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
WILLIAM WATKIN

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

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a Emilia e Luca “Long have we laboured in miracle realms” .

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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 vii . Thinking Thought Poetic Thinking Poetry and Philosophy Communicability.CONTENTS 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. The Thing Itself The Idea of Language Communicability.

the Turn of Verse The Definition of Poetry Boustrophedonics Kle sis. the Space of Thought The Caesura Apotropaics 117 119 122 124 129 135 135 139 144 149 153 155 162 166 166 174 viii . Thinking Tautology The Logo-Poiesis Tautology The Exemplary Tautology of Logopoiesis Infinite Poetry The Habits of the Muse Chapter 5 Enjambement. Thinking through Making Poiesis Praxis Techne The Art Thing Finitude Morphe. Modern Anti-Poiesis Chapter 3 Modernity. Shape Entelechy Arche. The Messianic As Not ˉ Messianic Kairos Messianic Rhyme An Endless Falling Into Silence Tension: The One Line Chapter 6 Caesura. 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.Chapter 2 Poiesis.

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 ix .

Finally. and Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy © 1999 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. I must also thank Brunel University for granting me a year-long sabbatical to complete this work. . Copyright © 1981. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. Barbara Montanari. and my son. the title of this book is his. whose careful stewardship of the book in its latter stages was much appreciated. University. I greatly appreciate the questions and remarks that followed which encouraged but also challenged me. Permission to use “Warrant” granted by Charles Bernstein. 1984 by John Ashbery. miraculous year. Inc. Dearest Barbara. 1982. 1983.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks are due to my editors Hugh Silverman. Chapter Two was presented as a seminar at Brunel University in March 2009. So it is that the last but also always the first expression of gratitude as ever goes to my wife. not merely because of the incredible support she has given me over this past. suggestions. Reprint of the final stanza from “Down By the Station Early in the Morning” from A WAVE by John Ashbery. Language and Death © 1991 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota. and Sarah Campbell. intense. The Man Without Content.. granted by permission of Georges Borchardt. living with someone so much more intelligent than I. on behalf of the author. that is truly living. x . but also for her many comments. the writing of this book coincided with the birth of my daughter . and aids to translation. Obvious it is that sharing a house with an Italian is useful when writing a book on Agamben. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. 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. .

Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. Giorgio Agamben. trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry (1981). Giorgio Agamben. “Agamben’s Potential. trans. The End of the Poem (1996). no. 2005). trans. 1996). 1995). Giorgio Agamben.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS AP BT C CC EHP EP HI HS IH IP IPP Leland De La Durantaye. Being and Time (1953). 1993). 3–24. 2000). Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press. The Coming Community (1990). Liz Heron (London: Verso. trans.” Diacritics 30. trans. 2 (2000). PA: Bucknell University Press. Giorgio Agamben. 1999). 2007). 2001). Idea of Prose (1985). trans. William Watkin. Giorgio Agamben. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995). Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. 1993). trans. Handbook of Inaesthetics (1998). xi . Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. trans. Alain Badiou. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. 1998). The Century (2005). Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Martin Heidegger. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience (1978). Alain Badiou. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. trans.

Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer (Durham. 2004). 2008). 2006). trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Silliman and Agamben. Muses II. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (1991). 2004). 2008). Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. trans. The Open: Man and Animal (2002). Peter D. 1971). trans. P Potentialities (1999). Politics. Poetry. 344–364. PLT Martin Heidegger. PA Catherine Mills. On the Way to Language (1959). Manifesto for Philosophy (1989). trans. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS LAS Jean-François Lyotard. Thought. no. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1999). 2005). 1971). LPN Shane Weller.” Paragraph 31. On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1999). PMD Andrew Norris ed. trans.. OWL Martin Heidegger. Philosophy. Karen E. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. MP Alain Badiou. trans. Para Paragraph 25. 2000). Multiple Arts. no. MWC Giorgio Agamben. MofP William Watkin. 2 (2002). trans. trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. MWE Giorgio Agamben. MA Jean-Luc Nancy. trans. Literature. “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the Work of Godzich & Kittay. Margins of Philosophy (1972). OM William Watkin. 1982). O Giorgio Agamben. xii . 1991). The Man Without Content (1970). Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. Means Without Ends (1996). 1999). The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. LD Giorgio Agamben. Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. Simon Sparks (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity (1982). Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. 1994). N Giorgio Agamben. 3 (2008). Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2008). trans. Language. ed. NC: Duke University Press. Shklovsky. M Jacques Derrida.

2008). Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. WWB William Watkin. ST Giorgio Agamben. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1999). 2002). xiii . trans. RA Giorgio Agamben. 1993). trans. trans. SL Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli eds. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. blogspot. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2008). State of Exception (2003). Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. 2007). SP Alexander Pope. The Question Concerning Technology. Nicholas Heron. trans.com/. Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. WGA Justin Clemens. 1993). 2008). 1 (2008). RP Thomas Carl Wall. Literature. SAQ The South Atlantic Quarterly 107. trans.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS Prof Giorgio Agamben. http://williamwatkin. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. TTR The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (2000). 1977). 1999). trans.no. 2007). Blanchot and Agamben (Albany: SUNY Press. Three Poems (New York: Penguin. Sovereignty and Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Radical Passivity: Lévinas. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. TP John Ashbery. 2005). 2005). William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial. and Alex Murray eds. Profanations (2005). William Watkin’s Blog. QCT Martin Heidegger. Ronald L.. Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (1977). R Plato. Republic. SE Giorgio Agamben. trans.

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In particular through the consideration of sovereignty. 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. This extended study of the categories of the political and modernity continues apace. makes of us that most despised figure from Roman law. the homo sacer and our current “state of exception. typically. through which he likens our advanced democracies to living in a camp.EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (b. whose sacred life was the possession and legitimization of the sovereign ready to be forfeited at any point without fear of legal repercussion. the homo sacer. 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. Like the homo sacer. This state of exception. 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. 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. perhaps.” he presents a convincing cartography of the political in our age that is. 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. now stretched to six volumes or around a third of his total published output. is overseen by sovereign power. bare life. 1 . Living perpetually in this denuded zone of indistinction between biological existence as such (zoé) and our social life (bios). what Agamben calls the biopolitical.

destining.4 This enforced subjective scission is strategic. Away from the political/materialist Agamben there is another Agamben. rather infamously:2 It seems there are two Agambens. so desperate to negate the third Agamben. attains the power of being (that is. unless under the auspices of dialectical resolution or archeunity. through immersion in the work of philology and linguistic analysis. for example. ponders. instead opens the door to just such a possibility of tertiary ruination. and terrifying shadows. Canny enough perhaps. but no one can fully suppress the ability of the uncanny to undermine studiously erected structures of identity. 111). There is the one who lingers in the existential. Numerous critics have noted a seemingly contradictory bifurcation in the Agamben methodology. 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. he rediscovers pieces or elements of being. 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. This is the Agamben we are most familiar with.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN the leading revolutionary political theory that we have. where he is perpetually forced into a confrontation with the idea of death. one of Agamben’s great productive antagonists. by manipulating and constructing them). These are the metaphysical and the political Agambens respectively. and the one about whom I will have the least to say in the chapters that follow. the literary Agamben. who. one a philosopher of negative being and the other an etymo-philologer and habitué of material clues. And there is another Agamben. sometimes so marked it is suggestive of the possibility that there are more Agambens out there writing philosophy than was first assumed.3 Negri is far from alone in asserting that “Agamben” is a homonymic moniker referring to two thinkers of radical dissimilarity. the uncanny unwelcome guest at the intimate if troubled feast that rages still tête-à-tête between metaphysics and politics.1 Antonio Negri. 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. 2 .5 Thus Negri.

intimidated by the sovereignty of metaphysical thought. it is now poiesis. muted by the clamour of the bios. if you will. adventurer in poiesis.6 3 . that the following pages wish to augment. beyond the learnéd and almost overwhelming conversation between the two Agambens and his many critics.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. an absolute voice. and yet always persistent and quietly insistent. absolved of the negativity of which it had been the bearer. inasmuch as it endures as the only power of this dissolved universe” (SL. Effectively. to the tones of the tern. 113–14). the literary Agamben. It is this voice. Attend then.

in the preface to his third book.” Such an experience.)1 At the age of 36. most pertinent to our study here. 5). I have stubbornly pursued only one train of thought: what is the meaning of ‘there is language’ [vi è il linguaggio]. the centrality of literature to his work. to make language appear before us such as it is. . . requires that one “venture into a perfectly empty dimension . to let language speak 4 . in which what is experienced is language itself. 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. This risk-bound declaration of intent occurs in the short piece that prefaces Infancy and History (1978) entitled “Experimentum Linguae. 30 years later one has to concede that the young thinker was either preternaturally prescient or. in its full material yet voided exteriority. Who.” In this thin sheaf of pages he explains that he is undertaking an experiment with language “in the true meaning of the words. clearly. past and future. in which one can encounter the pure exteriority of language” (IH. written and unwritten?3 Now. he suggests. his metaphysics and. unbelievably obdurate for it is undoubtedly true that the questioning of the presence of language remains at the heart of Agamben’s political thinking. over the years. a characteristically confident Giorgio Agamben declares: “In both my written and unwritten books.4 To see language as it is. 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.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE (The cricket. cannot think its chirping. is able to predict the guiding topic of all one’s books. however. after all.

5 . 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. returns again and again in Agamben’s early work. the possession of voice/language by the animal and the privation of voice in the human. 3). bundled together in what might be termed his interim request. 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. oversteps the threshold of his other great demand that primarily occupies the first two decades or so of his career. what does it mean to have language. This theme. or better drama. 4). This unusual rumination leads to a series of related questions such as. a voice that is the voice of man as the chirp is the voice of the cricket . 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.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. differential. what is the relationship between voice and language in this regard. To understand the relation between thought and literature through their complex. and Agamben has indeed not yet done so. and if we do not find a human voice. 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). The two interlocutions are. in effect. one will take his word for it that this is also the case.5 It is the nexus wherein his great ontological question. As for the unwritten. what does it mean to live as a human being. if there is a human voice. The first of these is extrapolated from an. . In this incorporated and yet incorporeal work he asks: “Is there a human voice. La voce umana (the human voice).6 not posed until many years later.?” (IH. up to this point. . is this what we humans mean by language. where does this lead the classic philosophical definition of the human as zoon logon echon or “the living being which has ¯ ¯ language”? (IH. unpublished fragment of another great work Agamben never wrote.

and voice is therefore foundational. tautological. 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. the dependence of metaphysical definitions of language on division and negation. 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. scission. (The difference between speech. and our acquisition of a voice.7 What kind of language. Acquisition of voice.) Infancy does not describe our actual early childhood. of language: communicability or a language that communicates itself without communicating any specific thing. Agamben uses the term infancy in his early work to describe an interim state between our pure state of grace in language. or as-such-ness. 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. what order of communication. First. echoing that of the animal. Aside from the obvious fact that literature is composed of language and constitutes a profound experience with language. the role of language in subjective enunciation. 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 6 . The cold light cast by this stelliform compound reveals for us linguistic exteriority defined as the very existence. 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. and language’s materiality. language. purely exterior landscape of language as such. enunciation. and second they are pre-possessed of their voice as soon as they come into being.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Consistent with Negri’s remark and the critical community’s claims of the two Agambens. however. negation. they do not actually speak although they do possess language. Infancy as a concept originates in the observable phenomenon that humans learn to speak whereas animals do not in two significant ways. is this solipsistic.

. first.10 In contrast to this. In disputation with the Aristotelian inheritance Agamben does not accept that animals are without language which. Man. they are already inside it. their being.8 In one basic sense infancy captures the process wherein human animals learn. as humans acquire 7 . by having an infancy.” Second. For the animal. or a cricket’s chirping one also names the animal’s language and. . Unlike the metaphysical tradition Agamben is not at ease with the Aristotelian definition of human being as zoon logon echon. This could be taken to mean how we come to language but this is not how Agamben views infancy. regardless of our tireless encouragement. by implication. The historicity of the human being has its basis in this difference and discontinuity. 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. . (IH. then man’s nature is split at its source. a dog’s bark. for example. . instead. of all animals. they are always and totally language . as we saw.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE apparently not having a voice of their own such as one finds in the cricket. are the only beings that are not born with a clearly identifiable voice then they must come to their voice or arrive at speech. One can say the cricket chirps but not the human “. or at least he is uncomfortable with the uncritical ¯ ¯ acceptance of this formulation within philosophy. as indeed developmentally we seem to do. splits this single language and. Animals do not enter language. on the contrary. in order to speak. . 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. . and chimpanzees. language and speech are indivisible and when one speaks of an animal voice. acquire. or have speech foisted upon them. the human has no voice of its own. Thus. for that matter. if language is truly man’s nature . thus far have not. by preceding speech. for infancy brings it discontinuity and the difference between language and discourse. If humans. 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. has to constitute himself as the subject of language–he has to say I.

and silence. and this is a profoundly Heideggerian gesture. voice. Third. this division and our awareness of it define human being as self-consciously different from all other beings. In losing language we become a human being and alive. but the way in which we come to have it—not the zoon or the logon but the generally ignored echon ¯ ¯ that matters. voice itself. the way we have language is first as bifurcation. and infancy as that which we must recuperate. it is not the fact that we have language that defines our humanity. eventually.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. language. The only way out of this metaphysical dead end. is infancy. or lack of it.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN their voice a clear division between speech and language in the human animal develops. In reality these two nascent states are simply two elements of an overall infancy as an ongoing process of being. a return to a pre-divided idea of a pure language. and as a critique of the basis of modern thinking on negation. Life. Our entrance into this philosophical cul-de-sac is the fact that we humans have infancy. Agamben argues. in seeking to regain language we create the possibility of becoming something like a post-human. from this. Infancy submits us to history expelling us from language as such and propelling us into a bifurcated sense of language as phone and logos. a period wherein we acquire speech. forming the basis of the meaning of our possession of voice. the follow-up text to Infancy and History. It would seem. that there are two infancies: infancy as that which we have lost. Yet it also involves us.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. speech over language. 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. as Agamben is at pains to show. in a destinal and possibly liberationist historicization. Fourth. Thus. language-speech. 8 . first silencing language and then. speech denies any experience of the nature of language as such comparable to the manner in which animals experience language. and finally as negation. This is effectively the argument of Language and Death. and voice are therefore separate yet inseparable terms within Agamben’s thought. then as subordination.

the concept of infancy is then an attempt to think through these limits in a direction other than that of the vulgarly ineffable” (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. the ineffable in philosophy. 4). after Benjamin. “If every thought can be classified according to the way in which it articulates the question of the limits of language. As Agamben says. Thought has become embroiled in thinking language in terms not of what it can say but of what it cannot.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. For language to signify and thus become the human language we are all familiar with. the unsayable being precisely what language must presuppose in order to signify” (IH. a thing or a truth to be known. Erdmann knowledge independent of sensibility (see IH. and second. 4–6). defining being and thinking along the way as first. “in which the limits of language are to be found not outside language. “far from indicating the limit of 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. presuppositionally negative (see LD. Ironically. post-vocal divided language. actually comes to name language for this tradition. which seems to direct us towards pure thinking without language. 4). as “not something ineffable but something superlatively sayable: the thing of language” (IH. to identify the singularity of language as such. In contrast to this tradition of negation Agamben involves himself in an experiment. 4). Kant calls this the “transcendental experience” of pure thought. namely that of the ineffable. instead “express its invincible power of presupposition. there must be reference to something that is not language that it signifies. This is our old friend the experimentum linguae which Agamben renames here infancy. based on language. 54–65). 9 .” a place where thought can go and language cannot. 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. It is a concept without a name and knowledge without an object. the unsaid and the ineffable.

but in terms of what it can say if it does not refer to that which is outside of itself. This great quest to move beyond modern philosophical ineffability isolates a third and final issue in relation to infancy. only to find that the name for such an experience is the ineffable or un-named as such. rather it is language that is content-less speech. in its pure self-reference” (IH. that which is outside of it (the referent). 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. a morass it has proven impossible to escape from. “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. . Infancy first names our coming away from being animal. It then indicates our ability to conceive of a pure thinking not in terms of what cannot be said but what can. or a typical conversation in a British pub towards closing time. a reification of the unspeakable. that we need language to name it.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the direction of its referent. 10 . infancy names the problem of human experience. as the pure fact that one speaks. as a thinker. 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.or ir. Rather than. but also testing. but in an experience of language as such.13 This problem has afflicted language for a good deal of time naming a clear division in philosophy between knowledge and experience. 15–49). in response to the problem that there is an object. Language as the basis of thought should be considered not in terms of what it cannot say. but in naming it we find that the name never entirely renders the object. experience me. thus concluding that language always remains insufficient to name objects.referential language. that language exists” (IH. forcing the thinker to seek for a concept that cannot be named. Finally. language that says nothing other than here I am. for if it is not named there can be no shortfall of plenitude. . 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. 6). Agamben instead simply introjects the problem. pre. I am language.

between experience as knowledge and as going through. but Homo sapiens loquendi” (IH. it is an impossibility of speaking from the basis of a language. of the very faculty or power of speech” (IH. Human language. evidenced by our endless pursuit of novel and new experiences. 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. 8). which he takes to be the experience of experience itself. is by definition bifurcated. thinking. As he says: “In this sense what is experienced in the experimentum linguae is not merely an impossibility of saying: rather. 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. Yet nor can it be experienced entirely from the inside as in some imagined. cannot be undertaken exterior to language as he contends some philosophers have attempted. as Agamben sees it. To undergo an experience with language.14 For Agamben the experience 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. 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. 8). a form of thinking that does not look at language 11 . primordial being for whom the division between phone and logos has not yet come about. Infancy names this third possibility: to maintain experience as knowing and as undergoing. is to undergo a new form of experience as testing or thinking. or we observe events from the outside as judgemental critics. it is an experience. In the modern age the division between the two meanings of experience is most profoundly felt. via that infancy that dwells in the margin between language and discourse. therefore. denying that the event in question actually pertains to how we live. and then imposing unworkable unities to heal this rift is a habitual failing of Western thought. Infancy reveals the confluence of language. Either our experiences are so unique that they are one-off events that can hold no meaning for “the human experience” at large. Maintaining the false division. he concedes. defining human being as “neither Homo sapiens nor Homo loquens. namely as the imposition of scission as a means of creating human. self-conscious subjectivity.

If Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics resides in the tradition’s obfuscation of authentic Being. while Agamben is critical of both Heidegger and Derrida. 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. therefore. 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. said relation to language. In a way. 39–62). is silenced. it opens up a zone that exists for thought and being between language as such and discourse. and the imposition of a voice through the agency of speech.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from the outside. 24). 54–5). 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. suggesting a developmental. which we might call infant being. Infancy. zoological. and what does it mean to experience something? Most specifically. therefore. or occupy language and seek for exterior referents. One issue here is that the very choice of the name infancy is as confusing as it is illustrative. which is not only impossible to ascertain but also not what Agamben intends. and an in-between and constantly emergent human being. 12 . a human defined as life.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. but which accepts the presence of language as such as exteriority as such. 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 Derrida’s on its privileging of speech over writing. or psychosomatic empiricism behind our being with or having language. yet refusing to succumb to the various aporias that have traditionally arrested the progression of thought on this matter. what does language say. our actual infancy is merely a useful developmental analogue for an ontological temporality of development that presupposes a pre-human. 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. If anything. accepting their division as a fact of our ontological Geschichte or deep history (see QCT.

It cannot unify language and discourse into a single entity. If infancy is to resolve this difference then its hands are tied to some degree. collapses the last great frontier of metaphysics. or better there are myriad differentiations to be made. capitalized Being. the only remnant of the tradition that Heidegger leaves standing. is nonspeech (see LD. but is the reliance of metaphysics on difference as such. It is our existence in language before the primary scission of language into phone and logos. or the eradication of difference. and being as such. 91).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. endless deferral.17 This difference is not simply the difference between different technical senses of being in the work of one philosopher however. Infancy has little. Dasein.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE Nor should one suggest that Agamben is recounting an actual historical series: animal-infant-human. the ontic. to do with babies. reconfigured as the term différance. We must stress this is not the intention of infancy. in other words. although the term “before” needs careful reconsideration within what might be termed an ontological rather than historiographic or teleological temporality. much as Agamben might wish. for we are always in the world operating as already pre-divided beings. simply put. and knowing. To live as human means. Certainly there are many forms of difference. 13 . This is perhaps best illustrated by the etymological root of the word wherein fans originates from fari or to speak. infancy is to be found within the human at all stages as both remnant of the animal and potential for the post-human. but the asymmetric difference between experience. the ontological. Nor can it choose language over discourse. to live our division. Thus in-fancy. In some way Agamben’s thought must enter into the scission of being and resolve the conflict therein without recourse to pre-human unity. Agamben sometimes writes it like this. Human being is this ontological caesura (see O. THE STANZA In relation to Heidegger people often speak of the ontico-ontological difference between actual being-in-the-world. is an ancient problem relating to how language names truth. 13–16 & 21–2). and as such is an ontological state of speechlessness within language that precedes the potential human being’s emergence into actual humanity.16 In a sense Derrida’s critical investigation of this difference. Rather.

the 14 . 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 1977 volume Stanzas. 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. 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. and his considerations of poetic space and rhyme. brackets this fascinating topic in major statements on language and philosophy. receptacle” (ST. xvi).” According to a conception that is only implicitly contained in the Platonic critique of poetry. but that has in modern times acquired a hegemonic character. although taking as its main area of concern the art object.and thirteenth-century troubadour tradition. a process Agamben emulates in his own work on the metaphysics of enjambement. For the troubadour poets the stanza was not just a structural designation but the “nucleus” of their poetry. By conflating a formal technique with a meta-thematic concern the troubadour stanza takes on the quality in poetry of a “receptive ‘womb’” (ST. “when in fact it is the only thing truly worth interrogating” (ST. namely the joi d’amor or unattainable joy of love. Students of Heidegger will immediately recognize this structure of imposed forgetting of the most important thing due to its assumed obviousness as Being. which he regularly cites along with that of the stil novists as the origin of all modern poetics. defined as a “capacious dwelling. caesura. for the entire tradition. 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. In addition. dwelling-stability. the troubadour concept of the stanza provides a model for discovering metaphysical truths within the very prosodic operations of the poem itself. between the poetic word and the word of thought. xvi).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Agamben’s first major intervention on language concerns linguistic scission as the precondition for the later establishment of infancy. The split is so fundamental to our cultural tradition that Plato could already declare it “an ancient enemy. in its capacity. The space of the stanza. In a way this is true although Agamben prefers to call it scission: The scission in question is that between poetry and philosophy. xvi).

“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. stanza in Italian means room of course. 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. 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. prose. by knowledge of what 15 . 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. This grave. the word is thus divided between a word that is unaware. Within our tradition. “In the West. The poetic word. for example. alone. This is particularly because infancy resides between the poetic and philosophic word or. holds the key to language’s capacious inner chamber. Agamben clearly does not hypostatize poetry as an ideal. Having said this. and enjoys the object of knowledge by representing it in beautiful form. between language and discourse. poetry exists entirely in language on one side of the scission of the word. Both are victims of the cruel scission at the heart of human language and neither. Poetry does not know what it has. In contrast. is now named as the closest we can get to an experience of language that speaks itself while not necessarily saying anything specific. experience—some of which we have already considered.” We will take this word from now on to be the poetic word. as if fallen from the sky. while philosophy is able to test language it has no direct experience with language. and philosophy entirely outside on the opposing side. therefore. xvii).19 Here he effectively substitutes poetry for a number of terms—language as such. Agamben. very early on in his career. because it can only experience language as going through or sustaining. Poetry’s tragedy is possession of the thing without knowledge of the thing. as we saw earlier. (ST. dissatisfied word is the immaterialized insensible word of Western philosophy. a direct experience of language as such within which resides the meaning of human being.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. therefore. infant form of language.

20 We are presented with a model 16 . here. He does not. contains nothing. but he is also something of a fatalistic thinker. The stanza of criticism. xvii). in modern aesthetics. a nothingness that protects art’s most precious object. through its empty capaciousness. Further. 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. as Agamben calls it in relation to modern poetry and art. For Agamben. 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. While criticism differs in kind to the stanza. xvii). that which it cannot possess. The power of criticism emerges out of its collapsing and nihilization of the category of art.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be possessed and/or possession of that which can never be known. and we will investigate it in detail in the chapters to come. 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. both revealing it and rendering it inoperative. whether in philosophy or. The stanza. one a modern quasi-philosophical discourse the other a historical prosodic-structural effect. Just as the ancient stanza manifests. criticism. 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. so it is an ambiguous strength to say the least. 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. 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. What he reveals for us in these early pages is the state of aesthetics in the modern age whether he likes it or not. the missing thing of poetry via scission. he states most openly that the assumed problem of metaphysics is to be revealed there in that room. but knows the representation. Agamben is widely critical of the modern nihilistic tradition of valorizing negation. Agamben explains that criticism is marked by a formula “according to which it neither represents nor knows.

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 17 . because it is Being. in terms of the future. this is just the inheritance of negativity from the metaphysics of scission. knowing: logos. or that there is language. poetic and philosophic. as a philological consideration of the troubadours’ idea of the stanza. and third there never can be. meaningless pleasure: phone. scission as stanza. On the other is the philosophical word. but they are not genres at all. on language. language as scission. This location contains nothing specifically and in our age we have made the error of assuming that. this is pure.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE of generic languages. an error for which we suffer but which may also be a productive and generative errancy. that is disguised. This word is pure. On one side of the stanza is the poetic word. art. because of this indistinction. and a possible solution. second that there never was. or how we have language. and finally indicate the role poetry has to play in any future comments on metaphysics. The stanza is nothing other than a pure. currently withheld from view. like being. is. The division between the two “words” is not so much imposed by Plato as reified. THE SIGN 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. neutral medium. What language is is portrayed in this impossibly contracted history of everything. Rather their generic subdivision courtesy first of Plato and then of Aristotle.” namely the room as such and while to us this appears as an empty and. and being. is an attempt to veil the truth of the basis of all thought. leaving us with a dark legacy. or at least everything in metaphysics since the Greeks. Agamben uses the figure of the stanza to bring this complex logic into relief. one must valorize negation as such. Because we see that the room is empty we assume that first there is nothing in the room. if disgruntled. It exists as a containment space between opposing forces occupying the same zone of indifferent indistinction as infancy. Language as such. Agamben’s great project. Yet there is something “in the room. hopeless space. almost. which all amount to the same thing. reveal its ubiquity across our culture.

136). the act of recognition that reunites what is divided. In this way all signs can be said to be part-symbolic or. rest in establishing one half of the division as more true than the other. primarily because the symbol brings together S/s into a single unified entity. it has been widely ignored by classic metaphysical strategies. is also the diabolic that continually transgresses and exposes the truth of this knowledge” (ST. and its being present.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet profoundly heterogeneous relation: S/s (with S representing meaning and s the material signifier). through a consideration of the aesthetics of the symbolic emblem. especially for Hegel. not only does this scission produce the sign. he argues. temporarily or artificially impose a unity on the primacy of scission in metaphysics. therefore. In this algorithm the phonic element of the word. positive destiny. in the model of paradigm and copy. and the relation of latent to sensible 18 . 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 is separated from. and the two are separated by a bar. yet the effect is not actual reconciliation but a painful reminder of this most destructive caesura. In so doing it naturally foregrounds the imposition of false scission: “The symbolic. familiar to us now.21 Agamben comes to this “original fracture of presence that is inseparable from the Western experience of being.” meaning that “all that comes to presence comes there as to the place of a deferral and an exclusion. 136). before access to materiality or intercourse between the two values is literally banned or barred. 136). has been a source of metaphysical unease. is located below the meaning of the word. . in the sense that its manifestation is simultaneously a concealment. a lack” (ST. the signifier. All three gestures are typical of the metaphysical scission represented by Plato’s banning of poetry from the republic. then placed above material noise. These strategies. as he says: “Only because presence is divided and unglued is something like ‘signifying’ possible. completing his narrative. is there the need to philosophize” (ST. For that matter. it also creates the discipline of thinking called philosophy: “only because there is at the origin not plenitude but deferral . . 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. The symbol. Symbolic acts.” In other words. Justifying this claim.

its own authentic intention” (ST. the bar (/) of the graphic S/s . 137). that is.” Our idea of language as signification is false. it betrays through its symbol-status the division at the heart of metaphysical systems of unity. which has always been par excellence the plane on which the experience of the original fracture is represented. is the very thing that is the source of its inauthenticity and possible rehabilitation. but rather. 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. . the very thing the philosophy of language does not see. deferral. although the scission between presence and absence comes very close to being archetypal for Agamben. Not only does it present a unity to mask the primary scission of language-thought. with that omission. Every semiology that fails to ask why the barrier that establishes the possibility of signifying should itself be resistant to signification. As Agamben presciently states: “In modern semiology. falsifies. Agamben is not an adherent to the science of signification. it is the structuring of thought qua scission. the bar. in particular here “language. or Derridean différance without succumbing to said division. this interpretation is crystallized in the notion of the sign as the expressive unity of the signifier and signified” (ST. . 136).PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE manifestation. 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. within its graphicality in the figuration of the bar. Agamben believes one can overcome scission. This scission is not specifically a division between one thing and another. however. Unlike Derrida. as Agamben believes contentiously that Derrida has (ST. insignificant. Again here we can see the quasi-symbolic nature of the sign. as in Derrida. Stanzas is by far Agamben’s most sustained engagement with psychoanalysis. it contains within its own boundaries a sensuous representation of both unity and scission in the form of the bar. 156). Aside from his regular use of the term semiotics.22 19 . itself supposedly a symbol of unity. In a Lacanian gesture. and ultimately indifferent mediality. but the barrier within the sign functions as metaphysic’s betrayer. If the sign is a source of displeasure for Agamben. The bar is language as pure. “In the reflection on language. It exists in the form of a cancelled stanza more accurately represented as S [ / ] s than the Saussurian S/s.

there. 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.24 Deixis as a form of indication can be described as exophoric in that it refers to extra-linguistic material. These are most commonly personal pronouns. With the slow but inexorable rise of prose this bringing in of the outside into the text. The second is the retention of ineffability within thought. but other pronouns indicative of space and time are also deictic: now. continues the development of the idea of infancy through a radical critique of the dependence of modern thought on negativity. 13–14). philosophy’s reliance on deixis or pronouns to manifest being and the concomitant dissatisfaction they draw from this procedure. according to Godzich and Kittay. 4–5). Each of these three themes is of no small relevance to what we have already learnt of infancy. For Hegel this is the inability of the sensuous sign to render in full the material realm (LD. you. it. an assumed quality of 20 . here. most surprising and technical part of this critique. the jongleur or performer used a series of gestures known to his mime-literate audience to show that he was speaking as someone else. Language and Death. The first of these is a reliance on death as a means of defining being. Reading Hegel and Heidegger he strives to demonstrate how nihilism dominates their thought in three ways. Deixis is a term used in linguistics to indicate the point of reference of a statement that relies absolutely on context. most famously in Heidegger’s being-towards-death (LD.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN NEGATING NEGATION Agamben’s first sustained engagement with the metaphysical tradition. this. that. or of something else. I.23 For Heidegger it is the impossibility of Dasein to ever actually occupy the space of its own being (LD. The third is the reliance of both thinkers on deixis when trying to express language’s necessary insufficiency in relation to knowledge. As we have already dealt with the issue of the ineffable through an analysis of unsayability we are left with the third. 1–5 & 59–60). or something was referred to over there. then. This exophoric capability explains the rise of deixis as a literary device from the twelfth century onwards.25 Up to this point the normative mode of literature was performed poetry and if someone other than the narrator spoke. wherein the possibility of having an intra-textual technique for referring to assumed extra linguistic material or presences was developed.

inaugural syntagm: “And justify the ways of God to man. Imagine Islamic art. the complexity of either the world being occupies or how it occupies that world.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE prose that differentiates it from the so-called “univocality” of the poem.27 Deixis is also regularly utilized as a form of anaphora or internal reference that refers back to a subject. by definition disappoints.29 and cataphoric projective reference. give it to me. for Heidegger. It tells us where being is but says nothing of how or why it is. noun. 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. the very thing 21 .26 was facilitated by simple phrases such as “he said. 4). There-being or being-the-there as Agamben re-translates Dasein (LD.” “that door. referring to the previously mentioned firearm (“firearm” in this sentence is anaphoric but not deictic). Working at opposite ends of the rather colourless deictic spectrum.” Similarly.” The “it” in this sentence is both deictic and anaphoric. Finally. or indeed anything of use about the where or the there. exophoric context-dependent indication. will come to hold a central importance in Agamben’s thought and its relation to poetry. Naturally.”28 All three elements of deixis. 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. Hegel’s interest in the sensuous versus Heidegger’s in ontological topography. the brevity and baldness of the pronominal will fail to convey the full complexity of a sensuous presence for Hegel. and so on previously mentioned: “The gun. 19–26). or the work of Lyn Hejinian. Venice. and then replace each with the reductive “this. They effectively use anaphoric/cataphoric deixis as shorthand for an already uttered or to be uttered authentic name of being. “there” does little to convey. 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. 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.” and so on. and in its anaphoric/cataphoric mode it is indeed nothing other than a convenience of abbreviation. anaphoric recursive reference. For both authors this referential shortfall is represented by the silent voice at the heart of being.

106). he also seeks for solutions to negativity ostensibly through the voice. Agamben’s relation to the voice is complex. If language as pure mediality has been artificially and with violence bifurcated in metaphysics into phone (voice) and logos (language as discourse). In effect there are numerous voices in Language and Death. and then perhaps the Voice under negation. however diligently Proust attended to it. through the idea of human infancy. and the failure of speech to evince knowledge. although Agamben does not write it like this. valorize and exteriorize the signified only to discover a profound asymmetry in signification. which one could describe as the problem that a word does not totally contain its meaning or referent. the world or being. is not to try and render experience through language but to render experience as language. One might then ask the question why thinkers of such sophistication resort to deictic indicators at all. Deixis is always used to indicate something exterior to language and so is shorthand for all the failings of language’s referential shortfall. classically. 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. that the voice is defined by what it cannot say (the ineffable). “This” may not capture Venice but nor will the prose of Ruskin. a work every bit as important to the collapsing of metaphysics as Being and Time or Of Grammatology. They then. relies in each instance on an assault on the voice. If one demands of language that it is a tool for reference one consigns language to inevitable failure as regards knowledge. The only solution to this problem.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN that enunciates being and yet leaves its truth unsaid. Voice. in reality a synecdochic anamorphism wherein one element of linguistic scission comes to stand in for language as a whole. which results in the negation of philosophical negativity by the end of the final seminar (LD. The tripartite critique of modern thought enacted in Language and Death. Agamben believes. the metaphysical capitalization of the Voice as a condition of being in withdrawal. with the voice being set up as the failure to speak or the failure to mean within thought’s reliance on 22 . both Hegel and Heidegger succumb to a primary scission in the word between signifier. While he blames the valorization of the voice for the dominance of negativity in metaphysics. There is the voice of the animal (especially in death). Agamben systematically attacks the idea that human voice emerges from the animal. To sum up in more familiar terms. and signified. this or there. the human voice as lack.

Language brings to presence. Agamben calls this exasperation. mistakenly. instead he uses this very dependence to present a combined theory of referential ontology that he calls desubjectivization. language. or having to. To exit metaphysics. one must pass through the negative abyssal gullet of the voice. The problem is that either language fails to convey the profound texturality and diversity of the sensuous. or it struggles to sum up our whole world and our place within it. not being as such but language as such. SUBJECTIVE ENUNCIATION It might appear from Agamben’s critique of metaphysics that deixis is. in part. this plangent insufficiency. in part. Agamben is inspired in particular by the ontological turn in the work of French structural linguist Emile Benveniste. Benveniste’s theory of subjectivity is based on the idea of linguistic enunciation and specifically how this relies on deixis. “this” thing is always a privation of the plenitude of the actual thing. there-being. the Voice. I will deal with each idea in turn. albeit under negation.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE language. for Hegel and Heidegger. Benveniste defines the condition of the human subject by its being able to. but brings to presence truth or being as privation. 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. 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. The possession of an articulated or bifurcated system of differential referentiality which we term.30 The first theory allows us to think again about subjectivity. specifically his theories of the subject of enunciation and the semiotic. synthesize his ideas on negation and scission in direct relation to language. Rather than attempt to remove the reliance of objective and ontological referentiality on deixis. enunciate its own self through language. then the voice is always both the villain and victim of philosophy. means that we come to be human by 23 . As we saw. culpable for modern negative metaphysics and this is correct. therefore. One can see therefore that Benveniste allows Agamben to. language is seen in modern philosophy as essential to thinking and yet source of thinking’s deficiency.

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
24

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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)
25

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 SEMIOTIC

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
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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,
27

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
28

as we know. Agamben. it simply and materially is. devoid of meaning. and which is aggressively attacked by the work of Badiou. before and as precondition for discourse. Yet at the same time such terms 29 . Demeny (“for I is another”).37 Additionally. in effect. while xenoglossia gives us an experience of the second condition. “it” in poetry. is the phonetic transcription of languages the Greeks did not understand. The modern term for this experience or event of language as such. Nancy. “it” in philosophical discourse all have very different potential usages—indicative forms operate at the semantic level of discursive meaning. 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. In glossolalia we encounter the pure materiality of language away from any possible meaning. it hints at all post-Adorno poetics of responsibility that can be located in the work of Derrida.38 Bar-bar. Rimbaud’s letter to P.36 Due to its Greek provenance. signs that we know are meaningful in a context but whose specific meaning we cannot glean. Thus glossolalia confirms the first condition of the semiotic. 115). which still has aesthetic and political repercussions for us today. Glossolalia and xenoglossia are. 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. is glossolalia and it has risen to prominence in investigations of the outer limits of poetic experience and experimentation. the process of pushing discourse to its limit or the retention of a remnant of pre-discursive “pure” language. “it” in narrative. and Lacoue-Labarthe. 114).39 As Agamben explains: “The experience of glossolalia merely radicalizes a desubjectifying experience implicit in the simplest act of speech” (RA. and another more ancient missive. In that they are entirely context dependent—“it” in conversation. It is. opposite and revelatory experiences of the nature of language as such. in some ways. 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. thus establishing a tradition of civilization based on xenoglossia as a form of glossolalia. glossolalia has associations with the term barbarism on which our preciously held concept of civilization hangs.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE desubjectivization. Deixis and types of indicative linguistic technique such as anaphora work differently to all other forms of signification.

the historical “fall” of being is both the loss of being and its potential recuperation. rather. to break this task down I will progress through the page-long summary step by step. He then proceeds to bulldozer and flatten both sides of this impasse with a Calibanesque heavy-handedness: “On the one hand.” (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.40 In one sense deixis is meaningless and empty reference. poetic desubjectivization.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN are devoid of specific meaning. xenoglossia. the psychosomatic individual must fully abolish himself and desubjectify himself as a real individual to become the subject of enunciation. in Heidegger. Therefore deixis stages not a fixed meaning in language but language as such as medium for meaning’s transmission. is so rich that it needs must be quoted in its entirety. but infancy also allows us a possible route back to language. 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. they instead refer neutrally to the event of speech and language or what might be termed its passive taking place. In another it is pure contextual differentiation in that it is potentially referential but is always awaiting a context to come to mean.) “But. However. hating not. which is what the later sections of Remnants of Auschwitz constitute. 116). for example “I” out of context means nothing and is basically glossolalic.”41 The conclusion of the updating of Infancy and History. that he has gained access to being always already anticipated by a glossolalic 30 . once stripped of all extralinguistic meaning and constituted as a subject of enunciation. Indicative forms of this order are not pure noise but nor are they meaningful. / Loving not. and stone the twenty-first. Just as. just choosing so. loving not. hating not. the subject discovers that he has gained access not so much to a possibility of speaking as to an impossibility of speaking—or. 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. Glossolalia. just choosing so. This language as such is ruined by our having infancy and the concomitant desubjectivization of differential scission. 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. deictic desubjectivization.

post-alterity. 114). in seeming to access discourse (meaning) through the xenophora of deixis. independent of every meaning. sounds. such as deixis. This leads Agamben to a three-part. which is the event of language as such. instead the subject finds himself “expropriated of all referential reality. blurred or suspended as the subject uses deixis to access discourse only to find in place of discourse pure noise.43 Explaining that “I speak” is as meaningless as “I am a poet. once he is inside of discourse he becomes expropriated. Those well-versed in contemporary philosophy may recognize this speck of alterity at the heart of self-presence from.42 However. letting himself be defined solely through the pure and empty relation to the event of discourse” (RA. 116). He cannot speak. In appropriating the “formal instruments” of discourse. this I-other stands in an impossibility of speaking—he has nothing to say. This rather terrifying observation is crucial in our adventures under the leadership of the literary Agamben. while as Agamben explains the subject of enunciation is composed entirely of discourse. In enunciating the I. the subject becomes.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE potentiality over which he has neither control nor mastery” (RA. insofar as it is solely sustained in a pure event of language. Lévinas and Derrida. and potentially devastating conclusion. and thus affirmative philosophy of our age. the final facet of his conclusion makes the radical step away from alterity and the philosophy of responsibility. Here. Setebos to the subject’s Caliban. profound. the subject. for example. instead finds not meaning but the very absence of meaning. wailing. and Agamben is well aware of the tradition he is potentially entering here. an isle full of noises. subjectification and desubjectivization coincide at every point. as Paul terms it. “him that speaketh a barbarian” (cited in RA. he concedes that it makes no more sense to say “this I-other speaks”: For. rather he is spoken in the glossolalic language of barbarians. The sound of language as such.” for what I hope now are clear reasons in that I is always other. Here she tunes in to white noise. 116). and both the flesh and blood individual 31 . and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. if not removed. 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. This being the case. In the absolute present of the event of discourse. which locates his work alongside Badiou as the only potential. feedback.

and in the manner that he dictates within I go signifying” (cited in ST. . takes note. “Dante instead characterized poetic expression precisely as the dictation of an inspiring love” (ST. 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 32 . 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. POETIC DICTATION At the end of this remarkable passage of Remnants of Auschwitz Agamben then brings us back to our main project here. or what he often refers to simply as poetic dictation when. which also finds great utility in The End of the Poem (1996). rather than speaking of the poeticization of thought. as we know. 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. he instead commits himself to thoughts about poetry.44 Repeating a quote from Dante’s Vita nuova. Staying with Dante. namely the relationship between discursive prose and poetry: logo-poiesis. poetry. This can also be expressed by saying that the one who speaks is not the individual. 124). Agamben proffers the touchstone to my whole study. This relationship is marked by the experience of becoming impersonal that Agamben terms the poetic experience of ontological desubjectivization. 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).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN and the subject of enunciation are perfectly silent. but language . 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. . Love. 117) This experience of the powerful depersonalization of being spoken by language is a profoundly literary one. when Love inspires me. Agamben prefers the term poetic dictation. often called inspiration or the muse. (RA. I won’t speak of the complex theory of shame Agamben mounts here as this has been done very well elsewhere. 127). in fact it radically calls into question the idea of language as a notation of intellection. 127).

(IP. which the ancients called silva (wildwood). . which doesn’t pretend. therefore. Agamben reveals that the experience of language is always doubled: There is.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. in fact. Knowing already that philosophy has fallen into the trap of misconstruing language’s neutral inexpressiveness as ineffability. 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. but rather where the matter of words begins. . the experience of language that forever presupposes words . we now battle alongside the poet as she attempts to find a voice for her experience of the poetic word. what one might term a truly defining subjective event for which subjects habitually lack words. are prisoners of representation. like grammatical language. Where language stops is not where the unsayable occurs. even when they keep silent. [is] the language of poetry. The main body of the book commences with the essay “The idea of Matter. 48) It can be deduced from this that within our tradition there are two types of language-experience/usage in accordance with the 33 .PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE conception of the stanza. as in a dream. this woody substance of language. . .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. (IP.” where Agamben considers enigmatically what he calls decisive experience. 37) Having proposed a potentiality for a silent experience of materiality as such which is not unsayable but simply inexpressive and nonrepresentable presence. matter or wildwood. . Those who have not reached. Contrariwise there is another experience in which man remains absolutely without words in the face of language. Glossing on Celan’s assertion as to the uniqueness of poetic language. to be there before being . . 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 . The language for which we have no words.

Faced with the impossibility of seeing either wood or tree. therefore. a false eschatology for in speaking of the uniqueness of language one proves its impossibility. to have forever . Only the poet. But at that point. calls this state of speechlessness before a language that precedes words infancy. If. “Destiny is concerned only with the language that. so abandoned to itself that it can no longer in any way impose: “la poésie ne s’impose plus. Elle s’expose. decides for truth. as Agamben responds. which is to say. and if one has words to speak of language one no longer has language before one of which to speak. 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 34 .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN traditional roles of philosophy and poetry respectively. through avowing its emptiness. can experience the tree in terms of what it is made of. . Having asserted this. . (IP. 49). of what order is such a destiny in that. Discursive grammatical prose does not concern itself with the semiotic and has. it precedes words as vehicles for meaning and to whom can it occur if we are not yet speakers? Agamben. and decides to remember that emptiness and fill it. . as Celan argues. 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). and so lacks access to the language needed to express the nature of the matter of language as such. language stands before him. faced with the infancy of the world. Philosophy already has the words to convey the experience and thus can never undergo the experience. so alone. something to say of it” (IP. its grammar and its tradition. irrespective of the form it takes. Poetry is always in the experience. . it would seem. of course. and reflects that such a state knows nothing of destiny. vows to be able to encounter it. no means of cutting a path through the wildwood of matter to an encounter of the forest as something composed of wood.” so Celan writes . 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. as we have repeatedly seen. The poet is the infant who piously receives this promise and who. Such a destiny is. uniqueness is the destiny of language. Agamben realizes immediately the aporia at the heart of any conception of a unique language accorded to poetic dictation.

This tradition still holds for Dante. stanza. Reading Delfini and Campana Agamben summarizes dictation as the space or locale. cannot be narrated after the fact. dettato.” and is analyzed here in relation to twentieth-century Italian poet Delfini. it is always written after the fact and so is obviously dictated by the already existent presence of the poem. say. a sense also to be found in the German word Dichtung that Heidegger often prefers in reference to poetry. between the experience of dictation as inspiration courtesy of the muse. the events that led to the dictation of a poem. 52).” 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. retains an element from late Latin culture wherein the term refers to writing a literary work. The combination of ideas of pure linguistic matter and language as subsequent philosophical discourse combine in “The Idea of Dictation. testing the experience through thoughtful prose. Dictation therefore names a midway point or tension between being as the intimacy of undergoing an experience of language. and a power of only thinking. . and that of the subsequent declamation of the experience in discursive prose: “Between the impossibility of thinking .” A useful translator’s footnote in the English tradition explains that the Italian for dictation. 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. finds significant examples in the modern tradition in works such as Coleridge’s famous narrative of the composition of “Kubla Khan.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE their experience of pure language cannot translate beyond that experience. As Agamben notes more than once elsewhere. and this intimate divergence is its dictation” (IP. but only occurs in the instance of its exposition. This mediality of poetic dictation explains why “the lyric—which uniquely keeps to such dictation—is necessarily 35 . and the memory that arises precisely out of the impossibility of this love. amorous attachment to the present. means both an authoritative declaration intended for preserving transcription and a mode of poiesis. 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 distanciation of a proceeding recollection of the experience. poetry is always divided. . channelling the muse. Such a poetic experience of language cannot impose itself in prose. between the inability to remember in the perfect. Dictation. therefore.

produces life. but a discovery through the belatedness of the razo or recounting of experience that yes. Life. before honing in on the specificity of the relation between poetry and the poet’s life in the development of the razo de trobar. . which the poet produces in the poem. correctly spoken discourse. for example the Gospel of John. it is always transfixed on the verge of a day that has always already set . the stanza. Was it a vision. but in this failure to recollect one is exposed to the dictatorial truth of poetry: recount and recall what cannot be said or remembered. As I have been arguing. and once one is abandoned by the muse the only tale to tell is of said abandonment. 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. Agamben supports his claim that language precedes life with citations from the theological tradition of the West. 76). That said.” (IP. Agamben notes that in ancient rhetoric ratio or ars invendiendi (inventive art/argument) was juxtaposed with ratio iudicandi or truthful. the source from which all arguments originate. 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. said experience cannot be recounted. This ancient rhetoric of topics however became watered down over centuries so that the place of speech 36 . While one is in the moment of inspiration one lacks the space to speak. in the word. and as his main theme is of course the political determinations of the category life. 93). 52). 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. .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. What I hope becomes clear by virtue of this positioning of the lyric at a moment of linguistic twilight is that like infancy. 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. poetry is central to the work of Agamben. and love.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN empty. withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. inventive art was given the title argumentum because it was supposed that invention gave one access to the very place of speech as such.

what the troubadours called the stanza of love.49 Agamben notes that over centuries this has given birth to the art of biography. caught as it is between the wordless experience of language as such and the language-less process of language about language. and indeed our whole tradition. not only dramatizes the problematic of the emergence of human life out of language. More interesting than the slippery nature of topics/razo perhaps is the relation between lived experience and the experience of language which typifies dictation. This allows Agamben to now explain once and for all the role of the razo in poetry: “The razo. Modern versions of the razo can be found in the work of Freud as much as in Joyce for example. ratio iveniendi. is therefore neither a biographical nor a linguistic event. The impersonality of dictation becoming the personal element of biography. Rather. 79). 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. in other words. that defies definition. from the poetic experience of language as such. between lived experience and what is poeticized . but also that of philosophy. an experience of the event of language as love. 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. so to speak. . ratio iudicandi. or the experience of inspiration becoming the tale of 37 . 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. Clearly there is something about the original place of language. . 79). 80).” (LD. 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. then fable. 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.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE as arche-source simply became conventional arguments used as mnemonic techniques in oral cultures. and finally the novel. the razo is a zone of indifference. which we share in common with all life? How. which lies at the foundation of poetry and which constitutes what the poet calls its dictation (dictamen). as the tight unity of what is lived and what is poeticized—now becomes a giving of reasons for experience” (EP.

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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inspiration. ontological. indifferent. This is why the fact that there is language. poeticized. 38 . cannot be addressed unless one listens with care to the dictates of the many pages that comprise the work of the literary Agamben. which is the basis of human being as both divided and potentially redeemed. in-fancy.

FIRST EPISODE ON THE WAY TO LOGOPOIESIS .

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From the Latin gerere it is a type of bearing or carrying. a meaningless action. “Father dust who rises 41 . in a recent essay “The Author as Gesture” included in the collection Profanations (2005). 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. after all. Gesture is rather an unconscious occupancy of the hands in conversation. a place-holder for a subjective category convenience. empty. Accepting Foucault’s dictum that the author as creating subject is dead and replaced by the author-function. Foraging for the place of poetic thinking Agamben reads a poem by the famous author-function César Vallejo. 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.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. .”2 Naturally. not a person as such who has the capacity for thought. Agamben wonders where precisely the thought of the poem occurs. we can say that . THINKING THOUGHT POETIC THINKING Going against the grain of the Platonic tradition and accepting as a given that poetry thinks. the location of poetic thinking would ordinarily be seen to take place in the mind of an author. The gesture in question is.CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. Agamben is however unable to concede that there is no author as such in the text. . the author is present in the text only as a gesture that makes expression possible precisely by establishing a central emptiness within this expression.

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. he will repeat the same inexpressive gesture the author used to testify to his absence in the work” (Prof. can be located neither in the poem nor the author/reader-function. The reader becomes.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from Spain” (Prof. must be the reader who. nor can a poem as object be said to think either.4 Instead. touching the text into being through an act of empty. This being the case the author-function does not facilitate ownership or authority.?” (Prof. if the thoughts of a poem are not in the mind of the author-function as they cannot be. creative. then thought occurs at the 42 . Author-functions play tag with the text. . The only outstanding thinking subject involved in poetry. in effect. thinking subject. willing agency. speculating as to the exact location of the thoughts and sentiments contained in the work. poetic thinking must be. contrary to one’s assumptions. “in the gesture through which the author and reader put themselves into play in the text and. “Does this mean that the place of thought and feeling is in the poem itself . . If the poem “thinks” or presents thoughts and this thinking is not to be located in the mind of an actual. therefore. 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. . in occupying the space vacated by the author becomes. or indeed even later as he was rereading his work. in taking up the poem to read. 71). a similarly evacuated subjectivity. at this point. Nietzschean. but desubjectivized ontology.” (Prof. 71). then can they ever even be said to be the thoughts of the poet? It would seem not. The author is only the witness or guarantor of his own absence in the work in which he is put into play . in effect. its actual taking place as a mode of thinking-feeling. at the same time. the author-function does not think but is a collaborating facilitator of social forces. Aside from it being almost impossible to stipulate the exact moment that a poet “thought” what they wrote. 12). Here Agamben realizes that the reader. Agamben is forced to conclude. 98 fn. . “will occupy the empty place in the poem left by the author. 71). suggesting rather that they most probably only came to be known to the author as he was writing. Agamben adroitly comes to realize that this is equally impossible for thoughts imply by definition a thinking subject. are infinitely withdrawn from it. as Foucault would have it. a reader-function.3 The place of the poem.

but the text “has no other light than the opaque one that radiates from the testimony of his [the author’s] absence” (Prof. thought and its expression. From being the presupposition of a thing’s truth the thing becomes the presuppositional necessity of thinking. bring each other into presence then immediately withdraw. They point to the presence of beings but they do not possess actual being. then paradoxically it ceases to be thought as such but a category subordinate to the thing.5 Aristotle illustrates this rather abstract point with reference to the 43 . anything. Thought that thinks itself neither thinks of an object nor thinks nothing. paternal. Yet if thought instead comes to actuality and thinks something. 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.LOGOS. this time the more familiar discipline of philosophical thought or thinking as such. THINKING THOUGHT moment that subject and object. 72). the work becomes the place of thought without one personifying the poem in some absurd way by declaring that it is an autonomous. In contrast. At this impossible point thought is reduced to being a presuppositional representation of the thing. Through this Cimmerian light one is able to discern the topos of a poetic thinking. If thought were simply the neutral potential to think something then. thought no longer thinks some thing in its advent of singularity but is effectively what must be thought about some already presupposed thing. Reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics Agamben presents the aporia of what thought actually thinks in terms of issues of potentiality and actuality. thought would effectively think nothing as such. Each time thought thinks some thing therefore. 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. and thus thinking being. or On Contingency” Agamben is again attempting to think the place of thought through a consideration of literature. They are examples of ontological deixis. In an earlier piece “Bartleby. available medium “to think” something. It thinks a pure potentiality (to think and not to think)” (P. touch upon each other. The author can only come to being as the supporting gesture of the text. Such a thought is obviously meaningless. 250–1). between potentiality and actuality. Aristotle contends. Does thought actually exist as such as a general. which for Agamben is a form of language. potential.

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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN figure of a blank tablet upon which thought can be written but on which it has not yet been written. POETRY AND PHILOSOPHY Yet one would be wrong if one then declared some kind of lasting amity between poetry and philosophy. which at the same time negates thinking as such. . and its presence as a coming to be a thing to be thought. yet generally ignored problem shared by poetic and philosophical thinking. . Thus to think thought is to think both the absence of thought as a thing to be thought. producing an ontological caress. If the philosopher’s vocation is to think then naturally to think what thought is would be their highest calling. That we flatly refused to admit representational poetry. They touch on being and. the author as individual does not exist as such in a text. 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. 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. 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 . coyly withdraw. Yet to think thought as potentiality leaves thought with nothing to think. as we saw. The same is true for the philosopher.6 Let us dwell momentarily on a common. . Yet if.”7 Thus began proceedings for what Agamben translates as the “divorce” between poetry and prose 44 . hand-in-hand. . surprising. In his treatise on how to establish the ideal totalitarian state Plato immortally excludes poets from the republic. which convinces me that the way we were trying to found our community was along absolutely the right lines . Both seem to founder on an aporia between potentiality and actuality. a bolstering figuration that shares a clear equivalency to Agamben’s idea of gesture as an empty facilitation of thinking. or at least Aristotle passes this belief on to Western metaphysics. The author in a text is a potential to be while the realization of her thoughts in the text seems to be an actualization.

of mimesis. in particular. even radical disjuncture. In Language and Death. 68) as we have already seen. THINKING THOUGHT (MWC. the very taking place of language as originary argument” (LD. 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. he wonders. The stated intention of the Provençal poets’ razo de trobar was “to experience the topos of all topoi. or even poetry’s role in thinking was. Love is not only the term for the very event and advent of the poetic word it also comes to stand for the unattainable. 66). “And if love is presented in the 45 . then what is the extreme experience of language within the poetic tradition?” (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. Aristotle was more than happy to begin the discipline of aesthetics or philosophical categorical thinking about the arts spawning a long and illustrious tradition. until Hegel.. 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. . Agamben soon uncovers a dark truth at the heart of troubadour poetics. But on the whole poetry as a form of thinking. 52). this abyss weighs heavy upon our philosopher’s mind. primarily excluded from the philosophical canon. Republic 607b–c) poetry . but has also introduced a disastrous aporia into Western metaphysics based around the presupposed difference between poetry and thinking which. They named the experience of the very advent of the poetic word. Defining philosophy as “the unspeakable experience of the Voice” (LD. So much so that today it seems strange perhaps to even argue a role for poetry as a mode of thinking.LOGOS. that is. the place from which all places emerge. 66). . of material pleasure. but for most it is not a form of thought. Not that philosophy then neglected poetry. that not only typifies our culture’s response to the arts. 66). 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. came to remove from poetry thinking as a form of authentic modality. love. Plato. Poetry is a form of expression. Agamben suspects as much when he presents just such a possibility at the foundation of modern poetics in the razo de trobar. for example. Although Troubadour love constitutes a promising avenue of inquiry. inevitably.

These issues come to full appearance for both disciplines during the period of 46 . and so on. The poetic and philosophical experiences of language are thus not separated by an abyss. as an ancient tradition of thought would have it. and thus. also holds them together and seems to point beyond their fracture. Perhaps. Neither is able. Thus while poetry comes very close to an originary experience of language as such. rather. he is forced to conclude: Even poetry seems here to experience the originary event of its own word as nothing. 69). that is because the experience of the taking place of language is at stake here. so much so that Agamben is willing to hand over ontology to the “poetic” experience of desubjectivization. seems necessarily to be marked by negativity” (LD. 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. his philosophy of indifference. alone. modern metaphysics and Provençal poetics are. 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. to attain such an experience. I showed this in the previous chapter by drawing parallels between algorithms for the sign S/s. while separating them. seemingly divergent yet. to understand that which. 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. and modern art and aesthetics as nihilism. and the stanza S [/] s. and yet accessible only in this distance. but both rest originally in a common negative experience of the taking place of language. the subject of The Man Without Content (1970). and this experience. come together within the modern experience of metaphysics as negation detailed in Language and Death. unattainable.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Provençal lyric as a desperate adventure whose object is far away. The two empty resonators. unspeakability. (LD. nothingness. philosophy and poetry. resorting always to negative constructions of language as unattainability. These two traditions and experiences of the word as negativity. Agamben admits. as such. Both poetry and philosophy seek an indifferent experience of language as such before the moment of its division into language and voice.

THINKING THOUGHT modernity. essentially. but rather the result of a mutual origin in thinking as such that. . In “Kommerell. Stanzas concludes with an attempt to relocate a post-nihilistic idea of presence located in the very fold or articulation between signified and signifier. or On Gesture” he brings together poetry. 85). without thereby becoming either philosophers of the voice or mere enthusiasts? Are we capable of reckoning with the poetic 47 . the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and a unity” (ST. 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. however.) The abyss between poetry and philosophy occupies the last of Agamben’s thoughts in Language and Death (LD. 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. That poetry and philosophy share such commonalities is not a coincidence.8 Agamben is moved to wonder in this regard: Are we capable today of no longer being philosophers of the letter . for example. 157). 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. in the “Project for a Review” he ends the volume by calling for a radicalization of the ancient science of philology which would. and philosophy in a characteristically ambitious denouement (P. . he names this possibility harmonia or “the idea of a laceration that is also a suture. In Infancy and History. politics. Tracing this articulation back to ancient Greek sources. gesture. yet the roots of their failure to find language go back several centuries at least. (He is referring here to Heidegger. Ending books on a call for the healing of the fracture between poetry and philosophy then becomes something of a habitual gesture. problematic experience rather than an embarrassed repression” (IH. poeticize philology so that the site of the division between poetry and philosophy “becomes a conscious.LOGOS. 163). 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. 108) and forms the conclusion of two major essays in the collection Potentialities (1999). 157).

115) I believe our point is well made. 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. Conceding this point. it resides somewhere in the division between poetry and philosophy. that it is threatened by an excess of tension and thought. rather. pestered endlessly by the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius to once more attend his court. citing the famous Wittgenstein declaration that philosophy should really only be poeticized. THE THING ITSELF In the opening essay of Potentialities entitled “The Thing Itself.9 This usually takes the form of a summons to poeticize philosophy and expose philosophic prose to the semiotic presence of the poetic word. 115). paraphrasing Wittgenstein. . but they also come together in Agamben’s idea of the communicability of language as such as the place between. provides an opening up of the pathway towards a future for philosophy but alone it is not the destination of this track. The destination of many major works by Agamben is the revocation of the divorce between poetry and philosophy instigated formally by Plato in Republic. that poetry should really only be philosophised” (EP. has always existed in the midst of the two fundamental experiences of language in our culture: language as sustaining (poetry) and as testing (philosophy). These two experiences form the basis of Agamben’s idea of the origin of all literature in dictation. Agamben argues: “As for poetry. within. Plato devised an apotropaic pedagogical methodology. Or. on the contrary. (P. emerges where no voice calls us? Only then would tradition cease to be the remission and betrayal of an unsayable transmission . Rather. One presents to the apparently eager student the whole thing of 48 . therefore. in the fold or invisible harmony that.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN presentation of the vocation that. 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. COMMUNICABILITY.” Agamben recounts a story told by Plato in one of his letters of how. one could say. However. as a nonpresupposed principle. . Agamben believes. Poetry. and surrounding the two contesting ideas of thinking within our tradition.

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. however. Modern science is the archetypal epistemology in 49 .” but. a thing in the world or a thing than can be represented by language and thus known in this way. Rather than the thing as such being an unsayable and inaccessible part of being. name (onama). If the student is sincere he or she will embrace this difficulty. as an object presupposed by language and the epistemological process. 31). an arche thing impossible to retrieve. its own knowability and truth” (P. 33). Rather said thing is to be brought to light “in the very medium of its knowability. THINKING THOUGHT thought and all difficulties attendant on that. Agamben reconstitutes the thing as such as the ground or support of knowability. “that by which the object is known. Knowledge presupposes something as already existing about which it has knowledge whose veracity it can vouchsafe through the idea truth as agreement. the obscure nature of the presupposition of a thing. and knowledge. while language cannot say the thing as such. 28) will realize the dolour of “the thing” and task their tutor no more. there but never to be made available to presence. Plato concedes. Yet. 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). 32). 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. The thing itself. the thing is “nevertheless possible only in language and by virtue of language: precisely the thing of language” (P. image (eidolon). This thing then is not a fifth. otherwise those merely “tanned” by philosophy (P. in the pure light of its self-manifestation and announcement to consciousness” (P. additional recondite element as the tradition has it. is the apotropaic heart of philosophy. therefore. but the basis of knowledge on this very obscurity. Much of this comes down to the problem of presupposition. all are dependent on the thing as such. the most difficult of all problems: the very thing of thought as such. Agamben’s translation finds that the four bases of being which define the Platonic theory of ideas. This thing is not a thing in any ordinary sense of the term. If this thing is not a thing in the world nor is it.LOGOS. Having presented this reading of Plato. but the very precondition of being: “no longer simply the being in its obscurity.

without which. One of the earliest and most important essays on Agamben’s work. If the thing is not a thing in the world. which. 34). why that which cannot be thought. in language. declaring that the thing itself is not “something ineffable that must remain unsaid and hence sheltered” (P. . more typical of modern ontology. Communicability divided from communication. and negation at the heart of epistemology. I would argue. nor a presupposition or hypothesis. it is what we are always disclosing in speaking. although not the same thing at all. Düttmann’s introduction to Idea of Prose. reveals that: “Language sup-poses and hides what it brings to light. Düttmann states: “Communicability always communicates itself. unsayability. it is nothing but communication itself. in using language as a means of accessing that about which one speaks. the thing could not come to presence. Agamben strongly refutes this history of the thing.” (P. what is the thing? “It is the very sayability. The thing itself of thought. inscribing a myth of absence. 35). .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN this regard operating as the very opposite structure to that of an apotropaic thinking that is. an act of communication. the very open-ness at issue in language. we always presuppose and forget . Such thinking. in the very act in which it brings it to light” (P. While language and knowledge presuppose the thing itself as already existing as a thing about which they can speak and have knowledge. what we are always saying and communicating . nor is it “horribly or beautifully unreachable in its obscurity” (P. The result is that the sayability of the thing said and the knowability of the thing known are both lost to presuppositional thinking. cannot however be thought separately. therefore. nor even an arche thing forever lost to which thought aspires. spends some considerable effort defining communicability through its source in Benjamin and establishing it as the heart of Agamben’s thought. it would take the form 50 . .11 their presupposition of the thing itself will always make said thing inaccessible. privation. is the communicability of the very language that cannot express the thing but. 33). 35). Yet communicability cannot be collapsed into communication in that in itself it cannot be communicated: “if communicability let itself be communicated. would not name the thing being communicated and so said thing would not be produced into presence and communicability never invoked and revealed.” Communication and communicability. . What is the very thing of thought itself ? this tradition seems to ask.

and technical. 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. however far the thing as such is from Agamben’s ideas on enjambement or poetic rhythm. is not precisely a comment on language. For example. and we as critics of literature can and must learn from him in these areas. and communication. which is also essential to Agamben’s ideas on poetry. 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. Language is the very thing that allows thought to occur and it is thought that Agamben pursues. a chattering mime of poets along the way. While he has a great deal to say of poetry that is philological. Agamben’s analysis of the thing as such should therefore act as a warning. historiographic. Returning to “The Thing Itself.” poetry is fundamentally important to thinking but not necessarily fundamentally important in itself. and his interest in language is piqued only as a way of revealing the very basis of thinking and being as such. It would not be possible to produce an Agambenian linguistics from it for example. This does not mean communicability is unsayable or invisible. lead it forward into the light). 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. Like Heidegger. Agamben’s interest in poetry and the literary in general is only as a means of bringing him closer to language. In addition.”12 Hence communicability is defined here as that which supports and facilitates communication but which itself is never communicated through an act of communication. but at the same time allows us access to a profound realization. reducing itself to the simple communication of something. would erase itself immediately.LOGOS. merely that the means of encountering it are not provided by communication of something specific. 51 . 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. 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. THINKING THOUGHT of a thing. one can see here that the communicability of language.

“no word for the word” (P. the first word of god. can presuppose nothing. 41). Glossing on John. a knowable thing that we did not previously know. the very fact that language (and therefore knowledge) exists. This diversion through the tautegorical revelation. . . it is noted. as a statement on the ontology of language as such. “There is.14 is a strategy on Agamben’s part to suggest that modern metaphysics is similarly dominated by the impossible 52 . Agamben explains that the beginning word. 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 . . but is instead a truth that concerns language itself. .” or a heuristic tautegorical structure that says its essence through the act of saying but saying nothing as such.13 This word/name therefore cannot say something about something as there is no something that precedes it. The meaning of revelation is that humans can reveal beings through language but cannot reveal language itself . Instead it says the thing as such of language. (P. nothing precedes the “big word” of God. 40) This transparency of language within our tradition has come to be the very quality of god’s invisibility. Agamben calls this the movement of language’s “self-revelation. allowing Agamben to define that foundational theological declaration on language. The absolute presupposition is itself non-presuppositional. 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.” he considers the influence of the concept of revelation on the Western metaphysical ideas of linguistic unsayability. must contain within it not merely content that human ingenuity has not yet conceived of. Like the quasi-theology of the “big bang” theory of our universe. humans see the world through language but do not see language.” Agamben says making a point he often returns to. or what Lyotard defines as thinking-feeling of something happening as the very happening in question. This is elsewhere reformulated as there being no name for the name. Revelation. en arkhe e ho ¯ ¯n logos (“In the beginning was the word”).

if the presuppositional power of language knew no limits. Yet the Derridean idea of language as subject to the logic of the trace. As Agamben says. that is. Or what Plato calls the thing itself. Nothing immediate can be reached by speaking beings—nothing. 47). The problem here is mapped out very succinctly. The Idea. Thus the conception of language as immediate mediation defines its communicability and reveals a possible way out of the nihilism of modern thought. he wonders. however.” but nor is an Idea some thing in the world outside: “it is a vision of language itself. says language itself and exposes its limits?” (P. allow one to think language as such. without being a metalanguage or sinking into the unsayable. 47). 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. 46). a perfect language purged of all homonymy and composed solely of univocal signs would be a language absolutely without Ideas” (P. except language itself. Thus. mediation itself ” (P. does not have a presence that can be named but nor is the Idea a nameless nothingness. which for human beings mediates all things and all knowledge. Such language is not presupposed. 53 . for example. then there would truly be no possible experience of the limits of language.LOGOS. 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. 46–7). and naturally enough he comes to call this the Idea of language. yet it provides no direct means of letting language speak itself. forcing it always to speak of something pertaining to the epochal closure of the metaphysical project. “If every human word presupposed another word. THINKING THOUGHT logic of revelation. On the other hand. Language. Returning to Plato. Agamben believes. “this is an Idea. does not. as immediate mediation “constitutes the sole possibility of reaching a principle freed of every presupposition” (P. “Can there be discourse that. as ever the quarry in Agamben’s sights here. Agamben sees the modern presupposition of language as profoundly aporetic in that it posits language as the presupposition to thought. is itself immediate. 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). The Greek sense of the Idea is not a word so cannot be named meta-linguistically.

to solve the problem of philosophy itself rather than use philosophy to solve problems. Even Agamben’s own.15 Such a moment ought to be celebrated should it not. In the pursuit of thought nothing is sacred. suspended. made over much of linguistic communicability. He wishes. 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. 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. which is expressed in the formula ‘that there is language’? Is philosophy not concerned precisely with comprehending the incomprehensible?” (P. as yet. True philosophy in this way ought to be doubly silent. For example. or moment in history when all division is. like a number of thinkers since Heidegger. self-avowed project is negated here in true philosophical thought. One name for this voluble silence in Agamben’s work is the Idea of Prose. perhaps. not in song but in a pure language?16 He says. This object is the thing itself of thought defined by Agamben not by what it can know presuppositionally but what it cannot. which is understood by all humans 54 . for a second at least. “Was philosophy not perhaps the discourse that wanted to free itself of all presuppositions. THE IDEA OF PROSE While an essential element of Agamben’s thought critics have. via the mediation of Agamben’s text: “Its language is the idea of prose itself.” 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 thought that does not find presuppositional commonalities but eliminates all presupposition leaving merely the great single object of true thinking. Confusingly. even the most universal presupposition. Similarly. in isolation poetry’s reserved role as the closest experience we can have of immediate mediation via dictation is not Agamben’s main point. alone it tells us little. Silent on the problems it has solved and silent as it comprehends the problems that remain. he reminds us that the original task of thought was not to discern the presuppositional bases for thinking problems but the elimination of presuppositions.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN COMMUNICABILITY. 45). does not understand what to say.

At the moment that history is redeemed from division into integral actuality. instead it is perfectly transparent to itself ” (P. but in the integration of all languages into one pure language that is not written or spoken but simply celebrated. naming the world. To put it succinctly. and actual presence of language as such. prose would name nothing other than the fact that it can name: nominal potentiality. Thus the Idea of Prose is a system of pure and transparent naming that names one thing: the universal. to an impure process of attempted communication or trying to render transparent once more the opacity of signs. integrated. like many thinkers. I believe we now have an answer that we can retrieve from the mysticism of Benjamin’s wonderful prose. however.” a language not tied down to communication but existing rather as pure communicability. 48). “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. 52).17 What would such prose consist of ? Primarily names. naming. discourse. language. discourse presupposes names then a name cannot be anything that would ever need discourse again. Language as communicability is the moment of integral actuality when the thing as such of thought touches the medium of thinking. accepts the scission at the heart of human language between pure signification. Discursive language is widely seen as a necessary evil to redeem the fall of language over time from a pure system of transparent signification. as confusion can of course lead again to a diversity of names for such things. This Benjamin famously calls “freed prose. or communicability. Benjamin. At this moment what is 55 . he writes. THINKING THOUGHT just as the language of birds is understood by those born on Sunday” (cited in P. Such a name cannot refer to things in the world. as our tradition often has it. If. In the Idea of Prose we would not return. as there would be no exteriority for such endless deferral. nor can it refer to other names within language. simply to a universal system of nouns but to a totally transparent system of pure coincidence between sound and sense. humanity will resolve the issue of the Babelian profusion of languages.LOGOS. How can this be? Agamben himself poses this question. not by taking up one single language and rejecting all others. and communication. Such a language does not have a content and does not communicate objects through meanings.

18 choosing to stay within language rather than distance himself from the source of all thought. semiotic. At this point it would cease to be a sustaining experience of language as transmission and would instead be a specific transmissible meaning. He is not a poet. philosophy. or to leave no excessive. Thought thinks how it is possible for thought to think away from presuppositionality. is the thing of such of thought. But this is exactly what they cannot do without abolishing themselves” (P. language. seems to be promoted by an observation by Valéry that states “the essence of prose is to perish” (cited in P. Agamben is a philosopher and purveyor of philosophical prose. Benjamin’s choice of the confusing term prose.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN revealed is that the medium that allows one to produce or perceive the thing as such.” 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. is to be totally comprehended. that is. so to speak. Agamben opts for poetry. 54). 60). unity. A language that precedes thought places language in a position of presupposition immediately negating its true essence and making it a philosophical concept. 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 56 .”19 However. Which is why. 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. In so doing it discovers this possibility through the very medium that momentarily facilitates this question. ironically. the poet says. That said. and difference. A thought that precedes language simply reiterates the aporias of philosophy’s reliance on. transmit it. He does not take dictation. It has to be this way. by actually trying to think it. Language too requires immediate mediation as Agamben explains: “to say what they mean. The destiny of perfect or pure prose. The very meaning of language is its transmission of meaning as such. but to say this it would have to cease transmitting immediately and choose a side. languages would have to cease to mean it. language as semiotic mediality. or material remnant. answering the very pertinent question why he did not describe an Idea of Poetry. given the weak choice of poetry or philosophy in the interim while we await the arrival of the Idea of Prose. yet disregard for.

THINKING THOUGHT poetry itself. Yet a pellucid language would not be reducible to dialectic either as the two elements. As Agamben says of such prose: Insofar as it has reached perfect transparency to itself. naming and signifying. it would seem. if we are ever to arrive at that point. surely. This indifference is not the result of unity or dialectic synthesis. now simply speaks. it is the language that. Only poetry. in never having been. speech restored to the Idea is immediately dispersed. 60) A language of perfect transparency would accept no division and therefore can be described as totally indifferent. can pro-duce perfect prose. 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 no longer be pursued through philosophical prose. Confusingly. a poetry of materialized prose. 57 . It is what is continually said and what continually takes place in every language not as an unsayable presupposition but as what. sustains the life of language.LOGOS. 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. (P. and thus Agamben. are no longer in opposition but in a state of integral actuality. Nancy. resting solely on its own never having been. is forced to turn to poetry. which knows neither past nor repetition. 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. it is “pure history”—history without grammar or transmission. and Heidegger. The Idea of language is language that no longer presupposes any other language.20 Accepting that there are certain presuppositional and aporetic elements to this view. the Idea of Prose. like Badiou. for a messianic and impossible dream? Perhaps. and finally in poetry and its complex presentation and experience of the materiality of language as such through dictation. Derrida. Agamben is reaching here. having eliminated all of its presuppositions and names and no longer having anything to say. but essentially. But remnants of it can be perceived first in the very communicability of language as such or as pure medium. insofar as it now says and understands only itself.

third kind of action: “if doing is a means in sight of an end and praxis is an end without a means. “in a means. the basis of Agamben’s presentation of form-of-life as a new mode of thinking in Means Without Ends (1996). and presents means which. however tense this dual occupancy may be.” while owing much to Aristotle. it remains difficult for us perhaps to see how poetry and philosophy could even begin to be said to share a common ground. Astonishingly. Agamben’s third foray into the theory of gesture. in fact. This is vintage Agamben. gesture breaks the false alternative between ends and means . as that which resides between the two sides of Aristotle’s famous distinction between action (praxis) and production (poiesis). 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.21 This early work begins in characteristic fashion with the philosopher bemoaning the loss of gestures in modern life. does it turn a res into a res gesta” (IH. the making visible of a means as such” (IH. 155). 155).24 is what Agamben calls gesture: “Gesture is the display of mediation. via the neo-Platonist Varro’s reading of Aristotle. are removed from the sphere of mediation without thereby becoming ends” (IH. combining Greek scholarship 58 . . and we will need to wait before we can fully comprehend this final leap of his imagination.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN POETIC GESTURES Although Agamben consistently affirms a common history and destiny for poetry and philosophy. He first raises the issue in an essay called “Notes on Gesture” inserted into the appendices of Infancy and History. He comes to define gesture. perhaps due to the Platonic inheritance.23 This definition of a means without determinate ends. as such. but of a kind of mediation that is pure and devoid of any end” (IH. presents a new.22 He admits that Varro’s analysis of gesture as neither production nor enactment but “undertaking and supporting. . inbuilt scepticism. 154–5). One solution to this problem resides in Agamben’s theory of the gesture with which we already have some familiarity from what is. 155). that potential for the gesture to interrupt it in its very being-means and only thus does it display it. 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. or simply the radical nature of Agamben’s claim.

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. while yet another example of the mute voice within our tradition is. provides the potential for a silence to once more speak.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. namely that gesture is another name for the communicability of language as pure medium: “gesture is the communication of a potential to be communicated.LOGOS. A presence in language more originary than conceptual expression. the linguistic. These comments mark a fairly recognizable presaging of Agamben’s early thoughts on gesture here brought into the sphere of poiesis. Lamentably the gag silences but it also inserts language into a hiatus which. so to speak. language as such. Agamben describes philosophy’s gag as being akin to that of what he calls the gesturality of cinema. THINKING THOUGHT forays into the European avant-garde and radical re-readings of the foundations of modern philosophy all within a few sentences. presents Agamben with a double negation typified by the use of the term gag. This nothing to say. Thus the muteness of philosophy. 59 . The German defines gesture as closely tied but not reducible to. much reviled in Language and Death for example. or On Gesture” he brings philosophy closer to an art form more central to our study. it is “the stratum of language that is not exhausted in communication and that captures language.26 It transpires that philosophy speaks of silence to fill in its memory lapse as regards its true subject for speech. In itself it has nothing to say. Gesture’s muteness. because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as a pure potential for mediation” (IH. Defining the great twentiethcentury German critic as a “gestic” critic. 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. poetry. but in the aforementioned “Kommerell. he reads Kommerell’s own comments on linguistic gesturality. however. The essay ends by explaining a relation the reader may already have discerned. here becomes a positive gagging or “an exposition of the human being’s being-in-language: pure gesturality” (IH. therefore. a positive silence. while a distraction from the truth of language. 156). 77). The insertion of speech into silence. 156). therefore. in gesture. is also a betrayal of its importance. in its solitary moments” (P.

requires that we leave Kommerell in Germany and travel 60 . graphicality. This remaining mimetic element is its gesturality or what we can also call the semiotic. it would seem. language as pure. so to speak. Thus for those possessed of the most words. compares gestural loneliness as akin to that found in lyric poetry. 78). bears a quantum of gestic mass. then. Kommerell defines speech as originary gesture leading Agamben to conclude: “If this is true . Having said that there is one aspect of the philosophical tradition that echoes the pure mediality of gesturality in poiesis. A proposition that allows one to draw the conclusion that in-fancy is also gestural. to better illustrate his point. and a common if divergent response to their being “gagged” by language’s tendency towards muteness within our culture. the weight of language’s gestic muteness. Quite the opposite. Like philosophy. If this is the case.but sublinguistic support of the semiotic as such in language. therefore. it tends ever to the conceptual. and poetry the mimetic. the muteness inherent in humankind’s very capacity for language. becomes almost unbearable. He defines language as primarily conceptual and mimetic. its unspeakability as pure medium that Hegel identified in the inadequacy of the deictic diese. 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. He says the more we have language the greater the weight of the unsayable. . then what is at issue in gesture is not so much a prelinguistic content as. the other side of language. the gestural is one of the means by which poetry and philosophy come together in Agamben’s work. its speechless dwelling in language” (P. remember we have already considered Aristotle’s blank tablet. before assuring us that prose is essentially the conceptual component of language. there must always be something in the poem not exhausted by a reading of it in terms of meaning. poets.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kommerell. 78). Gesture is one name Agamben gives for the very mediality of language’s communicability. It speaks not of the pre. Agamben calls this the tablet and our second encounter with it. inexpressive materiality. Kommerell proposes a decidedly odd equation of diminishing returns in this regard. . Not that philosophy as such is gestural. Aside from the common history and destiny shared by poetry and philosophy. noise. the actor’s improvisation to make up for an impossibility of speaking” (P. Each word. already heightened for them by their semiotic rather than semantic use of language.

its own absolute potentiality. PHILOSOPHICAL GESTURALITY In the sixth century AD. he narrates how. no matter how free of any quality. an image occurred to him that would guide him towards the completion of this impossible task. . with many interruptions. it was not even a space. particular referent. . 34) 61 . how can one comprehend the incomprehensible” (IP. . After three hundred days and three hundred nights of consideration. breath. 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.27 From this charming story of ancient times. but the site of a place” (IP. in exile. Agamben too finds the instigation of what he had been looking for since the inauguration of his great experimentum linguae. Describing Damascius setting about writing down the idea of the threshing floor. or word might eventually take place . The entire. THE TABLET. . but something like the perfectly empty space in which only image. This site of a place reminded him of nothing so much as the threshing floors of Damascus. 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 . he was in despair “because how can thought pose the question of the beginning of thought . “not an image. . the pure potentiality of representation itself: the writing tablet! . not a place or thing. in a flash the old philosopher realized the truth of thought: The uttermost limit thought can reach is not a being. taking his hand from the writing tablet for a moment. where the winnowing fans of thought and language separated the grain and chaff of everything?” (IP. . . Then. 32). one night. but rather. 33). . 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. 33). the ageing philosopher Damascius decided to devote his last years to an impossible work entitled Aporias and Solutions Concerning First Principles. itself unthinkable and unspeakable. the Syrian city where he was born many years before.LOGOS. (IP. “Wasn’t what he was searching for exactly like the threshing floor.

Being a thinker not a poet he thus has no option but to break the tablet of material language and abandon his philosophical ambitions. rather medio must signify being in the midst of a milieu and being a milieu of the midst. Medio in this way would mean to be both in the midst of something.28 Düttmann is somewhat dissatisfied with the translation of medio as “middle term” by Sullivan and Whitsitt. but their middle term”). not giving way to the extremes. 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. what.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. 5). in the midst of poetry and philosophy. therefore. “non era. né poesia né prosa. preferring the German translation “mitte” or midst. 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. and the medium created by the bringing together of these two terms. means he is unable to reconcile the conflict between writing that does not think (poetry) and thinking that cannot be written (philosophy). The tablet is. the precondition of all thought on the materiality of a non-expressive language. One can see why the rather bland and non-suggestive “middle term” then is not to his or indeed my own liking. Düttmann’s analysis of the translation of the key phrase from “The Idea of Prose” is important here. no doubt with great bitterness (although the text of this great work was in fact written). namely mean. with its double sense of midst and milieu or “what takes place in the middle. as Düttmann correctly asserts. Mean here retains the sense of middleness and of sharing a common ground but 62 . That said Düttmann’s version seems to miss the most obvious translation of the term medio. per lui. As Damascius discerned. a version of a kind of gestural or poeticized thinking. The term does not. The closing words of the essay speak again of the enigmatic statement of Aristotle that Plato’s “idea del linguaggio” (“idea of language”). remains surrounded by the milieu that characterizes such an intermediary state” (IP. ma il loro medio” (“was for him neither poetry nor prose. here represented by the medium of an as yet un-inscribed set of thoughts. refer to an already presupposed medium waiting to be occupied.

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. aptly. is also a delineation of potentiality in terms of ontology as the opening essay “Whatever” reveals. told twice over first as part of a co-authored book with Deleuze translated as “Bartleby. this time the tale of different form of tablet named “Bartleby the Scrivener. 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). 1). stillness.” It is a story Agamben has. namely balance. 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. but their mean. midst and milieu do not quite capture what is the essential experience of the Idea of Prose. This second volume. 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. specifically its ability to communicate nothing but its potential to communicate: whatever name. This portentous rhetorical portal opens up a debate on the meaning of “whatever” in terms of identity and being. it is time to tell another story. It commences with prophesy: “The coming being is whatever being” (CC. therefore. suspension: “dialectic at a standstill.32 63 . middleness (Wall’s aforementioned radical passivity). but indifferent being in that it is “such as it is. Average is a most common meaning for medio in Italian. For that matter he is also speaking of language.30 and again in the lapidarianally entitled “Bartleby. while a consideration of ethics and community. or On Contingency” for Potentialities. being French or being Muslim.”29 The tablet. I believe that without the concomitant implication of averaging out.LOGOS.” POTENTIALITY To draw together the diverse strands of Agamben’s theory of the medio. 1). or the mean of communicability between poetry and prose.” in The Coming Community (1990). tension.31 with Agamben explaining he does not mean an indifferent being in relation to a common property. THINKING THOUGHT importantly it adds a third sense: the average of two terms.

not the assumed movement from potentiality to actuality which we might call “creation” or “invention. Thus when Agamben goes on to define the artist. “What is essential is that potentiality is not simply non-Being. the presence of an absence . is defined in terms of being through negation or desubjectivization.” the actual and surprising definition of poetic being is the possession of a faculty and not using it. as indeed all makers are. To have a faculty to write a poem. It ought now to be becoming increasingly clear how Agamben’s early ideas pertaining to authorial gesturality. means that you can write a poem but not that you are writing one or even that you ever will.33 He notes that in Aristotle potentiality. 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. 179). but rather the existence of non-Being. . Agamben concludes. 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. for the sake of argument let us say the poet’s potential to make a poem. so that potentiality is not simply actuality to be but also the refusal to actuate one’s potential. which comes to define being as the presence of the not to be. we say of the architect that he or she has the potential to build.” (P. Indeed. is developed from the debate over what it means to have a faculty to do something and yet not be doing it. or whatever being. Being is defined in its singularity by precisely this ontological condition of neutrality and passivity. “‘in this sense. 64 . in an odd way she is less of a poet when she is fulfilling her potential and writing poems. non-invention. The presence of an absence for Agamben is the true definition of potentiality. simple privation. in-creation. the poet the potential to not-write poems” (P. Thus.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. .” but the chance that potential will remain solely potential—potential inaction. 179). “Thus the architect is potential insofar as he has the potential to not-build. The poet here. Akhmatova is a poet at the moment of her not-yet-having-written and. the simultaneous existence of not being within the very identity of one’s being. all potentiality is based on a choice not to do. and communicability all come together here in a sustained consideration of potential as the desubjectivizing presence of absence in being. tabularity. of the poet that he or she has the potential to write poems.

Once potential passes over into actualization however. “I would prefer not to. Being. As such he is an exemplar of Aristotelian thought as potential and his controversial and apparently unhinged performance choices are recognizable examples of masterful. Such a being is located in the mean or medial position between potentiality. there must be retained a part of potential being that is never fully realized. he celebrates Gould’s artistic power through a consideration of his potential to not not-play. . Stating that any pianist can play or not play. not yet being. it is equally certain that it is not capable of only this or that specific act. even when written upon. with his potential to not-play” (CC. Returning to Bartleby. 36). modern “poetic” thinking. therefore. he is able to consider his potential being beyond simply occupying this named position. . for those who are familiar with this remarkably prescient work by Melville. having been. 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. a blankness that is never entirely blank and that. the being that is properly whatever is able to not-be. 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.LOGOS. it is capable of its own impotence” (CC. Clearly Gould is a thinker in his playing potential for rather than simply being a pianist. THINKING THOUGHT Akhmatova is a poet because she can write poems but she only has this faculty because she can also not write poems. 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. being in its potentiality. Gesture is the touch and withdrawal of being. Gould’s power is that “he plays. 35). must retain a remnant in each of its two manifestations. the simultaneous coming to being and desubjectivization of identity that Agamben describes as the essence of the author-function. retains the element of blankness. The tablet is the medium of this touch or what is touched. 65 . nor is it simply incapable . or to turn his potential into actuality. and actuality. “For if it is true that whatever being always has a potential character. so to speak. Noting that true power comes from the capability for power and impotence. the potential not to be a poet as the very actualization of the poetic subjective state.”34 Agamben calls this supreme power using the figure of Glenn Gould to better illustrate the power of whatever being.

therefore. not writing but the white sheet is what philosophy 66 . is the archetype of pure potentiality as the passive writing medium upon which thought could. philosophy is a firm assertion of potentiality. . But thought. action and passion coincide and the writing tablet writes by itself or. 37). 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. 37). as such. written. “but that layer of wax. as possible or material intellect. that rasum tabulae that is nothing but its own passivity” (CC. This waxen screen allows thought to turn back on itself and think itself as the thought of thought. And Bartleby. The perfect act of writing comes not from a power to write. is pure potentiality. but not in actuality think it for as soon as it is thought. we can now reveal that it is the famous tabula rasa. Aristotle compares it to a writing tablet on which nothing is written” (CC. but being as presence becomes unthinkable. it would always already have passed through to the act and it would remain necessarily inferior to its own object. although Agamben notes that the correct term should be rasum tabulae or the layer of wax covering the tablet which the stylus engraves. 37). not thought considered as an object. as Agamben states midway through “Bartleby.” (CC. writes its own passivity. or On Contingency”: “In its deepest intention. but from an impotence that turns back on itself and in this way comes to itself as pure act . this time more centrally to its relation to potentiality: “If thought were in fact only the potentiality to think this or that intelligibility . “a scribe who does not simply cease writing but ‘prefers not to’” (CC. neither an object nor its negation. but is not yet and may never be. in its essence. 37). Not thought but the potential to think. Thought is neither presence. rather. Having met with this tablet once before. and. nor some negative theological absence. Or. . Thought must have something to think.35 Just as Gould can think his own potentiality by playing with its negation. it is also the potentiality to not think. . Agamben glosses again on Aristotle’s definition of thought. in other words. the construction of an experience of the possible as such.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Reading De Anima. so thought can think itself as a pure medium. . stepping away from to play or not to play in favour of a position of playing to play and playing not to play. thought is no longer thought as such. Being as pure absence remains nonbeing. simply put. but is the presence of absence within presence that both affirms and negates being.

the drop of darkness with which the pen writes. changes her mind. 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. On the Road. They are the art of pure character. with what resides in us but does not belong to us. Agamben concludes: “To some extent we all come to terms with Genius. Looking in the mirror of their art. . then opts not to . is thought itself ” (P. it is useless to tell yourself that just any pen will do. depersonalizes and desubjectivizes the writer. the personal and impersonal (Prof. THINKING THOUGHT refuses at all costs to forget” (P. 244). withdraws the pen. 14). Agamben’s La voce umana. Or better a dot. Then there are the great works that were written purely through genius: “Kubla Khan. These works did not come into being because they were not possessed of genius. changes her mind. a series of dots. a certain dim light shining from the left. 10). Without being facetious. Duchamp. and the works never created: Mallarmé’s Livre. as the poet sets pen to paper. Each person’s character is engendered by the way he attempts to turn away from Genius. as we saw. There are the great books that were never written.36 Potentiality in the writer is precisely this tension between genius and character. but as they write they murder the muse and assume her garb. 67 . what do they see? Dressed in second-clothes. as is the writing of pure inspiration.” The Magnetic Fields. 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. they have become someone they are not. Writer’s block is a phenomenon best explained by the ontology of potentiality. not to write and to write. Going on to describe the essence of the poetic as the tension between the demands of ego and genius. . that any paper and any light will suffice” (Prof. Poets are called by the muse to write. a certain special pen. 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.LOGOS. yet each act of writing. The author attempted to merely will them into existence. 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. 17). As I Lay Dying. 249). the late Rimbaud. DeChirico. however. to flee from him” (Prof. commences writing. The impersonal is negated in the personal act of writing something specific.

. . Their destiny is otherwise. or not to write. when genius has abandoned them? “It is the late and final stage when the old artist lays down his pen—and contemplates. Their brilliance does not reside in what they write or what they excise or refute. Here the author seemingly had little or nothing to do with writing. Then there are the few. inspired flow are two sides of an imbalance of writerly potentiality. 68 . the great writers of genius. There are those who can write and do so with facility and alacrity. fulfil. or not to not write. the powerful unfulfilment of true potential being.” (Prof. and that is the only way.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kenneth Koch’s When the Sun Tries to Go On. A blank tablet acting as mere reproach to the woman of genius. 18). Gesturality signs the long and chequered history of one’s being with language. Writer’s block and pure. devoid of every charm . the brush as it is lifted from the canvas not when it is applied. The gesture alone is meaningless and sad. for Agamben. that determine one’s subjective desubjectivity as a writer of potential. too much character in one and overabundance of genius in the other. Does one fulfil one’s potential in the work? Never. . all one’s written and unwritten works as Agamben phrases it. What does he contemplate? Gestures: for the first time truly his own. only now does the very long unlearning of the self begin . And what of when a writer simply ceases to write. . Some do not write and could never do so. and so on. but in their ongoing and self-conscious game with writing: to write. They are happy with their lot and it would never occur to them not to write. or to write as not writing. The pen that grazes the page.

the process of actually making is rather less glamorous than that. A sweating. but could just as easily be a truth or observation. Yet if we pay careful attention to Plato’s words here. This view of creativity finds its culmination in Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power as Art or maker as creative genius. This includes willed creative agency therefore. poetry has come to be the archetype of all the arts. poiesis is “any cause” that results in creation. THINKING THROUGH MAKING POIESIS The Greek word poiesis1 is the origin of our term poetry explaining why.” Bringing something into presence could just as easily 69 . but is not limited to it. At the same time creation does not simply indicate the god-like making of a new object in the world.CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. Finally. 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. of filmic presentations of creation such as the various versions of Frankenstein. 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. but the bringing into existence something that was not there before which could be an object. but its wider meaning is in fact creation.”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. say. 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.

toil. The chalice makes one think of certain things in relation to ceremony and sacrifice. For Heidegger. These four causes share the responsibility for “the silver chalice’s lying ready before us as a sacrificial vessel” (QCT. guiding. the relationship between gods. 9).. respecting the Greek provenance. The statue makes one think of the materialization of a god within a temple. and their causality in such a way as they will bring to presence a truth or being that was not available for view before. and so on. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as that which “lets what presences come forth into unconcealment. Van Gogh’s peasant shoes “let us know what shoes are in truth” (PLT. purpose. Heidegger is careful to stipulate that the silversmith who makes the chalice is not the final and efficient cause of the chalice. form.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN mean coaxing. form. thinking deeply about the “that” and the “how” of material. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. soil. the erecting of a statue in the temple precinct . 35). 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. reliability. unveiling values such as equipmentality.” (QCT. and purpose will all fit together causally. 70 . each of them must be made of matter that is formed to an end by a causality. The chalice is to hand or possesses Heideggerian equipmentality. through making. Note the emphasis on the object’s availability for use here. 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. The same would be true of the statue. .g. It may be timorous. at least not in the way in which they make the chalice. rather than the beauty of the chalice. Beauty may be a part of poiesis but it is not necessarily the purpose of poiesis. and utility. . Relying on the ancient Aristotelian four causes theory of philosophy—matter. form. 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. making the chalice is really an afterthought following on from deep consideration on the part of the maker as to how material. the temple.” a process he defines as “producing that brings forth—e. Rather. The temple. that he presents as poiesis. Presence need not be awful. It is what the chalice can produce for us as sacrificial vessel and all that entails. 21). or accompanying. purpose.

by making something new and wonderful in the world. This slip of the tongue unfortunately confines creation to the very process. If praxis meant doing something through one’s will to do that thing. praxis. a person able to bend their will to create themselves into being as The Artist. Poiesis as pro-duction. THINKING THROUGH MAKING PRAXIS According to Agamben poiesis was opposed. in that both seem to fulfil Plato’s stipulation that creation is bringing something new into existence. to praxis which meant to do something or to act in accordance with one’s will (MWC. a doer. poiesis was. lacks the subjective agency of an artist as a maker.” is god-like fiat and lacks the sense of passivity and modesty inherent in the term’s original definition. for the Greeks. un-concealment). 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. wilful action. voluntary. that for many thinkers constitutes the opposite of what creation actually is. poiesis. Poiesis has in the modern age been mistaken therefore for praxis. It is an easy mistake to make. inaccurate order. for the Greeks. which is the Greek sense of experiencing truth as unveiling or a-letheia (un-forgetting. an experience of the production of something absent into presence and from concealment into the light. 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. due to the reliance on that culture on the sustaining activities of slaves. We ought not to feel excessive culpability or remorse in this regard. 69). was a concept at one remove from their 71 . Poiesis of this second. that of work. essentially guide or facilitator of truth. to confuse poiesis with praxis. was directly tied into the biological processes of the human as animal and.POIESIS. Poiesis does not share with praxis the element of practical. what one might call modern “Romantic poiesis. That said the difference between the two terms could not be clearer. 68). therefore yet today we often speak of creative production as practice and artists as practitioners. One of the reasons for this confusion between poiesis and praxis in the modern age relates to a third category. in contrast.

THE LITERARY AGAMBEN lives. 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. and the materialists. they were able to realize that work was “bare. . . pro-duction into presence. 69). 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. eventually. than between praxis as will and poiesis as almost passive experience. “the point of arrival of Western aesthetics is a metaphysics of the will.” that is. Smith. although the Greeks did not indulge habitually in work. 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 . the lowest of the three categories for the Greeks to. For we “moderns” it would seem that making is something a subject does to 72 . The predominance of will over creation taken as a value of will. is replaced by the question of the “how. 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. .”4 However different they are. that is.” to simply “I made this. 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. Heidegger. the highest. of life understood as energy and creative impulse” (MWC. the original productive state of the work of art is all but forgotten except by certain poets and. 72). it is much easier to find common ground between praxis and work understood as the basic production of all material life. 70) As Agamben goes on to show through brief readings of Locke. Nietzsche’s definition of Will to Power as Art. the shift away from truth to genius facilitated the elevation of work. of the process through which the object has been produced . . For example. most notably in the work of Nietzsche. praxis. (MWC. That said. Over the centuries the clear differentiation between poiesis. and work has been lost. Instead. Marx. 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. As this theme develops through materialism and then through philosophy.

the second passive recipient. the bringing to presence of the gods. Art works were not enjoyed aesthetically. meant that.” becomes. 10). Modern making defines being as making something. it merely lifts the curtain to reveal what is behind. 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. it makes a new being. This retranslation in effect negates the possibility that creation as poiesis can be Nietzschean. 34). is bringing-forth [Her-vor-bringen]” (QCT. Greek making defines being as the experience of making. Most especially poiesis does not make what we would term “art. which is precisely the point. poiesis does not make anything new. 59). “The arts were not derived from the artistic. For them. For the Greeks making is something that can happen to being or the subject to produce an authentic experience of truth. 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. Art was not a sector of cultural activity” (QCT. as Heidegger suspects. THINKING THROUGH MAKING being.” As Heidegger exudes in the closing sections of his influential essay “The Question Concerning Technology.5 TECHNE Staying with the Greeks a little longer one can see that the Nietzschean interpretation of poiesis as active. a premature seizing of the seat of the gods by presumptuous man. willed creation ex nihilo. making the artist a technites (PLT.”6 73 . the Being of beings. “Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis.POIESIS. 1 flags up this problematic synonymity between poiesis and technics citing Aristotle as claiming: “Every art [tekhne] is concerned with bringing something into being. willed making into being is. The first is active participant. 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.” during the halcyon days of Greek culture in its ascendancy the task granted to poiesis. Bernard Stiegler in his influential study of Technics and Time Vol. and this confirms the artist’s being as god-like maker.

60). 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. but for the Greeks a specific type of knowing through creative making or as he says: “to make something appear. 159). while it does not always make art. although alone making cannot simply will truth. the unveiling of truth. if fleeting. that for the Greeks the three terms were all elements of a process of what they called bringing something into presence or aletheia. Yet surely. and the Greeks used instead the word skill. a form of artistic production. is this not a definition of art but of philosophy? For poiesis to make any sense as creative act. direct relation between poiesis and art as such? Heidegger believes so in that for him pure poiesis. Second.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN If there was no term for art as we conceive of it. Finally 74 . in terms of letting appear” (PLT. First. 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. as this or that. poiesis as production of presence. there is no poiesis without making something. Poiesis is the experience of the production or facilitation of the coming into the light of a truth. within what is present. Techne. he explains. instead of art. producing. makes art make being come to full. techne. appearance. As Heidegger states: “to create is to cause something to emerge as a thing that has been brought forth. therefore. our modern sense of creation is a muddle of these three Greek ideas. in this way or that way. The work’s becoming a work is a way in which truth becomes and happens” (PLT. Heidegger is helpful in this regard by asserting that there can be no poiesis without techne. Praxis is the physical activity and will necessary to bring this about. The Greeks conceive of techne. we must come to terms with the making element of the term as well as the truth revealing or presencing element. I believe we must accept two things at this stage. can one trace any actual. is not simply craft or skill. Therefore while one cannot assume that poiesis is definable as simply making something. 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. and techne as skilled knowing through doing.

instrumental. If not then such a process is merely making something and is artisanal. and so on. or that poiesis will result in art. equipmentality. but again a gathering of ancient ideas of sacrifice. A thing is something in the world that composes and gathers together truths in the world.8 Heidegger is careful to state that art is not simply a delimited made object in the world. There is no guarantee that techne will result in poiesis or the flashing bloom of truth. after Heidegger makes this simple distinction: if an act of making produces being or truth by bringing it into the light. or mechanical production. then it can be termed poietic and as such art. transmissible traditions. THE ART THING Taking all of this to be the case. the work of art. the religious world. therefore. from a thing. indeed they are not they are a mere image. or gathers a continuum around itself made up of all the elements of its truthpresencing. It makes a small world effectively. 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 75 . THINKING THROUGH MAKING techne is an intermediary state dependent on real skill in pursuit of the truth. is not poietic as such but resultant from poiesis.POIESIS. and so poiesis and techne must function together for praxis in general to become artistic practice. 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. the art object in this context. ceremony. etc. if only briefly and partially. What is poietic about the shoes and the chalice is how they allow objects to become things through the process of making something. rather its thingly status depends on the truths it makes manifest for human beings on earth: sacrifice.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. Here Heidegger attentively distinguishes an object or something with clear limits that the subject can observe and indeed make. but certainly for a work of art to happen there needs to be work as process and work as thing. One might. 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. Even the chalice is not on object as such. the gods. Thus Van Gogh’s shoes are not an object.

13). and the sensuous realm. compression. which is the bringing to presence of truth through making. abstraction. even Turner. simplification. to be entirely at home in something. representation. effectively negating subjectivity and defining so-called desubjectivization as the modern experience of the poeticization of being. to be revealed as if for the first time through their ongoing skill and thoughtful experimentation. to understand and be expert in it. the poietic art thing is not art for art’s sake but art for the sake of truth and world composition. 89–96). Nancy speaks of poetry as the very moment of meta-making or thinking about making through making (MA. Alain Badiou speaks in a similar vein of poetry’s ability to negate the category of the object (MP.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.” a form of “knowing in the widest sense . Certainly. stuff. colour. We are now at the point where we can differentiate thinking. Kandinsky. That said the art thing must subsist in matter. representational bronze. 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. Other philosophical themes are regularly addressed 76 . and so on. Mondrian. Both forms of thinking can often think the same things. techne is itself “something poietic. Poiesis must be hands-on. 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. Similar gradations of abstraction are observable in the art of Picasso. from poiesis. Its object-status is to some degree irrelevant. 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. each showing increasing levels of abstraction from the first. what Heidegger calls “Denken. . As an opening up it is a revealing” (QCT. Conceptual art is as thingly as Westminster Abbey.” which is the bringing to presence of truth. composition. Pollock. If poiesis is dependent on techne. Agamben notes how modern art has thought about being and subjectivity. Such knowing provides an opening up. . In “Back” four bronze reliefs of a back are displayed side by side. realistic. 3).

Heidegger. flowers are in possession of poiesis. and decaying thing.” Due to the provenance. 10). causality. Kant’s famous definition of the art work as that which has finitude without purpose is. 77 . Rather than dwell here on the much-vaunted Wildean uselessness of modern art. traditional Greek culture such as that imagined by Hölderlin. The maker-thinker. after all. and complexity of the term poiesis the artist can now be described as a “maker-thinker. One could judge their completion against communally held values pertaining to what perfect and thus finished work was. 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.” FINITUDE A central element of the activity of poiesis is the complex issue of finitude or formal completion. poised. The finitude of a work of art in a totally transmissible. the case with works of art as well.POIESIS. and Being as such. I want to concentrate instead on the more complicated issue of its finitude. Thus a flower’s finitude is not its actual perfection but the perfection of flowers as such. happiness. are all thought by poietic activity. mobile. It seems obvious. law. according to Heidegger. His chosen example of poiesis in nature is “the bursting of a blossom into bloom.9 or what I will go on to name “logopoiesis. not through pedestrian description or disciplined argumentation but through a form of thinking that occurs courtesy of the activity of making. not least because a flower is a living. THINKING THROUGH MAKING by the arts. being in the world. ostensibly. finitude. Issues such as part and whole. this used to be. 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. If we are to believe the philosophers. contested status. makes a thing in the world in a way which provides a powerful point of difference between thinking as such and poietic thinking. the human. a means by which to differentiate beauty made by human hands and the beauty of flowers and so on. death. subtlety. in part. which cannot be considered in terms of art even if. intuitive even. singularity. infinity. in itself ” (QCT. nature. growing. propriety. and Agamben. and balanced made things.

In our epoch the value of a work of art is precisely the opposite.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. and conceptuality of art works mean it is now often impossible to determine the actual. 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. Finally. 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. We are also more than ever attuned to the material problems of delineating the work of art in that the parerga. For Agamben such a view is meaningless to modern. objective. It was an act of mapping a perfect gestalt.10 78 . and would unquestionably always remain. or marginalia that surround the art object may indeed now constitute the art object. 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. critical sensibility. 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. value. virtuality. material innovations in the performativity. had always been. and truth was. Taking all this into consideration one has to conclude we live in an age of very Greek art. 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. or material (even temporal) limits of a work of art. frames. Further. with delicious paradox. we value art for not conforming to any such model if it did indeed exist which. and make-up of the poem have not been taken from any other source or any other poem but rather originate with this poem. There is no communally held view as to what a Work of Art in general should be. The frame may become the work or its faming in the museum its poiesis. it does not.

As there is no poem object as such to view. THINKING THROUGH MAKING This is one of several examples of self-annihilating meta-poiesis in the work of the greatest conceptual poet writing today.” the one we are actually reading.” then we need poiesis if only to keep hold of art. law. no actual delimited poem body here. the process of a coming into being of an idea about art as object within the market place. does not designate here an art among others.POIESIS. and ontology. that is. illimited art things such as “Warrant. poetry. 59). 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. but is the very name of man’s doing. 60). in that the poem being described and warranted does not exist except as something indicated within another “poem. and ontologically warranted absence. If modern and future art criticism and creation is based on a process of aesthetic judgement on nonpurposive non-objectal. either also called “Warrant” or perhaps nameless. and as the poetry on view is. in fact. 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]. therefore. 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. . 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. and that which finds its principle through 79 . That said he does not simply accede to Heidegger’s reading of the term. . beyond the deictic “this” as an indication of the presence of a poem in its legally. Thus he declares: “Poiesis. 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. There is.” (MWC. The deixis of “this poem” immediately reveals pure indication. MORPHE. lineated legal prose and not “poetic” at all in any sense of profound techne. aesthetically. the principle and origin of its entry into presence” (MWC. of that productive action of which artistic doing is only a privileged example . aesthetic convention.

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
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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?
ENTELECHY

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
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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
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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
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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
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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 85 . the only two movements available at present for modern acts of creation. in a sense. THINKING THROUGH MAKING in a living unity” (MWC. 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. and that which is irreproducible cannot be reproduced. therefore. With the ready-made an industrial object is alienated from its context and thus raised up into the sphere of art. is poiesis in suspension. now the artist is defined as the person who makes things that don’t fit the mould but which break with moulding. On the one hand “Warrant” deals directly with the archepresence of the poem. yet at the same time it is a comment on its rampant reproducibility. testifying as it does to its singular originality. the ready-made and pop 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. The object cannot attain presence and remains enveloped in shadow. It is pure eidos for its form and shape are irrelevant. 62). for Agamben. The brilliance of Bernstein’s poem now becomes even more apparent in that he is able to demonstrate both situations in one single work. Thus the artist brings to being the very end of the lasting concept of the artist as subject and this. (MWC. is modern art’s first and most lasting poiesis: artistic desubjectivization or creative self-alienation. Pop art is all form with no proximity to the concept. 63–4) Modern art. became during our age simply the commonplace. With pop art the situation is reversed in that an art object is made utilizing techne then reproduced using industrial processes. Ideas held in common. The curtain is grasped but never raised. they are. suspended in a kind of disquieting limbo between being and nonbeing. 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.

and so on). Modern art is either poiesis without techne or techne without poiesis. modernity has turned poiesis into a problem and thus made it visible for us after many centuries of easeful. in splitting poiesis. He is forced to take on the act of making as the transition from nonbeing into being and all that entails. Like most of his peers. Furthermore. he seems locked here into a set of almost impossible aporias. While this is a lamentable state of affairs for a full. the form in which privation itself comes into presence” (MWC. wheels.” and thus there can be no reproduction of the work precisely because the warrant controlling this process is the work itself. including the subjective nonbeing of the artist. The answer to this question must lodge. to an epochal apostrophe: “how is it possible to attain a new poiesis in an original way?” (MWC. If it remains proximate to arche-presence it can take on no physical form and instead has to parasitically occupy an already existent. Perhaps Agamben should have consulted with Bernstein for.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN arche-presence is undermined by there being no poem other than that indicated by the empty deixis of “this poem. The very shape of a work of modern art is permanently split. modern art works such as these “constitute the most alienated (and thus most extreme) form of poiesis. at the very least. its becoming something. in contrast to the poet. he is writing in an age where the shape of the work. 64). Agamben’s conception of creation depends on the Greek concept of poiesis. is problematized because it is bifurcated. unlike Plato and Aristotle. 86 . categorical amnesia. philosophical understanding of poiesis. meaning he accedes to the Greek world of Ideal Forms. 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. 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. in some fashion. which is perhaps why shape bears close proximity to indistinctness. and eidos. industrial form (urinals. Leading him. arche-mimesis. as ever. within the dark defiles of modern art itself. its taking shape. As Agamben says in reference to his chosen examples. 64).

Yet. like his great forebear.1 Under pressure from such attacks modernity can barely be said to remain intact. historically. nihilistic. Agamben is one of the most aggressive and suggestive critics of modernism that we have or ever will encounter. Agamben’s work on time is indebted to but not uncritical of this model of ontological time. This duality of temporality as regards being is the basis of what one might call ontological temporality. a time that is both out of time in that it is beyond everyday linear time. 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. Heidegger argues. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS Since Heidegger questions pertaining to being are traditionally posed through two temporalities. He too sees the temporality of human being as both immemorial ecstasy and contingent historicity and. This was not always the case and our dire situation will. He calls this epoch. Being. potentially productive. is currently withheld from view in the modern age of instrumental technology because. at some juncture. and then. being is also profoundly historical in a deep destinal way he calls Geschichte. that is its destiny. change. 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. and indeed one of Agamben’s aims is the bringing of modernity 87 .CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. 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. modernity. he argues. he has a name for the coming together of the two elements of ontological time in a moment of crisis that is first. the very epoch of the epoch.

desubjectivization. indeed cannot abandon the dark and divided epochality of our modern age of aesthetic modernity. 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. This ¯sis call to vocation he defines as the “revocation of every vocation” (TTR.3 and his complex revision of historiography. for example deixis. or the condition of the hos me “as not. The messianic kle emulates many elements of ¯sis Agamben’s earlier work on language. and ending.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN to a form of non-eschatological resolution. temporality. and dictation. 5–6). In this way.” When called by ¯ ¯. This time that remains. 62–3). Rather. Rather. 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). 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. disallow him the simple act of finishing with the modern. along with his mid-career investigations of the gesturality and the pure mediality of thought as potential. 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. Agamben will not. which is a common representation of time within modernity (TTR. Agamben will never allow a movement from temporal modernity to ontological or subjective modernity. But more relevant to debates on modernity is the way in which the call to 88 .2 Yet Agamben’s realism. takes the form of a messianic contracted time of remnants (TTR. 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. il tempo che resta. some might call it fatalism. For this reason. the issue of modern time is so central to Agamben’s work from his very earliest pronouncements to his most recent. 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).

the archetypal example of living as if. while messianic kle would seem to occupy a temporality of ending. Finally. this is patently not the case as Agamben is at pains to demonstrate (TTR. 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. one can begin to see how messianic time can be of great utility to ideas about modern art.” All the same Agamben presents a full analysis of the twentieth-century tradition of thinking the “as if. 35–40). as Agamben shows. 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.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. but rather the now familiar suspension of actualization that exemplifies potentiality at its most powerful and creative. The phrases “as not” and “as if ” both play games with the idea of negation and creation. If “as not” is a negation of being that presages a positive coming of being to presence “after” negation (the messianic time that remains). So when Agamben posits the “as not” as a positive alternative to what he calls the “as if. This alerts Agamben’s interest. to live “as if ” sounds initially like a creative potentiality for being. 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. The call does not negate subjectivity but calls subjectivity into presence through desubjectivity. therefore. 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. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS negation is not conceived by Agamben as just another form of modern nihilism but something potentially productive.” ending with Gaultier’s work Bovarysm. has not been seen to be the case by the critical heritage. The “as not” is not negation as such.MODERNITY.” typical of modern thought about aesthetics. however. aesthetics.4 This. rather than aspiring towards actual redemption.6 This then is a rare mention 89 . and the arts in the most unexpected places. the time that ¯sis remains within temporal contraction. which considers fiction. Rather. 61–78). as an ontological condition.

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. 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. All of these considerations return Agamben’s attention back to Adorno. Yet. Agamben’s consideration of “as if ” is a side issue in his attempt to present a credible messianic condition of living “as.” Such a subject “no longer has similitudes at his disposal . ontology is reduced to pretending-to-be as a form of double ontological negation. This being man’s essence. 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. First. According to his 90 . 42). . specifically his contention that “philosophy lives on because the moment to realize it was missed” (cited in TTR. What is the Will to Power as Art except turning as-if-ness into creative. subjective agency value? In an age when god is dead. bringing to mind Heidegger’s definition of poets as demi-gods. Aesthetic beauty is the chastisement. 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. but pretends to be something. That is why aesthetic beauty cannot be anything more than a spell over spells” (TTR. .” Yet it is significant.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of the possibility that just as poetry and linguistics can be seen to enter the field of ontology. 37). 37). of philosophy’s having missed its moment . and second. in doing so one of course is pretending to be something other than what one is in that one is nothing. 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. thinkers of the “as if ” live on the earth as if they were gods. so to speak. This ontological condition does not stand up to the test of modern ontological thinking perhaps.” in this instance “as not” rather than “as if. one pretends to be someone else because one is no one. but we will come to see it as the specifically epochal manifestation of desubjectivization in general. he must now really live in a world without God” (TTR. .7 while it takes a truly brave thinker to live as one “who no longer knows the as if. . he argues.

turns out to be self-defeating both for thought and art. and this is what Agamben’s early tome The Man Without Content ventures as he makes the first of several attempts to negate negation. Yet. thought.” that dreaded term aestheticization: aestheticization of philosophy. aestheticization of life. living as such. To get to a “new” poiesis. 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?). creativity. as if the philosophical pursuits of truth and happiness could be realized. one first has to travel through the dread landscapes of aesthetic modernism. 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. therefore. but potentially redeeming modern novel. modern aesthetics has two potentialities available to it. therefore.MODERNITY. 39). PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS reading. or so the argument of aestheticization goes.8 Nor can one live life itself for that has been reduced to horror and bareness. is: How does one travel from “as if ” to “as not”? To do this. aestheticization of politics. For not only does the spell over spells cast a false veil over thinking it also misrepresents the poetic as well. In contrast to this. If “as not” involves negation. as indeed it does. The great question for modern thought. The second option is to live “as not. the aesthetic. This as-if-ness requires that one ontologize the spell over spells that Agamben later says “may even aptly describe poetry” (TTR. tragic. as if one has being. I would argue. of art even. If “as if ” is a belated and blinded decadence. The most familiar is the “as if. the “as not” depicts an alternate futural moment of authentic being. under the spell of living “as if. Thus one lives as if one lives. 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. In each of these very modern formulations an assumed impropriety. the empty violence of The Real. proving destructive and nihilistic in each instance. One lives as if one is a character in a great.” Aesthetics becomes. one needs to traverse the problems of aestheticization and replace them with a radical poeticization. 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 live the “as not” is far from being nihilistic. the State.” Living “as if. is added to the realm of the proper.” while seemingly creative and thus an act of poiesis. 91 .

to the work of Walter Benjamin. 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. The essays that make up this remarkable study then primarily investigate the implications of the thesis of the end of cultural transmission. 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. Rather. for modern life is replete with new and exciting experiences. has two meanings for Agamben. another way of expressing the end of experience in post-transmissible cultures. or the possibility of sustaining an experience. you will recall.” (IH. test. specifically here highlighting a profound aporia in Benjamin’s work on the fading of the aura in modern art and culture. 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. he argues. . what we miss is a common experience that the modern subject can undergo. In the closing pages of The Man Without Content Agamben turns.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN AURATIC TWILIGHT As we saw. In a post-transmission. to go through and to test. and the Heideggerian adage that art no longer dwells among us. 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. 15). as he so often does. due to two modern statements by the masters of modern thought. the Nietzschean idea that god is dead. an idea also taken from Benjamin. 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 totally possess: “Thus experience is now definitively something one can only undergo but never have. 38). one must 92 .9 The arrest of transmissibility is. Experience is never accessible as a totality and never complete except in the infinite approximation of the total social process . indeed criticism is in essence all that modernity has become. What is lacking in modernity is not the element of testing. . Experience.

perhaps the most central theory in the canon of cultural studies. Warhol the singularity of the work. . 106) It remains hard to tell if Agamben is glossing Benjamin here or totally dismissing his most influential theory. its technical reproducibility . (MWC. Benjamin argues. Pop art instead takes the process of industrial reproduction and applies it to the art object. however. contains a historical 93 . a consumer item rather than a work of art. 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. This problem is not lost on Agamben. Both are. the further away from the source of its authority it is carried. Agamben asserts. states the opposite. remove the aura from the work of art: Far from freeing the object from its authenticity. 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. 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.MODERNITY. The more an art object is reproduced. The technical expertise that allowed for an industrial-scale reproducibility of art works thus removing from them their sacred quality. like so many of the German thinker’s eclectic projects. every text. becomes the very cipher of elusiveness. in effect. Duchamp questioning the authority of the creator. incomplete. comments on aura. probably Benjamin’s most astute and generous reader. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS determine if the auratic twilight of the modern is a historical process taking place over time or an a-chronological event. when he argues that Benjamin’s discovery of the loss of the auratic value of art is. the ready-made and pop art. It becomes. With each copy. it moves one more step away. one might presume. As we saw the ready-made confers aura to an industrial object. besmirching them in the profanity of repetition and excess did not. Agamben. carries authenticity to extremes: technical reproducibility is the moment when authenticity. The best comparison here is made by Agamben himself elsewhere in this volume when he places together the two key examples of modern art. by way of the multiplication of the original. seemingly. . a urinal is signed into being singular and thus art.

the religious icon say. Myopically peering through the murk. 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. works of auratic art.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN index which indicates both its belonging to a determinate epoch. both actual in terms of rail travel and virtual in terms of the mass media and new technologies such as the telegraph. the lights lowered to dissuade further fading. What Agamben realizes is that within the modern moment. are both comments on cultural intransmissibility. that there is only one or that it has the quality of a magical relic. Indeed. god is dead and an art no longer dwells among us. If aura exists it only exists for us at the moment that we see it in accordance with Benjaminian hermeneutics. it also depends on the transmissibility of this quality (by transmissibility here read unquestioned status). as well as its only coming forth to full legibility at a determinate historical moment” (TTR. and deface them (think of Magritte’s infamous vandalization of a reproduction of the Mona Lisa). 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. blinding anti-poiesis. reproducibility along with communicability. SHOCK! 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. 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 94 . Modernists have often been called iconoclasts but according to Agamben this is literally true in that they take religious relics. 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. The two great dicta of modern art’s destruction of tradition. Reproducibility contributes to this malaise only by weakening the points wherein past and present meet. 145). The authenticity and authority of the icon. does not inhere solely in the work’s unique singularity.

is the missing element of Benjamin’s great theory of aura. it is the one half of art.MODERNITY. Baudelaire’s comments on modernity here. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS replaces the communal places of common art.” 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. 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 95 . 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. in other words. 106). the lieu commun and the eternal transient. Agamben realizes. 106). the other being the eternal and the immutable. along with his rumination that the modern is “the transient. the fleeting. 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. temple or festival. In effect. The paradox of the eternal transient is the more well known and its oxymoronic nature obvious. the contingent. modern experience. Face to face with the dissolution of aura within a society where the authority of tradition was daily under attack. 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. 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.”10 easily confer upon him the honour of being the great precursor to contemporary reappraisals of modernity and aesthetics. our new. with the famous Baudelaire lieu commun. 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. what Baudelaire attempts is to take the very value that ends tradition. The end of experience experienced as shocking is. As regards the proposal of shock as the “common place” of a post-transmissible culture however. Baudelaire’s conception of shock. Baudelaire was tasked with inventing a new source of authority for the art work. In both formulations. or commonplace wherein modern shock can become what we hold in common. Having to “invent a new authority. common experience.

the alienation effected by the work of art. More than that. expunging. The work becomes a moment of shock. 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. It becomes. The new work of art. 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. art was transmission. linking tradition with the present age.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. it forms the basis of the whole of the epoch of aesthetic modernity and modern aestheticization. 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. 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. and this alienation is in its turn nothing other 96 . Instead of a work of art being a thing in itself whose reproduction undermines its sacral singularity effectively profaning the work. 106). in the final analysis. and relighting of aura’s eternal flame through the epochal hiatus between transmissibility and the transmission of a communal intransmissible experience of culture. must be defined as a process of transmitting the very quality of intransmissibility. that dissolves the finitude of the art object as a delimited and valued thing through its reproducibility and conversion into praxis. absolutely and significantly finite. 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. Attend here to the means by which Agamben repositions the meaning of the terms reproducibility and transmissibility. Shock becomes not the collapse of meaning in art but the meaning of art as the collapse of meaning. 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. Art did not act as a vehicle for transmission. in effect. in this light. This event alone produces what we now call modern art.

occupying both the position of an event of major transition and the creation. turning back to gaze over one’s fleeing shoulder. ¯. 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. a recursiveprojective interplay that we will later come to term poetic structure. effectively eradicates separation. of tradition” (MWC.MODERNITY. At this point. It would seem alienating shock is not the legacy of modern art but of self-satisfied traditional values. retrospectively. Transmissibility. 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. The “now” ceases to be a moment in time but rather is the endless extension of tradition into the future. 107). Epoch of epochs for. PROFANING SCISSION Both transmission and reproduction are dependent on metaphysical conceptions of scission and separation. for example. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS that the measure of the destruction of its transmissibility. 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. creating a continuum between tradition and the present that all but eradicates their difference. the arche-epoch of art’s very first coming into being or the conditions for art. that is. singularity and transmissibility. 97 . each in violent contradiction—art is defined as the singular instance of the held in common—are seen critically for the first time. of both the premodern and modern epochs of transmissibility and intransmissibility respectively. 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. 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. 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. In contrast. This experience of aesthetic epoche ¯ is Agamben’s definition of that epoch of epochs we call modernity.

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
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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
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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
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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.
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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.
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These artists wish to make artists of us all. commissions. an art for artists. this most innocent of occupations. how can modern art subsist on the ambiguous fare of taste based on universal disinterest.16 a nihilistic art that seeks not so much innovation as is sometimes assumed (make it new). . Nietzsche. museums. a destruction perhaps already in place: “If it is true that the fundamental problem becomes visible only in the house ravaged by fire. Rather they want to burn the very dwelling of art to the ground. or perhaps more pungently. 7).MODERNITY. . statuary. 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. to return art to life. Yes. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS The death of poets leads Agamben to a typically messianic conclusion which calls for the destruction of aesthetics. 6). 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. The landscapes of Agamben’s thinking are always appealing and slightly appalling. 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. then perhaps we are today in a privileged position to understand the authentic significance of the Western aesthetic project” (MWC. The essay then ends by jettisoning us out onto this calcified outcrop with the words of a mad prophet. calling for “another kind of art . with a senate. for artists only” (MWC. lay out foundations. and artistic scandals. Such mad artists do not want to move to a fresh plain. not least literary criticism. Here Agamben merely hints at the now classic definition of the avant-garde to be found in the work of Burger and others. whistling about our ears. Having taken us across a ghostly plain we are now confronted with a burnt-out homestead. 8) the philosopher asks. HOW TO EXIT ART “How can art. pit man against Terror?” (MWC. 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. and terror which is the result of interest? Taste seems to attract the spectator to participate in precisely 103 . 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.

Loath as I am to succumb to the simple binary oppositions displayed in this. a “living reality. a kind of aesthetic wine-tasting where they can sample Picasso but cannot become drunk on Joyce. but also to commence with breaking down the differentiation between rhetoric and terrorism. like the Pygmalion myth. 8). “It is the dream of a product that exists according to the statute of the thing” (MWC. while terrorists “refuse to bend to this law and pursue the opposite dream of a language that would be nothing but meaning. silence. 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. 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. The rhetorician wishes to “dissolve all meaning into form” (MWC. He notes. in trying to create art that competes with. 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. Agamben’s earliest work. and death. 8). the dark face of his own beloved philology. 9). In direct contradistinction. of a thought in whose flame the sign would be fully consumed. His is an art of abstraction which repulses 104 . hesitating nuances. 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.” Frenhofer invents a modern art. an art which is auto-anthropophaganous or self-devouring.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN what they cannot have. rhetoricians and terrorists. indeed becomes transmissible with life. 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.” Yet in reality the woman he has painted is reduced to mere colours and abstract forms: “a chaos of colors. This remainder. putting the writer face to face with the absolute” (MWC. an art which exits art through the door marked “To Art. kitsch. allows Agamben to begin to undermine not only the quest for the absolute in terror. of course. As Agamben rightly indicates. tones. 9). Agamben calls the terrorist a misologist. Frenhofer labours at his masterpiece for ten years to create a work of art that negates art and becomes. 9). 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.

Returning to Rimbaud for a moment. Agamben’s conclusion to the tale is a devastating and much overdue total foundering of the differentiation between form and thought. De Chirico’s self-parody. 10). and Duchamp’s silence. . 10). meaningless forms. Instead one can only escape the matter of art by removing it from oneself entirely. and the appetite for signs becomes a cause of disgust. and the more he wants to erase it.MODERNITY. convert poiesis into fiat lux. Rimbaud’s flight from art. Gogol’s disappointment that Dead Souls did not liberate the peasants is matched by Mallarmé’s inability to complete Le Livre. There are many famous examples of terrorism in modern art. silence? Isn’t Rimbaud’s fame divided. 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. agitated and enflamed. Speaking of Frenhofer’s ever-collapsing. then. between ‘the poems that he wrote and those he did not deign to write?’” Agamben then 105 . a mere representation of the artist in art). terror flings him back into rhetoric. as Blanchot rightly observed. which is the archetypal gesture of the modern artist: “But the paradox of the Terror is still present even in this extreme move. form. . But in the attempt. For what is the mystery we call Rimbaud if not the point where literature annexes its opposite. Roussel’s collapse when La Doublure did not change the world. isn’t the unknown masterpiece instead the masterpiece of Rhetoric? Has the meaning erased the sign. Yet. Such confusion over the source of the conflagration of art’s dwelling place. allowing only signs. “In order to leave the evanescent world of forms. Misology becomes philology. he ends up with nothing in his hands but signs . To truly exit literature one cannot make literature into a thing. or has the sign abolished the meaning?” (MWC. rhetoric and terror.” (MWC. the ultimate paradox is that the act of greatest terror is precisely that of aestheticoamputation. or thought leads Agamben to posit the very paradox of the artist’s terror. Fleeing from rhetoric leads him to terror. namely. the repulsion from signs becomes an impossible attraction. unpalatable masterpiece he says: “The quest for absolute meaning has devoured all meaning. the more he has to concentrate on it to render it permeable to the inexpressible content he wants to express. in the very apotropaic hall of mirrors that is modern art. set up by aesthetics. to survive. But. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS the disinterested spectre of Poussin (literally spectral here. The terrorist is left. he has no other means than form itself.

the most eloquent rhetorician? Who has the most fiendish savour for violence and fear? While Malevich and (late) Beckett. Bruno Schultz’s first novel. 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. As soon as one actively pursues the negation of art one creates anew an art of negation as such.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN finally and fatally enquires: “isn’t this the masterpiece of rhetoric?” (MWC. never made. Will there ever be an end to art that is itself not a work of art but a pure experience of the poetic? 106 .17 does not the material depiction of silence. 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. This is the ultimate desubjectivization of the poet. the final version of Le Livre. The way out of art into language is permanently barred by the very sign that indicates “Exit from Art. 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. surely. manifest the very condition of acsesis as both testament to the lack of events and precursive preparation for the event to come. as Badiou shows.” As soon as one speaks of the creation of art one enters subjective negation. destroyed but. decomposed. at the very nexus between the terrorist become rhetorician and the rhetorician facing up to the terror of the absolute void. 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. Which is the greatest artist. ignored by his “friend” Brod. Even silence succumbs to speech it would seem. There is no resisting dictation in the modern age. over time. becoming even kitsch? To paint absence is one thing. 11).18 He sits. 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. but surely the greatest works of modernism are those which were never created: Lautréamont’s third book. His decision to have all his works destroyed at his death. Consider the gesture we call author-function Rimbaud and Duchamp against those we call Malevich or Beckett. most potently. risk accusations of the obvious. makes him the most pathetic and powerful of all modern artists: the man who sought silence and was thus then forced to speak.

and negation. art. poiesis arrives. at each level of Hegelian aesthetics modern art is denigrated. as it were. The modern art work becomes a means of presenting that there was once art but now such work is at an end.19 and that this age is marked by its being the epoch of the end of art. and Nietzsche. that poetry is the archetypal art in that it exists between language (the sensible) and image (idea). at the moment that poiesis becomes available for full view to us for the first time since the Platonic occlusion. once the space of 107 . These are that art is the sensible presentation of the idea. First it is subordinate to the idea. 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. through four central tenets to Hegel’s overall aesthetic theory. or an art that celebrates subordination. Third its critical definition is also its negation. This means that. Enlightenment democracy. Hegel’s work is perhaps most central to Agamben’s reading of art under negation. to accept its tripartite collapse or to turn these failings around and form from them a new lieu commun. Hegel. that we currently live in the age of prose. Second it is a mere prosaic remnant of the poetic art that once dwelled among us. the power of art over the spectator collapsed into profane secularization only to rise again in the form of shock rather than awe.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. the prosaic. As we have seen at some point or over time in Western culture. For Hegel modern art is a valorization of the sensible presentation of the idea. It arrives precisely at the moment that prose as bios or social ethics has inundated all during the period of Western. As one can see. at the presentation of its own dissolution: the collapse of poetry into prose. 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. democratic.MODERNITY. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS MODERN AESTHETIC DESUBJECTIVIZATION The Man Without Content is effectively a conversation between Agamben and the three fathers of modern aesthetics: Kant. A choice lies before modern poiesis therefore. courtesy of philosophy. As Agamben shows in an extensive analysis of the history of the development of the museum from the ancient cabinet of wonder.

religion. At this moment works of modern art are produced through the profanation of the relic into an art object already suffering auratic aphasia. In a very basic way this idealized act of creation was neither making something nor creating art as we moderns understand these terms. At the moment that the creator steps out of the transmissibility of cultural traditions her relation to her material changes. by which the inert world of contents in their indifferent. (MWC. Art is now the absolute freedom that seeks its end and its foundation in itself. or when the creator becomes critical spectator of their own work. because it can only measure itself against the vertigo caused by its own abyss. contagiously through the art work. and does not need. secular shock. through exterior interiority. 35) Contained in the vaunting rhetoric here of Agamben’s reading of Hegel are the various stages of his complex ideas on poetry and 108 . Previous to that she had no direct selfconsciousness of material or making. is revelatory in this regard. which soars above the contents as over an immense repository of materials that it can evoke or reject at will. as it were. any content. 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. and to the other the free subjectivity of the artistic principle.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. autonomous. substantially. That Hegel placed art at the lowest level of the journey of the spirit from exteriority. Art got one ready for god who in his turn prepared one for Geist.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. prosaic objectivity goes to one side. This is the very essence of art as transmissibility. 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. For Hegel this scission within the subjectivity of the spectator is first enacted within that of the creator and transmitted. 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. At this moment the work of poiesis enters the world of prose: The artist then experiences a radical tearing or split.

Central to the definitions of the object of aesthetic judgement as disinterested satisfaction. so that the semantic is handed over to prose and meaning becomes the absence of meaning. or the moment at which the artist becomes her own spectator or the spectator becomes the judge of art. purposiveness without purpose. Modern art. Height: the subjectivity of the artist is now defined as that of being above the territory of art’s dwelling on earth. Art is no longer measurable against culture as either being of the same standard or co-extensive. it holds in its hands not the beautiful but its shadow. which is art as such defined by Agamben as art under erasure.MODERNITY. Freedom: defined here in a Nancyian manner as a nonfoundational self-founding. Having set up Hegelian aesthetics as permanently under negation. Therefore. . . 42). This shadow of art is the modern experience of 109 . PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS modern art. floating in the sense that it both soars above and is endlessly falling away. 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. The work of art is moved from being encased in a continuum to floating within the void. universality apart from concepts. Art becomes incommensurable in the moment that measuring art becomes possible through the Kantian discipline of criticism. Materiality: the work becomes a commodity fetish or non-utilitarian choice of the object purely for the sake of exchange. as though its true object were not so much what art is but what it is not” (MWC. confounding common denominator. Scission: art is no longer defined through its place in the continuum but through its being excerpted from the continuum. Agamben then turns to the very aesthetic system from which Hegel’s work emanates but also seeks to depart from. Summarizing the four characteristics of aesthetic judgement as Kant delineates them he finds a single. the only measure of art on earth is art itself. namely that of Kant. is thus definable by a conglomeration of the following quasi-events. 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. and normality without a norm “it seems . that every time aesthetic judgement attempts to determine what the beautiful is.22 Contentless-ness: what the work of art now contains as content is the work of art as such. Prose: at this juncture the meaning of the work becomes subject to the prose of the world.

the only experience of art and also the first experience of art as a thing in itself.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inexperiencible art which is. 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. of understanding and reason. which is the indication to thought that it is taking place. put simply. is that judgement is the affect of the sensation of thinking. 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. Agamben then moves to Kant’s dictum that judgement is “a concept . He thus concludes that “our appreciation of art begins necessarily with the forgetting of art” (MWC. . . 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. Reflective thinking 110 . The act of judgement produces the feeling of the activity of judgement. for us. 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. 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. The moment that we engage the faculty of judgement we are negating the very object we are judging. judgement merely operates between practical reason and understanding which is judgement’s famous heuristic capacity. the tautegorical aesthetic shares in the weakness of this strength” (LAS. 6). nothing can be known” (MWC. . . 43). from which . 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). 44). The tautegorical nature of reflective judgement is to be found in the relation of judgement to the sensation which. or of discovering natural beauty defined as finality without purpose (objective perfection without teleology). therefore. In finding the universal in the particular. or as Lyotard says: “The strength of reflective weakness can be explained by the heuristic function of reflection. Agamben. which is the quintessence of taste. so to speak.

there is no way to return to it by way of the reverse path of taste” (MWC. not on thinking something. 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. it is in fact the content-less nature of the modern work of art that results in perhaps the ultimate. appears to him no longer as a truth that finds its necessary expression in the work. “one can never return to it from a state posterior to its creation”. The person whose job it is to shed light on modern art. the content he perceives. 45). Yet while judgement seems almost to blame for the end of art thesis. but rather as something of which he is already perfectly aware as a thinking subject. the free creative-formal principle of the artist” (MWC. indeed for Kant nature is the regulative concept for aesthetic beauty—the very thing Hegel takes issue with. Natural beauty does not require a regulative concept. . 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. 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. 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.MODERNITY. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS is. therefore. therefore. is the very person who commits art to the realm of dark non-art: “whenever he exercises his reflection. or “once the work of art has been produced. 11).’ But this state is nothing other than the feeling that signals it . “What he sees of himself in the work. that is. At this juncture. concepts that could be known. Agamben identifies the central point of his thesis on modern art. 47). the spectator-critic. In contrast. the scission between genius and taste which defines aesthetic judgement and gives birth to modern criticism. 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. he brings with him nonbeing and shadow” (MWC. but on the sensation of thinking thinking. and which therefore he can legitimately believe himself capable of expressing” (MWC. Judgments of taste are based. 46). 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. . The very self-presence of the spectator is the pre-condition of the work of 111 . 46). namely.

he has no other way of finding himself again than wholly to assume his contradiction. being-as-nonnart but not being art. but the critic cannot share in it. the critic cannot. they are of course part of what makes it possible. and at the same time immediately as itself. The presence of the critic makes possible modern art. and yet what they know is what they can never be. The genius makes art. There is nothing the artist can teach the spectator. but as something absolutely Other. is the very basis of his theory of the potentially productive nature of the historically contingent. The pure creative principle results in the alienation of art and the critic not only recognizes this theme-less theme. existing in both positions without any means of bringing the two together again. at the same time the spectator is by definition not the artist. 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. Thus the alienation of art is their subject. The annihilation of content may be familiar. That is. to use Hegel’s term. as Agamben says both absolutely Other and immediately itself. the critic knows all. it belongs with them. What they see in the work of art is what they already know.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN art without content. and agrees to enter the circle of absolute perversion. The critic identifies her being in the alienation of the work which rejects or. it is the pure split and lack of foundation that endlessly drifts on the ocean of form without ever reaching dry land” (MWC. leaves behind all support. perverts any relationship between the genius of creation and the communality of culture. Agamben’s explanation of this double negation. he must split 112 . 48). desubjectivized being of the critic/spectator : If the spectator consents to the radical alienation of this experience. being-for-itself has as its object its own being-for-itself. but there is one simple fact separating the two. Yet. The subject of judgement finds itself both subject and predicate of their judgement. but the critic does not make modern art placing them/us in a doubly untenable position. The result of this on all of us is devastating: “In the aesthetic judgement.

. everything is a lie” (MWC. 54) Such a dire conundrum strands the artistic subject in a doubly desubjectivizing quandary. 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. Having dealt with one half of modern aesthetic desubjectivization.MODERNITY. there is no escaping the fact that. to live the epoch or to live outside of it. Yet. 48) The position of the modern spectator. Of the creative. he cannot neglect the other half: artist as god-like creator. the pure creative-formal principle. can attempt to totally inhabit the split and try to live this violence. in fact. (MWC. 54). the artist is always living on what he calls “this side of his essence . and Agamben here names Rimbaud and Artaud as exemplary in this regard. and in owning himself he alienates himself. Nietzschean genius he says: What the artist experiences in the work of art is. . the heroic modern artist. “trying to make of the split that inhabits him the fundamental experience starting from which a new human station becomes possible” (MWC. 54). without content. beside his reality” (MWC. Yet here Agamben takes on critical desubjectivization and proposes at least a desire to convert ontological negation into a productive category. for which all subject matter is indifferent. however. (MWC. split from any content. 55). Which annihilates and dissolves every content in its continuous effort to transcend and actualize itself. 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. If she places her faith in a specific content she realizes she is lying as her own pure subjectivity is everything. Hence Agamben’s conclusion: “The artist is the 113 . for Agamben at least. that artistic subjectivity is absolute essence. . 55). negate his own negation . . In this alienation he owns himself. Yet even if one chooses to live the split. however. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS asunder his own split. Thus the modern artistic subject can be defined as a radical split. is the absolute abstract inessence. “outside of this split. Faced with this alternative.

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.” (MWC. It opens up to us the importance of tradition and transmissibility which we now see. Yet. how negation as such. as if for the first time. . for the very first time. Modern art is art that is under negation through the act of coming to view. perhaps predictably.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN man without content. For Agamben. And finally third. Here one can see the importance of aesthetic modernity to Agamben’s wider philosophical project. Second in revealing the structural interdependence of philosophy and poetry in this process: formless thought or contentless form. and certainly there is no greater negation than self-annihilating nothingness. modern art presents us with the most credible and challenging model of “poetic” desubjectivization as a solution to the failings of nihilistic ontology. . modern art. who has no other identity than a perpetual emerging out of the nothingness of expression . thoughts about art. the critic/spectator and the artist are both examples of self-annihilating nothings. 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. or all form without content. in accordance with Benjamin’s hermeneutic principle. as is indeed. 55). Either art is pure content without form. First as an example of poeticized desubjectivization.24 The end of art as art results in a double desubjectivization. are as pure subjective inessence. critically. 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. Modern aesthetic double desubjectivization provides us with a prototype for the following three propositions in Agamben’s overall system. 114 . This has various benefits of course.

SECOND EPISODE ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS .

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novels. 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. however. This cannot be helped. an ancient by-way thicketed by prejudice. THINKING TAUTOLOGY The title of this volume proposes a compound construction or double thesis. or as we will come to see him comparative. more pointedly. they must accept and actively live through. my suggestion that no understanding of Agamben’s indifferent ontology is possible without recourse to the literary might even seem frivolous. The tension between the philosophical and the literary in Agamben is the central animator of his whole intra-metaphysical. 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. Neither a thinker of philosophy nor poetry alone and unable to succumb to any of the traditional modes of thinking division. And so I present for general perusal and 117 . 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. a political philosopher. At the same time. and the visual arts is merely as a means of approaching a post-nihilistic metaphysics. thinker requires a compound and demonstrative term to present these tonal issues. 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.CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. Such a di-thetic approach runs the risk of being doubly unpopular in that for those who believe Agamben to be a philosopher or. and by their occlusion of the fact that their inter-division is a false divide which. expropriating appropriative methodology.

The simplest definition of such poetic thinking is a turn to poetry to assist thinking to overcome the aporias of modern thought. One would not want to neglect Blanchot in this regard also. as we saw. and poiesis. 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. would include Jean-Luc Nancy. convenient possibility. Jacques Derrida. Agamben proposes various names for this alternate or “new” form of thinking. or not solely. 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. 20). Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and. like Heidegger before him. There may be others. for Agamben at least thought is or must be poeticized and poiesis is a mode of material thinking. or thinking through making. or thinking thought as such.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN perhaps initial scepticism or even weary derision my theory of logo-poiesis. perhaps more contentiously. it does not accurately reflect the sophistication and tensile balance I intend to convey in the term logopoiesis. and some comments would be reserved for the work of Deleuze. indeed the inserts into such a narrative are sparse and inconclusive. thinkers who accept the centrality of Heidegger but also look to poetry as a way beyond his ontology. While this gesture is important and marks the roots of the term in the work of Heidegger. I will not here present a history of logopoiesis. or not entirely. Badiou is also a great logopoietic thinker of course and he. Poetic thinking is not thinking about poetry. 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. Other contemporary logopoietic thinkers therefore. While. 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. 74). As we have seen. as is now apparent. 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. Having now dealt in some detail with logos. one which thinks the very basis of thinking as such in the pure mediality of language the most 118 . which is why logos and poiesis alone are not sufficient designations even if. 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.

essentially name the same process of bringing to appearance. he does not hone in on one particular name or ever actually advocate a “poetic thinking” at all. Poetic thinking it could be logopoiesis it is. One cannot blithely produce neologisms and not expect certain repercussions. especially considering the dangers of duality inherent within our tradition. Poetic thinking ultimately stresses a form of thinking that relies on and appropriates poetry. One term will naturally seek dominance over the other. a full understanding of categorical thinking and the problems of naming.1 While sporadically mentioned by critics. much debated and contested terms is unwise. In contrast “poetic thinking. and the fact that poetic thinking really names a form of philosophy that considers poetry. I have opted for the more obscure but also productively suggestive term. 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. has found significant currency within philosophy.LOGOPOIESIS. however. Thus logopoiesis is essentially tautological in essence. For this reason. As should be the effect on both terms when placed in a zone of bound proximity. THINKING TAUTOLOGY authentic experience of which is the poetic word (I hesitate to call it new. Certainly he does not use the term logopoiesis. and neglects the possibility of a poetry that thinks. logopoiesis has not come to be a developed rhetorical or critical term. as its novelty resides in the manner in which something original has been totally forgotten and then rediscovered centuries later). THE LOGO-POIESIS TAUTOLOGY The creation of a compound term out of two ancient. witness Halliburton’s book on Heidegger of the same name. The definition of the terms in play. Yet logopoiesis is not a neologism. balanced proximity giving way to a hierarchical topography and so on. 119 . None of the thinkers I have mentioned do so. 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.” which would be the translation of logopoiesis.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. Heidegger tells us. The dangers are heightened further when it comes to the combination of two terms such as logos and poiesis which.

“does not mean that something shows itself. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as producing something into presence. makes logos and poiesis appear as synonymous and thus the term logopoiesis as tautological. and so on. Thus logos is definable as making something appear in speech. presuppositional philosophical thought? The answer he gives is that logos really means deloun or to make manifest what is being talked about in speech. 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. 29). has come to be translated/interpreted variously as reason. Like logos. 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. relation. quite the contrary he is a thinker of obfuscation). meaning something that shows itself to indicate something else that does not show itself. 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. ground. 120 . judgement. bringing forth. How. The knowledge generating powers of logos as reason. rely on the mediation of speech: making something appear which is hidden and remains so. to let them be seen as something unconcealed (alēthes). Appearance. 25) must be interpreted effectively as a symptom. to discover them” (BT. rather it means that something makes itself known which does not show itself. the manifest” (BT. can speech be speech and also mean all of these other things that effectively form the very basis of discursive. 26). he ponders. which effectively means speech. its definition as presencing. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. 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. Logos makes appear something in precisely this way: “to take things that are being talked about in legein as apophainethai out of their concealment. 22). Yet the means by which poiesis does this differ from those of logos. judgement.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Heidegger explains that for the Greeks the term logos. If we now return briefly to Heidegger’s foundational work on the term poiesis. definition. concept. and relation. concept. the self-showing. therefore. It makes itself known through something that does show itself ” (BT.

Yet logos merely utilizes speech as a mediation. rather in making something poiesis brings something that was hidden to presence. 121 . Most certainly thinking and poetry produce truth in a different manner. The difference between philosophical and poetic thinking. 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. . one makes is not the thing produced by poiesis.LOGOPOIESIS. while poiesis is that form of revealing that “ever so suddenly and inexplicably to all thinking. Yet in later Heidegger the emphasis has changed. which he also translates as presencing. This difference becomes clearer if we re-consider the role of production or techne in relation to presencing. To sum up. he differentiates two forms of producing forth. and could indeed use another form of mediation.” (QCT. Truth is now produced into presence by virtue of techne. logo-poiesis is primarily tautological as both logos and poiesis are mediating modes of producing truth. 29). Thus logos means making something manifest through the mediation of speech. Yet to do so runs the risk of obfuscating the truth that logopoiesis is essentially a form of tautological circular thinking. 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. Techne is the active process of bringing something to presence through making. production as instrumentality which he terms challenging-forth. while free techne or poiesis exceeds the frame and produces freed thinking. while in poiesis they are produced through making. 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. but ultimately logopoiesis says the same thing twice: the production of truth—the production of truth. making. apportions itself into the revealing that brings forth and that also challenges . Here language is merely symptomatic of truth. THINKING TAUTOLOGY whereas logos mediates presencing. It could also be accused of using speech instrumentally as a form of Gestell. Enframed techne produces something to the dictates of the age in which it is produced. When one makes something the actual thing. therefore. Perhaps it is more illuminating to write the tautology out thus: (logos) the truth of production—(poiesis) the production of truth. .

as we shall now go on to see. Perhaps it would be useful here to adumbrate a few more examples provided by Agamben in that central essay in the canon of logopoiesis. models for logopoiesis. it cannot be proved right or wrong by testing it for agreement in relation to concepts or things in the world. with the poets. is inimical to philosophical thought. they call into question Being itself. 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. 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. 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. . Second. before or beyond its determination as true or false. 190 and OWL. Glenn Gould’s playing with not-playing. Such a truth resides in the fact that there is language as pure medium. Damascius’ consciousness of the tablet. rather. 174 respectively) and indeed the centrality of the hermeneutic circle. 260).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The tautology of the term is relevant for several reasons and thus must be retained. we are repeatedly assured. at the same time. I would also call this an archetypal definition of logopoiesis: a form of thinking that is without truthfulness. it touches on the debate as regards the tautegorical nature of logopoiesis. or On Contingency. Akhmatova’s ability not to write and Benjamin’s Idea of Prose are all. These experiences are without truth. Third. it disallows philosophy or poetry to totally appropriate the term. Finally. as I said. for truth is what is at issue in them” (P. Agamben declares that this ought to be the “paradigm for literary writing. the most profound experience of which belongs. in their way.” Here he speaks of the prose of Robert Walser which the critic Walter Lüssi called “pure poetry” because it “refuses in the widest sense. to recognize the Being of something as something” (P. First. but which produces truth as the very precondition for thinking. 260). “Bartleby. THE EXEMPLARY TAUTOLOGY OF LOGOPOIESIS We have already seen some examples of logopoietic thinking. . 122 . These experiments do not simply concern the truth or falsity of hypotheses . tautology names the specificity.

the father of logopoiesis. of remarkable logopoietic thinkers.” Here he experiments with issues of will.3 Agamben stresses that Bartleby’s experiment with being and potential is of this kind. This is not. THINKING TAUTOLOGY Agamben then goes on to list a history. power.” He speaks of Cavalcanti’s description of the poetic experience of being like an automaton. Rather he does not want to. 94) indicates how integral in actuality is his vision of thinking and poetry. if I may but temporarily coin that rather horrendous-sounding neologism. but when asked to copy or write by his boss he replies that he would “prefer not to. 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. 93). but a scrivener whose potential never arrives at actualization. This is what Agamben calls the “irreducibility of his ‘I would 123 . this is his form of life. 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. he ends with Heidegger. 260). but as we saw desubjectivization is a central tenet in Agamben’s conception of the relevancy of poetry to philosophy and being. and most significantly. the only experiment to be conducted by logo-poets. All poetic thinking. It is not that he cannot copy. He is a scrivener. He is a scrivener. 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. Each of these thinkers conducts an experiment in being which we should now recognize as that of desubjectivization. and potential. for the reptile. Finally. the moment when the subject “withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. 260). as we saw. I believe. 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. the transformation of limbs that changed it into a bird” (P. He mentions Avicenna’s imagining of an eviscerated and dismembered being that can still state “I am. effectively. all logopoiesis produces life out of desubjectivization or. That Agamben uses precisely the same phrase when explaining that the importance of poetry is that it produces life (EP. He remains a scrivener with the potential to write mimetically. Of course he then recounts Rimbaud’s declaration “I is another” alongside Kleist’s use of the marionette as paradigm for the absolute.LOGOPOIESIS. being.

he argues. as Keats demonstrates in the final line of “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” It is not that he does not want to copy. he would simply prefer not to. Logopoiesis therefore must be a construction dependent on the logic of potentiality as Agamben finesses it. but.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN prefer not to’. 259). 255). For a start Melville’s story seems to merely recount the conditions of potential in an allegorical or analogous form. another name Agamben gives to this ontology is life. 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. 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. or better. In that this ontology withdraws subjectivity from actual identity and biological indistinction. are somewhat dissatisfying. Similarly. Logopoiesis is a truth-testing tautology that can only occur outside the realms of philosophy. A tautology is a form of thinking whose truth cannot be tested because it is always true.4 INFINITE POETRY While illustrative these examples. 261).” poetry thrives on it. 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. “Emancipating itself from Being and non-Being alike. 188). between potential absoluta and potential ordinate. as all illustrations are. Philosophy cannot abide the tautology. 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. In the end there is little difference between this presentation of truth 124 . It is the formula of potentiality” (P. “The formula that he so obstinately repeats destroys all possibility of constructing a relation between being able and being willing. potentiality thus creates its own ontology” (P. form-of-life (HS.

along with an interesting interchange between “this” and “that. marked by “supernatural silences. most specifically the circular tautological nature of thinking under the auspices of logopoiesis. that moves beyond what we have already learnt of deixis from other sources. This is logopoiesis in its weakest state. “L’infinito” begins: “This lonely knoll was ever dear to me.” moving one from proximity to distance. like Hegel. THINKING TAUTOLOGY and that found in Plato’s dialogues or the fabulous Nietzsche.” with “this hedgerow” becoming converted later into “that. indeed. is this specific use of deixis singular to the poem when innumerable poems use the same technique? Agamben believes that Leopardi.5 His is a truly engaged logopoiesis that gives as much attention to the operations of poetic thinking as to philosophical thought processes. the impersonal genius of the wind interjects and “I find myself comparing to this voice / that infinite silence: and I recall eternity. Narrative. specificity to generality.”6 Agamben’s analysis begins in technicalities which indicate the sincere philologer within him.” At this point. poetry. as some have of Heidegger and Badiou. 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.” Author-function Leopardi is then struck by a sense of “interminable spaces” in the distant beyond. always conceives of the sense-certainty assumed by the “this” as always already “universal and negative. and dialogue have all been used by philosophy to make a point. faced with the “immensity” of both infinite space and infinite time. 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. And how.” Naturally. Yet Agamben is not to be accused.LOGOPOIESIS. which it undoubtedly does in the poem.” so that while we may assume that Leopardi did 125 . of merely allegorizing literature in the service of philosophy. and back again. / and this hedgerow that hides from view / so large a part of the remote horizon. This is best illustrated by the centrality he gives to poetry in Language and Death. He notes the deictic “this” is repeated six times in the poem’s fifteen lines. 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.

in other words where and how poetry thinks? First. as in the Hegelian analysis of sense-certainty. Poetic language takes place in such a way that its advent always already escapes both toward the future and toward the past. In the Leopardian idyll. the knoll. also converts the ontic object of the text as such into mere text-function. This. he is immediately transforming the sense-certainty of the poem into a set of universal qualities revealing. he believes. is modified to become the more vague and distant “that. first as regards the now fully fleshed-out conception of dictation. I believe. already referentially deficient but still intimate. the hedgerow. in the instance of discourse that the habitual use of deixis indicates.” The rapidity and alacrity with which the poet abandons a noun for “this. reducing both subjectivities to mere gesturality. (LD. 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). converting with haste Leopardi the existent-being into Leopardi the author-function gesture.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN once perceive a knoll in his home town of Recanati. beyond the last horizon. that the procedure of author-function becoming reader-function. the “this” points always already beyond the hedgerow.” and then “this” for “that” suggests that. reference. Agamben’s use of prose was illustrative. The place of poetry is therefore always a place of memory and repetition. a That). 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. toward an infinity of events of language. and into other realms of generality. here his analysis of poetry is exemplary and paradigmatic. like the poet himself. however. Previously.7 He is reading a poem by Leopardi but. second as to how poetic structure. referentiality in poetry is always already moving away from reference to an actual thing towards 126 . and rhythm work. What are these qualities that typify the place of poetry. here the This is always already a Not-this (a universal. in such a way. serving as the basis for the possibility of its infinite repetition. is indicated for example by how soon the “this” in the poem. and the wind in the poem have immediately moved beyond referentiality to an existential fact. and third how poetic thinking differs totally from that of philosophy.

This is a point he also makes in reference to the razo de trobar. This invention of an encounter or happening is in fact an act of false memory. they have already entered into a field of repetition. 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. is truly an event in that it negates the very possibility of its ever occupying this space and being termed as such. a gesture conjured up to support to presence of the poem as such (LD. Its advent is both pre-cursive and reflective. Second. frog-spawn. Finally. 69). a poem is therefore always profoundly evental. this allows Agamben to make a truly profound revelation as to the nature of poetic structure. and yet as soon as the poet encounters daffodils. fourth. something singular to the poet. namely. the fiction of the razo creates lived experience simply to support the event of writing a poem that is long past. The poem deals with a truth that is always already in place before the poet ever even wanders lonely as a cloud. or conceptually through such considerations of space and time that we find in “L’infinito. the poietic poem. The event as such is either always already prepared for. THINKING TAUTOLOGY the thing first standing for something else and then finally an indication of the thing of language as such. or has always already been converted from singular event to universal quality. Agamben’s first conclusion from this astonishing reading is itself somewhat predictable but essential all the same. therefore. and thus available for perpetual repetition. the uncertainties of memory down by the station early in the morning. He says that the poem “expresses the same experience which we saw as constitutive of philosophy itself. to a universal precondition of experience as such. The poem.” located as it is beyond the knoll in 127 . Although the lived experience always precedes the act of mimesis in our tradition.LOGOPOIESIS. poetic referentiality is always marked by a belatedness transferring all poetic temporality into memorialization. A poem can never be an event. Reference in poetry therefore is always an indication of the taking place of language either in actuality through use of heightened semiotic devices. that the taking place of language is unspeakable and ungraspable. there was a Grecian urn but in the poem there is no Grecian urn. universal.” 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. 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. Third.

for this reason. and that the instance of the word that takes place in a poem is. He adds: “The word. Thus he is able to conclude in a phrase of some significance to my own theory of logopoiesis: “The poetic experience of dictation seems. Its role as a functioning meta-deixis although not often enough remarked upon is central to the literary experience as a whole. of course. 128 . comes about in such as way that its advent necessarily remains unsaid in that which is said” (LD. the act of turning. to return. 77). although in later studies he refers to it as the semiotic. Agamben’s definition of language’s sayability as pure medium being perpetually silenced by the instance of the Voice. from verto. The utilization of metrical forms in poetry. The verse (versus. to coincide perfectly with the philosophical experience of language” (LD. not quite. 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. as in prose) signals for a reader that these words have always already come to be. is an essential part of poetry. . This is no more the case than in the poem which demands to be read then re-read.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN interminable silence (LD. . if philosophy has already indicated this surely all that is left for poetry is to back philosophy up. Poetry and philosophy are most certainly linked in terms of how they think language. the metrical-musical element” (LD. There are blessings and curses to be gleaned from this analysis. In addition. For a start Agamben excitedly notes in relation to Bartleby that Melville’s observations on will precede those of Nietzsche by three decades. taking place in time. as opposed to prorsus. Well. 77). in all poetry even contemporary mainstream free verse and experimental poetics. 77). This element is what he calls here poetry’s “super-shifter . 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.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. weaving a complex planar and tabular matrix of anaphoric and cataphoric elements that are the essence of its form. This is. to proceed directly. that they will return again. That said if philosophy is marked by language as negation then poetry too cannot escape this metaphysical nihilism. thus. Thus literature can get there first. 77).

it performs or at least demonstrates that the very place of poetry. reference and. where poetry thinks. 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. As the poem is always already in place before you even come upon it. philosophy and poetry. philosophical discourse cannot. no quick solution to this problem. You will recall that although poetry and philosophy both share as their object the unattainability of language as such. structure. sound.LOGOPOIESIS. which is something philosophical language can never do unless it becomes poeticized. that is. 78) This is the essence of the nature of poetry for Agamben. Does it not. indeed. in what I have called logopoiesis. modern poetic dictation is just as marked by negation as modern philosophical thinking. and has always already taken place and then begun again before you even get to the end. poetic language commemorates its own inaccessible originary place and it says the unspeakability of the event of language (it attains. Thus the poem is able to take possession of the unattainable as the positive basis for its own self-generation. he believes. but the commencement of a possible shift away from the aporias of both logos and poiesis. THINKING TAUTOLOGY ungraspable. Through the musical element. But this placelessness has a place to be found in prosody itself. (LD. This is not the solution to our metaphysical problems. in poetry the unattainable is its very essence. Philosophy’s prose proceeds but poetry’s verse returns and this constitutes their essential difference. This is prosody as such or poetry’s reliance on repetition in terms of stress. and while my formulation of logopoiesis advocates 129 . This allows poetry to take possession of language’s unattainability in a way. the unattainable). lineation. is by definition a placeless one. There is. While philosophy is able to speak of the unspeakable giving us insight into negativity but no means of overcoming it. however. THE HABITS OF THE MUSE Agamben’s conclusion to his reading of Leopardi is complex and subtle. finally. 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. counting as one of the most profound reflections on the literary ever penned in any language at any time.

for Agamben. sempre. Thus he defines the roots of always as meaning “once and for all. 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. is.is the Indo-European word for single. The first rhyme already recalls the second.” and the emphasis on dearness/sweetness.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. Just as the poem never ends always returning our attention back to that first line. and films recall their commencement in their ending.” This in fact is not a remarkable observation. 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.” Agamben traces the etymology of sempre to the Latin semper which he first fractures into two elements. is also referred to directly by the first line of the poem which in Italian reads: “Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle. the use of “this. going backwards to go forwards. 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. if one is always proceeding and returning? One never is. the habit of its reversal. combined with a positive potential. symphonies.” “This lonely knoll” and “this sea. although always there in the metricalmusical element. turning. of which he finds the sem. Consider rhyme as a simple example of this.” Here always. Every couplet is in miniature the ontological potential of the poem to save thought. sem-per. Second. the poem form is dominated by the advent-finitude tabular matrix. This is not unique to this poem. its restless habitus. This is the place of poetic thinking. When is one ever in the poem spatially or temporally. novels. The poem proceeds through verse. First. In “L’infinito” the habitual.” a common enough construction of the experience of the always. its advent.” Two elements at the poem’s end recall. the second harks back to the first. so many lyrics. unlike in the English translation. “was ever dear to me” and “sweet to me. an adventure indeed. For now we must satisfy ourselves with Agamben’s final point in relation to “L’infinito” as regards what might be called poetic habit. progressing only to refer back. He then suggests: “The sempre that opens the idyll thus points 130 . it never begins either commencing always on “always.

it represents the initial sempre as an interminable multiplicity . as is ever the case at least since Plato’s time. a having (habitus) that unifies (once) a multiplicity (all times): the having ever dear this knoll” (LD. But the drowning of thought in ‘this’ sea now permits a return to the ‘ever dear’ of the first line. invention in Derrida. 80–1). This “voyage” taken in the poem is “truly more brief than any time or measure. because it leads into the heart of the Same. . THINKING TAUTOLOGY toward a habit. 131 .” the poet instead founders in the multiplicity of potential experiences of the knoll. Poetry. 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. Agamben now rereads the whole poem as an attempt to seize the habitual. . “Il pensiero dominante” he seems to embrace thinking which. 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. 80). Habit cedes to a thought that ‘feigns’. This is in a way a restatement of the logic of the name in Heidegger. Yet in a later poem. to occupy its singular once-ness for all time indicated in the “this. the habitual dwelling with which the idyll began” (LD. 79). by the poet’s trying to haveever-dear the experience of the knoll. The singular cannot be attained except through its being named in language. fully experiencing the unattainable of the place of language. here. . the rupturing of a habitual dwelling into a ‘surprise’ . Yet we know that in trying to have the knoll the poet is instead cast into the interminable space that dismays his heart. The thought is a movement that. and the event in Badiou. to hold this unattainability in suspense. 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. seeks to think. This is perhaps why in an early letter Leopardi writes of the way in which thought makes him unhappy. cedes to thought its sovereign power in affairs of the mind but is wrong to do so. although dominating is also sweet. 80). It departs from a habit and returns to the same habit” (LD. will even kill him if he is unable to change his situation. the that of the knoll or its endless repetition through its prophylactic and transmissible encounter in poetic language. . to measure its dimensions” (LD. In trying to inhabit the experience of the knoll.LOGOPOIESIS.9 that is. the perpetual place of always.

a project of which I think we can say Heidegger is the greatest master. 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). he sees a rival to his claim for thought’s sovereignty. Use of the poetic word in fact is an expropriated appropriation in that one is possessed by the muse. “so that it necessarily escapes whoever tries to speak it” (LD. 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. that it takes us nowhere. 78). here thought cannot measure trapped as it is in the tautology of the same. radically productive uselessness. which. In that “philosophy too experiences the place of language as its supreme problem (the problem of being)” (LD. Periplus describes. Agamben’s reading goes even further than this however: “The ‘confrontation’ that has always been under way between poetry and philosophy is. Periplus as a term marks the structural pointlessness or meaninglessness of art. is responsible for giving the poetic word the character of being an eurema Moisan or invention of the muses. is the highest stake” (LD. the habit. that it says nothing of worth. thus. just sails around. is the name the Greeks gave to the “ungraspability of the originary place of the poetic word” (LD. Plato. The name of this technique in poetry is the periplus. Muse. Both seek to grasp that original. 78). 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN In contrast to our previous definition of thought as that which takes measure of the dimensions of the unattainable. nothing that can be tested as being true in terms of agreement or reasoning. Wildean. the circular structural basis of all logopoiesis. in the Ion. Agamben believes philosophy was born out of the very need to 132 . he explains. its utter. 78). therefore. much more than a simple rivalry. for speaking man. he claims. and instead of appreciating filiation. The circular journey to nowhere brings to the fore the darkness of the poem. philo-poiesis. the circular journey immortalized by The Odyssey becoming a foundational recursive and tautological structure of so much Western art to follow. in a nutshell. anti-poiesis. 78). Agamben believes Plato is correct in his calling philosophy supreme music and its muse the true muse. inaccessible place of the word. nothing new. Here. spoken by it.10 Plato sees the community between poetry and philosophy. amity.

Yet. in the periplus logic of tautological habitudes. 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 parentheses as if an after thought which in fact is the advent of this whole impossible yet unavoidable enterprise. (LD. 133 . will ever be able to accomplish their millennial enterprise by themselves. THINKING TAUTOLOGY liberate poetry from inspiration or to retrieve language from mystical music-making and return it to statements of truth. Thought now experiences. sets out from only to return back to the same. Returning one last time. thought “in its drowning” is “now truly lost forever . tautological logopoiesis. neither verse not prose. by transforming muse into spirit or Geist. 78) With this parenthetical wondering Agamben gives birth to the new discipline of logopoiesis. lost at sea as we say. once and for all time. thought has many adventures during which thought’s silence and interminable nature miraculously ceases to be “a negative experience. Yet.LOGOPOIESIS. . the most beautiful voice of the muse is voice without sound marking the origins of two essential and ultimately destructive events in Western thought. as is often the case in such salty tales of the sea. that is. Yet. the trans-planar and tabular experience of the anaphoriccataphoric matrix of poetic recursiveness. perhaps neither poetry nor philosophy. Thought in the poem. along the way. and thus freed. Plato argues in Phaedrus. 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. and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring.” Thought has been truly poeticized by being sucked into the vortex of poetic periplus. Who will save us: poetry or philosophy? The answer is neither and both. Agamben inserts the following: (For this reason.”’ At sea. no sooner launched the logopoietic bark is inundated by the cruel seas of the infinite and drowns. vocal silence at the very heart of being. It does this. The second the establishment of negative. he argues. you recall. . once and for all. 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.

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. the very testing of truth through its own alienation. Both the ability of poetic language to turn (projective-recursion) as a potential for a pro-ductive philosophy to come. . literary singularity born out of structures of repetition. The result is the “extinguishing of thought. 134 . For now. and reflect on how far we have come. Logopoiesis is the turn of verse in all senses of the word. its versification of language. and yet how much further we still have to travel. dry off. 81). however. At this point the metaphysical and poetic Agamben will once more come together and take the measure of each other. its having been. for different yet related reasons. its coming to be.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the poem. its habit and its versus. . the truth of a statement cannot be tested. Yet the circularity of logopoiesis goes even further than this. as the ethos of humanity” (LD. its having-been and its coming to be . 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. This logic is the tautological logic of poetic thinking. 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. and eschatological futural time. time between times or between chronological time. without resorting to arche-presence of the false imposition of unity. 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 result of this is a form of radical desubjectivization. Everything hangs on the temporal-spatial essence of poetry. In both tautology and potentiality. it suffices to pull ourselves from the ocean and back onto the shore. Logopoiesis in its tautology names a certain experience of truth that emulates that of potential. negativity as the breaking and making of the habit or of a poetic. in the exhaustion of the dimension of being.” its drowning and its tautological negation so that “in the negative dimensions of the event of language. 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.

interests him only in as much as it provides singular and privileged access to thinking the thing of thought as such: language. and finitude. consider the conclusion of the short essay on poetics entitled “The End of the Poem. 115). the end of the poem. 96) If it were not already apparent that there is a profound interdependence in Agamben between thinking. 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. (BT. the poem must die through a process of self-alienation to become what it is destined to be. without remaining unsaid in what is said” (EP. language. 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. 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.” Having spent several pages defining poetry in terms of lineation. and the arts. interruption. All of which gives a certain piquancy to his avowed project here. recurrence. Never more powerfully apparent than here is it that Agamben is both negligent of the singularity of literature and yet entirely dependent on it.CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. Like all other identities in Agamben. THE TURN OF VERSE THE DEFINITION OF POETRY Bare space is still veiled. 135 .

by definition. If this tension were easy to maintain. This may indeed be a truism for all entities the result of the metaphysical tradition. Thus we can see that differential opposition. that between the semiotic and the semantic. must also be those for thought. perhaps Agamben might rapidly find what he is looking for in poetry but. yet as we saw poetry has a special place in this tradition. (EP. 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. strikes me as obvious—namely that poetry lives only in the tension and difference (and hence also the virtual interference) between sound and sense. like all tension. The fact that the poem comes to an end both allows 136 . which was originally a paper presented in French. between the semiotic and the semantic sphere. here in the scission between phone and logos.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The essay. and poetry is the archetypal tensile linguistic form. not the case. happens to emulate precisely the tension at the heart of modern. 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. we now realize. although widely attacked by Agamben cannot simply be eradicated. as you can see summarized in the title of this lecture. 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. 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. This is not merely due to the repulsive attitude of first philosophy to poetry. is to define a poetic institution that has until now remained unidentified: the end of the poem. To do this. source of the tension he mentions here. begins in a rather pedestrian vein that gives little indication of the direction it will eventually take: My plan. I will have to begin with a claim that. negative metaphysics. Rather the definition of poetry exists precisely in the ambivalence to be found at the heart of all structures of differential scission. this is. without being trivial. namely that such a scission demands separation and relation. but also that the specific tension of the poetic.

and instead becomes a true abyss of philosophical proportions. 115). because at this point the whole texture of poetry. This space. it follows that the last verse of a poem is not a verse.2 Yet there would be no tension without this probable eventuality. a gap which words can pause before and then overleap as in enjambement. here there can be no enjambement in the final verse of a poem. while a potential for thought.ENJAMBEMENT. THE TURN OF VERSE one to define the potential of its internal tensions and to understand how. the abyssal presence of absence edging all poetry into being. 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. 137 . ongoing poetry of an impossible or virtual nature. If poetry subsists in the tensions it calls up between semiotic and semantic forces. poetry alone cannot be thought’s substitute. ceases to be a facilitator of poetic tension. The poem is tense because it must end. Does this mean that the last verse trespasses into prose? (EP. it is inevitable that if the sequence cannot recommence then the thing in question at that point no longer exists. Thus the final “verse” of any poem cannot be poetry for the tension is asymmetrically poised above a permanent rather than transitory space. not a preference for the semiotic over the semantic but the balancing of one precariously against the other. only pure. if poetry is indeed this tension. starts to unravel. No wonder it is “as if for poetry the end implied a catastrophe and loss of identity” (EP. carefully woven according to Agamben from the tensile interchange of semiotics and semantics. 112) If something is defined by a tensile dynamic between arrest and sequential recommencement. yet it implies consequences that are as perplexing as they are necessary. This fact is certainly trivial. teetering on a ledge above an abyss of pure space or universal prose. Agamben wonders: what happens at the point which the poem ends? Clearly. not least because without finitude there can be no poem. For if poetry is defined precisely by the possibility of enjambement. 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. then.

and hence poiesis. This other tension is the tension of philosophical finitude. This is the source of poetry’s Stimmung. Is prose. 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. For poetry is perpetually fading. He comes to define poetry. questions begin to be asked of being. dissolving. but rather the already inscribed future failure of poetry. Poetry is not marked by finitude.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN If.” because Agamben is speaking here of deathly negativity. composed of alinear but sequential marks. by its ending. implied before the poem has even begun. its uncanny angst. but rather is the experience of projective and imminent finitude as such. indeed all creation precisely in the terms of Heidegger’s beingtowards-death. which is also a being-away-from-birth. 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. Is the space before the poem the space between poems. vacancy is just as present before the poem begins. one might also wonder what happens at the point of incipit or the very birth of the poem. foreshadowed in the worrying gaps between stanzas. losing its footing on a slippery way it must follow to its death. tension. before the title. Poetry is tense because it is permanently buffeted by recollected 138 . from this obvious if not trivial definition. the beginning of the poem. its mood or attunement. or is it merely the period when there is no poetic tension? Where does this space end into. to be perpetually born to presence. between the title and the poem body. Surely the essay would be better named “The Death of the Poem. if it indeed ever does begin as such and not simply strike up again on its guitar or lute. in other words. 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. outside the collection or book? Is it actual space. or the fake space of the blank page. If space looms at the end of the poem. and finitude. not space at all but un-inscribed or zero-marked matter. certainly suggested at the end of each line whether it runs on or not. 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. inevitable at the poem’s final footing on the edge before the abyss.

quasi-scientific formulation and the more complex rhetoric of “The End of the Poem” allows Agamben to add 139 . THE TURN OF VERSE premonitions and intimations of mortality. after all. 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). 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. provide sufficient criteria. Such plans always implicate the formation of a plane. (IP. and the number of syllables—all elements that can equally well occur in prose—do not. those two lines each made of two points. at some point of extension. however obvious it may seem to be. from this standpoint. A plan. for example. BOUSTROPHEDONICS I will take Agamben at his word and read “The End of the Poem” as a plan for a poetic institution of foundational instability. A plan.ENJAMBEMENT. 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. 39) This is taken from Idea of Prose. simply listing actions. and the intervening ten years between Agamben’s initial. Quantity. A plane occurs whenever there are three points or where there are two lines which are not parallel for. None of which is at all trivial. rhythm. will meet at a third and mutual point (in perspective the vanishing point). Prose is the discourse in which this is impossible. maps out a planar surface. among other things. 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.

and articulation charted here: the space between the words. There is. and in phonology one cannot hear “words. at least until one pauses for breath. which is phonematic. rather obvious. Western.4 So in grammatology one cannot “see” stress. notice how hard is the conception of the phonetic as a line and the grammatological as a stream. and mathematics. resulting in the perfectly sensible and violently contested idea that the voice precedes writing. a designation which includes Italian. metrical iambic rhythm. The first of these observations is. and leaves the world to darkness and to me. the lowing heard winds slowly o’er the lea. difference. and the regular. as you may have recognized when you 140 .” They are not. are all composed of successive series. The brain that cuts up this continual stream into single units identified as “words. the adoption of the terms semantic and semiotic to place atop of the initial bare skeleton of prose and poetry. rather they are electrical impulses giving an impression of words. words in any real sense. while the phonematic difference cannot contain the grammatological.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN one additional element to this formula. The second is less so and is based on scientific work on phonemes which establishes that when one speaks a stream of syntax. English. The grammatological difference cannot contain the phonematic. Let us take a random and innocent syntagm in English to better illustrate the issue: “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. This third difference is enjambement.” There are two clear levels of segmentation. alphabetic languages which are written although not necessarily spoken. a third level of segmentation available to only a very limited number of syntagms. undifferentiated utterance. however. by which I mean the simple appearance of the words does not reproduce stress. of course. although of all of these mathematics also has a tabular potential. the ploughman homeward plods his weary way. 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. Latin. one utters a single. for. in that speaking the words does not reproduce textual spacing or planar dimensionality. dare I say it.” 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. There is a fundamental disjuncture in such successive series between words as they are heard and how they are written.3 Let us scientifically and geometrically proceed with this for a moment. which is a grammatological differentiation.

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. . neither in writing nor in the voice.ENJAMBEMENT. While attestation suggests Agamben conceives of enjambement grammatologically. The remaining evidence is much more empirical. And leaves the world to darkness and to me. THE TURN OF VERSE saw my example or felt when you read it. so I have to extrapolate from his evidence the possibility that it is both and neither. as proven by my example that until those breaks are spatially imposed the sentence in question holds off from become a verse. . True one needs in 141 .” There are two levels of analysis to present here. And the human is precisely this fracture of presence” (ST. 156). The second takes us into a much more complex question as to what is actually meant by a line-break. the extract in question is more traditionally inscribed thus: The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. Is such a break a grammatological or phonematic occurrence? The way Agamben presents it remains permanently unclear. The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea. enjambement is neither purely grammatological nor phonological. 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. but in the fold of the presence on which they are established: the logos .5 So goes famously the first stanza of Gray’s exemplary “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. revealing not simply Derridean différance but also the “topological game of putting things together and articulating” (ST. The first is the line taken by Agamben that without the line-breaks after every ten syllables this sentence is prose. there are a number of reasons why this cannot be the case. As one can see from my little experiment in linguistic presentation. The ploughman homeward plods his weary way. Agamben summarizes this ancient ontological counterpositioning in terms of the bar (/) that we found articulated the ban and articulation of the sign. 156).

Certainly you can see a line-break or feel it. Enjambement artificially breaks the sequential line of language at the right hand side of the page here. 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. While prose fills a planar page space. if strained.6 this is not essential but merely a contingency of 142 . and its recommencement. entente. Enjambement therefore not only establishes a tension between semantics and semiotics but it simultaneously eases or even eradicates another ancient antagonism. the use of zero enjambement facilitated by terminal caesurae at the end of every subsection of ten syllables. All of which brings us back to the poetic plane. one still finds oneself pausing every ten syllables. and perhaps finally. 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. but its full force comes through the combination of the two.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. this time not between poetry and prose (philosophy) but between speech and writing. 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. more intangibly. the almost genetic inclination of English speakers to allow their speech to fall into iambs organized into groups of ten syllables or so. while at the same time one can feel enjambement but it remains as discarnate as a feeling or uncanny sensation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN some sense the spatial presentation of the break for the poem to be immediately perceptible as the visual entity called poem. 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. . But if one reads the four lines as one line. poetry is the becoming planar of an endlessly extendable two-dimensional field we call prose. its ending. until one has one’s suspicions confirmed by the graphical plan of the poem before one.

neither poetic nor prosaic. 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. Here voice shouts down writing. By this headlong dive into the abyss of meaning. 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. but boustrophedonic. interrupted by the paragraph certainly but never for anything other than stabilizing semantic dictates within this line. and reclaims that which it had the temerity to eject. The paragraph. 40) Agamben’s phrasing itself constructs something of a boustrophedonic folding logic. 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. of poetry . and transportation of prose writing.ENJAMBEMENT. Writing scribbles down voice. As Agamben argues: In the very moment that the verse affirms its own identity by breaking a syntactic link. and it is a point. The cut folded back on itself always becomes a hinge except for the very last verse which remains severed not bent. as it were. Most avowedly the paragraph is not a stanza. Yet at the very point. spatial absence (the jagged abyss that looms at the right-hand edge of all poetry) the break is softened into a bend. 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. I would argue. 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. It hints at a passage of prose with the very gesture that attests its own versatility. namely sense. In this way. THE TURN OF VERSE the development of the book as a technology for the preservation. organization. enjambement brings to light the original gait. the purely sonic unit of verse transgresses its own identity as it does its own measure. . (IP. it is irresistibly drawn into bending over into the next line to lay hold of what it has thrown out of itself. In abstract terms the line of prose is always one single line. that it abandons sense for the abyss of grammatical. . distribution.7 the verse finds that its very identity as verse is lost at the precise point of its being 143 .

since Plato certainly. “Poetic” remains therefore at the level of praxis. or something that the poetic makes happen or brings into presence. 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 threshold. colonization. to poetry as the tensile effect of this activity. while poetry as such is poiesis. the way it always refers both forwards and backwards. to refer to the activity of enjambement. and finally excision of an opening for suprasensuous thinking within the sensible body of a “work” of art. as a surround or framing device.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN founded. THE MESSIANIC AS NOT The space of thought within the poem. 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. something that writing does. 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. therefore. What poetry “makes happen” geometrically is that it adds a third point. rely on temporality. At the point in the line when the line becomes a part of a plane the poiesis of poetry is revealed. such as the becoming planar of the cut/turn at the end of the poetic line. and abyss. allows the poetic to become poetry.8 opening up a planar space in writing that is the very basis of the grammatological. – KLE SIS. immediately closed down again by the cut becoming in an instant a fold. Students of metaphysics will be more than aware of how considerations of time become those of space. Between the cut and the fold. cannot be cleared until the issue of time in poetry is resolved.9 Students of poetry will be more than aware of how considerations of space. revealed and concealed or vice versa. and vice versa. This experience of space produced by the boustrophedonic transition from line to plane. One of 144 . If we take the structural shift of the metricalmusical element of the anaphora-cataphora projective recursive tabular matrix of poetic structure. indeed poetry as such is based on the fundamental number three. has suffered a ban. What poetry makes happen in the birth to plane is nothing other than thinking. poetry is continually and permanently born to presence and withheld from view. an essential logopoietic opening up of space for thought in a medium that.

Yet such is the nature of the adventure. space becoming time. and the messianic strand of potential. in part. but also the possible solution as to how a future for thought can be found in the technicalities of prosody. Map-less but with guidance we will commence with the call of the messianic vocation. temporal. negation. 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.ENJAMBEMENT. and the quest for a post-nihilistic theory of productive thought about art that did not succumb to the metaphysical-epochal designations of ending. poetic temporality. 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. resolve the aporias of modernity. There are two central epochal moments in Agamben’s messianic The Time That Remains which we are already. Finally. Agamben has only been able to resolve these issues. the medium or supportive gesturality of language as such makes little reference to temporality. Yet its essential combination with the theory of potentiality is. and so on. silence. the epoch of modernity. 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. 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. in one of his recent and most important works The Time That Remains. and progress in our task of a logopoiesis in which poetry is an essential partner in the indifferential thought to come. familiar with. 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. If we are to move from lineation to the space of poetry. of course.10 The combination of these two terms not only involves an even more ontological radicalization of enjambement as the obvious definition of the poem. 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. The first of these is kle ¯sis or calling as a surrogate to epoch as event. as regards Agamben’s own philosophy of indifference. 145 .

usually translated as “the ¯ ¯sei ¯the same calling wherein he was called” (TTR. Agamben argues the problem is that the phrase is not tautological.” Agamben focuses on the seemingly tautological phrase en te kle he ekle ¯. Clearly it presents a modification of Heidegger’s idea of the poetic as the calling of calling (PLT. wherein the repeated term can only be presented as a term to be repeated 146 . 19). 257). but a “peculiar tautegorical movement that comes from the call and returns back to it” (TTR. fictive subjective as-if-ness that we have already delineated. and thus it is from Paul that Agamben extricates the idea of kle as the calling to the messianic vocation. the calling of being called.” can be read intertextually in relation to three areas of concern for logopoiesis. is instigated and completed only after the fact of when it is called to call. Finally. can the referent or call can be said to call at all. This occurs through a technical application of that. Reading specifically a ¯sis sentence from 1 Cor. 22). To be called to the messianic vocation is to be called to the call. What deixis indicates here. or the call of the previous calling. one might redefine this form of anaphora as tautegorical cataphoric anaphora. therefore. most familiar linguistic operator. therefore. While the tautology of this phrasing. messianic calling is first presented in the “Second Day” of The Time That Remains bracketing the debate of modern. Such a use of anaphoric deixis is peculiarly tautegorical because not until the call is recalled. now. 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. 7:17: 17–22. Here the “he” is an anaphoric designation of the previous kle ¯sei. deixis.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kle ¯sis. 198 & 209).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. repeating the same logic we found in play with aesthetic judgement. 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. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. is that the commencement and completion of the vocation of the messianic all occur within the temporality of the act of calling. The call. the messianic “calling. is one which commentators have struggled for centuries to render in their respective languages. until the deictic indicator refers back to its previous referent. Indeed.

Citing Paul when he says that kle involves ¯sis operating “as not having” a condition.” (TTR. for example called to criticism as the critical tautegorical nullification of criticism. 23). THE TURN OF VERSE after it has first been repeated. almost an internal shifting between each and every single condition by virtue of being called” (TTR. a form of indication that “may apply to any condition. “Vocation. The messianic vocation is the revocation of every vocation . but not called to a new vocation. of having a condition as not having a condition. its relation to the messianic event. referring to the first half of the Pauline formulation. . One is called away from one’s vocation. the vocation calls the vocation itself.” he says. the classic definition of deixis. Think of this if you will as anaphoric deixis that refers to no particular thing but merely refers to its own operations. 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. Thus one is called to remain in the negation of vocation as a form of vocation. Jew. . but of change. Agamben calls ¯ ¯ this the “ultimate meaning of kle ¯sis” (TTR. 23)— immobilized by the confounding circular logic of the tautegorical. its being essentially and foremost a calling of the calling” (TTR. but instead are called into the nullification of one’s vocation as one’s vocation. the “Ho s me ” of the Pauline text. “Why remain then in this nothing?” Agamben asks. You are not called from one vocation.ENJAMBEMENT. Tautegorical. 22). 23). 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. . This being the case the messianic vocation has no specific content. it revokes a condition . to another. and only because of.12 Calling or kle is first of all an empty ¯sis revocation of every vocation. . . but for this same reason. as though it were an urgency that works it from within and hollows it 147 . We are faced here therefore not with a matter of eschatological indifference. apostle. “calls for nothing and to no place . and indeed there is increasing room for Benveniste here and in other later works. . 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. Precisely because such a remaining “signifies the immobile anaphoric gesture of the messianic calling. yet cannot be repeated until it has occurred.

is that of a thing with itself in the form of non-self-identity. He first uses the example of the technique of comparison within Paul. noting how in the Bible the parable comes to stand for the word of god itself or logos. the messianic does not simply cancel out this figure. the parable. 24–5). as the operation of language as such to such a degree that in many languages the word for language originates from the parable. but of the duality of language itself imposed upon it by human speech. rejoicing pushed towards not rejoicing. they do not resemble children. Instead. it prepares its end” (TTR. Agamben identifies how a whole tradition of the parable develops that takes paraballisation. If this is true then for Paul men are not as children. The comparison.” and how this form of comparison was analysed by Medieval grammarians in a particular fashion as not a form of identity or resemblance.” Like the comparison the parable. “but rather they interpreted the comparative as an (intensive or remissive) tension that sets one concept against another” (TTR. not until he starts to speak of figurality is one able to see how these comments pertain to modern aesthetics. 24). “unless you become as children. 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. if I may refer to such a thing. that of the messianism of a temporality to come. from the Greek 148 . “The Pauline hos me seems to be a special type of tensor.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN out. In the messianic parable signum and res significa approximate each other because language itself is what is signified. but are placed alongside children. the difference between the signum and res significa thus tends to annul itself without completely disappearing. 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. seed meaning seed and logos. 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. . As he says: “In the parable. . but makes it pass. nullifying it in the very gesture of maintaining and dwelling in it” (TTR. In Paul’s comparative explanation of the subjective effect of kle weeping ¯sis is pushed towards itself as not weeping. 24). if it exists at all. Agamben concludes from this form of comparison: “In pushing each thing towards itself through the as not. 23–4).

but so as to put “each being and each term in tension with itself ” (TTR. 43). He explains that while Paul regularly uses eschatological time when speaking of the two Jewish time traditions. and parable? These constructions are also self-regarding but in a manner that Agamben believes is truly redemptive. the “as if.” (TTR. indicates a process of internal division (as well as creating tabular space).ENJAMBEMENT. occasion or now. The question therefore remains if modern “as if ” aesthetics finds its archetype in art for art’s sake. messianic time is neither of these epochal designations. kairos. 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. comparison. “it is a remnant. This shift from comparison to parable brackets. 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. 62).” however. To negotiate this subtle and complex difference will take the rest of my study here on the conception of poiesis. Agamben’s argument in The Man Without Content. in relation to what he sees as a common misrepresentation of apostolic messianic time as eschatological.” The historical conflict he maps out between “as if ” and “as not” can now be situated around familiar territory pertaining to language and figuration. THE TURN OF VERSE para-ballo to place one thing next to another. as I said. when the division of time is itself divided . that which stretches from creation to the end of time. The sign is not a system of difference and similarity but of a non-selfcoincidence as identity. and the atemporal eternity that extends after the end of time. and to take us from negative modernity to productive poiesis we must turn to the second Pauline term. Language does not refer to the world but to language as such. . “As if ” would seem to be figuration as such. chronos. eschaton. Rather. a consideration of a third form of figuration. how does that differ from the messianic figurality of anaphora. Glossing on the traditional representation of time as a line along 149 . In the language of messianic time comparisons and parables exist not in terms of linguistic comparison. . works in a manner which places figuration alongside itself. signifier and signified. MESSIANIC KAIROS Agamben first addresses the term kairos. the time that remains between these two times.

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. interruptions. as ever. here represented as between the two vertical dotted lines.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN which one situates epochs. As Agamben says. Kairos adds futurity to the past and pastness to the future but it is not the moment or instant. insufficient to capture the complexity of time. 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: A C Of this model and its reappraisal of messianic time he suggests that we take “messianic time as a caesura which. Agamben hones in on this gap between representable and thinkable time by adopting the linguistic concept of operational time. 150 . and C apocalypse. for example A—B—C wherein A is creation. therefore. As such it operates with precisely the same logic as the term epoch. in regard of linear time. B the messianic event. and dimensionalities. Be not afraid. but accept such a time is unrepresentable. introduces a remainder [resto] into it that exceeds the division” (TTR. he notes that such a line has never accorded with the human experience of time. he explains that this linear model is. Of the time line consisting of assumed strings of points. in its dividing the division between two times. in this instance messianic time. 64). and as part of the eschaton while exceeding that. extends epochal time into the postepochal and post-epochal time back into epochal time. the classic representation of time since Aristotle. nor a synthesis of all three tenses in a manner that emulates Bergson’s influential theory of modern time. either we are confronted with a model that is representable but unthinkable as actual experience of time. reiterations. although the time of the now. stratifications. Kairos. Such caesuric time operates as part of the epoch of chronos while exceeding it. 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. or we concede the thinkable nature of time and all its complexities. The result is a caesuric division between an epoch’s cessation and the resumption of the new epoch.

67). more precisely.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. to achieve our representation of time” (TTR. Instead. that prevented him from perfectly coinciding with the time out of which he could make images and representations. By this we do not mean they are simply rhetorical forms. 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. or. Agamben concludes that In every representation we make of time and in every discourse by means of which we define and represent time. converts time from a linear to “three-dimensional” entity by which he means it conveys the three moments of temporality: potentiality. produced an additional time .ENJAMBEMENT. 67). 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. 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. another time is implied that is not entirely consumed by representation. Whatever experience of time they undergo they are able to come to represent it as this idealized model in their minds subsequently. Kle ¯sis and kairos. and having been constructed. . THE TURN OF VERSE Operational time originates from the work of French linguist Gustave Guillaume. Rather. (TTR. 66). Agamben argues. This time that remains is the messianic kairos. are both examples of the figural nature of the messianic for Agamben. the time we take to bring time to an end. and Guillaume calls this operational time or “the time the mind takes to realize a time-image” (TTR. 66) which. . 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. 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. 68). formation. perhaps only an instant but a period all the same. tautegorical calling and self-constructing temporal representation. for Agamben figuration is a structural 151 . It is as though man. as we know.

is not important as a “biunivocal correspondence” (TTR. so too in the antitypos there is a compacted summation of the typos or. Agamben is now able to add a third figural term. This tendency to think of time as a past prefigurement of a future yet to arrive. 76). what concerns us is “a tension that clasps together and transforms past and future. Rather. 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. 74). Agamben argues.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN process wherein two conditions are placed alongside each other in a nonrelational fashion. and yet in a manner in which their proximity naturally calls up some attempt at relation in the form of tension. it is the relation itself” (TTR. he tells us. the most famous example of which is that between zoe and bios in Homo Sacer. the antitypos. 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. “messianic ple ¯ ma is therefore an abridgement and anticipation of eschatologi¯ro cal fulfilment” (TTR. typosantitypos. in an inseparable constellation. Paul explains that at the messianic moment of total fulfilment of time. ple ¯ ma ton kairon. such a correspondence existed prominently throughout the medieval period. 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. The calling of the “as not” places one’s subjectivity alongside its negation. This is the epoch of the messianic. This means that each instant of messianic 152 . 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. that of recapitulation. the two elements are heterogeneous. This results in what might be called the relational tension of the nonrelational. as Agamben says. typos. We have already considered comparison and parable in this regard. in which the past is dislocated into the present and the present is extended into the past” (TTR. 74). Paul adds one more final figural notion. The messianic is not just one of two terms in this typological relation. To this typological caesuric figuration. as he considers Paul’s explanation of how all that is past will come to be taken into account at the end of time. all things are recapitu¯ro ¯ lated in the messiah. typos and antitypos. 74). although. while kairatic time places time’s constructed nature against its representation of non-constructed and proper perfection.

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. In the kairos of operational time two incommensurable epochs or conceptions of epoch lie alongside each other. as the very location of poetic thinking: logopoiesis. in fact. 78). As messianic time extends chronos into the eschaton all narratives of completion. A structure such as the kairatic kle depends ¯sis on the precise mix of occurrence and reiteration. and even he concedes this may be surprising. and eschaton or temporal finitude. the greatest of which is surely modernity itself. is the poetic convention of rhyme. something that is now past. If we step back now from theology entirely we can first explain this more generally in terms of our experience of operational time. and the structure of the poem. each moment of chronological time is prefigured by its completion. As soon as Agamben 153 . anaphora and cataphora that is the basis of any poem structure and which we have already defined. MESSIANIC RHYME Perhaps now it does not surprise us. Everything about messianic time recalls the figurality of the poetic. The same goes for eschatological time. “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. 78). One is. by virtue of the metrical-musical element. The law of figuration means that because messianic kairatic time extends the eschaton into the chronos. able to restate this fairly logically away from the theological philology of Agamben’s text. the temporality of poetry.ENJAMBEMENT. 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 then in relation to poetry. This example. a kind of small-scale model of messianic time” (TTR. Any theory of temporal extended linearity must contain some idea of completion and any theory of temporal completion must complete on something. or an act that demands the called subject “seize hold of his own being seized” (TTR. chronos or temporal extension. At this point Agamben wisely decides to give “something like a concrete example. must first consist of a summation of all that went before.

although to describe it as analogy. one can begin to see how wonderfully this analogy works. Put simply. Agamben’s analysis of the rhythm of the sestina while most apparent in this poem form is. That said every poem is also a recursive or reiterative structure. This is especially true. or model is. A sestina is made up of seven stanzas. You begin to recognize the pattern. 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. strains towards its end. and he is truly gifted in his appreciation of the technicalities of prosody along with the implications of poetic ontology.14 The form still operates on occasion in modern poetry in other words. At the same “hermeneutic” time one also picks up on the interplay. insufficient. I have argued in my own study of this phenomena in modern experimental poetry. Thus in the sestina. 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. For example. only organized in different combinations. look to how the next stanza will recombine the six fixed elements and thus one is always reading both forwards and backwards. it has its own time” (TTR. he argues. A kind of eschatology occurs within the poem itself. effectively. it has a specific and unmistakable temporality. example. a foundational quality of all poetic structure. for example the sonnet. repetition. Thus he says of the closed rhyming lyric form. from the very start. in each case. as one moves towards the predictability of the end. the closed form means that in every line the end is prefigured. The first six stanzas are each six lines long and the six end words are always the same in each stanza. 79). all usages of the words thus far are 154 .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN describes the poem. a fact made most apparent in that rather rare stanzaic form the sestina. 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. 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. and variance of the use of homologous rhyming end words. But for the more or less brief time that the poem lasts. 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. This reading back however comes most to the fore in the tornada where. in the case of rhyme.

. Agamben explains: “The sestina—and. and the narrative structures of the films of David Lynch. through the sophisticated mechane of the announcement and retrieval of rhyming end words (which correspond to typological relations between past and present). 83). 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. in order to make place for the time of the poem” or what he also calls its “cruciform retrogradation” (TTR. Such a tabular-planar structure. but it does have its own time. or indeed leitmotifs in Wagner. the time that the poem takes to come to an end” (TTR. and. 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. in this sense. This matrix I have called the anaphoric-cataphoric matrix of every poem. While I have worked for some years on this project. which I have already posed as the 155 . in any case the eschaton already fulfils that role. This is the time of the messiah.ENJAMBEMENT. The same process is discernible in the rhythmic distribution of lines and colours in Pollock. The poem does not create a new.16 This aside. post-chronological time. the time of the end. AN ENDLESS FALLING INTO SILENCE Agamben’s insights into the relation between poetic structural tabularity and a post-nihilistic modality of indifferent thinking depend. of course. as we saw. 82). “on the contrary.15 In miniature therefore we have the whole basis of Agamben’s logopoiesis. on a shifting interrelational tensile comparative combination between temporal-structural projection and recursion. model or not. every poem—is a soteriological device which. First he notes how the poem produces an internal disruption of linear time that is not an alternative “poetic time” to replace chronological time. converting the poem from a linear-horizontal entity to a tabular planar form. . Agamben’s insights take the tabularity of poetic structure far beyond anything anyone else could have imagined. THE TURN OF VERSE recalled in their final combination. poetic structure is far from a mystery. Nor is the philosophy of time handed over to poetic time. transforms chronological time into messianic time . what we have is the same time that organizes itself through its own somewhat hidden internal pulsation. Poetry is not an example here or not solely exemplary.

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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way in which poetry thinks. most notably music. recursive. We must now remove ourselves from messianic time. must surely be beyond an actually felt hesitation such as one experiences at the end of a line of poetry. is dependent on the permanent tension within the poetic line certainly. a philosophical hesitation. quasi-universal. 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. Then one must dismiss hesitation as sensation without entirely dispensing with it. as a thinker. one must first experience hesitation as sensation. affective or intellectual. Yet philosophical. but also structurally at the two extremes of the poem body. cannot be separated from the original experience of hesitation that one undergoes every time one reads poetry. advental finitude. evental element. Hesitation is not the localized emotional experience of hesitating yet. hesitation true for all time as it were. lodged within the trans-psychological definition of hesitation such as it is or ontological hesitation. in particular through a consideration of the ends or limits of the poem and their dependence on certain ideas of silence. and tabular structure. Rather this felt hesitation moves one into another realm of hesitation as such. categorical hesitation. you do not need to experience a linebreak every time you wish to think about prolonged hesitation. For an unveiling of philosophical. for hesitation as theme and/or category. and when one wants philosophically to speak of hesitation as such. betimes. Agamben immediately asks the question: What is a hesitation if one ceases to think of it psychologically? A hesitation of such an order. and propositional hesitation. It leaves. and return to our original debate on poetic. 156 . in a phenomenological reading. for a time. what is hesitation in thought without the knowledge of an experience of hesitation in the world? Or to pose the issue in different terms.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. one is likely to have recourse to a line-break and an example. if only to confirm that enjambement is a recursive rather than unique. tension. a trace of psychological pause. When one does experience a line-break one is likely to experience the opening up of the truth of hesitation.

19 This is an unadmitted but now quite familiar aporia in modern philosophical work on poetry. in this way. a project so vast it all but overwhelms his slight work on prosody. between the dying away of a voiced vibration.18 Certainly truth precedes. the poem. not literally from a voice. Although Agamben denies it. 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. and that aesthetics. and poiesis is not necessarily poetry. definable at the very least as a thing. yet it always proceeds from a poem in Heidegger and all his students. because after all sounds as such do not interest Agamben but voiced sounds. yet truth always proceeds from the sensible at the same time. such a delay between voice and meaning which Agamben likens to a katechon 157 . sensation. is not the name to be given to twentieth-century work on poiesis. Yet the pathway to poetry. 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. Poetry has nothing to do directly with the object. to clear a future pathway for truth in what is a high-risk yet now essential intellectual strategy. 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. First by applying a philosophical category to the technical specifics of prosody. This is an issue that occurs repeatedly in Heidegger. but the Voice as such. the two hesitations of verse. and then by using these techniques to mount a post-nihilistic metaphysics of indifference. at which point he behaves almost like a literary critic. truth. a word heard and its meaning. not a physiological voice imprinted on a psychological capability. 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. is not dependent on aiesthesis. Badiou. say as an inventive mode of bringing truth to presence. from sensation.ENJAMBEMENT. He applies truth to poetic sensation so as to be able. Derrida. is laid out through precisely the reading of specific poets and their singularly inventive effects. sensation. psychologically-actual and philosophical-conceptual. while simultaneously sailing the ship of truth most perilously proximate to the ruining rocks of sensation. A prolonged hesitation between sound and sense. the science of sensation. THE TURN OF VERSE Heidegger clearly states that aletheia.

unlike poetry or at least its tension. according to this. of him who. a single body of work which means that it must and indeed already has come to an end. Yet the poem is also an ergon. for poetry cannot survive its own finitude. differentiations between the poetic. as they pause on the precipice of their own self-conscious. that is rendered mute. as poets teach us. having stated that “all poetic institutions participate in this noncoincidence” of which we speak here. then there must be at least two orders of silence. If this is. and the poem. poetry. self-negating finitude. it remains in full as the hesitant voice within these impossible limits. Instead poetry can be defined as the prolonged hesitation. the sounding cataract is any thing but mute. and between actual opposition and possible or potential opposition. as I contend. Such an abyss is not to be mistaken for silence either for. is silence. namely the opposition between metric and semantic pauses. is defined by a silence brought about by its finitude meaning that poetry is never silenced. 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. 110). a kind of silence. and almost in intermittent dispute with—sonorous (or graphic) units and semantic units” (EP. would destroy the poetic machine by hurling it into silence” (EP. The poem is. between two units. fulfilling the time of poetry and uniting its two eons. a perception of the tension of poetry. self-dissolution. 158 . For example. singular and impossible to repeat. and what poetry is as that which goes on in the poem but which is not susceptible to or reducible to the poem. between sound and sense. 114). the poem of a silence which is not local but over there. Through such careful distinctions between orders of silence. that is. Thus a poem. repeatable. nothing is said therein.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN or “something which slows and delays the advent of the Messiah. This would require here a differentiation between what the poem is as ergon partaking of an impossible. universal but not generalizable. 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. semiotic and semantic. he points out that the poem is “grounded in the perception of the limits and endings that define— without ever fully coinciding with. Even as the poem is falling into a profound silence at its material and generic limits. Agamben progresses towards the point of silence that is the end of the poem. Poetry partakes of a local. general but not universal silence. self-willed.

I am always delaying its arrival. as I said. then the ergon could not continually come to 159 . 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. for the poem to know of its finitude and be complete. 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. and locally cutting off. The body as such of poetry does not exist without that body suffering a moment of cutting or caesura. states that if something enters through the top line of the structure. A plane only becomes a surface when an actual cut is made in the infinitely extendable plane. This means that the second sense of ergon is continually born to presence from the already existent presence of the par-ergon. THE TURN OF VERSE I must speak of silence but. A boundary condition of a hexagonal crystal. The poem must be cut-off in order to be complete. some remnant of our animalistic past. Although. As the physicist Pauli was fond of saying: “God made the bulk. that jagged chasm to the right of the poem. a silent space that is not silence.ENJAMBEMENT. Without the internal space. Poetry must be ceaselessly. Space must be present for enjambement to occur for example. It may be useful analogously to think of this in relation to what physicists call a “boundary condition” when studying planes. 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. A plane is always defined as being imaginary because it is infinitely extendable in every two-dimensional direction. a space which is inarticulate. 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. hesitantly.” A plane becomes a surface when the boundary condition is suspended and the edge of a structure bounded by a vacuum occurs. as if one has to somehow hack off a limb for the human body to be complete. but this space is of the order of a boundary condition: the line exits on the right and always enters to the left. This is another way in which one could read Agamben. all the same a space of a similar structural order can be said to exist in some form internal to the poem. surfaces were invented by the devil. this can only be an illustrative analogy. like the poet. for example. or a tail. 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. it simultaneously exists through the bottom line á la Pacman.

A finitude which. Second.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN being. First. The perception of this double deconstructive presence of absence within the ergon of poetry is what the poem as such is reducible to. the unpronounced and the uninscribed. the body puts off by its extension and yet invites by the structural necessity of its completion. however. the final moment of finitude that is singular and plunges the ergon of poetry into infinite. There are pauses. Agamben suggests that true silence only occurs once one has exited the text and entered the abyss of sense which has no requirement of 160 . the potentially endless and thus infinite fake silence between one line and the next. Nor is it even space as such but simply the uninscribed medium. is either thinkable and unrepresentable. enjambement as boundary condition. like time. which the poem invites into its body so as to expel it and thus allow itself to endlessly be born into being. then. is not silent at all but simply unpronounced. This is the moment of the plane becoming a surface. alinear prose? Agamben. but no silence as such. In speaking of silence. or represented in unthinkable fashion. relies on two competing convocations with its borders. constructions of the representability of an idealized construction of a concept that. either a profound error on the part of the philosopher or we are still considering silence psychologically and not philosophically. utilizing messianic time. Is there any actual silence within the body of the text? I would argue not. The ergon of the poem body. this consonance which was previously forgivable is harder to support. merely perceptions of silence. or as-yet blank tablet. 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. Surely the silence of sound is an actual silence while the silence of the grapheme. silent sense. by which one can only mean space. it would seem. There is. 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. gestural support.

in what is almost a cryptogram: “In silence. once the following essay. is silence. which is anything but a sign. Here Agamben defines silence not as the suspension of discourse. or an utterance. in the word. philosophy stands exposed. (IP. human living being as such through the faculty of language: Only the word puts us in contact with mute things. Only the human knows of the quietude of the caesura.ENJAMBEMENT.” has engaged with the silence of philosophy. Silence is not its secret word—but rather. an exteriority of the word that Agamben. The word as such. to me at least. however. sensibly. it endures the without-name. “but silence of the word itself. without finding in this its own name. because man is the sole animal who learns language through infancy. While nature and animals are forever caught up in a language. Only the human animal can establish the quality of exteriority as regards language. the infinite language of nature and placing himself for a moment in front of mute things.20 This being the case one must engage with the profound and complex conception of the idea of word in Agamben. by which I mean the quality which allows it definition and availability to our apprehension. Here then we finally understand what Agamben means when he states that animals are always within language. 111). describes as silence. incessantly speaking and responding to signs even while keeping silent. an entity beyond the trivial differentiations of sonorous versus graphic. The inviolate rose. the becoming visible but remaining silent word is. of interrupting words with the as-suchness of the word of language whose defining quality. only man succeeds in interrupting. absolutely without identity. philosophy’s word leaves unsaid its own silence” (IP. not in other words as the cessation of speaking (surely what he means by a psychological hesitation). the name of poetry. We now know that this encounter most powerfully occurs at the end of the poem. the becoming visible of the word: the idea of language” (IP. THE TURN OF VERSE textuality to exist at all. rather. 113). exists only for man. 113) Paradoxically. “The Idea of Language. 161 . This complex negotiation with a silence which exposes philosophy to a period without name which is not. This silence is the silence of philosophy of which Agamben says. is the conclusion of the essay “The Idea of Silence. in a Heideggerian gesture.” an essay which only speaks. the idea of the rose. he is the only creature capable of not having language.

” While clear that the semiotic and the semantic are both radically heterogeneous and of differing 162 . thus granting us finally access to the realm of pure poetry. Yet Agamben is a thinker of another order of perfect. 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. They are both units within an “almost intermittent dispute. and literally collapses back into this alterity as the next line commences. and leaves them suspended in an almost endless dynamic of supersession and negation. Prose literally overwhelms poetry in the following line. only to be literally interrupted and superseded at the line’s outermost point.21 will continue its demonstration of deconstructive energies almost as an illustrative tool for Derrida’s work. which is also always the final line. no pure poetry. in the final verse. Left to its own devices the poetry machine. but which is often termed deconstruction as a form of intellectual short-hand in quasitranscendental self-critical thought. one is struck by how singularity is always immediately ruined by its repeatability. is itself an impurity between poetic techniques and prose. as I have termed it elsewhere. If one were to think back to the Derridean conception of invention. At this point where the semiotics of the poetic line are unable. and Agamben’s work seems similar in the way he establishes two oppositional concepts. but it is an unavoidable reality however unpleasant. rather. to resume the semantic stream. the end of the poem is marked by a change in the tension between the units of semiotics and semantics which is poetry. there is no enjambement. after a prolonged hesitation. Poetry is literally elevated above its dyadic other at the end of the line. Poetry. pure impurity as indicated first by the way he structurally treats the semantic and the semiotic as ostensibly of the same order.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN As Agamben says. There is. one condition always simultaneously the pre-condition and impossibility of the other. 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. semiotics and semantics. for at the end of the poem. in fact. ironically pure semiotics does not hold sway. Certainly Derrida is the thinker of a certain type of pure impurity.

incipit-interruption-continuation. Rather. 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. suggesting that Agamben does not so much ignore the radical incommensurability between sense and matter. The semantic can just as easily occupy the unit of the line as the semiotic.ENJAMBEMENT. The machine of poetry referred to here is not simply the technical. Interestingly. there is but one line that is simultaneously traversed by the semantic current and the semiotic current. two tonoi of the same linguistic substance). favouring instead a one dimensional and yet also trans-dimensional single line. (Sound and sense are not two substances but two intensities. but intermittently. then a machine. potentialityformation-having been constructed. which somewhat misleadingly he calls three-dimensional. for example. and finally a tension or tone. 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. a model which echoes Agamben’s own description of operational time. at the moment of deus ex machina. THE TURN OF VERSE orders of magnitude. 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. dianoia and poiesis. And between these two currents lies the sharp interval obstinately maintained by poetic mechane. a line which metamorphoses first into a current. for Agamben they can both be fitted to a pattern of similar units. 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. (EP. strictly speaking. which in reality means very uneasily. issues that would be strongly foregrounded by Derrida. what we can be certain of is Agamben seems to take the geometric presence of poetry backwards away from two (three) dimensions. the machine 163 . rescinded. Without quibbling over an extra dimension here and there. two series or lines in parallel flight. but also the ancient Greek origin of the term in relation to the end of a play. the caesura for the semantic) constantly. Both are equally out of their element in the line. repetitious mechanistic element of prosody with which we are all familiar.

tension. of the obstacle to sense that the premature line-ending constructs. I need a gag. they may form knots. or the moment when the material copy of essence is abandoned and essence alone remains: Deus.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of art was regularly used both to end the work and also to allow characters to fly. The semiotic and the semantic are not differential terms but two tones within one single linguistic substance.22 Yet unlike Derrida the impurity of the line is permanently under question. Don’t come too close. 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. enmeshed as it is into the very lines of prosody. the lines with get entangled. I am giddy. unlike the deconstructive mechane. Like invention. the tonoi of poetry. In addition. 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. Obvious in two ways. my lines and cues. flying. but what does Agamben mean by suggesting that the semiotic and the semantic are not radically heterogeneous and different also in magnitude. first that it marks out an axiom for poetics which we scholars of poetry can recognize. We will plunge to our death unless the tension in the lines is maintained. Tono in Latin is the tone. thus it allows a literalization of a kind of localized transcendence. and a figuration of the literal implied transcendence at the end of every Greek work of art. that way they can never become truly entangled. especially in relation to invention and the trace. I feel the tension of the tonoi of the line of poetry as it suspends me above the plane of the stage below. and metre of verse. Keep up the tension in the line. I have forgotten everything. and its obviation in the recommencement of the line within the planar territory I am calling the poem. and like the trace it is a theory of intermittent and almost interminable spacing. which are separate strands but not different from each 164 . Its complexities lie first in the apparent proximity of this theory and the work of Derrida. No wait. enjambement puts forward a theory of necessarily betrayed purity. 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.

165 . is inserted into time as such or everyday vulgar temporality as Heidegger calls it. Instead in each instance of time the time of the end. and the recursive cataphora that the poem experiences at the very moment of its negation through finitude. 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. in the endless falling into silence that defines the end of the poem. therefore. In a form of agreement with Badiou. unlike perhaps in the work of Derrida. This is not to be conceived of eschatologically as one last event of course. chronological silence. This end. and silence at the end of the poem. for Agamben poetry is in preparation for the event to come. we experience messianic silence as the prefigured anaphora of absolute finitude of each local ending. a messianic event.ENJAMBEMENT. At which point. Between silence in the line. eschatological silence. 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. however. 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. not the end of time or even the very last event. something will happen. in enacting an endlessly falling into silence rather than a structural point of cessation. presents us with a messianic event of events. for Agamben this event will be the final event. the time it takes for finitude to come to a point of tension or dissolution. Rather the messianic temporality of the interval is the interruptive event of the cessation of the temporal succession chronos-eschaton. who himself admits to a sparse number of events. The poem excels in messianic temporality. Unlike Badiou. will come to an end as the poem must also come to an end. but the occupation of the time it takes time to end. THE TURN OF VERSE other. for example at the end of the line.

THE SPACE OF THOUGHT THE CAESURA The essay proceeding directly from “The Idea of Prose.” Speaking specifically of the Italian poet Sandro Penna. 43). 44). Voice here is not the transport 166 .CHAPTER 6 CAESURA. the caesura—for a little—thinks. And it is this emptiness which. As he says in caesuric cadence: “The rhythmic transport that gives the verse its impetus is empty. namely thinking as such. is only the transport of itself. this thought is another.”1 Invoking an ancient European exegetical tradition which takes the horse to represent the “sound and vocal element of language” (IP. Rather. 43) represented by the couplet from Penna “I go towards the river on a horse / which when I think a little a little stops. the element that arrests the metrical impetus of the voice. more fundamental or alternate mode of thinking. We now have a clear answer to a question I posed earlier. holds in suspense. the caesura of verse. The place of thought in the poem is the caesura. is thought” (IP. Agamben remarks on the “breaking action of the caesura” (IP. as pure word. while for an instant the horse of poetry is stopped” (IP. Agamben declares this couplet to be a treatise on the subject of the caesura before composing one of his many allegories. 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. 43). This allows Agamben to note that “For the poet. 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.” Agamben’s first attempt to define poetry in terms of enjambement is entitled “The Idea of Caesura.

for example. arrest. As we are well aware this is all Agamben craves and we might now name this as the essential precondition of all logopoiesis. thought ventures forth” (IP. including the poem’s incipit. Thus caesura was originally any displaced footing within the seamlessness of prosodic flow. and that it effects the ultimate violence to prosody by its interruption of linear flow. but the infantile voice of language as such. thought is not semantic discourse. considering that the Latin origins of the term caesura inculcate it into the violent rites of cutting and separation.CAESURA. “The poet. 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). here asleep on his horse. the only venues within a line of poetry inhospitable to the caesura are at the beginning of the line. Surprisingly. Yet the comma is not a necessary element of caesura. where breath is lacking. This congeniality within prosodic flow to its own negation except at poetic 167 . mid-line. the most common representation of caesuric pausing itself often reproduced in prosody by the so-called double pipes ||. 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. 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. On nothing other than that. in the essay “The Idea of Thought. 104). and the end of the poem. 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. but a much more “poeticized” idea of thinking. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT of expression nor the silent Voice of metaphysical nihilism. a little sign remains suspended.” Agamben is able to conclude thus on thinking: “Where the voice drops. One such little sign in prosody is the comma. Similarly. and ecstatic thinking is presented in such a way that later in the book. awakens and contemplates for an instant the inspiration that carries him—he thinks nothing else but his voice”’ (IP. prose as we might name it. 44). hesitantly. Thus the interplay between flow. The classical definition of a caesura. is any word ending that did not coincide with the cessation of a metrical foot. not a pause for thought so much as a slight stumble. This pause most commonly occurs at the medial position.

ecstatic space. terminal caesura can also be taken for true initial caesura. Men. to allow time for thought to think the conditions of its own transport and its dependence on arrest.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. Thus the place for thinking is a space within verse that works directly in opposition to enjambement. some to Bus’ness. But ev’ry Woman is at heart a Rake. Yet. enough to open a gap in flow. 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. Over the many thousands of years of European prosody the caesura has been used to various effects. 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. some to public Strife. and in this momentary. In enjambement flow overtakes meaning and the space at the right hand side of the poem is negated by linear. Here is a particularly misogynistic and yet prosodically perfect example from Pope’s “Epistle to a Lady on the Characters of Women”: Men. here. some to Quiet. demonstrating prosodic femininity here as “Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear. some to Pleasure take. In a sense this is the most perfect example of the tonos of poetry. By contrast in the caesura the steady and irresistible progress of verse is suspended by the merest hint of a sign. then bound together by rhyme to a second line which may echo the antithesis of the first or. But ev’ry Lady would be Queen for life. in effect. transversal exuberance.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN advent and total formal finitude suggests that caesura is an internal concern of the poem body. In the ideal antithetical couplet a line is divided exactly in two by a caesura. Then semiotics 168 . Indeed the lack of caesura at the line’s incipit is simply a form of conventional display for. quiet and strife.” 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. operate as antithesis to the antithesis.

as we now know. of course. life were what 169 . at the same juncture prosody. Agamben uses the term caesura regularly in his essays when speaking of the numerous and problematic acts of scission performed by negative metaphysics. At the same time. When with the second cut discourse is able to impose a damn on flow and pause for thought. the implied separation between lines that occurs due to enjambement. And yet. the next line is ready to burst its stops and race ahead. 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. If flow is the presupposition of the poem then the first caesura negates the semiotic in favour of the semantic. a temporal-spatial self-consciousness is mapped across the neutrality of these two terms. The resumption of the line would then seem to be a victory for thinking. a three-way tension indeed. Then. is undermined by the coincidence of sound across two syllables and/or words located each time at the final point of the line. takes hold of the line and refers meaning back against the current to the preceding end word. . through the agency of rhyme. this thing that remains indeterminate gets articulated and divided time and again through a series of caesurae and oppositions . with rhyme introducing a projective recursion that. Meanwhile. and its temporal-spatial matrix is the ultimate tonos of poetry in the service of the transport and arrest of thinking. then between interruption and flow. Yet at the instance of the cut we now know that meaning is interrupted not prosody. terminal enjambement of the perfectly balanced Heroic couplet designed to halt and formalize the profligacy of the endlessly over-running Miltonic couplet. yet immediately in the second line flow inundates sense. . arrest and flow. This tension.CAESURA. is indicative of messianic time but also the tabular trans-linear dimensionality not just of poetic structure but of poetic thinking as a whole. life. everything happens as if. even the zero. one of the first and most instructive observations to be made is that the concept never gets defined as such. its transport. between thought. 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. in our culture. The verse unit is born of a tension first between flow and interruption. The most fully developed and perhaps important of these caesurae is that to be found internal to the very definition of human ontology.

yet. if we look again at the definition of life in terms of caesura we find a productive negation. The caesura initially performs a negative function directly at odds with his earlier valorization of the term as the basis for thinking thought. permanent. rather than defining the term life here. something we observed in relation to the (/) or barred caesura in the sign between gramma and phone. for example. In the poem body suspension always results in resumption. the first division. imposes upon it a permanent indistinction. as he more commonly terms it. Human life for Agamben. The caesura is not possessed of finitude any more than of inventiveness or evental 170 . 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. in this manner. Life then comes to stand not so much for something like biological existence. precisely for this reason. (O. indistinction. is meaningless and indeed inoperative until that division is divided from itself and cast back into linear flow. Yet. 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. yet at the same time no caesura is momentous either.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be defined. except at the moments of poetic advent and finitude. and yet as his comments show the essence of the caesura is not simply scission. In terms of the act of caesura within the poem we perceive that there are always two cuts. resumption suspension. 13) The caesura Agamben is considering here is that between the human and the animal.3 First the caesura divides the line. The interruption of thinking. through the operations of the caesura as that which both divides and conjoins. The same indeed is true of the end of the line and its relation to enjambement. Life ceases to be a definition of something and instead. must be ceaselessly articulated and divided. No caesura is. 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. namely in-definition or. does not define human life per se but the idea of human life as both separate from and intrinsically linked to the animal. then it articulates lineation as the transport of thinking. it comes to be the very definition of the problem of definition as such. the cut and the cut of the cut.

the section in question also provides the perfect razo de trobar of prosody summarized by the phrase “harmoniously confused. Rather. 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 SPACE OF THOUGHT status. the caesura always cuts in the midst. double caesuric antithesis. / Here earth and water. Here hills and vales. tho’ all things differ. Unexpectedly perhaps. (SP. and finally the caesuric cut of the cut internalized in the space of one line. This world of harmonious tension is both described and performed in the opening lines of Pope’s “Windsor Forest”: The groves of Eden. “Here hills and vales. the cut and the cut of the cut. But as the world. “like them in beauty. (line b) caesura. all reliant on the counting and positioning of stress: (line a) caesura. seem to strive again”. enjambement. enjambement.CAESURA.” 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. the medio or mean point. should be like in fame”. Like them in beauty. Aside from being a masterclass in the extendibility and power of caesuric prosody. these two acts of violence. the woodland and the plain. at the same time every two lines 171 . Live in description. should be like in fame. and look green in song: These. Here earth and water. One is always already in the midst of poetry. 20) Here we can observe basic antithesis across a caesura. harmoniously confus’d: Where order in variety we see. harmonious whole. and the same is true of life. And where. harmonious oxymoronic implied semantic caesura “harmoniously confus’d: / Where order in variety we see”. the woodland and the plain. seem to strive again. Not Chaos like together crush’d and bruis’d. vanish’d now so long. The tone of balance resides in the perfect tension of the four combined and yet separate units. were my breast inspir’d with equal flame. all agree. “And where.” While Pope conjures for us a world of balance encased in the harmony of the bi-linear couplet. tho’ all things differ. all agree. result in classical poetics in a perfectly balanced.

The caesura represents the eschaton. before the push and pull of lineation can continue. The caesura of English tends also to the medial rising to a degree of compulsarity in Old and Middle English verse. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN there is a moment of cataphoric recursion as the second rhyme is tabulated backwards to its previous rhyme partner. say. Unlike the caesura where thought interrupts poetry. unless one ends the poetic line with the first sy/Llable and commences the next with the second. in French Alexandrines. but in most sophisticated prosody there is a wide use of initial and terminal caesurae. and yet also recursive. in that it interrupts the linear progression of the line. If every second caesura is more forceful in that it cataphorically holds back flow. or enjambement where the obverse is true. and thus the shifting of the metrical–musical element between semiotics (langue) and semantics (parole) becomes the metrical–musical–semantic element. 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. however. sura cannot occur is within the word (as I have just demonstrated). and indeed that is all they are gestic and meaningless prosodic devices. Although Agamben does not consider it in these terms. 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. while powerfully semiotic. interruption and flow retain poetic tonos. The caesura of classical prosody tends to what is called the medial but this is not compulsory as. is dependent on semantics to perform. Left to their own devices. at the moment of reading on into meaning development one always lags behind in some manner in sonic. For rhyme. The only place internal to the poem that a cae. semiotic consonance. in rhyme thought and language combine to produce a word-based semiotics that is both predictive. it provides the semiotic rules to sense what the next rhyme might be. gathers within itself the recursion of that which went before. but 172 . 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. 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.

Similarly the end of the poem. perpetually meeting and departing from their assignation. There are. 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. The spacesilence made parergonal frame around the poem is not. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT even this is that peculiar form of terminal caesura called enjambement. The caesura is the essential complement to enjambement. Poems are not rocks. or a meta-linear version of its localized prosodic effects of flow and interruption. a miniaturized rule of some value when one comes to consider the very limits of the ergon. in this light. so that the point of the end of the line is radically dissimilar to its incipit. The poem as a whole or thing is not. Logopoiesis is an internal affair that occurs inside verse but which does not delimit verse. Where the poem begins is of another order to where it ends and the two edges of its finitude will never meet. is interrupted by thought or by the silence that is apparently endemic to contemporary thinking. and two forms of silence cocooning the voice. a cyclical loop. therefore. never before it. The two edges of a poem’s frame will never meet. 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. Also of some significance is the fact that all caesuric cuts occur “after” flow. even if the poem is part of a sequence. the parergon will always slice open the finitude of the ergon. two forms of exterior space to the poem body.CAESURA. so too the beginning of a poem does not take up the line from the end of the last poem. similarly voice. This is in contradistinction to the end of one line and the commencement of the next which are always in communion with each other. In this way. a frame at all for it has no continuity. even if they are poems in a sequence. contrary to its internal structure. as we have seen. If they are in possession of finitude then not of this order. Therefore. or the line. only two operative interdictions on caesuric scission. If enjambement instigates the event of the poetic by interrupting discourse with voice and semiotic material rhythm. For those of us well versed in prosody this is highly satisfying as it is true that an enjambement 173 . There are. therefore. these at the moment of advent and finitude. is not a pause but an endless falling into the silence of philosophy on the part of poetry. 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. poems are not of the same order as flowers.

This hesitation is two-fold because the manner in which language has been lost to us is double. APOTROPAICS 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. or even in the case of real thinkers such as Milton and Wordsworth. It also conveys the messianic moment of a stilled 174 . This simple consonance of oppositions is now clearer to us being typical. stopping the flow and for a second eradicating the voice entirely with a momentary. momentarily held. intermittent and hesitant silence. event: the prolonged hesitation between sound and sense that constitutes poetry. 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. 157). As is regularly commented on. Enjambement only occurs at moments when the thought is too big for the line pushing the caesura into the middle of the next line. its ripples spreading out through the lines and the calm surface of the poem taking some time/ lines to settle down once more. You will recall he is speaking here of the tensile harmony to be located in the work of Heraclitus. 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. Thus enjambement works like a stone cast into a still pool. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and unitary” (ST. the next. for example.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN more likely than not either follows from or is followed by a caesura. of the parallelism of the comparison. The line broken at the end then is the influx of the voice inundating thought and for a moment erasing it. or the next. leading Agamben to look to the Greek sense of harmonia as “a laceration that is also a suture. The line arrested in the centre is the reversal of this flood of semiotics.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. Concomitantly. either to thought or to poetry.

and remember harmony here means just as much division as it does unification. testifies to a decisive turn in Western thought. and poetry invisibility/flow. then silenced by philosophy—there was the harmony between interruption and flow. appropriated. in the passage from the visible to the acoustic aspect of language. Thus there was philosophical harmony mirrored by poetic harmony and then a harmony between the two. philosophy playing the role of visibility/interruption. Harmony names. speaking of Heidegger’s rediscovery of the harmony of harmonies between philosophy and poetry. Of this Agamben says. therefore. still belongs to the tactile-visible sphere. Then there was the harmony between the monstrative and acoustical harmonies with. the visible and the acoustic. when thought and poetry. I am speculating. He then adds: That this articulation. whose signification had appeared to the dawning of Greek thought 175 . but also the rule of poetry which is defined by the tension between interruption and flow. were not placed on either side of a false bar or division as is articulated in the theory of the sign. Speaking of the term harmony in Heraclitus Agamben notes that for the Greek the idea of harmony pertained precisely to its invisibility. 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. (ST. This harmony of harmonies. There was. it transpires. a double harmony. One can now also see that harmony not merely names an ideal state of being in the universe as it did for the Greeks. “Faithful to this apotropaic project. 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. where it is still possible to discern the solidarity between signification and metaphysical articulation. locating harmony as a basis for being in concealment within the visible realm. “back” then. While within the acoustical realm—the originary voice of poetry before it was split. if I read this compacted section correctly.CAESURA. not the eradication of division and unity but the tensile suspension of the metaphysical foundational categories of difference and identity. which. the harmonious confusion of caesura as a division that combines. 157) There was a time. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT dialectic. the cut that is cut. should then be transferred to the numericalacoustic sphere.

The apotropaic. we cannot but approach that which must. It makes perfect sense.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as a mode of speaking that was neither a gathering nor a concealment. is the apotropaic structure of all logopoiesis. The presence of the sign is. The relation between poetry and thinking in Agamben. If there were no secret then there needs must be no solution. For the truth to be unveiled it must first be transmitted through a sheet or material barrier. that which attracts and repels. Thus every truth is a form of enigma facilitated by the double 176 . 157). 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. which also explains why poetry matters to Agamben and also helps clarify his many valuable comments on the technicalities of prosody. 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. is based on an impossible filiation therein to the fact that presence comes to philosophical thought as already divided. for the moment. 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. In this instant full presence becomes unavailable to view and the Greek activity of aletheia commences the strange affiliation called philosophy. remain at a distance” (ST. 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. crucial to his overall overcoming of metaphysics as I hope I have now shown. as Agamben concedes. For truth to be unveiled it must first have been obscured by a sheet or material barrier. the enigma of the order of a sign. Considering the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx in Stanzas. ratified in the discipline of philosophy. called up at the moment that presence as such is split in two. 138). The sign is of the order of an enigma.5 We are now more than familiar with the fracture of presence alluded to here. 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. Logopoiesis names little more than this at this stage in its development: an apotropaic harmony between poetic flow and philosophical interruption.

Early in the Morning. Oedipus’ sin was not incest but “hubris toward the power of the symbolic in general . which leads to the heart of that which is held at a distance. 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. which he has misinterpreted by interpreting its apotropaic intention as the relation of an oblique signifier and a hidden signified” (ST. . Like the labyrinth. 138) If this is the case. prosodic.CAESURA. One of the great contemporary works of logopoietic apotropaicism is John Ashbery’s much-admired “Down by the Station. letting in Space. to a protective power that repels the uncanny. Agamben suggests. has valorized the very quality of interpretation over the fact of the enigma as such. and books with no author. but a more original mode of speaking.” that ends with a shocking apocalypse for such a poet of tonal. the enigma belongs to the sphere of the apotropaic. An apotropaic verse. by attracting it and assuming it within itself. The dancing path of the labyrinth. Returning to the enigma now. is a poetics of the enigma as that which is not available for solution. is the model of this relation with the uncanny that is expressed in the enigma. Presupposing the enigma as a sign that needs to be made to signify. 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. Oedipus. like the Gorgon. structural. and an extraneous babble from the street Confirming the new value the hollow core has again. . Agamben goes on to state: The ainos (story. that is. or a maze which has no centre point or any point of exit/entrance. and conceptual even-ness: And so each day Culminates in merriment as well as a deep shock like an electric one.6 177 . therefore. 138). the light From the lighthouse that protects as it pushes us away. and Western thought since then. (ST. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT hindrance of matter. The name of both these obstructions is rather obvious: the sign. and like the Sphinx that utters it. fable) of the ainigma is not only obscurity.

Babelian tower of language. The manifestation of the lighthouse is a double enigma. and nonsense. 14). Indeed are not all enigmas thus doubled-up? The image draws you in. Here it takes the form of enjambement. The poem. labyrinthine structure of the wrecked library. space. and even then / It may not have existed” (W. As the wrecking ball demolishes the walls of a book-lined labyrinth of enigmas one presumes is a library. form and theme merge into harmony precisely through their being manifestly at odds. If the hollow core is as the lighthouse. memory. a deliberation on impermanence. I feel I can guide a passage through. then one is drawn towards the core and simultaneously repelled. as the line folds back on itself. and more specifically in classrooms around the globe the enigma of the poem “Down by the station early in the morning. space. to the sudden collapse of all pedagogic certainty in the final stanza cited here. remembering. and the almost enjambed terminal caesura in the penultimate line suggests precisely this. while dense. / And nothing does.” an extraneous pure semiotic noise the result of the collapse of the single. always leads my students and myself interminably across two verses which. Ashbery admits into the work the essence of the poetic: the semiotic.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. “a dull crinkled leather that no longer exists. Here. in a moment of supreme post-modern self-consciousness. I have laboured over both the enigma that is Ashbery.” This work. like Oedipus and Ariadne trapped in some terrible union neither dares to seek annulment for. Following on from space comes the loaded term “babble. is a comment on the tension between the semiotic (enjambement. and the enigma of naming. for years. and yet the poem’s final image seems to resist an endless falling into silence. ontology. 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. Indeed. Or is Ashbery merely revealing the enigma of the very fact of the warning or the apotropaic nature of 178 . In some senses Ashbery has found the only solution to the paradox of the end of the poem. babble) and the semantic which typifies Agamben’s axiom. 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. The line break after “letting in” admits the essential material presence of space foundational to poetic tension. it would appear. until you name it.

THE SPACE OF THOUGHT the enigma? In drawing attention to itself. 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.” combining the impossibility of logos preceding phone (nothing exists until you name it). The poem neither concludes nor. which protects us and seems almost to gather us to its bosom. 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. I would attempt to say three things about this blinding moment of logopoiesis. 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. Rather. He says in relation to that which no longer exists “And nothing does. of which Ashbery is the master. The first is of the order of the enigma. gathers us by actually rejecting us. nor that there is a solution. 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. remembering . 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. . 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. 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. the light of the lighthouse. until you name it. as many works do such as “L’infinito. the bar within the sign between phone and logos. This leads to my second comment on the sign as fundamentally apotropaic in structure or.CAESURA. What the uncanny unearths is not that there is no solution. the possibility 179 .” cyclically resumes at the poetic incipit. . The enigmatic in verse. Certainly the bar divides poetry from thinking in a manner Agamben finds repulsive. to be more precise. . but that there can be an unresolved relation between the two. 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.

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. in the full sense of the term. The first is more than familiar to we Oedipal decoders of poetic and literary Sphinxes. space is what he describes as the space of ease.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of this proposition rests upon a second line. Meanwhile: “under the sign of the Sphinx must be placed every theory of the symbol that. 139). however. focuses its attention above all on the barrier between signifier and signified that constitutes the original problem of signification” (ST. 138–9). semiotics and semantics are post-Oedipal thinkers. 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. 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. refusing the model of Oedipus. that which exists between the signifier and the signified within the sign. 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). What is most proper to every creature is thus its substitutability. This enigmatic. one finds oneself for that very reason in the place of the neighbour. signifier and signified. At the point when one reaches one’s final state and fulfils one’s own destiny. EASE: THE PROXIMATE SPACE Thus far we have spoken of space in terms of that which surrounds borders the poem. 139). that which can be found internal to the poem and of course Derridean spacing as such in the form of the trace. Those who seek to define signification as that which occurs as a relation between code and solution. They seek to exit the maze into which they wished they had never been entered by their masters. 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. There is. Agamben notes that the topology of interest here resides not between Eden and Gehenna but within “the adjacent place that each person inevitably receives. Speaking of the inheritance of Oedipus Agamben divides our epoch into two tendencies. its being in 180 .

but rather on the universal substitutability of singularity as non-representable (lacking in individuality). This leads to the potentiality of a new ethical topography no longer delineated around oppositions and individuals. its being whatever—in other words. moving at ease) and convenience borders on the correct relation” (CC. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT any case in the place of the other” (CC.7 In the space of ease. “the coming to itself of each singularity. 181 . 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. as well as Derrida’s post-Lévinasian ethics of alterity and hospitality and. at one’s ease (slowly). the topography of kle or the vocation of ¯sis subjective revocation. therefore. in a semantic constellation where spatial proximity borders on opportune time (ad-agio. 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 work of Blanchot. the space adjacent (ad-jacens. according to its etymology. Ease is the proper name of this unrepresentable space” (CC. the empty place where each can move freely. but describing a complex. which soon enough we will locate within the poem. 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 space of ease delineates. such as it is. Forgive this digression into the biopolitical realm of the ethics of alterity. for good measure. 25). 23). adjacentia). under sail or beneath the effects of music. 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. 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. 25). although I am sure these issues are not unfamiliar. 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.CAESURA.

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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

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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

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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 . . .

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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.
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such that the mind searches for an analogy of sense in the very place where.CAESURA. by thus rupturing the closed unity of the strophe. structure. of course. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT Corn is the poetic term for what can otherwise be termed structure. with a wider understanding of what poetry is. Of Arnaut’s sestina Agamben asserts “he is the poet who treats all verses as ‘corns’ and who. 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. The harmonic effects of corn. Structure is the trans-tensile containment of the obviousness of the poetic definition Agamben furnishes us with. No poem can 187 . weakens the rhyme. Taken within this context corn becomes an essential point of transition not only for poetry but also Agamben’s overall philosophy. Corn distributes the tension of the poem across two different spatialities that accord. of course. if not a disjunction between semiotic event (the repetition of sounds) and semantic event. cannot be heard and therefore must ultimately be read. that between sound and sense” (EP. and graphematics. In addition. by definition. 31). every rhyme is delayed. disenchanted. opening up a level of harmony. in a wider sense referring to any larger structural unity within a work. The rhyme is still there but located at what has traditionally been called the harmonic rather than melodic level. transforms the unrelated rhyme into the principle of a higher relation” (EP. 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. I am calling this higher relation structure here because it cuts across the localized effects of the semiotic/semantic tension. 35). a writer who elevated corn to a metastrophic dominance in the development of the stanzaic form of the sestina in which. and allows us to move through the poem at a point between local and apocalyptic. Agamben proceeds to look at the work of Arnaut in this regard. 34). One thing this observation allows is a more prominent place for rhyme within Agamben’s linear definition of poetry: “What is rhyme. namely. “cannot be understood if it is not situated in the context of a different formal register. the harder it becomes to hear the rhyme. The greater the distance between the first instance of the rhyme and its second. it can find only a formal correspondence?” (EP. between orality and writing. Then again. As the corn delays rhyme until a later stanza it. because of this. It takes us away from the localized issue of the line break versus the abyssal logic of the end of the poem.

intellectual and aesthetic rooms within rooms. which of course calls to mind the womb. 36). almost in astonishment. and his later choice to call the unrelated rhyme or corn the clavis or key. This space. the fifth trans-poetic tabular space. is likened in traditional poetics to the spatiality of the womb or semiotic chora. where he opposes cantio as a unit of sense (sententia) to stanza as a purely metrical unit (ars). 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. This is the space of ease or that space into which the poem moves at the local. This is most readily found in poetry specifically in the material presence of an articulate space at the right hand of every lineated poem. . multi-dimensional. asserts: “Dante thus conceives of the structure of the canzone as founded on the relation between an essentially semantic.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN be complete unless. vertical space of the poem as a global entity. Overviewing Dante’s remarkably prescient comments Agamben. sequential level into the tabular. Ease is also a superlative example of logopoiesis. Based on two metaphors Dante utilizes. Agamben is finally able to conclude that “Insofar as it opens . with the caesura we have discourse. 188 . . yet at the same time it requires that one consider the poem as consisting of lines within stanzas. one does not take into consideration the means by which words are distributed through the poem based on alternative patterns. we are informed. along with the impact of lineation. To sum up this long and complex series of arguments. global unit and essentially metrical. the closed formal womb of the stanza. Ease requires the thinking of proximate space as precondition for singularity. At this juncture we must return one more time to Dante and his discussion of the structure of the canzone cited by Agamben. 35). 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. 35). and with corn we have the word. partial units” (EP. The unrelated rhyme forces one to concede that the poem exists in space and time beyond the power of its voicing. 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. the unrelated rhyme (the corn!) constitutes a threshold of passage between the metrical unity of ars and the higher semantic unity of sententia” (EP. With enjambement we have lineation.

but rather we are able now to look back on that essay and see in it the basis of all that is to come. stanzas a poem. 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. and third (a point central to the work of Badiou) explain how this element exterior to one’s set can be 189 . 97). 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. in other words how do parts cohere into a unified structure: lines become a stanza. The first thing to accept here is that these contesting views of structure are either based on an internal. 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. second explain its essential role to the very collection it is radically exterior and other too. The essay is a fairly unreconstructed Heideggerian reading of poetic rhythm. synecdochic view of a certain part of a collection of elements being the supra-elemental part. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT RHYTHM Agamben is a sporadic and yet profoundly consistent writer. Both positions are problematic. 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. Aristotle asks in The Metaphysics what causes a collection of elements to be more than a mere aggregate.” I am unable to assert that all the matters pertaining to poetic structure as a mode of thinking come together in this essay. Agamben begins his treatise on rhythm by considering the age-old problem as to what constitutes structure. 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. 96). I am speaking here of the dense chapter in The Man Without Content entitled “The Original Structure of the Work of Art. 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. 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.CAESURA. they cannot as it precedes all such work.

This second element. how in both cases the elements that function in harmony to create the work’s rhythm also provide us with an atemporal. the very structure of art “that is at once as Gestalt and number” (MWC. at the same time. yet at the same time rhythm is directly dependent on the elements that make up the work of art. Agamben. At the point that the rhythm stops we are launched. measure as the coming to presence of being on the earth (Heideggerian Measure) and measure as a countable number of units or quanta. 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. and measure as such as a calculable number. This debate is promoted by a comment by a momentarily lucid. and lines in the poem. . 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. That which flows does so in a temporal dimension: it flows in time . to flow. now feels after Aristotle that he can define rhythm as that which negotiates between the very principle of presence. . 100). 99).” and rhythm “that which causes something to be what it is” (MWC. . One can already see here the value of such a definition of structure as rhythm at least for the art work. the one preferred by Aristotle. decrepit Hölderlin: “Everything is rhythm . initially struggling to comprehend this statement. . Rhythm is the unquantifiable “extra” element that makes a thing a work of art. every work of art is one rhythm. “element and minimal quantum. and everything swings from the poeticizing lips of the god” (Cited in MWC. is a double measure. Agamben defines these two positions as number. Rhythm. Agamben argues. Yet this rhythm—as we commonly understand it—appears to introduce into this eternal flow a split and a stop” (MWC. How can this “additional thing” exceed the very structure of aggregation it defines? After Aristotle. in other words. for the sake of argument syllables. words. He gives examples here of music and painting. as in the case of water.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN a set-defining element and yet itself escape the problems of infinite regression and bad infinity intrinsic to set theory. inaugurates and announces the very existence of rhythm: “The word ‘rhythm’ comes from the Greek . 98). for a moment. the Greek philosopher renames Form. is the tantalizing gift and reserve of art. . . This. 94). that which is outside of a work and makes it what it is (Form). supra-spatial ecstatic moment that he 190 .

human being is able to exist in the transition from presence as origin to presence as thing in the world. Agamben translates epoch as meaning “both to hold back. coming from the future. 101). THE SPACE OF THOUGHT describes thus: “we perceive a stop in time . . an interruption in the incessant flow in instants that. rhythm grants men both the ecstatic dwelling in a more original dimension and the fall into the flight of measurable time” (MWC. and to hand over. Thus Agamben concludes: “rhythm holds. namely “to be” in the sense of to dominate or to hold on to a place. however. not on ongoing flow. as we saw. . the poetic status of man on earth finds its proper meaning. centring in on issues of Measure. because it is poiesis that founds for him the original space of his world” (MWC. While it certainly takes time and is composed of three stages 191 . Clearly rhythm conceived in this way is the basis for Agamben’s later construction of messianic time. Through the act of pro-duction via entelechy. What matters for us at this late hour however is how he relates rhythm to poiesis for. Agamben’s main argumentative thrust here is Heideggerian. and as flow. As I mentioned. that is. This then explains a final. . for example modernity. Yet this process of pro-duction is not entirely processual. “In his authentic temporal dimension. Yet rhythm is spoken of here in the very earliest work in terms of the Greek word epoch. falls back into said continuum. as well as providing an early prototype for the Idea of Prose and its subsequent reformulation as potential. The same is true of epoch in relation to the definition of a period. to suspend. 100). Man has on earth a poetic status. 99). both the cut in time and the definition of a period in time. sinks into the past” (MWC. This being the case rhythm is not a single event. Being’s destiny and authenticity. gives and holds back . but the ongoing process of the evental interruption of flow. . Both epoch and rhythm therefore are the making of a unity through a radical act of disjunctive ecstasy which. being-in-the-world. as soon it is raised up out of the structured continuum.CAESURA. namely the perpetual movement between time as origin. 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. he argues. rhythm in defining art also defines the basis of being’s temporal existence in the world. 100) before attempting a somewhat “violent” retranslation of the term as rhythm. to present. to offer” (MWC. ecstasy. day-to-day vulgar time. third meaning for epochal rhythm in the Greek.

It dictates how human being exists in the essentiality of chronological time and space as a continuum. So that when Agamben concludes. 102). Rather. interruption (caesura). being breaks with the continual and enters into the ecstatic. art’s architectonic basis. we can now reread this in a more Agambenian fashion. 102). which would simply carve time up into the traditional aporia of moments along a single line. This interplay.the term process does not convey the complexity of its operations. often by willed skilled acts of artistic making or artistic experience of the made thing. architectonics par excellence” (MWC. 101).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN (poiesis–entelechy–praxis). Poiesis is rhythmical structure. wherein the human sees its origins. In one final report from the great Aristotle. and man recovers. stuttering singular dimensionality. is pro-duction (τίκτω) of origin (άρχή). etymologically: art. is not however simply an erratic or intermittent. It determines how. therefore. does not dispense with the continuum below. 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. itself simply archetypal of innumerable such structures across all the arts and beyond. 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). art is the gift of the original space of man. at various points. flowarrest-flow-arrest. poiesis. still very much in a Heideggerian strain at this early phase in his career. poetic 192 . Yet this epochal moment. a process wherein “in the work of art the continuum of linear time is broken. “In the experience of the work of art. rhythm is the perpetual interplay between flow and its arrest. between past and future his present space” (MWC. is revealing. and perhaps this is the truly original and poetic part of Agamben’s thinking. 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. Here is where poetic structure. Poiesis. in the origin that has revealed itself to him in the poietic act” (MWC. As he says: “That art is architectonic means. Rather. man stands in the truth that is. any more than the continuum permanently disallows the epoch. As we now know in terms of the spatiotemporality of the poem there is flow (enjambement). Said architectonics is a structure now extremely familiar to us across all that we have perused here.

and suddenly surprising. being and thinking are under negation they are also. and temporality–. Poiesis as the ultimate architectonic of our being on this earth as potentially productive beings within the supportive medium of language as such. This projective-recursive. Rather rhythm–. the name we now give to the whole structural process of logopoietic thinking. we progress. for example.CAESURA. If. We rise. projective. negates simple processional temporality. Poetry is able to save metaphysics from itself by providing another way of thinking. productive mode of tabular thinking is logopoiesis. due to the very logic of the epoch. defines poiesis as ongoing. in the modern epoch. and so on. This. association. we make. through poiesis. being. simply put. we return and in doing so. patternation. recurrence with modification (torquing). THE SPACE OF THOUGHT structure. in rhyme but also in numerous other elements of poetry such as referentiality. we fall. which is the name for this process. recursive. under pro-duction also. particularly the tabular-planar element of anaphoric– cataphoric projection–recursion that one finds. 193 . is why poetry matters to Giorgio Agamben. is a tabular-planar dimensional way of being always already projected towards a finitude that in turn always casts us back to an origin. spatiality.

our understanding of this most remarkable thinker is incomplete. I must attest to being unhappy with such a designation even if it is my own. as most assuredly I have. it goes against the very spirit of his work. This must now stand as my written book on Agamben. Within our culture. for entirely mysterious and conventional reasons. is as strategic as it is descriptive. His is a philosophy that resists identity in favour of neutral singularity. metaphysical. it is for this reason alone. like so many titles. self-defeating. every book demands a title: The Literary Agamben: Adventures in Logopoiesis. Therefore as to the actual existence of a clearly definable “literary” Agamben. literary . (it would be premature and presumptuous to reduce his work to just three categorizations). The inaccurate entitlement of this book. commenced with the adventure of reinstating the literary in the form of 194 . . If I have neglected the political elements of Agamben’s work. 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. particularly metaphysical differential scission. political. To propose a certain identity or division within Agambenian philosophy is ill-advised and. In my unwritten book I see that until the various strands of Agamben’s thought are presented as a whole. he has made it his life’s work to overcome difference through the creation of a productive philosophy of indifference.RECURSION. The enforcement of a “literary” Agamben is not simply reductive. And while he concedes the omnipresence of division. . 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. Yet here at least I have made a start.

why poetry in particular is of such importance to the work of Agamben. proximity to language as such. Or in taking your leave. THE TURN OF THINKING a sustained analysis of poetry into the heart of Agamben’s indifferent thought. providing an archetype for a mode of thinking dominated by naming that does not name anything specifically. visas to apply for. 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. At the same time. neglect to say the very thing that is most on your mind to your loved ones. and line. I am fortunate enough to have the time and perspicacity to correct this. discursive structures. desubjectivization due to linguistic depersonalization. The fundamental experience of ontology via language being that of desubjectivization. extrapolated out across larger. historical relation between poetry and philosophy. a process of depersonalization at the hands of language. or the press. The predominance of semiotics in the poem is felt at the level of the syllable. 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. connections to make. the funding committee. intimacy with the semiotic. experience. Poetry produces the closest experience of language as such. word. or inexpressive medium for expression. These five conditions of poeticized ontology. As our departure is delayed here a few more pages due to an oversight in some paperwork. you forget to take the one thing you need most of all. Sometimes when you set out on an adventure and you have a tight deadline. and rhythmical structure as an alternative model for thinking. that exists within our tradition. 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.RECURSION. Similarly I feel now that I never at any point clearly expressed why literature. For Agamben there are five conditions of poetic language. has for centuries being attributed to the poetic experience of inspiration. but also across the whole of the rhythm of poetic structure. The rift may indeed be part cause of the modern philosophical collapse into negativity. 195 . 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. That must suffice.

is not illustrative but a fundamental part of his thinking. 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 dropped it. 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. However aesthetic modernity provides a strong example of anti-poiesis that has two key effects. dictation in poetry. As this happened the previous disorder of the chapters froze into a pattern that came to seem as almost predestined. 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. Derrida. That book. saw Agamben as a supporting figure in a grand narrative of the turn to poiesis in the work of Heidegger. This is not the book I set out to write. suprasensuous and sensuous. Badiou. “The Invention of Literary Singularity. the stanza and poetic dictation specifically.” now forever unwritten. The ancient antagonism established between poetry and philosophy is first revealed and then in part resolved by the rehabilitation of the category of poiesis. real. The order of the remaining chapters was endlessly changed. The Agamben chapter got out of hand. I admit that. thousands of words on the category life. The history of modern metaphysical nihilism is matched by the history of aesthetic modernity dissuading us from looking for solutions in poiesis alone.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN It is inevitable that one will lose one’s way and in losing it find one’s true way. An analysis so profound. 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. In my case the usual: chapters which were central were removed entirely. as well as revealing a potential way out of this great abyss through the alternative modes of poietic thinking. museums. and a character who at the beginning seemed one part of a great ensemble took over the story all but negating the early narrative. Mine has been no different. All great adventures work this way. His recourse to literary examples in this regard. and ultimately Agamben. and the relation between the larynx and the syrinx. Nancy.1 196 . It brings to presence the predominance of negation in all elements of metaphysics. The actual book was lost along the way. I am certain many books are like this. Logopoiesis.

culminating. People have called it thinking. and teleological thought is weakened as it progresses to its conclusions. The structure of this thinking. We have arrived at the quintessence of the logopoietic thought process. Being and Time therefore. summarizing. 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. However a powerful example of the presentation of thinking before thought exists in Heidegger’s unfinished work Being and Time.RECURSION. like the dark and yellowing illumination of the sky above you as you set out. is a powerful lesson in self-deconstruction in part obviating many of the critical studies of the work to come. The tensile rhythmic interchange between enjambement and caesura provides the medium for logopoiesis. threatening a storm that in the midst of such a swashbuckling tale might indeed be welcomed even if it poses real danger. revealed by Agamben to be that of poetry as such. THE TURN OF THINKING Bringing together thought and poetry I was able to propose the tautological compound logopoiesis. syllogistic. a turn or kehre he denies and 197 . as common as marriage when seen through the thinking lens of Ozu. 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. This conclusion voyages far from my original intention. Mostly writers recount their thoughts but not their thinking. narrativizing. 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. deductive. 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. Indeed. I suspect. Rhythm is the very ground upon which all future work on logopoiesis must be based. That Heidegger then turns away entirely from the categories of this book in the later work on poetry. 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. There are certain elements of Being and Time as a work of written thinking that tell us a good deal about thinking as such. Such a situation is. Heidegger of course casts an ambiguous shadow over the work of Agamben. aside from its myriad other merits.

Thus the act of turning is not simply turning back or away from the present but a turning in. particularly his study of the hymn “The Ister” and the periplus logic of the river developed there. 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. Speaking of the contemporary destiny of being in terms of instrumental. Being turns about into the oblivion of its coming to presence.” but. feeling. he defines this coming to presence of being as enframing as danger. A turn from dispute into stasis and stillness. objectivizing. the truth of the coming to presence of Being will expressly turn in—turn homeward—into whatever is” (QCT. It recalls always the source. This primal corresponding . In the 1949 essay “The Turning” Heidegger comes to define thinking precisely in terms of recursion. The influence is neither negative nor positive. the verb used here to express the activity of the “turn in” of thought.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet which is all too apparent. . an interiorization of thinking. and willing. . suggests that turning away from and towards was. one can recognize here the basis of Agamben’s methodology. ever his method of thought and that the second division is not a failure but a triumph of recursive thought. . He then adds: “As the danger. Add into this Heidegger’s claim that language “is never primarily the expression of thinking. means both to turn in and to put up at an inn. is thinking” (QCT. 41). and framing technology. As the river departs from the source one can describe is as both homely and unhomely. . 198 . “the primal dimension within which man’s essence is first able to correspond at all to Being . but the process of the turning from the negative to the positive by virtue of the negative.” Although Heideggerian negativity is the destinal ontology Agamben wants expressly to turn away from. turns away from this coming to presence. einkehren. . or stay.2 A similarity further confirmed when Heidegger adds: “In the coming to presence of the danger there conceals itself . As the translator’s footnote informs the English edition of Heidegger’s text. As they rightfully go on to explain this is of no small importance to Heidegger’s work on Hölderlin. the possibility of a turning in which the oblivion belonging to the coming to presence of Being will so turn itself that. to alight. therefore. and in that way simultaneously turns counter to the truth of its coming to presence. . and we can see the profound influence Heideggerian thinking has had on Agambenian thinking. 41). with this turning.

This is not the case. allegorical. 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. rhythm. From poetry. In attaching the river to the ancient sea-bound periplus. but only in departing from it. It exemplifies thought but it is not thought as such in my opinion. through philosophy to language. which is also essential to Agamben’s theory of messianic time. and specifically singular in relation to thought. 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. Thinking as rhythmical turning by virtue of poetry is my first thesis in relation to logopoiesis. THE TURN OF THINKING the homely. First because of Agamben’s powerful critique of Heideggerian Being as based on mute negation. And second because Agamben is able to draw out the turn of thinking in poetics through detailed analysis of prosody as such. Heidegger brings another interiorization into poetic ontology and thinking. Similarly as the river journeys it also provides the essential natural elements for settlement. the reason why so many great cities are on the banks of rivers. great work of the last philosopher. to a degree. My contention here is not that Heidegger had already said what Agamben goes on to say. Thus the poem remains. illustrative. 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 199 . archetypal. the river drains into the ocean whose amorphous nature recalls the installation into shape of the source. 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. 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. This is an essential development in logopoietic thought from its origins in the later. 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. Indeed much of Agamben’s work on poetry is prefigured in this text. The river therefore is both a locality or founding of a place and an endless journeying.RECURSION. The ocean works very well as the endless falling into silence of poetic finitude.

I find a postcard from Giorgio. temporality. as far as I can tell. exhaustive. 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). What I summarize as thinking through making. prosaic. logopoiesis is the tautological turn of thought. desolated by modernity and yet still eternally wonderful. 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. deductive. As it progresses it does so by always simultaneously going on and looking back. I can now understand why you coin the term logopoiesis to indicate this complex compound of ideas although initially I was unconvinced. and eventually conclusive mode of progression through logical cumulative analysis. by flowing and interrupting said flow. I have understood it as the following: a modality of thinking through making and all that this entails. If for Agamben poetic thinking. 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. Later.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as such. The first instalment of which is a consonance between the very structure of poetry and that of thinking. our aims are more modest. Such a thought is definable by precisely the same structure as that of the poem for which read all works of art. logopoiesis. progressive. rummaging through my capacious pockets for some gizmo for gouging stones out of the hooves of horses. but also thought about other categories that I have yet to address such as objectivity. Logopoiesis names the rehabilitation. This is not our concern. Rather than a syllogistic. is a way-station along the obscured tracks of a greater mission. 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. and the sensuous. teleological. Thus if Agamben wishes to access the linguistic basis for all being. objectal-instrumental.3 it already prefigures its development and cessation. redefinition. In such a model. On one side is a sepia image of the Rome of his childhood. by submitting thought to 200 . 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.

our habitual place. we are held by that which possesses us. Such a thought exists both in space and time you suggested at one point. never comes to an end. THE TURN OF THINKING a constraining linearity and exploding linearity through a translinear tabular-planar rhythmic structure. but which we cannot take hold of. are suspended in every sense of this word. mono-dimensional space but also architectonic. This rhythmical space is also the rhythmical temporality of thought. in on itself. Just as human life can only come to life by ending the category of life and the tension therein. A poetic thinking shares this structure. Not everything is as it should be. Quite so. it is the turn of verse. but not for all time. language. poetic thought turns. as indeed must all logopoietic thinking.RECURSION. You are not quite there yet but you are certainly moving towards very provocative territory. That said the poem never comes to an end because the cataphoric-recursive element always folds the poem back on itself. trans-linear space. By the same gesture as it seems to move towards its conclusions. The linear extension of the semiotic and its interruption are both temporal. Rather than defining a problem and then seeking to solve it conclusively. verse. as the poem ends it both comes to an end. It must end. If traditional thought advances. put on hold. inside and outside. part and whole. 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. indeed all the arts. Yet the grammatological space required to actuate the caesura in the line reveals the dependence of linearity on not merely interruptive. thought and language. a moment wherein categories such as beginning and end. It is for this reason that we call poetry. Philosophy has now passed. let’s say the problem of being. I will need time to think more about it. In the same manner the poem never commences. As in thought so in art. For now at least. to come into existence. The last philosopher has spoken his final words. space and time. Very interesting. Some ideas seem out of place. Finally. and perpetually ends (did I get this right?). philosophy and poetry. structural. Beware the sloughs of negative despond by the 201 . it is always already within the problem. 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 at the same time be turning back on itself and away from summation. As ever. subject and object.

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. There are always benefits to be accrued from looking back along the way you have come. It’s your turn now. I have finished what I have to say. ignore the example of Orpheus. upon an empty plateau about which they say great danger finds its dwelling. There. By the way. Giorgio 202 . He is a close associate of mine although we do not always see eye to eye.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way. Good luck with your next guide. You will find his conversation and company very stimulating even if at first he seems obscure. Remember to take the right turn there.

“Playing with Law: Agamben and Derrida on Postjuridical Justice. Henceforth cited as MWC. ‘Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?’ SL.” PMD. henceforth cited as PMD. “S/Citing the Camp.” in Politics. 1–7. unpaginated. See Adam Thurschwell. 2005). and Eleanor Kaufman.” SL. 117–18. 70. “Cutting the Branches for Akiba.’ Kritikos 2 (2005). See Giorgio Agamben. “The Enigma of Giorgio 203 .” trans. Antonio Negri. and Robert Buch. and Ernesto Laclau. 2003). ed. 11. “The Ripe Fruit of Redemption. henceforth cited as SL. “Time of Death.” in Sovereignty & Life. see Erik Vogt. Siting Agamben. 135. SAQ. 2 (2002).” SAQ.generation-online. ed. Catherine Mills.” SAQ. 2 (2007). Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer. Andrew Norris (Durham. The Man Without Content. “Witnessing the Inhuman: Agamben or Merleau-Ponty. trans. no. 1999). 254. Dominick LaCapra. henceforth cited as SAQ. 1 (2008). “Whatever Politics. “Seeing the Impossibility of Seeing or the Visibility of the Undead: Giorgio Agamben’s Gorgon. Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. “Approaching Limit Events. and Alex Murray. 27. The first critical concession of the three Agambens can be found in Justin Clemens. “Law and Life. Rainer Maria Kiesow. and Time for Revolution. www. Colin McQuillan. no.NOTES EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN 1 2 3 4 5 6 For various criticisms of Agamben’s supposedly dual methodology. Kaufman. no. 92.” The Germanic Review 82. 44. NC: Duke University Press. Agamben’s Critique of Derrida. ‘The Political Life in Giorgio Agamben. 38. 2003). trans. 175.org/t/ negriagamben. “The Saturday of Messianic Time. 190.” PMD. 112–13.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 107. 57. Nicholas Heron.” Angelaki 7. Negri reiterates this critique in Antonio Negri. No study of the uncanny is complete without reference to Nicholas Royle’s magisterial and unsettling The Uncanny: An Introduction (Manchester: Manchester University Press. Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Arianna Bove. Agamben’s first published work begins with a consideration of the uncanny as the ability of literature to produce desubjectivization. 2007). Negri’s provocation has been picked up by Jenny Edkins. “Giorgio Agamben: The Discreet Taste of the Dialectic.” SL. 173.html. Jean-Philipe Deranty. Benjamin Noys. Matteo Mandarini (New York: Continuum.

IH. 204 . 2008). 119. 43. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. see William Lovitt. 2004). For more see Matthew Calarco. the question behind the “political” texts comprising the Homo Sacer project in terms of the relation of the human to the animal. Daniel HellerRoazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. The Open: Man and Animal. 1991). Mills defines as a crucial element of Agamben’s thought the faculty of having or capacity to do something. trans. trans. 33–8. Literature. It also forms the basis of a whole chapter in The End of the Poem.com/. The importance of the literary has finally been conceded by some critics. Henceforth cited as Para. 10. “Article: Syrinx / Larynx: A Full-Throated Ease. 3–52. Henceforth cited as EP. and Alex Murray. 1999).NOTES Agamben. social life. For more on the role of animal voice to poetry see William Watkin. blogspot. 163–79. 2000). http://williamwatkin. Karen E. 1998). 90.” and “The Turning. 3. The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. trans. “Jamming the Anthropological Machine. bare life. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity.” in the collection Martin Heidegger. 29–30. and again in LD. Henceforth cited as PA. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Henceforth cited as IH. 140. & 187–8.” SL. trans. 62–75. See for example Giorgio Agamben. See for example Justin Clemens. later in the main body of the book. “The Role of the Shifter and the Problem of Reference in Giorgio Agamben. Henceforth cited as LD.” Paragraph 25. Henceforth cited as O. 59. 1977).” William Watkin’s Blog. Nicholas Heron. PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Giorgio Agamben.” in The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. This is the function of the “anthropological machine” that Agamben describes in The Open. For example. 6. “Introduction: The Interim. essentially. 84–5. Giorgio Agamben. trans. 107. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience. Means Without Ends. Liz Heron (London: Verso. 1993). Justin Clemens. trans. the inhuman. xxviii–xxxvi. See “The Question Concerning Technology. Henceforth cited as WWB. 2 (2002). 3. biological life. See Giorgio Agamben. “Introduction. Henceforth cited as MWE. See Catherine Mills. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Henceforth cited as WGA. Henceforth cited as HS. The Question Concerning Technology.” WGA. 109. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. no. Life. 1–11. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. trans. This is. Lovitt’s introduction is also useful. The End of the Poem. Giorgio Agamben. ed.” in QCT. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. and ontology. 2008). See Giorgio Agamben. Henceforth cited as QCT. For a consideration of the status of the unwritten in Agamben see Andrew Dillon. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial.

34–53. 44–5.NOTES 13 14 15 16 Also Giorgio Agamben. 2 (2007). trans. no. 15–88. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. and is inevitably itself criticized by others. Idea of Prose. no. trans. 200–2 and again Mills in PA. henceforth cited as TTR. “After Humanism: Agamben and Heidegger. “Thinking the Post-human: Literature. 23–46. 103–4. Ronald L. henceforth cited as OWL. 110–14. 1993). Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press.” Textual Practice 15. 1 (2004). Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row.” Para. Language. “Can the Dead Speak to Us? De Man. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. henceforth cited as IP. and The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. Key moments come in the following texts Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture. PA. 2005). 102–4. post-kehre. 1971). His critique of Derrida is more sporadic yet insistent. Lévinas and Agamben. “As If the Time Were Now: Deconstructing Agamben. His most veiled but sustained critique is to be found in the essay “Pardes: The Writing of Potentiality. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. and The Open (O. see for example Martin Heidegger. “Beyond Spectacle and the Image: the Poetics of Guy Debord and Agamben. Mills. For a consideration of this argument see Thomas Docherty. 53–7. trans. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 187–210. 205 . henceforth cited as ST. 129–30. 1971). 1 (2001). For largely negative comments on Agamben’s critique of Derrida see Thurschwell. It is widely assumed that Heidegger’s interest in Dasein wanes as. See also Lee Spinks. and Colin Davis.” Culture. Literature and War: Absence and the Chance of Meeting (London: Continuum. especially in the later texts on poetry. 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. messianic conception of post-humanism: O. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. RA. 205–19. 155–6. “Absence as Pure Possibility. for example Krzysztof Ziarek. 86–7. no. trans. Subjectivation.” P. PMD. 39–77).” in PMD. trans. Henceforth cited as PLT. 12.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 106. Peter D. 1995). his commitment to Being as such waxes. 44–6. Johnson. For more on this topic see Catherine Mills. 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. 90–2. 61–2. Potentialities. see Alex Murray. trans. David E. “Potential European Democracy. henceforth cited as P. On the Way to Language. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality: Biopolitics.” in Martin Heidegger. For a useful analysis of the relation of Agamben’s thought to that of Debord’s concept of the spectacle. Thought. Poetry. 173–97. The conclusion to The Open sets out a more positive. Theory & Critique 45. 87–135. Agamben’s critique of Heidegger spans the volumes Language and Death (LD. trans.” WGA. 2009). Affect and the Politics of Style. HS. Heidegger disputes this easy division. and Sean Gaston. 54–64). 266–90.” in Derrida. and Testimony in Remnants of Auschwitz. 164–9.” SAQ. Henceforth cited as RA. 1999). 2002).

John Milton. II.” Paragraph 31. Silliman and Agamben. Blanchot and Agamben (New York: SUNY. and Rachel Blau DuPlessis. 1981).” American Anthropologist 108. “Coetzee. 152–8. Ontological Difference. no. 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. For a remarkable history of this process see Wlad Godzich and Jeffrey Kittay. See also Wall’s ground-breaking analysis Radical Passivity: Lévinas.” in Jacques Derrida. and “Geschlecht I: Sexual Difference. 137 & 159–62. ed. 3 (2008). “‘Draft 33: Deixis’ / Notes on ‘Deixis’: a Midrashic Chain an exchange of thoughts. 1989).shtml. For an analysis of deixis. Caton. The Emergence of Prose: An Essay in Prosaics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Semantics Vol. Henceforth cited as RP. 1977). Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. is implied but never fully developed in Agamben’s work. “Except for Law: Raymond Chandler. “Dismantling Theatricality: Aesthetics of Bare Life. http://jacketmagazine. Agamben later speculates on various grammatological punctuation marks in relation to his theory of nonrelational harmonic articulation that is neither “hypotactic nor paratactic but. James Ellroy. 1987). M. 1999). Vol. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. Steven C. This is Agamben’s specific criticism of Derrida in Stanzas. Weller is somewhat scathing of this narrative of overcoming nihilism which he says typifies our tradition in relation to nihilism since Nietzsche. 2008). com/36/watkin-duplessis. and William Watkin. 206 . Literature. so to speak.1 (2006). Agamben. atactic. ” (P. Henceforth cited as LPN. For a full consideration of all these issues see William Watkin. 636–7. Bakhtin. no. See M. 2008). See for example HS. trans. Psyche: Inventions of the Other. and ellipsis dots in the title of the Deleuze essay “Immanence: A Life . Henceforth cited as MofP. 2004). and Barbara Formis. Philosophy. the colon. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: Chicago University Press. . 114–23. See Shane Weller. 271–3. The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press.NOTES 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 See Derrida’s two remarkable assaults on Heideggerian difference. 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.” SAQ 121–44. . Shklovsky. and the Politics of Exception. and the Passion of Abu Ghraib. 7–26. “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the work of Godzich & Kittay. see John Lyons. 344–64. Jacques Derrida.” WGA.” in relation to the hyphen. 4. See ST. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.” Jacket 36 (2008). 221–3). 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 181–92. 50. 129–30.

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. 63–70 where Agamben considers Heidegger’s ideas pertaining to animal captivated being as fundamentally at odds with human privative. trans. “Au Hasard.” PMD. Jonathan Culler. John Keats.” Representations 56 (1996). 2004). 2001). For more on this see William Watkin. 217–30 & 35–40 respectively. 1971). See Jacques Derrida. a language equal to our own in every way except the specificity of its material signification. 1999). 207 . The Coming Community. “Vocal Utopias: Glossolalias. a meaningless noise. See Michel De Certeau. Memoires for Paul de Man. in other words. Problems in General Linguistics. 137–8. Henceforth cited as CC. 1989). 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. “Signature Event Context. 307–30. This admits into sovereign domination a double weakness. 32–5. Second Edition.” in Margins of Philosophy. See O. What barbarians utter is mere noise. 1982). ed. trans. PA: Bucknell University Press. The wilful treatment of xenoglossic alterity. and my own analysis of these issues in relation to poetry in William Watkin. 1935). 53. The importance of passivity and neutrality for Agamben’s post-metaphysical ontology has been noted by a number of critics. 1993). and the subsequent denuding of xenoglossia under the sign of glossolalia. but the first serious study of the issue was Thomas Wall’s Radical Passivity. Henceforth cited as MP. The English translation incorrectly names John Woodhouse as Keats’ addressee. self-conscious being. trans. On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Henceforth cited as M. 227. Maurice Buxton Forman (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Henceforth cited as IPP. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. trans. trans. 92–4. See Alain Badiou. See for example Wall. Manifesto for Philosophy. I am thinking most specifically of the arguments put forward in Jacques Derrida. and Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press. The Letters of John Keats. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. Cecile Lindsay. See also RA.NOTES 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 For the relation of anaphora to deixis in Agamben see Giorgio Agamben. 198–226. is surely the basis of much cultural chauvinism and imperialism through the ages. Eduardo Cadava. therefore they are alive without being human. Mary Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press. In Agambenian terms much cultural imperialism is based on the false division between xenoglossia (bios) and glossolalia (zoe). In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. See Emile Benveniste. 28–32. 29–47. as glossolalic.

90–1. “Spacing as Shared: Heraclitus. 85. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. Henceforth cited as SE. 64. What Agamben defines as the pseudonymical nature of written selfenunciation. trans. here Heller-Roazen opts for “mean. Plato. Andrew Benjamin. concluding: “Every creation is always a cocreation. 188. 113–38. trans. Giorgio Agamben. the Other in Love. 86. “Face to Face with Agamben. Profanations. 344. Badiou’s manifesto for “affirmative thinking” is mapped out in MP. See Mills. Henceforth cited as AP. 66. PA.” Diacritics 30. For an interesting consideration of love in Agamben see Julian Wolfreys. THINKING THOUGHT 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 See earlier comments on Foucault and desubjectivization in RA. PMD. Pertinent to a later debate on the actual translation of the key term medio. 5–8. just as every author is always a coauthor. 211. AP. “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. 36–51. For a consideration of the relation of life to poetry see WWB. 141–2. Henceforth cited as Prof.” Para. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. State of Exception.” also my preference.” SAQ. or. PMD. no. see Leland De La Durantaye. a consonance I would be hesitant to endorse. See Zaraloudis. “On Giorgio Agamben’s Holocaust. Agamben approaches the issue of the collusive nature of creation from a different angle. CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. Selected Poems (London: Penguin. Mills. 2005). 2008). 167. RA.” WGA. “Agamben’s Potential. “Soulblind. 2004). Republic.” Para. and Mills.” in WGA. Thurschwell. 13. Pindar. Vogt. PMD. For further readings of the razo in Romantic and contemporary poetics see William Watkin. Agamben. 76. “Article: Poetic Dictation.” Giorgio Agamben. trans. 131–2. Josh Cohen. “‘A Different Insignificance’: The Poet and Witness in Agamben. For criticism of Agamben in relation to otherness see Andrew Benjamin. 2007). For a consideration of this term and its relation to the semiotic in Agamben. Debating the origin of the inter-relation between the ancient legal terms auctoritas and potestas. 149–63. 144.NOTES 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 Robert Browning. Henceforth cited as R. PMD. 186. 2 (2000).” PMD. and Robert Eaglestone. 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 208 . “Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics.” WWB. De La Durantaye goes so far as to claim they are the same. 203.

70–102.” CC. see Nicholas Heron. trans. 84–8. “The Ontology and Politics of Exception: Reflections on the Work of Giorgio Agamben.” (SE. 123.” in Walter Benjamin: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory. For more on pure.” P. 117). politics. unfortunately. Alexander García Düttmann. 11–13. Idea of Prose. He also mentions this fragment in IP. 88). 97–107. For a sustained reading of this essay see Deborah Levitt.” WGA. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime. see R. where this argument is developed. I do not have space to develop here.” WWB. In a rare but central moment for Agamben scholarship. this definition of the Idea of Prose comes together with Agamben’s liberationist. 105. . 107. The political implications of this occupy Means Without Ends (MWE. would correspond an action as pure means. 60–1. “Integral Actuality. without any relation to an end. and the three main strands of Agamben’s work. but says only itself. revealing a parity between the political and literary Agamben that. post-juridical politics in final page of State of Exception: “To a word that does not bind . 169–231. 11–12). The Aristotelian saying something about something. 59–62. divine violence see Anne De Boever. 241–2. “Politics and Poetics of Divine Violence: On a Figure in Giorgio Agamben and Walter Benjamin. “Article: Ontological Whisperings.” IP. For a consideration of pseudonym and homonym in literature see William Watkin. . ed. 2004).” CC. Add into this Agamben’s definition of living in the category form-of-life as thinking as such (MWE. Benjamin’s idea of a pure language finds an analogue in his conception of pure violence. This relentless degradation and attenuation of poiesis occurs in the fourth book of Republic. see also “The Idea of the Name.” WGA. “On the Messianic Structures of Walter Benjamin’s Last Reflections. For a consideration of knowability and sayability in relation to desubjectivization. and “Homonym. For an insightful consideration of the origins of the Idea of Prose in the work of Benjamin. 71–8. see RA. IP. P. 4–6. Peter Osborne (London: Taylor and Francis. See MofP. 193–211.NOTES 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Greek culture. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Jean-François Lyotard. “Pseudonym. which shows itself. 41 and again does not provide the citation. See also Düttmann. 1994).” SL. “Notes on Media and Biopolitics: ‘Notes on Gesture’.” WGA. See also Wall’s analysis RP. For more on Agamben’s consideration of the logical aporia that “Discourse cannot say what is named by the name. which in turn defines the concept of the pure medium of mediality in SE.” in IP. poetry. primarily in an attempt to reject tragedy from the republic. See Bruno Gulli. Henceforth cited as LAS. 209 . “Idea of Poetry. 1–28. An excellent consideration of the messianic and the term integral actuality can be found in Irving Wohlfarth. 107. and metaphysics come together. 131.

2002). 76. and Slavoj Zizek. 140–44. is thought. MWE. THINKING THROUGH MAKING 1 Poiesis. 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. “Resistance. 248–1 & 309–10.” Para. P. 2006). This being the case. 85. 110. Henceforth cited as N. and Giorgio Agamben. back toward the phrase itself— absolute anaphora. 1993). SL. liberating future destiny. so to speak. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. no. See Edkins SL. Idea della prosa (Macerata: Quodlibet.” (P. 116–8. . Henceforth cited as BT. The archetypal activity of authentic being. 255). while a Greek word. See Giorgio Agamben and Gilles Deleuze.” in WGA. 83. 79. 210 . to anaphora. See Martin Heidegger. smooth glowing in which no point can be distinguished from any other” (P. See also his comments on the Hegelian grund or ground in this regard in P. CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. 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. 375–85. 134–8. 177–271. 26–43. 35–8. 1996). spinning on itself . Bartleby: La Formula della creazione (Macerata: Quodlibet. Potentiality and Law: Deleuze and Agamben on ‘Bartleby’. as well as his description of the threshing floor of the ineffable as “a light. . “A Sense of Loss: Whatever it May Be. See also P. trans. He speaks of potentiality in most of his major texts with major statements in CC. I have decided not to italicize the term and so in effect neologise the very term for the formation of neologisms. It is indeed the origin of the political and its potential. and Marc Froment-Meurice. see Thanos Zartaloudis.” Angelaki 10. See Gulli. “Soulblind. Being and Time. MWE. HS. which he calls formof-life. and because I am arguing for poiesis as a contemporary term covering issues around making as pro-duction into presence. 223. Giorgio Agamben.NOTES 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 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. or On Profanation. 112). 27–32. Alexander Cooke. 231. 2008). 72–3. Conceding the “to” refers to some act that preceded to which Bartleby refers. 21. 45–7 & TTR. Thought is not just another form of life but form-of-life as such: MWE. The final word however rests with Agamben and the relation of this. 9. 3 (2005). See O. For further deliberations on this conception of Genius. he notes: “But here it is as if this anaphora were absolutized to the point of losing all reference. Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. The Parallax View (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. the ultimate statement of potentiality.

Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. See TTR. 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 . trans. Handbook of Inaesthetics. in Plato. 2005). .NOTES 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Plato. See Claire Colebrook. 1961). where Agamben makes clear that his messianic temporality and overall method is not eschatological. Technics and Time: The Fault of Epimetheus. therefore. from Nothing. 2006). accessed 17 September 2008. Potentiality. refuting a criticism often 211 . . “From Sovereign Ban to Banning Sovereignty. Robert Musil. trans. 19–20.” www. and indeed many others. Ostensibly the modern epoch commences in the eighteenth century with the rise of Enlightenment rationalism and continues up to our present moment. “Poiesis and Art-Making: A Way of Letting-Be. 1997). 253). 57. 105–6. Charles Bernstein. 172–3. Edith Hamilton and Huntingdon Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper One. trans. Michael Joyce. Synposium.contempaesthetics. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press. especially the phenomenological thick description of jug-ness as thing. and Alain Badiou. Actuality = recursive eschaton. 205b. One and Two. be” (P. 110 & 115.org/newvolume/pages/article. 9. Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike (London: Picador.” SL. trans. Modern art would. The key term here is “letting.” SAQ. See the essay “The Thing” in PLT. See PLT. I consistently use the term modern here in the manner in which Agamben takes the term. and entelechy = chairatic interiorization. and Life.” Thus Colebrook’s critique of Agamben’s theory of poiesis as both masculinist and theological is incorrect. Cited in Bernard Stiegler. the hardest thing is being capable of annihilating this Nothing and letting something. Nietzsche. 44. 1998). 165–86. ed.php?articleID=216. The Man Without Qualities. This is the basis of the thesis of Martin Heidegger. “Agamben: Aesthetics. Whitehead. See Derek H. 1991). 557. encompass Romanticism and contemporary “postmodernity. The Collected Dialogues. 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. Henceforth cited as HI. Vols.” as opposed to praxis or a willed doing. Girly Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 95. We will find exactly the same structural model in terms of messianic temporality later on so that Potentiality = projective chronos. CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. trans. 62–3. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS 1 2 A solid overview of Agamben’s anti-modernity can be found in William Rasch.

198–221. P. Badiou defines the century as defined by the violence of The Real in Alain Badiou. See Marin Heidegger. Paul Hegarty. 31. Henceforth cited as EHP.” PMD. For considerations of Agamben’s use of Levi. The Century. P.NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 and misguidedly levelled at his work. Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. saying something as something.. See for example Andreas Kalyvas. Transmissibility is one of Agamben’s earliest. 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. “The Painter of Modern Life. 4 (2006). Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister. Such a process negates the age-old consideration of language as primarily metaphoric-symbolic. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. 222–47. 74–106.” in Selected Writings on Art & Artists. 403. 110–12. where he takes Agamben’s commitment to productive thought and declares it effectively fatalistic and unproductive. “Supposing the Impossibility of Silence of Sound. trans. and Esther Norma Marion. I turn to the critical material around the Kafka story presently. Agamben and the Holocaust. See Wall. 40).” PMD.E. 36–51. Henceforth cited as C. Mills. “The Sovereign Weaver: Beyond the Camp. 19–20. William McNeill and Julia Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. “The Nazi Genocide and the Writing of the Holocaust Aporia: Ethics and Remnants of Auschwitz.” MLN 121. Cohen. trans. they pertain more directly to the work around the Homo Sacer project which I have chosen not to dwell on in this study. In Potentialities cultural traditional transmissibility is founded first on linguistic transmissibility (communicability). 64. centrally important and. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality. 1009–22. Para. but of saying the suchness of as itself (CC. PMD. And Martin Heidegger. to my mind.” PMD. 2000).” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 12. PMD. no. Charles Baudelaire. 1996). 104. tautological indication of the anaphoric act of indication as such. 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. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry. Clearly a development of the idea of sacrifice in HS. This I believe is Negri’s final criticism of Agamben in SL. 97–100). trans. “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. most troublesome categories. While both are important. 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.’ trans. 4 (1999). “Dead Man Walking: Law and Ethics After Giorgio Agamben’s Auschwitz. David Fraser. no. 120–4. Charvet (Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 2007). 73–83. 139 & 156. of Voice: Bataille. 1972). 397–417. 212 . see Vogt.

” PMD. “K. pro-verted. “Myth Interrupted. For Weller’s argument in this regard see LPN. Andrew Benjamin. “Friendly Little Communities: Derrida’s Politics of Death. 36. ed. see Sean Gaston. and my own consideration of these issues in William Watkin. 19–34.” SAQ. trans. “Article: Under Glass. HS 40–4. THINKING TAUTOLOGY 1 2 Ezra Pound. having fulfilled its past. 1992). 49–62 Agamben pits his reading against Derrida’s influential interpretation. See Vogt. 89–105. See Jean-Luc Nancy. Bridget McDonald (Stanford: Stanford University Press. In this second reading.” in WGA. 55–7 for his comments on Malevich. is now truly prose (that is pro-versa. “The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices. 1992). 62 (2007). See Jean-Luc Nancy. For considerations of the relationship between the two texts. See my own consideration of this issue in IPP. See Jürgen Habermas. “Spacing as Shared. turned forward” (P. The Experience of Freedom. Glossing Hegel on philosophy after its end he speculates on “a humanity that. PMD. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge: Polity Press. 115–48.” Postmetaphysical Thinking. 1982). trans. See David Halliburton. 13–27. 181–220. C. CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. 2 (2002). 1991). Culture and Politics 15. 2005).” trans. See my own analysis of avant-garde manifestoes in IPP. Nicholas Walker (Cambridge: Polity Press. see Simon Morgan Wortham. Theory of the Avant-Garde.” WWB. “Playing with Law. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge. 1992). Poetic Thinking: An Approach to Heidegger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 219–37. 1984). HS. and Mills. see William Watkin. trans. 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. 156. Derrida and Disinterest (London: Continuum. 135). Michael Shaw (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 146. 84–5. trans. Acts of Literature. 18. For a detailed analysis of Agamben’s theory of the museum.” New Formations. Derrida’s reading of the same text is to be found in Jacques Derrida. no. 43–70. Peter Connor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1993). 19–31 See Badiou. 213 . For an excellent recent study of this classic theme. Agamben’s most recent posting into this dossier is Giorgio Agamben. ABC of Reading (London: Faber.NOTES 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 An early related analysis of the consumer object can be found in Stanzas where Agamben speaks of fetishism (ST. Peter Connor in The Inoperative Community. See Peter Burger. 98. “Law of Friendship: Derrida and Agamben.” Strategies: Journal of Theory. and The Decline of Modernism. 1951). 31–5). ed.

such lingering has its own lofty resoluteness. 637). For a summary of the arguments. This is a criticism levelled. Oeuvres II. THE TURN OF VERSE 1 2 3 Agamben’s elegant formula for poetry is borrowed from Valéry via Jacobson and attributed by Heller-Roazen to Milner (Heller-Roazen.”’ WGA. thoughtless hanging around. 2008). For a consideration of Agamben’s contentious use of the paradigmatic example. see the first chapter of Signatura Rerum entitled “Che cos’è un paradigma?.147–8. Lingering in comparison calls to mind an almost passive.NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 See Colebrook. unfairly I believe. Jean-Pierre Barricelli (Boston: 1986). see Clemens. For an introduction to some of these concepts see Heron. Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry. Jeff Fort (Urbana: University of Illinois Press. trans. ed. “thought conceives. Σηµειωτιχη [Semiotike]: Recherches pour une Sémanalyse (Paris: Éditions du Seuil. 111 & 117. 114). truth beauty”.11–134. it is no mere vacillation. SAQ. CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. “The Exemplary Exception. I first came across the idea of the tabularity of poetic structure in Julia Kristeva. 109. “Beauty is truth. 1969). is a significant change to prolongation which suggests stretching as an act of willed extension. and even the thinking which prepares such listening. 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. Here “Heidegger” retains the caesuric and thetic nature of Valéry’s prose by translating prolongée in terms of the more suggestive “lingering. “Introduction.” is misleading in relation to the Italian. 176). See Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. John Keats. “The Role of the Shifter. 3–4 and clarifies such issues as Norris’s exemplary examples. 214 . 177. 2007). 1960). “mi fingo. Para. not due to indecisiveness (vacillation) but an authentic desire to listen to poetry’s call. which in part refutes the criticism of Agamben’s use of “extreme examples” such as one finds in Alison Ross. 75. as “The poem—this prolonged lingering between sound and sense” (EHP. lingers even longer than the poem itself. of course. All English quotes taken from Giacomo Leopardi. Idea of Prose. Jean Hytier (Paris.” which really means tricks me or feigns for me. 17–37. Para. Norris.” SAQ. After all. cited in LD. Signatura rerum: Sul metodo (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. trans. Selected Poems (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks.” Lingering. by Froment-Meurice.” PMD.” WGA. 2008). 108–10. Giacomo Leopardi. “Idea of Poetry.” in Giorgio Agamben. 50–1.” allowing him to conclude: “the listening to the poem. The English here. 274–6. 85–6.

every image anticipates virtually its future unwinding and recalls its preceding gestures] Interestingly. SAQ. See for example Johanna Drucker. 1 (Dec.philobiblon. See William Watkin.” he calls it Greetings. “Poetry Machines: Repetition in the Early Poetry of Kenneth Koch. an alternation between inversion and progression” (TTR. no.NOTES 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 See Stephen Pinker. 231. while Agamben gives an example of the caesura he never provides examples of enjambement as such. enjambement. A useful consideration of silence can be found in Hegarty. This logic resembles in miniature the logic of the epoch and of messianic time in a quite remarkable and universal fashion. It was the poets themselves who called this “retrogradatio cruciata . Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet. 269–80. therefore. 203–6. SL. Hölderlin. and rhyme are all dependent on an idea of duality which.” WGA. 17–19. 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. 29–69. 29 for the commencement of a career-long attack on aesthetics in Heidegger. For his initial conception of calling see BT.” EnterText 1. “Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from Being and Time. and Giorgio Agamben. As one can see. 81–2). IPP.” http:// www. however. Mallarmé. The essential bases of poetry. 158–91. 215 . 9–10). 119 & 132. 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. 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. See Johnson. 53–4 & 74–5.” M. Il sacramento del linguaggio: Archeologia del giuramento (Roma: GLF.com/drucker/. The Language Instinct (London: Penguin. 35–6. 83–117. See BT. See Gulli. Celan. 26. of which he says: “Ogni istante. 222–47. 1981). 117. caesura. 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. does not come to view as double until a third element occurs to confirm this duality. See TTR. Agamben uses the example of Bill Viola’s 1995 work “The Greeting. stress-unstress. yet in each case said reading works to develop what is effectively a quasi-universal or transcendental truth about poiesis as such. [Every instant. PMD. Thomas Gray. . See Jacques Derrida. . 266. 2000). “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to e-space. 2008). Rilke. 1994). ogni immagine anticipa virtualmente il suo svolgimento futuro e ricorda i suoi gesti precedenti” (N.

OM. see Leland De La Durantaye. CC. 1984). 355–8. see Mikhail Leonovich Gasparov. For more on Italian versification. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. On the relation of this to the Benjaminian concept of the division of the division and the caesura. Similarly. no. Henceforth cited as W. For more on the gender implications of the appropriation of terms such as womb/khora. For a brilliant attack on the omnipresence of end-directed syllogism as an unquestioned and damaging convention of poetic and prosaic structural coherence. and. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press. 69–70. 38–59. see Jacques Derrida. See IPP. see Watkin. 2008). For my own analysis see MofP. although for Agamben at least. 90–1. ‘Khōra. Revolution in Poetic Language. of course. 1987). 2 (2003). CC. see Sean Gaston.106. 7–9. What he names “a paraexistence or a paratranscendence that dwells beside the thing. 2007).NOTES 22 For by far the best and most penetrating explanation of spacing and the trace in Derrida. which he also terms the halo. 53–8. CHAPTER 6 CAESURA. the trace is not synonymous with language.” Diacritics 33. 43). 200–6. Derrida’s conception of language is problematically ensconced within the differing and deferring logic of the trace. but is the endless collapsing of the traditional metaphysical distinction between the two. Starting with Derrida (London: Continuum. even if this is not marked grammatologically. Henceforth cited as SP. 122–4. see Ron Silliman. 25–30 and 239n11 (for her critique of Derrida).’ On the Name. Here the hemistich in the second line breaks it into two clearly separate entities. ed. 101. 1996). 89–130. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 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. 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. 1995). See De Boever. A Wave (Manchester: Carcanet. WGA. trans. See also MWE. The New Sentence (New York: Roof Books. trans. A History of European Versification. Alexander Pope. 1984). before and after thought (penso). For more on the right-hand margin in poetry.” the presence of being to the side. Julia Kristeva. 84–119. John Ashbery. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press. “The Suspended Substantive: On Animals and Men in Giorgio Agamben’s The Open. 14. 216 . Gerald Stanton Smith and Marina Tarlinskaja (Oxford: Clarendon Press.

SAQ. see LPN.” Contemporary Literature 48. I believe. although I do not remember ever mentioning it. 108. Weller is in agreement. Could it be he knew of my work even before we met? It seems unlikely. 142. 4 (2007). THE TURN OF THINKING 1 2 3 For an analysis of poiesis in relation to modernity see Colebrook. no. 499–529. 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.NOTES RECURSION. 217 .

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111. 126–34. 210n.19 Profanations 41–3. 204n.18. 67–8. 210n. 91–7.18. 216n.29 Potentialities 43.15.12 Infancy and History 4–5.29. 95.4. 20–2. 7–12. 209n.5. 209n. 206n. 212n. 209n. 204n.15. 87. 58–9. 209n. 209n.30 The Coming Community 63–6 180–2.n.13. 216n. 45.8 Ninfe 210n. 205n. 71–2. 158.10. 47–9. 124.5 Means Without Ends 58. 123. 213n.18. 143–4. 212n.25. 92. 47. 98.10. 205n.15. 18. 204n.7. 215n.1.11.4. 25. 215n. 208n. 182–3. 37.5 Homo Sacer 1. 204n. 12–13. 89–90 aesthetics 16. 209n. 213n.19. 204n. 30. 13. 212n. 100–14.31.22. 206n. 149. 32. 204n. 45–7. 189–92. 209n. 59.12. 204n. 205n. 133. 209n.34.33.12.26.13. 157.1.5. 212n. 205n. 204n. 100–9. 24. 208n. 64–6.33.2.4. 54–64.21. 209n. 205n.23. 89. 5. 206n. 209n. 148–9. 169–71.9.18.12. 113. 205n.6 The Man Without Content 45–6.27. 89. 123.15 Adorno.12 State of Exception 171. 210n. 146. 213n. 47. 143.16. 208n. 213n. 203n. 209n. 141. 122–4.11 integral actuality 54–7. 211n.6. 187–8. 67. 163. 208n. 207n.15. Theodor 29. 210n. 61–2.13. 166–7.19.12. 196 as poetic spacing 137–8.15.18 . 72.33.29 The Open 5. 83–4. 216n. 171. 212n. 135–9. 204n. 229 “K” 213. 48. 204n.INDEX abyss between poetry philosophy 45–7. 209n. 210n.28 Idea of Prose 33–6. 206n. 79–86.15.18 Agamben.15.22 Idea della prosa 210n.24. 174–80. 210n. 210n. 213n. 210n. 125.10. 8–9. 158 actuality 43–4.35.7 Language and Death 2.6.1 Il sacramento del linguaggio 215n.3. 152. 212n. 36–7. 211n. 205n.7 The End of the Poem 32. 206n.7 Stanzas 14–19.18 Signatura rerum 213n. 54. 206n. 206n.9. 81–3. 209n.15. 207n.2 Remnants of Auschwitz 26–32. Giorgio Bartleby 210n.32. 161. 212n. 139. 91.

197. 70–4. Matthew 204n. 216n.24. 64. 98.2 Cohen. 168. 178. 106. 155.3. 122–4. 102.15.1. 189–92 Arnaut.10 biopolitical 1.26 230 Balzac. 216n. 110–13. 27–8. 122 aletheia (truth as unveiled or unconcealed) 28. 99. 128. 117. 95 Benjamin. 189. 58. 150. 71. 215n. 146–7 . 138.4 criticism 16. 174–80 appropriation 7. 102. 154. 149.9 Cooke.32. 69. 212n.6. 216n. 149 as not 68. 212n. 156–7. Giorgio (Cont’d) The Time That Remains 88–94. 164. 3. 106. 165. 103. 90. 215n.38. 215n. 206n. 163. 68–9. 215n. 193.4. 91. 79–91. M.33. 120–1 Browning.9. 50. 170. 207n. Steven 206n. 137. 95. 152. 201.34 corn (tip/corner) 186–8 couplet 130. 111. 214n. 206n. 98.10 lieu commun 85. 168–72 creation 16. 100–14 as if 88–94. 207n. 48–51. 152 ¯ ¯ Ashbery. 12–13. Alain 29. 132.2.3. 101–2. 87.6 Attridge.4 anaphora/cataphora matrix 21. 150. 92–3.8. Alexander 210n. Claire 211n. 73–5.18 Benjamin. 184 bringing forth 70. 181 bios 1.18 aura 92–7. 118. 207n. 27. Robert 203n. 71–6. Charles 78–9. 63. 210n. 57.17 Bakhtin. 83–6 arche-presence 86.9 Caton. 200 animal 5–8. 77. 119. 196 apotropaic 48–51. 176 anaphora 21. 212n. 95.44.4. M.43. Josh 208n. 157.19 Celan 33–4. 63–5. 108. 53–7.30 Bernstein. John 102. 70–4. 94. 213n. 10. 98.9. 208n.39 anti-poiesis 83–114. 132. 157. 210n.3 Calarco. 210n. 178–9.INDEX Agamben. 107. 175. 146–54. 79. 144. 59–60.1 communicability 6.19 Clemens. 165.15 caesura 13–14. 146. 209n. 166–93. 18. 108 Badiou. 210n. 207n. 64. 206n. 81–2.8. Walter 9.15. 133. 211n. 120. 135. Justin 204n. 212n.12. 105. 20–5.6 Colebrook.17 Benveniste. 213n.15 Akhmatova. 145 Aristotle 17. 79. 204n. 125. 146–7. 97. 109. 211n. 60. 134. 146. 212n.4 Burger. Derek 213n. 215n. 152.41 Buch. Andrew 207n. 159. 86.42. 147. 205n. Honoré de 104 Bartleby 43. Peter 103. 159. 43–5. 92. Émile 23. 161. 16. 29. 98. 66. Charles 95. Anna 64–5. 153. 132.39 boustrophedonic 139–45. 196. 31. 65–6.17. 204n. 209n. Robert 30. 161. 212n. 62–6. 142. 210n. 206n.10. 171. 41–4. 86. 128. 54–5. 131. 83–6.29. 187 artist 16. 76. 73. 199. 82 Hos me 88–94.20. 213n. 122. 31. Daniel 154. 211n.34 Baudelaire. 211n. 144–9. 197. 16. 197 arche (authentic origin) 49–50. 207n. 211n.

54. 27. Marcel 67. 80–1. 211n. 111–13. 47–8. 210n. 96. David 212n.8 event 24. 47. 210n.INDEX Damascius 61–2. Johanna 214n.8. 203n. 60. 51. 207n. 196.31 enigma 176–80 enjambement 14. 146 figural 148–53. 205n. 199. 216n. 213n. 149.26 . 109. 192. 216n. 25. 195 expropriation 31. 210n.21.34. 19. 46. 198 Fraser. 160.15. 6. 206n.46. 24–5.6. 26–7. 29. 206n. 87–8.26 Gasparov. 88. 135. 130. 128. 106–13.24. 106 Drucker. 168. 131. 123. 209n. 118. 123.24 Düttmann. Marc 210n. 134. 58–65. 124. 180–1. 56–7. 132 fiction 89–90. 125–6. 211n. 144. 24–37. 137–8.15. 30. 33. 191–2. 215n.18. Andrew 204n. 212n. 182. 182.3 disinterest 101–3. 147. 121. 162. 213n. 147.14 Duchamp. 208n. 42. 88–90. 94–7. 199. Michel 41. 141 Dillon. 129. 152–3. 122 Dante 32.1 Gaston. 105.29 Deranty.14. Jacques 12. 208n. 86. 203n. 172–3. 158–60. 132.14 Docherty.4 epoch 53. 123.5. 192. 207n. 181. 106.6 DuPlessis. 107. gestell) 78. 205n. 8–13. 67–8. 117.36 gesture 20. 127–8.6 Froment-Meurice.16. Alexander García 50. 187. 35. 156. 15. 210n. 29.9 desubjectivization 23–32. 31.24 Formis. 165. 193. 53–4. 196 différance 13. 42.12. 64–5. 106. 173–4.1. 215n.32 genius 67–9. 106.19 Foucault. 53. 215n.22. 32–8. 29–31. 46. 156. 215n. 127. 188. 92. 201 form-of-life 58. 182–3. 185. 212n. 178. 145. 186. 153.3 deixis 20–3. 199. 185. Sean 205n.4 Derrida. Barbara 206n.9. 208n. 208n. 150. 205n. 67. 106. 57. 82–3.4. 188 Edkins.18. 29–32. 37. 45–8. 62. 215n. 73. 88.1 framing (parergon. 159. 22. 113. 164–5. 79. 137. Jenny 203n. 126. 195. 88. 77–9. 85. 192. 67.5 De La Durantaye. 96–7.2. 76. Mikhail Leonovich 216n.5 gag 59–60. 197. Robert 207n. 145–6. 191 ex nihilo (creation) 69. 107. 149–50.17. 53.10 dictation 28. 109. 135–66. 13. 216n. 131. 145. 170. 134. Thomas 205n. 42. 186 Davis. 209n. 215n. 105. 165. 106. Rachel Blau 206n. 125. 94. 72. Colin 205n. 209n.31. 168–75.42 ease 180–5. 128–9. 67–8. 112. 43.16. 206n. 130. 209n. 31. 23–5.11 231 enunciation 6. 191. 98. 126.15 Eaglestone.12 De Boever. 19.33. 208n. 179. 41–3. 208n. 97. 141.18. Jean-Philippe 203n. Leland 208n. 93. 170. 126–7. 57.17 entelechy 81–3. 173. Anne 209n. 164 finitude 20. 146.4 experience 4. 157.

Thomas 141 Guillaume. 212n.9 The Question Concerning Technology 12.6. 212n. 55. 57.6. 46.19 Heidegger. 33.13 Habermas. 52–4. 205n. 213n. 87. 206n. 209n.11 Heraclitus 47.34. 206n. 216n. 205n. 196–9. 206n. 102. 90. 70. 20–3.18 Kalyvas. 174. 25. 67. 133–4. 22. 79.32. 174–5 Heron.15 Johnson. W. 73. 96. 141. 54. 77. 161. 207n. Language.17. 32. 212n. 59–60 Kristeva.1. 165.27 infancy 6–17. 205n. 25–6.22. Rainer Maria 203n. Nicholas 209n. 165.INDEX glossolalia (babble. Immanuel 9.19 human 5–15.16. 178. 76. 122. 210n. G. 201. 124 Kiesow.11. 100. 131–2. 199. 145. 63. 87.1 kle sis 88–9. 135. 138. 170 see also indifference ineffable 9–13. 205n. 37. 107–13. 194–5 indistinction 1. 215n. 118–25. 20. 161 inspiration 32. 51.8.1 Gray.1.4 Keats. 148. 20. 71. 59–60. 136. 211n. 205n. 167. 36.36. 146. 214n. 214n. 198.2 Kant.27 Gould. 77. 213n. 210n.18 Being and Time 22. 159.9 Hölderlin 47. 147. 57. 169–70.7 On the Way to Language 122. 28. 215n. 22–6. Julia 214n. 75.32 Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’ 198–9. 63. 191–2. 133. 12.39 Ideal Form (eidos) 80–6. 16. 37–8. 34. 74. 99.4. 138. 197. 214n. 113. Paul 212n. 203n. 210n. 98. 35–8. Jürgen 109 habit 129–34.39 Godzich. 54–7. 216n. 58. 162. 211n. 120. 20. 47. 113. 63.6. 134. Franz 106. 143–5.27. 145–8. 38. 207n. 210n. 19. 153. Thought 70. 207n. Martin 12–14. 37. 73. 179. 77. 121. 120. 190. 35. 152. 124.16. John 26–7.15. 60. 70–9. 125 see also desubjectivization and dictation indifference 17.16. 157. 57. 99–101.10 judgement 11. Wlad and Jeffrey Kittay 20.7. 151. 204n. Max 47. 38.22. 100–1. 210n.16 Poetry. 174 having see habit and appropriation Hegarty. 107–11 Kaufman. 211n. 20–3. 195 integral actuality 54–5. Andreas 211n. 18.3 232 hesitation 156–8. 212n.8.25. 181 ¯ Kommerell. 80. 67. 215n. 190 impersonality 30. 94.9 .20 Hegel. 125–6. 170. 214n. 215n. 107–12. 204n.1. 211n. Babel) 29–31. 161–2. Gustave 151 Gulli. 204n. 204n. 207n. 157. 36. 22. 101. 215n. Glenn 65–6.32.8. 77.8 Halliburton. 30. David 119 harmonia 47. 201. 205n. 122 gramma (grammatology) 140–1. 198–9. 86. F. Eleanor 203n. 117. 45. 146 Kafka. 77. Bruno 209n. 178.1 history 8. 108.15. 155. 205n.17. David E. 17. 50. 30. 99.

Deborah 209n. 173. 56. 155. 167. 215n. 91. 45–6. 49–52. 36–8. 183.22 negation/negativity 2–3. 106–7.20. 213n.12. Dominick 203n. 191.8 Mills. 196. 45.3 Nietzsche.16 that there is 4–40. William 204n. 195–7. 211n. Colin 203n. 166. 102–3. 160.24 Lyotard. 153. 90. 213n. 211n. 6.15. 210n. 50–1. 188–9. 204n. 199–201.11 Lyons. 145. 179. 16–17. 196. 48. Alex 205n. 179 Levitt.13 Muse 27. 107. 83–116. 157.18 morphe 79–81 Murray. 129–34 museum 78. 47. 45–7.48. 165. 32. 182–5. 103–4. 153.19 Marion. 92. Stéphane 58. 204n. 92–4. 144–6. 211n. 89. 204n. 105. 144. 103. 206n. 198–9 and modernity 85. 6 as medium 53. 113. 209n. 145. 193. Jean-François 52. 167.1 Lacoue-Labarthe. 35–6.45 Lovitt. 74. 69. 67. 69. 211n. 196. 125. 209n.5 nihilism 3. 216n. 21. 145.20 . 203n.24 logopoiesis 77. 55–66. Giacomo “L’infinito” 124–34. 117–34. 82–3. 82. 88. 136.6. 176–7. 53. 143. 54. 87–91. 118.1. 131. 76–9. 148. 213n.21 life 1–2. 128. Jean-Luc 29. 128–9. 89. 80. 12.1 Laclau. 16.3 modernity 1. 106. 25. 191.18. 193. 57–8. 203n. 32. John 206n.8. 107–14. 129. 117. 157. 128. 213n. 212n. 72. 197. 209n. 206n.2. 195 Negri. 117. 91.42. 35–7. 108–9. 132.3.2 measure 97. 204n. Friedrich 42. 144–56. 28. 122 thing of thought as such 49–50. 212n. 136. 169–70. 141. 8. 169–71.44.6 Matisse. 200. 67. 15. 210n. and subjectivity 25–8. 131–4. 211n. 209n. Simon 213n.13. 174 233 messianism 16. 76. 10. 179–80.1 Morgan Wortham. 133–4. Catherine 26. 118. 122. 96–8. 174 modern art 46. 196. 110 Malevich 106.11.6. 201. 63. 76. 13. 85–6. 179 love 14. Antonio 2.17 Mallarmé. 129. 114. 160. 65. 160. 16.13 Nancy. 89. 215n. 101–14. 44–6. 25.19 logos 8. 118–21. 123–4. 64–7. 63. John 169. 88–93. 157. 6. 17. 33. 103. 67. 99.15. 209n. 208n.2. 100–3. 30.1. 196 Leopardi.3. 55. 199. 8. 158. 195–6. 11.18 Milton. 35–7. 99.INDEX LaCapra. 214n. Ernesto 203n. 11. 41–68. 208n. 215n. 169. 135. 9. 26. 57. 149. 20–3. Henri “Back” 76 McQuillan.12. 22. 195 experimentum linguae 4.10 language experience of 10–11. 203n. 208n. 20. Phillipe 29. Esther Norma 212n. 128. 184.21 Musil. 204n. 54. 90. 57. 207n. 166. 155. 167. Robert 83 name 9–10. 72–3. 171–5. 147. 196.

39. 61. 5. 140. 137–43. 133. 96. Arthur 26–7. 191. 43–4. 191–3. 48–9. 167. 181. 86. 105–6. 44. 135. 159–60. 137. 162. 137–40. 69. 213n. 30–1. 81. 106. 127. 120. 163.19. 137–46. 155–62. 28. 211n. 99. 144. 120–1. 152–3 periplus 132–3. 146–9. 126. 92–8 revelation 52–3 rhetorician 104–6 rhyme 14. 141. 69–87. 144–5. 198–9 philology 2. 125.INDEX Norris. 211n. 169.4 presupposition 9. 42–6. 114. 154–74. 113–14. 210n. 90. 163–4. 133. 11. 98. 195–7. 88. 20–1. 24.7 Noys. 138. 173. 136. 97.4. 27. 170. 58. 21. 124. 128–9. 145. 79–81.11 Pound. 184. Benjamin 203n. 192–3.1 Paul 29. 153–5. 51. 186. 132–4. 122. 201 metrical-musical element (poetry) 128.8 Rimbaud. 211n. 43. 198–9. 33. 208n. 58–9. 184–7. 132. 123–4. 130. 170. 175.4 Plato 14. 117–18. 164–5. 157. 195. 51. 195–6 planar 128. 55. 215n. 79. 8.1 ontology 5–6. 113. Alexander 168–72 potential 13. 129.1 anti. 86. 58–60. 179 Pinker. 207n. 183. 155. 91. 100. 193. 151. 60. 169–70.6.40. 178–9.3 Idea of 54–7. 137. 172.33. 35. 171. 28. 129–31. 79. 204n.87–116 pop art 85. 62. 205n. 144. 88. 31. 160. 207n. 74–5. 207n. 17. 79. 209n. 153. 142–4. 93 reproducibility 84–6. 200–1 recursive-projection 21. 206n. 104–5. 63–4. 67. 197. William 211n. 213n. 146. 121.4 Pacman 159 parable 148–9.47 ready-made 85. 112. 178. 71–2.1 prose 15. 47. 145. 206n. 153. 149. 195. 144. 215n. 175. 169 production 58. 122. 117–18. 130.1. 156. 167.9. 167. 139. 23–8. 211n. 210n. 72. 67. 12–13. 186–8.27. 52.1 praxis 58. 44–5. 50. 13.19. 211n. Ezra 102. 192. 129. 103–8. line 79. 144–5. 166. 44–8. 172. 154. 93 Pope. 145–6. 192 poem body 44. 210n. 113 . 32. 214n. 170. 102. 71–3. 134. 53. 132. 71–5.27. 49.9 poetry advent 126–33. 28. 206n. 128–9. 81–3. 17. 87–90. 214n.16. 143. Stephen 214n. 216n. Andrew 214n. 200. 173 poetry and philosophy 14.18 Rasch. 209n. 32. 197. 168–9. 94. 34–5. 88–92. 107–9. 48. 186 phone 8. 193. 183–92. 191. 22. 163. 79. 35–7. 152 passivity 30. 134. 83. 60. 197.1 razo de trobar 32. 210n.25.34. 208n. 45. 63–8. 62–3. 188.40.17. 49–57. 138. 63–6. 156. 29. 180. 17.11 234 poiesis 3. 214n. 101–2. 178–9. 208n. 37.1. 172. 140–1. 173 end of 135–9.

173–5. 105–6. 138. 72. 150. 110–11. 56.4 techne 73–86. 178–9. 146–7. 162.6 stil novist 14. 117–34.11 ergon 158–60. 144. 97. 63–4.8 taste 99–103. 171–2. 160. 77. 83. 178–88. 199–201. 27–8. 164–5. 32.4. 70. 188. 77–8. 24. 17. 206n. 212n. 199 semiotic 6. 144. 65. 136. 184.42 time/temporality chronos 145.12. Bernard 211n. 22–3. 149. 144–5. 155. 178–9. 28. 146. 149–53 linear time 87. 137–8. Lee 205n.4 terror 99–106 thing. 197. 30. 97–9. 99. 160–9. 30. 172–4. 173 eschaton 88. 207n. 155–62. 131–2. 28. 159–60. 47–8. 111–12. 175–9. 128. 192.21. 167. 194. 169. 127. 60. 71. 124. 210n. 122. 32. 201. 215n. 179. 214n.9 Troubador 14–17. 125–8. 154. 13–19.19 stanza 13–17. 186 turn see enjambment and verse . 11. 124. 156. 19. 60–8. 48. 174–5. 193. 154. 182.27. 172. 9. 37. 35.5 Saussure. 172. 122. 23. 28. 55–6. 136–44. 120–1. 92. 21. 184 silence 8. 206n. 212n. 133–4. 197. 136–43. 199–201. 125. 157–8. 155–6. 149. 169. 108. 140. 149. 195. 110–11 tautegorical 52. 201. 133. 94–104.46. 60. 143. 46. 208n. 216n.47. 131. 32–3. 174 Thurschwell. 185 tabular 64. 80. Ferdinand de 17. 121 tension 35. 75. 55. 140. 108–9. 214n. 19.3. 105–6. 125. 211n. 150. 200. Nicholas 203n. 199 sovereignty 1–2. 46. 199. 192.6 Spinks. 150.39 space 14. 197.3 Royle. 184–9. 131. 184–8. 149–50. 161. 152–65. 26–32. 122.4 sestina 154–5. 67. 177–80. 141. 106. 187 shock 94–7. 46. 145. 197. 133. art 75–7 thing as such of thought 49. 136–9. 211n. 48. 54. 20. 208n. 197. 32. 160. 59. 165. 171. 107–8 sign 17–22. 51–2. 127. 158. 142. 167–72. 158–64. 113. 134–5. 127. 149. 170. 188. 131.20 Silliman. 207n.10 singularity 5. 45–6. 57. 153. 212n. 34. 169. 133. Adam 203n. 99. 216n. 181–3. 142. 194 semantic 27–9. 84. 131. 196 235 state of exception 1 Stiegler. 154. 56–7. 6. 185. 163 and space 20. 186–7. 63. 188. 172. 57. 93–7. 109. 27 scission 2. 83. 56. 53. 84. 165. 61. 127–9. 114. 173.INDEX Romanticism 69. 211n. 43. 117–18. 135. 182 tablet 44. 205n. 31. 149. 117. 167. 130. 12. 97–8. 80. 199. 149. 85. 133. 150–4. 192 operational time 150–3. 166–93. Ron 206n. 151 tautology 6.11 kairos 145. 196. 32.15. 201 tone/tonos 163–4 transmissibility 30. 35–7. 125.

Slavoj 210n.15 Zizek. 186.5 Walser. 59. Julian 208n.1 van Gogh. 30. 207n. Paul 56. 28.10 Wall. Irving 209n.20.24.2 whatever (quodlibet) 63–5 Whitehead. 166–7. 208n.44.47.13. Krzysztof 205n. 21–5. Derek H.20 voice 3–8. 8 236 . 207n. 177.39 zoon logon echon 5. 152. 7. 213n.INDEX uncanny 2. 209n. 45–8.36. 171. 82.11 Weller. 75. 168. 125. 133. 207n. 33. 215n.36 Ziarek.21. 216n.39 Zartaloudis. 206n.27. 212n.34 zoe 1.5 Valéry. 140–4. 208n. 213n.10. 214n. 157–8. 207n. 199.7 Wohlfarth. Thomas Carl 207n. 103. Robert 122 Warhol. 12. 212n. Shane 206n. 173–5.33. 128. 204n.6. 199. 216n.45 work see praxis and entelechy writer’s block 67–8 xenoglossia 29–30. 135–65. William 204n.15 Wolfreys. Andy 93 Watkin. 179. Vincent 70. Erik 203n. 178. 205n. Thanos 210n.1. 201 Vogt.21.37. 211n. 206n. 102 Varro 58 verse as versus 128–34.

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