very basis of the grammatological. such as the becoming planar of the cut/turn at the end of the poetic line. What poetry makes happen in the birth to plane is nothing other than thinking. or something that the poetic makes happen or brings into presence. revealed and concealed or vice versa.9 Students of poetry will be more than aware of how considerations of space.
as regards Agamben’s own philosophy of indifference. and so on. Yet such is the nature of the adventure. Yet its essential combination with the theory of potentiality is.
. Finally. we must pass through the distorting hall of temporal mirrors that is the complex and brilliant theory of messianic time to be found in this volume.ENJAMBEMENT. and the messianic strand of potential. familiar with. Indeed the whole project of the early formulation of the Idea of Prose depends upon complex interactions with temporality such as Benjaminian now-time and messianic redemption. In our considerations of Agamben’s interventions on art in general we saw how in his critique of aesthetic modernism he was committed to a rather different temporality of epochal ending. Map-less but with guidance we will commence with the call of the messianic vocation. but also the possible solution as to how a future for thought can be found in the technicalities of prosody.10 The combination of these two terms not only involves an even more ontological radicalization of enjambement as the obvious definition of the poem. resolve the aporias of modernity. Agamben has only been able to resolve these issues. poetic temporality. and the quest for a post-nihilistic theory of productive thought about art that did not succumb to the metaphysical-epochal designations of ending. temporal. The second is kairos as an alternative time to chronos presenting to us a possible historical existence that is neither chronological nor eschatological but between and incisive of both. There are two central epochal moments in Agamben’s messianic The Time That Remains which we are already. in one of his recent and most important works The Time That Remains. space becoming time. the epoch of modernity. THE TURN OF VERSE
the prime reasons for the retention of the gramma within the phone of the poem is to allow access to the spatiality within poetic temporality and resist poiesis becoming simply an apparent privileging of some arche-vocal presence. and progress in our task of a logopoiesis in which poetry is an essential partner in the indifferential thought to come. If we are to move from lineation to the space of poetry. of course. The first of these is kle ¯sis or calling as a surrogate to epoch as event. in part. silence. To move from boustrophedonics to a logopoietic philosophy of indifference that finds its clearing in the very space of thought within the poem requires a considerable and remarkable diversion of the way through these entangled and ancient defiles. the medium or supportive gesturality of language as such makes little reference to temporality. negation.
7:17: 17–22. The call. While the tautology of this phrasing. and establishing an impossible to ignore parallel between negative modern criticism and a possible positive outcome of this vocation through the act of messianic calling to the call. 22). The Time That Remains is a sustained philological analysis of the Pauline canon of messianic texts. or to remain within the dynamic of calling indicated by the logical and linguistic operations of anaphoric deixis. therefore. deixis. or the call of the previous calling. is one which commentators have struggled for centuries to render in their respective languages. fictive subjective as-if-ness that we have already delineated. is instigated and completed only after the fact of when it is called to call. Indeed. 19). until the deictic indicator refers back to its previous referent.” can be read intertextually in relation to three areas of concern for logopoiesis. now. Agamben argues the problem is that the phrase is not tautological. the messianic “calling. wherein the repeated term can only be presented as a term to be repeated
. Finally. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. repeating the same logic we found in play with aesthetic judgement. the calling of being called. can the referent or call can be said to call at all. is that the commencement and completion of the vocation of the messianic all occur within the temporality of the act of calling.11 In terms of it being the logic of “as not” it is a modification of the sceptical “no more than” that Agamben places at the heart of poetic potentiality and epochality (P. Here the “he” is an anaphoric designation of the previous kle ¯sei. but a “peculiar tautegorical movement that comes from the call and returns back to it” (TTR. What deixis indicates here. therefore. To be called to the messianic vocation is to be called to the call. This occurs through a technical application of that. messianic calling is first presented in the “Second Day” of The Time That Remains bracketing the debate of modern. 257). one might redefine this form of anaphora as tautegorical cataphoric anaphora. most familiar linguistic operator. Clearly it presents a modification of Heidegger’s idea of the poetic as the calling of calling (PLT.” Agamben focuses on the seemingly tautological phrase en te kle he ekle ¯. 198 & 209).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Kle ¯sis. usually translated as “the ¯ ¯sei ¯the same calling wherein he was called” (TTR. and thus it is from Paul that Agamben extricates the idea of kle as the calling to the messianic vocation. Such a use of anaphoric deixis is peculiarly tautegorical because not until the call is recalled. Reading specifically a ¯sis sentence from 1 Cor.
“calls for nothing and to no place . Think of this if you will as anaphoric deixis that refers to no particular thing but merely refers to its own operations. . of having a condition as not having a condition. . Thus one is called to remain in the negation of vocation as a form of vocation. This being the case the messianic vocation has no specific content. The messianic vocation is the revocation of every vocation . . Instead one is called into the subjective state of vocational desubjectivization (whatever vocation) as Agamben confirms in his follow-up analysis of the “as not” of the messianic vocation. it revokes a condition . We are faced here therefore not with a matter of eschatological indifference. . 22). but instead are called into the nullification of one’s vocation as one’s vocation. the classic definition of deixis. 23). One is called away from one’s vocation. yet cannot be repeated until it has occurred. as though it were an urgency that works it from within and hollows it
. Tautegorical. “Vocation. 23)— immobilized by the confounding circular logic of the tautegorical. the “Ho s me ” of the Pauline text. THE TURN OF VERSE
after it has first been repeated. but for this same reason. but of change. Precisely because such a remaining “signifies the immobile anaphoric gesture of the messianic calling.” he says. the vocation calls the vocation itself. Jew. . You are not called from one vocation. negatively heuristic kle is the first part of the mes¯sis sianic which structurally and technically emulates the process of deictic desubjectivization we saw in Agamben’s appropriation of Benveniste. apostle. “Why remain then in this nothing?” Agamben asks.ENJAMBEMENT. its relation to the messianic event. for example called to criticism as the critical tautegorical nullification of criticism.12 Calling or kle is first of all an empty ¯sis revocation of every vocation. As Agamben says with more admirable clarity than I can muster: “Kle indicates the particular transformation that every juridical ¯sis status and worldly condition undergoes because of. and indeed there is increasing room for Benveniste here and in other later works. and only because of. Agamben calls ¯ ¯ this the “ultimate meaning of kle ¯sis” (TTR. referring to the first half of the Pauline formulation. . 23). to another.” (TTR. Citing Paul when he says that kle involves ¯sis operating “as not having” a condition. almost an internal shifting between each and every single condition by virtue of being called” (TTR. its being essentially and foremost a calling of the calling” (TTR. a form of indication that “may apply to any condition. but not called to a new vocation.
23–4). As he says: “In the parable. . 24). seed meaning seed and logos. if it exists at all. “The Pauline hos me seems to be a special type of tensor. as the operation of language as such to such a degree that in many languages the word for language originates from the parable. but makes it pass. . If this is true then for Paul men are not as children. rejoicing pushed towards not rejoicing. they do not resemble children. Speaking specifically of the parable of the sower where seed represents logos of course. Traditionally a parable is assumed to have a double meaning but Agamben views this not as a signifier having two signifieds. . not until he starts to speak of figurality is one able to see how these comments pertain to modern aesthetics. but of the duality of language itself imposed upon it by human speech. the difference between the signum and res significa thus tends to annul itself without completely disappearing. 24–5). that of the messianism of a temporality to come. nullifying it in the very gesture of maintaining and dwelling in it” (TTR. but are placed alongside children. Instead. In the messianic parable signum and res significa approximate each other because language itself is what is signified. Agamben identifies how a whole tradition of the parable develops that takes paraballisation. the parable. 24). the messianic does not simply cancel out this figure. from the Greek
. “but rather they interpreted the comparative as an (intensive or remissive) tension that sets one concept against another” (TTR. The comparison.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
out.” Like the comparison the parable. In Paul’s comparative explanation of the subjective effect of kle weeping ¯sis is pushed towards itself as not weeping. noting how in the Bible the parable comes to stand for the word of god itself or logos. it prepares its end” (TTR. “unless you become as children.” and how this form of comparison was analysed by Medieval grammarians in a particular fashion as not a form of identity or resemblance. it sets itself up against itself in the form of the as not: weeping as not weeping” (TTR. for it does ¯ ¯ not push a concept’s semantic field toward that of another concept. Agamben concludes from this form of comparison: “In pushing each thing towards itself through the as not. if I may refer to such a thing. He first uses the example of the technique of comparison within Paul. While apparent that Agamben here is speaking of the mediality of language in another register. At the end of this section Agamben speaks of the process “as not” in terms of another classic form of rhetoric. is that of a thing with itself in the form of non-self-identity.
the time that remains between these two times. occasion or now. Agamben’s argument in The Man Without Content.ENJAMBEMENT. and the atemporal eternity that extends after the end of time. messianic time is neither of these epochal designations. Glossing on the traditional representation of time as a line along
. THE TURN OF VERSE
para-ballo to place one thing next to another. works in a manner which places figuration alongside itself. in relation to what he sees as a common misrepresentation of apostolic messianic time as eschatological. signifier and signified. but so as to put “each being and each term in tension with itself ” (TTR. Language does not refer to the world but to language as such. . and parable? These constructions are also self-regarding but in a manner that Agamben believes is truly redemptive. and to take us from negative modernity to productive poiesis we must turn to the second Pauline term. Language operates does it not as if it referred to the world at large when we discovered in fact that such deictic acts merely reveal is a temporal belatedness in terms of referentiality? “As not. how does that differ from the messianic figurality of anaphora.” (TTR. . This shift from comparison to parable brackets.
Agamben first addresses the term kairos. Rather. a consideration of a third form of figuration. “it is a remnant. “As if ” would seem to be figuration as such. The question therefore remains if modern “as if ” aesthetics finds its archetype in art for art’s sake. chronos. comparison. the “as if. To negotiate this subtle and complex difference will take the rest of my study here on the conception of poiesis. as I said. He explains that while Paul regularly uses eschatological time when speaking of the two Jewish time traditions. 62). 43). The messianic condition of “as not” is the movement of scission within language from being within the sign to being between the sign and itself.” The historical conflict he maps out between “as if ” and “as not” can now be situated around familiar territory pertaining to language and figuration. indicates a process of internal division (as well as creating tabular space). kairos. In the language of messianic time comparisons and parables exist not in terms of linguistic comparison. eschaton. when the division of time is itself divided .” however. The sign is not a system of difference and similarity but of a non-selfcoincidence as identity. that which stretches from creation to the end of time.
introduces a remainder [resto] into it that exceeds the division” (TTR. Of the time line consisting of assumed strings of points. and as part of the eschaton while exceeding that. interruptions. nor a synthesis of all three tenses in a manner that emulates Bergson’s influential theory of modern time. in this instance messianic time. therefore. As Agamben says. but accept such a time is unrepresentable. here represented as between the two vertical dotted lines. and dimensionalities. extends epochal time into the postepochal and post-epochal time back into epochal time. or we concede the thinkable nature of time and all its complexities. Such caesuric time operates as part of the epoch of chronos while exceeding it. Agamben is aware that this messianic time presents a powerful challenge to our human consciousness of time and indeed the general difficulty of thinking time. Kairos. Kairos adds futurity to the past and pastness to the future but it is not the moment or instant. B the messianic event. 64). and C apocalypse. Thus he reconstitutes the time line by adding a segmentation which removes position B from the line and instead locates it as a caesuric interruption of the line:
Of this model and its reappraisal of messianic time he suggests that we take “messianic time as a caesura which. reiterations.
. although the time of the now. is not a dot on the line of time but a segment or stanza within the divisions of epochs along this line. being neither point nor extension but the precondition and deconstruction of both. Messianic time. he notes that such a line has never accorded with the human experience of time. for example A—B—C wherein A is creation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
which one situates epochs. Agamben hones in on this gap between representable and thinkable time by adopting the linguistic concept of operational time. in its dividing the division between two times. As such it operates with precisely the same logic as the term epoch. stratifications. the classic representation of time since Aristotle. The result is a caesuric division between an epoch’s cessation and the resumption of the new epoch. insufficient to capture the complexity of time. he explains that this linear model is. Be not afraid. as ever. either we are confronted with a model that is representable but unthinkable as actual experience of time. in regard of linear time.
and having been constructed. Guillaume ingeniously explains that the time line past—present—future is naturally too perfect and operates as if such a time line were always already constructed for the subject.13 He then adds a modification to this defining messianic time as “the time we need to make time end: the time that is left us” (TTR. tautegorical calling and self-constructing temporal representation. converts time from a linear to “three-dimensional” entity by which he means it conveys the three moments of temporality: potentiality. . another time is implied that is not entirely consumed by representation. that prevented him from perfectly coinciding with the time out of which he could make images and representations. Kle ¯sis and kairos. 66). Instead. By this we do not mean they are simply rhetorical forms. or. THE TURN OF VERSE
Operational time originates from the work of French linguist Gustave Guillaume. This time that remains is the messianic kairos. produced an additional time . and Guillaume calls this operational time or “the time the mind takes to realize a time-image” (TTR. more precisely. (TTR. the subject’s experience of time is constructed by the subject in accordance with this ideal representation. insofar as he is a thinking and speaking being. It is as though man.ENJAMBEMENT. 67). 68). are both examples of the figural nature of the messianic for Agamben. formation. . Agamben argues. 67). 66) which. perhaps only an instant but a period all the same. the time we take to bring time to an end. The benefit of operational time is that it adds “a projection in which the process of forming the time-image is cast back onto the time image itself ” (TTR. Rather. Whatever experience of time they undergo they are able to come to represent it as this idealized model in their minds subsequently. 67) Such an “ulterior time” as he initially calls it is not a supplemental time added onto the exterior of chronological time but a “time within time—not ulterior but interior” (TTR. for Agamben figuration is a structural
. to achieve our representation of time” (TTR. Agamben concludes that In every representation we make of time and in every discourse by means of which we define and represent time. as we know. This interior time is what Agamben means by messianic time: “the time that time takes to come to an end. This process of temporal construction takes a period of time.
Rather. A good example of this is Adam whose sin acts as a typos or prefiguration of the coming of the messiah and the negation of sin. Without getting too lost in the theology of this suffice it to say that if in the messianic kairos there is in the typos a prefigurement of the antitypos. it is the relation itself” (TTR. Agamben argues. he tells us. is not important as a “biunivocal correspondence” (TTR. all things are recapitu¯ro ¯ lated in the messiah. although. such a correspondence existed prominently throughout the medieval period. Agamben is now able to add a third figural term. not a third epoch following the past (typos) and future (antitypos) but the way in which these two epochs are brought face to face with each other by means of their caesura or “zone of indiscernibility. so too in the antitypos there is a compacted summation of the typos or. 74). while kairatic time places time’s constructed nature against its representation of non-constructed and proper perfection. the most famous example of which is that between zoe and bios in Homo Sacer. the two elements are heterogeneous. 74). as he considers Paul’s explanation of how all that is past will come to be taken into account at the end of time. This is the epoch of the messianic. “messianic ple ¯ ma is therefore an abridgement and anticipation of eschatologi¯ro cal fulfilment” (TTR. typos.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
process wherein two conditions are placed alongside each other in a nonrelational fashion. in which the past is dislocated into the present and the present is extended into the past” (TTR. To this typological caesuric figuration. 74). This tendency to think of time as a past prefigurement of a future yet to arrive. what concerns us is “a tension that clasps together and transforms past and future. as Agamben says. the antitypos. that of recapitulation. Paul adds one more final figural notion. typos and antitypos. This means that each instant of messianic
. This results in what might be called the relational tension of the nonrelational. and yet in a manner in which their proximity naturally calls up some attempt at relation in the form of tension. 76). typosantitypos. The calling of the “as not” places one’s subjectivity alongside its negation. The messianic is not just one of two terms in this typological relation. At this stage then our extended debate on the epochal time of the messianic and our technical considerations of prosody also start to turn to face each other at long last. We have already considered comparison and parable in this regard. ple ¯ ma ton kairon. in an inseparable constellation. Paul explains that at the messianic moment of total fulfilment of time.
the temporality of poetry. “The tension toward what lies ahead is produced on and out of what lies behind” prompting Agamben to call this the “double tension” of messianic calling. This example. chronos or temporal extension. 78). each moment of chronological time is prefigured by its completion. A structure such as the kairatic kle depends ¯sis on the precise mix of occurrence and reiteration. As soon as Agamben
. One is. Any theory of temporal extended linearity must contain some idea of completion and any theory of temporal completion must complete on something. is the poetic convention of rhyme. something that is now past. At this point Agamben wisely decides to give “something like a concrete example.ENJAMBEMENT. the greatest of which is surely modernity itself. must first consist of a summation of all that went before. If we step back now from theology entirely we can first explain this more generally in terms of our experience of operational time. Everything about messianic time recalls the figurality of the poetic. able to restate this fairly logically away from the theological philology of Agamben’s text.
Perhaps now it does not surprise us. As messianic time extends chronos into the eschaton all narratives of completion. anaphora and cataphora that is the basis of any poem structure and which we have already defined. The law of figuration means that because messianic kairatic time extends the eschaton into the chronos. or an act that demands the called subject “seize hold of his own being seized” (TTR. and the structure of the poem. and then in relation to poetry. in fact. and even he concedes this may be surprising. THE TURN OF VERSE
kairos effectively fulfils the eschatological moment of immediacy with god rather than conforming to this as a one-off event that occurs at the end of time. a kind of small-scale model of messianic time” (TTR. by virtue of the metrical-musical element. The same goes for eschatological time. 78). as the very location of poetic thinking: logopoiesis. This situation is expressed by Agamben as Pauline messianic tension conveyed in the complex term epekteinomenos or straining forward in tension towards something which Paul uses to describe the effect on the subject of kairos due to kle ¯sis. and eschaton or temporal finitude. In the kairos of operational time two incommensurable epochs or conceptions of epoch lie alongside each other.
Thus in the sestina. Agamben’s analysis of the rhythm of the sestina while most apparent in this poem form is. one can begin to see how wonderfully this analogy works. example. it has its own time” (TTR. in each case. all usages of the words thus far are
. But for the more or less brief time that the poem lasts. the closed form means that in every line the end is prefigured. This reading back however comes most to the fore in the tornada where. he argues. a fact made most apparent in that rather rare stanzaic form the sestina. Put simply. from the very start. and variance of the use of homologous rhyming end words. although to describe it as analogy. A sestina is made up of seven stanzas. insufficient. For example. as one moves towards the predictability of the end. The first six stanzas are each six lines long and the six end words are always the same in each stanza. This is especially true. in the case of rhyme. That said every poem is also a recursive or reiterative structure.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
describes the poem. it has a specific and unmistakable temporality. strains towards its end. for example the sonnet. effectively. and he is truly gifted in his appreciation of the technicalities of prosody along with the implications of poetic ontology. A kind of eschatology occurs within the poem itself. in the penultimate stanza one can predict the distribution of the final end words without reading the stanza simply by looking back at their distribution in the previous six stanzas. At the same “hermeneutic” time one also picks up on the interplay. or model is. repetition. only organized in different combinations. Thus he says of the closed rhyming lyric form. which necessarily will come to an end as determined by the rule of the form: “The poem is therefore an organism or a temporal machine that.14 The form still operates on occasion in modern poetry in other words. look to how the next stanza will recombine the six fixed elements and thus one is always reading both forwards and backwards. a foundational quality of all poetic structure. I have argued in my own study of this phenomena in modern experimental poetry. 79). Agamben’s example is taken from the twelfth-century poet Arnaut Daniel but I have also written some years ago about the use of sestina in John Ashbery. The final stanza or tornada is then only three lines long but repeats all six end-words placing two per line and always ending on at least one of these. every poem unfolds in linear time semiotically marking this out with great clarity by using artificially ended lines which graphically demonstrate chronos much more adeptly than in any other art form. You begin to recognize the pattern.
the time of the end. which I have already posed as the
. and. 83). in order to make place for the time of the poem” or what he also calls its “cruciform retrogradation” (TTR. model or not. . every poem—is a soteriological device which. Poetry is not an example here or not solely exemplary. THE TURN OF VERSE
recalled in their final combination. The same process is discernible in the rhythmic distribution of lines and colours in Pollock. in this sense. While Agamben calls the sestina a “model” of messianic time this same process is observable in the reiterations of symbols in Joyce’s work of novelistic epiphany. While I have worked for some years on this project. converting the poem from a linear-horizontal entity to a tabular planar form. “on the contrary. The poem does not create a new. or indeed leitmotifs in Wagner. Nor is the philosophy of time handed over to poetic time. transforms chronological time into messianic time . the time that the poem takes to come to an end” (TTR. . in any case the eschaton already fulfils that role. on a shifting interrelational tensile comparative combination between temporal-structural projection and recursion.ENJAMBEMENT. poetic structure is far from a mystery.16 This aside. This is the time of the messiah. First he notes how the poem produces an internal disruption of linear time that is not an alternative “poetic time” to replace chronological time. of course. Agamben explains: “The sestina—and. but it does have its own time. Agamben’s insights take the tabularity of poetic structure far beyond anything anyone else could have imagined. Such a tabular-planar structure. especially his most recent work Inland Empire whose very title expresses the reliance on his work on precisely this anaphoric-cataphoric internal matrix of developmental reiteration. what we have is the same time that organizes itself through its own somewhat hidden internal pulsation. post-chronological time. through the sophisticated mechane of the announcement and retrieval of rhyming end words (which correspond to typological relations between past and present). 82).
AN ENDLESS FALLING INTO SILENCE
Agamben’s insights into the relation between poetic structural tabularity and a post-nihilistic modality of indifferent thinking depend. and the narrative structures of the films of David Lynch. as we saw.15 In miniature therefore we have the whole basis of Agamben’s logopoiesis. This matrix I have called the anaphoric-cataphoric matrix of every poem.
you do not need to experience a linebreak every time you wish to think about prolonged hesitation. a trace of psychological pause. We must now remove ourselves from messianic time. one must first experience hesitation as sensation.17 This difficulty pertaining to the actual nature of the experience of hesitation. Having assured us that poetry is a “prolonged hesitation” between sound and sense. hesitation true for all time as it were. and propositional hesitation. Then one must dismiss hesitation as sensation without entirely dispensing with it. When one does experience a line-break one is likely to experience the opening up of the truth of hesitation. for a time. lodged within the trans-psychological definition of hesitation such as it is or ontological hesitation. Yet philosophical. Agamben immediately asks the question: What is a hesitation if one ceases to think of it psychologically? A hesitation of such an order. but also structurally at the two extremes of the poem body. in a phenomenological reading. advental finitude.
. and tabular structure. but you do need to have experienced a line-break to think this way and to be sure of experiencing it at least more than once. cannot be separated from the original experience of hesitation that one undergoes every time one reads poetry. as a thinker. most notably music. stems for the most part from the well-documented and complex relation one finds in poetry between the sensuous and the suprasensuous which differentiates it from philosophy and other arts that share with poetry the emphasis on semiotics. Hesitation is not the localized emotional experience of hesitating yet. For an unveiling of philosophical. if only to confirm that enjambement is a recursive rather than unique. what is hesitation in thought without the knowledge of an experience of hesitation in the world? Or to pose the issue in different terms. one is likely to have recourse to a line-break and an example. in particular through a consideration of the ends or limits of the poem and their dependence on certain ideas of silence.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
way in which poetry thinks. categorical hesitation. a philosophical hesitation. and return to our original debate on poetic. It leaves. evental element. and when one wants philosophically to speak of hesitation as such. affective or intellectual. Rather this felt hesitation moves one into another realm of hesitation as such. is dependent on the permanent tension within the poetic line certainly. must surely be beyond an actually felt hesitation such as one experiences at the end of a line of poetry. for hesitation as theme and/or category. recursive. tension. quasi-universal. betimes.
The conceptualization of poetry in philosophy is never tied either to a particular poem or any one of its singular effects manifested in a clear set of differentiations: poetry is not in the poem per se. THE TURN OF VERSE
Heidegger clearly states that aletheia. and poiesis is not necessarily poetry. a word heard and its meaning. Derrida. and then by using these techniques to mount a post-nihilistic metaphysics of indifference.ENJAMBEMENT. are not separated by a caesura or clear-edged cut but are two strands of a single folded line whose essence resides not in the event of a hesitation as such but in its prolongation. is not the name to be given to twentieth-century work on poiesis. in this way. Of all the philosophers in this rowdy school of logopoiesis Agamben carries the burden of post-Heideggerian tragic philosophy closest to the truth-freedoms of verse. from sensation. Badiou. and that aesthetics. He applies truth to poetic sensation so as to be able. Poetry has nothing to do directly with the object. at which point he behaves almost like a literary critic. Yet the pathway to poetry. yet it always proceeds from a poem in Heidegger and all his students. the poem. such a delay between voice and meaning which Agamben likens to a katechon
. and Nancy and their use of what one can term epistemological exemplarity in relation to their reading of certain poems by certain poets as exemplary of the general conditions of poiesis. the two hesitations of verse. truth. to clear a future pathway for truth in what is a high-risk yet now essential intellectual strategy. say as an inventive mode of bringing truth to presence. while simultaneously sailing the ship of truth most perilously proximate to the ruining rocks of sensation. sensation. is not dependent on aiesthesis. not literally from a voice. between the dying away of a voiced vibration. yet truth always proceeds from the sensible at the same time. a project so vast it all but overwhelms his slight work on prosody.18 Certainly truth precedes. is laid out through precisely the reading of specific poets and their singularly inventive effects. This is an issue that occurs repeatedly in Heidegger. First by applying a philosophical category to the technical specifics of prosody.19 This is an unadmitted but now quite familiar aporia in modern philosophical work on poetry. psychologically-actual and philosophical-conceptual. not a physiological voice imprinted on a psychological capability. definable at the very least as a thing. Although Agamben denies it. because after all sounds as such do not interest Agamben but voiced sounds. the science of sensation. sensation. A prolonged hesitation between sound and sense. but the Voice as such.
Instead poetry can be defined as the prolonged hesitation. and the poem. it remains in full as the hesitant voice within these impossible limits. singular and impossible to repeat. for poetry cannot survive its own finitude. Even as the poem is falling into a profound silence at its material and generic limits. between sound and sense. of him who. as poets teach us. Thus a poem. and between actual opposition and possible or potential opposition. The poem is. self-negating finitude. self-dissolution. is defined by a silence brought about by its finitude meaning that poetry is never silenced. universal but not generalizable. This would require here a differentiation between what the poem is as ergon partaking of an impossible. self-willed. the sounding cataract is any thing but mute. poetry. For example. 114). Poetry partakes of a local. semiotic and semantic. and what poetry is as that which goes on in the poem but which is not susceptible to or reducible to the poem. according to this. repeatable. nothing is said therein. namely the opposition between metric and semantic pauses. Such an abyss is not to be mistaken for silence either for. the poem of a silence which is not local but over there. Agamben progresses towards the point of silence that is the end of the poem. as I contend. If this is.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
or “something which slows and delays the advent of the Messiah. that is. would destroy the poetic machine by hurling it into silence” (EP. 110). is silence. This being the case poetry is not precisely the opposition between sound and sense but the possibility of the opposition between two types of hesitation. as they pause on the precipice of their own self-conscious. having stated that “all poetic institutions participate in this noncoincidence” of which we speak here. unlike poetry or at least its tension. he points out that the poem is “grounded in the perception of the limits and endings that define— without ever fully coinciding with. a single body of work which means that it must and indeed already has come to an end. a kind of silence. a perception of the tension of poetry. Yet the poem is also an ergon. that is rendered mute. then there must be at least two orders of silence. and almost in intermittent dispute with—sonorous (or graphic) units and semantic units” (EP. Poetry is not silence per se but instead consists of the abyss into which poetry is thrown by the very possibility of its own being. Through such careful distinctions between orders of silence. differentiations between the poetic.
. general but not universal silence. between two units. fulfilling the time of poetry and uniting its two eons.
a part of the body of the poem on the page or in the book but not a part of the poem body as such. The ergon is nothing other than the production of delaying time-space within a space opened up and delimited by the imposition of an exterior to the poem in the form of the parergon of silent space. as if one has to somehow hack off a limb for the human body to be complete. THE TURN OF VERSE
I must speak of silence but. This is another way in which one could read Agamben. surfaces were invented by the devil. First that ergon is brought to its limitation and finitude by the infinite presence of the parergonal space-place which is also the time of its completion. Poetry must be ceaselessly. Without the internal space. and locally cutting off. Space must be present for enjambement to occur for example. The poem must be cut-off in order to be complete. I am always delaying its arrival. for the poem to know of its finitude and be complete. some remnant of our animalistic past.ENJAMBEMENT. states that if something enters through the top line of the structure. that the poem body is constructed from the accumulation of poetry’s delaying of the arrival of silence at its limits from which the ergon is born. as I said. A boundary condition of a hexagonal crystal. that jagged chasm to the right of the poem. all the same a space of a similar structural order can be said to exist in some form internal to the poem. a space which is inarticulate. for example.” A plane becomes a surface when the boundary condition is suspended and the edge of a structure bounded by a vacuum occurs. We can deduce from this line of reasoning that the ergon of the poem is defined by two concepts uncomfortable in each other’s presence and yet not contradictory. or a tail. Although. but this space is of the order of a boundary condition: the line exits on the right and always enters to the left. As the physicist Pauli was fond of saying: “God made the bulk. The body as such of poetry does not exist without that body suffering a moment of cutting or caesura. A plane only becomes a surface when an actual cut is made in the infinitely extendable plane. hesitantly. a silent space that is not silence. It may be useful analogously to think of this in relation to what physicists call a “boundary condition” when studying planes. A plane is always defined as being imaginary because it is infinitely extendable in every two-dimensional direction. this can only be an illustrative analogy. it simultaneously exists through the bottom line á la Pacman. like the poet. then the ergon could not continually come to
. This means that the second sense of ergon is continually born to presence from the already existent presence of the par-ergon.
alinear prose? Agamben. silent sense. First. A finitude which. The perception of this double deconstructive presence of absence within the ergon of poetry is what the poem as such is reducible to. the body puts off by its extension and yet invites by the structural necessity of its completion. Is there any actual silence within the body of the text? I would argue not. enjambement as boundary condition. The ergon of the poem body. by which one can only mean space. is not silent at all but simply unpronounced. utilizing messianic time. but no silence as such. Surely the silence of sound is an actual silence while the silence of the grapheme. Nor is it even space as such but simply the uninscribed medium. There is. or represented in unthinkable fashion. which the poem invites into its body so as to expel it and thus allow itself to endlessly be born into being. relies on two competing convocations with its borders. What is silence?
Was that it? Is it after the question mark or between these lines? Is it even possible to encounter silence within a text such as this so clearly an example of discursive quasi-philosophical. it would seem. like time. gestural support. In speaking of silence. merely perceptions of silence. Second. however. the final moment of finitude that is singular and plunges the ergon of poetry into infinite. either a profound error on the part of the philosopher or we are still considering silence psychologically and not philosophically. while differentiating the semiotic and semantic unit does not make a clear distinction between sonorous or graphic semiotics unearthing a rare moment of indistinction in his meticulous work. the unpronounced and the uninscribed. or as-yet blank tablet. is either thinkable and unrepresentable. This is the moment of the plane becoming a surface. constructions of the representability of an idealized construction of a concept that. Agamben suggests that true silence only occurs once one has exited the text and entered the abyss of sense which has no requirement of
. There are pauses.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
being. this consonance which was previously forgivable is harder to support. the potentially endless and thus infinite fake silence between one line and the next. then.
The inviolate rose. it endures the without-name. sensibly. rather. “The Idea of Language. philosophy’s word leaves unsaid its own silence” (IP.20 This being the case one must engage with the profound and complex conception of the idea of word in Agamben. absolutely without identity. The word as such. Here then we finally understand what Agamben means when he states that animals are always within language. the becoming visible of the word: the idea of language” (IP. exists only for man. without finding in this its own name.ENJAMBEMENT. an entity beyond the trivial differentiations of sonorous versus graphic. the idea of the rose. an exteriority of the word that Agamben. Here Agamben defines silence not as the suspension of discourse. describes as silence. the name of poetry. This complex negotiation with a silence which exposes philosophy to a period without name which is not. not in other words as the cessation of speaking (surely what he means by a psychological hesitation). incessantly speaking and responding to signs even while keeping silent. because man is the sole animal who learns language through infancy.
. the infinite language of nature and placing himself for a moment in front of mute things. (IP. however. of interrupting words with the as-suchness of the word of language whose defining quality.” an essay which only speaks. Silence is not its secret word—but rather. in what is almost a cryptogram: “In silence. which is anything but a sign. While nature and animals are forever caught up in a language. to me at least. he is the only creature capable of not having language. only man succeeds in interrupting. by which I mean the quality which allows it definition and availability to our apprehension. is silence.” has engaged with the silence of philosophy. We now know that this encounter most powerfully occurs at the end of the poem. “but silence of the word itself. THE TURN OF VERSE
textuality to exist at all. 113). This silence is the silence of philosophy of which Agamben says. in a Heideggerian gesture. in the word. 113) Paradoxically. or an utterance. the becoming visible but remaining silent word is. philosophy stands exposed. Only the human animal can establish the quality of exteriority as regards language. once the following essay. 111). is the conclusion of the essay “The Idea of Silence. Only the human knows of the quietude of the caesura. human living being as such through the faculty of language: Only the word puts us in contact with mute things.
rather. One could almost argue that the concept of enjambement in Agamben’s work is a graphic and thus grammatological presentation of what is unpresentable in Derrida’s work as a whole. one condition always simultaneously the pre-condition and impossibility of the other. as I have termed it elsewhere. Left to its own devices the poetry machine. ironically pure semiotics does not hold sway. Poetry is literally elevated above its dyadic other at the end of the line. but which is often termed deconstruction as a form of intellectual short-hand in quasitranscendental self-critical thought. Prose literally overwhelms poetry in the following line. and leaves them suspended in an almost endless dynamic of supersession and negation.21 will continue its demonstration of deconstructive energies almost as an illustrative tool for Derrida’s work. There is. Certainly Derrida is the thinker of a certain type of pure impurity.
TENSION: THE ONE LINE
The impurity of poetry surely seems an untenable position within a post-Heideggerian theorization of poetic singularity as a mode of thinking such as I am proposing here. and literally collapses back into this alterity as the next line commences.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
As Agamben says. semiotics and semantics. pure impurity as indicated first by the way he structurally treats the semantic and the semiotic as ostensibly of the same order. Poetry. and Agamben’s work seems similar in the way he establishes two oppositional concepts. no pure poetry. in fact. thus granting us finally access to the realm of pure poetry. which is also always the final line. the end of the poem is marked by a change in the tension between the units of semiotics and semantics which is poetry. They are both units within an “almost intermittent dispute. after a prolonged hesitation. for at the end of the poem. only to be literally interrupted and superseded at the line’s outermost point. but it is an unavoidable reality however unpleasant.” While clear that the semiotic and the semantic are both radically heterogeneous and of differing
. in the final verse. one is struck by how singularity is always immediately ruined by its repeatability. there is no enjambement. Yet Agamben is a thinker of another order of perfect. At this point where the semiotics of the poetic line are unable. If one were to think back to the Derridean conception of invention. to resume the semantic stream. is itself an impurity between poetic techniques and prose.
strictly speaking. THE TURN OF VERSE
orders of magnitude. The semantic can just as easily occupy the unit of the line as the semiotic. which in reality means very uneasily. for example. And between these two currents lies the sharp interval obstinately maintained by poetic mechane. the caesura for the semantic) constantly. at the moment of deus ex machina. and finally a tension or tone. issues that would be strongly foregrounded by Derrida. as commit an act of violence to both so as to make them enter into the prison of the line with the promise of parole (enjambement for the semiotic. 114) Here Agamben gives supporting evidence to my earlier claim that the planar essence of poetry means that it must always be thought of as a two-dimensional plane consisting of the three points of the poetic line. but also the ancient Greek origin of the term in relation to the end of a play. rescinded. suggesting that Agamben does not so much ignore the radical incommensurability between sense and matter. for Agamben they can both be fitted to a pattern of similar units. repetitious mechanistic element of prosody with which we are all familiar. Both are equally out of their element in the line. there is but one line that is simultaneously traversed by the semantic current and the semiotic current. favouring instead a one dimensional and yet also trans-dimensional single line. dianoia and poiesis. a line which metamorphoses first into a current. what we can be certain of is Agamben seems to take the geometric presence of poetry backwards away from two (three) dimensions. but intermittently. two series or lines in parallel flight. which somewhat misleadingly he calls three-dimensional. Interestingly.ENJAMBEMENT. (EP. Rather. two tonoi of the same linguistic substance). Without quibbling over an extra dimension here and there. a model which echoes Agamben’s own description of operational time. then a machine. incipit-interruption-continuation. the machine
. The machine of poetry referred to here is not simply the technical. potentialityformation-having been constructed. (Sound and sense are not two substances but two intensities. The metaphor of flow is a well established one in reference to prosody and is essential to sustain the interruptive power of enjambement’s “sharp interval” in the form of mechane. Agamben naturally frames the issues with greater facility when he eloquently states: Everything is complicated by the fact that in the poem there are not.
I have forgotten everything.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
of art was regularly used both to end the work and also to allow characters to fly. first that it marks out an axiom for poetics which we scholars of poetry can recognize. my lines and cues. of the obstacle to sense that the premature line-ending constructs. Am I flying through the second act or being carried beyond the play entirely and into the realm of the gods at the end of the third? I look across and I see you also suspended by the bodiless limb of a crane. Second that it is a theory of the obvious and its obviation. Like invention. Tono in Latin is the tone. I feel the tension of the tonoi of the line of poetry as it suspends me above the plane of the stage below. that instead they are two tones/tensions/stresses within the same linguistic substance? What linguistic substance can this be? Is this the language of which he speaks at the end of the poem. Its complexities lie first in the apparent proximity of this theory and the work of Derrida. especially in relation to invention and the trace. I am giddy. they may form knots. and like the trace it is a theory of intermittent and almost interminable spacing. that way they can never become truly entangled. tension. In addition. The semiotic and the semantic are not differential terms but two tones within one single linguistic substance. enjambement puts forward a theory of necessarily betrayed purity. or the moment when the material copy of essence is abandoned and essence alone remains: Deus.22 Yet unlike Derrida the impurity of the line is permanently under question. and its obviation in the recommencement of the line within the planar territory I am calling the poem. the tonoi of poetry. which are separate strands but not different from each
. thus it allows a literalization of a kind of localized transcendence. We will plunge to our death unless the tension in the lines is maintained. unlike the deconstructive mechane. and metre of verse. Keep up the tension in the line. and a figuration of the literal implied transcendence at the end of every Greek work of art. No wait. flying. but what does Agamben mean by suggesting that the semiotic and the semantic are not radically heterogeneous and different also in magnitude. the zone wherein language can communicate itself “without remaining unsaid in what is said?” Is this a certain philosophical silence as linguistic substance as such? Agamben’s theory of enjambement is as complex as it is obvious. the lines with get entangled. enmeshed as it is into the very lines of prosody. Obvious in two ways. I need a gag. Don’t come too close.
In a form of agreement with Badiou. for Agamben poetry is in preparation for the event to come. something will happen. and the recursive cataphora that the poem experiences at the very moment of its negation through finitude. for Agamben this event will be the final event. chronological silence. presents us with a messianic event of events. and silence at the end of the poem. The poem excels in messianic temporality. in the endless falling into silence that defines the end of the poem. but the occupation of the time it takes time to end. in enacting an endlessly falling into silence rather than a structural point of cessation. the time it takes for finitude to come to a point of tension or dissolution. This end. for example at the end of the line. a messianic event. who himself admits to a sparse number of events. eschatological silence. At which point. however. Rather the messianic temporality of the interval is the interruptive event of the cessation of the temporal succession chronos-eschaton. not the end of time or even the very last event. we experience messianic silence as the prefigured anaphora of absolute finitude of each local ending. Instead in each instance of time the time of the end. THE TURN OF VERSE
other.ENJAMBEMENT. therefore. and of which we have a local example at the end of each line that is a psychological hesitation different in kind from silence as such but somehow its key. Between silence in the line. unlike perhaps in the work of Derrida. is inserted into time as such or everyday vulgar temporality as Heidegger calls it. For time to come to an end it must find within itself the interval between prefigurement and recursiveness brought about by the impossibility and yet necessity of a local and structurally final relationship with silence. will come to an end as the poem must also come to an end. This is not to be conceived of eschatologically as one last event of course. Unlike Badiou. Its unique combinatory structure of prefigured recursiveness is meaningless without a direct and complex relation with an absolute point of finitude: the end of the poem.
the element that arrests the metrical impetus of the voice. Agamben declares this couplet to be a treatise on the subject of the caesura before composing one of his many allegories. This allows Agamben to note that “For the poet. is only the transport of itself. the caesura of verse.” Speaking specifically of the Italian poet Sandro Penna. 43).CHAPTER 6
CAESURA. Voice here is not the transport
. Agamben remarks on the “breaking action of the caesura” (IP. He takes Penna’s horse to be the voice or the word as utterance whose measured equine progress can only be arrested by the logos. Yet thought within the context of the poetic line is not of equal measure to that of the thinking of philosophy one finds at the line’s limits as the semiotic steed of haltered poetics gives way to the license of discourse. 43). is thought” (IP. The place of thought in the poem is the caesura. We now have a clear answer to a question I posed earlier. 43) represented by the couplet from Penna “I go towards the river on a horse / which when I think a little a little stops. as pure word. this thought is another. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
The essay proceeding directly from “The Idea of Prose. And it is this emptiness which. more fundamental or alternate mode of thinking. holds in suspense.”1 Invoking an ancient European exegetical tradition which takes the horse to represent the “sound and vocal element of language” (IP. namely thinking as such. 44). while for an instant the horse of poetry is stopped” (IP.” Agamben’s first attempt to define poetry in terms of enjambement is entitled “The Idea of Caesura. Rather. the caesura—for a little—thinks. As he says in caesuric cadence: “The rhythmic transport that gives the verse its impetus is empty.
Poetry is presented here as the sleep of thought and yet not until the poet is lulled by the cadence of hooves on grass and road can they be woken into thinking as such and that only when the horse of verse is arrested. One such little sign in prosody is the comma. the most common representation of caesuric pausing itself often reproduced in prosody by the so-called double pipes ||. where breath is lacking. This pause most commonly occurs at the medial position. Thus caesura was originally any displaced footing within the seamlessness of prosodic flow. 44). and the end of the poem. mid-line. for example. arrest. is any word ending that did not coincide with the cessation of a metrical foot. If the voice in the poem is gestic transport as such the interruption of pure transport by thought is simply a moment wherein thinking is able to think the pure word without the imposed differentiation of word and world that so troubles the end of the line. thought ventures forth” (IP. the only venues within a line of poetry inhospitable to the caesura are at the beginning of the line. in the essay “The Idea of Thought. Surprisingly. “The poet. including the poem’s incipit. On nothing other than that. but there are also initial caesura that are imposed close to the beginning of the line and terminal caesura which occur close to or at the end of the line. hesitantly. prose as we might name it. awakens and contemplates for an instant the inspiration that carries him—he thinks nothing else but his voice”’ (IP. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
of expression nor the silent Voice of metaphysical nihilism. Thus the interplay between flow. This congeniality within prosodic flow to its own negation except at poetic
. and that it effects the ultimate violence to prosody by its interruption of linear flow. thought is not semantic discourse. and ecstatic thinking is presented in such a way that later in the book. but the infantile voice of language as such. not a pause for thought so much as a slight stumble. As we are well aware this is all Agamben craves and we might now name this as the essential precondition of all logopoiesis. However its most common usage is of course the imposition of an audible pause within a line often but not always indicated by punctuation (in the Penna verse not for reasons peculiar to Italian prosody).CAESURA. Similarly. considering that the Latin origins of the term caesura inculcate it into the violent rites of cutting and separation. here asleep on his horse. The classical definition of a caesura. but a much more “poeticized” idea of thinking. 104). Yet the comma is not a necessary element of caesura. a little sign remains suspended.” Agamben is able to conclude thus on thinking: “Where the voice drops.
Here is a particularly misogynistic and yet prosodically perfect example from Pope’s “Epistle to a Lady on the Characters of Women”: Men. terminal caesura can also be taken for true initial caesura. In enjambement flow overtakes meaning and the space at the right hand side of the poem is negated by linear. Thus the place for thinking is a space within verse that works directly in opposition to enjambement. ecstatic space. quiet and strife. Yet. Indeed the lack of caesura at the line’s incipit is simply a form of conventional display for. and in this momentary. some to Quiet. demonstrating prosodic femininity here as “Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear.” each “odd” line eradicates harmony in terms of balance by making demonstrative an excess of one quality (pleasure) or unrealistic demands for which there can be no compromise: all women would be sovereign over a kingdom devoid of subjects. The presupposed flow of the poetic line is interrupted by the imposition internally of semantics so that stress is cut across by meaning through regularized and predictable caesurae. in effect. to allow time for thought to think the conditions of its own transport and its dependence on arrest. transversal exuberance.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
advent and total formal finitude suggests that caesura is an internal concern of the poem body. some to public Strife. but its greatest application is surely the double duality of the classical couplet revived in the English tradition by Dryden and Pope as the Heroic and eventually antithetical couplet. some to Pleasure take. But ev’ry Woman is at heart a Rake. By contrast in the caesura the steady and irresistible progress of verse is suspended by the merest hint of a sign. In the ideal antithetical couplet a line is divided exactly in two by a caesura.2 The first “male” line uses caesura to emulate the poise of the couplet unit within the line balancing the oppositions of eighteenth-century bios: business and pleasure. Men. In a sense this is the most perfect example of the tonos of poetry. operate as antithesis to the antithesis. here. enough to open a gap in flow. Over the many thousands of years of European prosody the caesura has been used to various effects. then bound together by rhyme to a second line which may echo the antithesis of the first or. Then semiotics
. some to Bus’ness. But ev’ry Lady would be Queen for life.
Agamben uses the term caesura regularly in his essays when speaking of the numerous and problematic acts of scission performed by negative metaphysics. Then. . a temporal-spatial self-consciousness is mapped across the neutrality of these two terms. through the agency of rhyme. Yet at the instance of the cut we now know that meaning is interrupted not prosody. And yet. This tension.CAESURA. the next line is ready to burst its stops and race ahead. is indicative of messianic time but also the tabular trans-linear dimensionality not just of poetic structure but of poetic thinking as a whole. a three-way tension indeed. in our culture. even the zero. The verse unit is born of a tension first between flow and interruption. is undermined by the coincidence of sound across two syllables and/or words located each time at the final point of the line. between thought. of course. its transport. one of the first and most instructive observations to be made is that the concept never gets defined as such. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
is reinstated as flow commences and the artificiality of the line ending reminds one that the poem is more horse than waking. . the implied separation between lines that occurs due to enjambement. at the same juncture prosody. Meanwhile. everything happens as if. At the same time. as we now know. arrest and flow. life. with rhyme introducing a projective recursion that. As he says of the problematic of life as a definition of being in The Open: For anyone undertaking a genealogical study of the concept of “life” in our culture. life were what
. takes hold of the line and refers meaning back against the current to the preceding end word. then between interruption and flow. and its temporal-spatial matrix is the ultimate tonos of poetry in the service of the transport and arrest of thinking. If flow is the presupposition of the poem then the first caesura negates the semiotic in favour of the semantic. this thing that remains indeterminate gets articulated and divided time and again through a series of caesurae and oppositions . The most fully developed and perhaps important of these caesurae is that to be found internal to the very definition of human ontology. terminal enjambement of the perfectly balanced Heroic couplet designed to halt and formalize the profligacy of the endlessly over-running Miltonic couplet. The resumption of the line would then seem to be a victory for thinking. When with the second cut discourse is able to impose a damn on flow and pause for thought. yet immediately in the second line flow inundates sense.
Yet. This more developed definition of caesura as a mode of thinking division in terms of relation now allows us to return to prosodic caesura and see that when Agamben uses the term caesura in metaphysics he is being more than simply metaphorical. The caesura is not possessed of finitude any more than of inventiveness or evental
. The caesura initially performs a negative function directly at odds with his earlier valorization of the term as the basis for thinking thought. something we observed in relation to the (/) or barred caesura in the sign between gramma and phone. The same indeed is true of the end of the line and its relation to enjambement. 13) The caesura Agamben is considering here is that between the human and the animal. in this manner. the cut and the cut of the cut. is meaningless and indeed inoperative until that division is divided from itself and cast back into linear flow. does not define human life per se but the idea of human life as both separate from and intrinsically linked to the animal. precisely for this reason. must be ceaselessly articulated and divided. and rather stands for its own inability to take on definition as the energetic source of its ongoing productive presence in ontology as the basis of that which both divides and articulates. No caesura is. Life ceases to be a definition of something and instead. as he more commonly terms it. (O. yet. and yet as his comments show the essence of the caesura is not simply scission. then it articulates lineation as the transport of thinking. namely in-definition or. The interruption of thinking. through the operations of the caesura as that which both divides and conjoins. except at the moments of poetic advent and finitude. for example. In the poem body suspension always results in resumption. Rather the caesura in separating a term off with the desire of imposing definitional distinction instead inculcates said term into a mechanism of division and articulation which. Life then comes to stand not so much for something like biological existence. permanent. In terms of the act of caesura within the poem we perceive that there are always two cuts. rather than defining the term life here. resumption suspension. if we look again at the definition of life in terms of caesura we find a productive negation. indistinction. imposes upon it a permanent indistinction. Human life for Agamben. yet at the same time no caesura is momentous either. the first division. it comes to be the very definition of the problem of definition as such.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
cannot be defined.3 First the caesura divides the line.
Here earth and water. harmonious oxymoronic implied semantic caesura “harmoniously confus’d: / Where order in variety we see”. Aside from being a masterclass in the extendibility and power of caesuric prosody. should be like in fame. these two acts of violence. seem to strive again. One is always already in the midst of poetry. Live in description. “And where. harmonious whole. at the same time every two lines
. and the same is true of life. double caesuric antithesis. the medio or mean point.” While Pope conjures for us a world of balance encased in the harmony of the bi-linear couplet. / Here earth and water. all agree. the section in question also provides the perfect razo de trobar of prosody summarized by the phrase “harmoniously confused. This is both true of poetic caesurae and the general logic of the caesura such as one finds in The Open or indeed between zoe and bios in Homo Sacer and State of Exception (2003). The tone of balance resides in the perfect tension of the four combined and yet separate units. vanish’d now so long. result in classical poetics in a perfectly balanced. “Here hills and vales. should be like in fame”. Like them in beauty. all reliant on the counting and positioning of stress: (line a) caesura. And where. tho’ all things differ. Here hills and vales. 20) Here we can observe basic antithesis across a caesura. tho’ all things differ. enjambement. Rather.CAESURA. (line b) caesura. “like them in beauty.” This last is perhaps the best prosodic-graphematic demonstration of the stanza of messianic time in that the antithesis is embedded within an extended caesuric zone between the first and second comma. Unexpectedly perhaps. harmoniously confus’d: Where order in variety we see. the cut and the cut of the cut. Not Chaos like together crush’d and bruis’d. and finally the caesuric cut of the cut internalized in the space of one line. were my breast inspir’d with equal flame. enjambement. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
status. the caesura always cuts in the midst. all agree. the woodland and the plain. (SP. This world of harmonious tension is both described and performed in the opening lines of Pope’s “Windsor Forest”: The groves of Eden. the woodland and the plain. seem to strive again”. and look green in song: These. But as the world.
Although Agamben does not consider it in these terms. The only place internal to the poem that a cae. at the moment of reading on into meaning development one always lags behind in some manner in sonic. but in most sophisticated prosody there is a wide use of initial and terminal caesurae. and yet also recursive. What is significant here is the means by which rhyme provides the potential solution to the tensile cut of the cut of the caesura– enjambement matrix. in rhyme thought and language combine to produce a word-based semiotics that is both predictive. The caesura of classical prosody tends to what is called the medial but this is not compulsory as. and thus the shifting of the metrical–musical element between semiotics (langue) and semantics (parole) becomes the metrical–musical–semantic element. unless one ends the poetic line with the first sy/Llable and commences the next with the second. however. the couplet contains the very basis of poetry’s capability to think through the tabular-planar metrical agency of a continuation that contains within it the projection of its ending and a cut or completion that. For rhyme. while powerfully semiotic. gathers within itself the recursion of that which went before. is dependent on semantics to perform. The caesura of English tends also to the medial rising to a degree of compulsarity in Old and Middle English verse. it provides the semiotic rules to sense what the next rhyme might be. but
. The caesura represents the eschaton. Yet the inclusion of rhyme suggests instead a messianic moment that does not rise out of this stuttering continuum but uncovers a solution to the metaphysical logic of the caesura internal to the poem itself. If every second caesura is more forceful in that it cataphorically holds back flow. semiotic consonance. and indeed that is all they are gestic and meaningless prosodic devices. while enjambement is equal to chronos in that at the point of the line’s eschaton it overleaps finitude and imposes a retrograde return to sense. before the push and pull of lineation can continue. Left to their own devices. or enjambement where the obverse is true. in French Alexandrines. say. Unlike the caesura where thought interrupts poetry. interruption and flow retain poetic tonos. in that it interrupts the linear progression of the line.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
there is a moment of cataphoric recursion as the second rhyme is tabulated backwards to its previous rhyme partner. sura cannot occur is within the word (as I have just demonstrated). concomitantly the first caesura is always a touch weakened in that one is already thinking ahead to its rhyme and also the strong sense of local completion the couplet always provides.
In this way. therefore. contrary to its internal structure. so that the point of the end of the line is radically dissimilar to its incipit. There are. What does the terminally or edge-restricted mobility of the caesura tell us? Certainly that the poem’s advent is not a continuation or a type of universal poetic flow. and two forms of silence cocooning the voice. If enjambement instigates the event of the poetic by interrupting discourse with voice and semiotic material rhythm. the presence of messianic time within the poem is dependent on a traditional and to some degree problematic designation of the poem as a strictly delimited body. is not a pause but an endless falling into the silence of philosophy on the part of poetry.CAESURA. poems are not of the same order as flowers. two forms of exterior space to the poem body. Where the poem begins is of another order to where it ends and the two edges of its finitude will never meet. or the line. never before it. even if they are poems in a sequence. even if the poem is part of a sequence. therefore. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
even this is that peculiar form of terminal caesura called enjambement. The caesura is the essential complement to enjambement. For those of us well versed in prosody this is highly satisfying as it is true that an enjambement
. similarly voice. a frame at all for it has no continuity. a miniaturized rule of some value when one comes to consider the very limits of the ergon. Poems are not rocks. only two operative interdictions on caesuric scission. There are. the parergon will always slice open the finitude of the ergon. The two edges of a poem’s frame will never meet. The spacesilence made parergonal frame around the poem is not. perpetually meeting and departing from their assignation. in this light. This is in contradistinction to the end of one line and the commencement of the next which are always in communion with each other. so too the beginning of a poem does not take up the line from the end of the last poem. If they are in possession of finitude then not of this order. as we have seen. Logopoiesis is an internal affair that occurs inside verse but which does not delimit verse. The poem as a whole or thing is not. is interrupted by thought or by the silence that is apparently endemic to contemporary thinking. Just as the end of the line has no commonality to the incipit due to the ban on the caesura at the point of the line’s inception. a cyclical loop. Therefore. Also of some significance is the fact that all caesuric cuts occur “after” flow. these at the moment of advent and finitude. Similarly the end of the poem. or a meta-linear version of its localized prosodic effects of flow and interruption.
or the next. of the parallelism of the comparison. 157).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
more likely than not either follows from or is followed by a caesura. either to thought or to poetry. event: the prolonged hesitation between sound and sense that constitutes poetry.
Lurking in the final words of Stanzas is Agamben’s early summation of his appreciation of the necessity to turn to poetry to resolve certain issues pertaining to negativity that had scuppered the great hulk of metaphysics in its journey towards the thing as such of thought. Concomitantly. Enjambement only occurs at moments when the thought is too big for the line pushing the caesura into the middle of the next line. You will recall he is speaking here of the tensile harmony to be located in the work of Heraclitus. As is regularly commented on. This simple consonance of oppositions is now clearer to us being typical. Thus enjambement works like a stone cast into a still pool. intermittent and hesitant silence. leading Agamben to look to the Greek sense of harmonia as “a laceration that is also a suture.4 Agamben’s reasoning for this symbiotic relation between interruption and overflowing would be that both caesura and enjambement stem from different pathways to the same. a caesura midline leaves few syllables in the line to commence a new thought making another enjambement very probable. or even in the case of real thinkers such as Milton and Wordsworth. A control of this rhythmic effect is an additional prosody still relatively mysterious to literary criticism which I have termed “line measure” or the metrical counting of the line as a rhythmic unit rather than solely the syllable. momentarily held. stopping the flow and for a second eradicating the voice entirely with a momentary. its ripples spreading out through the lines and the calm surface of the poem taking some time/ lines to settle down once more. The line arrested in the centre is the reversal of this flood of semiotics. the ideal of the poetic line is the exact match between syllables and thought so that all caesurae occur at the end of the line. The line broken at the end then is the influx of the voice inundating thought and for a moment erasing it. This hesitation is two-fold because the manner in which language has been lost to us is double. for example. It also conveys the messianic moment of a stilled
. the next. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and unitary” (ST.
it transpires. speaking of Heidegger’s rediscovery of the harmony of harmonies between philosophy and poetry. While within the acoustical realm—the originary voice of poetry before it was split. Harmony names. therefore. whose signification had appeared to the dawning of Greek thought
. then silenced by philosophy—there was the harmony between interruption and flow. (ST. but also the rule of poetry which is defined by the tension between interruption and flow. He then adds: That this articulation. and remember harmony here means just as much division as it does unification. This harmony of harmonies. I am speculating. the harmonious confusion of caesura as a division that combines. There was. if I read this compacted section correctly. testifies to a decisive turn in Western thought. were not placed on either side of a false bar or division as is articulated in the theory of the sign. is the Idea of Prose that is manifest in the early work and reconstituted first as potentiality and then as messianic time in the later. for Heraclitus. “back” then. when thought and poetry. Within the visible realm of being—being has always been confined in our tradition to a monstrative and (in)visible entity—there was the harmony between being as concealed and its momentarily appearing. One can now also see that harmony not merely names an ideal state of being in the universe as it did for the Greeks. philosophy playing the role of visibility/interruption. Of this Agamben says. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
dialectic. in the passage from the visible to the acoustic aspect of language. Speaking of the term harmony in Heraclitus Agamben notes that for the Greek the idea of harmony pertained precisely to its invisibility. locating harmony as a basis for being in concealment within the visible realm. 157) There was a time.CAESURA. a double harmony. where it is still possible to discern the solidarity between signification and metaphysical articulation. and poetry invisibility/flow. should then be transferred to the numericalacoustic sphere. not the eradication of division and unity but the tensile suspension of the metaphysical foundational categories of difference and identity. “Faithful to this apotropaic project. the visible and the acoustic. Then there was the harmony between the monstrative and acoustical harmonies with. which. Thus there was philosophical harmony mirrored by poetic harmony and then a harmony between the two. appropriated. still belongs to the tactile-visible sphere. the cut that is cut.
For truth to be unveiled it must first have been obscured by a sheet or material barrier. ratified in the discipline of philosophy. Logopoiesis names little more than this at this stage in its development: an apotropaic harmony between poetic flow and philosophical interruption. crucial to his overall overcoming of metaphysics as I hope I have now shown. for the moment. Thus every truth is a form of enigma facilitated by the double
. the enigma of the order of a sign. For the truth to be unveiled it must first be transmitted through a sheet or material barrier. shares a good deal in common with the more familiar rhetorical designation of the enigma. Speaking of the foundation of philosophy Agamben notes that the Western experience of being. remain at a distance” (ST. is the apotropaic structure of all logopoiesis. 157). which also explains why poetry matters to Agamben and also helps clarify his many valuable comments on the technicalities of prosody. but a mode of speech in which the original fracture of presence was alluded to in the paradox of a word that approaches its object while keeping it indefinitely at a distance” (ST. Agamben is unhappy with the way that the enigma of the Sphinx has been placed beneath the transparent sign of the Oedipal interpretation: “What the Sphinx proposed was not simply something whose signified is hidden and veiled under an ‘enigmatic’ signifier. If there were no secret then there needs must be no solution. It makes perfect sense. called up at the moment that presence as such is split in two. The apotropaic. is based on an impossible filiation therein to the fact that presence comes to philosophical thought as already divided. Aletheia’s unveiling of truth moves one to the very heart of the almost awkward formulation of truth as unconcealedness which so dominates Heidegger’s work.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
as a mode of speaking that was neither a gathering nor a concealment. If the labyrinth is as an open plane then the thread of its solution and dissolution need not be painstakingly unspooled in the terror of darkness.5 We are now more than familiar with the fracture of presence alluded to here. Considering the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx in Stanzas. we cannot but approach that which must. as Agamben concedes. The sign is of the order of an enigma. 138). The relation between poetry and thinking in Agamben. that which attracts and repels. The presence of the sign is. In this instant full presence becomes unavailable to view and the Greek activity of aletheia commences the strange affiliation called philosophy.
prosodic. that is. which he has misinterpreted by interpreting its apotropaic intention as the relation of an oblique signifier and a hidden signified” (ST. Presupposing the enigma as a sign that needs to be made to signify. One of the great contemporary works of logopoietic apotropaicism is John Ashbery’s much-admired “Down by the Station. 138). The dancing path of the labyrinth. is the model of this relation with the uncanny that is expressed in the enigma. fable) of the ainigma is not only obscurity. the enigma belongs to the sphere of the apotropaic. but a more original mode of speaking. Agamben goes on to state: The ainos (story. Oedipus’ sin was not incest but “hubris toward the power of the symbolic in general . has valorized the very quality of interpretation over the fact of the enigma as such. and books with no author. by attracting it and assuming it within itself. like the Gorgon. and conceptual even-ness: And so each day Culminates in merriment as well as a deep shock like an electric one. or a maze which has no centre point or any point of exit/entrance. and an extraneous babble from the street Confirming the new value the hollow core has again.6
. Oedipus. (ST. is a poetics of the enigma as that which is not available for solution. structural. Early in the Morning. As the wrecking ball bursts through the wall with the book shelves Scattering the works of famous authors as well as those Of more obscure ones. Like the labyrinth. to a protective power that repels the uncanny.” that ends with a shocking apocalypse for such a poet of tonal. therefore.CAESURA. a philosophy dependent on an idea of language has totally missed the glaring fact that the power of the enigma lies elsewhere in the presence of the semiotic within the enigma of the sign. . An apotropaic verse. the light From the lighthouse that protects as it pushes us away. Agamben suggests. . and like the Sphinx that utters it. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
hindrance of matter. Returning to the enigma now. and Western thought since then. which leads to the heart of that which is held at a distance. letting in Space. The name of both these obstructions is rather obvious: the sign. 138) If this is the case.
Indeed. space. then one is drawn towards the core and simultaneously repelled. In some senses Ashbery has found the only solution to the paradox of the end of the poem. The manifestation of the lighthouse is a double enigma. 14). space.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
As can be seen here Ashbery’s verse has always been marked by that which Agamben terms the apotropaic order of the enigma.” an extraneous pure semiotic noise the result of the collapse of the single. Indeed are not all enigmas thus doubled-up? The image draws you in. As the wrecking ball demolishes the walls of a book-lined labyrinth of enigmas one presumes is a library. is a comment on the tension between the semiotic (enjambement. ontology. Following on from space comes the loaded term “babble. a deliberation on impermanence. always leads my students and myself interminably across two verses which. labyrinthine structure of the wrecked library. remembering. I have laboured over both the enigma that is Ashbery. Or is Ashbery merely revealing the enigma of the very fact of the warning or the apotropaic nature of
. and the almost enjambed terminal caesura in the penultimate line suggests precisely this. babble) and the semantic which typifies Agamben’s axiom. Here. That the resumption of the semantic in the next line should comment directly on the semiotic “space” is typical of the profound boustrophedonic verse only rare writers can perform. form and theme merge into harmony precisely through their being manifestly at odds. in a moment of supreme post-modern self-consciousness. and the enigma of naming. until you name it. The poem. for years. as the line folds back on itself. / And nothing does. while dense. and nonsense. and more specifically in classrooms around the globe the enigma of the poem “Down by the station early in the morning. and even then / It may not have existed” (W. to the sudden collapse of all pedagogic certainty in the final stanza cited here. I feel I can guide a passage through. like Oedipus and Ariadne trapped in some terrible union neither dares to seek annulment for. “a dull crinkled leather that no longer exists.” This work. Here it takes the form of enjambement. The line break after “letting in” admits the essential material presence of space foundational to poetic tension. Ashbery admits into the work the essence of the poetic: the semiotic. and yet the poem’s final image seems to resist an endless falling into silence. If the hollow core is as the lighthouse. as in all eidos it literally calls your attention to it and by implication suggests that it is a metaphor for the hollow core of the decimated. memory. it would appear. Babelian tower of language.
which protects us and seems almost to gather us to its bosom. The poem neither concludes nor. As regards the apotropaic structure of the enigma the elegance of Agamben’s formulation remains a thing of beauty. The third and final point is that by ending with an apotropaic Ashbery is able to endlessly defer the end of the verse while simultaneously suspending the poem within the very tension that Agamben suggests it is impossible to be suspended within. The enigmatic in verse. until you name it. . In an enigma one encounters the mystery of the uncanny in the form of a rebus to which not only is there no solution but whose very puzzlement is its truth. but that there can be an unresolved relation between the two. and yet also the enigma of how phone can precede logos if it is a recursive act of memory: naming something as a prophylaxis against the inexistence we are all moving towards. Certainly the bar divides poetry from thinking in a manner Agamben finds repulsive. the light of the lighthouse. Rather. . the possibility
. within the enigma one finds the only instance within signification wherein the semiotic and the semantic are suspended without falling into silence all due to the presence of the semiotic. nor that there is a solution.” cyclically resumes at the poetic incipit. The first is of the order of the enigma. Just as the issue of the suspense of the endless deferral of signification occurs within the poetic line expressly at the moment of its finitude. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
the enigma? In drawing attention to itself. but it also gathers them together in the same parallel space of stanzaic comparison revealing what may have already been suspected that the bar of the sign (/) and the double pipes of the caesura || are in fact of the same grammatological order. of which Ashbery is the master. to be more precise.” combining the impossibility of logos preceding phone (nothing exists until you name it). I would attempt to say three things about this blinding moment of logopoiesis. He says in relation to that which no longer exists “And nothing does. . Ashbery’s comments on ontological inexistence are “instructive” in this regard in the way they maintain the impossible to resolve caesura between phone and logos to be found in the sign and emulated in prosody. This leads to my second comment on the sign as fundamentally apotropaic in structure or. as many works do such as “L’infinito. remembering . gathers us by actually rejecting us. is indeed as Agamben suggests not there to be solved but persists so as to retain within itself the presence of the problem as such. the bar within the sign between phone and logos.CAESURA. What the uncanny unearths is not that there is no solution.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
of this proposition rests upon a second line. that which can be found internal to the poem and of course Derridean spacing as such in the form of the trace. They seek to exit the maze into which they wished they had never been entered by their masters. a fourth order of space in Agamben’s work located to the side of the poem in a space that does not quite mark the limit of the text nor quite exist interior to the line either. signifier and signified. refusing the model of Oedipus. Meanwhile: “under the sign of the Sphinx must be placed every theory of the symbol that. one finds oneself for that very reason in the place of the neighbour. Agamben in this early treatise provides a “glimpse of what a semiology freed from the mark of Oedipus and faithful to the Saussurian paradox would finally bring to the ‘barrier resistant to signification’” (ST. Those who seek to define signification as that which occurs as a relation between code and solution. 138–9). its being in
. that which exists between the signifier and the signified within the sign. space is what he describes as the space of ease. 139). This enigmatic. Agamben notes that the topology of interest here resides not between Eden and Gehenna but within “the adjacent place that each person inevitably receives. in the full sense of the term. This glimpse first opened up by the enigma is the very harmony between poetry and philosophy essential to prosodic harmony and the wider apotropaic comparison of logopoiesis as such. Citing specifically the “Hericlitean project of an utterance that neither ‘hides’ nor ‘reveals’ but rather ‘signifies’ the unsignifiable conjunction (synapsis) between presence and absence” (ST. Speaking of the inheritance of Oedipus Agamben divides our epoch into two tendencies. 139). What is most proper to every creature is thus its substitutability. At the point when one reaches one’s final state and fulfils one’s own destiny. The first is more than familiar to we Oedipal decoders of poetic and literary Sphinxes.
EASE: THE PROXIMATE SPACE
Thus far we have spoken of space in terms of that which surrounds borders the poem. There is. In The Coming Community the short essay “Ease” speaks of the Talmudic tradition of the reservation of two places for each person in Eden and Gehenna (Hell). focuses its attention above all on the barrier between signifier and signified that constitutes the original problem of signification” (ST. however. semiotics and semantics are post-Oedipal thinkers.
the space adjacent (ad-jacens. He then traces this idea in reference to a Christian community founded in the last century by Arabist Louis Massignon called Badaliya whose name was derived from the Arabic for substitution. although I am sure these issues are not unfamiliar. which soon enough we will locate within the poem. 25).
. the work of Blanchot. moving at ease) and convenience borders on the correct relation” (CC. 25). The ostensible purpose of this essay is clear within a collection on community that takes up dialogue with Nancy’s work on the coming community and being-with. the subject as individual is alienated from identity without succumbing to biological indetermination. This semantico-etymological constellation excavates for us the relation of the opportune to the location of the harbour in favourable winds to which one moves. Further useful consonance between prosodic space and considerations of desubjectivization and language arrives in the mode in which Agamben goes on to describe the origins of the word ease: “The term ‘ease’ in fact designates. the empty place where each can move freely. as well as Derrida’s post-Lévinasian ethics of alterity and hospitality and. Forgive this digression into the biopolitical realm of the ethics of alterity. adjacentia). at one’s ease (slowly). under sail or beneath the effects of music. An avenue of enquiry that moves Agamben to a conclusion that Badaliya and the Talmud allow for a possibility of a community based not on non-substitutable individuality. This leads to the potentiality of a new ethical topography no longer delineated around oppositions and individuals. but describing a complex. Ease is the proper name of this unrepresentable space” (CC. but rather on the universal substitutability of singularity as non-representable (lacking in individuality). therefore. in a semantic constellation where spatial proximity borders on opportune time (ad-agio.7 In the space of ease.CAESURA. “the coming to itself of each singularity. They move to one side of who they are to a space of singular self-negation. but it is necessary to allow one to comprehend the centrality of space in Agamben’s ideas on poetry. common space of singularity. One crucial factor is that the space of ease brings together the technical aspects of prosodic space as we have been analysing with earlier debates on poetic desubjectivization. The space of ease delineates. for good measure. 23). such as it is. according to its etymology. the topography of kle or the vocation of ¯sis subjective revocation. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
any case in the place of the other” (CC. its being whatever—in other words.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
It also presents the original meaning of convenience as coming together or natural fittedness of things with other things. Thus ease is a temporal, spatial space to the side that gives one time/space to come to things, to step to one side, gain time, make space and so on. This sense of ease as a proximation and facilitation, opening up, making space for space, taking time to experience time, explains the centrality of the term for the origins of European prosody. Agamben therefore goes on to explain: “The provençal poets (whose songs first introduce the term into Romance languages in the form aizi, aizimen) make ease a terminus technicus in their poetics, designating the very place of love…not so much the place of love, but rather love as the experience of taking-place in whatever singularity” (CC, 25). Now we can begin to see that ease is supportive facilitation in the manner in which we have come to see love for the troubadour tradition. Love here is unattainable precisely because it is the medium, support, or space to the side that facilitates attainment as such but which itself, therefore, can never be possessed. Agamben speaks of a similar experience when he considers stil novist poetics, in particular Dante’s famous pursuit of the subjectposition called Beatrice. Beatrice is the name of the amorous experience of the event of language at play in the poetic text itself. She is thus the name and the love of language, but of language understood not in its grammaticality but, rather, in its radical primordiality, as the emergence of verse from the pure Nothing . . . It is because of its absolute originality that speech is the supreme cause and object of love and, at the same time, necessarily transient and perishable. (EP, 58) Such an understanding of speech as primordial, transient, and perishable relates, in Agamben’s work, to Dante’s reformulation of a central Humanist debate over the vernacular and grammar “that is, between the experience of the originary and secondary status of the event of language (or again between love of language and knowledge of language)” (EP, 54).8 Moving backwards through the arguments of the essay “The Dream of Language” where these quotes are couched we find ourselves gazing on an obscure fifteenth-century text, the Hypnerotomachia Polifili (1499), an image from which adorns the English translation of The End of the Poem. Agamben
CAESURA, THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
focuses our attention on the later debate around the language of this text which seems to be made up from a fusion of grammar (Latin) and the vernacular (what was to become modern Italian). The result, he assures us, is an awkward mismatch of Latin grammar and vernacular lexicon of which Agamben comments that the singularity of this text “is a matter not of agrammatical discourse but rather of a language in which the resistance of names and words is not immediately dissolved and rendered transparent by the comprehension of the global meaning; hence the lexical element remains isolated and suspended for a few seconds, as dead material, before being articulated and dissolved in the fluid discourse of sense” (EP, 46). Agamben usefully likens this effect to the use of the word in Mallarmé before going on to note the qualities of the vernacular that make it so central to the role of the space of ease as love in all poetry. Glossing on Dante’s Convivio he remarks that “the vernacular can only follow ‘use’ not ‘art’; and it is, therefore, necessarily transient and subject to continual death. To speak in the vernacular is to precisely experience this incessant death and rebirth of words, which no grammar can fully treat” (EP, 54). What Agamben is tracing here along admittedly obscure defiles, aside from the complex simultaneous development of the idea of language and poetry within European culture from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, is the double stream of language which we have already become familiar with, only this time reconfigured away from the becoming-planar of the line towards the point of the word. The vernacular in the Hypnerotomachia Polifili resembles Mallarmé’s verse as I said in that “words stand out in isolation while their semantic values are suspended” (EP, 46), precisely because the vernacular lexicon has not yet been assimilated into a vernacular grammar. This will not happen until Latin truly becomes a dead language and the vernacular becomes a grammar at which point one gazes on two senses of what it means for a language to die. For Latin it means that it becomes a kind of pure langue or a complete grammar that has no actual usage. In contrast, the vernacular is pure parole in that words are used for the love of language, the words themselves, before they are reformulated in relation to definition and syntax. Love, therefore, is to experience the imminent vernacular in all language, a primordiality of pure usage before grammar died wherein words rise up and then die away again. This is an atactic language freed of grammar, for
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what is grammar but an obviation of the need for syntax? Grammar is pure structure in which the specificity of the sign is totally irrelevant. The development of the vernacular into grammar by the death of grammar in the form of Latin allows us to see, as if for the first time, words for their own sake as purely vernacular. All of which forces us to now reconsider Agamben’s definition of the stanza as the “capacious dwelling, receptacle,” or womb of art. The stanza like a room is gifted with a certain set of spatial co-ordinates it being an enclosed space within a wider enclosure of space, the house, which is itself an enclosure of space surrounded by an illimitable space, the world, founded on the earth. The stanza, therefore, is a ventricle within the very conception of interiority and just as lineation rehearses the abyssal event of the end of the poem, so the stanza seems to act out the irresolvable aporetic relationship between interiority and exteriority which is, of course, modern philosophy. The stanza contains within its walls a double paradox. It is the material marking of an enclosure of space and also occupies the inside of the inside providing us now with a third messianic structure, not that of time as such, nor poetic time, but the interiority of space between space as enclosure (“eschatological” space) and space as endless extension and continuum (“chronological” space). While Agamben calls this the womb, he could, of course, have designated it with the Greek name chora.9 Now we are at our ease, our work here nearly done. Primed as we are to exit art and finally crack the puzzle of the maze of thought, let us pause for a moment on the complex entity that is called, in our tradition, the poem. What is a poem? A poem is made up of poetry that exists within the tension between the semiotic and semantic that occurs at the premature interjection of space as both temporal pause and spatial presence creating the line. This gesture of interruption is then reversed in boustrophedonic mode so that the seamless flow of metre is interrupted by the caesuric pause of thought. Thus a poem consists of the movement between two syntaxes, ignoring for now which take precedence: prose—poetry—prose and poetry—prose— poetry. Also overlooking the further complexity that spacing is a precondition for all writing and exists in equal measure between each sign and within each sign, we now advance propositionally to the centrality of the end of the poem, wherein the micro tensile oscillation of poetry is writ large and catastrophic. Agamben is clear that
CAESURA, THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
the end of the poem is the end of verse which means also always the end of a verse or stanza. The end of the poem is, therefore, triply the end of poetry, the end of lineation, and the end of stanzation. As can be seen by this definition the end of the poem cannot come to an end as a propositional statement without a full understanding of the stanza. The first thing to note in this regard is that the end of the poem occurs, paradoxically, in a medial position by virtue of the stanza (as I said the end is central). The end of each line is different from the end of the last line, Agamben assures us, and so too must it be the case that the end of the stanza is an ending of a different order. It would be tempting to ascribe the end of the stanza as a miniature disaster and in a semiotic sense it can seem as such, but in fact the stanza is not a vertical form. The space at the end of the stanza is only one quarter of the relevant space for a stanza must have four walls revealing that the spatiality between stanzas is not one of finality but proximity. A stanza, in fact, is not a unit of poetry at all but a unit of sense, part of the syllogistic globalization of meaning promised by the poem and ruined by its finitude.10 As such there is a different relation to space in the stanza to that of the poem as verse or line. The stanza is known, therefore, for what it can contain, for its jug-like capaciousness, and as a receptacle it transcends or somehow avoids the temporal-spatial linearity of versification providing an internal, fractal, Chinese-box nested form of spatiality that endlessly defers ending by the act of turning in on itself in a process of almost endless reduction and insertion. The stanza provides the space of ease but where does this spatiality reside within the receptacle or around it? Is its spatiality that of the page/tablet, the parergonal forces of title, frame, and so on; or is it literally over there, to the side, located in the semi-mythical righthand margin of the Western poetic tradition?11 Thus far I have summarized the relation of poetry to space around four spatialities: frame space, the pause at the end of the line, spacing as such, and the space into which the poem is endlessly falling that Agamben terms silence. There is, however, a fifth space here located in no one location within the poem but which cuts across and is inserted into all spacing. This space is what I am terming the space of ease as facilitated by the technicus terminus of the poem as such as determined by the pure love of the word as such, as mere matter, pure signification, dead stuff . . .
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
CORN: IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM
In the essay “‘Corn’: from Anatomy to Poetics” Agamben traces the philology of an obscure term used in troubadour poetry: corn, or arse (specifically a woman’s). Agamben, alive to the rather suspect humour here, also shows that how, over time, a term referring to the female anatomy, corn, comes also, as cors, to represent the metrical unit of poetry as such. This odd transformation, although no odder than many similar semantic shifts, possibly stems from the tradition of equating the woman’s body to that of the poem, which we have already commented on in relation to the stanza as a kind of womb. Over time the term corn has come to stand for what is called the unrelated rhyme wherein an apparently unrhymed word in one stanza is later found to rhyme with a word in a subsequent stanza. This may seem obscure, indeed it is for Agamben the philologist who works hard to recuperate the meaning of this term, but as the essay progresses we come to realize that corn is an essential companion to the verse which, in relation to enjambement, has become so crucial to us in this discussion. If the etymological meanings of verse in the Latin versus explain so much about poetry, so too the potential meanings for corn as “tip,” “extremity,” “corner,” and “angle” open up a whole new aspect like an interior wall removed to flood a dull space with light. Now we can freely state that verse is the folding back of the line on itself, while corn is the retention of the line break as a break or exteriorized caesura. Corn allows one to see the extremity of the line at the same time as one sees it folding over to become, at least momentarily, prose. So what is corn? It is both verse and not verse, resembling something more like a remnant of verse at the moment of verse’s collapse into sense. Corn as a term retains the cut or tear in the fabric of meaning from which poetry attains its lasting power and significance but it is not verse as such. Corn is the corner of the room, what is left over as the line breaks. Undoubtedly it presents risk for the poem as it interrupts the semiotic precedence with that which is neither semantic nor apparently semiotic, which is why Agamben asserts that for the corn to function meta-strophically it must find its rhyme later in the poem. If corn did not find its rhyme it would cataphorically be revealed to be, after the end of the poem, in some sense a premature end resulting in the tension of verse dissipating prematurely and yet also, belatedly in its retrospective realization.
“cannot be understood if it is not situated in the context of a different formal register. In addition. structure. with a wider understanding of what poetry is. between orality and writing. The harmonic effects of corn. opening up a level of harmony. it can find only a formal correspondence?” (EP. Then again. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
Corn is the poetic term for what can otherwise be termed structure. of course. disenchanted. the harder it becomes to hear the rhyme. The rhyme is still there but located at what has traditionally been called the harmonic rather than melodic level. and allows us to move through the poem at a point between local and apocalyptic. such that the mind searches for an analogy of sense in the very place where. I am calling this higher relation structure here because it cuts across the localized effects of the semiotic/semantic tension. that between sound and sense” (EP. by definition. cannot be heard and therefore must ultimately be read. in a wider sense referring to any larger structural unity within a work. every rhyme is delayed. weakens the rhyme. the importance of corn is not merely related to the means by which we can bring structure into the work for it also ushers in the predominance of writing into poetry. of course. No poem can
. One thing this observation allows is a more prominent place for rhyme within Agamben’s linear definition of poetry: “What is rhyme. 34). transforms the unrelated rhyme into the principle of a higher relation” (EP. Agamben proceeds to look at the work of Arnaut in this regard. Corn distributes the tension of the poem across two different spatialities that accord. As the corn delays rhyme until a later stanza it. a writer who elevated corn to a metastrophic dominance in the development of the stanzaic form of the sestina in which. as Agamben goes on to concede an understanding of corn as a rupture of the poetic body based on disjuncture between first harmonic and melodic textures and then. Structure is the trans-tensile containment of the obviousness of the poetic definition Agamben furnishes us with. The greater the distance between the first instance of the rhyme and its second. namely. Of Arnaut’s sestina Agamben asserts “he is the poet who treats all verses as ‘corns’ and who. 31). by thus rupturing the closed unity of the strophe. 35). It takes us away from the localized issue of the line break versus the abyssal logic of the end of the poem. and graphematics. if not a disjunction between semiotic event (the repetition of sounds) and semantic event. because of this. Taken within this context corn becomes an essential point of transition not only for poetry but also Agamben’s overall philosophy.CAESURA.
we can say that the space of ease opens the subject to the potentiality of their own singularity shared in common with all other self-alienated and thus singular beings. This is the space of ease or that space into which the poem moves at the local. one does not take into consideration the means by which words are distributed through the poem based on alternative patterns. Ease requires the thinking of proximate space as precondition for singularity. Aside from the obvious observation that all poetry is embodied it leads one to a realization that there is a particular spatiality within the poem that simultaneously allows one to see the poem and to see language as such. .
. asserts: “Dante thus conceives of the structure of the canzone as founded on the relation between an essentially semantic. yet at the same time it requires that one consider the poem as consisting of lines within stanzas. multi-dimensional. 35). we are informed.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
be complete unless. Ease is also a superlative example of logopoiesis. Agamben is finally able to conclude that “Insofar as it opens . with the caesura we have discourse. the fifth trans-poetic tabular space. Overviewing Dante’s remarkably prescient comments Agamben. . This is most readily found in poetry specifically in the material presence of an articulate space at the right hand of every lineated poem. To sum up this long and complex series of arguments. With enjambement we have lineation. the bodily metaphor of the lap “For just as the canzone is in the lap of its subject-matter so the stanza enlaps its whole technique” (EP. is likened in traditional poetics to the spatiality of the womb or semiotic chora. 35). which of course calls to mind the womb. Based on two metaphors Dante utilizes. the unrelated rhyme (the corn!) constitutes a threshold of passage between the metrical unity of ars and the higher semantic unity of sententia” (EP. This space. global unit and essentially metrical. At this juncture we must return one more time to Dante and his discussion of the structure of the canzone cited by Agamben. partial units” (EP. intellectual and aesthetic rooms within rooms. the closed formal womb of the stanza. and his later choice to call the unrelated rhyme or corn the clavis or key. vertical space of the poem as a global entity. sequential level into the tabular. The unrelated rhyme forces one to concede that the poem exists in space and time beyond the power of its voicing. 36). almost in astonishment. along with the impact of lineation. and with corn we have the word. where he opposes cantio as a unit of sense (sententia) to stanza as a purely metrical unit (ars).
however having come so far we can leave aside the Heideggerian terminology and concentrate instead on what this essay reveals in terms of a harmony of all the different elements pertaining to prosody and logopoiesis lodged within that most difficult yet essential poetic term: rhythm. in other words how do parts cohere into a unified structure: lines become a stanza. Yet the second view proposes that structure is something that is external to the ensemble in question which means first that one must go in search of it. 96). and his most recent work on temporality harks back to his earliest work on the poem which itself presages the more sophisticated work to come. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
Agamben is a sporadic and yet profoundly consistent writer. and so on? Structure is always a gestalt in that the parts cohere into something that is in excess of the particulate and yet which gives the particulate a single quantum: such and such a thing. or an external gestalt-based view that structure is something outside of the ensemble that is added to it to make it what it is. Aristotle asks in The Metaphysics what causes a collection of elements to be more than a mere aggregate. second explain its essential role to the very collection it is radically exterior and other too. The two traditional answers to this question are either that structure is an essential and irreducible element of the thing or it is what causes the “ensemble to be what it is” (MWC. they cannot as it precedes all such work. but rather we are able now to look back on that essay and see in it the basis of all that is to come. The first thing to accept here is that these contesting views of structure are either based on an internal. and third (a point central to the work of Badiou) explain how this element exterior to one’s set can be
. The essay is a fairly unreconstructed Heideggerian reading of poetic rhythm. 97).CAESURA. Both positions are problematic. synecdochic view of a certain part of a collection of elements being the supra-elemental part. Agamben begins his treatise on rhythm by considering the age-old problem as to what constitutes structure.” I am unable to assert that all the matters pertaining to poetic structure as a mode of thinking come together in this essay. I am speaking here of the dense chapter in The Man Without Content entitled “The Original Structure of the Work of Art. stanzas a poem. Internalized structure assumes structure to be something more than its elements and yet at the same time reduces this additional thing to the prime element “the ultimate quantum beyond which the object loses its reality” (MWC.
now feels after Aristotle that he can define rhythm as that which negotiates between the very principle of presence. and measure as such as a calculable number. inaugurates and announces the very existence of rhythm: “The word ‘rhythm’ comes from the Greek . This second element. at the same time. the one preferred by Aristotle. how in both cases the elements that function in harmony to create the work’s rhythm also provide us with an atemporal. This. . the Greek philosopher renames Form. . is a double measure. At the point that the rhythm stops we are launched. Rhythm is the unquantifiable “extra” element that makes a thing a work of art. and lines in the poem.” and rhythm “that which causes something to be what it is” (MWC. for the sake of argument syllables. in other words. That which flows does so in a temporal dimension: it flows in time . He gives examples here of music and painting. is the tantalizing gift and reserve of art. 94). This debate is promoted by a comment by a momentarily lucid. the very structure of art “that is at once as Gestalt and number” (MWC. outside the work of art into the place of ecstasy and are gifted with a view of what art is before falling back into the incessant procession of the rhythm of the work below. that which is outside of a work and makes it what it is (Form). words. measure as the coming to presence of being on the earth (Heideggerian Measure) and measure as a countable number of units or quanta. yet at the same time rhythm is directly dependent on the elements that make up the work of art. . supra-spatial ecstatic moment that he
. decrepit Hölderlin: “Everything is rhythm . Agamben argues. How can this “additional thing” exceed the very structure of aggregation it defines? After Aristotle. . One can already see here the value of such a definition of structure as rhythm at least for the art work. Agamben defines these two positions as number. . This centrality is further perpetuated when Agamben attempts to define the essential and original definition of rhythm by explaining how the interruption of flow in art is an ecstatic arrest of rhythm which. 98). 99).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
a set-defining element and yet itself escape the problems of infinite regression and bad infinity intrinsic to set theory. initially struggling to comprehend this statement. every work of art is one rhythm. . as in the case of water. and everything swings from the poeticizing lips of the god” (Cited in MWC. to flow. 100). “element and minimal quantum. Agamben. Yet this rhythm—as we commonly understand it—appears to introduce into this eternal flow a split and a stop” (MWC. Rhythm. for a moment.
As I mentioned. both the cut in time and the definition of a period in time. Both epoch and rhythm therefore are the making of a unity through a radical act of disjunctive ecstasy which. namely “to be” in the sense of to dominate or to hold on to a place. Even if epoch and rhythm are not actually synonymous they hold clear structural synonymity in that both speak of a moment outside of something which confers on that something its unified thing-status. that is. ecstasy. . Man has on earth a poetic status. namely the perpetual movement between time as origin. centring in on issues of Measure. third meaning for epochal rhythm in the Greek. however. 101). .CAESURA. Thus Agamben concludes: “rhythm holds. day-to-day vulgar time. “In his authentic temporal dimension. for example modernity. being-in-the-world. . Agamben translates epoch as meaning “both to hold back. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
describes thus: “we perceive a stop in time . he argues. falls back into said continuum. and as flow. Through the act of pro-duction via entelechy. Being’s destiny and authenticity. gives and holds back . This being the case rhythm is not a single event. and to hand over. as soon it is raised up out of the structured continuum. . to offer” (MWC. rhythm in defining art also defines the basis of being’s temporal existence in the world. sinks into the past” (MWC. to present. because it is poiesis that founds for him the original space of his world” (MWC. as well as providing an early prototype for the Idea of Prose and its subsequent reformulation as potential. What matters for us at this late hour however is how he relates rhythm to poiesis for. an interruption in the incessant flow in instants that. 99). 100). Yet rhythm is spoken of here in the very earliest work in terms of the Greek word epoch. rhythm grants men both the ecstatic dwelling in a more original dimension and the fall into the flight of measurable time” (MWC. The same is true of epoch in relation to the definition of a period. human being is able to exist in the transition from presence as origin to presence as thing in the world. This then explains a final. Agamben’s main argumentative thrust here is Heideggerian. Yet this process of pro-duction is not entirely processual. 100) before attempting a somewhat “violent” retranslation of the term as rhythm. as we saw. Clearly rhythm conceived in this way is the basis for Agamben’s later construction of messianic time. coming from the future. the poetic status of man on earth finds its proper meaning. to suspend. but the ongoing process of the evental interruption of flow. While it certainly takes time and is composed of three stages
. not on ongoing flow.
It determines how. itself simply archetypal of innumerable such structures across all the arts and beyond. Yet this epochal moment. It dictates how human being exists in the essentiality of chronological time and space as a continuum. 102). a process wherein “in the work of art the continuum of linear time is broken. any more than the continuum permanently disallows the epoch. Poiesis. art is the gift of the original space of man. and perhaps this is the truly original and poetic part of Agamben’s thinking. interruption (caesura). etymologically: art. Poiesis is rhythmical structure. art’s architectonic basis. being breaks with the continual and enters into the ecstatic. flowarrest-flow-arrest. architectonics par excellence” (MWC. 101). rhythm is the perpetual interplay between flow and its arrest. Rather. This interplay. “In the experience of the work of art. often by willed skilled acts of artistic making or artistic experience of the made thing. Rather. we can now reread this in a more Agambenian fashion. is pro-duction (τίκτω) of origin (άρχή). between past and future his present space” (MWC. at various points. So that when Agamben concludes. and man recovers. Agamben names this overall combination of elements into the rhythmical structure of the work of art that also determines human being through the means by which they make a space for themselves on the earth as productive beings in and out of time.the term process does not convey the complexity of its operations. Said architectonics is a structure now extremely familiar to us across all that we have perused here. does not dispense with the continuum below. is revealing. man stands in the truth that is. As we now know in terms of the spatiotemporality of the poem there is flow (enjambement). does not commence or cease but is perpetually in operation giving and holding back in a space or medial zone interior to the work of art. in the origin that has revealed itself to him in the poietic act” (MWC. stuttering singular dimensionality. 102). therefore.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
(poiesis–entelechy–praxis). As he says: “That art is architectonic means. poetic
. poiesis. wherein the human sees its origins. is not however simply an erratic or intermittent. and there is the architectural organization of these two elements into a third element which is the projective-recursive spatiotemporality of structure (what Agamben terms the metrical–musical element). In one final report from the great Aristotle. Here is where poetic structure. still very much in a Heideggerian strain at this early phase in his career. which would simply carve time up into the traditional aporia of moments along a single line.
spatiality. recursive. and temporality–. patternation. is why poetry matters to Giorgio Agamben. under pro-duction also. This. we make. negates simple processional temporality. due to the very logic of the epoch. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
structure. through poiesis. is a tabular-planar dimensional way of being always already projected towards a finitude that in turn always casts us back to an origin. Poiesis as the ultimate architectonic of our being on this earth as potentially productive beings within the supportive medium of language as such. for example. the name we now give to the whole structural process of logopoietic thinking. We rise. recurrence with modification (torquing). defines poiesis as ongoing. we fall. in rhyme but also in numerous other elements of poetry such as referentiality. we progress. projective. which is the name for this process. Poetry is able to save metaphysics from itself by providing another way of thinking. productive mode of tabular thinking is logopoiesis. This projective-recursive. we return and in doing so. and suddenly surprising. being and thinking are under negation they are also. simply put. If. and so on. particularly the tabular-planar element of anaphoric– cataphoric projection–recursion that one finds. being.
. association. in the modern epoch. Rather rhythm–.CAESURA.
commenced with the adventure of reinstating the literary in the form of
. it goes against the very spirit of his work. for entirely mysterious and conventional reasons. is as strategic as it is descriptive. If I have neglected the political elements of Agamben’s work. . Yet here at least I have made a start. I must attest to being unhappy with such a designation even if it is my own. political. To propose a certain identity or division within Agambenian philosophy is ill-advised and. particularly metaphysical differential scission. self-defeating. This must now stand as my written book on Agamben. it is for this reason alone. His is a philosophy that resists identity in favour of neutral singularity. Within our culture. The inaccurate entitlement of this book. literary . Therefore as to the actual existence of a clearly definable “literary” Agamben. as most assuredly I have. metaphysical. . The literary Agamben is simply a device to get the critical fraternity to take their eyes off the Homo Sacer project and its impressive extension. As would the designation the “political” or “metaphysical” Agamben or even a composite of the three. THE TURN OF THINKING
At the end of a great adventure the intrepid in repose often set down their encounters and observations in the form of a book. like so many titles. The enforcement of a “literary” Agamben is not simply reductive. And while he concedes the omnipresence of division. In my unwritten book I see that until the various strands of Agamben’s thought are presented as a whole. (it would be premature and presumptuous to reduce his work to just three categorizations). he has made it his life’s work to overcome difference through the creation of a productive philosophy of indifference. our understanding of this most remarkable thinker is incomplete. every book demands a title: The Literary Agamben: Adventures in Logopoiesis.RECURSION.
and rhythmical structure as an alternative model for thinking. connections to make. For Agamben there are five conditions of poetic language. but also across the whole of the rhythm of poetic structure. THE TURN OF THINKING
a sustained analysis of poetry into the heart of Agamben’s indifferent thought. intimacy with the semiotic. you forget to take the one thing you need most of all. has for centuries being attributed to the poetic experience of inspiration. and structure that make it the essential complement to philosophy in the quest for the meaning of the existence of language as such as indifferent medium for thinking. neglect to say the very thing that is most on your mind to your loved ones. extrapolated out across larger. and line. why poetry in particular is of such importance to the work of Agamben.
. At the same time. Sometimes when you set out on an adventure and you have a tight deadline. a process of depersonalization at the hands of language. the funding committee. visas to apply for. The fundamental experience of ontology via language being that of desubjectivization. or the press. The predominance of semiotics in the poem is felt at the level of the syllable. the semiotic basis of depersonalizing desubjectivization is most readily presented and investigated by poetry’s emphasis on the material effects of language at the expense of rational discursive meaning. Poetry produces the closest experience of language as such. historical relation between poetry and philosophy. proximity to language as such. This being the case the fact that poetry and philosophy suffered a powerful separation at the hands of first philosophy means that philosophy’s attempt to think the very basis of its continuing existence through an investigation of language cannot be completed until this rift is once more bridged.RECURSION. Or in taking your leave. or inexpressive medium for expression. The rift may indeed be part cause of the modern philosophical collapse into negativity. combine together to establish poetry’s role as one half of a mode of post-nihilistic productive thought such as I have repeatedly presented in Agamben’s work. that exists within our tradition. providing an archetype for a mode of thinking dominated by naming that does not name anything specifically. I am fortunate enough to have the time and perspicacity to correct this. word. These five conditions of poeticized ontology. As our departure is delayed here a few more pages due to an oversight in some paperwork. discursive structures. That must suffice. desubjectivization due to linguistic depersonalization. experience. Similarly I feel now that I never at any point clearly expressed why literature.
His recourse to literary examples in this regard. dictation in poetry. Nancy. is not illustrative but a fundamental part of his thinking. Mine has been no different. and unexpectedly normal that when the niece and her new beau reappear back on screen at the film’s end you have all but forgotten who they are. I am reminded of Ozu’s great film Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice where the story of the rebellious niece is supplanted by the consideration of her actions on the relationship between her aunt and uncle. The history of modern metaphysical nihilism is matched by the history of aesthetic modernity dissuading us from looking for solutions in poiesis alone. An analysis so profound.” now forever unwritten. Derrida. real. I am certain many books are like this. Logopoiesis. The actual book was lost along the way. As this happened the previous disorder of the chapters froze into a pattern that came to seem as almost predestined. In my case the usual: chapters which were central were removed entirely. and the relation between the larynx and the syrinx. suprasensuous and sensuous. That book. and ultimately Agamben. The order of the remaining chapters was endlessly changed. The Agamben chapter got out of hand. This is not the book I set out to write. saw Agamben as a supporting figure in a grand narrative of the turn to poiesis in the work of Heidegger.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
It is inevitable that one will lose one’s way and in losing it find one’s true way. “The Invention of Literary Singularity. as well as revealing a potential way out of this great abyss through the alternative modes of poietic thinking. I dropped it. I admit that. It brings to presence the predominance of negation in all elements of metaphysics.1
. The initial interest I had in Agamben’s ideas on linguistic materiality faded from view until finally I understood what it was I was writing about: thinking as such through poetry. and a character who at the beginning seemed one part of a great ensemble took over the story all but negating the early narrative. thousands of words on the category life. All great adventures work this way. Language as such as neutral medium and support for thought and being allows Agamben to rethink the very thing of thought and move beyond productive metaphysical negation. However aesthetic modernity provides a strong example of anti-poiesis that has two key effects. Badiou. the stanza and poetic dictation specifically. museums. The ancient antagonism established between poetry and philosophy is first revealed and then in part resolved by the rehabilitation of the category of poiesis.
Rhythm is the very ground upon which all future work on logopoiesis must be based. as common as marriage when seen through the thinking lens of Ozu. That Heidegger then turns away entirely from the categories of this book in the later work on poetry.RECURSION. is a powerful lesson in self-deconstruction in part obviating many of the critical studies of the work to come. This conclusion voyages far from my original intention. Indeed. summarizing. We have arrived at the quintessence of the logopoietic thought process. There are certain elements of Being and Time as a work of written thinking that tell us a good deal about thinking as such. The structure of this thinking. People have called it thinking. Being and Time therefore. revealed by Agamben to be that of poetry as such. Such a situation is. I suspect. The tensile rhythmic interchange between enjambement and caesura provides the medium for logopoiesis. deductive. narrativizing. culminating. Heidegger of course casts an ambiguous shadow over the work of Agamben. aside from its myriad other merits. Mostly writers recount their thoughts but not their thinking. a turn or kehre he denies and
. The book essentially remains unfinished as the “third division” was never written and the second division was not all it could have been as Heidegger was forced to add it in haste. is a combination of the premature cessation of the flow of meaning through the imposition of a semiotic beak and the interruption of semiotic flow by the interjection of the space of thought. However a powerful example of the presentation of thinking before thought exists in Heidegger’s unfinished work Being and Time. THE TURN OF THINKING
Bringing together thought and poetry I was able to propose the tautological compound logopoiesis. it has been observed that the second division takes up the issues of the first and in reconsidering them undermines them so that the powerful forward thrust of Heidegger’s propositional. like the dark and yellowing illumination of the sky above you as you set out. but as a mode of thought it is meaningless without the combination of these elements into a trans-linear anaphoric–cataphoric tabular-planar projective–recursive structure which Agamben names rhythm as such. and teleological thought is weakened as it progresses to its conclusions. threatening a storm that in the midst of such a swashbuckling tale might indeed be welcomed even if it poses real danger. This is not simply thinking through the appropriation of the arts but the very structure of poiesis as an alternate and complimentary mode of thinking to that of the metaphysical tradition. syllogistic.
” but. einkehren. and framing technology. In the 1949 essay “The Turning” Heidegger comes to define thinking precisely in terms of recursion. This primal corresponding . Being turns about into the oblivion of its coming to presence. . As the translator’s footnote informs the English edition of Heidegger’s text.2 A similarity further confirmed when Heidegger adds: “In the coming to presence of the danger there conceals itself . As the river departs from the source one can describe is as both homely and unhomely. feeling. 41). As they rightfully go on to explain this is of no small importance to Heidegger’s work on Hölderlin. “the primal dimension within which man’s essence is first able to correspond at all to Being . an interiorization of thinking. ever his method of thought and that the second division is not a failure but a triumph of recursive thought. the verb used here to express the activity of the “turn in” of thought. particularly his study of the hymn “The Ister” and the periplus logic of the river developed there. therefore. He then adds: “As the danger.” Although Heideggerian negativity is the destinal ontology Agamben wants expressly to turn away from. Speaking of the contemporary destiny of being in terms of instrumental. is thinking” (QCT. suggests that turning away from and towards was. the truth of the coming to presence of Being will expressly turn in—turn homeward—into whatever is” (QCT. means both to turn in and to put up at an inn. . and in that way simultaneously turns counter to the truth of its coming to presence. one can recognize here the basis of Agamben’s methodology. In the text Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister” Heidegger establishes an ontological rhythm of cruciform retrogradation that we found was central to Agamben’s theory of the relation of poetic rhythm to thinking as such. A turn from dispute into stasis and stillness. and willing. to alight.
. turns away from this coming to presence. with this turning. 41). but the process of the turning from the negative to the positive by virtue of the negative. or stay. Add into this Heidegger’s claim that language “is never primarily the expression of thinking. Thus the act of turning is not simply turning back or away from the present but a turning in. he defines this coming to presence of being as enframing as danger. . . . It recalls always the source. . The influence is neither negative nor positive. the possibility of a turning in which the oblivion belonging to the coming to presence of Being will so turn itself that. and we can see the profound influence Heideggerian thinking has had on Agambenian thinking.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
yet which is all too apparent. objectivizing.
First because of Agamben’s powerful critique of Heideggerian Being as based on mute negation. In attaching the river to the ancient sea-bound periplus. And second because Agamben is able to draw out the turn of thinking in poetics through detailed analysis of prosody as such. which is also essential to Agamben’s theory of messianic time. This is an essential development in logopoietic thought from its origins in the later. to a degree. illustrative. While finally expression of the river as both flowing out into the uncanny and always being called back to the familiar source combines all these elements into an internalized poetic structural rhythmic periplus: Agambenian rhythm. My contention here is not that Heidegger had already said what Agamben goes on to say.RECURSION. rhythm. allegorical. In contrast Agamben demonstrates that the very definition of poetry in terms of semiotic rhythm is the quintessence of turning as a form of thinking in the form of the verse. In contrast Heidegger’s reading of “The Ister” concentrates on the meaning of the river as expressed by the semantic base of Hölderlin’s great hymn. Thinking as rhythmical turning by virtue of poetry is my first thesis in relation to logopoiesis. From poetry. The manner in which the river flows and yet is also arrested by locality echoes the stop–start interplay of caesura and enjambement in Agamben. and specifically singular in relation to thought. Indeed much of Agamben’s work on poetry is prefigured in this text. through philosophy to language. It exemplifies thought but it is not thought as such in my opinion. great work of the last philosopher. THE TURN OF THINKING
the homely. The ocean works very well as the endless falling into silence of poetic finitude. Heidegger brings another interiorization into poetic ontology and thinking. This is not the case. Thus the poem remains. archetypal. the reason why so many great cities are on the banks of rivers. Agamben’s main concern is the definition of human being in terms of desubjectivization brought about by the profound depersonalization of the human being in the face of language as neutral medial support for thinking
. This rhythm is the essence of thought as a form of turning embedded in my choice of the tautological term logopoiesis to express this mode of poetic thinking. Similarly as the river journeys it also provides the essential natural elements for settlement. but only in departing from it. the river drains into the ocean whose amorphous nature recalls the installation into shape of the source. The river therefore is both a locality or founding of a place and an endless journeying.
and eventually conclusive mode of progression through logical cumulative analysis. Such a thought is definable by precisely the same structure as that of the poem for which read all works of art. If for Agamben poetic thinking. but also thought about other categories that I have yet to address such as objectivity. Rather than a syllogistic. our aims are more modest.3 it already prefigures its development and cessation. Written on the back in Italian is the following enigma that I have translated the best I can: As to your delightful tale of logopoiesis. exhaustive. desolated by modernity and yet still eternally wonderful. my own sensibly founded modesty forbids me from venturing any further than a total reappraisal of all the arts in terms of their being a form of thought. prosaic. progressive. I have understood it as the following: a modality of thinking through making and all that this entails. This is not our concern. logopoiesis. logopoiesis is the tautological turn of thought. by flowing and interrupting said flow. Logopoiesis names the rehabilitation. Later. rummaging through my capacious pockets for some gizmo for gouging stones out of the hooves of horses. I can now understand why you coin the term logopoiesis to indicate this complex compound of ideas although initially I was unconvinced. by submitting thought to
. I find a postcard from Giorgio. teleological. That is: a self-consciously self-indicative anaphoric-cataphoric tabularplanar field or linguistic medium for thinking that is a projective recursion. Certainly thought about being in terms of the subject. What I summarize as thinking through making. In such a model. The first instalment of which is a consonance between the very structure of poetry and that of thinking. as the poemthought commences due to the presence of semiotic conventional rule-based constraint (I enjoyed very much your article on this by the way).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
as such. redefinition. as far as I can tell. temporality. and full development of what literature is through its definition as a means of thinking through intimate experience with the semiotic materiality of language as such. Thus if Agamben wishes to access the linguistic basis for all being. deductive. On one side is a sepia image of the Rome of his childhood. As it progresses it does so by always simultaneously going on and looking back. is a way-station along the obscured tracks of a greater mission. objectal-instrumental. and the sensuous.
mono-dimensional space but also architectonic. If traditional thought advances. Just as human life can only come to life by ending the category of life and the tension therein. Rather than defining a problem and then seeking to solve it conclusively. A poetic thinking shares this structure. part and whole. put on hold. to come into existence. we are held by that which possesses us. Philosophy has now passed. but not for all time. space and time. The linear extension of the semiotic and its interruption are both temporal. and perpetually ends (did I get this right?). By the same gesture as it seems to move towards its conclusions. THE TURN OF THINKING
a constraining linearity and exploding linearity through a translinear tabular-planar rhythmic structure. a moment wherein categories such as beginning and end. The last philosopher has spoken his final words. poetic thought turns. It is for this reason that we call poetry. I will need time to think more about it. philosophy and poetry. Quite so. as indeed must all logopoietic thinking. As in thought so in art. thought and language. language. subject and object. as the poem ends it both comes to an end. Finally. In the same manner the poem never commences. Beware the sloughs of negative despond by the
. As ever. Yet the grammatological space required to actuate the caesura in the line reveals the dependence of linearity on not merely interruptive. inside and outside. let’s say the problem of being. indeed all the arts. You are not quite there yet but you are certainly moving towards very provocative territory. in on itself. Finally then in the tensile interchange between having to end and being unable to end you have the perpetually adventurous finitude of poetic thought as such. It must end. are suspended in every sense of this word. Such a thought exists both in space and time you suggested at one point. In being dispossessed of the very thing which takes hold of us we turn from thinking about being to the turn of being as thinking. structural. Some ideas seem out of place. but which we cannot take hold of. verse.RECURSION. This rhythmical space is also the rhythmical temporality of thought. For now at least. That said the poem never comes to an end because the cataphoric-recursive element always folds the poem back on itself. Not everything is as it should be. it is the turn of verse. never comes to an end. trans-linear space. Very interesting. it must at the same time be turning back on itself and away from summation. it is always already within the problem. our habitual place.
. Remember to take the right turn there. There are always benefits to be accrued from looking back along the way you have come. It’s your turn now. You will find his conversation and company very stimulating even if at first he seems obscure. He is a close associate of mine although we do not always see eye to eye. I have finished what I have to say. By the way. upon an empty plateau about which they say great danger finds its dwelling. ignore the example of Orpheus. Good luck with your next guide. There. Hope we meet again some time in the future but I believe we may not as my destiny is beyond those cliffs which are treacherous.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
” SL. “The Ripe Fruit of Redemption.” SAQ. Nicholas Heron. Colin McQuillan. and Robert Buch. no. 2 (2002). Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1999). trans. 175. 190.” trans. and Time for Revolution. 44. see Erik Vogt. ‘The Political Life in Giorgio Agamben.” PMD. Rainer Maria Kiesow. Andrew Norris (Durham. SAQ. no. “The Enigma of Giorgio
. 57. “Witnessing the Inhuman: Agamben or Merleau-Ponty. 254.” in Politics. Catherine Mills. no. Negri reiterates this critique in Antonio Negri. www. 117–18. “Giorgio Agamben: The Discreet Taste of the Dialectic. Matteo Mandarini (New York: Continuum. See Giorgio Agamben. Agamben’s first published work begins with a consideration of the uncanny as the ability of literature to produce desubjectivization. henceforth cited as SL. and Eleanor Kaufman. “Law and Life. Kaufman. Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. ed. “Approaching Limit Events.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 107. ed. “Whatever Politics.” in Sovereignty & Life. henceforth cited as PMD. 2007). Benjamin Noys. NC: Duke University Press. 2005). unpaginated. Arianna Bove. Agamben’s Critique of Derrida. “Time of Death. 173.NOTES
EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
For various criticisms of Agamben’s supposedly dual methodology. “Cutting the Branches for Akiba. The first critical concession of the three Agambens can be found in Justin Clemens. No study of the uncanny is complete without reference to Nicholas Royle’s magisterial and unsettling The Uncanny: An Introduction (Manchester: Manchester University Press.” SAQ. Antonio Negri.” PMD. henceforth cited as SAQ. 135. Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer. 11. and Ernesto Laclau. “Playing with Law: Agamben and Derrida on Postjuridical Justice. “Seeing the Impossibility of Seeing or the Visibility of the Undead: Giorgio Agamben’s Gorgon. Negri’s provocation has been picked up by Jenny Edkins.generation-online. “The Saturday of Messianic Time. 1–7. The Man Without Content. 2003).” SL.” Angelaki 7. trans. 2 (2007).org/t/ negriagamben. 27. 70. Dominick LaCapra.html.” The Germanic Review 82. 1 (2008). 38.’ Kritikos 2 (2005). 112–13. and Alex Murray. “S/Citing the Camp. See Adam Thurschwell. 2003). Siting Agamben. Henceforth cited as MWC. Jean-Philipe Deranty. 92. ‘Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?’ SL.
62–75. Henceforth cited as MWE. For more on the role of animal voice to poetry see William Watkin. This is. Henceforth cited as Para. Henceforth cited as WWB. trans. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial. trans. Giorgio Agamben. Daniel HellerRoazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. no. See for example Giorgio Agamben. 1–11. Henceforth cited as PA.” WGA. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Henceforth cited as WGA. Henceforth cited as EP. The importance of the literary has finally been conceded by some critics. Lovitt’s introduction is also useful. ed. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. 1993). It also forms the basis of a whole chapter in The End of the Poem. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. http://williamwatkin.” in the collection Martin Heidegger. & 187–8. “Article: Syrinx / Larynx: A Full-Throated Ease. 90. 1977). 109. Means Without Ends. 1998).
. Mills defines as a crucial element of Agamben’s thought the faculty of having or capacity to do something.” in The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. social life.NOTES
Agamben.” and “The Turning. bare life. 3. The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. The Open: Man and Animal. 84–5. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. For example. 2 (2002). Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Literature. trans. This is the function of the “anthropological machine” that Agamben describes in The Open.” Paragraph 25. 163–79. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Henceforth cited as HS. 2004).com/. and again in LD. 119. “The Role of the Shifter and the Problem of Reference in Giorgio Agamben. Henceforth cited as O. See Giorgio Agamben. 1999). Life. 6. See Giorgio Agamben. See Catherine Mills. 140. Giorgio Agamben.” William Watkin’s Blog. The End of the Poem. and Alex Murray. 2008). 10. See “The Question Concerning Technology. trans. 29–30. the inhuman. “Introduction. “Introduction: The Interim. trans. 1991). For more see Matthew Calarco. Justin Clemens. Henceforth cited as QCT. the question behind the “political” texts comprising the Homo Sacer project in terms of the relation of the human to the animal. See for example Justin Clemens. Liz Heron (London: Verso. see William Lovitt. trans. later in the main body of the book. biological life. The Question Concerning Technology. 3–52. For a consideration of the status of the unwritten in Agamben see Andrew Dillon.
PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
Giorgio Agamben. 43. “Jamming the Anthropological Machine.” SL. Karen E. essentially. 2000). Henceforth cited as LD. 59. Henceforth cited as IH. 2008). (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 3. blogspot. Nicholas Heron. xxviii–xxxvi. and ontology. 107. IH. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience.” in QCT. 33–8. trans.
86–7. 103–4. Henceforth cited as RA. 2002). 164–9. 2005). For a consideration of this argument see Thomas Docherty.” Para. 205–19. 44–6. Idea of Prose. “Absence as Pure Possibility. 44–5. especially in the later texts on poetry. Affect and the Politics of Style. henceforth cited as IP. 23–46. henceforth cited as ST. henceforth cited as P. for example Krzysztof Ziarek. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Henceforth cited as PLT. 129–30. trans. It is widely assumed that Heidegger’s interest in Dasein wanes as. 39–77). Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. and The Open (O.” in Derrida.” Culture. and The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans.” WGA. His most veiled but sustained critique is to be found in the essay “Pardes: The Writing of Potentiality. and Sean Gaston. trans. Ronald L. Subjectivation. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality: Biopolitics. Language. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. 12.” SAQ. 102–4. Agamben’s critique of Heidegger spans the volumes Language and Death (LD. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. 1 (2004).” in Martin Heidegger. The ontico-ontological difference refers to the division in Being and Time between Dasein or everyday being in the world and Being as such which he sees as epochally in withdrawal in the modern age. 1971). trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press.” P. 187–210. 54–64). For largely negative comments on Agamben’s critique of Derrida see Thurschwell. and Colin Davis. but it is certainly true that analysis of the world gives way to considerations of earth in later texts such as “The Origin of the Work of Art. post-kehre. Theory & Critique 45. Johnson. 1971). 155–6. 61–2. David E. see Alex Murray.” Textual Practice 15. no. HS. no. 15–88. see for example Martin Heidegger. 1 (2001). Heidegger disputes this easy division. RA. PMD. 1999). Mills. 1993). 110–14. For more on this topic see Catherine Mills. “After Humanism: Agamben and Heidegger. On the Way to Language. 2 (2007). Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive.” in PMD. Literature and War: Absence and the Chance of Meeting (London: Continuum. 53–7. Poetry. Potentialities. Lévinas and Agamben. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press. Peter D. trans. 2009).NOTES
Also Giorgio Agamben. The conclusion to The Open sets out a more positive. “Beyond Spectacle and the Image: the Poetics of Guy Debord and Agamben. 266–90. messianic conception of post-humanism: O. “Thinking the Post-human: Literature. and is inevitably itself criticized by others. “Can the Dead Speak to Us? De Man. henceforth cited as OWL. trans. “Potential European Democracy. 90–2. Thought. 200–2 and again Mills in PA. “As If the Time Were Now: Deconstructing Agamben. 1995). Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. henceforth cited as TTR. PA.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 106. See also Lee Spinks. trans. 173–97. Key moments come in the following texts Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture. 34–53. and Testimony in Remnants of Auschwitz. no.
. For a useful analysis of the relation of Agamben’s thought to that of Debord’s concept of the spectacle. trans. His critique of Derrida is more sporadic yet insistent. 87–135. his commitment to Being as such waxes.
The Emergence of Prose: An Essay in Prosaics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. “Dismantling Theatricality: Aesthetics of Bare Life.” SAQ 121–44. 1977). Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press.
. trans. James Ellroy. Blanchot and Agamben (New York: SUNY. 2008). . Jacques Derrida. The relationship between the banning of poets from the republic and the figure if the homo sacer as desubjectivization under the ban of the sovereign. See also Wall’s ground-breaking analysis Radical Passivity: Lévinas. Three essays which are not germane to my argument here in that they attempt to apply the ideas of Homo Sacer to literary analysis but still worth considering are Lee Spinks.” WGA. John Milton. ” (P. Henceforth cited as RP.” in relation to the hyphen. Psyche: Inventions of the Other. Henceforth cited as MofP. 3 (2008). For an analysis of deixis. Agamben. Semantics Vol. See Shane Weller. and the Politics of Exception.NOTES
See Derrida’s two remarkable assaults on Heideggerian difference. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 271–3. For a remarkable history of this process see Wlad Godzich and Jeffrey Kittay. Henceforth cited as LPN. “‘Draft 33: Deixis’ / Notes on ‘Deixis’: a Midrashic Chain an exchange of thoughts. See M. Steven C. com/36/watkin-duplessis. See ST. For a full consideration of all these issues see William Watkin. and Barbara Formis. Ontological Difference. 4. See for example HS. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 1999). 7–26. Literature. is implied but never fully developed in Agamben’s work. Bakhtin. 1989). Vol. Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 221–3). 137 & 159–62. Silliman and Agamben. Caton. “Coetzee. and William Watkin. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: Chicago University Press. 152–8. and Rachel Blau DuPlessis. the colon. II. Shklovsky.” in Jacques Derrida. 1987). http://jacketmagazine. 114–23. 50. M. and ellipsis dots in the title of the Deleuze essay “Immanence: A Life . and the Passion of Abu Ghraib. see John Lyons. “Except for Law: Raymond Chandler.1 (2006). 181–92.shtml.” American Anthropologist 108. Weller is somewhat scathing of this narrative of overcoming nihilism which he says typifies our tradition in relation to nihilism since Nietzsche. 2008). . so to speak.” Jacket 36 (2008). and “Geschlecht I: Sexual Difference. Philosophy. 129–30. 2004). ed. 636–7. This is Agamben’s specific criticism of Derrida in Stanzas. no. 344–64.” Paragraph 31. Agamben later speculates on various grammatological punctuation marks in relation to his theory of nonrelational harmonic articulation that is neither “hypotactic nor paratactic but. The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press. 1981). no. “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the work of Godzich & Kittay. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. atactic.
as glossolalic. 217–30 & 35–40 respectively. The Letters of John Keats. 1993). In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. 28–32. See for example Wall. 1971). 1989).” in Margins of Philosophy. 198–226. I am thinking most specifically of the arguments put forward in Jacques Derrida. but the first serious study of the issue was Thomas Wall’s Radical Passivity. Jonathan Culler. 53. Second Edition. What barbarians utter is mere noise. For more on this see William Watkin. This admits into sovereign domination a double weakness. “Signature Event Context. See Emile Benveniste. Cecile Lindsay. is surely the basis of much cultural chauvinism and imperialism through the ages. 137–8. 1935). Henceforth cited as IPP. Mary Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press. 29–47. 307–30. “Au Hasard. 227.” Representations 56 (1996). See Jacques Derrida.” PMD. 92–4. in other words.
. Maurice Buxton Forman (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Xenoglossia implies both a culture as developed as one’s own and a lack of facility within the dominant culture: I know they are making sense but I do not have the capability to understand it. The Coming Community. Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. In Agambenian terms much cultural imperialism is based on the false division between xenoglossia (bios) and glossolalia (zoe). 2001). trans. Problems in General Linguistics.NOTES
For the relation of anaphora to deixis in Agamben see Giorgio Agamben. See Michel De Certeau. The importance of passivity and neutrality for Agamben’s post-metaphysical ontology has been noted by a number of critics. trans. therefore they are alive without being human. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. ed. See O. Memoires for Paul de Man. 1999). trans. “Vocal Utopias: Glossolalias. Henceforth cited as MP. self-conscious being. In contrast glossolalia suggests a reductive animalism and a position of epistemological dominance based on an ontological certitude: they speak like animals and I can designate the significance of this as their being “as animals” confirming my status as civilized and thus human. a meaningless noise. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2004). and the subsequent denuding of xenoglossia under the sign of glossolalia. Henceforth cited as M. Eduardo Cadava. a language equal to our own in every way except the specificity of its material signification. 1982). and my own analysis of these issues in relation to poetry in William Watkin. 63–70 where Agamben considers Heidegger’s ideas pertaining to animal captivated being as fundamentally at odds with human privative. On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. trans. The English translation incorrectly names John Woodhouse as Keats’ addressee. See also RA. Henceforth cited as CC. See Alain Badiou. 32–5. PA: Bucknell University Press. trans. The wilful treatment of xenoglossic alterity. and Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press. Manifesto for Philosophy. John Keats.
36–51. Mills. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. see Leland De La Durantaye. Agamben. no. Henceforth cited as AP. “On Giorgio Agamben’s Holocaust. Profanations. and Mills. For a consideration of the relation of life to poetry see WWB. PA. AP. trans. Andrew Benjamin. 344. RA.
CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. “Agamben’s Potential. trans.” Diacritics 30. PMD. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. Debating the origin of the inter-relation between the ancient legal terms auctoritas and potestas.” Para. 64. Agamben approaches the issue of the collusive nature of creation from a different angle. 86. 211. Pertinent to a later debate on the actual translation of the key term medio. Selected Poems (London: Penguin.” PMD.” WWB. 141–2. See Zaraloudis. For criticism of Agamben in relation to otherness see Andrew Benjamin. 5–8. “‘A Different Insignificance’: The Poet and Witness in Agamben. 85. Henceforth cited as R.” Giorgio Agamben. a consonance I would be hesitant to endorse. PMD. In fact Plato does not simply “exclude poets” in a single gesture but whittles away at the representational and mimetic bases of the arts within
. 2007). See Mills. trans. the Other in Love. What Agamben defines as the pseudonymical nature of written selfenunciation. “Spacing as Shared: Heraclitus. State of Exception. 167.” also my preference. 149–63. here Heller-Roazen opts for “mean. For a consideration of this term and its relation to the semiotic in Agamben. 113–38. For an interesting consideration of love in Agamben see Julian Wolfreys. 2008). Henceforth cited as SE. concluding: “Every creation is always a cocreation.” WGA. and Robert Eaglestone. Josh Cohen. “Soulblind. 2 (2000). De La Durantaye goes so far as to claim they are the same. PMD. 13. 186. “Philosophy of the letter” is the term used here for philosophers who use language merely as a transparent instrument without any regard for its presence as semiotic materiality or its mediality. 76. For further readings of the razo in Romantic and contemporary poetics see William Watkin. 131–2. Republic. Pindar.NOTES
Robert Browning. Vogt. THINKING THOUGHT
See earlier comments on Foucault and desubjectivization in RA. Badiou’s manifesto for “affirmative thinking” is mapped out in MP. “Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals. “Article: Poetic Dictation.” SAQ. just as every author is always a coauthor. 2005). Plato. 2004). “Face to Face with Agamben. Thurschwell. 188. 90–1. or. PMD.” Para. 203. Henceforth cited as Prof. 66. 144.” in WGA. Giorgio Agamben.
” WGA. 41 and again does not provide the citation. 131. “Integral Actuality. Peter Osborne (London: Taylor and Francis. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime. trans. Benjamin’s idea of a pure language finds an analogue in his conception of pure violence. An excellent consideration of the messianic and the term integral actuality can be found in Irving Wohlfarth. The political implications of this occupy Means Without Ends (MWE. where this argument is developed. Henceforth cited as LAS. For a sustained reading of this essay see Deborah Levitt. divine violence see Anne De Boever. For a consideration of knowability and sayability in relation to desubjectivization. 71–8.” IP. In a rare but central moment for Agamben scholarship.” WGA. 107. “Pseudonym.” (SE. 84–8. See MofP. and “Homonym. see Nicholas Heron. revealing a parity between the political and literary Agamben that. Add into this Agamben’s definition of living in the category form-of-life as thinking as such (MWE. ed.” CC. Alexander García Düttmann. 11–12). post-juridical politics in final page of State of Exception: “To a word that does not bind . For more on pure. For an insightful consideration of the origins of the Idea of Prose in the work of Benjamin.” WWB. “Article: Ontological Whisperings. This relentless degradation and attenuation of poiesis occurs in the fourth book of Republic. For more on Agamben’s consideration of the logical aporia that “Discourse cannot say what is named by the name.” CC. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 193–211. unfortunately. primarily in an attempt to reject tragedy from the republic. 60–1.” SL. “Idea of Poetry. He also mentions this fragment in IP. . without any relation to an end. 2004). See also Wall’s analysis RP. Idea of Prose. 59–62. 1–28. 123. “The Ontology and Politics of Exception: Reflections on the Work of Giorgio Agamben. “Notes on Media and Biopolitics: ‘Notes on Gesture’. 117). For a consideration of pseudonym and homonym in literature see William Watkin. Jean-François Lyotard. See Bruno Gulli. 1994). which shows itself. and the three main strands of Agamben’s work.” WGA. this definition of the Idea of Prose comes together with Agamben’s liberationist. 11–13. 241–2. 105. politics. The Aristotelian saying something about something. see R. but says only itself. would correspond an action as pure means. “Politics and Poetics of Divine Violence: On a Figure in Giorgio Agamben and Walter Benjamin.NOTES
11 12 13
Greek culture. 70–102. “On the Messianic Structures of Walter Benjamin’s Last Reflections. See also Düttmann. I do not have space to develop here. which in turn defines the concept of the pure medium of mediality in SE. . poetry.” in IP. see also “The Idea of the Name. 88). 4–6.” P.
. 97–107. IP.” in Walter Benjamin: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory. see RA. and metaphysics come together. 169–231. P. 107.
It is indeed the origin of the political and its potential. See O. 79. 134–8. Bartleby: La Formula della creazione (Macerata: Quodlibet. is thought. no. See Edkins SL. 1993). HS. 177–271. 112). See Giorgio Agamben and Gilles Deleuze.” Para. THINKING THROUGH MAKING
Poiesis. which he calls formof-life. he notes: “But here it is as if this anaphora were absolutized to the point of losing all reference. For further deliberations on this conception of Genius. spinning on itself . 83. Idea della prosa (Macerata: Quodlibet.NOTES
In Means Without Ends Agamben defines “form of life” as the ontic prefigurement of the specific life you will lead in a self-consciously critical manner. 2002). Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. smooth glowing in which no point can be distinguished from any other” (P. 248–1 & 309–10.” Angelaki 10.
. liberating future destiny. so to speak. Alexander Cooke. “Resistance. back toward the phrase itself— absolute anaphora. The archetypal activity of authentic being. 45–7 & TTR.
CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. or On Profanation. Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. This being the case. trans. 21. P. The Parallax View (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. The final word however rests with Agamben and the relation of this. 231. . 140–44. “A Sense of Loss: Whatever it May Be. 1996). See also P. Henceforth cited as N. He speaks of potentiality in most of his major texts with major statements in CC. Giorgio Agamben. 9. SL. See Gulli. as well as his description of the threshing floor of the ineffable as “a light. MWE. “Soulblind. and because I am arguing for poiesis as a contemporary term covering issues around making as pro-duction into presence.” (P. 76. 85. 35–8. 72–3. Thought is not just another form of life but form-of-life as such: MWE. Potentiality and Law: Deleuze and Agamben on ‘Bartleby’. Conceding the “to” refers to some act that preceded to which Bartleby refers. See also his comments on the Hegelian grund or ground in this regard in P. and Giorgio Agamben. 2008). to anaphora. MWE. Henceforth cited as BT. 26–43. 2006). 116–8. See Martin Heidegger. 375–85. . and Marc Froment-Meurice. 27–32. 110. 255). see Thanos Zartaloudis. the ultimate statement of potentiality. while a Greek word. Being and Time. has also entered into English via the OED which defines it as creative production as well as being a technical term in psychology for the formation of neologisms. 3 (2005). now turning. The gag comes to relate to later considerations of the use of the mask in drama which Agamben also defines as a gesture.” in WGA. and Slavoj Zizek. I have decided not to italicize the term and so in effect neologise the very term for the formation of neologisms. 223.
This is the basis of the thesis of Martin Heidegger. Vols. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
A solid overview of Agamben’s anti-modernity can be found in William Rasch. Synposium. 2005).org/newvolume/pages/article. Charles Bernstein. “Agamben: Aesthetics. The Collected Dialogues. As Agamben says most clearly in relation to the theological tradition of creation ex nihilo out of the void of the abyss: “the hardest thing in this experience is not the Nothing or its darkness . See PLT. 253). Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2006). 57. 19–20. Technics and Time: The Fault of Epimetheus. 1961). trans. and Alain Badiou. Nietzsche. Michael Joyce. 44. Actuality = recursive eschaton. Heidegger famously and importantly differentiates an object which can be the party to subjective statements of knowledge and truth agreement from a thing which composes a phenomenological world around is being. in Plato. The key term here is “letting. 9. See Claire Colebrook. ed. accessed 17 September 2008. We will find exactly the same structural model in terms of messianic temporality later on so that Potentiality = projective chronos. 110 & 115. from Nothing. Girly Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The Man Without Qualities. Cited in Bernard Stiegler.php?articleID=216. refuting a criticism often
CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. 62–3. 172–3. 1998). 205b. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press. See the essay “The Thing” in PLT. and indeed many others. “From Sovereign Ban to Banning Sovereignty. trans.contempaesthetics. Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike (London: Picador. 557. trans. Modern art would.” SAQ. where Agamben makes clear that his messianic temporality and overall method is not eschatological. See Derek H. 1997). trans. encompass Romanticism and contemporary “postmodernity. . David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper One.NOTES
Plato. Handbook of Inaesthetics. be” (P. 165–86. therefore. the hardest thing is being capable of annihilating this Nothing and letting something. especially the phenomenological thick description of jug-ness as thing.” Thus Colebrook’s critique of Agamben’s theory of poiesis as both masculinist and theological is incorrect.” www.” as opposed to praxis or a willed doing. 95. and Life. “Poiesis and Art-Making: A Way of Letting-Be. Whitehead. trans. Potentiality. Edith Hamilton and Huntingdon Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ostensibly the modern epoch commences in the eighteenth century with the rise of Enlightenment rationalism and continues up to our present moment. One and Two. 1991). See TTR. I consistently use the term modern here in the manner in which Agamben takes the term. 105–6. . and entelechy = chairatic interiorization. Henceforth cited as HI. Robert Musil.” SL.
William McNeill and Julia Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Mills. 403. See Wall. 64. Henceforth cited as EHP. “As such” here names the relation itself of relation between denotation (semiotics) and meaning with such-ness being the exposition of as-ness as tensile relation. “Dead Man Walking: Law and Ethics After Giorgio Agamben’s Auschwitz. centrally important and. In Potentialities cultural traditional transmissibility is founded first on linguistic transmissibility (communicability). and Esther Norma Marion. they pertain more directly to the work around the Homo Sacer project which I have chosen not to dwell on in this study. where he takes Agamben’s commitment to productive thought and declares it effectively fatalistic and unproductive. Badiou defines the century as defined by the violence of The Real in Alain Badiou.” in Selected Writings on Art & Artists. no. Clearly a development of the idea of sacrifice in HS. 4 (1999). 139 & 156.
. The Century. Transmissibility is one of Agamben’s earliest. PMD..” PMD. trans. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality. Two of the most infamous analyses of literature in Agamben are his consideration of Kafka’s “Before the Law” in Homo Sacer and his reading of the work of Primo Levi in Remnants of Auschwitz. This I believe is Negri’s final criticism of Agamben in SL. Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. most troublesome categories. Para. 1996).” PMD. 97–100). Charles Baudelaire. PMD. Cohen. “The Painter of Modern Life. 104. 110–12. see Vogt. 1972). This debate can only be fully appreciated with reference to Agamben’s earlier consideration of “as” in the ontological mainstay “as such” as a form of anaphoric. I turn to the critical material around the Kafka story presently.” MLN 121. 73–83. See Marin Heidegger. to my mind. Charvet (Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 31. tautological indication of the anaphoric act of indication as such.” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 12. 4 (2006). trans. “The Nazi Genocide and the Writing of the Holocaust Aporia: Ethics and Remnants of Auschwitz. 397–417. P. 120–4.” PMD. no. And Martin Heidegger. 2007).E. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry. For considerations of Agamben’s use of Levi. of Voice: Bataille. See for example Andreas Kalyvas. saying something as something. 19–20. Agamben and the Holocaust. 74–106. “Supposing the Impossibility of Silence of Sound. but of saying the suchness of as itself (CC.’ trans. “The Sovereign Weaver: Beyond the Camp. Henceforth cited as C. trans. Such a process negates the age-old consideration of language as primarily metaphoric-symbolic. 40). 36–51. 198–221. P. While in The Time That Remains it is asserted as the defining feature of tradition: “That which makes each history historical and each tradition transmissible is the unforgettable nucleus that both bear within themselves at their core” (TTR. While both are important. 2000). Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister. 222–47. 1009–22.NOTES
and misguidedly levelled at his work. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. Paul Hegarty. David Fraser.
Poetic Thinking: An Approach to Heidegger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Theory of the Avant-Garde. see Simon Morgan Wortham. See Peter Burger. HS. 1993). Acts of Literature. Michael Shaw (Manchester: Manchester University Press. See Vogt. 1982).” PMD.” SAQ. and my own consideration of these issues in William Watkin. “Law of Friendship: Derrida and Agamben. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge. trans. trans. 84–5. 115–48.” WWB. “Article: Under Glass. See David Halliburton. 19–34. 1992). Bridget McDonald (Stanford: Stanford University Press.
CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. See Jean-Luc Nancy. In this second reading. 49–62 Agamben pits his reading against Derrida’s influential interpretation. Derrida’s reading of the same text is to be found in Jacques Derrida. 89–105. “Playing with Law. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge: Polity Press. trans. Agamben’s most recent posting into this dossier is Giorgio Agamben. 156. Glossing Hegel on philosophy after its end he speculates on “a humanity that.” Strategies: Journal of Theory. and Mills. HS 40–4. and The Decline of Modernism. 36. 2 (2002).NOTES
16 17 18
An early related analysis of the consumer object can be found in Stanzas where Agamben speaks of fetishism (ST.” New Formations. 18.” in WGA. 55–7 for his comments on Malevich. THINKING TAUTOLOGY
Ezra Pound. 19–31 See Badiou.” trans. pro-verted. See Jean-Luc Nancy. See my own analysis of avant-garde manifestoes in IPP. Andrew Benjamin. is now truly prose (that is pro-versa. ed. turned forward” (P. 1984). C. For considerations of the relationship between the two texts. Nicholas Walker (Cambridge: Polity Press. See Jürgen Habermas. 31–5). Peter Connor in The Inoperative Community. 135). 219–37. 98. see Sean Gaston. 1992). 43–70. PMD. 146. trans. “Myth Interrupted. “The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices. “Spacing as Shared. Up until this point the most sustained engagement with the “literary” Agamben concerns his reading of Levi in Remnants and his of Kafka’s “Before the Law” in Homo Sacer. ABC of Reading (London: Faber. 1951). The Experience of Freedom. Culture and Politics 15. Derrida and Disinterest (London: Continuum. 1992). see William Watkin. “Friendly Little Communities: Derrida’s Politics of Death.
. no. ed. 2005). For Weller’s argument in this regard see LPN. For a detailed analysis of Agamben’s theory of the museum. Peter Connor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. For an excellent recent study of this classic theme. 62 (2007). having fulfilled its past.” Postmetaphysical Thinking. See my own consideration of this issue in IPP. 1991). 181–220. 13–27. “K.
see Clemens. 177.” which really means tricks me or feigns for me. All English quotes taken from Giacomo Leopardi. 111 & 117. The self-same formula is also placed in a position of some prominence in Heidegger’s essay ‘Hölderlin’s Earth and Heaven’ where Heidegger’s translator has him translating the Valéry dictum defining the poem: “Le poème: cette hésitation prolongée entre le sens et le son” (Paul Valéry.” in Giorgio Agamben. is a significant change to prolongation which suggests stretching as an act of willed extension. “Idea of Poetry. 637). as “The poem—this prolonged lingering between sound and sense” (EHP. 1969).147–8. Norris. “mi fingo. 114). 50–1.” SAQ. 75.” allowing him to conclude: “the listening to the poem. of course. such lingering has its own lofty resoluteness. Para. “Beauty is truth.” is misleading in relation to the Italian.” WGA.11–134. Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry. ed. see the first chapter of Signatura Rerum entitled “Che cos’è un paradigma?. Idea of Prose. 109. 176). 85–6. Jean-Pierre Barricelli (Boston: 1986). 3–4 and clarifies such issues as Norris’s exemplary examples. unfairly I believe.”’ WGA. Jean Hytier (Paris. SAQ. For a summary of the arguments.
. Oeuvres II. Jeff Fort (Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Signatura rerum: Sul metodo (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. “Introduction. and even the thinking which prepares such listening. Here “Heidegger” retains the caesuric and thetic nature of Valéry’s prose by translating prolongée in terms of the more suggestive “lingering. truth beauty”. “thought conceives. which in part refutes the criticism of Agamben’s use of “extreme examples” such as one finds in Alison Ross.NOTES
See Colebrook. Para. by Froment-Meurice. For a consideration of Agamben’s contentious use of the paradigmatic example. See Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. “The Role of the Shifter. Selected Poems (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. thoughtless hanging around.
CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. THE TURN OF VERSE
Agamben’s elegant formula for poetry is borrowed from Valéry via Jacobson and attributed by Heller-Roazen to Milner (Heller-Roazen. trans. 1960). it is no mere vacillation. 2007).” PMD. cited in LD. After all. trans. lingers even longer than the poem itself. John Keats. Giacomo Leopardi.” Lingering. 2008). I first came across the idea of the tabularity of poetic structure in Julia Kristeva. Lingering in comparison calls to mind an almost passive. 2008). 274–6. not due to indecisiveness (vacillation) but an authentic desire to listen to poetry’s call. For an introduction to some of these concepts see Heron. Σηµειωτιχη [Semiotike]: Recherches pour une Sémanalyse (Paris: Éditions du Seuil. “The Exemplary Exception. The English here. This is a criticism levelled. 17–37. 108–10.
17–19. ogni immagine anticipa virtualmente il suo svolgimento futuro e ricorda i suoi gesti precedenti” (N. stress-unstress. SAQ. 1 (Dec. 29–69. A useful consideration of silence can be found in Hegarty. every image anticipates virtually its future unwinding and recalls its preceding gestures] Interestingly. For his initial conception of calling see BT. and rhyme are all dependent on an idea of duality which. 81–2). no. For an indication as to how this technical prosodic effect could be interpolated into Agamben’s wider political analysis see his consideration of the hinge in “K. 21 This useful term for the material space of the poem usually juxtaposed to e-space or virtual textual space is most often utilized in the work on contemporary poetics in the work of Johanna Drucker. See TTR.” EnterText 1. while Agamben gives an example of the caesura he never provides examples of enjambement as such. IPP. .” M. Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet.philobiblon. 119 & 132. Rilke. 35–6. enjambement. As one can see. however. caesura. It was the poets themselves who called this “retrogradatio cruciata . Agamben uses the example of Bill Viola’s 1995 work “The Greeting. 29 for the commencement of a career-long attack on aesthetics in Heidegger. 1994). It is typical of all logopoietic thinkers that their analysis of poetry depends on a core of significant examples covering a canon of logopoietic poets.” WGA. See Gulli. PMD. and Giorgio Agamben. yet in each case said reading works to develop what is effectively a quasi-universal or transcendental truth about poiesis as such. 269–80. 83–117. See Johnson. 26. This logic resembles in miniature the logic of the epoch and of messianic time in a quite remarkable and universal fashion.com/drucker/. Celan. 222–47. SL.NOTES
10 11 12
13 14 15
See Stephen Pinker. Thomas Gray. 53–4 & 74–5. [Every instant. 266. 203–6. . of which he says: “Ogni istante. The Language Instinct (London: Penguin. does not come to view as double until a third element occurs to confirm this duality. Hölderlin.
. an alternation between inversion and progression” (TTR. “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to e-space. 1981). The essential bases of poetry. therefore. 9–10). 2008). See BT. 231. See for example Johanna Drucker. 158–91. Mallarmé. See Jacques Derrida. Il sacramento del linguaggio: Archeologia del giuramento (Roma: GLF. the essence of poetic structure which is also the basis of our being able to claim that poetry “thinks” has been known for many centuries but had simply dropped out of common usage. 117.” http:// www. See William Watkin. 2000). “Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from Being and Time. “Poetry Machines: Repetition in the Early Poetry of Kenneth Koch.” he calls it Greetings.
Here the hemistich in the second line breaks it into two clearly separate entities. which he also terms the halo. the trace is not synonymous with language. A History of European Versification. See De Boever. but is the endless collapsing of the traditional metaphysical distinction between the two. 53–8. 89–130.” Diacritics 33. 25–30 and 239n11 (for her critique of Derrida).” the presence of being to the side. 7–9. Henceforth cited as SP. Starting with Derrida (London: Continuum. 43). See IPP. For a brilliant attack on the omnipresence of end-directed syllogism as an unquestioned and damaging convention of poetic and prosaic structural coherence. A Wave (Manchester: Carcanet. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press.’ On the Name. ‘Khōra. see Watkin. of course. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks.
CHAPTER 6 CAESURA. 122–4. 2007). Gerald Stanton Smith and Marina Tarlinskaja (Oxford: Clarendon Press. see Jacques Derrida. What he names “a paraexistence or a paratranscendence that dwells beside the thing.
. ed. although for Agamben at least. CC.NOTES
For by far the best and most penetrating explanation of spacing and the trace in Derrida. 38–59. 2 (2003). 101. trans. Julia Kristeva. 200–6. 1984). THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
4 5 6
The original Italian is as follows: ‘Io vado verso il fiume su un cavallo / che quando io penso un poco un poco egli si ferma’ (IP. CC. 355–8. 1987). 1984). 2008). before and after thought (penso). For more on the gender implications of the appropriation of terms such as womb/khora. and. Henceforth cited as W. even if this is not marked grammatologically. 84–119. For my own analysis see MofP. 1996). WGA. While I do not have space to deal with the trace in detail it should be obvious from my comments here and earlier in the text that the trace is not reducible either to time or space. See also MWE. 14. Revolution in Poetic Language. see Ron Silliman. trans. see Leland De La Durantaye. 1995). see Mikhail Leonovich Gasparov. On the relation of this to the Benjaminian concept of the division of the division and the caesura. “The Suspended Substantive: On Animals and Men in Giorgio Agamben’s The Open. The New Sentence (New York: Roof Books. 90–1. no.106. OM. John Ashbery. Similarly. For more on the right-hand margin in poetry. see Sean Gaston. 69–70. For more on Italian versification. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Alexander Pope. Derrida’s conception of language is problematically ensconced within the differing and deferring logic of the trace.
499–529. although I do not remember ever mentioning it.” Contemporary Literature 48. Weller is in agreement.NOTES
RECURSION. SAQ. Could it be he knew of my work even before we met? It seems unlikely. 4 (2007). THE TURN OF THINKING
For an analysis of poiesis in relation to modernity see Colebrook. 108. see LPN.
. 142. He refers. to my piece “‘Systematic rule-governed violations of convention’: The Poetics of Procedural Constraint in Ron Silliman’s BART and The Chinese Notebook. I believe. no.
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174–80. 215n. 47–9. 210n. 58–9.15. 135–9. 72. 209n. 203n. 157. 205n. 209n. 113. 24.8 Ninfe 210n. 209n. 158. 212n. 5.2. 171.18.22 Idea della prosa 210n. 210n. 213n.4.18. 204n. 8–9.7 The End of the Poem 32. 48. 213n. 205n. 209n.12.16. 141.15 Adorno.5 Homo Sacer 1. 206n. 206n. 209n.15. 22.214.171.124. 212n.12 Infancy and History 4–5.32. 92. 209n. 210n.15. 204n.25. 59.1 Il sacramento del linguaggio 215n. 208n.4. 54–64. 45–7.9.12 State of Exception 171.10. 161.19 Profanations 41–3.13. 208n.11 integral actuality 54–7. 216n. 149.13. 212n. 91–7. 98. 206n.6.7. 89. 67–8. 210n. 13. 206n. 211n.21. 209n. 83–4. 210n.29 Potentialities 43. 187–8. 133.18 Signatura rerum 213n. 30. 47. 204n. 204n. 122–4. 36–7. 212n.1. 208n. 158 actuality 43–4. 81–3. 67. 196 as poetic spacing 137–8.5. 205n. 100–9. 205n.18 Agamben. 207n.13.10.INDEX
abyss between poetry philosophy 45–7. 210n. 152. 204n.7 Language and Death 2.7 Stanzas 14–19.n. 7–12. 143–126.96.36.199.
“K” 213.6. 95. 205n. 216n. 163. 188.8.131.52
. 12–13. 91.24.33. 204n.23. 204n. 204n.29.28 Idea of Prose 33–6.5 Means Without Ends 58.15.6 The Man Without Content 45–6. 209n. 126–34. 205n. 100–14. 89. 79–86.29 The Open 5. 209n. 216n.18. 213n. 111.11. 213n. 18. 211n. 166–7. 204n.10. 212n. 207n. 169–71. 213n. 64–6. 206n. 215n. 125.3. 209n. 205n. 212n.22. 20–2. 209n.12. 71–2. 209n.1.2 Remnants of Auschwitz 26–32. 45.19. 208n. 210n. 123.12.15. Giorgio Bartleby 210n. 32.18. 143. 206n. 209n.33.35.15. 139. 210n.9. 25. 146. 54.12. 124. 189–92.27. 212n. Theodor 29. 47. 123. 204n. 182–3.34. 148–9. 89–90 aesthetics 16.30 The Coming Community 63–6 180–2. 206n. 61–2.
213n. 147. 83–6 arche-presence 86. 92–3.15.2 Cohen. 215n. Robert 203n. 95. 178.15. 63. 95 Benjamin.4 anaphora/cataphora matrix 21. Daniel 154. 120–1 Browning. Justin 204n. 73–5. 215n. 98. 97.34 corn (tip/corner) 186–8 couplet 130. 187 artist 16.18 Benjamin. 110–13. 87. Walter 9. M. 178–9. 27. 16. 168. 57. 63–5. 79.30 Bernstein.17. 125. 165. 92. 204n. 101–2. 156–7. 196 apotropaic 48–51. 12–13. 152. 212n. 71–6. 209n. 50. 163.44. 166–93. 146–7
. John 102.INDEX
Agamben. 184 bringing forth 70. 105. 144.39 boustrophedonic 139–45.17 Bakhtin. Steven 206n. 79.1. 122 aletheia (truth as unveiled or unconcealed) 28. 146–54. 210n.4 criticism 16. 204n. Claire 211n. 206n. 152 ¯ ¯ Ashbery. 90.15 caesura 13–14. 211n. 31. 152. 128. 100–14 as if 88–94.18 aura 92–7.2. Andrew 207n. 106. 210n. 109. 213n.9. 79–91. 82 Hos me 88–94.39 anti-poiesis 83–114. 27–8. 43–5.3. 155. 200 animal 5–8. 206n. 197 arche (authentic origin) 49–50. 132.42. 83–6. 133.41 Buch.33. Honoré de 104 Bartleby 43.6 Attridge. Charles 95. 216n. Matthew 204n. 18. 132. 71. 62–6. 111. 150. 197. 59–60. 132. 206n. 58. M. 48–51. 181 bios 1. 149.4. 154. 211n. 128. 211n. 210n. 215n.4 Burger.29. 120. 164. 207n. 144–9.32. 108 Badiou. Peter 103. 207n. 3. 216n. 60.8. Anna 64–5. 65–6.10. 146–7. 102.4.15 Akhmatova. 174–80 appropriation 7. Charles 78–9. 212n.1 communicability 6. 137. 68–9. 212n.3 Calarco. 86. 142. 168–72 creation 16. 201. Alexander 210n. 31. 103. Émile 23. 98.19 Clemens. 118.9 Caton. 207n. 149 as not 68. 176 anaphora 21. 138. 197. 157. 134. 20–5.8. 207n.3. 210n. Robert 30. 54–5.12.10 biopolitical 1. 94.34 Baudelaire. 212n. 215n. 95. 119. 209n.6.10 lieu commun 85. 213n. Giorgio (Cont’d) The Time That Remains 88–94. 70–4.38. 212n. 175. 199. 99.19 Celan 33–4.9 Cooke. 69. 159. 157. 161. 102. 64.26
Balzac. 122–4. 171. 91. 170. 10. 107. 196. 207n. 41–4. 29.43. 215n.9. 165. 146.20. 212n. 53–7. 159. 108. 210n. 208n. Alain 29. 98. 131. Josh 208n. 16. 145 Aristotle 17. 117. 153. 150. 189. 211n. 86. 64. 161. 216n. 76. 77.17 Benveniste. 135. 146. 122. 106. Derek 213n. 70–4. 193. 66.24.6 Colebrook. 211n. 206n. 81–2. 98. 73. 205n. 214n. 189–92 Arnaut.
9 desubjectivization 23–32. 72. 86. 132 fiction 89–90. 26–7. 195. 181. 186 Davis. 106. 62. 134. 125–6. 146 figural 148–53. Sean 205n. 131. 213n. 215n. 145.42 ease 180–5. 13. 24–37. 164 finitude 20. 146. 135. 164–5. 216n.16. 117. 152–3. 197. 29–31.8 event 24. 196 différance 13. 41–3. 162. 211n. 130. 31.1 Gaston. Thomas 205n. 19. 215n. 165. 130. 160. 192. 29. 149. 209n.5. 191–2. 207n. Rachel Blau 206n. 173.5 gag 59–60. 206n. 107. 198 Fraser. 157.8. 205n.24 Düttmann. 46. 122 Dante 32.18. 209n. 147. 58–65. 172–3. 121. 73. 24–5. 54. 106. 27. 205n.6 Froment-Meurice. 185. 215n. 182. 125. 199. Andrew 204n. 94–7. 113.3 deixis 20–3. 170. 42. 149–50. 106. 212n.6 DuPlessis. 165. 106–13. 30.4. 77–9.17 entelechy 81–3.9. 208n. 134.2. 209n. 212n. 88.1 framing (parergon. 168–75. 46. 132. 216n.14 Duchamp. 182.19 Foucault. 29–32.22.31. 8–13. 208n.11
enunciation 6. 15. Michel 41.24 Formis. 208n. 213n. 211n.18. 47. 60.12 De Boever. 145–6.1. 57.46.4 Derrida.32 genius 67–9. 53. 42. 191 ex nihilo (creation) 69.24. 53–4. 173–4. 47–8. 141. Barbara 206n.17. 135–66. 185. 196. 25. 53. 195 expropriation 31. 32–8. Colin 205n. 128. 137–8. 180–1. 31. 179. 199. 145. 126.5 De La Durantaye. 56–7. 205n. 33. 94. 106 Drucker. 109.36 gesture 20.21. 97. 111–13. 168.26
. 126–7. 22.4 experience 4. 215n. 107. 57. 43. 67–8. 96. 123.15 Eaglestone.15. 87–8. 6. 105. 156.34.31 enigma 176–80 enjambement 14. 182–3. 215n.4 epoch 53.3 disinterest 101–3. 210n. 203n. 35. 88. 45–8.15. 170. 216n. Marcel 67. 128–9. 112. 67. David 212n. 193. 207n. 67. 141 Dillon.14 Docherty. 106. Robert 207n. 210n. 192. 129. 210n. 123. 64–5. Jean-Philippe 203n. 191. 85. 93. 178. Alexander García 50. 188. 127–8. Jacques 12. 51. 80–1. 156. 124. 127. 37. 192. 199. 96–7.14. 153.16. 186. 92. 88.10 dictation 28. 106. Mikhail Leonovich 216n. 82–3. 158–60.29 Deranty. 203n. 201 form-of-life 58. 137. gestell) 78. 67–8. 208n. 188 Edkins. 206n. 42.33. 123.6. 150. 79. 109. Johanna 214n. Anne 209n. 131. 118.INDEX
Damascius 61–2. 159. 147. 208n. Marc 210n. 144. 126. 88–90. 208n. Leland 208n. 215n. 187.26 Gasparov. 210n. 209n.18. Jenny 203n.12. 98. 19. 76. 105. 29. 23–5. 206n.
8 Halliburton. 30. 37–8. 181 ¯ Kommerell. 122 gramma (grammatology) 140–1. 134. 162. 216n. 205n. 141.3
hesitation 156–8. 146 Kafka.INDEX
glossolalia (babble. 215n. 174–5 Heron. 46. 167. 124 Kiesow. 51. 45. 136.11 Heraclitus 47. 133–4. 210n. 107–12. 174 having see habit and appropriation Hegarty.27. 33. 197. 54. W.39 Ideal Form (eidos) 80–6. 211n. 67.27 infancy 6–17.17. 148. 157. 102. 118–25. 58. 90. Rainer Maria 203n. 210n. 20.8. 36. 196–9. 215n. 205n. 214n. 47.1. 161 inspiration 32. 36. 63.20 Hegel.16 Poetry. 204n. 152. 113. 77. 99. 195 integral actuality 54–5. 70–9. 28. 161. 145. 215n. 37. 57. 210n. 98. 213n.1 history 8. 206n. Martin 12–14. 17. 117. 212n. 205n.39 Godzich. 214n. Wlad and Jeffrey Kittay 20. 99–101.32. 124.10 judgement 11. 73.15. 35–8. 216n. 12. 145–8. 204n. 77. 215n. 120. 165. 19. 20–3.18 Kalyvas.2 Kant.8. 211n. 37.22.6. 198–9. 194–5 indistinction 1. 125 see also desubjectivization and dictation indifference 17. 165. 77. 60. 212n. 199. 213n. 207n. 99.15. 100. 87. 198. 212n. Nicholas 209n. 16. Thought 70. 59–60 Kristeva.25. 86. 153.9 Hölderlin 47. 190 impersonality 30. 121.1 kle sis 88–9. 34. 80.18 Being and Time 22. 54–7. 174. 210n. 201. 203n. Eleanor 203n. 147. 77. Gustave 151 Gulli.9 The Question Concerning Technology 12. 138. 75. 169–70. 35. 30. 25. 20–3. 211n. 204n. 67. 87. 201. 113.11.13 Habermas. 215n. 38. 170. 18. 206n. 211n. 204n. 94. 73.6.7. 190.8.16. 207n. 77. 107–13. 179. 143–5.1. 96. 59–60. 22. 205n. 205n. 71. 22. 101. 55. Immanuel 9. Andreas 211n.22. 25–6.7 On the Way to Language 122. 178. 63. 108. 155.9
.17. 52–4.34. 161–2. 76. 74. G.32. Glenn 65–6. 170 see also indifference ineffable 9–13. 206n. 207n. 20. 133.1 Gray. 205n. 57. Max 47. 32. 191–2. 214n. 210n.32 Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’ 198–9.16. 138. 157. Julia 214n.6.27 Gould. Paul 212n. 146. 135. 107–11 Kaufman.19 Heidegger. 178.36.4. 209n. Thomas 141 Guillaume. 20. David E. Language. 122. 214n. John 26–7. 57. 70. 79. 151. 159.15 Johnson. David 119 harmonia 47.16. 63. 131–2. 22–6. 212n. Franz 106.4 Keats. 207n. F. 50. Babel) 29–31. 125–6. 100–1.1. 120. Jürgen 109 habit 129–34. Bruno 209n. 205n.19 human 5–15. 38.
76. 103. 129. 67.13 Nancy. 67. 72–3. 88. 47. 45. 211n. 100–3. 198–9 and modernity 85. 128–9.3. 128. 165. 206n. 106–7. 57. 167. 69. 133–4. 155. 144–56. 91. 89. 74. 118–21. 203n. 136. Giacomo “L’infinito” 124–34. 129. 197. 64–7. 199–201. 196. 208n. 8. 113. 6. 12.6.1 Lacoue-Labarthe. 160.6 Matisse. 195 experimentum linguae 4. 141. Henri “Back” 76 McQuillan. and subjectivity 25–8. 174 modern art 46. 188–9. 35–7. Esther Norma 212n. 147. 193. 99. 179 love 14. 215n. 199. 80. 36–8. 53.2 measure 97. 213n. 101–14. 196. 216n. 54.2. 92–4. 206n. 196. 167. 193. 195–6. 157. 20–3. 76. 41–68.20. 63. 32. 114.3 modernity 1. 212n. 196.19 logos 8.12.13. 204n. 82. 20. 54. 122. 122 thing of thought as such 49–50. 211n. 215n. 87–91. 149. 30. 157. 57–8. 209n. John 169. 211n. 184. 72. 22. 85–6.44. 135. Colin 203n.21 life 1–2. 213n. 203n. 65. 174
messianism 16.19 Marion. 213n. 56. 195 Negri. 204n. 160.42. 6 as medium 53. 144–6. 45–7.6. 35–6.15. 16. William 204n. 55–66. 118. 145.1. 92. 143. 132. 44–6. 49–52. 13. Simon 213n. 50–1.24 logopoiesis 77. 11. 211n. 106. 17. 110 Malevich 106.INDEX
LaCapra. 102–3. Jean-Luc 29.18. 21. 145. 208n. 200.5 nihilism 3.8 Mills.1 Laclau. 11. 131–4. 117–34. 8. 105. 90.15. 155. 55.10 language experience of 10–11. 82–3.21 Musil. 209n. 125. 76–9.1. 208n.45 Lovitt. 166. 148. 16–17. Jean-François 52. 145. 215n. 10. 209n. Catherine 26. 214n.16 that there is 4–40. 195–7. Friedrich 42. 173. 128. 203n. 90. 67.8. Antonio 2.2. 57. 136. 210n. 33. 176–7. 25. 157. 99.3 Nietzsche.12. 153. 9.20
. 183. 166. 96–8. 63.24 Lyotard. Alex 205n.17 Mallarmé. 45–6. 16. 88–93. 123–4. 15. 171–5. 169–71. 191. Ernesto 203n. 179 Levitt. 69. 209n. 213n. 28. Deborah 209n. 196. 89. 108–9. 191.11 Lyons. 117. 210n. 211n. 204n. Stéphane 58. 103–4.13 Muse 27. 128. 26. 182–5. Phillipe 29.11. 48. 144. John 206n. 107. 160. 204n. 169. 103. 212n. 196 Leopardi. 83–116. 91. 204n. 6. 201. 209n. 131. 179–80. 35–7. 89. 169–70. Dominick 203n. 179. 25.1 Morgan Wortham. Robert 83 name 9–10.22 negation/negativity 2–3. 158. 167. 207n. 107–14.48. 32. 118.18 morphe 79–81 Murray.3. 153.18 Milton. 129–34 museum 78. 117.
191. 198–9. 48–9. 214n.6. 215n. 27. 114. 208n. 167. 195–6 planar 128. 42–6. 58–60. 120.87–116 pop art 85. 186 phone 8. William 211n. 92–8 revelation 52–3 rhetorician 104–6 rhyme 14. 214n. 69–87. 127. 201 metrical-musical element (poetry) 128. 11. 215n. 211n.18 Rasch. 86.39. 33. 146–9. 134. 58. 48. 5. 206n. 43. 211n. 211n. Andrew 214n. 167. 13. Stephen 214n. 58–9. 207n. 123–4. 67. 137–46. 193. 130.1 Paul 29. 28. 149. 97. 145. 211n. 205n. 122.9 poetry advent 126–33. 207n. 79. 55. 132. 44–5. 43–4. line 79. 24. Alexander 168–72 potential 13. 117–18. 28. 152 passivity 30. 124. 101–2. 139. 180. 156. 172. 160. 173. 49–57. 23–8.3 Idea of 54–7. 98. 169 production 58. 91.9. 210n.1. 37. 186.47 ready-made 85. 184. 28.11
poiesis 3. 126. 195. 191–3. 44–8. 175. 140–1. 67.11 Pound. 86. 193. 129. 94. 163. 71–5. 172. 63–6. 51. 207n. 133. 44. 17.1 anti. 52. 93 Pope. 192. 135. 170. 105–6. 137. 140. 197. 102. 107–9. 163. 198–9 philology 2.4. 74–5. 179 Pinker. 79.1 praxis 58.4 Pacman 159 parable 148–9. 155. 163–4.40. 138.27. 72. 125. 30–1. 32. 79. 168–9. 88. 17. 167. 138. 206n. 151. 83. 35. 88–92. 20–1. 169. 88. 143. 128–9.7 Noys. 136.17. 169–70.34. 51. 62. 93 reproducibility 84–6. 112. 156. 173 poetry and philosophy 14. 146.INDEX
Norris. 117–18. 178–9. 142–4. 79. 12–13. 62–3. 113–14. 188. 22. 132–4. 21. 96. 133.1 ontology 5–6. 49. 145–6.1. 197. 178–9.25.27. 153–5. 153. 210n. 154. 137. 209n. 152–3 periplus 132–3. 208n. 32. 144–5. 45. 137–40.8 Rimbaud. 154–74.16. 129–31. 195–7. 172. 211n. 47. 113
. 106. 121. 79–81. 144–5. 145.1 prose 15. 200. 63–4. 100. 144. 210n. 191.40. 166. 104–5. 209n.1 razo de trobar 32. 81–3. 175. 35–7. 128–9. 87–90. 29. 132. 144. 60. 186–8. 181. 192 poem body 44. 210n. 170. 130. 129. 171.4 presupposition 9. 71–3. 157. 178.33. 208n. 214n. 183.19. 8. Benjamin 203n.19. 213n. 134. 162.4 Plato 14. 200–1 recursive-projection 21. 69. 60. 122. 90. 113. 137–43. 173 end of 135–9. 153. 144. 170. 197. 155–62. 63–8. 141. 195. 184–7. 183–92. 216n. 103–8. 34–5. 99. 61. 53. 50. 164–5. 192–3. Arthur 26–7. 159–60. 17. 206n. Ezra 102. 204n. 31. 120–1. 71–2. 213n. 81.
163 and space 20. 65. 165. 142. 196
state of exception 1 Stiegler.15. 143. 13–19. 182 tablet 44. 27–8.20 Silliman. 85. 17. 67. 200. 28. 35. 70. 165. 154. 182. 133–4. 149. 111–12. 135. 161. 19. 192 operational time 150–3. 210n. 71.9 Troubador 14–17. 199–201. 193. 134–5. 136–43. 160.12. 127–9. 155–62. 117. 195. 149. 46. 207n. 9. 56–7. 83. 159–60. 186–7. 178–9. 185 tabular 64. 30. 188. 215n.11 kairos 145. 122. 184 silence 8. 137–8. 133. 108–9. 166–93. 192. 75. 153. 188. 152–65. 131. art 75–7 thing as such of thought 49. 28. 171–2. 211n. 22–3. 127. 55.11 ergon 158–60. Ron 206n. 136–44. 107–8 sign 17–22. 214n. 197.4. 149. 46. 206n.42 time/temporality chronos 145. 211n. 158–64. 32.5 Saussure.39 space 14. 61. 113. 84. 54.4 techne 73–86. 60. 186 turn see enjambment and verse
. 167. 158. 32. 131. 167.10 singularity 5. 150–4.6 stil novist 14. 124. 207n.4 sestina 154–5. 173. 57. 51–2. 149–53 linear time 87. 212n.6 Spinks. 109. 37. 128. 169. 146.8 taste 99–103. 216n. 46. 60. 23. 125. 201. 99. 140. 174 Thurschwell. 80. 20.4 terror 99–106 thing.27. 197. 92. 212n. 173 eschaton 88. 149–50. Bernard 211n. 154. 94–104. 131–2. 211n. 59. 6. 160. 30. 149. 155. 110–11. 199 semiotic 6. 144–5. 106. 201 tone/tonos 163–4 transmissibility 30. 170. 11. 63–4. 155–6. 185. 214n. 99. 173–5. 187 shock 94–7. Ferdinand de 17. 120–1. 121 tension 35. 150. 154. 146–7. 31. 212n. 48. 122. 172–4. 167–72. Nicholas 203n. 125. 97–8. 169. 149. 199. 141. 216n. Lee 205n. 32. 192. 72. 56. 169. 125. 114.INDEX
Romanticism 69. 117–34. 125–8. 127. 136–9. 157–8. 184. 142. 172. 184–8. 21. 105–6. 140. 181–3. 108. 47–8.3.19 stanza 13–17. 194 semantic 27–9. 172. 97. Adam 203n. 196. 199–201. 171. 160–9. 201. 145. 138. 93–7. 199. 45–6. 124. 197. 151 tautology 6. 184–9. 32. 43. 110–11 tautegorical 52. 34. 172. 63. 150. 26–32. 197. 127.46. 144. 177–80. 144. 83. 122. 133. 208n. 27 scission 2. 133. 84. 131. 175–9. 205n. 57. 117–18. 179. 56. 194. 178–9. 35–7. 97–9. 48. 174–5. 77–8. 24.21. 150. 80. 178–88. 55–6. 208n. 12. 162. 156. 206n. 105–6. 164–5. 197.47. 149. 28. 32–3. 133.3 Royle. 77. 60–8. 130. 53. 199 sovereignty 1–2. 19. 131. 136. 188.
. 207n. 103. Thomas Carl 207n. 21–5. 206n. 152. 173–5. 45–8.11 Weller.20. Shane 206n. Andy 93 Watkin. 214n.
208n. 204n. 179. Thanos 210n. 30. 128.10.7 Wohlfarth. William 204n. Robert 122 Warhol. Irving 209n.39 Zartaloudis.39 zoon logon echon 5. 166–7. 133.36 Ziarek. Krzysztof 205n. 168. 216n. 82. 209n.2 whatever (quodlibet) 63–5 Whitehead.5 Valéry.24. 157–8.15 Wolfreys. 212n. Derek H.INDEX
uncanny 2. 213n. Julian 208n. Vincent 70. 206n. 59.10 Wall.6. 213n. 102 Varro 58 verse as versus 128–34.21. Erik 203n.33. 178.1. 184.108.40.206 Zizek. 207n. 208n.20 voice 3–8. 75. 125. 28. 12.5 Walser.34 zoe 1. 216n. 177.27. Paul 56.1 van Gogh. Slavoj 210n. 140–4. 135–65. 211n. 199. 207n. 207n. 215n. 220.127.116.11 work see praxis and entelechy writer’s block 67–8 xenoglossia 29–30.36. 201 Vogt. 33. 212n.21. 205n. 171. 199.