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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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Thinking Thought Poetic Thinking Poetry and Philosophy Communicability. The Idea of Prose Poetic Gestures The Tablet.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. 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 . The Thing Itself The Idea of Language Communicability.
Chapter 2 Poiesis. Modern Anti-Poiesis Chapter 3 Modernity. Thinking Tautology The Logo-Poiesis Tautology The Exemplary Tautology of Logopoiesis Infinite Poetry The Habits of the Muse Chapter 5 Enjambement. Shape Entelechy Arche. the Space of Thought The Caesura Apotropaics 117 119 122 124 129 135 135 139 144 149 153 155 162 166 166 174 viii . 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. the Turn of Verse The Definition of Poetry Boustrophedonics Kle sis. Thinking through Making Poiesis Praxis Techne The Art Thing Finitude Morphe. 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 .
and aids to translation. Reprint of the final stanza from “Down By the Station Early in the Morning” from A WAVE by John Ashbery. The Man Without Content. I greatly appreciate the questions and remarks that followed which encouraged but also challenged me. Finally. Copyright © 1981. granted by permission of Georges Borchardt. on behalf of the author. not merely because of the incredible support she has given me over this past. and Sarah Campbell. suggestions. and Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy © 1999 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. 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. 1984 by John Ashbery. Language and Death © 1991 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota. University. and my son. Permission to use “Warrant” granted by Charles Bernstein. the writing of this book coincided with the birth of my daughter . Chapter Two was presented as a seminar at Brunel University in March 2009. Obvious it is that sharing a house with an Italian is useful when writing a book on Agamben.. 1982. . Barbara Montanari. Inc. . Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. that is truly living.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks are due to my editors Hugh Silverman. the title of this book is his. I must also thank Brunel University for granting me a year-long sabbatical to complete this work. x . miraculous year. but also for her many comments. intense. 1983. living with someone so much more intelligent than I. Dearest Barbara. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. So it is that the last but also always the first expression of gratitude as ever goes to my wife. whose careful stewardship of the book in its latter stages was much appreciated.
Alain Badiou. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS AP BT C CC EHP EP HI HS IH IP IPP Leland De La Durantaye. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience (1978).” Diacritics 30. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry (1981). Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. trans. Giorgio Agamben. PA: Bucknell University Press. 2000). Being and Time (1953). William Watkin. Idea of Prose (1985). 1993). trans. The Century (2005). Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. trans. Giorgio Agamben. 1999). Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. trans. Giorgio Agamben. 3–24. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995). “Agamben’s Potential. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1996). Giorgio Agamben. The End of the Poem (1996). trans. trans. 2005). 1993). no. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press. Giorgio Agamben. trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Handbook of Inaesthetics (1998). 2007). trans. In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. 2001). 1995). Alain Badiou. 1998). xi . trans. Liz Heron (London: Verso. 2 (2000). Martin Heidegger. The Coming Community (1990).
Language and Death: The Place of Negativity (1982). Karen E. 1982). Language. The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. 2004). Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. Shklovsky. 344–364. N Giorgio Agamben. NC: Duke University Press. 2006). PMD Andrew Norris ed. Manifesto for Philosophy (1989). Para Paragraph 25. Means Without Ends (1996). Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. trans. Multiple Arts. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. trans.” Paragraph 31. The Man Without Content (1970). Politics. 1999). 1994). MWE Giorgio Agamben. O Giorgio Agamben. ed.. 2 (2002). 2008). PA Catherine Mills. 2005). trans. 1999). xii . trans. MA Jean-Luc Nancy. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Poetry. Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer (Durham. LPN Shane Weller. 2004). Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2008). Margins of Philosophy (1972). OM William Watkin. 3 (2008). trans. MP Alain Badiou. Simon Sparks (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. no. MofP William Watkin. trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 1999). Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. MWC Giorgio Agamben. Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS LAS Jean-François Lyotard. 2000). Thought. 2008). trans. The Open: Man and Animal (2002). Literature. 1991). Silliman and Agamben. P Potentialities (1999). no. 1971). trans. OWL Martin Heidegger. Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. M Jacques Derrida. Peter D. Muses II. On the Way to Language (1959). LD Giorgio Agamben. On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 1971). Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. trans. trans. “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the Work of Godzich & Kittay. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (1991). Philosophy. PLT Martin Heidegger.
2007). RP Thomas Carl Wall. SP Alexander Pope.no. The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. trans. 2005). 2002). State of Exception (2003). Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Republic.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS Prof Giorgio Agamben. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. The Question Concerning Technology. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial. WGA Justin Clemens. 1993). trans. TP John Ashbery. RA Giorgio Agamben. SE Giorgio Agamben. William Watkin’s Blog. 2007). 1999). trans. Three Poems (New York: Penguin. 1993). Sovereignty and Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press.. 1 (2008). Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. SAQ The South Atlantic Quarterly 107. blogspot. SL Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli eds. 2008). http://williamwatkin. Nicholas Heron. Radical Passivity: Lévinas. trans. 1977). trans. 2008). ST Giorgio Agamben. 2008). R Plato.com/. WWB William Watkin. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. trans. 2005). Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. and Alex Murray eds. QCT Martin Heidegger. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. TTR The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (2000). Ronald L. Blanchot and Agamben (Albany: SUNY Press. Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (1977). trans. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1999). xiii . Literature. Profanations (2005).
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In particular through the consideration of sovereignty. The sovereign’s legitimacy extends from the power of the state to reduce our existence to bare life or life as mere survival. 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). This state of exception.” he presents a convincing cartography of the political in our age that is. through which he likens our advanced democracies to living in a camp. now stretched to six volumes or around a third of his total published output. typically. 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. what Agamben calls the biopolitical. 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.EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (b. makes of us that most despised figure from Roman law. Like the homo sacer. 1 . bare life. the homo sacer. perhaps. is overseen by sovereign power. 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. whose sacred life was the possession and legitimization of the sovereign ready to be forfeited at any point without fear of legal repercussion. In the complex and. That exception has become the norm is the basis of Agamben’s savage attack on our biopolitical modernity. the homo sacer and our current “state of exception. often unremittingly negative critique of our Western modernity in terms of the political and its relation to life.
but no one can fully suppress the ability of the uncanny to undermine studiously erected structures of identity.1 Antonio Negri. Canny enough perhaps.5 Thus Negri. who. ponders. and the one about whom I will have the least to say in the chapters that follow. the literary Agamben. for example. one of Agamben’s great productive antagonists. he rediscovers pieces or elements of being. through immersion in the work of philology and linguistic analysis. where he is perpetually forced into a confrontation with the idea of death. Numerous critics have noted a seemingly contradictory bifurcation in the Agamben methodology. 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. There is the one who lingers in the existential.4 This enforced subjective scission is strategic. so desperate to negate the third Agamben. unless under the auspices of dialectical resolution or archeunity. sometimes so marked it is suggestive of the possibility that there are more Agambens out there writing philosophy than was first assumed. instead opens the door to just such a possibility of tertiary ruination. and terrifying shadows. rather infamously:2 It seems there are two Agambens. 2 . 111). attains the power of being (that is. This is the Agamben we are most familiar with. destining. one a philosopher of negative being and the other an etymo-philologer and habitué of material clues. And there is another Agamben.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN the leading revolutionary political theory that we have. by manipulating and constructing them). These are the metaphysical and the political Agambens respectively. the uncanny unwelcome guest at the intimate if troubled feast that rages still tête-à-tête between metaphysics and politics. Away from the political/materialist Agamben there is another Agamben.3 Negri is far from alone in asserting that “Agamben” is a homonymic moniker referring to two thinkers of radical dissimilarity. 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. 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.
absolved of the negativity of which it had been the bearer. that the following pages wish to augment. adventurer in poiesis. beyond the learnéd and almost overwhelming conversation between the two Agambens and his many critics. Attend then.6 3 . the literary Agamben. if you will. inasmuch as it endures as the only power of this dissolved universe” (SL. It is this voice. Effectively. an absolute voice. intimidated by the sovereignty of metaphysical thought. muted by the clamour of the bios. 113–14).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. and yet always persistent and quietly insistent. to the tones of the tern. it is now poiesis.
is able to predict the guiding topic of all one’s books. . . however.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE (The cricket. he suggests. past and future. 5). in the preface to his third book. unbelievably obdurate for it is undoubtedly true that the questioning of the presence of language remains at the heart of Agamben’s political thinking. 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. I have stubbornly pursued only one train of thought: what is the meaning of ‘there is language’ [vi è il linguaggio]. in which one can encounter the pure exteriority of language” (IH. over the years.” Such an experience. the centrality of literature to his work. Who.4 To see language as it is.” In this thin sheaf of pages he explains that he is undertaking an experiment with language “in the true meaning of the words. 30 years later one has to concede that the young thinker was either preternaturally prescient or. clearly. requires that one “venture into a perfectly empty dimension .)1 At the age of 36. his metaphysics and. most pertinent to our study here. 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. written and unwritten?3 Now. to let language speak 4 . in its full material yet voided exteriority. This risk-bound declaration of intent occurs in the short piece that prefaces Infancy and History (1978) entitled “Experimentum Linguae. a characteristically confident Giorgio Agamben declares: “In both my written and unwritten books. after all. in which what is experienced is language itself. to make language appear before us such as it is. cannot think its chirping.
To understand the relation between thought and literature through their complex. returns again and again in Agamben’s early work. This unusual rumination leads to a series of related questions such as. bundled together in what might be termed his interim request. the possession of voice/language by the animal and the privation of voice in the human. As for the unwritten. is this what we humans mean by language. unpublished fragment of another great work Agamben never wrote.5 It is the nexus wherein his great ontological question. and if we do not find a human voice. what is the relationship between voice and language in this regard. . what does it mean to have language. La voce umana (the human voice). up to this point.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 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. 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). . in effect. 4). what does it mean to live as a human being. The first of these is extrapolated from an. 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. This theme. 3). 5 . one will take his word for it that this is also the case. 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. or better drama. In this incorporated and yet incorporeal work he asks: “Is there a human voice. and Agamben has indeed not yet done so. oversteps the threshold of his other great demand that primarily occupies the first two decades or so of his career.?” (IH.6 not posed until many years later. differential. The two interlocutions are. where does this lead the classic philosophical definition of the human as zoon logon echon or “the living being which has ¯ ¯ language”? (IH. if there is a human voice.
however. purely exterior landscape of language as such. First. they do not actually speak although they do possess language. The cold light cast by this stelliform compound reveals for us linguistic exteriority defined as the very existence. (The difference between speech. or as-such-ness. and language’s materiality. of language: communicability or a language that communicates itself without communicating any specific thing. 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 . negation. 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.7 What kind of language. is this solipsistic. echoing that of the animal. 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. 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 voice is therefore foundational. and second they are pre-possessed of their voice as soon as they come into being. enunciation. tautological. the dependence of metaphysical definitions of language on division and negation. Infancy as a concept originates in the observable phenomenon that humans learn to speak whereas animals do not in two significant ways. and our acquisition of a voice. Aside from the obvious fact that literature is composed of language and constitutes a profound experience with language. Acquisition of voice.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Consistent with Negri’s remark and the critical community’s claims of the two Agambens. Agamben uses the term infancy in his early work to describe an interim state between our pure state of grace in language. the role of language in subjective enunciation.) Infancy does not describe our actual early childhood. and self-regarding entity? INFANCY: ANIMALS AND CHILDREN One of the earliest postings into the vast dossier of Agamben’s great experimentum primarily concerns what he calls human linguistic infancy or how we humans are expelled from language as such into linguistic and metaphysical scission. scission. what order of communication. language.
and chimpanzees. . acquire. Thus.10 In contrast to this. or have speech foisted upon them. In disputation with the Aristotelian inheritance Agamben does not accept that animals are without language which. Animals do not enter language. by preceding speech. as we saw. This could be taken to mean how we come to language but this is not how Agamben views infancy. thus far have not. a dog’s bark. they are already inside it. by implication. as humans acquire 7 . are the only beings that are not born with a clearly identifiable voice then they must come to their voice or arrive at speech. language and speech are indivisible and when one speaks of an animal voice. For the animal. as indeed developmentally we seem to do. . 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. for that matter. of all animals. if language is truly man’s nature . or a cricket’s chirping one also names the animal’s language and. by having an infancy. or at least he is uncomfortable with the uncritical ¯ ¯ acceptance of this formulation within philosophy. splits this single language and. . then man’s nature is split at its source. for example. One can say the cricket chirps but not the human “. has to constitute himself as the subject of language–he has to say I. on the contrary. in order to speak. The historicity of the human being has its basis in this difference and discontinuity. If humans. they are always and totally language . 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. their being.8 In one basic sense infancy captures the process wherein human animals learn. Man. Unlike the metaphysical tradition Agamben is not at ease with the Aristotelian definition of human being as zoon logon echon. 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. . instead. (IH. for infancy brings it discontinuity and the difference between language and discourse. . regardless of our tireless encouragement.” Second. the human has no voice of its own. first.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE apparently not having a voice of their own such as one finds in the cricket. .
voice itself. Infancy submits us to history expelling us from language as such and propelling us into a bifurcated sense of language as phone and logos. a period wherein we acquire speech.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. first silencing language and then. Our entrance into this philosophical cul-de-sac is the fact that we humans have infancy. Thus. as Agamben is at pains to show. the way we have language is first as bifurcation. 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. Life. Third. speech denies any experience of the nature of language as such comparable to the manner in which animals experience language. in a destinal and possibly liberationist historicization. voice. speech over language. from this. it is not the fact that we have language that defines our humanity. a return to a pre-divided idea of a pure language. then as subordination.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN their voice a clear division between speech and language in the human animal develops. and infancy as that which we must recuperate. or lack of it. and voice are therefore separate yet inseparable terms within Agamben’s thought. This is effectively the argument of Language and Death. 8 .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. eventually. It would seem. language-speech. the follow-up text to Infancy and History. that there are two infancies: infancy as that which we have lost. and as a critique of the basis of modern thinking on negation. this division and our awareness of it define human being as self-consciously different from all other beings. and finally as negation. Fourth. in seeking to regain language we create the possibility of becoming something like a post-human. but the way in which we come to have it—not the zoon or the logon but the generally ignored echon ¯ ¯ that matters. and this is a profoundly Heideggerian gesture. is infancy. and silence. In reality these two nascent states are simply two elements of an overall infancy as an ongoing process of being. language. Agamben argues. forming the basis of the meaning of our possession of voice. Yet it also involves us. The only way out of this metaphysical dead end. In losing language we become a human being and alive.
In contrast to this tradition of negation Agamben involves himself in an experiment. as “not something ineffable but something superlatively sayable: the thing of language” (IH. 4). Thought has become embroiled in thinking language in terms not of what it can say but of what it cannot. It is a concept without a name and knowledge without an object. 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. “If every thought can be classified according to the way in which it articulates the question of the limits of language. namely that of the ineffable. after Benjamin. For language to signify and thus become the human language we are all familiar with. Erdmann knowledge independent of sensibility (see IH. and second. the concept of infancy is then an attempt to think through these limits in a direction other than that of the vulgarly ineffable” (IH. post-vocal divided language. 4). to identify the singularity of language as such. defining being and thinking along the way as first. 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. Kant calls this the “transcendental experience” of pure thought. Ironically.” a place where thought can go and language cannot. As Agamben says. “in which the limits of language are to be found not outside language. the unsaid and the ineffable.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. actually comes to name language for this tradition. the unsayable being precisely what language must presuppose in order to signify” (IH. presuppositionally negative (see LD. 4). the ineffable in philosophy. which seems to direct us towards pure thinking without language. there must be reference to something that is not language that it signifies. based on language. “far from indicating the limit of language. This is our old friend the experimentum linguae which Agamben renames here infancy. 9 . instead “express its invincible power of presupposition. 4–6). a thing or a truth to be known. 54–65). 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.
but in naming it we find that the name never entirely renders the object. It then indicates our ability to conceive of a pure thinking not in terms of what cannot be said but what can.referential language. only to find that the name for such an experience is the ineffable or un-named as such. Finally.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the direction of its referent. I am language. 10 . a reification of the unspeakable. infancy names the problem of human experience. 15–49). . in response to the problem that there is an object. or a typical conversation in a British pub towards closing time. Agamben instead simply introjects the problem. as a thinker. thus concluding that language always remains insufficient to name objects. that language exists” (IH.or ir. even if all one is saying is that one can say something. a morass it has proven impossible to escape from. that which is outside of it (the referent). for if it is not named there can be no shortfall of plenitude. in its pure self-reference” (IH. but in an experience of language as such. “But what can an experience of this kind be? How can there be an experience not of an object but of language itself . forcing the thinker to seek for a concept that cannot be named. 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. rather it is language that is content-less speech. 6). but also testing. Rather than. language that says nothing other than here I am. but in terms of what it can say if it does not refer to that which is outside of itself. Language as the basis of thought should be considered not in terms of what it cannot say. . 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. experience me. This great quest to move beyond modern philosophical ineffability isolates a third and final issue in relation to infancy.13 This problem has afflicted language for a good deal of time naming a clear division in philosophy between knowledge and experience. as the pure fact that one speaks. pre. that we need language to name it. Infancy first names our coming away from being animal. 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.
Yet nor can it be experienced entirely from the inside as in some imagined. 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. and then imposing unworkable unities to heal this rift is a habitual failing of Western thought. To undergo an experience with language. As he says: “In this sense what is experienced in the experimentum linguae is not merely an impossibility of saying: rather. a form of thinking that does not look at language 11 . thinking. it is an experience. 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. Infancy names this third possibility: to maintain experience as knowing and as undergoing. cannot be undertaken exterior to language as he contends some philosophers have attempted. is by definition bifurcated. evidenced by our endless pursuit of novel and new experiences. between experience as knowledge and as going through. 8). Maintaining the false division. or we observe events from the outside as judgemental critics. it is an impossibility of speaking from the basis of a language. which he takes to be the experience of experience itself. via that infancy that dwells in the margin between language and discourse. In the modern age the division between the two meanings of experience is most profoundly felt. self-conscious subjectivity. Human language. denying that the event in question actually pertains to how we live. he concedes. Infancy reveals the confluence of language. therefore. 8).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. It is what Agamben means by thinking and what he takes to be the truth of the very existence of the possessed faculty of language as such. as Agamben sees it. Either our experiences are so unique that they are one-off events that can hold no meaning for “the human experience” at large. defining human being as “neither Homo sapiens nor Homo loquens. is to undergo a new form of experience as testing or thinking. namely as the imposition of scission as a means of creating human. but Homo sapiens loquendi” (IH. of the very faculty or power of speech” (IH. primordial being for whom the division between phone and logos has not yet come about.14 For Agamben the experience of language.
12 . If Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics resides in the tradition’s obfuscation of authentic Being. and what does it mean to experience something? Most specifically. or occupy language and seek for exterior referents. One issue here is that the very choice of the name infancy is as confusing as it is illustrative. a human defined as life. zoological. or psychosomatic empiricism behind our being with or having language. accepting their division as a fact of our ontological Geschichte or deep history (see QCT. which is not only impossible to ascertain but also not what Agamben intends.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. If anything. suggesting a developmental. 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. it opens up a zone that exists for thought and being between language as such and discourse. 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. said relation to language. 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. which we might call infant being. therefore. yet refusing to succumb to the various aporias that have traditionally arrested the progression of thought on this matter. and an in-between and constantly emergent human being. while Agamben is critical of both Heidegger and Derrida. our actual infancy is merely a useful developmental analogue for an ontological temporality of development that presupposes a pre-human.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from the outside. In a way. 39–62). 24). therefore. 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. but which accepts the presence of language as such as exteriority as such. 54–5). is silenced. and Derrida’s on its privileging of speech over writing. 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. what does language say. and the imposition of a voice through the agency of speech.
or better there are myriad differentiations to be made.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. We must stress this is not the intention of infancy. and knowing.16 In a sense Derrida’s critical investigation of this difference. Agamben sometimes writes it like this. Human being is this ontological caesura (see O. in other words. and being as such. In some way Agamben’s thought must enter into the scission of being and resolve the conflict therein without recourse to pre-human unity. Nor can it choose language over discourse. although the term “before” needs careful reconsideration within what might be termed an ontological rather than historiographic or teleological temporality. THE STANZA In relation to Heidegger people often speak of the ontico-ontological difference between actual being-in-the-world. much as Agamben might wish. collapses the last great frontier of metaphysics. to live our division. simply put. If infancy is to resolve this difference then its hands are tied to some degree. is nonspeech (see LD. to do with babies. is an ancient problem relating to how language names truth. reconfigured as the term différance.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE Nor should one suggest that Agamben is recounting an actual historical series: animal-infant-human. the ontological. Infancy has little. Dasein. Thus in-fancy. Rather. and as such is an ontological state of speechlessness within language that precedes the potential human being’s emergence into actual humanity. for we are always in the world operating as already pre-divided beings. 13 . It is our existence in language before the primary scission of language into phone and logos. It cannot unify language and discourse into a single entity. To live as human means. 13–16 & 21–2). capitalized Being.17 This difference is not simply the difference between different technical senses of being in the work of one philosopher however. or the eradication of difference. This is perhaps best illustrated by the etymological root of the word wherein fans originates from fari or to speak. but is the reliance of metaphysics on difference as such. the only remnant of the tradition that Heidegger leaves standing. endless deferral. Certainly there are many forms of difference. infancy is to be found within the human at all stages as both remnant of the animal and potential for the post-human. the ontic. 91). but the asymmetric difference between experience.
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. and his considerations of poetic space and rhyme. Students of Heidegger will immediately recognize this structure of imposed forgetting of the most important thing due to its assumed obviousness as Being. In a way this is true although Agamben prefers to call it scission: The scission in question is that between poetry and philosophy. 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. The 1977 volume Stanzas. for the entire tradition. The space of the stanza.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Agamben’s first major intervention on language concerns linguistic scission as the precondition for the later establishment of infancy. between the poetic word and the word of thought. the 14 . receptacle” (ST. but in response to this ancient quest for the missing womb of art in our culture Agamben states that access to the destination of this labour is “barred by the forgetfulness of a scission” so ingrained in our culture that it goes without saying. in its capacity. although taking as its main area of concern the art object. a process Agamben emulates in his own work on the metaphysics of enjambement.” According to a conception that is only implicitly contained in the Platonic critique of poetry. caesura. dwelling-stability. defined as a “capacious dwelling. 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. In addition. brackets this fascinating topic in major statements on language and philosophy. xvi). xvi). the troubadour concept of the stanza provides a model for discovering metaphysical truths within the very prosodic operations of the poem itself. By conflating a formal technique with a meta-thematic concern the troubadour stanza takes on the quality in poetry of a “receptive ‘womb’” (ST.and thirteenth-century troubadour tradition. “when in fact it is the only thing truly worth interrogating” (ST. xvi). For the troubadour poets the stanza was not just a structural designation but the “nucleus” of their poetry. but that has in modern times acquired a hegemonic character. which he regularly cites along with that of the stil novists as the origin of all modern poetics. namely the joi d’amor or unattainable joy of love. The split is so fundamental to our cultural tradition that Plato could already declare it “an ancient enemy.
poetry exists entirely in language on one side of the scission of the word. as if fallen from the sky. prose. a direct experience of language as such within which resides the meaning of human being. This is particularly because infancy resides between the poetic and philosophic word or. and enjoys the object of knowledge by representing it in beautiful form. the word is thus divided between a word that is unaware. therefore. very early on in his career.19 Here he effectively substitutes poetry for a number of terms—language as such. alone. experience—some of which we have already considered. dissatisfied word is the immaterialized insensible word of Western philosophy. xvii). 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. while philosophy is able to test language it has no direct experience with language.” We will take this word from now on to be the poetic word. Agamben. as we saw earlier. 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. because it can only experience language as going through or sustaining. 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. Both are victims of the cruel scission at the heart of human language and neither.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. and philosophy entirely outside on the opposing side. between language and discourse. for example. holds the key to language’s capacious inner chamber. by knowledge of what 15 . Agamben clearly does not hypostatize poetry as an ideal. “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. In contrast. infant form of language. This grave. The poetic word. Poetry does not know what it has. therefore. Within our tradition. Poetry’s tragedy is possession of the thing without knowledge of the thing. stanza in Italian means room of course. “In the West. (ST. is now named as the closest we can get to an experience of language that speaks itself while not necessarily saying anything specific.
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. Just as the ancient stanza manifests. criticism. both revealing it and rendering it inoperative. Agamben is widely critical of the modern nihilistic tradition of valorizing negation. What he reveals for us in these early pages is the state of aesthetics in the modern age whether he likes it or not.20 We are presented with a model 16 . in modern aesthetics. but he is also something of a fatalistic thinker. To appropriation without consciousness and to consciousness without enjoyment criticism opposes the enjoyment of what cannot be possessed and the possession of what cannot be enjoyed” (ST. the missing thing of poetry via scission. one a modern quasi-philosophical discourse the other a historical prosodic-structural effect. 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. as Agamben calls it in relation to modern poetry and art. here. a nothingness that protects art’s most precious object. Agamben explains that criticism is marked by a formula “according to which it neither represents nor knows. The stanza. The power of criticism emerges out of its collapsing and nihilization of the category of art. that which it cannot possess. contains nothing. whether in philosophy or. but knows the representation. so it is an ambiguous strength to say the least. xvii). 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. He does not. he states most openly that the assumed problem of metaphysics is to be revealed there in that room. While criticism differs in kind to the stanza. For Agamben. Yet he also begins a complex journey out of the abyss of philosophical nihilism onto the plain of a Benjaminian messianic positive philosophy to come through his approach to language. and we will investigate it in detail in the chapters to come.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be possessed and/or possession of that which can never be known. Further. xvii). 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. The stanza of criticism.
because of this indistinction. knowing: logos. scission as stanza. Because we see that the room is empty we assume that first there is nothing in the room. as a philological consideration of the troubadours’ idea of the stanza. this is pure. 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 . but they are not genres at all. and third there never can be. which all amount to the same thing. The division between the two “words” is not so much imposed by Plato as reified. if disgruntled. neutral medium. almost. one must valorize negation as such. and being. Rather their generic subdivision courtesy first of Plato and then of Aristotle. or that there is language. It exists as a containment space between opposing forces occupying the same zone of indifferent indistinction as infancy. Agamben uses the figure of the stanza to bring this complex logic into relief. this is just the inheritance of negativity from the metaphysics of scission. because it is Being. meaningless pleasure: phone. Yet there is something “in the room. On one side of the stanza is the poetic word. on language. or how we have language. that is disguised. an error for which we suffer but which may also be a productive and generative errancy. This word is pure. Language as such. and finally indicate the role poetry has to play in any future comments on metaphysics. What language is is portrayed in this impossibly contracted history of everything. is an attempt to veil the truth of the basis of all thought. Agamben’s great project. art.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE of generic languages. On the other is the philosophical word. is. poetic and philosophic. 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. like being. language as scission. leaving us with a dark legacy. in terms of the future. hopeless space. reveal its ubiquity across our culture.” namely the room as such and while to us this appears as an empty and. and a possible solution. or at least everything in metaphysics since the Greeks. currently withheld from view. This location contains nothing specifically and in our age we have made the error of assuming that. The stanza is nothing other than a pure. second that there never was.
In this way all signs can be said to be part-symbolic or.” meaning that “all that comes to presence comes there as to the place of a deferral and an exclusion. has been a source of metaphysical unease. rest in establishing one half of the division as more true than the other. All three gestures are typical of the metaphysical scission represented by Plato’s banning of poetry from the republic. positive destiny. yet the effect is not actual reconciliation but a painful reminder of this most destructive caesura. The symbol.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet profoundly heterogeneous relation: S/s (with S representing meaning and s the material signifier). 136). Meaning is separated from. he argues. is there the need to philosophize” (ST. 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. primarily because the symbol brings together S/s into a single unified entity. 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. . therefore. the signifier. and its being present. completing his narrative. temporarily or artificially impose a unity on the primacy of scission in metaphysics. a lack” (ST. is located below the meaning of the word. In this algorithm the phonic element of the word. 136). in the model of paradigm and copy. it also creates the discipline of thinking called philosophy: “only because there is at the origin not plenitude but deferral . before access to materiality or intercourse between the two values is literally banned or barred. 136). In so doing it naturally foregrounds the imposition of false scission: “The symbolic. These strategies. in the sense that its manifestation is simultaneously a concealment.” In other words. through a consideration of the aesthetics of the symbolic emblem. it has been widely ignored by classic metaphysical strategies. familiar to us now. as he says: “Only because presence is divided and unglued is something like ‘signifying’ possible. then placed above material noise. especially for Hegel. Justifying this claim. the act of recognition that reunites what is divided. not only does this scission produce the sign. Symbolic acts. For that matter. and the two are separated by a bar. and the relation of latent to sensible 18 .21 Agamben comes to this “original fracture of presence that is inseparable from the Western experience of being. is also the diabolic that continually transgresses and exposes the truth of this knowledge” (ST. .
which has always been par excellence the plane on which the experience of the original fracture is represented. itself supposedly a symbol of unity. although the scission between presence and absence comes very close to being archetypal for Agamben. the bar (/) of the graphic S/s . but rather. however. The sign represents for him the ultimate in metaphysical amnesia and until we overcome signification we remain trapped in a failed project of thinking that imposes false unities to obscure the original scission at the heart of thought. the very thing the philosophy of language does not see. as in Derrida. the bar. with that omission.22 19 . Every semiology that fails to ask why the barrier that establishes the possibility of signifying should itself be resistant to signification. and ultimately indifferent mediality. If the sign is a source of displeasure for Agamben. insignificant. as Agamben believes contentiously that Derrida has (ST. 136). Aside from his regular use of the term semiotics. Agamben is not an adherent to the science of signification. Unlike Derrida. It exists in the form of a cancelled stanza more accurately represented as S [ / ] s than the Saussurian S/s. The bar is language as pure. Not only does it present a unity to mask the primary scission of language-thought. falsifies. its own authentic intention” (ST. . . in particular here “language. that is. or Derridean différance without succumbing to said division. it contains within its own boundaries a sensuous representation of both unity and scission in the form of the bar. it is the structuring of thought qua scission. it betrays through its symbol-status the division at the heart of metaphysical systems of unity. Again here we can see the quasi-symbolic nature of the sign. this interpretation is crystallized in the notion of the sign as the expressive unity of the signifier and signified” (ST. 156). It is therefore metaphysical structural scission that Agamben consistently takes to task. deferral. This scission is not specifically a division between one thing and another.” Our idea of language as signification is false. “In the reflection on language.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE manifestation. Agamben believes one can overcome scission. 137). but the barrier within the sign functions as metaphysic’s betrayer. Stanzas is by far Agamben’s most sustained engagement with psychoanalysis. is the very thing that is the source of its inauthenticity and possible rehabilitation. As Agamben presciently states: “In modern semiology. within its graphicality in the figuration of the bar. the forgetting of the original fracture of presence is manifested precisely in what ought to betray it. In a Lacanian gesture.
Deixis is a term used in linguistics to indicate the point of reference of a statement that relies absolutely on context.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN NEGATING NEGATION Agamben’s first sustained engagement with the metaphysical tradition. you. The first of these is a reliance on death as a means of defining being.25 Up to this point the normative mode of literature was performed poetry and if someone other than the narrator spoke. philosophy’s reliance on deixis or pronouns to manifest being and the concomitant dissatisfaction they draw from this procedure. The third is the reliance of both thinkers on deixis when trying to express language’s necessary insufficiency in relation to knowledge. Reading Hegel and Heidegger he strives to demonstrate how nihilism dominates their thought in three ways. These are most commonly personal pronouns. but other pronouns indicative of space and time are also deictic: now. 1–5 & 59–60). most famously in Heidegger’s being-towards-death (LD. or something was referred to over there. or of something else. that. continues the development of the idea of infancy through a radical critique of the dependence of modern thought on negativity. I. this. most surprising and technical part of this critique. 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. according to Godzich and Kittay. the jongleur or performer used a series of gestures known to his mime-literate audience to show that he was speaking as someone else. there.23 For Heidegger it is the impossibility of Dasein to ever actually occupy the space of its own being (LD. here. 13–14). The second is the retention of ineffability within thought. it.24 Deixis as a form of indication can be described as exophoric in that it refers to extra-linguistic material. Language and Death. This exophoric capability explains the rise of deixis as a literary device from the twelfth century onwards. For Hegel this is the inability of the sensuous sign to render in full the material realm (LD. an assumed quality of 20 . 4–5). As we have already dealt with the issue of the ineffable through an analysis of unsayability we are left with the third. wherein the possibility of having an intra-textual technique for referring to assumed extra linguistic material or presences was developed. With the slow but inexorable rise of prose this bringing in of the outside into the text. Each of these three themes is of no small relevance to what we have already learnt of infancy. then.
Naturally. inaugural syntagm: “And justify the ways of God to man. 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. or the work of Lyn Hejinian. the very thing 21 . for Heidegger. the complexity of either the world being occupies or how it occupies that world. Working at opposite ends of the rather colourless deictic spectrum. anaphoric recursive reference. For both authors this referential shortfall is represented by the silent voice at the heart of being.27 Deixis is also regularly utilized as a form of anaphora or internal reference that refers back to a subject.” “that door. In Language and Death Agamben foregrounds the importance of deixis for modern philosophy specifically in the use of the German words diese (this) in Hegel and da (there) in Heidegger (LD. will come to hold a central importance in Agamben’s thought and its relation to poetry. There-being or being-the-there as Agamben re-translates Dasein (LD.” Similarly. Hegel’s interest in the sensuous versus Heidegger’s in ontological topography. the brevity and baldness of the pronominal will fail to convey the full complexity of a sensuous presence for Hegel. Venice.” and so on. “there” does little to convey. give it to me. Imagine Islamic art. They effectively use anaphoric/cataphoric deixis as shorthand for an already uttered or to be uttered authentic name of being. It tells us where being is but says nothing of how or why it is. 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. by definition disappoints.” The “it” in this sentence is both deictic and anaphoric. and then replace each with the reductive “this. exophoric context-dependent indication. 19–26). and so on previously mentioned: “The gun. or indeed anything of use about the where or the there.26 was facilitated by simple phrases such as “he said. noun. and in its anaphoric/cataphoric mode it is indeed nothing other than a convenience of abbreviation. referring to the previously mentioned firearm (“firearm” in this sentence is anaphoric but not deictic). 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. 4).29 and cataphoric projective reference.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE prose that differentiates it from the so-called “univocality” of the poem.”28 All three elements of deixis. Finally.
106). In effect there are numerous voices in Language and Death. While he blames the valorization of the voice for the dominance of negativity in metaphysics. which one could describe as the problem that a word does not totally contain its meaning or referent.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN that enunciates being and yet leaves its truth unsaid. both Hegel and Heidegger succumb to a primary scission in the word between signifier. although Agamben does not write it like this. and the failure of speech to evince knowledge. he also seeks for solutions to negativity ostensibly through the voice. There is the voice of the animal (especially in death). the world or being. The only solution to this problem. 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. with the voice being set up as the failure to speak or the failure to mean within thought’s reliance on 22 . is not to try and render experience through language but to render experience as language. through the idea of human infancy. To sum up in more familiar terms. Agamben believes. One might then ask the question why thinkers of such sophistication resort to deictic indicators at all. Agamben’s relation to the voice is complex. and signified. They then. this or there. If language as pure mediality has been artificially and with violence bifurcated in metaphysics into phone (voice) and logos (language as discourse). however diligently Proust attended to it. “This” may not capture Venice but nor will the prose of Ruskin. Agamben systematically attacks the idea that human voice emerges from the animal. a work every bit as important to the collapsing of metaphysics as Being and Time or Of Grammatology. Voice. the human voice as lack. and then perhaps the Voice under negation. The tripartite critique of modern thought enacted in Language and Death. which results in the negation of philosophical negativity by the end of the final seminar (LD. that the voice is defined by what it cannot say (the ineffable). classically. valorize and exteriorize the signified only to discover a profound asymmetry in signification. the metaphysical capitalization of the Voice as a condition of being in withdrawal. Deixis is always used to indicate something exterior to language and so is shorthand for all the failings of language’s referential shortfall. relies in each instance on an assault on the voice. in reality a synecdochic anamorphism wherein one element of linguistic scission comes to stand in for language as a whole. If one demands of language that it is a tool for reference one consigns language to inevitable failure as regards knowledge.
language. The possession of an articulated or bifurcated system of differential referentiality which we term. 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. To exit metaphysics. means that we come to be human by 23 . instead he uses this very dependence to present a combined theory of referential ontology that he calls desubjectivization. in part. Benveniste defines the condition of the human subject by its being able to. Rather than attempt to remove the reliance of objective and ontological referentiality on deixis. The problem is that either language fails to convey the profound texturality and diversity of the sensuous. enunciate its own self through language. for Hegel and Heidegger. therefore. the Voice. As we saw. one must pass through the negative abyssal gullet of the voice. this plangent insufficiency. Language brings to presence. Agamben is inspired in particular by the ontological turn in the work of French structural linguist Emile Benveniste. in part. but brings to presence truth or being as privation. SUBJECTIVE ENUNCIATION It might appear from Agamben’s critique of metaphysics that deixis is. Benveniste’s theory of subjectivity is based on the idea of linguistic enunciation and specifically how this relies on deixis. 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. then the voice is always both the villain and victim of philosophy. or it struggles to sum up our whole world and our place within it. or having to. not being as such but language as such. Agamben calls this exasperation.30 The first theory allows us to think again about subjectivity. “this” thing is always a privation of the plenitude of the actual thing. One can see therefore that Benveniste allows Agamben to. I will deal with each idea in turn. albeit under negation. synthesize his ideas on negation and scission in direct relation to language. culpable for modern negative metaphysics and this is correct. specifically his theories of the subject of enunciation and the semiotic. language is seen in modern philosophy as essential to thinking and yet source of thinking’s deficiency.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE language. mistakenly.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
our possession of self-consciousness and our ability to speak of this. Thus we can announce “I am” and in so doing we enunciate our subjectivity. Important in this regard is Benveniste’s conception that while the subject can enunciate its presence, speak its being, this act does not proceed from an already existent central being or subject. “I” in the phrase “I am” is a form of (de)subjectifying deixis. It appears to refer to an exterior presence, but, as Benveniste explains and indeed as my own work has investigated elsewhere (MofP, 347–9), deixis as a form of indicative reference does not refer to an actual exteriority but simply to the instance of reference as such. Accepting this to be the case, the “I” of “I am” only comes into existence in the act of enunciation via what Jacobson calls the power of pronominal shifting, or a movement from langue, the whole system and existence of language, to parole, a local instance of discourse. While in Saussure it is essential that langue and parole remain heterogeneous, deictic shifters present an opportunity to move from indication to signification, a journey that defines these two faculties, their complex interrelationship and, ultimately, undermines all our presuppositions about language and being. Agamben concludes from this: The sphere of utterance thus includes that which, in every speech act, refers exclusively to its taking place, to its instance, independently and prior to what is said and meant in it. Pronouns and the other indicators of the utterance, before they designate real objects, indicate precisely that language takes place. In this way, still prior to the word of meanings, they permit the reference to the very event of language . . . (LD, 25)31 Modern philosophy is already well aware of the ontological implications of the deictic phrase “I am.” It is, for example, central to one of Derrida’s most influential essays “Signature Event Context.” There we find that the subject’s capacity to enunciate itself reveals the subject’s ability to come into existence through the revelation of the division between presence and voice. That the subject can enunciate existence means they can step out of the experience of being, of being captivated like an animal,32 and self-consciously comment on said experience. This emergence from captivation to self-consciousness is the movement from language to speech in Agamben which is both the precondition for, and problem of, human being. The power of the
PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
subject to enunciate itself is brought to the fore in Derrida’s work more piquantly by his work on the sister phrase to “I am,” “I am not.”33 Not only can the subject enunciate presence, therefore, in so doing they also precipitate their lasting absence. Enunciation marks the advent of being and, simultaneously, its finitude. For Derrida this enunciative advent of finite being ruins any transcendental sense of subjectivity in that the subject dies as self-presence at the very moment it enunciates its existence and thus comes to life;34 one way of reading Heidegger’s being-towards-death. However, for Agamben, as soon as the subject comes to presence it is desubjectified and this is, in fact, its subjectivity. Subjectivity is not negated by enunciation as Derrida seems to suggest but actually founded through this process of negation. This reformulation of the theory of the subject allows Agamben to state that “the transcendental subject is nothing other than the ‘enunciator’” (IH, 53). If one can say “I am” one has already entered into a productively alienating subjectivity in language (RP, 128–9). Yet if one cannot say “I am,” within metaphysics at least, one cannot exist as the human is emergent from the biological indeterminacy of the animal precisely because they have the dubious power of self-conscious enunciation. As a realist Agamben cannot deny the fact that subjectivity is founded on its negation, but as the declared enemy of metaphysical nihilism he is unable to simply accept this. If one could isolate the moment, ontologically speaking, before the subject speaks but after they acquire language, what Agamben calls infancy, then one could perhaps instigate an alternative mode of being that is based on language but not on the voice as negation. This is Agamben’s intention. Before we get to that, and we may never in our epoch, we must accept the fact that, for Agamben, the subject of enunciation, once spoken, is the result of a permanent desubjectivization. At the moment the subject says “I am,” subjectivity comes to presence as nothing other than an instance of empty, technical indication. As he says: Benveniste’s studies . . . show that it is in and through language that the individual is constituted as a subject. Subjectivity is nothing other than the speaker’s capacity to posit him or herself as an ego, and cannot in any way be defined through some wordless sense of being oneself, nor by deferral to some ineffable psychic experience of the ego, but only through a linguistic I transcending any possible experience. (IH, 52)
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Mills’ interpretation of this is especially strong in the manner of how she first shows that “in taking the place of ‘I’ as speaking subject, the speaker must effectively alienate him/herself as a phenomenal or empirical individual” and her realization that “by entering into language as a mode of ‘communicative action,’ the speaker loses touch with the mute experience of language as such” (PA, 25). Thus enunciation denies the subject both its subjectivity and its infancy. However, because infancy is not a stage in a developmental teleology, no more is subjectivity or being human, none of these possibilities are lost for good when one says “I am.” In fact, they only come about because of enunciation, even if their happening takes place in an instant before, or due to, their negation. Agamben is treading a very treacherous and perhaps impossibly fine line here. Infancy is the precondition of subjectivity only in that it allows for desubjectivization through the act of losing or emerging out of infancy. It appears that Agamben’s childhood is potentially a troubled, but ultimately liberating time.
The powerful malleability of the deictic pronoun “I”is well known allowing for any number of ontological compressions, of selfpresence “I am,” self negation “I am not,” and self-alienation “I is another.” The last of these is a famous promulgation by Rimbaud often analysed by philosophers, but initially it is to English poetry and Keats’ missives on deictic desubjectivization that Agamben turns to in his own work in the field. In the dense, remarkable, and troubling book Remnants of Auschwitz (1999), Agamben finds himself reading Keats’ letter to Richard Woodhouse on 27 October 1818. As he does so he isolates four themes of poetic, deictic desubjectivization. These are not unfamiliar, so I will merely summarize them here: (1) the poetic I is not an I nor is it identical to itself, (2) the poet is therefore the most unpoetical of things, (3) the statement “I am a poet” is not a statement but a contradiction in terms, and (4) poetic experience is that of desubjectivization. The third of these, “I am a poet,” is contradictory because, as Keats argues, “if he has no self, and I am a Poet, where is the wonder that I should say I would write no more?”35 Here Keats encounters the universal condition of enunciative desubjectivization but, significantly, he poses it as a poetically contingent experience. The poet is, by definition, always other to
PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE
himself, an experience confirmed by Rimbaud, Eliot, and the anticonfessionalism of poetry from the so-called New York, Language, and Cambridge schools. As Agamben says with misleading lucidity: “In the Western literary tradition, the act of poetic creation, and indeed every act of speech, implies something like a desubjectivization (poets have named this desubjectivization the ‘Muse’)” (RA, 113). Agamben will also go on in his work to regularly refer to this as poetic dictation, but before we get to that let us concentrate on that almost offhand remark “and indeed every act of speech.” While fascinated by poetic desubjectivization one can perceive from his comments here that he is most interested in it as a form of general ontology. Indeed it is true that all acts of enunciation utilizing the pronoun “I” in the moment of indicating subjective presence negate its ever coming to presence as we saw in his analysis of Benveniste. All speech acts are in this way “poetic.” The experience of the subject coming to being by negating its own subjectivity is, according to Agamben and innumerable poets, a poetic experience, justifying once again my claim that any analysis of the philosophy of Agamben, so centrally located on the movement beyond negative metaphysics through a theory of language and desubjectivization, is meaningless without recourse to the literary Agamben. However determined this study may be to prove the importance of poiesis to Agambenian ontology it would be disingenuous to ignore the most obvious question that comes to mind at this stage: How can Agamben begin to argue that every act of speech is an instance of poetic desubjectivization via the universal category of deictic desubjectivization? Rather the opposite must be seen to be the case: poetic desubjectivization ought to be simply an example of general, ontological enunciative desubjectivization. To justify Agamben’s and Keats’ claim on behalf of poetry, namely that the essence of modern ontology resides therein, we must now return briefly to Benveniste’s other great ontological development, the idea of the semiotic. In his work on the semiotic Benveniste, on the surface, does little more than refine the terminology of Saussure. The well-known terms langue and parole become semiotic and semantic, while the arbitrary nature of the sign becomes the semiotic definition of the sign. This definition has a familiar ontological ring to it in that it consists of two preconditions. Benveniste’s appropriation of the sign develops the law of the semiotic as first, existing, and second, not being any other sign. The sign as semiotic is defined as that it is,
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
and then that which it is by virtue of comparison with all that it is not which, admittedly by negation, matches precisely Heidegger’s ontological pairing of that there is something and how it is. Here how a sign comes to presence in the world (langue) is by not being any other sign replacing being-in-the-world with not-being-anywhere-elsein-the-world and opening up a space for linguistic being which, by its being uninsurable and subject to general negation, matches precisely the space of the stanzaic sign: S [/] s. The semiotic, therefore, is another name for language as a whole, as material presence (phone) and code (logos), before it means anything and yet always already available to mean. Its basic preconditions are presence and difference under the sign of a negation. It matters not how it exists, in terms of meaning or reference, or in which way specifically it is not other signs. Rather, for the semiotic, all that counts is that it can be identified as present and placed in a situation of quasi-singularity by one confirming it is what it is by its not being any other sign. This is structurally, at least, exactly the same as modern ontology. Being is proven by its existence and by its mode of being in the world but not being other beings. While Benveniste maintains his predecessor’s conviction that the semiotic and the semantic cannot meet one can see from his revisions that the semantic is seemingly dependent on a semiotic, quasi-presuppositional precondition. Discourse needs language as semiotic, material, yet neutral, presence to come into being. That said language only occurs to allow discourse to happen specifically as a mode of emergent human being through the process of desubjectivization which Agamben identifies as poetic. Further, it is only through discourse that language as such under negation courtesy of the voice of discourse becomes unconcealed for modern ontology. Language is the precondition for a discursive negation which precedes it. While the relation between poetry and desubjectivization becomes ever clearer, we still cannot be at peace with the assertion that modern ontological alienation is the result of contingent poetic alienation. To assist us in this regard we must return to Agamben’s consideration of poetic desubjectivization in Remnants of Auschwitz, which leads him into a wider philological consideration of “a fully desubjectivized experience in the act of speech” within the Western religious traditions, bringing poetic and ontological desubjectivization into more intimate proximity. Such a foray allows Agamben to make direct links between that other famous missive of modern poetic
glossolalia has associations with the term barbarism on which our preciously held concept of civilization hangs. Yet at the same time such terms 29 . while xenoglossia gives us an experience of the second condition. Agamben. Thus glossolalia confirms the first condition of the semiotic. as we know. before and as precondition for discourse. and another more ancient missive. thus establishing a tradition of civilization based on xenoglossia as a form of glossolalia. is glossolalia and it has risen to prominence in investigations of the outer limits of poetic experience and experimentation. it simply and materially is. 115). which still has aesthetic and political repercussions for us today. is the phonetic transcription of languages the Greeks did not understand. it hints at all post-Adorno poetics of responsibility that can be located in the work of Derrida.38 Bar-bar. In that they are entirely context dependent—“it” in conversation. 114). The modern term for this experience or event of language as such. devoid of meaning. the process of pushing discourse to its limit or the retention of a remnant of pre-discursive “pure” language.37 Additionally. “it” in philosophical discourse all have very different potential usages—indicative forms operate at the semantic level of discursive meaning. It is. and which is aggressively attacked by the work of Badiou. 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. Demeny (“for I is another”). “it” in narrative. signs that we know are meaningful in a context but whose specific meaning we cannot glean. Rimbaud’s letter to P. 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. 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. Deixis and types of indicative linguistic technique such as anaphora work differently to all other forms of signification.39 As Agamben explains: “The experience of glossolalia merely radicalizes a desubjectifying experience implicit in the simplest act of speech” (RA. opposite and revelatory experiences of the nature of language as such. in some ways. and Lacoue-Labarthe. Nancy. “it” in poetry. In glossolalia we encounter the pure materiality of language away from any possible meaning.36 Due to its Greek provenance. Glossolalia and xenoglossia are. in effect.
/ Loving not. loving not. rather. hating not. hating not. which is what the later sections of Remnants of Auschwitz constitute.40 In one sense deixis is meaningless and empty reference. Just as.) “But. for example “I” out of context means nothing and is basically glossolalic. Indicative forms of this order are not pure noise but nor are they meaningful. deictic desubjectivization. In another it is pure contextual differentiation in that it is potentially referential but is always awaiting a context to come to mean. the historical “fall” of being is both the loss of being and its potential recuperation. is so rich that it needs must be quoted in its entirety. once stripped of all extralinguistic meaning and constituted as a subject of enunciation. poetic desubjectivization. However. they instead refer neutrally to the event of speech and language or what might be termed its passive taking place.” (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. Glossolalia. Therefore deixis stages not a fixed meaning in language but language as such as medium for meaning’s transmission. the subject discovers that he has gained access not so much to a possibility of speaking as to an impossibility of speaking—or. This language as such is ruined by our having infancy and the concomitant desubjectivization of differential scission. 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.”41 The conclusion of the updating of Infancy and History. just choosing so. to break this task down I will progress through the page-long summary step by step. the psychosomatic individual must fully abolish himself and desubjectify himself as a real individual to become the subject of enunciation. that he has gained access to being always already anticipated by a glossolalic 30 .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN are devoid of specific meaning. xenoglossia. 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. He then proceeds to bulldozer and flatten both sides of this impasse with a Calibanesque heavy-handedness: “On the one hand. and stone the twenty-first. in Heidegger. just choosing so. 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. 116). but infancy also allows us a possible route back to language.
instead the subject finds himself “expropriated of all referential reality. independent of every meaning. post-alterity. sounds. “him that speaketh a barbarian” (cited in RA. the subject becomes. Lévinas and Derrida. he concedes that it makes no more sense to say “this I-other speaks”: For. this I-other stands in an impossibility of speaking—he has nothing to say. In appropriating the “formal instruments” of discourse. such as deixis. Setebos to the subject’s Caliban. if not removed. instead finds not meaning but the very absence of meaning. 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. blurred or suspended as the subject uses deixis to access discourse only to find in place of discourse pure noise.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE potentiality over which he has neither control nor mastery” (RA. The sound of language as such.42 However. which locates his work alongside Badiou as the only potential. subjectification and desubjectivization coincide at every point. 114). This being the case. This rather terrifying observation is crucial in our adventures under the leadership of the literary Agamben. In the absolute present of the event of discourse. and Agamben is well aware of the tradition he is potentially entering here. Those well-versed in contemporary philosophy may recognize this speck of alterity at the heart of self-presence from. Here she tunes in to white noise. and thus affirmative philosophy of our age. and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. once he is inside of discourse he becomes expropriated. the subject. insofar as it is solely sustained in a pure event of language.” for what I hope now are clear reasons in that I is always other. 116). while as Agamben explains the subject of enunciation is composed entirely of discourse. wailing. the final facet of his conclusion makes the radical step away from alterity and the philosophy of responsibility. letting himself be defined solely through the pure and empty relation to the event of discourse” (RA. and potentially devastating conclusion. for example. profound. and both the flesh and blood individual 31 . which is the event of language as such. an isle full of noises. in seeming to access discourse (meaning) through the xenophora of deixis. as Paul terms it. Here. rather he is spoken in the glossolalic language of barbarians. 116).43 Explaining that “I speak” is as meaningless as “I am a poet. He cannot speak. This leads Agamben to a three-part. In enunciating the I. feedback.
takes note. namely the relationship between discursive prose and poetry: logo-poiesis. but language . This relationship is marked by the experience of becoming impersonal that Agamben terms the poetic experience of ontological desubjectivization. POETIC DICTATION At the end of this remarkable passage of Remnants of Auschwitz Agamben then brings us back to our main project here.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN and the subject of enunciation are perfectly silent. 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). and in the manner that he dictates within I go signifying” (cited in ST. . 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. or what he often refers to simply as poetic dictation when. 117) This experience of the powerful depersonalization of being spoken by language is a profoundly literary one.44 Repeating a quote from Dante’s Vita nuova. he instead commits himself to thoughts about poetry. Agamben prefers the term poetic dictation. 127). in fact it radically calls into question the idea of language as a notation of intellection. (RA. This can also be expressed by saying that the one who speaks is not the individual. Love. when Love inspires me. Staying with Dante. which also finds great utility in The End of the Poem (1996). 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 . “Dante instead characterized poetic expression precisely as the dictation of an inspiring love” (ST. 127). 124). 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. rather than speaking of the poeticization of thought. poetry. often called inspiration or the muse. 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. as we know. Agamben proffers the touchstone to my whole study. . I won’t speak of the complex theory of shame Agamben mounts here as this has been done very well elsewhere.
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 . like grammatical language. Agamben reveals that the experience of language is always doubled: There is.” where Agamben considers enigmatically what he calls decisive experience. in fact. . we now battle alongside the poet as she attempts to find a voice for her experience of the poetic word.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE conception of the stanza. therefore. The language for which we have no words. . 48) It can be deduced from this that within our tradition there are two types of language-experience/usage in accordance with the 33 . Contrariwise there is another experience in which man remains absolutely without words in the face of language. . matter or wildwood. 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. which doesn’t pretend. the experience of language that forever presupposes words . . to be there before being . 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. 37) Having proposed a potentiality for a silent experience of materiality as such which is not unsayable but simply inexpressive and nonrepresentable presence.45 Poetry. even when they keep silent.46 in the essay “The Idea of the Unique” Agamben then goes on to consider in greater depth a conception of speechlessness in the face of language that is not simply unsayability. . Knowing already that philosophy has fallen into the trap of misconstruing language’s neutral inexpressiveness as ineffability. (IP. but rather where the matter of words begins. this woody substance of language. what one might term a truly defining subjective event for which subjects habitually lack words. (IP. [is] the language of poetry. as in a dream. Glossing on Celan’s assertion as to the uniqueness of poetic language. Those who have not reached. which the ancients called silva (wildwood). . are prisoners of representation. The main body of the book commences with the essay “The idea of Matter. Where language stops is not where the unsayable occurs.
to have forever . something to say of it” (IP. as Agamben responds. as we have repeatedly seen. 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. (IP. so alone. Only the poet. Poetry is always in the experience. which is to say. If. a false eschatology for in speaking of the uniqueness of language one proves its impossibility. faced with the infancy of the world. no means of cutting a path through the wildwood of matter to an encounter of the forest as something composed of wood. and if one has words to speak of language one no longer has language before one of which to speak. uniqueness is the destiny of language. as Celan argues. But at that point. Elle s’expose. .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN traditional roles of philosophy and poetry respectively. . Discursive grammatical prose does not concern itself with the semiotic and has. and reflects that such a state knows nothing of destiny. The poet is the infant who piously receives this promise and who. 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 .” so Celan writes . so abandoned to itself that it can no longer in any way impose: “la poésie ne s’impose plus. . of course. it precedes words as vehicles for meaning and to whom can it occur if we are not yet speakers? Agamben. therefore. of what order is such a destiny in that. Philosophy already has the words to convey the experience and thus can never undergo the experience. “Destiny is concerned only with the language that. through avowing its emptiness. 49). irrespective of the form it takes. vows to be able to encounter it. Agamben realizes immediately the aporia at the heart of any conception of a unique language accorded to poetic dictation. and so lacks access to the language needed to express the nature of the matter of language as such. Such a destiny is. its grammar and its tradition. can experience the tree in terms of what it is made of. Having asserted this. . 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). Faced with the impossibility of seeing either wood or tree. and decides to remember that emptiness and fill it. calls this state of speechlessness before a language that precedes words infancy. language stands before him. decides for truth. it would seem.
” 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 this intimate divergence is its dictation” (IP. Dictation. cannot be narrated after the fact. it is always written after the fact and so is obviously dictated by the already existent presence of the poem. amorous attachment to the present. finds significant examples in the modern tradition in works such as Coleridge’s famous narrative of the composition of “Kubla Khan. This mediality of poetic dictation explains why “the lyric—which uniquely keeps to such dictation—is necessarily 35 . 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. but only occurs in the instance of its exposition.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE their experience of pure language cannot translate beyond that experience. retains an element from late Latin culture wherein the term refers to writing a literary work. Dictation therefore names a midway point or tension between being as the intimacy of undergoing an experience of language. therefore. poetry is always divided. and a power of only thinking. a sense also to be found in the German word Dichtung that Heidegger often prefers in reference to poetry. Reading Delfini and Campana Agamben summarizes dictation as the space or locale. say. This tradition still holds for Dante.” A useful translator’s footnote in the English tradition explains that the Italian for dictation. The combination of ideas of pure linguistic matter and language as subsequent philosophical discourse combine in “The Idea of Dictation. . Such a poetic experience of language cannot impose itself in prose. between the inability to remember in the perfect. As Agamben notes more than once elsewhere.” and is analyzed here in relation to twentieth-century Italian poet Delfini. dettato. and the memory that arises precisely out of the impossibility of this love. stanza. and that of the subsequent declamation of the experience in discursive prose: “Between the impossibility of thinking . and the distanciation of a proceeding recollection of the experience. 52). . channelling the muse. between the experience of dictation as inspiration courtesy of the muse. The essay begins with the tradition of the razo or ability to recount after the fact how the poet came to compose/dictate their work. the events that led to the dictation of a poem. means both an authoritative declaration intended for preserving transcription and a mode of poiesis. testing the experience through thoughtful prose.
Agamben supports his claim that language precedes life with citations from the theological tradition of the West. Agamben notes that in ancient rhetoric ratio or ars invendiendi (inventive art/argument) was juxtaposed with ratio iudicandi or truthful.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.” (IP. which the poet produces in the poem. 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. 76). Was it a vision. the source from which all arguments originate. 52). 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. While one is in the moment of inspiration one lacks the space to speak. and love. Life. said experience cannot be recounted. . it is always transfixed on the verge of a day that has always already set . and as his main theme is of course the political determinations of the category life. That said. 93). 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN empty. before honing in on the specificity of the relation between poetry and the poet’s life in the development of the razo de trobar. and once one is abandoned by the muse the only tale to tell is of said abandonment. As I have been arguing. for example the Gospel of John. the stanza. but a discovery through the belatedness of the razo or recounting of experience that yes. 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. produces life. . inventive art was given the title argumentum because it was supposed that invention gave one access to the very place of speech as such. This ancient rhetoric of topics however became watered down over centuries so that the place of speech 36 . withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. correctly spoken discourse. What I hope becomes clear by virtue of this positioning of the lyric at a moment of linguistic twilight is that like infancy. but in this failure to recollect one is exposed to the dictatorial truth of poetry: recount and recall what cannot be said or remembered. poetry is central to the work of Agamben. in the word.
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. and finally the novel. The brilliance of the troubadours is that they return the idea of topos back to its fundamental fount: “the troubadours want not to recall arguments consigned to a topos but instead to experience the very event of language as original topos” (EP. which we share in common with all life? How. so to speak. that defies definition. Clearly there is something about the original place of language. 79). an experience of the event of language as love. from the poetic experience of language as such. not only dramatizes the problematic of the emergence of human life out of language. is therefore neither a biographical nor a linguistic event. what the troubadours called the stanza of love. caught as it is between the wordless experience of language as such and the language-less process of language about language. The impersonality of dictation becoming the personal element of biography. but also that of philosophy. More interesting than the slippery nature of topics/razo perhaps is the relation between lived experience and the experience of language which typifies dictation. Rather. How can life emerge from language in such a way that it is neither the specificity of a life (biography) or the unsayable nature of biological life. for again over time the meaning of the razo was diluted in the same manner as was observed in topics so that “What for the troubadours was an experience of the razo—that is.” (LD. 80). as the tight unity of what is lived and what is poeticized—now becomes a giving of reasons for experience” (EP. which lies at the foundation of poetry and which constitutes what the poet calls its dictation (dictamen). then fable. ratio iudicandi. 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. . or the experience of inspiration becoming the tale of 37 .49 Agamben notes that over centuries this has given birth to the art of biography. and indeed our whole tradition. ratio iveniendi. Modern versions of the razo can be found in the work of Freud as much as in Joyce for example. .PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE as arche-source simply became conventional arguments used as mnemonic techniques in oral cultures. the razo is a zone of indifference. 79). in other words. This allows Agamben to now explain once and for all the role of the razo in poetry: “The razo. between lived experience and what is poeticized .
38 . in-fancy.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inspiration. ontological. poeticized. This is why the fact that there is language. 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. which is the basis of human being as both divided and potentially redeemed. indifferent. cannot be addressed unless one listens with care to the dictates of the many pages that comprise the work of the literary Agamben.
FIRST EPISODE ON THE WAY TO LOGOPOIESIS .
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Agamben wonders where precisely the thought of the poem occurs. The gesture in question is. 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 location of poetic thinking would ordinarily be seen to take place in the mind of an author. Gesture is rather an unconscious occupancy of the hands in conversation.CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. 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. Accepting Foucault’s dictum that the author as creating subject is dead and replaced by the author-function. . not a person as such who has the capacity for thought.”2 Naturally. From the Latin gerere it is a type of bearing or carrying. the author is present in the text only as a gesture that makes expression possible precisely by establishing a central emptiness within this expression. a meaningless action. we can say that . Agamben is however unable to concede that there is no author as such in the text. in a recent essay “The Author as Gesture” included in the collection Profanations (2005). “Father dust who rises 41 .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. . a place-holder for a subjective category convenience. empty. after all. Foraging for the place of poetic thinking Agamben reads a poem by the famous author-function César Vallejo. THINKING THOUGHT POETIC THINKING Going against the grain of the Platonic tradition and accepting as a given that poetry thinks.
?” (Prof. but desubjectivized ontology. 98 fn. at the same time. at this point. thinking subject. contrary to one’s assumptions. 12). 71). in occupying the space vacated by the author becomes.4 Instead. The only outstanding thinking subject involved in poetry.” (Prof. a similarly evacuated subjectivity. its actual taking place as a mode of thinking-feeling. Nietzschean. a reader-function. therefore. If the poem “thinks” or presents thoughts and this thinking is not to be located in the mind of an actual. Agamben adroitly comes to realize that this is equally impossible for thoughts imply by definition a thinking subject. willing agency. if the thoughts of a poem are not in the mind of the author-function as they cannot be. suggesting rather that they most probably only came to be known to the author as he was writing. must be the reader who.3 The place of the poem. Aside from it being almost impossible to stipulate the exact moment that a poet “thought” what they wrote. 71). he will repeat the same inexpressive gesture the author used to testify to his absence in the work” (Prof. This being the case the author-function does not facilitate ownership or authority. . 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. then can they ever even be said to be the thoughts of the poet? It would seem not. 71). The author is only the witness or guarantor of his own absence in the work in which he is put into play . nor can a poem as object be said to think either. are infinitely withdrawn from it. 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. poetic thinking must be. in effect. touching the text into being through an act of empty. then thought occurs at the 42 . . in effect. as Foucault would have it. . in taking up the poem to read. “Does this mean that the place of thought and feeling is in the poem itself . speculating as to the exact location of the thoughts and sentiments contained in the work. . Agamben is forced to conclude. creative. Here Agamben realizes that the reader. The reader becomes. or indeed even later as he was rereading his work.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from Spain” (Prof. can be located neither in the poem nor the author/reader-function. “in the gesture through which the author and reader put themselves into play in the text and. “will occupy the empty place in the poem left by the author. the author-function does not think but is a collaborating facilitator of social forces. Author-functions play tag with the text.
Thought that thinks itself neither thinks of an object nor thinks nothing. They are examples of ontological deixis. They point to the presence of beings but they do not possess actual being. The author can only come to being as the supporting gesture of the text. bring each other into presence then immediately withdraw.5 Aristotle illustrates this rather abstract point with reference to the 43 . this time the more familiar discipline of philosophical thought or thinking as such. touch upon each other. In contrast. available medium “to think” something. Yet if thought instead comes to actuality and thinks something. Such a thought is obviously meaningless. From being the presupposition of a thing’s truth the thing becomes the presuppositional necessity of thinking. between potentiality and actuality. If thought were simply the neutral potential to think something then. potential. It thinks a pure potentiality (to think and not to think)” (P. thought and its expression. but the text “has no other light than the opaque one that radiates from the testimony of his [the author’s] absence” (Prof. paternal. or On Contingency” Agamben is again attempting to think the place of thought through a consideration of literature.LOGOS. anything. In an earlier piece “Bartleby. 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. Each time thought thinks some thing therefore. 250–1). Through this Cimmerian light one is able to discern the topos of a poetic thinking. but nothing specific? Aristotle believes so and proves this by defining thought as the thinking of thinking which “is a kind of mean between thinking nothing and thinking something. and thus thinking being. At this impossible point thought is reduced to being a presuppositional representation of the thing. then paradoxically it ceases to be thought as such but a category subordinate to the thing. thought would effectively think nothing as such. the work becomes the place of thought without one personifying the poem in some absurd way by declaring that it is an autonomous. 72). Aristotle contends. THINKING THOUGHT moment that subject and object. which for Agamben is a form of language. Reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics Agamben presents the aporia of what thought actually thinks in terms of issues of potentiality and actuality. Does thought actually exist as such as a general. thought no longer thinks some thing in its advent of singularity but is effectively what must be thought about some already presupposed thing.
which convinces me that the way we were trying to found our community was along absolutely the right lines . surprising. In his treatise on how to establish the ideal totalitarian state Plato immortally excludes poets from the republic. Both seem to founder on an aporia between potentiality and actuality. The same is true for the philosopher. That we flatly refused to admit representational poetry. producing an ontological caress. the author as individual does not exist as such in a text. The poem and the philosopheme share powerful affiliation at this exact point in terms of their both coming to being at the moment of a productive negation. 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 . which at the same time negates thinking as such. . . or at least Aristotle passes this belief on to Western metaphysics. 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. Yet if. Yet to think thought as potentiality leaves thought with nothing to think. and its presence as a coming to be a thing to be thought.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN figure of a blank tablet upon which thought can be written but on which it has not yet been written. The author in a text is a potential to be while the realization of her thoughts in the text seems to be an actualization. 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. POETRY AND PHILOSOPHY Yet one would be wrong if one then declared some kind of lasting amity between poetry and philosophy.6 Let us dwell momentarily on a common.”7 Thus began proceedings for what Agamben translates as the “divorce” between poetry and prose 44 . . . yet generally ignored problem shared by poetic and philosophical thinking. They touch on being and. If the philosopher’s vocation is to think then naturally to think what thought is would be their highest calling. Thus to think thought is to think both the absence of thought as a thing to be thought. coyly withdraw. a bolstering figuration that shares a clear equivalency to Agamben’s idea of gesture as an empty facilitation of thinking. as we saw. hand-in-hand.
Poetry is a form of expression. 52). In Language and Death. of material pleasure. he wonders. Defining philosophy as “the unspeakable experience of the Voice” (LD. So much so that today it seems strange perhaps to even argue a role for poetry as a mode of thinking. 68) as we have already seen. . 66). came to remove from poetry thinking as a form of authentic modality. . Love is not only the term for the very event and advent of the poetic word it also comes to stand for the unattainable. but has also introduced a disastrous aporia into Western metaphysics based around the presupposed difference between poetry and thinking which. until Hegel. They named the experience of the very advent of the poetic word. for example. of mimesis. in particular.LOGOS. The stated intention of the Provençal poets’ razo de trobar was “to experience the topos of all topoi.. But on the whole poetry as a form of thinking. Plato. 66). but for most it is not a form of thought. 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. primarily excluded from the philosophical canon. Agamben soon uncovers a dark truth at the heart of troubadour poetics. Although Troubadour love constitutes a promising avenue of inquiry. Aristotle was more than happy to begin the discipline of aesthetics or philosophical categorical thinking about the arts spawning a long and illustrious tradition. Republic 607b–c) poetry . this abyss weighs heavy upon our philosopher’s mind. Agamben suspects as much when he presents just such a possibility at the foundation of modern poetics in the razo de trobar. 66). 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. love. that is. the very taking place of language as originary argument” (LD. the place from which all places emerge. “And if love is presented in the 45 . THINKING THOUGHT (MWC. then what is the extreme experience of language within the poetic tradition?” (LD. is there is another experience of language that does not depend on a foundation of unspeakability? “If philosophy is presented from the beginning as a ‘confrontation’ with (enantiosis) and a divergence from (diaphora. Not that philosophy then neglected poetry. that not only typifies our culture’s response to the arts. 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. even radical disjuncture. or even poetry’s role in thinking was. inevitably.
I showed this in the previous chapter by drawing parallels between algorithms for the sign S/s. Thus while poetry comes very close to an originary experience of language as such. 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. alone. nothingness. 69). 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. modern metaphysics and Provençal poetics are. The poetic and philosophical experiences of language are thus not separated by an abyss. he is forced to conclude: Even poetry seems here to experience the originary event of its own word as nothing. as such. as an ancient tradition of thought would have it. unspeakability. come together within the modern experience of metaphysics as negation detailed in Language and Death. seems necessarily to be marked by negativity” (LD. in as much as the roots of European poetics lie precisely in the empty loveless stanzas of the troubadour lyric they mark the origin of an experience of poetic negativity which echoes that of modern metaphysics. and modern art and aesthetics as nihilism. Perhaps. and yet accessible only in this distance. his philosophy of indifference. These issues come to full appearance for both disciplines during the period of 46 . and thus. also holds them together and seems to point beyond their fracture. philosophy and poetry. unattainable.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Provençal lyric as a desperate adventure whose object is far away. resorting always to negative constructions of language as unattainability. but both rest originally in a common negative experience of the taking place of language. seemingly divergent yet. and this experience. the subject of The Man Without Content (1970). that is because the experience of the taking place of language is at stake here. Neither is able. so much so that Agamben is willing to hand over ontology to the “poetic” experience of desubjectivization. Agamben admits. The two empty resonators. Both poetry and philosophy seek an indifferent experience of language as such before the moment of its division into language and voice. rather. to attain such an experience. while separating them. These two traditions and experiences of the word as negativity. and the stanza S [/] s. and so on. (LD. to understand that which.
but rather the result of a mutual origin in thinking as such that.) The abyss between poetry and philosophy occupies the last of Agamben’s thoughts in Language and Death (LD. 157). He is not calling for a synthesis of poetry and philosophy here but a clear understanding of the actual conditions of their difference as opposed to those imposed upon them by Platonic exception. . In Infancy and History. and philosophy in a characteristically ambitious denouement (P. 157). he names this possibility harmonia or “the idea of a laceration that is also a suture. politics.8 Agamben is moved to wonder in this regard: Are we capable today of no longer being philosophers of the letter . 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. 163). (He is referring here to Heidegger. yet the roots of their failure to find language go back several centuries at least. or On Gesture” he brings together poetry. 85).LOGOS. poeticize philology so that the site of the division between poetry and philosophy “becomes a conscious. Tracing this articulation back to ancient Greek sources. That poetry and philosophy share such commonalities is not a coincidence. in the “Project for a Review” he ends the volume by calling for a radicalization of the ancient science of philology which would. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and a unity” (ST. 108) and forms the conclusion of two major essays in the collection Potentialities (1999). for example. gesture. Again and again he returns to this theme. without thereby becoming either philosophers of the voice or mere enthusiasts? Are we capable of reckoning with the poetic 47 . Ending books on a call for the healing of the fracture between poetry and philosophy then becomes something of a habitual gesture. In “Kommerell. has been obscured by the Platonic tradition that Agamben habitually calls the “abyss” between poetry and philosophy. THINKING THOUGHT modernity. . 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. essentially. however. Stanzas concludes with an attempt to relocate a post-nihilistic idea of presence located in the very fold or articulation between signified and signifier.
in the fold or invisible harmony that. it resides somewhere in the division between poetry and philosophy.9 This usually takes the form of a summons to poeticize philosophy and expose philosophic prose to the semiotic presence of the poetic word. one could say. its resolution resting with neither party nor an idealized unity of the two but between them somehow. that it is threatened by an excess of tension and thought. within. One presents to the apparently eager student the whole thing of 48 . Poetry. has always existed in the midst of the two fundamental experiences of language in our culture: language as sustaining (poetry) and as testing (philosophy). . (P. provides an opening up of the pathway towards a future for philosophy but alone it is not the destination of this track. 115) I believe our point is well made. in the “last” essay of The End of the Poem. Plato devised an apotropaic pedagogical methodology. 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. emerges where no voice calls us? Only then would tradition cease to be the remission and betrayal of an unsayable transmission . but they also come together in Agamben’s idea of the communicability of language as such as the place between. Rather. Conceding this point. COMMUNICABILITY. rather. and surrounding the two contesting ideas of thinking within our tradition. However. Agamben argues: “As for poetry. 115). Agamben believes. while Agamben seeks for a true experience of language in poetry he is regularly disappointed.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN presentation of the vocation that. The destination of many major works by Agamben is the revocation of the divorce between poetry and philosophy instigated formally by Plato in Republic. therefore. These two experiences form the basis of Agamben’s idea of the origin of all literature in dictation. Or.” Agamben recounts a story told by Plato in one of his letters of how. on the contrary. pestered endlessly by the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius to once more attend his court. citing the famous Wittgenstein declaration that philosophy should really only be poeticized. THE THING ITSELF In the opening essay of Potentialities entitled “The Thing Itself. . paraphrasing Wittgenstein. that poetry should really only be philosophised” (EP. as a nonpresupposed principle.
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. 31). the obscure nature of the presupposition of a thing. Agamben reconstitutes the thing as such as the ground or support of knowability.LOGOS. If this thing is not a thing in the world nor is it. a thing in the world or a thing than can be represented by language and thus known in this way. 28) will realize the dolour of “the thing” and task their tutor no more. Agamben’s translation finds that the four bases of being which define the Platonic theory of ideas. therefore. but the basis of knowledge on this very obscurity. image (eidolon).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. Modern science is the archetypal epistemology in 49 . If the student is sincere he or she will embrace this difficulty. definition (logos). the most difficult of all problems: the very thing of thought as such. Rather said thing is to be brought to light “in the very medium of its knowability. This thing is not a thing in any ordinary sense of the term. 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. name (onama). “that by which the object is known. Plato concedes. otherwise those merely “tanned” by philosophy (P. is the apotropaic heart of philosophy. 32). Having presented this reading of Plato. Rather than the thing as such being an unsayable and inaccessible part of being. THINKING THOUGHT thought and all difficulties attendant on that. there but never to be made available to presence.” but. all are dependent on the thing as such. Much of this comes down to the problem of presupposition. The thing itself. but the very precondition of being: “no longer simply the being in its obscurity. its own knowability and truth” (P. Yet. and knowledge. in the pure light of its self-manifestation and announcement to consciousness” (P. however. Knowledge presupposes something as already existing about which it has knowledge whose veracity it can vouchsafe through the idea truth as agreement. the thing is “nevertheless possible only in language and by virtue of language: precisely the thing of language” (P. additional recondite element as the tradition has it. while language cannot say the thing as such. 33). This thing then is not a fifth. an arche thing impossible to retrieve.
the thing could not come to presence. in the very act in which it brings it to light” (P. . privation. Such thinking. without which. If the thing is not a thing in the world. Yet communicability cannot be collapsed into communication in that in itself it cannot be communicated: “if communicability let itself be communicated. would not name the thing being communicated and so said thing would not be produced into presence and communicability never invoked and revealed. 33). . The result is that the sayability of the thing said and the knowability of the thing known are both lost to presuppositional thinking. what is the thing? “It is the very sayability. . nor a presupposition or hypothesis. it is nothing but communication itself. I would argue. in language. Düttmann’s introduction to Idea of Prose. Communicability divided from communication.” (P.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN this regard operating as the very opposite structure to that of an apotropaic thinking that is. While language and knowledge presuppose the thing itself as already existing as a thing about which they can speak and have knowledge.11 their presupposition of the thing itself will always make said thing inaccessible. more typical of modern ontology. nor is it “horribly or beautifully unreachable in its obscurity” (P. 35). is the communicability of the very language that cannot express the thing but. we always presuppose and forget . declaring that the thing itself is not “something ineffable that must remain unsaid and hence sheltered” (P. 34). therefore. . spends some considerable effort defining communicability through its source in Benjamin and establishing it as the heart of Agamben’s thought. and negation at the heart of epistemology. what we are always saying and communicating . the very open-ness at issue in language. 35). Agamben strongly refutes this history of the thing. What is the very thing of thought itself ? this tradition seems to ask. Düttmann states: “Communicability always communicates itself.” Communication and communicability. cannot however be thought separately. which. unsayability. inscribing a myth of absence. an act of communication. One of the earliest and most important essays on Agamben’s work. nor even an arche thing forever lost to which thought aspires. The thing itself of thought. in using language as a means of accessing that about which one speaks. it is what we are always disclosing in speaking. it would take the form 50 . why that which cannot be thought. reveals that: “Language sup-poses and hides what it brings to light. although not the same thing at all.
is not precisely a comment on language. would erase itself immediately. reducing itself to the simple communication of something. In addition. which is also essential to Agamben’s ideas on poetry. and technical. This does not mean communicability is unsayable or invisible. and we as critics of literature can and must learn from him in these areas. Agamben’s interest in poetry and the literary in general is only as a means of bringing him closer to language. For example.LOGOS. 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. Agamben’s analysis of the thing as such should therefore act as a warning. one can see here that the communicability of language. Like Heidegger. merely that the means of encountering it are not provided by communication of something specific. but at the same time allows us access to a profound realization. and his interest in language is piqued only as a way of revealing the very basis of thinking and being as such. Language is the very thing that allows thought to occur and it is thought that Agamben pursues. and communication. Returning to “The Thing 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. a structure we recognize from our considerations of thinking as such.”12 Hence communicability is defined here as that which supports and facilitates communication but which itself is never communicated through an act of communication. 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. THINKING THOUGHT of a thing. It would not be possible to produce an Agambenian linguistics from it for example. 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. historiographic. lead it forward into the light). one presumes.” poetry is fundamentally important to thinking but not necessarily fundamentally important in itself. a chattering mime of poets along the way. While he has a great deal to say of poetry that is philological. however far the thing as such is from Agamben’s ideas on enjambement or poetic rhythm. 51 .
allowing Agamben to define that foundational theological declaration on language. (P. it is noted. humans see the world through language but do not see language.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN THE IDEA OF LANGUAGE In the second essay Agamben has written under the title “The Idea of Language. nothing precedes the “big word” of God. Agamben calls this the movement of language’s “self-revelation. “no word for the word” (P. The meaning of revelation is that humans can reveal beings through language but cannot reveal language itself . Agamben explains that the beginning word. but more than that something that totally exceeds the process of human reason: this can only mean the following: the content of revelation is not a truth that can be expressed in the form of linguistic propositions about a being . . Glossing on John. but is instead a truth that concerns language itself. This diversion through the tautegorical revelation. or what Lyotard defines as thinking-feeling of something happening as the very happening in question. a knowable thing that we did not previously know.” Agamben says making a point he often returns to.” he considers the influence of the concept of revelation on the Western metaphysical ideas of linguistic unsayability. Instead it says the thing as such of language. 40) This transparency of language within our tradition has come to be the very quality of god’s invisibility. The absolute presupposition is itself non-presuppositional.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. Like the quasi-theology of the “big bang” theory of our universe. . en arkhe e ho ¯ ¯n logos (“In the beginning was the word”). . the first word of god.13 This word/name therefore cannot say something about something as there is no something that precedes it.” or a heuristic tautegorical structure that says its essence through the act of saying but saying nothing as such. meaning it also does not say some thing in the world. Revelation. This is elsewhere reformulated as there being no name for the name. . 41). the very fact that language (and therefore knowledge) exists. “There is. can presuppose nothing. as a statement on the ontology of language as such.
“this is an Idea. except language itself. 47). Such language is not presupposed.” but nor is an Idea some thing in the world outside: “it is a vision of language itself. 53 . The Idea. 46–7). that is. 47). Agamben sees the modern presupposition of language as profoundly aporetic in that it posits language as the presupposition to thought. for example. Nothing immediate can be reached by speaking beings—nothing. then there would truly be no possible experience of the limits of language. and naturally enough he comes to call this the Idea of language. 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 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. which for human beings mediates all things and all knowledge. On the other hand. does not. forcing it always to speak of something pertaining to the epochal closure of the metaphysical project. he wonders. without being a metalanguage or sinking into the unsayable. a perfect language purged of all homonymy and composed solely of univocal signs would be a language absolutely without Ideas” (P. does not have a presence that can be named but nor is the Idea a nameless nothingness. Yet the Derridean idea of language as subject to the logic of the trace. Returning to Plato. The problem here is mapped out very succinctly. THINKING THOUGHT logic of revelation. if the presuppositional power of language knew no limits. Agamben believes. however. As Agamben says. yet it provides no direct means of letting language speak itself. as ever the quarry in Agamben’s sights here. The Greek sense of the Idea is not a word so cannot be named meta-linguistically.LOGOS. allow one to think language as such. as immediate mediation “constitutes the sole possibility of reaching a principle freed of every presupposition” (P. is itself immediate. says language itself and exposes its limits?” (P. mediation itself ” (P. “If every human word presupposed another word. 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). Language. Or what Plato calls the thing itself. “Can there be discourse that. Thus the conception of language as immediate mediation defines its communicability and reveals a possible way out of the nihilism of modern thought. Thus.
made over much of linguistic communicability. 45). as yet. alone it tells us little.” 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. self-avowed project is negated here in true philosophical thought. like a number of thinkers since Heidegger. which is expressed in the formula ‘that there is language’? Is philosophy not concerned precisely with comprehending the incomprehensible?” (P. 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. 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. via the mediation of Agamben’s text: “Its language is the idea of prose itself. for a second at least. to solve the problem of philosophy itself rather than use philosophy to solve problems. For example. perhaps. Confusingly.15 Such a moment ought to be celebrated should it not. “Was philosophy not perhaps the discourse that wanted to free itself of all presuppositions. even the most universal presupposition. Even Agamben’s own. THE IDEA OF PROSE While an essential element of Agamben’s thought critics have.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN 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. One name for this voluble silence in Agamben’s work is the Idea of Prose. suspended. not in song but in a pure language?16 He says. or moment in history when all division is. True philosophy in this way ought to be doubly silent. in isolation poetry’s reserved role as the closest experience we can have of immediate mediation via dictation is not Agamben’s main point. or thought that does not find presuppositional commonalities but eliminates all presupposition leaving merely the great single object of true thinking. which is understood by all humans 54 . Silent on the problems it has solved and silent as it comprehends the problems that remain. This object is the thing itself of thought defined by Agamben not by what it can know presuppositionally but what it cannot. He wishes. Similarly. In the pursuit of thought nothing is sacred. does not understand what to say.
or communicability. naming. discourse presupposes names then a name cannot be anything that would ever need discourse again. THINKING THOUGHT just as the language of birds is understood by those born on Sunday” (cited in P. however. naming the world. to an impure process of attempted communication or trying to render transparent once more the opacity of signs.17 What would such prose consist of ? Primarily names. Thus the Idea of Prose is a system of pure and transparent naming that names one thing: the universal. Language as communicability is the moment of integral actuality when the thing as such of thought touches the medium of thinking. accepts the scission at the heart of human language between pure signification. not by taking up one single language and rejecting all others. instead it is perfectly transparent to itself ” (P. “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. nor can it refer to other names within language. as our tradition often has it. humanity will resolve the issue of the Babelian profusion of languages.LOGOS. as confusion can of course lead again to a diversity of names for such things. language. I believe we now have an answer that we can retrieve from the mysticism of Benjamin’s wonderful prose. Such a language does not have a content and does not communicate objects through meanings. In the Idea of Prose we would not return. and actual presence of language as such. Benjamin. integrated. simply to a universal system of nouns but to a totally transparent system of pure coincidence between sound and sense.” a language not tied down to communication but existing rather as pure communicability. To put it succinctly. discourse. How can this be? Agamben himself poses this question. Discursive language is widely seen as a necessary evil to redeem the fall of language over time from a pure system of transparent signification. prose would name nothing other than the fact that it can name: nominal potentiality. This Benjamin famously calls “freed prose. he writes. At the moment that history is redeemed from division into integral actuality. as there would be no exteriority for such endless deferral. and communication. Such a name cannot refer to things in the world. If. 52). At this moment what is 55 . but in the integration of all languages into one pure language that is not written or spoken but simply celebrated. 48). like many thinkers.
given the weak choice of poetry or philosophy in the interim while we await the arrival of the Idea of Prose.18 choosing to stay within language rather than distance himself from the source of all thought. by actually trying to think it. languages would have to cease to mean it. A thought that precedes language simply reiterates the aporias of philosophy’s reliance on. answering the very pertinent question why he did not describe an Idea of Poetry. That said. In so doing it discovers this possibility through the very medium that momentarily facilitates this question. so to speak. The destiny of perfect or pure prose. Agamben is a philosopher and purveyor of philosophical prose. A language that precedes thought places language in a position of presupposition immediately negating its true essence and making it a philosophical concept. unity. or material remnant. 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. but to say this it would have to cease transmitting immediately and choose a side. philosophy. 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 . the poet says. seems to be promoted by an observation by Valéry that states “the essence of prose is to perish” (cited in P. ironically.” He finds precedents for this conception in Plato’s Idea of the thing as such that an uncited Aristotelian fragment describes as “a kind of mean between prose and poetry. is to be totally comprehended. that is. is the thing of such of thought. Thought thinks how it is possible for thought to think away from presuppositionality. But this is exactly what they cannot do without abolishing themselves” (P.”19 However. Language too requires immediate mediation as Agamben explains: “to say what they mean. yet disregard for. At this point it would cease to be a sustaining experience of language as transmission and would instead be a specific transmissible meaning. and difference. or to leave no excessive. 54). He does not take dictation. He is not a poet.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN revealed is that the medium that allows one to produce or perceive the thing as such. Benjamin’s choice of the confusing term prose. semiotic. transmit it. It has to be this way. The very meaning of language is its transmission of meaning as such. 60). language as semiotic mediality. language. Agamben opts for poetry. Which is why.
It is what is continually said and what continually takes place in every language not as an unsayable presupposition but as what. THINKING THOUGHT poetry itself. As Agamben says of such prose: Insofar as it has reached perfect transparency to itself. can pro-duce perfect prose. and thus Agamben. naming and signifying. The Idea of language is language that no longer presupposes any other language. speech restored to the Idea is immediately dispersed. 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. Nancy. and finally in poetry and its complex presentation and experience of the materiality of language as such through dictation.LOGOS. 57 .20 Accepting that there are certain presuppositional and aporetic elements to this view. surely. Only poetry. This indifference is not the result of unity or dialectic synthesis. it is “pure history”—history without grammar or transmission. But remnants of it can be perceived first in the very communicability of language as such or as pure medium. but essentially. now simply speaks. if we are ever to arrive at that point. in never having been. Agamben is reaching here. resting solely on its own never having been. 60) A language of perfect transparency would accept no division and therefore can be described as totally indifferent. it is the language that. Confusingly. is forced to turn to poetry. it would seem. insofar as it now says and understands only itself. a poetry of materialized prose. sustains the life of language. Yet a pellucid language would not be reducible to dialectic either as the two elements. can no longer be pursued through philosophical prose. the Idea of Prose. 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. Derrida. are no longer in opposition but in a state of integral actuality. (P. for a messianic and impossible dream? Perhaps. and Heidegger. which knows neither past nor repetition. having eliminated all of its presuppositions and names and no longer having anything to say. like Badiou. It does not unify because it exists pre-divisively in a completely other order of thinking that has no conception of scission and opposition.
He comes to define gesture. are removed from the sphere of mediation without thereby becoming ends” (IH. Agamben’s third foray into the theory of gesture. inbuilt scepticism.” while owing much to Aristotle. gesture breaks the false alternative between ends and means .24 is what Agamben calls gesture: “Gesture is the display of mediation. “in a means. and we will need to wait before we can fully comprehend this final leap of his imagination.22 He admits that Varro’s analysis of gesture as neither production nor enactment but “undertaking and supporting. or simply the radical nature of Agamben’s claim. but of a kind of mediation that is pure and devoid of any end” (IH. 155). it remains difficult for us perhaps to see how poetry and philosophy could even begin to be said to share a common ground. 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. 155). presents a new. . . via the neo-Platonist Varro’s reading of Aristotle. does it turn a res into a res gesta” (IH. and presents means which. combining Greek scholarship 58 . Astonishingly. One solution to this problem resides in Agamben’s theory of the gesture with which we already have some familiarity from what is. 154–5). as that which resides between the two sides of Aristotle’s famous distinction between action (praxis) and production (poiesis). He feels confident at this stage to then immediately make the jump of almost two millennia from the Roman scholar Varro to the French poet Mallarmé and his concept of the milieu pur: “a sphere not of an end in itself. third kind of action: “if doing is a means in sight of an end and praxis is an end without a means. 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. however tense this dual occupancy may be. as such.23 This definition of a means without determinate ends. perhaps due to the Platonic inheritance. the basis of Agamben’s presentation of form-of-life as a new mode of thinking in Means Without Ends (1996). 155).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN POETIC GESTURES Although Agamben consistently affirms a common history and destiny for poetry and philosophy. the making visible of a means as such” (IH. This is vintage Agamben.21 This early work begins in characteristic fashion with the philosopher bemoaning the loss of gestures in modern life. in fact.
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. The insertion of speech into silence. or On Gesture” he brings philosophy closer to an art form more central to our study. the linguistic. The German defines gesture as closely tied but not reducible to. a positive silence. therefore. so to speak.25 Agamben calls such positive silence a “gag” playing on the double meaning of a hindrance to speech and an ad lib inserted into a speech by an actor unsure of her lines. is also a betrayal of its importance. but in the aforementioned “Kommerell. it is “the stratum of language that is not exhausted in communication and that captures language. The essay ends by explaining a relation the reader may already have discerned.26 It transpires that philosophy speaks of silence to fill in its memory lapse as regards its true subject for speech. A presence in language more originary than conceptual expression. presents Agamben with a double negation typified by the use of the term gag. however. In itself it has nothing to say. These comments mark a fairly recognizable presaging of Agamben’s early thoughts on gesture here brought into the sphere of poiesis. namely that gesture is another name for the communicability of language as pure medium: “gesture is the communication of a potential to be communicated. Agamben describes philosophy’s gag as being akin to that of what he calls the gesturality of cinema. 59 . Lamentably the gag silences but it also inserts language into a hiatus which. Defining the great twentiethcentury German critic as a “gestic” critic. which originates from the fact that pure mediality cannot be presented in the form of a proposition it being the unspoken base of all propositions. here becomes a positive gagging or “an exposition of the human being’s being-in-language: pure gesturality” (IH. Gesture’s muteness.LOGOS. provides the potential for a silence to once more speak. while a distraction from the truth of language. in gesture. therefore. Thus the muteness of philosophy. poetry. because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as a pure potential for mediation” (IH. 77). THINKING THOUGHT forays into the European avant-garde and radical re-readings of the foundations of modern philosophy all within a few sentences. language as such. in its solitary moments” (P. 156). he reads Kommerell’s own comments on linguistic gesturality. much reviled in Language and Death for example. This nothing to say. while yet another example of the mute voice within our tradition is. 156).
Gesture is one name Agamben gives for the very mediality of language’s communicability. the weight of language’s gestic muteness. it would seem. the other side of language. . already heightened for them by their semiotic rather than semantic use of language.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kommerell. inexpressive materiality. remember we have already considered Aristotle’s blank tablet. 78). Aside from the common history and destiny shared by poetry and philosophy. it tends ever to the conceptual. compares gestural loneliness as akin to that found in lyric poetry. its unspeakability as pure medium that Hegel identified in the inadequacy of the deictic diese. to better illustrate his point. Each word. then. . If this is the case. Thus for those possessed of the most words. therefore. becomes almost unbearable. there must always be something in the poem not exhausted by a reading of it in terms of meaning. Quite the opposite. its speechless dwelling in language” (P. Not that philosophy as such is gestural. This remaining mimetic element is its gesturality or what we can also call the semiotic. requires that we leave Kommerell in Germany and travel 60 . Agamben calls this the tablet and our second encounter with it. so to speak. 78). before assuring us that prose is essentially the conceptual component of language. the muteness inherent in humankind’s very capacity for language. noise. He says the more we have language the greater the weight of the unsayable. Kommerell proposes a decidedly odd equation of diminishing returns in this regard. Kommerell defines speech as originary gesture leading Agamben to conclude: “If this is true .but sublinguistic support of the semiotic as such in language. then what is at issue in gesture is not so much a prelinguistic content as. and a common if divergent response to their being “gagged” by language’s tendency towards muteness within our culture. poets. graphicality. Like philosophy. He defines language as primarily conceptual and mimetic. the gestural is one of the means by which poetry and philosophy come together in Agamben’s work. A proposition that allows one to draw the conclusion that in-fancy is also gestural. and poetry the mimetic. language as pure. 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. bears a quantum of gestic mass. It speaks not of the pre. the actor’s improvisation to make up for an impossibility of speaking” (P. Having said that there is one aspect of the philosophical tradition that echoes the pure mediality of gesturality in poiesis.
the ageing philosopher Damascius decided to devote his last years to an impossible work entitled Aporias and Solutions Concerning First Principles. After three hundred days and three hundred nights of consideration. in exile. particular referent. THINKING THOUGHT back in time many hundreds of years to the court of Koshrau I of Persia where a respected and aged philosopher once set himself the task of finally resolving the remaining problems of philosophy . the Syrian city where he was born many years before. . 33). The entire. no matter how free of any quality. but something like the perfectly empty space in which only image. the pure potentiality of representation itself: the writing tablet! . he narrates how. in a flash the old philosopher realized the truth of thought: The uttermost limit thought can reach is not a being. (IP. its own absolute potentiality. . but the site of a place” (IP. 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. or word might eventually take place . 34) 61 . it was not even a space. he was in despair “because how can thought pose the question of the beginning of thought . one night. This site of a place reminded him of nothing so much as the threshing floors of Damascus. . breath. taking his hand from the writing tablet for a moment. but rather.LOGOS. not the origin of first principles but the place where language can be thought without reducing it to mere discourse and named without tying it down to a fixed. “not an image. an image occurred to him that would guide him towards the completion of this impossible task. . itself unthinkable and unspeakable. THE TABLET. not a place or thing. . Describing Damascius setting about writing down the idea of the threshing floor. how can one comprehend the incomprehensible” (IP. Then. with many interruptions. where the winnowing fans of thought and language separated the grain and chaff of everything?” (IP. 33). “Wasn’t what he was searching for exactly like the threshing floor.27 From this charming story of ancient times. PHILOSOPHICAL GESTURALITY In the sixth century AD. . . Agamben too finds the instigation of what he had been looking for since the inauguration of his great experimentum linguae. 32). .
One can see why the rather bland and non-suggestive “middle term” then is not to his or indeed my own liking. 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. not giving way to the extremes. with its double sense of midst and milieu or “what takes place in the middle. no doubt with great bitterness (although the text of this great work was in fact written). per lui. ma il loro medio” (“was for him neither poetry nor prose. what.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Courtesy of this epiphany Damascius understood that his work would be finished only at the moment he ceased writing and accordingly he broke the tablet in two. Medio in this way would mean to be both in the midst of something. The term does not. né poesia né prosa. as Düttmann correctly asserts. 5). The closing words of the essay speak again of the enigmatic statement of Aristotle that Plato’s “idea del linguaggio” (“idea of language”). here represented by the medium of an as yet un-inscribed set of thoughts. rather medio must signify being in the midst of a milieu and being a milieu of the midst. The tablet is. in the midst of poetry and philosophy. “non era. As Damascius discerned. 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. but their middle term”). means he is unable to reconcile the conflict between writing that does not think (poetry) and thinking that cannot be written (philosophy). and the medium created by the bringing together of these two terms. refer to an already presupposed medium waiting to be occupied. Mean here retains the sense of middleness and of sharing a common ground but 62 . the precondition of all thought on the materiality of a non-expressive language. therefore. remains surrounded by the milieu that characterizes such an intermediary state” (IP. That said Düttmann’s version seems to miss the most obvious translation of the term medio.28 Düttmann is somewhat dissatisfied with the translation of medio as “middle term” by Sullivan and Whitsitt. Being a thinker not a poet he thus has no option but to break the tablet of material language and abandon his philosophical ambitions. Düttmann’s analysis of the translation of the key phrase from “The Idea of Prose” is important here. namely mean. a version of a kind of gestural or poeticized thinking. preferring the German translation “mitte” or midst.
” in The Coming Community (1990). aptly. 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. told twice over first as part of a co-authored book with Deleuze translated as “Bartleby. 1). I believe that without the concomitant implication of averaging out. but their mean. or the mean of communicability between poetry and prose. This portentous rhetorical portal opens up a debate on the meaning of “whatever” in terms of identity and being.30 and again in the lapidarianally entitled “Bartleby. tension. this time the tale of different form of tablet named “Bartleby the Scrivener. is also a delineation of potentiality in terms of ontology as the opening essay “Whatever” reveals. This second volume. midst and milieu do not quite capture what is the essential experience of the Idea of Prose. 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.32 63 . suspension: “dialectic at a standstill. For that matter he is also speaking of language.”29 The tablet. it is time to tell another story. being French or being Muslim. stillness. THINKING THOUGHT importantly it adds a third sense: the average of two terms. namely balance. but indifferent being in that it is “such as it is. 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).31 with Agamben explaining he does not mean an indifferent being in relation to a common property. middleness (Wall’s aforementioned radical passivity).LOGOS.” It is a story Agamben has. It commences with prophesy: “The coming being is whatever being” (CC. 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. 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. 1). therefore. while a consideration of ethics and community. or On Contingency” for Potentialities. Average is a most common meaning for medio in Italian.
is defined in terms of being through negation or desubjectivization.” (P. non-invention. Thus. simple privation. To have a faculty to write a poem. which comes to define being as the presence of the not to be. means that you can write a poem but not that you are writing one or even that you ever will. Indeed. 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. the simultaneous existence of not being within the very identity of one’s being. we say of the architect that he or she has the potential to build. . . as indeed all makers are.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. is developed from the debate over what it means to have a faculty to do something and yet not be doing it. in-creation. Akhmatova is a poet at the moment of her not-yet-having-written and. “‘in this sense. The poet here. for the sake of argument let us say the poet’s potential to make a poem. 179). in an odd way she is less of a poet when she is fulfilling her potential and writing poems. not the assumed movement from potentiality to actuality which we might call “creation” or “invention. It ought now to be becoming increasingly clear how Agamben’s early ideas pertaining to authorial gesturality. Agamben concludes. “Thus the architect is potential insofar as he has the potential to not-build. Thus when Agamben goes on to define the artist. all potentiality is based on a choice not to do. “What is essential is that potentiality is not simply non-Being.” the actual and surprising definition of poetic being is the possession of a faculty and not using it. the poet the potential to not-write poems” (P. 179). so that potentiality is not simply actuality to be but also the refusal to actuate one’s potential. of the poet that he or she has the potential to write poems. 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. The presence of an absence for Agamben is the true definition of potentiality.33 He notes that in Aristotle potentiality. or whatever being. tabularity. and communicability all come together here in a sustained consideration of potential as the desubjectivizing presence of absence in being. the presence of an absence . but rather the existence of non-Being.” but the chance that potential will remain solely potential—potential inaction. 64 . Being is defined in its singularity by precisely this ontological condition of neutrality and passivity.
”34 Agamben calls this supreme power using the figure of Glenn Gould to better illustrate the power of whatever being. therefore. he is able to consider his potential being beyond simply occupying this named position. Gould’s power is that “he plays. Being. Returning to Bartleby. it is capable of its own impotence” (CC. Gesture is the touch and withdrawal of being. having been. THINKING THOUGHT Akhmatova is a poet because she can write poems but she only has this faculty because she can also not write poems. 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. . or to turn his potential into actuality.LOGOS. 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. nor is it simply incapable . must retain a remnant in each of its two manifestations. “For if it is true that whatever being always has a potential character. not yet being. modern “poetic” thinking. 65 . . and actuality. with his potential to not-play” (CC. a blankness that is never entirely blank and that. Clearly Gould is a thinker in his playing potential for rather than simply being a pianist. he celebrates Gould’s artistic power through a consideration of his potential to not not-play. Stating that any pianist can play or not play. there must be retained a part of potential being that is never fully realized. the simultaneous coming to being and desubjectivization of identity that Agamben describes as the essence of the author-function. so to speak. “I would prefer not to. The tablet is the medium of this touch or what is touched. Such a being is located in the mean or medial position between potentiality. it is equally certain that it is not capable of only this or that specific act. even when written upon. for those who are familiar with this remarkably prescient work by Melville. 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. As such he is an exemplar of Aristotelian thought as potential and his controversial and apparently unhinged performance choices are recognizable examples of masterful. 35). 36). Once potential passes over into actualization however. being in its potentiality. retains the element of blankness. the potential not to be a poet as the very actualization of the poetic subjective state. Noting that true power comes from the capability for power and impotence. the being that is properly whatever is able to not-be.
37). 37). nor some negative theological absence. not thought considered as an object. in its essence. . 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. so thought can think itself as a pure medium. Not thought but the potential to think. This complex yet necessary logic not only dictates the potentiality of thought and willed creation but their interrelation through writing: “In the potentiality that thinks itself. 37). Or. “but that layer of wax. Aristotle compares it to a writing tablet on which nothing is written” (CC. . although Agamben notes that the correct term should be rasum tabulae or the layer of wax covering the tablet which the stylus engraves. is the archetype of pure potentiality as the passive writing medium upon which thought could. not writing but the white sheet is what philosophy 66 . The perfect act of writing comes not from a power to write.” (CC. as such. as possible or material intellect. therefore. thought is no longer thought as such. stepping away from to play or not to play in favour of a position of playing to play and playing not to play. we can now reveal that it is the famous tabula rasa. . action and passion coincide and the writing tablet writes by itself or.35 Just as Gould can think his own potentiality by playing with its negation. but from an impotence that turns back on itself and in this way comes to itself as pure act . Thought must have something to think. But thought. . but is the presence of absence within presence that both affirms and negates being. 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. it is also the potentiality to not think. Thought is neither presence. rather. Having met with this tablet once before. simply put. but is not yet and may never be. Being as pure absence remains nonbeing. is pure potentiality. Agamben glosses again on Aristotle’s definition of thought. and.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Reading De Anima. the construction of an experience of the possible as such. written. in other words. philosophy is a firm assertion of potentiality. And Bartleby. but being as presence becomes unthinkable. this time more centrally to its relation to potentiality: “If thought were in fact only the potentiality to think this or that intelligibility . writes its own passivity. but not in actuality think it for as soon as it is thought. “a scribe who does not simply cease writing but ‘prefers not to’” (CC. neither an object nor its negation. 37). as Agamben states midway through “Bartleby.
Writer’s block is a phenomenon best explained by the ontology of potentiality. withdraws the pen. 67 . 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. 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. but as they write they murder the muse and assume her garb. 249). a certain special pen. Going on to describe the essence of the poetic as the tension between the demands of ego and genius. 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. Each person’s character is engendered by the way he attempts to turn away from Genius.: “The ink. 244). Or better a dot. to flee from him” (Prof. 10). is thought itself ” (P. 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. commences writing. 14). however. These works did not come into being because they were not possessed of genius. the drop of darkness with which the pen writes. as we saw. that any paper and any light will suffice” (Prof. and the works never created: Mallarmé’s Livre. Agamben concludes: “To some extent we all come to terms with Genius. they have become someone they are not. Then there are the great works that were written purely through genius: “Kubla Khan.LOGOS. Agamben’s La voce umana. Duchamp. They are the art of pure character. Without being facetious. yet each act of writing. what do they see? Dressed in second-clothes. Poets are called by the muse to write. On the Road. the late Rimbaud. DeChirico. not to write and to write. a series of dots. changes her mind. then opts not to . the personal and impersonal (Prof. The author attempted to merely will them into existence.36 Potentiality in the writer is precisely this tension between genius and character. with what resides in us but does not belong to us. As I Lay Dying. a certain dim light shining from the left. depersonalizes and desubjectivizes the writer.” The Magnetic Fields. THINKING THOUGHT refuses at all costs to forget” (P. it is useless to tell yourself that just any pen will do. changes her mind. . 17). There are the great books that were never written. as the poet sets pen to paper. The impersonal is negated in the personal act of writing something specific. as is the writing of pure inspiration. . Looking in the mirror of their art.
or not to not write. all one’s written and unwritten works as Agamben phrases it. Gesturality signs the long and chequered history of one’s being with language. and that is the only way.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kenneth Koch’s When the Sun Tries to Go On. Their destiny is otherwise. the great writers of genius. that determine one’s subjective desubjectivity as a writer of potential. . The pen that grazes the page. Here the author seemingly had little or nothing to do with writing. There are those who can write and do so with facility and alacrity. The gesture alone is meaningless and sad. the powerful unfulfilment of true potential being. What does he contemplate? Gestures: for the first time truly his own. Writer’s block and pure. devoid of every charm . And what of when a writer simply ceases to write. . and so on. Some do not write and could never do so. Does one fulfil one’s potential in the work? Never. or to write as not writing. too much character in one and overabundance of genius in the other. . inspired flow are two sides of an imbalance of writerly potentiality. A blank tablet acting as mere reproach to the woman of genius. the brush as it is lifted from the canvas not when it is applied. Then there are the few.” (Prof. or not to write. 68 . . 18). They are happy with their lot and it would never occur to them not to write. Their brilliance does not reside in what they write or what they excise or refute. for Agamben. when genius has abandoned them? “It is the late and final stage when the old artist lays down his pen—and contemplates. fulfil. only now does the very long unlearning of the self begin . but in their ongoing and self-conscious game with writing: to write.
Finally. but is not limited to it. 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. Plato famously says in the Symposium: “any cause that brings into existence something that was not there before is poiesis. poetry has come to be the archetype of all the arts. 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. This includes willed creative agency therefore. the process of actually making is rather less glamorous than that. but could just as easily be a truth or observation. but its wider meaning is in fact creation. but the bringing into existence something that was not there before which could be an object. of filmic presentations of creation such as the various versions of Frankenstein. THINKING THROUGH MAKING POIESIS The Greek word poiesis1 is the origin of our term poetry explaining why. This view of creativity finds its culmination in Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power as Art or maker as creative genius.”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. poiesis is “any cause” that results in creation. for the modern philosophical tradition. say.” Bringing something into presence could just as easily 69 . Yet if we pay careful attention to Plato’s words here. At the same time creation does not simply indicate the god-like making of a new object in the world. A sweating.CHAPTER 2 POIESIS.
purpose. that he presents as poiesis. and their causality in such a way as they will bring to presence a truth or being that was not available for view before.” (QCT. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. Heidegger is careful to stipulate that the silversmith who makes the chalice is not the final and efficient cause of the chalice. . The chalice makes one think of certain things in relation to ceremony and sacrifice. respecting the Greek provenance. . form. toil. The same would be true of the statue.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN mean coaxing. reliability. It may be timorous. guiding. or accompanying. Presence need not be awful. 9). 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. unveiling values such as equipmentality. 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. 70 . making the chalice is really an afterthought following on from deep consideration on the part of the maker as to how material. The chalice is to hand or possesses Heideggerian equipmentality. soil. form. form. and so on. thinking deeply about the “that” and the “how” of material. Note the emphasis on the object’s availability for use here. rather than the beauty of the chalice. These four causes share the responsibility for “the silver chalice’s lying ready before us as a sacrificial vessel” (QCT. 35). the temple. the relationship between gods. 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. purpose. Beauty may be a part of poiesis but it is not necessarily the purpose of poiesis.. It is what the chalice can produce for us as sacrificial vessel and all that entails. at least not in the way in which they make the chalice. Relying on the ancient Aristotelian four causes theory of philosophy—matter. and utility. The statue makes one think of the materialization of a god within a temple. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as that which “lets what presences come forth into unconcealment.” a process he defines as “producing that brings forth—e. the erecting of a statue in the temple precinct . The temple. Rather. For Heidegger. through making. each of them must be made of matter that is formed to an end by a causality. 21). and purpose will all fit together causally. Van Gogh’s peasant shoes “let us know what shoes are in truth” (PLT.g.
lacks the subjective agency of an artist as a maker. an experience of the production of something absent into presence and from concealment into the light. poiesis was. THINKING THROUGH MAKING PRAXIS According to Agamben poiesis was opposed. poiesis. 69). wilful action. due to the reliance on that culture on the sustaining activities of slaves. was directly tied into the biological processes of the human as animal and. therefore yet today we often speak of creative production as practice and artists as practitioners. inaccurate order. in contrast. Poiesis as pro-duction. 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. a doer. 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. to confuse poiesis with praxis. which is the Greek sense of experiencing truth as unveiling or a-letheia (un-forgetting. for the Greeks. Poiesis of this second. essentially guide or facilitator of truth.POIESIS. by making something new and wonderful in the world. 68). that for many thinkers constitutes the opposite of what creation actually is. Poiesis has in the modern age been mistaken therefore for praxis. to praxis which meant to do something or to act in accordance with one’s will (MWC. That said the difference between the two terms could not be clearer. that of work. If praxis meant doing something through one’s will to do that thing. in that both seem to fulfil Plato’s stipulation that creation is bringing something new into existence. what one might call modern “Romantic poiesis.3 Work. un-concealment). One of the reasons for this confusion between poiesis and praxis in the modern age relates to a third category. a person able to bend their will to create themselves into being as The Artist. praxis. voluntary. It is an easy mistake to make. Poiesis does not share with praxis the element of practical. was a concept at one remove from their 71 . We ought not to feel excessive culpability or remorse in this regard.” is god-like fiat and lacks the sense of passivity and modesty inherent in the term’s original definition. for the Greeks. This slip of the tongue unfortunately confines creation to the very process.
Instead. 72). praxis. most notably in the work of Nietzsche. and the materialists. 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. The predominance of will over creation taken as a value of will. the lowest of the three categories for the Greeks to. the original productive state of the work of art is all but forgotten except by certain poets and.”4 However different they are. than between praxis as will and poiesis as almost passive experience. eventually. Heidegger. . For we “moderns” it would seem that making is something a subject does to 72 . of the process through which the object has been produced . of life understood as energy and creative impulse” (MWC. For example. although the Greeks did not indulge habitually in work.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN lives. As this theme develops through materialism and then through philosophy. That said. Marx. At the same time a significant shift occurred typified by the modern period wherein “will” comes to overtake the unveiling of truth as the essence of artistic creation: The central experience of poiesis. is replaced by the question of the “how. “the point of arrival of Western aesthetics is a metaphysics of the will. they were able to realize that work was “bare. the shift away from truth to genius facilitated the elevation of work. 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. (MWC. eventually. 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 . .” to simply “I made this. and work has been lost. 69). that is. . 70) As Agamben goes on to show through brief readings of Locke. . 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.” that is. pro-duction into presence. 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. it is much easier to find common ground between praxis and work understood as the basic production of all material life. Nietzsche’s definition of Will to Power as Art. Smith. the highest. Over the centuries the clear differentiation between poiesis.
Greek making defines being as the experience of making. 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. The first is active participant. and this confirms the artist’s being as god-like maker. as Heidegger suspects. For them.” during the halcyon days of Greek culture in its ascendancy the task granted to poiesis. making the artist a technites (PLT.POIESIS. Art works were not enjoyed aesthetically. Bernard Stiegler in his influential study of Technics and Time Vol.5 TECHNE Staying with the Greeks a little longer one can see that the Nietzschean interpretation of poiesis as active. THINKING THROUGH MAKING being. Most especially poiesis does not make what we would term “art. it makes a new being.”6 73 . or as Heidegger interprets the Greek sense of truth as aletheia. willed making into being is. “Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis. is bringing-forth [Her-vor-bringen]” (QCT. poiesis does not make anything new.” As Heidegger exudes in the closing sections of his influential essay “The Question Concerning Technology. a premature seizing of the seat of the gods by presumptuous man. 34). 10). willed creation ex nihilo. Modern making defines being as making something. 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. Art was not a sector of cultural activity” (QCT. it merely lifts the curtain to reveal what is behind. which is precisely the point. 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.” becomes. 59). “The arts were not derived from the artistic. the second passive recipient. 1 flags up this problematic synonymity between poiesis and technics citing Aristotle as claiming: “Every art [tekhne] is concerned with bringing something into being. meant that. the bringing to presence of the gods. This retranslation in effect negates the possibility that creation as poiesis can be Nietzschean. For the Greeks making is something that can happen to being or the subject to produce an authentic experience of truth. the Being of beings.
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. is this not a definition of art but of philosophy? For poiesis to make any sense as creative act. “the making of making as such” as Jean-Luc Nancy translates poiesis in its modern manifestation as poetry as the archetype of all arts. Praxis is the physical activity and will necessary to bring this about. Heidegger is helpful in this regard by asserting that there can be no poiesis without techne. Poiesis is the experience of the production or facilitation of the coming into the light of a truth. therefore. but for the Greeks a specific type of knowing through creative making or as he says: “to make something appear. within what is present. he explains. can one trace any actual. while it does not always make art. makes art make being come to full. and techne as skilled knowing through doing. 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. The work’s becoming a work is a way in which truth becomes and happens” (PLT. Yet surely. in this way or that way. there is no poiesis without making something. and the Greeks used instead the word skill. in terms of letting appear” (PLT. First. techne. 159). Second. 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. direct relation between poiesis and art as such? Heidegger believes so in that for him pure poiesis. poiesis as production of presence. Therefore while one cannot assume that poiesis is definable as simply making something. producing. praxis as simply doing. if fleeting. appearance. we must come to terms with the making element of the term as well as the truth revealing or presencing element. a form of artistic production. 60). The Greeks conceive of techne. our modern sense of creation is a muddle of these three Greek ideas. I believe we must accept two things at this stage. is not simply craft or skill. Finally 74 . instead of art. as this or that. although alone making cannot simply will truth. the unveiling of truth. Techne. that for the Greeks the three terms were all elements of a process of what they called bringing something into presence or aletheia.
8 Heidegger is careful to state that art is not simply a delimited made object in the world. THE ART THING Taking all of this to be the case. It makes a small world effectively. if only briefly and partially. but again a gathering of ancient ideas of sacrifice. ceremony. the gods. the art object in this context. or mechanical production. THINKING THROUGH MAKING techne is an intermediary state dependent on real skill in pursuit of the truth. transmissible traditions. 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. There is no guarantee that techne will result in poiesis or the flashing bloom of truth. or gathers a continuum around itself made up of all the elements of its truthpresencing. What is poietic about the shoes and the chalice is how they allow objects to become things through the process of making something. or that poiesis will result in art. the work of art. 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 religious world. from a thing. Even the chalice is not on object as such. etc. then it can be termed poietic and as such art. is not poietic as such but resultant from poiesis. equipmentality. but certainly for a work of art to happen there needs to be work as process and work as thing. If not then such a process is merely making something and is artisanal. instrumental. A thing is something in the world that composes and gathers together truths in the world.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. and so on. therefore. and so poiesis and techne must function together for praxis in general to become artistic practice. One might. 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 . rather its thingly status depends on the truths it makes manifest for human beings on earth: sacrifice. after Heidegger makes this simple distinction: if an act of making produces being or truth by bringing it into the light. indeed they are not they are a mere image. Thus Van Gogh’s shoes are not an object.POIESIS.
Mondrian. to be revealed as if for the first time through their ongoing skill and thoughtful experimentation. abstraction. Certainly. 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. Such knowing provides an opening up. representational bronze. effectively negating subjectivity and defining so-called desubjectivization as the modern experience of the poeticization of being. 89–96). 13). 3). colour. Pollock. which is the bringing to presence of truth through making. Poiesis must be hands-on. For critics this would be truth-revealing enough but it must be conceded that for thinkers of poiesis such as Heidegger and Agamben these quasi-truths would only be granted full truth status if they move the artist and observer towards greater truths such as the Being of beings for Heidegger or artistic desubjectivization for Agamben. each showing increasing levels of abstraction from the first. Conceptual art is as thingly as Westminster Abbey. In “Back” four bronze reliefs of a back are displayed side by side. to understand and be expert in it. If poiesis is dependent on techne. 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. As an opening up it is a revealing” (QCT. Other philosophical themes are regularly addressed 76 . from poiesis.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. Similar gradations of abstraction are observable in the art of Picasso. That said the art thing must subsist in matter. Alain Badiou speaks in a similar vein of poetry’s ability to negate the category of the object (MP. composition. Nancy speaks of poetry as the very moment of meta-making or thinking about making through making (MA. Agamben notes how modern art has thought about being and subjectivity. realistic. techne is itself “something poietic. . stuff. and so on. to be entirely at home in something. compression. what Heidegger calls “Denken. representation. Both forms of thinking can often think the same things. . Its object-status is to some degree irrelevant.” which is the bringing to presence of truth.” a form of “knowing in the widest sense . We are now at the point where we can differentiate thinking. Kandinsky. and the sensuous realm. simplification. the poietic art thing is not art for art’s sake but art for the sake of truth and world composition. even Turner.
not least because a flower is a living. THINKING THROUGH MAKING by the arts. and balanced made things. Kant’s famous definition of the art work as that which has finitude without purpose is. in itself ” (QCT. which cannot be considered in terms of art even if. infinity. not through pedestrian description or disciplined argumentation but through a form of thinking that occurs courtesy of the activity of making. are all thought by poietic activity. traditional Greek culture such as that imagined by Hölderlin. that a flower is complete but its completion is not of the order of its physical borders.9 or what I will go on to name “logopoiesis. flowers are in possession of poiesis. It seems obvious. nature. and Agamben. Thus a flower’s finitude is not its actual perfection but the perfection of flowers as such. Issues such as part and whole. intuitive even.POIESIS. death. a means by which to differentiate beauty made by human hands and the beauty of flowers and so on. according to Heidegger. the human. ostensibly. and decaying thing. after all. being in the world. 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. The finitude of a work of art in a totally transmissible. 10). poised. propriety. His chosen example of poiesis in nature is “the bursting of a blossom into bloom. Heidegger. Such a procedure of thinking through making defines “poetic thinking” as Heidegger and Badiou have termed it. finitude. law.” Due to the provenance. If we are to believe the philosophers. mobile. I want to concentrate instead on the more complicated issue of its finitude. in part. makes a thing in the world in a way which provides a powerful point of difference between thinking as such and poietic thinking. happiness. this used to be. causality. the case with works of art as well. subtlety. and complexity of the term poiesis the artist can now be described as a “maker-thinker. and Being as such. One could judge their completion against communally held values pertaining to what perfect and thus finished work was. growing. singularity. Rather than dwell here on the much-vaunted Wildean uselessness of modern art. The maker-thinker. contested status.” FINITUDE A central element of the activity of poiesis is the complex issue of finitude or formal completion. 77 .
frames. and truth was. objective. In our epoch the value of a work of art is precisely the opposite. and make-up of the poem have not been taken from any other source or any other poem but rather originate with this poem. or marginalia that surround the art object may indeed now constitute the art object. value. 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. It was an act of mapping a perfect gestalt. Finally.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. had always been. we value art for not conforming to any such model if it did indeed exist which. critical sensibility.10 78 . Taking all this into consideration one has to conclude we live in an age of very Greek art. it does not. We are also more than ever attuned to the material problems of delineating the work of art in that the parerga. For Agamben such a view is meaningless to modern. and would unquestionably always remain. material innovations in the performativity. 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. or material (even temporal) limits of a work of art. The frame may become the work or its faming in the museum its poiesis. Further. 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. and conceptuality of art works mean it is now often impossible to determine the actual. virtuality. 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. 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. with delicious paradox. There is no communally held view as to what a Work of Art in general should be. unique object.
That said he does not simply accede to Heidegger’s reading of the term. As there is no poem object as such to view. aesthetic convention. The deixis of “this poem” immediately reveals pure indication. illimited art things such as “Warrant. no actual delimited poem body here. but is the very name of man’s doing. and ontology. does not designate here an art among others. Thus he declares: “Poiesis. . MORPHE. 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. 60).POIESIS. 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. of that productive action of which artistic doing is only a privileged example . law. There is. 59). poetry. lineated legal prose and not “poetic” at all in any sense of profound techne. in fact. THINKING THROUGH MAKING This is one of several examples of self-annihilating meta-poiesis in the work of the greatest conceptual poet writing today. in that the poem being described and warranted does not exist except as something indicated within another “poem. beyond the deictic “this” as an indication of the presence of a poem in its legally. that is. 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. either also called “Warrant” or perhaps nameless. and that which finds its principle through 79 .” (MWC. and as the poetry on view is. the principle and origin of its entry into presence” (MWC. 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 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. the process of a coming into being of an idea about art as object within the market place.” the one we are actually reading. and ontologically warranted absence. . If modern and future art criticism and creation is based on a process of aesthetic judgement on nonpurposive non-objectal.” then we need poiesis if only to keep hold of art. aesthetically.
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
THINKING THROUGH MAKING in a living unity” (MWC. therefore. Thus the artist brings to being the very end of the lasting concept of the artist as subject and this. These hybrid forms of poiesis are not simply two movements in modern art. is poiesis in suspension. 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 .POIESIS. suspended in a kind of disquieting limbo between being and nonbeing. testifying as it does to its singular originality. (MWC. is modern art’s first and most lasting poiesis: artistic desubjectivization or creative self-alienation. they are. 63–4) Modern art. The object cannot attain presence and remains enveloped in shadow. Ideas held in common. 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. and that which is irreproducible cannot be reproduced. now the artist is defined as the person who makes things that don’t fit the mould but which break with moulding. 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. in a sense. It is pure eidos for its form and shape are irrelevant. Pop art is all form with no proximity to the concept. became during our age simply the commonplace. With the ready-made an industrial object is alienated from its context and thus raised up into the sphere of art. for Agamben. The curtain is grasped but never raised. While in the past traditional values and lack of originality determined greatness as being proximate to the source of poiesis. The brilliance of Bernstein’s poem now becomes even more apparent in that he is able to demonstrate both situations in one single work. 62). yet at the same time it is a comment on its rampant reproducibility. With pop art the situation is reversed in that an art object is made utilizing techne then reproduced using industrial processes. On the one hand “Warrant” deals directly with the archepresence of the poem. the ready-made and pop art. the only two movements available at present for modern acts of creation.
Like most of his peers. 86 . Modern art is either poiesis without techne or techne without poiesis. at the very least. he is writing in an age where the shape of the work. arche-mimesis. 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. Leading him. industrial form (urinals. the form in which privation itself comes into presence” (MWC. is problematized because it is bifurcated. philosophical understanding of poiesis. meaning he accedes to the Greek world of Ideal Forms. 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. he seems locked here into a set of almost impossible aporias. Agamben’s conception of creation depends on the Greek concept of poiesis. its taking shape.” and thus there can be no reproduction of the work precisely because the warrant controlling this process is the work itself. to an epochal apostrophe: “how is it possible to attain a new poiesis in an original way?” (MWC. in some fashion. and so on). Perhaps Agamben should have consulted with Bernstein for. Furthermore. 64). including the subjective nonbeing of the artist. as ever. in contrast to the poet. in splitting poiesis. In modern aesthetic theory since Kant. its becoming something. He is forced to take on the act of making as the transition from nonbeing into being and all that entails. and eidos. modern art works such as these “constitute the most alienated (and thus most extreme) form of poiesis. which is perhaps why shape bears close proximity to indistinctness. within the dark defiles of modern art itself. unlike Plato and Aristotle. 64). As Agamben says in reference to his chosen examples. categorical amnesia.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN arche-presence is undermined by there being no poem other than that indicated by the empty deixis of “this poem. The very shape of a work of modern art is permanently split. If it remains proximate to arche-presence it can take on no physical form and instead has to parasitically occupy an already existent. wheels. modernity has turned poiesis into a problem and thus made it visible for us after many centuries of easeful. The answer to this question must lodge. While this is a lamentable state of affairs for a full.
1 Under pressure from such attacks modernity can barely be said to remain intact. historically. change. Being. 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. is currently withheld from view in the modern age of instrumental technology because. This was not always the case and our dire situation will. 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. This duality of temporality as regards being is the basis of what one might call ontological temporality. a time that is both out of time in that it is beyond everyday linear time. Agamben is one of the most aggressive and suggestive critics of modernism that we have or ever will encounter. at some juncture. He too sees the temporality of human being as both immemorial ecstasy and contingent historicity and. that is its destiny. potentially productive. and then. modernity. nihilistic. he has a name for the coming together of the two elements of ontological time in a moment of crisis that is first. he argues. Heidegger argues. and indeed one of Agamben’s aims is the bringing of modernity 87 . like his great forebear.CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. He calls this epoch. the very epoch of the epoch. Yet. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS Since Heidegger questions pertaining to being are traditionally posed through two temporalities. being is also profoundly historical in a deep destinal way he calls Geschichte. 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. Agamben’s work on time is indebted to but not uncritical of this model of ontological time.
along with his mid-career investigations of the gesturality and the pure mediality of thought as potential. disallow him the simple act of finishing with the modern. desubjectivization. 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. indeed cannot abandon the dark and divided epochality of our modern age of aesthetic modernity.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN to a form of non-eschatological resolution. Rather. 23). the messianic the subject is called out of its current position and then required to occupy the process of its desubjectivization as its new subjective existence. This time that remains. But more relevant to debates on modernity is the way in which the call to 88 . Rather. This ¯sis call to vocation he defines as the “revocation of every vocation” (TTR. For this reason. In this way. and dictation. or the condition of the hos me “as not. temporality. Agamben will never allow a movement from temporal modernity to ontological or subjective modernity. the issue of modern time is so central to Agamben’s work from his very earliest pronouncements to his most recent.3 and his complex revision of historiography.2 Yet Agamben’s realism. The messianic kle emulates many elements of ¯sis Agamben’s earlier work on language. 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. 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). 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.” When called by ¯ ¯. which is a common representation of time within modernity (TTR. and ending. 5–6). Agamben will not. il tempo che resta. 62–3). 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. for example deixis. some might call it fatalism. takes the form of a messianic contracted time of remnants (TTR.
The “as not” is not negation as such. Rather. rather than aspiring towards actual redemption. Finally. while messianic kle would seem to occupy a temporality of ending. one can begin to see how messianic time can be of great utility to ideas about modern art.” ending with Gaultier’s work Bovarysm.6 This then is a rare mention 89 . If “as not” is a negation of being that presages a positive coming of being to presence “after” negation (the messianic time that remains). which considers fiction.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. This alerts Agamben’s interest. 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. however. The call does not negate subjectivity but calls subjectivity into presence through desubjectivity.” All the same Agamben presents a full analysis of the twentieth-century tradition of thinking the “as if.” typical of modern thought about aesthetics. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS negation is not conceived by Agamben as just another form of modern nihilism but something potentially productive. The phrases “as not” and “as if ” both play games with the idea of negation and creation. but rather the now familiar suspension of actualization that exemplifies potentiality at its most powerful and creative. 35–40). to live “as if ” sounds initially like a creative potentiality for being. Agamben details a history of the philosophy of “as if ” which need not concern us except that it originates in a critique by Taubes of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory which Taubes believes advocates thinking through the despair of the modern age only as if it could be redeemed. the time that ¯sis remains within temporal contraction. as an ontological condition. 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. aesthetics. as Agamben shows.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. therefore. and the arts in the most unexpected places. 61–78). So when Agamben posits the “as not” as a positive alternative to what he calls the “as if. the archetypal example of living as if. 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.
7 while it takes a truly brave thinker to live as one “who no longer knows the as if. one pretends to be someone else because one is no one. All of these considerations return Agamben’s attention back to Adorno. specifically his contention that “philosophy lives on because the moment to realize it was missed” (cited in TTR. so to speak. he argues. . . subjective agency value? In an age when god is dead. thinkers of the “as if ” live on the earth as if they were gods. This being man’s essence. but we will come to see it as the specifically epochal manifestation of desubjectivization in general. First.” Such a subject “no longer has similitudes at his disposal . bringing to mind Heidegger’s definition of poets as demi-gods. 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. . 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. 37).” in this instance “as not” rather than “as if. Aesthetic beauty is the chastisement. 42). of philosophy’s having missed its moment .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of the possibility that just as poetry and linguistics can be seen to enter the field of ontology. 37). in doing so one of course is pretending to be something other than what one is in that one is nothing. 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. Agamben’s consideration of “as if ” is a side issue in his attempt to present a credible messianic condition of living “as. Yet. According to his 90 .” Yet it is significant. This ontological condition does not stand up to the test of modern ontological thinking perhaps. so too fiction might be a credible category of thinking about being. 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. That is why aesthetic beauty cannot be anything more than a spell over spells” (TTR. but pretends to be something. ontology is reduced to pretending-to-be as a form of double ontological negation. What is the Will to Power as Art except turning as-if-ness into creative. . and second. Gaultier defines the essence of human being as believing one is different to whom one is.
” Living “as if. or so the argument of aestheticization goes. proving destructive and nihilistic in each instance. therefore. To get to a “new” poiesis. under the spell of living “as if. 39). aestheticization of life. If “as if ” is a belated and blinded decadence. For not only does the spell over spells cast a false veil over thinking it also misrepresents the poetic as well. modern aesthetics has two potentialities available to it. one first has to travel through the dread landscapes of aesthetic modernism. The second option is to live “as not. as if one has being. 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. the State. In each of these very modern formulations an assumed impropriety. I would argue.” Aesthetics becomes. The great question for modern thought. as if the philosophical pursuits of truth and happiness could be realized. The most familiar is the “as if. If “as not” involves negation.8 Nor can one live life itself for that has been reduced to horror and bareness.” that dreaded term aestheticization: aestheticization of philosophy. but potentially redeeming modern novel. as indeed it does. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS reading. In contrast to this. Thus one lives as if one lives. to live the “as not” is far from being nihilistic. thought. considering the failure of modern thought and the horrendous nature of modern history how else can one live except “as if ?” One cannot live the truth for the truth is nothingness. and this is what Agamben’s early tome The Man Without Content ventures as he makes the first of several attempts to negate negation. Yet.MODERNITY. aestheticization of politics. the aesthetic. turns out to be self-defeating both for thought and art. the “as not” depicts an alternate futural moment of authentic being. 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?). One lives as if one is a character in a great. is added to the realm of the proper. creativity. the empty violence of The Real. one needs to traverse the problems of aestheticization and replace them with a radical poeticization. is: How does one travel from “as if ” to “as not”? To do this. 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. living as such.” while seemingly creative and thus an act of poiesis. therefore. tragic. of art even. This as-if-ness requires that one ontologize the spell over spells that Agamben later says “may even aptly describe poetry” (TTR. 91 .
. to the work of Walter Benjamin. one must 92 . you will recall. In the closing pages of The Man Without Content Agamben turns. the Nietzschean idea that god is dead.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN AURATIC TWILIGHT As we saw. In a post-transmission. 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. to go through and to test. as he so often does. due to two modern statements by the masters of modern thought. and the Heideggerian adage that art no longer dwells among us. for modern life is replete with new and exciting experiences. The essays that make up this remarkable study then primarily investigate the implications of the thesis of the end of cultural transmission. 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. Rather. test.9 The arrest of transmissibility is. indeed criticism is in essence all that modernity has become. Experience. an idea also taken from Benjamin. . Experience is never accessible as a totality and never complete except in the infinite approximation of the total social process . 15). he argues. another way of expressing the end of experience in post-transmissible cultures. specifically here highlighting a profound aporia in Benjamin’s work on the fading of the aura in modern art and culture. 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. 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. 38). What is lacking in modernity is not the element of testing. what we miss is a common experience that the modern subject can undergo. has two meanings for Agamben. or the possibility of sustaining an experience. and totally possess: “Thus experience is now definitively something one can only undergo but never have.” (IH. 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.
by way of the multiplication of the original. 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. . one might presume. seemingly. Pop art instead takes the process of industrial reproduction and applies it to the art object. The technical expertise that allowed for an industrial-scale reproducibility of art works thus removing from them their sacred quality. Benjamin argues. 106) It remains hard to tell if Agamben is glossing Benjamin here or totally dismissing his most influential theory. incomplete. besmirching them in the profanity of repetition and excess did not. This problem is not lost on Agamben. in effect. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS determine if the auratic twilight of the modern is a historical process taking place over time or an a-chronological event. every text. comments on aura. it moves one more step away. a consumer item rather than a work of art. 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 more an art object is reproduced. when he argues that Benjamin’s discovery of the loss of the auratic value of art is. a urinal is signed into being singular and thus art. Both are. remove the aura from the work of art: Far from freeing the object from its authenticity. 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. Agamben asserts. 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. As we saw the ready-made confers aura to an industrial object. (MWC. the ready-made and pop art. states the opposite. Agamben. contains a historical 93 . With each copy.MODERNITY. however. It becomes. becomes the very cipher of elusiveness. its technical reproducibility . the further away from the source of its authority it is carried. Duchamp questioning the authority of the creator. Warhol the singularity of the work. probably Benjamin’s most astute and generous reader. perhaps the most central theory in the canon of cultural studies. like so many of the German thinker’s eclectic projects. . carries authenticity to extremes: technical reproducibility is the moment when authenticity.
What Agamben cannily reveals in reading Benjamin’s ideas on art under the heading of his ideas on history is that reproducibility is meaningless unless thought of in tandem with transmissibility. the lights lowered to dissuade further fading. The two great dicta of modern art’s destruction of tradition. does not inhere solely in the work’s unique singularity. Indeed. the religious icon say. 145). What Agamben realizes is that within the modern moment.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN index which indicates both its belonging to a determinate epoch. that there is only one or that it has the quality of a magical relic. reproducibility along with communicability. are both comments on cultural intransmissibility. works of auratic art. both actual in terms of rail travel and virtual in terms of the mass media and new technologies such as the telegraph. Reproducibility contributes to this malaise only by weakening the points wherein past and present meet. Modernists have often been called iconoclasts but according to Agamben this is literally true in that they take religious relics. If aura exists it only exists for us at the moment that we see it in accordance with Benjaminian hermeneutics. as well as its only coming forth to full legibility at a determinate historical moment” (TTR. it also depends on the transmissibility of this quality (by transmissibility here read unquestioned status). an activity that 94 . 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. 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. and deface them (think of Magritte’s infamous vandalization of a reproduction of the Mona Lisa). The authenticity and authority of the icon. 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. blinding anti-poiesis. Myopically peering through the murk. 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. god is dead and an art no longer dwells among us.
Agamben realizes. In both formulations. the contingent. 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 . The end of experience experienced as shocking is. Shock is defined here as the “jolt power acquired by things when they lose their transmissibility and their comprehensibility within a given cultural order” (MWC. Baudelaire’s comments on modernity here. common experience. In effect. what Baudelaire attempts is to take the very value that ends tradition.”10 easily confer upon him the honour of being the great precursor to contemporary reappraisals of modernity and aesthetics. Having to “invent a new authority. The paradox of the eternal transient is the more well known and its oxymoronic nature obvious. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS replaces the communal places of common art. the lieu commun and the eternal transient. the other being the eternal and the immutable.MODERNITY. or commonplace wherein modern shock can become what we hold in common. the fleeting. temple or festival. Face to face with the dissolution of aura within a society where the authority of tradition was daily under attack. Baudelaire was tasked with inventing a new source of authority for the art work. As regards the proposal of shock as the “common place” of a post-transmissible culture however. along with his rumination that the modern is “the transient.” 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. modern experience. in other words. Baudelaire’s conception of shock. is the missing element of Benjamin’s great theory of aura. 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. 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. with the famous Baudelaire lieu commun. our new. 106). it is the one half of art. 106). the ability of modern life and art to shock (for shock is the result of a happening for which a culture is not preprepared) and make shock the new locale of a common. Baudelaire demonstrates the powerful forces at play in modernity’s embracing of reproducibility at the moment of intransmissibility by his creation of two impossible paradoxes.
Instead of a work of art being a thing in itself whose reproduction undermines its sacral singularity effectively profaning the work. 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 relighting of aura’s eternal flame through the epochal hiatus between transmissibility and the transmission of a communal intransmissible experience of culture. Attend here to the means by which Agamben repositions the meaning of the terms reproducibility and transmissibility. More than that. and this alienation is in its turn nothing other 96 . linking tradition with the present age. it forms the basis of the whole of the epoch of aesthetic modernity and modern aestheticization. Previous to the moment or epoch of shock there was in effect no “work of art” as art was environed seamlessly within the very culture it was able to transmit through time. Shock becomes not the collapse of meaning in art but the meaning of art as the collapse of meaning. Art did not act as a vehicle for transmission. that dissolves the finitude of the art object as a delimited and valued thing through its reproducibility and conversion into praxis. The work becomes a moment of shock. 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. in the final analysis.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. the alienation effected by the work of art. reproduction is instead reserved for the praxis of the creator. 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. in effect. The new work of art. 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. It becomes. expunging. This event alone produces what we now call modern art. art was transmission. 106). 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. must be defined as a process of transmitting the very quality of intransmissibility. absolutely and significantly finite.
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. Agamben’s contention here is that the work of art in space and time is experienced for the first time in the moment of shock at the realization that the work no longer exists in a time-space continuum but is expropriated from both. creating a continuum between tradition and the present that all but eradicates their difference. it fulfils the double meaning of epoch to be found in its etymology: epoche a point in time and a delimited period of time. ¯. singularity and transmissibility. each in violent contradiction—art is defined as the singular instance of the held in common—are seen critically for the first time. In contrast. Transmissibility. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS that the measure of the destruction of its transmissibility. 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. for example. of tradition” (MWC. It would seem alienating shock is not the legacy of modern art but of self-satisfied traditional values. a recursiveprojective interplay that we will later come to term poetic structure. This experience of aesthetic epoche ¯ is Agamben’s definition of that epoch of epochs we call modernity. The “now” ceases to be a moment in time but rather is the endless extension of tradition into the future. effectively eradicates separation. At this point. of both the premodern and modern epochs of transmissibility and intransmissibility respectively. 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.MODERNITY. the arche-epoch of art’s very first coming into being or the conditions for art. turning back to gaze over one’s fleeing shoulder. 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. retrospectively. 97 . 107). temporal and spatial. PROFANING SCISSION Both transmission and reproduction are dependent on metaphysical conceptions of scission and separation. occupying both the position of an event of major transition and the creation. Epoch of epochs for. that is.
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.
6). calling for “another kind of art . commissions. and terror which is the result of interest? Taste seems to attract the spectator to participate in precisely 103 . this most innocent of occupations.MODERNITY. a destruction perhaps already in place: “If it is true that the fundamental problem becomes visible only in the house ravaged by fire. or perhaps more pungently. The landscapes of Agamben’s thinking are always appealing and slightly appalling. 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.15 but also easily identified in the statements of the artists themselves. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS The death of poets leads Agamben to a typically messianic conclusion which calls for the destruction of aesthetics. These artists wish to make artists of us all. an art for artists. Such mad artists do not want to move to a fresh plain. for artists only” (MWC. not least literary criticism. Yes.16 a nihilistic art that seeks not so much innovation as is sometimes assumed (make it new). whistling about our ears. . 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. then perhaps we are today in a privileged position to understand the authentic significance of the Western aesthetic project” (MWC. HOW TO EXIT ART “How can art. 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. Here Agamben merely hints at the now classic definition of the avant-garde to be found in the work of Burger and others. Having taken us across a ghostly plain we are now confronted with a burnt-out homestead. with a senate. to return art to life. 8) the philosopher asks. museums. pit man against Terror?” (MWC. and artistic scandals. Rather they want to burn the very dwelling of art to the ground. how can modern art subsist on the ambiguous fare of taste based on universal disinterest. and build a new home that perhaps over time could become a city. statuary. The essay then ends by jettisoning us out onto this calcified outcrop with the words of a mad prophet. 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. Nietzsche. lay out foundations. .
” Frenhofer invents a modern art. 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. an art which exits art through the door marked “To Art. and death. 8). 9). Frenhofer labours at his masterpiece for ten years to create a work of art that negates art and becomes. Agamben calls the terrorist a misologist. 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. allows Agamben to begin to undermine not only the quest for the absolute in terror. the dark face of his own beloved philology. of a thought in whose flame the sign would be fully consumed. indeed becomes transmissible with life. As Agamben rightly indicates. hesitating nuances. kitsch. 9). 8). putting the writer face to face with the absolute” (MWC. but also to commence with breaking down the differentiation between rhetoric and terrorism. 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. a kind of aesthetic wine-tasting where they can sample Picasso but cannot become drunk on Joyce. In direct contradistinction. like the Pygmalion myth. tones. 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. of course. This remainder. His is an art of abstraction which repulses 104 . Agamben’s earliest work. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN what they cannot have. silence.” Yet in reality the woman he has painted is reduced to mere colours and abstract forms: “a chaos of colors. while terrorists “refuse to bend to this law and pursue the opposite dream of a language that would be nothing but meaning. an art which is auto-anthropophaganous or self-devouring. “It is the dream of a product that exists according to the statute of the thing” (MWC. a “living reality. The rhetorician wishes to “dissolve all meaning into form” (MWC. He notes. rhetoricians and terrorists. in trying to create art that competes with. Loath as I am to succumb to the simple binary oppositions displayed in this. 9). 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.
To truly exit literature one cannot make literature into a thing. Fleeing from rhetoric leads him to terror. or has the sign abolished the meaning?” (MWC. the ultimate paradox is that the act of greatest terror is precisely that of aestheticoamputation. Rimbaud’s flight from art. as Blanchot rightly observed. set up by aesthetics. the more he has to concentrate on it to render it permeable to the inexpressible content he wants to express.” (MWC. Agamben’s conclusion to the tale is a devastating and much overdue total foundering of the differentiation between form and thought. Speaking of Frenhofer’s ever-collapsing. 10).MODERNITY. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS the disinterested spectre of Poussin (literally spectral here. Misology becomes philology. rhetoric and terror. Gogol’s disappointment that Dead Souls did not liberate the peasants is matched by Mallarmé’s inability to complete Le Livre. Yet. in the very apotropaic hall of mirrors that is modern art. Returning to Rimbaud for a moment. 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. De Chirico’s self-parody. The terrorist is left. Roussel’s collapse when La Doublure did not change the world. and the appetite for signs becomes a cause of disgust. to survive. namely. Instead one can only escape the matter of art by removing it from oneself entirely. allowing only signs. 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. he has no other means than form itself. then. But in the attempt. and Duchamp’s silence. “In order to leave the evanescent world of forms. which is the archetypal gesture of the modern artist: “But the paradox of the Terror is still present even in this extreme move. between ‘the poems that he wrote and those he did not deign to write?’” Agamben then 105 . isn’t the unknown masterpiece instead the masterpiece of Rhetoric? Has the meaning erased the sign. But. There are many famous examples of terrorism in modern art. For what is the mystery we call Rimbaud if not the point where literature annexes its opposite. terror flings him back into rhetoric. silence? Isn’t Rimbaud’s fame divided. form. . 10). a mere representation of the artist in art). unpalatable masterpiece he says: “The quest for absolute meaning has devoured all meaning. he ends up with nothing in his hands but signs . meaningless forms. agitated and enflamed. convert poiesis into fiat lux. and the more he wants to erase it. the repulsion from signs becomes an impossible attraction.
17 does not the material depiction of silence. Rimbaud and Duchamp do not merely make and then choose not to make.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN finally and fatally enquires: “isn’t this the masterpiece of rhetoric?” (MWC. most potently. Which is the greatest artist. the final version of Le Livre. As soon as one actively pursues the negation of art one creates anew an art of negation as such. surely. Nietzsche’s Will to Power? What confers true genius on the modern artist is the very failure of terror in the pure silence of an absolute and thus truly terrifying rhetoric: the work of pure silence. decomposed. as Badiou shows. 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.” As soon as one speaks of the creation of art one enters subjective negation. ignored by his “friend” Brod. over time. but surely the greatest works of modernism are those which were never created: Lautréamont’s third book. Even silence succumbs to speech it would seem.18 He sits. His decision to have all his works destroyed at his death. This is why Kafka casts such a shadow over Agamben’s work and the modern age as a whole. the most eloquent rhetorician? Who has the most fiendish savour for violence and fear? While Malevich and (late) Beckett. at the very nexus between the terrorist become rhetorician and the rhetorician facing up to the terror of the absolute void. 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. makes him the most pathetic and powerful of all modern artists: the man who sought silence and was thus then forced to speak. risk accusations of the obvious. manifest the very condition of acsesis as both testament to the lack of events and precursive preparation for the event to come. never made. 11). Bruno Schultz’s first novel. There is no resisting dictation in the modern age. 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. The way out of art into language is permanently barred by the very sign that indicates “Exit from Art. destroyed but. Will there ever be an end to art that is itself not a work of art but a pure experience of the poetic? 106 . This is the ultimate desubjectivization of the poet. Consider the gesture we call author-function Rimbaud and Duchamp against those we call Malevich or Beckett.
courtesy of philosophy. the power of art over the spectator collapsed into profane secularization only to rise again in the form of shock rather than awe. as it were. that poetry is the archetypal art in that it exists between language (the sensible) and image (idea). As one can see. First it is subordinate to the idea. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS MODERN AESTHETIC DESUBJECTIVIZATION The Man Without Content is effectively a conversation between Agamben and the three fathers of modern aesthetics: Kant. art. Third its critical definition is also its negation. to accept its tripartite collapse or to turn these failings around and form from them a new lieu commun.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. Second it is a mere prosaic remnant of the poetic art that once dwelled among us. The modern art work becomes a means of presenting that there was once art but now such work is at an end. and Nietzsche.MODERNITY. once the space of 107 . Enlightenment democracy. A choice lies before modern poiesis therefore. 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. 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.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. These are that art is the sensible presentation of the idea. or an art that celebrates subordination. This means that. at the presentation of its own dissolution: the collapse of poetry into prose. Hegel. that we currently live in the age of prose. Hegel’s work is perhaps most central to Agamben’s reading of art under negation. As Agamben shows in an extensive analysis of the history of the development of the museum from the ancient cabinet of wonder. through four central tenets to Hegel’s overall aesthetic theory. poiesis arrives. As we have seen at some point or over time in Western culture. democratic. For Hegel modern art is a valorization of the sensible presentation of the idea. the prosaic. at each level of Hegelian aesthetics modern art is denigrated. and negation. It arrives precisely at the moment that prose as bios or social ethics has inundated all during the period of Western.
Previous to that she had no direct selfconsciousness of material or making. In a very basic way this idealized act of creation was neither making something nor creating art as we moderns understand these terms. Art is now the absolute freedom that seeks its end and its foundation in itself.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. substantially. 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. as it were. This is the very essence of art as transmissibility. (MWC. through exterior interiority. At this moment the work of poiesis enters the world of prose: The artist then experiences a radical tearing or split. autonomous. contagiously through the art work. the poem. is revelatory in this regard. 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. Art got one ready for god who in his turn prepared one for Geist. secular shock. which soars above the contents as over an immense repository of materials that it can evoke or reject at will. prosaic objectivity goes to one side. That Hegel placed art at the lowest level of the journey of the spirit from exteriority. any content. 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 . At this moment works of modern art are produced through the profanation of the relic into an art object already suffering auratic aphasia. 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. or when the creator becomes critical spectator of their own work. At the moment that the creator steps out of the transmissibility of cultural traditions her relation to her material changes. by which the inert world of contents in their indifferent. religion. because it can only measure itself against the vertigo caused by its own abyss. For Hegel this scission within the subjectivity of the spectator is first enacted within that of the creator and transmitted.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. and does not need. and to the other the free subjectivity of the artistic principle.
Central to the definitions of the object of aesthetic judgement as disinterested satisfaction. that every time aesthetic judgement attempts to determine what the beautiful is. The work of art is moved from being encased in a continuum to floating within the void. 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. Scission: art is no longer defined through its place in the continuum but through its being excerpted from the continuum. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS modern art. . Art becomes incommensurable in the moment that measuring art becomes possible through the Kantian discipline of criticism. it holds in its hands not the beautiful but its shadow. Having set up Hegelian aesthetics as permanently under negation. 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. 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. Height: the subjectivity of the artist is now defined as that of being above the territory of art’s dwelling on earth. Prose: at this juncture the meaning of the work becomes subject to the prose of the world. Summarizing the four characteristics of aesthetic judgement as Kant delineates them he finds a single. Modern art. as though its true object were not so much what art is but what it is not” (MWC. Art is no longer measurable against culture as either being of the same standard or co-extensive. the only measure of art on earth is art itself. and normality without a norm “it seems . floating in the sense that it both soars above and is endlessly falling away. .MODERNITY. Freedom: defined here in a Nancyian manner as a nonfoundational self-founding. or the moment at which the artist becomes her own spectator or the spectator becomes the judge of art. which is art as such defined by Agamben as art under erasure. confounding common denominator. namely that of Kant. This shadow of art is the modern experience of 109 . 42). is thus definable by a conglomeration of the following quasi-events. Materiality: the work becomes a commodity fetish or non-utilitarian choice of the object purely for the sake of exchange. purposiveness without purpose. Agamben then turns to the very aesthetic system from which Hegel’s work emanates but also seeks to depart from. universality apart from concepts. Therefore.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inexperiencible art which is. so to speak. of understanding and reason. the tautegorical aesthetic shares in the weakness of this strength” (LAS. . Reflective thinking 110 . put simply. or of discovering natural beauty defined as finality without purpose (objective perfection without teleology). The moment that we engage the faculty of judgement we are negating the very object we are judging. or as Lyotard says: “The strength of reflective weakness can be explained by the heuristic function of reflection. 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. nothing can be known” (MWC. 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). which is the quintessence of taste. is that judgement is the affect of the sensation of thinking. Agamben. 44). 6). We can recognize in this concentration by Agamben on the paradox of judgement as a non-knowing concept parallels with Lyotard’s reading of reflective judgement as tautegorical. The act of judgement produces the feeling of the activity of judgement. from which . Agamben then moves to Kant’s dictum that judgement is “a concept . He thus concludes that “our appreciation of art begins necessarily with the forgetting of art” (MWC. In finding the universal in the particular. 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 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. therefore. 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. . . which is the indication to thought that it is taking place. . judgement merely operates between practical reason and understanding which is judgement’s famous heuristic capacity. 43). the only experience of art and also the first experience of art as a thing in itself. for us. The tautegorical nature of reflective judgement is to be found in the relation of judgement to the sensation which.
and which therefore he can legitimately believe himself capable of expressing” (MWC. there is no way to return to it by way of the reverse path of taste” (MWC. 47). therefore. 46). is the very person who commits art to the realm of dark non-art: “whenever he exercises his reflection. or “once the work of art has been produced. appears to him no longer as a truth that finds its necessary expression in the work. the free creative-formal principle of the artist” (MWC. Natural beauty does not require a regulative concept. but on the sensation of thinking thinking. not on thinking something. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS is. . concepts that could be known. 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. Agamben identifies the central point of his thesis on modern art. “What he sees of himself in the work. In contrast. that is. the spectator-critic. 11). the content he perceives. 45). thought’s thinking of itself as thinking through sensation: “Any act of thinking is thus accompanied by a feeling that signals to thought its ‘state. The person whose job it is to shed light on modern art.’ But this state is nothing other than the feeling that signals it . Judgments of taste are based. 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. but rather as something of which he is already perfectly aware as a thinking subject. indeed for Kant nature is the regulative concept for aesthetic beauty—the very thing Hegel takes issue with. . he brings with him nonbeing and shadow” (MWC. the scission between genius and taste which defines aesthetic judgement and gives birth to modern criticism. Yet while judgement seems almost to blame for the end of art thesis. At this juncture. therefore. 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. 46). 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. 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. “one can never return to it from a state posterior to its creation”.MODERNITY. The very self-presence of the spectator is the pre-condition of the work of 111 . namely. it is in fact the content-less nature of the modern work of art that results in perhaps the ultimate.
The annihilation of content may be familiar. being-as-nonnart but not being art. Agamben’s explanation of this double negation. is the very basis of his theory of the potentially productive nature of the historically contingent. leaves behind all support. the critic cannot. as Agamben says both absolutely Other and immediately itself.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN art without content. it belongs with them. perverts any relationship between the genius of creation and the communality of culture. The pure creative principle results in the alienation of art and the critic not only recognizes this theme-less theme. the critic knows all. There is nothing the artist can teach the spectator. and yet what they know is what they can never be. they are of course part of what makes it possible. at the same time the spectator is by definition not the artist. The result of this on all of us is devastating: “In the aesthetic judgement. The subject of judgement finds itself both subject and predicate of their judgement. he has no other way of finding himself again than wholly to assume his contradiction. and at the same time immediately as itself. That is. Thus the alienation of art is their subject. What they see in the work of art is what they already know. The presence of the critic makes possible modern art. but the critic does not make modern art placing them/us in a doubly untenable position. 48). it is the pure split and lack of foundation that endlessly drifts on the ocean of form without ever reaching dry land” (MWC. being-for-itself has as its object its own being-for-itself. Yet. he must split 112 . and agrees to enter the circle of absolute perversion. but as something absolutely Other. What we can conclude from aesthetic modern contentlessness is that the moment the spectator and the artist become two separate entities (the archetypal event of modern aesthetic metaphysical scission) ironically the artist no longer has anything new to say to the spectator for the spectator was party to the very scission that facilitated the shift from art to nonart that the artist thought they had created ex nihilo. The critic identifies her being in the alienation of the work which rejects or. but there is one simple fact separating the two. desubjectivized being of the critic/spectator : If the spectator consents to the radical alienation of this experience. to use Hegel’s term. but the critic cannot share in it. The genius makes art. existing in both positions without any means of bringing the two together again.
the heroic modern artist. however. 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. Of the creative. 54) Such a dire conundrum strands the artistic subject in a doubly desubjectivizing quandary. can attempt to totally inhabit the split and try to live this violence. everything is a lie” (MWC. “outside of this split. If she places her faith in a specific content she realizes she is lying as her own pure subjectivity is everything. that artistic subjectivity is absolute essence. the artist is always living on what he calls “this side of his essence . and Agamben here names Rimbaud and Artaud as exemplary in this regard. 48) The position of the modern spectator. Thus the modern artistic subject can be defined as a radical split. he cannot neglect the other half: artist as god-like creator. without content. there is no escaping the fact that. beside his reality” (MWC. Hence Agamben’s conclusion: “The artist is the 113 . . (MWC. split from any content. negate his own negation .MODERNITY. . Having dealt with one half of modern aesthetic desubjectivization. 54). the pure creative-formal principle. and in owning himself he alienates himself. Yet. 55). Nietzschean genius he says: What the artist experiences in the work of art is. to live the epoch or to live outside of it. 54). for which all subject matter is indifferent. Yet even if one chooses to live the split. 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. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS asunder his own split. for Agamben at least. In this alienation he owns himself. however. “trying to make of the split that inhabits him the fundamental experience starting from which a new human station becomes possible” (MWC. 55). Yet here Agamben takes on critical desubjectivization and proposes at least a desire to convert ontological negation into a productive category. (MWC. in fact. Faced with this alternative. is the absolute abstract inessence. . . Which annihilates and dissolves every content in its continuous effort to transcend and actualize itself.
55). This has various benefits of course. in accordance with Benjamin’s hermeneutic principle. who has no other identity than a perpetual emerging out of the nothingness of expression . modern art presents us with the most credible and challenging model of “poetic” desubjectivization as a solution to the failings of nihilistic ontology. It opens up to us the importance of tradition and transmissibility which we now see. Either art is pure content without form. for the very first time. Second in revealing the structural interdependence of philosophy and poetry in this process: formless thought or contentless form.” (MWC. . Modern art is art that is under negation through the act of coming to view. and certainly there is no greater negation than self-annihilating nothingness. are as pure subjective inessence. Modern aesthetic double desubjectivization provides us with a prototype for the following three propositions in Agamben’s overall system. Here one can see the importance of aesthetic modernity to Agamben’s wider philosophical project. critically.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. or all form without content. 114 . First as an example of poeticized desubjectivization.24 The end of art as art results in a double desubjectivization. as is indeed. Yet. modern art.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN man without content. 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. 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. perhaps predictably. And finally third. . thoughts about art. For Agamben. how negation as such. as if for the first time. the critic/spectator and the artist are both examples of self-annihilating nothings.
SECOND EPISODE ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS .
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they must accept and actively live through. an ancient by-way thicketed by prejudice. And so I present for general perusal and 117 . For reasons which I believe now are more than apparent it is not possible to overview the work of Agamben without accepting that his project will always resist being reducible to one side of the ancient division philosophy–poetry. 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. At the same time. more pointedly. however. THINKING TAUTOLOGY The title of this volume proposes a compound construction or double thesis. This cannot be helped. that Agamben is “literary” and that the literary Agamben opens up a clearing around thinking through poetry/ poiesis that I am calling logopoiesis. a political philosopher. The tension between the philosophical and the literary in Agamben is the central animator of his whole intra-metaphysical. or as we will come to see him comparative. expropriating appropriative methodology. Such a di-thetic approach runs the risk of being doubly unpopular in that for those who believe Agamben to be a philosopher or. my suggestion that no understanding of Agamben’s indifferent ontology is possible without recourse to the literary might even seem frivolous. 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. and the visual arts is merely as a means of approaching a post-nihilistic metaphysics. and by their occlusion of the fact that their inter-division is a false divide which.CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. novels. the compound. thinker requires a compound and demonstrative term to present these tonal issues. Neither a thinker of philosophy nor poetry alone and unable to succumb to any of the traditional modes of thinking division.
as we saw. or not solely. or not entirely. would include Jean-Luc Nancy. As we have seen. The simplest definition of such poetic thinking is a turn to poetry to assist thinking to overcome the aporias of modern thought. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN perhaps initial scepticism or even weary derision my theory of logo-poiesis. Badiou is also a great logopoietic thinker of course and he. There may be others. convenient possibility. 20). or thinking thought as such. as is now apparent. indeed the inserts into such a narrative are sparse and inconclusive. 74). 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. it does not accurately reflect the sophistication and tensile balance I intend to convey in the term logopoiesis. 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. Poetic thinking is not thinking about poetry. for Agamben at least thought is or must be poeticized and poiesis is a mode of material thinking. which is why logos and poiesis alone are not sufficient designations even if. nor is it a type of poetry that thinks. Other contemporary logopoietic thinkers therefore. Jacques Derrida. I will not here present a history of logopoiesis. Agamben proposes various names for this alternate or “new” form of thinking. A fully worked out vision of logopoiesis would require detailed reading of all their work in conjunction with that of Agamben. Having now dealt in some detail with logos. like Heidegger before him. one which thinks the very basis of thinking as such in the pure mediality of language the most 118 . One would not want to neglect Blanchot in this regard also. thinkers who accept the centrality of Heidegger but also look to poetry as a way beyond his ontology. and some comments would be reserved for the work of Deleuze. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and. 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. perhaps more contentiously. or thinking through making. and poiesis. While. While this gesture is important and marks the roots of the term in the work of Heidegger. 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.
he does not hone in on one particular name or ever actually advocate a “poetic thinking” at all. Poetic thinking it could be logopoiesis it is. and the fact that poetic thinking really names a form of philosophy that considers poetry.” which would be the translation of logopoiesis. Poetic thinking ultimately stresses a form of thinking that relies on and appropriates poetry. has found significant currency within philosophy. especially considering the dangers of duality inherent within our tradition.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. essentially name the same process of bringing to appearance. The definition of the terms in play. None of the thinkers I have mentioned do so. 119 . as its novelty resides in the manner in which something original has been totally forgotten and then rediscovered centuries later). Thus logopoiesis is essentially tautological in essence. For this reason. 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. balanced proximity giving way to a hierarchical topography and so on. witness Halliburton’s book on Heidegger of the same name. and neglects the possibility of a poetry that thinks. a full understanding of categorical thinking and the problems of naming. In contrast “poetic thinking. One cannot blithely produce neologisms and not expect certain repercussions.1 While sporadically mentioned by critics.LOGOPOIESIS. Certainly he does not use the term logopoiesis. THE LOGO-POIESIS TAUTOLOGY The creation of a compound term out of two ancient. 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. however. much debated and contested terms is unwise. logopoiesis has not come to be a developed rhetorical or critical term. The dangers are heightened further when it comes to the combination of two terms such as logos and poiesis which. Heidegger tells us. I have opted for the more obscure but also productively suggestive term. As should be the effect on both terms when placed in a zone of bound proximity. THINKING TAUTOLOGY authentic experience of which is the poetic word (I hesitate to call it new. One term will naturally seek dominance over the other. Yet logopoiesis is not a neologism.
Appearance. 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. 26). 29). If we now return briefly to Heidegger’s foundational work on the term poiesis. he ponders. has come to be translated/interpreted variously as reason. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as producing something into presence. therefore. ground. “does not mean that something shows itself. judgement. to let them be seen as something unconcealed (alēthes). presuppositional philosophical thought? The answer he gives is that logos really means deloun or to make manifest what is being talked about in speech. Thus logos is definable as making something appear in speech. It makes itself known through something that does show itself ” (BT. and so on. quite the contrary he is a thinker of obfuscation). rely on the mediation of speech: making something appear which is hidden and remains so. concept. Logos makes appear something in precisely this way: “to take things that are being talked about in legein as apophainethai out of their concealment. Like logos. 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. to discover them” (BT. Yet the means by which poiesis does this differ from those of logos. meaning something that shows itself to indicate something else that does not show itself. rather it means that something makes itself known which does not show itself. the self-showing. concept. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. makes logos and poiesis appear as synonymous and thus the term logopoiesis as tautological. 25) must be interpreted effectively as a symptom. The knowledge generating powers of logos as reason. judgement.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Heidegger explains that for the Greeks the term logos. which effectively means speech. 22). 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. can speech be speech and also mean all of these other things that effectively form the very basis of discursive. relation. 120 . its definition as presencing. bringing forth. and relation. 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. the manifest” (BT. How. definition.
To sum up. Gestell is instrumental and pre-ordained production. 29). which he also translates as presencing. is that in philosophy truths are produced through the support of linguistic mediation. making. while poiesis means producing something into presence through the act of making. rather in making something poiesis brings something that was hidden to presence. therefore. apportions itself into the revealing that brings forth and that also challenges . Most certainly thinking and poetry produce truth in a different manner. . while poiesis is that form of revealing that “ever so suddenly and inexplicably to all thinking. Enframed techne produces something to the dictates of the age in which it is produced. Techne is the active process of bringing something to presence through making. while free techne or poiesis exceeds the frame and produces freed thinking.LOGOPOIESIS. Truth is now produced into presence by virtue of techne. logo-poiesis is primarily tautological as both logos and poiesis are mediating modes of producing truth. . one makes is not the thing produced by poiesis. As Heidegger’s work progresses and he becomes convinced of the restrictions of producing based around enframing (Gestell) or a predisposition within production that forces techne to serve pre-ordained dictates rather than facilitate free appearing. The difference between philosophical and poetic thinking. THINKING TAUTOLOGY whereas logos mediates presencing. Yet to do so runs the risk of obfuscating the truth that logopoiesis is essentially a form of tautological circular thinking. production as instrumentality which he terms challenging-forth. he differentiates two forms of producing forth. and could indeed use another form of mediation. Here language is merely symptomatic of truth. When one makes something the actual thing. Thus logos means making something manifest through the mediation of speech.” (QCT. 121 . It could also be accused of using speech instrumentally as a form of Gestell. This difference becomes clearer if we re-consider the role of production or techne in relation to presencing. Perhaps it is more illuminating to write the tautology out thus: (logos) the truth of production—(poiesis) the production of truth. Yet logos merely utilizes speech as a mediation. Yet in later Heidegger the emphasis has changed. while in poiesis they are produced through making. 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. but ultimately logopoiesis says the same thing twice: the production of truth—the production of truth.
as I said. we are repeatedly assured. . Perhaps it would be useful here to adumbrate a few more examples provided by Agamben in that central essay in the canon of logopoiesis. or On Contingency. THE EXEMPLARY TAUTOLOGY OF LOGOPOIESIS We have already seen some examples of logopoietic thinking.” Here he speaks of the prose of Robert Walser which the critic Walter Lüssi called “pure poetry” because it “refuses in the widest sense. the most profound experience of which belongs. I would also call this an archetypal definition of logopoiesis: a form of thinking that is without truthfulness. Third. Such a truth resides in the fact that there is language as pure medium. These experiments do not simply concern the truth or falsity of hypotheses .” He then proceeds to explain: “Not only science but also poetry and thinking conduct experiments. perhaps indeed singularity of the projectiverecursive circular mode of thinking that is the quintessence of logopoietic thinking—itself a tautology we can now dispense with as logopoiesis names a modality of thought—and which. 260). for truth is what is at issue in them” (P. Agamben declares that this ought to be the “paradigm for literary writing. as we shall now go on to see. Finally. rather. they call into question Being itself. but which produces truth as the very precondition for thinking. at the same time. Second. 174 respectively) and indeed the centrality of the hermeneutic circle. First. tautology is true to the Heideggerian roots of the conception. to recognize the Being of something as something” (P. 122 . in their way. 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. before or beyond its determination as true or false. models for logopoiesis.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The tautology of the term is relevant for several reasons and thus must be retained. it disallows philosophy or poetry to totally appropriate the term. tautology names the specificity. . Akhmatova’s ability not to write and Benjamin’s Idea of Prose are all. “Bartleby. 190 and OWL. it touches on the debate as regards the tautegorical nature of logopoiesis. it cannot be proved right or wrong by testing it for agreement in relation to concepts or things in the world. Glenn Gould’s playing with not-playing. Damascius’ consciousness of the tablet. with the poets. 260). is inimical to philosophical thought. These experiences are without truth.
THINKING TAUTOLOGY Agamben then goes on to list a history. 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. the transformation of limbs that changed it into a bird” (P. and potential. but when asked to copy or write by his boss he replies that he would “prefer not to. power. 260). if I may but temporarily coin that rather horrendous-sounding neologism. but a scrivener whose potential never arrives at actualization. all logopoiesis produces life out of desubjectivization or. 94) indicates how integral in actuality is his vision of thinking and poetry. the moment when the subject “withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP.LOGOPOIESIS. All poetic thinking. he ends with Heidegger. Each of these thinkers conducts an experiment in being which we should now recognize as that of desubjectivization. and most significantly. Of course he then recounts Rimbaud’s declaration “I is another” alongside Kleist’s use of the marionette as paradigm for the absolute. but as we saw desubjectivization is a central tenet in Agamben’s conception of the relevancy of poetry to philosophy and being. That Agamben uses precisely the same phrase when explaining that the importance of poetry is that it produces life (EP. This is not. being. This is what Agamben calls the “irreducibility of his ‘I would 123 . the only experiment to be conducted by logo-poets.” Here he experiments with issues of will. 260). Finally. who “replaces the physical ‘I’ with an empty and inessential being that is only its own ways of Being and has possibility only in the impossible” (P. He mentions Avicenna’s imagining of an eviscerated and dismembered being that can still state “I am. as we saw. 93).3 Agamben stresses that Bartleby’s experiment with being and potential is of this kind. 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. this is his form of life.” He speaks of Cavalcanti’s description of the poetic experience of being like an automaton. He describes Condillac’s introduction of a statue to the sense of smell and Dante’s desubjectification of the “I” of the poet into the third person. He is a scrivener. It is not that he cannot copy. I believe. He is a scrivener. effectively. Rather he does not want to. the father of logopoiesis. for the reptile. of remarkable logopoietic thinkers. He remains a scrivener with the potential to write mimetically.
” It is not that he does not want to copy. Similarly. It is the formula of potentiality” (P. Logopoiesis therefore must be a construction dependent on the logic of potentiality as Agamben finesses it. 259). he argues. form-of-life (HS. 261). as Keats demonstrates in the final line of “Ode on a Grecian Urn. 188). 255). In the end there is little difference between this presentation of truth 124 . 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. A tautology is a form of thinking whose truth cannot be tested because it is always true. “The formula that he so obstinately repeats destroys all possibility of constructing a relation between being able and being willing.4 INFINITE POETRY While illustrative these examples.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN prefer not to’. or better. 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. 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. potentiality thus creates its own ontology” (P. between potential absoluta and potential ordinate. as all illustrations are. Logopoiesis is a truth-testing tautology that can only occur outside the realms of philosophy. he would simply prefer not to. In that this ontology withdraws subjectivity from actual identity and biological indistinction. “Emancipating itself from Being and non-Being alike. 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.” poetry thrives on it. Philosophy cannot abide the tautology. but. another name Agamben gives to this ontology is life. For a start Melville’s story seems to merely recount the conditions of potential in an allegorical or analogous form. are somewhat dissatisfying.
” with “this hedgerow” becoming converted later into “that. 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. the impersonal genius of the wind interjects and “I find myself comparing to this voice / that infinite silence: and I recall eternity. This is best illustrated by the centrality he gives to poetry in Language and Death.” Naturally. This is logopoiesis in its weakest state. faced with the “immensity” of both infinite space and infinite time. poetry. He notes the deictic “this” is repeated six times in the poem’s fifteen lines. which it undoubtedly does in the poem. that moves beyond what we have already learnt of deixis from other sources. and back again. indeed.” moving one from proximity to distance. always conceives of the sense-certainty assumed by the “this” as always already “universal and negative. And how. “L’infinito” begins: “This lonely knoll was ever dear to me. marked by “supernatural silences.” At this point. and dialogue have all been used by philosophy to make a point. like Hegel. THINKING TAUTOLOGY and that found in Plato’s dialogues or the fabulous Nietzsche.”6 Agamben’s analysis begins in technicalities which indicate the sincere philologer within him. along with an interesting interchange between “this” and “that.5 His is a truly engaged logopoiesis that gives as much attention to the operations of poetic thinking as to philosophical thought processes. most specifically the circular tautological nature of thinking under the auspices of logopoiesis. is this specific use of deixis singular to the poem when innumerable poems use the same technique? Agamben believes that Leopardi. of merely allegorizing literature in the service of philosophy. 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. / and this hedgerow that hides from view / so large a part of the remote horizon.LOGOPOIESIS.” Author-function Leopardi is then struck by a sense of “interminable spaces” in the distant beyond.” so that while we may assume that Leopardi did 125 . Yet Agamben is not to be accused. specificity to generality. 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. as some have of Heidegger and Badiou. Narrative.
What are these qualities that typify the place of poetry. the knoll. The place of poetry is therefore always a place of memory and repetition. in the instance of discourse that the habitual use of deixis indicates. second as to how poetic structure. reducing both subjectivities to mere gesturality. in such a way.” and then “this” for “that” suggests that. here the This is always already a Not-this (a universal.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN once perceive a knoll in his home town of Recanati. converting with haste Leopardi the existent-being into Leopardi the author-function gesture. 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). however. in other words where and how poetry thinks? First. like the poet himself. here his analysis of poetry is exemplary and paradigmatic. More precisely the instance of discourse is assigned to memory from the very beginning. This. and third how poetic thinking differs totally from that of philosophy. beyond the last horizon. Poetic language takes place in such a way that its advent always already escapes both toward the future and toward the past. and into other realms of generality. (LD. is indicated for example by how soon the “this” in the poem. first as regards the now fully fleshed-out conception of dictation. In the Leopardian idyll. he believes. that the procedure of author-function becoming reader-function. the “this” points always already beyond the hedgerow. toward an infinity of events of language. the hedgerow. a That). I believe. and the wind in the poem have immediately moved beyond referentiality to an existential fact. already referentially deficient but still intimate. Agamben’s use of prose was illustrative.” The rapidity and alacrity with which the poet abandons a noun for “this. serving as the basis for the possibility of its infinite repetition. as in the Hegelian analysis of sense-certainty. is modified to become the more vague and distant “that. also converts the ontic object of the text as such into mere text-function. he is immediately transforming the sense-certainty of the poem into a set of universal qualities revealing. reference. and rhythm work. referentiality in poetry is always already moving away from reference to an actual thing towards 126 . Previously. 76) Although a consideration of one short lyric this is also an observation of great significance.7 He is reading a poem by Leopardi but.
and yet as soon as the poet encounters daffodils. something singular to the poet. this allows Agamben to make a truly profound revelation as to the nature of poetic structure.” There was a knoll but in the poem there is no knoll. 69). This is a point he also makes in reference to the razo de trobar. they have already entered into a field of repetition. Although the lived experience always precedes the act of mimesis in our tradition. to a universal precondition of experience as such. 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. namely. Agamben’s first conclusion from this astonishing reading is itself somewhat predictable but essential all the same. universal. there was a solitary reaper but in the poem she has already fled. fourth. 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. a poem is therefore always profoundly evental. the uncertainties of memory down by the station early in the morning. Third. A poem can never be an event. the fiction of the razo creates lived experience simply to support the event of writing a poem that is long past. This invention of an encounter or happening is in fact an act of false memory. Its advent is both pre-cursive and reflective. 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. Second. poetic referentiality is always marked by a belatedness transferring all poetic temporality into memorialization. He says that the poem “expresses the same experience which we saw as constitutive of philosophy itself. THINKING TAUTOLOGY the thing first standing for something else and then finally an indication of the thing of language as such. The poem. a gesture conjured up to support to presence of the poem as such (LD. therefore. The poem deals with a truth that is always already in place before the poet ever even wanders lonely as a cloud. is truly an event in that it negates the very possibility of its ever occupying this space and being termed as such. or has always already been converted from singular event to universal quality. frog-spawn. that the taking place of language is unspeakable and ungraspable. Finally. or conceptually through such considerations of space and time that we find in “L’infinito.” located as it is beyond the knoll in 127 .LOGOPOIESIS. The event as such is either always already prepared for. the poietic poem. there was a Grecian urn but in the poem there is no Grecian urn.
not quite. Poetry and philosophy are most certainly linked in terms of how they think language. 77). comes about in such as way that its advent necessarily remains unsaid in that which is said” (LD. taking place in time. Its role as a functioning meta-deixis although not often enough remarked upon is central to the literary experience as a whole. That said if philosophy is marked by language as negation then poetry too cannot escape this metaphysical nihilism. In addition. This is no more the case than in the poem which demands to be read then re-read. that they will return again. 77). of course. He adds: “The word. although in later studies he refers to it as the semiotic. weaving a complex planar and tabular matrix of anaphoric and cataphoric elements that are the essence of its form. . the metrical-musical element” (LD. the act of turning. and that the instance of the word that takes place in a poem is. to return. 77). There are blessings and curses to be gleaned from this analysis. This is. for this reason. Agamben’s definition of language’s sayability as pure medium being perpetually silenced by the instance of the Voice. Thus he is able to conclude in a phrase of some significance to my own theory of logopoiesis: “The poetic experience of dictation seems. The verse (versus. The utilization of metrical forms in poetry. is an essential part of poetry. if philosophy has already indicated this surely all that is left for poetry is to back philosophy up. in all poetry even contemporary mainstream free verse and experimental poetics. . 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. 77). 128 . as in prose) signals for a reader that these words have always already come to be. For a start Agamben excitedly notes in relation to Bartleby that Melville’s observations on will precede those of Nietzsche by three decades. Thus literature can get there first.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN interminable silence (LD. This element is what he calls here poetry’s “super-shifter . to coincide perfectly with the philosophical experience of language” (LD. Well. to proceed directly. thus. as opposed to prorsus.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. 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.
There is.LOGOPOIESIS. This is not the solution to our metaphysical problems. philosophical discourse cannot. 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. modern poetic dictation is just as marked by negation as modern philosophical thinking. As the poem is always already in place before you even come upon it. 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. Thus the poem is able to take possession of the unattainable as the positive basis for its own self-generation. philosophy and poetry. Philosophy’s prose proceeds but poetry’s verse returns and this constitutes their essential difference. structure. While philosophy is able to speak of the unspeakable giving us insight into negativity but no means of overcoming it. reference and. is by definition a placeless one. Through the musical element. This allows poetry to take possession of language’s unattainability in a way. and while my formulation of logopoiesis advocates 129 . 78) This is the essence of the nature of poetry for Agamben. and has always already taken place and then begun again before you even get to the end. poetic language commemorates its own inaccessible originary place and it says the unspeakability of the event of language (it attains. the unattainable). But this placelessness has a place to be found in prosody itself. no quick solution to this problem. in poetry the unattainable is its very essence. You will recall that although poetry and philosophy both share as their object the unattainability of language as such. in what I have called logopoiesis. that is. however. he believes. THINKING TAUTOLOGY ungraspable. indeed. counting as one of the most profound reflections on the literary ever penned in any language at any time. but the commencement of a possible shift away from the aporias of both logos and poiesis. (LD. where poetry thinks. finally. THE HABITS OF THE MUSE Agamben’s conclusion to his reading of Leopardi is complex and subtle. which is something philosophical language can never do unless it becomes poeticized. This is prosody as such or poetry’s reliance on repetition in terms of stress. lineation. sound. it performs or at least demonstrates that the very place of poetry. Does it not.
unlike in the English translation.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. 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. The first rhyme already recalls the second. if one is always proceeding and returning? One never is. In “L’infinito” the habitual. combined with a positive potential. symphonies. For now we must satisfy ourselves with Agamben’s final point in relation to “L’infinito” as regards what might be called poetic habit. and films recall their commencement in their ending. for Agamben. turning. This is the place of poetic thinking. Every couplet is in miniature the ontological potential of the poem to save thought. First. is also referred to directly by the first line of the poem which in Italian reads: “Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle. novels. the habit of its reversal.is the Indo-European word for single.” Here always.” Agamben traces the etymology of sempre to the Latin semper which he first fractures into two elements. This is not unique to this poem. Just as the poem never ends always returning our attention back to that first line. the second harks back to the first. “was ever dear to me” and “sweet to me. of which he finds the sem. it never begins either commencing always on “always.” Two elements at the poem’s end recall. is.” a common enough construction of the experience of the always. 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. He then suggests: “The sempre that opens the idyll thus points 130 . although always there in the metricalmusical element. When is one ever in the poem spatially or temporally. The poem proceeds through verse.” and the emphasis on dearness/sweetness. the use of “this. its advent. 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. Second. so many lyrics. the poem form is dominated by the advent-finitude tabular matrix. progressing only to refer back. sem-per.” This in fact is not a remarkable observation. Thus he defines the roots of always as meaning “once and for all.” “This lonely knoll” and “this sea. an adventure indeed. sempre. Consider rhyme as a simple example of this. going backwards to go forwards. its restless habitus.
The thought is a movement that. because it leads into the heart of the Same. invention in Derrida. It departs from a habit and returns to the same habit” (LD. 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. it represents the initial sempre as an interminable multiplicity . here. But the drowning of thought in ‘this’ sea now permits a return to the ‘ever dear’ of the first line. Yet we know that in trying to have the knoll the poet is instead cast into the interminable space that dismays his heart. The singular cannot be attained except through its being named in language. . 80). 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. THINKING TAUTOLOGY toward a habit. fully experiencing the unattainable of the place of language. 79). to measure its dimensions” (LD. to occupy its singular once-ness for all time indicated in the “this. This “voyage” taken in the poem is “truly more brief than any time or measure. cedes to thought its sovereign power in affairs of the mind but is wrong to do so. 131 .” the poet instead founders in the multiplicity of potential experiences of the knoll. Habit cedes to a thought that ‘feigns’.LOGOPOIESIS. Poetry. This is perhaps why in an early letter Leopardi writes of the way in which thought makes him unhappy. In trying to inhabit the experience of the knoll.9 that is. This is in a way a restatement of the logic of the name in Heidegger. . to hold this unattainability in suspense. the habitual dwelling with which the idyll began” (LD. Yet in a later poem. the perpetual place of always. “Il pensiero dominante” he seems to embrace thinking which. seeks to think. the that of the knoll or its endless repetition through its prophylactic and transmissible encounter in poetic language. Agamben now rereads the whole poem as an attempt to seize the habitual. although dominating is also sweet. 80–1). and the event in Badiou. as is ever the case at least since Plato’s time. by the poet’s trying to haveever-dear the experience 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. will even kill him if he is unable to change his situation. a having (habitus) that unifies (once) a multiplicity (all times): the having ever dear this knoll” (LD. 80). . the rupturing of a habitual dwelling into a ‘surprise’ .
spoken by it. 78). he explains. In that “philosophy too experiences the place of language as its supreme problem (the problem of being)” (LD. For Plato the meaning of the most beautiful song is “to demonstrate that poetic words do no originally belong to the people nor are they created by them” (LD. the habit. Muse. is the name the Greeks gave to the “ungraspability of the originary place of the poetic word” (LD. here thought cannot measure trapped as it is in the tautology of the same. the circular structural basis of all logopoiesis. its utter. 78). is responsible for giving the poetic word the character of being an eurema Moisan or invention of the muses. nothing new. Periplus describes. for speaking man. anti-poiesis. in a nutshell. the circular journey immortalized by The Odyssey becoming a foundational recursive and tautological structure of so much Western art to follow. “so that it necessarily escapes whoever tries to speak it” (LD. The name of this technique in poetry is the periplus. therefore. nothing that can be tested as being true in terms of agreement or reasoning. The circular journey to nowhere brings to the fore the darkness of the poem. 78). in the Ion. a project of which I think we can say Heidegger is the greatest master. that it says nothing of worth. thus. he sees a rival to his claim for thought’s sovereignty. Agamben believes philosophy was born out of the very need to 132 . Both seek to grasp that original. radically productive uselessness. Plato. Periplus as a term marks the structural pointlessness or meaninglessness of art. is the highest stake” (LD. much more than a simple rivalry. amity.10 Plato sees the community between poetry and philosophy. 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. inaccessible place of the word. 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. which. Agamben’s reading goes even further than this however: “The ‘confrontation’ that has always been under way between poetry and philosophy is. 78). that it takes us nowhere. and instead of appreciating filiation. Here. Agamben believes Plato is correct in his calling philosophy supreme music and its muse the true muse. he claims. Use of the poetic word in fact is an expropriated appropriation in that one is possessed by the muse. philo-poiesis. 78). just sails around.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN In contrast to our previous definition of thought as that which takes measure of the dimensions of the unattainable. Wildean.
In parentheses as if an after thought which in fact is the advent of this whole impossible yet unavoidable enterprise. would be the true human language). . 133 . he argues. thought has many adventures during which thought’s silence and interminable nature miraculously ceases to be “a negative experience. Yet. as is often the case in such salty tales of the sea. neither verse not prose. 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. no sooner launched the logopoietic bark is inundated by the cruel seas of the infinite and drowns. Thought in the poem. The second the establishment of negative. thought “in its drowning” is “now truly lost forever . THINKING TAUTOLOGY liberate poetry from inspiration or to retrieve language from mystical music-making and return it to statements of truth. (LD. 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. It does this. and thus freed. the most beautiful voice of the muse is voice without sound marking the origins of two essential and ultimately destructive events in Western thought. that is. once and for all time. 78) With this parenthetical wondering Agamben gives birth to the new discipline of logopoiesis. Yet. 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. will ever be able to accomplish their millennial enterprise by themselves. the trans-planar and tabular experience of the anaphoriccataphoric matrix of poetic recursiveness. by transforming muse into spirit or Geist. perhaps neither poetry nor philosophy. in the periplus logic of tautological habitudes. Who will save us: poetry or philosophy? The answer is neither and both. sets out from only to return back to the same.”’ At sea.” Thought has been truly poeticized by being sucked into the vortex of poetic periplus. along the way. lost at sea as we say. Plato argues in Phaedrus. once and for all. vocal silence at the very heart of being. Thought now experiences. Yet. Returning one last time. you recall. and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring.LOGOPOIESIS. Agamben inserts the following: (For this reason. tautological logopoiesis. .
and reflect on how far we have come. without resorting to arche-presence of the false imposition of unity. it suffices to pull ourselves from the ocean and back onto the shore.” its drowning and its tautological negation so that “in the negative dimensions of the event of language. in the exhaustion of the dimension of being. The result is the “extinguishing of thought. Everything hangs on the temporal-spatial essence of poetry. time between times or between chronological time. In both tautology and potentiality. 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. For now. 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 having been. and eschatological futural time. the truth of a statement cannot be tested. Logopoiesis is the turn of verse in all senses of the word. its versification of language. its habit and its versus. At this point the metaphysical and poetic Agamben will once more come together and take the measure of each other. 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. . 134 . for different yet related reasons. Logopoiesis in its tautology names a certain experience of truth that emulates that of potential. This logic is the tautological logic of poetic thinking. Through the projectiverecursive nature of poetic structure we are gifted with a model for a truly tautological mode of thought that draws together all the strands of Agamben’s attempt to think beyond the metaphysics of scission and negation. as the ethos of humanity” (LD. 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. Yet the circularity of logopoiesis goes even further than this. however. literary singularity born out of structures of repetition. its coming to be. 81). Both the ability of poetic language to turn (projective-recursion) as a potential for a pro-ductive philosophy to come.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the poem. negativity as the breaking and making of the habit or of a poetic. its having-been and its coming to be . and yet how much further we still have to travel. dry off. the very testing of truth through its own alienation. The result of this is a form of radical desubjectivization. .
135 . (BT. and the arts. 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. without remaining unsaid in what is said” (EP.CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. 96) If it were not already apparent that there is a profound interdependence in Agamben between thinking. All of which gives a certain piquancy to his avowed project here. the end of the poem. recurrence. THE TURN OF VERSE THE DEFINITION OF POETRY Bare space is still veiled. Never more powerfully apparent than here is it that Agamben is both negligent of the singularity of literature and yet entirely dependent on it. 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. Like all other identities in Agamben. interruption. 115). the poem must die through a process of self-alienation to become what it is destined to be. language. interests him only in as much as it provides singular and privileged access to thinking the thing of thought as such: language. 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. consider the conclusion of the short essay on poetics entitled “The End of the Poem.” Having spent several pages defining poetry in terms of lineation. and finitude.
like all tension. without being trivial. (EP. but also that the specific tension of the poetic. between the semiotic and the semantic sphere. and poetry is the archetypal tensile linguistic form. here in the scission between phone and logos. this is. 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. not least because the non-relational relation between two terms in a zone of indistinction that typifies the Agambenian method is best described as a tension. although widely attacked by Agamben cannot simply be eradicated. happens to emulate precisely the tension at the heart of modern. 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. If this tension were easy to maintain. we now realize. not the case. Rather the definition of poetry exists precisely in the ambivalence to be found at the heart of all structures of differential scission. yet as we saw poetry has a special place in this tradition. must also be those for thought.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The essay. negative metaphysics. perhaps Agamben might rapidly find what he is looking for in poetry but. that between the semiotic and the semantic. which was originally a paper presented in French. by definition. To do this. namely that such a scission demands separation and relation. This is not merely due to the repulsive attitude of first philosophy to poetry. is to define a poetic institution that has until now remained unidentified: the end of the poem. as you can see summarized in the title of this lecture. source of the tension he mentions here. The fact that the poem comes to an end both allows 136 . I will have to begin with a claim that. strikes me as obvious—namely that poetry lives only in the tension and difference (and hence also the virtual interference) between sound and sense. begins in a rather pedestrian vein that gives little indication of the direction it will eventually take: My plan. Thus we can see that differential opposition. This may indeed be a truism for all entities the result of the metaphysical tradition. 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.
it follows that the last verse of a poem is not a verse. not least because without finitude there can be no poem. here there can be no enjambement in the final verse of a poem. then. Thus the final “verse” of any poem cannot be poetry for the tension is asymmetrically poised above a permanent rather than transitory space. Agamben wonders: what happens at the point which the poem ends? Clearly.2 Yet there would be no tension without this probable eventuality.ENJAMBEMENT. a gap which words can pause before and then overleap as in enjambement. If poetry subsists in the tensions it calls up between semiotic and semantic forces. because at this point the whole texture of poetry. ongoing poetry of an impossible or virtual nature. THE TURN OF VERSE one to define the potential of its internal tensions and to understand how. 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. carefully woven according to Agamben from the tensile interchange of semiotics and semantics. poetry alone cannot be thought’s substitute. teetering on a ledge above an abyss of pure space or universal prose. it is inevitable that if the sequence cannot recommence then the thing in question at that point no longer exists. This space. 137 . For if poetry is defined precisely by the possibility of enjambement. if poetry is indeed this tension. 112) If something is defined by a tensile dynamic between arrest and sequential recommencement. not a preference for the semiotic over the semantic but the balancing of one precariously against the other. and instead becomes a true abyss of philosophical proportions. 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. 115). ceases to be a facilitator of poetic tension. This fact is certainly trivial. No wonder it is “as if for poetry the end implied a catastrophe and loss of identity” (EP. starts to unravel. the abyssal presence of absence edging all poetry into being. The poem is tense because it must end. only pure. yet it implies consequences that are as perplexing as they are necessary. Does this mean that the last verse trespasses into prose? (EP. while a potential for thought.
tension. to be perpetually born to presence. foreshadowed in the worrying gaps between stanzas. Poetry is not marked by finitude.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN If. 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. He comes to define poetry. the beginning of the poem. before the title. certainly suggested at the end of each line whether it runs on or not. 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. not space at all but un-inscribed or zero-marked matter. For poetry is perpetually fading. and finitude. losing its footing on a slippery way it must follow to its death. Surely the essay would be better named “The Death of the Poem. This is the source of poetry’s Stimmung. This other tension is the tension of philosophical finitude. Is the space before the poem the space between poems. by its ending. if it indeed ever does begin as such and not simply strike up again on its guitar or lute. questions begin to be asked of being. outside the collection or book? Is it actual space. one might also wonder what happens at the point of incipit or the very birth of the poem. inevitable at the poem’s final footing on the edge before the abyss. If space looms at the end of the poem. which is also a being-away-from-birth. or is it merely the period when there is no poetic tension? Where does this space end into. between the title and the poem body. Poetry is tense because it is permanently buffeted by recollected 138 .” because Agamben is speaking here of deathly negativity. or the fake space of the blank page. 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. Is prose. indeed all creation precisely in the terms of Heidegger’s beingtowards-death. from this obvious if not trivial definition. but rather the already inscribed future failure of poetry. its mood or attunement. but rather is the experience of projective and imminent finitude as such. and hence poiesis. implied before the poem has even begun. its uncanny angst. vacancy is just as present before the poem begins. composed of alinear but sequential marks. in other words. dissolving. 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.
Quantity. 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). at some point of extension. Such plans always implicate the formation of a plane. among other things. quasi-scientific formulation and the more complex rhetoric of “The End of the Poem” allows Agamben to add 139 . and the intervening ten years between Agamben’s initial. for example. simply listing actions. provide sufficient criteria. after all. (IP. however obvious it may seem to be. 39) This is taken from Idea of Prose. THE TURN OF VERSE premonitions and intimations of mortality. 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. Prose is the discourse in which this is impossible. rhythm. A plan. A plane occurs whenever there are three points or where there are two lines which are not parallel for. maps out a planar surface.ENJAMBEMENT. those two lines each made of two points. 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. from this standpoint. 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. will meet at a third and mutual point (in perspective the vanishing point). and the number of syllables—all elements that can equally well occur in prose—do not. 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. A plan.
and the regular.3 Let us scientifically and geometrically proceed with this for a moment. for. dare I say it. of course. by which I mean the simple appearance of the words does not reproduce stress. difference. one utters a single. which is a grammatological differentiation. at least until one pauses for breath. although of all of these mathematics also has a tabular potential. while the phonematic difference cannot contain the grammatological. undifferentiated utterance. however.” They are not. although free verse has made the potential for this differentiation available in principle to all syntax with Agamben’s theory backing this up to some degree. Let us take a random and innocent syntagm in English to better illustrate the issue: “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. Latin. as you may have recognized when you 140 . the adoption of the terms semantic and semiotic to place atop of the initial bare skeleton of prose and poetry. in that speaking the words does not reproduce textual spacing or planar dimensionality.4 So in grammatology one cannot “see” stress. There is. the ploughman homeward plods his weary way. and in phonology one cannot hear “words. rather they are electrical impulses giving an impression of words. the lowing heard winds slowly o’er the lea. This third difference is enjambement. Western. which is phonematic.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN one additional element to this formula. and articulation charted here: the space between the words. a third level of segmentation available to only a very limited number of syntagms. and mathematics. English. metrical iambic rhythm. words in any real sense. are all composed of successive series. The brain that cuts up this continual stream into single units identified as “words. rather obvious. resulting in the perfectly sensible and violently contested idea that the voice precedes writing. The grammatological difference cannot contain the phonematic. alphabetic languages which are written although not necessarily spoken.” These two realms rely on very different modes of sensation resulting in cognition of a language which remains permanently bifurcated and at odds with itself. and leaves the world to darkness and to me. The first of these observations is. 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.” There are two clear levels of segmentation. notice how hard is the conception of the phonetic as a line and the grammatological as a stream. There is a fundamental disjuncture in such successive series between words as they are heard and how they are written.
And leaves the world to darkness and to me. True one needs in 141 . The first pertains to Agamben’s more general work on language and in particular his radical critique of Derrida’s theory of the trace conducted through Agamben’s own problematization of the idea of the gramma. the extract in question is more traditionally inscribed thus: The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. And the human is precisely this fracture of presence” (ST. as proven by my example that until those breaks are spatially imposed the sentence in question holds off from become a verse. . 156). revealing not simply Derridean différance but also the “topological game of putting things together and articulating” (ST. 156). so I have to extrapolate from his evidence the possibility that it is both and neither. Is such a break a grammatological or phonematic occurrence? The way Agamben presents it remains permanently unclear. THE TURN OF VERSE saw my example or felt when you read it.5 So goes famously the first stanza of Gray’s exemplary “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. but in the fold of the presence on which they are established: the logos . As one can see from my little experiment in linguistic presentation. The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea. is the fold that gathers and divides all things in the ‘putting together’ of presence. enjambement is neither purely grammatological nor phonological. there are a number of reasons why this cannot be the case. The first is the line taken by Agamben that without the line-breaks after every ten syllables this sentence is prose. The second takes us into a much more complex question as to what is actually meant by a line-break. The ploughman homeward plods his weary way. The remaining evidence is much more empirical. 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.” There are two levels of analysis to present here. While attestation suggests Agamben conceives of enjambement grammatologically. neither in writing nor in the voice. Agamben summarizes this ancient ontological counterpositioning in terms of the bar (/) that we found articulated the ban and articulation of the sign.ENJAMBEMENT. .
and its recommencement. Certainly you can see a line-break or feel it. But if one reads the four lines as one line.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN some sense the spatial presentation of the break for the poem to be immediately perceptible as the visual entity called poem. All of which brings us back to the poetic plane. entente. 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. until one has one’s suspicions confirmed by the graphical plan of the poem before one. this time not between poetry and prose (philosophy) but between speech and writing. more intangibly.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. which can be presented graphically as follows: Geometrically speaking. the use of zero enjambement facilitated by terminal caesurae at the end of every subsection of ten syllables. and perhaps finally. but its full force comes through the combination of the two. Enjambement artificially breaks the sequential line of language at the right hand side of the page here. While prose fills a planar page space. . 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. 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 almost genetic inclination of English speakers to allow their speech to fall into iambs organized into groups of ten syllables or so. if strained. for indeed one cannot understand enjambement unless one understands the semantic content of the lines in view. poetry is the becoming planar of an endlessly extendable two-dimensional field we call prose.6 this is not essential but merely a contingency of 142 . Enjambement therefore not only establishes a tension between semantics and semiotics but it simultaneously eases or even eradicates another ancient antagonism. its ending. one still finds oneself pausing every ten syllables. while at the same time one can feel enjambement but it remains as discarnate as a feeling or uncanny sensation.
Most avowedly the paragraph is not a stanza. 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. . neither poetic nor prosaic. In this way. interrupted by the paragraph certainly but never for anything other than stabilizing semantic dictates within this line. Writing scribbles down voice. that it abandons sense for the abyss of grammatical. organization. (IP. 40) Agamben’s phrasing itself constructs something of a boustrophedonic folding logic. spatial absence (the jagged abyss that looms at the right-hand edge of all poetry) the break is softened into a bend.7 the verse finds that its very identity as verse is lost at the precise point of its being 143 . 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. 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. and transportation of prose writing. namely sense. It hints at a passage of prose with the very gesture that attests its own versatility. By this headlong dive into the abyss of meaning. distribution. In abstract terms the line of prose is always one single line. The paragraph. the purely sonic unit of verse transgresses its own identity as it does its own measure. referring to the rhetorical term echoing the passage of an oxen along and between the furrows it ploughs wherein you write first from right to left and then from left to right. . but boustrophedonic. I would argue. it is irresistibly drawn into bending over into the next line to lay hold of what it has thrown out of itself. enjambement brings to light the original gait. and it is a point.ENJAMBEMENT. of poetry . 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. Yet at the very point. as it were. The cut folded back on itself always becomes a hinge except for the very last verse which remains severed not bent. As Agamben argues: In the very moment that the verse affirms its own identity by breaking a syntactic link. and reclaims that which it had the temerity to eject. Here voice shouts down writing. THE TURN OF VERSE the development of the book as a technology for the preservation.
What poetry “makes happen” geometrically is that it adds a third point. THE MESSIANIC AS NOT The space of thought within the poem. “Poetic” remains therefore at the level of praxis. – KLE SIS. If we take the structural shift of the metricalmusical element of the anaphora-cataphora projective recursive tabular matrix of poetic structure. while poetry as such is poiesis. and vice versa. 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. What poetry makes happen in the birth to plane is nothing other than thinking. as a surround or framing device. such as the becoming planar of the cut/turn at the end of the poetic line. the way it always refers both forwards and backwards. indeed poetry as such is based on the fundamental number three.8 opening up a planar space in writing that is the very basis of the grammatological. 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. rely on temporality.9 Students of poetry will be more than aware of how considerations of space. as a threshold. 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. Students of metaphysics will be more than aware of how considerations of time become those of space. and finally excision of an opening for suprasensuous thinking within the sensible body of a “work” of art. to poetry as the tensile effect of this activity. an essential logopoietic opening up of space for thought in a medium that. allows the poetic to become poetry. has suffered a ban. One of 144 . cannot be cleared until the issue of time in poetry is resolved. Between the cut and the fold. revealed and concealed or vice versa. something that writing does. since Plato certainly.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN founded. to refer to the activity of enjambement. immediately closed down again by the cut becoming in an instant a fold. At the point in the line when the line becomes a part of a plane the poiesis of poetry is revealed. or something that the poetic makes happen or brings into presence. poetry is continually and permanently born to presence and withheld from view. This experience of space produced by the boustrophedonic transition from line to plane. colonization. therefore. and abyss.
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. and so on. 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. If we are to move from lineation to the space of poetry. 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. temporal. poetic temporality. the epoch of modernity. Map-less but with guidance we will commence with the call of the messianic vocation. 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. Yet its essential combination with the theory of potentiality is. and progress in our task of a logopoiesis in which poetry is an essential partner in the indifferential thought to come. Indeed the whole project of the early formulation of the Idea of Prose depends upon complex interactions with temporality such as Benjaminian now-time and messianic redemption. the medium or supportive gesturality of language as such makes little reference to temporality. and the quest for a post-nihilistic theory of productive thought about art that did not succumb to the metaphysical-epochal designations of ending. Agamben has only been able to resolve these issues. in part. Yet such is the nature of the adventure. familiar with. resolve the aporias of modernity. negation. The first of these is kle ¯sis or calling as a surrogate to epoch as event. but also the possible solution as to how a future for thought can be found in the technicalities of prosody. silence. as regards Agamben’s own philosophy of indifference. in one of his recent and most important works The Time That Remains. Finally. 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.ENJAMBEMENT. of course. space becoming time.10 The combination of these two terms not only involves an even more ontological radicalization of enjambement as the obvious definition of the poem. 145 . There are two central epochal moments in Agamben’s messianic The Time That Remains which we are already. and the messianic strand of potential.
The Time That Remains is a sustained philological analysis of the Pauline canon of messianic texts. Finally. is one which commentators have struggled for centuries to render in their respective languages. The call. one might redefine this form of anaphora as tautegorical cataphoric anaphora. repeating the same logic we found in play with aesthetic judgement. messianic calling is first presented in the “Second Day” of The Time That Remains bracketing the debate of modern. or to remain within the dynamic of calling indicated by the logical and linguistic operations of anaphoric deixis. This occurs through a technical application of that. now. 257). can the referent or call can be said to call at all. Indeed. 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. 7:17: 17–22. 19). until the deictic indicator refers back to its previous referent. the calling of being called. and thus it is from Paul that Agamben extricates the idea of kle as the calling to the messianic vocation. therefore. Reading specifically a ¯sis sentence from 1 Cor. the messianic “calling. Agamben argues the problem is that the phrase is not tautological. most familiar linguistic operator. Such a use of anaphoric deixis is peculiarly tautegorical because not until the call is recalled. but a “peculiar tautegorical movement that comes from the call and returns back to it” (TTR.” Agamben focuses on the seemingly tautological phrase en te kle he ekle ¯.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kle ¯sis.” can be read intertextually in relation to three areas of concern for logopoiesis. What deixis indicates here.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. usually translated as “the ¯ ¯sei ¯the same calling wherein he was called” (TTR. 22). Clearly it presents a modification of Heidegger’s idea of the poetic as the calling of calling (PLT. Here the “he” is an anaphoric designation of the previous kle ¯sei. deixis. 198 & 209). fictive subjective as-if-ness that we have already delineated. or the call of the previous calling. therefore. is that the commencement and completion of the vocation of the messianic all occur within the temporality of the act of calling. While the tautology of this phrasing. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. To be called to the messianic vocation is to be called to the call. is instigated and completed only after the fact of when it is called to call. wherein the repeated term can only be presented as a term to be repeated 146 .
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.” (TTR. This being the case the messianic vocation has no specific content. almost an internal shifting between each and every single condition by virtue of being called” (TTR. the vocation calls the vocation itself. and only because of. the “Ho s me ” of the Pauline text.” he says. 22). . Citing Paul when he says that kle involves ¯sis operating “as not having” a condition. its relation to the messianic event. You are not called from one vocation. Tautegorical. for example called to criticism as the critical tautegorical nullification of criticism. to another. and indeed there is increasing room for Benveniste here and in other later works. a form of indication that “may apply to any condition.ENJAMBEMENT. but instead are called into the nullification of one’s vocation as one’s vocation. but for this same reason. as though it were an urgency that works it from within and hollows it 147 . apostle. . Thus one is called to remain in the negation of vocation as a form of vocation. Precisely because such a remaining “signifies the immobile anaphoric gesture of the messianic calling. Agamben calls ¯ ¯ this the “ultimate meaning of kle ¯sis” (TTR. 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. but not called to a new vocation. . Jew.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). One is called away from one’s vocation. . Think of this if you will as anaphoric deixis that refers to no particular thing but merely refers to its own operations. of having a condition as not having a condition. We are faced here therefore not with a matter of eschatological indifference. THE TURN OF VERSE after it has first been repeated. 23). . it revokes a condition . but of change. “Why remain then in this nothing?” Agamben asks. referring to the first half of the Pauline formulation. its being essentially and foremost a calling of the calling” (TTR. The messianic vocation is the revocation of every vocation . yet cannot be repeated until it has occurred. “Vocation. “calls for nothing and to no place . . 23)— immobilized by the confounding circular logic of the tautegorical. the classic definition of deixis.
” and how this form of comparison was analysed by Medieval grammarians in a particular fashion as not a form of identity or resemblance.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN out. . if I may refer to such a thing. but of the duality of language itself imposed upon it by human speech. not until he starts to speak of figurality is one able to see how these comments pertain to modern aesthetics. If this is true then for Paul men are not as children. they do not resemble children. “The Pauline hos me seems to be a special type of tensor. it prepares its end” (TTR. In Paul’s comparative explanation of the subjective effect of kle weeping ¯sis is pushed towards itself as not weeping. 24). The comparison. Speaking specifically of the parable of the sower where seed represents logos of course. “unless you become as children. the parable. as the operation of language as such to such a degree that in many languages the word for language originates from the parable. “but rather they interpreted the comparative as an (intensive or remissive) tension that sets one concept against another” (TTR. noting how in the Bible the parable comes to stand for the word of god itself or logos. but are placed alongside children. it sets itself up against itself in the form of the as not: weeping as not weeping” (TTR. nullifying it in the very gesture of maintaining and dwelling in it” (TTR. the messianic does not simply cancel out this figure. but makes it pass. for it does ¯ ¯ not push a concept’s semantic field toward that of another concept. Agamben identifies how a whole tradition of the parable develops that takes paraballisation. that of the messianism of a temporality to come. Agamben concludes from this form of comparison: “In pushing each thing towards itself through the as not. rejoicing pushed towards not rejoicing. As he says: “In the parable. the difference between the signum and res significa thus tends to annul itself without completely disappearing. if it exists at all. 24–5). While apparent that Agamben here is speaking of the mediality of language in another register. is that of a thing with itself in the form of non-self-identity. At the end of this section Agamben speaks of the process “as not” in terms of another classic form of rhetoric. Instead. In the messianic parable signum and res significa approximate each other because language itself is what is signified. from the Greek 148 . 23–4). . seed meaning seed and logos. . Traditionally a parable is assumed to have a double meaning but Agamben views this not as a signifier having two signifieds. He first uses the example of the technique of comparison within Paul.” Like the comparison the parable. 24).
eschaton. when the division of time is itself divided . To negotiate this subtle and complex difference will take the rest of my study here on the conception of poiesis. “it is a remnant. He explains that while Paul regularly uses eschatological time when speaking of the two Jewish time traditions. signifier and signified. and the atemporal eternity that extends after the end of time. This shift from comparison to parable brackets. Glossing on the traditional representation of time as a line along 149 . and to take us from negative modernity to productive poiesis we must turn to the second Pauline term. that which stretches from creation to the end of time. messianic time is neither of these epochal designations. works in a manner which places figuration alongside itself. how does that differ from the messianic figurality of anaphora. a consideration of a third form of figuration. occasion or now. Rather. Language does not refer to the world but to language as such. the time that remains between these two times. and parable? These constructions are also self-regarding but in a manner that Agamben believes is truly redemptive. the “as if. “As if ” would seem to be figuration as such.” (TTR. . In the language of messianic time comparisons and parables exist not in terms of linguistic comparison. but so as to put “each being and each term in tension with itself ” (TTR.ENJAMBEMENT. indicates a process of internal division (as well as creating tabular space). THE TURN OF VERSE para-ballo to place one thing next to another. MESSIANIC KAIROS Agamben first addresses the term kairos. 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. 43).” The historical conflict he maps out between “as if ” and “as not” can now be situated around familiar territory pertaining to language and figuration. in relation to what he sees as a common misrepresentation of apostolic messianic time as eschatological. . as I said. kairos. 62). 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.” however. Agamben’s argument in The Man Without Content. The question therefore remains if modern “as if ” aesthetics finds its archetype in art for art’s sake. comparison. The sign is not a system of difference and similarity but of a non-selfcoincidence as identity. chronos.
150 . in regard of linear time. the classic representation of time since Aristotle. therefore. and dimensionalities. Such caesuric time operates as part of the epoch of chronos while exceeding it. in its dividing the division between two times. and as part of the eschaton while exceeding that. As such it operates with precisely the same logic as the term epoch. although the time of the now. reiterations. either we are confronted with a model that is representable but unthinkable as actual experience of time. being neither point nor extension but the precondition and deconstruction of both. here represented as between the two vertical dotted lines. insufficient to capture the complexity of time. but accept such a time is unrepresentable. Kairos. or we concede the thinkable nature of time and all its complexities.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN which one situates epochs. 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. interruptions. Agamben hones in on this gap between representable and thinkable time by adopting the linguistic concept of operational time. as ever. As Agamben says. he notes that such a line has never accorded with the human experience of time. Messianic time. is not a dot on the line of time but a segment or stanza within the divisions of epochs along this line. nor a synthesis of all three tenses in a manner that emulates Bergson’s influential theory of modern time. and C apocalypse. Kairos adds futurity to the past and pastness to the future but it is not the moment or instant. 64). The result is a caesuric division between an epoch’s cessation and the resumption of the new epoch. Be not afraid. 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. stratifications. Of the time line consisting of assumed strings of points. he explains that this linear model is. 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. B the messianic event. in this instance messianic time. for example A—B—C wherein A is creation.
Kle ¯sis and kairos. . formation. insofar as he is a thinking and speaking being. tautegorical calling and self-constructing temporal representation. 66) which. perhaps only an instant but a period all the same. or. It is as though man. Whatever experience of time they undergo they are able to come to represent it as this idealized model in their minds subsequently. Agamben concludes that In every representation we make of time and in every discourse by means of which we define and represent time. Instead.ENJAMBEMENT. Rather. the time we take to bring time to an end. to achieve our representation of time” (TTR. and Guillaume calls this operational time or “the time the mind takes to realize a time-image” (TTR. and having been constructed. 67). This process of temporal construction takes a period of time. The benefit of operational time is that it adds “a projection in which the process of forming the time-image is cast back onto the time image itself ” (TTR. THE TURN OF VERSE Operational time originates from the work of French linguist Gustave Guillaume. converts time from a linear to “three-dimensional” entity by which he means it conveys the three moments of temporality: potentiality. the subject’s experience of time is constructed by the subject in accordance with this ideal representation.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. produced an additional time . as we know. another time is implied that is not entirely consumed by representation. 68). more precisely. Agamben argues. 66). This time that remains is the messianic kairos. This interior time is what Agamben means by messianic time: “the time that time takes to come to an end. . 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. 67). are both examples of the figural nature of the messianic for Agamben. that prevented him from perfectly coinciding with the time out of which he could make images and representations. for Agamben figuration is a structural 151 . (TTR. 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. By this we do not mean they are simply rhetorical forms.
Paul adds one more final figural notion. This tendency to think of time as a past prefigurement of a future yet to arrive. 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. This is the epoch of the messianic. as Agamben says. the antitypos. Agamben argues. The messianic is not just one of two terms in this typological relation. and yet in a manner in which their proximity naturally calls up some attempt at relation in the form of tension. it is the relation itself” (TTR. 76). To this typological caesuric figuration. in an inseparable constellation. This results in what might be called the relational tension of the nonrelational. is not important as a “biunivocal correspondence” (TTR. typos. 74). such a correspondence existed prominently throughout the medieval period. 74). We have already considered comparison and parable in this regard. Without getting too lost in the theology of this suffice it to say that if in the messianic kairos there is in the typos a prefigurement of the antitypos. The calling of the “as not” places one’s subjectivity alongside its negation. At this stage then our extended debate on the epochal time of the messianic and our technical considerations of prosody also start to turn to face each other at long last. that of recapitulation. ple ¯ ma ton kairon. Paul explains that at the messianic moment of total fulfilment of time. This means that each instant of messianic 152 . as he considers Paul’s explanation of how all that is past will come to be taken into account at the end of time. 74). while kairatic time places time’s constructed nature against its representation of non-constructed and proper perfection. 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. he tells us. what concerns us is “a tension that clasps together and transforms past and future. “messianic ple ¯ ma is therefore an abridgement and anticipation of eschatologi¯ro cal fulfilment” (TTR. in which the past is dislocated into the present and the present is extended into the past” (TTR. Rather. Agamben is now able to add a third figural term. typosantitypos. the most famous example of which is that between zoe and bios in Homo Sacer. the two elements are heterogeneous. typos and antitypos. so too in the antitypos there is a compacted summation of the typos or.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN process wherein two conditions are placed alongside each other in a nonrelational fashion. although. all things are recapitu¯ro ¯ lated in the messiah.
As soon as Agamben 153 . the greatest of which is surely modernity itself. The same goes for eschatological time. MESSIANIC RHYME Perhaps now it does not surprise us. One is. “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. anaphora and cataphora that is the basis of any poem structure and which we have already defined. by virtue of the metrical-musical element. The law of figuration means that because messianic kairatic time extends the eschaton into the chronos. in fact. This example. Everything about messianic time recalls the figurality of the poetic. 78). and the structure of the poem. is the poetic convention of rhyme. must first consist of a summation of all that went before. and eschaton or temporal finitude. and then in relation to poetry. the temporality of poetry.ENJAMBEMENT. 78). 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. chronos or temporal extension. If we step back now from theology entirely we can first explain this more generally in terms of our experience of operational time. or an act that demands the called subject “seize hold of his own being seized” (TTR. A structure such as the kairatic kle depends ¯sis on the precise mix of occurrence and reiteration. and even he concedes this may be surprising. In the kairos of operational time two incommensurable epochs or conceptions of epoch lie alongside each other. 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. Any theory of temporal extended linearity must contain some idea of completion and any theory of temporal completion must complete on something. a kind of small-scale model of messianic time” (TTR. As messianic time extends chronos into the eschaton all narratives of completion. each moment of chronological time is prefigured by its completion. At this point Agamben wisely decides to give “something like a concrete example. something that is now past. able to restate this fairly logically away from the theological philology of Agamben’s text. as the very location of poetic thinking: logopoiesis.
Agamben’s analysis of the rhythm of the sestina while most apparent in this poem form is. I have argued in my own study of this phenomena in modern experimental poetry. Thus he says of the closed rhyming lyric form. one can begin to see how wonderfully this analogy works. or model is. as one moves towards the predictability of the end. a fact made most apparent in that rather rare stanzaic form the sestina. in each case. 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. from the very start. only organized in different combinations. all usages of the words thus far are 154 . 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. The first six stanzas are each six lines long and the six end words are always the same in each stanza. for example the sonnet. At the same “hermeneutic” time one also picks up on the interplay. A sestina is made up of seven stanzas. You begin to recognize the pattern. Put simply. 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. he argues. insufficient. That said every poem is also a recursive or reiterative structure.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN describes the poem. strains towards its end. effectively. and variance of the use of homologous rhyming end words. a foundational quality of all poetic structure. 79). This is especially true. and he is truly gifted in his appreciation of the technicalities of prosody along with the implications of poetic ontology. the closed form means that in every line the end is prefigured. repetition. 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. in the case of rhyme.14 The form still operates on occasion in modern poetry in other words. look to how the next stanza will recombine the six fixed elements and thus one is always reading both forwards and backwards. But for the more or less brief time that the poem lasts. A kind of eschatology occurs within the poem itself. example. it has its own time” (TTR. although to describe it as analogy. Thus in the sestina. 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. For example. This reading back however comes most to the fore in the tornada where. it has a specific and unmistakable temporality.
83). The poem does not create a new. every poem—is a soteriological device which. model or not. in order to make place for the time of the poem” or what he also calls its “cruciform retrogradation” (TTR. in any case the eschaton already fulfils that role. and the narrative structures of the films of David Lynch. or indeed leitmotifs in Wagner. THE TURN OF VERSE recalled in their final combination. on a shifting interrelational tensile comparative combination between temporal-structural projection and recursion. converting the poem from a linear-horizontal entity to a tabular planar form.ENJAMBEMENT. Nor is the philosophy of time handed over to poetic time. the time of the end. Agamben explains: “The sestina—and. 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. through the sophisticated mechane of the announcement and retrieval of rhyming end words (which correspond to typological relations between past and present). Such a tabular-planar structure. especially his most recent work Inland Empire whose very title expresses the reliance on his work on precisely this anaphoric-cataphoric internal matrix of developmental reiteration. poetic structure is far from a mystery. First he notes how the poem produces an internal disruption of linear time that is not an alternative “poetic time” to replace chronological time. what we have is the same time that organizes itself through its own somewhat hidden internal pulsation. This is the time of the messiah. transforms chronological time into messianic time . Agamben’s insights take the tabularity of poetic structure far beyond anything anyone else could have imagined. in this sense. and. 82). Poetry is not an example here or not solely exemplary. post-chronological time. “on the contrary. This matrix I have called the anaphoric-cataphoric matrix of every poem. as we saw. which I have already posed as the 155 . the time that the poem takes to come to an end” (TTR.16 This aside. . While I have worked for some years on this project. but it does have its own time. .15 In miniature therefore we have the whole basis of Agamben’s logopoiesis. The same process is discernible in the rhythmic distribution of lines and colours in Pollock. of course. AN ENDLESS FALLING INTO SILENCE Agamben’s insights into the relation between poetic structural tabularity and a post-nihilistic modality of indifferent thinking depend.
and tabular structure. 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. for hesitation as theme and/or category. Hesitation is not the localized emotional experience of hesitating yet. Rather this felt hesitation moves one into another realm of hesitation as such. quasi-universal. and propositional hesitation. a philosophical hesitation. Agamben immediately asks the question: What is a hesitation if one ceases to think of it psychologically? A hesitation of such an order. Having assured us that poetry is a “prolonged hesitation” between sound and sense. and return to our original debate on poetic. When one does experience a line-break one is likely to experience the opening up of the truth of hesitation. We must now remove ourselves from messianic time. For an unveiling of philosophical. in a phenomenological reading. most notably music. 156 . advental finitude. lodged within the trans-psychological definition of hesitation such as it is or ontological hesitation. must surely be beyond an actually felt hesitation such as one experiences at the end of a line of poetry. 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. It leaves. one must first experience hesitation as sensation. 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. a trace of psychological pause. hesitation true for all time as it were. evental element. and when one wants philosophically to speak of hesitation as such. you do not need to experience a linebreak every time you wish to think about prolonged hesitation. affective or intellectual. if only to confirm that enjambement is a recursive rather than unique. Then one must dismiss hesitation as sensation without entirely dispensing with it. is dependent on the permanent tension within the poetic line certainly. what is hesitation in thought without the knowledge of an experience of hesitation in the world? Or to pose the issue in different terms. but also structurally at the two extremes of the poem body. in particular through a consideration of the ends or limits of the poem and their dependence on certain ideas of silence. cannot be separated from the original experience of hesitation that one undergoes every time one reads poetry. for a time.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way in which poetry thinks. recursive. tension. as a thinker. categorical hesitation. Yet philosophical. betimes.
a project so vast it all but overwhelms his slight work on prosody. but the Voice as such. a word heard and its meaning. truth.ENJAMBEMENT. Poetry has nothing to do directly with the object. yet truth always proceeds from the sensible at the same time. sensation. the two hesitations of verse. is laid out through precisely the reading of specific poets and their singularly inventive effects. in this way. 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. because after all sounds as such do not interest Agamben but voiced sounds. the science of sensation. is not the name to be given to twentieth-century work on poiesis. to clear a future pathway for truth in what is a high-risk yet now essential intellectual strategy. Derrida.19 This is an unadmitted but now quite familiar aporia in modern philosophical work on poetry. and then by using these techniques to mount a post-nihilistic metaphysics of indifference. Badiou. A prolonged hesitation between sound and sense. sensation.18 Certainly truth precedes. 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. This is an issue that occurs repeatedly in Heidegger. He applies truth to poetic sensation so as to be able. and poiesis is not necessarily poetry. definable at the very least as a thing. First by applying a philosophical category to the technical specifics of prosody. not a physiological voice imprinted on a psychological capability. while simultaneously sailing the ship of truth most perilously proximate to the ruining rocks of sensation. between the dying away of a voiced vibration. THE TURN OF VERSE Heidegger clearly states that aletheia. and that aesthetics. psychologically-actual and philosophical-conceptual. Yet the pathway to poetry. from sensation. at which point he behaves almost like a literary critic. say as an inventive mode of bringing truth to presence. is not dependent on aiesthesis. Although Agamben denies it. 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. not literally from a voice. such a delay between voice and meaning which Agamben likens to a katechon 157 . yet it always proceeds from a poem in Heidegger and all his students. 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. the poem.
nothing is said therein. The poem is. 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. it remains in full as the hesitant voice within these impossible limits. Poetry partakes of a local. as poets teach us. and the poem. 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. singular and impossible to repeat. and what poetry is as that which goes on in the poem but which is not susceptible to or reducible to the poem. self-dissolution. poetry. then there must be at least two orders of silence. for poetry cannot survive its own finitude. If this is. Such an abyss is not to be mistaken for silence either for. unlike poetry or at least its tension. that is. and between actual opposition and possible or potential opposition. general but not universal silence. repeatable. that is rendered mute. This would require here a differentiation between what the poem is as ergon partaking of an impossible. For example. universal but not generalizable. would destroy the poetic machine by hurling it into silence” (EP. of him who. semiotic and semantic. Agamben progresses towards the point of silence that is the end of the poem. Through such careful distinctions between orders of silence. differentiations between the poetic. a kind of silence. is silence. a perception of the tension of poetry. the poem of a silence which is not local but over there. 158 . 114). fulfilling the time of poetry and uniting its two eons. namely the opposition between metric and semantic pauses. Yet the poem is also an ergon. self-willed. as I contend. he points out that the poem is “grounded in the perception of the limits and endings that define— without ever fully coinciding with. is defined by a silence brought about by its finitude meaning that poetry is never silenced. self-negating finitude. having stated that “all poetic institutions participate in this noncoincidence” of which we speak here. the sounding cataract is any thing but mute. 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. between two units. a single body of work which means that it must and indeed already has come to an end. 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. between sound and sense. Instead poetry can be defined as the prolonged hesitation. Thus a poem. 110). according to this.
it simultaneously exists through the bottom line á la Pacman. a space which is inarticulate. 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. It may be useful analogously to think of this in relation to what physicists call a “boundary condition” when studying planes. Without the internal space. but this space is of the order of a boundary condition: the line exits on the right and always enters to the left. A plane only becomes a surface when an actual cut is made in the infinitely extendable plane. 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. Poetry must be ceaselessly.” 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. surfaces were invented by the devil. states that if something enters through the top line of the structure. 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. hesitantly. This means that the second sense of ergon is continually born to presence from the already existent presence of the par-ergon. I am always delaying its arrival. THE TURN OF VERSE I must speak of silence but. 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. all the same a space of a similar structural order can be said to exist in some form internal to the poem. for example. some remnant of our animalistic past. A plane is always defined as being imaginary because it is infinitely extendable in every two-dimensional direction. As the physicist Pauli was fond of saying: “God made the bulk. as I said. Although. for the poem to know of its finitude and be complete. this can only be an illustrative analogy. a silent space that is not silence. 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. or a tail. and locally cutting off. Space must be present for enjambement to occur for example. This is another way in which one could read Agamben. that jagged chasm to the right of the poem. The body as such of poetry does not exist without that body suffering a moment of cutting or caesura. then the ergon could not continually come to 159 . like the poet. A boundary condition of a hexagonal crystal.ENJAMBEMENT.
like time. or represented in unthinkable fashion. This is the moment of the plane becoming a surface.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN being. either a profound error on the part of the philosopher or we are still considering silence psychologically and not philosophically. alinear prose? Agamben. which the poem invites into its body so as to expel it and thus allow itself to endlessly be born into being. the potentially endless and thus infinite fake silence between one line and the next. by which one can only mean space. 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. silent sense. 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 . this consonance which was previously forgivable is harder to support. There is. merely perceptions of silence. it would seem. A finitude which. Surely the silence of sound is an actual silence while the silence of the grapheme. In speaking of silence. constructions of the representability of an idealized construction of a concept that. enjambement as boundary condition. the final moment of finitude that is singular and plunges the ergon of poetry into infinite. First. There are pauses. or as-yet blank tablet. utilizing messianic time. The perception of this double deconstructive presence of absence within the ergon of poetry is what the poem as such is reducible to. the body puts off by its extension and yet invites by the structural necessity of its completion. the unpronounced and the uninscribed. is not silent at all but simply unpronounced. however. Second. relies on two competing convocations with its borders. is either thinkable and unrepresentable. 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. then. but no silence as such. Is there any actual silence within the body of the text? I would argue not. The ergon of the poem body. gestural support.
Only the human animal can establish the quality of exteriority as regards language.” has engaged with the silence of philosophy. only man succeeds in interrupting. describes as silence. is silence. Here Agamben defines silence not as the suspension of discourse.ENJAMBEMENT. The word as such. in the word. “but silence of the word itself. to me at least. the infinite language of nature and placing himself for a moment in front of mute things. of interrupting words with the as-suchness of the word of language whose defining quality. This silence is the silence of philosophy of which Agamben says. in what is almost a cryptogram: “In silence. We now know that this encounter most powerfully occurs at the end of the poem. This complex negotiation with a silence which exposes philosophy to a period without name which is not. (IP. sensibly. it endures the without-name. by which I mean the quality which allows it definition and availability to our apprehension. Here then we finally understand what Agamben means when he states that animals are always within language. Only the human knows of the quietude of the caesura.” an essay which only speaks. once the following essay. absolutely without identity. or an utterance. 111). Silence is not its secret word—but rather. THE TURN OF VERSE textuality to exist at all. the becoming visible of the word: the idea of language” (IP. because man is the sole animal who learns language through infancy. human living being as such through the faculty of language: Only the word puts us in contact with mute things. While nature and animals are forever caught up in a language. exists only for man. 113). which is anything but a sign. without finding in this its own name. in a Heideggerian gesture. The inviolate rose. “The Idea of Language. philosophy stands exposed. not in other words as the cessation of speaking (surely what he means by a psychological hesitation). incessantly speaking and responding to signs even while keeping silent. 113) Paradoxically.20 This being the case one must engage with the profound and complex conception of the idea of word in Agamben. he is the only creature capable of not having language. however. the idea of the rose. an entity beyond the trivial differentiations of sonorous versus graphic. philosophy’s word leaves unsaid its own silence” (IP. an exteriority of the word that Agamben. 161 . the becoming visible but remaining silent word is. the name of poetry. is the conclusion of the essay “The Idea of Silence. rather.
for at the end of the poem. pure impurity as indicated first by the way he structurally treats the semantic and the semiotic as ostensibly of the same order. 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. the end of the poem is marked by a change in the tension between the units of semiotics and semantics which is poetry. If one were to think back to the Derridean conception of invention. 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. and leaves them suspended in an almost endless dynamic of supersession and negation. but it is an unavoidable reality however unpleasant. only to be literally interrupted and superseded at the line’s outermost point. as I have termed it elsewhere. in fact. Poetry is literally elevated above its dyadic other at the end of the line. Poetry. semiotics and semantics. after a prolonged hesitation. Prose literally overwhelms poetry in the following line.21 will continue its demonstration of deconstructive energies almost as an illustrative tool for Derrida’s work.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN As Agamben says. thus granting us finally access to the realm of pure poetry. Yet Agamben is a thinker of another order of perfect. and literally collapses back into this alterity as the next line commences. and Agamben’s work seems similar in the way he establishes two oppositional concepts. They are both units within an “almost intermittent dispute.” While clear that the semiotic and the semantic are both radically heterogeneous and of differing 162 . Left to its own devices the poetry machine. which is also always the final line. rather. is itself an impurity between poetic techniques and prose. in the final verse. to resume the semantic stream. one condition always simultaneously the pre-condition and impossibility of the other. one is struck by how singularity is always immediately ruined by its repeatability. there is no enjambement. ironically pure semiotics does not hold sway. no pure poetry. but which is often termed deconstruction as a form of intellectual short-hand in quasitranscendental self-critical thought. At this point where the semiotics of the poetic line are unable. There is. Certainly Derrida is the thinker of a certain type of pure impurity.
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. issues that would be strongly foregrounded by Derrida. Rather. potentialityformation-having been constructed.ENJAMBEMENT. two tonoi of the same linguistic substance). Without quibbling over an extra dimension here and there. what we can be certain of is Agamben seems to take the geometric presence of poetry backwards away from two (three) dimensions. (Sound and sense are not two substances but two intensities. for example. 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. but intermittently. THE TURN OF VERSE orders of magnitude. two series or lines in parallel flight. Interestingly. but also the ancient Greek origin of the term in relation to the end of a play. the caesura for the semantic) constantly. a line which metamorphoses first into a current. a model which echoes Agamben’s own description of operational time. suggesting that Agamben does not so much ignore the radical incommensurability between sense and matter. rescinded. 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. favouring instead a one dimensional and yet also trans-dimensional single line. strictly speaking. incipit-interruption-continuation. repetitious mechanistic element of prosody with which we are all familiar. dianoia and poiesis. and finally a tension or tone. 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. (EP. the machine 163 . Both are equally out of their element in the line. then a machine. at the moment of deus ex machina. for Agamben they can both be fitted to a pattern of similar units. which somewhat misleadingly he calls three-dimensional. The machine of poetry referred to here is not simply the technical. there is but one line that is simultaneously traversed by the semantic current and the semiotic current. The semantic can just as easily occupy the unit of the line as the semiotic. And between these two currents lies the sharp interval obstinately maintained by poetic mechane. which in reality means very uneasily.
the lines with get entangled. 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. thus it allows a literalization of a kind of localized transcendence. and like the trace it is a theory of intermittent and almost interminable spacing. the tonoi of poetry. first that it marks out an axiom for poetics which we scholars of poetry can recognize. my lines and cues. but what does Agamben mean by suggesting that the semiotic and the semantic are not radically heterogeneous and different also in magnitude. No wait.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of art was regularly used both to end the work and also to allow characters to fly. Its complexities lie first in the apparent proximity of this theory and the work of Derrida. of the obstacle to sense that the premature line-ending constructs. 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. tension. they may form knots. Like invention. and a figuration of the literal implied transcendence at the end of every Greek work of art. Keep up the tension in the line. We will plunge to our death unless the tension in the lines is maintained. and metre of verse. In addition. 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. especially in relation to invention and the trace. that way they can never become truly entangled. enmeshed as it is into the very lines of prosody. Second that it is a theory of the obvious and its obviation. and its obviation in the recommencement of the line within the planar territory I am calling the poem. I need a gag. flying. I have forgotten everything. I feel the tension of the tonoi of the line of poetry as it suspends me above the plane of the stage below. Don’t come too close. which are separate strands but not different from each 164 . enjambement puts forward a theory of necessarily betrayed purity.22 Yet unlike Derrida the impurity of the line is permanently under question. Tono in Latin is the tone. or the moment when the material copy of essence is abandoned and essence alone remains: Deus. unlike the deconstructive mechane. The semiotic and the semantic are not differential terms but two tones within one single linguistic substance. Obvious in two ways. I am giddy.
Unlike Badiou. Between silence in the line. for Agamben poetry is in preparation for the event to come. In a form of agreement with Badiou. not the end of time or even the very last event. will come to an end as the poem must also come to an end. therefore. and the recursive cataphora that the poem experiences at the very moment of its negation through finitude. in the endless falling into silence that defines the end of the poem. but the occupation of the time it takes time to end. 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. THE TURN OF VERSE other. chronological silence. This end. who himself admits to a sparse number of events. eschatological silence. for Agamben this event will be the final event. something will happen. we experience messianic silence as the prefigured anaphora of absolute finitude of each local ending. a messianic event. presents us with a messianic event of events. in enacting an endlessly falling into silence rather than a structural point of cessation. This is not to be conceived of eschatologically as one last event of course. for example at the end of the line. 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. Instead in each instance of time the time of the end. At which point. is inserted into time as such or everyday vulgar temporality as Heidegger calls it. and silence at 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. unlike perhaps in the work of Derrida. 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. The poem excels in messianic temporality. the time it takes for finitude to come to a point of tension or dissolution.ENJAMBEMENT. 165 . however.
namely thinking as such. while for an instant the horse of poetry is stopped” (IP. holds in suspense. is only the transport of itself. 43). As he says in caesuric cadence: “The rhythmic transport that gives the verse its impetus is empty. We now have a clear answer to a question I posed earlier.CHAPTER 6 CAESURA. The place of thought in the poem is the caesura.” Speaking specifically of the Italian poet Sandro Penna. Rather. more fundamental or alternate mode of thinking. Voice here is not the transport 166 . 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.” Agamben’s first attempt to define poetry in terms of enjambement is entitled “The Idea of Caesura. 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. this thought is another. the caesura—for a little—thinks. is thought” (IP. 43) represented by the couplet from Penna “I go towards the river on a horse / which when I think a little a little stops. This allows Agamben to note that “For the poet. And it is this emptiness which. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT THE CAESURA The essay proceeding directly from “The Idea of Prose. 44). as pure word. 43). the element that arrests the metrical impetus of the voice.”1 Invoking an ancient European exegetical tradition which takes the horse to represent the “sound and vocal element of language” (IP. the caesura of verse. Agamben declares this couplet to be a treatise on the subject of the caesura before composing one of his many allegories. Agamben remarks on the “breaking action of the caesura” (IP.
THE SPACE OF THOUGHT of expression nor the silent Voice of metaphysical nihilism. the only venues within a line of poetry inhospitable to the caesura are at the beginning of the line. but a much more “poeticized” idea of thinking. 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. in the essay “The Idea of Thought. thought is not semantic discourse. 104). Similarly. but the infantile voice of language as such. 44). and that it effects the ultimate violence to prosody by its interruption of linear flow. thought ventures forth” (IP. where breath is lacking. hesitantly. 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. and ecstatic thinking is presented in such a way that later in the book. One such little sign in prosody is the comma.” Agamben is able to conclude thus on thinking: “Where the voice drops. awakens and contemplates for an instant the inspiration that carries him—he thinks nothing else but his voice”’ (IP. here asleep on his horse. The classical definition of a caesura. is any word ending that did not coincide with the cessation of a metrical foot. and the end of the poem. prose as we might name it. As we are well aware this is all Agamben craves and we might now name this as the essential precondition of all logopoiesis. the most common representation of caesuric pausing itself often reproduced in prosody by the so-called double pipes ||. not a pause for thought so much as a slight stumble. “The poet. mid-line. considering that the Latin origins of the term caesura inculcate it into the violent rites of cutting and separation. for example. Thus the interplay between flow. 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). This pause most commonly occurs at the medial position. 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. Yet the comma is not a necessary element of caesura.CAESURA. Surprisingly. including the poem’s incipit. Thus caesura was originally any displaced footing within the seamlessness of prosodic flow. arrest. This congeniality within prosodic flow to its own negation except at poetic 167 . a little sign remains suspended. On nothing other than that.
But ev’ry Lady would be Queen for life. to allow time for thought to think the conditions of its own transport and its dependence on arrest. In enjambement flow overtakes meaning and the space at the right hand side of the poem is negated by linear. some to Pleasure take. ecstatic space. 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. But ev’ry Woman is at heart a Rake. and in this momentary. enough to open a gap in flow. quiet and strife. 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.” 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. transversal exuberance.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. terminal caesura can also be taken for true initial caesura. Over the many thousands of years of European prosody the caesura has been used to various effects. The presupposed flow of the poetic line is interrupted by the imposition internally of semantics so that stress is cut across by meaning through regularized and predictable caesurae. some to Quiet. here. Indeed the lack of caesura at the line’s incipit is simply a form of conventional display for. in effect. 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. then bound together by rhyme to a second line which may echo the antithesis of the first or. Men. In a sense this is the most perfect example of the tonos of poetry.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN advent and total formal finitude suggests that caesura is an internal concern of the poem body. Yet. Then semiotics 168 . demonstrating prosodic femininity here as “Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear. Thus the place for thinking is a space within verse that works directly in opposition to enjambement. In the ideal antithetical couplet a line is divided exactly in two by a caesura. operate as antithesis to the antithesis.
arrest and flow. as we now know. in our culture. This tension. 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. Meanwhile. yet immediately in the second line flow inundates sense. life were what 169 . then between interruption and flow. At the same time. terminal enjambement of the perfectly balanced Heroic couplet designed to halt and formalize the profligacy of the endlessly over-running Miltonic couplet. The resumption of the line would then seem to be a victory for thinking. between thought. The most fully developed and perhaps important of these caesurae is that to be found internal to the very definition of human ontology. of course. with rhyme introducing a projective recursion that. If flow is the presupposition of the poem then the first caesura negates the semiotic in favour of the semantic. is undermined by the coincidence of sound across two syllables and/or words located each time at the final point of the line. is indicative of messianic time but also the tabular trans-linear dimensionality not just of poetic structure but of poetic thinking as a whole. When with the second cut discourse is able to impose a damn on flow and pause for thought. everything happens as if. one of the first and most instructive observations to be made is that the concept never gets defined as such. Agamben uses the term caesura regularly in his essays when speaking of the numerous and problematic acts of scission performed by negative metaphysics. . even the zero.CAESURA. the next line is ready to burst its stops and race ahead. Then. The verse unit is born of a tension first between flow and interruption. and its temporal-spatial matrix is the ultimate tonos of poetry in the service of the transport and arrest of thinking. the implied separation between lines that occurs due to enjambement. a three-way tension indeed. at the same juncture prosody. through the agency of rhyme. a temporal-spatial self-consciousness is mapped across the neutrality of these two terms. this thing that remains indeterminate gets articulated and divided time and again through a series of caesurae and oppositions . Yet at the instance of the cut we now know that meaning is interrupted not prosody. life. takes hold of the line and refers meaning back against the current to the preceding end word. And yet. 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. its transport. .
is meaningless and indeed inoperative until that division is divided from itself and cast back into linear flow. Human life for Agamben. does not define human life per se but the idea of human life as both separate from and intrinsically linked to the animal. resumption suspension. Yet. The caesura is not possessed of finitude any more than of inventiveness or evental 170 . through the operations of the caesura as that which both divides and conjoins. Life ceases to be a definition of something and instead. yet at the same time no caesura is momentous either. must be ceaselessly articulated and divided. rather than defining the term life here. precisely for this reason. and yet as his comments show the essence of the caesura is not simply scission. in this manner. except at the moments of poetic advent and finitude. then it articulates lineation as the transport of thinking. namely in-definition or. This more developed definition of caesura as a mode of thinking division in terms of relation now allows us to return to prosodic caesura and see that when Agamben uses the term caesura in metaphysics he is being more than simply metaphorical. The interruption of thinking. Life then comes to stand not so much for something like biological existence.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be defined. No caesura is. permanent. 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. 13) The caesura Agamben is considering here is that between the human and the animal. In terms of the act of caesura within the poem we perceive that there are always two cuts. for example. (O. the cut and the cut of the cut. if we look again at the definition of life in terms of caesura we find a productive negation. the first division. something we observed in relation to the (/) or barred caesura in the sign between gramma and phone. In the poem body suspension always results in resumption.3 First the caesura divides the line. as he more commonly terms it. imposes upon it a permanent indistinction. yet. Rather the caesura in separating a term off with the desire of imposing definitional distinction instead inculcates said term into a mechanism of division and articulation which. indistinction. The caesura initially performs a negative function directly at odds with his earlier valorization of the term as the basis for thinking thought. it comes to be the very definition of the problem of definition as such. The same indeed is true of the end of the line and its relation to enjambement.
” 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. all agree. “And where. Unexpectedly perhaps. vanish’d now so long. Not Chaos like together crush’d and bruis’d. The tone of balance resides in the perfect tension of the four combined and yet separate units. But as the world. the woodland and the plain. Live in description. 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). result in classical poetics in a perfectly balanced. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT status. all agree. at the same time every two lines 171 . the woodland and the plain. “Here hills and vales. tho’ all things differ. and look green in song: These. the section in question also provides the perfect razo de trobar of prosody summarized by the phrase “harmoniously confused. were my breast inspir’d with equal flame. enjambement. the cut and the cut of the cut. and the same is true of life. and finally the caesuric cut of the cut internalized in the space of one line.CAESURA. Here hills and vales. harmonious oxymoronic implied semantic caesura “harmoniously confus’d: / Where order in variety we see”. Aside from being a masterclass in the extendibility and power of caesuric prosody. seem to strive again. And where. should be like in fame. enjambement. tho’ all things differ. should be like in fame”. (SP. all reliant on the counting and positioning of stress: (line a) caesura. Rather. double caesuric antithesis. This world of harmonious tension is both described and performed in the opening lines of Pope’s “Windsor Forest”: The groves of Eden. Here earth and water. / Here earth and water. harmoniously confus’d: Where order in variety we see. the medio or mean point. harmonious whole. (line b) caesura. the caesura always cuts in the midst. these two acts of violence. One is always already in the midst of poetry. seem to strive again”. 20) Here we can observe basic antithesis across a caesura. “like them in beauty.” While Pope conjures for us a world of balance encased in the harmony of the bi-linear couplet. Like them in beauty.
in that it interrupts the linear progression of the line. but 172 . and thus the shifting of the metrical–musical element between semiotics (langue) and semantics (parole) becomes the metrical–musical–semantic element. sura cannot occur is within the word (as I have just demonstrated). is dependent on semantics to perform. Left to their own devices. in French Alexandrines.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN there is a moment of cataphoric recursion as the second rhyme is tabulated backwards to its previous rhyme partner. and yet also recursive. semiotic consonance. gathers within itself the recursion of that which went before. however. The only place internal to the poem that a cae. in rhyme thought and language combine to produce a word-based semiotics that is both predictive. 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. interruption and flow retain poetic tonos. 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. Although Agamben does not consider it in these terms. 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. unless one ends the poetic line with the first sy/Llable and commences the next with the second. at the moment of reading on into meaning development one always lags behind in some manner in sonic. The caesura of classical prosody tends to what is called the medial but this is not compulsory as. 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. Unlike the caesura where thought interrupts poetry. say. If every second caesura is more forceful in that it cataphorically holds back flow. The caesura represents the eschaton. and indeed that is all they are gestic and meaningless prosodic devices. it provides the semiotic rules to sense what the next rhyme might be. before the push and pull of lineation can continue. while powerfully semiotic. 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. For rhyme. but in most sophisticated prosody there is a wide use of initial and terminal caesurae. 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.
so that the point of the end of the line is radically dissimilar to its incipit. and two forms of silence cocooning the voice. 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. The two edges of a poem’s frame will never meet. The poem as a whole or thing is not. Similarly the end of the poem. in this light. a cyclical loop. the parergon will always slice open the finitude of the ergon. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT even this is that peculiar form of terminal caesura called enjambement. poems are not of the same order as flowers. perpetually meeting and departing from their assignation. a frame at all for it has no continuity. therefore. similarly voice. In this way. Poems are not rocks. is interrupted by thought or by the silence that is apparently endemic to contemporary thinking. There are. even if the poem is part of 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. The caesura is the essential complement to enjambement. contrary to its internal structure. If enjambement instigates the event of the poetic by interrupting discourse with voice and semiotic material rhythm.CAESURA. 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. therefore. Where the poem begins is of another order to where it ends and the two edges of its finitude will never meet. The spacesilence made parergonal frame around the poem is not. these at the moment of advent and finitude. a miniaturized rule of some value when one comes to consider the very limits of the ergon. only two operative interdictions on caesuric scission. For those of us well versed in prosody this is highly satisfying as it is true that an enjambement 173 . 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. or the line. If they are in possession of finitude then not of this order. two forms of exterior space to the poem body. Therefore. Logopoiesis is an internal affair that occurs inside verse but which does not delimit verse. or a meta-linear version of its localized prosodic effects of flow and interruption. Also of some significance is the fact that all caesuric cuts occur “after” flow. never before it. even if they are poems in a sequence. is not a pause but an endless falling into the silence of philosophy on the part of poetry. so too the beginning of a poem does not take up the line from the end of the last poem. as we have seen. There are.
Concomitantly. The line broken at the end then is the influx of the voice inundating thought and for a moment erasing it. intermittent and hesitant silence. The line arrested in the centre is the reversal of this flood of semiotics. It also conveys the messianic moment of a stilled 174 . its ripples spreading out through the lines and the calm surface of the poem taking some time/ lines to settle down once more. Thus enjambement works like a stone cast into a still pool. stopping the flow and for a second eradicating the voice entirely with a momentary. the ideal of the poetic line is the exact match between syllables and thought so that all caesurae occur at the end of the line. 157). the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and unitary” (ST. for example. a caesura midline leaves few syllables in the line to commence a new thought making another enjambement very probable. of the parallelism of the comparison. As is regularly commented on. or even in the case of real thinkers such as Milton and Wordsworth. 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. leading Agamben to look to the Greek sense of harmonia as “a laceration that is also a suture. momentarily held. or the next. either to thought or to poetry. event: the prolonged hesitation between sound and sense that constitutes poetry.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. This hesitation is two-fold because the manner in which language has been lost to us is double. This simple consonance of oppositions is now clearer to us being typical. Enjambement only occurs at moments when the thought is too big for the line pushing the caesura into the middle of the next line. the next. 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. You will recall he is speaking here of the tensile harmony to be located in the work of Heraclitus.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN more likely than not either follows from or is followed by a caesura.
where it is still possible to discern the solidarity between signification and metaphysical articulation. While within the acoustical realm—the originary voice of poetry before it was split. the visible and the acoustic. “back” then. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT dialectic. which. therefore. were not placed on either side of a false bar or division as is articulated in the theory of the sign.CAESURA. Thus there was philosophical harmony mirrored by poetic harmony and then a harmony between the two. Then there was the harmony between the monstrative and acoustical harmonies with. testifies to a decisive turn in Western thought. This harmony of harmonies. “Faithful to this apotropaic project. 157) There was a time. and poetry invisibility/flow. philosophy playing the role of visibility/interruption. I am speculating. 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. Speaking of the term harmony in Heraclitus Agamben notes that for the Greek the idea of harmony pertained precisely to its invisibility. Of this Agamben says. when thought and poetry. for Heraclitus. and remember harmony here means just as much division as it does unification. There was. Harmony names. the harmonious confusion of caesura as a division that combines. whose signification had appeared to the dawning of Greek thought 175 . still belongs to the tactile-visible sphere. if I read this compacted section correctly. should then be transferred to the numericalacoustic sphere. the cut that is cut. not the eradication of division and unity but the tensile suspension of the metaphysical foundational categories of difference and identity. (ST. 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. He then adds: That this articulation. in the passage from the visible to the acoustic aspect of language. but also the rule of poetry which is defined by the tension between interruption and flow. then silenced by philosophy—there was the harmony between interruption and flow. appropriated. it transpires. locating harmony as a basis for being in concealment within the visible realm. speaking of Heidegger’s rediscovery of the harmony of harmonies between philosophy and poetry. Within the visible realm of being—being has always been confined in our tradition to a monstrative and (in)visible entity—there was the harmony between being as concealed and its momentarily appearing.
as Agamben concedes. which also explains why poetry matters to Agamben and also helps clarify his many valuable comments on the technicalities of prosody. Logopoiesis names little more than this at this stage in its development: an apotropaic harmony between poetic flow and philosophical interruption. the enigma of the order of a sign. In this instant full presence becomes unavailable to view and the Greek activity of aletheia commences the strange affiliation called philosophy. remain at a distance” (ST. It makes perfect sense. The relation between poetry and thinking in Agamben. for the moment. crucial to his overall overcoming of metaphysics as I hope I have now shown. Thus every truth is a form of enigma facilitated by the double 176 . is the apotropaic structure of all logopoiesis. For truth to be unveiled it must first have been obscured by a sheet or material barrier. The sign is of the order of an enigma. Speaking of the foundation of philosophy Agamben notes that the Western experience of being. Considering the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx in Stanzas. 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. 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. called up at the moment that presence as such is split in two. that which attracts and repels.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as a mode of speaking that was neither a gathering nor a concealment. 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. ratified in the discipline of philosophy. 157). shares a good deal in common with the more familiar rhetorical designation of the enigma. For the truth to be unveiled it must first be transmitted through a sheet or material barrier. is based on an impossible filiation therein to the fact that presence comes to philosophical thought as already divided. 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. If there were no secret then there needs must be no solution. 138).5 We are now more than familiar with the fracture of presence alluded to here. The apotropaic. we cannot but approach that which must.
An apotropaic verse. The dancing path of the labyrinth. or a maze which has no centre point or any point of exit/entrance. Agamben suggests.6 177 . Agamben goes on to state: The ainos (story. is the model of this relation with the uncanny that is expressed in the enigma. structural. and an extraneous babble from the street Confirming the new value the hollow core has again. Like the labyrinth. Presupposing the enigma as a sign that needs to be made to signify. to a protective power that repels the uncanny. the enigma belongs to the sphere of the apotropaic. prosodic. but a more original mode of speaking. 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. by attracting it and assuming it within itself. The name of both these obstructions is rather obvious: the sign. 138). 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. like the Gorgon. and like the Sphinx that utters it. which he has misinterpreted by interpreting its apotropaic intention as the relation of an oblique signifier and a hidden signified” (ST.CAESURA. Returning to the enigma now. fable) of the ainigma is not only obscurity. therefore. Oedipus’ sin was not incest but “hubris toward the power of the symbolic in general . Oedipus. One of the great contemporary works of logopoietic apotropaicism is John Ashbery’s much-admired “Down by the Station. the light From the lighthouse that protects as it pushes us away. . is a poetics of the enigma as that which is not available for solution. and books with no author. 138) If this is the case. and conceptual even-ness: And so each day Culminates in merriment as well as a deep shock like an electric one. . THE SPACE OF THOUGHT hindrance of matter. which leads to the heart of that which is held at a distance.” that ends with a shocking apocalypse for such a poet of tonal. (ST. that is. has valorized the very quality of interpretation over the fact of the enigma as such. and Western thought since then. Early in the Morning. letting in Space.
If the hollow core is as the lighthouse. space. while dense. and even then / It may not have existed” (W. Indeed. for years. a deliberation on impermanence. remembering. until you name it. Babelian tower of language. Following on from space comes the loaded term “babble. babble) and the semantic which typifies Agamben’s axiom. as in all eidos it literally calls your attention to it and by implication suggests that it is a metaphor for the hollow core of the decimated. ontology.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN As can be seen here Ashbery’s verse has always been marked by that which Agamben terms the apotropaic order of the enigma.” an extraneous pure semiotic noise the result of the collapse of the single. / And nothing does. I feel I can guide a passage through. Here it takes the form of enjambement. and the enigma of naming. like Oedipus and Ariadne trapped in some terrible union neither dares to seek annulment for. “a dull crinkled leather that no longer exists. space. and nonsense. Or is Ashbery merely revealing the enigma of the very fact of the warning or the apotropaic nature of 178 . Ashbery admits into the work the essence of the poetic: the semiotic. The manifestation of the lighthouse is a double enigma. 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. The poem. Here. The line break after “letting in” admits the essential material presence of space foundational to poetic tension. Indeed are not all enigmas thus doubled-up? The image draws you in. and more specifically in classrooms around the globe the enigma of the poem “Down by the station early in the morning. and yet the poem’s final image seems to resist an endless falling into silence.” This work. labyrinthine structure of the wrecked library. form and theme merge into harmony precisely through their being manifestly at odds. and the almost enjambed terminal caesura in the penultimate line suggests precisely this. always leads my students and myself interminably across two verses which. it would appear. 14). In some senses Ashbery has found the only solution to the paradox of the end of the poem. as the line folds back on itself. As the wrecking ball demolishes the walls of a book-lined labyrinth of enigmas one presumes is a library. memory. I have laboured over both the enigma that is Ashbery. in a moment of supreme post-modern self-consciousness. is a comment on the tension between the semiotic (enjambement. then one is drawn towards the core and simultaneously repelled. to the sudden collapse of all pedagogic certainty in the final stanza cited here.
The poem neither concludes nor. What the uncanny unearths is not that there is no solution. gathers us by actually rejecting us. 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. remembering . 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. 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. Rather. the possibility 179 . I would attempt to say three things about this blinding moment of logopoiesis. 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. but that there can be an unresolved relation between the two. 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. to be more precise. 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. . This leads to my second comment on the sign as fundamentally apotropaic in structure or. which protects us and seems almost to gather us to its bosom. .” combining the impossibility of logos preceding phone (nothing exists until you name it). nor that there is a solution. The first is of the order of the enigma. He says in relation to that which no longer exists “And nothing does.CAESURA. Certainly the bar divides poetry from thinking in a manner Agamben finds repulsive. As regards the apotropaic structure of the enigma the elegance of Agamben’s formulation remains a thing of beauty. 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. the bar within the sign between phone and logos. The enigmatic in verse. 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. until you name it. the light of the lighthouse. as many works do such as “L’infinito. of which Ashbery is the master. .” cyclically resumes at the poetic incipit. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT the enigma? In drawing attention to itself.
Speaking of the inheritance of Oedipus Agamben divides our epoch into two tendencies. Agamben notes that the topology of interest here resides not between Eden and Gehenna but within “the adjacent place that each person inevitably receives. that which can be found internal to the poem and of course Derridean spacing as such in the form of the trace. 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. 138–9). 139). 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. Those who seek to define signification as that which occurs as a relation between code and solution. its being in 180 . however. refusing the model of Oedipus. They seek to exit the maze into which they wished they had never been entered by their masters. 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). At the point when one reaches one’s final state and fulfils one’s own destiny. one finds oneself for that very reason in the place of the neighbour. The first is more than familiar to we Oedipal decoders of poetic and literary Sphinxes. 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. focuses its attention above all on the barrier between signifier and signified that constitutes the original problem of signification” (ST. EASE: THE PROXIMATE SPACE Thus far we have spoken of space in terms of that which surrounds borders the poem. This enigmatic. that which exists between the signifier and the signified within the sign.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of this proposition rests upon a second line. in the full sense of the term. What is most proper to every creature is thus its substitutability. 139). space is what he describes as the space of ease. signifier and signified. semiotics and semantics are post-Oedipal thinkers. There is. Meanwhile: “under the sign of the Sphinx must be placed every theory of the symbol that. 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 one’s ease (slowly). They move to one side of who they are to a space of singular self-negation. the topography of kle or the vocation of ¯sis subjective revocation. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT any case in the place of the other” (CC. Forgive this digression into the biopolitical realm of the ethics of alterity. common space of singularity. 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. 25). although I am sure these issues are not unfamiliar.7 In the space of ease. the empty place where each can move freely. moving at ease) and convenience borders on the correct relation” (CC. for good measure. according to its etymology. One crucial factor is that the space of ease brings together the technical aspects of prosodic space as we have been analysing with earlier debates on poetic desubjectivization. “the coming to itself of each singularity. the work of Blanchot. the subject as individual is alienated from identity without succumbing to biological indetermination. 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. such as it is. therefore. in a semantic constellation where spatial proximity borders on opportune time (ad-agio. but it is necessary to allow one to comprehend the centrality of space in Agamben’s ideas on poetry. This leads to the potentiality of a new ethical topography no longer delineated around oppositions and individuals. 23). The space of ease delineates. 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. 181 . Ease is the proper name of this unrepresentable space” (CC. but rather on the universal substitutability of singularity as non-representable (lacking in individuality). adjacentia). as well as Derrida’s post-Lévinasian ethics of alterity and hospitality and. but describing a complex.CAESURA. under sail or beneath the effects of music. its being whatever—in other words. 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 ostensible purpose of this essay is clear within a collection on community that takes up dialogue with Nancy’s work on the coming community and being-with. the space adjacent (ad-jacens. which soon enough we will locate within the poem. 25).
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
It also presents the original meaning of convenience as coming together or natural fittedness of things with other things. Thus ease is a temporal, spatial space to the side that gives one time/space to come to things, to step to one side, gain time, make space and so on. This sense of ease as a proximation and facilitation, opening up, making space for space, taking time to experience time, explains the centrality of the term for the origins of European prosody. Agamben therefore goes on to explain: “The provençal poets (whose songs first introduce the term into Romance languages in the form aizi, aizimen) make ease a terminus technicus in their poetics, designating the very place of love…not so much the place of love, but rather love as the experience of taking-place in whatever singularity” (CC, 25). Now we can begin to see that ease is supportive facilitation in the manner in which we have come to see love for the troubadour tradition. Love here is unattainable precisely because it is the medium, support, or space to the side that facilitates attainment as such but which itself, therefore, can never be possessed. Agamben speaks of a similar experience when he considers stil novist poetics, in particular Dante’s famous pursuit of the subjectposition called Beatrice. Beatrice is the name of the amorous experience of the event of language at play in the poetic text itself. She is thus the name and the love of language, but of language understood not in its grammaticality but, rather, in its radical primordiality, as the emergence of verse from the pure Nothing . . . It is because of its absolute originality that speech is the supreme cause and object of love and, at the same time, necessarily transient and perishable. (EP, 58) Such an understanding of speech as primordial, transient, and perishable relates, in Agamben’s work, to Dante’s reformulation of a central Humanist debate over the vernacular and grammar “that is, between the experience of the originary and secondary status of the event of language (or again between love of language and knowledge of language)” (EP, 54).8 Moving backwards through the arguments of the essay “The Dream of Language” where these quotes are couched we find ourselves gazing on an obscure fifteenth-century text, the Hypnerotomachia Polifili (1499), an image from which adorns the English translation of The End of the Poem. Agamben
CAESURA, THE SPACE OF THOUGHT
focuses our attention on the later debate around the language of this text which seems to be made up from a fusion of grammar (Latin) and the vernacular (what was to become modern Italian). The result, he assures us, is an awkward mismatch of Latin grammar and vernacular lexicon of which Agamben comments that the singularity of this text “is a matter not of agrammatical discourse but rather of a language in which the resistance of names and words is not immediately dissolved and rendered transparent by the comprehension of the global meaning; hence the lexical element remains isolated and suspended for a few seconds, as dead material, before being articulated and dissolved in the fluid discourse of sense” (EP, 46). Agamben usefully likens this effect to the use of the word in Mallarmé before going on to note the qualities of the vernacular that make it so central to the role of the space of ease as love in all poetry. Glossing on Dante’s Convivio he remarks that “the vernacular can only follow ‘use’ not ‘art’; and it is, therefore, necessarily transient and subject to continual death. To speak in the vernacular is to precisely experience this incessant death and rebirth of words, which no grammar can fully treat” (EP, 54). What Agamben is tracing here along admittedly obscure defiles, aside from the complex simultaneous development of the idea of language and poetry within European culture from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, is the double stream of language which we have already become familiar with, only this time reconfigured away from the becoming-planar of the line towards the point of the word. The vernacular in the Hypnerotomachia Polifili resembles Mallarmé’s verse as I said in that “words stand out in isolation while their semantic values are suspended” (EP, 46), precisely because the vernacular lexicon has not yet been assimilated into a vernacular grammar. This will not happen until Latin truly becomes a dead language and the vernacular becomes a grammar at which point one gazes on two senses of what it means for a language to die. For Latin it means that it becomes a kind of pure langue or a complete grammar that has no actual usage. In contrast, the vernacular is pure parole in that words are used for the love of language, the words themselves, before they are reformulated in relation to definition and syntax. Love, therefore, is to experience the imminent vernacular in all language, a primordiality of pure usage before grammar died wherein words rise up and then die away again. This is an atactic language freed of grammar, for
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what is grammar but an obviation of the need for syntax? Grammar is pure structure in which the specificity of the sign is totally irrelevant. The development of the vernacular into grammar by the death of grammar in the form of Latin allows us to see, as if for the first time, words for their own sake as purely vernacular. All of which forces us to now reconsider Agamben’s definition of the stanza as the “capacious dwelling, receptacle,” or womb of art. The stanza like a room is gifted with a certain set of spatial co-ordinates it being an enclosed space within a wider enclosure of space, the house, which is itself an enclosure of space surrounded by an illimitable space, the world, founded on the earth. The stanza, therefore, is a ventricle within the very conception of interiority and just as lineation rehearses the abyssal event of the end of the poem, so the stanza seems to act out the irresolvable aporetic relationship between interiority and exteriority which is, of course, modern philosophy. The stanza contains within its walls a double paradox. It is the material marking of an enclosure of space and also occupies the inside of the inside providing us now with a third messianic structure, not that of time as such, nor poetic time, but the interiority of space between space as enclosure (“eschatological” space) and space as endless extension and continuum (“chronological” space). While Agamben calls this the womb, he could, of course, have designated it with the Greek name chora.9 Now we are at our ease, our work here nearly done. Primed as we are to exit art and finally crack the puzzle of the maze of thought, let us pause for a moment on the complex entity that is called, in our tradition, the poem. What is a poem? A poem is made up of poetry that exists within the tension between the semiotic and semantic that occurs at the premature interjection of space as both temporal pause and spatial presence creating the line. This gesture of interruption is then reversed in boustrophedonic mode so that the seamless flow of metre is interrupted by the caesuric pause of thought. Thus a poem consists of the movement between two syntaxes, ignoring for now which take precedence: prose—poetry—prose and poetry—prose— poetry. Also overlooking the further complexity that spacing is a precondition for all writing and exists in equal measure between each sign and within each sign, we now advance propositionally to the centrality of the end of the poem, wherein the micro tensile oscillation of poetry is writ large and catastrophic. Agamben is clear that
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the end of the poem is the end of verse which means also always the end of a verse or stanza. The end of the poem is, therefore, triply the end of poetry, the end of lineation, and the end of stanzation. As can be seen by this definition the end of the poem cannot come to an end as a propositional statement without a full understanding of the stanza. The first thing to note in this regard is that the end of the poem occurs, paradoxically, in a medial position by virtue of the stanza (as I said the end is central). The end of each line is different from the end of the last line, Agamben assures us, and so too must it be the case that the end of the stanza is an ending of a different order. It would be tempting to ascribe the end of the stanza as a miniature disaster and in a semiotic sense it can seem as such, but in fact the stanza is not a vertical form. The space at the end of the stanza is only one quarter of the relevant space for a stanza must have four walls revealing that the spatiality between stanzas is not one of finality but proximity. A stanza, in fact, is not a unit of poetry at all but a unit of sense, part of the syllogistic globalization of meaning promised by the poem and ruined by its finitude.10 As such there is a different relation to space in the stanza to that of the poem as verse or line. The stanza is known, therefore, for what it can contain, for its jug-like capaciousness, and as a receptacle it transcends or somehow avoids the temporal-spatial linearity of versification providing an internal, fractal, Chinese-box nested form of spatiality that endlessly defers ending by the act of turning in on itself in a process of almost endless reduction and insertion. The stanza provides the space of ease but where does this spatiality reside within the receptacle or around it? Is its spatiality that of the page/tablet, the parergonal forces of title, frame, and so on; or is it literally over there, to the side, located in the semi-mythical righthand margin of the Western poetic tradition?11 Thus far I have summarized the relation of poetry to space around four spatialities: frame space, the pause at the end of the line, spacing as such, and the space into which the poem is endlessly falling that Agamben terms silence. There is, however, a fifth space here located in no one location within the poem but which cuts across and is inserted into all spacing. This space is what I am terming the space of ease as facilitated by the technicus terminus of the poem as such as determined by the pure love of the word as such, as mere matter, pure signification, dead stuff . . .
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.
Structure is the trans-tensile containment of the obviousness of the poetic definition Agamben furnishes us with. Corn distributes the tension of the poem across two different spatialities that accord. structure. of course. transforms the unrelated rhyme into the principle of a higher relation” (EP. Of Arnaut’s sestina Agamben asserts “he is the poet who treats all verses as ‘corns’ and who. I am calling this higher relation structure here because it cuts across the localized effects of the semiotic/semantic tension. The rhyme is still there but located at what has traditionally been called the harmonic rather than melodic level. cannot be heard and therefore must ultimately be read. No poem can 187 . In addition. the harder it becomes to hear the rhyme. Agamben proceeds to look at the work of Arnaut in this regard. that between sound and sense” (EP. and graphematics. weakens the rhyme. 35). in a wider sense referring to any larger structural unity within a work. if not a disjunction between semiotic event (the repetition of sounds) and semantic event. such that the mind searches for an analogy of sense in the very place where. of course. Taken within this context corn becomes an essential point of transition not only for poetry but also Agamben’s overall philosophy. 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. It takes us away from the localized issue of the line break versus the abyssal logic of the end of the poem. Then again. The harmonic effects of corn. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT Corn is the poetic term for what can otherwise be termed structure. “cannot be understood if it is not situated in the context of a different formal register. namely. because of this. every rhyme is delayed. The greater the distance between the first instance of the rhyme and its second. a writer who elevated corn to a metastrophic dominance in the development of the stanzaic form of the sestina in which. by thus rupturing the closed unity of the strophe. by definition. opening up a level of harmony. it can find only a formal correspondence?” (EP. with a wider understanding of what poetry is. One thing this observation allows is a more prominent place for rhyme within Agamben’s linear definition of poetry: “What is rhyme. and allows us to move through the poem at a point between local and apocalyptic.CAESURA. 34). 31). As the corn delays rhyme until a later stanza it. 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. between orality and writing. disenchanted.
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. At this juncture we must return one more time to Dante and his discussion of the structure of the canzone cited by Agamben. along with the impact of lineation. almost in astonishment. which of course calls to mind the womb. intellectual and aesthetic rooms within rooms. the bodily metaphor of the lap “For just as the canzone is in the lap of its subject-matter so the stanza enlaps its whole technique” (EP. This is most readily found in poetry specifically in the material presence of an articulate space at the right hand of every lineated poem. vertical space of the poem as a global entity. With enjambement we have lineation. Based on two metaphors Dante utilizes. is likened in traditional poetics to the spatiality of the womb or semiotic chora. Overviewing Dante’s remarkably prescient comments Agamben. 36). the fifth trans-poetic tabular space. and with corn we have the word. Ease requires the thinking of proximate space as precondition for singularity. where he opposes cantio as a unit of sense (sententia) to stanza as a purely metrical unit (ars). multi-dimensional. This is the space of ease or that space into which the poem moves at the local. partial units” (EP. the unrelated rhyme (the corn!) constitutes a threshold of passage between the metrical unity of ars and the higher semantic unity of sententia” (EP. 188 . Agamben is finally able to conclude that “Insofar as it opens .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN be complete unless. with the caesura we have discourse. 35). . 35). sequential level into the tabular. the closed formal womb of the stanza. Ease is also a superlative example of logopoiesis. global unit and essentially metrical. 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. one does not take into consideration the means by which words are distributed through the poem based on alternative patterns. To sum up this long and complex series of arguments. and his later choice to call the unrelated rhyme or corn the clavis or key. asserts: “Dante thus conceives of the structure of the canzone as founded on the relation between an essentially semantic. yet at the same time it requires that one consider the poem as consisting of lines within stanzas. This space. The unrelated rhyme forces one to concede that the poem exists in space and time beyond the power of its voicing. . we are informed.
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. 96). THE SPACE OF THOUGHT RHYTHM Agamben is a sporadic and yet profoundly consistent writer. in other words how do parts cohere into a unified structure: lines become a stanza.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. 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. and third (a point central to the work of Badiou) explain how this element exterior to one’s set can be 189 . Both positions are problematic.” I am unable to assert that all the matters pertaining to poetic structure as a mode of thinking come together in this essay. 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. The first thing to accept here is that these contesting views of structure are either based on an internal. The essay is a fairly unreconstructed Heideggerian reading of poetic rhythm. but rather we are able now to look back on that essay and see in it the basis of all that is to come. 97). 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. synecdochic view of a certain part of a collection of elements being the supra-elemental part. they cannot as it precedes all such work. 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. Agamben begins his treatise on rhythm by considering the age-old problem as to what constitutes structure. I am speaking here of the dense chapter in The Man Without Content entitled “The Original Structure of the Work of Art. 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. stanzas a poem. Aristotle asks in The Metaphysics what causes a collection of elements to be more than a mere aggregate.
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. every work of art is one rhythm. inaugurates and announces the very existence of rhythm: “The word ‘rhythm’ comes from the Greek . “element and minimal quantum. Agamben argues. How can this “additional thing” exceed the very structure of aggregation it defines? After Aristotle. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN a set-defining element and yet itself escape the problems of infinite regression and bad infinity intrinsic to set theory. the very structure of art “that is at once as Gestalt and number” (MWC. measure as the coming to presence of being on the earth (Heideggerian Measure) and measure as a countable number of units or quanta. now feels after Aristotle that he can define rhythm as that which negotiates between the very principle of presence. in other words. He gives examples here of music and painting. to flow. . 94). . 99). Agamben defines these two positions as number. Yet this rhythm—as we commonly understand it—appears to introduce into this eternal flow a split and a stop” (MWC. At the point that the rhythm stops we are launched. decrepit Hölderlin: “Everything is rhythm . for the sake of argument syllables. . 98). . as in the case of water. Rhythm. and everything swings from the poeticizing lips of the god” (Cited in MWC. the Greek philosopher renames Form. for a moment. Rhythm is the unquantifiable “extra” element that makes a thing a work of art. 100). and lines in the poem. words. This. That which flows does so in a temporal dimension: it flows in time . Agamben. This second element. One can already see here the value of such a definition of structure as rhythm at least for the art work. supra-spatial ecstatic moment that he 190 . yet at the same time rhythm is directly dependent on the elements that make up the work of art. initially struggling to comprehend this statement.” and rhythm “that which causes something to be what it is” (MWC. that which is outside of a work and makes it what it is (Form). at the same time. and measure as such as a calculable number. . . This debate is promoted by a comment by a momentarily lucid. how in both cases the elements that function in harmony to create the work’s rhythm also provide us with an atemporal. is a double measure. is the tantalizing gift and reserve of art.
however. . as we saw. Man has on earth a poetic status. 99). . and as flow. Yet this process of pro-duction is not entirely processual. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT describes thus: “we perceive a stop in time . “In his authentic temporal dimension. ecstasy. Yet rhythm is spoken of here in the very earliest work in terms of the Greek word epoch. but the ongoing process of the evental interruption of flow. not on ongoing flow. an interruption in the incessant flow in instants that. Clearly rhythm conceived in this way is the basis for Agamben’s later construction of messianic time. Through the act of pro-duction via entelechy. 100). 101). namely the perpetual movement between time as origin. the poetic status of man on earth finds its proper meaning. as soon it is raised up out of the structured continuum. sinks into the past” (MWC. both the cut in time and the definition of a period in time. Agamben translates epoch as meaning “both to hold back. day-to-day vulgar time. to suspend. As I mentioned. Being’s destiny and authenticity. being-in-the-world. What matters for us at this late hour however is how he relates rhythm to poiesis for. While it certainly takes time and is composed of three stages 191 . for example modernity. he argues. centring in on issues of Measure. gives and holds back . to offer” (MWC. rhythm in defining art also defines the basis of being’s temporal existence in the world. This then explains a final. to present.CAESURA. falls back into said continuum. The same is true of epoch in relation to the definition of a period. because it is poiesis that founds for him the original space of his world” (MWC. human being is able to exist in the transition from presence as origin to presence as thing in the world. . 100) before attempting a somewhat “violent” retranslation of the term as rhythm. namely “to be” in the sense of to dominate or to hold on to a place. rhythm grants men both the ecstatic dwelling in a more original dimension and the fall into the flight of measurable time” (MWC. Both epoch and rhythm therefore are the making of a unity through a radical act of disjunctive ecstasy which. Agamben’s main argumentative thrust here is Heideggerian. . third meaning for epochal rhythm in the Greek. and to hand over. coming from the future. 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. Thus Agamben concludes: “rhythm holds. as well as providing an early prototype for the Idea of Prose and its subsequent reformulation as potential. that is. This being the case rhythm is not a single event.
we can now reread this in a more Agambenian fashion. poiesis. between past and future his present space” (MWC. “In the experience of the work of art. 102). 101). often by willed skilled acts of artistic making or artistic experience of the made thing. As he says: “That art is architectonic means. wherein the human sees its origins. does not dispense with the continuum below. is pro-duction (τίκτω) of origin (άρχή). which would simply carve time up into the traditional aporia of moments along a single line. Said architectonics is a structure now extremely familiar to us across all that we have perused here. It dictates how human being exists in the essentiality of chronological time and space as a continuum. As we now know in terms of the spatiotemporality of the poem there is flow (enjambement). interruption (caesura). Rather. Rather. rhythm is the perpetual interplay between flow and its arrest. etymologically: art. still very much in a Heideggerian strain at this early phase in his career. Poiesis. at various points. flowarrest-flow-arrest. So that when Agamben concludes. a process wherein “in the work of art the continuum of linear time is broken. 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. art’s architectonic basis. 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. poetic 192 . stuttering singular dimensionality.the term process does not convey the complexity of its operations. 102). in the origin that has revealed itself to him in the poietic act” (MWC. architectonics par excellence” (MWC. and man recovers. is not however simply an erratic or intermittent. man stands in the truth that is. art is the gift of the original space of man.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN (poiesis–entelechy–praxis). is revealing. any more than the continuum permanently disallows the epoch. Yet this epochal moment. itself simply archetypal of innumerable such structures across all the arts and beyond. Poiesis is rhythmical structure. 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). This interplay. Here is where poetic structure. In one final report from the great Aristotle. It determines how. being breaks with the continual and enters into the ecstatic. therefore. and perhaps this is the truly original and poetic part of Agamben’s thinking.
and suddenly surprising. for example. This. recursive. under pro-duction also. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT structure. simply put. which is the name for this process. 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. and temporality–. Rather rhythm–. being and thinking are under negation they are also. association. we return and in doing so. 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. and so on. If. patternation. productive mode of tabular thinking is logopoiesis. negates simple processional temporality. we fall. is why poetry matters to Giorgio Agamben. in rhyme but also in numerous other elements of poetry such as referentiality. being. projective.CAESURA. Poetry is able to save metaphysics from itself by providing another way of thinking. We rise. due to the very logic of the epoch. we make. we progress. the name we now give to the whole structural process of logopoietic thinking. This projective-recursive. 193 . defines poiesis as ongoing. recurrence with modification (torquing). through poiesis.
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). it is for this reason alone. 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. I must attest to being unhappy with such a designation even if it is my own. 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. is as strategic as it is descriptive.RECURSION. To propose a certain identity or division within Agambenian philosophy is ill-advised and. As would the designation the “political” or “metaphysical” Agamben or even a composite of the three. political. If I have neglected the political elements of Agamben’s work. This must now stand as my written book on Agamben. His is a philosophy that resists identity in favour of neutral singularity. In my unwritten book I see that until the various strands of Agamben’s thought are presented as a whole. self-defeating. particularly metaphysical differential scission. The enforcement of a “literary” Agamben is not simply reductive. metaphysical. The inaccurate entitlement of this book. . as most assuredly I have. he has made it his life’s work to overcome difference through the creation of a productive philosophy of indifference. Therefore as to the actual existence of a clearly definable “literary” Agamben. Yet here at least I have made a start. it goes against the very spirit of his work. our understanding of this most remarkable thinker is incomplete. literary . for entirely mysterious and conventional reasons. like so many titles. every book demands a title: The Literary Agamben: Adventures in Logopoiesis. Within our culture.
intimacy with the semiotic. providing an archetype for a mode of thinking dominated by naming that does not name anything specifically. The rift may indeed be part cause of the modern philosophical collapse into negativity. Similarly I feel now that I never at any point clearly expressed why literature. THE TURN OF THINKING a sustained analysis of poetry into the heart of Agamben’s indifferent thought. That must suffice. discursive structures. For Agamben there are five conditions of poetic language. 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. or the press. 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. The fundamental experience of ontology via language being that of desubjectivization. The predominance of semiotics in the poem is felt at the level of the syllable. the semiotic basis of depersonalizing desubjectivization is most readily presented and investigated by poetry’s emphasis on the material effects of language at the expense of rational discursive meaning. connections to make. why poetry in particular is of such importance to the work of Agamben. desubjectivization due to linguistic depersonalization. visas to apply for. These five conditions of poeticized ontology. As our departure is delayed here a few more pages due to an oversight in some paperwork. 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. or inexpressive medium for expression. that exists within our tradition. Or in taking your leave. historical relation between poetry and philosophy. proximity to language as such. experience. neglect to say the very thing that is most on your mind to your loved ones. 195 . and rhythmical structure as an alternative model for thinking. At the same time. and line. I am fortunate enough to have the time and perspicacity to correct this. the funding committee. Poetry produces the closest experience of language as such. has for centuries being attributed to the poetic experience of inspiration. extrapolated out across larger. word.RECURSION. but also across the whole of the rhythm of poetic structure. a process of depersonalization at the hands of language. you forget to take the one thing you need most of all. Sometimes when you set out on an adventure and you have a tight deadline.
It brings to presence the predominance of negation in all elements of metaphysics. That book. 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. Derrida. I admit that. I am certain many books are like this. is not illustrative but a fundamental part of his thinking. The actual book was lost along the way. An analysis so profound. Logopoiesis. The ancient antagonism established between poetry and philosophy is first revealed and then in part resolved by the rehabilitation of the category of poiesis. The order of the remaining chapters was endlessly changed. This is not the book I set out to write. 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. The history of modern metaphysical nihilism is matched by the history of aesthetic modernity dissuading us from looking for solutions in poiesis alone. as well as revealing a potential way out of this great abyss through the alternative modes of poietic thinking.1 196 . suprasensuous and sensuous. In my case the usual: chapters which were central were removed entirely. real. Badiou. thousands of words on the category life. As this happened the previous disorder of the chapters froze into a pattern that came to seem as almost predestined. and a character who at the beginning seemed one part of a great ensemble took over the story all but negating the early narrative. 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. However aesthetic modernity provides a strong example of anti-poiesis that has two key effects. and ultimately Agamben. saw Agamben as a supporting figure in a grand narrative of the turn to poiesis in the work of Heidegger. 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. museums. dictation in poetry. His recourse to literary examples in this regard. I dropped it. Nancy. and the relation between the larynx and the syrinx. Mine has been no different. “The Invention of Literary Singularity. The Agamben chapter got out of hand. the stanza and poetic dictation specifically. All great adventures work this way.” now forever unwritten.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN It is inevitable that one will lose one’s way and in losing it find one’s true way.
as common as marriage when seen through the thinking lens of Ozu. Indeed. revealed by Agamben to be that of poetry as such. Such a situation is. syllogistic. and teleological thought is weakened as it progresses to its conclusions. is a powerful lesson in self-deconstruction in part obviating many of the critical studies of the work to come. narrativizing. THE TURN OF THINKING Bringing together thought and poetry I was able to propose the tautological compound logopoiesis. I suspect. like the dark and yellowing illumination of the sky above you as you set out. However a powerful example of the presentation of thinking before thought exists in Heidegger’s unfinished work Being and Time. Being and Time therefore. 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. deductive. Heidegger of course casts an ambiguous shadow over the work of Agamben. The tensile rhythmic interchange between enjambement and caesura provides the medium for logopoiesis. threatening a storm that in the midst of such a swashbuckling tale might indeed be welcomed even if it poses real danger. summarizing. 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.RECURSION. a turn or kehre he denies and 197 . 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. The structure of this thinking. That Heidegger then turns away entirely from the categories of this book in the later work on poetry. aside from its myriad other merits. 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. 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. This conclusion voyages far from my original intention. Rhythm is the very ground upon which all future work on logopoiesis must be based. Mostly writers recount their thoughts but not their thinking. culminating. There are certain elements of Being and Time as a work of written thinking that tell us a good deal about thinking as such. People have called it thinking. We have arrived at the quintessence of the logopoietic thought process.
Thus the act of turning is not simply turning back or away from the present but a turning in. . . an interiorization of thinking. It recalls always the source. means both to turn in and to put up at an inn. As the river departs from the source one can describe is as both homely and unhomely.” Although Heideggerian negativity is the destinal ontology Agamben wants expressly to turn away from. 198 . A turn from dispute into stasis and stillness. and framing technology. the truth of the coming to presence of Being will expressly turn in—turn homeward—into whatever is” (QCT. . with this turning. . therefore. to alight. He then adds: “As the danger. feeling. einkehren. but the process of the turning from the negative to the positive by virtue of the negative. and we can see the profound influence Heideggerian thinking has had on Agambenian thinking. ever his method of thought and that the second division is not a failure but a triumph of recursive thought. 41). Speaking of the contemporary destiny of being in terms of instrumental. and willing. As they rightfully go on to explain this is of no small importance to Heidegger’s work on Hölderlin. . “the primal dimension within which man’s essence is first able to correspond at all to Being . particularly his study of the hymn “The Ister” and the periplus logic of the river developed there. Add into this Heidegger’s claim that language “is never primarily the expression of thinking.” but. As the translator’s footnote informs the English edition of Heidegger’s text. the possibility of a turning in which the oblivion belonging to the coming to presence of Being will so turn itself that. 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. the verb used here to express the activity of the “turn in” of thought. The influence is neither negative nor positive. This primal corresponding . one can recognize here the basis of Agamben’s methodology. turns away from this coming to presence. Being turns about into the oblivion of its coming to presence. . objectivizing.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet which is all too apparent. he defines this coming to presence of being as enframing as danger. and in that way simultaneously turns counter to the truth of its coming to presence. 41).2 A similarity further confirmed when Heidegger adds: “In the coming to presence of the danger there conceals itself . or stay. suggests that turning away from and towards was. is thinking” (QCT. In the 1949 essay “The Turning” Heidegger comes to define thinking precisely in terms of recursion.
the river drains into the ocean whose amorphous nature recalls the installation into shape of the source. rhythm. 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. illustrative. While finally expression of the river as both flowing out into the uncanny and always being called back to the familiar source combines all these elements into an internalized poetic structural rhythmic periplus: Agambenian rhythm. great work of the last philosopher. It exemplifies thought but it is not thought as such in my opinion. My contention here is not that Heidegger had already said what Agamben goes on to say. archetypal. but only in departing from it. First because of Agamben’s powerful critique of Heideggerian Being as based on mute negation. This is an essential development in logopoietic thought from its origins in the later. Indeed much of Agamben’s work on poetry is prefigured in this text. allegorical. THE TURN OF THINKING the homely. From poetry. Thus the poem remains. 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. Thinking as rhythmical turning by virtue of poetry is my first thesis in relation to logopoiesis. 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. Heidegger brings another interiorization into poetic ontology and thinking. which is also essential to Agamben’s theory of messianic time. through philosophy to language. to a degree. The ocean works very well as the endless falling into silence of poetic finitude. In attaching the river to the ancient sea-bound periplus. This is not the case.RECURSION. The river therefore is both a locality or founding of a place and an endless journeying. the reason why so many great cities are on the banks of rivers. 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 . Similarly as the river journeys it also provides the essential natural elements for settlement. and specifically singular in relation to thought.
by submitting thought to 200 . by flowing and interrupting said flow. 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. progressive. 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. I can now understand why you coin the term logopoiesis to indicate this complex compound of ideas although initially I was unconvinced. The first instalment of which is a consonance between the very structure of poetry and that of thinking. as the poemthought commences due to the presence of semiotic conventional rule-based constraint (I enjoyed very much your article on this by the way). Certainly thought about being in terms of the subject. and eventually conclusive mode of progression through logical cumulative analysis. temporality. I find a postcard from Giorgio. desolated by modernity and yet still eternally wonderful. If for Agamben poetic thinking. logopoiesis. teleological. This is not our concern. Rather than a syllogistic. I have understood it as the following: a modality of thinking through making and all that this entails.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as such. What I summarize as thinking through making. Such a thought is definable by precisely the same structure as that of the poem for which read all works of art. In such a model. rummaging through my capacious pockets for some gizmo for gouging stones out of the hooves of horses. deductive. logopoiesis is the tautological turn of thought. 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. but also thought about other categories that I have yet to address such as objectivity. exhaustive.3 it already prefigures its development and cessation. Thus if Agamben wishes to access the linguistic basis for all being. redefinition. Logopoiesis names the rehabilitation. is a way-station along the obscured tracks of a greater mission. and the sensuous. Later. as far as I can tell. That is: a self-consciously self-indicative anaphoric-cataphoric tabularplanar field or linguistic medium for thinking that is a projective recursion. objectal-instrumental. prosaic. As it progresses it does so by always simultaneously going on and looking back. On one side is a sepia image of the Rome of his childhood. our aims are more modest.
A poetic thinking shares this structure. are suspended in every sense of this word. poetic thought turns. it must at the same time be turning back on itself and away from summation. Quite so. For now at least. Some ideas seem out of place. Philosophy has now passed. As in thought so in art. philosophy and poetry. In the same manner the poem never commences. Beware the sloughs of negative despond by the 201 . Rather than defining a problem and then seeking to solve it conclusively. let’s say the problem of being. it is always already within the problem. mono-dimensional space but also architectonic. subject and object. This rhythmical space is also the rhythmical temporality of thought. structural. to come into existence. part and whole. If traditional thought advances. verse. as indeed must all logopoietic thinking. inside and outside. THE TURN OF THINKING a constraining linearity and exploding linearity through a translinear tabular-planar rhythmic structure. Finally. That said the poem never comes to an end because the cataphoric-recursive element always folds the poem back on itself. Such a thought exists both in space and time you suggested at one point. in on itself. 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. 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. The last philosopher has spoken his final words. thought and language. Not everything is as it should be. Just as human life can only come to life by ending the category of life and the tension therein. I will need time to think more about it. we are held by that which possesses us. language. It must end. never comes to an end. You are not quite there yet but you are certainly moving towards very provocative territory. trans-linear space. as the poem ends it both comes to an end.RECURSION. space and time. but not for all time. The linear extension of the semiotic and its interruption are both temporal. it is the turn of verse. As ever. but which we cannot take hold of. Very interesting. and perpetually ends (did I get this right?). By the same gesture as it seems to move towards its conclusions. our habitual place. put on hold. 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. a moment wherein categories such as beginning and end. indeed all the arts.
ignore the example of Orpheus. By the way. upon an empty plateau about which they say great danger finds its dwelling. Giorgio 202 . It’s your turn now. There are always benefits to be accrued from looking back along the way you have come.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way. I have finished what I have to say. There. You will find his conversation and company very stimulating even if at first he seems obscure. Remember to take the right turn there. Good luck with your next guide. 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. He is a close associate of mine although we do not always see eye to eye.
henceforth cited as PMD. 2007). 175. The first critical concession of the three Agambens can be found in Justin Clemens. unpaginated. SAQ. and Ernesto Laclau. no. “The Enigma of Giorgio 203 .” The South Atlantic Quarterly 107.” PMD. Agamben’s first published work begins with a consideration of the uncanny as the ability of literature to produce desubjectivization. Agamben’s Critique of Derrida.generation-online. 2 (2007). 1 (2008). Negri reiterates this critique in Antonio Negri. ed.” in Sovereignty & Life. No study of the uncanny is complete without reference to Nicholas Royle’s magisterial and unsettling The Uncanny: An Introduction (Manchester: Manchester University Press. trans. 44. “The Saturday of Messianic Time. ed. Rainer Maria Kiesow. 27. See Adam Thurschwell. Arianna Bove. no. 173. Andrew Norris (Durham. NC: Duke University Press. Colin McQuillan. henceforth cited as SL. and Robert Buch. Antonio Negri. 254. 38. 2003).” trans. “S/Citing the Camp.html.org/t/ negriagamben.” SAQ. “Playing with Law: Agamben and Derrida on Postjuridical Justice. Jean-Philipe Deranty. and Time for Revolution. and Alex Murray. 70. Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer.” PMD. 112–13. ‘Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?’ SL. “Giorgio Agamben: The Discreet Taste of the Dialectic. henceforth cited as SAQ. 57.” in Politics. 190. Catherine Mills. see Erik Vogt. 135. Henceforth cited as MWC. Kaufman. and Eleanor Kaufman.” SL.NOTES EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN 1 2 3 4 5 6 For various criticisms of Agamben’s supposedly dual methodology.” SL. Matteo Mandarini (New York: Continuum.” The Germanic Review 82. 1–7. 2003). Nicholas Heron.’ Kritikos 2 (2005). “Approaching Limit Events. 2005). www. trans. Benjamin Noys. no. “Whatever Politics. 117–18. “Cutting the Branches for Akiba. “The Ripe Fruit of Redemption. “Law and Life. “Seeing the Impossibility of Seeing or the Visibility of the Undead: Giorgio Agamben’s Gorgon. The Man Without Content. 92. Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli (Stanford: Stanford University Press.” SAQ. See Giorgio Agamben. 1999). Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Dominick LaCapra. 2 (2002). Negri’s provocation has been picked up by Jenny Edkins. “Witnessing the Inhuman: Agamben or Merleau-Ponty. “Time of Death.” Angelaki 7. ‘The Political Life in Giorgio Agamben. Siting Agamben. 11.
29–30. 1999). This is. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 3–52. Henceforth cited as LD. “Jamming the Anthropological Machine. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience. 84–5. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. 43. Henceforth cited as EP. See “The Question Concerning Technology. social life. the question behind the “political” texts comprising the Homo Sacer project in terms of the relation of the human to the animal. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Henceforth cited as MWE. 2 (2002). 119.” SL. trans. See for example Justin Clemens. The importance of the literary has finally been conceded by some critics. Literature. “Introduction: The Interim. trans. See Giorgio Agamben. Liz Heron (London: Verso. 163–79. 3. Henceforth cited as QCT. See for example Giorgio Agamben. ed. Mills defines as a crucial element of Agamben’s thought the faculty of having or capacity to do something. 1993). For more see Matthew Calarco. 109. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial. http://williamwatkin.” Paragraph 25. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Henceforth cited as PA. Means Without Ends. “The Role of the Shifter and the Problem of Reference in Giorgio Agamben. trans. This is the function of the “anthropological machine” that Agamben describes in The Open. trans. “Introduction. the inhuman. later in the main body of the book. and again in LD. Nicholas Heron.” and “The Turning.” in the collection Martin Heidegger. Henceforth cited as IH. 107. xxviii–xxxvi. Daniel HellerRoazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Justin Clemens. “Article: Syrinx / Larynx: A Full-Throated Ease. Henceforth cited as WGA. The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. 90.” in The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. Giorgio Agamben. Lovitt’s introduction is also useful. Life. PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Giorgio Agamben. For more on the role of animal voice to poetry see William Watkin. bare life. See Giorgio Agamben. trans. 204 . 62–75. 3. 2008). See Catherine Mills. The Question Concerning Technology. Henceforth cited as WWB. 1991). 1–11. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 10. essentially. 2004). 33–8. and ontology. 59. The End of the Poem. For example. 140.NOTES Agamben. trans. Henceforth cited as Para. Henceforth cited as HS. blogspot.” in QCT. IH. Henceforth cited as O. and Alex Murray.com/. It also forms the basis of a whole chapter in The End of the Poem.” William Watkin’s Blog. For a consideration of the status of the unwritten in Agamben see Andrew Dillon. 2000). trans. 1977). Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. 6. 2008).” WGA. 1998). & 187–8. see William Lovitt. no. biological life. Karen E. The Open: Man and Animal. Giorgio Agamben.
Idea of Prose. For a useful analysis of the relation of Agamben’s thought to that of Debord’s concept of the spectacle. 205 . 1993). no. 200–2 and again Mills in PA. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. “Thinking the Post-human: Literature. no. 2002). Thought.” SAQ. henceforth cited as OWL.” WGA.” in PMD. The conclusion to The Open sets out a more positive. and is inevitably itself criticized by others.” Textual Practice 15. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. 205–19. 1999). “After Humanism: Agamben and Heidegger. Henceforth cited as PLT. henceforth cited as P.” in Martin Heidegger. for example Krzysztof Ziarek. 61–2. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 23–46. For a consideration of this argument see Thomas Docherty. “Absence as Pure Possibility. 34–53. 54–64). 44–6.” in Derrida. Henceforth cited as RA. See also Lee Spinks. 44–5. and Colin Davis. 87–135. 86–7. Johnson. see for example Martin Heidegger. trans. 110–14. especially in the later texts on poetry. On the Way to Language. trans. 103–4. David E. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. and Sean Gaston. trans. Peter D. 2 (2007). Subjectivation. trans. trans. 2005). 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. HS. henceforth cited as IP. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1 (2004). For largely negative comments on Agamben’s critique of Derrida see Thurschwell. 173–97. messianic conception of post-humanism: O. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press. and The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. 1971).” Culture. RA. PA. “Potential European Democracy. 155–6. 1971). His most veiled but sustained critique is to be found in the essay “Pardes: The Writing of Potentiality. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press.NOTES 13 14 15 16 Also Giorgio Agamben. 1 (2001). 1995). It is widely assumed that Heidegger’s interest in Dasein wanes as. henceforth cited as ST. 187–210. Heidegger disputes this easy division. no. 53–7. 164–9. Affect and the Politics of Style. Literature and War: Absence and the Chance of Meeting (London: Continuum. Ronald L. and Testimony in Remnants of Auschwitz. trans. 90–2. his commitment to Being as such waxes. Poetry.” Para. Key moments come in the following texts Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality: Biopolitics. and The Open (O. 12. Potentialities. Mills. “Can the Dead Speak to Us? De Man. “As If the Time Were Now: Deconstructing Agamben. 15–88.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 106. henceforth cited as TTR. PMD. 2009). post-kehre. His critique of Derrida is more sporadic yet insistent. 102–4. Agamben’s critique of Heidegger spans the volumes Language and Death (LD. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. Lévinas and Agamben. For more on this topic see Catherine Mills. 129–30. 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. see Alex Murray. 39–77). Theory & Critique 45. trans. 266–90. Language. “Beyond Spectacle and the Image: the Poetics of Guy Debord and Agamben.” P.
and “Geschlecht I: Sexual Difference. Henceforth cited as MofP. 1987).1 (2006). This is Agamben’s specific criticism of Derrida in Stanzas. Agamben later speculates on various grammatological punctuation marks in relation to his theory of nonrelational harmonic articulation that is neither “hypotactic nor paratactic but. 3 (2008). M. James Ellroy. and Barbara Formis. 1989). is implied but never fully developed in Agamben’s work. 271–3. http://jacketmagazine. .” SAQ 121–44. “‘Draft 33: Deixis’ / Notes on ‘Deixis’: a Midrashic Chain an exchange of thoughts. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: Chicago University Press. 50. For a remarkable history of this process see Wlad Godzich and Jeffrey Kittay. 4. Psyche: Inventions of the Other. Literature. For an analysis of deixis. . 1977). Henceforth cited as LPN.” in relation to the hyphen. The Emergence of Prose: An Essay in Prosaics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 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. 152–8. Jacques Derrida. 2004). 2008). no. For a full consideration of all these issues see William Watkin. Steven C. See also Wall’s ground-breaking analysis Radical Passivity: Lévinas. 137 & 159–62.” Paragraph 31. Caton. and William Watkin. “Except for Law: Raymond Chandler. 7–26. trans. Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press. John Milton. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. Ontological Difference. The relationship between the banning of poets from the republic and the figure if the homo sacer as desubjectivization under the ban of the sovereign. Silliman and Agamben. 206 . Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2008). “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the work of Godzich & Kittay. 129–30. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. so to speak.” in Jacques Derrida. 344–64. 1999). Agamben. See M. atactic.” WGA. See ST. Shklovsky. Vol. and the Passion of Abu Ghraib. “Dismantling Theatricality: Aesthetics of Bare Life. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Bakhtin. 221–3). “Coetzee. II. 114–23. Henceforth cited as RP. no. see John Lyons.” Jacket 36 (2008). com/36/watkin-duplessis. and Rachel Blau DuPlessis.shtml. and ellipsis dots in the title of the Deleuze essay “Immanence: A Life . 1981). The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press. ” (P. and the Politics of Exception. Semantics Vol. the colon. Weller is somewhat scathing of this narrative of overcoming nihilism which he says typifies our tradition in relation to nihilism since Nietzsche.” American Anthropologist 108. 181–92. ed. Blanchot and Agamben (New York: SUNY. 636–7.NOTES 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 See Derrida’s two remarkable assaults on Heideggerian difference. See Shane Weller. Philosophy. See for example HS.
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. Henceforth cited as MP.” in Margins of Philosophy. Cecile Lindsay. The English translation incorrectly names John Woodhouse as Keats’ addressee. John Keats. Henceforth cited as IPP. See O. See also RA. 1982). See Michel De Certeau.” PMD. This admits into sovereign domination a double weakness. 307–30. in other words. 2004). 2001). as glossolalic. The Coming Community. 1999). and my own analysis of these issues in relation to poetry in William Watkin. See Alain Badiou. trans. 207 . trans. See Jacques Derrida. and Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press. 53. See Emile Benveniste. is surely the basis of much cultural chauvinism and imperialism through the ages. 198–226. The importance of passivity and neutrality for Agamben’s post-metaphysical ontology has been noted by a number of critics. What barbarians utter is mere noise. 63–70 where Agamben considers Heidegger’s ideas pertaining to animal captivated being as fundamentally at odds with human privative. 1935). 1993). and the subsequent denuding of xenoglossia under the sign of glossolalia. In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. 1989). On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Second Edition. “Vocal Utopias: Glossolalias. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Manifesto for Philosophy. In Agambenian terms much cultural imperialism is based on the false division between xenoglossia (bios) and glossolalia (zoe). trans. Maurice Buxton Forman (Oxford: Oxford University Press. self-conscious being. Jonathan Culler. trans. ed.” Representations 56 (1996). a language equal to our own in every way except the specificity of its material signification. a meaningless noise. 28–32. “Au Hasard. 92–4. Henceforth cited as M. 137–8.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. Henceforth cited as CC. 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. 217–30 & 35–40 respectively. Mary Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press. I am thinking most specifically of the arguments put forward in Jacques Derrida. trans. Problems in General Linguistics. “Signature Event Context. PA: Bucknell University Press. See for example Wall. The wilful treatment of xenoglossic alterity. but the first serious study of the issue was Thomas Wall’s Radical Passivity. 29–47. 32–5. therefore they are alive without being human. Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. The Letters of John Keats. Memoires for Paul de Man. For more on this see William Watkin. 227. 1971). Eduardo Cadava.
here Heller-Roazen opts for “mean. 144. For a consideration of this term and its relation to the semiotic in Agamben. trans. and Robert Eaglestone. Henceforth cited as R. 90–1. 113–38. or. 5–8. Selected Poems (London: Penguin. 131–2. Republic. “On Giorgio Agamben’s Holocaust. 188. State of Exception.” SAQ. 86. Henceforth cited as Prof. Profanations. Mills. 2005). Andrew Benjamin. RA. “Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals. Giorgio Agamben. PMD. Thurschwell. What Agamben defines as the pseudonymical nature of written selfenunciation. 186. “Soulblind. 149–63. trans. Pertinent to a later debate on the actual translation of the key term medio. 141–2. For a consideration of the relation of life to poetry see WWB. 76. PMD. Agamben. See Mills. 2008). Vogt. “Agamben’s Potential. Henceforth cited as SE. For further readings of the razo in Romantic and contemporary poetics see William Watkin. 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 . 211. a consonance I would be hesitant to endorse.” Giorgio Agamben. Badiou’s manifesto for “affirmative thinking” is mapped out in MP.NOTES 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 Robert Browning. “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. PMD. 167. just as every author is always a coauthor. “Face to Face with Agamben. Henceforth cited as AP.” Para.” WWB. PA. 64. For an interesting consideration of love in Agamben see Julian Wolfreys. Plato. concluding: “Every creation is always a cocreation.” Diacritics 30. De La Durantaye goes so far as to claim they are the same. 36–51.” also my preference. no. Pindar.” WGA. see Leland De La Durantaye. Agamben approaches the issue of the collusive nature of creation from a different angle. the Other in Love. Josh Cohen. THINKING THOUGHT 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 See earlier comments on Foucault and desubjectivization in RA. “‘A Different Insignificance’: The Poet and Witness in Agamben. trans. For criticism of Agamben in relation to otherness see Andrew Benjamin. and Mills. Debating the origin of the inter-relation between the ancient legal terms auctoritas and potestas. “Article: Poetic Dictation.” Para. 203. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. “Spacing as Shared: Heraclitus. 2004). 85. See Zaraloudis. 2 (2000). Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. PMD. CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. 344.” in WGA. 13. 2007).” PMD. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. AP. 66.
but says only itself. which shows itself. this definition of the Idea of Prose comes together with Agamben’s liberationist. Benjamin’s idea of a pure language finds an analogue in his conception of pure violence.” in Walter Benjamin: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory. politics. “Notes on Media and Biopolitics: ‘Notes on Gesture’. “Article: Ontological Whisperings. “Politics and Poetics of Divine Violence: On a Figure in Giorgio Agamben and Walter Benjamin. unfortunately. 11–12).” CC. In a rare but central moment for Agamben scholarship. Add into this Agamben’s definition of living in the category form-of-life as thinking as such (MWE. post-juridical politics in final page of State of Exception: “To a word that does not bind . Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 105. See also Wall’s analysis RP. For more on pure. see R. see also “The Idea of the Name. “Pseudonym. See Bruno Gulli.” P. The political implications of this occupy Means Without Ends (MWE. “The Ontology and Politics of Exception: Reflections on the Work of Giorgio Agamben. divine violence see Anne De Boever.” WGA. Idea of Prose. 209 . For a sustained reading of this essay see Deborah Levitt. 88).” WGA. 97–107. For more on Agamben’s consideration of the logical aporia that “Discourse cannot say what is named by the name. 84–8. P. 60–1. poetry. 107. 123. and “Homonym.” WWB. see RA. See MofP. and the three main strands of Agamben’s work. An excellent consideration of the messianic and the term integral actuality can be found in Irving Wohlfarth. revealing a parity between the political and literary Agamben that. 71–8. IP. and metaphysics come together. For an insightful consideration of the origins of the Idea of Prose in the work of Benjamin.” in IP. primarily in an attempt to reject tragedy from the republic. For a consideration of pseudonym and homonym in literature see William Watkin. 41 and again does not provide the citation. Jean-François Lyotard. Alexander García Düttmann. “Idea of Poetry. Peter Osborne (London: Taylor and Francis.” SL. 107. 70–102. 169–231.” CC. He also mentions this fragment in IP. 117). 241–2.” IP. I do not have space to develop here. 2004). trans.” WGA. which in turn defines the concept of the pure medium of mediality in SE. 193–211. 4–6. 1–28. see Nicholas Heron. Henceforth cited as LAS. . Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime. This relentless degradation and attenuation of poiesis occurs in the fourth book of Republic. would correspond an action as pure means. See also Düttmann. 1994). “On the Messianic Structures of Walter Benjamin’s Last Reflections. 11–13. For a consideration of knowability and sayability in relation to desubjectivization. 59–62. ed. “Integral Actuality.NOTES 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Greek culture.” (SE. where this argument is developed. 131. . without any relation to an end. The Aristotelian saying something about something.
2002). The final word however rests with Agamben and the relation of this. Henceforth cited as N.” Para. I have decided not to italicize the term and so in effect neologise the very term for the formation of neologisms. MWE. now turning. . See Giorgio Agamben and Gilles Deleuze. 35–8. 21. Henceforth cited as BT. Bartleby: La Formula della creazione (Macerata: Quodlibet. 255). the ultimate statement of potentiality. smooth glowing in which no point can be distinguished from any other” (P. See also P. 2006). 83. trans. 248–1 & 309–10. Giorgio Agamben. 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. while a Greek word. See Gulli. HS. 76. 223. P. It is indeed the origin of the political and its potential. and Giorgio Agamben. and Slavoj Zizek. 27–32. 2008). For further deliberations on this conception of Genius. The gag comes to relate to later considerations of the use of the mask in drama which Agamben also defines as a gesture. See Edkins SL. CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. no. Being and Time. Thought is not just another form of life but form-of-life as such: MWE. Alexander Cooke. 134–8. and because I am arguing for poiesis as a contemporary term covering issues around making as pro-duction into presence. 26–43. 140–44. is thought. 3 (2005). “Soulblind. 72–3. 177–271. Conceding the “to” refers to some act that preceded to which Bartleby refers. See O. . which he calls formof-life. “A Sense of Loss: Whatever it May Be. 112). The Parallax View (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. 79.” (P. 110. so to speak. MWE. SL. spinning on itself . 210 . or On Profanation. he notes: “But here it is as if this anaphora were absolutized to the point of losing all reference. This being the case. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. 1996). He speaks of potentiality in most of his major texts with major statements in CC. 375–85. Potentiality and Law: Deleuze and Agamben on ‘Bartleby’. back toward the phrase itself— absolute anaphora. and Marc Froment-Meurice.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. 9.” Angelaki 10. to anaphora. Idea della prosa (Macerata: Quodlibet. 231. see Thanos Zartaloudis. “Resistance.” in WGA. liberating future destiny. 116–8. See also his comments on the Hegelian grund or ground in this regard in P. 85. 45–7 & TTR. Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. as well as his description of the threshing floor of the ineffable as “a light. See Martin Heidegger. 1993). The archetypal activity of authentic being. THINKING THROUGH MAKING 1 Poiesis.
trans. 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. 110 & 115. Potentiality. 2006). Charles Bernstein.contempaesthetics.NOTES 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Plato. encompass Romanticism and contemporary “postmodernity. “Poiesis and Art-Making: A Way of Letting-Be. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper One. trans. trans. therefore.” Thus Colebrook’s critique of Agamben’s theory of poiesis as both masculinist and theological is incorrect.” SL. Edith Hamilton and Huntingdon Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1991). PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS 1 2 A solid overview of Agamben’s anti-modernity can be found in William Rasch. ed. trans. Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike (London: Picador. The Collected Dialogues.php?articleID=216. Cited in Bernard Stiegler. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Modern art would. 44. 95. “Agamben: Aesthetics. See TTR. 1961). 557.” SAQ. and Life. trans. especially the phenomenological thick description of jug-ness as thing. . Michael Joyce. The key term here is “letting. 205b. be” (P.org/newvolume/pages/article. refuting a criticism often 211 . Actuality = recursive eschaton. from Nothing. 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 . 62–3. Vols. Technics and Time: The Fault of Epimetheus. “From Sovereign Ban to Banning Sovereignty. and indeed many others. Handbook of Inaesthetics. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. the hardest thing is being capable of annihilating this Nothing and letting something. Girly Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 9. and Alain Badiou. 1998). The Man Without Qualities. Robert Musil. accessed 17 September 2008. 57. 253). We will find exactly the same structural model in terms of messianic temporality later on so that Potentiality = projective chronos.” www. One and Two. This is the basis of the thesis of Martin Heidegger. 172–3. Whitehead. in Plato.” as opposed to praxis or a willed doing. and entelechy = chairatic interiorization. 105–6. Ostensibly the modern epoch commences in the eighteenth century with the rise of Enlightenment rationalism and continues up to our present moment. I consistently use the term modern here in the manner in which Agamben takes the term. 165–86. See Claire Colebrook. See the essay “The Thing” in PLT. Synposium. . See Derek H. Henceforth cited as HI. Nietzsche. 2005). 1997). See PLT. CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. 19–20. where Agamben makes clear that his messianic temporality and overall method is not eschatological.
” PMD. 73–83. centrally important and. 74–106. “The Nazi Genocide and the Writing of the Holocaust Aporia: Ethics and Remnants of Auschwitz. “Dead Man Walking: Law and Ethics After Giorgio Agamben’s Auschwitz. PMD. William McNeill and Julia Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. trans. Mills. 97–100). Paul Hegarty. 4 (1999).” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 12. In Potentialities cultural traditional transmissibility is founded first on linguistic transmissibility (communicability). See Marin Heidegger. P. 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. 120–4. PMD. 397–417. 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. to my mind. 403. Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. Para. Charvet (Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 212 . Agamben and the Holocaust. 64. trans. where he takes Agamben’s commitment to productive thought and declares it effectively fatalistic and unproductive. Cohen. Badiou defines the century as defined by the violence of The Real in Alain Badiou. 4 (2006). The Century. 222–47. Henceforth cited as EHP. Charles Baudelaire. Clearly a development of the idea of sacrifice in HS. but of saying the suchness of as itself (CC. 36–51. 110–12. tautological indication of the anaphoric act of indication as such. “The Sovereign Weaver: Beyond the Camp.” PMD. 2000). Transmissibility is one of Agamben’s earliest. 1972). 40). I turn to the critical material around the Kafka story presently. And Martin Heidegger. of Voice: Bataille.” MLN 121. See for example Andreas Kalyvas. 139 & 156. Such a process negates the age-old consideration of language as primarily metaphoric-symbolic.” PMD.” in Selected Writings on Art & Artists. 1009–22. no.’ trans. See Wall. “The Painter of Modern Life. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. see Vogt. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality. and Esther Norma Marion. 2007). Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister. 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.E. no.NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 and misguidedly levelled at his work. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry. 31. P. David Fraser. most troublesome categories. Henceforth cited as C. saying something as something. 1996). For considerations of Agamben’s use of Levi. “Supposing the Impossibility of Silence of Sound. 19–20. 104. trans. “As such” here names the relation itself of relation between denotation (semiotics) and meaning with such-ness being the exposition of as-ness as tensile relation. they pertain more directly to the work around the Homo Sacer project which I have chosen not to dwell on in this study. This I believe is Negri’s final criticism of Agamben in SL.. 198–221. While both are important.
pro-verted.” SAQ.” WWB. trans. 31–5). ABC of Reading (London: Faber. 156.” in WGA. “Article: Under Glass. “Law of Friendship: Derrida and Agamben.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. trans. Agamben’s most recent posting into this dossier is Giorgio Agamben. PMD. 213 . 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. “K. 43–70. trans. “Spacing as Shared. For a detailed analysis of Agamben’s theory of the museum. See Peter Burger.” Postmetaphysical Thinking. and Mills. In this second reading.” Strategies: Journal of Theory. see Simon Morgan Wortham. HS. 19–34. 55–7 for his comments on Malevich. see William Watkin. 146. See my own consideration of this issue in IPP. 181–220. 135). See my own analysis of avant-garde manifestoes in IPP. 1984). 18. “The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices. For Weller’s argument in this regard see LPN. 49–62 Agamben pits his reading against Derrida’s influential interpretation. ed. Theory of the Avant-Garde. Derrida’s reading of the same text is to be found in Jacques Derrida. 36. Poetic Thinking: An Approach to Heidegger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.” PMD. Culture and Politics 15. ed. 2 (2002). 1982).” New Formations. Glossing Hegel on philosophy after its end he speculates on “a humanity that. Nicholas Walker (Cambridge: Polity Press. having fulfilled its past. “Playing with Law. “Myth Interrupted. and The Decline of Modernism. See David Halliburton. 1992). and my own consideration of these issues in William Watkin. no. C. Derrida and Disinterest (London: Continuum. 115–48. turned forward” (P. Bridget McDonald (Stanford: Stanford University Press. For considerations of the relationship between the two texts. 1991). 2005). See Jean-Luc Nancy. THINKING TAUTOLOGY 1 2 Ezra Pound. 1992). 98. trans. 13–27. Peter Connor in The Inoperative Community. See Vogt. Michael Shaw (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 219–37. The Experience of Freedom. 1951). see Sean Gaston. 1993). is now truly prose (that is pro-versa. 84–5. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge: Polity Press. Acts of Literature. 1992). “Friendly Little Communities: Derrida’s Politics of Death. CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. HS 40–4. Andrew Benjamin. See Jürgen Habermas. 89–105. Peter Connor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge. For an excellent recent study of this classic theme. See Jean-Luc Nancy. 62 (2007). 19–31 See Badiou.” trans.
as “The poem—this prolonged lingering between sound and sense” (EHP. 274–6. 17–37. Signatura rerum: Sul metodo (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. For a summary of the arguments. Selected Poems (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. John Keats. This is a criticism levelled. Σηµειωτιχη [Semiotike]: Recherches pour une Sémanalyse (Paris: Éditions du Seuil. is a significant change to prolongation which suggests stretching as an act of willed extension. truth beauty”. Para. “Beauty is truth. 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. 108–10.” WGA. thoughtless hanging around. Para. 176).NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 See Colebrook. by Froment-Meurice. 2008). 50–1. unfairly I believe. 2007). Lingering in comparison calls to mind an almost passive. Idea of Prose. See Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. 109.” Lingering. Giacomo Leopardi. 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. Jeff Fort (Urbana: University of Illinois Press. trans.” SAQ. lingers even longer than the poem itself. Norris. 85–6.” is misleading in relation to the Italian. Oeuvres II. “The Exemplary Exception. 75. After all. “thought conceives. For an introduction to some of these concepts see Heron. “Introduction. “mi fingo. 637). Jean Hytier (Paris. The English here. Here “Heidegger” retains the caesuric and thetic nature of Valéry’s prose by translating prolongée in terms of the more suggestive “lingering. 1960). which in part refutes the criticism of Agamben’s use of “extreme examples” such as one finds in Alison Ross. cited in LD. SAQ. 2008). 3–4 and clarifies such issues as Norris’s exemplary examples. Jean-Pierre Barricelli (Boston: 1986).” PMD. I first came across the idea of the tabularity of poetic structure in Julia Kristeva. Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry.147–8. ed.” in Giorgio Agamben. 177. CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. not due to indecisiveness (vacillation) but an authentic desire to listen to poetry’s call. 111 & 117. 214 . All English quotes taken from Giacomo Leopardi. such lingering has its own lofty resoluteness. see Clemens. and even the thinking which prepares such listening.” which really means tricks me or feigns for me.” allowing him to conclude: “the listening to the poem. trans.11–134. 114). “The Role of the Shifter. 1969). of course.”’ WGA. For a consideration of Agamben’s contentious use of the paradigmatic example. “Idea of Poetry. see the first chapter of Signatura Rerum entitled “Che cos’è un paradigma?. it is no mere vacillation.
an alternation between inversion and progression” (TTR.philobiblon. SL.” he calls it Greetings. no. 203–6. 35–6. 9–10). “Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from Being and Time. and Giorgio Agamben. 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. 17–19. 266. See Gulli. 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. SAQ. 158–91. 1981). See Johnson. 26. 1 (Dec. IPP. 1994). 29–69. Celan. of which he says: “Ogni istante. 215 .” WGA. . 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. 83–117. Rilke. 53–4 & 74–5. yet in each case said reading works to develop what is effectively a quasi-universal or transcendental truth about poiesis as such. however. This logic resembles in miniature the logic of the epoch and of messianic time in a quite remarkable and universal fashion. 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. The Language Instinct (London: Penguin. PMD. therefore. As one can see. stress-unstress. Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet. 222–47. [Every instant. caesura. Mallarmé. “Poetry Machines: Repetition in the Early Poetry of Kenneth Koch. See TTR. See for example Johanna Drucker. while Agamben gives an example of the caesura he never provides examples of enjambement as such. “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to e-space. every image anticipates virtually its future unwinding and recalls its preceding gestures] Interestingly. For his initial conception of calling see BT. 2008). It was the poets themselves who called this “retrogradatio cruciata . 117. See BT. 119 & 132. See William Watkin. and rhyme are all dependent on an idea of duality which.NOTES 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 See Stephen Pinker.” http:// www. 231. See Jacques Derrida. Thomas Gray. The essential bases of poetry.” M. Hölderlin. Agamben uses the example of Bill Viola’s 1995 work “The Greeting. 81–2). 29 for the commencement of a career-long attack on aesthetics in Heidegger. ogni immagine anticipa virtualmente il suo svolgimento futuro e ricorda i suoi gesti precedenti” (N.” EnterText 1.com/drucker/. . A useful consideration of silence can be found in Hegarty. does not come to view as double until a third element occurs to confirm this duality. Il sacramento del linguaggio: Archeologia del giuramento (Roma: GLF. 2000). enjambement. 269–80.
of course. CC. 1996). For more on the gender implications of the appropriation of terms such as womb/khora. Alexander Pope. 38–59. see Watkin. The New Sentence (New York: Roof Books. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press. For more on Italian versification. What he names “a paraexistence or a paratranscendence that dwells beside the thing. 7–9. although for Agamben at least. 1995). but is the endless collapsing of the traditional metaphysical distinction between the two. see Jacques Derrida. see Sean Gaston. For a brilliant attack on the omnipresence of end-directed syllogism as an unquestioned and damaging convention of poetic and prosaic structural coherence. Gerald Stanton Smith and Marina Tarlinskaja (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 90–1. 2 (2003). CHAPTER 6 CAESURA. 89–130. 1984). WGA.’ On the Name.106. 101. see Leland De La Durantaye. which he also terms the halo. no. ed. A History of European Versification. John Ashbery. 69–70. the trace is not synonymous with language. 25–30 and 239n11 (for her critique of Derrida). Here the hemistich in the second line breaks it into two clearly separate entities. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press. 1987). 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. 355–8. trans. and. 53–8. “The Suspended Substantive: On Animals and Men in Giorgio Agamben’s The Open. before and after thought (penso). See also MWE. see Ron Silliman. Henceforth cited as SP. 200–6. Julia Kristeva. See De Boever. For more on the right-hand margin in poetry. 1984).NOTES 22 For by far the best and most penetrating explanation of spacing and the trace in Derrida. 2007).” the presence of being to the side. See IPP. Derrida’s conception of language is problematically ensconced within the differing and deferring logic of the trace. Revolution in Poetic Language. ‘Khōra. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. Similarly. A Wave (Manchester: Carcanet. trans. even if this is not marked grammatologically. 122–4. 2008). 43). On the relation of this to the Benjaminian concept of the division of the division and the caesura.” Diacritics 33. Henceforth cited as W. OM. Starting with Derrida (London: Continuum. 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 Mikhail Leonovich Gasparov. CC. 84–119. 216 . 14. For my own analysis see MofP.
He refers.” Contemporary Literature 48. see LPN. 4 (2007). although I do not remember ever mentioning it. 108. Weller is in agreement. 142. 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. THE TURN OF THINKING 1 2 3 For an analysis of poiesis in relation to modernity see Colebrook. no. I believe.NOTES RECURSION. 499–529. 217 . SAQ.
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26. 36–7. 196 as poetic spacing 137–8. 210n. 208n.n.30 The Coming Community 63–6 180–2. 30. 205n.33. 100–14. 205n.5 Homo Sacer 1. 5. 208n.7 Stanzas 14–19. 213n. 59.INDEX abyss between poetry philosophy 45–7. 32.18. 204n.21. 209n. 67–8. 216n. 48. 206n. 211n.12 State of Exception 171. 212n. 124.15.15. 206n.12.2. 204n. 205n. 92. 213n. 213n. 205n. 71–2.15. 91–7. 139.13. 213n. 229 “K” 213.29.10. 20–2.34. 161. 204n. 133. 204n. 89–90 aesthetics 16. 79–86.7 Language and Death 2. 189–92. 206n. 208n. 216n. 47. 123.32. 58–9. 152. 125.6. 210n.35. 188.8.131.52. 204n. 54–64. 213n.18.24. 209n. 206n.15.1. 212n.6. 169–71. 123. 89.28 Idea of Prose 33–6.7.1 Il sacramento del linguaggio 215n. 148–9. 182–3.18 Agamben. 206n. 212n. 204n.15. 205n. 54. 24. 209n.12. 205n.13. 18. 209n. 25. 67.13.19. 95.11. 13.12 Infancy and History 4–5. 209n. 37. 205n. 45–7.8 Ninfe 210n. 209n. 209n.16.18.5. 211n.11 integral actuality 54–7. 81–3. 61–2. 209n.7 The End of the Poem 32.19 Profanations 41–3.2 Remnants of Auschwitz 26–32. 209n.10. 204n. 210n. 207n. 143–4. 171.25. 135–9. 203n. 207n. 204n. 216n. 209n. 212n. 143. 204n.22 Idea della prosa 210n. 210n. 87. 215n.33. 206n.9.29 Potentialities 43. 45. 113.23. 215n.18.31. 47. 47–184.108.40.206 The Man Without Content 45–6. 158 actuality 43–4. 210n.15 Adorno. 209n. 89. 210n.10. 158. 91. 166–7. 122–4. 98.15. 83–4. 64–6. 212n.4. 206n. 7–12. 174–80. 141. 111. 208n.5.22. 12–13. 212n. 163.18 Signatura rerum 213n.27. 100–9. 204n.5 Means Without Ends 58. 210n.1.4. 8–9. 209n.4. 210n. 72.19. 146.29 The Open 5. Giorgio Bartleby 210n.15. 126–34.18 . 187–8. 209n. 212n.15. Theodor 29. 157.
10. 107. 212n. 65–6. 64. 215n. 132. 63–5. 102.17. 81–2. 187 artist 16.3 Calarco. 95. 48–51.29. 211n. 132.17 Bakhtin. 146–7. 92.2. 95 Benjamin. Josh 208n. 106. 210n.9 Cooke. 128. 207n. John 102. 110–13. 165. Robert 30.18 Benjamin. 79–91. Andrew 207n.42. 137. 210n.15 caesura 13–14. 117. 27–8.19 Celan 33–4.38. 159. 108.4 anaphora/cataphora matrix 21. 120–1 Browning. 211n. 109. 79. 125. 131.32. 159.10. 64. 133. Honoré de 104 Bartleby 43. 212n. 199. 210n. Justin 204n. 176 anaphora 21.39 anti-poiesis 83–114. Charles 78–9.6. 149 as not 68. 175. 73–5. 118.9. 152. 209n. 210n. 150. 135. 171. 155. 197. 205n. Charles 95. 150. 12–13. 207n. 145 Aristotle 17. 59–60. 122. 146. 95. 161. 3. 210n. 50. 213n. 105. 73. 213n. 98. 102. 66. Walter 9. 211n. 144–9. 122–4. 20–5.9 Caton. 178. 98. 214n. 165.3. 41–4.15 Akhmatova. 149. 86. 86.INDEX Agamben. 53–7. 68–9. 212n. 216n. 134. 83–6. 128.4 criticism 16. 94.4 Burger. 211n.41 Buch. 83–6 arche-presence 86. 204n. 189. 197 arche (authentic origin) 49–50. 181 bios 1. 174–80 appropriation 7. 62–6. 216n. 152.24. 204n. 212n.26 230 Balzac. 157.1. Peter 103. 196.12.6 Colebrook.33. 206n.20. 16. 98. 90. 91. 197. 82 Hos me 88–94. 206n. 215n. 161.15. 212n. 71. 111. 206n. 189–92 Arnaut.34 corn (tip/corner) 186–8 couplet 130. 119. Matthew 204n. 31. 138. 79.8.44. 213n.10 lieu commun 85. Alexander 210n. 132. 207n. 77. 106. Steven 206n. 99. 103. 57. 215n. Alain 29.8. 100–14 as if 88–94. 166–93. 164. 58. 97.3. 163. 216n. 153. 168. Claire 211n. 63.4.9. 27. Émile 23.6 Attridge.18 aura 92–7. 215n. 70–4. 156–7.17 Benveniste. 209n. 98.10 biopolitical 1. 196 apotropaic 48–51. 76.19 Clemens. Daniel 154.39 boustrophedonic 139–45. Robert 203n. 120. M. Derek 213n. 71–6.4. 207n. 122 aletheia (truth as unveiled or unconcealed) 28. 43–5. 168–72 creation 16. 18. 69. 146. 92–3.15. 70–4. 16. 146–54. 60. 193. 152 ¯ ¯ Ashbery. 201. 147. Anna 64–5.34 Baudelaire. 211n. 144. 157. 29. 142.1 communicability 6. 215n. 154. 87. 54–5. M. 170. Giorgio (Cont’d) The Time That Remains 88–94. 184 bringing forth 70. 208n. 212n.43. 200 animal 5–8. 206n. 207n.30 Bernstein. 178–9. 101–2. 108 Badiou. 31.2 Cohen. 146–7 .
112. 86. 132 fiction 89–90. 129. 210n. 196. 192. 193. 64–5. 125.24. Anne 209n. 31. 208n. Mikhail Leonovich 216n. 105.16.31. 185. 41–3. 85. 209n.14. 195 expropriation 31. 208n.8 event 24.12. 186. 211n. 30.33. 25. 199. 67–8. 80–1. 192. 215n. 208n. 53.21. 15. 205n. 43. 37.4 Derrida. 188 Edkins. 188. gestell) 78. 113. Colin 205n. 94.24 Formis. 162.4. 107. 192. 67–8. 212n. 199.3 deixis 20–3. 208n.4 experience 4. 145. 211n. 126. 27. 131. Leland 208n. 157. Rachel Blau 206n. David 212n.15 Eaglestone. Johanna 214n. 106. 51. Alexander García 50. 196 différance 13. 152–3. Robert 207n.11 231 enunciation 6. 168–75. 94–7. 208n. 216n. Jenny 203n. 210n. 164–5.19 Foucault.5. 201 form-of-life 58.10 dictation 28. 47–8. 206n. 92.34.18. 29–32. 205n. 199. Barbara 206n. 205n. 125–6.6 DuPlessis.14 Docherty. 153. 45–8. 98. 19. 77–9. 56–7. 128. 106. 128–9. 58–65. 88. 26–7. Michel 41. 46. 131. 207n. 137. 106 Drucker. 215n.1. 57. Marc 210n.18. 170. 47.9 desubjectivization 23–32.5 gag 59–60. 160.9. 191–2.5 De La Durantaye. 35. 126. 130. 96–7.1 Gaston. 215n. 156. 122 Dante 32. 121. 6. 137–8. 79. 72. 180–1.12 De Boever. 132. 123. 46. 32–8. 106. 60. 182. 88. Thomas 205n. 130. 191. 179. 96. 19.15. 87–8. 111–13. 210n. 170. 135–66. 106–13.26 Gasparov. 209n. 29.32 genius 67–9. 105. 62. 106. 146 figural 148–53. 23–5. 216n. 156. 88–90. 118.14 Duchamp.36 gesture 20. 107. 203n.INDEX Damascius 61–2. 13. 93. 53–4. 173. 195. 33. 191 ex nihilo (creation) 69.46. Marcel 67. 213n. 147. 145. 165. 182–3.6.15. 134. 147. 149. 109. 31. 22. 42. 173–4. 109. 8–13. 215n. 123. 42. 149–50. 212n.18. 198 Fraser. 159. 207n.6 Froment-Meurice. 178. 124. 213n. 141. Jean-Philippe 203n. 134. 97. 185. 82–3. 141 Dillon. 53.22. 206n. 24–37. Sean 205n. 186 Davis. 117.24 Düttmann. 29–31.17. 165.1 framing (parergon. 172–3. 215n. 127. 187. 76. Jacques 12. 123.42 ease 180–5.2. 164 finitude 20. 54. 29. Andrew 204n. 209n. 210n.17 entelechy 81–3.29 Deranty.31 enigma 176–80 enjambement 14.26 . 67. 42.4 epoch 53. 158–60. 216n. 215n. 88. 150. 168. 209n. 203n. 127–8. 197. 182. 144. 181. 57.8. 206n.16. 146. 135. 67. 73. 24–5.3 disinterest 101–3. 106. 126–7. 208n. 145–6.
120. 28. 211n. 125 see also desubjectivization and dictation indifference 17. 77. 87. 212n. 210n. 215n. 57.1. 148. 71. 210n. 38. Andreas 211n. 206n.2 Kant.INDEX glossolalia (babble. 20. 210n.25.8. 161.19 human 5–15.15 Johnson. 195 integral actuality 54–5. 179.9 . 211n. 107–12. 178. 205n. 212n. 25. 99. David E. Martin 12–14. 190.17. 54–7. 205n. 47. 70.39 Ideal Form (eidos) 80–6. 63. 35.11.8 Halliburton. 153. 196–9. 146 Kafka. 17. 207n. 99.10 judgement 11.15. 201. 37.4 Keats. 207n. 162. 120. 212n. 67.1.27 infancy 6–17.9 The Question Concerning Technology 12. Thomas 141 Guillaume. 124 Kiesow. 25–6.18 Kalyvas. 134. 213n. 101. 77.6. 63. Language. 145. 206n. 165. 204n. 210n. 151. 178. Paul 212n.3 232 hesitation 156–8. 74. 169–70. 203n. 159. Babel) 29–31. Bruno 209n. 190 impersonality 30. 205n. 122. Wlad and Jeffrey Kittay 20.36. 212n. 38.16 Poetry. 30. 211n.39 Godzich. 214n.17. 94.1. 70–9.18 Being and Time 22. 107–13. 32. 59–60 Kristeva. 33. 121. 215n. 22. Gustave 151 Gulli.6.8. 36.15. 77. 67. Nicholas 209n.4. 36.7 On the Way to Language 122. 63. Glenn 65–6. 204n. 205n. 96. 135. 216n. 98. Franz 106.1 history 8. 100. 170. 80. 20–3. 58. 54. 147. 157. 136.7. 161 inspiration 32.16. David 119 harmonia 47. 214n. 19. 216n.1 Gray.1 kle sis 88–9. 37–8.9 Hölderlin 47. 107–11 Kaufman. 20. 204n. Eleanor 203n.22. 20–3. 143–5. 133–4. 113.27.34. 59–60. 165.32 Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’ 198–9. 73.19 Heidegger. Julia 214n. 45. 194–5 indistinction 1.16. 117. Rainer Maria 203n. 34. 124. 152. 210n. 174 having see habit and appropriation Hegarty. 215n. 213n. 205n. 214n.32. 138.27 Gould. 102. 22–6.13 Habermas. 191–2. 157. 46. 52–4. G. 215n. 215n. Thought 70. 133. 170 see also indifference ineffable 9–13. 198. 100–1. 50.16. 209n. 207n. 60. 118–25. 211n.6. 51. 125–6. 138. 198–9. 155. 205n. W. 55. 122 gramma (grammatology) 140–1. 204n. 146.22. 131–2. 99–101. 16. 199.32. 35–8. John 26–7. 174–5 Heron.11 Heraclitus 47. 214n. 75. 79. 206n. 12. 30. 167.20 Hegel. 18. 73. 77.8. 205n. 201. Immanuel 9. Jürgen 109 habit 129–34. 141. 77. 86. 197. 113. 20. Max 47. 108. 76. 181 ¯ Kommerell. 57. 174. 57. 161–2. 90. F. 145–8. 87. 37. 22. 207n.
45–7. Jean-François 52.1 Laclau. 148. 158. 179 Levitt.24 logopoiesis 77. 69. 136.16 that there is 4–40. 87–91. 169–71. 103–4.10 language experience of 10–11. 35–7. Jean-Luc 29. 203n. 82.18. 144. 57. 188–9. 89. 200. 216n. 92. 118–21. 45. 72. 201. 25. 144–6. 12. 210n. 128. 184. 35–6. 89. 32. 169–70. 213n. Alex 205n. 129–34 museum 78.6. 72–3. 195 Negri. 103. 207n. Ernesto 203n. 131. 128.6. 204n. 49–52. 113. Stéphane 58. Henri “Back” 76 McQuillan.21 Musil. 122. 141. 203n. 122 thing of thought as such 49–50. 99. 143. 20–3. 30. 55–66. 166. 76. 67. John 206n. 155. 55. 182–5. 157.1 Morgan Wortham. 6 as medium 53.21 life 1–2.18 Milton. 8. 103. 204n. 20. 196. 11. 32. 204n. 64–7.48. 101–14. 173. 209n. 106–7. William 204n. 196. 212n.18 morphe 79–81 Murray.1. 195–7. 91. 90. 105. 209n. 197.1 Lacoue-Labarthe.8 Mills.17 Mallarmé. 80. 102–3. 47. 131–4. Dominick 203n. 179–80. 129. 153. 167. 16. 199–201. 145. 199. 15. 196. 107. 209n.45 Lovitt. 193. 128–9. 203n. 63. 135. 209n. 195–6.2. 50–1. Phillipe 29. 209n. 160. 211n. 96–8. 211n. 21.INDEX LaCapra. 6. 117–34. 213n. Friedrich 42. 63. 179 love 14. 54.13 Muse 27. 191. 25.42. 33. 88.24 Lyotard. 9. 48. Esther Norma 212n. 117. 208n. 160. 167.19 logos 8.3 modernity 1. 215n. 67. 41–68. 193. 160. 147. 214n. Catherine 26. 6.22 negation/negativity 2–3. 74. 169. 13. 176–7. 118. 108–9. 213n. 206n. 215n. 65.13. 174 modern art 46. 145. 125. 76–9. Giacomo “L’infinito” 124–34. 10. 215n.11. 67.15. 179. 54.8. 11. Robert 83 name 9–10. 92–4. 35–7.19 Marion.6 Matisse. 17. 136. 211n. 132. 110 Malevich 106.20. 183. 157. 211n. 206n. 76.12. 149. John 169. 16.2 measure 97. Colin 203n. 44–6. 45–6.5 nihilism 3. 204n. 155. 191. 171–5. 144–56. Antonio 2.3. 123–4. 166.2. 8. 213n. 211n. 114. 210n. 196. 167. 153. 204n.15. 208n. 196 Leopardi. 195 experimentum linguae 4. 133–4. 118. 82–3. 91. 212n. 85–6. 99. 57. Deborah 209n. 89. 22. 69. 90.44. 16–17. 57–8.13 Nancy.11 Lyons. 107–14. 157. Simon 213n. 56.1.12. and subjectivity 25–8. 129. 83–116.3. 174 233 messianism 16. 106. 165. 117. 128. 100–3. 53. 28. 145.20 . 36–8. 208n. 26. 196. 88–93. 198–9 and modernity 85.3 Nietzsche.
55.47 ready-made 85. 123–4. 159–60.87–116 pop art 85. Benjamin 203n. 8. 22. 86.9 poetry advent 126–33. 210n. 71–2. 181. 144. 86. 211n.6. 155. 51. 166.9. 24. 197. 132–4. 5. 81. 61. 140–1. 179 Pinker. 175. 88.4 Plato 14. 33. 197. 92–8 revelation 52–3 rhetorician 104–6 rhyme 14. 186–8. 153. 211n. 129. 144. 213n. 211n. 137.1. 198–9. 138. 200–1 recursive-projection 21. 129–31. 145. 210n. 207n. 167. 178–9. 107–9. 79.INDEX Norris. 155–62. 192. 35–7. 173 end of 135–9. 215n. 154. 125. 216n. 67. 93 Pope. 62.1 ontology 5–6.1 Paul 29. 88–92. 122. 209n. 48–9. 162.40. 99. 156. Alexander 168–72 potential 13. 178–9. 28. 144–5.1 razo de trobar 32. 60. 50. 20–1. 168–9. 154–74. 192–3. 71–5. 81–3. 157. 130. 17. 133.11 234 poiesis 3. 91. 113. 149. 209n. 195–7. 102. 167. 152–3 periplus 132–3. 178. 58–60.33. 132. 45.27. 105–6. 153. 27. 215n. 72.4 presupposition 9. 113 . 21. 11. 170. 193. 192 poem body 44. 173.16. 100. 208n. 98. 106. 117–18. 32. 146–9. 175. 200. 191. 28. 60. 170. 122. 195. 28. 210n. 172. Stephen 214n. 79–81. 153–5. 169 production 58. 211n. 167. 184–7.1. 71–3.40. 163. 152 passivity 30. 208n.11 Pound. 164–5. 87–90. 205n. 49.19. 206n. 114. 97. line 79. 121. 47. 69. 13.27. 42–6. 124. 135. 163–4. 144–5. 34–5. 213n. 96. 163. 49–57. 58–9. 126. 139. 62–3. 44–8. 183–92. 58. 79. 17. 191–3.39. 48. 172. 142–4. 140. 53.1 prose 15. 170. 93 reproducibility 84–6. 193. 206n. 137–43. 137. 23–8. 138. 214n. 79. 130. 51.3 Idea of 54–7. William 211n.4 Pacman 159 parable 148–9. 103–8. 197. 63–6. 145. 191. 188. 44. 214n. 201 metrical-musical element (poetry) 128. 67. 104–5. 206n. 210n. 69–87. 134. 160. 52. 43. 129.34. 137–40. 88. 169. 113–14. 94. 204n. Andrew 214n. 137–46. 43–4. 143. 79. Arthur 26–7. 12–13. 90. 63–4. 37. 83. 74–5. 171. 120. 186. 128–9.1 praxis 58. 180.18 Rasch. 136.1 anti. 195. 134. 44–5. 146. 169–70. 151.19. 173 poetry and philosophy 14. 186 phone 8. 31. 101–2. 141. 32. 198–9 philology 2. 132. 35. 120–1.8 Rimbaud. 133. 184. 127. 144. 112. 128–9. 117–18. 30–1.17. 208n. Ezra 102. 195–6 planar 128. 145–6.4. 29. 211n. 207n.7 Noys.25. 172. 156. 63–8. 207n. 183. 214n. 17.
154. 192. 46. 56. 117. 193. 55. 178–88. 199 semiotic 6.15. 214n. 174 Thurschwell. 160. 136. 149. 110–11. 31. 135. 128. 161. 158.8 taste 99–103. 47–8. 27 scission 2. 154.5 Saussure. 140. 60. 149. 108–9. 85. 144. 212n. 167. 150. 165. 197. 43. 35–7. 70. 136–43. 37. 51–2. 182. 211n.19 stanza 13–17. 105–6.20 Silliman. 178–9. 214n. 156. 53. 54. 153. 207n. 134–5. 46. 83. 106. 136–44. 199 sovereignty 1–2. 142. 136–9. 159–60. 32. 178–9. 48. 63–4. 122. 208n. 12. 185 tabular 64. 192 operational time 150–3. 125. 184–9. 77.3 Royle. 207n. 187 shock 94–7.6 Spinks.12. 22–3. 212n. 125–8. 133–4.6 stil novist 14. 169. 169. 19. 216n. 57. 111–12. 94–104.4 techne 73–86. 170. 142. 146. 145. Ferdinand de 17.11 kairos 145. 35. art 75–7 thing as such of thought 49. 149. 9. 182 tablet 44. 162.3. 93–7. 105–6. 137–8. 155–6. 149. 184–8. 117–18. 117–34. 83. 169. 131. 211n. 184 silence 8. 185.INDEX Romanticism 69. 97–9. 155. Adam 203n. 167. 197. 21. 84. 143. 196. 154. 131–2. 149. 188. 197. 212n. 152–65. 206n. 80. 171–2. 199–201. 208n. 160.47. 173 eschaton 88. 146–7. 164–5. 188. 194 semantic 27–9.4 terror 99–106 thing. 192. 97–8. 34. 133. 65. 60–8. 150. 131.39 space 14.27. 32. 150. 206n. 32–3. 174–5. 186–7. 127–9. 163 and space 20. 77–8. 28. 125. 172–4. 199.42 time/temporality chronos 145.4. 107–8 sign 17–22. 165. 109. 84. 28. 186 turn see enjambment and verse . 199–201. 131. Bernard 211n. 120–1. 32.9 Troubador 14–17.46. 144–5. 92. 167–72. 199. 177–80. 133. 184.11 ergon 158–60. 172. 114. 138. Lee 205n. 71. 61. 181–3. 195. 27–8. 60. 48.4 sestina 154–5. 121 tension 35. 30. 171. 46. 149–50. 28. 210n. Ron 206n. 32. 122. 201. 99. 23. 59. 200. 127. 172. 17. 56. 179. 125. 30. 130. 26–32. 45–6. 201. 172. 124. 133. 122. 173. 127. 80. 19. 215n. 149. 144. 67. 24. 140. 173–5. 150–4. 188. 20. 6. 63. 75. 99.21. 175–9. 55–6. 97. 157–8. 113. 201 tone/tonos 163–4 transmissibility 30. 110–11 tautegorical 52. 108. 216n. 149–53 linear time 87. 124. 160–9. 155–62. 57.10 singularity 5. 13–19. 72. 196 235 state of exception 1 Stiegler. 197. 131. 11. 127. 197. 141. 151 tautology 6. 133. 211n. 56–7. 205n. Nicholas 203n. 194. 158–64. 166–93.
133. 8 236 . 166–7. 205n. 204n. 152.20.45 work see praxis and entelechy writer’s block 67–8 xenoglossia 29–30. 12. 28. 212n. 216n.21. 177.33. 30. 208n.6. 199. Julian 208n.1 van Gogh. Thomas Carl 207n. 179. 186.24. 208n. 207n. 209n.7 Wohlfarth. 206n. 171. 45–8.37. 201 Vogt. 7. 21–5. Derek H.27.1. Erik 203n. Andy 93 Watkin. Vincent 70. 216n.34 zoe 1.5 Walser.47.INDEX uncanny 2.5 Valéry.10 Wall. 199.21. Slavoj 210n. 75. William 204n. Thanos 210n. 173–5.20 voice 3–8. 213n.10. 59. 82.2 whatever (quodlibet) 63–5 Whitehead. 103.39 zoon logon echon 5. Irving 209n. 140–4.36. Shane 206n. 157–8. 207n.11 Weller. 128. 206n. 178.13. 125. 135–65. Paul 56. Krzysztof 205n.39 Zartaloudis. 214n. 213n.44. 168.36 Ziarek. 207n. 33. 211n.15 Zizek. 212n. 102 Varro 58 verse as versus 128–34. Robert 122 Warhol. 207n.15 Wolfreys. 215n.