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THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Philosophy, Aesthetics and Cultural Theory Series Editor: Hugh J. Silverman, Stony Brook University, USA The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Cultural Theory series examines the encounter between contemporary Continental philosophy and aesthetic and cultural theory. Each book in the series explores an exciting new direction in philosophical aesthetics or cultural theory, identifying the most important and pressing issues in Continental philosophy today. Derrida, Literature and War, Sean Gaston Foucault’s Philosophy of Art, Joseph J. Tanke Philosophy and the Book, Daniel Selcer
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS
Continuum International Publishing Group The Tower Building 80 Maiden Lane 11 York Road Suite 704 London SE1 7NX New York, NY 10038 www.continuumbooks.com © William Watkin 2010 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: HB: 978-1-8470-6452-3 PB: 978-0-8264-4324-3 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Watkin, William, 1970– The literary Agamben: adventures in logopoiesis / William Watkin. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN-13: 978-1-84706-452-3 (hbk.) ISBN-10: 1-84706-452-3 (hbk.) ISBN-13: 978-0-8264-4324-3 (pbk.) ISBN-10: 0-8264-4324-9 (pbk.) 1. Agamben, Giorgio, 1942–Knowledge–Literature. 2. Literature–Philosophy. I. Title. B3611.A44W37 2010 2009030741 195–dc22
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a Emilia e Luca “Long have we laboured in miracle realms” .
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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 Idea of Prose Poetic Gestures The Tablet. Thinking Thought Poetic Thinking Poetry and Philosophy Communicability. 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 Tautology The Logo-Poiesis Tautology The Exemplary Tautology of Logopoiesis Infinite Poetry The Habits of the Muse Chapter 5 Enjambement. Shape Entelechy Arche. Modern Anti-Poiesis Chapter 3 Modernity. Thinking through Making Poiesis Praxis Techne The Art Thing Finitude Morphe. 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. 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 . The Messianic As Not ˉ Messianic Kairos Messianic Rhyme An Endless Falling Into Silence Tension: The One Line Chapter 6 Caesura.
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. the writing of this book coincided with the birth of my daughter . and aids to translation. Dearest Barbara. miraculous year. Chapter Two was presented as a seminar at Brunel University in March 2009. Language and Death © 1991 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota. living with someone so much more intelligent than I. granted by permission of Georges Borchardt. and Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy © 1999 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. the title of this book is his. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. Copyright © 1981. not merely because of the incredible support she has given me over this past. 1984 by John Ashbery.. x . So it is that the last but also always the first expression of gratitude as ever goes to my wife. Inc. but also for her many comments. on behalf of the author. . and Sarah Campbell. 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. that is truly living. whose careful stewardship of the book in its latter stages was much appreciated. University. The Man Without Content. and my son. intense. suggestions. Barbara Montanari. I greatly appreciate the questions and remarks that followed which encouraged but also challenged me. 1982. Reprint of the final stanza from “Down By the Station Early in the Morning” from A WAVE by John Ashbery. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks are due to my editors Hugh Silverman. 1983. Obvious it is that sharing a house with an Italian is useful when writing a book on Agamben. Permission to use “Warrant” granted by Charles Bernstein. . I must also thank Brunel University for granting me a year-long sabbatical to complete this work.
“Agamben’s Potential. trans. Giorgio Agamben. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience (1978). 2 (2000). Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry (1981). trans. trans. PA: Bucknell University Press. xi . Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press. no. Giorgio Agamben. 2005). Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. The End of the Poem (1996). trans. Idea of Prose (1985). 2000). trans. 2007). In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. 1993). trans. 2001). Handbook of Inaesthetics (1998). trans.” Diacritics 30. Giorgio Agamben. Alain Badiou. trans. trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. Alain Badiou. The Century (2005). Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1996).LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS AP BT C CC EHP EP HI HS IH IP IPP Leland De La Durantaye. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Giorgio Agamben. Being and Time (1953). Giorgio Agamben. 1999). Liz Heron (London: Verso. The Coming Community (1990). William Watkin. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 3–24. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1995). 1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995). 1993). Martin Heidegger.
344–364. MP Alain Badiou. 1971). Margins of Philosophy (1972). 2005). trans. OWL Martin Heidegger. 2008). Shklovsky. MofP William Watkin. Politics. 1982). 2008). 2004). trans. Multiple Arts. 1999). 2000). Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer (Durham. trans. 1994). LD Giorgio Agamben. Means Without Ends (1996). 1999). Thought. Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Language. trans. The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. ed. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity (1982). Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. MA Jean-Luc Nancy. 2006). Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 1971). On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. PLT Martin Heidegger. The Open: Man and Animal (2002). Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. no. On the Way to Language (1959). Philosophy. Karen E. 1999). Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. MWC Giorgio Agamben. trans. P Potentialities (1999).” Paragraph 31. O Giorgio Agamben. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (1991). LPN Shane Weller. 2 (2002). Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. PA Catherine Mills. Simon Sparks (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Manifesto for Philosophy (1989). no. trans. M Jacques Derrida. PMD Andrew Norris ed. Muses II. 3 (2008). 2004). xii . “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the Work of Godzich & Kittay. trans.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS LAS Jean-François Lyotard. Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. N Giorgio Agamben. Silliman and Agamben. Para Paragraph 25. trans. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. The Man Without Content (1970). MWE Giorgio Agamben. 2008). Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. OM William Watkin. Poetry. NC: Duke University Press. 1991). trans. Literature.. trans. Peter D. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
blogspot. Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (1977). R Plato. 2008). trans. QCT Martin Heidegger. RP Thomas Carl Wall. ST Giorgio Agamben. SAQ The South Atlantic Quarterly 107. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. trans. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press.com/. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. Blanchot and Agamben (Albany: SUNY Press. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. and Alex Murray eds. The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. 1993). WWB William Watkin.. Radical Passivity: Lévinas. 2002). Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1999). WGA Justin Clemens. 2008). 2007). 1999). The Question Concerning Technology. TP John Ashbery. trans. 2005). trans. Nicholas Heron. 1993). Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. Sovereignty and Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1 (2008). Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. trans. Three Poems (New York: Penguin. Literature. xiii . trans. SP Alexander Pope. 2008). trans. 2007).no. 2005). SL Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli eds. 1977). State of Exception (2003). Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. SE Giorgio Agamben. Ronald L. http://williamwatkin. Republic. Profanations (2005). William Watkin’s Blog. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. RA Giorgio Agamben. TTR The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (2000).LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS Prof Giorgio Agamben.
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often unremittingly negative critique of our Western modernity in terms of the political and its relation to life. the homo sacer. is overseen by sovereign power. through which he likens our advanced democracies to living in a camp. In the complex and. the homo sacer and our current “state of exception. whose sacred life was the possession and legitimization of the sovereign ready to be forfeited at any point without fear of legal repercussion. what Agamben calls the biopolitical. The sovereign’s legitimacy extends from the power of the state to reduce our existence to bare life or life as mere survival. perhaps. now stretched to six volumes or around a third of his total published output. makes of us that most despised figure from Roman law.” he presents a convincing cartography of the political in our age that is. In particular through the consideration of sovereignty. typically. 1 .EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (b. 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. confrontational studies that make up the ongoing Homo Sacer project Agamben proposes a radical. In this work Agamben presents his critique of our political modernity as a permanent state of exception/emergency. Like the homo sacer. 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. bare life. This extended study of the categories of the political and modernity continues apace. Living perpetually in this denuded zone of indistinction between biological existence as such (zoé) and our social life (bios). That exception has become the norm is the basis of Agamben’s savage attack on our biopolitical modernity. This state of exception.
ponders. the uncanny unwelcome guest at the intimate if troubled feast that rages still tête-à-tête between metaphysics and politics. 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. and the one about whom I will have the least to say in the chapters that follow. attains the power of being (that is. destining.1 Antonio Negri. one of Agamben’s great productive antagonists. unless under the auspices of dialectical resolution or archeunity. where he is perpetually forced into a confrontation with the idea of death. who.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN the leading revolutionary political theory that we have.5 Thus Negri. These are the metaphysical and the political Agambens respectively. There is the one who lingers in the existential. This is the Agamben we are most familiar with. 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. 111). by manipulating and constructing them). through immersion in the work of philology and linguistic analysis. And there is another Agamben. instead opens the door to just such a possibility of tertiary ruination. 2 . Canny enough perhaps. rather infamously:2 It seems there are two Agambens. so desperate to negate the third Agamben. 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. sometimes so marked it is suggestive of the possibility that there are more Agambens out there writing philosophy than was first assumed. one a philosopher of negative being and the other an etymo-philologer and habitué of material clues. for example. Numerous critics have noted a seemingly contradictory bifurcation in the Agamben methodology.4 This enforced subjective scission is strategic. Away from the political/materialist Agamben there is another Agamben. the literary Agamben. but no one can fully suppress the ability of the uncanny to undermine studiously erected structures of identity. and terrifying shadows.3 Negri is far from alone in asserting that “Agamben” is a homonymic moniker referring to two thinkers of radical dissimilarity.
Effectively. the literary Agamben. an absolute voice.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. muted by the clamour of the bios. inasmuch as it endures as the only power of this dissolved universe” (SL. and yet always persistent and quietly insistent. to the tones of the tern. adventurer in poiesis.6 3 . it is now poiesis. intimidated by the sovereignty of metaphysical thought. that the following pages wish to augment. absolved of the negativity of which it had been the bearer. It is this voice. if you will. 113–14). Attend then. beyond the learnéd and almost overwhelming conversation between the two Agambens and his many critics.
” In this thin sheaf of pages he explains that he is undertaking an experiment with language “in the true meaning of the words. his metaphysics and. however. to make language appear before us such 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. in which one can encounter the pure exteriority of language” (IH. . past and future. 5). he suggests. most pertinent to our study here. This risk-bound declaration of intent occurs in the short piece that prefaces Infancy and History (1978) entitled “Experimentum Linguae. requires that one “venture into a perfectly empty dimension . 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. .” Such an experience. cannot think its chirping. unbelievably obdurate for it is undoubtedly true that the questioning of the presence of language remains at the heart of Agamben’s political thinking. clearly. 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. is able to predict the guiding topic of all one’s books. Who. 30 years later one has to concede that the young thinker was either preternaturally prescient or.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE (The cricket. written and unwritten?3 Now. in which what is experienced is language itself. in the preface to his third book. over the years. in its full material yet voided exteriority. a characteristically confident Giorgio Agamben declares: “In both my written and unwritten books. to let language speak 4 .4 To see language as it is. after all.)1 At the age of 36.
In this incorporated and yet incorporeal work he asks: “Is there a human voice. the possession of voice/language by the animal and the privation of voice in the human. . or better drama. what does it mean to live as a human being.5 It is the nexus wherein his great ontological question. up to this point. . one will take his word for it that this is also the case. As for the unwritten. oversteps the threshold of his other great demand that primarily occupies the first two decades or so of his career. 4). La voce umana (the human voice). what does it mean to have language. if there is a human voice. where does this lead the classic philosophical definition of the human as zoon logon echon or “the living being which has ¯ ¯ language”? (IH. 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. 5 . 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. The first of these is extrapolated from an. 3).6 not posed until many years later.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. and Agamben has indeed not yet done so. and if we do not find a human voice. The two interlocutions are. bundled together in what might be termed his interim request. in effect.?” (IH. To understand the relation between thought and literature through their complex. unpublished fragment of another great work Agamben never wrote. returns again and again in Agamben’s early work. This unusual rumination leads to a series of related questions such as. 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). 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. is this what we humans mean by language. This theme. what is the relationship between voice and language in this regard. differential.
and voice is therefore foundational. negation. and language’s materiality. and second they are pre-possessed of their voice as soon as they come into being. The cold light cast by this stelliform compound reveals for us linguistic exteriority defined as the very existence. First. 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. or as-such-ness. what order of communication. (The difference between speech. purely exterior landscape of language as such.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Consistent with Negri’s remark and the critical community’s claims of the two Agambens. Aside from the obvious fact that literature is composed of language and constitutes a profound experience with language. language. 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. and our acquisition of a voice. 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. Agamben uses the term infancy in his early work to describe an interim state between our pure state of grace in language. tautological. 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. the role of language in subjective enunciation.7 What kind of language. 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 . however. Infancy as a concept originates in the observable phenomenon that humans learn to speak whereas animals do not in two significant ways. of language: communicability or a language that communicates itself without communicating any specific thing. enunciation.) Infancy does not describe our actual early childhood. Acquisition of voice. the dependence of metaphysical definitions of language on division and negation. echoing that of the animal. is this solipsistic. they do not actually speak although they do possess language. scission.
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. Unlike the metaphysical tradition Agamben is not at ease with the Aristotelian definition of human being as zoon logon echon. their being. or a cricket’s chirping one also names the animal’s language and. One can say the cricket chirps but not the human “. Man.8 In one basic sense infancy captures the process wherein human animals learn. . 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. the human has no voice of its own. then man’s nature is split at its source. if language is truly man’s nature . by preceding speech. For the animal. or have speech foisted upon them. by implication. for infancy brings it discontinuity and the difference between language and discourse. or at least he is uncomfortable with the uncritical ¯ ¯ acceptance of this formulation within philosophy. . a dog’s bark. . Thus. as indeed developmentally we seem to do. . regardless of our tireless encouragement. in order to speak. on the contrary. of all animals. as we saw. splits this single language and. This could be taken to mean how we come to language but this is not how Agamben views infancy.10 In contrast to this. 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. acquire. The historicity of the human being has its basis in this difference and discontinuity. and chimpanzees. Animals do not enter language. . If humans. (IH. by having an infancy. as humans acquire 7 . for that matter. they are already inside it. first.” Second. . instead. In disputation with the Aristotelian inheritance Agamben does not accept that animals are without language which. thus far have not. has to constitute himself as the subject of language–he has to say I.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE apparently not having a voice of their own such as one finds in the cricket. for example. they are always and totally language . language and speech are indivisible and when one speaks of an animal voice. are the only beings that are not born with a clearly identifiable voice then they must come to their voice or arrive at speech.
Infancy submits us to history expelling us from language as such and propelling us into a bifurcated sense of language as phone and logos. and finally as negation. a return to a pre-divided idea of a pure language. Life. and voice are therefore separate yet inseparable terms within Agamben’s thought. 8 . It would seem. and silence. is infancy. This is effectively the argument of Language and Death. or lack of it. then as subordination. Our entrance into this philosophical cul-de-sac is the fact that we humans have infancy. language-speech. from this. in a destinal and possibly liberationist historicization.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. the follow-up text to Infancy and History. and as a critique of the basis of modern thinking on negation. it is not the fact that we have language that defines our humanity.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN their voice a clear division between speech and language in the human animal develops. the way we have language is first as bifurcation. a period wherein we acquire speech.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. Yet it also involves us. first silencing language and then. In reality these two nascent states are simply two elements of an overall infancy as an ongoing process of being. Thus. In losing language we become a human being and alive. in seeking to regain language we create the possibility of becoming something like a post-human. and infancy as that which we must recuperate. that there are two infancies: infancy as that which we have lost. voice itself. speech over language. The only way out of this metaphysical dead end. forming the basis of the meaning of our possession of voice. eventually. language. this division and our awareness of it define human being as self-consciously different from all other beings. but the way in which we come to have it—not the zoon or the logon but the generally ignored echon ¯ ¯ that matters. Fourth. voice. Agamben argues. speech denies any experience of the nature of language as such comparable to the manner in which animals experience language. Third. 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. and this is a profoundly Heideggerian gesture.
“If every thought can be classified according to the way in which it articulates the question of the limits of language. presuppositionally negative (see LD. the unsaid and the ineffable. 4–6). 4). after Benjamin.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. to identify the singularity of language as such. “in which the limits of language are to be found not outside language. Kant calls this the “transcendental experience” of pure thought. namely that of the ineffable. the concept of infancy is then an attempt to think through these limits in a direction other than that of the vulgarly ineffable” (IH. “far from indicating the limit of language. It is a concept without a name and knowledge without an object.” a place where thought can go and language cannot. 9 . the unsayable being precisely what language must presuppose in order to signify” (IH. actually comes to name language for this tradition. Thought has become embroiled in thinking language in terms not of what it can say but of what it cannot. post-vocal divided language. as “not something ineffable but something superlatively sayable: the thing of language” (IH. In Language and Death specifically Agamben identifies a metaphysical reliance on ineffable unsayability as modern thinking’s greatest weakness leading philosophy into a reification of the unsayable as the negative basis for being in language. based on language. Ironically. instead “express its invincible power of presupposition. defining being and thinking along the way as first. the ineffable in philosophy. which seems to direct us towards pure thinking without language. 4). 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. This is our old friend the experimentum linguae which Agamben renames here infancy. For language to signify and thus become the human language we are all familiar with. Erdmann knowledge independent of sensibility (see IH. there must be reference to something that is not language that it signifies. 54–65). and second. In contrast to this tradition of negation Agamben involves himself in an experiment. As Agamben says. 4). 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. a thing or a truth to be known.
for if it is not named there can be no shortfall of plenitude. infancy names the problem of human experience. 6). a reification of the unspeakable. . Infancy first names our coming away from being animal. as a thinker. a morass it has proven impossible to escape from. 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. Rather than. Language as the basis of thought should be considered not in terms of what it cannot say. but in terms of what it can say if it does not refer to that which is outside of itself. 15–49).13 This problem has afflicted language for a good deal of time naming a clear division in philosophy between knowledge and experience. but also testing. that we need language to name it. pre. 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. rather it is language that is content-less speech. Agamben instead simply introjects the problem. as the pure fact that one speaks. that language exists” (IH. only to find that the name for such an experience is the ineffable or un-named as such.referential language. . 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. Finally. but in an experience of language as such. forcing the thinker to seek for a concept that cannot be named. even if all one is saying is that one can say something. This great quest to move beyond modern philosophical ineffability isolates a third and final issue in relation to infancy. language that says nothing other than here I am. “But what can an experience of this kind be? How can there be an experience not of an object but of language itself . thus concluding that language always remains insufficient to name objects. I am language. that which is outside of it (the referent). in its pure self-reference” (IH. but in naming it we find that the name never entirely renders the object.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the direction of its referent. 10 . It then indicates our ability to conceive of a pure thinking not in terms of what cannot be said but what can. in response to the problem that there is an object.or ir. or a typical conversation in a British pub towards closing time. experience me.
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. is by definition bifurcated. and then imposing unworkable unities to heal this rift is a habitual failing of Western thought. Either our experiences are so unique that they are one-off events that can hold no meaning for “the human experience” at large. 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). which he takes to be the experience of experience itself. or we observe events from the outside as judgemental critics. 8). namely as the imposition of scission as a means of creating human. via that infancy that dwells in the margin between language and discourse. evidenced by our endless pursuit of novel and new experiences. he concedes. denying that the event in question actually pertains to how we live. self-conscious subjectivity. Infancy reveals the confluence of language. In the modern age the division between the two meanings of experience is most profoundly felt. a form of thinking that does not look at language 11 . therefore. As he says: “In this sense what is experienced in the experimentum linguae is not merely an impossibility of saying: rather. as Agamben sees it. it is an experience. primordial being for whom the division between phone and logos has not yet come about. but Homo sapiens loquendi” (IH. Infancy names this third possibility: to maintain experience as knowing and as undergoing. Yet nor can it be experienced entirely from the inside as in some imagined.14 For Agamben the experience of language. Human language. is to undergo a new form of experience as testing or thinking. it is an impossibility of speaking from the basis of a language. Maintaining the false division. 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. between experience as knowledge and as going through.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 undergo an experience with language. thinking. of the very faculty or power of speech” (IH. defining human being as “neither Homo sapiens nor Homo loquens. cannot be undertaken exterior to language as he contends some philosophers have attempted.
If anything. therefore.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from the outside. 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. it opens up a zone that exists for thought and being between language as such and discourse. If Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics resides in the tradition’s obfuscation of authentic Being. 39–62). which is not only impossible to ascertain but also not what Agamben intends. and Derrida’s on its privileging of speech over writing. what does language say. accepting their division as a fact of our ontological Geschichte or deep history (see QCT. which we might call infant being. suggesting a developmental. is silenced.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. Infancy. and an in-between and constantly emergent human being. therefore. while Agamben is critical of both Heidegger and Derrida. 12 . yet refusing to succumb to the various aporias that have traditionally arrested the progression of thought on this matter. or psychosomatic empiricism behind our being with or having language. 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. 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. 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. a human defined as life. and what does it mean to experience something? Most specifically. One issue here is that the very choice of the name infancy is as confusing as it is illustrative. 24). In a way. but which accepts the presence of language as such as exteriority as such. 54–5). 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. zoological. our actual infancy is merely a useful developmental analogue for an ontological temporality of development that presupposes a pre-human. and the imposition of a voice through the agency of speech. said relation to language. or occupy language and seek for exterior referents.
much as Agamben might wish. 91). or the eradication of difference. for we are always in the world operating as already pre-divided beings. or better there are myriad differentiations to be made. 13 . although the term “before” needs careful reconsideration within what might be termed an ontological rather than historiographic or teleological temporality. Agamben sometimes writes it like this. is nonspeech (see LD. infancy is to be found within the human at all stages as both remnant of the animal and potential for the post-human. in other words. We must stress this is not the intention of infancy. 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. but is the reliance of metaphysics on difference as such. the ontological. and knowing. To live as human means. This is perhaps best illustrated by the etymological root of the word wherein fans originates from fari or to speak. is an ancient problem relating to how language names truth.17 This difference is not simply the difference between different technical senses of being in the work of one philosopher however. Infancy has little. but the asymmetric difference between experience. endless deferral. Human being is this ontological caesura (see O. the only remnant of the tradition that Heidegger leaves standing. to do with babies. Certainly there are many forms of difference. It cannot unify language and discourse into a single entity. It is our existence in language before the primary scission of language into phone and logos. and as such is an ontological state of speechlessness within language that precedes the potential human being’s emergence into actual humanity. THE STANZA In relation to Heidegger people often speak of the ontico-ontological difference between actual being-in-the-world. If infancy is to resolve this difference then its hands are tied to some degree. and being as such. Dasein. Nor can it choose language over discourse. simply put.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.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE Nor should one suggest that Agamben is recounting an actual historical series: animal-infant-human. Rather. reconfigured as the term différance.16 In a sense Derrida’s critical investigation of this difference. capitalized Being. collapses the last great frontier of metaphysics. 13–16 & 21–2). the ontic.
in its capacity. and his considerations of poetic space and rhyme. The 1977 volume Stanzas. For the troubadour poets the stanza was not just a structural designation but the “nucleus” of their poetry. 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. the troubadour concept of the stanza provides a model for discovering metaphysical truths within the very prosodic operations of the poem itself. which he regularly cites along with that of the stil novists as the origin of all modern poetics.” According to a conception that is only implicitly contained in the Platonic critique of poetry. xvi). By conflating a formal technique with a meta-thematic concern the troubadour stanza takes on the quality in poetry of a “receptive ‘womb’” (ST. The split is so fundamental to our cultural tradition that Plato could already declare it “an ancient enemy. 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. caesura. between the poetic word and the word of thought. defined as a “capacious dwelling. xvi). the 14 . 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. Students of Heidegger will immediately recognize this structure of imposed forgetting of the most important thing due to its assumed obviousness as Being. 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. but that has in modern times acquired a hegemonic character. namely the joi d’amor or unattainable joy of love. brackets this fascinating topic in major statements on language and philosophy. although taking as its main area of concern the art object. dwelling-stability. In a way this is true although Agamben prefers to call it scission: The scission in question is that between poetry and philosophy. a process Agamben emulates in his own work on the metaphysics of enjambement. The space of the stanza. “when in fact it is the only thing truly worth interrogating” (ST. for the entire tradition.and thirteenth-century troubadour tradition. xvi). In addition. receptacle” (ST.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Agamben’s first major intervention on language concerns linguistic scission as the precondition for the later establishment of infancy.
and philosophy entirely outside on the opposing side. dissatisfied word is the immaterialized insensible word of Western philosophy. The poetic word. This grave. by knowledge of what 15 . Poetry does not know what it has.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. alone. therefore. This is particularly because infancy resides between the poetic and philosophic word or. prose. Having said this. 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. xvii). poetry exists entirely in language on one side of the scission of the word. between language and discourse. Agamben. Within our tradition. Agamben clearly does not hypostatize poetry as an ideal. very early on in his career. as if fallen from the sky. the word is thus divided between a word that is unaware.19 Here he effectively substitutes poetry for a number of terms—language as such. because it can only experience language as going through or sustaining. Both are victims of the cruel scission at the heart of human language and neither. “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. 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. a direct experience of language as such within which resides the meaning of human being. while philosophy is able to test language it has no direct experience with language. 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. and enjoys the object of knowledge by representing it in beautiful form. holds the key to language’s capacious inner chamber. as we saw earlier. experience—some of which we have already considered. infant form of language. “In the West. Poetry’s tragedy is possession of the thing without knowledge of the thing. (ST. 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. stanza in Italian means room of course. for example.” We will take this word from now on to be the poetic word. therefore.
contains nothing. xvii). in modern aesthetics. but he is also something of a fatalistic thinker. so it is an ambiguous strength to say the least. 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. While criticism differs in kind to the stanza. The power of criticism emerges out of its collapsing and nihilization of the category of art. He does not. 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. but knows the representation. The stanza of criticism. through its empty capaciousness. 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. The stanza. a nothingness that protects art’s most precious object. as Agamben calls it in relation to modern poetry and art. xvii). both revealing it and rendering it inoperative. here. 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. Agamben explains that criticism is marked by a formula “according to which it neither represents nor knows. Just as the ancient stanza manifests. the missing thing of poetry via scission.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be possessed and/or possession of that which can never be known. that which it cannot possess. 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. Agamben is widely critical of the modern nihilistic tradition of valorizing negation. criticism. What he reveals for us in these early pages is the state of aesthetics in the modern age whether he likes it or not. and we will investigate it in detail in the chapters to come. whether in philosophy or.20 We are presented with a model 16 . For Agamben. one a modern quasi-philosophical discourse the other a historical prosodic-structural effect. 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. Further. he states most openly that the assumed problem of metaphysics is to be revealed there in that room.
What language is is portrayed in this impossibly contracted history of everything. and being. On the other is the philosophical word. but they are not genres at all. neutral medium. This location contains nothing specifically and in our age we have made the error of assuming that. this is just the inheritance of negativity from the metaphysics of scission. that is disguised. or how we have language. an error for which we suffer but which may also be a productive and generative errancy. This word is pure. poetic and philosophic.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE of generic languages. if disgruntled. 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. It exists as a containment space between opposing forces occupying the same zone of indifferent indistinction as infancy. art. Yet there is something “in the room. Agamben uses the figure of the stanza to bring this complex logic into relief. almost.” namely the room as such and while to us this appears as an empty and. The stanza is nothing other than a pure. On one side of the stanza is the poetic word. Rather their generic subdivision courtesy first of Plato and then of Aristotle. meaningless pleasure: phone. Agamben’s great project. this is pure. and third there never can be. and finally indicate the role poetry has to play in any future comments on metaphysics. The division between the two “words” is not so much imposed by Plato as reified. one must valorize negation as such. currently withheld from view. hopeless space. scission as stanza. language as scission. like being. Because we see that the room is empty we assume that first there is nothing in the room. is an attempt to veil the truth of the basis of all thought. leaving us with a dark legacy. knowing: logos. Language as such. because of this indistinction. 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 . on language. is. because it is Being. reveal its ubiquity across our culture. and a possible solution. or that there is language. in terms of the future. which all amount to the same thing. as a philological consideration of the troubadours’ idea of the stanza. or at least everything in metaphysics since the Greeks. second that there never was.
Meaning is separated from. . In this way all signs can be said to be part-symbolic or. and the two are separated by a bar. In so doing it naturally foregrounds the imposition of false scission: “The symbolic. rest in establishing one half of the division as more true than the other.” In other words. For that matter. primarily because the symbol brings together S/s into a single unified entity. the signifier. in the sense that its manifestation is simultaneously a concealment. not only does this scission produce the sign. then placed above material noise. . in the model of paradigm and copy. especially for Hegel. Justifying this claim. a lack” (ST. These strategies. 136). is there the need to philosophize” (ST. the act of recognition that reunites what is divided. positive destiny.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet profoundly heterogeneous relation: S/s (with S representing meaning and s the material signifier). 136). familiar to us now. has been a source of metaphysical unease. The symbol. and its being present. All three gestures are typical of the metaphysical scission represented by Plato’s banning of poetry from the republic. yet the effect is not actual reconciliation but a painful reminder of this most destructive caesura. as he says: “Only because presence is divided and unglued is something like ‘signifying’ possible. it has been widely ignored by classic metaphysical strategies. before access to materiality or intercourse between the two values is literally banned or barred. is also the diabolic that continually transgresses and exposes the truth of this knowledge” (ST. through a consideration of the aesthetics of the symbolic emblem. 136). 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.21 Agamben comes to this “original fracture of presence that is inseparable from the Western experience of being. therefore. and ejecting us for now from the spacious medium of Stanzas Agamben explains that while said scission is foundational and its “resolution” our only possible.” meaning that “all that comes to presence comes there as to the place of a deferral and an exclusion. is located below the meaning of the word. he argues. temporarily or artificially impose a unity on the primacy of scission in metaphysics. In this algorithm the phonic element of the word. Symbolic acts. and the relation of latent to sensible 18 . completing his narrative.
Not only does it present a unity to mask the primary scission of language-thought. If the sign is a source of displeasure for Agamben. 137). although the scission between presence and absence comes very close to being archetypal for Agamben. In a Lacanian gesture. Agamben is not an adherent to the science of signification. or Derridean différance without succumbing to said division. itself supposedly a symbol of unity. . This scission is not specifically a division between one thing and another. Stanzas is by far Agamben’s most sustained engagement with psychoanalysis. Agamben believes one can overcome scission. It is therefore metaphysical structural scission that Agamben consistently takes to task. the very thing the philosophy of language does not see. it is the structuring of thought qua scission. falsifies. and ultimately indifferent mediality.22 19 . its own authentic intention” (ST. this interpretation is crystallized in the notion of the sign as the expressive unity of the signifier and signified” (ST. that is. insignificant. in particular here “language. as Agamben believes contentiously that Derrida has (ST. however. within its graphicality in the figuration of the bar.” Our idea of language as signification is false. is the very thing that is the source of its inauthenticity and possible rehabilitation. deferral. with that omission. as in Derrida. the forgetting of the original fracture of presence is manifested precisely in what ought to betray it. 156). it contains within its own boundaries a sensuous representation of both unity and scission in the form of the bar. “In the reflection on language. it betrays through its symbol-status the division at the heart of metaphysical systems of unity. Aside from his regular use of the term semiotics. As Agamben presciently states: “In modern semiology. the bar.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE manifestation. The bar is language as pure. 136). 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. Unlike Derrida. Again here we can see the quasi-symbolic nature of the sign. but the barrier within the sign functions as metaphysic’s betrayer. It exists in the form of a cancelled stanza more accurately represented as S [ / ] s than the Saussurian S/s. the bar (/) of the graphic S/s . which has always been par excellence the plane on which the experience of the original fracture is represented. . Every semiology that fails to ask why the barrier that establishes the possibility of signifying should itself be resistant to signification. but rather.
As we have already dealt with the issue of the ineffable through an analysis of unsayability we are left with the third. or of something else. it. you. These are most commonly personal pronouns. but other pronouns indicative of space and time are also deictic: now. The third is the reliance of both thinkers on deixis when trying to express language’s necessary insufficiency in relation to knowledge. philosophy’s reliance on deixis or pronouns to manifest being and the concomitant dissatisfaction they draw from this procedure.25 Up to this point the normative mode of literature was performed poetry and if someone other than the narrator spoke. the jongleur or performer used a series of gestures known to his mime-literate audience to show that he was speaking as someone else. This exophoric capability explains the rise of deixis as a literary device from the twelfth century onwards. there. The second is the retention of ineffability within thought. Deixis is a term used in linguistics to indicate the point of reference of a statement that relies absolutely on context. an assumed quality of 20 . Reading Hegel and Heidegger he strives to demonstrate how nihilism dominates their thought in three ways. this. Language and Death. The first of these is a reliance on death as a means of defining being. 13–14). I. wherein the possibility of having an intra-textual technique for referring to assumed extra linguistic material or presences was developed. then. 1–5 & 59–60). most surprising and technical part of this critique. Each of these three themes is of no small relevance to what we have already learnt of infancy.23 For Heidegger it is the impossibility of Dasein to ever actually occupy the space of its own being (LD. continues the development of the idea of infancy through a radical critique of the dependence of modern thought on negativity. With the slow but inexorable rise of prose this bringing in of the outside into the text.24 Deixis as a form of indication can be described as exophoric in that it refers to extra-linguistic material. according to Godzich and Kittay. here. that. or something was referred to over 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN NEGATING NEGATION Agamben’s first sustained engagement with the metaphysical tradition. For Hegel this is the inability of the sensuous sign to render in full the material realm (LD. most famously in Heidegger’s being-towards-death (LD. 4–5).
26 was facilitated by simple phrases such as “he said. Hegel’s interest in the sensuous versus Heidegger’s in ontological topography. and so on previously mentioned: “The gun. 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. for Heidegger. It tells us where being is but says nothing of how or why it is. by definition disappoints.” The “it” in this sentence is both deictic and anaphoric.27 Deixis is also regularly utilized as a form of anaphora or internal reference that refers back to a subject. Venice. Working at opposite ends of the rather colourless deictic spectrum. 19–26).” and so on. will come to hold a central importance in Agamben’s thought and its relation to poetry. 4). or the work of Lyn Hejinian. exophoric context-dependent indication. anaphoric recursive reference.” Similarly. give it to me. the very thing 21 . 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. referring to the previously mentioned firearm (“firearm” in this sentence is anaphoric but not deictic).PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE prose that differentiates it from the so-called “univocality” of the poem. and then replace each with the reductive “this. or indeed anything of use about the where or the there. For both authors this referential shortfall is represented by the silent voice at the heart of being. 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. and in its anaphoric/cataphoric mode it is indeed nothing other than a convenience of abbreviation. Naturally.29 and cataphoric projective reference. Finally.”28 All three elements of deixis. 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. the brevity and baldness of the pronominal will fail to convey the full complexity of a sensuous presence for Hegel. They effectively use anaphoric/cataphoric deixis as shorthand for an already uttered or to be uttered authentic name of being. noun. There-being or being-the-there as Agamben re-translates Dasein (LD. “there” does little to convey. 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.” “that door.
however diligently Proust attended to it. and then perhaps the Voice under negation. Deixis is always used to indicate something exterior to language and so is shorthand for all the failings of language’s referential shortfall. through the idea of human infancy. is not to try and render experience through language but to render experience as language. with the voice being set up as the failure to speak or the failure to mean within thought’s reliance on 22 . a work every bit as important to the collapsing of metaphysics as Being and Time or Of Grammatology. the world or being. There is the voice of the animal (especially in death). classically. To sum up in more familiar terms. If one demands of language that it is a tool for reference one consigns language to inevitable failure as regards knowledge. valorize and exteriorize the signified only to discover a profound asymmetry in signification. Agamben believes. he also seeks for solutions to negativity ostensibly through the voice. The only solution to this problem. both Hegel and Heidegger succumb to a primary scission in the word between signifier. Agamben systematically attacks the idea that human voice emerges from the animal. 106). Agamben’s relation to the voice is complex. While he blames the valorization of the voice for the dominance of negativity in metaphysics. the metaphysical capitalization of the Voice as a condition of being in withdrawal. If language as pure mediality has been artificially and with violence bifurcated in metaphysics into phone (voice) and logos (language as discourse). Voice. and signified. which one could describe as the problem that a word does not totally contain its meaning or referent. the human voice as lack. They then. One might then ask the question why thinkers of such sophistication resort to deictic indicators at all. this or there. relies in each instance on an assault on the voice. 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. 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. “This” may not capture Venice but nor will the prose of Ruskin.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN that enunciates being and yet leaves its truth unsaid. although Agamben does not write it like this. and the failure of speech to evince knowledge. In effect there are numerous voices in Language and Death. that the voice is defined by what it cannot say (the ineffable). in reality a synecdochic anamorphism wherein one element of linguistic scission comes to stand in for language as a whole.
Rather than attempt to remove the reliance of objective and ontological referentiality on deixis. mistakenly. “this” thing is always a privation of the plenitude of the actual thing. means that we come to be human by 23 . As we saw. To exit metaphysics. specifically his theories of the subject of enunciation and the semiotic. culpable for modern negative metaphysics and this is correct. this plangent insufficiency. SUBJECTIVE ENUNCIATION It might appear from Agamben’s critique of metaphysics that deixis is. language. The possession of an articulated or bifurcated system of differential referentiality which we term. but brings to presence truth or being as privation. the Voice. therefore. Benveniste defines the condition of the human subject by its being able to. in part. Benveniste’s theory of subjectivity is based on the idea of linguistic enunciation and specifically how this relies on deixis. then the voice is always both the villain and victim of philosophy. One can see therefore that Benveniste allows Agamben to.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE language.30 The first theory allows us to think again about subjectivity. The problem is that either language fails to convey the profound texturality and diversity of the sensuous. Language brings to presence. for Hegel and Heidegger. instead he uses this very dependence to present a combined theory of referential ontology that he calls desubjectivization. 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. there-being. 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. in part. not being as such but language as such. albeit under negation. or having to. Agamben calls this exasperation. one must pass through the negative abyssal gullet of the voice. or it struggles to sum up our whole world and our place within it. Agamben is inspired in particular by the ontological turn in the work of French structural linguist Emile Benveniste. language is seen in modern philosophy as essential to thinking and yet source of thinking’s deficiency. enunciate its own self through language. I will deal with each idea in turn. synthesize his ideas on negation and scission in direct relation to language.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
our possession of self-consciousness and our ability to speak of this. Thus we can announce “I am” and in so doing we enunciate our subjectivity. Important in this regard is Benveniste’s conception that while the subject can enunciate its presence, speak its being, this act does not proceed from an already existent central being or subject. “I” in the phrase “I am” is a form of (de)subjectifying deixis. It appears to refer to an exterior presence, but, as Benveniste explains and indeed as my own work has investigated elsewhere (MofP, 347–9), deixis as a form of indicative reference does not refer to an actual exteriority but simply to the instance of reference as such. Accepting this to be the case, the “I” of “I am” only comes into existence in the act of enunciation via what Jacobson calls the power of pronominal shifting, or a movement from langue, the whole system and existence of language, to parole, a local instance of discourse. While in Saussure it is essential that langue and parole remain heterogeneous, deictic shifters present an opportunity to move from indication to signification, a journey that defines these two faculties, their complex interrelationship and, ultimately, undermines all our presuppositions about language and being. Agamben concludes from this: The sphere of utterance thus includes that which, in every speech act, refers exclusively to its taking place, to its instance, independently and prior to what is said and meant in it. Pronouns and the other indicators of the utterance, before they designate real objects, indicate precisely that language takes place. In this way, still prior to the word of meanings, they permit the reference to the very event of language . . . (LD, 25)31 Modern philosophy is already well aware of the ontological implications of the deictic phrase “I am.” It is, for example, central to one of Derrida’s most influential essays “Signature Event Context.” There we find that the subject’s capacity to enunciate itself reveals the subject’s ability to come into existence through the revelation of the division between presence and voice. That the subject can enunciate existence means they can step out of the experience of being, of being captivated like an animal,32 and self-consciously comment on said experience. This emergence from captivation to self-consciousness is the movement from language to speech in Agamben which is both the precondition for, and problem of, human being. The power of the
PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
subject to enunciate itself is brought to the fore in Derrida’s work more piquantly by his work on the sister phrase to “I am,” “I am not.”33 Not only can the subject enunciate presence, therefore, in so doing they also precipitate their lasting absence. Enunciation marks the advent of being and, simultaneously, its finitude. For Derrida this enunciative advent of finite being ruins any transcendental sense of subjectivity in that the subject dies as self-presence at the very moment it enunciates its existence and thus comes to life;34 one way of reading Heidegger’s being-towards-death. However, for Agamben, as soon as the subject comes to presence it is desubjectified and this is, in fact, its subjectivity. Subjectivity is not negated by enunciation as Derrida seems to suggest but actually founded through this process of negation. This reformulation of the theory of the subject allows Agamben to state that “the transcendental subject is nothing other than the ‘enunciator’” (IH, 53). If one can say “I am” one has already entered into a productively alienating subjectivity in language (RP, 128–9). Yet if one cannot say “I am,” within metaphysics at least, one cannot exist as the human is emergent from the biological indeterminacy of the animal precisely because they have the dubious power of self-conscious enunciation. As a realist Agamben cannot deny the fact that subjectivity is founded on its negation, but as the declared enemy of metaphysical nihilism he is unable to simply accept this. If one could isolate the moment, ontologically speaking, before the subject speaks but after they acquire language, what Agamben calls infancy, then one could perhaps instigate an alternative mode of being that is based on language but not on the voice as negation. This is Agamben’s intention. Before we get to that, and we may never in our epoch, we must accept the fact that, for Agamben, the subject of enunciation, once spoken, is the result of a permanent desubjectivization. At the moment the subject says “I am,” subjectivity comes to presence as nothing other than an instance of empty, technical indication. As he says: Benveniste’s studies . . . show that it is in and through language that the individual is constituted as a subject. Subjectivity is nothing other than the speaker’s capacity to posit him or herself as an ego, and cannot in any way be defined through some wordless sense of being oneself, nor by deferral to some ineffable psychic experience of the ego, but only through a linguistic I transcending any possible experience. (IH, 52)
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Mills’ interpretation of this is especially strong in the manner of how she first shows that “in taking the place of ‘I’ as speaking subject, the speaker must effectively alienate him/herself as a phenomenal or empirical individual” and her realization that “by entering into language as a mode of ‘communicative action,’ the speaker loses touch with the mute experience of language as such” (PA, 25). Thus enunciation denies the subject both its subjectivity and its infancy. However, because infancy is not a stage in a developmental teleology, no more is subjectivity or being human, none of these possibilities are lost for good when one says “I am.” In fact, they only come about because of enunciation, even if their happening takes place in an instant before, or due to, their negation. Agamben is treading a very treacherous and perhaps impossibly fine line here. Infancy is the precondition of subjectivity only in that it allows for desubjectivization through the act of losing or emerging out of infancy. It appears that Agamben’s childhood is potentially a troubled, but ultimately liberating time.
The powerful malleability of the deictic pronoun “I”is well known allowing for any number of ontological compressions, of selfpresence “I am,” self negation “I am not,” and self-alienation “I is another.” The last of these is a famous promulgation by Rimbaud often analysed by philosophers, but initially it is to English poetry and Keats’ missives on deictic desubjectivization that Agamben turns to in his own work in the field. In the dense, remarkable, and troubling book Remnants of Auschwitz (1999), Agamben finds himself reading Keats’ letter to Richard Woodhouse on 27 October 1818. As he does so he isolates four themes of poetic, deictic desubjectivization. These are not unfamiliar, so I will merely summarize them here: (1) the poetic I is not an I nor is it identical to itself, (2) the poet is therefore the most unpoetical of things, (3) the statement “I am a poet” is not a statement but a contradiction in terms, and (4) poetic experience is that of desubjectivization. The third of these, “I am a poet,” is contradictory because, as Keats argues, “if he has no self, and I am a Poet, where is the wonder that I should say I would write no more?”35 Here Keats encounters the universal condition of enunciative desubjectivization but, significantly, he poses it as a poetically contingent experience. The poet is, by definition, always other to
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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,
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
The modern term for this experience or event of language as such. 114). Yet at the same time such terms 29 . in some ways.38 Bar-bar.36 Due to its Greek provenance. “it” in narrative. which still has aesthetic and political repercussions for us today. In that they are entirely context dependent—“it” in conversation. 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.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE desubjectivization.37 Additionally. is glossolalia and it has risen to prominence in investigations of the outer limits of poetic experience and experimentation. thus establishing a tradition of civilization based on xenoglossia as a form of glossolalia. is the phonetic transcription of languages the Greeks did not understand. while xenoglossia gives us an experience of the second condition. “it” in philosophical discourse all have very different potential usages—indicative forms operate at the semantic level of discursive meaning. Rimbaud’s letter to P. Agamben. Demeny (“for I is another”). Nancy. Thus glossolalia confirms the first condition of the semiotic. and another more ancient missive. glossolalia has associations with the term barbarism on which our preciously held concept of civilization hangs. 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. devoid of meaning. and which is aggressively attacked by the work of Badiou. it simply and materially is. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he speaks of “lalein glosse ” or speaking in tongues (wherein ¯ ¯ the speaker speaks with no understanding of what they say) (RA. 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.39 As Agamben explains: “The experience of glossolalia merely radicalizes a desubjectifying experience implicit in the simplest act of speech” (RA. signs that we know are meaningful in a context but whose specific meaning we cannot glean. and Lacoue-Labarthe. opposite and revelatory experiences of the nature of language as such. the process of pushing discourse to its limit or the retention of a remnant of pre-discursive “pure” language. It is. Glossolalia and xenoglossia are. in effect. 115). before and as precondition for discourse. as we know. Deixis and types of indicative linguistic technique such as anaphora work differently to all other forms of signification. “it” in poetry.
for example “I” out of context means nothing and is basically glossolalic. that he has gained access to being always already anticipated by a glossolalic 30 . but infancy also allows us a possible route back to language. 116). just choosing so. / Loving not. He then proceeds to bulldozer and flatten both sides of this impasse with a Calibanesque heavy-handedness: “On the one hand. Glossolalia. 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.40 In one sense deixis is meaningless and empty reference.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN are devoid of specific meaning. loving not. This language as such is ruined by our having infancy and the concomitant desubjectivization of differential scission. to break this task down I will progress through the page-long summary step by step. they instead refer neutrally to the event of speech and language or what might be termed its passive taking place. However. Just as.” (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. hating not.) “But. 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. the subject discovers that he has gained access not so much to a possibility of speaking as to an impossibility of speaking—or. and stone the twenty-first.”41 The conclusion of the updating of Infancy and History. in Heidegger. hating not. the historical “fall” of being is both the loss of being and its potential recuperation. Agamben begins by expressing the contradiction at the heart of enunciation: “the passage from language to discourse appears as a paradoxical act that simultaneously implies both subjectification and desubjectivization” (RA. the psychosomatic individual must fully abolish himself and desubjectify himself as a real individual to become the subject of enunciation. xenoglossia. Indicative forms of this order are not pure noise but nor are they meaningful. poetic desubjectivization. is so rich that it needs must be quoted in its entirety. just choosing so. Therefore deixis stages not a fixed meaning in language but language as such as medium for meaning’s transmission. In another it is pure contextual differentiation in that it is potentially referential but is always awaiting a context to come to mean. which is what the later sections of Remnants of Auschwitz constitute. deictic desubjectivization. rather. once stripped of all extralinguistic meaning and constituted as a subject of enunciation.
subjectification and desubjectivization coincide at every point. rather he is spoken in the glossolalic language of barbarians. while as Agamben explains the subject of enunciation is composed entirely of discourse. for example.42 However. Here she tunes in to white noise. 114).” for what I hope now are clear reasons in that I is always other. instead the subject finds himself “expropriated of all referential reality. this I-other stands in an impossibility of speaking—he has nothing to say. an isle full of noises. sounds. he concedes that it makes no more sense to say “this I-other speaks”: For. feedback. and thus affirmative philosophy of our age. and Agamben is well aware of the tradition he is potentially entering here. 116). blurred or suspended as the subject uses deixis to access discourse only to find in place of discourse pure noise. if not removed. and potentially devastating conclusion. This rather terrifying observation is crucial in our adventures under the leadership of the literary Agamben. In enunciating the I. as Paul terms it.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE potentiality over which he has neither control nor mastery” (RA. The sound of language as such. Those well-versed in contemporary philosophy may recognize this speck of alterity at the heart of self-presence from. independent of every meaning. which is the event of language as such. post-alterity. once he is inside of discourse he becomes expropriated. This leads Agamben to a three-part. instead finds not meaning but the very absence of meaning. letting himself be defined solely through the pure and empty relation to the event of discourse” (RA. Lévinas and Derrida. in seeming to access discourse (meaning) through the xenophora of deixis. the final facet of his conclusion makes the radical step away from alterity and the philosophy of responsibility. the subject. This being the case.43 Explaining that “I speak” is as meaningless as “I am a poet. He cannot speak. 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. Setebos to the subject’s Caliban. and both the flesh and blood individual 31 . profound. and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. In the absolute present of the event of discourse. Here. 116). In appropriating the “formal instruments” of discourse. insofar as it is solely sustained in a pure event of language. “him that speaketh a barbarian” (cited in RA. which locates his work alongside Badiou as the only potential. such as deixis. wailing. the subject becomes.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN and the subject of enunciation are perfectly silent. and in the manner that he dictates within I go signifying” (cited in ST. (RA. namely the relationship between discursive prose and poetry: logo-poiesis. poetry. but language . 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 . 127). 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. often called inspiration or the muse. . he instead commits himself to thoughts about poetry. 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). Staying with Dante. Agamben proffers the touchstone to my whole study. rather than speaking of the poeticization of thought. when Love inspires me. or what he often refers to simply as poetic dictation when. I won’t speak of the complex theory of shame Agamben mounts here as this has been done very well elsewhere. Love.44 Repeating a quote from Dante’s Vita nuova. POETIC DICTATION At the end of this remarkable passage of Remnants of Auschwitz Agamben then brings us back to our main project here. takes note. . in fact it radically calls into question the idea of language as a notation of intellection. 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. which also finds great utility in The End of the Poem (1996). 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. 124). 117) This experience of the powerful depersonalization of being spoken by language is a profoundly literary one. This relationship is marked by the experience of becoming impersonal that Agamben terms the poetic experience of ontological desubjectivization. This can also be expressed by saying that the one who speaks is not the individual. “Dante instead characterized poetic expression precisely as the dictation of an inspiring love” (ST. as we know. 127). Agamben prefers the term poetic dictation.
(IP. 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. the experience of language that forever presupposes words . to be there before being . The main body of the book commences with the essay “The idea of Matter. Agamben reveals that the experience of language is always doubled: There is. . which the ancients called silva (wildwood). in fact. what one might term a truly defining subjective event for which subjects habitually lack words.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. as in a dream. . (IP. . Glossing on Celan’s assertion as to the uniqueness of poetic language. . . [is] the language of poetry.45 Poetry. The language for which we have no words. even when they keep silent. Knowing already that philosophy has fallen into the trap of misconstruing language’s neutral inexpressiveness as ineffability. this woody substance of language. like grammatical language. 37) Having proposed a potentiality for a silent experience of materiality as such which is not unsayable but simply inexpressive and nonrepresentable presence. but rather where the matter of words begins.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE conception of the stanza. 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 . matter or wildwood. therefore. . 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. we now battle alongside the poet as she attempts to find a voice for her experience of the poetic word.” where Agamben considers enigmatically what he calls decisive experience. Those who have not reached. Contrariwise there is another experience in which man remains absolutely without words in the face of language. which doesn’t pretend. Where language stops is not where the unsayable occurs. 48) It can be deduced from this that within our tradition there are two types of language-experience/usage in accordance with the 33 . are prisoners of representation.
it precedes words as vehicles for meaning and to whom can it occur if we are not yet speakers? Agamben.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN traditional roles of philosophy and poetry respectively. and reflects that such a state knows nothing of destiny. faced with the infancy of the world. as Celan argues. If. Faced with the impossibility of seeing either wood or tree. Discursive grammatical prose does not concern itself with the semiotic and has. so alone. Elle s’expose. which is to say. can experience the tree in terms of what it is made of. and if one has words to speak of language one no longer has language before one of which to speak. 49). Poetry is always in the experience. 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 . decides for truth. . He explains “the unique language is not one language” in that it is always already split between words without language (philosophy) and being wordless in front of language (poetry). Having asserted this. as Agamben responds. . a false eschatology for in speaking of the uniqueness of language one proves its impossibility. 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. calls this state of speechlessness before a language that precedes words infancy. Agamben realizes immediately the aporia at the heart of any conception of a unique language accorded to poetic dictation. something to say of it” (IP. . of course. and decides to remember that emptiness and fill it. no means of cutting a path through the wildwood of matter to an encounter of the forest as something composed of wood. “Destiny is concerned only with the language that. vows to be able to encounter it. to have forever . as we have repeatedly seen. it would seem. The poet is the infant who piously receives this promise and who. Only the poet. so abandoned to itself that it can no longer in any way impose: “la poésie ne s’impose plus. Philosophy already has the words to convey the experience and thus can never undergo the experience. its grammar and its tradition. (IP. of what order is such a destiny in that. irrespective of the form it takes. . therefore.” so Celan writes . language stands before him. Such a destiny is. uniqueness is the destiny of language. and so lacks access to the language needed to express the nature of the matter of language as such. But at that point. through avowing its emptiness.
retains an element from late Latin culture wherein the term refers to writing a literary work. 52). between the experience of dictation as inspiration courtesy of the muse. finds significant examples in the modern tradition in works such as Coleridge’s famous narrative of the composition of “Kubla Khan. means both an authoritative declaration intended for preserving transcription and a mode of poiesis. and that of the subsequent declamation of the experience in discursive prose: “Between the impossibility of thinking . The combination of ideas of pure linguistic matter and language as subsequent philosophical discourse combine in “The Idea of Dictation. and a power of only thinking. Dictation therefore names a midway point or tension between being as the intimacy of undergoing an experience of language. channelling the muse. but only occurs in the instance of its exposition. 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 is analyzed here in relation to twentieth-century Italian poet Delfini. and this intimate divergence is its dictation” (IP.” A useful translator’s footnote in the English tradition explains that the Italian for dictation. stanza. a sense also to be found in the German word Dichtung that Heidegger often prefers in reference to poetry. it is always written after the fact and so is obviously dictated by the already existent presence of the poem. As Agamben notes more than once elsewhere. This tradition still holds for Dante.” 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. and the memory that arises precisely out of the impossibility of this love. . between the inability to remember in the perfect. and the distanciation of a proceeding recollection of the experience. This mediality of poetic dictation explains why “the lyric—which uniquely keeps to such dictation—is necessarily 35 . poetry is always divided. therefore. dettato. amorous attachment to the present.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE their experience of pure language cannot translate beyond that experience. the events that led to the dictation of a poem. . Dictation. testing the experience through thoughtful prose. 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. say. Such a poetic experience of language cannot impose itself in prose. Reading Delfini and Campana Agamben summarizes dictation as the space or locale. cannot be narrated after the fact.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN empty. 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. 76). but in this failure to recollect one is exposed to the dictatorial truth of poetry: recount and recall what cannot be said or remembered. withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. correctly spoken discourse. 93). As I have been arguing. 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. Life. inventive art was given the title argumentum because it was supposed that invention gave one access to the very place of speech as such. . in the word. 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. produces life. While one is in the moment of inspiration one lacks the space to speak. What I hope becomes clear by virtue of this positioning of the lyric at a moment of linguistic twilight is that like infancy. and as his main theme is of course the political determinations of the category life. but a discovery through the belatedness of the razo or recounting of experience that yes. the stanza. That said. Agamben supports his claim that language precedes life with citations from the theological tradition of the West. which the poet produces in the poem. said experience cannot be recounted. Was it a vision. 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. it is always transfixed on the verge of a day that has always already set . 52). poetry is central to the work of Agamben.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. and once one is abandoned by the muse the only tale to tell is of said abandonment. and love. before honing in on the specificity of the relation between poetry and the poet’s life in the development of the razo de trobar. . This ancient rhetoric of topics however became watered down over centuries so that the place of speech 36 . for example the Gospel of John.” (IP. the source from which all arguments originate. Agamben notes that in ancient rhetoric ratio or ars invendiendi (inventive art/argument) was juxtaposed with ratio iudicandi or truthful.
so to speak. 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. Modern versions of the razo can be found in the work of Freud as much as in Joyce for example. . is therefore neither a biographical nor a linguistic event. the razo is a zone of indifference. that defies definition. 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. but also that of philosophy. ratio iveniendi. Rather. 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. what the troubadours called the stanza of love. in other words. an experience of the event of language as love. between lived experience and what is poeticized . 79). 79). 80). from the poetic experience of language as such. 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. or the experience of inspiration becoming the tale of 37 . Clearly there is something about the original place of language. The impersonality of dictation becoming the personal element of biography. ratio iudicandi. then fable. not only dramatizes the problematic of the emergence of human life out of language.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE as arche-source simply became conventional arguments used as mnemonic techniques in oral cultures. 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.49 Agamben notes that over centuries this has given birth to the art of biography. as the tight unity of what is lived and what is poeticized—now becomes a giving of reasons for experience” (EP. More interesting than the slippery nature of topics/razo perhaps is the relation between lived experience and the experience of language which typifies dictation. which we share in common with all life? How. and finally the novel. which lies at the foundation of poetry and which constitutes what the poet calls its dictation (dictamen). . caught as it is between the wordless experience of language as such and the language-less process of language about language. This allows Agamben to now explain once and for all the role of the razo in poetry: “The razo. and indeed our whole tradition.” (LD.
38 . cannot be addressed unless one listens with care to the dictates of the many pages that comprise the work of the literary Agamben. in-fancy. ontological. 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. indifferent. which is the basis of human being as both divided and potentially redeemed. This is why the fact that there is language.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inspiration. poeticized.
FIRST EPISODE ON THE WAY TO LOGOPOIESIS .
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Foraging for the place of poetic thinking Agamben reads a poem by the famous author-function César Vallejo. not a person as such who has the capacity for thought. Accepting Foucault’s dictum that the author as creating subject is dead and replaced by the author-function. a meaningless action. in a recent essay “The Author as Gesture” included in the collection Profanations (2005). empty. .CHAPTER 1 LOGOS.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. THINKING THOUGHT POETIC THINKING Going against the grain of the Platonic tradition and accepting as a given that poetry thinks. . we can say that . From the Latin gerere it is a type of bearing or carrying. Gesture is rather an unconscious occupancy of the hands in conversation. the author is present in the text only as a gesture that makes expression possible precisely by establishing a central emptiness within this expression.”2 Naturally. 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. Agamben wonders where precisely the thought of the poem occurs. “Father dust who rises 41 . the location of poetic thinking would ordinarily be seen to take place in the mind of an author. Agamben is however unable to concede that there is no author as such in the text. after all. a place-holder for a subjective category convenience. 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. The gesture in question is.
71). at this point. . 71). “will occupy the empty place in the poem left by the author. he will repeat the same inexpressive gesture the author used to testify to his absence in the work” (Prof. Here Agamben realizes that the reader. in occupying the space vacated by the author becomes. 71). The author is only the witness or guarantor of his own absence in the work in which he is put into play .3 The place of the poem. in effect. or indeed even later as he was rereading his work. at the same time. in taking up the poem to read. must be the reader who. 98 fn. creative. its actual taking place as a mode of thinking-feeling. therefore. 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. Nietzschean. This being the case the author-function does not facilitate ownership or authority. speculating as to the exact location of the thoughts and sentiments contained in the work. . 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.” (Prof. “Does this mean that the place of thought and feeling is in the poem itself . in effect. The only outstanding thinking subject involved in poetry. as Foucault would have it. Author-functions play tag with the text. The reader becomes. a reader-function. then thought occurs at the 42 . a similarly evacuated subjectivity. poetic thinking must be. the author-function does not think but is a collaborating facilitator of social forces. then can they ever even be said to be the thoughts of the poet? It would seem not. contrary to one’s assumptions. If the poem “thinks” or presents thoughts and this thinking is not to be located in the mind of an actual.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from Spain” (Prof. . “in the gesture through which the author and reader put themselves into play in the text and. suggesting rather that they most probably only came to be known to the author as he was writing. can be located neither in the poem nor the author/reader-function. nor can a poem as object be said to think either. 12). are infinitely withdrawn from it.?” (Prof. . Aside from it being almost impossible to stipulate the exact moment that a poet “thought” what they wrote.4 Instead. touching the text into being through an act of empty. but desubjectivized ontology. thinking subject. Agamben is forced to conclude. willing agency. if the thoughts of a poem are not in the mind of the author-function as they cannot be. Agamben adroitly comes to realize that this is equally impossible for thoughts imply by definition a thinking subject.
72). At this impossible point thought is reduced to being a presuppositional representation of the thing.5 Aristotle illustrates this rather abstract point with reference to the 43 . touch upon each other. Such a thought is obviously meaningless. this time the more familiar discipline of philosophical thought or thinking as such. It thinks a pure potentiality (to think and not to think)” (P. In contrast. available medium “to think” something. Thought that thinks itself neither thinks of an object nor thinks nothing. Reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics Agamben presents the aporia of what thought actually thinks in terms of issues of potentiality and actuality. The author can only come to being as the supporting gesture of the text. 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. Yet if thought instead comes to actuality and thinks something. Through this Cimmerian light one is able to discern the topos of a poetic thinking. then paradoxically it ceases to be thought as such but a category subordinate to the thing. Does thought actually exist as such as a general. but the text “has no other light than the opaque one that radiates from the testimony of his [the author’s] absence” (Prof. and thus thinking being. the work becomes the place of thought without one personifying the poem in some absurd way by declaring that it is an autonomous. They point to the presence of beings but they do not possess actual being. 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. thought would effectively think nothing as such. anything. or On Contingency” Agamben is again attempting to think the place of thought through a consideration of literature. which for Agamben is a form of language.LOGOS. 250–1). Aristotle contends. THINKING THOUGHT moment that subject and object. They are examples of ontological deixis. thought no longer thinks some thing in its advent of singularity but is effectively what must be thought about some already presupposed thing. paternal. thought and its expression. Each time thought thinks some thing therefore. If thought were simply the neutral potential to think something then. bring each other into presence then immediately withdraw. potential. From being the presupposition of a thing’s truth the thing becomes the presuppositional necessity of thinking. between potentiality and actuality. In an earlier piece “Bartleby.
. Yet to think thought as potentiality leaves thought with nothing to think. . which at the same time negates thinking as such. In his treatise on how to establish the ideal totalitarian state Plato immortally excludes poets from the republic. the author as individual does not exist as such in a text. a bolstering figuration that shares a clear equivalency to Agamben’s idea of gesture as an empty facilitation of thinking. 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 . or at least Aristotle passes this belief on to Western metaphysics.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN figure of a blank tablet upon which thought can be written but on which it has not yet been written. Yet if. Thus to think thought is to think both the absence of thought as a thing to be thought. POETRY AND PHILOSOPHY Yet one would be wrong if one then declared some kind of lasting amity between poetry and philosophy. as we saw. hand-in-hand. The same is true for the philosopher. . . and its presence as a coming to be a thing to be thought. Both seem to founder on an aporia between potentiality and actuality. The author in a text is a potential to be while the realization of her thoughts in the text seems to be an actualization.6 Let us dwell momentarily on a common. 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. surprising. If the philosopher’s vocation is to think then naturally to think what thought is would be their highest calling. 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. coyly withdraw. yet generally ignored problem shared by poetic and philosophical thinking. 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. which convinces me that the way we were trying to found our community was along absolutely the right lines . They touch on being and.”7 Thus began proceedings for what Agamben translates as the “divorce” between poetry and prose 44 . producing an ontological caress. That we flatly refused to admit representational poetry.
52). inevitably. even radical disjuncture. THINKING THOUGHT (MWC.. 66). Agamben soon uncovers a dark truth at the heart of troubadour poetics. this abyss weighs heavy upon our philosopher’s mind. In Language and Death. 66). 66). 68) as we have already seen. Not that philosophy then neglected poetry. Aristotle was more than happy to begin the discipline of aesthetics or philosophical categorical thinking about the arts spawning a long and illustrious tradition. . he wonders. Love is not only the term for the very event and advent of the poetic word it also comes to stand for the unattainable. love. of material pleasure. The stated intention of the Provençal poets’ razo de trobar was “to experience the topos of all topoi. primarily excluded from the philosophical canon. that not only typifies our culture’s response to the arts. but for most it is not a form of thought. came to remove from poetry thinking as a form of authentic modality. Although Troubadour love constitutes a promising avenue of inquiry. 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. the place from which all places emerge. “And if love is presented in the 45 . the very taking place of language as originary argument” (LD. Agamben suspects as much when he presents just such a possibility at the foundation of modern poetics in the razo de trobar. until Hegel. or even poetry’s role in thinking was. for example.LOGOS. Poetry is a form of expression. So much so that today it seems strange perhaps to even argue a role for poetry as a mode of thinking. But on the whole poetry as a form of thinking. is there is another experience of language that does not depend on a foundation of unspeakability? “If philosophy is presented from the beginning as a ‘confrontation’ with (enantiosis) and a divergence from (diaphora. Defining philosophy as “the unspeakable experience of the Voice” (LD. 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. then what is the extreme experience of language within the poetic tradition?” (LD. Republic 607b–c) poetry . . in particular. They named the experience of the very advent of the poetic word. 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. that is. Plato. of mimesis. but has also introduced a disastrous aporia into Western metaphysics based around the presupposed difference between poetry and thinking which.
and the stanza S [/] s. as such. and so on. his philosophy of indifference. but both rest originally in a common negative experience of the taking place of language. These two traditions and experiences of the word as negativity. seems necessarily to be marked by negativity” (LD. These issues come to full appearance for both disciplines during the period of 46 . Neither is able. to attain such an experience. and thus. nothingness. unspeakability. and yet accessible only in this distance. 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. I showed this in the previous chapter by drawing parallels between algorithms for the sign S/s. modern metaphysics and Provençal poetics are. Both poetry and philosophy seek an indifferent experience of language as such before the moment of its division into language and voice. alone. and modern art and aesthetics as nihilism. The two empty resonators. (LD. rather.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Provençal lyric as a desperate adventure whose object is far away. Thus while poetry comes very close to an originary experience of language as such. The poetic and philosophical experiences of language are thus not separated by an abyss. Perhaps. the subject of The Man Without Content (1970). also holds them together and seems to point beyond their fracture. philosophy and poetry. 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. unattainable. while separating them. that is because the experience of the taking place of language is at stake here. seemingly divergent yet. resorting always to negative constructions of language as unattainability. 69). to understand that which. and this experience. Agamben admits. he is forced to conclude: Even poetry seems here to experience the originary event of its own word as nothing. so much so that Agamben is willing to hand over ontology to the “poetic” experience of desubjectivization. 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. as an ancient tradition of thought would have it. come together within the modern experience of metaphysics as negation detailed in Language and Death.
. In Infancy and History. 157). has been obscured by the Platonic tradition that Agamben habitually calls the “abyss” between poetry and philosophy. 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. Tracing this articulation back to ancient Greek sources. 157). in the “Project for a Review” he ends the volume by calling for a radicalization of the ancient science of philology which would. 85). poeticize philology so that the site of the division between poetry and philosophy “becomes a conscious. Ending books on a call for the healing of the fracture between poetry and philosophy then becomes something of a habitual gesture.LOGOS. . but rather the result of a mutual origin in thinking as such that. however. essentially. he names this possibility harmonia or “the idea of a laceration that is also a suture.8 Agamben is moved to wonder in this regard: Are we capable today of no longer being philosophers of the letter . gesture. (He is referring here to Heidegger. 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. 163). 108) and forms the conclusion of two major essays in the collection Potentialities (1999). and philosophy in a characteristically ambitious denouement (P. 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. problematic experience rather than an embarrassed repression” (IH. without thereby becoming either philosophers of the voice or mere enthusiasts? Are we capable of reckoning with the poetic 47 . for example. Again and again he returns to this theme. Stanzas concludes with an attempt to relocate a post-nihilistic idea of presence located in the very fold or articulation between signified and signifier. THINKING THOUGHT modernity. politics.) The abyss between poetry and philosophy occupies the last of Agamben’s thoughts in Language and Death (LD. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and a unity” (ST. That poetry and philosophy share such commonalities is not a coincidence. or On Gesture” he brings together poetry. In “Kommerell. yet the roots of their failure to find language go back several centuries at least.
115) I believe our point is well made. has always existed in the midst of the two fundamental experiences of language in our culture: language as sustaining (poetry) and as testing (philosophy). . it resides somewhere in the division between poetry and philosophy. citing the famous Wittgenstein declaration that philosophy should really only be poeticized. Conceding this point. COMMUNICABILITY. while Agamben seeks for a true experience of language in poetry he is regularly disappointed. its resolution resting with neither party nor an idealized unity of the two but between them somehow. THE THING ITSELF In the opening essay of Potentialities entitled “The Thing Itself. that it is threatened by an excess of tension and thought.” Agamben recounts a story told by Plato in one of his letters of how. 115). emerges where no voice calls us? Only then would tradition cease to be the remission and betrayal of an unsayable transmission . Poetry. However. provides an opening up of the pathway towards a future for philosophy but alone it is not the destination of this track. pestered endlessly by the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius to once more attend his court. one could say. in the “last” essay of The End of the Poem.9 This usually takes the form of a summons to poeticize philosophy and expose philosophic prose to the semiotic presence of the poetic word. . and surrounding the two contesting ideas of thinking within our tradition. therefore. but they also come together in Agamben’s idea of the communicability of language as such as the place between. on the contrary. (P. that poetry should really only be philosophised” (EP. Rather. One presents to the apparently eager student the whole thing of 48 . Agamben believes. 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. The destination of many major works by Agamben is the revocation of the divorce between poetry and philosophy instigated formally by Plato in Republic. paraphrasing Wittgenstein. Agamben argues: “As for poetry. as a nonpresupposed principle. rather. Plato devised an apotropaic pedagogical methodology. These two experiences form the basis of Agamben’s idea of the origin of all literature in dictation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN presentation of the vocation that. Or. in the fold or invisible harmony that. within.
Much of this comes down to the problem of presupposition. but the very precondition of being: “no longer simply the being in its obscurity. This thing then is not a fifth. Plato concedes. there but never to be made available to presence. however.LOGOS. a thing in the world or a thing than can be represented by language and thus known in this way. If the student is sincere he or she will embrace this difficulty. 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. “that by which the object is known.” but. name (onama). 31). is the apotropaic heart of philosophy. therefore. otherwise those merely “tanned” by philosophy (P. THINKING THOUGHT thought and all difficulties attendant on that. an arche thing impossible to retrieve. additional recondite element as the tradition has it. Rather said thing is to be brought to light “in the very medium of its knowability. all are dependent on the thing as such. The thing itself. image (eidolon). 28) will realize the dolour of “the thing” and task their tutor no more. Knowledge presupposes something as already existing about which it has knowledge whose veracity it can vouchsafe through the idea truth as agreement. Rather than the thing as such being an unsayable and inaccessible part of being. in the pure light of its self-manifestation and announcement to consciousness” (P. This thing is not a thing in any ordinary sense of the term. Having presented this reading of Plato. Agamben reconstitutes the thing as such as the ground or support of knowability. 32). and knowledge. the most difficult of all problems: the very thing of thought as such. Yet. the obscure nature of the presupposition of a thing.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. the thing is “nevertheless possible only in language and by virtue of language: precisely the thing of language” (P. its own knowability and truth” (P. Modern science is the archetypal epistemology in 49 . If this thing is not a thing in the world nor is it. definition (logos). while language cannot say the thing as such. 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. as an object presupposed by language and the epistemological process. Agamben’s translation finds that the four bases of being which define the Platonic theory of ideas. but the basis of knowledge on this very obscurity. 33).
it is nothing but communication itself. Düttmann states: “Communicability always communicates itself. One of the earliest and most important essays on Agamben’s work. cannot however be thought separately. reveals that: “Language sup-poses and hides what it brings to light. without which. in language. what is the thing? “It is the very sayability. more typical of modern ontology. nor even an arche thing forever lost to which thought aspires. the thing could not come to presence. therefore. in using language as a means of accessing that about which one speaks. and negation at the heart of epistemology. If the thing is not a thing in the world. the very open-ness at issue in language. 33). spends some considerable effort defining communicability through its source in Benjamin and establishing it as the heart of Agamben’s thought. what we are always saying and communicating . . Such thinking. Agamben strongly refutes this history of the thing. why that which cannot be thought. What is the very thing of thought itself ? this tradition seems to ask.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN this regard operating as the very opposite structure to that of an apotropaic thinking that is. The result is that the sayability of the thing said and the knowability of the thing known are both lost to presuppositional thinking. would not name the thing being communicated and so said thing would not be produced into presence and communicability never invoked and revealed. it is what we are always disclosing in speaking. inscribing a myth of absence. While language and knowledge presuppose the thing itself as already existing as a thing about which they can speak and have knowledge. which. 35). nor a presupposition or hypothesis. we always presuppose and forget . .11 their presupposition of the thing itself will always make said thing inaccessible. 35). an act of communication. unsayability. Yet communicability cannot be collapsed into communication in that in itself it cannot be communicated: “if communicability let itself be communicated. in the very act in which it brings it to light” (P. nor is it “horribly or beautifully unreachable in its obscurity” (P.” (P. it would take the form 50 . although not the same thing at all. .” Communication and communicability. Communicability divided from communication. . privation. The thing itself of thought. I would argue. Düttmann’s introduction to Idea of Prose. is the communicability of the very language that cannot express the thing but. declaring that the thing itself is not “something ineffable that must remain unsaid and hence sheltered” (P. 34).
51 . historiographic. one can see here that the communicability of language. In addition. reducing itself to the simple communication of something. and communication. would erase itself immediately. Like Heidegger. Agamben’s interest in poetry and the literary in general is only as a means of bringing him closer to language. For example. one presumes. a chattering mime of poets along the way. lead it forward into the light). 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. Returning to “The Thing Itself.” poetry is fundamentally important to thinking but not necessarily fundamentally important in itself. Plato’s development of the thing itself as a concept is in response to the entreaties of the tyrant of Ortygia where Plato first travelled with the idea of setting up his republic and expelling. and 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. 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.” one ought to note that the explicit history of this term in Plato is of no small water to our own study. and his interest in language is piqued only as a way of revealing the very basis of thinking and being as such. and we as critics of literature can and must learn from him in these areas. It would not be possible to produce an Agambenian linguistics from it for example. is not precisely a comment on language. THINKING THOUGHT of a thing. and technical. a structure we recognize from our considerations of thinking as such.LOGOS. however far the thing as such is from Agamben’s ideas on enjambement or poetic rhythm. but at the same time allows us access to a profound realization. This does not mean communicability is unsayable or invisible.”12 Hence communicability is defined here as that which supports and facilitates communication but which itself is never communicated through an act of communication. 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. which is also essential to Agamben’s ideas on poetry. merely that the means of encountering it are not provided by communication of something specific. Language is the very thing that allows thought to occur and it is thought that Agamben pursues.
.13 This word/name therefore cannot say something about something as there is no something that precedes it.” Agamben says making a point he often returns to. meaning it also does not say some thing in the world. the very fact that language (and therefore knowledge) exists. This diversion through the tautegorical revelation. “There is. “no word for the word” (P. as a statement on the ontology of language as such. 40) This transparency of language within our tradition has come to be the very quality of god’s invisibility. Glossing on John. 41). can presuppose nothing.” or a heuristic tautegorical structure that says its essence through the act of saying but saying nothing as such. This is elsewhere reformulated as there being no name for the name. . Like the quasi-theology of the “big bang” theory of our universe. 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 . (P. allowing Agamben to define that foundational theological declaration on language.14 is a strategy on Agamben’s part to suggest that modern metaphysics is similarly dominated by the impossible 52 . must contain within it not merely content that human ingenuity has not yet conceived of.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN THE IDEA OF LANGUAGE In the second essay Agamben has written under the title “The Idea of Language. The absolute presupposition is itself non-presuppositional. Instead it says the thing as such of language.” he considers the influence of the concept of revelation on the Western metaphysical ideas of linguistic unsayability. humans see the world through language but do not see language. but is instead a truth that concerns language itself. a knowable thing that we did not previously know. Agamben explains that the beginning word. Agamben calls this the movement of language’s “self-revelation. . the first word of god. . it is noted. The meaning of revelation is that humans can reveal beings through language but cannot reveal language itself . en arkhe e ho ¯ ¯n logos (“In the beginning was the word”). Revelation. or what Lyotard defines as thinking-feeling of something happening as the very happening in question. nothing precedes the “big word” of God.
forcing it always to speak of something pertaining to the epochal closure of the metaphysical project. then there would truly be no possible experience of the limits of language. if the presuppositional power of language knew no limits. as immediate mediation “constitutes the sole possibility of reaching a principle freed of every presupposition” (P. and naturally enough he comes to call this the Idea of language. allow one to think language as such. does not have a presence that can be named but nor is the Idea a nameless nothingness. mediation itself ” (P. except language itself. “Can there be discourse that. yet it provides no direct means of letting language speak itself. which for human beings mediates all things and all knowledge. however. Thus the conception of language as immediate mediation defines its communicability and reveals a possible way out of the nihilism of modern thought. Agamben sees the modern presupposition of language as profoundly aporetic in that it posits language as the presupposition to thought. without being a metalanguage or sinking into the unsayable. Or what Plato calls the thing itself. for example. he wonders. is itself immediate. “If every human word presupposed another word. Nothing immediate can be reached by speaking beings—nothing. Language. THINKING THOUGHT logic of revelation. does not. says language itself and exposes its limits?” (P. 46–7). 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. Agamben believes. As Agamben says. Thus. On the other hand. 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. 53 . 47). that is. a perfect language purged of all homonymy and composed solely of univocal signs would be a language absolutely without Ideas” (P. 47). “this is an Idea. The Greek sense of the Idea is not a word so cannot be named meta-linguistically. Such language is not presupposed. Returning to Plato. The problem here is mapped out very succinctly. Yet the Derridean idea of language as subject to the logic of the trace.LOGOS. 46). 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). as ever the quarry in Agamben’s sights here.” but nor is an Idea some thing in the world outside: “it is a vision of language itself. The Idea.
or thought that does not find presuppositional commonalities but eliminates all presupposition leaving merely the great single object of true thinking. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN COMMUNICABILITY. to solve the problem of philosophy itself rather than use philosophy to solve problems. made over much of linguistic communicability. he reminds us that the original task of thought was not to discern the presuppositional bases for thinking problems but the elimination of presuppositions. in isolation poetry’s reserved role as the closest experience we can have of immediate mediation via dictation is not Agamben’s main point. as yet. In the pursuit of thought nothing is sacred. 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. He wishes. For example.15 Such a moment ought to be celebrated should it not. Confusingly. perhaps.” 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. not in song but in a pure language?16 He says. which is understood by all humans 54 . does not understand what to say. Silent on the problems it has solved and silent as it comprehends the problems that remain. THE IDEA OF PROSE While an essential element of Agamben’s thought critics have. alone it tells us little. for a second at least. even the most universal presupposition. or moment in history when all division is. like a number of thinkers since Heidegger. via the mediation of Agamben’s text: “Its language is the idea of prose itself. One name for this voluble silence in Agamben’s work is the Idea of Prose. which is expressed in the formula ‘that there is language’? Is philosophy not concerned precisely with comprehending the incomprehensible?” (P. suspended. 45). This object is the thing itself of thought defined by Agamben not by what it can know presuppositionally but what it cannot. True philosophy in this way ought to be doubly silent. Similarly. “Was philosophy not perhaps the discourse that wanted to free itself of all presuppositions. Even Agamben’s own. self-avowed project is negated here in true philosophical thought.
humanity will resolve the issue of the Babelian profusion of languages. naming. Such a name cannot refer to things in the world. however. to an impure process of attempted communication or trying to render transparent once more the opacity of signs. “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. as there would be no exteriority for such endless deferral. and actual presence of language as such. In the Idea of Prose we would not return. To put it succinctly. he writes. If.LOGOS. Such a language does not have a content and does not communicate objects through meanings.17 What would such prose consist of ? Primarily names. like many thinkers. THINKING THOUGHT just as the language of birds is understood by those born on Sunday” (cited in P. instead it is perfectly transparent to itself ” (P. I believe we now have an answer that we can retrieve from the mysticism of Benjamin’s wonderful prose. integrated. This Benjamin famously calls “freed prose. prose would name nothing other than the fact that it can name: nominal potentiality. discourse. Discursive language is widely seen as a necessary evil to redeem the fall of language over time from a pure system of transparent signification. but in the integration of all languages into one pure language that is not written or spoken but simply celebrated. 48). simply to a universal system of nouns but to a totally transparent system of pure coincidence between sound and sense. not by taking up one single language and rejecting all others. naming the world.” a language not tied down to communication but existing rather as pure communicability. At the moment that history is redeemed from division into integral actuality. discourse presupposes names then a name cannot be anything that would ever need discourse again. and communication. accepts the scission at the heart of human language between pure signification. 52). Benjamin. as our tradition often has it. Language as communicability is the moment of integral actuality when the thing as such of thought touches the medium of thinking. nor can it refer to other names within language. At this moment what is 55 . language. Thus the Idea of Prose is a system of pure and transparent naming that names one thing: the universal. as confusion can of course lead again to a diversity of names for such things. How can this be? Agamben himself poses this question. or communicability.
” 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. so to speak.18 choosing to stay within language rather than distance himself from the source of all thought. At this point it would cease to be a sustaining experience of language as transmission and would instead be a specific transmissible meaning. A language that precedes thought places language in a position of presupposition immediately negating its true essence and making it a philosophical concept. 60). Agamben is a philosopher and purveyor of philosophical prose. 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. by actually trying to think it. answering the very pertinent question why he did not describe an Idea of Poetry. A thought that precedes language simply reiterates the aporias of philosophy’s reliance on. the poet says. But this is exactly what they cannot do without abolishing themselves” (P. or to leave no excessive. ironically. seems to be promoted by an observation by Valéry that states “the essence of prose is to perish” (cited in P. and difference. but to say this it would have to cease transmitting immediately and choose a side. Language too requires immediate mediation as Agamben explains: “to say what they mean. He does not take dictation. transmit it. unity. is the thing of such of thought. That said. 54). It has to be this way. The destiny of perfect or pure prose. philosophy.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN revealed is that the medium that allows one to produce or perceive the thing as such. In so doing it discovers this possibility through the very medium that momentarily facilitates this question. Benjamin’s choice of the confusing term prose. 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 . Agamben opts for poetry. or material remnant. yet disregard for. that is. Thought thinks how it is possible for thought to think away from presuppositionality. language as semiotic mediality. is to be totally comprehended. He is not a poet. semiotic. language. The very meaning of language is its transmission of meaning as such. given the weak choice of poetry or philosophy in the interim while we await the arrival of the Idea of Prose. languages would have to cease to mean it.”19 However. Which is why.
60) A language of perfect transparency would accept no division and therefore can be described as totally indifferent. Agamben is reaching here.LOGOS. now simply speaks. it is the language that. Confusingly. it is “pure history”—history without grammar or transmission. This indifference is not the result of unity or dialectic synthesis. insofar as it now says and understands only itself. Only poetry. It is what is continually said and what continually takes place in every language not as an unsayable presupposition but as what. if we are ever to arrive at that point. resting solely on its own never having been. sustains the life of language. are no longer in opposition but in a state of integral actuality. Yet a pellucid language would not be reducible to dialectic either as the two elements. (P. speech restored to the Idea is immediately dispersed. it would seem.20 Accepting that there are certain presuppositional and aporetic elements to this view. and finally in poetry and its complex presentation and experience of the materiality of language as such through dictation. Nancy. for a messianic and impossible dream? Perhaps. But remnants of it can be perceived first in the very communicability of language as such or as pure medium. It does not unify because it exists pre-divisively in a completely other order of thinking that has no conception of scission and opposition. surely. which knows neither past nor repetition. having eliminated all of its presuppositions and names and no longer having anything to say. THINKING THOUGHT poetry itself. Derrida. As Agamben says of such prose: Insofar as it has reached perfect transparency to itself. is forced to turn to poetry. 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. 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. The Idea of language is language that no longer presupposes any other language. can no longer be pursued through philosophical prose. the Idea of Prose. and thus Agamben. naming and signifying. and Heidegger. a poetry of materialized prose. can pro-duce perfect prose. 57 . but essentially. like Badiou. in never having been.
One solution to this problem resides in Agamben’s theory of the gesture with which we already have some familiarity from what is. 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.23 This definition of a means without determinate ends. and we will need to wait before we can fully comprehend this final leap of his imagination. “in a means. 155). He first raises the issue in an essay called “Notes on Gesture” inserted into the appendices of Infancy and History. that potential for the gesture to interrupt it in its very being-means and only thus does it display it. 155). gesture breaks the false alternative between ends and means . inbuilt scepticism. the making visible of a means as such” (IH. and presents means which. however tense this dual occupancy may be. does it turn a res into a res gesta” (IH. in fact. are removed from the sphere of mediation without thereby becoming ends” (IH. via the neo-Platonist Varro’s reading of Aristotle.22 He admits that Varro’s analysis of gesture as neither production nor enactment but “undertaking and supporting. 154–5). 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.24 is what Agamben calls gesture: “Gesture is the display of mediation. Agamben’s third foray into the theory of gesture. as that which resides between the two sides of Aristotle’s famous distinction between action (praxis) and production (poiesis). it remains difficult for us perhaps to see how poetry and philosophy could even begin to be said to share a common ground. perhaps due to the Platonic inheritance.” while owing much to Aristotle.21 This early work begins in characteristic fashion with the philosopher bemoaning the loss of gestures in modern life. 155). or simply the radical nature of Agamben’s claim. the basis of Agamben’s presentation of form-of-life as a new mode of thinking in Means Without Ends (1996). This is vintage Agamben. third kind of action: “if doing is a means in sight of an end and praxis is an end without a means.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN POETIC GESTURES Although Agamben consistently affirms a common history and destiny for poetry and philosophy. combining Greek scholarship 58 . but of a kind of mediation that is pure and devoid of any end” (IH. Astonishingly. presents a new. He comes to define gesture. as such. . .
Agamben describes philosophy’s gag as being akin to that of what he calls the gesturality of cinema. therefore. poetry. in gesture. or On Gesture” he brings philosophy closer to an art form more central to our study. therefore. presents Agamben with a double negation typified by the use of the term gag. language as such. Defining the great twentiethcentury German critic as a “gestic” critic. These comments mark a fairly recognizable presaging of Agamben’s early thoughts on gesture here brought into the sphere of poiesis. it is “the stratum of language that is not exhausted in communication and that captures language. 156).LOGOS.26 It transpires that philosophy speaks of silence to fill in its memory lapse as regards its true subject for speech. The insertion of speech into silence. The German defines gesture as closely tied but not reducible to. A presence in language more originary than conceptual expression. 156). while yet another example of the mute voice within our tradition is. This nothing to say. is also a betrayal of its importance. Lamentably the gag silences but it also inserts language into a hiatus which. so to speak. much reviled in Language and Death for example. the linguistic. but in the aforementioned “Kommerell. here becomes a positive gagging or “an exposition of the human being’s being-in-language: pure gesturality” (IH. 59 . 77).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. Gesture’s muteness. The essay ends by explaining a relation the reader may already have discerned. 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 a distraction from the truth of language. however. THINKING THOUGHT forays into the European avant-garde and radical re-readings of the foundations of modern philosophy all within a few sentences. he reads Kommerell’s own comments on linguistic gesturality. a positive silence. namely that gesture is another name for the communicability of language as pure medium: “gesture is the communication of a potential to be communicated. In itself it has nothing to say. in its solitary moments” (P. 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. because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as a pure potential for mediation” (IH. provides the potential for a silence to once more speak. Thus the muteness of philosophy.
Agamben calls this the tablet and our second encounter with it. Gesture is one name Agamben gives for the very mediality of language’s communicability. before assuring us that prose is essentially the conceptual component of language. 78). the actor’s improvisation to make up for an impossibility of speaking” (P. Not that philosophy as such is gestural. poets. language as pure. already heightened for them by their semiotic rather than semantic use of language. Like philosophy. its unspeakability as pure medium that Hegel identified in the inadequacy of the deictic diese. Each word. Aside from the common history and destiny shared by poetry and philosophy. then.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kommerell. the other side of language. the muteness inherent in humankind’s very capacity for language. Kommerell defines speech as originary gesture leading Agamben to conclude: “If this is true . This remaining mimetic element is its gesturality or what we can also call the semiotic. and poetry the mimetic. Quite the opposite. it would seem. it tends ever to the conceptual. remember we have already considered Aristotle’s blank tablet. . Having said that there is one aspect of the philosophical tradition that echoes the pure mediality of gesturality in poiesis. Kommerell proposes a decidedly odd equation of diminishing returns in this regard. 78). 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. there must always be something in the poem not exhausted by a reading of it in terms of meaning. requires that we leave Kommerell in Germany and travel 60 . the gestural is one of the means by which poetry and philosophy come together in Agamben’s work. and a common if divergent response to their being “gagged” by language’s tendency towards muteness within our culture. then what is at issue in gesture is not so much a prelinguistic content as. becomes almost unbearable. inexpressive materiality. He defines language as primarily conceptual and mimetic. graphicality. therefore. noise. its speechless dwelling in language” (P. . A proposition that allows one to draw the conclusion that in-fancy is also gestural. compares gestural loneliness as akin to that found in lyric poetry. bears a quantum of gestic mass. the weight of language’s gestic muteness. to better illustrate his point.but sublinguistic support of the semiotic as such in language. Thus for those possessed of the most words. He says the more we have language the greater the weight of the unsayable. It speaks not of the pre. so to speak. If this is the case.
33). its own absolute potentiality. he was in despair “because how can thought pose the question of the beginning of thought . taking his hand from the writing tablet for a moment. “Wasn’t what he was searching for exactly like the threshing floor. particular referent. 34) 61 . . . Agamben too finds the instigation of what he had been looking for since the inauguration of his great experimentum linguae.LOGOS. . itself unthinkable and unspeakable. in a flash the old philosopher realized the truth of thought: The uttermost limit thought can reach is not a being. not a place or thing. but rather. . with many interruptions. the ageing philosopher Damascius decided to devote his last years to an impossible work entitled Aporias and Solutions Concerning First Principles. . “not an image. he narrates how.27 From this charming story of ancient times. in exile. an image occurred to him that would guide him towards the completion of this impossible task. . the Syrian city where he was born many years before. but the site of a place” (IP. This site of a place reminded him of nothing so much as the threshing floors of Damascus. . . Describing Damascius setting about writing down the idea of the threshing floor. lengthy volume that the hand of the scribe had crammed with characters was nothing other than the attempt to represent the perfectly bare writing tablet on which nothing had yet been written. how can one comprehend the incomprehensible” (IP. or word might eventually take place . no matter how free of any quality. where the winnowing fans of thought and language separated the grain and chaff of everything?” (IP. After three hundred days and three hundred nights of consideration. PHILOSOPHICAL GESTURALITY In the sixth century AD. 33). THE TABLET. (IP. but something like the perfectly empty space in which only image. The entire. Then. 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 . one night. the pure potentiality of representation itself: the writing tablet! . breath. it was not even a space. 32). 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.
but their middle term”). a version of a kind of gestural or poeticized thinking. namely mean.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). preferring the German translation “mitte” or midst. The tablet is. refer to an already presupposed medium waiting to be occupied. ma il loro medio” (“was for him neither poetry nor prose. Düttmann’s analysis of the translation of the key phrase from “The Idea of Prose” is important here. not giving way to the extremes. rather medio must signify being in the midst of a milieu and being a milieu of the 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. what. remains surrounded by the milieu that characterizes such an intermediary state” (IP. As Damascius discerned. “non era. no doubt with great bitterness (although the text of this great work was in fact written). Being a thinker not a poet he thus has no option but to break the tablet of material language and abandon his philosophical ambitions. the precondition of all thought on the materiality of a non-expressive language. Medio in this way would mean to be both in the midst of something. 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. per lui.28 Düttmann is somewhat dissatisfied with the translation of medio as “middle term” by Sullivan and Whitsitt. therefore. The term does not. 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. as Düttmann correctly asserts. in the midst of poetry and philosophy. and the medium created by the bringing together of these two terms. here represented by the medium of an as yet un-inscribed set of thoughts. The closing words of the essay speak again of the enigmatic statement of Aristotle that Plato’s “idea del linguaggio” (“idea of language”). né poesia né prosa. with its double sense of midst and milieu or “what takes place in the middle. means he is unable to reconcile the conflict between writing that does not think (poetry) and thinking that cannot be written (philosophy). One can see why the rather bland and non-suggestive “middle term” then is not to his or indeed my own liking.
32 63 . 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.”29 The tablet. 1). this time the tale of different form of tablet named “Bartleby the Scrivener.LOGOS. midst and milieu do not quite capture what is the essential experience of the Idea of Prose.30 and again in the lapidarianally entitled “Bartleby. 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.” in The Coming Community (1990). but indifferent being in that it is “such as it is. while a consideration of ethics and community. or the mean of communicability between poetry and prose. therefore. stillness. Average is a most common meaning for medio in Italian. is also a delineation of potentiality in terms of ontology as the opening essay “Whatever” reveals. It commences with prophesy: “The coming being is whatever being” (CC. middleness (Wall’s aforementioned radical passivity). tension.” It is a story Agamben has. or On Contingency” for Potentialities. namely balance. told twice over first as part of a co-authored book with Deleuze translated as “Bartleby. This portentous rhetorical portal opens up a debate on the meaning of “whatever” in terms of identity and being. 1). it is time to tell another story. suspension: “dialectic at a standstill. but their mean. being French or being Muslim. 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). I believe that without the concomitant implication of averaging out. specifically its ability to communicate nothing but its potential to communicate: whatever name.” POTENTIALITY To draw together the diverse strands of Agamben’s theory of the medio. For that matter he is also speaking of language. 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.31 with Agamben explaining he does not mean an indifferent being in relation to a common property. This second volume. THINKING THOUGHT importantly it adds a third sense: the average of two terms.
Agamben concludes. not the assumed movement from potentiality to actuality which we might call “creation” or “invention. The poet here. the presence of an absence . or whatever being. “Thus the architect is potential insofar as he has the potential to not-build. which comes to define being as the presence of the not to be. as indeed all makers are. simple privation. Thus when Agamben goes on to define the artist. but rather the existence of non-Being. we say of the architect that he or she has the potential to build. 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. Thus.” (P. non-invention. 179). all potentiality is based on a choice not to do. in an odd way she is less of a poet when she is fulfilling her potential and writing poems.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Agamben has said a number of times that the Western metaphysical tradition was part founded on the now generally ignored opposition between potentiality and actuality in Aristotle’s work. for the sake of argument let us say the poet’s potential to make a poem. The presence of an absence for Agamben is the true definition of potentiality. tabularity. the simultaneous existence of not being within the very identity of one’s being. Akhmatova is a poet at the moment of her not-yet-having-written and. and communicability all come together here in a sustained consideration of potential as the desubjectivizing presence of absence in being.” but the chance that potential will remain solely potential—potential inaction. “‘in this sense. To have a faculty to write a poem. . . of the poet that he or she has the potential to write poems. Indeed. is defined in terms of being through negation or desubjectivization.33 He notes that in Aristotle potentiality. in-creation. the poet the potential to not-write poems” (P. “What is essential is that potentiality is not simply non-Being. 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. is developed from the debate over what it means to have a faculty to do something and yet not be doing it. means that you can write a poem but not that you are writing one or even that you ever will. 64 . so that potentiality is not simply actuality to be but also the refusal to actuate one’s potential. 179).” the actual and surprising definition of poetic being is the possession of a faculty and not using it. Being is defined in its singularity by precisely this ontological condition of neutrality and passivity. It ought now to be becoming increasingly clear how Agamben’s early ideas pertaining to authorial gesturality.
or to turn his potential into actuality. “For if it is true that whatever being always has a potential character. it is equally certain that it is not capable of only this or that specific act. for those who are familiar with this remarkably prescient work by Melville. and actuality. 35). nor is it simply incapable . 36). Being. therefore. he is able to consider his potential being beyond simply occupying this named position. 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. Clearly Gould is a thinker in his playing potential for rather than simply being a pianist. Such a being is located in the mean or medial position between potentiality.LOGOS. As such he is an exemplar of Aristotelian thought as potential and his controversial and apparently unhinged performance choices are recognizable examples of masterful. there must be retained a part of potential being that is never fully realized. Returning to Bartleby. Noting that true power comes from the capability for power and impotence. Stating that any pianist can play or not play. 65 .”34 Agamben calls this supreme power using the figure of Glenn Gould to better illustrate the power of whatever being. the simultaneous coming to being and desubjectivization of identity that Agamben describes as the essence of the author-function. so to speak. The tablet is the medium of this touch or what is touched. the potential not to be a poet as the very actualization of the poetic subjective state. . not yet being. Gould’s power is that “he plays. the being that is properly whatever is able to not-be. with his potential to not-play” (CC. 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. must retain a remnant in each of its two manifestations. THINKING THOUGHT Akhmatova is a poet because she can write poems but she only has this faculty because she can also not write poems. modern “poetic” thinking. it is capable of its own impotence” (CC. Gesture is the touch and withdrawal of being. “I would prefer not to. Once potential passes over into actualization however. having been. retains the element of blankness. even when written upon. being in its potentiality. 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. . he celebrates Gould’s artistic power through a consideration of his potential to not not-play. a blankness that is never entirely blank and that.
not writing but the white sheet is what philosophy 66 . 37). but is the presence of absence within presence that both affirms and negates being. action and passion coincide and the writing tablet writes by itself or. but being as presence becomes unthinkable. neither an object nor its negation. . 37). therefore. written. but not in actuality think it for as soon as it is thought. simply put.” (CC. This waxen screen allows thought to turn back on itself and think itself as the thought of thought. that rasum tabulae that is nothing but its own passivity” (CC. Aristotle compares it to a writing tablet on which nothing is written” (CC. writes its own passivity. we can now reveal that it is the famous tabula rasa. not thought considered as an object. 37). is the archetype of pure potentiality as the passive writing medium upon which thought could. as Agamben states midway through “Bartleby. this time more centrally to its relation to potentiality: “If thought were in fact only the potentiality to think this or that intelligibility . Thought is neither presence. in its essence. is pure potentiality. so thought can think itself as a pure medium. it would always already have passed through to the act and it would remain necessarily inferior to its own object. or On Contingency”: “In its deepest intention. “but that layer of wax. . although Agamben notes that the correct term should be rasum tabulae or the layer of wax covering the tablet which the stylus engraves. The perfect act of writing comes not from a power to write. And Bartleby. as such. Not thought but the potential to think. Thought must have something to think. “a scribe who does not simply cease writing but ‘prefers not to’” (CC. nor some negative theological absence. Being as pure absence remains nonbeing. Agamben glosses again on Aristotle’s definition of thought. . but is not yet and may never be.35 Just as Gould can think his own potentiality by playing with its negation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Reading De Anima. thought is no longer thought as such. as possible or material intellect. philosophy is a firm assertion of potentiality. Having met with this tablet once before. 37). and. in other words. 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. the construction of an experience of the possible as such. Or. it is also the potentiality to not think. . But thought. but from an impotence that turns back on itself and in this way comes to itself as pure act . stepping away from to play or not to play in favour of a position of playing to play and playing not to play. rather.
with what resides in us but does not belong to us. what do they see? Dressed in second-clothes.36 Potentiality in the writer is precisely this tension between genius and character. commences writing. as the poet sets pen to paper. Each person’s character is engendered by the way he attempts to turn away from Genius. Poets are called by the muse to write. not to write and to write. then opts not to . yet each act of writing.LOGOS. Or better a dot. a certain special pen. to flee from him” (Prof. THINKING THOUGHT refuses at all costs to forget” (P. 14). Writer’s block is a phenomenon best explained by the ontology of potentiality. 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. as is the writing of pure inspiration. 17). . 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. Duchamp. the drop of darkness with which the pen writes. but as they write they murder the muse and assume her garb. Then there are the great works that were written purely through genius: “Kubla Khan. 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. . Agamben concludes: “To some extent we all come to terms with Genius. 10). it is useless to tell yourself that just any pen will do. 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. changes her mind. They are the art of pure character. The impersonal is negated in the personal act of writing something specific. There are the great books that were never written.: “The ink. they have become someone they are not. depersonalizes and desubjectivizes the writer. is thought itself ” (P. 67 . On the Road. withdraws the pen. the late Rimbaud. the personal and impersonal (Prof. a certain dim light shining from the left. as we saw. a series of dots. Agamben’s La voce umana. however. These works did not come into being because they were not possessed of genius. As I Lay Dying. Going on to describe the essence of the poetic as the tension between the demands of ego and genius. DeChirico. The author attempted to merely will them into existence. Without being facetious. and the works never created: Mallarmé’s Livre. that any paper and any light will suffice” (Prof. Looking in the mirror of their art. 244).” The Magnetic Fields. changes her mind. 249).
18). or not to not write. or not to write. A blank tablet acting as mere reproach to the woman of genius. They are happy with their lot and it would never occur to them not to write. and that is the only way. Writer’s block and pure. fulfil.” (Prof. inspired flow are two sides of an imbalance of writerly potentiality. And what of when a writer simply ceases to write. Gesturality signs the long and chequered history of one’s being with language. and so on. or to write as not writing. . the powerful unfulfilment of true potential being. only now does the very long unlearning of the self begin . The gesture alone is meaningless and sad. There are those who can write and do so with facility and alacrity. devoid of every charm . The pen that grazes the page. . but in their ongoing and self-conscious game with writing: to write. when genius has abandoned them? “It is the late and final stage when the old artist lays down his pen—and contemplates. Here the author seemingly had little or nothing to do with writing.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kenneth Koch’s When the Sun Tries to Go On. for Agamben. Their destiny is otherwise. Then there are the few. all one’s written and unwritten works as Agamben phrases it. Some do not write and could never do so. 68 . . that determine one’s subjective desubjectivity as a writer of potential. . the great writers of genius. too much character in one and overabundance of genius in the other. Does one fulfil one’s potential in the work? Never. the brush as it is lifted from the canvas not when it is applied. What does he contemplate? Gestures: for the first time truly his own. Their brilliance does not reside in what they write or what they excise or refute.
but its wider meaning is in fact creation. but the bringing into existence something that was not there before which could be an object.”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.CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. 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. say.” Bringing something into presence could just as easily 69 . This view of creativity finds its culmination in Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power as Art or maker as creative genius. Finally. poetry has come to be the archetype of all the arts. Yet if we pay careful attention to Plato’s words here. THINKING THROUGH MAKING POIESIS The Greek word poiesis1 is the origin of our term poetry explaining why. Plato famously says in the Symposium: “any cause that brings into existence something that was not there before is poiesis. This includes willed creative agency therefore. A sweating. 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. At the same time creation does not simply indicate the god-like making of a new object in the world. but could just as easily be a truth or observation. poiesis is “any cause” that results in creation. for the modern philosophical tradition. but is not limited to it. the process of actually making is rather less glamorous than that.
the temple. form.g. purpose. Heidegger is careful to stipulate that the silversmith who makes the chalice is not the final and efficient cause of the chalice.” (QCT. Beauty may be a part of poiesis but it is not necessarily the purpose of poiesis. 9). Van Gogh’s peasant shoes “let us know what shoes are in truth” (PLT. and so on. 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 LITERARY AGAMBEN mean coaxing. 70 . . Rather. at least not in the way in which they make the chalice. making the chalice is really an afterthought following on from deep consideration on the part of the maker as to how material. Relying on the ancient Aristotelian four causes theory of philosophy—matter. each of them must be made of matter that is formed to an end by a causality. thinking deeply about the “that” and the “how” of material. For Heidegger. or accompanying. respecting the Greek provenance. and their causality in such a way as they will bring to presence a truth or being that was not available for view before.” a process he defines as “producing that brings forth—e. 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. through making. The chalice is to hand or possesses Heideggerian equipmentality. the relationship between gods. purpose. . rather than the beauty of the chalice. soil. These four causes share the responsibility for “the silver chalice’s lying ready before us as a sacrificial vessel” (QCT. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. toil. that he presents as poiesis. and utility. Note the emphasis on the object’s availability for use here. the erecting of a statue in the temple precinct . The chalice makes one think of certain things in relation to ceremony and sacrifice. It may be timorous. form. form. guiding. reliability. 35). The temple. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as that which “lets what presences come forth into unconcealment. The same would be true of the statue.. 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. 21). Presence need not be awful. The statue makes one think of the materialization of a god within a temple. and purpose will all fit together causally. It is what the chalice can produce for us as sacrificial vessel and all that entails. unveiling values such as equipmentality.
wilful action. essentially guide or facilitator of truth. Poiesis has in the modern age been mistaken therefore for praxis. that for many thinkers constitutes the opposite of what creation actually is. due to the reliance on that culture on the sustaining activities of slaves. poiesis was. Poiesis does not share with praxis the element of practical. 69). which is the Greek sense of experiencing truth as unveiling or a-letheia (un-forgetting. inaccurate order. Poiesis as pro-duction. This slip of the tongue unfortunately confines creation to the very process. in contrast. voluntary.POIESIS. a doer. It is an easy mistake to make. for the Greeks. lacks the subjective agency of an artist as a maker. by making something new and wonderful in the world. was a concept at one remove from their 71 . a person able to bend their will to create themselves into being as The Artist.3 Work. un-concealment).” is god-like fiat and lacks the sense of passivity and modesty inherent in the term’s original definition. an experience of the production of something absent into presence and from concealment into the light. poiesis. therefore yet today we often speak of creative production as practice and artists as practitioners. Poiesis of this second. to confuse poiesis with praxis. praxis. in that both seem to fulfil Plato’s stipulation that creation is bringing something new into existence. was directly tied into the biological processes of the human as animal and. We ought not to feel excessive culpability or remorse in this regard. 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. That said the difference between the two terms could not be clearer. THINKING THROUGH MAKING PRAXIS According to Agamben poiesis was opposed. to praxis which meant to do something or to act in accordance with one’s will (MWC. If praxis meant doing something through one’s will to do that thing. that of work. 68). 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. for the Greeks. One of the reasons for this confusion between poiesis and praxis in the modern age relates to a third category. what one might call modern “Romantic poiesis.
“the point of arrival of Western aesthetics is a metaphysics of the will.” to simply “I made this. . That said. is replaced by the question of the “how. and work has been lost. than between praxis as will and poiesis as almost passive experience. 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. 69). Instead. Smith. For we “moderns” it would seem that making is something a subject does to 72 . 72). The predominance of will over creation taken as a value of will. eventually. the shift away from truth to genius facilitated the elevation of work. Over the centuries the clear differentiation between poiesis. eventually. the highest. most notably in the work of Nietzsche. Marx. praxis. Heidegger. that is. 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 . it is much easier to find common ground between praxis and work understood as the basic production of all material life. and the materialists. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN lives. As this theme develops through materialism and then through philosophy. 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. 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. pro-duction into presence. the original productive state of the work of art is all but forgotten except by certain poets and. the lowest of the three categories for the Greeks to. although the Greeks did not indulge habitually in work.”4 However different they are. of the process through which the object has been produced . of life understood as energy and creative impulse” (MWC. (MWC. For example. . 70) As Agamben goes on to show through brief readings of Locke.” that is. 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. . Nietzsche’s definition of Will to Power as Art. . they were able to realize that work was “bare.
“Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis. For them. and this confirms the artist’s being as god-like maker. 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. making the artist a technites (PLT. 34). 1 flags up this problematic synonymity between poiesis and technics citing Aristotle as claiming: “Every art [tekhne] is concerned with bringing something into being. This retranslation in effect negates the possibility that creation as poiesis can be Nietzschean. it makes a new being. the Being of beings. meant that. is bringing-forth [Her-vor-bringen]” (QCT. 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. 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.5 TECHNE Staying with the Greeks a little longer one can see that the Nietzschean interpretation of poiesis as active.” during the halcyon days of Greek culture in its ascendancy the task granted to poiesis. poiesis does not make anything new. which is precisely the point.” As Heidegger exudes in the closing sections of his influential essay “The Question Concerning Technology. or as Heidegger interprets the Greek sense of truth as aletheia.” becomes. Bernard Stiegler in his influential study of Technics and Time Vol. the bringing to presence of the gods. Art was not a sector of cultural activity” (QCT. Most especially poiesis does not make what we would term “art. Art works were not enjoyed aesthetically. “The arts were not derived from the artistic. willed making into being is.”6 73 . Modern making defines being as making something. a premature seizing of the seat of the gods by presumptuous man. as Heidegger suspects.POIESIS. 10). THINKING THROUGH MAKING being. Greek making defines being as the experience of making. it merely lifts the curtain to reveal what is behind. The first is active participant. the second passive recipient. willed creation ex nihilo. For the Greeks making is something that can happen to being or the subject to produce an authentic experience of truth. 59).
producing. while it does not always make art. within what is present. 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. appearance. the unveiling of truth. Heidegger is helpful in this regard by asserting that there can be no poiesis without techne. our modern sense of creation is a muddle of these three Greek ideas. is this not a definition of art but of philosophy? For poiesis to make any sense as creative act. makes art make being come to full. praxis as simply doing. First. 159). and the Greeks used instead the word skill. direct relation between poiesis and art as such? Heidegger believes so in that for him pure poiesis. Techne. in this way or that way. instead of art. can one trace any actual. The Greeks conceive of techne. Praxis is the physical activity and will necessary to bring this about. therefore. although alone making cannot simply will truth. I believe we must accept two things at this stage. we must come to terms with the making element of the term as well as the truth revealing or presencing element. Finally 74 . a form of artistic production. as this or that. Yet surely. if fleeting. is not simply craft or skill. The work’s becoming a work is a way in which truth becomes and happens” (PLT. poiesis as production of presence. in terms of letting appear” (PLT. there is no poiesis without 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. but for the Greeks a specific type of knowing through creative making or as he says: “to make something appear. Poiesis is the experience of the production or facilitation of the coming into the light of a truth. Therefore while one cannot assume that poiesis is definable as simply making something. 60). Second. he explains. techne. “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 Heidegger states: “to create is to cause something to emerge as a thing that has been brought forth.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN If there was no term for art as we conceive of it. and techne as skilled knowing through doing. that for the Greeks the three terms were all elements of a process of what they called bringing something into presence or aletheia.
equipmentality. THINKING THROUGH MAKING techne is an intermediary state dependent on real skill in pursuit of the truth. but certainly for a work of art to happen there needs to be work as process and work as thing. after Heidegger makes this simple distinction: if an act of making produces being or truth by bringing it into the light.8 Heidegger is careful to state that art is not simply a delimited made object in the world. the work of art. Even the chalice is not on object as such. if only briefly and partially. then it can be termed poietic and as such art. One might. ceremony. What is poietic about the shoes and the chalice is how they allow objects to become things through the process of making something. and so on. 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. and so poiesis and techne must function together for praxis in general to become artistic practice. rather its thingly status depends on the truths it makes manifest for human beings on earth: sacrifice. the art object in this context. indeed they are not they are a mere image. There is no guarantee that techne will result in poiesis or the flashing bloom of truth. It makes a small world effectively. or mechanical production. or that poiesis will result in art. therefore. transmissible traditions. 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 . 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. Here Heidegger attentively distinguishes an object or something with clear limits that the subject can observe and indeed make. the gods. from a thing. A thing is something in the world that composes and gathers together truths in the world. Thus Van Gogh’s shoes are not an object. etc. the religious world.POIESIS. or gathers a continuum around itself made up of all the elements of its truthpresencing. but again a gathering of ancient ideas of sacrifice. instrumental. THE ART THING Taking all of this to be the case. is not poietic as such but resultant from poiesis. If not then such a process is merely making something and is artisanal.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.
composition. Pollock. Agamben notes how modern art has thought about being and subjectivity. Both forms of thinking can often think the same things. to be revealed as if for the first time through their ongoing skill and thoughtful experimentation. even Turner. colour. representational bronze. each showing increasing levels of abstraction from the first. 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. . . techne is itself “something poietic.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. compression.” a form of “knowing in the widest sense . realistic. Such knowing provides an opening up. which is the bringing to presence of truth through making. and so on. 89–96). Conceptual art is as thingly as Westminster Abbey. 3). Alain Badiou speaks in a similar vein of poetry’s ability to negate the category of the object (MP. stuff. In “Back” four bronze reliefs of a back are displayed side by side. representation. abstraction. from poiesis. 13). 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.” which is the bringing to presence of truth. 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. and the sensuous realm. Poiesis must be hands-on. Similar gradations of abstraction are observable in the art of Picasso. Other philosophical themes are regularly addressed 76 . That said the art thing must subsist in matter. Mondrian. effectively negating subjectivity and defining so-called desubjectivization as the modern experience of the poeticization of being. Certainly. Kandinsky. Nancy speaks of poetry as the very moment of meta-making or thinking about making through making (MA. If poiesis is dependent on techne. what Heidegger calls “Denken. 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. to be entirely at home in something. As an opening up it is a revealing” (QCT. We are now at the point where we can differentiate thinking. Its object-status is to some degree irrelevant. simplification.
” Due to the provenance.” FINITUDE A central element of the activity of poiesis is the complex issue of finitude or formal completion. not through pedestrian description or disciplined argumentation but through a form of thinking that occurs courtesy of the activity of making. makes a thing in the world in a way which provides a powerful point of difference between thinking as such and poietic thinking. the case with works of art as well. His chosen example of poiesis in nature is “the bursting of a blossom into bloom. and Being as such. after all. Heidegger. nature. 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. contested status. The maker-thinker. The finitude of a work of art in a totally transmissible. poised. propriety. I want to concentrate instead on the more complicated issue of its finitude. It seems obvious. ostensibly. which cannot be considered in terms of art even if. intuitive even. causality. flowers are in possession of poiesis. singularity. the human. finitude. in itself ” (QCT. THINKING THROUGH MAKING by the arts. law. Rather than dwell here on the much-vaunted Wildean uselessness of modern art. and Agamben.9 or what I will go on to name “logopoiesis. and complexity of the term poiesis the artist can now be described as a “maker-thinker. according to Heidegger. 10). Thus a flower’s finitude is not its actual perfection but the perfection of flowers as such. not least because a flower is a living. Kant’s famous definition of the art work as that which has finitude without purpose is. Such a procedure of thinking through making defines “poetic thinking” as Heidegger and Badiou have termed it. If we are to believe the philosophers. mobile. 77 . traditional Greek culture such as that imagined by Hölderlin. death. that a flower is complete but its completion is not of the order of its physical borders.POIESIS. Issues such as part and whole. and balanced made things. subtlety. a means by which to differentiate beauty made by human hands and the beauty of flowers and so on. happiness. growing. this used to be. infinity. in part. and decaying thing. are all thought by poietic activity. being in the world. One could judge their completion against communally held values pertaining to what perfect and thus finished work was.
Taking all this into consideration one has to conclude we live in an age of very Greek art. or material (even temporal) limits of a work of art.10 78 . It was an act of mapping a perfect gestalt. with delicious paradox. or marginalia that surround the art object may indeed now constitute the art object. 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.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. we value art for not conforming to any such model if it did indeed exist which. 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. 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. and make-up of the poem have not been taken from any other source or any other poem but rather originate with this poem. The frame may become the work or its faming in the museum its poiesis. value. Further. it does not. had always been. and would unquestionably always remain. critical sensibility. objective. material innovations in the performativity. virtuality. and conceptuality of art works mean it is now often impossible to determine the actual. For Agamben such a view is meaningless to modern. unique object. Finally. In our epoch the value of a work of art is precisely the opposite. and truth was. frames. 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. Here is the first stanza of a poem by Charles Bernstein entitled “Warrant”: I warrant that this poem is entirely my own work and that the underlying ideas concepts. There is no communally held view as to what a Work of Art in general should be.
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.” (MWC. beyond the deictic “this” as an indication of the presence of a poem in its legally. Thus he declares: “Poiesis. 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. therefore. The deixis of “this poem” immediately reveals pure indication. . but is the very name of man’s doing. in fact. As there is no poem object as such to view. the principle and origin of its entry into presence” (MWC.” the one we are actually reading. illimited art things such as “Warrant. no actual delimited poem body here. . and as the poetry on view is. of that productive action of which artistic doing is only a privileged example . THINKING THROUGH MAKING This is one of several examples of self-annihilating meta-poiesis in the work of the greatest conceptual poet writing today. That said he does not simply accede to Heidegger’s reading of the term. MORPHE. and ontology. 59). the process of a coming into being of an idea about art as object within the market place. poetry. and ontologically warranted absence. either also called “Warrant” or perhaps nameless. law. There is. and that which finds its principle through 79 . that is. aesthetically.POIESIS. aesthetic convention. 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. lineated legal prose and not “poetic” at all in any sense of profound techne.” then we need poiesis if only to keep hold of art. in that the poem being described and warranted does not exist except as something indicated within another “poem. does not designate here an art among others. 60). 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. 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]. If modern and future art criticism and creation is based on a process of aesthetic judgement on nonpurposive non-objectal.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
human productive activity instead. This second category enters into presence by virtue of techne or skill, especially at shaping, forming before our eyes the crux of the difference between nature and poiesis, and finally dispatching the idea to be found in Heidegger that nature is also poietic. Nature contains within itself the principle by which it enters into presence, what Kant terms purposiveness, while poiesis has the character of a hylomorphic and Aristotelian “installation into shape” (MWC, 60) by which Agamben explains it must take on a shape or form in order to make the transition from nonbeing into being—for example Bernstein’s ideas about the enframing of art by capital taking the shape of a poem. Poiesis then produces a shape or form but poiesis is not the creation of an object. If an art object is presented then this object is the result of poiesis. All art is, in this light, post-poietic waste product. The interrelationship between shape and poiesis production into presence is problematic for a theory of modern creation. The Greek word for shape, morphe, was associated with idea and image, as well as appearance, all essential components of the presencing or bringing forward of poiesis. What does it mean that coming to presence takes a shape in poiesis? For a Greek audience au fait with the concept of Ideal Forms perhaps such a question might never be raised. It is simply too obvious. The Form of nature which is outside of space and time comes to human perception, it appears, in particular instances of form all of which are representations, examples or manifestations of Form as such, but none of which constitute Form as such. Form, therefore, while appearing in many forms, is irreducible to its forms. Hence the question of shape/form, morphe, was easily resolved by reference back, up or out to a set of Ideal Forms for comparison. Yet within the epoch of modernity shape is not something one can have any confidence in as an unquestionable presence. Within English, for example, the many varied definitions of the term shape might lead one to conclude the term “shape” is itself rather baggy, a tad shapeless. It can mean creation and/or form, outline, the created universe as such, imaginary or ghostly forms, an indistinct person or form, the outward appearance of something, to mould, and to frame. There is as much definition in the term relating to framing and indistinctness as to moulding and forming, perhaps indicating a slow dissolution of Greek ideas of Ideal form over time resulting in a
POIESIS, THINKING THROUGH MAKING
notable indistinctness surrounding the activity of formation. Spiralling out from this word are multiple possibilities that all indicate the problematic of taking on a Greek definition of poiesis without the concomitant intellectual architecture of a theory of Ideal Forms. If one believes in Forms then it is clear how poiesis can be said to produce presence through making without actually creating or making anything new in the world. The form one’s thing takes gives revelatory access to the Ideal Form which is at the root of the Being of all beings and this determines its shape. Yet without a sustained and secure theory of Form as the foundation or lit projection of formed shape as frame any modern theory of poiesis stutters to a degree however essential it is. How can production be the conferring of form onto a presence if the very conception of form undermines itself and thus provides nothing but a leaky container for the already slippery and dissolute matter of one’s making? If poiesis is making as such dependent on an idea of shape as truthful agreement with an already existent Ideal form, what is making for us today in a postFormal world?
The question casts us back to and indeed brings together two key issues in Agamben’s philosophy: poetry and potentiality. Summarizing Aristotle, Agamben delineates how every act of pro-duction into presence, natural or man-made, has the character of what is usually translated as actual reality defined in contrast to potentiality. Agamben then explains that actual reality is a rather poor translation in that Aristotle also employs the term entelechy in relation to actuality. While entelechy is usually reserved for the very process wherein potentiality comes to actuality, Agamben philologically opens up the definition of entelechy as follows: “That which enters into presence and remains in presence, gathering itself, in an end-directed way, into a shape in which it finds its fullness, its completeness; that which, then, έν τέλι έχι, possesses itself in its own end, has the character of ενέργεια . . . means being-at-work, since the work, έργον, is precisely entelechy . . .” (MWC, 64–5). In contrast to entelechyactuality, Aristotle defines potential as that which, not (yet) being at work, doesn’t “possess itself in its own shape as its own end” but is merely available (MWC, 65). If this is the case, work as a result of poiesis cannot be simply potential because “it is precisely production
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
into and station in a shape that possesses itself in its own end” (MWC, 65). Entelechy is the final element that allows us to recuperate poiesis as a term for creation. Poiesis is a work but, according to the passages just cited, it is also the result of work. Even so, apart from modern art it cannot actually be “at work.” Poiesis as creation is made up therefore of three elements. The first is potential, the availability-for of a material and a skill that, however, without techne, cannot come into actuality. The second is actuality, which is potentiality realized in the form of being-at-work. We must define this as not being continually at work, in process, never coming to an end, but that actuality is being at and in the form and station of a work. Thus work in which there is no being is not a real work and is represented by Agamben by the industrial object. In that all objects result from potential and end up in actuality, the third term in play here, entelechy, is that which differentiates making from creation-making. Agamben’s extended definition of entelechy is complex and remains without full development in his own work, presumably because the terms are all already in play in Aristotle, but it seems essential to fully understand poiesis that we spend some time explaining these issues. As becomes increasingly apparent, poiesis is the direct product of entelechy or that which negotiates between potential and actuality. Indeed poiesis is definable as the messianic formula: potential— (entelechy)—actuality.11 Entelechy determines something that both enters into and remains in presence. Thus entelechy must emanate from nonpresence and remain in a state of presence. The Heideggerian term “gathering” is instructive in this regard in that it suggests the nature of nonpresence as disseminated or dispersed and the coming to presence of poiesis as not so much the revelation of a form hiding in a substance but the attraction of things towards and composition around a substance. The way, for example, a jug attracts issues of containment, shoes in Van Gogh concepts of equipmentality, or a statue in the precinct of a Greek temple makes manifest an ideal of the gods. All this leads up to the crucial element of entelechy as that which allows a work to find absolute finitude. Being-at-work therefore means the total coincidence of being and form, the total realization of eidos that is, as Agamben says, both full and complete. Complete indeed because the moulded shape is replete with being. The shape of the work of art, then, is all important, as the only differentiation
POIESIS, THINKING THROUGH MAKING
between potentiality and actuality is that potentiality does not possess a shape. Entelechy is the process of shape-making and shapefilling forcing upon us an unusual sense of creation. Making or poiesis consists of marshalling the energy of presence as potential work into presence-at-work or actuality. This is not the making of anything as such. Rather poiesis makes an outline or contour for being. One must presume that until entelechy is complete, and Agamben gives no definite time for this as clearly entelechy does not take a period of time but takes one from the atemporal zone of Forms to the temporality of work via his own conception of messianic temporality, this contour is not yet shaped. Until the impossible point of completion it remains shape in potential, an elasticity of an already closed but not yet finished line. As being makes its way into this lasso of work it comes to simultaneously fill and make the shape. When being touches every point internal to the line then the work is complete, full, and finished. Here we see a shift away from the definition of the work of art as the total coincidence of form and theme as is often stated, to that of an elastic and tensile coincidence of form and shape. Agamben names this “content” allowing him to define the modern artist, after Musil, as the man without content or creator away from form; shaper of shape as such; instigator of a pocket or gap within the tensile balloon of the work. Like Ulrich, such an artist is brimming over with abilities, but has no actual quality or content as he cannot apply his qualities to any one task and convert his potential into actual, subjective value and identity.12 His potential remains shapeless in other words, lacking in entelechy.
ARCHE, MODERN ANTI-POIESIS
Speaking of the period of aesthetic modernity Agamben notes that during our epoch the conception of the shaping of a unitary set of objects which do not come from nature but which possess finitude through agreement between shape and form has been split by the rise of modern technology and capitalism. With the infamous division of labour came also the division of making, leading to a differentiation or scission between things “that enter into presence according to the statute of aesthetics and those that arise purely by way of τέχυη [techne]” (MWC, 60–1). This downgrading of techne to mere making without poiesis promotes Agamben to reconsider poiesis in terms of
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
the modern doctrine of art being that which is original or authentic. He purports that within modern aesthetics any made thing that does not contain its own arche or origin within itself has been called original, the term meaning not so much unique but of proximity to an origin. During the modern period therefore: “The work of art is original because it maintains a particular relationship to its origin, to its formal άρχή, in the sense that it not only derives from the latter and conforms to it, but also remains in a relationship of permanent proximity to it” (MWC, 61). What this means in real terms is that poiesis refutes reproducibility through its claim to an originality that “maintains with its formal principle such a relation of proximity as excludes the possibility that its entry into presence may be in some way reproducible, almost as though the shape pro-duced itself into presence in the unrepeatable act of aesthetic creation” (MWC, 61). In other words, an original art work is pro-duced into the light from a proximate and preceding source. As soon as one reproduces the art work, one places it an extra remove from the source and indeed cancels out poiesis as pro-duction, for now it is re-pro-duction. And, for Agamben at least, that is not good at all. Agamben concludes that reproducibility is the essence of techne and originality the essence of the modern work of art. Yet, on the other hand, outside of Greek culture what does this modern quest for the origin actually consist of ? Agamben defines the arche as “the image, which governs and determines the entry into presence” (MWC, 61). In contrast, objects made simply according to techne do not have proximity to this image but rather the image preexists as an already pre-pro-duced mould with which the product must conform. Again, this issue depends on the presumption of an eidos or arche-image. In a transmissible culture, this eidos is the already existent content of any work of art that will be reproduced. In the Greek epoch of transmission, originality therefore is simply inconceivable in relation to creation. One does not create something new as in something novel but rather one creates a new body for an already existent idea which allows one to see this idea as if for the first time. Surprisingly, according to Agamben in the modern world, there is also no new work of art because there is no work or object that can be made that conforms both to the idea and the form of poiesis. Thus Agamben argues that originality totally destroyed the idea of the artist wherein “everything that in some way constituted the common space in which the personalities of different artists met
POIESIS. 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. in a sense. These hybrid forms of poiesis are not simply two movements in modern art. It is pure eidos for its form and shape are irrelevant. THINKING THROUGH MAKING in a living unity” (MWC. 63–4) Modern art. The curtain is grasped but never raised. (MWC. On the one hand “Warrant” deals directly with the archepresence of the poem. the ready-made and pop art. therefore. is modern art’s first and most lasting poiesis: artistic desubjectivization or creative self-alienation. 62). While in the past traditional values and lack of originality determined greatness as being proximate to the source of poiesis. 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. yet at the same time it is a comment on its rampant reproducibility. they are. 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 . With pop art the situation is reversed in that an art object is made utilizing techne then reproduced using industrial processes. With the ready-made an industrial object is alienated from its context and thus raised up into the sphere of art. for Agamben. Thus the artist brings to being the very end of the lasting concept of the artist as subject and this. suspended in a kind of disquieting limbo between being and nonbeing. became during our age simply the commonplace. and that which is irreproducible cannot be reproduced. The object cannot attain presence and remains enveloped in shadow. is poiesis in suspension. The brilliance of Bernstein’s poem now becomes even more apparent in that he is able to demonstrate both situations in one single work. Pop art is all form with no proximity to the concept. the only two movements available at present for modern acts of creation. Ideas held in common. now the artist is defined as the person who makes things that don’t fit the mould but which break with moulding. testifying as it does to its singular originality.
at the very least. Perhaps Agamben should have consulted with Bernstein for. Modern art is either poiesis without techne or techne without poiesis. he is writing in an age where the shape of the work. including the subjective nonbeing of the artist. in some fashion. and so on). The answer to this question must lodge. industrial form (urinals. While this is a lamentable state of affairs for a full. If it remains proximate to arche-presence it can take on no physical form and instead has to parasitically occupy an already existent. 86 . he seems locked here into a set of almost impossible aporias. its taking shape. Leading him. As Agamben says in reference to his chosen examples. arche-mimesis. Agamben’s conception of creation depends on the Greek concept of poiesis. modernity has turned poiesis into a problem and thus made it visible for us after many centuries of easeful.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN arche-presence is undermined by there being no poem other than that indicated by the empty deixis of “this poem. unlike Plato and Aristotle. 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 contrast to the poet. the form in which privation itself comes into presence” (MWC. In modern aesthetic theory since Kant. The very shape of a work of modern art is permanently split. 64). which is perhaps why shape bears close proximity to indistinctness. and eidos. Furthermore. its becoming something. modern art works such as these “constitute the most alienated (and thus most extreme) form of poiesis. 64). 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. He is forced to take on the act of making as the transition from nonbeing into being and all that entails. categorical amnesia. philosophical understanding of poiesis. to an epochal apostrophe: “how is it possible to attain a new poiesis in an original way?” (MWC.” and thus there can be no reproduction of the work precisely because the warrant controlling this process is the work itself. is problematized because it is bifurcated. meaning he accedes to the Greek world of Ideal Forms. wheels. within the dark defiles of modern art itself. in splitting poiesis. Like most of his peers. as ever.
1 Under pressure from such attacks modernity can barely be said to remain intact. nihilistic. Agamben is one of the most aggressive and suggestive critics of modernism that we have or ever will encounter. that is its destiny. change. is currently withheld from view in the modern age of instrumental technology because. Yet. like his great forebear. Being. and then. modernity. he argues. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS Since Heidegger questions pertaining to being are traditionally posed through two temporalities. This was not always the case and our dire situation will. He too sees the temporality of human being as both immemorial ecstasy and contingent historicity and. a time that is both out of time in that it is beyond everyday linear time. He calls this epoch. he has a name for the coming together of the two elements of ontological time in a moment of crisis that is first. historically. 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.CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. at some juncture. Heidegger argues. being is also profoundly historical in a deep destinal way he calls Geschichte. the very epoch of the epoch. 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 “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. 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. and indeed one of Agamben’s aims is the bringing of modernity 87 . potentially productive.
Rather. Rather. indeed cannot abandon the dark and divided epochality of our modern age of aesthetic modernity. 5–6). In this way. The messianic kle emulates many elements of ¯sis Agamben’s earlier work on language. 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). 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.” When called by ¯ ¯. takes the form of a messianic contracted time of remnants (TTR. For this reason. il tempo che resta. or the condition of the hos me “as not.3 and his complex revision of historiography. Agamben will never allow a movement from temporal modernity to ontological or subjective modernity. This time that remains. This ¯sis call to vocation he defines as the “revocation of every vocation” (TTR. 62–3).2 Yet Agamben’s realism. which is a common representation of time within modernity (TTR. and dictation. desubjectivization. some might call it fatalism. 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. 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. along with his mid-career investigations of the gesturality and the pure mediality of thought as potential. 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. disallow him the simple act of finishing with the modern. But more relevant to debates on modernity is the way in which the call to 88 .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN to a form of non-eschatological resolution. and ending. temporality. 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. for example deixis. the issue of modern time is so central to Agamben’s work from his very earliest pronouncements to his most recent. 23). Agamben will not.
61–78). 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. So when Agamben posits the “as not” as a positive alternative to what he calls the “as if. 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. Finally. as an ontological condition. The “as not” is not negation as such. 35–40). the time that ¯sis remains within temporal contraction. 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.MODERNITY. therefore. The call does not negate subjectivity but calls subjectivity into presence through desubjectivity. and the arts in the most unexpected places.4 This. not least because he finds it hard to accept that Adorno advocates an aestheticization of thought after he famously designates aesthetic beauty as “a spell over spells. If “as not” is a negation of being that presages a positive coming of being to presence “after” negation (the messianic time that remains). rather than aspiring towards actual redemption. This alerts Agamben’s interest.” All the same Agamben presents a full analysis of the twentieth-century tradition of thinking the “as if. however. one can begin to see how messianic time can be of great utility to ideas about modern art. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS negation is not conceived by Agamben as just another form of modern nihilism but something potentially productive. to live “as if ” sounds initially like a creative potentiality for being. but rather the now familiar suspension of actualization that exemplifies potentiality at its most powerful and creative. while messianic kle would seem to occupy a temporality of ending. the archetypal example of living as if.6 This then is a rare mention 89 . aesthetics. The phrases “as not” and “as if ” both play games with the idea of negation and creation. which considers fiction. this is patently not the case as Agamben is at pains to demonstrate (TTR. has not been seen to be the case by the critical heritage. Rather.” ending with Gaultier’s work Bovarysm.” typical of modern thought about aesthetics.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.
” Such a subject “no longer has similitudes at his disposal . Gaultier defines the essence of human being as believing one is different to whom one is. According to his 90 . Yet. but we will come to see it as the specifically epochal manifestation of desubjectivization in general. What is the Will to Power as Art except turning as-if-ness into creative. Agamben’s consideration of “as if ” is a side issue in his attempt to present a credible messianic condition of living “as. . . of philosophy’s having missed its moment . All of these considerations return Agamben’s attention back to Adorno. so to speak. he must now really live in a world without God” (TTR. 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.7 while it takes a truly brave thinker to live as one “who no longer knows the as if. thinkers of the “as if ” live on the earth as if they were gods. Aesthetic beauty is the chastisement. in doing so one of course is pretending to be something other than what one is in that one is nothing.” in this instance “as not” rather than “as if. specifically his contention that “philosophy lives on because the moment to realize it was missed” (cited in TTR.” Yet it is significant. he argues. so too fiction might be a credible category of thinking about being. This being man’s essence. That is why aesthetic beauty cannot be anything more than a spell over spells” (TTR. subjective agency value? In an age when god is dead. 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. 37). bringing to mind Heidegger’s definition of poets as demi-gods. . This ontological condition does not stand up to the test of modern ontological thinking perhaps. 37). ontology is reduced to pretending-to-be as a form of double ontological negation. First.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of the possibility that just as poetry and linguistics can be seen to enter the field of ontology. but pretends to be something. . 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. 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. and second. one pretends to be someone else because one is no one. 42).
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.” Aesthetics becomes.” while seemingly creative and thus an act of poiesis. the “as not” depicts an alternate futural moment of authentic being. one needs to traverse the problems of aestheticization and replace them with a radical poeticization. of art even. therefore. as if the philosophical pursuits of truth and happiness could be realized. the aesthetic. aestheticization of politics. I would argue. and this is what Agamben’s early tome The Man Without Content ventures as he makes the first of several attempts to negate negation. Thus one lives as if one lives. 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. This as-if-ness requires that one ontologize the spell over spells that Agamben later says “may even aptly describe poetry” (TTR.MODERNITY. To get to a “new” poiesis. The great question for modern thought. thought. modern aesthetics has two potentialities available to it. proving destructive and nihilistic in each instance. tragic. The second option is to live “as not. the empty violence of The Real. 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. or so the argument of aestheticization goes.” Living “as if. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS reading.” that dreaded term aestheticization: aestheticization of philosophy. turns out to be self-defeating both for thought and art. In each of these very modern formulations an assumed impropriety. 39). For not only does the spell over spells cast a false veil over thinking it also misrepresents the poetic as well. If “as if ” is a belated and blinded decadence. under the spell of living “as if. The most familiar is the “as if. In contrast to this. If “as not” involves negation. as if one has being. the State. living as such. One lives as if one is a character in a great. 91 . 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?). aestheticization of life. as indeed it does. therefore. but potentially redeeming modern novel. one first has to travel through the dread landscapes of aesthetic modernism. creativity. is: How does one travel from “as if ” to “as not”? To do this. to live the “as not” is far from being nihilistic. is added to the realm of the proper.8 Nor can one live life itself for that has been reduced to horror and bareness. Yet.
15). In the closing pages of The Man Without Content Agamben turns. 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. or the possibility of sustaining an experience. What is lacking in modernity is not the element of testing. specifically here highlighting a profound aporia in Benjamin’s work on the fading of the aura in modern art and culture. has two meanings for Agamben. as he so often does. an idea also taken from Benjamin. for modern life is replete with new and exciting experiences. another way of expressing the end of experience in post-transmissible cultures. In a post-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. you will recall.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN AURATIC TWILIGHT As we saw. test. to go through and to test. Experience is never accessible as a totality and never complete except in the infinite approximation of the total social process . 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. he argues. 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. due to two modern statements by the masters of modern thought. indeed criticism is in essence all that modernity has become. 38). and totally possess: “Thus experience is now definitively something one can only undergo but never have.” (IH. . to the work of Walter Benjamin. 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. and the Heideggerian adage that art no longer dwells among us.9 The arrest of transmissibility is. The essays that make up this remarkable study then primarily investigate the implications of the thesis of the end of cultural transmission. one must 92 . what we miss is a common experience that the modern subject can undergo. . Rather. Experience. the Nietzschean idea that god is dead.
PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS determine if the auratic twilight of the modern is a historical process taking place over time or an a-chronological event. by way of the multiplication of the original. 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. The more an art object is reproduced. probably Benjamin’s most astute and generous reader. Benjamin argues. It becomes. 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. the further away from the source of its authority it is carried. a consumer item rather than a work of art. This problem is not lost on Agamben. With each copy. contains a historical 93 . 106) It remains hard to tell if Agamben is glossing Benjamin here or totally dismissing his most influential theory. becomes the very cipher of elusiveness. every text. it moves one more step away. in effect. Agamben asserts. a urinal is signed into being singular and thus art. Both are. 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. . the ready-made and pop art. one might presume. . remove the aura from the work of art: Far from freeing the object from its authenticity. incomplete. comments on aura. its technical reproducibility . Pop art instead takes the process of industrial reproduction and applies it to the art object. Duchamp questioning the authority of the creator. The technical expertise that allowed for an industrial-scale reproducibility of art works thus removing from them their sacred quality.MODERNITY. seemingly. Warhol the singularity of the work. when he argues that Benjamin’s discovery of the loss of the auratic value of art is. (MWC. perhaps the most central theory in the canon of cultural studies. however. states the opposite. like so many of the German thinker’s eclectic projects. 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.
Indeed. as well as its only coming forth to full legibility at a determinate historical moment” (TTR. 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. reproducibility along with communicability. does not inhere solely in the work’s unique singularity. blinding anti-poiesis. and deface them (think of Magritte’s infamous vandalization of a reproduction of the Mona Lisa). god is dead and an art no longer dwells among us. 145). that there is only one or that it has the quality of a magical relic. an activity that 94 . Reproducibility contributes to this malaise only by weakening the points wherein past and present meet. 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 authenticity and authority of the icon. the religious icon say. the lights lowered to dissuade further fading. The two great dicta of modern art’s destruction of tradition. 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. 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. both actual in terms of rail travel and virtual in terms of the mass media and new technologies such as the telegraph. Modernists have often been called iconoclasts but according to Agamben this is literally true in that they take religious relics. works of auratic art. it also depends on the transmissibility of this quality (by transmissibility here read unquestioned status). If aura exists it only exists for us at the moment that we see it in accordance with Benjaminian hermeneutics. 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. are both comments on cultural intransmissibility. Myopically peering through the murk.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN index which indicates both its belonging to a determinate epoch. What Agamben realizes is that within the modern moment.
or commonplace wherein modern shock can become what we hold in common. with the famous Baudelaire lieu commun. In effect. Having to “invent a new authority. 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. is the missing element of Benjamin’s great theory of aura. temple or festival. The paradox of the eternal transient is the more well known and its oxymoronic nature obvious.” 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. Agamben realizes.”10 easily confer upon him the honour of being the great precursor to contemporary reappraisals of modernity and aesthetics. modern experience. 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. it is the one half of art. 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. the fleeting. what Baudelaire attempts is to take the very value that ends tradition.MODERNITY. along with his rumination that the modern is “the transient. Baudelaire was tasked with inventing a new source of authority for the art work. in other words. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS replaces the communal places of common art. Face to face with the dissolution of aura within a society where the authority of tradition was daily under attack. As regards the proposal of shock as the “common place” of a post-transmissible culture however. In both formulations. the other being the eternal and the immutable. Baudelaire’s comments on modernity here. the contingent. 106). our new. the lieu commun and the eternal transient. The end of experience experienced as shocking is. common experience. 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 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 . Baudelaire’s conception of shock. 106). 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.
in the final analysis. Art did not act as a vehicle for transmission. and relighting of aura’s eternal flame through the epochal hiatus between transmissibility and the transmission of a communal intransmissible experience of culture. 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. 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. in this light. and this alienation is in its turn nothing other 96 . expunging. the alienation effected by the work of art. it forms the basis of the whole of the epoch of aesthetic modernity and modern aestheticization. art was transmission. 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. that dissolves the finitude of the art object as a delimited and valued thing through its reproducibility and conversion into praxis. The alienation experienced within art serves as nothing else but the dissolution of the borders of said work through the revelation of the finitude of the work at the moment of its collapse. The 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. Attend here to the means by which Agamben repositions the meaning of the terms reproducibility and transmissibility. in effect. linking tradition with the present age. This event alone produces what we now call modern art. absolutely and significantly finite. Instead of a work of art being a thing in itself whose reproduction undermines its sacral singularity effectively profaning the work. The new work of art. More than that. 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. reproduction is instead reserved for the praxis of the creator. The work becomes a moment of shock. 106). It becomes. must be defined as a process of transmitting the very quality of intransmissibility.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.
¯. 107). for example. It would seem alienating shock is not the legacy of modern art but of self-satisfied traditional values. 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. 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. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS that the measure of the destruction of its transmissibility. effectively eradicates separation. In contrast. retrospectively. At this point. The “now” ceases to be a moment in time but rather is the endless extension of tradition into the future. creating a continuum between tradition and the present that all but eradicates their difference. occupying both the position of an event of major transition and the creation. Transmissibility. 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. each in violent contradiction—art is defined as the singular instance of the held in common—are seen critically for the first 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. turning back to gaze over one’s fleeing shoulder.MODERNITY. of both the premodern and modern epochs of transmissibility and intransmissibility respectively. it fulfils the double meaning of epoch to be found in its etymology: epoche a point in time and a delimited period of time. 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. 97 . singularity and transmissibility. of tradition” (MWC. temporal and spatial. This experience of aesthetic epoche ¯ is Agamben’s definition of that epoch of epochs we call modernity. that is. PROFANING SCISSION Both transmission and reproduction are dependent on metaphysical conceptions of scission and separation. the arche-epoch of art’s very first coming into being or the conditions for art. Epoch of epochs for. a recursiveprojective interplay that we will later come to term poetic structure.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
reproducibility removes the art object from its original authenticity establishing an impossible to traverse abyss between the idea of authenticity as origin and the work itself as literally present. Reproducibility, therefore, introduces an intransmissible space between poiesis and praxis working effectively as the destructive locum for anti-entelechy. Reproducibility is necessary for intransmissibility as such or the making permanently profane the sacred work which is the genius of modern art and its most valuable anti-poietic legacy. Yet, as we now know separation within Agamben is never straightforward and always to be questioned. In the essay “In Praise of Profanation,” for example, Agamben boldly declares that religion can be defined as “that which removes things, places, animals, or people from common use and transfers them to a separate sphere. Not only is there no religion without separation, but every separation also contains or preserves within itself a genuinely religious core” (Prof, 74). While Agamben, reading the founders of modern anthropology, defines the sacred as this passage across the zone of separation, he concedes that the differentiation profane/sacred is less important than “the caesura that divides the two spheres, the threshold that the victim must cross . . .” (Prof, 74). One of the simplest forms of such a crossing is contagion, he notes, the transmission of a disease that threatens to reproduce out of control. The “contagious” nature of separation, whose etymology is to be found in the word contact, allows us to understand the very roots of our transmissible culture in religion. Later, in the same essay Agamben is again reading a Benjamin fragment, this time “Capitalism as Religion,” wherein he finds Benjamin’s suggestion that capitalism appropriates the separating ability that defines religion and generalizes it in all domains: Where sacrifice once marked the passage from the profane to the sacred and from the sacred to the profane, there is now a single, multiform, ceaseless process of separation that assails every thing, every place, every human activity in order to divide it from itself . . . In its extreme form, the capitalist religion realizes the pure form of separation, to the point that there is nothing left to separate. An absolute profanation without remainder . . . (Prof, 81)11 This is naturally a description of commodity culture or the paradox of the separation of separation where the object becomes so profaned that it becomes impossible to profane as separation as such
MODERNITY, PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS
is negated.12 In such a culture all objects are equally transmissible and therefore, in theory, equally sacred resulting in a sacralization of the profane. The consumer object is transmission’s evil doppelganger wherein the object no longer operates within transmissible, historically located cultural values, but instead all values become ahistorical products of the object defined purely as transmissible or exchangeable.
TASTE AND TERROR
In an age of artistic singularity and transmissibility, which is not an age per se but the precursor to the age of art as art, taste and terror are not qualities that the spectator ought to admit to. Inclination and repulsion, although naturally qualities that are unavoidable when observing any phenomenon, could not, during the time of tradition, be admitted into the role of the spectator of particular art works. Certainly, one could love art and one could fear it, especially from the position of actual or aspirational sovereignty such as one finds in Plato, but always as a whole or single entity. Judging art in totality was possible and common in the form of censorship for example, however such sovereign decrees would not depend on personal inclination on what we call today taste. One could not, in a truly transmissible culture, judge a work of art or even perhaps identify it. Art would be, during such an age, extensible with culture as a whole and culture synonymous with the polis. To judge art as bad would be to judge bios as bad. Only a sovereign can do that. Like Nancy, I am uncertain if a totally transmissible culture is anything more than the nostalgic yearning of certain poets and philosophers.13 Yet, irrespective of whether a truly and totally transmissible culture ever existed without remainder, the transmissibility of art was an assumed characteristic up until the moment that the nexus between tradition and the present came under critical consideration in France in the eighteenth century with the debate between the ancients and the moderns. Kant’s third critique on judgement, of course, along with Hegel’s assertion that in the modern period art was at an end, contributed to the development of the category of taste which enters into common usage in English round about the eighteenth century. Agamben however traces its origins back to the middle of the previous century with the rise of the figure of the man of taste who was reputed to have a sixth sense for art which allowed
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
him to identify the “point de perfection that is characteristic of every work of art” (MWC, 13). As taste develops as a concept Agamben notes how the roles of and relationship between the artist and spectator change accordingly: As the idea of taste increases in precision . . . the work of art (at least so long as it is not finished) starts to be regarded as the exclusive competence of the artist, whose creative imagination tolerates neither limits nor impositions. The non-artist, however, can only spectare, that is, transform himself into a less and less necessary and more and more passive partner, for whom the work of art is merely an occasion to practice his good taste. (MWC, 15) The resultant downgrading of the role of spectator in relation to transmissible art cultures is more than apparent here. From active participant in communal culture, of the same subjective value effectively as the artist, the spectator now becomes the one who sees, gazes, gawps from a distance and then, at the end, passes judgement. I like it/I don’t like it. In contrast, the artist’s role becomes far more pronounced for art made by such a creator cannot in effect be judged it being the very dismissal of all such strictures. It comes into being much as a Kantian flower might, and can no more be judged than a flower can or its creator, god. Finally, the relation between the creator and the spectator is now one of irrevocable disjunction. They are not participants in communal culture but two entirely different subjects in relation to a new, alien form. The artist invents so as to live, to attain subjectivity of a kind. The spectator merely observes with the aim of practising or perhaps better honing their new sixth sense: taste. While the rise of taste seems to provide the creator with a god-like power which Nietzsche comes to formulate as the Will to Power as Art, like all humans who attempt to emulate the gods the results are fearful and dangerous: “The artist, faced with a spectator who becomes more similar to an evanescent ghost the more refined his taste becomes, moves in an increasingly free and rarefied atmosphere and begins the voyage that will take him from the live tissue of society to the hyperborean no-man’s-land of aesthetics . . .” (MWC, 16). Taste and invention then seem to be bound together tragically by a rule of inverse proportions: “For, while the balanced figure of the man of taste becomes wide-spread in European society, the artist
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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.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
An art of interest is, primarily, an art of involvement, complicity, often an art of seduction. The distance of the spectator is devoured by the interest they share in the performance in front of them. They are no longer spectators but participants in the very act of pure creation. Possessed by art’s contagion they begin to live as if they were heroes, queens, gods, and monsters. While some remnant of the Greek idea of an art of interest remains in such concepts as, say, catharsis, which is the archetype of an interested experience of art, and modern debates on censorship, it is perhaps hard for us to conceive of a work by John Ashbery as capable of the literal magic, as Artaud expresses it, of an interested art. The term Plato uses to describe the inspired imagination is “divine terror” (MWC, 4), and Agamben concedes this is a rather tasteless overplaying of the effects of art on the modern spectator. That said, returning to Nietzsche and the various exponents of an interested art, terror was very much on the minds of the modern artist. Fatuous explanations for the prevalence of early death, tragedy, suicide, murder, madness, and renunciation among artists usually look to modern psychological models of manic depression and perhaps a disturbed childhood for good measure. Lautréamont, Woolf, Baudelaire, Proust, Mayakovsky, Khlebnikov, Eliot, Pound; why did they lose their life, their health, their socialization, their minds? Agamben’s insight into the madness of modern art takes up an entirely different, unexpected and, for our understanding of the arts, profound recipe than that of simple psychology. At the same time as, in modern aesthetics, the spectator is able place art at one remove by virtue of disinterest: “For the one who creates it, art becomes an increasingly uncanny experience, with respect to which speaking of interest is at the very least a euphemism, because what is at stake seems to be not in any way the production of a beautiful work but instead the life and death of the author, or at least his spiritual health” (MWC, 5). This statement results in another equation wherein the increasing innocence of the spectator’s experience in front of the art work corresponds to the degree of danger central to the creator’s experience. Agamben backs this up with many now well-known expressions of the risk of art— Baudelaire, Hölderlin, Van Gogh, Rilke—suggesting an alternative messianism in his work, that of the self-sacrifice of the modern artist at the altar of an interested anti-aesthetics of creation as subjective state.
. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS The death of poets leads Agamben to a typically messianic conclusion which calls for the destruction of aesthetics. then perhaps we are today in a privileged position to understand the authentic significance of the Western aesthetic project” (MWC. Yes. and build a new home that perhaps over time could become a city. calling for “another kind of art . and artistic scandals. 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. 7). 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. 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. this most innocent of occupations. how can modern art subsist on the ambiguous fare of taste based on universal disinterest. an art for artists. Nietzsche. 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. for artists only” (MWC. These artists wish to make artists of us all. or perhaps more pungently. Here Agamben merely hints at the now classic definition of the avant-garde to be found in the work of Burger and others. . 6).16 a nihilistic art that seeks not so much innovation as is sometimes assumed (make it new). with a senate. and terror which is the result of interest? Taste seems to attract the spectator to participate in precisely 103 . HOW TO EXIT ART “How can art. Rather they want to burn the very dwelling of art to the ground. 8) the philosopher asks. Having taken us across a ghostly plain we are now confronted with a burnt-out homestead. The essay then ends by jettisoning us out onto this calcified outcrop with the words of a mad prophet. pit man against Terror?” (MWC. whistling about our ears. lay out foundations. a destruction perhaps already in place: “If it is true that the fundamental problem becomes visible only in the house ravaged by fire. Such mad artists do not want to move to a fresh plain. to return art to life.MODERNITY. not least literary criticism. museums. The landscapes of Agamben’s thinking are always appealing and slightly appalling. statuary.15 but also easily identified in the statements of the artists themselves. commissions.
an art which is auto-anthropophaganous or self-devouring. the dark face of his own beloved philology. His is an art of abstraction which repulses 104 . 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. indeed becomes transmissible with life.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN what they cannot have. Agamben calls the terrorist a misologist. 8). putting the writer face to face with the absolute” (MWC. 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 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. 8). 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. and death. an art which exits art through the door marked “To Art. but also to commence with breaking down the differentiation between rhetoric and terrorism. The rhetorician wishes to “dissolve all meaning into form” (MWC. in trying to create art that competes with. Frenhofer labours at his masterpiece for ten years to create a work of art that negates art and becomes. 9). As Agamben rightly indicates.” Yet in reality the woman he has painted is reduced to mere colours and abstract forms: “a chaos of colors. hesitating nuances. In direct contradistinction. while terrorists “refuse to bend to this law and pursue the opposite dream of a language that would be nothing but meaning. Loath as I am to succumb to the simple binary oppositions displayed in this. kitsch. silence. He notes. Agamben’s earliest work.” Frenhofer invents a modern art. allows Agamben to begin to undermine not only the quest for the absolute in terror. 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. 9). “It is the dream of a product that exists according to the statute of the thing” (MWC. 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. of course. rhetoricians and terrorists. a kind of aesthetic wine-tasting where they can sample Picasso but cannot become drunk on Joyce. This remainder. like the Pygmalion myth. a “living reality. tones. 9). of a thought in whose flame the sign would be fully consumed.
Such confusion over the source of the conflagration of art’s dwelling place. or thought leads Agamben to posit the very paradox of the artist’s terror. he has no other means than form itself. form. . PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS the disinterested spectre of Poussin (literally spectral here. Returning to Rimbaud for a moment. allowing only signs. then. 10). in the very apotropaic hall of mirrors that is modern art. But. meaningless forms. For what is the mystery we call Rimbaud if not the point where literature annexes its opposite. and the appetite for signs becomes a cause of disgust. between ‘the poems that he wrote and those he did not deign to write?’” Agamben then 105 . The terrorist is left. Instead one can only escape the matter of art by removing it from oneself entirely. set up by aesthetics. But in the attempt. agitated and enflamed. isn’t the unknown masterpiece instead the masterpiece of Rhetoric? Has the meaning erased the sign.” (MWC. De Chirico’s self-parody. Agamben’s conclusion to the tale is a devastating and much overdue total foundering of the differentiation between form and thought. to survive. “In order to leave the evanescent world of forms. Yet. terror flings him back into rhetoric. There are many famous examples of terrorism in modern art. Fleeing from rhetoric leads him to terror. . the repulsion from signs becomes an impossible attraction. he ends up with nothing in his hands but signs . 10). namely. unpalatable masterpiece he says: “The quest for absolute meaning has devoured all meaning. or has the sign abolished the meaning?” (MWC. the ultimate paradox is that the act of greatest terror is precisely that of aestheticoamputation. Gogol’s disappointment that Dead Souls did not liberate the peasants is matched by Mallarmé’s inability to complete Le Livre. convert poiesis into fiat lux. a mere representation of the artist in art). Misology becomes philology. Roussel’s collapse when La Doublure did not change the world. 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. the more he has to concentrate on it to render it permeable to the inexpressible content he wants to express. rhetoric and terror. To truly exit literature one cannot make literature into a thing. which is the archetypal gesture of the modern artist: “But the paradox of the Terror is still present even in this extreme move. and the more he wants to erase it. as Blanchot rightly observed. silence? Isn’t Rimbaud’s fame divided. Rimbaud’s flight from art. and Duchamp’s silence. Speaking of Frenhofer’s ever-collapsing.MODERNITY.
makes him the most pathetic and powerful of all modern artists: the man who sought silence and was thus then forced to speak. His decision to have all his works destroyed at his death. This is the ultimate desubjectivization of the poet. risk accusations of the obvious.17 does not the material depiction of silence. the most eloquent rhetorician? Who has the most fiendish savour for violence and fear? While Malevich and (late) Beckett. Even silence succumbs to speech it would seem. never made.18 He sits.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN finally and fatally enquires: “isn’t this the masterpiece of rhetoric?” (MWC. the final version of Le Livre. Will there ever be an end to art that is itself not a work of art but a pure experience of the poetic? 106 . 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. The way out of art into language is permanently barred by the very sign that indicates “Exit from Art. Consider the gesture we call author-function Rimbaud and Duchamp against those we call Malevich or Beckett. 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. 11). but surely the greatest works of modernism are those which were never created: Lautréamont’s third book. Which is the greatest artist. destroyed but. 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. There is no resisting dictation in the modern age. as Badiou shows. manifest the very condition of acsesis as both testament to the lack of events and precursive preparation for the event to come. This is why Kafka casts such a shadow over Agamben’s work and the modern age as a whole. decomposed. becoming even kitsch? To paint absence is one thing. 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. most potently. at the very nexus between the terrorist become rhetorician and the rhetorician facing up to the terror of the absolute void. over time. Rimbaud and Duchamp do not merely make and then choose not to make. Bruno Schultz’s first novel. ignored by his “friend” Brod. surely.” As soon as one speaks of the creation of art one enters subjective negation. As soon as one actively pursues the negation of art one creates anew an art of negation as such.
that we currently live in the age of prose. as it were. that poetry is the archetypal art in that it exists between language (the sensible) and image (idea). the power of art over the spectator collapsed into profane secularization only to rise again in the form of shock rather than awe. courtesy of philosophy. 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. Hegel’s work is perhaps most central to Agamben’s reading of art under negation. democratic. to accept its tripartite collapse or to turn these failings around and form from them a new lieu commun. A choice lies before modern poiesis therefore.19 and that this age is marked by its being the epoch of the end of art. at the moment that poiesis becomes available for full view to us for the first time since the Platonic occlusion.MODERNITY. These are that art is the sensible presentation of the idea. or an art that celebrates subordination. at each level of Hegelian aesthetics modern art is denigrated. and Nietzsche. the prosaic. 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. It arrives precisely at the moment that prose as bios or social ethics has inundated all during the period of Western. through four central tenets to Hegel’s overall aesthetic theory. Hegel. The modern art work becomes a means of presenting that there was once art but now such work is at an end. Second it is a mere prosaic remnant of the poetic art that once dwelled among us. For Hegel modern art is a valorization of the sensible presentation of the idea.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. As Agamben shows in an extensive analysis of the history of the development of the museum from the ancient cabinet of wonder. art. As we have seen at some point or over time in Western culture. First it is subordinate to the idea. Enlightenment democracy. once the space of 107 . Third its critical definition is also its negation. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS MODERN AESTHETIC DESUBJECTIVIZATION The Man Without Content is effectively a conversation between Agamben and the three fathers of modern aesthetics: Kant. As one can see. poiesis arrives. This means that. and negation. at the presentation of its own dissolution: the collapse of poetry into prose.
religion. because it can only measure itself against the vertigo caused by its own abyss. Art is now the absolute freedom that seeks its end and its foundation in itself. as it were. contagiously through the art work. which soars above the contents as over an immense repository of materials that it can evoke or reject at will. At the moment that the creator steps out of the transmissibility of cultural traditions her relation to her material changes. (MWC. by which the inert world of contents in their indifferent. That Hegel placed art at the lowest level of the journey of the spirit from exteriority. is revelatory in this regard. secular shock. 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. and does not need. or when the creator becomes critical spectator of their own work. through exterior interiority. At this moment the work of poiesis enters the world of prose: The artist then experiences a radical tearing or split. Previous to that she had no direct selfconsciousness of material or making. At this moment works of modern art are produced through the profanation of the relic into an art object already suffering auratic aphasia.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. any content. autonomous. In a very basic way this idealized act of creation was neither making something nor creating art as we moderns understand these terms. Art got one ready for god who in his turn prepared one for Geist. 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 .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. 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. For Hegel this scission within the subjectivity of the spectator is first enacted within that of the creator and transmitted. the poem. prosaic objectivity goes to one side. and to the other the free subjectivity of the artistic principle. 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. substantially.
Art becomes incommensurable in the moment that measuring art becomes possible through the Kantian discipline of criticism. Freedom: defined here in a Nancyian manner as a nonfoundational self-founding. it holds in its hands not the beautiful but its shadow. namely that of Kant. Therefore. Central to the definitions of the object of aesthetic judgement as disinterested satisfaction. This shadow of art is the modern experience of 109 . . universality apart from concepts. Modern art. Having set up Hegelian aesthetics as permanently under negation. as though its true object were not so much what art is but what it is not” (MWC. Scission: art is no longer defined through its place in the continuum but through its being excerpted from the continuum. floating in the sense that it both soars above and is endlessly falling away. Agamben then turns to the very aesthetic system from which Hegel’s work emanates but also seeks to depart from. 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. that every time aesthetic judgement attempts to determine what the beautiful is. confounding common denominator. 42). and normality without a norm “it seems . or the moment at which the artist becomes her own spectator or the spectator becomes the judge of art. purposiveness without purpose. the only measure of art on earth is art itself. Art is no longer measurable against culture as either being of the same standard or co-extensive. Prose: at this juncture the meaning of the work becomes subject to the prose of the world. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS modern art. Materiality: the work becomes a commodity fetish or non-utilitarian choice of the object purely for the sake of exchange.MODERNITY. 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. is thus definable by a conglomeration of the following quasi-events. Summarizing the four characteristics of aesthetic judgement as Kant delineates them he finds a single. . Height: the subjectivity of the artist is now defined as that of being above the territory of art’s dwelling on earth. The work of art is moved from being encased in a continuum to floating within the void. so that the semantic is handed over to prose and meaning becomes the absence of meaning.22 Contentless-ness: what the work of art now contains as content is the work of art as such. which is art as such defined by Agamben as art under erasure.
or of discovering natural beauty defined as finality without purpose (objective perfection without teleology). is that judgement is the affect of the sensation of thinking. therefore.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inexperiencible art which is. In finding the universal in the particular. . judgement merely operates between practical reason and understanding which is judgement’s famous heuristic capacity. put simply. He thus concludes that “our appreciation of art begins necessarily with the forgetting of art” (MWC. Agamben then moves to Kant’s dictum that judgement is “a concept . for us. Agamben. or as Lyotard says: “The strength of reflective weakness can be explained by the heuristic function of reflection. Reflective thinking 110 . . from which . 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. The moment that we engage the faculty of judgement we are negating the very object we are judging. 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. 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. 43). nothing can be known” (MWC. We can recognize in this concentration by Agamben on the paradox of judgement as a non-knowing concept parallels with Lyotard’s reading of reflective judgement as tautegorical. 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 tautegorical nature of reflective judgement is to be found in the relation of judgement to the sensation which. The act of judgement produces the feeling of the activity of judgement. which is the indication to thought that it is taking place. 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). the only experience of art and also the first experience of art as a thing in itself. so to speak. which is the quintessence of taste. 44). the tautegorical aesthetic shares in the weakness of this strength” (LAS. of understanding and reason. . 6).
11). there is no way to return to it by way of the reverse path of taste” (MWC. the spectator-critic. indeed for Kant nature is the regulative concept for aesthetic beauty—the very thing Hegel takes issue with. 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. he brings with him nonbeing and shadow” (MWC. therefore. Natural beauty does not require a regulative concept.’ But this state is nothing other than the feeling that signals it . . 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. therefore. that is. 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. At this juncture. but on the sensation of thinking thinking. 46). it is in fact the content-less nature of the modern work of art that results in perhaps the ultimate. In contrast. The very self-presence of the spectator is the pre-condition of the work of 111 . Agamben identifies the central point of his thesis on modern art. “What he sees of himself in the work. 46). Judgments of taste are based. namely. the content he perceives. 45). 47). or “once the work of art has been produced. not on thinking something. and which therefore he can legitimately believe himself capable of expressing” (MWC.MODERNITY. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS is. Yet while judgement seems almost to blame for the end of art thesis. 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. The person whose job it is to shed light on modern art. concepts that could be known. “one can never return to it from a state posterior to its creation”. the free creative-formal principle of the artist” (MWC. 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. but rather as something of which he is already perfectly aware as a thinking subject. appears to him no longer as a truth that finds its necessary expression in the work. 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. . is the very person who commits art to the realm of dark non-art: “whenever he exercises his reflection.
but there is one simple fact separating the two. but the critic does not make modern art placing them/us in a doubly untenable position. the critic cannot.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN art without content. he must split 112 . That is. The pure creative principle results in the alienation of art and the critic not only recognizes this theme-less theme. to use Hegel’s term. The subject of judgement finds itself both subject and predicate of their judgement. The result of this on all of us is devastating: “In the aesthetic judgement. There is nothing the artist can teach the spectator. The genius makes art. What they see in the work of art is what they already know. The critic identifies her being in the alienation of the work which rejects or. he has no other way of finding himself again than wholly to assume his contradiction. Thus the alienation of art is their subject. they are of course part of what makes it possible. and at the same time immediately as itself. leaves behind all support. being-as-nonnart but not being art. The annihilation of content may be familiar. existing in both positions without any means of bringing the two together again. but as something absolutely Other. it is the pure split and lack of foundation that endlessly drifts on the ocean of form without ever reaching dry land” (MWC. perverts any relationship between the genius of creation and the communality of culture. but the critic cannot share in it. is the very basis of his theory of the potentially productive nature of the historically contingent. The presence of the critic makes possible modern art. and yet what they know is what they can never be. 48). the critic knows all. it belongs with them. Yet. at the same time the spectator is by definition not the artist. 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. Agamben’s explanation of this double negation. as Agamben says both absolutely Other and immediately itself. and agrees to enter the circle of absolute perversion. 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.
(MWC. and Agamben here names Rimbaud and Artaud as exemplary in this regard. Having dealt with one half of modern aesthetic desubjectivization. that artistic subjectivity is absolute essence. there is no escaping the fact that. for Agamben at least. If she places her faith in a specific content she realizes she is lying as her own pure subjectivity is everything. . Yet. 55). in fact. “trying to make of the split that inhabits him the fundamental experience starting from which a new human station becomes possible” (MWC. he cannot neglect the other half: artist as god-like creator. In this alienation he owns himself. split from any content. Yet here Agamben takes on critical desubjectivization and proposes at least a desire to convert ontological negation into a productive category. Of the creative. and in owning himself he alienates himself. . 54). Which annihilates and dissolves every content in its continuous effort to transcend and actualize itself. Hence Agamben’s conclusion: “The artist is the 113 . without content. 55). (MWC. 54). PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS asunder his own split. negate his own negation . the heroic modern artist. can attempt to totally inhabit the split and try to live this violence. the pure creative-formal principle.MODERNITY. 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. Thus the modern artistic subject can be defined as a radical split. “outside of this split. however. Nietzschean genius he says: What the artist experiences in the work of art is. for which all subject matter is indifferent. 48) The position of the modern spectator. everything is a lie” (MWC. 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. . 54) Such a dire conundrum strands the artistic subject in a doubly desubjectivizing quandary. beside his reality” (MWC. the artist is always living on what he calls “this side of his essence . Faced with this alternative. . is the absolute abstract inessence. however. to live the epoch or to live outside of it. Yet even if one chooses to live the split.
as if for the first time.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN man without content. First as an example of poeticized desubjectivization. perhaps predictably. Second in revealing the structural interdependence of philosophy and poetry in this process: formless thought or contentless form. for the very first time. Modern art is art that is under negation through the act of coming to view. 55). how negation as such. who has no other identity than a perpetual emerging out of the nothingness of expression . Yet. Modern aesthetic double desubjectivization provides us with a prototype for the following three propositions in Agamben’s overall system.24 The end of art as art results in a double desubjectivization. modern art. in accordance with Benjamin’s hermeneutic principle. 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. And finally third. 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. . Here one can see the importance of aesthetic modernity to Agamben’s wider philosophical project. This has various benefits of course. 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. thoughts about art. 114 . as is indeed. For Agamben. are as pure subjective inessence. or all form without content. It opens up to us the importance of tradition and transmissibility which we now see. critically.” (MWC.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. . Either art is pure content without form.
SECOND EPISODE ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS .
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and the visual arts is merely as a means of approaching a post-nihilistic metaphysics. an ancient by-way thicketed by prejudice. or as we will come to see him comparative. 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. The tension between the philosophical and the literary in Agamben is the central animator of his whole intra-metaphysical. that Agamben is “literary” and that the literary Agamben opens up a clearing around thinking through poetry/ poiesis that I am calling logopoiesis. 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. Neither a thinker of philosophy nor poetry alone and unable to succumb to any of the traditional modes of thinking division. THINKING TAUTOLOGY The title of this volume proposes a compound construction or double thesis. And so I present for general perusal and 117 . however. more pointedly. expropriating appropriative methodology. a political philosopher. Such a di-thetic approach runs the risk of being doubly unpopular in that for those who believe Agamben to be a philosopher or. novels. my suggestion that no understanding of Agamben’s indifferent ontology is possible without recourse to the literary might even seem frivolous. the compound. they must accept and actively live through. At the same time.CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. and by their occlusion of the fact that their inter-division is a false divide which. 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. This cannot be helped.
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. would include Jean-Luc Nancy. or thinking thought as such. Badiou is also a great logopoietic thinker of course and he. Having now dealt in some detail with logos. Poetic thinking is not thinking about poetry. indeed the inserts into such a narrative are sparse and inconclusive. or not entirely. as is now apparent. 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. A fully worked out vision of logopoiesis would require detailed reading of all their work in conjunction with that of Agamben. 20). one which thinks the very basis of thinking as such in the pure mediality of language the most 118 . convenient possibility. 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. thinkers who accept the centrality of Heidegger but also look to poetry as a way beyond his ontology. 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. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and. or thinking through making. it does not accurately reflect the sophistication and tensile balance I intend to convey in the term logopoiesis. There may be others. perhaps more contentiously. as we saw.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN perhaps initial scepticism or even weary derision my theory of logo-poiesis. The simplest definition of such poetic thinking is a turn to poetry to assist thinking to overcome the aporias of modern thought. and poiesis. nor is it a type of poetry that thinks. and some comments would be reserved for the work of Deleuze. While. One would not want to neglect Blanchot in this regard also. Agamben proposes various names for this alternate or “new” form of thinking. Jacques Derrida. 74). beyond stating that it was the later work of Heidegger and its emphasis on poetry and poetic thinking that commenced the tradition that was able “to hand philosophy over to poetry” as Badiou states it (MP. which is why logos and poiesis alone are not sufficient designations even if. or not solely. Other contemporary logopoietic thinkers therefore. As we have seen. 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. like Heidegger before him. for Agamben at least thought is or must be poeticized and poiesis is a mode of material thinking.
a full understanding of categorical thinking and the problems of naming. much debated and contested terms is unwise. Poetic thinking ultimately stresses a form of thinking that relies on and appropriates poetry.” which would be the translation of logopoiesis. as its novelty resides in the manner in which something original has been totally forgotten and then rediscovered centuries later). essentially name the same process of bringing to appearance. In contrast “poetic thinking. however.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. As should be the effect on both terms when placed in a zone of bound proximity. Thus logopoiesis is essentially tautological in essence. especially considering the dangers of duality inherent within our tradition. THINKING TAUTOLOGY authentic experience of which is the poetic word (I hesitate to call it new. Poetic thinking it could be logopoiesis it is. and the fact that poetic thinking really names a form of philosophy that considers poetry. Heidegger tells us. One cannot blithely produce neologisms and not expect certain repercussions. One term will naturally seek dominance over the other.1 While sporadically mentioned by critics. Certainly he does not use the term logopoiesis. I have opted for the more obscure but also productively suggestive term. 119 . balanced proximity giving way to a hierarchical topography and so on. THE LOGO-POIESIS TAUTOLOGY The creation of a compound term out of two ancient. has found significant currency within philosophy. and neglects the possibility of a poetry that thinks. and how indeed two terms can be placed in relation to each other simply by spatio-linguistic proximity are all issues to be taken rather seriously. witness Halliburton’s book on Heidegger of the same name.LOGOPOIESIS. For this reason. The definition of the terms in play. he does not hone in on one particular name or ever actually advocate a “poetic thinking” at all. 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. None of the thinkers I have mentioned do so. The dangers are heightened further when it comes to the combination of two terms such as logos and poiesis which. Yet logopoiesis is not a neologism. logopoiesis has not come to be a developed rhetorical or critical term.
If we now return briefly to Heidegger’s foundational work on the term poiesis. its definition as presencing. How. bringing forth. Appearance. “does not mean that something shows itself. can speech be speech and also mean all of these other things that effectively form the very basis of discursive. quite the contrary he is a thinker of obfuscation). ground. Yet the means by which poiesis does this differ from those of logos. rather it means that something makes itself known which does not show itself. 25) must be interpreted effectively as a symptom. 29). 120 . 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. concept. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. relation. and so on. the self-showing. 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. Thus logos is definable as making something appear in speech. the manifest” (BT. to let them be seen as something unconcealed (alēthes). rely on the mediation of speech: making something appear which is hidden and remains so. 22). 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. which effectively means speech. makes logos and poiesis appear as synonymous and thus the term logopoiesis as tautological. Like logos. concept. and relation. The knowledge generating powers of logos as reason. judgement. presuppositional philosophical thought? The answer he gives is that logos really means deloun or to make manifest what is being talked about in speech. 26). meaning something that shows itself to indicate something else that does not show itself. 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. to discover them” (BT. It makes itself known through something that does show itself ” (BT. therefore. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as producing something into presence. definition. Logos makes appear something in precisely this way: “to take things that are being talked about in legein as apophainethai out of their concealment.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Heidegger explains that for the Greeks the term logos. has come to be translated/interpreted variously as reason. judgement. he ponders.
Yet to do so runs the risk of obfuscating the truth that logopoiesis is essentially a form of tautological circular thinking.LOGOPOIESIS. logo-poiesis is primarily tautological as both logos and poiesis are mediating modes of producing truth. is that in philosophy truths are produced through the support of linguistic mediation. Enframed techne produces something to the dictates of the age in which it is produced. 29). THINKING TAUTOLOGY whereas logos mediates presencing. one makes is not the thing produced by poiesis. Yet in later Heidegger the emphasis has changed. which he also translates as presencing. Thus logos means making something manifest through the mediation of speech. apportions itself into the revealing that brings forth and that also challenges . therefore. This difference becomes clearer if we re-consider the role of production or techne in relation to presencing. . and could indeed use another form of mediation. Most certainly thinking and poetry produce truth in a different manner. Truth is now produced into presence by virtue of techne. making. 121 . Yet logos merely utilizes speech as a mediation. while poiesis is that form of revealing that “ever so suddenly and inexplicably to all thinking. Perhaps it is more illuminating to write the tautology out thus: (logos) the truth of production—(poiesis) the production of truth. rather in making something poiesis brings something that was hidden to presence. 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. he differentiates two forms of producing forth. while free techne or poiesis exceeds the frame and produces freed thinking.” (QCT. while in poiesis they are produced through making. It could also be accused of using speech instrumentally as a form of Gestell. Gestell is instrumental and pre-ordained production. To sum up. Techne is the active process of bringing something to presence through making. production as instrumentality which he terms challenging-forth. but ultimately logopoiesis says the same thing twice: the production of truth—the production of truth. Here language is merely symptomatic of truth. The difference between philosophical and poetic thinking. When one makes something the actual thing. 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. while poiesis means producing something into presence through the act of making. .
is inimical to philosophical thought. but which produces truth as the very precondition for thinking. before or beyond its determination as true or false. at the same time. 174 respectively) and indeed the centrality of the hermeneutic circle. the most profound experience of which belongs. . it cannot be proved right or wrong by testing it for agreement in relation to concepts or things in the world. it disallows philosophy or poetry to totally appropriate the term.” He then proceeds to explain: “Not only science but also poetry and thinking conduct experiments. to recognize the Being of something as something” (P. 260). models for logopoiesis. they call into question Being itself. with the poets. for truth is what is at issue in them” (P. or On Contingency. in their way. Second. 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. Agamben declares that this ought to be the “paradigm for literary writing. Such a truth resides in the fact that there is language as pure medium. 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. 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. These experiments do not simply concern the truth or falsity of hypotheses . . tautology names the specificity. 122 . “Bartleby. First. Damascius’ consciousness of the tablet. as I said. These experiences are without truth. Glenn Gould’s playing with not-playing. THE EXEMPLARY TAUTOLOGY OF LOGOPOIESIS We have already seen some examples of logopoietic thinking. 190 and OWL. tautology is true to the Heideggerian roots of the conception. Akhmatova’s ability not to write and Benjamin’s Idea of Prose are all.” Here he speaks of the prose of Robert Walser which the critic Walter Lüssi called “pure poetry” because it “refuses in the widest sense. I would also call this an archetypal definition of logopoiesis: a form of thinking that is without truthfulness. rather. it touches on the debate as regards the tautegorical nature of logopoiesis. we are repeatedly assured. 260). Third.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The tautology of the term is relevant for several reasons and thus must be retained. Finally.
LOGOPOIESIS.3 Agamben stresses that Bartleby’s experiment with being and potential is of this kind. THINKING TAUTOLOGY Agamben then goes on to list a history. for the reptile. This is what Agamben calls the “irreducibility of his ‘I would 123 . 93). Each of these thinkers conducts an experiment in being which we should now recognize as that of desubjectivization. power. of remarkable logopoietic thinkers. this is his form of life. All poetic thinking. the father of logopoiesis. That Agamben uses precisely the same phrase when explaining that the importance of poetry is that it produces life (EP. but a scrivener whose potential never arrives at actualization. the transformation of limbs that changed it into a bird” (P. as we saw. the moment when the subject “withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. Of course he then recounts Rimbaud’s declaration “I is another” alongside Kleist’s use of the marionette as paradigm for the absolute. Rather he does not want to. He is a scrivener. but as we saw desubjectivization is a central tenet in Agamben’s conception of the relevancy of poetry to philosophy and being. if I may but temporarily coin that rather horrendous-sounding neologism. He mentions Avicenna’s imagining of an eviscerated and dismembered being that can still state “I am. It is not that he cannot copy.” He speaks of Cavalcanti’s description of the poetic experience of being like an automaton. 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. being. and most significantly. 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. I believe. This is not. he ends with Heidegger. He remains a scrivener with the potential to write mimetically. He is a scrivener. 260). 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.” Here he experiments with issues of will. effectively. 260). but when asked to copy or write by his boss he replies that he would “prefer not to. Finally. 94) indicates how integral in actuality is his vision of thinking and poetry. and potential. the only experiment to be conducted by logo-poets. 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. all logopoiesis produces life out of desubjectivization or.
form-of-life (HS. 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. are somewhat dissatisfying. 259). Similarly. Logopoiesis is a truth-testing tautology that can only occur outside the realms of philosophy. 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. 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. For a start Melville’s story seems to merely recount the conditions of potential in an allegorical or analogous form. 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. or better. another name Agamben gives to this ontology is life. “Emancipating itself from Being and non-Being alike. It is the formula of potentiality” (P. between potential absoluta and potential ordinate.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN prefer not to’. “The formula that he so obstinately repeats destroys all possibility of constructing a relation between being able and being willing. Logopoiesis therefore must be a construction dependent on the logic of potentiality as Agamben finesses it. as all illustrations are. but. 255). he would simply prefer not to. 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. In the end there is little difference between this presentation of truth 124 . potentiality thus creates its own ontology” (P.4 INFINITE POETRY While illustrative these examples. 188). as Keats demonstrates in the final line of “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” It is not that he does not want to copy. Philosophy cannot abide the tautology. A tautology is a form of thinking whose truth cannot be tested because it is always true. In that this ontology withdraws subjectivity from actual identity and biological indistinction. 261). he argues.” poetry thrives on it.
5 His is a truly engaged logopoiesis that gives as much attention to the operations of poetic thinking as to philosophical thought processes. and back again. always conceives of the sense-certainty assumed by the “this” as always already “universal and negative. poetry. This is best illustrated by the centrality he gives to poetry in Language and Death. as some have of Heidegger and Badiou. and dialogue have all been used by philosophy to make a point. faced with the “immensity” of both infinite space and infinite time. specificity to generality.”6 Agamben’s analysis begins in technicalities which indicate the sincere philologer within him. is this specific use of deixis singular to the poem when innumerable poems use the same technique? Agamben believes that Leopardi.” At this point.” so that while we may assume that Leopardi did 125 . This is logopoiesis in its weakest state. Yet Agamben is not to be accused. most specifically the circular tautological nature of thinking under the auspices of logopoiesis.” Naturally. like Hegel. along with an interesting interchange between “this” and “that.” Author-function Leopardi is then struck by a sense of “interminable spaces” in the distant beyond.” moving one from proximity to distance. 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. Narrative. THINKING TAUTOLOGY and that found in Plato’s dialogues or the fabulous Nietzsche. / and this hedgerow that hides from view / so large a part of the remote horizon. 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. And how.” with “this hedgerow” becoming converted later into “that. the impersonal genius of the wind interjects and “I find myself comparing to this voice / that infinite silence: and I recall eternity.LOGOPOIESIS. 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. marked by “supernatural silences. of merely allegorizing literature in the service of philosophy. indeed. “L’infinito” begins: “This lonely knoll was ever dear to me. that moves beyond what we have already learnt of deixis from other sources. He notes the deictic “this” is repeated six times in the poem’s fifteen lines. which it undoubtedly does in the poem.
toward an infinity of events of language. and into other realms of generality. here his analysis of poetry is exemplary and paradigmatic. in other words where and how poetry thinks? First. referentiality in poetry is always already moving away from reference to an actual thing towards 126 . the “this” points always already beyond the hedgerow. (LD. is modified to become the more vague and distant “that. here the This is always already a Not-this (a universal. 76) Although a consideration of one short lyric this is also an observation of great significance. I believe. The place of poetry is therefore always a place of memory and repetition.” and then “this” for “that” suggests that. a That).7 He is reading a poem by Leopardi but. like the poet himself. This. What are these qualities that typify the place of poetry. Previously. is indicated for example by how soon the “this” in the poem. converting with haste Leopardi the existent-being into Leopardi the author-function gesture. second as to how poetic structure. first as regards the now fully fleshed-out conception of dictation. as in the Hegelian analysis of sense-certainty. the hedgerow. however. and the wind in the poem have immediately moved beyond referentiality to an existential fact. already referentially deficient but still intimate. he believes. Agamben’s use of prose was illustrative. reducing both subjectivities to mere gesturality. also converts the ontic object of the text as such into mere text-function. In the Leopardian idyll. More precisely the instance of discourse is assigned to memory from the very beginning. he is immediately transforming the sense-certainty of the poem into a set of universal qualities revealing. the knoll. reference.” The rapidity and alacrity with which the poet abandons a noun for “this. Poetic language takes place in such a way that its advent always already escapes both toward the future and toward the past. 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). and third how poetic thinking differs totally from that of philosophy.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN once perceive a knoll in his home town of Recanati. serving as the basis for the possibility of its infinite repetition. beyond the last horizon. in such a way. and rhythm work. that the procedure of author-function becoming reader-function. in the instance of discourse that the habitual use of deixis indicates.
or has always already been converted from singular event to universal quality. The poem deals with a truth that is always already in place before the poet ever even wanders lonely as a cloud.LOGOPOIESIS. The event as such is either always already prepared for. the poietic poem. A poem can never be an event. the uncertainties of memory down by the station early in the morning. 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. Although the lived experience always precedes the act of mimesis in our tradition. they have already entered into a field of repetition. the fiction of the razo creates lived experience simply to support the event of writing a poem that is long past. Agamben’s first conclusion from this astonishing reading is itself somewhat predictable but essential all the same. frog-spawn. something singular to the poet. to a universal precondition of experience as such. 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. Second. a poem is therefore always profoundly evental. this allows Agamben to make a truly profound revelation as to the nature of poetic structure. Third. or conceptually through such considerations of space and time that we find in “L’infinito. Its advent is both pre-cursive and reflective. Finally. poetic referentiality is always marked by a belatedness transferring all poetic temporality into memorialization. there was a Grecian urn but in the poem there is no Grecian urn.” located as it is beyond the knoll in 127 .” There was a knoll but in the poem there is no knoll. a gesture conjured up to support to presence of the poem as such (LD. is truly an event in that it negates the very possibility of its ever occupying this space and being termed as such. 69). and yet as soon as the poet encounters daffodils. The poem. therefore. THINKING TAUTOLOGY the thing first standing for something else and then finally an indication of the thing of language as such. and thus available for perpetual repetition. 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 solitary reaper but in the poem she has already fled. universal. He says that the poem “expresses the same experience which we saw as constitutive of philosophy itself. namely. 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. fourth.
That said if philosophy is marked by language as negation then poetry too cannot escape this metaphysical nihilism. 77). 77). and that the instance of the word that takes place in a poem is. He adds: “The word. This is. to return. Thus literature can get there first. of course. is an essential part of poetry. that they will return again. The verse (versus. comes about in such as way that its advent necessarily remains unsaid in that which is said” (LD.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. For a start Agamben excitedly notes in relation to Bartleby that Melville’s observations on will precede those of Nietzsche by three decades. although in later studies he refers to it as the semiotic. 77). 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. from verto. In addition. The utilization of metrical forms in poetry. 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. not quite. 77). This element is what he calls here poetry’s “super-shifter . as in prose) signals for a reader that these words have always already come to be. in all poetry even contemporary mainstream free verse and experimental poetics. thus. taking place in time. There are blessings and curses to be gleaned from this analysis. Agamben’s definition of language’s sayability as pure medium being perpetually silenced by the instance of the Voice.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN interminable silence (LD. . the metrical-musical element” (LD. Its role as a functioning meta-deixis although not often enough remarked upon is central to the literary experience as a whole. 128 . to proceed directly. weaving a complex planar and tabular matrix of anaphoric and cataphoric elements that are the essence of its form. Well. Poetry and philosophy are most certainly linked in terms of how they think language. the act of turning. to coincide perfectly with the philosophical experience of language” (LD. This is no more the case than in the poem which demands to be read then re-read. . as opposed to prorsus. for this reason. Thus he is able to conclude in a phrase of some significance to my own theory of logopoiesis: “The poetic experience of dictation seems. if philosophy has already indicated this surely all that is left for poetry is to back philosophy up.
the unattainable). You will recall that although poetry and philosophy both share as their object the unattainability of language as such. structure. But this placelessness has a place to be found in prosody itself. While philosophy is able to speak of the unspeakable giving us insight into negativity but no means of overcoming it. which is something philosophical language can never do unless it becomes poeticized. sound. philosophy and poetry. indeed. 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. THINKING TAUTOLOGY ungraspable. Does it not. and while my formulation of logopoiesis advocates 129 . modern poetic dictation is just as marked by negation as modern philosophical thinking. This is not the solution to our metaphysical problems. in what I have called logopoiesis. reference and. 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. philosophical discourse cannot. THE HABITS OF THE MUSE Agamben’s conclusion to his reading of Leopardi is complex and subtle. 78) This is the essence of the nature of poetry for Agamben. Through the musical element. no quick solution to this problem. it performs or at least demonstrates that the very place of poetry. As the poem is always already in place before you even come upon it. counting as one of the most profound reflections on the literary ever penned in any language at any time. is by definition a placeless one. This allows poetry to take possession of language’s unattainability in a way. he believes. but the commencement of a possible shift away from the aporias of both logos and poiesis. 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. lineation. where poetry thinks. finally.LOGOPOIESIS. poetic language commemorates its own inaccessible originary place and it says the unspeakability of the event of language (it attains. that is. Thus the poem is able to take possession of the unattainable as the positive basis for its own self-generation. in poetry the unattainable is its very essence. (LD. There is. however. and has always already taken place and then begun again before you even get to the end.
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. an adventure indeed. the second harks back to the first.is the Indo-European word for single. although always there in the metricalmusical element. First.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. For now we must satisfy ourselves with Agamben’s final point in relation to “L’infinito” as regards what might be called poetic habit. is. of which he finds the sem. the poem form is dominated by the advent-finitude tabular matrix. turning.” Agamben traces the etymology of sempre to the Latin semper which he first fractures into two elements. progressing only to refer back. the use of “this. Consider rhyme as a simple example of this.” a common enough construction of the experience of the always. symphonies. for Agamben.” “This lonely knoll” and “this sea. novels. Just as the poem never ends always returning our attention back to that first line.” and the emphasis on dearness/sweetness. if one is always proceeding and returning? One never is.” Here always. Thus he defines the roots of always as meaning “once and for all.” This in fact is not a remarkable observation. He then suggests: “The sempre that opens the idyll thus points 130 . combined with a positive potential. Second. “was ever dear to me” and “sweet to me.” Two elements at the poem’s end recall. This is not unique to this poem. 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. it never begins either commencing always on “always. The poem proceeds through verse. Every couplet is in miniature the ontological potential of the poem to save thought. In “L’infinito” the habitual. sempre. sem-per. 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. so many lyrics. When is one ever in the poem spatially or temporally. This is the place of poetic thinking. unlike in the English translation. and films recall their commencement in their ending. is also referred to directly by the first line of the poem which in Italian reads: “Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle. its restless habitus. its advent. going backwards to go forwards. the habit of its reversal. The first rhyme already recalls the second.
will even kill him if he is unable to change his situation. 80). THINKING TAUTOLOGY toward a habit. and the event in Badiou. It departs from a habit and returns to the same habit” (LD. here. fully experiencing the unattainable of the place of language. Habit cedes to a thought that ‘feigns’.” the poet instead founders in the multiplicity of potential experiences of the knoll. 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. But the drowning of thought in ‘this’ sea now permits a return to the ‘ever dear’ of the first line. to measure its dimensions” (LD. to occupy its singular once-ness for all time indicated in the “this. Agamben now rereads the whole poem as an attempt to seize the habitual. cedes to thought its sovereign power in affairs of the mind but is wrong to do so. The singular cannot be attained except through its being named in language. the perpetual place of always. Poetry. This is perhaps why in an early letter Leopardi writes of the way in which thought makes him unhappy. . 79). .LOGOPOIESIS. This is in a way a restatement of the logic of the name in Heidegger. 131 . Yet in a later poem. The thought is a movement that. the rupturing of a habitual dwelling into a ‘surprise’ . 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. 80–1). because it leads into the heart of the Same. the habitual dwelling with which the idyll began” (LD. as is ever the case at least since Plato’s time. although dominating is also sweet. a having (habitus) that unifies (once) a multiplicity (all times): the having ever dear this knoll” (LD. invention in Derrida. 80). the that of the knoll or its endless repetition through its prophylactic and transmissible encounter in poetic language. “Il pensiero dominante” he seems to embrace thinking which. seeks to think.9 that is. . it represents the initial sempre as an interminable multiplicity . . by the poet’s trying to haveever-dear the experience of the knoll. Yet we know that in trying to have the knoll the poet is instead cast into the interminable space that dismays his heart. This “voyage” taken in the poem is “truly more brief than any time or measure. 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. In trying to inhabit the experience of the knoll.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN In contrast to our previous definition of thought as that which takes measure of the dimensions of the unattainable. Periplus as a term marks the structural pointlessness or meaninglessness of art. The name of this technique in poetry is the periplus. spoken by it. here thought cannot measure trapped as it is in the tautology of the same. is the highest stake” (LD. and instead of appreciating filiation. 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. philo-poiesis. Periplus describes. thus. Wildean. 78). Agamben’s reading goes even further than this however: “The ‘confrontation’ that has always been under way between poetry and philosophy is. 78). its utter. much more than a simple rivalry. he sees a rival to his claim for thought’s sovereignty. the circular journey immortalized by The Odyssey becoming a foundational recursive and tautological structure of so much Western art to follow. that it takes us nowhere. 78). amity. for speaking man. the habit. Both seek to grasp that original. nothing new.10 Plato sees the community between poetry and philosophy. 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. that it says nothing of worth. Use of the poetic word in fact is an expropriated appropriation in that one is possessed by the muse. 78). 78). anti-poiesis. just sails around. in a nutshell. in the Ion. “so that it necessarily escapes whoever tries to speak it” (LD. Agamben believes Plato is correct in his calling philosophy supreme music and its muse the true muse. 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. he claims. is the name the Greeks gave to the “ungraspability of the originary place of the poetic word” (LD. The circular journey to nowhere brings to the fore the darkness of the poem. therefore. which. Agamben believes philosophy was born out of the very need to 132 . In that “philosophy too experiences the place of language as its supreme problem (the problem of being)” (LD. inaccessible place of the word. Muse. nothing that can be tested as being true in terms of agreement or reasoning. he explains. a project of which I think we can say Heidegger is the greatest master. the circular structural basis of all logopoiesis. Here. radically productive uselessness. Plato. is responsible for giving the poetic word the character of being an eurema Moisan or invention of the muses.
Who will save us: poetry or philosophy? The answer is neither and both. once and for all time. In parentheses as if an after thought which in fact is the advent of this whole impossible yet unavoidable enterprise. and thus freed. Returning one last time. that is. lost at sea as we say. It does this. 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. . tautological logopoiesis. vocal silence at the very heart of being. The first is the scission of poetry from philosophy echoed by the bifurcation of language in the theory of the sign and dramatized in poetics through the development of the stanza. Yet. the trans-planar and tabular experience of the anaphoriccataphoric matrix of poetic recursiveness. in the periplus logic of tautological habitudes. 78) With this parenthetical wondering Agamben gives birth to the new discipline of logopoiesis. Agamben inserts the following: (For this reason. Thought in the poem. thought “in its drowning” is “now truly lost forever . would be the true human language).” Thought has been truly poeticized by being sucked into the vortex of poetic periplus. Yet. you recall. . Thought now experiences. thought has many adventures during which thought’s silence and interminable nature miraculously ceases to be “a negative experience. (LD. no sooner launched the logopoietic bark is inundated by the cruel seas of the infinite and drowns. he argues. 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. the most beautiful voice of the muse is voice without sound marking the origins of two essential and ultimately destructive events in Western thought. by transforming muse into spirit or Geist. The second the establishment of negative. and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring. THINKING TAUTOLOGY liberate poetry from inspiration or to retrieve language from mystical music-making and return it to statements of truth. 133 . Yet. neither verse not prose. as is often the case in such salty tales of the sea.LOGOPOIESIS.”’ At sea. Plato argues in Phaedrus. perhaps neither poetry nor philosophy. will ever be able to accomplish their millennial enterprise by themselves. sets out from only to return back to the same. once and for all. along the way.
and reflect on how far we have come. 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. At this point the metaphysical and poetic Agamben will once more come together and take the measure of each other. its having-been and its coming to be . for different yet related reasons. however. .” its drowning and its tautological negation so that “in the negative dimensions of the event of language. 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. its versification of language. in the exhaustion of the dimension of being. 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. This logic is the tautological logic of poetic thinking. its having been. and yet how much further we still have to travel. Both the ability of poetic language to turn (projective-recursion) as a potential for a pro-ductive philosophy to come. In both tautology and potentiality. its habit and its versus. The result is the “extinguishing of thought. literary singularity born out of structures of repetition. as the ethos of humanity” (LD. 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. Everything hangs on the temporal-spatial essence of poetry. Later when we return to poetic structure we will see how Agamben’s recent work has come to name this in-between time messianic time. The result of this is a form of radical desubjectivization. negativity as the breaking and making of the habit or of a poetic. the truth of a statement cannot be tested. and eschatological futural time. 134 . it suffices to pull ourselves from the ocean and back onto the shore.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the poem. its coming to be. . dry off. Yet the circularity of logopoiesis goes even further than this. Logopoiesis is the turn of verse in all senses of the word. the very testing of truth through its own alienation. For now. Logopoiesis in its tautology names a certain experience of truth that emulates that of potential. without resorting to arche-presence of the false imposition of unity. time between times or between chronological time. 81).
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. 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. 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. the end of the poem. and finitude. 115). interests him only in as much as it provides singular and privileged access to thinking the thing of thought as such: language. recurrence. language. the poem must die through a process of self-alienation to become what it is destined to be. 135 .” Having spent several pages defining poetry in terms of lineation. Like all other identities in Agamben. (BT. 96) If it were not already apparent that there is a profound interdependence in Agamben between thinking. THE TURN OF VERSE THE DEFINITION OF POETRY Bare space is still veiled. interruption. and the arts.CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. without remaining unsaid in what is said” (EP. Never more powerfully apparent than here is it that Agamben is both negligent of the singularity of literature and yet entirely dependent on it. consider the conclusion of the short essay on poetics entitled “The End of the Poem. All of which gives a certain piquancy to his avowed project here.
This may indeed be a truism for all entities the result of the metaphysical tradition. source of the tension he mentions here. here in the scission between phone and logos. between the semiotic and the semantic sphere. like all tension. 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. as you can see summarized in the title of this lecture. I will have to begin with a claim that. which was originally a paper presented in French. this is. begins in a rather pedestrian vein that gives little indication of the direction it will eventually take: My plan. not the case. happens to emulate precisely the tension at the heart of modern. To do this. negative metaphysics. strikes me as obvious—namely that poetry lives only in the tension and difference (and hence also the virtual interference) between sound and sense. 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. (EP. is to define a poetic institution that has until now remained unidentified: the end of the poem. and poetry is the archetypal tensile linguistic form. must also be those for thought. we now realize. This is not merely due to the repulsive attitude of first philosophy to poetry. 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. yet as we saw poetry has a special place in this tradition. that between the semiotic and the semantic. Thus we can see that differential opposition. Rather the definition of poetry exists precisely in the ambivalence to be found at the heart of all structures of differential scission. without being trivial. by definition. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The essay. although widely attacked by Agamben cannot simply be eradicated. If this tension were easy to maintain. namely that such a scission demands separation and relation. The fact that the poem comes to an end both allows 136 . perhaps Agamben might rapidly find what he is looking for in poetry but. but also that the specific tension of the poetic.
This fact is certainly trivial.ENJAMBEMENT. while a potential for thought. then. The poem is tense because it must end. carefully woven according to Agamben from the tensile interchange of semiotics and semantics.2 Yet there would be no tension without this probable eventuality. ceases to be a facilitator of poetic tension. 137 . 112) If something is defined by a tensile dynamic between arrest and sequential recommencement. 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. it is inevitable that if the sequence cannot recommence then the thing in question at that point no longer exists. and instead becomes a true abyss of philosophical proportions. No wonder it is “as if for poetry the end implied a catastrophe and loss of identity” (EP. 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. because at this point the whole texture of poetry. only pure. if poetry is indeed this tension. it follows that the last verse of a poem is not a verse. This space. poetry alone cannot be thought’s substitute. a gap which words can pause before and then overleap as in enjambement. ongoing poetry of an impossible or virtual nature. Thus the final “verse” of any poem cannot be poetry for the tension is asymmetrically poised above a permanent rather than transitory space. If poetry subsists in the tensions it calls up between semiotic and semantic forces. Does this mean that the last verse trespasses into prose? (EP. For if poetry is defined precisely by the possibility of enjambement. here there can be no enjambement in the final verse of a poem. Agamben wonders: what happens at the point which the poem ends? Clearly. not a preference for the semiotic over the semantic but the balancing of one precariously against the other. THE TURN OF VERSE one to define the potential of its internal tensions and to understand how. 115). teetering on a ledge above an abyss of pure space or universal prose. the abyssal presence of absence edging all poetry into being. starts to unravel. not least because without finitude there can be no poem. yet it implies consequences that are as perplexing as they are necessary.
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. between the title and the poem body. If space looms at the end of the poem. but rather the already inscribed future failure of poetry. 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. in other words.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN If. by its ending. foreshadowed in the worrying gaps between stanzas. For poetry is perpetually fading. questions begin to be asked of being. one might also wonder what happens at the point of incipit or the very birth of the poem. if it indeed ever does begin as such and not simply strike up again on its guitar or lute. and hence poiesis. outside the collection or book? Is it actual space. its uncanny angst. certainly suggested at the end of each line whether it runs on or not. or the fake space of the blank page. vacancy is just as present before the poem begins. implied before the poem has even begun. losing its footing on a slippery way it must follow to its death. 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. Surely the essay would be better named “The Death of the Poem. tension. which is also a being-away-from-birth. and finitude. to be perpetually born to presence. its mood or attunement. before the title. the beginning of the poem. but rather is the experience of projective and imminent finitude as such. indeed all creation precisely in the terms of Heidegger’s beingtowards-death. inevitable at the poem’s final footing on the edge before the abyss. Is prose. composed of alinear but sequential marks. not space at all but un-inscribed or zero-marked matter. He comes to define poetry. from this obvious if not trivial definition. Poetry is not marked by finitude. dissolving. This other tension is the tension of philosophical finitude. or is it merely the period when there is no poetic tension? Where does this space end into. 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. This is the source of poetry’s Stimmung.” because Agamben is speaking here of deathly negativity. Poetry is tense because it is permanently buffeted by recollected 138 . Is the space before the poem the space between poems.
THE TURN OF VERSE premonitions and intimations of mortality. maps out a planar surface. and the number of syllables—all elements that can equally well occur in prose—do not. A plane occurs whenever there are three points or where there are two lines which are not parallel for. from this standpoint. (IP. Quantity. 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. among other things.ENJAMBEMENT. after all. rhythm. for example. 39) This is taken from Idea of Prose. simply listing actions. A plan. 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. None of which is at all trivial. 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). those two lines each made of two points. and the intervening ten years between Agamben’s initial. 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. Such plans always implicate the formation of a plane. at some point of extension. will meet at a third and mutual point (in perspective the vanishing point). however obvious it may seem to be. quasi-scientific formulation and the more complex rhetoric of “The End of the Poem” allows Agamben to add 139 . Prose is the discourse in which this is impossible. 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. A plan.
words in any real sense. by which I mean the simple appearance of the words does not reproduce stress. There is.3 Let us scientifically and geometrically proceed with this for a moment. The second is less so and is based on scientific work on phonemes which establishes that when one speaks a stream of syntax. a designation which includes Italian. 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. in that speaking the words does not reproduce textual spacing or planar dimensionality. which is phonematic. The brain that cuts up this continual stream into single units identified as “words. metrical iambic rhythm. dare I say it. the adoption of the terms semantic and semiotic to place atop of the initial bare skeleton of prose and poetry. and articulation charted here: the space between the words.” There are two clear levels of segmentation. and leaves the world to darkness and to me.4 So in grammatology one cannot “see” stress. at least until one pauses for breath.” 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. a third level of segmentation available to only a very limited number of syntagms. There is a fundamental disjuncture in such successive series between words as they are heard and how they are written. which is a grammatological differentiation. while the phonematic difference cannot contain the grammatological. difference. of course. undifferentiated utterance. The grammatological difference cannot contain the phonematic. and in phonology one cannot hear “words. for. are all composed of successive series. The first of these observations is. This third difference is enjambement. English.” They are not. Western. one utters a single. however. alphabetic languages which are written although not necessarily spoken. notice how hard is the conception of the phonetic as a line and the grammatological as a stream. as you may have recognized when you 140 . rather they are electrical impulses giving an impression of words. the ploughman homeward plods his weary way. the lowing heard winds slowly o’er the lea. Latin. resulting in the perfectly sensible and violently contested idea that the voice precedes writing. and the regular. and mathematics. Let us take a random and innocent syntagm in English to better illustrate the issue: “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. rather obvious.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN one additional element to this formula. although of all of these mathematics also has a tabular potential.
The first is the line taken by Agamben that without the line-breaks after every ten syllables this sentence is prose. While attestation suggests Agamben conceives of enjambement grammatologically. there are a number of reasons why this cannot be the case. As one can see from my little experiment in linguistic presentation. The remaining evidence is much more empirical. revealing not simply Derridean différance but also the “topological game of putting things together and articulating” (ST. neither in writing nor in the voice. The second takes us into a much more complex question as to what is actually meant by a line-break. And the human is precisely this fracture of presence” (ST. The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea. Is such a break a grammatological or phonematic occurrence? The way Agamben presents it remains permanently unclear. . And leaves the world to darkness and to me.” There are two levels of analysis to present here. enjambement is neither purely grammatological nor phonological. THE TURN OF VERSE saw my example or felt when you read it. 156). but in the fold of the presence on which they are established: the logos . 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. 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. . True one needs in 141 . Agamben summarizes this ancient ontological counterpositioning in terms of the bar (/) that we found articulated the ban and articulation of the sign. The ploughman homeward plods his weary way. is the fold that gathers and divides all things in the ‘putting together’ of presence.5 So goes famously the first stanza of Gray’s exemplary “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. 156). 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. the extract in question is more traditionally inscribed thus: The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.ENJAMBEMENT.
and perhaps finally. but its full force comes through the combination of the two.6 this is not essential but merely a contingency of 142 . this time not between poetry and prose (philosophy) but between speech and writing. . its ending. But if one reads the four lines as one line. the almost genetic inclination of English speakers to allow their speech to fall into iambs organized into groups of ten syllables or so. While prose fills a planar page space. until one has one’s suspicions confirmed by the graphical plan of the poem before one. while at the same time one can feel enjambement but it remains as discarnate as a feeling or uncanny sensation. and its recommencement. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN some sense the spatial presentation of the break for the poem to be immediately perceptible as the visual entity called poem. entente. Enjambement therefore not only establishes a tension between semantics and semiotics but it simultaneously eases or even eradicates another ancient antagonism. if strained. for indeed one cannot understand enjambement unless one understands the semantic content of the lines in view.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. one still finds oneself pausing every ten syllables. 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. All of which brings us back to the poetic plane. 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. the use of zero enjambement facilitated by terminal caesurae at the end of every subsection of ten syllables. poetry is the becoming planar of an endlessly extendable two-dimensional field we call prose. which can be presented graphically as follows: Geometrically speaking. more intangibly. 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.
neither poetic nor prosaic. I would argue. the purely sonic unit of verse transgresses its own identity as it does its own measure. and reclaims that which it had the temerity to eject. The paragraph. Most avowedly the paragraph is not a stanza. The cut folded back on itself always becomes a hinge except for the very last verse which remains severed not bent.7 the verse finds that its very identity as verse is lost at the precise point of its being 143 . . In abstract terms the line of prose is always one single line. spatial absence (the jagged abyss that looms at the right-hand edge of all poetry) the break is softened into a bend. and it is a point. As Agamben argues: In the very moment that the verse affirms its own identity by breaking a syntactic link. It hints at a passage of prose with the very gesture that attests its own versatility. as it were. THE TURN OF VERSE the development of the book as a technology for the preservation. that it abandons sense for the abyss of grammatical.ENJAMBEMENT. organization. interrupted by the paragraph certainly but never for anything other than stabilizing semantic dictates within this line. Yet at the very point. 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. . namely sense. enjambement brings to light the original gait. and transportation of prose writing. but boustrophedonic. 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 . 40) Agamben’s phrasing itself constructs something of a boustrophedonic folding logic. In this way. 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. 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. Here voice shouts down writing. it is irresistibly drawn into bending over into the next line to lay hold of what it has thrown out of itself. Writing scribbles down voice. distribution. 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. (IP.
9 Students of poetry will be more than aware of how considerations of space. or something that the poetic makes happen or brings into presence. immediately closed down again by the cut becoming in an instant a fold. What poetry “makes happen” geometrically is that it adds a third point. to poetry as the tensile effect of this activity. something that writing does. therefore. cannot be cleared until the issue of time in poetry is resolved. poetry is continually and permanently born to presence and withheld from view. 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. 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. and vice versa. If we take the structural shift of the metricalmusical element of the anaphora-cataphora projective recursive tabular matrix of poetic structure.8 opening up a planar space in writing that is the very basis of the grammatological. the way it always refers both forwards and backwards. allows the poetic to become poetry. Between the cut and the fold. and abyss. THE MESSIANIC AS NOT The space of thought within the poem. What poetry makes happen in the birth to plane is nothing other than thinking. such as the becoming planar of the cut/turn at the end of the poetic line. “Poetic” remains therefore at the level of praxis. One of 144 . – KLE SIS.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN founded. 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. since Plato certainly. as a surround or framing device. Students of metaphysics will be more than aware of how considerations of time become those of space. rely on temporality. while poetry as such is poiesis. colonization. to refer to the activity of enjambement. At the point in the line when the line becomes a part of a plane the poiesis of poetry is revealed. indeed poetry as such is based on the fundamental number three. as a threshold. This experience of space produced by the boustrophedonic transition from line to plane. an essential logopoietic opening up of space for thought in a medium that. and finally excision of an opening for suprasensuous thinking within the sensible body of a “work” of art. revealed and concealed or vice versa. has suffered a ban.
145 . poetic temporality.10 The combination of these two terms not only involves an even more ontological radicalization of enjambement as the obvious definition of the poem. Map-less but with guidance we will commence with the call of the messianic vocation. and progress in our task of a logopoiesis in which poetry is an essential partner in the indifferential thought to come. in one of his recent and most important works The Time That Remains. silence. Yet its essential combination with the theory of potentiality is. 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. and the messianic strand of potential. Yet such is the nature of the adventure. in part. temporal. and the quest for a post-nihilistic theory of productive thought about art that did not succumb to the metaphysical-epochal designations of ending. familiar with. and so on. as regards Agamben’s own philosophy of indifference. 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. 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. Finally. space becoming time. 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. negation. resolve the aporias of modernity. of course. but also the possible solution as to how a future for thought can be found in the technicalities of prosody. There are two central epochal moments in Agamben’s messianic The Time That Remains which we are already. If we are to move from lineation to the space of poetry. 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. the epoch of modernity. The first of these is kle ¯sis or calling as a surrogate to epoch as event. 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. Agamben has only been able to resolve these issues. the medium or supportive gesturality of language as such makes little reference to temporality.
” can be read intertextually in relation to three areas of concern for logopoiesis. wherein the repeated term can only be presented as a term to be repeated 146 . repeating the same logic we found in play with aesthetic judgement. Clearly it presents a modification of Heidegger’s idea of the poetic as the calling of calling (PLT. Indeed. therefore. therefore. most familiar linguistic operator. until the deictic indicator refers back to its previous referent. Here the “he” is an anaphoric designation of the previous kle ¯sei.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. 7:17: 17–22. The Time That Remains is a sustained philological analysis of the Pauline canon of messianic texts. but a “peculiar tautegorical movement that comes from the call and returns back to it” (TTR. 22). is one which commentators have struggled for centuries to render in their respective languages. 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. Finally. Reading specifically a ¯sis sentence from 1 Cor. messianic calling is first presented in the “Second Day” of The Time That Remains bracketing the debate of modern. is that the commencement and completion of the vocation of the messianic all occur within the temporality of the act of calling. 257). usually translated as “the ¯ ¯sei ¯the same calling wherein he was called” (TTR. deixis. or to remain within the dynamic of calling indicated by the logical and linguistic operations of anaphoric deixis. 198 & 209).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kle ¯sis. While the tautology of this phrasing. the messianic “calling. The call. one might redefine this form of anaphora as tautegorical cataphoric anaphora. or the call of the previous calling. 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. now. To be called to the messianic vocation is to be called to the call.” Agamben focuses on the seemingly tautological phrase en te kle he ekle ¯. the calling of being called. Agamben argues the problem is that the phrase is not tautological. Such a use of anaphoric deixis is peculiarly tautegorical because not until the call is recalled. is instigated and completed only after the fact of when it is called to call. What deixis indicates here. This occurs through a technical application of that. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. 19). can the referent or call can be said to call at all.
the classic definition of deixis. The messianic vocation is the revocation of every vocation . . You are not called from one vocation. of having a condition as not having a condition. “Vocation. for example called to criticism as the critical tautegorical nullification of criticism.” he says. to another. the vocation calls the vocation itself. Tautegorical. Agamben calls ¯ ¯ this the “ultimate meaning of kle ¯sis” (TTR. One is called away from one’s vocation. . . but instead are called into the nullification of one’s vocation as one’s vocation. and only because of. its being essentially and foremost a calling of the calling” (TTR. its relation to the messianic event. This being the case the messianic vocation has no specific content. but of change. THE TURN OF VERSE after it has first been repeated. the “Ho s me ” of the Pauline text. 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. Thus one is called to remain in the negation of vocation as a form of vocation. a form of indication that “may apply to any condition. it revokes a condition . “calls for nothing and to no place .ENJAMBEMENT. and indeed there is increasing room for Benveniste here and in other later works.” (TTR. as though it were an urgency that works it from within and hollows it 147 . 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. 23). 23)— immobilized by the confounding circular logic of the tautegorical.12 Calling or kle is first of all an empty ¯sis revocation of every vocation. . negatively heuristic kle is the first part of the mes¯sis sianic which structurally and technically emulates the process of deictic desubjectivization we saw in Agamben’s appropriation of Benveniste. 23). Jew. but for this same reason. Precisely because such a remaining “signifies the immobile anaphoric gesture of the messianic calling. . 22). referring to the first half of the Pauline formulation. “Why remain then in this nothing?” Agamben asks. Citing Paul when he says that kle involves ¯sis operating “as not having” a condition. almost an internal shifting between each and every single condition by virtue of being called” (TTR. . apostle. yet cannot be repeated until it has occurred. We are faced here therefore not with a matter of eschatological indifference. but not called to a new vocation.
. “but rather they interpreted the comparative as an (intensive or remissive) tension that sets one concept against another” (TTR.” Like the comparison the parable. but makes it pass. it prepares its end” (TTR. but are placed alongside children. At the end of this section Agamben speaks of the process “as not” in terms of another classic form of rhetoric. for it does ¯ ¯ not push a concept’s semantic field toward that of another concept. 24). if it exists at all. In Paul’s comparative explanation of the subjective effect of kle weeping ¯sis is pushed towards itself as not weeping. the difference between the signum and res significa thus tends to annul itself without completely disappearing. In the messianic parable signum and res significa approximate each other because language itself is what is signified.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN out. The comparison. As he says: “In the parable. . they do not resemble children. the messianic does not simply cancel out this figure. that of the messianism of a temporality to come. rejoicing pushed towards not rejoicing. . but of the duality of language itself imposed upon it by human speech. If this is true then for Paul men are not as children. While apparent that Agamben here is speaking of the mediality of language in another register. it sets itself up against itself in the form of the as not: weeping as not weeping” (TTR. 23–4). He first uses the example of the technique of comparison within Paul. nullifying it in the very gesture of maintaining and dwelling in it” (TTR. seed meaning seed and logos. noting how in the Bible the parable comes to stand for the word of god itself or logos. from the Greek 148 . if I may refer to such a thing. the parable.” and how this form of comparison was analysed by Medieval grammarians in a particular fashion as not a form of identity or resemblance. Instead. “The Pauline hos me seems to be a special type of tensor. 24). not until he starts to speak of figurality is one able to see how these comments pertain to modern aesthetics. Agamben identifies how a whole tradition of the parable develops that takes paraballisation. Traditionally a parable is assumed to have a double meaning but Agamben views this not as a signifier having two signifieds. is that of a thing with itself in the form of non-self-identity. Agamben concludes from this form of comparison: “In pushing each thing towards itself through the as not. Speaking specifically of the parable of the sower where seed represents logos of course. as the operation of language as such to such a degree that in many languages the word for language originates from the parable. 24–5). “unless you become as children.
Glossing on the traditional representation of time as a line along 149 . messianic time is neither of these epochal designations. in relation to what he sees as a common misrepresentation of apostolic messianic time as eschatological. . 62).ENJAMBEMENT. the “as if. “As if ” would seem to be figuration as such. To negotiate this subtle and complex difference will take the rest of my study here on the conception of poiesis. but so as to put “each being and each term in tension with itself ” (TTR. 43). THE TURN OF VERSE para-ballo to place one thing next to another. kairos. In the language of messianic time comparisons and parables exist not in terms of linguistic comparison. He explains that while Paul regularly uses eschatological time when speaking of the two Jewish time traditions. The sign is not a system of difference and similarity but of a non-selfcoincidence as identity. occasion or now. indicates a process of internal division (as well as creating tabular space). signifier and signified. Language does not refer to the world but to language as such. chronos. works in a manner which places figuration alongside itself. how does that differ from the messianic figurality of anaphora. 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. as I said.” (TTR. “it is a remnant.” however. comparison. eschaton. . and parable? These constructions are also self-regarding but in a manner that Agamben believes is truly redemptive. and the atemporal eternity that extends after the end of time. The question therefore remains if modern “as if ” aesthetics finds its archetype in art for art’s sake. Rather. and to take us from negative modernity to productive poiesis we must turn to the second Pauline term. 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. when the division of time is itself divided .” 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 time that remains between these two times. that which stretches from creation to the end of time. Agamben’s argument in The Man Without Content. This shift from comparison to parable brackets. a consideration of a third form of figuration. MESSIANIC KAIROS Agamben first addresses the term kairos.
The result is a caesuric division between an epoch’s cessation and the resumption of the new epoch. and dimensionalities. or we concede the thinkable nature of time and all its complexities. Of the time line consisting of assumed strings of points. and as part of the eschaton while exceeding that. 150 . either we are confronted with a model that is representable but unthinkable as actual experience of time.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN which one situates epochs. stratifications. here represented as between the two vertical dotted lines. Be not afraid. in its dividing the division between two times. Kairos. he notes that such a line has never accorded with the human experience of time. therefore. he explains that this linear model is. Messianic time. in this instance messianic time. for example A—B—C wherein A is creation. As Agamben says. interruptions. nor a synthesis of all three tenses in a manner that emulates Bergson’s influential theory of modern time. being neither point nor extension but the precondition and deconstruction of both. Agamben hones in on this gap between representable and thinkable time by adopting the linguistic concept of operational time. 64). 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. introduces a remainder [resto] into it that exceeds the division” (TTR. extends epochal time into the postepochal and post-epochal time back into epochal time. reiterations. and C apocalypse. as ever. insufficient to capture the complexity of time. although the time of the now. in regard of linear time. Such caesuric time operates as part of the epoch of chronos while exceeding it. but accept such a time is unrepresentable. B the messianic event. the classic representation of time since Aristotle. As such it operates with precisely the same logic as the term epoch. is not a dot on the line of time but a segment or stanza within the divisions of epochs along this line. Agamben is aware that this messianic time presents a powerful challenge to our human consciousness of time and indeed the general difficulty of thinking time. Kairos adds futurity to the past and pastness to the future but it is not the moment or instant.
This time that remains is the messianic kairos. 68). . 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. Agamben concludes that In every representation we make of time and in every discourse by means of which we define and represent time. insofar as he is a thinking and speaking being. for Agamben figuration is a structural 151 . Rather. This process of temporal construction takes a period of time. (TTR. or. and Guillaume calls this operational time or “the time the mind takes to realize a time-image” (TTR. that prevented him from perfectly coinciding with the time out of which he could make images and representations. 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. the subject’s experience of time is constructed by the subject in accordance with this ideal representation. tautegorical calling and self-constructing temporal representation. Agamben argues. more precisely. . Instead. 67).ENJAMBEMENT. By this we do not mean they are simply rhetorical forms. Kle ¯sis and kairos. another time is implied that is not entirely consumed by representation. converts time from a linear to “three-dimensional” entity by which he means it conveys the three moments of temporality: potentiality. as we know. perhaps only an instant but a period all the same. produced an additional time .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. are both examples of the figural nature of the messianic for Agamben. 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. THE TURN OF VERSE Operational time originates from the work of French linguist Gustave Guillaume. This interior time is what Agamben means by messianic time: “the time that time takes to come to an end. the time we take to bring time to an end. It is as though man. to achieve our representation of time” (TTR. and having been constructed. Whatever experience of time they undergo they are able to come to represent it as this idealized model in their minds subsequently. 66). formation. 67). 66) which.
as he considers Paul’s explanation of how all that is past will come to be taken into account at the end of time. such a correspondence existed prominently throughout the medieval period. Paul explains that at the messianic moment of total fulfilment of time. To this typological caesuric figuration. The calling of the “as not” places one’s subjectivity alongside its negation. what concerns us is “a tension that clasps together and transforms past and future. This tendency to think of time as a past prefigurement of a future yet to arrive. in an inseparable constellation. 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. “messianic ple ¯ ma is therefore an abridgement and anticipation of eschatologi¯ro cal fulfilment” (TTR. he tells us. 74). This means that each instant of messianic 152 . Rather. Paul adds one more final figural notion. it is the relation itself” (TTR. is not important as a “biunivocal correspondence” (TTR. This results in what might be called the relational tension of the nonrelational. all things are recapitu¯ro ¯ lated in the messiah. 74). typosantitypos. 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. typos. We have already considered comparison and parable in this regard. 74). the most famous example of which is that between zoe and bios in Homo Sacer. although.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN process wherein two conditions are placed alongside each other in a nonrelational fashion. 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. so too in the antitypos there is a compacted summation of the typos or. The messianic is not just one of two terms in this typological relation. that of recapitulation. Agamben is now able to add a third figural term. ple ¯ ma ton kairon. the antitypos. typos and antitypos. 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. Agamben argues. as Agamben says. while kairatic time places time’s constructed nature against its representation of non-constructed and proper perfection. 76). in which the past is dislocated into the present and the present is extended into the past” (TTR. This is the epoch of the messianic. the two elements are heterogeneous. and yet in a manner in which their proximity naturally calls up some attempt at relation in the form of tension.
In the kairos of operational time two incommensurable epochs or conceptions of epoch lie alongside each other. MESSIANIC RHYME Perhaps now it does not surprise us. At this point Agamben wisely decides to give “something like a concrete example. 78). 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. The same goes for eschatological time. the greatest of which is surely modernity itself.ENJAMBEMENT. Everything about messianic time recalls the figurality of the poetic. One is. As messianic time extends chronos into the eschaton all narratives of completion. 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. This example. If we step back now from theology entirely we can first explain this more generally in terms of our experience of operational time. the temporality of poetry. a kind of small-scale model of messianic time” (TTR. must first consist of a summation of all that went before. as the very location of poetic thinking: logopoiesis. A structure such as the kairatic kle depends ¯sis on the precise mix of occurrence and reiteration. or an act that demands the called subject “seize hold of his own being seized” (TTR. As soon as Agamben 153 . “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. chronos or temporal extension. by virtue of the metrical-musical element. something that is now past. in fact. Any theory of temporal extended linearity must contain some idea of completion and any theory of temporal completion must complete on something. and then in relation to poetry. each moment of chronological time is prefigured by its completion. and the structure of the poem. is the poetic convention of rhyme. 78). and eschaton or temporal finitude. anaphora and cataphora that is the basis of any poem structure and which we have already defined. The law of figuration means that because messianic kairatic time extends the eschaton into the chronos. able to restate this fairly logically away from the theological philology of Agamben’s text. and even he concedes this may be surprising.
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. as one moves towards the predictability of the end.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN describes the poem. he argues. effectively. This reading back however comes most to the fore in the tornada where. 79). Agamben’s analysis of the rhythm of the sestina while most apparent in this poem form is. a foundational quality of all poetic structure. A sestina is made up of seven stanzas. At the same “hermeneutic” time one also picks up on the interplay. You begin to recognize the pattern. from the very start. Put simply. This is especially true. although to describe it as analogy. in the case of rhyme. Thus in the sestina. it has its own time” (TTR. 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. only organized in different combinations. it has a specific and unmistakable temporality. look to how the next stanza will recombine the six fixed elements and thus one is always reading both forwards and backwards. a fact made most apparent in that rather rare stanzaic form the sestina. The first six stanzas are each six lines long and the six end words are always the same in each stanza. A kind of eschatology occurs within the poem itself. the closed form means that in every line the end is prefigured. and he is truly gifted in his appreciation of the technicalities of prosody along with the implications of poetic ontology. strains towards its end. 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. That said every poem is also a recursive or reiterative structure. or model is. repetition. example. 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.14 The form still operates on occasion in modern poetry in other words. for example the sonnet. For example. in each case. Thus he says of the closed rhyming lyric form. I have argued in my own study of this phenomena in modern experimental poetry. and variance of the use of homologous rhyming end words. insufficient. one can begin to see how wonderfully this analogy works. all usages of the words thus far are 154 . 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. But for the more or less brief time that the poem lasts.
Such a tabular-planar structure. AN ENDLESS FALLING INTO SILENCE Agamben’s insights into the relation between poetic structural tabularity and a post-nihilistic modality of indifferent thinking depend. converting the poem from a linear-horizontal entity to a tabular planar form. and the narrative structures of the films of David Lynch. which I have already posed as the 155 . Agamben’s insights take the tabularity of poetic structure far beyond anything anyone else could have imagined. . in any case the eschaton already fulfils that role. the time of the end. of course.ENJAMBEMENT. This is the time of the messiah. in order to make place for the time of the poem” or what he also calls its “cruciform retrogradation” (TTR. as we saw. transforms chronological time into messianic time . Agamben explains: “The sestina—and. the time that the poem takes to come to an end” (TTR.16 This aside. through the sophisticated mechane of the announcement and retrieval of rhyming end words (which correspond to typological relations between past and present). poetic structure is far from a mystery. what we have is the same time that organizes itself through its own somewhat hidden internal pulsation. 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. and.15 In miniature therefore we have the whole basis of Agamben’s logopoiesis. 82). The poem does not create a new. . This matrix I have called the anaphoric-cataphoric matrix of every poem. on a shifting interrelational tensile comparative combination between temporal-structural projection and recursion. 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. THE TURN OF VERSE recalled in their final combination. 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. While I have worked for some years on this project. “on the contrary. The same process is discernible in the rhythmic distribution of lines and colours in Pollock. or indeed leitmotifs in Wagner. model or not. in this sense. Nor is the philosophy of time handed over to poetic time. Poetry is not an example here or not solely exemplary. but it does have its own time. post-chronological time. 83).
It leaves. and tabular structure. When one does experience a line-break one is likely to experience the opening up of the truth of hesitation. Yet philosophical. and when one wants philosophically to speak of hesitation as such. for hesitation as theme and/or category. a philosophical hesitation. what is hesitation in thought without the knowledge of an experience of hesitation in the world? Or to pose the issue in different terms. We must now remove ourselves from messianic time. one must first experience hesitation as sensation. you do not need to experience a linebreak every time you wish to think about prolonged hesitation. 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. and propositional hesitation. Having assured us that poetry is a “prolonged hesitation” between sound and sense. categorical hesitation. 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. is dependent on the permanent tension within the poetic line certainly. 156 . hesitation true for all time as it were. as a thinker. quasi-universal. in a phenomenological reading. evental element. most notably music. For an unveiling of philosophical. in particular through a consideration of the ends or limits of the poem and their dependence on certain ideas of silence. Then one must dismiss hesitation as sensation without entirely dispensing with it. but also structurally at the two extremes of the poem body. Hesitation is not the localized emotional experience of hesitating yet.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way in which poetry thinks. a trace of psychological pause. for a time. Rather this felt hesitation moves one into another realm of hesitation as such. advental finitude. cannot be separated from the original experience of hesitation that one undergoes every time one reads poetry. recursive. tension. Agamben immediately asks the question: What is a hesitation if one ceases to think of it psychologically? A hesitation of such an order. betimes. one is likely to have recourse to a line-break and an example.17 This difficulty pertaining to the actual nature of the experience of hesitation. affective or intellectual. if only to confirm that enjambement is a recursive rather than unique. and return to our original debate on poetic. must surely be beyond an actually felt hesitation such as one experiences at the end of a line of poetry. lodged within the trans-psychological definition of hesitation such as it is or ontological hesitation.
Poetry has nothing to do directly with the object. sensation. He applies truth to poetic sensation so as to be able. the science of sensation. THE TURN OF VERSE Heidegger clearly states that aletheia. and that aesthetics. yet it always proceeds from a poem in Heidegger and all his students. is not the name to be given to twentieth-century work on poiesis. a project so vast it all but overwhelms his slight work on prosody. A prolonged hesitation between sound and sense. First by applying a philosophical category to the technical specifics of prosody. is not dependent on aiesthesis. because after all sounds as such do not interest Agamben but voiced sounds. and then by using these techniques to mount a post-nihilistic metaphysics of indifference. in this way. Derrida. 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. such a delay between voice and meaning which Agamben likens to a katechon 157 . the two hesitations of verse. not literally from a voice.18 Certainly truth precedes. and poiesis is not necessarily poetry. but the Voice as such. the poem. not a physiological voice imprinted on a psychological capability. Yet the pathway to poetry. 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.19 This is an unadmitted but now quite familiar aporia in modern philosophical work on poetry. between the dying away of a voiced vibration. truth. 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.ENJAMBEMENT. a word heard and its meaning. while simultaneously sailing the ship of truth most perilously proximate to the ruining rocks of sensation. yet truth always proceeds from the sensible at the same time. This is an issue that occurs repeatedly in Heidegger. definable at the very least as a thing. psychologically-actual and philosophical-conceptual. 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. say as an inventive mode of bringing truth to presence. from sensation. is laid out through precisely the reading of specific poets and their singularly inventive effects. sensation. Badiou. Although Agamben denies it. at which point he behaves almost like a literary critic. to clear a future pathway for truth in what is a high-risk yet now essential intellectual strategy.
between sound and sense. a kind of silence. it remains in full as the hesitant voice within these impossible limits. unlike poetry or at least its tension. Yet the poem is also an ergon. for poetry cannot survive its own finitude. having stated that “all poetic institutions participate in this noncoincidence” of which we speak here. semiotic and semantic. of him who. as poets teach us. he points out that the poem is “grounded in the perception of the limits and endings that define— without ever fully coinciding with. and almost in intermittent dispute with—sonorous (or graphic) units and semantic units” (EP. Even as the poem is falling into a profound silence at its material and generic limits. self-willed. that is. would destroy the poetic machine by hurling it into silence” (EP. Poetry partakes of a local. singular and impossible to repeat. that is rendered mute. This would require here a differentiation between what the poem is as ergon partaking of an impossible. 114). The poem is. repeatable. a perception of the tension of poetry. universal but not generalizable. For example. the poem of a silence which is not local but over there. If this is. and what poetry is as that which goes on in the poem but which is not susceptible to or reducible to the poem. is silence. general but not universal silence. as I contend. then there must be at least two orders of silence. Agamben progresses towards the point of silence that is the end of the poem. Instead poetry can be defined as the prolonged hesitation. Such an abyss is not to be mistaken for silence either for. 158 . poetry. as they pause on the precipice of their own self-conscious.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN or “something which slows and delays the advent of the Messiah. is defined by a silence brought about by its finitude meaning that poetry is never silenced. namely the opposition between metric and semantic pauses. nothing is said therein. and the poem. a single body of work which means that it must and indeed already has come to an end. 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. fulfilling the time of poetry and uniting its two eons. between two units. Thus a poem. 110). and between actual opposition and possible or potential opposition. self-negating finitude. the sounding cataract is any thing but mute. differentiations between the poetic. Through such careful distinctions between orders of silence. according to this. 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. self-dissolution.
hesitantly.ENJAMBEMENT. it simultaneously exists through the bottom line á la Pacman. I am always delaying its arrival. Without the internal space. 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. some remnant of our animalistic past. A plane is always defined as being imaginary because it is infinitely extendable in every two-dimensional direction. It may be useful analogously to think of this in relation to what physicists call a “boundary condition” when studying planes. A boundary condition of a hexagonal crystal. like the poet. that jagged chasm to the right of the poem. Space must be present for enjambement to occur for example. 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. 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. Poetry must be ceaselessly. Although. and locally cutting off. for example. THE TURN OF VERSE I must speak of silence but. A plane only becomes a surface when an actual cut is made in the infinitely extendable plane. then the ergon could not continually come to 159 . a space which is inarticulate. or a tail.” A plane becomes a surface when the boundary condition is suspended and the edge of a structure bounded by a vacuum occurs. 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. for the poem to know of its finitude and be complete. a silent space that is not silence. 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. As the physicist Pauli was fond of saying: “God made the bulk. The body as such of poetry does not exist without that body suffering a moment of cutting or caesura. as I said. as if one has to somehow hack off a limb for the human body to be complete. The poem must be cut-off in order to be complete. This means that the second sense of ergon is continually born to presence from the already existent presence of the par-ergon. this can only be an illustrative analogy. states that if something enters through the top line of the structure. This is another way in which one could read Agamben. but this space is of the order of a boundary condition: the line exits on the right and always enters to the left. 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.
silent sense. 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. the final moment of finitude that is singular and plunges the ergon of poetry into infinite. is not silent at all but simply unpronounced. 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. the potentially endless and thus infinite fake silence between one line and the next. but no silence as such. the unpronounced and the uninscribed.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN being. relies on two competing convocations with its borders. There are pauses. There is. is either thinkable and unrepresentable. Surely the silence of sound is an actual silence while the silence of the grapheme. A finitude which. Nor is it even space as such but simply the uninscribed medium. 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. This is the moment of the plane becoming a surface. 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 . Is there any actual silence within the body of the text? I would argue not. or as-yet blank tablet. utilizing messianic time. gestural support. First. alinear prose? Agamben. like time. merely perceptions of silence. or represented in unthinkable fashion. it would seem. The perception of this double deconstructive presence of absence within the ergon of poetry is what the poem as such is reducible to. The ergon of the poem body. Second. In speaking of silence. then. this consonance which was previously forgivable is harder to support. by which one can only mean space. enjambement as boundary condition. however. which the poem invites into its body so as to expel it and thus allow itself to endlessly be born into being. the body puts off by its extension and yet invites by the structural necessity of its completion.
(IP. Only the human animal can establish the quality of exteriority as regards language. or an utterance. sensibly. philosophy stands exposed. describes as silence. This silence is the silence of philosophy of which Agamben says. THE TURN OF VERSE textuality to exist at all. Silence is not its secret word—but rather. not in other words as the cessation of speaking (surely what he means by a psychological hesitation). to me at least. Only the human knows of the quietude of the caesura. it endures the without-name. only man succeeds in interrupting. incessantly speaking and responding to signs even while keeping silent. the idea of the rose. is the conclusion of the essay “The Idea of Silence. however. absolutely without identity. 113) Paradoxically. once the following essay. 113). the infinite language of nature and placing himself for a moment in front of mute things. This complex negotiation with a silence which exposes philosophy to a period without name which is not. 111). in the word. in a Heideggerian gesture.20 This being the case one must engage with the profound and complex conception of the idea of word in Agamben. “but silence of the word itself. which is anything but a sign. he is the only creature capable of not having language. rather. philosophy’s word leaves unsaid its own silence” (IP. because man is the sole animal who learns language through infancy. Here then we finally understand what Agamben means when he states that animals are always within language.” an essay which only speaks. The word as such. the becoming visible but remaining silent word is. “The Idea of Language. an exteriority of the word that Agamben. the name of poetry. the becoming visible of the word: the idea of language” (IP. of interrupting words with the as-suchness of the word of language whose defining quality. an entity beyond the trivial differentiations of sonorous versus graphic. We now know that this encounter most powerfully occurs at the end of the poem.” has engaged with the silence of philosophy. exists only for man. by which I mean the quality which allows it definition and availability to our apprehension.ENJAMBEMENT. human living being as such through the faculty of language: Only the word puts us in contact with mute things. is silence. While nature and animals are forever caught up in a language. 161 . Here Agamben defines silence not as the suspension of discourse. in what is almost a cryptogram: “In silence. The inviolate rose. without finding in this its own name.
to resume the semantic stream. thus granting us finally access to the realm of pure poetry. is itself an impurity between poetic techniques and prose. and literally collapses back into this alterity as the next line commences. semiotics and semantics. Certainly Derrida is the thinker of a certain type of pure impurity. Prose literally overwhelms poetry in the following line.” While clear that the semiotic and the semantic are both radically heterogeneous and of differing 162 . ironically pure semiotics does not hold sway. one condition always simultaneously the pre-condition and impossibility of the other. Yet Agamben is a thinker of another order of perfect. as I have termed it elsewhere. in the final verse. but it is an unavoidable reality however unpleasant. and leaves them suspended in an almost endless dynamic of supersession and negation. At this point where the semiotics of the poetic line are unable. no pure poetry. and Agamben’s work seems similar in the way he establishes two oppositional concepts. rather.21 will continue its demonstration of deconstructive energies almost as an illustrative tool for Derrida’s work. only to be literally interrupted and superseded at the line’s outermost point. 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. which is also always the final line. for at the end of the poem. after a prolonged hesitation. If one were to think back to the Derridean conception of invention. pure impurity as indicated first by the way he structurally treats the semantic and the semiotic as ostensibly of the same order. but which is often termed deconstruction as a form of intellectual short-hand in quasitranscendental self-critical thought. 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. the end of the poem is marked by a change in the tension between the units of semiotics and semantics which is poetry. Poetry is literally elevated above its dyadic other at the end of the line. in fact. They are both units within an “almost intermittent dispute. there is no enjambement. one is struck by how singularity is always immediately ruined by its repeatability. Poetry. Left to its own devices the poetry machine. There is.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN As Agamben says.
(EP. And between these two currents lies the sharp interval obstinately maintained by poetic mechane. THE TURN OF VERSE orders of magnitude. for example. two tonoi of the same linguistic substance). (Sound and sense are not two substances but two intensities. a model which echoes Agamben’s own description of operational time. potentialityformation-having been constructed. Interestingly. Without quibbling over an extra dimension here and there. favouring instead a one dimensional and yet also trans-dimensional single line. Both are equally out of their element in the line. The machine of poetry referred to here is not simply the technical. strictly speaking.ENJAMBEMENT. 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. the machine 163 . but also the ancient Greek origin of the term in relation to the end of a play. which somewhat misleadingly he calls three-dimensional. repetitious mechanistic element of prosody with which we are all familiar. 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. two series or lines in parallel flight. suggesting that Agamben does not so much ignore the radical incommensurability between sense and matter. which in reality means very uneasily. 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. but intermittently. 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. what we can be certain of is Agamben seems to take the geometric presence of poetry backwards away from two (three) dimensions. for Agamben they can both be fitted to a pattern of similar units. dianoia and poiesis. there is but one line that is simultaneously traversed by the semantic current and the semiotic current. the caesura for the semantic) constantly. and finally a tension or tone. issues that would be strongly foregrounded by Derrida. then a machine. at the moment of deus ex machina. a line which metamorphoses first into a current. The semantic can just as easily occupy the unit of the line as the semiotic. rescinded. incipit-interruption-continuation. Rather.
but what does Agamben mean by suggesting that the semiotic and the semantic are not radically heterogeneous and different also in magnitude. my lines and cues. the lines with get entangled. especially in relation to invention and the trace. Like invention. thus it allows a literalization of a kind of localized transcendence. first that it marks out an axiom for poetics which we scholars of poetry can recognize. and metre of verse. I need a gag. the tonoi of poetry. and a figuration of the literal implied transcendence at the end of every Greek work of art. which are separate strands but not different from each 164 . Obvious in two ways. Tono in Latin is the tone. they may form knots. Don’t come too close. enjambement puts forward a theory of necessarily betrayed purity. flying. In addition. We will plunge to our death unless the tension in the lines is maintained.22 Yet unlike Derrida the impurity of the line is permanently under question. unlike the deconstructive mechane.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of art was regularly used both to end the work and also to allow characters to fly. or the moment when the material copy of essence is abandoned and essence alone remains: Deus. that way they can never become truly entangled. No wait. 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. I am giddy. I have forgotten everything. of the obstacle to sense that the premature line-ending constructs. Keep up the tension in the line. tension. 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. 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. and like the trace it is a theory of intermittent and almost interminable spacing. I feel the tension of the tonoi of the line of poetry as it suspends me above the plane of the stage below. The semiotic and the semantic are not differential terms but two tones within one single linguistic substance. enmeshed as it is into the very lines of prosody. Its complexities lie first in the apparent proximity of this theory and the work of Derrida. and its obviation in the recommencement of the line within the planar territory I am calling the poem.
we experience messianic silence as the prefigured anaphora of absolute finitude of each local ending. for example at the end of the line. for Agamben poetry is in preparation for the event to come. 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. Rather the messianic temporality of the interval is the interruptive event of the cessation of the temporal succession chronos-eschaton. therefore. THE TURN OF VERSE other. Instead in each instance of time the time of the end. will come to an end as the poem must also come to an end. Unlike Badiou. This is not to be conceived of eschatologically as one last event of course. the time it takes for finitude to come to a point of tension or dissolution. presents us with a messianic event of events. not the end of time or even the very last event. but the occupation of the time it takes time to end. and the recursive cataphora that the poem experiences at the very moment of its negation through finitude. who himself admits to a sparse number of events. chronological silence. Between silence in the line. however. In a form of agreement with Badiou. in enacting an endlessly falling into silence rather than a structural point of cessation. unlike perhaps in the work of Derrida. something will happen. The poem excels in messianic temporality. At which point. 165 . a messianic event. is inserted into time as such or everyday vulgar temporality as Heidegger calls it. in the endless falling into silence that defines the end of the poem.ENJAMBEMENT. for Agamben this event will be the final event. 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. eschatological silence. 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. and silence at the end of the poem. This end.
THE SPACE OF THOUGHT THE CAESURA The essay proceeding directly from “The Idea of Prose.”1 Invoking an ancient European exegetical tradition which takes the horse to represent the “sound and vocal element of language” (IP. The place of thought in the poem is the caesura. holds in suspense.” Agamben’s first attempt to define poetry in terms of enjambement is entitled “The Idea of Caesura. this thought is another. the element that arrests the metrical impetus of the voice. as pure word. 43) represented by the couplet from Penna “I go towards the river on a horse / which when I think a little a little stops. 44). is only the transport of itself. the caesura—for a little—thinks. And it is this emptiness which. Voice here is not the transport 166 . We now have a clear answer to a question I posed earlier. 43). more fundamental or alternate mode of thinking. 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). Agamben remarks on the “breaking action of the caesura” (IP. 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. namely thinking as such. This allows Agamben to note that “For the poet. is thought” (IP.CHAPTER 6 CAESURA.” Speaking specifically of the Italian poet Sandro Penna. the caesura of verse. while for an instant the horse of poetry is stopped” (IP. Rather. As he says in caesuric cadence: “The rhythmic transport that gives the verse its impetus is empty. Agamben declares this couplet to be a treatise on the subject of the caesura before composing one of his many allegories.
On nothing other than that. The classical definition of a caesura. but a much more “poeticized” idea of thinking. 44). considering that the Latin origins of the term caesura inculcate it into the violent rites of cutting and separation. thought is not semantic discourse. thought ventures forth” (IP. “The poet. As we are well aware this is all Agamben craves and we might now name this as the essential precondition of all logopoiesis. arrest. This congeniality within prosodic flow to its own negation except at poetic 167 . where breath is lacking. the only venues within a line of poetry inhospitable to the caesura are at the beginning of the line. and ecstatic thinking is presented in such a way that later in the book. hesitantly. not a pause for thought so much as a slight stumble.CAESURA. Yet the comma is not a necessary element of caesura. 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). Thus caesura was originally any displaced footing within the seamlessness of prosodic flow. mid-line. is any word ending that did not coincide with the cessation of a metrical foot. If the voice in the poem is gestic transport as such the interruption of pure transport by thought is simply a moment wherein thinking is able to think the pure word without the imposed differentiation of word and world that so troubles the end of the line. a little sign remains suspended. 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. and the end of the poem. the most common representation of caesuric pausing itself often reproduced in prosody by the so-called double pipes ||. Thus the interplay between flow. but the infantile voice of language as such. Similarly. This pause most commonly occurs at the medial position. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT of expression nor the silent Voice of metaphysical nihilism. awakens and contemplates for an instant the inspiration that carries him—he thinks nothing else but his voice”’ (IP. 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. including the poem’s incipit. 104). for example. Surprisingly. prose as we might name it. and that it effects the ultimate violence to prosody by its interruption of linear flow.” Agamben is able to conclude thus on thinking: “Where the voice drops. in the essay “The Idea of Thought. One such little sign in prosody is the comma. here asleep on his horse.
to allow time for thought to think the conditions of its own transport and its dependence on arrest. Over the many thousands of years of European prosody the caesura has been used to various effects. quiet and strife.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. transversal exuberance. then bound together by rhyme to a second line which may echo the antithesis of the first or. some to Pleasure take. In enjambement flow overtakes meaning and the space at the right hand side of the poem is negated by linear. Thus the place for thinking is a space within verse that works directly in opposition to enjambement. enough to open a gap in flow. some to Quiet. Here is a particularly misogynistic and yet prosodically perfect example from Pope’s “Epistle to a Lady on the Characters of Women”: Men. some to Bus’ness. By contrast in the caesura the steady and irresistible progress of verse is suspended by the merest hint of a sign. some to public Strife. operate as antithesis to the antithesis. 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. in effect. ecstatic space. here. Men.” 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. But ev’ry Lady would be Queen for life. But ev’ry Woman is at heart a Rake. In the ideal antithetical couplet a line is divided exactly in two by a caesura. Then semiotics 168 . demonstrating prosodic femininity here as “Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear. and in this momentary. Indeed the lack of caesura at the line’s incipit is simply a form of conventional display for. terminal caesura can also be taken for true initial caesura.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN advent and total formal finitude suggests that caesura is an internal concern of the poem body. Yet. The presupposed flow of the poetic line is interrupted by the imposition internally of semantics so that stress is cut across by meaning through regularized and predictable caesurae. In a sense this is the most perfect example of the tonos of poetry.
Yet at the instance of the cut we now know that meaning is interrupted not prosody. is indicative of messianic time but also the tabular trans-linear dimensionality not just of poetic structure but of poetic thinking as a whole. a three-way tension indeed. When with the second cut discourse is able to impose a damn on flow and pause for thought. a temporal-spatial self-consciousness is mapped across the neutrality of these two terms. Meanwhile. life. everything happens as if. Then. yet immediately in the second line flow inundates sense. at the same juncture prosody. even the zero. terminal enjambement of the perfectly balanced Heroic couplet designed to halt and formalize the profligacy of the endlessly over-running Miltonic couplet. . of course. the next line is ready to burst its stops and race ahead. with rhyme introducing a projective recursion that. The verse unit is born of a tension first between flow and interruption. life were what 169 . one of the first and most instructive observations to be made is that the concept never gets defined as such.CAESURA. the implied separation between lines that occurs due to enjambement. this thing that remains indeterminate gets articulated and divided time and again through a series of caesurae and oppositions . and its temporal-spatial matrix is the ultimate tonos of poetry in the service of the transport and arrest of thinking. At the same time. . 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. through the agency of rhyme. takes hold of the line and refers meaning back against the current to the preceding end word. its transport. then between interruption and flow. Agamben uses the term caesura regularly in his essays when speaking of the numerous and problematic acts of scission performed by negative metaphysics. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT is reinstated as flow commences and the artificiality of the line ending reminds one that the poem is more horse than waking. The most fully developed and perhaps important of these caesurae is that to be found internal to the very definition of human ontology. as we now know. And yet. If flow is the presupposition of the poem then the first caesura negates the semiotic in favour of the semantic. between thought. is undermined by the coincidence of sound across two syllables and/or words located each time at the final point of the line. in our culture. This tension. arrest and flow. The resumption of the line would then seem to be a victory for thinking.
does not define human life per se but the idea of human life as both separate from and intrinsically linked to the animal.3 First the caesura divides the line. except at the moments of poetic advent and finitude. The caesura is not possessed of finitude any more than of inventiveness or evental 170 . In terms of the act of caesura within the poem we perceive that there are always two cuts. rather than defining the term life here. 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. is meaningless and indeed inoperative until that division is divided from itself and cast back into linear flow. it comes to be the very definition of the problem of definition as such. must be ceaselessly articulated and divided. and yet as his comments show the essence of the caesura is not simply scission. the cut and the cut of the cut. The same indeed is true of the end of the line and its relation to enjambement. In the poem body suspension always results in resumption. yet at the same time no caesura is momentous either. the first division. then it articulates lineation as the transport of thinking. 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. No caesura is. permanent. as he more commonly terms it. 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. Life ceases to be a definition of something and instead. The interruption of thinking. Yet. (O. in this manner. imposes upon it a permanent indistinction. yet. through the operations of the caesura as that which both divides and conjoins. The caesura initially performs a negative function directly at odds with his earlier valorization of the term as the basis for thinking thought. something we observed in relation to the (/) or barred caesura in the sign between gramma and phone. resumption suspension. indistinction. namely in-definition or. precisely for this reason. 13) The caesura Agamben is considering here is that between the human and the animal.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be defined. Human life for Agamben. for example. if we look again at the definition of life in terms of caesura we find a productive negation. Life then comes to stand not so much for something like biological existence.
“like them in beauty. tho’ all things differ. (line b) caesura. all reliant on the counting and positioning of stress: (line a) caesura. should be like in fame. the medio or mean point. harmoniously confus’d: Where order in variety we see.” While Pope conjures for us a world of balance encased in the harmony of the bi-linear couplet. at the same time every two lines 171 . and finally the caesuric cut of the cut internalized in the space of one line. / Here earth and water. Aside from being a masterclass in the extendibility and power of caesuric prosody. all agree. 20) Here we can observe basic antithesis across a caesura. harmonious oxymoronic implied semantic caesura “harmoniously confus’d: / Where order in variety we see”. seem to strive again. Not Chaos like together crush’d and bruis’d. Here earth and water. tho’ all things differ. Live in description. were my breast inspir’d with equal flame. the woodland and the plain. double caesuric antithesis. Unexpectedly perhaps. the woodland and the plain. the caesura always cuts in the midst. (SP. “And where. “Here hills and vales. Like them in beauty. enjambement. And where. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT status. the section in question also provides the perfect razo de trobar of prosody summarized by the phrase “harmoniously confused. seem to strive again”. The tone of balance resides in the perfect tension of the four combined and yet separate units. harmonious whole. This world of harmonious tension is both described and performed in the opening lines of Pope’s “Windsor Forest”: The groves of Eden. But as the world. these two acts of violence. the cut and the cut of the cut. all agree. Rather. and the same is true of life. 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). and look green in song: These. One is always already in the midst of poetry. should be like in fame”.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. result in classical poetics in a perfectly balanced. enjambement. vanish’d now so long. Here hills and vales.
while powerfully semiotic. 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 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. in that it interrupts the linear progression of the line. however. but in most sophisticated prosody there is a wide use of initial and terminal caesurae. but 172 . The caesura represents the eschaton. semiotic consonance. Left to their own devices. before the push and pull of lineation can continue. sura cannot occur is within the word (as I have just demonstrated). gathers within itself the recursion of that which went before. The caesura of classical prosody tends to what is called the medial but this is not compulsory as. in rhyme thought and language combine to produce a word-based semiotics that is both predictive. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN there is a moment of cataphoric recursion as the second rhyme is tabulated backwards to its previous rhyme partner. The caesura of English tends also to the medial rising to a degree of compulsarity in Old and Middle English verse. or enjambement where the obverse is true. 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. 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. is dependent on semantics to perform. and thus the shifting of the metrical–musical element between semiotics (langue) and semantics (parole) becomes the metrical–musical–semantic element. If every second caesura is more forceful in that it cataphorically holds back flow. at the moment of reading on into meaning development one always lags behind in some manner in sonic. it provides the semiotic rules to sense what the next rhyme might be. The only place internal to the poem that a cae. Although Agamben does not consider it in these terms. Unlike the caesura where thought interrupts poetry. and yet also recursive. say. For rhyme. in French Alexandrines. and indeed that is all they are gestic and meaningless prosodic devices. unless one ends the poetic line with the first sy/Llable and commences the next with the second. interruption and flow retain poetic tonos.
or the line. Where the poem begins is of another order to where it ends and the two edges of its finitude will never meet. or a meta-linear version of its localized prosodic effects of flow and interruption. never before it. is interrupted by thought or by the silence that is apparently endemic to contemporary thinking. There are. is not a pause but an endless falling into the silence of philosophy on the part of poetry. therefore. The poem as a whole or thing is not. contrary to its internal structure. poems are not of the same order as flowers. Similarly the end of the poem. therefore. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT even this is that peculiar form of terminal caesura called enjambement. The two edges of a poem’s frame will never meet. only two operative interdictions on caesuric scission. the parergon will always slice open the finitude of the ergon. in this light. these at the moment of advent and finitude. Just as the end of the line has no commonality to the incipit due to the ban on the caesura at the point of the line’s inception. a cyclical loop. a frame at all for it has no continuity. even if the poem is part of a sequence. If enjambement instigates the event of the poetic by interrupting discourse with voice and semiotic material rhythm. perpetually meeting and departing from their assignation. Also of some significance is the fact that all caesuric cuts occur “after” flow. so that the point of the end of the line is radically dissimilar to its incipit. 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. Therefore. similarly voice. even if they are poems in a sequence. This is in contradistinction to the end of one line and the commencement of the next which are always in communion with each other. For those of us well versed in prosody this is highly satisfying as it is true that an enjambement 173 . There are. The spacesilence made parergonal frame around the poem is not. Poems are not rocks. and two forms of silence cocooning the voice. In this way. If they are in possession of finitude then not of this order.CAESURA. two forms of exterior space to the poem body. so too the beginning of a poem does not take up the line from the end of the last poem. The caesura is the essential complement to enjambement. a miniaturized rule of some value when one comes to consider the very limits of the ergon. Logopoiesis is an internal affair that occurs inside verse but which does not delimit verse. 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. as we have seen.
a caesura midline leaves few syllables in the line to commence a new thought making another enjambement very probable. The line broken at the end then is the influx of the voice inundating thought and for a moment erasing it. You will recall he is speaking here of the tensile harmony to be located in the work of Heraclitus. stopping the flow and for a second eradicating the voice entirely with a momentary. The line arrested in the centre is the reversal of this flood of semiotics. of the parallelism of the comparison. or even in the case of real thinkers such as Milton and Wordsworth. momentarily held. 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. intermittent and hesitant silence. Thus enjambement works like a stone cast into a still pool. or the next. the next. for example. either to thought or to poetry. Enjambement only occurs at moments when the thought is too big for the line pushing the caesura into the middle of the next line. 157). This simple consonance of oppositions is now clearer to us being typical. event: the prolonged hesitation between sound and sense that constitutes poetry. its ripples spreading out through the lines and the calm surface of the poem taking some time/ lines to settle down once more. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and unitary” (ST.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN more likely than not either follows from or is followed by a caesura. Concomitantly. As is regularly commented on. 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. leading Agamben to look to the Greek sense of harmonia as “a laceration that is also a suture. It also conveys the messianic moment of a stilled 174 . 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.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.
157) There was a time. There was. the visible and the acoustic. 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. “back” then. I am speculating. locating harmony as a basis for being in concealment within the visible realm. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT dialectic. whose signification had appeared to the dawning of Greek thought 175 . He then adds: That this articulation. in the passage from the visible to the acoustic aspect of language. and remember harmony here means just as much division as it does unification. (ST. not the eradication of division and unity but the tensile suspension of the metaphysical foundational categories of difference and identity. philosophy playing the role of visibility/interruption. it transpires. Speaking of the term harmony in Heraclitus Agamben notes that for the Greek the idea of harmony pertained precisely to its invisibility. should then be transferred to the numericalacoustic sphere. which. and poetry invisibility/flow. still belongs to the tactile-visible sphere. were not placed on either side of a false bar or division as is articulated in the theory of the sign. Harmony names. therefore. when thought and poetry. “Faithful to this apotropaic project. for Heraclitus. the cut that is cut. speaking of Heidegger’s rediscovery of the harmony of harmonies between philosophy and poetry. but also the rule of poetry which is defined by the tension between interruption and flow. Then there was the harmony between the monstrative and acoustical harmonies with.CAESURA. the harmonious confusion of caesura as a division that combines. if I read this compacted section correctly. Thus there was philosophical harmony mirrored by poetic harmony and then a harmony between the two. While within the acoustical realm—the originary voice of poetry before it was split. where it is still possible to discern the solidarity between signification and metaphysical articulation. Of this Agamben says. This harmony of harmonies. appropriated. 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. One can now also see that harmony not merely names an ideal state of being in the universe as it did for the Greeks. a double harmony. then silenced by philosophy—there was the harmony between interruption and flow. testifies to a decisive turn in Western thought.
crucial to his overall overcoming of metaphysics as I hope I have now shown. which also explains why poetry matters to Agamben and also helps clarify his many valuable comments on the technicalities of prosody.5 We are now more than familiar with the fracture of presence alluded to here. Aletheia’s unveiling of truth moves one to the very heart of the almost awkward formulation of truth as unconcealedness which so dominates Heidegger’s work.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as a mode of speaking that was neither a gathering nor a concealment. shares a good deal in common with the more familiar rhetorical designation of the enigma. 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. the enigma of the order of a sign. Thus every truth is a form of enigma facilitated by the double 176 . is based on an impossible filiation therein to the fact that presence comes to philosophical thought as already divided. ratified in the discipline of philosophy. 138). is the apotropaic structure of all logopoiesis. For the truth to be unveiled it must first be transmitted through a sheet or material barrier. 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. 157). The sign is of the order of an enigma. called up at the moment that presence as such is split in two. If there were no secret then there needs must be no solution. It makes perfect sense. for the moment. In this instant full presence becomes unavailable to view and the Greek activity of aletheia commences the strange affiliation called philosophy. Considering the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx in Stanzas. remain at a distance” (ST. For truth to be unveiled it must first have been obscured by a sheet or material barrier. The relation between poetry and thinking in Agamben. we cannot but approach that which must. The apotropaic. Logopoiesis names little more than this at this stage in its development: an apotropaic harmony between poetic flow and philosophical interruption. that which attracts and repels. 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. The presence of the sign is. Speaking of the foundation of philosophy Agamben notes that the Western experience of being. as Agamben concedes.
CAESURA. Returning to the enigma now. The dancing path of the labyrinth. and an extraneous babble from the street Confirming the new value the hollow core has again. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT hindrance of matter. has valorized the very quality of interpretation over the fact of the enigma as such. 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. or a maze which has no centre point or any point of exit/entrance. the light From the lighthouse that protects as it pushes us away. 138) If this is the case. Oedipus’ sin was not incest but “hubris toward the power of the symbolic in general .” that ends with a shocking apocalypse for such a poet of tonal. like the Gorgon. and books with no author. to a protective power that repels the uncanny. and Western thought since then. which he has misinterpreted by interpreting its apotropaic intention as the relation of an oblique signifier and a hidden signified” (ST. and conceptual even-ness: And so each day Culminates in merriment as well as a deep shock like an electric one. that is. fable) of the ainigma is not only obscurity. Agamben suggests. the enigma belongs to the sphere of the apotropaic. Like the labyrinth. by attracting it and assuming it within itself. therefore. Oedipus. The name of both these obstructions is rather obvious: the sign. An apotropaic verse. 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. prosodic. which leads to the heart of that which is held at a distance. Agamben goes on to state: The ainos (story. is a poetics of the enigma as that which is not available for solution. . 138). is the model of this relation with the uncanny that is expressed in the enigma.6 177 . Presupposing the enigma as a sign that needs to be made to signify. One of the great contemporary works of logopoietic apotropaicism is John Ashbery’s much-admired “Down by the Station. . but a more original mode of speaking. Early in the Morning. letting in Space. and like the Sphinx that utters it. (ST. structural.
In some senses Ashbery has found the only solution to the paradox of the end of the poem. to the sudden collapse of all pedagogic certainty in the final stanza cited here. labyrinthine structure of the wrecked library.” an extraneous pure semiotic noise the result of the collapse of the single. “a dull crinkled leather that no longer exists. If the hollow core is as the lighthouse. Following on from space comes the loaded term “babble. form and theme merge into harmony precisely through their being manifestly at odds. I feel I can guide a passage through. Indeed are not all enigmas thus doubled-up? The image draws you in. remembering. is a comment on the tension between the semiotic (enjambement.” This work. and the almost enjambed terminal caesura in the penultimate line suggests precisely this. space. space. I have laboured over both the enigma that is Ashbery. like Oedipus and Ariadne trapped in some terrible union neither dares to seek annulment for. As the wrecking ball demolishes the walls of a book-lined labyrinth of enigmas one presumes is a library. until you name it. babble) and the semantic which typifies Agamben’s axiom. The manifestation of the lighthouse is a double enigma. and the enigma of naming. 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. as the line folds back on itself. 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. and nonsense. ontology. while dense. Or is Ashbery merely revealing the enigma of the very fact of the warning or the apotropaic nature of 178 . then one is drawn towards the core and simultaneously repelled. always leads my students and myself interminably across two verses which. for years.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. in a moment of supreme post-modern self-consciousness. and yet the poem’s final image seems to resist an endless falling into silence. Here. The line break after “letting in” admits the essential material presence of space foundational to poetic tension. Babelian tower of language. 14). and more specifically in classrooms around the globe the enigma of the poem “Down by the station early in the morning. and even then / It may not have existed” (W. it would appear. Here it takes the form of enjambement. memory. a deliberation on impermanence. / And nothing does. Ashbery admits into the work the essence of the poetic: the semiotic. The poem.
. until you name it. 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.” combining the impossibility of logos preceding phone (nothing exists until you name it). He says in relation to that which no longer exists “And nothing does. . but that there can be an unresolved relation between the two. What the uncanny unearths is not that there is no solution. 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. the light of the lighthouse. which protects us and seems almost to gather us to its bosom. The first is of the order of the enigma. to be more precise. The enigmatic in verse. gathers us by actually rejecting us. the bar within the sign between phone and logos. Certainly the bar divides poetry from thinking in a manner Agamben finds repulsive. I would attempt to say three things about this blinding moment of logopoiesis. As regards the apotropaic structure of the enigma the elegance of Agamben’s formulation remains a thing of beauty. but it also gathers them together in the same parallel space of stanzaic comparison revealing what may have already been suspected that the bar of the sign (/) and the double pipes of the caesura || are in fact of the same grammatological order. of which Ashbery is the master. This leads to my second comment on the sign as fundamentally apotropaic in structure or. 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. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT the enigma? In drawing attention to itself. 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.” cyclically resumes at the poetic incipit. Rather. nor that there is a solution. remembering . 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.CAESURA. is indeed as Agamben suggests not there to be solved but persists so as to retain within itself the presence of the problem as such. The poem neither concludes nor. as many works do such as “L’infinito. . The third and final point is that by ending with an apotropaic Ashbery is able to endlessly defer the end of the verse while simultaneously suspending the poem within the very tension that Agamben suggests it is impossible to be suspended within. the possibility 179 .
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. 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. however. its being in 180 . Those who seek to define signification as that which occurs as a relation between code and solution. The first is more than familiar to we Oedipal decoders of poetic and literary Sphinxes. 139). There is. 139). They seek to exit the maze into which they wished they had never been entered by their masters. one finds oneself for that very reason in the place of the neighbour. signifier and signified. 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. What is most proper to every creature is thus its substitutability. in the full sense of the term. focuses its attention above all on the barrier between signifier and signified that constitutes the original problem of signification” (ST. semiotics and semantics are post-Oedipal thinkers. This enigmatic. space is what he describes as the space of ease. refusing the model of Oedipus. that which can be found internal to the poem and of course Derridean spacing as such in the form of the trace. Agamben notes that the topology of interest here resides not between Eden and Gehenna but within “the adjacent place that each person inevitably receives.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. 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). 138–9). Speaking of the inheritance of Oedipus Agamben divides our epoch into two tendencies. that which exists between the signifier and the signified within the sign. This glimpse first opened up by the enigma is the very harmony between poetry and philosophy essential to prosodic harmony and the wider apotropaic comparison of logopoiesis as such. Citing specifically the “Hericlitean project of an utterance that neither ‘hides’ nor ‘reveals’ but rather ‘signifies’ the unsignifiable conjunction (synapsis) between presence and absence” (ST.
such as it is. at one’s ease (slowly). although I am sure these issues are not unfamiliar. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT any case in the place of the other” (CC. therefore. common space of singularity. 23). moving at ease) and convenience borders on the correct relation” (CC. 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). according to its etymology. the work of Blanchot. Forgive this digression into the biopolitical realm of the ethics of alterity. in a semantic constellation where spatial proximity borders on opportune time (ad-agio. 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. but it is necessary to allow one to comprehend the centrality of space in Agamben’s ideas on poetry. 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. Ease is the proper name of this unrepresentable space” (CC. 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. “the coming to itself of each singularity. the subject as individual is alienated from identity without succumbing to biological indetermination. adjacentia).CAESURA. the space adjacent (ad-jacens. which soon enough we will locate within the poem. under sail or beneath the effects of music. 181 . 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. as well as Derrida’s post-Lévinasian ethics of alterity and hospitality and.7 In the space of ease. 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. 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. The space of ease delineates. for good measure. They move to one side of who they are to a space of singular self-negation. 25). the empty place where each can move freely. the topography of kle or the vocation of ¯sis subjective revocation. but describing a complex.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
It also presents the original meaning of convenience as coming together or natural fittedness of things with other things. Thus ease is a temporal, spatial space to the side that gives one time/space to come to things, to step to one side, gain time, make space and so on. This sense of ease as a proximation and facilitation, opening up, making space for space, taking time to experience time, explains the centrality of the term for the origins of European prosody. Agamben therefore goes on to explain: “The provençal poets (whose songs first introduce the term into Romance languages in the form aizi, aizimen) make ease a terminus technicus in their poetics, designating the very place of love…not so much the place of love, but rather love as the experience of taking-place in whatever singularity” (CC, 25). Now we can begin to see that ease is supportive facilitation in the manner in which we have come to see love for the troubadour tradition. Love here is unattainable precisely because it is the medium, support, or space to the side that facilitates attainment as such but which itself, therefore, can never be possessed. Agamben speaks of a similar experience when he considers stil novist poetics, in particular Dante’s famous pursuit of the subjectposition called Beatrice. Beatrice is the name of the amorous experience of the event of language at play in the poetic text itself. She is thus the name and the love of language, but of language understood not in its grammaticality but, rather, in its radical primordiality, as the emergence of verse from the pure Nothing . . . It is because of its absolute originality that speech is the supreme cause and object of love and, at the same time, necessarily transient and perishable. (EP, 58) Such an understanding of speech as primordial, transient, and perishable relates, in Agamben’s work, to Dante’s reformulation of a central Humanist debate over the vernacular and grammar “that is, between the experience of the originary and secondary status of the event of language (or again between love of language and knowledge of language)” (EP, 54).8 Moving backwards through the arguments of the essay “The Dream of Language” where these quotes are couched we find ourselves gazing on an obscure fifteenth-century text, the Hypnerotomachia Polifili (1499), an image from which adorns the English translation of The End of the Poem. Agamben
CAESURA, THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
focuses our attention on the later debate around the language of this text which seems to be made up from a fusion of grammar (Latin) and the vernacular (what was to become modern Italian). The result, he assures us, is an awkward mismatch of Latin grammar and vernacular lexicon of which Agamben comments that the singularity of this text “is a matter not of agrammatical discourse but rather of a language in which the resistance of names and words is not immediately dissolved and rendered transparent by the comprehension of the global meaning; hence the lexical element remains isolated and suspended for a few seconds, as dead material, before being articulated and dissolved in the fluid discourse of sense” (EP, 46). Agamben usefully likens this effect to the use of the word in Mallarmé before going on to note the qualities of the vernacular that make it so central to the role of the space of ease as love in all poetry. Glossing on Dante’s Convivio he remarks that “the vernacular can only follow ‘use’ not ‘art’; and it is, therefore, necessarily transient and subject to continual death. To speak in the vernacular is to precisely experience this incessant death and rebirth of words, which no grammar can fully treat” (EP, 54). What Agamben is tracing here along admittedly obscure defiles, aside from the complex simultaneous development of the idea of language and poetry within European culture from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, is the double stream of language which we have already become familiar with, only this time reconfigured away from the becoming-planar of the line towards the point of the word. The vernacular in the Hypnerotomachia Polifili resembles Mallarmé’s verse as I said in that “words stand out in isolation while their semantic values are suspended” (EP, 46), precisely because the vernacular lexicon has not yet been assimilated into a vernacular grammar. This will not happen until Latin truly becomes a dead language and the vernacular becomes a grammar at which point one gazes on two senses of what it means for a language to die. For Latin it means that it becomes a kind of pure langue or a complete grammar that has no actual usage. In contrast, the vernacular is pure parole in that words are used for the love of language, the words themselves, before they are reformulated in relation to definition and syntax. Love, therefore, is to experience the imminent vernacular in all language, a primordiality of pure usage before grammar died wherein words rise up and then die away again. This is an atactic language freed of grammar, for
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
what is grammar but an obviation of the need for syntax? Grammar is pure structure in which the specificity of the sign is totally irrelevant. The development of the vernacular into grammar by the death of grammar in the form of Latin allows us to see, as if for the first time, words for their own sake as purely vernacular. All of which forces us to now reconsider Agamben’s definition of the stanza as the “capacious dwelling, receptacle,” or womb of art. The stanza like a room is gifted with a certain set of spatial co-ordinates it being an enclosed space within a wider enclosure of space, the house, which is itself an enclosure of space surrounded by an illimitable space, the world, founded on the earth. The stanza, therefore, is a ventricle within the very conception of interiority and just as lineation rehearses the abyssal event of the end of the poem, so the stanza seems to act out the irresolvable aporetic relationship between interiority and exteriority which is, of course, modern philosophy. The stanza contains within its walls a double paradox. It is the material marking of an enclosure of space and also occupies the inside of the inside providing us now with a third messianic structure, not that of time as such, nor poetic time, but the interiority of space between space as enclosure (“eschatological” space) and space as endless extension and continuum (“chronological” space). While Agamben calls this the womb, he could, of course, have designated it with the Greek name chora.9 Now we are at our ease, our work here nearly done. Primed as we are to exit art and finally crack the puzzle of the maze of thought, let us pause for a moment on the complex entity that is called, in our tradition, the poem. What is a poem? A poem is made up of poetry that exists within the tension between the semiotic and semantic that occurs at the premature interjection of space as both temporal pause and spatial presence creating the line. This gesture of interruption is then reversed in boustrophedonic mode so that the seamless flow of metre is interrupted by the caesuric pause of thought. Thus a poem consists of the movement between two syntaxes, ignoring for now which take precedence: prose—poetry—prose and poetry—prose— poetry. Also overlooking the further complexity that spacing is a precondition for all writing and exists in equal measure between each sign and within each sign, we now advance propositionally to the centrality of the end of the poem, wherein the micro tensile oscillation of poetry is writ large and catastrophic. Agamben is clear that
CAESURA, THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
the end of the poem is the end of verse which means also always the end of a verse or stanza. The end of the poem is, therefore, triply the end of poetry, the end of lineation, and the end of stanzation. As can be seen by this definition the end of the poem cannot come to an end as a propositional statement without a full understanding of the stanza. The first thing to note in this regard is that the end of the poem occurs, paradoxically, in a medial position by virtue of the stanza (as I said the end is central). The end of each line is different from the end of the last line, Agamben assures us, and so too must it be the case that the end of the stanza is an ending of a different order. It would be tempting to ascribe the end of the stanza as a miniature disaster and in a semiotic sense it can seem as such, but in fact the stanza is not a vertical form. The space at the end of the stanza is only one quarter of the relevant space for a stanza must have four walls revealing that the spatiality between stanzas is not one of finality but proximity. A stanza, in fact, is not a unit of poetry at all but a unit of sense, part of the syllogistic globalization of meaning promised by the poem and ruined by its finitude.10 As such there is a different relation to space in the stanza to that of the poem as verse or line. The stanza is known, therefore, for what it can contain, for its jug-like capaciousness, and as a receptacle it transcends or somehow avoids the temporal-spatial linearity of versification providing an internal, fractal, Chinese-box nested form of spatiality that endlessly defers ending by the act of turning in on itself in a process of almost endless reduction and insertion. The stanza provides the space of ease but where does this spatiality reside within the receptacle or around it? Is its spatiality that of the page/tablet, the parergonal forces of title, frame, and so on; or is it literally over there, to the side, located in the semi-mythical righthand margin of the Western poetic tradition?11 Thus far I have summarized the relation of poetry to space around four spatialities: frame space, the pause at the end of the line, spacing as such, and the space into which the poem is endlessly falling that Agamben terms silence. There is, however, a fifth space here located in no one location within the poem but which cuts across and is inserted into all spacing. This space is what I am terming the space of ease as facilitated by the technicus terminus of the poem as such as determined by the pure love of the word as such, as mere matter, pure signification, dead stuff . . .
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
CORN: IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM
In the essay “‘Corn’: from Anatomy to Poetics” Agamben traces the philology of an obscure term used in troubadour poetry: corn, or arse (specifically a woman’s). Agamben, alive to the rather suspect humour here, also shows that how, over time, a term referring to the female anatomy, corn, comes also, as cors, to represent the metrical unit of poetry as such. This odd transformation, although no odder than many similar semantic shifts, possibly stems from the tradition of equating the woman’s body to that of the poem, which we have already commented on in relation to the stanza as a kind of womb. Over time the term corn has come to stand for what is called the unrelated rhyme wherein an apparently unrhymed word in one stanza is later found to rhyme with a word in a subsequent stanza. This may seem obscure, indeed it is for Agamben the philologist who works hard to recuperate the meaning of this term, but as the essay progresses we come to realize that corn is an essential companion to the verse which, in relation to enjambement, has become so crucial to us in this discussion. If the etymological meanings of verse in the Latin versus explain so much about poetry, so too the potential meanings for corn as “tip,” “extremity,” “corner,” and “angle” open up a whole new aspect like an interior wall removed to flood a dull space with light. Now we can freely state that verse is the folding back of the line on itself, while corn is the retention of the line break as a break or exteriorized caesura. Corn allows one to see the extremity of the line at the same time as one sees it folding over to become, at least momentarily, prose. So what is corn? It is both verse and not verse, resembling something more like a remnant of verse at the moment of verse’s collapse into sense. Corn as a term retains the cut or tear in the fabric of meaning from which poetry attains its lasting power and significance but it is not verse as such. Corn is the corner of the room, what is left over as the line breaks. Undoubtedly it presents risk for the poem as it interrupts the semiotic precedence with that which is neither semantic nor apparently semiotic, which is why Agamben asserts that for the corn to function meta-strophically it must find its rhyme later in the poem. If corn did not find its rhyme it would cataphorically be revealed to be, after the end of the poem, in some sense a premature end resulting in the tension of verse dissipating prematurely and yet also, belatedly in its retrospective realization.
the harder it becomes to hear the rhyme. Of Arnaut’s sestina Agamben asserts “he is the poet who treats all verses as ‘corns’ and who. structure. it can find only a formal correspondence?” (EP. of course. and allows us to move through the poem at a point between local and apocalyptic. and graphematics. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT Corn is the poetic term for what can otherwise be termed structure. 34). “cannot be understood if it is not situated in the context of a different formal register. cannot be heard and therefore must ultimately be read. transforms the unrelated rhyme into the principle of a higher relation” (EP. As the corn delays rhyme until a later stanza it. The greater the distance between the first instance of the rhyme and its second. No poem can 187 . The rhyme is still there but located at what has traditionally been called the harmonic rather than melodic level. opening up a level of harmony.CAESURA. by thus rupturing the closed unity of the strophe. in a wider sense referring to any larger structural unity within a work. 31). The harmonic effects of corn. of course. disenchanted. Structure is the trans-tensile containment of the obviousness of the poetic definition Agamben furnishes us with. by definition. Then again. It takes us away from the localized issue of the line break versus the abyssal logic of the end of the poem. because of this. In addition. such that the mind searches for an analogy of sense in the very place where. if not a disjunction between semiotic event (the repetition of sounds) and semantic event. that between sound and sense” (EP. weakens the rhyme. I am calling this higher relation structure here because it cuts across the localized effects of the semiotic/semantic tension. namely. Agamben proceeds to look at the work of Arnaut in this regard. a writer who elevated corn to a metastrophic dominance in the development of the stanzaic form of the sestina in which. with a wider understanding of what poetry is. every rhyme is delayed. Corn distributes the tension of the poem across two different spatialities that accord. between orality and writing. 35). 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. Taken within this context corn becomes an essential point of transition not only for poetry but also Agamben’s overall philosophy. One thing this observation allows is a more prominent place for rhyme within Agamben’s linear definition of poetry: “What is rhyme. the importance of corn is not merely related to the means by which we can bring structure into the work for it also ushers in the predominance of writing into poetry.
Ease requires the thinking of proximate space as precondition for singularity.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN be complete unless. and with corn we have the word. partial units” (EP. This is most readily found in poetry specifically in the material presence of an articulate space at the right hand of every lineated poem. we are informed. 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. Overviewing Dante’s remarkably prescient comments Agamben. 35). with the caesura we have discourse. which of course calls to mind the womb. multi-dimensional. 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). Based on two metaphors Dante utilizes. the closed formal womb of the stanza. the fifth trans-poetic tabular space. asserts: “Dante thus conceives of the structure of the canzone as founded on the relation between an essentially semantic. At this juncture we must return one more time to Dante and his discussion of the structure of the canzone cited by Agamben. yet at the same time it requires that one consider the poem as consisting of lines within stanzas. To sum up this long and complex series of arguments. With enjambement we have lineation. almost in astonishment. 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. . 36). . This space. This is the space of ease or that space into which the poem moves at the local. vertical space of the poem as a global entity. The unrelated rhyme forces one to concede that the poem exists in space and time beyond the power of its voicing. along with the impact of lineation. the bodily metaphor of the lap “For just as the canzone is in the lap of its subject-matter so the stanza enlaps its whole technique” (EP. sequential level into the tabular. and his later choice to call the unrelated rhyme or corn the clavis or key. 35). Agamben is finally able to conclude that “Insofar as it opens . one does not take into consideration the means by which words are distributed through the poem based on alternative patterns. global unit and essentially metrical. the unrelated rhyme (the corn!) constitutes a threshold of passage between the metrical unity of ars and the higher semantic unity of sententia” (EP. intellectual and aesthetic rooms within rooms. 188 . Ease is also a superlative example of logopoiesis.
CAESURA. 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. The first thing to accept here is that these contesting views of structure are either based on an internal. Both positions are problematic. second explain its essential role to the very collection it is radically exterior and other too. 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. 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. 97). they cannot as it precedes all such work. synecdochic view of a certain part of a collection of elements being the supra-elemental part. 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. Aristotle asks in The Metaphysics what causes a collection of elements to be more than a mere aggregate. The essay is a fairly unreconstructed Heideggerian reading of poetic rhythm. Agamben begins his treatise on rhythm by considering the age-old problem as to what constitutes structure. 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.” I am unable to assert that all the matters pertaining to poetic structure as a mode of thinking come together in this essay. stanzas a poem. I am speaking here of the dense chapter in The Man Without Content entitled “The Original Structure of the Work of Art. and third (a point central to the work of Badiou) explain how this element exterior to one’s set can be 189 . in other words how do parts cohere into a unified structure: lines become a stanza. 96). 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. but rather we are able now to look back on that essay and see in it the basis of all that is to come. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT RHYTHM Agamben is a sporadic and yet profoundly consistent writer. 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.
100). Yet this rhythm—as we commonly understand it—appears to introduce into this eternal flow a split and a stop” (MWC. the Greek philosopher renames Form.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN a set-defining element and yet itself escape the problems of infinite regression and bad infinity intrinsic to set theory. is a double measure. This debate is promoted by a comment by a momentarily lucid. initially struggling to comprehend this statement. and everything swings from the poeticizing lips of the god” (Cited in MWC. as in the case of water. This second element. inaugurates and announces the very existence of rhythm: “The word ‘rhythm’ comes from the Greek . . . decrepit Hölderlin: “Everything is rhythm . Agamben defines these two positions as number. That which flows does so in a temporal dimension: it flows in time . supra-spatial ecstatic moment that he 190 . He gives examples here of music and painting. At the point that the rhythm stops we are launched. that which is outside of a work and makes it what it is (Form). . This. words. . Rhythm. Agamben argues. and lines in the poem. the very structure of art “that is at once as Gestalt and number” (MWC. . every work of art is one rhythm.” and rhythm “that which causes something to be what it is” (MWC. 99). Rhythm is the unquantifiable “extra” element that makes a thing a work of art. yet at the same time rhythm is directly dependent on the elements that make up the work of art. is the tantalizing gift and reserve of art. for a moment. the one preferred by Aristotle. 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. for the sake of argument syllables. and measure as such as a calculable number. 94). One can already see here the value of such a definition of structure as rhythm at least for the art work. . 98). in other words. to flow. how in both cases the elements that function in harmony to create the work’s rhythm also provide us with an atemporal. Agamben. measure as the coming to presence of being on the earth (Heideggerian Measure) and measure as a countable number of units or quanta. How can this “additional thing” exceed the very structure of aggregation it defines? After Aristotle. at the same time. now feels after Aristotle that he can define rhythm as that which negotiates between the very principle of presence. “element and minimal quantum. 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.
. because it is poiesis that founds for him the original space of his world” (MWC. that is. Thus Agamben concludes: “rhythm holds. coming from the future. This being the case rhythm is not a single event. Agamben’s main argumentative thrust here is Heideggerian. human being is able to exist in the transition from presence as origin to presence as thing in the world. . for example modernity. centring in on issues of Measure. 99). Through the act of pro-duction via entelechy. to suspend. Both epoch and rhythm therefore are the making of a unity through a radical act of disjunctive ecstasy which. and to hand over. third meaning for epochal rhythm in the Greek. rhythm in defining art also defines the basis of being’s temporal existence in the world. he argues. as well as providing an early prototype for the Idea of Prose and its subsequent reformulation as potential. day-to-day vulgar time. The same is true of epoch in relation to the definition of a period. 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. namely “to be” in the sense of to dominate or to hold on to a place. As I mentioned. What matters for us at this late hour however is how he relates rhythm to poiesis for. 100) before attempting a somewhat “violent” retranslation of the term as rhythm. rhythm grants men both the ecstatic dwelling in a more original dimension and the fall into the flight of measurable time” (MWC. to present. 101). Man has on earth a poetic status. but the ongoing process of the evental interruption of flow. as we saw. “In his authentic temporal dimension. sinks into the past” (MWC. . While it certainly takes time and is composed of three stages 191 . Agamben translates epoch as meaning “both to hold back. namely the perpetual movement between time as origin. being-in-the-world. however. 100). Yet this process of pro-duction is not entirely processual. Clearly rhythm conceived in this way is the basis for Agamben’s later construction of messianic time. an interruption in the incessant flow in instants that. falls back into said continuum. and as flow. ecstasy. both the cut in time and the definition of a period in time. to offer” (MWC. Being’s destiny and authenticity. gives and holds back . not on ongoing flow. . This then explains a final. Yet rhythm is spoken of here in the very earliest work in terms of the Greek word epoch. as soon it is raised up out of the structured continuum.CAESURA. the poetic status of man on earth finds its proper meaning. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT describes thus: “we perceive a stop in time .
etymologically: art. itself simply archetypal of innumerable such structures across all the arts and beyond. wherein the human sees its origins. a process wherein “in the work of art the continuum of linear time is broken. It determines how. stuttering singular dimensionality. poetic 192 . As he says: “That art is architectonic means. does not dispense with the continuum below. It dictates how human being exists in the essentiality of chronological time and space as a continuum. rhythm is the perpetual interplay between flow and its arrest. 102). at various points. This interplay. As we now know in terms of the spatiotemporality of the poem there is flow (enjambement). Rather. which would simply carve time up into the traditional aporia of moments along a single line. and perhaps this is the truly original and poetic part of Agamben’s thinking. In one final report from the great Aristotle. architectonics par excellence” (MWC. any more than the continuum permanently disallows the epoch. and there is the architectural organization of these two elements into a third element which is the projective-recursive spatiotemporality of structure (what Agamben terms the metrical–musical element). in the origin that has revealed itself to him in the poietic act” (MWC. is revealing. “In the experience of the work of art. flowarrest-flow-arrest. being breaks with the continual and enters into the ecstatic. Rather. art’s architectonic basis. interruption (caesura). and man recovers. So that when Agamben concludes.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN (poiesis–entelechy–praxis). 102). 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. is not however simply an erratic or intermittent. 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. Poiesis. Said architectonics is a structure now extremely familiar to us across all that we have perused here. art is the gift of the original space of man. between past and future his present space” (MWC. 101). often by willed skilled acts of artistic making or artistic experience of the made thing. Poiesis is rhythmical structure. we can now reread this in a more Agambenian fashion.the term process does not convey the complexity of its operations. therefore. is pro-duction (τίκτω) of origin (άρχή). man stands in the truth that is. Here is where poetic structure. still very much in a Heideggerian strain at this early phase in his career. poiesis. Yet this epochal moment.
We rise. and temporality–. association. the name we now give to the whole structural process of logopoietic thinking.CAESURA. 193 . being. which is the name for this process. patternation. recurrence with modification (torquing). and suddenly surprising. we make. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT structure. defines poiesis as ongoing. This projective-recursive. is why poetry matters to Giorgio Agamben. negates simple processional temporality. projective. we return and in doing so. Rather rhythm–. under pro-duction also. simply put. is a tabular-planar dimensional way of being always already projected towards a finitude that in turn always casts us back to an origin. particularly the tabular-planar element of anaphoric– cataphoric projection–recursion that one finds. being and thinking are under negation they are also. If. and so on. Poetry is able to save metaphysics from itself by providing another way of thinking. This. recursive. for example. we fall. we progress. productive mode of tabular thinking is logopoiesis. in rhyme but also in numerous other elements of poetry such as referentiality. due to the very logic of the epoch. through poiesis. in the modern epoch. spatiality. Poiesis as the ultimate architectonic of our being on this earth as potentially productive beings within the supportive medium of language as such.
His is a philosophy that resists identity in favour of neutral singularity. for entirely mysterious and conventional reasons. This must now stand as my written book on Agamben. it is for this reason alone. To propose a certain identity or division within Agambenian philosophy is ill-advised and. .RECURSION. as most assuredly I have. The inaccurate entitlement of this book. he has made it his life’s work to overcome difference through the creation of a productive philosophy of indifference. literary . If I have neglected the political elements of Agamben’s work. 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. like so many titles. The enforcement of a “literary” Agamben is not simply reductive. Therefore as to the actual existence of a clearly definable “literary” Agamben. self-defeating. political. I must attest to being unhappy with such a designation even if it is my own. our understanding of this most remarkable thinker is incomplete. Yet here at least I have made a start. is as strategic as it is descriptive. it goes against the very spirit of his work. particularly metaphysical differential scission. As would the designation the “political” or “metaphysical” Agamben or even a composite of the three. Within our culture. metaphysical. In my unwritten book I see that until the various strands of Agamben’s thought are presented as a whole. 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. every book demands a title: The Literary Agamben: Adventures in Logopoiesis. And while he concedes the omnipresence of division. . commenced with the adventure of reinstating the literary in the form of 194 . (it would be premature and presumptuous to reduce his work to just three categorizations).
RECURSION. 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. Poetry produces the closest experience of language as such. Or in taking your leave. the funding committee. you forget to take the one thing you need most of all. These five conditions of poeticized ontology. has for centuries being attributed to the poetic experience of inspiration. Similarly I feel now that I never at any point clearly expressed why literature. As our departure is delayed here a few more pages due to an oversight in some paperwork. I am fortunate enough to have the time and perspicacity to correct this. 195 . a process of depersonalization at the hands of language. At the same time. neglect to say the very thing that is most on your mind to your loved ones. 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. 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. That must suffice. word. connections to make. Sometimes when you set out on an adventure and you have a tight deadline. extrapolated out across larger. and rhythmical structure as an alternative model for thinking. historical relation between poetry and philosophy. The fundamental experience of ontology via language being that of desubjectivization. discursive structures. intimacy with the semiotic. and line. or the press. why poetry in particular is of such importance to the work of Agamben. visas to apply for. providing an archetype for a mode of thinking dominated by naming that does not name anything specifically. For Agamben there are five conditions of poetic language. or inexpressive medium for expression. desubjectivization due to linguistic depersonalization. that exists within our tradition. The rift may indeed be part cause of the modern philosophical collapse into negativity. 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. proximity to language as such. experience. THE TURN OF THINKING a sustained analysis of poetry into the heart of Agamben’s indifferent thought. The predominance of semiotics in the poem is felt at the level of the syllable. but also across the whole of the rhythm of poetic structure.
real. 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. Logopoiesis. I am certain many books are like this. is not illustrative but a fundamental part of his thinking. That book. Mine has been no different. The history of modern metaphysical nihilism is matched by the history of aesthetic modernity dissuading us from looking for solutions in poiesis alone. Derrida. and a character who at the beginning seemed one part of a great ensemble took over the story all but negating the early narrative. It brings to presence the predominance of negation in all elements of metaphysics. the stanza and poetic dictation specifically. museums. and the relation between the larynx and the syrinx. The Agamben chapter got out of hand. dictation in poetry. 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. 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. I dropped it. I admit that. Badiou. However aesthetic modernity provides a strong example of anti-poiesis that has two key effects.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN It is inevitable that one will lose one’s way and in losing it find one’s true way. as well as revealing a potential way out of this great abyss through the alternative modes of poietic thinking. The order of the remaining chapters was endlessly changed. and ultimately Agamben. suprasensuous and sensuous. 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.1 196 . An analysis so profound. His recourse to literary examples in this regard. “The Invention of Literary Singularity.” now forever unwritten. saw Agamben as a supporting figure in a grand narrative of the turn to poiesis in the work of Heidegger. thousands of words on the category life. This is not the book I set out to write. The actual book was lost along the way. Nancy. As this happened the previous disorder of the chapters froze into a pattern that came to seem as almost predestined. In my case the usual: chapters which were central were removed entirely. All great adventures work this way. The ancient antagonism established between poetry and philosophy is first revealed and then in part resolved by the rehabilitation of the category of poiesis.
That Heidegger then turns away entirely from the categories of this book in the later work on poetry. like the dark and yellowing illumination of the sky above you as you set out. Mostly writers recount their thoughts but not their thinking. 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. This conclusion voyages far from my original intention. Such a situation is. 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. 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. a turn or kehre he denies and 197 . 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. I suspect. However a powerful example of the presentation of thinking before thought exists in Heidegger’s unfinished work Being and Time. Indeed. The tensile rhythmic interchange between enjambement and caesura provides the medium for logopoiesis. 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. narrativizing. Heidegger of course casts an ambiguous shadow over the work of Agamben. syllogistic. Rhythm is the very ground upon which all future work on logopoiesis must be based. We have arrived at the quintessence of the logopoietic thought process. threatening a storm that in the midst of such a swashbuckling tale might indeed be welcomed even if it poses real danger. and teleological thought is weakened as it progresses to its conclusions. The structure of this thinking. Being and Time therefore.RECURSION. summarizing. THE TURN OF THINKING Bringing together thought and poetry I was able to propose the tautological compound logopoiesis. deductive. culminating. is a powerful lesson in self-deconstruction in part obviating many of the critical studies of the work to come. aside from its myriad other merits. People have called it thinking. revealed by Agamben to be that of poetry as such.
feeling. the verb used here to express the activity of the “turn in” of thought.2 A similarity further confirmed when Heidegger adds: “In the coming to presence of the danger there conceals itself . means both to turn in and to put up at an inn. 41).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet which is all too apparent. . turns away from this coming to presence. the possibility of a turning in which the oblivion belonging to the coming to presence of Being will so turn itself that. “the primal dimension within which man’s essence is first able to correspond at all to Being . As the river departs from the source one can describe is as both homely and unhomely. . 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. In the 1949 essay “The Turning” Heidegger comes to define thinking precisely in terms of recursion. therefore. Speaking of the contemporary destiny of being in terms of instrumental. As the translator’s footnote informs the English edition of Heidegger’s text. 41). and willing. to alight. A turn from dispute into stasis and stillness. . but the process of the turning from the negative to the positive by virtue of the negative. and framing technology. particularly his study of the hymn “The Ister” and the periplus logic of the river developed there. suggests that turning away from and towards was. 198 . and we can see the profound influence Heideggerian thinking has had on Agambenian thinking. einkehren. Add into this Heidegger’s claim that language “is never primarily the expression of thinking. Thus the act of turning is not simply turning back or away from the present but a turning in. As they rightfully go on to explain this is of no small importance to Heidegger’s work on Hölderlin. with this turning. . Being turns about into the oblivion of its coming to presence. objectivizing. is thinking” (QCT.” Although Heideggerian negativity is the destinal ontology Agamben wants expressly to turn away from. . . one can recognize here the basis of Agamben’s methodology. or stay. the truth of the coming to presence of Being will expressly turn in—turn homeward—into whatever is” (QCT. an interiorization of thinking. and in that way simultaneously turns counter to the truth of its coming to presence. This primal corresponding . The influence is neither negative nor positive.” but. 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. he defines this coming to presence of being as enframing as danger. It recalls always the source.
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. 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. the river drains into the ocean whose amorphous nature recalls the installation into shape of the source. This is an essential development in logopoietic thought from its origins in the later. illustrative. great work of the last philosopher. rhythm. allegorical. From poetry. The river therefore is both a locality or founding of a place and an endless journeying.RECURSION. First because of Agamben’s powerful critique of Heideggerian Being as based on mute negation. My contention here is not that Heidegger had already said what Agamben goes on to say. THE TURN OF THINKING the homely. The ocean works very well as the endless falling into silence of poetic finitude. The manner in which the river flows and yet is also arrested by locality echoes the stop–start interplay of caesura and enjambement in Agamben. And second because Agamben is able to draw out the turn of thinking in poetics through detailed analysis of prosody as such. 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. but only in departing from it. Heidegger brings another interiorization into poetic ontology and thinking. Thinking as rhythmical turning by virtue of poetry is my first thesis in relation to logopoiesis. and specifically singular in relation to thought. which is also essential to Agamben’s theory of messianic time. 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. This is not the case. through philosophy to language. to a degree. In attaching the river to the ancient sea-bound periplus. Thus the poem remains. Indeed much of Agamben’s work on poetry is prefigured in this text. 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. the reason why so many great cities are on the banks of rivers. Similarly as the river journeys it also provides the essential natural elements for settlement. It exemplifies thought but it is not thought as such in my opinion.
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). by submitting thought to 200 . prosaic.3 it already prefigures its development and cessation. our aims are more modest. This is not our concern. What I summarize as thinking through making. The first instalment of which is a consonance between the very structure of poetry and that of thinking. Thus if Agamben wishes to access the linguistic basis for all being. teleological. 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. If for Agamben poetic thinking. logopoiesis. exhaustive. and eventually conclusive mode of progression through logical cumulative analysis. On one side is a sepia image of the Rome of his childhood. desolated by modernity and yet still eternally wonderful.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as such. redefinition. In such a model. Later. progressive. deductive. 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. by flowing and interrupting said flow. Logopoiesis names the rehabilitation. I find a postcard from Giorgio. temporality. 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. objectal-instrumental. as far as I can tell. I have understood it as the following: a modality of thinking through making and all that this entails. rummaging through my capacious pockets for some gizmo for gouging stones out of the hooves of horses. Such a thought is definable by precisely the same structure as that of the poem for which read all works of art. and the sensuous. I can now understand why you coin the term logopoiesis to indicate this complex compound of ideas although initially I was unconvinced. As it progresses it does so by always simultaneously going on and looking back. That is: a self-consciously self-indicative anaphoric-cataphoric tabularplanar field or linguistic medium for thinking that is a projective recursion. logopoiesis is the tautological turn of thought. Rather than a syllogistic. Certainly thought about being in terms of the subject. but also thought about other categories that I have yet to address such as objectivity.
Just as human life can only come to life by ending the category of life and the tension therein. it is always already within the problem. philosophy and poetry. If traditional thought advances. You are not quite there yet but you are certainly moving towards very provocative territory. 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. For now at least. poetic thought turns. Rather than defining a problem and then seeking to solve it conclusively. structural. a moment wherein categories such as beginning and end. it must at the same time be turning back on itself and away from summation. THE TURN OF THINKING a constraining linearity and exploding linearity through a translinear tabular-planar rhythmic structure. our habitual place. That said the poem never comes to an end because the cataphoric-recursive element always folds the poem back on itself. mono-dimensional space but also architectonic. subject and object. Some ideas seem out of place. space and time. The last philosopher has spoken his final words. to come into existence. we are held by that which possesses us. put on hold. trans-linear space. Finally. inside and outside. thought and language. language. Philosophy has now passed.RECURSION. in on itself. I will need time to think more about it. verse. as the poem ends it both comes to an end. Quite so. as indeed must all logopoietic thinking. part and whole. By the same gesture as it seems to move towards its conclusions. Not everything is as it should be. The linear extension of the semiotic and its interruption are both temporal. and perpetually ends (did I get this right?). it is the turn of verse. As in thought so in art. A poetic thinking shares this structure. Yet the grammatological space required to actuate the caesura in the line reveals the dependence of linearity on not merely interruptive. It is for this reason that we call poetry. indeed all the arts. never comes to an end. This rhythmical space is also the rhythmical temporality of thought. It must end. are suspended in every sense of this word. but which we cannot take hold of. Very interesting. As ever. 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. Beware the sloughs of negative despond by the 201 . In the same manner the poem never commences. let’s say the problem of being. Such a thought exists both in space and time you suggested at one point. but not for all time.
Remember to take the right turn there.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way. It’s your turn now. I have finished what I have to say. 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. Giorgio 202 . ignore the example of Orpheus. There. Good luck with your next guide. He is a close associate of mine although we do not always see eye to eye. By the way. upon an empty plateau about which they say great danger finds its dwelling. You will find his conversation and company very stimulating even if at first he seems obscure.
135. “The Enigma of Giorgio 203 . 2003). 70. Dominick LaCapra. “Law and Life. “Cutting the Branches for Akiba.” Angelaki 7. and Ernesto Laclau. ed. no. and Robert Buch. “Witnessing the Inhuman: Agamben or Merleau-Ponty. 11. “Playing with Law: Agamben and Derrida on Postjuridical Justice. ‘Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?’ SL.generation-online. “The Saturday of Messianic Time. see Erik Vogt. and Alex Murray. 173. 2 (2002). trans. Henceforth cited as MWC. 175. SAQ. 1999). unpaginated.” SL. Agamben’s first published work begins with a consideration of the uncanny as the ability of literature to produce desubjectivization. Negri reiterates this critique in Antonio Negri.” SAQ. ‘The Political Life in Giorgio Agamben. “The Ripe Fruit of Redemption. Benjamin Noys.” PMD. The first critical concession of the three Agambens can be found in Justin Clemens. “Seeing the Impossibility of Seeing or the Visibility of the Undead: Giorgio Agamben’s Gorgon. “Whatever Politics. 1 (2008). henceforth cited as SAQ. “Time of Death. Siting Agamben. 1–7. Jean-Philipe Deranty. Catherine Mills. ed. Negri’s provocation has been picked up by Jenny Edkins.” SL. no. and Eleanor Kaufman. and Time for Revolution. henceforth cited as PMD. 190. 38. No study of the uncanny is complete without reference to Nicholas Royle’s magisterial and unsettling The Uncanny: An Introduction (Manchester: Manchester University Press. no. “S/Citing the Camp.” PMD.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 107.” in Sovereignty & Life. www. Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 112–13. trans. 2007). 57.” in Politics. 254. 44. 27. 117–18.NOTES EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN 1 2 3 4 5 6 For various criticisms of Agamben’s supposedly dual methodology. Nicholas Heron. “Giorgio Agamben: The Discreet Taste of the Dialectic. The Man Without Content. 92. Antonio Negri. See Giorgio Agamben. Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer.” SAQ.’ Kritikos 2 (2005). Arianna Bove. “Approaching Limit Events. Andrew Norris (Durham. Agamben’s Critique of Derrida. 2003).” The Germanic Review 82. 2005). Colin McQuillan. henceforth cited as SL. Matteo Mandarini (New York: Continuum. Kaufman.html. Rainer Maria Kiesow.org/t/ negriagamben. See Adam Thurschwell. Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press.” trans. NC: Duke University Press. 2 (2007).
Literature. 2008). 1977).NOTES Agamben.” and “The Turning. Karen E. essentially. Daniel HellerRoazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Mills defines as a crucial element of Agamben’s thought the faculty of having or capacity to do something. This is the function of the “anthropological machine” that Agamben describes in The Open. The Open: Man and Animal. Lovitt’s introduction is also useful. 1998). For more see Matthew Calarco. See for example Giorgio Agamben. trans. Henceforth cited as Para. See for example Justin Clemens. Henceforth cited as WWB.com/. 84–5. 2004). PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Giorgio Agamben. 90.” SL. 29–30. trans. Henceforth cited as LD. 1993). IH. 1–11. The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. blogspot. See Giorgio Agamben. 2008). “Jamming the Anthropological Machine. “Introduction: The Interim. & 187–8. and again in LD. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial.” Paragraph 25. 107. 109. Henceforth cited as IH. see William Lovitt. Henceforth cited as HS. 3–52. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience. Henceforth cited as EP. 1991). Nicholas Heron. 62–75. For example. This is. and Alex Murray. The importance of the literary has finally been conceded by some critics. 163–79. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. “The Role of the Shifter and the Problem of Reference in Giorgio Agamben. 10. the question behind the “political” texts comprising the Homo Sacer project in terms of the relation of the human to the animal. Henceforth cited as MWE. The End of the Poem. 3. Henceforth cited as WGA. 6. It also forms the basis of a whole chapter in The End of the Poem. For a consideration of the status of the unwritten in Agamben see Andrew Dillon. trans. 1999). bare life. no. 204 . Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. The Question Concerning Technology. 33–8.” WGA. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. Giorgio Agamben. See Catherine Mills. See “The Question Concerning Technology. 43.” William Watkin’s Blog. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. trans. “Article: Syrinx / Larynx: A Full-Throated Ease. 2 (2002). later in the main body of the book. Henceforth cited as QCT. social life. http://williamwatkin. “Introduction.” in the collection Martin Heidegger.” in The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. biological life. Means Without Ends. Henceforth cited as O. 3. Giorgio Agamben. the inhuman. 2000). Liz Heron (London: Verso. For more on the role of animal voice to poetry see William Watkin. 119. 59. See Giorgio Agamben. trans.” in QCT. 140. xxviii–xxxvi. and ontology. Life. Justin Clemens. ed. Henceforth cited as PA. trans. trans.
2009). 44–5. On the Way to Language. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. 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. 164–9. his commitment to Being as such waxes. 102–4.” P. Key moments come in the following texts Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture. see Alex Murray.” Para. “Potential European Democracy. and Testimony in Remnants of Auschwitz. 1995). 187–210. trans. 87–135. HS. PMD. especially in the later texts on poetry. Affect and the Politics of Style. no. Johnson. 205–19. Ronald L. Peter D. “Absence as Pure Possibility. His critique of Derrida is more sporadic yet insistent. no. trans. David E. for example Krzysztof Ziarek. 53–7. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality: Biopolitics. For more on this topic see Catherine Mills. trans. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 90–2. “Thinking the Post-human: Literature. Mills. 34–53. 103–4. For largely negative comments on Agamben’s critique of Derrida see Thurschwell. His most veiled but sustained critique is to be found in the essay “Pardes: The Writing of Potentiality. RA. 1999). no. Thought.” SAQ. 173–97. For a useful analysis of the relation of Agamben’s thought to that of Debord’s concept of the spectacle. henceforth cited as IP. trans. 155–6. 129–30.” Textual Practice 15.NOTES 13 14 15 16 Also Giorgio Agamben. and The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. 15–88. Subjectivation. trans. henceforth cited as OWL. and The Open (O. Language. 54–64). Literature and War: Absence and the Chance of Meeting (London: Continuum. and is inevitably itself criticized by others.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 106. Henceforth cited as RA. and Sean Gaston. henceforth cited as TTR. 200–2 and again Mills in PA. It is widely assumed that Heidegger’s interest in Dasein wanes as. 12. 1993). Lévinas and Agamben. 86–7. 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. Heidegger disputes this easy division.” WGA. 1 (2004).” Culture. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press. “Can the Dead Speak to Us? De Man. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Agamben’s critique of Heidegger spans the volumes Language and Death (LD. post-kehre. For a consideration of this argument see Thomas Docherty. Theory & Critique 45. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. trans. see for example Martin Heidegger. 2005). 39–77). trans. 266–90. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. “As If the Time Were Now: Deconstructing Agamben. 2 (2007). 1971). 205 . 1 (2001). henceforth cited as P.” in PMD. Potentialities. 2002). See also Lee Spinks. “Beyond Spectacle and the Image: the Poetics of Guy Debord and Agamben. 110–14. The conclusion to The Open sets out a more positive. 44–6. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. 23–46.” in Derrida. PA. messianic conception of post-humanism: O. “After Humanism: Agamben and Heidegger. Henceforth cited as PLT. 61–2. Poetry. 1971).” in Martin Heidegger. henceforth cited as ST. and Colin Davis. Idea of Prose.
2008).” American Anthropologist 108. James Ellroy. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 2004). The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press. 2008). See M.1 (2006). 181–92. so to speak. Psyche: Inventions of the Other. Vol. and William Watkin. 137 & 159–62. and ellipsis dots in the title of the Deleuze essay “Immanence: A Life . M. 7–26. “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the work of Godzich & Kittay. 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. See ST. 1989). Blanchot and Agamben (New York: SUNY. 271–3.shtml. For a full consideration of all these issues see William Watkin. ed. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: Chicago University Press.” Jacket 36 (2008). Philosophy. . and “Geschlecht I: Sexual Difference. and Barbara Formis. Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Agamben later speculates on various grammatological punctuation marks in relation to his theory of nonrelational harmonic articulation that is neither “hypotactic nor paratactic but. . the colon. 636–7. See for example HS. ” (P.” in relation to the hyphen. and Rachel Blau DuPlessis. See also Wall’s ground-breaking analysis Radical Passivity: Lévinas. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. “Coetzee.” Paragraph 31. Ontological Difference. Literature. Agamben. For a remarkable history of this process see Wlad Godzich and Jeffrey Kittay. http://jacketmagazine. Jacques Derrida. no. Steven C. 50. 1977).” in Jacques Derrida. 3 (2008). 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Caton.” SAQ 121–44.” WGA. Shklovsky. Bakhtin. John Milton. trans. 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. 1987). and the Passion of Abu Ghraib. 4. The Emergence of Prose: An Essay in Prosaics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. no. 114–23. and the Politics of Exception. com/36/watkin-duplessis. See Shane Weller. atactic. Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999). 1981).NOTES 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 See Derrida’s two remarkable assaults on Heideggerian difference. II. 152–8. Henceforth cited as RP. This is Agamben’s specific criticism of Derrida in Stanzas. Henceforth cited as LPN. see John Lyons. 344–64. Weller is somewhat scathing of this narrative of overcoming nihilism which he says typifies our tradition in relation to nihilism since Nietzsche. Semantics Vol. “‘Draft 33: Deixis’ / Notes on ‘Deixis’: a Midrashic Chain an exchange of thoughts. 129–30. “Except for Law: Raymond Chandler. 221–3). Henceforth cited as MofP. 206 . is implied but never fully developed in Agamben’s work. “Dismantling Theatricality: Aesthetics of Bare Life. Silliman and Agamben. For an analysis of deixis.
2004).” in Margins of Philosophy. and Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press. and the subsequent denuding of xenoglossia under the sign of glossolalia. 198–226. See Alain Badiou. ed. See also RA. therefore they are alive without being human. trans. Henceforth cited as CC. “Vocal Utopias: Glossolalias. a language equal to our own in every way except the specificity of its material signification.” PMD.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. See Emile Benveniste. 217–30 & 35–40 respectively. is surely the basis of much cultural chauvinism and imperialism through the ages. Memoires for Paul de Man. 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. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. 53. Jonathan Culler. and my own analysis of these issues in relation to poetry in William Watkin. What barbarians utter is mere noise. See for example Wall. 28–32. 137–8. Henceforth cited as IPP. The Letters of John Keats. The Coming Community. Eduardo Cadava. 32–5. The wilful treatment of xenoglossic alterity. trans. PA: Bucknell University Press. 1971). Manifesto for Philosophy. 2001). This admits into sovereign domination a double weakness. 227. Second Edition. In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. self-conscious being. 63–70 where Agamben considers Heidegger’s ideas pertaining to animal captivated being as fundamentally at odds with human privative. Maurice Buxton Forman (Oxford: Oxford University Press. John Keats. trans. See O. The importance of passivity and neutrality for Agamben’s post-metaphysical ontology has been noted by a number of critics. I am thinking most specifically of the arguments put forward in Jacques Derrida. Cecile Lindsay. trans. 29–47. 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. See Michel De Certeau. In Agambenian terms much cultural imperialism is based on the false division between xenoglossia (bios) and glossolalia (zoe). “Au Hasard. 207 . Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. 1989). 307–30. trans. in other words. 1982). 1935). Mary Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press. See Jacques Derrida. Henceforth cited as MP. For more on this see William Watkin. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Problems in General Linguistics. 1993).” Representations 56 (1996). The English translation incorrectly names John Woodhouse as Keats’ addressee. “Signature Event Context. a meaningless noise. 92–4. Henceforth cited as M. but the first serious study of the issue was Thomas Wall’s Radical Passivity. 1999). On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. as glossolalic.
PA. Profanations. Agamben. What Agamben defines as the pseudonymical nature of written selfenunciation. 90–1. See Zaraloudis. trans. De La Durantaye goes so far as to claim they are the same. CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. PMD. the Other in Love.” in WGA. “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. 2 (2000). 86. 113–38.” also my preference. Plato. Pertinent to a later debate on the actual translation of the key term medio. For further readings of the razo in Romantic and contemporary poetics see William Watkin.” WGA. just as every author is always a coauthor. 131–2. and Robert Eaglestone. Agamben approaches the issue of the collusive nature of creation from a different angle.” Diacritics 30.” Para. 144. Henceforth cited as AP. a consonance I would be hesitant to endorse. 85. 2007). Pindar. For criticism of Agamben in relation to otherness see Andrew Benjamin. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. “Spacing as Shared: Heraclitus. “Agamben’s Potential. 2005).NOTES 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 Robert Browning. Josh Cohen. 344. see Leland De La Durantaye. For an interesting consideration of love in Agamben see Julian Wolfreys. trans. 13. 5–8. and Mills. or. concluding: “Every creation is always a cocreation. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. “‘A Different Insignificance’: The Poet and Witness in Agamben. Andrew Benjamin. Badiou’s manifesto for “affirmative thinking” is mapped out in MP. 2008). Vogt. Henceforth cited as SE. State of Exception. PMD. 141–2. PMD. Henceforth cited as R.” SAQ. here Heller-Roazen opts for “mean. Thurschwell. AP. “On Giorgio Agamben’s Holocaust. 64. Henceforth cited as Prof. Mills. 203. PMD. Giorgio Agamben. 66. THINKING THOUGHT 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 See earlier comments on Foucault and desubjectivization in RA. Debating the origin of the inter-relation between the ancient legal terms auctoritas and potestas. 211. 149–63. 36–51. See Mills. 2004). Selected Poems (London: Penguin. trans. 188.” Para. 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 . “Face to Face with Agamben. 186. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. no.” PMD. “Article: Poetic Dictation. For a consideration of this term and its relation to the semiotic in Agamben. “Soulblind. 167. Republic. 76.” WWB.” Giorgio Agamben. RA. For a consideration of the relation of life to poetry see WWB. “Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals.
209 . The political implications of this occupy Means Without Ends (MWE. For a consideration of pseudonym and homonym in literature see William Watkin. I do not have space to develop here. For a sustained reading of this essay see Deborah Levitt. 59–62. For more on Agamben’s consideration of the logical aporia that “Discourse cannot say what is named by the name. see R. and the three main strands of Agamben’s work.” IP. “Pseudonym. 193–211. 84–8. without any relation to an end. primarily in an attempt to reject tragedy from the republic.” in IP. Idea of Prose.NOTES 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Greek culture. and metaphysics come together. “Article: Ontological Whisperings. 117). see Nicholas Heron.” WGA. 131. 1994). See MofP. 1–28. “The Ontology and Politics of Exception: Reflections on the Work of Giorgio Agamben. 97–107.” SL. He also mentions this fragment in IP. ed. which shows itself. divine violence see Anne De Boever. For more on pure. See also Düttmann. 169–231. This relentless degradation and attenuation of poiesis occurs in the fourth book of Republic. 241–2. “Notes on Media and Biopolitics: ‘Notes on Gesture’. See also Wall’s analysis RP. would correspond an action as pure means. 123. For a consideration of knowability and sayability in relation to desubjectivization. An excellent consideration of the messianic and the term integral actuality can be found in Irving Wohlfarth.” CC. trans.” WGA.” WWB. Henceforth cited as LAS. poetry. but says only itself. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime. .” P. In a rare but central moment for Agamben scholarship. . 41 and again does not provide the citation. 60–1. 11–13. Jean-François Lyotard. which in turn defines the concept of the pure medium of mediality in SE. 105. For an insightful consideration of the origins of the Idea of Prose in the work of Benjamin. unfortunately. 71–8. 107. where this argument is developed.” CC. 88). revealing a parity between the political and literary Agamben that. 107. “Idea of Poetry. See Bruno Gulli. IP. “Politics and Poetics of Divine Violence: On a Figure in Giorgio Agamben and Walter Benjamin. “Integral Actuality. 2004).” in Walter Benjamin: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory. 4–6. this definition of the Idea of Prose comes together with Agamben’s liberationist. Peter Osborne (London: Taylor and Francis. The Aristotelian saying something about something. and “Homonym. 11–12).” (SE. Alexander García Düttmann. see RA. Benjamin’s idea of a pure language finds an analogue in his conception of pure violence.” WGA. “On the Messianic Structures of Walter Benjamin’s Last Reflections. 70–102. politics. Add into this Agamben’s definition of living in the category form-of-life as thinking as such (MWE. see also “The Idea of the Name. post-juridical politics in final page of State of Exception: “To a word that does not bind . P. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press.
spinning on itself . 248–1 & 309–10.” (P. SL. 85. see Thanos Zartaloudis. 3 (2005). See also his comments on the Hegelian grund or ground in this regard in P. he notes: “But here it is as if this anaphora were absolutized to the point of losing all reference. . and Giorgio Agamben. P. 116–8. so to speak. Conceding the “to” refers to some act that preceded to which Bartleby refers. Potentiality and Law: Deleuze and Agamben on ‘Bartleby’. Bartleby: La Formula della creazione (Macerata: Quodlibet. 140–44. 83. 72–3. This being the case. back toward the phrase itself— absolute anaphora. no. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. 223. Henceforth cited as N. 112). trans. Henceforth cited as BT. 27–32. while a Greek word. See Edkins SL. which he calls formof-life. 21.” Para. Idea della prosa (Macerata: Quodlibet. The archetypal activity of authentic being. THINKING THROUGH MAKING 1 Poiesis. See Giorgio Agamben and Gilles Deleuze. and because I am arguing for poiesis as a contemporary term covering issues around making as pro-duction into presence. 375–85. 76.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. I have decided not to italicize the term and so in effect neologise the very term for the formation of neologisms. 2002). is thought. 2008). The final word however rests with Agamben and the relation of this.” Angelaki 10. 9.” in WGA. He speaks of potentiality in most of his major texts with major statements in CC. MWE. “A Sense of Loss: Whatever it May Be. 2006). and Marc Froment-Meurice. The gag comes to relate to later considerations of the use of the mask in drama which Agamben also defines as a gesture. HS. as well as his description of the threshing floor of the ineffable as “a light. Being and Time. It is indeed the origin of the political and its potential. For further deliberations on this conception of Genius. 255). See Martin Heidegger. 134–8. now turning. See also P. The Parallax View (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. 1993). See O. “Resistance. 35–8. to anaphora. Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. the ultimate statement of potentiality. 45–7 & TTR. 110. Giorgio Agamben. liberating future destiny. 79. 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. . and Slavoj Zizek. 210 . 231. See Gulli. 1996). or On Profanation. smooth glowing in which no point can be distinguished from any other” (P. Alexander Cooke. CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. 26–43. 177–271. Thought is not just another form of life but form-of-life as such: MWE. “Soulblind. MWE.
org/newvolume/pages/article. 44. The key term here is “letting.” Thus Colebrook’s critique of Agamben’s theory of poiesis as both masculinist and theological is incorrect.” as opposed to praxis or a willed doing.” SAQ. and entelechy = chairatic interiorization. trans. The Collected Dialogues. 557. The Man Without Qualities. 1991). “Agamben: Aesthetics. 1997). Cited in Bernard Stiegler. 253). trans. therefore. and Alain Badiou. where Agamben makes clear that his messianic temporality and overall method is not eschatological.” SL. See TTR. Ostensibly the modern epoch commences in the eighteenth century with the rise of Enlightenment rationalism and continues up to our present moment. Girly Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2005). 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. Nietzsche. 110 & 115. 1961). trans.” www. trans. and Life. Whitehead. and indeed many others. 105–6. See Claire Colebrook. We will find exactly the same structural model in terms of messianic temporality later on so that Potentiality = projective chronos. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS 1 2 A solid overview of Agamben’s anti-modernity can be found in William Rasch. Henceforth cited as HI. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. trans. 172–3. ed. Handbook of Inaesthetics. Robert Musil. See Derek H. Potentiality. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper One. in Plato. See PLT. “From Sovereign Ban to Banning Sovereignty.contempaesthetics. refuting a criticism often 211 . Michael Joyce. 19–20. 9. 205b. encompass Romanticism and contemporary “postmodernity. Actuality = recursive eschaton. accessed 17 September 2008. . CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press. the hardest thing is being capable of annihilating this Nothing and letting something. be” (P. from Nothing. “Poiesis and Art-Making: A Way of Letting-Be. 95. especially the phenomenological thick description of jug-ness as thing. 57. Technics and Time: The Fault of Epimetheus. Charles Bernstein. Vols. Modern art would. This is the basis of the thesis of Martin Heidegger. 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 . Edith Hamilton and Huntingdon Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press. One and Two. Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike (London: Picador.NOTES 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Plato. Synposium. 2006). See the essay “The Thing” in PLT.php?articleID=216. 165–86. I consistently use the term modern here in the manner in which Agamben takes the term. 1998). . 62–3.
Badiou defines the century as defined by the violence of The Real in Alain Badiou.” PMD. 139 & 156. to my mind. P. “Dead Man Walking: Law and Ethics After Giorgio Agamben’s Auschwitz. “The Nazi Genocide and the Writing of the Holocaust Aporia: Ethics and Remnants of Auschwitz. See for example Andreas Kalyvas. Clearly a development of the idea of sacrifice in HS. Cohen. trans. most troublesome categories. 110–12. 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. they pertain more directly to the work around the Homo Sacer project which I have chosen not to dwell on in this study. 120–4. 4 (2006). PMD. 212 .NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 and misguidedly levelled at his work.” MLN 121. 403. Charles Baudelaire. In Potentialities cultural traditional transmissibility is founded first on linguistic transmissibility (communicability). Paul Hegarty. see Vogt. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. 36–51. “The Painter of Modern Life. 73–83. Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. While both are important. This I believe is Negri’s final criticism of Agamben in SL.” PMD. trans. 397–417. 2007). 19–20.” PMD. 64. no.. no. PMD. P. Such a process negates the age-old consideration of language as primarily metaphoric-symbolic. 1996). The Century. but of saying the suchness of as itself (CC. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry.E. See Wall. 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. “Supposing the Impossibility of Silence of Sound. tautological indication of the anaphoric act of indication as such. See Marin Heidegger. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality. David Fraser. Agamben and the Holocaust.” in Selected Writings on Art & Artists. Henceforth cited as EHP. 4 (1999). Henceforth cited as C. centrally important and. 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. where he takes Agamben’s commitment to productive thought and declares it effectively fatalistic and unproductive. Transmissibility is one of Agamben’s earliest. 1972). 2000). saying something as something. 198–221. 1009–22.’ trans.” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 12. and Esther Norma Marion. Charvet (Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 74–106. And Martin Heidegger. Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister. Para. “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. trans. I turn to the critical material around the Kafka story presently. 104. William McNeill and Julia Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 31. Mills. 97–100). of Voice: Bataille. For considerations of Agamben’s use of Levi. 40). 222–47. “The Sovereign Weaver: Beyond the Camp.
trans.” Strategies: Journal of Theory. 49–62 Agamben pits his reading against Derrida’s influential interpretation. and The Decline of Modernism. 31–5). trans. 18. Acts of Literature. 1992). 1984). “K. Derrida’s reading of the same text is to be found in Jacques Derrida. 115–48. 1951). see William Watkin. 62 (2007). is now truly prose (that is pro-versa. 55–7 for his comments on Malevich. PMD. Derrida and Disinterest (London: Continuum.” trans. Bridget McDonald (Stanford: Stanford University Press. The Experience of Freedom. 146. See Jean-Luc Nancy. See my own analysis of avant-garde manifestoes in IPP. Agamben’s most recent posting into this dossier is Giorgio Agamben. “Playing with Law. THINKING TAUTOLOGY 1 2 Ezra Pound.” Postmetaphysical Thinking. 89–105. 156. For considerations of the relationship between the two texts. trans. 2 (2002). “Article: Under Glass. see Sean Gaston. Culture and Politics 15. For a detailed analysis of Agamben’s theory of the museum. 1992). 36. 2005). “Law of Friendship: Derrida and Agamben. 1982). 19–34. CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. 181–220. pro-verted. “Spacing as Shared. See Jean-Luc Nancy. and my own consideration of these issues in William Watkin. For Weller’s argument in this regard see LPN. Glossing Hegel on philosophy after its end he speculates on “a humanity that. “Friendly Little Communities: Derrida’s Politics of Death.” WWB. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge. Poetic Thinking: An Approach to Heidegger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ABC of Reading (London: Faber. Theory of the Avant-Garde. See Jürgen Habermas. See David Halliburton. C. See my own consideration of this issue in IPP. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge: Polity Press. having fulfilled its past. HS 40–4. 84–5. Michael Shaw (Manchester: Manchester University Press. See Peter Burger. Andrew Benjamin. Nicholas Walker (Cambridge: Polity Press.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. see Simon Morgan Wortham.” in WGA. and Mills.” New Formations. Peter Connor in The Inoperative Community. 13–27. 19–31 See Badiou. 1991). 1992). 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. 135). 219–37. trans. ed. 213 . See Vogt. For an excellent recent study of this classic theme. “The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices.” PMD. ed. no.” SAQ. HS. 43–70. turned forward” (P. 98. In this second reading. Peter Connor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1993). “Myth Interrupted.
For a consideration of Agamben’s contentious use of the paradigmatic example. “Idea of Poetry. 274–6. cited in LD.” is misleading in relation to the Italian. it is no mere vacillation. by Froment-Meurice. 2008). 177. “Introduction. Para. Jean-Pierre Barricelli (Boston: 1986). ed. 3–4 and clarifies such issues as Norris’s exemplary examples. 85–6. Σηµειωτιχη [Semiotike]: Recherches pour une Sémanalyse (Paris: Éditions du Seuil. 2008). This is a criticism levelled.” in Giorgio Agamben. Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry.11–134. 2007). Selected Poems (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. 108–10. I first came across the idea of the tabularity of poetic structure in Julia Kristeva. 17–37. SAQ. thoughtless hanging around. 1960). “The Exemplary Exception. see the first chapter of Signatura Rerum entitled “Che cos’è un paradigma?. 111 & 117. For an introduction to some of these concepts see Heron.NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 See Colebrook. Lingering in comparison calls to mind an almost passive. Jean Hytier (Paris. trans. as “The poem—this prolonged lingering between sound and sense” (EHP. CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. Signatura rerum: Sul metodo (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. John Keats. such lingering has its own lofty resoluteness. 176). Jeff Fort (Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Here “Heidegger” retains the caesuric and thetic nature of Valéry’s prose by translating prolongée in terms of the more suggestive “lingering. which in part refutes the criticism of Agamben’s use of “extreme examples” such as one finds in Alison Ross.147–8. unfairly I believe. of course. 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. 637).” PMD.” Lingering. Oeuvres II. See Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. 114). For a summary of the arguments.”’ WGA. “The Role of the Shifter. The English here. After all. trans. “Beauty is truth. 50–1. lingers even longer than the poem itself. Giacomo Leopardi. “thought conceives. 75. 1969). truth beauty”. 109. 214 .” SAQ.” allowing him to conclude: “the listening to the poem. All English quotes taken from Giacomo Leopardi. and even the thinking which prepares such listening. not due to indecisiveness (vacillation) but an authentic desire to listen to poetry’s call.” WGA. Norris. Idea of Prose. Para. 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. “mi fingo. is a significant change to prolongation which suggests stretching as an act of willed extension. see Clemens.” which really means tricks me or feigns for me.
and Giorgio Agamben. SL. See for example Johanna Drucker. “Poetry Machines: Repetition in the Early Poetry of Kenneth Koch. no. 1994). 2008). See William Watkin. [Every instant.philobiblon.” WGA. Celan. It was the poets themselves who called this “retrogradatio cruciata . “Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from Being and Time. ogni immagine anticipa virtualmente il suo svolgimento futuro e ricorda i suoi gesti precedenti” (N. 53–4 & 74–5. “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to e-space. 35–6. Hölderlin. As one can see. 17–19. Il sacramento del linguaggio: Archeologia del giuramento (Roma: GLF. stress-unstress. 158–91. IPP. 2000). 1981). See TTR. yet in each case said reading works to develop what is effectively a quasi-universal or transcendental truth about poiesis as such. 81–2). . every image anticipates virtually its future unwinding and recalls its preceding gestures] Interestingly. 269–80. 119 & 132. 215 . SAQ. See Gulli. 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. therefore. 29 for the commencement of a career-long attack on aesthetics in Heidegger. Agamben uses the example of Bill Viola’s 1995 work “The Greeting. an alternation between inversion and progression” (TTR. 231. Thomas Gray.” EnterText 1. The essential bases of poetry.” he calls it Greetings. of which he says: “Ogni istante. while Agamben gives an example of the caesura he never provides examples of enjambement as such. 203–6. enjambement.” http:// www.com/drucker/. This logic resembles in miniature the logic of the epoch and of messianic time in a quite remarkable and universal fashion. The Language Instinct (London: Penguin. caesura. however. A useful consideration of silence can be found in Hegarty. 117. For his initial conception of calling see BT. 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. . 222–47. Mallarmé. 9–10). 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. and rhyme are all dependent on an idea of duality which. does not come to view as double until a third element occurs to confirm this duality. 83–117.NOTES 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 See Stephen Pinker. See BT. Rilke. 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. 266. 1 (Dec.” M. 26. Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet. See Johnson. 29–69. See Jacques Derrida. PMD.
2007). 14. and. Here the hemistich in the second line breaks it into two clearly separate entities. Julia Kristeva. before and after thought (penso). On the relation of this to the Benjaminian concept of the division of the division and the caesura. For a brilliant attack on the omnipresence of end-directed syllogism as an unquestioned and damaging convention of poetic and prosaic structural coherence. CHAPTER 6 CAESURA. For more on Italian versification. but is the endless collapsing of the traditional metaphysical distinction between the two. 89–130. Starting with Derrida (London: Continuum. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. “The Suspended Substantive: On Animals and Men in Giorgio Agamben’s The Open. Revolution in Poetic Language. 90–1. see Ron Silliman. John Ashbery. For more on the gender implications of the appropriation of terms such as womb/khora. Henceforth cited as W. 1996). Derrida’s conception of language is problematically ensconced within the differing and deferring logic of the trace.NOTES 22 For by far the best and most penetrating explanation of spacing and the trace in Derrida. see Watkin. 1995). 122–4.” Diacritics 33. 1987). Henceforth cited as SP. A History of European Versification. 2 (2003). no. For more on the right-hand margin in poetry. see Sean Gaston. trans. What he names “a paraexistence or a paratranscendence that dwells beside the thing. 200–6.’ On the Name. ed. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press. While I do not have space to deal with the trace in detail it should be obvious from my comments here and earlier in the text that the trace is not reducible either to time or space. see Jacques Derrida. 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. Similarly. For my own analysis see MofP.” the presence of being to the side. 1984). 69–70. 2008). 53–8. WGA. see Mikhail Leonovich Gasparov. 43). A Wave (Manchester: Carcanet. OM. The New Sentence (New York: Roof Books. 1984). Gerald Stanton Smith and Marina Tarlinskaja (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Alexander Pope. of course.106. 25–30 and 239n11 (for her critique of Derrida). Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 38–59. 355–8. CC. See also MWE. trans. See De Boever. ‘Khōra. even if this is not marked grammatologically. which he also terms the halo. although for Agamben at least. 84–119. 7–9. CC. See IPP. 101. see Leland De La Durantaye. the trace is not synonymous with language. 216 .
142. 4 (2007). Weller is in agreement.NOTES RECURSION. 217 . see LPN. to my piece “‘Systematic rule-governed violations of convention’: The Poetics of Procedural Constraint in Ron Silliman’s BART and The Chinese Notebook. Could it be he knew of my work even before we met? It seems unlikely. although I do not remember ever mentioning it.” Contemporary Literature 48. SAQ. I believe. He refers. THE TURN OF THINKING 1 2 3 For an analysis of poiesis in relation to modernity see Colebrook. 499–529. 108. no.
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18. 61–2.22. 211n.15. 152.19. 100–9.9.4. 32. 208n. 212n. 95.5. 209n. 48.33. 143. 122–4.25. 206n.5 Homo Sacer 1. 87. 37.12. 139.30 The Coming Community 63–6 180–2.5. 196 as poetic spacing 137–8.15. 113.5 Means Without Ends 58. 163. 210n. 171.18 Agamben.2 Remnants of Auschwitz 26–32. 209n.15 Adorno. 98. 209n.15. 5. 59. 210n.13.10. 45. 209n. 146.16. 209n. 205n. 135–9. 67–8. 229 “K” 213.12 Infancy and History 4–5.32. 36–7. 210n.23.n.1 Il sacramento del linguaggio 215n. 210n. 209n. 204n.15. 91–7. 72. 204n. 158 actuality 43–4. 169–71. 215n. 126–34. 212n.11. 47–9. 210n. 210n. 206n.27. 206n. 212n. 89.29 The Open 5. 204n. 71–2. 203n.7 Language and Death 2. 205n. 7–12.28 Idea of Prose 33–6.13. 206n.31. 213n. 209n.26. 123. 209n. 125. 81–3. 8–9.18 Signatura rerum 213n. 213n. 211n. 216n. 204n. 157. 47.19. 205n. Theodor 29. 206n. 205n.19 Profanations 41–3.35.15. 174–80. 207n. 100–14. 209n. 213n. 212n. 189–92. 206n. 143–4. 79–86.INDEX abyss between poetry philosophy 45–126.96.36.199. 205n. 54–64. 208n. 204n.8 Ninfe 210n. 205n. 124.1.29. 188.8.131.52 The Man Without Content 45–6.15.7. 209n.10. 89–90 aesthetics 16. 204n. 166–7.18 .7 Stanzas 14–19.29 Potentialities 43. 67. 89. Giorgio Bartleby 210n. 210n. 212n.33.22 Idea della prosa 210n.21.33.18. 20–2. 204n. 204n. 141. 30. 13.15. 204n. 209n. 182–184.108.40.206. 64–6. 210n. 208n. 47. 207n. 212n.4. 216n. 216n. 12–13. 213n. 111.12. 204n. 213n. 206n.24. 24. 25. 209n.6.2. 58–9. 123. 83–4. 161. 158.1. 91. 209n.12 State of Exception 171. 133.11 integral actuality 54–7. 148–9. 212n.12.15. 149.7 The End of the Poem 32. 45–7.10. 208n. 187–8. 215n.18. 92.6. 205n.
119. 146–54. Claire 211n.8. 138. 152.19 Clemens. 145 Aristotle 17. 216n. 103. 122 aletheia (truth as unveiled or unconcealed) 28.6 Colebrook. 204n. 213n. 215n. 59–60. 95. 168–72 creation 16. 97. 212n.10 lieu commun 85. 174–80 appropriation 7. 118. 212n. 209n. 86. 215n. 29. 163. 73. 63–5. 204n.42. 216n. 16. 98. 20–5. 146. 137.6 Attridge.15 caesura 13–14. 215n. 207n. 152 ¯ ¯ Ashbery. 48–51.15 Akhmatova.41 Buch. 200 animal 5–8. 92. 210n. 210n.43. 206n. 159.9 Cooke. 98. 60. 211n. 57.8. Charles 78–9. 79. 122. 149 as not 68.3.9. 184 bringing forth 70. 82 Hos me 88–94. Alexander 210n. 108 Badiou. 161. 210n. 212n.34 corn (tip/corner) 186–8 couplet 130. 216n. 215n. 165. 197 arche (authentic origin) 49–50. 214n. 134. 197. 166–93.29. 161.18 Benjamin. 207n.39 anti-poiesis 83–114. Walter 9.INDEX Agamben. 68–9. Derek 213n. 101–2.4 anaphora/cataphora matrix 21. 189–92 Arnaut. 73–5. 207n. 155.9 Caton. 77. 100–14 as if 88–94.3 Calarco. Anna 64–5. 156–7. 102.15. 132. 212n. 106.38. 120–1 Browning. Josh 208n. 110–13.30 Bernstein. 10. 196 apotropaic 48–51. 41–4. 146–7. 132. 92–3. 201.2. 128.33. Giorgio (Cont’d) The Time That Remains 88–94. 120. 210n. 83–6 arche-presence 86.10. 213n. 132. 63. 178. 142. 212n. 181 bios 1. 211n. 98.4. 165. 135. 150. 178–9. 171. 79.6. 86. 164. 81–2. 199. 71.32.1 communicability 6.44. Steven 206n.34 Baudelaire. 207n. 212n.17. 102.15. M. 149. 87.4.39 boustrophedonic 139–45. 16. 95 Benjamin. 196. 107. 62–6. 117. 79–91.4 criticism 16. 50. 105. Peter 103. 12–13. 150. 211n. 122–4. 133. 65–6. 43–5.19 Celan 33–4. 206n. 98. 208n. 70–4.3. Honoré de 104 Bartleby 43. 106.9. 53–7. 170. 71–6. Robert 30. 64. Justin 204n. 70–4. 206n. 131. 211n. 157. 144. 99. 206n.17 Benveniste. 76. 83–6. Alain 29. 64. 210n. 159. 176 anaphora 21. 27. 168.10 biopolitical 1. 152. Daniel 154. 205n. 144–9. 189. Charles 95. 175. Robert 203n. 153. 58.18 aura 92–7. 95. 157. 207n. 213n. 31.12. 27–8. 125. 147. 111. 18.24. 128.2 Cohen. 197. 187 artist 16. Andrew 207n. 91.17 Bakhtin. 154.1. 108.4 Burger.20.26 230 Balzac. John 102. 146. 66. 109. M. 146–7 . 211n. 69. 209n. Émile 23. Matthew 204n. 193. 31. 90. 3. 54–5. 94. 215n.
173–4.1.24 Formis. 182. 113. 80–1. 158–60. 185. 73.INDEX Damascius 61–2. 106–13. 41–3. 215n. 106. 37. 130. 191 ex nihilo (creation) 69.6 DuPlessis. 149. 121.11 231 enunciation 6. David 212n. 24–5.1 Gaston.14. 215n. 22. 31. Robert 207n.5 De La Durantaye. 209n.17 entelechy 81–3. 106. 199. 31. 106. 109. Anne 209n. 210n.14 Duchamp.3 disinterest 101–3.24 Düttmann. 13. 179. 196.14 Docherty.19 Foucault. Mikhail Leonovich 216n. 123. 141 Dillon.26 . gestell) 78.46. 212n. 54. Jenny 203n. 51. 132 fiction 89–90. 47. 94–7. Barbara 206n. 208n. 147. 29–32. 157.31 enigma 176–80 enjambement 14. 88–90. 182.4. 205n.9 desubjectivization 23–32. 93. 205n. 42. 210n. 199. 137. 186 Davis. 129. 170. 127. 43. 57. 137–8. 141. 88. 203n.6. 45–8. 82–3.12 De Boever. Thomas 205n. 29. 29.15 Eaglestone. 188 Edkins. 208n. 182–3. 203n. 53–4. 124. 131. 29–31. 8–13.9.16. 215n. 206n. 191. 96–7. 19. 127–8.5 gag 59–60. 208n. 213n. Colin 205n. 178. 213n.29 Deranty. Andrew 204n. 192. 156. Jacques 12. 111–13. Johanna 214n. 67. 96. 215n.4 experience 4. 67. 58–65. 172–3.3 deixis 20–3.18.12. 128–9. 107. 197.5. 105. 181. 53. 216n. 149–50. 117. 33.16.22. 72. 195. 67–8. Marc 210n. 125–6.15. 146. 216n. 97. 46.4 epoch 53. 168–75. 106. 212n. 62. 180–1. 215n. 206n.42 ease 180–5. 206n. 122 Dante 32. 123.17. 126. 125. 128. 153. 164 finitude 20. 199. 132. 123. 88. Marcel 67. 46. 145. 195 expropriation 31. 56–7. 159. 162. Leland 208n. 85.18. 193.4 Derrida.31. 173. 79. 32–8. 164–5. 211n. 186. 118. Rachel Blau 206n. 42. 191–2. Alexander García 50. 209n. 207n. 107. 92.33. 210n. 156.8.32 genius 67–9.24. 208n. 42. 19. 211n. 26–7. 208n. 135–66. 135.8 event 24. Sean 205n. 168. 152–3. 24–37. 130. 145–6. 67–8. Michel 41. 215n. 53.34.18. 60.26 Gasparov. 27. 76. 126. 210n. 150. 209n.15. 94. 47–8. Jean-Philippe 203n.36 gesture 20. 165.10 dictation 28. 35.1 framing (parergon. 185. 192. 87–8. 77–9. 192. 98. 23–5. 216n. 144. 196 différance 13. 25. 165. 145. 86. 207n. 170. 106 Drucker. 112. 147. 64–5. 205n. 131.2. 160. 188. 6. 15. 209n. 208n.6 Froment-Meurice. 126–7. 201 form-of-life 58. 134. 88. 106. 57. 187. 30. 134. 198 Fraser. 105. 146 figural 148–53. 109.21.
213n. 87. 145. 77. 207n. 146 Kafka. 174 having see habit and appropriation Hegarty.2 Kant. 161–2. 151. 195 integral actuality 54–5. 213n. 145–8. 170. 107–13. 190. 210n. 77.8 Halliburton. John 26–7. 214n.16 Poetry. 20. 77. Paul 212n.16. 211n. 125–6. 120. 214n. 37–8.7. 205n. Max 47. 181 ¯ Kommerell.20 Hegel. 35–8.39 Godzich. 153. 179. Jürgen 109 habit 129–34. Wlad and Jeffrey Kittay 20. 212n. 96. Language. 165. 94. 99. 45. 30.17.9 Hölderlin 47. 99–101.9 The Question Concerning Technology 12. 86. 206n. 212n. 210n.6.6. 138. 209n. 146. 133–4. 52–4. W. 205n.13 Habermas. G. 198–9. 174. David 119 harmonia 47. 206n. 76. Eleanor 203n. 210n. 147.36.15. 141.27 infancy 6–17. 12. 124.22. 59–60. 215n. 161.1 kle sis 88–9. 124 Kiesow. 170 see also indifference ineffable 9–13. 67. 70–9. 71. 206n. 75. 99. 204n.25. 210n. Babel) 29–31.17. Bruno 209n. 80. 100. 18. 107–11 Kaufman. 196–9. 19. 207n. 216n. 212n. 197. 198. 131–2. 118–25. 133.6. 63. 36. 215n.22. Franz 106. 38. 178. 205n.7 On the Way to Language 122. 201. 174–5 Heron.8. 74.18 Kalyvas. 194–5 indistinction 1. 211n. 214n. 54–7. 63.11 Heraclitus 47. 143–5. 59–60 Kristeva. 34. 55. 22–6.1 history 8.1 Gray. 205n. Glenn 65–6. 159. 135. 214n. 57. 113. 20. 100–1. 122 gramma (grammatology) 140–1. 79. Rainer Maria 203n. 98. 155. 121. 169–70. 216n. Immanuel 9.4 Keats. 38. 22. 16.8. 162. 58. F. 211n.27 Gould.15.8. 204n. 102. Nicholas 209n.1. 212n.32. 63. 125 see also desubjectivization and dictation indifference 17. 167.39 Ideal Form (eidos) 80–6.16. 120. 37. Thought 70. 215n.15 Johnson. 210n. 90.34. 77. 108. 33. 211n. 138. Thomas 141 Guillaume. 77. David E.4. 157. 199.1.9 . 207n. 46. 32. 22.11. 107–12. 191–2. 207n.32. 54.INDEX glossolalia (babble. 157.19 Heidegger. Gustave 151 Gulli. 37. 190 impersonality 30. 204n. 73. 57.18 Being and Time 22. 17.3 232 hesitation 156–8. 20–3. 28.32 Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’ 198–9. 57. 20–3. 47.27. 134. 122. 50. 136.10 judgement 11. 117. 36. 51. 25. 205n. 70. 165. 101. 152. 60. Martin 12–14. 205n. 113. 215n. 148. 35.1. 161 inspiration 32. 30. Julia 214n. 178. 205n. 73. 20. 87. 67. Andreas 211n.16. 215n.19 human 5–15. 204n. 25–6. 201. 203n.
22 negation/negativity 2–3. 182–5. 91. 106. 209n. Phillipe 29. 72. 108–9. 157. 8. 128. 196 Leopardi. 6 as medium 53.2. 211n. 89. 169. 20. 35–7.6. 96–8. 155. 26.13 Muse 27. 89. 114. 129. 11. 213n. 199–201. 188–9. 208n. 215n.19 Marion. 92.19 logos 8. 211n. 155. 191. 32. 136. 103–4. 209n. 83–116.2. 88–93.18 Milton. 147. 90. 72–3. 106–7. 174 233 messianism 16. 110 Malevich 106. Ernesto 203n. 21. 167. 49–52. 57–8.15. 47. 118. 197. 103. 48.20 . 204n. 209n.44.18 morphe 79–81 Murray. 136. 183. 74. 16. 117. 212n. 145.20. 211n. 215n. 35–7. 173. 45–6. 195 Negri.6 Matisse.13 Nancy. 87–91. 143. 167.15. 30. 45–7.1 Morgan Wortham. 12. 107–14. 141. 67.17 Mallarmé. Catherine 26. 123–4. 169–71. 122 thing of thought as such 49–50.3 modernity 1. 196.12. 145. 207n. and subjectivity 25–8. 28. John 206n. 149. 131–4. 35–6.1. 16–17. 113. 135. 103. 213n.1. 153. 105. 65. 32. Antonio 2. 92–4.24 logopoiesis 77. 6. 184.11. 203n. 90. Friedrich 42. 165. 203n. 63. 53.12. 102–3. 204n. 145. 76. 13. Giacomo “L’infinito” 124–34. 204n. 179 Levitt.3. 179–80. 55–66. 67. 82. 148. 209n. 91. 131. 76–9. 204n. 80. 41–68. Alex 205n.11 Lyons. 176–7. 211n.1 Lacoue-Labarthe. 99. 44–6. 50–1. 171–5. 167. 179 love 14. 213n. 195–7.2 measure 97. 9. Esther Norma 212n. 76. William 204n. 6. 174 modern art 46. 118. 169–70. 20–3. 210n. 203n. 212n. 63. 122.5 nihilism 3. 8. 179. Deborah 209n. 144–6. 11. 36–8.10 language experience of 10–11.18. 117–34. 25. 216n. Dominick 203n.48. 196. 215n. 10. 160. 33. 160. 157. Jean-Luc 29. 107. 17. 64–7. John 169. 57. 193. 196. Henri “Back” 76 McQuillan. 196. 211n. 117. 54. 128–9. Jean-François 52.24 Lyotard. 101–14. 129.3 Nietzsche. Colin 203n.3. 45. 57. 191. 201. 85–6. 125. Stéphane 58. 144. 132.21 life 1–2.42. 166.45 Lovitt. 129–34 museum 78. 67. 133–4. 55. 198–9 and modernity 85.INDEX LaCapra. 195 experimentum linguae 4.1 Laclau. 56.8. 89. 128. 88. 208n. 200.16 that there is 4–40. Robert 83 name 9–10. 153. 195–6. 54. 206n. 204n. 158. 160. 209n. 82–3.6. 210n. 69. 99. 15. Simon 213n. 118–21. 128. 157. 25. 214n. 100–3. 199.8 Mills. 196. 206n. 16. 193. 166. 208n.21 Musil. 144–56. 213n. 69. 22.13.
162. 178. 122. 195–6 planar 128. 79.11 Pound. 120. 153. 121. 136. 91. 201 metrical-musical element (poetry) 128. 72. 175. 139. 92–8 revelation 52–3 rhetorician 104–6 rhyme 14. 137.7 Noys. 48–9. 52. 213n. 145–6. 173 poetry and philosophy 14. 186. 144–5. 215n. Alexander 168–72 potential 13. 171. 211n. 35–7. 169. 211n. 17. 183. 101–2. 122. 113 . 63–4. 173. 130. 152 passivity 30. 141. 140. 192 poem body 44. 192–3. 206n. 74–5. 210n.40. 33. 133.40. 137. 134. 208n. 44–8. 99. 208n. 215n. 179 Pinker. 17. Arthur 26–7. 195. 145. 28. William 211n.4 presupposition 9.17. 172. 113–14. 216n. 71–5. 45.16. 126.1 praxis 58. 117–18.34.19. 214n. 106. 5. 154–74. 172. 144.1 ontology 5–6. 47. 94. 172. 144. 86. 123–4. 173 end of 135–9. 193.1 anti.6. 32. 44. 24. 184.1 prose 15. 138. 132. 200. 188. 22. 210n. 21. 170.27. 193. 156. 183–92. 211n.33. 167. 127. 151. 71–2. 117–18. 114. 146–9. 60.11 234 poiesis 3. 137–46. 120–1. 23–8. 198–9 philology 2. 63–8. Stephen 214n. 79. 28. 124. 113. 32. 205n. Ezra 102. 88. 207n. 128–9. 102.39. 160. 149.INDEX Norris. line 79. 181. 191. 34–5.87–116 pop art 85. 42–6.8 Rimbaud. 128–9. 58–9. 213n. 27. 210n. 146. 129.9. 197. 153. 79. 53.3 Idea of 54–7.4. 167. 30–1. 134. 168–9. 51. 155. 49–57. 29. 107–9. 88. 169 production 58. 137–40. Benjamin 203n. 81. 154. 96.1. 51. 170. 142–4. 69–87. 35. 204n. 191. 49. 197. 93 Pope. 132–4. 69. 143. 159–60. 58–60. 20–1. 144–5. 83. 170. 50. 186 phone 8. 163. 180. 132. 163–4. 43. 186–8. 178–9. 184–7.4 Pacman 159 parable 148–9. 88–92.47 ready-made 85. 17. 206n. 44–5. 13. 140–1. 8. 58. 211n. 12–13. 104–5.19. 62. 93 reproducibility 84–6. 210n. 198–9.18 Rasch. 200–1 recursive-projection 21. 28. Andrew 214n. 37. 86. 63–6. 166. 137–43. 71–3. 152–3 periplus 132–3. 208n. 209n. 178–9. 125. 135. 206n.4 Plato 14. 31. 167.1 razo de trobar 32. 191–3. 157. 43–4. 130.1. 197. 207n. 144. 192.25. 112. 155–62. 164–5. 60. 163. 211n. 100.9 poetry advent 126–33. 105–6. 98. 81–3. 175. 153–5. 11. 79–81. 195–7. 48. 87–90. 145. 62–3. 214n. 67.1 Paul 29. 214n. 138. 90. 129. 156. 55.27. 169–70. 195. 79. 207n. 97. 129–31. 209n. 67. 103–8. 61. 133.
97–9. 67. 48.19 stanza 13–17. 194. 127.4 terror 99–106 thing. 179. 134–5. 141. 188. 150–4. 99. 158. 143. 59. 145. 184–8. 170. 97. 45–6. 72. 105–6. Bernard 211n. 43. 144. 216n. 207n. 206n. 122. 193. 47–8. 23. 212n. 165. 208n.4. 56–7. 197. 108. 195. 184. 32. 186–7. 173–5. 85. 199–201. 54. 46. 175–9. 120–1.3 Royle. 84. 122. 56. 140. Adam 203n. 105–6. 201. 182. 216n. 200.10 singularity 5. 151 tautology 6. 97–8. 199 sovereignty 1–2. 172. 117. 127. 117–18. 206n. 133. 157–8. 192. 34. 155–62. 133. 149. 131. 162. 185. 108–9. 169. 211n. 192. 21. 178–88. 166–93. 111–12. 121 tension 35. 149. 144. 211n. 194 semantic 27–9. 109. 182 tablet 44.39 space 14. 201. Ferdinand de 17.4 techne 73–86. 125–8. 199. 177–80. 196 235 state of exception 1 Stiegler. 83. 131–2. 149. 131. 150. 199 semiotic 6. 19. 149–50. 13–19. 20.INDEX Romanticism 69. 212n. 17. 26–32. 214n. 187 shock 94–7. 131. 55–6. 188. 6.42 time/temporality chronos 145. 144–5. 163 and space 20.6 stil novist 14. 61. 173 eschaton 88. 161. 136–43. 93–7. 196. 77–8. 57. Nicholas 203n. 133–4.11 kairos 145. 150. 173. 83. 167. 135.9 Troubador 14–17. 127. 171–2. 27–8. 27 scission 2.47.46. 51–2. 201 tone/tonos 163–4 transmissibility 30. 80. 131. 48. 167–72. 35–7. 128. 70. 9. 77. 12. 174–5.11 ergon 158–60. 164–5. 32. 208n. 156. 149–53 linear time 87. 114. 46. 130. 172. 65. 60. 155–6. 155. 133. 197. 158–64. 30. 205n. 199–201. 185 tabular 64. 169. 60. 63. 149.21. 71. 178–9. 32. 35. 181–3. 117–34.3. 124. 80. 19. 172. 22–3.15. 136–44. 56. 197. 125.6 Spinks. 28. 60–8. 192 operational time 150–3. 197. 124. 30. 188. 172–4. 110–11 tautegorical 52. 113. 152–65.12. 212n. 127–9. 125. 133. 186 turn see enjambment and verse . art 75–7 thing as such of thought 49. 142. 184–9. 28. 136–9. 63–4. 146–7. 31. 125. 154. 11. Lee 205n. 92. 160. 169. 150. 99. 178–9. 24.27. 199. 138. 75. 159–60. 136. 153. 149. 84. 154. 106. 137–8. 46. 171. 146. 165. 211n. 149. Ron 206n.20 Silliman. 167. 197. 160–9. 37.4 sestina 154–5. 140. 110–11. 210n. 142. 57. 53. 122. 215n. 207n. 184 silence 8. 214n. 28. 55.8 taste 99–103. 160. 32. 174 Thurschwell. 94–104.5 Saussure. 32–3. 154. 107–8 sign 17–22.
28. 208n.27.11 Weller. 140–4. 152. Irving 209n. 216n. 213n. 214n. 212n. 179. 125. 75. Krzysztof 205n. 21–5.34 zoe 1. 82. Andy 93 Watkin.39 Zartaloudis. 204n. Erik 203n. 209n.10 Wall. 135–65. 212n.5 Walser.2 whatever (quodlibet) 63–5 Whitehead. Julian 208n.36.24. Thomas Carl 207n. Derek H.39 zoon logon echon 5. 168. 171. 8 236 . 186. 213n. 199. 199. Paul 56.44. 173–5. Robert 122 Warhol. 215n.10.15 Wolfreys. Thanos 210n. 207n. 103.47.6. 206n.45 work see praxis and entelechy writer’s block 67–8 xenoglossia 29–30.13.21. 207n. 206n. 208n. Slavoj 210n.37. 12.1 van Gogh. 178. 166–7.INDEX uncanny 2. 201 Vogt. 133. 102 Varro 58 verse as versus 128–34.15 Zizek. 177.20.33. 205n. 216n. 7. 45–8.21. 59. 157–8. 128. 30. 211n. 33.1.5 Valéry. William 204n.36 Ziarek.20 voice 3–8.7 Wohlfarth. Vincent 70. Shane 206n. 207n. 207n.
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