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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The Thing Itself The Idea of Language Communicability. Thinking Thought Poetic Thinking Poetry and Philosophy Communicability. Philosophical Gesturality Potentiality x xi 1 4 6 9 13 17 20 23 26 32 41 41 44 48 52 54 58 61 63 vii . 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.
Thinking through Making Poiesis Praxis Techne The Art Thing Finitude Morphe. the Turn of Verse The Definition of Poetry Boustrophedonics Kle sis. The Messianic As Not ˉ Messianic Kairos Messianic Rhyme An Endless Falling Into Silence Tension: The One Line Chapter 6 Caesura. Modern Anti-Poiesis Chapter 3 Modernity. Thinking Tautology The Logo-Poiesis Tautology The Exemplary Tautology of Logopoiesis Infinite Poetry The Habits of the Muse Chapter 5 Enjambement. the Space of Thought The Caesura Apotropaics 117 119 122 124 129 135 135 139 144 149 153 155 162 166 166 174 viii .Chapter 2 Poiesis. Productive Anti-poiesis Living As If or As Not Auratic Twilight Shock! Profaning Scission Taste and Terror How to Exit Art Modern Aesthetic Desubjectivization 69 69 71 73 75 77 79 81 83 87 88 92 94 97 99 103 107 SECOND EPISODE: ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS Chapter 4 Logopoiesis. Shape Entelechy Arche.
the Turn of Thinking Notes Bibliography Index 180 186 189 194 203 218 229 ix .Ease: The Proximate Space Corn: In The Corner of The Room Rhythm Recursion.
intense. I greatly appreciate the questions and remarks that followed which encouraged but also challenged me. 1983. miraculous year. Finally. the title of this book is his. and my son. Chapter Two was presented as a seminar at Brunel University in March 2009. So it is that the last but also always the first expression of gratitude as ever goes to my wife. Permission to use “Warrant” granted by Charles Bernstein. Obvious it is that sharing a house with an Italian is useful when writing a book on Agamben. Dearest Barbara.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks are due to my editors Hugh Silverman. on behalf of the author. Inc. and aids to translation. Language and Death © 1991 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota. the writing of this book coincided with the birth of my daughter . 1982. Barbara Montanari. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. x . that is truly living. not merely because of the incredible support she has given me over this past. and Sarah Campbell. granted by permission of Georges Borchardt. . Reprint of the final stanza from “Down By the Station Early in the Morning” from A WAVE by John Ashbery. suggestions. but also for her many comments. The Man Without Content. . living with someone so much more intelligent than I. whose careful stewardship of the book in its latter stages was much appreciated. I must also thank Brunel University for granting me a year-long sabbatical to complete this work. University. 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. Copyright © 1981. and Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy © 1999 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr.
2 (2000). Giorgio Agamben. The Century (2005). Giorgio Agamben. Being and Time (1953). Giorgio Agamben. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. trans. 2005).LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS AP BT C CC EHP EP HI HS IH IP IPP Leland De La Durantaye. 3–24. 1993). Handbook of Inaesthetics (1998). no. 1995). trans. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. trans. William Watkin. Martin Heidegger. Idea of Prose (1985). Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience (1978). Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press. 2007). 1998). The Coming Community (1990). Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. Giorgio Agamben. 1993). trans. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995). Giorgio Agamben. trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. trans. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. 1999). The End of the Poem (1996). 1996). Liz Heron (London: Verso.” Diacritics 30. trans. PA: Bucknell University Press. trans. “Agamben’s Potential. trans. Alain Badiou. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. xi . Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry (1981). 2001). Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. Alain Badiou. 2000).
MWC Giorgio Agamben. OM William Watkin. N Giorgio Agamben. trans. M Jacques Derrida. MP Alain Badiou. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. P Potentialities (1999). 2004). The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. 2004). Peter D. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. O Giorgio Agamben. 1994). The Open: Man and Animal (2002). Language. MWE Giorgio Agamben. PLT Martin Heidegger. Thought. 2008). trans. no. 2000).LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS LAS Jean-François Lyotard. 1971). 2008). 1999). trans. trans. Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. Muses II. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. PMD Andrew Norris ed. Para Paragraph 25. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. no. PA Catherine Mills. Karen E. Silliman and Agamben. NC: Duke University Press. 3 (2008). trans. Margins of Philosophy (1972).. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity (1982). Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Literature. trans. trans. LPN Shane Weller. 344–364. trans. trans. 2 (2002). Multiple Arts. Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer (Durham. Shklovsky. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. MofP William Watkin. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (1991). The Man Without Content (1970). Simon Sparks (Stanford: Stanford University Press. trans. Manifesto for Philosophy (1989). 1982). MA Jean-Luc Nancy. Philosophy. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. LD Giorgio Agamben.” Paragraph 31. On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Means Without Ends (1996). Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Politics. 1999). ed. OWL Martin Heidegger. 2008). On the Way to Language (1959). 2006). 1999). 2005). Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. Poetry. Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. 1971). “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the Work of Godzich & Kittay. 1991). xii .
Blanchot and Agamben (Albany: SUNY Press. 1 (2008). TP John Ashbery. The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. Nicholas Heron. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. TTR The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (2000). 2005). trans. SAQ The South Atlantic Quarterly 107. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. QCT Martin Heidegger. SP Alexander Pope. Three Poems (New York: Penguin. trans. trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2007).. trans. SE Giorgio Agamben. Radical Passivity: Lévinas.com/. 1999). 1993). WGA Justin Clemens. 2008).no. 1977). http://williamwatkin. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial. William Watkin’s Blog. ST Giorgio Agamben. WWB William Watkin. 2008). The Question Concerning Technology. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. 2007). RA Giorgio Agamben. RP Thomas Carl Wall. Republic. xiii . trans. trans. 1993). Literature. blogspot. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Ronald L. Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (1977). 2008). Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. R Plato. State of Exception (2003).LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS Prof Giorgio Agamben. 2005). 2002). Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1999). trans. and Alex Murray eds. Sovereignty and Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press. SL Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli eds. Profanations (2005). Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books.
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That exception has become the norm is the basis of Agamben’s savage attack on our biopolitical modernity. typically. now stretched to six volumes or around a third of his total published output. In this work Agamben presents his critique of our political modernity as a permanent state of exception/emergency. This extended study of the categories of the political and modernity continues apace. This state of exception. Living perpetually in this denuded zone of indistinction between biological existence as such (zoé) and our social life (bios). In particular through the consideration of sovereignty. is overseen by sovereign power. 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. the homo sacer. 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. The sovereign’s legitimacy extends from the power of the state to reduce our existence to bare life or life as mere survival. through which he likens our advanced democracies to living in a camp. perhaps.” he presents a convincing cartography of the political in our age that is. Like the homo sacer. makes of us that most despised figure from Roman law. confrontational studies that make up the ongoing Homo Sacer project Agamben proposes a radical. bare life. 1 . what Agamben calls the biopolitical.EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (b. In the complex and. whose sacred life was the possession and legitimization of the sovereign ready to be forfeited at any point without fear of legal repercussion. 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.
he rediscovers pieces or elements of being. 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. 111). by manipulating and constructing them). attains the power of being (that is. 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.5 Thus Negri. where he is perpetually forced into a confrontation with the idea of death. ponders.3 Negri is far from alone in asserting that “Agamben” is a homonymic moniker referring to two thinkers of radical dissimilarity. rather infamously:2 It seems there are two Agambens. for example. Canny enough perhaps. so desperate to negate the third Agamben. the literary Agamben. one of Agamben’s great productive antagonists. sometimes so marked it is suggestive of the possibility that there are more Agambens out there writing philosophy than was first assumed. and the one about whom I will have the least to say in the chapters that follow. destining. 2 . but no one can fully suppress the ability of the uncanny to undermine studiously erected structures of identity. There is the one who lingers in the existential. Away from the political/materialist Agamben there is another Agamben. instead opens the door to just such a possibility of tertiary ruination. and terrifying shadows.4 This enforced subjective scission is strategic. 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. who. These are the metaphysical and the political Agambens respectively.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN the leading revolutionary political theory that we have. unless under the auspices of dialectical resolution or archeunity. through immersion in the work of philology and linguistic analysis. This is the Agamben we are most familiar with. one a philosopher of negative being and the other an etymo-philologer and habitué of material clues.1 Antonio Negri. Numerous critics have noted a seemingly contradictory bifurcation in the Agamben methodology. the uncanny unwelcome guest at the intimate if troubled feast that rages still tête-à-tête between metaphysics and politics. And there is another Agamben.
the literary Agamben. an absolute voice. Effectively. It is this voice. absolved of the negativity of which it had been the bearer. to the tones of the tern. it is now poiesis. if you will. Attend then. muted by the clamour of the bios. and yet always persistent and quietly insistent. intimidated by the sovereignty of metaphysical thought.6 3 . 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. that the following pages wish to augment. beyond the learnéd and almost overwhelming conversation between the two Agambens and his many critics. adventurer in poiesis. inasmuch as it endures as the only power of this dissolved universe” (SL.
Such a pure exteriority of an empty language which yet still speaks is both the basis of Agamben’s “metaphysics” and of my claim that the literary Agamben is an essential element of that mode of thinking. in which one can encounter the pure exteriority of language” (IH. in its full material yet voided exteriority. a characteristically confident Giorgio Agamben declares: “In both my written and unwritten books. unbelievably obdurate for it is undoubtedly true that the questioning of the presence of language remains at the heart of Agamben’s political thinking. 5). is able to predict the guiding topic of all one’s books. clearly. to make language appear before us such as it is.)1 At the age of 36. past and future.” In this thin sheaf of pages he explains that he is undertaking an experiment with language “in the true meaning of the words. however. the centrality of literature to his work. in the preface to his third book. requires that one “venture into a perfectly empty dimension . his metaphysics and.4 To see language as it is. I have stubbornly pursued only one train of thought: what is the meaning of ‘there is language’ [vi è il linguaggio]. in which what is experienced is language itself. Who. to let language speak 4 .PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE (The cricket. most pertinent to our study here. over the years.” Such an experience. after all. . 30 years later one has to concede that the young thinker was either preternaturally prescient or. cannot think its chirping. he suggests. This risk-bound declaration of intent occurs in the short piece that prefaces Infancy and History (1978) entitled “Experimentum Linguae. 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.
what is the meaning of “I speak”? or at the very least this demand will eventually lead Agamben to consider the political and anthropological implications of this assertion for the Western definition of human being in works such as Homo Sacer and The Open (2002). The first of these is extrapolated from an. La voce umana (the human voice). An adventure in the mind and in the word is how I would term such an experiment that can only commence through access to the singular nature of the relation between literature and linguistic exteriority that philosophy has traditionally termed poiesis. is this what we humans mean by language.6 not posed until many years later. if there is a human voice. returns again and again in Agamben’s early work. what is the relationship between voice and language in this regard. in effect. 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. unpublished fragment of another great work Agamben never wrote. what does it mean to live as a human being. 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. and Agamben has indeed not yet done so. and if we do not find a human voice. . one will take his word for it that this is also the case. This theme. 5 . 3). The two interlocutions are. In this incorporated and yet incorporeal work he asks: “Is there a human voice. oversteps the threshold of his other great demand that primarily occupies the first two decades or so of his career. up to this point. differential. As for the unwritten.5 It is the nexus wherein his great ontological question.?” (IH.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. This unusual rumination leads to a series of related questions such as. where does this lead the classic philosophical definition of the human as zoon logon echon or “the living being which has ¯ ¯ language”? (IH. To understand the relation between thought and literature through their complex. what does it mean to have language. 4). or better drama. 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. a voice that is the voice of man as the chirp is the voice of the cricket . .
however. language. they do not actually speak although they do possess language. the dependence of metaphysical definitions of language on division and negation. what if anything does the literary have to contribute to the arrival at the sheer face of the outcrop that is language’s exteriority? The answer resides in Agamben’s complex investigation of language as such through ideas pertaining to the acquisition of human voice.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Consistent with Negri’s remark and the critical community’s claims of the two Agambens. 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. tautological. 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 . echoing that of the animal. and language’s materiality. negation. Agamben uses the term infancy in his early work to describe an interim state between our pure state of grace in language. and our acquisition of a voice. The cold light cast by this stelliform compound reveals for us linguistic exteriority defined as the very existence. Aside from the obvious fact that literature is composed of language and constitutes a profound experience with language. and second they are pre-possessed of their voice as soon as they come into being. 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. purely exterior landscape of language as such. what order of communication. the role of language in subjective enunciation. scission.) Infancy does not describe our actual early childhood. Infancy as a concept originates in the observable phenomenon that humans learn to speak whereas animals do not in two significant ways.7 What kind of language. 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. is this solipsistic. of language: communicability or a language that communicates itself without communicating any specific thing. or as-such-ness. and voice is therefore foundational. (The difference between speech. Acquisition of voice. First. enunciation.
their being. . . the human has no voice of its own. by implication. 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. 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.8 In one basic sense infancy captures the process wherein human animals learn. regardless of our tireless encouragement. Man. .” Second. thus far have not. as humans acquire 7 . 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. language and speech are indivisible and when one speaks of an animal voice. This could be taken to mean how we come to language but this is not how Agamben views infancy. One can say the cricket chirps but not the human “. for that matter. for example. or have speech foisted upon them. Unlike the metaphysical tradition Agamben is not at ease with the Aristotelian definition of human being as zoon logon echon. they are always and totally language . has to constitute himself as the subject of language–he has to say I. In disputation with the Aristotelian inheritance Agamben does not accept that animals are without language which. then man’s nature is split at its source. instead. or a cricket’s chirping one also names the animal’s language and. of all animals. and chimpanzees. a dog’s bark. they are already inside it. first. . on the contrary. are the only beings that are not born with a clearly identifiable voice then they must come to their voice or arrive at speech. . as we saw.10 In contrast to this. or at least he is uncomfortable with the uncritical ¯ ¯ acceptance of this formulation within philosophy. acquire. . if language is truly man’s nature . for infancy brings it discontinuity and the difference between language and discourse. Animals do not enter language. splits this single language and. by having an infancy. (IH. If humans.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE apparently not having a voice of their own such as one finds in the cricket. in order to speak. by preceding speech. Thus. The historicity of the human being has its basis in this difference and discontinuity.
11 It is only because we have infancy that we have a history and it is only because we have a history that we are human and possess the potential to access the full meaning of this by a recuperation of our infancy. The only way out of this metaphysical dead end. eventually. in a destinal and possibly liberationist historicization. speech over language.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. a period wherein we acquire speech. in seeking to regain language we create the possibility of becoming something like a post-human. Infancy submits us to history expelling us from language as such and propelling us into a bifurcated sense of language as phone and logos. and voice are therefore separate yet inseparable terms within Agamben’s thought. Thus. and infancy as that which we must recuperate. Third. In losing language we become a human being and alive. but the way in which we come to have it—not the zoon or the logon but the generally ignored echon ¯ ¯ that matters. is infancy. Yet it also involves us. 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. the follow-up text to Infancy and History. and this is a profoundly Heideggerian gesture. language. that there are two infancies: infancy as that which we have lost. voice. first silencing language and then. a return to a pre-divided idea of a pure language. Our entrance into this philosophical cul-de-sac is the fact that we humans have infancy. from this. then as subordination. language-speech. This is effectively the argument of Language and Death. and finally as negation. and as a critique of the basis of modern thinking on negation. Life.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN their voice a clear division between speech and language in the human animal develops. and silence. voice itself. as Agamben is at pains to show. 8 . Fourth. speech denies any experience of the nature of language as such comparable to the manner in which animals experience language. this division and our awareness of it define human being as self-consciously different from all other beings. forming the basis of the meaning of our possession of voice. In reality these two nascent states are simply two elements of an overall infancy as an ongoing process of being. It would seem. Agamben argues. it is not the fact that we have language that defines our humanity. or lack of it.
In contrast to this tradition of negation Agamben involves himself in an experiment. “in which the limits of language are to be found not outside language. a thing or a truth to be known. “If every thought can be classified according to the way in which it articulates the question of the limits of language. Ironically. and second. “far from indicating the limit of language. defining being and thinking along the way as first. the concept of infancy is then an attempt to think through these limits in a direction other than that of the vulgarly ineffable” (IH. based on language.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE INEFFABILITY AND EXPERIENCE Infancy solves another problem for Agamben beyond that of the relation of the human to the animal via the faculty of speech as a negation of language. As Agamben says. which seems to direct us towards pure thinking without language.” a place where thought can go and language cannot. Accepting this to be the case the ineffable can be said to come to presence in that it only exists as pure thought or what language cannot say. 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. namely that of the ineffable. the ineffable in philosophy. there must be reference to something that is not language that it signifies. Kant calls this the “transcendental experience” of pure thought. actually comes to name language for this tradition. Thought has become embroiled in thinking language in terms not of what it can say but of what it cannot. post-vocal divided language. For language to signify and thus become the human language we are all familiar with. Erdmann knowledge independent of sensibility (see IH. to identify the singularity of language as such. 4). 4). 4). 9 . 4–6). as “not something ineffable but something superlatively sayable: the thing of language” (IH. 54–65). instead “express its invincible power of presupposition. the unsayable being precisely what language must presuppose in order to signify” (IH. the unsaid and the ineffable. It is a concept without a name and knowledge without an object. 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. after Benjamin. This is our old friend the experimentum linguae which Agamben renames here infancy. presuppositionally negative (see LD.
or ir.13 This problem has afflicted language for a good deal of time naming a clear division in philosophy between knowledge and experience. 15–49). “But what can an experience of this kind be? How can there be an experience not of an object but of language itself . It then indicates our ability to conceive of a pure thinking not in terms of what cannot be said but what can. thus concluding that language always remains insufficient to name objects. but in terms of what it can say if it does not refer to that which is outside of itself. in its pure self-reference” (IH. forcing the thinker to seek for a concept that cannot be named. . Language as the basis of thought should be considered not in terms of what it cannot say. 10 . but in an experience of language as such. or a typical conversation in a British pub towards closing time. only to find that the name for such an experience is the ineffable or un-named as such. in response to the problem that there is an object. 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. . even if all one is saying is that one can say something. This great quest to move beyond modern philosophical ineffability isolates a third and final issue in relation to infancy. 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. 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. language that says nothing other than here I am. that which is outside of it (the referent). that we need language to name it. Agamben instead simply introjects the problem. Rather than.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the direction of its referent. experience me. a reification of the unspeakable. but in naming it we find that the name never entirely renders the object. infancy names the problem of human experience. a morass it has proven impossible to escape from.referential language. as a thinker. as the pure fact that one speaks. I am language. pre. for if it is not named there can be no shortfall of plenitude. Finally. Infancy first names our coming away from being animal. but also testing. that language exists” (IH. rather it is language that is content-less speech. 6).
Yet nor can it be experienced entirely from the inside as in some imagined. as Agamben sees it. therefore. 8). but Homo sapiens loquendi” (IH. evidenced by our endless pursuit of novel and new experiences.14 For Agamben the experience of language. thinking. Infancy names this third possibility: to maintain experience as knowing and as undergoing. between experience as knowledge and as going through. cannot be undertaken exterior to language as he contends some philosophers have attempted. which he takes to be the experience of experience itself. primordial being for whom the division between phone and logos has not yet come about. of the very faculty or power of speech” (IH. 8). or we observe events from the outside as judgemental critics. To undergo an experience with language. Human language. Maintaining the false division. is by definition bifurcated. 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. defining human being as “neither Homo sapiens nor Homo loquens. is to undergo a new form of experience as testing or thinking. he concedes. it is an experience. In the modern age the division between the two meanings of experience is most profoundly felt. self-conscious subjectivity. Either our experiences are so unique that they are one-off events that can hold no meaning for “the human experience” at large. 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. and then imposing unworkable unities to heal this rift is a habitual failing of Western thought.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. As he says: “In this sense what is experienced in the experimentum linguae is not merely an impossibility of saying: rather. Infancy reveals the confluence of language. 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. namely as the imposition of scission as a means of creating human. a form of thinking that does not look at language 11 . it is an impossibility of speaking from the basis of a language. denying that the event in question actually pertains to how we live. via that infancy that dwells in the margin between language and discourse.
One issue here is that the very choice of the name infancy is as confusing as it is illustrative. 54–5).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from the outside. If anything. and Derrida’s on its privileging of speech over writing. said relation to language. accepting their division as a fact of our ontological Geschichte or deep history (see QCT. and an in-between and constantly emergent human being. therefore. but which accepts the presence of language as such as exteriority as such. Infancy. and the imposition of a voice through the agency of speech. 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. or occupy language and seek for exterior referents. 39–62). is silenced. In a way. 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. 12 . 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. what does language say. our actual infancy is merely a useful developmental analogue for an ontological temporality of development that presupposes a pre-human. zoological. 24). which we might call infant being. While infancy is observable in children it would be a mistake to suggest that infancy is a psychosomatic or neonatal stage of our development (see IH. and what does it mean to experience something? Most specifically. therefore. yet refusing to succumb to the various aporias that have traditionally arrested the progression of thought on this matter. or psychosomatic empiricism behind our being with or having language. suggesting a developmental. while Agamben is critical of both Heidegger and Derrida. a human defined as life. If Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics resides in the tradition’s obfuscation of authentic Being. 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. 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.
the only remnant of the tradition that Heidegger leaves standing. Infancy has little. Dasein. or better there are myriad differentiations to be made. much as Agamben might wish. is an ancient problem relating to how language names truth. 13–16 & 21–2). To live as human means. This is perhaps best illustrated by the etymological root of the word wherein fans originates from fari or to speak. Thus in-fancy. Nor can it choose language over discourse. simply put. We must stress this is not the intention of infancy. in other words. endless deferral. Agamben sometimes writes it like this. collapses the last great frontier of metaphysics. THE STANZA In relation to Heidegger people often speak of the ontico-ontological difference between actual being-in-the-world. is nonspeech (see LD.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.16 In a sense Derrida’s critical investigation of this difference. and being as such. and as such is an ontological state of speechlessness within language that precedes the potential human being’s emergence into actual humanity. but is the reliance of metaphysics on difference as such. It cannot unify language and discourse into a single entity.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE Nor should one suggest that Agamben is recounting an actual historical series: animal-infant-human. 91). reconfigured as the term différance. In some way Agamben’s thought must enter into the scission of being and resolve the conflict therein without recourse to pre-human unity. infancy is to be found within the human at all stages as both remnant of the animal and potential for the post-human. Human being is this ontological caesura (see O. the ontic. to do with babies. If infancy is to resolve this difference then its hands are tied to some degree. to live our division. Rather. Certainly there are many forms of difference. for we are always in the world operating as already pre-divided beings. the ontological. 13 . and knowing. capitalized Being. It is our existence in language before the primary scission of language into phone and logos. but the asymmetric difference between experience.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. although the term “before” needs careful reconsideration within what might be termed an ontological rather than historiographic or teleological temporality.
xvi). a process Agamben emulates in his own work on the metaphysics of enjambement. xvi). xvi). Students of Heidegger will immediately recognize this structure of imposed forgetting of the most important thing due to its assumed obviousness as Being. and open reception not only holds the words contained in the poem’s structural segmentation but also conveys the unique object of all the poetry of this period. For the troubadour poets the stanza was not just a structural designation but the “nucleus” of their poetry. dwelling-stability. namely the joi d’amor or unattainable joy of love. 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. defined as a “capacious dwelling. for the entire tradition.and thirteenth-century troubadour tradition. The split is so fundamental to our cultural tradition that Plato could already declare it “an ancient enemy. in its capacity. the 14 . 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. although taking as its main area of concern the art object. brackets this fascinating topic in major statements on language and philosophy. receptacle” (ST. which he regularly cites along with that of the stil novists as the origin of all modern poetics. but that has in modern times acquired a hegemonic character. The 1977 volume Stanzas.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Agamben’s first major intervention on language concerns linguistic scission as the precondition for the later establishment of infancy. In addition. The space of the stanza. In a way this is true although Agamben prefers to call it scission: The scission in question is that between poetry and philosophy. between the poetic word and the word of thought.” According to a conception that is only implicitly contained in the Platonic critique of poetry. but in response to this ancient quest for the missing womb of art in our culture Agamben states that access to the destination of this labour is “barred by the forgetfulness of a scission” so ingrained in our culture that it goes without saying. By conflating a formal technique with a meta-thematic concern the troubadour stanza takes on the quality in poetry of a “receptive ‘womb’” (ST. the troubadour concept of the stanza provides a model for discovering metaphysical truths within the very prosodic operations of the poem itself. caesura. “when in fact it is the only thing truly worth interrogating” (ST.
infant form of language. as we saw earlier. holds the key to language’s capacious inner chamber. This grave. a direct experience of language as such within which resides the meaning of human being. dissatisfied word is the immaterialized insensible word of Western philosophy. “In the West. alone. because it can only experience language as going through or sustaining. The poetic word. is now named as the closest we can get to an experience of language that speaks itself while not necessarily saying anything specific. and enjoys the object of knowledge by representing it in beautiful form. Within our tradition.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. as if fallen from the sky. while philosophy is able to test language it has no direct experience with language. prose. and philosophy entirely outside on the opposing side. In contrast. 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. 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. Poetry does not know what it has.19 Here he effectively substitutes poetry for a number of terms—language as such. “And a word that has all seriousness and consciousness for itself but does not enjoy its object because it does not know how to represent it” (ST. the word is thus divided between a word that is unaware. Agamben clearly does not hypostatize poetry as an ideal. 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. Both are victims of the cruel scission at the heart of human language and neither. poetry exists entirely in language on one side of the scission of the word. (ST. This is particularly because infancy resides between the poetic and philosophic word or. Agamben. very early on in his career. therefore. Having said this. by knowledge of what 15 . between language and discourse. experience—some of which we have already considered. xvii). Poetry’s tragedy is possession of the thing without knowledge of the thing. for example. stanza in Italian means room of course.” We will take this word from now on to be the poetic word. therefore.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be possessed and/or possession of that which can never be known. 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. a nothingness that protects art’s most precious object. 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. one a modern quasi-philosophical discourse the other a historical prosodic-structural effect. The stanza of criticism. xvii). both revealing it and rendering it inoperative. here. The stanza. as Agamben calls it in relation to modern poetry and art. Just as the ancient stanza manifests. 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. To appropriation without consciousness and to consciousness without enjoyment criticism opposes the enjoyment of what cannot be possessed and the possession of what cannot be enjoyed” (ST. Further. through its empty capaciousness. that which it cannot possess. contains nothing. While criticism differs in kind to the stanza. in modern aesthetics. he states most openly that the assumed problem of metaphysics is to be revealed there in that room. The power of criticism emerges out of its collapsing and nihilization of the category of art. so it is an ambiguous strength to say the least. and we will investigate it in detail in the chapters to come. criticism. but he is also something of a fatalistic thinker. xvii). but knows the representation.20 We are presented with a model 16 . Yet he also begins a complex journey out of the abyss of philosophical nihilism onto the plain of a Benjaminian messianic positive philosophy to come through his approach to language. Agamben is widely critical of the modern nihilistic tradition of valorizing negation. He does not. Agamben explains that criticism is marked by a formula “according to which it neither represents nor knows. whether in philosophy or. What he reveals for us in these early pages is the state of aesthetics in the modern age whether he likes it or not. and 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. the missing thing of poetry via scission. For Agamben.
that is disguised. as a philological consideration of the troubadours’ idea of the stanza.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE of generic languages. an error for which we suffer but which may also be a productive and generative errancy. The stanza is nothing other than a pure. and finally indicate the role poetry has to play in any future comments on metaphysics. this is just the inheritance of negativity from the metaphysics of scission. this is pure. and third there never can be. Saussure’s development of the idea of the sign first divides the sign in a classic metaphysical gesture and then places the two components of the sign in an essential 17 . on language. second that there never was. because of this indistinction. This word is pure. 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. is. Because we see that the room is empty we assume that first there is nothing in the room. Rather their generic subdivision courtesy first of Plato and then of Aristotle. but they are not genres at all. and being. or how we have language. art. which all amount to the same thing. Language as such. On one side of the stanza is the poetic word. poetic and philosophic. in terms of the future. one must valorize negation as such. hopeless space. Yet there is something “in the room. 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. because it is Being. like being. if disgruntled. reveal its ubiquity across our culture. The division between the two “words” is not so much imposed by Plato as reified. or that there is language. knowing: logos. neutral medium. Agamben uses the figure of the stanza to bring this complex logic into relief. meaningless pleasure: phone. leaving us with a dark legacy. almost. or at least everything in metaphysics since the Greeks. and a possible solution. On the other is the philosophical word. This location contains nothing specifically and in our age we have made the error of assuming that.” namely the room as such and while to us this appears as an empty and. It exists as a containment space between opposing forces occupying the same zone of indifferent indistinction as infancy. Agamben’s great project. currently withheld from view. scission as stanza. language as scission.
136). is there the need to philosophize” (ST. In so doing it naturally foregrounds the imposition of false scission: “The symbolic. positive destiny. rest in establishing one half of the division as more true than the other. and the relation of latent to sensible 18 . it has been widely ignored by classic metaphysical strategies. is also the diabolic that continually transgresses and exposes the truth of this knowledge” (ST.” meaning that “all that comes to presence comes there as to the place of a deferral and an exclusion. as he says: “Only because presence is divided and unglued is something like ‘signifying’ possible. . not only does this scission produce the sign. For that matter. 136). familiar to us now. primarily because the symbol brings together S/s into a single unified entity. temporarily or artificially impose a unity on the primacy of scission in metaphysics. before access to materiality or intercourse between the two values is literally banned or barred. In this algorithm the phonic element of the word. All three gestures are typical of the metaphysical scission represented by Plato’s banning of poetry from the republic.” In other words. especially for Hegel. 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. the act of recognition that reunites what is divided. in the model of paradigm and copy.21 Agamben comes to this “original fracture of presence that is inseparable from the Western experience of being. completing his narrative.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet profoundly heterogeneous relation: S/s (with S representing meaning and s the material signifier). has been a source of metaphysical unease. 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. is located below the meaning of the word. he argues. through a consideration of the aesthetics of the symbolic emblem. a lack” (ST. therefore. it also creates the discipline of thinking called philosophy: “only because there is at the origin not plenitude but deferral . Symbolic acts. and the two are separated by a bar. and its being present. Meaning is separated from. The symbol. yet the effect is not actual reconciliation but a painful reminder of this most destructive caesura. In this way all signs can be said to be part-symbolic or. the signifier. These strategies. Justifying this claim. then placed above material noise. . 136). in the sense that its manifestation is simultaneously a concealment.
insignificant. in particular here “language. or Derridean différance without succumbing to said division. and ultimately indifferent mediality. as in Derrida. falsifies. its own authentic intention” (ST. it is the structuring of thought qua scission. Stanzas is by far Agamben’s most sustained engagement with psychoanalysis. as Agamben believes contentiously that Derrida has (ST. In a Lacanian gesture. Every semiology that fails to ask why the barrier that establishes the possibility of signifying should itself be resistant to signification. It is therefore metaphysical structural scission that Agamben consistently takes to task. that is. 137). Agamben is not an adherent to the science of signification. Aside from his regular use of the term semiotics. it contains within its own boundaries a sensuous representation of both unity and scission in the form of the bar.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE manifestation. It exists in the form of a cancelled stanza more accurately represented as S [ / ] s than the Saussurian S/s. If the sign is a source of displeasure for Agamben. itself supposedly a symbol of unity. 156). . Unlike Derrida. deferral. Again here we can see the quasi-symbolic nature of the sign. but rather. Not only does it present a unity to mask the primary scission of language-thought. the bar (/) of the graphic S/s . the forgetting of the original fracture of presence is manifested precisely in what ought to betray it.” Our idea of language as signification is false. As Agamben presciently states: “In modern semiology. within its graphicality in the figuration of the bar. it betrays through its symbol-status the division at the heart of metaphysical systems of unity. 136).22 19 . Agamben believes one can overcome scission. This scission is not specifically a division between one thing and another. this interpretation is crystallized in the notion of the sign as the expressive unity of the signifier and signified” (ST. the very thing the philosophy of language does not see. The bar is language as pure. 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. which has always been par excellence the plane on which the experience of the original fracture is represented. “In the reflection on language. the bar. . however. although the scission between presence and absence comes very close to being archetypal for Agamben. but the barrier within the sign functions as metaphysic’s betrayer. with that omission. is the very thing that is the source of its inauthenticity and possible rehabilitation.
The third is the reliance of both thinkers on deixis when trying to express language’s necessary insufficiency in relation to knowledge. Deixis is a term used in linguistics to indicate the point of reference of a statement that relies absolutely on context. Reading Hegel and Heidegger he strives to demonstrate how nihilism dominates their thought in three ways.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN NEGATING NEGATION Agamben’s first sustained engagement with the metaphysical tradition. that. Each of these three themes is of no small relevance to what we have already learnt of infancy. 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. here. The first of these is a reliance on death as a means of defining being. Language and Death. but other pronouns indicative of space and time are also deictic: now. then. or something was referred to over there. wherein the possibility of having an intra-textual technique for referring to assumed extra linguistic material or presences was developed. most surprising and technical part of this critique. 4–5).25 Up to this point the normative mode of literature was performed poetry and if someone other than the narrator spoke. this. 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. 1–5 & 59–60). These are most commonly personal pronouns. With the slow but inexorable rise of prose this bringing in of the outside into the text. or of something else.24 Deixis as a form of indication can be described as exophoric in that it refers to extra-linguistic material. The second is the retention of ineffability within thought. you. For Hegel this is the inability of the sensuous sign to render in full the material realm (LD. most famously in Heidegger’s being-towards-death (LD. continues the development of the idea of infancy through a radical critique of the dependence of modern thought on negativity. This exophoric capability explains the rise of deixis as a literary device from the twelfth century onwards. 13–14). an assumed quality of 20 . I. As we have already dealt with the issue of the ineffable through an analysis of unsayability we are left with the third.23 For Heidegger it is the impossibility of Dasein to ever actually occupy the space of its own being (LD. philosophy’s reliance on deixis or pronouns to manifest being and the concomitant dissatisfaction they draw from this procedure. there. it.
or the work of Lyn Hejinian.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE prose that differentiates it from the so-called “univocality” of the poem. or indeed anything of use about the where or the there. noun. 19–26).” “that door.”28 All three elements of deixis. referring to the previously mentioned firearm (“firearm” in this sentence is anaphoric but not deictic). inaugural syntagm: “And justify the ways of God to man. by definition disappoints. 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. and so on previously mentioned: “The gun. both writers find that while language is essential to access truth the insufficiencies of the signifier mean that something in language always remains unsaid of the thing expressed: the world and our being in it.” The “it” in this sentence is both deictic and anaphoric. For both authors this referential shortfall is represented by the silent voice at the heart of being.” Similarly. It tells us where being is but says nothing of how or why it is. Finally. exophoric context-dependent indication. and in its anaphoric/cataphoric mode it is indeed nothing other than a convenience of abbreviation. Hegel’s interest in the sensuous versus Heidegger’s in ontological topography. There-being or being-the-there as Agamben re-translates Dasein (LD.26 was facilitated by simple phrases such as “he said. the brevity and baldness of the pronominal will fail to convey the full complexity of a sensuous presence for Hegel.” and so on. anaphoric recursive reference. Imagine Islamic art. the complexity of either the world being occupies or how it occupies that world. 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. for Heidegger. They effectively use anaphoric/cataphoric deixis as shorthand for an already uttered or to be uttered authentic name of being. Venice. and then replace each with the reductive “this. Working at opposite ends of the rather colourless deictic spectrum. “there” does little to convey.29 and cataphoric projective reference. Naturally. give it to me. 4). will come to hold a central importance in Agamben’s thought and its relation to poetry.27 Deixis is also regularly utilized as a form of anaphora or internal reference that refers back to a subject. it can also function cataphorically such as in the opening of Paradise Lost wherein the subject of the opening sentence is not known until the very end of the long. the very thing 21 .
If language as pure mediality has been artificially and with violence bifurcated in metaphysics into phone (voice) and logos (language as discourse). 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. and then perhaps the Voice under negation. which one could describe as the problem that a word does not totally contain its meaning or referent. that the voice is defined by what it cannot say (the ineffable). in reality a synecdochic anamorphism wherein one element of linguistic scission comes to stand in for language as a whole. however diligently Proust attended to it. through the idea of human infancy. Agamben’s relation to the voice is complex. classically. he also seeks for solutions to negativity ostensibly through the voice. 106).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN that enunciates being and yet leaves its truth unsaid. To sum up in more familiar terms. relies in each instance on an assault on the voice. The tripartite critique of modern thought enacted in Language and Death. There is the voice of the animal (especially in death). The only solution to this problem. the world or being. One might then ask the question why thinkers of such sophistication resort to deictic indicators at all. While he blames the valorization of the voice for the dominance of negativity in metaphysics. 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. and signified. Agamben believes. If one demands of language that it is a tool for reference one consigns language to inevitable failure as regards knowledge. this or there. both Hegel and Heidegger succumb to a primary scission in the word between signifier. Agamben systematically attacks the idea that human voice emerges from the animal. the human voice as lack. is not to try and render experience through language but to render experience as language. and the failure of speech to evince knowledge. a work every bit as important to the collapsing of metaphysics as Being and Time or Of Grammatology. “This” may not capture Venice but nor will the prose of Ruskin. Voice. They then. which results in the negation of philosophical negativity by the end of the final seminar (LD. In effect there are numerous voices in Language and Death. with the voice being set up as the failure to speak or the failure to mean within thought’s reliance on 22 . although Agamben does not write it like this.
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. “this” thing is always a privation of the plenitude of the actual thing. there-being. one must pass through the negative abyssal gullet of the voice. The problem is that either language fails to convey the profound texturality and diversity of the sensuous. not being as such but language as such. language is seen in modern philosophy as essential to thinking and yet source of thinking’s deficiency. specifically his theories of the subject of enunciation and the semiotic. means that we come to be human by 23 . albeit under negation. As we saw. therefore. enunciate its own self through language. or having to. Language brings to presence. Rather than attempt to remove the reliance of objective and ontological referentiality on deixis. To exit metaphysics. 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. Agamben is inspired in particular by the ontological turn in the work of French structural linguist Emile Benveniste. the Voice. I will deal with each idea in turn. in part. but brings to presence truth or being as privation. then the voice is always both the villain and victim of philosophy. culpable for modern negative metaphysics and this is correct. Benveniste’s theory of subjectivity is based on the idea of linguistic enunciation and specifically how this relies on deixis.30 The first theory allows us to think again about subjectivity. SUBJECTIVE ENUNCIATION It might appear from Agamben’s critique of metaphysics that deixis is. instead he uses this very dependence to present a combined theory of referential ontology that he calls desubjectivization. synthesize his ideas on negation and scission in direct relation to language. Agamben calls this exasperation.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE language. or it struggles to sum up our whole world and our place within it. The possession of an articulated or bifurcated system of differential referentiality which we term. language. this plangent insufficiency. Benveniste defines the condition of the human subject by its being able to. mistakenly. for Hegel and Heidegger. in part. One can see therefore that Benveniste allows Agamben to.
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
38 Bar-bar. In glossolalia we encounter the pure materiality of language away from any possible meaning. as we know. and Lacoue-Labarthe. Deixis and types of indicative linguistic technique such as anaphora work differently to all other forms of signification. “it” in philosophical discourse all have very different potential usages—indicative forms operate at the semantic level of discursive meaning. Nancy. which still has aesthetic and political repercussions for us today. in effect. thus establishing a tradition of civilization based on xenoglossia as a form of glossolalia. Demeny (“for I is another”). “it” in poetry. in some ways. devoid of meaning. is the phonetic transcription of languages the Greeks did not understand. 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. it simply and materially is. and which is aggressively attacked by the work of Badiou. glossolalia has associations with the term barbarism on which our preciously held concept of civilization hangs. “it” in narrative. Agamben. is glossolalia and it has risen to prominence in investigations of the outer limits of poetic experience and experimentation. Glossolalia and xenoglossia are. In that they are entirely context dependent—“it” in conversation. Yet at the same time such terms 29 . the process of pushing discourse to its limit or the retention of a remnant of pre-discursive “pure” language. 114).36 Due to its Greek provenance. 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.37 Additionally. It is. it hints at all post-Adorno poetics of responsibility that can be located in the work of Derrida. The modern term for this experience or event of language as such. Rimbaud’s letter to P.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE desubjectivization. before and as precondition for discourse. while xenoglossia gives us an experience of the second condition. 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. opposite and revelatory experiences of the nature of language as such. Thus glossolalia confirms the first condition of the semiotic. and another more ancient missive. signs that we know are meaningful in a context but whose specific meaning we cannot glean. 115).39 As Agamben explains: “The experience of glossolalia merely radicalizes a desubjectifying experience implicit in the simplest act of speech” (RA.
the psychosomatic individual must fully abolish himself and desubjectify himself as a real individual to become the subject of enunciation. However. deictic desubjectivization. Glossolalia. rather. the historical “fall” of being is both the loss of being and its potential recuperation. just choosing so. 116). He then proceeds to bulldozer and flatten both sides of this impasse with a Calibanesque heavy-handedness: “On the one hand. loving not.40 In one sense deixis is meaningless and empty reference. once stripped of all extralinguistic meaning and constituted as a subject of enunciation. Indicative forms of this order are not pure noise but nor are they meaningful.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN are devoid of specific meaning. that he has gained access to being always already anticipated by a glossolalic 30 . hating not. Therefore deixis stages not a fixed meaning in language but language as such as medium for meaning’s transmission. just choosing so. / Loving not. xenoglossia. in Heidegger. poetic desubjectivization. This language as such is ruined by our having infancy and the concomitant desubjectivization of differential scission. hating not. which is what the later sections of Remnants of Auschwitz constitute. 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. 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. 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. In another it is pure contextual differentiation in that it is potentially referential but is always awaiting a context to come to mean. is so rich that it needs must be quoted in its entirety.”41 The conclusion of the updating of Infancy and History. and stone the twenty-first. to break this task down I will progress through the page-long summary step by step. for example “I” out of context means nothing and is basically glossolalic. but infancy also allows us a possible route back to language. Just as. 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. the subject discovers that he has gained access not so much to a possibility of speaking as to an impossibility of speaking—or.) “But.
In appropriating the “formal instruments” of discourse. and Agamben is well aware of the tradition he is potentially entering here. this I-other stands in an impossibility of speaking—he has nothing to say. This being the case. 116). The sound of language as such. the subject. profound. while as Agamben explains the subject of enunciation is composed entirely of discourse. independent of every meaning. which locates his work alongside Badiou as the only potential. if not removed. insofar as it is solely sustained in a pure event of language. letting himself be defined solely through the pure and empty relation to the event of discourse” (RA. once he is inside of discourse he becomes expropriated. post-alterity. Lévinas and Derrida. instead the subject finds himself “expropriated of all referential reality. which is the event of language as such. subjectification and desubjectivization coincide at every point. and both the flesh and blood individual 31 .43 Explaining that “I speak” is as meaningless as “I am a poet. Here she tunes in to white noise. Setebos to the subject’s Caliban. “him that speaketh a barbarian” (cited in RA. instead finds not meaning but the very absence of meaning. in seeming to access discourse (meaning) through the xenophora of deixis. the subject becomes. 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.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE potentiality over which he has neither control nor mastery” (RA. This leads Agamben to a three-part. feedback. In enunciating the I. Those well-versed in contemporary philosophy may recognize this speck of alterity at the heart of self-presence from. and potentially devastating conclusion. blurred or suspended as the subject uses deixis to access discourse only to find in place of discourse pure noise. 116).42 However. This rather terrifying observation is crucial in our adventures under the leadership of the literary Agamben.” for what I hope now are clear reasons in that I is always other. he concedes that it makes no more sense to say “this I-other speaks”: For. as Paul terms it. such as deixis. and thus affirmative philosophy of our age. the final facet of his conclusion makes the radical step away from alterity and the philosophy of responsibility. sounds. wailing. rather he is spoken in the glossolalic language of barbarians. 114). Here. He cannot speak. for example. In the absolute present of the event of discourse. an isle full of noises. and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
This relationship is marked by the experience of becoming impersonal that Agamben terms the poetic experience of ontological desubjectivization. 127). rather than speaking of the poeticization of thought. as we know. often called inspiration or the muse. which also finds great utility in The End of the Poem (1996).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN and the subject of enunciation are perfectly silent. poetry.44 Repeating a quote from Dante’s Vita nuova. Staying with Dante. 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. takes note. but language . in fact it radically calls into question the idea of language as a notation of intellection. 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). 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. 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 . . Agamben prefers the term poetic dictation. 127). I won’t speak of the complex theory of shame Agamben mounts here as this has been done very well elsewhere. when Love inspires me. 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. This can also be expressed by saying that the one who speaks is not the individual. he instead commits himself to thoughts about poetry. 124). namely the relationship between discursive prose and poetry: logo-poiesis. . “Dante instead characterized poetic expression precisely as the dictation of an inspiring love” (ST. POETIC DICTATION At the end of this remarkable passage of Remnants of Auschwitz Agamben then brings us back to our main project here. Agamben proffers the touchstone to my whole study. (RA. Love. and in the manner that he dictates within I go signifying” (cited in ST. 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.
The main body of the book commences with the essay “The idea of Matter. in fact. we now battle alongside the poet as she attempts to find a voice for her experience of the poetic word. which doesn’t pretend. Knowing already that philosophy has fallen into the trap of misconstruing language’s neutral inexpressiveness as ineffability. this woody substance of language.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. what one might term a truly defining subjective event for which subjects habitually lack words. to be there before being . 37) Having proposed a potentiality for a silent experience of materiality as such which is not unsayable but simply inexpressive and nonrepresentable presence. 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. [is] the language of poetry. . are prisoners of representation. Contrariwise there is another experience in which man remains absolutely without words in the face of language. 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. like grammatical language. but rather where the matter of words begins. (IP. .45 Poetry. which the ancients called silva (wildwood). Where language stops is not where the unsayable occurs. even when they keep silent. .” where Agamben considers enigmatically what he calls decisive experience. therefore. . . as in a dream. Glossing on Celan’s assertion as to the uniqueness of poetic language. the experience of language that forever presupposes words . 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 . Those who have not reached. matter or wildwood. The language for which we have no words. Agamben reveals that the experience of language is always doubled: There is. 48) It can be deduced from this that within our tradition there are two types of language-experience/usage in accordance with the 33 . .PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE conception of the stanza. (IP.
. 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. and so lacks access to the language needed to express the nature of the matter of language as such. But at that point. 49). so abandoned to itself that it can no longer in any way impose: “la poésie ne s’impose plus. as Celan argues. faced with the infancy of the world. irrespective of the form it takes. language stands before him.” so Celan writes . If. Having asserted this. . therefore. “Destiny is concerned only with the language that. Faced with the impossibility of seeing either wood or tree. it precedes words as vehicles for meaning and to whom can it occur if we are not yet speakers? Agamben. so alone. Agamben realizes immediately the aporia at the heart of any conception of a unique language accorded to poetic dictation. (IP. as Agamben responds.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN traditional roles of philosophy and poetry respectively. . something to say of it” (IP. 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 . can experience the tree in terms of what it is made of. 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. Discursive grammatical prose does not concern itself with the semiotic and has. Poetry is always in the experience. . Philosophy already has the words to convey the experience and thus can never undergo the experience. vows to be able to encounter it. of course. of what order is such a destiny in that. its grammar and its tradition. uniqueness is the destiny of language. to have forever . Such a destiny is. decides for truth. which is to say. as we have repeatedly seen. The poet is the infant who piously receives this promise and who. and reflects that such a state knows nothing of destiny. and decides to remember that emptiness and fill it. Elle s’expose. it would seem. through avowing its emptiness. a false eschatology for in speaking of the uniqueness of language one proves its impossibility. Only the poet. calls this state of speechlessness before a language that precedes words infancy. 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).
As Agamben notes more than once elsewhere.” and is analyzed here in relation to twentieth-century Italian poet Delfini. but only occurs in the instance of its exposition. dettato. testing the experience through thoughtful prose. This tradition still holds for Dante. it is always written after the fact and so is obviously dictated by the already existent presence of the poem. Reading Delfini and Campana Agamben summarizes dictation as the space or locale.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE their experience of pure language cannot translate beyond that experience. and that of the subsequent declamation of the experience in discursive prose: “Between the impossibility of thinking . 52). Dictation therefore names a midway point or tension between being as the intimacy of undergoing an experience of language. the events that led to the dictation of a poem. therefore. say. finds significant examples in the modern tradition in works such as Coleridge’s famous narrative of the composition of “Kubla Khan.” 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. This mediality of poetic dictation explains why “the lyric—which uniquely keeps to such dictation—is necessarily 35 . cannot be narrated after the fact. 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. between the inability to remember in the perfect. and this intimate divergence is its dictation” (IP. poetry is always divided. channelling the muse. and a power of only thinking. means both an authoritative declaration intended for preserving transcription and a mode of poiesis. and the distanciation of a proceeding recollection of the experience. amorous attachment to the present. . . Such a poetic experience of language cannot impose itself in prose. The combination of ideas of pure linguistic matter and language as subsequent philosophical discourse combine in “The Idea of Dictation. retains an element from late Latin culture wherein the term refers to writing a literary work. between the experience of dictation as inspiration courtesy of the muse. a sense also to be found in the German word Dichtung that Heidegger often prefers in reference to poetry.” A useful translator’s footnote in the English tradition explains that the Italian for dictation. The essay begins with the tradition of the razo or ability to recount after the fact how the poet came to compose/dictate their work. and the memory that arises precisely out of the impossibility of this love. Dictation. stanza.
Life. poetic dictation exposes for view the speechlessness of a direct experience of language that is itself not the result of the ineffability of that experience per se. 93). .” (IP. As I have been arguing. This ancient rhetoric of topics however became watered down over centuries so that the place of speech 36 . 52). Agamben supports his claim that language precedes life with citations from the theological tradition of the West. 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. in the word. Agamben notes that in ancient rhetoric ratio or ars invendiendi (inventive art/argument) was juxtaposed with ratio iudicandi or truthful. the stanza. poetry is central to the work of Agamben. said experience cannot be recounted. 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. inventive art was given the title argumentum because it was supposed that invention gave one access to the very place of speech as such.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN empty. and love. which the poet produces in the poem. What I hope becomes clear by virtue of this positioning of the lyric at a moment of linguistic twilight is that like infancy. Was it a vision. withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. 76). 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. and as his main theme is of course the political determinations of the category life. but a discovery through the belatedness of the razo or recounting of experience that yes. . it is always transfixed on the verge of a day that has always already set . the source from which all arguments originate.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. produces life. correctly spoken discourse. before honing in on the specificity of the relation between poetry and the poet’s life in the development of the razo de trobar. That said. and once one is abandoned by the muse the only tale to tell is of said abandonment. but in this failure to recollect one is exposed to the dictatorial truth of poetry: recount and recall what cannot be said or remembered. for example the Gospel of John. While one is in the moment of inspiration one lacks the space to speak.
Rather. or the experience of inspiration becoming the tale of 37 .” (LD. This allows Agamben to now explain once and for all the role of the razo in poetry: “The razo. Modern versions of the razo can be found in the work of Freud as much as in Joyce for example. . 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.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE as arche-source simply became conventional arguments used as mnemonic techniques in oral cultures. 79). between lived experience and what is poeticized . The impersonality of dictation becoming the personal element of biography. as the tight unity of what is lived and what is poeticized—now becomes a giving of reasons for experience” (EP. 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. not only dramatizes the problematic of the emergence of human life out of language. . is therefore neither a biographical nor a linguistic event. which lies at the foundation of poetry and which constitutes what the poet calls its dictation (dictamen). and indeed our whole tradition. 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. 79). 80). More interesting than the slippery nature of topics/razo perhaps is the relation between lived experience and the experience of language which typifies dictation. an experience of the event of language as love. but also that of philosophy. caught as it is between the wordless experience of language as such and the language-less process of language about language. which we share in common with all life? How. ratio iveniendi. what the troubadours called the stanza of love. 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. ratio iudicandi. from the poetic experience of language as such. in other words. Clearly there is something about the original place of language. then fable. the razo is a zone of indifference.49 Agamben notes that over centuries this has given birth to the art of biography. and finally the novel. that defies definition. so to speak. 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.
which is the basis of human being as both divided and potentially redeemed. in-fancy. indifferent. This is why the fact that there is language. 38 . 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. cannot be addressed unless one listens with care to the dictates of the many pages that comprise the work of the literary Agamben. poeticized.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inspiration. ontological.
FIRST EPISODE ON THE WAY TO LOGOPOIESIS .
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not a person as such who has the capacity for thought. From the Latin gerere it is a type of bearing or carrying. after all. Accepting Foucault’s dictum that the author as creating subject is dead and replaced by the author-function. .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. Gesture is rather an unconscious occupancy of the hands in conversation. in a recent essay “The Author as Gesture” included in the collection Profanations (2005). empty. “Father dust who rises 41 . a place-holder for a subjective category convenience. we can say that . . The gesture in question is. the author is present in the text only as a gesture that makes expression possible precisely by establishing a central emptiness within this expression. 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. 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. THINKING THOUGHT POETIC THINKING Going against the grain of the Platonic tradition and accepting as a given that poetry thinks.”2 Naturally. Agamben wonders where precisely the thought of the poem occurs. Agamben is however unable to concede that there is no author as such in the text.CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. the location of poetic thinking would ordinarily be seen to take place in the mind of an author. Foraging for the place of poetic thinking Agamben reads a poem by the famous author-function César Vallejo. a meaningless action.
Here Agamben realizes that the reader. . 98 fn. can be located neither in the poem nor the author/reader-function. The author is only the witness or guarantor of his own absence in the work in which he is put into play . but desubjectivized ontology. at this point. suggesting rather that they most probably only came to be known to the author as he was writing.” (Prof.4 Instead. “in the gesture through which the author and reader put themselves into play in the text and. touching the text into being through an act of empty. 71). in effect. 71). This being the case the author-function does not facilitate ownership or authority. 71). or indeed even later as he was rereading his work. a reader-function.3 The place of the poem. must be the reader who. contrary to one’s assumptions. creative. therefore. . at the same time. The reader becomes. nor can a poem as object be said to think either. a similarly evacuated subjectivity. The only outstanding thinking subject involved in poetry. in taking up the poem to read. “will occupy the empty place in the poem left by the author. then can they ever even be said to be the thoughts of the poet? It would seem not. thinking subject. 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. “Does this mean that the place of thought and feeling is in the poem itself . its actual taking place as a mode of thinking-feeling. willing agency.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from Spain” (Prof. 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. speculating as to the exact location of the thoughts and sentiments contained in the work. Agamben adroitly comes to realize that this is equally impossible for thoughts imply by definition a thinking subject. Aside from it being almost impossible to stipulate the exact moment that a poet “thought” what they wrote. in effect. in occupying the space vacated by the author becomes. 12). are infinitely withdrawn from it.?” (Prof. . . then thought occurs at the 42 . Agamben is forced to conclude. Author-functions play tag with the text. If the poem “thinks” or presents thoughts and this thinking is not to be located in the mind of an actual. he will repeat the same inexpressive gesture the author used to testify to his absence in the work” (Prof. the author-function does not think but is a collaborating facilitator of social forces. Nietzschean. as Foucault would have it. poetic thinking must be. if the thoughts of a poem are not in the mind of the author-function as they cannot be.
then paradoxically it ceases to be thought as such but a category subordinate to the thing. In an earlier piece “Bartleby. Thought that thinks itself neither thinks of an object nor thinks nothing. If thought were simply the neutral potential to think something then. or On Contingency” Agamben is again attempting to think the place of thought through a consideration of literature. which for Agamben is a form of language. potential. They point to the presence of beings but they do not possess actual being. In contrast. but the text “has no other light than the opaque one that radiates from the testimony of his [the author’s] absence” (Prof. It thinks a pure potentiality (to think and not to think)” (P. 250–1). Aristotle contends. thought no longer thinks some thing in its advent of singularity but is effectively what must be thought about some already presupposed thing. thought and its expression. and thus thinking being. between potentiality and actuality. Yet if thought instead comes to actuality and thinks something. touch upon each other. available medium “to think” something. the work becomes the place of thought without one personifying the poem in some absurd way by declaring that it is an autonomous. THINKING THOUGHT moment that subject and object.LOGOS. paternal. thought would effectively think nothing as such. this time the more familiar discipline of philosophical thought or thinking as such. At this impossible point thought is reduced to being a presuppositional representation of the thing. From being the presupposition of a thing’s truth the thing becomes the presuppositional necessity of thinking. Through this Cimmerian light one is able to discern the topos of a poetic thinking. 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. Does thought actually exist as such as a general. 72). They are examples of ontological deixis. 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. Each time thought thinks some thing therefore. bring each other into presence then immediately withdraw. Reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics Agamben presents the aporia of what thought actually thinks in terms of issues of potentiality and actuality. Such a thought is obviously meaningless.5 Aristotle illustrates this rather abstract point with reference to the 43 . anything. The author can only come to being as the supporting gesture of the text.
The same is true for the philosopher. surprising. 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. . which at the same time negates thinking as such. hand-in-hand.”7 Thus began proceedings for what Agamben translates as the “divorce” between poetry and prose 44 . a bolstering figuration that shares a clear equivalency to Agamben’s idea of gesture as an empty facilitation of thinking. which convinces me that the way we were trying to found our community was along absolutely the right lines . Yet if. . Yet to think thought as potentiality leaves thought with nothing to think. 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. and its presence as a coming to be a thing to be thought. or at least Aristotle passes this belief on to Western metaphysics. . POETRY AND PHILOSOPHY Yet one would be wrong if one then declared some kind of lasting amity between poetry and philosophy. That we flatly refused to admit representational poetry. 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 . as we saw. If the philosopher’s vocation is to think then naturally to think what thought is would be their highest calling.6 Let us dwell momentarily on a common.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN figure of a blank tablet upon which thought can be written but on which it has not yet been written. coyly withdraw. 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. Both seem to founder on an aporia between potentiality and actuality. producing an ontological caress. Thus to think thought is to think both the absence of thought as a thing to be thought. . In his treatise on how to establish the ideal totalitarian state Plato immortally excludes poets from the republic. yet generally ignored problem shared by poetic and philosophical thinking. They touch on being and. the author as individual does not exist as such in a text. The author in a text is a potential to be while the realization of her thoughts in the text seems to be an actualization.
even radical disjuncture. Plato. or even poetry’s role in thinking was. love. 66). the very taking place of language as originary argument” (LD. came to remove from poetry thinking as a form of authentic modality. Agamben returns to the division imposed by Plato many times in his own work whenever he speaks of the abyss between language and thought or poetry and philosophy. The stated intention of the Provençal poets’ razo de trobar was “to experience the topos of all topoi. the place from which all places emerge. primarily excluded from the philosophical canon. then what is the extreme experience of language within the poetic tradition?” (LD. he wonders. of material pleasure. Love is not only the term for the very event and advent of the poetic word it also comes to stand for the unattainable. inevitably. but has also introduced a disastrous aporia into Western metaphysics based around the presupposed difference between poetry and thinking which. Perhaps it is in poetry that we find a concept of language that is not that of negation but rather a “reflection on the taking place of language” (LD. that not only typifies our culture’s response to the arts. . But on the whole poetry as a form of thinking. 66). 68) as we have already seen. this abyss weighs heavy upon our philosopher’s mind. Republic 607b–c) poetry .. 52). 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. Agamben suspects as much when he presents just such a possibility at the foundation of modern poetics in the razo de trobar. Defining philosophy as “the unspeakable experience of the Voice” (LD. They named the experience of the very advent of the poetic word. but for most it is not a form of thought. THINKING THOUGHT (MWC. So much so that today it seems strange perhaps to even argue a role for poetry as a mode of thinking. until Hegel.LOGOS. 66). “And if love is presented in the 45 . Aristotle was more than happy to begin the discipline of aesthetics or philosophical categorical thinking about the arts spawning a long and illustrious tradition. Agamben soon uncovers a dark truth at the heart of troubadour poetics. 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. in particular. Although Troubadour love constitutes a promising avenue of inquiry. Not that philosophy then neglected poetry. that is. Poetry is a form of expression. of mimesis. . In Language and Death. for example.
seems necessarily to be marked by negativity” (LD. 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. resorting always to negative constructions of language as unattainability. The poetic and philosophical experiences of language are thus not separated by an abyss. (LD. but both rest originally in a common negative experience of the taking place of language. These two traditions and experiences of the word as negativity. nothingness. as an ancient tradition of thought would have it. while separating them. his philosophy of indifference. Thus while poetry comes very close to an originary experience of language as such. I showed this in the previous chapter by drawing parallels between algorithms for the sign S/s. and this experience. Agamben admits.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Provençal lyric as a desperate adventure whose object is far away. to understand that which. and modern art and aesthetics as nihilism. he is forced to conclude: Even poetry seems here to experience the originary event of its own word as nothing. also holds them together and seems to point beyond their fracture. so much so that Agamben is willing to hand over ontology to the “poetic” experience of desubjectivization. Both poetry and philosophy seek an indifferent experience of language as such before the moment of its division into language and voice. seemingly divergent yet. to attain such an experience. unspeakability. and so on. The two empty resonators. Perhaps. 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. 69). and thus. as such. Neither is able. 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. the subject of The Man Without Content (1970). rather. come together within the modern experience of metaphysics as negation detailed in Language and Death. and the stanza S [/] s. and yet accessible only in this distance. These issues come to full appearance for both disciplines during the period of 46 . alone. that is because the experience of the taking place of language is at stake here. modern metaphysics and Provençal poetics are. unattainable. philosophy and poetry.
) The abyss between poetry and philosophy occupies the last of Agamben’s thoughts in Language and Death (LD. and philosophy in a characteristically ambitious denouement (P. Again and again he returns to this theme. Stanzas concludes with an attempt to relocate a post-nihilistic idea of presence located in the very fold or articulation between signified and signifier. gesture.LOGOS. 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. (He is referring here to Heidegger. problematic experience rather than an embarrassed repression” (IH. or On Gesture” he brings together poetry. however. He is not calling for a synthesis of poetry and philosophy here but a clear understanding of the actual conditions of their difference as opposed to those imposed upon them by Platonic exception. 163). in the “Project for a Review” he ends the volume by calling for a radicalization of the ancient science of philology which would. . poeticize philology so that the site of the division between poetry and philosophy “becomes a conscious. That poetry and philosophy share such commonalities is not a coincidence.8 Agamben is moved to wonder in this regard: Are we capable today of no longer being philosophers of the letter . 157). In Infancy and History. In “Kommerell. Tracing this articulation back to ancient Greek sources. Ending books on a call for the healing of the fracture between poetry and philosophy then becomes something of a habitual gesture. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and a unity” (ST. has been obscured by the Platonic tradition that Agamben habitually calls the “abyss” between poetry and philosophy. for example. 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. yet the roots of their failure to find language go back several centuries at least. THINKING THOUGHT modernity. politics. 108) and forms the conclusion of two major essays in the collection Potentialities (1999). without thereby becoming either philosophers of the voice or mere enthusiasts? Are we capable of reckoning with the poetic 47 . 85). he names this possibility harmonia or “the idea of a laceration that is also a suture. but rather the result of a mutual origin in thinking as such that. . 157). essentially.
Poetry. within. in the “last” essay of The End of the Poem. pestered endlessly by the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius to once more attend his court. Rather. Conceding this point. provides an opening up of the pathway towards a future for philosophy but alone it is not the destination of this track. and surrounding the two contesting ideas of thinking within our tradition. One presents to the apparently eager student the whole thing of 48 . Agamben argues: “As for poetry. However. . as a nonpresupposed principle. it resides somewhere in the division between poetry and philosophy. in the fold or invisible harmony that. Agamben believes. while Agamben seeks for a true experience of language in poetry he is regularly disappointed. its resolution resting with neither party nor an idealized unity of the two but between them somehow. 115) I believe our point is well made. Or. paraphrasing Wittgenstein. therefore. (P. that it is threatened by an excess of tension and thought. one could say. The answer to the problem of Western metaphysics can only be approached by the rehabilitation of poetry as a form of thinking but its solution does not simply emerge from poetry. The destination of many major works by Agamben is the revocation of the divorce between poetry and philosophy instigated formally by Plato in Republic.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN presentation of the vocation that.9 This usually takes the form of a summons to poeticize philosophy and expose philosophic prose to the semiotic presence of the poetic word. THE THING ITSELF In the opening essay of Potentialities entitled “The Thing Itself. citing the famous Wittgenstein declaration that philosophy should really only be poeticized. Plato devised an apotropaic pedagogical methodology.” Agamben recounts a story told by Plato in one of his letters of how. COMMUNICABILITY. 115). on the contrary. has always existed in the midst of the two fundamental experiences of language in our culture: language as sustaining (poetry) and as testing (philosophy). These two experiences form the basis of Agamben’s idea of the origin of all literature in dictation. rather. . but they also come together in Agamben’s idea of the communicability of language as such as the place between. that poetry should really only be philosophised” (EP. emerges where no voice calls us? Only then would tradition cease to be the remission and betrayal of an unsayable transmission .
but the basis of knowledge on this very obscurity. however. otherwise those merely “tanned” by philosophy (P. its own knowability and truth” (P. image (eidolon). the thing is “nevertheless possible only in language and by virtue of language: precisely the thing of language” (P. Knowledge presupposes something as already existing about which it has knowledge whose veracity it can vouchsafe through the idea truth as agreement. 33). therefore. Agamben reconstitutes the thing as such as the ground or support of knowability. while language cannot say the thing as such. there but never to be made available to presence. If this thing is not a thing in the world nor is it. 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. 28) will realize the dolour of “the thing” and task their tutor no more. 32). If the student is sincere he or she will embrace this difficulty. the most difficult of all problems: the very thing of thought as such. definition (logos). Rather than the thing as such being an unsayable and inaccessible part of being. a thing in the world or a thing than can be represented by language and thus known in this way. Plato concedes. Agamben’s translation finds that the four bases of being which define the Platonic theory of ideas. THINKING THOUGHT thought and all difficulties attendant on that. but the very precondition of being: “no longer simply the being in its obscurity. all are dependent on the thing as such. Rather said thing is to be brought to light “in the very medium of its knowability. “that by which the object is known. This thing then is not a fifth.” but. Much of this comes down to the problem of presupposition. The thing itself. Yet. 31). additional recondite element as the tradition has it. the obscure nature of the presupposition of a thing. an arche thing impossible to retrieve. This thing is not a thing in any ordinary sense of the term. in the pure light of its self-manifestation and announcement to consciousness” (P.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. and knowledge.LOGOS. name (onama). Modern science is the archetypal epistemology in 49 . as an object presupposed by language and the epistemological process. is the apotropaic heart of philosophy. Having presented this reading of Plato. Agamben then performs one of his classic gestures by rediscovering through his remarkable and controversial philological method that translations of Plato have perhaps misrepresented his thoughts on this most essential thing.
the thing could not come to presence. although not the same thing at all. the very open-ness at issue in language. therefore.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN this regard operating as the very opposite structure to that of an apotropaic thinking that is. . and negation at the heart of epistemology. 34). Such thinking. in language. why that which cannot be thought. 35). it would take the form 50 . Düttmann states: “Communicability always communicates itself. . Düttmann’s introduction to Idea of Prose. more typical of modern ontology. reveals that: “Language sup-poses and hides what it brings to light. I would argue. it is what we are always disclosing in speaking. without which. is the communicability of the very language that cannot express the thing but. privation. it is nothing but communication itself. inscribing a myth of absence.” Communication and communicability. declaring that the thing itself is not “something ineffable that must remain unsaid and hence sheltered” (P. If the thing is not a thing in the world. we always presuppose and forget .11 their presupposition of the thing itself will always make said thing inaccessible. One of the earliest and most important essays on Agamben’s work. The result is that the sayability of the thing said and the knowability of the thing known are both lost to presuppositional thinking.” (P. what we are always saying and communicating . While language and knowledge presuppose the thing itself as already existing as a thing about which they can speak and have knowledge. which. nor a presupposition or hypothesis. 33). . nor even an arche thing forever lost to which thought aspires. an act of communication. in using language as a means of accessing that about which one speaks. Yet communicability cannot be collapsed into communication in that in itself it cannot be communicated: “if communicability let itself be communicated. Agamben strongly refutes this history of the thing. would not name the thing being communicated and so said thing would not be produced into presence and communicability never invoked and revealed. what is the thing? “It is the very sayability. . cannot however be thought separately. spends some considerable effort defining communicability through its source in Benjamin and establishing it as the heart of Agamben’s thought. The thing itself of thought. What is the very thing of thought itself ? this tradition seems to ask. Communicability divided from communication. nor is it “horribly or beautifully unreachable in its obscurity” (P. in the very act in which it brings it to light” (P. 35). unsayability.
” poetry is fundamentally important to thinking but not necessarily fundamentally important in itself. however far the thing as such is from Agamben’s ideas on enjambement or poetic rhythm. For example. and his interest in language is piqued only as a way of revealing the very basis of thinking and being as such. Agamben’s analysis of the thing as such should therefore act as a warning. a chattering mime of poets along the way. Plato’s development of the thing itself as a concept is in response to the entreaties of the tyrant of Ortygia where Plato first travelled with the idea of setting up his republic and expelling. and we as critics of literature can and must learn from him in these areas. which is also essential to Agamben’s ideas on poetry. one presumes. but at the same time allows us access to a profound realization. Returning to “The Thing Itself. Language is the very thing that allows thought to occur and it is thought that Agamben pursues. merely that the means of encountering it are not provided by communication of something specific. Agamben’s interest in poetry and the literary in general is only as a means of bringing him closer to language. reducing itself to the simple communication of something. 51 . Like Heidegger. and technical.” one ought to note that the explicit history of this term in Plato is of no small water to our own study.”12 Hence communicability is defined here as that which supports and facilitates communication but which itself is never communicated through an act of communication. a structure we recognize from our considerations of thinking as such. 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. It would not be possible to produce an Agambenian linguistics from it for example. historiographic. 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.LOGOS. would erase itself immediately. While he has a great deal to say of poetry that is philological. This does not mean communicability is unsayable or invisible. 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. and communication. In addition. THINKING THOUGHT of a thing. lead it forward into the light). one can see here that the communicability of language. is not precisely a comment on language.
the very fact that language (and therefore knowledge) exists. 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 . it is noted.” Agamben says making a point he often returns to. Glossing on John. but is instead a truth that concerns language itself. “There is. . en arkhe e ho ¯ ¯n logos (“In the beginning was the word”). 41). as a statement on the ontology of language as such. humans see the world through language but do not see language. Agamben calls this the movement of language’s “self-revelation. “no word for the word” (P. This is elsewhere reformulated as there being no name for the name.14 is a strategy on Agamben’s part to suggest that modern metaphysics is similarly dominated by the impossible 52 .” or a heuristic tautegorical structure that says its essence through the act of saying but saying nothing as such. Revelation. . This diversion through the tautegorical revelation. a knowable thing that we did not previously know. allowing Agamben to define that foundational theological declaration on language. the first word of god.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN THE IDEA OF LANGUAGE In the second essay Agamben has written under the title “The Idea of Language. must contain within it not merely content that human ingenuity has not yet conceived of. .13 This word/name therefore cannot say something about something as there is no something that precedes it. (P. Agamben explains that the beginning word. . meaning it also does not say some thing in the world. nothing precedes the “big word” of God. The absolute presupposition is itself non-presuppositional. The meaning of revelation is that humans can reveal beings through language but cannot reveal language itself .” he considers the influence of the concept of revelation on the Western metaphysical ideas of linguistic unsayability. or what Lyotard defines as thinking-feeling of something happening as the very happening in question. can presuppose nothing. 40) This transparency of language within our tradition has come to be the very quality of god’s invisibility. Like the quasi-theology of the “big bang” theory of our universe. Instead it says the thing as such of language.
Returning to Plato. 53 . however. Such language is not presupposed. says language itself and exposes its limits?” (P. Thus. mediation itself ” (P. Agamben sees the modern presupposition of language as profoundly aporetic in that it posits language as the presupposition to thought. Language. forcing it always to speak of something pertaining to the epochal closure of the metaphysical project. which for human beings mediates all things and all knowledge. 47). that is. 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). except language itself. without being a metalanguage or sinking into the unsayable. 47). The problem here is mapped out very succinctly. as immediate mediation “constitutes the sole possibility of reaching a principle freed of every presupposition” (P. THINKING THOUGHT logic of revelation. “Can there be discourse that. Agamben believes. for example.” but nor is an Idea some thing in the world outside: “it is a vision of language 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. As Agamben says. Nothing immediate can be reached by speaking beings—nothing. does not. “If every human word presupposed another word. 46–7). 46). 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. does not have a presence that can be named but nor is the Idea a nameless nothingness. Or what Plato calls the thing itself. and naturally enough he comes to call this the Idea of language. 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. yet it provides no direct means of letting language speak itself. then there would truly be no possible experience of the limits of language. he wonders. Thus the conception of language as immediate mediation defines its communicability and reveals a possible way out of the nihilism of modern thought. The Idea. Yet the Derridean idea of language as subject to the logic of the trace. a perfect language purged of all homonymy and composed solely of univocal signs would be a language absolutely without Ideas” (P. “this is an Idea. is itself immediate. On the other hand. if the presuppositional power of language knew no limits. allow one to think language as such.LOGOS.
self-avowed project is negated here in true philosophical thought.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN COMMUNICABILITY. One name for this voluble silence in Agamben’s work is the Idea of Prose. not in song but in a pure language?16 He says. “Was philosophy not perhaps the discourse that wanted to free itself of all presuppositions. 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. which is expressed in the formula ‘that there is language’? Is philosophy not concerned precisely with comprehending the incomprehensible?” (P. THE IDEA OF PROSE While an essential element of Agamben’s thought critics have. he reminds us that the original task of thought was not to discern the presuppositional bases for thinking problems but the elimination of presuppositions. Even Agamben’s own. in isolation poetry’s reserved role as the closest experience we can have of immediate mediation via dictation is not Agamben’s main point. like a number of thinkers since Heidegger. Silent on the problems it has solved and silent as it comprehends the problems that remain. via the mediation of Agamben’s text: “Its language is the idea of prose itself. True philosophy in this way ought to be doubly silent. 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. Confusingly. or moment in history when all division is. even the most universal presupposition. perhaps. or thought that does not find presuppositional commonalities but eliminates all presupposition leaving merely the great single object of true thinking. In the pursuit of thought nothing is sacred. He wishes. which is understood by all humans 54 . does not understand what to say. Similarly. 45). made over much of linguistic communicability.” 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. alone it tells us little. as yet. For example. suspended. for a second at least. to solve the problem of philosophy itself rather than use philosophy to solve problems. This object is the thing itself of thought defined by Agamben not by what it can know presuppositionally but what it cannot.15 Such a moment ought to be celebrated should it not.
as confusion can of course lead again to a diversity of names for such things.” a language not tied down to communication but existing rather as pure communicability. How can this be? Agamben himself poses this question. naming the world. Such a name cannot refer to things in the world. “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. discourse presupposes names then a name cannot be anything that would ever need discourse again. simply to a universal system of nouns but to a totally transparent system of pure coincidence between sound and sense. If. Language as communicability is the moment of integral actuality when the thing as such of thought touches the medium of thinking. THINKING THOUGHT just as the language of birds is understood by those born on Sunday” (cited in P. to an impure process of attempted communication or trying to render transparent once more the opacity of signs. Such a language does not have a content and does not communicate objects through meanings. but in the integration of all languages into one pure language that is not written or spoken but simply celebrated. and actual presence of language as such. not by taking up one single language and rejecting all others. naming. At the moment that history is redeemed from division into integral actuality. and communication. nor can it refer to other names within language.LOGOS. accepts the scission at the heart of human language between pure signification.17 What would such prose consist of ? Primarily names. humanity will resolve the issue of the Babelian profusion of languages. language. In the Idea of Prose we would not return. or communicability. At this moment what is 55 . like many thinkers. 48). Benjamin. as our tradition often has it. Thus the Idea of Prose is a system of pure and transparent naming that names one thing: the universal. This Benjamin famously calls “freed prose. Discursive language is widely seen as a necessary evil to redeem the fall of language over time from a pure system of transparent signification. instead it is perfectly transparent to itself ” (P. discourse. however. as there would be no exteriority for such endless deferral. To put it succinctly. 52). he writes. I believe we now have an answer that we can retrieve from the mysticism of Benjamin’s wonderful prose. prose would name nothing other than the fact that it can name: nominal potentiality. integrated.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN revealed is that the medium that allows one to produce or perceive the thing as such. He is not a poet. philosophy. But this is exactly what they cannot do without abolishing themselves” (P. language as semiotic mediality. It has to be this way.” 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. yet disregard for. 54). language. or material remnant.”19 However. is to be totally comprehended. He does not take dictation. is the thing of such of thought. A thought that precedes language simply reiterates the aporias of philosophy’s reliance on. Which is why. languages would have to cease to mean it. Language too requires immediate mediation as Agamben explains: “to say what they mean. The very meaning of language is its transmission of meaning as such. Thought thinks how it is possible for thought to think away from presuppositionality. 60). transmit it. the poet says.18 choosing to stay within language rather than distance himself from the source of all thought. but to say this it would have to cease transmitting immediately and choose a side. given the weak choice of poetry or philosophy in the interim while we await the arrival of the Idea of Prose. That said. and difference. or to leave no excessive. seems to be promoted by an observation by Valéry that states “the essence of prose is to perish” (cited in P. so to speak. At this point it would cease to be a sustaining experience of language as transmission and would instead be a specific transmissible meaning. semiotic. 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 . In so doing it discovers this possibility through the very medium that momentarily facilitates this question. Agamben is a philosopher and purveyor of philosophical prose. The destiny of perfect or pure prose. Agamben opts for poetry. ironically. Benjamin’s choice of the confusing term prose. by actually trying to think it. 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. unity. A language that precedes thought places language in a position of presupposition immediately negating its true essence and making it a philosophical concept. that is. answering the very pertinent question why he did not describe an Idea of Poetry.
surely. a poetry of materialized prose. and finally in poetry and its complex presentation and experience of the materiality of language as such through dictation. can pro-duce perfect prose. which knows neither past nor repetition. Derrida. The Idea of language is language that no longer presupposes any other language. But remnants of it can be perceived first in the very communicability of language as such or as pure medium. This indifference is not the result of unity or dialectic synthesis. can no longer be pursued through philosophical prose. and thus Agamben. insofar as it now says and understands only itself. Confusingly. Yet a pellucid language would not be reducible to dialectic either as the two elements. having eliminated all of its presuppositions and names and no longer having anything to say. (P. As Agamben says of such prose: Insofar as it has reached perfect transparency to itself.LOGOS. are no longer in opposition but in a state of integral actuality. it is the language that.20 Accepting that there are certain presuppositional and aporetic elements to this view. THINKING THOUGHT poetry itself. if we are ever to arrive at that point. the Idea of Prose. 60) A language of perfect transparency would accept no division and therefore can be described as totally indifferent. It is what is continually said and what continually takes place in every language not as an unsayable presupposition but as what. Agamben is reaching here. 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. but essentially. It does not unify because it exists pre-divisively in a completely other order of thinking that has no conception of scission and opposition. is forced to turn to poetry. 57 . it would seem. naming and signifying. now simply speaks. for a messianic and impossible dream? Perhaps. Only poetry. speech restored to the Idea is immediately dispersed. it is “pure history”—history without grammar or transmission. like Badiou. in never having been. resting solely on its own never having been. and Heidegger. Nancy. sustains the life of language. 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.
He comes to define gesture. Agamben’s third foray into the theory of gesture.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN POETIC GESTURES Although Agamben consistently affirms a common history and destiny for poetry and philosophy. however tense this dual occupancy may be. the basis of Agamben’s presentation of form-of-life as a new mode of thinking in Means Without Ends (1996). 155). 154–5). presents a new. the making visible of a means as such” (IH. third kind of action: “if doing is a means in sight of an end and praxis is an end without a means.22 He admits that Varro’s analysis of gesture as neither production nor enactment but “undertaking and supporting. “in a means.23 This definition of a means without determinate ends. This is vintage Agamben. perhaps due to the Platonic inheritance.” while owing much to Aristotle. . and we will need to wait before we can fully comprehend this final leap of his imagination. but of a kind of mediation that is pure and devoid of any end” (IH. that potential for the gesture to interrupt it in its very being-means and only thus does it display it. 155). combining Greek scholarship 58 . as that which resides between the two sides of Aristotle’s famous distinction between action (praxis) and production (poiesis). 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. He first raises the issue in an essay called “Notes on Gesture” inserted into the appendices of Infancy and History. One solution to this problem resides in Agamben’s theory of the gesture with which we already have some familiarity from what is. Astonishingly. or simply the radical nature of Agamben’s claim.21 This early work begins in characteristic fashion with the philosopher bemoaning the loss of gestures in modern life.24 is what Agamben calls gesture: “Gesture is the display of mediation. it remains difficult for us perhaps to see how poetry and philosophy could even begin to be said to share a common ground. are removed from the sphere of mediation without thereby becoming ends” (IH. gesture breaks the false alternative between ends and means . 155). . does it turn a res into a res gesta” (IH. in fact. via the neo-Platonist Varro’s reading of Aristotle. 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. as such. and presents means which. inbuilt scepticism.
it is “the stratum of language that is not exhausted in communication and that captures language. In itself it has nothing to say. Thus the muteness of philosophy. but in the aforementioned “Kommerell. in its solitary moments” (P. Gesture’s muteness. 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. language as such.LOGOS. The German defines gesture as closely tied but not reducible to. The insertion of speech into silence. he reads Kommerell’s own comments on linguistic gesturality. Defining the great twentiethcentury German critic as a “gestic” critic. poetry. while a distraction from the truth of language. This nothing to say. 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. 77). namely that gesture is another name for the communicability of language as pure medium: “gesture is the communication of a potential to be communicated. while yet another example of the mute voice within our tradition is. Lamentably the gag silences but it also inserts language into a hiatus which. presents Agamben with a double negation typified by the use of the term gag. 156). 59 . A presence in language more originary than conceptual expression. 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. These comments mark a fairly recognizable presaging of Agamben’s early thoughts on gesture here brought into the sphere of poiesis. provides the potential for a silence to once more speak. THINKING THOUGHT forays into the European avant-garde and radical re-readings of the foundations of modern philosophy all within a few sentences.26 It transpires that philosophy speaks of silence to fill in its memory lapse as regards its true subject for speech. is also a betrayal of its importance. therefore. 156). Agamben describes philosophy’s gag as being akin to that of what he calls the gesturality of cinema. however. the linguistic. here becomes a positive gagging or “an exposition of the human being’s being-in-language: pure gesturality” (IH. because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as a pure potential for mediation” (IH. a positive silence. or On Gesture” he brings philosophy closer to an art form more central to our study. The essay ends by explaining a relation the reader may already have discerned. in gesture. therefore. much reviled in Language and Death for example.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kommerell. bears a quantum of gestic mass. Kommerell proposes a decidedly odd equation of diminishing returns in this regard. becomes almost unbearable. Thus for those possessed of the most words. requires that we leave Kommerell in Germany and travel 60 . Quite the opposite. Like philosophy. Each word. Not that philosophy as such is gestural. 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. graphicality. Having said that there is one aspect of the philosophical tradition that echoes the pure mediality of gesturality in poiesis. He defines language as primarily conceptual and mimetic. remember we have already considered Aristotle’s blank tablet. Agamben calls this the tablet and our second encounter with it. A proposition that allows one to draw the conclusion that in-fancy is also gestural. before assuring us that prose is essentially the conceptual component of language.but sublinguistic support of the semiotic as such in language. poets. and a common if divergent response to their being “gagged” by language’s tendency towards muteness within our culture. its unspeakability as pure medium that Hegel identified in the inadequacy of the deictic diese. it would seem. the other side of language. inexpressive materiality. noise. He says the more we have language the greater the weight of the unsayable. . This remaining mimetic element is its gesturality or what we can also call the semiotic. It speaks not of the pre. compares gestural loneliness as akin to that found in lyric poetry. Kommerell defines speech as originary gesture leading Agamben to conclude: “If this is true . there must always be something in the poem not exhausted by a reading of it in terms of meaning. the actor’s improvisation to make up for an impossibility of speaking” (P. the muteness inherent in humankind’s very capacity for language. If this is the case. Gesture is one name Agamben gives for the very mediality of language’s communicability. then what is at issue in gesture is not so much a prelinguistic content as. therefore. and poetry the mimetic. . Aside from the common history and destiny shared by poetry and philosophy. the weight of language’s gestic muteness. language as pure. 78). it tends ever to the conceptual. then. to better illustrate his point. its speechless dwelling in language” (P. 78). so to speak. the gestural is one of the means by which poetry and philosophy come together in Agamben’s work. already heightened for them by their semiotic rather than semantic use of language.
breath. . 33). The entire. but rather. “Wasn’t what he was searching for exactly like the threshing floor. itself unthinkable and unspeakable. 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. 32). “not an image. (IP.LOGOS. the pure potentiality of representation itself: the writing tablet! . not a place or thing. but the site of a place” (IP. THINKING THOUGHT back in time many hundreds of years to the court of Koshrau I of Persia where a respected and aged philosopher once set himself the task of finally resolving the remaining problems of philosophy . 34) 61 . how can one comprehend the incomprehensible” (IP. or word might eventually take place . no matter how free of any quality. one night. .27 From this charming story of ancient times. . he narrates how. . the Syrian city where he was born many years before. Describing Damascius setting about writing down the idea of the threshing floor. PHILOSOPHICAL GESTURALITY In the sixth century AD. This site of a place reminded him of nothing so much as the threshing floors of Damascus. 33). an image occurred to him that would guide him towards the completion of this impossible task. . 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. Then. but something like the perfectly empty space in which only image. THE TABLET. . the ageing philosopher Damascius decided to devote his last years to an impossible work entitled Aporias and Solutions Concerning First Principles. its own absolute potentiality. where the winnowing fans of thought and language separated the grain and chaff of everything?” (IP. in a flash the old philosopher realized the truth of thought: The uttermost limit thought can reach is not a being. in exile. Agamben too finds the instigation of what he had been looking for since the inauguration of his great experimentum linguae. After three hundred days and three hundred nights of consideration. . taking his hand from the writing tablet for a moment. particular referent. he was in despair “because how can thought pose the question of the beginning of thought . . it was not even a space. with many interruptions.
preferring the German translation “mitte” or midst. “non era. what. a version of a kind of gestural or poeticized thinking. The term does not. in the midst of poetry and philosophy. One can see why the rather bland and non-suggestive “middle term” then is not to his or indeed my own liking. refer to an already presupposed medium waiting to be occupied. as Düttmann correctly asserts. Agamben has no such intentions towards a narrative of sour disavowal told by some future thinker fifteen hundred years hence and so alights with relish upon Benjamin’s Idea of Prose as a way out of perennial philosophical failure. The closing words of the essay speak again of the enigmatic statement of Aristotle that Plato’s “idea del linguaggio” (“idea of language”). Medio in this way would mean to be both in the midst of something. not giving way to the extremes. namely mean. né poesia né prosa. with its double sense of midst and milieu or “what takes place in the middle. means he is unable to reconcile the conflict between writing that does not think (poetry) and thinking that cannot be written (philosophy).28 Düttmann is somewhat dissatisfied with the translation of medio as “middle term” by Sullivan and Whitsitt. therefore. no doubt with great bitterness (although the text of this great work was in fact written). Düttmann’s analysis of the translation of the key phrase from “The Idea of Prose” is important here.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. remains surrounded by the milieu that characterizes such an intermediary state” (IP. per lui. rather medio must signify being in the midst of a milieu and being a milieu of the midst. here represented by the medium of an as yet un-inscribed set of thoughts. and the medium created by the bringing together of these two terms. Being a thinker not a poet he thus has no option but to break the tablet of material language and abandon his philosophical ambitions. The tablet is. but their middle term”). 5). As Damascius discerned. ma il loro medio” (“was for him neither poetry nor prose. the precondition of all thought on the materiality of a non-expressive language. 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. Mean here retains the sense of middleness and of sharing a common ground but 62 . That said Düttmann’s version seems to miss the most obvious translation of the term medio.
but their mean. THINKING THOUGHT importantly it adds a third sense: the average of two terms. namely balance. therefore. middleness (Wall’s aforementioned radical passivity). being French or being Muslim. Average is a most common meaning for medio in Italian. 1). I believe that without the concomitant implication of averaging out. stillness.32 63 . midst and milieu do not quite capture what is the essential experience of the Idea of Prose. specifically its ability to communicate nothing but its potential to communicate: whatever name. It commences with prophesy: “The coming being is whatever being” (CC.LOGOS. 1).”29 The tablet. For that matter he is also speaking of language.” in The Coming Community (1990). 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. This portentous rhetorical portal opens up a debate on the meaning of “whatever” in terms of identity and being. or On Contingency” for Potentialities. it is time to tell another story. while a consideration of ethics and community. is also a delineation of potentiality in terms of ontology as the opening essay “Whatever” reveals. This second volume. is an example of a potential medium for thinking the thing of thought as such dependent on precisely this (re)translation of Aristotle’s definition of said thing as pure mediality: “neither poetry nor prose. told twice over first as part of a co-authored book with Deleuze translated as “Bartleby. but indifferent being in that it is “such as it is. or the mean of communicability between poetry and prose. 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).” POTENTIALITY To draw together the diverse strands of Agamben’s theory of the medio. tension. aptly. 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. this time the tale of different form of tablet named “Bartleby the Scrivener. suspension: “dialectic at a standstill.30 and again in the lapidarianally entitled “Bartleby.” It is a story Agamben has.31 with Agamben explaining he does not mean an indifferent being in relation to a common property.
64 . Indeed. so that potentiality is not simply actuality to be but also the refusal to actuate one’s potential. To have a faculty to write a poem. “Thus the architect is potential insofar as he has the potential to not-build.” the actual and surprising definition of poetic being is the possession of a faculty and not using it. 179). the presence of an absence . as indeed all makers are.” (P. 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. and communicability all come together here in a sustained consideration of potential as the desubjectivizing presence of absence in being. Thus. which comes to define being as the presence of the not to be. Thus when Agamben goes on to define the artist. It ought now to be becoming increasingly clear how Agamben’s early ideas pertaining to authorial gesturality. The poet here. simple privation. 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. in-creation. means that you can write a poem but not that you are writing one or even that you ever will. “‘in this sense. non-invention. of the poet that he or she has the potential to write poems. . all potentiality is based on a choice not to do. “What is essential is that potentiality is not simply non-Being.” but the chance that potential will remain solely potential—potential inaction. in an odd way she is less of a poet when she is fulfilling her potential and writing poems. 179). The presence of an absence for Agamben is the true definition of potentiality. we say of the architect that he or she has the potential to build. is developed from the debate over what it means to have a faculty to do something and yet not be doing it. Agamben concludes. is defined in terms of being through negation or desubjectivization. Being is defined in its singularity by precisely this ontological condition of neutrality and passivity. the poet the potential to not-write poems” (P. the simultaneous existence of not being within the very identity of one’s being. not the assumed movement from potentiality to actuality which we might call “creation” or “invention. but rather the existence of non-Being. Akhmatova is a poet at the moment of her not-yet-having-written and. .33 He notes that in Aristotle potentiality.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. or whatever being. for the sake of argument let us say the poet’s potential to make a poem. tabularity.
being in its potentiality. retains the element of blankness. The tablet is the medium of this touch or what is touched. 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. even when written upon. 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. 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. 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. the potential not to be a poet as the very actualization of the poetic subjective state. with his potential to not-play” (CC. 36). he is able to consider his potential being beyond simply occupying this named position. “For if it is true that whatever being always has a potential character. not yet being. Stating that any pianist can play or not play. so to speak. Gould’s power is that “he plays. therefore. Returning to Bartleby. Noting that true power comes from the capability for power and impotence. he celebrates Gould’s artistic power through a consideration of his potential to not not-play. it is capable of its own impotence” (CC. a blankness that is never entirely blank and that. As such he is an exemplar of Aristotelian thought as potential and his controversial and apparently unhinged performance choices are recognizable examples of masterful. 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. there must be retained a part of potential being that is never fully realized. the being that is properly whatever is able to not-be. nor is it simply incapable . must retain a remnant in each of its two manifestations. Gesture is the touch and withdrawal of being.”34 Agamben calls this supreme power using the figure of Glenn Gould to better illustrate the power of whatever being. modern “poetic” thinking. 35). Clearly Gould is a thinker in his playing potential for rather than simply being a pianist. . for those who are familiar with this remarkably prescient work by Melville. “I would prefer not to. Being. 65 . and actuality. the simultaneous coming to being and desubjectivization of identity that Agamben describes as the essence of the author-function. Once potential passes over into actualization however. .LOGOS. or to turn his potential into actuality.
Thought is neither presence. is pure potentiality. This complex yet necessary logic not only dictates the potentiality of thought and willed creation but their interrelation through writing: “In the potentiality that thinks itself. The perfect act of writing comes not from a power to write. simply put. nor some negative theological absence. but from an impotence that turns back on itself and in this way comes to itself as pure act . philosophy is a firm assertion of potentiality. in its essence. But thought. therefore. or On Contingency”: “In its deepest intention. and. written. but is the presence of absence within presence that both affirms and negates being. as possible or material intellect. that rasum tabulae that is nothing but its own passivity” (CC. writes its own passivity. it is also the potentiality to not think. but not in actuality think it for as soon as it is thought. this time more centrally to its relation to potentiality: “If thought were in fact only the potentiality to think this or that intelligibility .” (CC. rather. 37). neither an object nor its negation. Aristotle compares it to a writing tablet on which nothing is written” (CC. 37). we can now reveal that it is the famous tabula rasa. but being as presence becomes unthinkable. as Agamben states midway through “Bartleby. . not writing but the white sheet is what philosophy 66 . Agamben glosses again on Aristotle’s definition of thought. the construction of an experience of the possible as such. Being as pure absence remains nonbeing. . Having met with this tablet once before. And Bartleby. “a scribe who does not simply cease writing but ‘prefers not to’” (CC. it would always already have passed through to the act and it would remain necessarily inferior to its own object. Or. so thought can think itself as a pure medium. 37). This waxen screen allows thought to turn back on itself and think itself as the thought of thought. “but that layer of wax. .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Reading De Anima. thought is no longer thought as such. although Agamben notes that the correct term should be rasum tabulae or the layer of wax covering the tablet which the stylus engraves.35 Just as Gould can think his own potentiality by playing with its negation. but is not yet and may never be. as such. is the archetype of pure potentiality as the passive writing medium upon which thought could. 37). Thought must have something to think. action and passion coincide and the writing tablet writes by itself or. . not thought considered as an object. in other words. stepping away from to play or not to play in favour of a position of playing to play and playing not to play. Not thought but the potential to think.
changes her mind. as is the writing of pure inspiration. THINKING THOUGHT refuses at all costs to forget” (P. Writer’s block is a phenomenon best explained by the ontology of potentiality. depersonalizes and desubjectivizes the writer. Going on to describe the essence of the poetic as the tension between the demands of ego and genius. but as they write they murder the muse and assume her garb. then opts not to . with what resides in us but does not belong to us. however. they have become someone they are not. The author attempted to merely will them into existence. yet each act of writing. that any paper and any light will suffice” (Prof. The impersonal is negated in the personal act of writing something specific. the late Rimbaud. Agamben concludes: “To some extent we all come to terms with Genius. Agamben’s La voce umana. a series of dots. not to write and to write. and the works never created: Mallarmé’s Livre. Looking in the mirror of their art. 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. Then there are the great works that were written purely through genius: “Kubla Khan. . There are the great books that were never written. a certain dim light shining from the left.LOGOS. changes her mind. 14). as we saw. it is useless to tell yourself that just any pen will do. as the poet sets pen to paper. Or better a dot. Poets are called by the muse to write. to flee from him” (Prof. 17). 10). 244). Duchamp. 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. These works did not come into being because they were not possessed of genius. . what do they see? Dressed in second-clothes. withdraws the pen. On the Road. As I Lay Dying.36 Potentiality in the writer is precisely this tension between genius and character. 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. 67 .: “The ink. DeChirico. a certain special pen.” The Magnetic Fields. Each person’s character is engendered by the way he attempts to turn away from Genius. 249). They are the art of pure character. is thought itself ” (P. Without being facetious. commences writing. Agamben’s whole philosophical system of thinking as such could be reduced to the thoughtless doodling of ontology upon a blank sheet with an inkless pen. the drop of darkness with which the pen writes. the personal and impersonal (Prof.
18). but in their ongoing and self-conscious game with writing: to write. . all one’s written and unwritten works as Agamben phrases it. Then there are the few. . 68 . or not to write. the brush as it is lifted from the canvas not when it is applied. They are happy with their lot and it would never occur to them not to write. Writer’s block and pure. Some do not write and could never do so. There are those who can write and do so with facility and alacrity. the powerful unfulfilment of true potential being. only now does the very long unlearning of the self begin . What does he contemplate? Gestures: for the first time truly his own. the great writers of genius. Their brilliance does not reside in what they write or what they excise or refute. and that is the only way. A blank tablet acting as mere reproach to the woman of genius. and so on. too much character in one and overabundance of genius in the other.” (Prof.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kenneth Koch’s When the Sun Tries to Go On. Here the author seemingly had little or nothing to do with writing. Gesturality signs the long and chequered history of one’s being with language. Their destiny is otherwise. . or not to not write. . The gesture alone is meaningless and sad. when genius has abandoned them? “It is the late and final stage when the old artist lays down his pen—and contemplates. that determine one’s subjective desubjectivity as a writer of potential. fulfil. And what of when a writer simply ceases to write. Does one fulfil one’s potential in the work? Never. or to write as not writing. for Agamben. The pen that grazes the page. devoid of every charm . inspired flow are two sides of an imbalance of writerly potentiality.
Yet if we pay careful attention to Plato’s words here. poetry has come to be the archetype of all the arts. but the bringing into existence something that was not there before which could be an object.”2 Within the period of aesthetic modernity extending from Romanticism to our contemporary moment it has been common to interpret this dictum in such a way that poiesis could be taken to mean simply the willed making of something: creation. Finally. This view of creativity finds its culmination in Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power as Art or maker as creative genius. but its wider meaning is in fact creation. Such a view confirms the ontotheological and masculine activity of god-like invention as creation ex nihilo that has dominated modern ideas of the artist-creator. This includes willed creative agency therefore. A sweating. say. the process of actually making is rather less glamorous than that. but is not limited to it. Plato famously says in the Symposium: “any cause that brings into existence something that was not there before is poiesis. dark-browed genius does not necessarily have to work in the intermittent flashes of lightning accompanied by Wagnerian thunder and a rattling gurney to simply “bring something into presence. but could just as easily be a truth or observation. poiesis is “any cause” that results in creation.CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. of filmic presentations of creation such as the various versions of Frankenstein. At the same time creation does not simply indicate the god-like making of a new object in the world.” Bringing something into presence could just as easily 69 . for the modern philosophical tradition. THINKING THROUGH MAKING POIESIS The Greek word poiesis1 is the origin of our term poetry explaining why.
form. form. guiding. The chalice is to hand or possesses Heideggerian equipmentality. 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. form. the relationship between gods. and utility. unveiling values such as equipmentality. through making. . It is what the chalice can produce for us as sacrificial vessel and all that entails. the erecting of a statue in the temple precinct . 35). each of them must be made of matter that is formed to an end by a causality. The temple. Relying on the ancient Aristotelian four causes theory of philosophy—matter. 70 .” (QCT. 9).” a process he defines as “producing that brings forth—e.g. soil. Rather. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as that which “lets what presences come forth into unconcealment. These four causes share the responsibility for “the silver chalice’s lying ready before us as a sacrificial vessel” (QCT. rather than the beauty of the chalice. Beauty may be a part of poiesis but it is not necessarily the purpose of poiesis. making the chalice is really an afterthought following on from deep consideration on the part of the maker as to how material. reliability. at least not in the way in which they make the chalice. and purpose will all fit together causally. purpose. the temple. The chalice makes one think of certain things in relation to ceremony and sacrifice.. The same would be true of the statue.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN mean coaxing. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. 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. that he presents as poiesis. 21). For Heidegger. The statue makes one think of the materialization of a god within a temple. purpose. Presence need not be awful. or accompanying. It may be timorous. Note the emphasis on the object’s availability for use here. and so on. Heidegger is careful to stipulate that the silversmith who makes the chalice is not the final and efficient cause of the chalice. and their causality in such a way as they will bring to presence a truth or being that was not available for view before. 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. toil. . thinking deeply about the “that” and the “how” of material. Van Gogh’s peasant shoes “let us know what shoes are in truth” (PLT. respecting the Greek provenance.
inaccurate order. by making something new and wonderful in the world. poiesis. was directly tied into the biological processes of the human as animal and. an experience of the production of something absent into presence and from concealment into the light. 69). One of the reasons for this confusion between poiesis and praxis in the modern age relates to a third category. 68). Poiesis of this second. Poiesis has in the modern age been mistaken therefore for praxis. that for many thinkers constitutes the opposite of what creation actually is. for the Greeks. praxis. what one might call modern “Romantic poiesis. in that both seem to fulfil Plato’s stipulation that creation is bringing something new into existence. essentially guide or facilitator of truth. which is the Greek sense of experiencing truth as unveiling or a-letheia (un-forgetting. That said the difference between the two terms could not be clearer.” is god-like fiat and lacks the sense of passivity and modesty inherent in the term’s original definition. If praxis meant doing something through one’s will to do that thing. un-concealment).POIESIS. 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. to praxis which meant to do something or to act in accordance with one’s will (MWC. for the Greeks. in contrast. It is an easy mistake to make. poiesis was. We ought not to feel excessive culpability or remorse in this regard. therefore yet today we often speak of creative production as practice and artists as practitioners. that of work. to confuse poiesis with praxis. THINKING THROUGH MAKING PRAXIS According to Agamben poiesis was opposed. a person able to bend their will to create themselves into being as The Artist.3 Work. due to the reliance on that culture on the sustaining activities of slaves. lacks the subjective agency of an artist as a maker. 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. voluntary. This slip of the tongue unfortunately confines creation to the very process. a doer. was a concept at one remove from their 71 . wilful action. Poiesis does not share with praxis the element of practical. Poiesis as pro-duction.
. 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 . 70) As Agamben goes on to show through brief readings of Locke. eventually. . is replaced by the question of the “how. and the materialists. 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 completely opposed to the Greek sense of poiesis and is perhaps best summarized in the shift from the subjective statement “this happened to me. the shift away from truth to genius facilitated the elevation of work. the lowest of the three categories for the Greeks to. that is. than between praxis as will and poiesis as almost passive experience. Smith. .” that is. Over the centuries the clear differentiation between poiesis. it is much easier to find common ground between praxis and work understood as the basic production of all material life. most notably in the work of Nietzsche. Marx. pro-duction into presence. they were able to realize that work was “bare. The predominance of will over creation taken as a value of will. of life understood as energy and creative impulse” (MWC. praxis. (MWC. .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN lives. For we “moderns” it would seem that making is something a subject does to 72 . For example. the original productive state of the work of art is all but forgotten except by certain poets and.” to simply “I made this. 72). 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. eventually. That said. Greek and modern poiesis are both similarly ontological in basis in that both bring something into being and also operate as an act pertaining to one’s own being. “the point of arrival of Western aesthetics is a metaphysics of the will. 69). 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. of the process through which the object has been produced .”4 However different they are. the highest. Nietzsche’s definition of Will to Power as Art. As this theme develops through materialism and then through philosophy. Instead. and work has been lost. Heidegger. although the Greeks did not indulge habitually in work.
Art was not a sector of cultural activity” (QCT. Most especially poiesis does not make what we would term “art. Modern making defines being as making something. it makes a new being.” becomes. 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.5 TECHNE Staying with the Greeks a little longer one can see that the Nietzschean interpretation of poiesis as active. the bringing to presence of the gods. willed creation ex nihilo. Greek making defines being as the experience of making. 10). which is precisely the point. as Heidegger suspects. the Being of beings.” during the halcyon days of Greek culture in its ascendancy the task granted to poiesis. willed making into being is. making the artist a technites (PLT. it merely lifts the curtain to reveal what is behind. Art works were not enjoyed aesthetically. 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.” As Heidegger exudes in the closing sections of his influential essay “The Question Concerning Technology. poiesis does not make anything new.POIESIS. 59). or as Heidegger interprets the Greek sense of truth as aletheia. The first is active participant. 34). 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.”6 73 . meant that. 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. THINKING THROUGH MAKING being. For the Greeks making is something that can happen to being or the subject to produce an authentic experience of truth. “Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis. Bernard Stiegler in his influential study of Technics and Time Vol. a premature seizing of the seat of the gods by presumptuous man. “The arts were not derived from the artistic. is bringing-forth [Her-vor-bringen]” (QCT. This retranslation in effect negates the possibility that creation as poiesis can be Nietzschean. and this confirms the artist’s being as god-like maker. For them.
he explains. but for the Greeks a specific type of knowing through creative making or as he says: “to make something appear. Second. is not simply craft or skill. we must come to terms with the making element of the term as well as the truth revealing or presencing element. Finally 74 . can one trace any actual. Praxis is the physical activity and will necessary to bring this about. instead of art. “the making of making as such” as Jean-Luc Nancy translates poiesis in its modern manifestation as poetry as the archetype of all arts. and techne as skilled knowing through doing. 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. while it does not always make art. The work’s becoming a work is a way in which truth becomes and happens” (PLT. there is no poiesis without making something. Poiesis is the experience of the production or facilitation of the coming into the light of a truth. direct relation between poiesis and art as such? Heidegger believes so in that for him pure poiesis. if fleeting. praxis as simply doing. I believe we must accept two things at this stage. in terms of letting appear” (PLT. techne. As Heidegger states: “to create is to cause something to emerge as a thing that has been brought forth. 60). poiesis as production of presence. as this or that.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN If there was no term for art as we conceive of it. our modern sense of creation is a muddle of these three Greek ideas. therefore. Techne. First. appearance. although alone making cannot simply will truth. Heidegger is helpful in this regard by asserting that there can be no poiesis without techne. the unveiling of truth. producing. Yet surely. a form of artistic production. Therefore while one cannot assume that poiesis is definable as simply making something. makes art make being come to full. that for the Greeks the three terms were all elements of a process of what they called bringing something into presence or aletheia. within what is present. 159). 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. in this way or that way. The Greeks conceive of techne. and the Greeks used instead the word skill. is this not a definition of art but of philosophy? For poiesis to make any sense as creative act.
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. A thing is something in the world that composes and gathers together truths in the world. instrumental. transmissible traditions.POIESIS.8 Heidegger is careful to state that art is not simply a delimited made object in the world. or mechanical production. rather its thingly status depends on the truths it makes manifest for human beings on earth: sacrifice. is not poietic as such but resultant from poiesis. or gathers a continuum around itself made up of all the elements of its truthpresencing. etc. It makes a small world effectively. 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. If not then such a process is merely making something and is artisanal. Thus Van Gogh’s shoes are not an object. 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. equipmentality. What is poietic about the shoes and the chalice is how they allow objects to become things through the process of making something. THE ART THING Taking all of this to be the case. THINKING THROUGH MAKING techne is an intermediary state dependent on real skill in pursuit of the truth. and so poiesis and techne must function together for praxis in general to become artistic practice. but again a gathering of ancient ideas of sacrifice. ceremony. if only briefly and partially. the religious world. therefore. the work of art. There is no guarantee that techne will result in poiesis or the flashing bloom of truth. Even the chalice is not on object as such. but certainly for a work of art to happen there needs to be work as process and work as thing. the art object in this context. and so on. the gods. from a thing. indeed they are not they are a mere image. then it can be termed poietic and as such art. 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 . One might. or that poiesis will result in art. Here Heidegger attentively distinguishes an object or something with clear limits that the subject can observe and indeed make. after Heidegger makes this simple distinction: if an act of making produces being or truth by bringing it into the light.
Kandinsky. . 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. Nancy speaks of poetry as the very moment of meta-making or thinking about making through making (MA. which is the bringing to presence of truth through making. simplification. Mondrian. If poiesis is dependent on techne. stuff. That said the art thing must subsist in matter. Both forms of thinking can often think the same things. Poiesis must be hands-on. effectively negating subjectivity and defining so-called desubjectivization as the modern experience of the poeticization of being. what Heidegger calls “Denken. to be entirely at home in something. Such knowing provides an opening up. the poietic art thing is not art for art’s sake but art for the sake of truth and world composition. representational bronze.” a form of “knowing in the widest sense . compression. Other philosophical themes are regularly addressed 76 . and so on. Pollock. representation. composition. colour. As an opening up it is a revealing” (QCT. 13). For critics this would be truth-revealing enough but it must be conceded that for thinkers of poiesis such as Heidegger and Agamben these quasi-truths would only be granted full truth status if they move the artist and observer towards greater truths such as the Being of beings for Heidegger or artistic desubjectivization for Agamben. techne is itself “something poietic. realistic. Similar gradations of abstraction are observable in the art of Picasso. . In “Back” four bronze reliefs of a back are displayed side by side. Its object-status is to some degree irrelevant. even Turner. to be revealed as if for the first time through their ongoing skill and thoughtful experimentation. 89–96). Agamben notes how modern art has thought about being and subjectivity. Certainly. 3). abstraction. from poiesis.” which is the bringing to presence of truth. each showing increasing levels of abstraction from the first. We are now at the point where we can differentiate thinking. Conceptual art is as thingly as Westminster Abbey. Alain Badiou speaks in a similar vein of poetry’s ability to negate the category of the object (MP.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of modern art: that the object made comes to stand in the world in a delimited and self-sufficient manner akin to that of rocks and flowers. to understand and be expert in it. In each instance the artist’s technical virtuosity does not simply allow them to make beautiful things but provides an opportunity for profound artistic truths pertaining to dimensionality. and the sensuous realm.
not through pedestrian description or disciplined argumentation but through a form of thinking that occurs courtesy of the activity of making. Kant’s famous definition of the art work as that which has finitude without purpose is. makes a thing in the world in a way which provides a powerful point of difference between thinking as such and poietic thinking. propriety. If we are to believe the philosophers. a means by which to differentiate beauty made by human hands and the beauty of flowers and so on. nature. contested status. which cannot be considered in terms of art even if. and Agamben. The finitude of a work of art in a totally transmissible. not least because a flower is a living. this used to be.9 or what I will go on to name “logopoiesis. that a flower is complete but its completion is not of the order of its physical borders. in itself ” (QCT. and complexity of the term poiesis the artist can now be described as a “maker-thinker. flowers are in possession of poiesis. growing. One could judge their completion against communally held values pertaining to what perfect and thus finished work was. I want to concentrate instead on the more complicated issue of its finitude. and balanced made things. mobile. 10). Rather than dwell here on the much-vaunted Wildean uselessness of modern art. 77 . the case with works of art as well. according to Heidegger. subtlety. death. THINKING THROUGH MAKING by the arts. causality. 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.” Due to the provenance.” FINITUDE A central element of the activity of poiesis is the complex issue of finitude or formal completion. the human. ostensibly. infinity. poised. finitude. Issues such as part and whole. traditional Greek culture such as that imagined by Hölderlin. Such a procedure of thinking through making defines “poetic thinking” as Heidegger and Badiou have termed it. Thus a flower’s finitude is not its actual perfection but the perfection of flowers as such. and Being as such. The maker-thinker. in part. and decaying thing.POIESIS. being in the world. law. His chosen example of poiesis in nature is “the bursting of a blossom into bloom. Heidegger. intuitive even. after all. happiness. It seems obvious. are all thought by poietic activity. singularity.
or marginalia that surround the art object may indeed now constitute the art object. it does not. The frame may become the work or its faming in the museum its poiesis. We are also more than ever attuned to the material problems of delineating the work of art in that the parerga. had always been. For Agamben such a view is meaningless to modern. with delicious paradox. unique object. Further. and truth was. frames. objective. and make-up of the poem have not been taken from any other source or any other poem but rather originate with this poem. 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. or material (even temporal) limits of a work of art. Finally. It was an act of mapping a perfect gestalt. and conceptuality of art works mean it is now often impossible to determine the actual. we value art for not conforming to any such model if it did indeed exist which. 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. Taking all this into consideration one has to conclude we live in an age of very Greek art.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. 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. virtuality.10 78 . 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. In our epoch the value of a work of art is precisely the opposite. There is no communally held view as to what a Work of Art in general should be. and would unquestionably always remain. 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. critical sensibility. material innovations in the performativity. value.
therefore. either also called “Warrant” or perhaps nameless. and ontology. in that the poem being described and warranted does not exist except as something indicated within another “poem. in fact. law.” (MWC. does not designate here an art among others. 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. of that productive action of which artistic doing is only a privileged example . and ontologically warranted absence. Thus he declares: “Poiesis. . That said he does not simply accede to Heidegger’s reading of the term. The deixis of “this poem” immediately reveals pure indication. . 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. As there is no poem object as such to view. MORPHE. but is the very name of man’s doing. 59). illimited art things such as “Warrant. If modern and future art criticism and creation is based on a process of aesthetic judgement on nonpurposive non-objectal. lineated legal prose and not “poetic” at all in any sense of profound techne. aesthetic convention. no actual delimited poem body here. the principle and origin of its entry into presence” (MWC.POIESIS. poetry. 60). aesthetically. if this is a work of art where does its artistic being emanate from? I would argue first that the poem is art and second that its art status comes from its poiesis. and as the poetry on view is. and that which finds its principle through 79 . There is.” then we need poiesis if only to keep hold of art. THINKING THROUGH MAKING This is one of several examples of self-annihilating meta-poiesis in the work of the greatest conceptual poet writing today. beyond the deictic “this” as an indication of the presence of a poem in its legally. SHAPE Agamben sides initially with Heidegger in calling for a return to and development of the original Greek sense of poiesis as production into presence. Agamben is able to admit that even nature could come under the term poiesis if it were not for a careful stipulation of Aristotle between a natural act of creation that “contains in itself its own άρχή [arche].” the one we are actually reading. that is. the process of a coming into being of an idea about art as object within the market place.
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
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. the only two movements available at present for modern acts of creation. While in the past traditional values and lack of originality determined greatness as being proximate to the source of poiesis. These hybrid forms of poiesis are not simply two movements in modern art. yet at the same time it is a comment on its rampant reproducibility. now the artist is defined as the person who makes things that don’t fit the mould but which break with moulding. Ideas held in common.POIESIS. 63–4) Modern art. The curtain is grasped but never raised. 62). in a sense. The object cannot attain presence and remains enveloped in shadow. Thus the artist brings to being the very end of the lasting concept of the artist as subject and this. It is pure eidos for its form and shape are irrelevant. Pop art is all form with no proximity to the concept. (MWC. they are. 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. the ready-made and pop art. THINKING THROUGH MAKING in a living unity” (MWC. leaving poiesis as such as a place-holder of negation somewhere in between the two options: In both cases—except for the instant of the alienation effect—the passage from the one to the other status is impossible: that which is reproducible cannot become original. is modern art’s first and most lasting poiesis: artistic desubjectivization or creative self-alienation. With pop art the situation is reversed in that an art object is made utilizing techne then reproduced using industrial processes. therefore. testifying as it does to its singular originality. suspended in a kind of disquieting limbo between being and nonbeing. The brilliance of Bernstein’s poem now becomes even more apparent in that he is able to demonstrate both situations in one single work. 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 . On the one hand “Warrant” deals directly with the archepresence of the poem. is poiesis in suspension. for Agamben.
Like most of his peers. in splitting poiesis. at the very least. Furthermore. 86 . the form in which privation itself comes into presence” (MWC. The very shape of a work of modern art is permanently split. Perhaps Agamben should have consulted with Bernstein for. 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. which is perhaps why shape bears close proximity to indistinctness. Leading him. meaning he accedes to the Greek world of Ideal Forms. he is writing in an age where the shape of the work.” and thus there can be no reproduction of the work precisely because the warrant controlling this process is the work itself. Modern art is either poiesis without techne or techne without poiesis. In modern aesthetic theory since Kant. While this is a lamentable state of affairs for a full. Agamben’s conception of creation depends on the Greek concept of poiesis. within the dark defiles of modern art itself. to an epochal apostrophe: “how is it possible to attain a new poiesis in an original way?” (MWC. 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. 64). its becoming something. He is forced to take on the act of making as the transition from nonbeing into being and all that entails. The answer to this question must lodge. as ever. its taking shape. is problematized because it is bifurcated. and eidos. categorical amnesia. arche-mimesis. 64). including the subjective nonbeing of the artist. unlike Plato and Aristotle.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN arche-presence is undermined by there being no poem other than that indicated by the empty deixis of “this poem. As Agamben says in reference to his chosen examples. industrial form (urinals. If it remains proximate to arche-presence it can take on no physical form and instead has to parasitically occupy an already existent. in contrast to the poet. in some fashion. modern art works such as these “constitute the most alienated (and thus most extreme) form of poiesis. modernity has turned poiesis into a problem and thus made it visible for us after many centuries of easeful. and so on). wheels. philosophical understanding of poiesis.
historically. Agamben’s work on time is indebted to but not uncritical of this model of ontological time. He too sees the temporality of human being as both immemorial ecstasy and contingent historicity and. 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. at some juncture. This was not always the case and our dire situation will. a time that is both out of time in that it is beyond everyday linear time. nihilistic. he argues.1 Under pressure from such attacks modernity can barely be said to remain intact. Yet. This duality of temporality as regards being is the basis of what one might call ontological temporality. potentially productive. Heidegger argues. Being. Agamben is one of the most aggressive and suggestive critics of modernism that we have or ever will encounter. 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. is currently withheld from view in the modern age of instrumental technology because. he has a name for the coming together of the two elements of ontological time in a moment of crisis that is first. change. He calls this epoch. modernity. The coming to presence of being in aletheia or manifestation of truth as unveiling and bringing to light typical of poiesis is a type of sempiternal event. and indeed one of Agamben’s aims is the bringing of modernity 87 . PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS Since Heidegger questions pertaining to being are traditionally posed through two temporalities. like his great forebear. and then. the very epoch of the epoch.CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. that is its destiny. being is also profoundly historical in a deep destinal way he calls Geschichte.
This ¯sis call to vocation he defines as the “revocation of every vocation” (TTR. which is a common representation of time within modernity (TTR. disallow him the simple act of finishing with the modern. for example deixis. For this reason.3 and his complex revision of historiography. 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. Agamben will not. That modernity allows us access to time as a remnant that will radically undermine the eschatological and chronological categories of modern time is both the tragedy of the modern and its lasting hope. and ending. Agamben will never allow a movement from temporal modernity to ontological or subjective modernity. This time that remains. the messianic the subject is called out of its current position and then required to occupy the process of its desubjectivization as its new subjective existence. indeed cannot abandon the dark and divided epochality of our modern age of aesthetic modernity. or the condition of the hos me “as not. his is a project that reoccupies the nihilised spaces of modernity through a productive negation of modern categories with the aim of moving beyond the modern by dividing it from itself internally. 23). il tempo che resta. But more relevant to debates on modernity is the way in which the call to 88 . takes the form of a messianic contracted time of remnants (TTR. 62–3). In this way.2 Yet Agamben’s realism. desubjectivization. some might call it fatalism. along with his mid-career investigations of the gesturality and the pure mediality of thought as potential. 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). 5–6). and dictation. 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.” When called by ¯ ¯. Rather. Rather. the issue of modern time is so central to Agamben’s work from his very earliest pronouncements to his most recent.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN to a form of non-eschatological resolution. temporality. The messianic kle emulates many elements of ¯sis Agamben’s earlier work on language.
The phrases “as not” and “as if ” both play games with the idea of negation and creation. So when Agamben posits the “as not” as a positive alternative to what he calls the “as if.” ending with Gaultier’s work Bovarysm. The “as not” is not negation as such.” All the same Agamben presents a full analysis of the twentieth-century tradition of thinking the “as if. has not been seen to be the case by the critical heritage. Rather. however. one can begin to see how messianic time can be of great utility to ideas about modern art. 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. The call does not negate subjectivity but calls subjectivity into presence through desubjectivity. while messianic kle would seem to occupy a temporality of ending. 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. but rather the now familiar suspension of actualization that exemplifies potentiality at its most powerful and creative. If “as not” is a negation of being that presages a positive coming of being to presence “after” negation (the messianic time that remains). as an ontological condition.” typical of modern thought about aesthetics. and the arts in the most unexpected places. the archetypal example of living as if.4 This. 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. 61–78). to live “as if ” sounds initially like a creative potentiality for being. aesthetics.MODERNITY. This alerts Agamben’s interest. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS negation is not conceived by Agamben as just another form of modern nihilism but something potentially productive. This may seem less that auspicious terrain to seek out ideas pertaining either to literature or modernity but it is typical of Agamben’s work that one encounters comments about poetics.6 This then is a rare mention 89 . rather than aspiring towards actual redemption. 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. which considers fiction. the time that ¯sis remains within temporal contraction. Finally. 35–40). this is patently not the case as Agamben is at pains to demonstrate (TTR. therefore.
37). First. and Gaultier himself suggests that Nietzsche’s attempt to overcome nihilism was little more than an attempt to live the “as if ” of absent being through wilful and creative appropriation.” Yet it is significant. . he argues.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of the possibility that just as poetry and linguistics can be seen to enter the field of ontology. . so too fiction might be a credible category of thinking about being. This being man’s essence. subjective agency value? In an age when god is dead. According to his 90 . but pretends to be something. Yet. All of these considerations return Agamben’s attention back to Adorno. 37). Agamben is strongly critical of this stance rejecting immediately Adorno’s negative dialectics as typifying a defeatist “impotential” that is unable to find power in weakness that he feels the Pauline messianic tradition of potential excels in. and second. 42). of philosophy’s having missed its moment . 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. in doing so one of course is pretending to be something other than what one is in that one is nothing.7 while it takes a truly brave thinker to live as one “who no longer knows the as if.” Such a subject “no longer has similitudes at his disposal . 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. . so to speak. That is why aesthetic beauty cannot be anything more than a spell over spells” (TTR. one pretends to be someone else because one is no one. This ontological condition does not stand up to the test of modern ontological thinking perhaps. thinkers of the “as if ” live on the earth as if they were gods. ontology is reduced to pretending-to-be as a form of double ontological negation.” in this instance “as not” rather than “as if. bringing to mind Heidegger’s definition of poets as demi-gods. Agamben’s consideration of “as if ” is a side issue in his attempt to present a credible messianic condition of living “as. he must now really live in a world without God” (TTR. Gaultier defines the essence of human being as believing one is different to whom one is. . What is the Will to Power as Art except turning as-if-ness into creative. but we will come to see it as the specifically epochal manifestation of desubjectivization in general. Aesthetic beauty is the chastisement. specifically his contention that “philosophy lives on because the moment to realize it was missed” (cited in TTR.
is added to the realm of the proper. Thus one lives as if one lives. 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?). I would argue.” while seemingly creative and thus an act of poiesis.” Living “as if. of art even. The great question for modern thought. modern aesthetics has two potentialities available to it. In contrast to this. the “as not” depicts an alternate futural moment of authentic being. or so the argument of aestheticization goes. 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. as indeed it does. living as such. thought. aestheticization of politics. proving destructive and nihilistic in each instance.MODERNITY. therefore. 39). is: How does one travel from “as if ” to “as not”? To do this. the aesthetic.8 Nor can one live life itself for that has been reduced to horror and bareness. For not only does the spell over spells cast a false veil over thinking it also misrepresents the poetic as well. 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. To get to a “new” poiesis. The most familiar is the “as if. the State. therefore.” Aesthetics becomes. aestheticization of life. as if the philosophical pursuits of truth and happiness could be realized. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS reading. The second option is to live “as not. This as-if-ness requires that one ontologize the spell over spells that Agamben later says “may even aptly describe poetry” (TTR.” that dreaded term aestheticization: aestheticization of philosophy. turns out to be self-defeating both for thought and art. In each of these very modern formulations an assumed impropriety. creativity. If “as not” involves negation. One lives as if one is a character in a great. one needs to traverse the problems of aestheticization and replace them with a radical poeticization. to live the “as not” is far from being nihilistic. If “as if ” is a belated and blinded decadence. 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. under the spell of living “as if. but potentially redeeming modern novel. one first has to travel through the dread landscapes of aesthetic modernism. as if one has being. Yet. 91 . the empty violence of The Real. and this is what Agamben’s early tome The Man Without Content ventures as he makes the first of several attempts to negate negation. tragic.
Experience is never accessible as a totality and never complete except in the infinite approximation of the total social process .9 The arrest of transmissibility is. 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. In a post-transmission. indeed criticism is in essence all that modernity has become. the Nietzschean idea that god is dead. What is lacking in modernity is not the element of testing. he argues. has two meanings for Agamben. another way of expressing the end of experience in post-transmissible cultures. In the closing pages of The Man Without Content Agamben turns. specifically here highlighting a profound aporia in Benjamin’s work on the fading of the aura in modern art and culture. . one must 92 . Experience. or the possibility of sustaining an experience. 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. and the Heideggerian adage that art no longer dwells among us. 15). due to two modern statements by the masters of modern thought. test.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN AURATIC TWILIGHT As we saw. you will recall.” (IH. to the work of Walter Benjamin. perhaps an engraving commissioned at some expense from a Parisian atelier or a detailed description in a traveller’s journal first handed round by close friends then published and a runaway success? In other words. for modern life is replete with new and exciting experiences. 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. to go through and to test. Rather. what we miss is a common experience that the modern subject can undergo. The essays that make up this remarkable study then primarily investigate the implications of the thesis of the end of cultural transmission. . an idea also taken from Benjamin. as he so often does. 38). and totally possess: “Thus experience is now definitively something one can only undergo but never have. 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.
like so many of the German thinker’s eclectic projects. remove the aura from the work of art: Far from freeing the object from its authenticity. Agamben asserts. every text. . one might presume.MODERNITY. Agamben. carries authenticity to extremes: technical reproducibility is the moment when authenticity. when he argues that Benjamin’s discovery of the loss of the auratic value of art is. As we saw the ready-made confers aura to an industrial object. seemingly. becomes the very cipher of elusiveness. 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. comments on aura. perhaps the most central theory in the canon of cultural studies. 106) It remains hard to tell if Agamben is glossing Benjamin here or totally dismissing his most influential theory. The technical expertise that allowed for an industrial-scale reproducibility of art works thus removing from them their sacred quality. it moves one more step away. incomplete. Duchamp questioning the authority of the creator. contains a historical 93 . the further away from the source of its authority it is carried. states the opposite. Warhol the singularity of the work. its technical reproducibility . (MWC. a consumer item rather than a work of art. by way of the multiplication of the original. 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. probably Benjamin’s most astute and generous reader. besmirching them in the profanity of repetition and excess did not. The more an art object is reproduced. Pop art instead takes the process of industrial reproduction and applies it to the art object. Benjamin argues. a urinal is signed into being singular and thus art. 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. With each copy. . This problem is not lost on Agamben. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS determine if the auratic twilight of the modern is a historical process taking place over time or an a-chronological event. The best comparison here is made by Agamben himself elsewhere in this volume when he places together the two key examples of modern art. Both are. however. in effect. the ready-made and pop art. It becomes.
The authenticity and authority of the icon. the religious icon say. as well as its only coming forth to full legibility at a determinate historical moment” (TTR. What Agamben realizes is that within the modern moment. reproducibility along with communicability.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN index which indicates both its belonging to a determinate epoch. 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. are both comments on cultural intransmissibility. If aura exists it only exists for us at the moment that we see it in accordance with Benjaminian hermeneutics. Myopically peering through the murk. the lights lowered to dissuade further fading. 145). The two great dicta of modern art’s destruction of tradition. an activity that 94 . works of auratic art. god is dead and an art no longer dwells among us. 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. that there is only one or that it has the quality of a magical relic. 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 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. Modernists have often been called iconoclasts but according to Agamben this is literally true in that they take religious relics. 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. Indeed. it also depends on the transmissibility of this quality (by transmissibility here read unquestioned status). does not inhere solely in the work’s unique singularity. 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.
Baudelaire’s conception of shock. Baudelaire was confronted with the very collapse of art as a means for the transmissibility of common cultural values and thus the end of art as it had been conceived through the whole of transmissible Western culture. The end of experience experienced as shocking is. As regards the proposal of shock as the “common place” of a post-transmissible culture however. modern experience. 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. The paradox of the eternal transient is the more well known and its oxymoronic nature obvious. 106). the contingent. temple or festival.” 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. the lieu commun and the eternal transient. common experience. 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 . with the famous Baudelaire lieu commun. along with his rumination that the modern is “the transient. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS replaces the communal places of common art.”10 easily confer upon him the honour of being the great precursor to contemporary reappraisals of modernity and aesthetics. the other being the eternal and the immutable. Agamben realizes. Baudelaire was tasked with inventing a new source of authority for the art work. Face to face with the dissolution of aura within a society where the authority of tradition was daily under attack. Baudelaire’s comments on modernity here. our new. it is the one half of art. 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. Having to “invent a new authority. 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. At this juncture Agamben then begins to tinker ever so slightly with the terms in play when referring to the means by which Baudelaire saved art and created modernity. In effect. the fleeting.MODERNITY. or commonplace wherein modern shock can become what we hold in common. is the missing element of Benjamin’s great theory of aura. what Baudelaire attempts is to take the very value that ends tradition. in other words. 106). In both formulations.
The work becomes a moment of shock. 106). and this alienation is in its turn nothing other 96 . must be defined as a process of transmitting the very quality of intransmissibility. With the rise of reproducibility the work of art becomes severed from this community and ceases to transmit so that reproducibility is not the cause of the diminishment of aura but merely facilitates what is in fact the revelation. The 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 the final analysis. 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. The new work of art. the alienation effected by the work of art. This event alone produces what we now call modern art. art was transmission. It becomes. and relighting of aura’s eternal flame through the epochal hiatus between transmissibility and the transmission of a communal intransmissible experience of culture. in effect. More than that. in this light. that dissolves the finitude of the art object as a delimited and valued thing through its reproducibility and conversion into praxis. Instead of a work of art being a thing in itself whose reproduction undermines its sacral singularity effectively profaning the work.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN that was at the origin of the experience of shock: in this way he would succeed in turning the work into the very vehicle of the intransmissible” (MWC. Attend here to the means by which Agamben repositions the meaning of the terms reproducibility and transmissibility. unrecognizable from the work of art which precedes it but at the same time it operates as the lens through which that work can be called art. Art did not act as a vehicle for transmission. expunging. linking tradition with the present age. 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. 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. Shock becomes not the collapse of meaning in art but the meaning of art as the collapse of meaning. absolutely and significantly finite. reproduction is instead reserved for the praxis of the creator.
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.MODERNITY. Indeed one could go one step further here and propose that aesthetic modernity not only reveals tradition through negation but in fact invents it for the first time. The “now” ceases to be a moment in time but rather is the endless extension of tradition into the future. Epoch of epochs for. of both the premodern and modern epochs of transmissibility and intransmissibility respectively. 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. 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. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS that the measure of the destruction of its transmissibility. creating a continuum between tradition and the present that all but eradicates their difference. 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. effectively eradicates separation. it fulfils the double meaning of epoch to be found in its etymology: epoche a point in time and a delimited period of time. turning back to gaze over one’s fleeing shoulder. each in violent contradiction—art is defined as the singular instance of the held in common—are seen critically for the first time. temporal and spatial. 107). ¯. occupying both the position of an event of major transition and the creation. In contrast. for example. the arche-epoch of art’s very first coming into being or the conditions for art. of tradition” (MWC. At this point. It would seem alienating shock is not the legacy of modern art but of self-satisfied traditional values. Transmissibility. Agamben’s contention here is that the work of art in space and time is experienced for the first time in the moment of shock at the realization that the work no longer exists in a time-space continuum but is expropriated from both. that is. 97 . PROFANING SCISSION Both transmission and reproduction are dependent on metaphysical conceptions of scission and separation. retrospectively. singularity and transmissibility.
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.
MODERNITY. an art for artists. then perhaps we are today in a privileged position to understand the authentic significance of the Western aesthetic project” (MWC. with a senate. 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. this most innocent of occupations. calling for “another kind of art . PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS The death of poets leads Agamben to a typically messianic conclusion which calls for the destruction of aesthetics. . and terror which is the result of interest? Taste seems to attract the spectator to participate in precisely 103 . a destruction perhaps already in place: “If it is true that the fundamental problem becomes visible only in the house ravaged by fire. Nietzsche. statuary. whistling about our ears. Rather they want to burn the very dwelling of art to the ground. 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. 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. Having taken us across a ghostly plain we are now confronted with a burnt-out homestead. museums. to return art to life. 6). Yes. commissions. and build a new home that perhaps over time could become a city. and artistic scandals. These artists wish to make artists of us all. for artists only” (MWC. The essay then ends by jettisoning us out onto this calcified outcrop with the words of a mad prophet. 7). HOW TO EXIT ART “How can art. The landscapes of Agamben’s thinking are always appealing and slightly appalling.16 a nihilistic art that seeks not so much innovation as is sometimes assumed (make it new). not least literary criticism. 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. how can modern art subsist on the ambiguous fare of taste based on universal disinterest. . pit man against Terror?” (MWC. lay out foundations. 8) the philosopher asks. or perhaps more pungently.15 but also easily identified in the statements of the artists themselves. Such mad artists do not want to move to a fresh plain.
9). Frenhofer labours at his masterpiece for ten years to create a work of art that negates art and becomes. a “living reality. an art which exits art through the door marked “To Art. “It is the dream of a product that exists according to the statute of the thing” (MWC. kitsch. of a thought in whose flame the sign would be fully consumed. and death. As Agamben rightly indicates. putting the writer face to face with the absolute” (MWC. tones. 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. 8). hesitating nuances. 9). but also to commence with breaking down the differentiation between rhetoric and terrorism. 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. allows Agamben to begin to undermine not only the quest for the absolute in terror. a kind of aesthetic wine-tasting where they can sample Picasso but cannot become drunk on Joyce. Loath as I am to succumb to the simple binary oppositions displayed in this. 9). 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. 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. silence. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN what they cannot have. The rhetorician wishes to “dissolve all meaning into form” (MWC. like the Pygmalion myth. In direct contradistinction. His is an art of abstraction which repulses 104 . an art which is auto-anthropophaganous or self-devouring. in trying to create art that competes with. while terrorists “refuse to bend to this law and pursue the opposite dream of a language that would be nothing but meaning. the dark face of his own beloved philology. Agamben calls the terrorist a misologist. He notes. of course. 8). rhetoricians and terrorists. 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. This remainder.” Yet in reality the woman he has painted is reduced to mere colours and abstract forms: “a chaos of colors.” Frenhofer invents a modern art. Agamben’s earliest work. indeed becomes transmissible with life.
” (MWC. agitated and enflamed. Rimbaud’s flight from art. . There are many famous examples of terrorism in modern art.MODERNITY. convert poiesis into fiat lux. Agamben’s conclusion to the tale is a devastating and much overdue total foundering of the differentiation between form and thought. which is the archetypal gesture of the modern artist: “But the paradox of the Terror is still present even in this extreme move. Roussel’s collapse when La Doublure did not change the world. De Chirico’s self-parody. Misology becomes philology. the more he has to concentrate on it to render it permeable to the inexpressible content he wants to express. The terrorist is left. the ultimate paradox is that the act of greatest terror is precisely that of aestheticoamputation. Fleeing from rhetoric leads him to terror. or thought leads Agamben to posit the very paradox of the artist’s terror. allowing only signs. then. form. he has no other means than form itself. Such confusion over the source of the conflagration of art’s dwelling place. But in the attempt. unpalatable masterpiece he says: “The quest for absolute meaning has devoured all meaning. Gogol’s disappointment that Dead Souls did not liberate the peasants is matched by Mallarmé’s inability to complete Le Livre. To truly exit literature one cannot make literature into a thing. he ends up with nothing in his hands but signs . as Blanchot rightly observed. to survive. namely. a mere representation of the artist in art). meaningless forms. But. . “In order to leave the evanescent world of forms. and the appetite for signs becomes a cause of disgust. terror flings him back into rhetoric. Returning to Rimbaud for a moment. between ‘the poems that he wrote and those he did not deign to write?’” Agamben then 105 . in the very apotropaic hall of mirrors that is modern art. rhetoric and terror. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS the disinterested spectre of Poussin (literally spectral here. 10). set up by aesthetics. 10). or has the sign abolished the meaning?” (MWC. and the more he wants to erase it. Speaking of Frenhofer’s ever-collapsing. Instead one can only escape the matter of art by removing it from oneself entirely. isn’t the unknown masterpiece instead the masterpiece of Rhetoric? Has the meaning erased the sign. For what is the mystery we call Rimbaud if not the point where literature annexes its opposite. and Duchamp’s silence. silence? Isn’t Rimbaud’s fame divided. Agamben mentions Mallarmé’s statement that the only gesture available to this terrorist of poetry was to have poetry surgically removed from himself while he was alive. the repulsion from signs becomes an impossible attraction. Yet.
” As soon as one speaks of the creation of art one enters subjective negation. risk accusations of the obvious. This is why Kafka casts such a shadow over Agamben’s work and the modern age as a whole. decomposed. as Badiou shows. There is no resisting dictation in the modern age.18 He sits. 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. over time. ignored by his “friend” Brod. Which is the greatest artist. destroyed but. makes him the most pathetic and powerful of all modern artists: the man who sought silence and was thus then forced to speak. As soon as one actively pursues the negation of art one creates anew an art of negation as such. never made. Rimbaud and Duchamp do not merely make and then choose not to make. at the very nexus between the terrorist become rhetorician and the rhetorician facing up to the terror of the absolute void. most potently. Will there ever be an end to art that is itself not a work of art but a pure experience of the poetic? 106 .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN finally and fatally enquires: “isn’t this the masterpiece of rhetoric?” (MWC. surely. 11). the most eloquent rhetorician? Who has the most fiendish savour for violence and fear? While Malevich and (late) Beckett. The way out of art into language is permanently barred by the very sign that indicates “Exit from Art. Consider the gesture we call author-function Rimbaud and Duchamp against those we call Malevich or Beckett. Even silence succumbs to speech it would seem. His decision to have all his works destroyed at his death. 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. 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.17 does not the material depiction of silence. In their choice not to make they make their greatest masterpieces: the pure rhetoric of the semiotics of the absent sign which is the sign under which all modern art is composed. the final version of Le Livre. becoming even kitsch? To paint absence is one thing. but surely the greatest works of modernism are those which were never created: Lautréamont’s third book. manifest the very condition of acsesis as both testament to the lack of events and precursive preparation for the event to come. This is the ultimate desubjectivization of the poet. Bruno Schultz’s first novel.
poiesis arrives. This means that. As Agamben shows in an extensive analysis of the history of the development of the museum from the ancient cabinet of wonder. Hegel. the power of art over the spectator collapsed into profane secularization only to rise again in the form of shock rather than awe. The modern art work becomes a means of presenting that there was once art but now such work is at an end. As one can see. art. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS MODERN AESTHETIC DESUBJECTIVIZATION The Man Without Content is effectively a conversation between Agamben and the three fathers of modern aesthetics: Kant.20 The final element here is of greatest importance to aesthetic desubjectivization but this thesis makes little sense without all four elements of Hegelian proto-post-aesthetics. democratic. through four central tenets to Hegel’s overall aesthetic theory. and negation. Hegel’s work is perhaps most central to Agamben’s reading of art under negation. As we have seen at some point or over time in Western culture.19 and that this age is marked by its being the epoch of the end of art. that we currently live in the age of prose. at the presentation of its own dissolution: the collapse of poetry into prose. A choice lies before modern poiesis therefore. at each level of Hegelian aesthetics modern art is denigrated. and Nietzsche. First it is subordinate to the idea. For Hegel modern art is a valorization of the sensible presentation of the idea. courtesy of philosophy. as it were. Kant’s theory of aesthetic disinterested judgement and Nietzsche’s conception of an interested art emanating from a god-like creator bracket the work of Hegel together forming a theory of modern.MODERNITY. once the space of 107 . to accept its tripartite collapse or to turn these failings around and form from them a new lieu commun. Enlightenment democracy. Third its critical definition is also its negation. at the moment that poiesis becomes available for full view to us for the first time since the Platonic occlusion. or an art that celebrates subordination. the prosaic. Second it is a mere prosaic remnant of the poetic art that once dwelled among us. aesthetic double-desubjectivization which may be the only means by which art under negation during modernity might result in some form of pro-ductive poiesis after modernity. It arrives precisely at the moment that prose as bios or social ethics has inundated all during the period of Western. These are that art is the sensible presentation of the idea. that poetry is the archetypal art in that it exists between language (the sensible) and image (idea).
Previous to that she had no direct selfconsciousness of material or making. autonomous. because it can only measure itself against the vertigo caused by its own abyss. or when the creator becomes critical spectator of their own work. the poem. Art got one ready for god who in his turn prepared one for Geist. religion. contagiously through the art work. (MWC. and to the other the free subjectivity of the artistic principle. 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 . as it were.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. through exterior interiority. 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. prosaic objectivity goes to one side. For Hegel this scission within the subjectivity of the spectator is first enacted within that of the creator and transmitted. Art is now the absolute freedom that seeks its end and its foundation in itself. At the moment that the creator steps out of the transmissibility of cultural traditions her relation to her material changes. and does not need.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. by which the inert world of contents in their indifferent. At this moment works of modern art are produced through the profanation of the relic into an art object already suffering auratic aphasia. This is the very essence of art as transmissibility. rather the subject-artist simply presented in sensible form the idea of her communally held spirit within an exterior form as a necessary step towards a final interiorization. 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. That Hegel placed art at the lowest level of the journey of the spirit from exteriority. At this moment the work of poiesis enters the world of prose: The artist then experiences a radical tearing or split. which soars above the contents as over an immense repository of materials that it can evoke or reject at will. secular shock. substantially. any content. is revelatory in this regard. In a very basic way this idealized act of creation was neither making something nor creating art as we moderns understand these terms.
Scission: art is no longer defined through its place in the continuum but through its being excerpted from the continuum. Height: the subjectivity of the artist is now defined as that of being above the territory of art’s dwelling on earth. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS modern art. Prose: at this juncture the meaning of the work becomes subject to the prose of the world. namely that of Kant. as though its true object were not so much what art is but what it is not” (MWC. . universality apart from concepts. floating in the sense that it both soars above and is endlessly falling away. 42). purposiveness without purpose. that every time aesthetic judgement attempts to determine what the beautiful is. Art is no longer measurable against culture as either being of the same standard or co-extensive. Modern art. The work of art is moved from being encased in a continuum to floating within the void. Central to the definitions of the object of aesthetic judgement as disinterested satisfaction. or the moment at which the artist becomes her own spectator or the spectator becomes the judge of art. and normality without a norm “it seems . Agamben then turns to the very aesthetic system from which Hegel’s work emanates but also seeks to depart from. Incommensurability: the much touted incommensurability of postmodernity hounded by Habermas in particular23 is surely simply an overstatement of the spatio-philosophical paradox of sublating negation that Agamben sets up here through his reading of Hegel. Having set up Hegelian aesthetics as permanently under negation.MODERNITY.22 Contentless-ness: what the work of art now contains as content is the work of art as such. is thus definable by a conglomeration of the following quasi-events. confounding common denominator. Materiality: the work becomes a commodity fetish or non-utilitarian choice of the object purely for the sake of exchange. . so that the semantic is handed over to prose and meaning becomes the absence of meaning. At this point perhaps the greatest paradox of modern art comes into view as we float or plunge above the void of self-founding self-negation. the only measure of art on earth is art itself. Therefore. This shadow of art is the modern experience of 109 . Art becomes incommensurable in the moment that measuring art becomes possible through the Kantian discipline of criticism. which is art as such defined by Agamben as art under erasure. it holds in its hands not the beautiful but its shadow. Summarizing the four characteristics of aesthetic judgement as Kant delineates them he finds a single. Freedom: defined here in a Nancyian manner as a nonfoundational self-founding.
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. for us. 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. 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. 44). therefore.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inexperiencible art which is. so to speak. or as Lyotard says: “The strength of reflective weakness can be explained by the heuristic function of reflection. . Agamben. The act of judgement produces the feeling of the activity of judgement. The moment that we engage the faculty of judgement we are negating the very object we are judging. . 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). judgement merely operates between practical reason and understanding which is judgement’s famous heuristic capacity. He thus concludes that “our appreciation of art begins necessarily with the forgetting of art” (MWC. Agamben then moves to Kant’s dictum that judgement is “a concept . the tautegorical aesthetic shares in the weakness of this strength” (LAS. the only experience of art and also the first experience of art as a thing in itself. The tautegorical nature of reflective judgement is to be found in the relation of judgement to the sensation which. of understanding and reason. 6). put simply. 43). 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. which is the indication to thought that it is taking place. Reflective thinking 110 . from which . In finding the universal in the particular. . . is that judgement is the affect of the sensation of thinking. which is the quintessence of taste. 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. or of discovering natural beauty defined as finality without purpose (objective perfection without teleology). nothing can be known” (MWC.
Natural beauty does not require a regulative concept. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS is. 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. there is no way to return to it by way of the reverse path of taste” (MWC. Yet while judgement seems almost to blame for the end of art thesis. 45). Judgments of taste are based. In contrast. 47). therefore. the free creative-formal principle of the artist” (MWC. . 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. therefore. appears to him no longer as a truth that finds its necessary expression in the work. it is in fact the content-less nature of the modern work of art that results in perhaps the ultimate. indeed for Kant nature is the regulative concept for aesthetic beauty—the very thing Hegel takes issue with. the content he perceives. that is. or “once the work of art has been produced. is the very person who commits art to the realm of dark non-art: “whenever he exercises his reflection. namely. but on the sensation of thinking thinking. and which therefore he can legitimately believe himself capable of expressing” (MWC.MODERNITY. The very self-presence of the spectator is the pre-condition of the work of 111 . This scission submits all art to the law of the “degradation of artistic energy” which states that once one has passed judgement on a work of art. The person whose job it is to shed light on modern art. 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. “What he sees of himself in the work.’ But this state is nothing other than the feeling that signals it . 11). At this juncture. 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. concepts that could be known. 46). but rather as something of which he is already perfectly aware as a thinking subject. . 46). “one can never return to it from a state posterior to its creation”. the spectator-critic. the scission between genius and taste which defines aesthetic judgement and gives birth to modern criticism. Agamben identifies the central point of his thesis on modern art. 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. not on thinking something. he brings with him nonbeing and shadow” (MWC.
perverts any relationship between the genius of creation and the communality of culture. and yet what they know is what they can never be. to use Hegel’s term. The pure creative principle results in the alienation of art and the critic not only recognizes this theme-less theme. Thus the alienation of art is their subject. at the same time the spectator is by definition not the artist. Yet. The annihilation of content may be familiar. they are of course part of what makes it possible.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN art without content. but the critic cannot share in it. That is. 48). the critic cannot. being-for-itself has as its object its own being-for-itself. desubjectivized being of the critic/spectator : If the spectator consents to the radical alienation of this experience. What they see in the work of art is what they already know. is the very basis of his theory of the potentially productive nature of the historically contingent. existing in both positions without any means of bringing the two together again. but the critic does not make modern art placing them/us in a doubly untenable position. The critic identifies her being in the alienation of the work which rejects or. The result of this on all of us is devastating: “In the aesthetic judgement. and at the same time immediately as itself. There is nothing the artist can teach the spectator. but there is one simple fact separating the two. he must split 112 . and agrees to enter the circle of absolute perversion. it belongs with them. as Agamben says both absolutely Other and immediately itself. being-as-nonnart but not being art. it is the pure split and lack of foundation that endlessly drifts on the ocean of form without ever reaching dry land” (MWC. The subject of judgement finds itself both subject and predicate of their judgement. the critic knows all. but as something absolutely Other. Agamben’s explanation of this double negation. leaves behind all support. The genius makes art. 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. he has no other way of finding himself again than wholly to assume his contradiction. The presence of the critic makes possible modern art.
Nietzschean genius he says: What the artist experiences in the work of art is.MODERNITY. the pure creative-formal principle. (MWC. Thus the modern artistic subject can be defined as a radical split. the heroic modern artist. . . 48) The position of the modern spectator. 54). (MWC. he cannot neglect the other half: artist as god-like creator. that artistic subjectivity is absolute essence. however. If she places her faith in a specific content she realizes she is lying as her own pure subjectivity is everything. “trying to make of the split that inhabits him the fundamental experience starting from which a new human station becomes possible” (MWC. 55). 54). the artist is always living on what he calls “this side of his essence . split from any content. Yet. Having dealt with one half of modern aesthetic desubjectivization. in fact. and Agamben here names Rimbaud and Artaud as exemplary in this regard. for Agamben at least. . 54) Such a dire conundrum strands the artistic subject in a doubly desubjectivizing quandary. Of the creative. to live the epoch or to live outside of it. In this alienation he owns himself. without content. is the absolute abstract inessence. . can attempt to totally inhabit the split and try to live this violence. for which all subject matter is indifferent. however. there is no escaping the fact that. 55). “outside of this split. Faced with this alternative. Hence Agamben’s conclusion: “The artist is the 113 . everything is a lie” (MWC. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS asunder his own split. negate his own negation . Yet even if one chooses to live the split. and in owning himself he alienates himself. beside his reality” (MWC. Yet here Agamben takes on critical desubjectivization and proposes at least a desire to convert ontological negation into a productive category. which is the subjective position all but of a few of us occupy in front of the art work (perhaps indeed all as in modernity even the artist becomes spectator to their own poiesis) is akin to that described by Hegel as the selfannihilating nothing of Romantic Irony. if she then embraces pure subjectivity and ceases to seek for content she finds herself embracing her subjective inessence: “content in what is mere form” (MWC. Which annihilates and dissolves every content in its continuous effort to transcend and actualize itself.
critically. For Agamben. 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. how negation as such. for the very first time. And finally third. Second in revealing the structural interdependence of philosophy and poetry in this process: formless thought or contentless form.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN man without content. Modern art is art that is under negation through the act of coming to view. as if for the first time. as is indeed. modern art.” (MWC. Either art is pure content without form. are as pure subjective inessence. First as an example of poeticized desubjectivization. Here one can see the importance of aesthetic modernity to Agamben’s wider philosophical project. This has various benefits of course. thoughts about art. perhaps predictably. Modern aesthetic double desubjectivization provides us with a prototype for the following three propositions in Agamben’s overall system. . Yet. or all form without content. modern art presents us with the most credible and challenging model of “poetic” desubjectivization as a solution to the failings of nihilistic ontology. 55). the critic/spectator and the artist are both examples of self-annihilating nothings. in accordance with Benjamin’s hermeneutic principle. 114 . It opens up to us the importance of tradition and transmissibility which we now see. who has no other identity than a perpetual emerging out of the nothingness of expression . and certainly there is no greater negation than self-annihilating nothingness.24 The end of art as art results in a double desubjectivization. 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. .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.
SECOND EPISODE ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS .
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more pointedly. For reasons which I believe now are more than apparent it is not possible to overview the work of Agamben without accepting that his project will always resist being reducible to one side of the ancient division philosophy–poetry. the compound. a political philosopher. Neither a thinker of philosophy nor poetry alone and unable to succumb to any of the traditional modes of thinking division. thinker requires a compound and demonstrative term to present these tonal issues.CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. my suggestion that no understanding of Agamben’s indifferent ontology is possible without recourse to the literary might even seem frivolous. that Agamben is “literary” and that the literary Agamben opens up a clearing around thinking through poetry/ poiesis that I am calling logopoiesis. 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. or as we will come to see him comparative. And so I present for general perusal and 117 . This cannot be helped. an ancient by-way thicketed by prejudice. however. The tension between the philosophical and the literary in Agamben is the central animator of his whole intra-metaphysical. Such a di-thetic approach runs the risk of being doubly unpopular in that for those who believe Agamben to be a philosopher or. THINKING TAUTOLOGY The title of this volume proposes a compound construction or double thesis. while at the same time striving to reveal how both traditions first fail to lift thinking out of negation by virtue of their being subsumed by scission. and by their occlusion of the fact that their inter-division is a false divide which. they must accept and actively live through. novels. expropriating appropriative methodology. and the visual arts is merely as a means of approaching a post-nihilistic metaphysics. At the same time.
and some comments would be reserved for the work of Deleuze. would include Jean-Luc Nancy. Agamben proposes various names for this alternate or “new” form of thinking. it does not accurately reflect the sophistication and tensile balance I intend to convey in the term logopoiesis. as is now apparent. 74). Badiou is also a great logopoietic thinker of course and he. like Heidegger before him. I will not here present a history of logopoiesis. thinkers who accept the centrality of Heidegger but also look to poetry as a way beyond his ontology. as we saw. 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. Jacques Derrida. Poetic thinking is not thinking about poetry. convenient possibility. 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. 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. While. While this gesture is important and marks the roots of the term in the work of Heidegger. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and. or not entirely. Having now dealt in some detail with logos. or not solely. perhaps more contentiously. The simplest definition of such poetic thinking is a turn to poetry to assist thinking to overcome the aporias of modern thought. 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. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN perhaps initial scepticism or even weary derision my theory of logo-poiesis. or thinking through making. indeed the inserts into such a narrative are sparse and inconclusive. which is why logos and poiesis alone are not sufficient designations even if. Other contemporary logopoietic thinkers therefore. 20). 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. and poiesis. There may be others. or thinking thought as such. for Agamben at least thought is or must be poeticized and poiesis is a mode of material thinking. nor is it a type of poetry that thinks. As we have seen. A fully worked out vision of logopoiesis would require detailed reading of all their work in conjunction with that of Agamben.
however. as its novelty resides in the manner in which something original has been totally forgotten and then rediscovered centuries later). a full understanding of categorical thinking and the problems of naming. The definition of the terms in play. essentially name the same process of bringing to appearance. One cannot blithely produce neologisms and not expect certain repercussions. Heidegger tells us.” which would be the translation of logopoiesis. 119 . balanced proximity giving way to a hierarchical topography and so on. 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. much debated and contested terms is unwise. and neglects the possibility of a poetry that thinks. THE LOGO-POIESIS TAUTOLOGY The creation of a compound term out of two ancient. The dangers are heightened further when it comes to the combination of two terms such as logos and poiesis which. None of the thinkers I have mentioned do so. logopoiesis has not come to be a developed rhetorical or critical term. and the fact that poetic thinking really names a form of philosophy that considers poetry. he does not hone in on one particular name or ever actually advocate a “poetic thinking” at all.1 While sporadically mentioned by critics. Poetic thinking ultimately stresses a form of thinking that relies on and appropriates poetry. witness Halliburton’s book on Heidegger of the same name. One term will naturally seek dominance over the other. THINKING TAUTOLOGY authentic experience of which is the poetic word (I hesitate to call it new.LOGOPOIESIS. Poetic thinking it could be logopoiesis it is. Yet logopoiesis is not a neologism. As should be the effect on both terms when placed in a zone of bound proximity. has found significant currency within philosophy. I have opted for the more obscure but also productively suggestive term. In contrast “poetic thinking. Certainly he does not use the term logopoiesis. Thus logopoiesis is essentially tautological in essence.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. For this reason. 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. especially considering the dangers of duality inherent within our tradition.
the self-showing. If we now return briefly to Heidegger’s foundational work on the term poiesis. It makes itself known through something that does show itself ” (BT. 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. Logos makes appear something in precisely this way: “to take things that are being talked about in legein as apophainethai out of their concealment. concept. and so on. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as producing something into presence. Appearance. relation. The knowledge generating powers of logos as reason. can speech be speech and also mean all of these other things that effectively form the very basis of discursive. “does not mean that something shows itself. 22). concept. quite the contrary he is a thinker of obfuscation). its definition as presencing. 26). 29). rely on the mediation of speech: making something appear which is hidden and remains so. to let them be seen as something unconcealed (alēthes). 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. 120 . How. ground. Thus logos is definable as making something appear in speech. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. meaning something that shows itself to indicate something else that does not show itself. bringing forth. therefore. rather it means that something makes itself known which does not show itself. judgement. has come to be translated/interpreted variously as reason. which effectively means speech. Therefore the fact that logos can simultaneously mean mediation and knowledge is revealed not as a possibility but in fact a necessity (it also negates once and for all the misconception that Heidegger is a thinker of revelation. judgement. to discover them” (BT. 25) must be interpreted effectively as a symptom. Yet the means by which poiesis does this differ from those of logos. and relation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Heidegger explains that for the Greeks the term logos. he ponders. Like logos. makes logos and poiesis appear as synonymous and thus the term logopoiesis as tautological. the manifest” (BT. 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. definition. presuppositional philosophical thought? The answer he gives is that logos really means deloun or to make manifest what is being talked about in speech.
.” (QCT. 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. Here language is merely symptomatic of truth. production as instrumentality which he terms challenging-forth. It could also be accused of using speech instrumentally as a form of Gestell. while poiesis means producing something into presence through the act of making. To sum up. What is important here in early Heidegger is simply that the mediation indicates that the production of truth is not the production of a thing as such but of truth’s appearance as something concealed. while poiesis is that form of revealing that “ever so suddenly and inexplicably to all thinking. making. is that in philosophy truths are produced through the support of linguistic mediation. Gestell is instrumental and pre-ordained production. THINKING TAUTOLOGY whereas logos mediates presencing. . The difference between philosophical and poetic thinking. 29). This difference becomes clearer if we re-consider the role of production or techne in relation to presencing. while in poiesis they are produced through making. Techne is the active process of bringing something to presence through making. rather in making something poiesis brings something that was hidden to presence. Enframed techne produces something to the dictates of the age in which it is produced. Yet in later Heidegger the emphasis has changed. Most certainly thinking and poetry produce truth in a different manner. therefore. Yet to do so runs the risk of obfuscating the truth that logopoiesis is essentially a form of tautological circular thinking. one makes is not the thing produced by poiesis.LOGOPOIESIS. apportions itself into the revealing that brings forth and that also challenges . When one makes something the actual thing. and could indeed use another form of mediation. Thus logos means making something manifest through the mediation of speech. he differentiates two forms of producing forth. while free techne or poiesis exceeds the frame and produces freed thinking. but ultimately logopoiesis says the same thing twice: the production of truth—the production of truth. logo-poiesis is primarily tautological as both logos and poiesis are mediating modes of producing truth. which he also translates as presencing. Perhaps it is more illuminating to write the tautology out thus: (logos) the truth of production—(poiesis) the production of truth. Truth is now produced into presence by virtue of techne. 121 . Yet logos merely utilizes speech as a mediation.
as I said.” He then proceeds to explain: “Not only science but also poetry and thinking conduct experiments. tautology is true to the Heideggerian roots of the conception. Such a truth resides in the fact that there is language as pure medium.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The tautology of the term is relevant for several reasons and thus must be retained. in their way. Perhaps it would be useful here to adumbrate a few more examples provided by Agamben in that central essay in the canon of logopoiesis. rather. is inimical to philosophical thought. at the same time. Finally. 260). it touches on the debate as regards the tautegorical nature of logopoiesis. Agamben declares that this ought to be the “paradigm for literary writing. or On Contingency. These experiments do not simply concern the truth or falsity of hypotheses . the most profound experience of which belongs.” Here he speaks of the prose of Robert Walser which the critic Walter Lüssi called “pure poetry” because it “refuses in the widest sense. Glenn Gould’s playing with not-playing. Damascius’ consciousness of the tablet. THE EXEMPLARY TAUTOLOGY OF LOGOPOIESIS We have already seen some examples of logopoietic thinking. we are repeatedly assured. for truth is what is at issue in them” (P. . I would also call this an archetypal definition of logopoiesis: a form of thinking that is without truthfulness. it cannot be proved right or wrong by testing it for agreement in relation to concepts or things in the world. tautology names the specificity. 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. Third. 260). 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. but which produces truth as the very precondition for thinking. models for logopoiesis. First. Second. Akhmatova’s ability not to write and Benjamin’s Idea of Prose are all. it disallows philosophy or poetry to totally appropriate the term. “Bartleby. as we shall now go on to see. they call into question Being itself. to recognize the Being of something as something” (P. These experiences are without truth. . before or beyond its determination as true or false. with the poets. 174 respectively) and indeed the centrality of the hermeneutic circle. 122 . 190 and OWL.
This is what Agamben calls the “irreducibility of his ‘I would 123 . 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. this is his form of life.LOGOPOIESIS.” He speaks of Cavalcanti’s description of the poetic experience of being like an automaton. and most significantly. the transformation of limbs that changed it into a bird” (P. All poetic thinking. but as we saw desubjectivization is a central tenet in Agamben’s conception of the relevancy of poetry to philosophy and being. This is not. 260). He describes Condillac’s introduction of a statue to the sense of smell and Dante’s desubjectification of the “I” of the poet into the third person. He is a scrivener. all logopoiesis produces life out of desubjectivization or. of remarkable logopoietic thinkers. 93). I believe. Rather he does not want to.3 Agamben stresses that Bartleby’s experiment with being and potential is of this kind. 260). he ends with Heidegger. Each of these thinkers conducts an experiment in being which we should now recognize as that of desubjectivization. but when asked to copy or write by his boss he replies that he would “prefer not to. effectively. but a scrivener whose potential never arrives at actualization. It is not that he cannot copy. He remains a scrivener with the potential to write mimetically. That Agamben uses precisely the same phrase when explaining that the importance of poetry is that it produces life (EP. power. being. the only experiment to be conducted by logo-poets. as we saw.” Here he experiments with issues of will. THINKING TAUTOLOGY Agamben then goes on to list a history. 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. He mentions Avicenna’s imagining of an eviscerated and dismembered being that can still state “I am. the father of logopoiesis. if I may but temporarily coin that rather horrendous-sounding neologism. and potential. 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. Of course he then recounts Rimbaud’s declaration “I is another” alongside Kleist’s use of the marionette as paradigm for the absolute. the moment when the subject “withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. for the reptile. Finally. He is a scrivener. 94) indicates how integral in actuality is his vision of thinking and poetry.
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.” It is not that he does not want to copy. as Keats demonstrates in the final line of “Ode on a Grecian Urn. but. Philosophy cannot abide the tautology. Similarly. “Emancipating itself from Being and non-Being alike. Bartleby’s ontology of unfulfilled potential can not be submitted to truth conditions not because it is always true but because it is simultaneously true and not true. potentiality thus creates its own ontology” (P. Logopoiesis therefore must be a construction dependent on the logic of potentiality as Agamben finesses it. Potential shares with tautology the same truth-testing aporetic base in that its truth cannot be appraised not because it is always true but because it constitutes the very experiment or test of truth.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN prefer not to’. between potential absoluta and potential ordinate.” poetry thrives on it. For a start Melville’s story seems to merely recount the conditions of potential in an allegorical or analogous form. he would simply prefer not to. 261). A tautology is a form of thinking whose truth cannot be tested because it is always true. another name Agamben gives to this ontology is life. as all illustrations are. “The formula that he so obstinately repeats destroys all possibility of constructing a relation between being able and being willing. Agamben goes on to describe how the green screen (another version of the tablet perhaps) that isolates Bartleby’s desk “traces the borders of an experimental laboratory” wherein the scrivener who can copy but chooses not to frees himself from the principle of reason: either one is a scrivener and one copies or one is not and does not. The ontology of potentiality can also be termed that of logopoiesis confirmed by Agamben’s subsequent comments on the relation of the Bartleby’s formula to tautology “a proposition that is impenetrable to truth conditions on account of always being true” (P. are somewhat dissatisfying. In that this ontology withdraws subjectivity from actual identity and biological indistinction. 259). 188). he argues.4 INFINITE POETRY While illustrative these examples. 255). It is the formula of potentiality” (P. In the end there is little difference between this presentation of truth 124 . form-of-life (HS. Logopoiesis is a truth-testing tautology that can only occur outside the realms of philosophy. or better.
that moves beyond what we have already learnt of deixis from other sources.”6 Agamben’s analysis begins in technicalities which indicate the sincere philologer within him. “L’infinito” begins: “This lonely knoll was ever dear to me.” Naturally. This is logopoiesis in its weakest state.5 His is a truly engaged logopoiesis that gives as much attention to the operations of poetic thinking as to philosophical thought processes. 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.LOGOPOIESIS. in particular his reading of Leopardi’s poem “L’infinito” proceeding directly out of the analysis of the troubadours’ noble if failed attempt to think the place of language as such—the ultimate logopoietic adventure for Agamben I would suspect. And how. Narrative. This is best illustrated by the centrality he gives to poetry in Language and Death. like Hegel. specificity to generality.” moving one from proximity to distance. as some have of Heidegger and Badiou. is this specific use of deixis singular to the poem when innumerable poems use the same technique? Agamben believes that Leopardi.” with “this hedgerow” becoming converted later into “that. most specifically the circular tautological nature of thinking under the auspices of logopoiesis. indeed. Yet Agamben is not to be accused. faced with the “immensity” of both infinite space and infinite time.” so that while we may assume that Leopardi did 125 . poetry. the impersonal genius of the wind interjects and “I find myself comparing to this voice / that infinite silence: and I recall eternity. marked by “supernatural silences. THINKING TAUTOLOGY and that found in Plato’s dialogues or the fabulous Nietzsche. and back again. 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 dialogue have all been used by philosophy to make a point. of merely allegorizing literature in the service of philosophy. along with an interesting interchange between “this” and “that. which it undoubtedly does in the poem. always conceives of the sense-certainty assumed by the “this” as always already “universal and negative.” At this point. / and this hedgerow that hides from view / so large a part of the remote horizon. He notes the deictic “this” is repeated six times in the poem’s fifteen lines.” Author-function Leopardi is then struck by a sense of “interminable spaces” in the distant beyond.
the “this” points always already beyond the hedgerow. here his analysis of poetry is exemplary and paradigmatic. he is immediately transforming the sense-certainty of the poem into a set of universal qualities revealing. in the instance of discourse that the habitual use of deixis indicates. reducing both subjectivities to mere gesturality. This. as in the Hegelian analysis of sense-certainty. The place of poetry is therefore always a place of memory and repetition. 76) Although a consideration of one short lyric this is also an observation of great significance.” The rapidity and alacrity with which the poet abandons a noun for “this. also converts the ontic object of the text as such into mere text-function. a That). In the Leopardian idyll. What are these qualities that typify the place of poetry. first as regards the now fully fleshed-out conception of dictation. is modified to become the more vague and distant “that. second as to how poetic structure. already referentially deficient but still intimate. Agamben’s use of prose was illustrative. reference. and rhythm work. that the procedure of author-function becoming reader-function. like the poet himself. (LD. More precisely the instance of discourse is assigned to memory from the very beginning. in other words where and how poetry thinks? First. and third how poetic thinking differs totally from that of philosophy. in such a way. the knoll.7 He is reading a poem by Leopardi but. 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. referentiality in poetry is always already moving away from reference to an actual thing towards 126 . beyond the last horizon.” and then “this” for “that” suggests that. he believes. converting with haste Leopardi the existent-being into Leopardi the author-function gesture. the hedgerow. Previously. I believe. Poetic language takes place in such a way that its advent always already escapes both toward the future and toward the past. and the wind in the poem have immediately moved beyond referentiality to an existential fact. here the This is always already a Not-this (a universal.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN once perceive a knoll in his home town of Recanati. serving as the basis for the possibility of its infinite repetition. and into other realms of generality. is indicated for example by how soon the “this” in the poem. toward an infinity of events of language.
Third. the uncertainties of memory down by the station early in the morning. the fiction of the razo creates lived experience simply to support the event of writing a poem that is long past. frog-spawn. something singular to the poet. Second. there was a solitary reaper but in the poem she has already fled. 69). a gesture conjured up to support to presence of the poem as such (LD. universal.LOGOPOIESIS. This is a point he also makes in reference to the razo de trobar. Its advent is both pre-cursive and reflective. and yet as soon as the poet encounters daffodils. Although the lived experience always precedes the act of mimesis in our tradition.” located as it is beyond the knoll in 127 .” There was a knoll but in the poem there is no knoll. this allows Agamben to make a truly profound revelation as to the nature of poetic structure. At this point the poem shifts from being a specific instance of discourse to the truth of discursive ungraspability ceasing to be singular in becoming general. The poem deals with a truth that is always already in place before the poet ever even wanders lonely as a cloud. A poem can never be an event. Finally. Reference in poetry therefore is always an indication of the taking place of language either in actuality through use of heightened semiotic devices. or has always already been converted from singular event to universal quality. The event as such is either always already prepared for. Agamben’s first conclusion from this astonishing reading is itself somewhat predictable but essential all the same. 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. poetic referentiality is always marked by a belatedness transferring all poetic temporality into memorialization. to a universal precondition of experience as such. THINKING TAUTOLOGY the thing first standing for something else and then finally an indication of the thing of language as such. there was a Grecian urn but in the poem there is no Grecian urn. they have already entered into a field of repetition. He says that the poem “expresses the same experience which we saw as constitutive of philosophy itself. and thus available for perpetual repetition. The poem. that the taking place of language is unspeakable and ungraspable. the poietic poem. therefore. is truly an event in that it negates the very possibility of its ever occupying this space and being termed as such. namely. or conceptually through such considerations of space and time that we find in “L’infinito. This invention of an encounter or happening is in fact an act of false memory. a poem is therefore always profoundly evental. fourth.
He adds: “The word. if philosophy has already indicated this surely all that is left for poetry is to back philosophy up. In addition. the act of turning. 77). Well. This element is what he calls here poetry’s “super-shifter . in all poetry even contemporary mainstream free verse and experimental poetics. is an essential part of poetry. that they will return again. comes about in such as way that its advent necessarily remains unsaid in that which is said” (LD. as in prose) signals for a reader that these words have always already come to be. to coincide perfectly with the philosophical experience of language” (LD. 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 metrical-musical element” (LD. This is. to return.8 As Agamben says in response to this obvious yet seemingly invisible fact: The metrical-musical element demonstrates first of all the verse as a place of memory and repetition. . weaving a complex planar and tabular matrix of anaphoric and cataphoric elements that are the essence of its form. 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. not quite. as opposed to prorsus. Thus literature can get there first. to proceed directly. although in later studies he refers to it as the semiotic. thus. . The verse (versus.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN interminable silence (LD. 128 . This is no more the case than in the poem which demands to be read then re-read. for this reason. 77). taking place in time. Agamben’s definition of language’s sayability as pure medium being perpetually silenced by the instance of the Voice. and that the instance of the word that takes place in a poem is. The utilization of metrical forms in poetry. There are blessings and curses to be gleaned from this analysis. 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. For a start Agamben excitedly notes in relation to Bartleby that Melville’s observations on will precede those of Nietzsche by three decades. of course. Its role as a functioning meta-deixis although not often enough remarked upon is central to the literary experience as a whole. Poetry and philosophy are most certainly linked in terms of how they think language. 77). from verto. 77). That said if philosophy is marked by language as negation then poetry too cannot escape this metaphysical nihilism.
counting as one of the most profound reflections on the literary ever penned in any language at any time. indeed. it performs or at least demonstrates that the very place of poetry. but the commencement of a possible shift away from the aporias of both logos and poiesis. THINKING TAUTOLOGY ungraspable. lineation. in poetry the unattainable is its very essence. where poetry thinks. modern poetic dictation is just as marked by negation as modern philosophical thinking. Thus the poem is able to take possession of the unattainable as the positive basis for its own self-generation.LOGOPOIESIS. 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. finally. There is. Through the musical element. THE HABITS OF THE MUSE Agamben’s conclusion to his reading of Leopardi is complex and subtle. (LD. Does it not. that is. and while my formulation of logopoiesis advocates 129 . no quick solution to this problem. 78) This is the essence of the nature of poetry for Agamben. in what I have called logopoiesis. You will recall that although poetry and philosophy both share as their object the unattainability of language as such. sound. is by definition a placeless one. the unattainable). and has always already taken place and then begun again before you even get to the end. philosophical discourse cannot. which is something philosophical language can never do unless it becomes poeticized. While philosophy is able to speak of the unspeakable giving us insight into negativity but no means of overcoming it. As the poem is always already in place before you even come upon it. This is not the solution to our metaphysical problems. structure. Philosophy’s prose proceeds but poetry’s verse returns and this constitutes their essential difference. But this placelessness has a place to be found in prosody itself. philosophy and poetry. reference and. 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. This is prosody as such or poetry’s reliance on repetition in terms of stress. This allows poetry to take possession of language’s unattainability in a way. however. he believes. poetic language commemorates its own inaccessible originary place and it says the unspeakability of the event of language (it attains.
” Two elements at the poem’s end recall. Thus he defines the roots of always as meaning “once and for all.” Here always. sem-per. placed at the head of the poem composing the poem’s advent word from which the verse is launched as always already being in place. In “L’infinito” the habitual. the use of “this. is. turning. This is not unique to this poem. it never begins either commencing always on “always.” Agamben traces the etymology of sempre to the Latin semper which he first fractures into two elements. novels. for Agamben. The first rhyme already recalls the second. and films recall their commencement in their ending. its restless habitus. The poem proceeds through verse. if one is always proceeding and returning? One never is. For now we must satisfy ourselves with Agamben’s final point in relation to “L’infinito” as regards what might be called poetic habit. He then suggests: “The sempre that opens the idyll thus points 130 . progressing only to refer back. symphonies. When is one ever in the poem spatially or temporally. Consider rhyme as a simple example of this. First. the habit of its reversal. the second harks back to the first. This is the place of poetic thinking. of which he finds the sem. 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.” a common enough construction of the experience of the always.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. its advent. is also referred to directly by the first line of the poem which in Italian reads: “Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle. sempre. combined with a positive potential.” and the emphasis on dearness/sweetness. the poem form is dominated by the advent-finitude tabular matrix. although always there in the metricalmusical element. unlike in the English translation.is the Indo-European word for single. so many lyrics. Every couplet is in miniature the ontological potential of the poem to save thought. Just as the poem never ends always returning our attention back to that first line. Second. “was ever dear to me” and “sweet to me. an adventure indeed.” “This lonely knoll” and “this sea. going backwards to go forwards.” This in fact is not a remarkable observation. All that Agamben is really looking for is an honest experience of linguistic/ontological unattainability or the definition of poeticphilosophical being as by definition the unattainable.
to hold this unattainability in suspense. 80).” the poet instead founders in the multiplicity of potential experiences of the knoll. a having (habitus) that unifies (once) a multiplicity (all times): the having ever dear this knoll” (LD. although dominating is also sweet. it represents the initial sempre as an interminable multiplicity . The thought is a movement that. by the poet’s trying to haveever-dear the experience of the knoll. . the habitual dwelling with which the idyll began” (LD. Poetry. the that of the knoll or its endless repetition through its prophylactic and transmissible encounter in poetic language. will even kill him if he is unable to change his situation. seeks to think. This is in a way a restatement of the logic of the name in Heidegger. But the drowning of thought in ‘this’ sea now permits a return to the ‘ever dear’ of the first line. Yet in a later poem. because it leads into the heart of the Same. The singular cannot be attained except through its being named in language. Habit cedes to a thought that ‘feigns’. cedes to thought its sovereign power in affairs of the mind but is wrong to do so. 79). Yet we know that in trying to have the knoll the poet is instead cast into the interminable space that dismays his heart. invention in Derrida. 131 . This is perhaps why in an early letter Leopardi writes of the way in which thought makes him unhappy. Agamben now rereads the whole poem as an attempt to seize the habitual. . 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. fully experiencing the unattainable of the place of language.LOGOPOIESIS. 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. “Il pensiero dominante” he seems to embrace thinking which. This “voyage” taken in the poem is “truly more brief than any time or measure. THINKING TAUTOLOGY toward a habit. It departs from a habit and returns to the same habit” (LD. 80). . the perpetual place of always. here. 80–1).9 that is. and the event in Badiou. 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. to measure its dimensions” (LD. as is ever the case at least since Plato’s time. . the rupturing of a habitual dwelling into a ‘surprise’ . In trying to inhabit the experience of the knoll. to occupy its singular once-ness for all time indicated in the “this.
10 Plato sees the community between poetry and philosophy. spoken by it. and instead of appreciating filiation. just sails around. “so that it necessarily escapes whoever tries to speak it” (LD. Agamben believes philosophy was born out of the very need to 132 . that it says nothing of worth. Periplus as a term marks the structural pointlessness or meaninglessness of art. The circular journey to nowhere brings to the fore the darkness of the poem. nothing new. Here. the circular journey immortalized by The Odyssey becoming a foundational recursive and tautological structure of so much Western art to follow. he sees a rival to his claim for thought’s sovereignty. the habit. amity. 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. 78). 78). thus. Wildean. the circular structural basis of all logopoiesis. 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. anti-poiesis. is the highest stake” (LD. nothing that can be tested as being true in terms of agreement or reasoning. 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. Plato. Periplus describes. Both seek to grasp that original. Muse. that it takes us nowhere. which. is responsible for giving the poetic word the character of being an eurema Moisan or invention of the muses. in a nutshell. radically productive uselessness. Agamben’s reading goes even further than this however: “The ‘confrontation’ that has always been under way between poetry and philosophy is. The name of this technique in poetry is the periplus. a project of which I think we can say Heidegger is the greatest master. inaccessible place of the word. therefore. much more than a simple rivalry. here thought cannot measure trapped as it is in the tautology of the same. for speaking man. he explains. its utter. in the Ion. he claims. 78). philo-poiesis. 78). 78).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN In contrast to our previous definition of thought as that which takes measure of the dimensions of the unattainable. is the name the Greeks gave to the “ungraspability of the originary place of the poetic word” (LD. Use of the poetic word in fact is an expropriated appropriation in that one is possessed by the muse. In that “philosophy too experiences the place of language as its supreme problem (the problem of being)” (LD. Agamben believes Plato is correct in his calling philosophy supreme music and its muse the true muse.
as is often the case in such salty tales of the sea. 133 . no sooner launched the logopoietic bark is inundated by the cruel seas of the infinite and drowns. 78) With this parenthetical wondering Agamben gives birth to the new discipline of logopoiesis. Perhaps only language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word. The 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. thought has many adventures during which thought’s silence and interminable nature miraculously ceases to be “a negative experience. Yet. along the way. Plato argues in Phaedrus. . in the periplus logic of tautological habitudes. The second the establishment of negative. once and for all time. Agamben inserts the following: (For this reason. to Leopardi Agamben ends what is surely one of the great additions to the science of aesthetics in considering a logopoietic thinking that finds no measure of the infinite but is captured instead. vocal silence at the very heart of being. the trans-planar and tabular experience of the anaphoriccataphoric matrix of poetic recursiveness.” Thought has been truly poeticized by being sucked into the vortex of poetic periplus. Who will save us: poetry or philosophy? The answer is neither and both. Yet.LOGOPOIESIS. and thus freed. (LD. THINKING TAUTOLOGY liberate poetry from inspiration or to retrieve language from mystical music-making and return it to statements of truth. would be the true human language). It does this. and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring. sets out from only to return back to the same. Returning one last time.”’ At sea. perhaps neither poetry nor philosophy. lost at sea as we say. tautological logopoiesis. neither verse not prose. you recall. Thought in the poem. once and for all. . Thought now experiences. 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. thought “in its drowning” is “now truly lost forever . Yet. he argues. by transforming muse into spirit or Geist. In parentheses as if an after thought which in fact is the advent of this whole impossible yet unavoidable enterprise.
Logopoiesis is the turn of verse in all senses of the word. Everything hangs on the temporal-spatial essence of poetry. This logic is the tautological logic of poetic thinking. dry off. its habit and its versus. Both the ability of poetic language to turn (projective-recursion) as a potential for a pro-ductive philosophy to come. 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. In both tautology and potentiality. time between times or between chronological time. the truth of a statement cannot be tested.” its drowning and its tautological negation so that “in the negative dimensions of the event of language. The result is the “extinguishing of thought. . its versification of language. For now. Logopoiesis in its tautology names a certain experience of truth that emulates that of potential. without resorting to arche-presence of the false imposition of unity. 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. 81). its coming to be. Yet the circularity of logopoiesis goes even further than this. as the ethos of humanity” (LD. however. 134 . . in the exhaustion of the dimension of being. At this point the metaphysical and poetic Agamben will once more come together and take the measure of each other. and yet how much further we still have to travel. it suffices to pull ourselves from the ocean and back onto the shore. for different yet related reasons. and the very turn of poetry as a formidable alternative to the traditional modes of thinking which renounce the circular in every instance in favour of moving ever forward towards the truth. literary singularity born out of structures of repetition. negativity as the breaking and making of the habit or of a poetic. and reflect on how far we have come. the figure of humanity’s having emerges for the first time in its simple clarity: to have always dear as one’s habitual dwelling place. The result of this is a form of radical desubjectivization.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the poem. the very testing of truth through its own alienation. its having-been and its coming to be . Later when we return to poetic structure we will see how Agamben’s recent work has come to name this in-between time messianic time. and eschatological futural time. its having been.
(BT.” Having spent several pages defining poetry in terms of lineation.CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. 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. recurrence. the poem must die through a process of self-alienation to become what it is destined to be. language. Never more powerfully apparent than here is it that Agamben is both negligent of the singularity of literature and yet entirely dependent on it. and finitude. without remaining unsaid in what is said” (EP. 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. THE TURN OF VERSE THE DEFINITION OF POETRY Bare space is still veiled. Like all other identities in Agamben. consider the conclusion of the short essay on poetics entitled “The End of the Poem. 135 . interruption. and the arts. 96) If it were not already apparent that there is a profound interdependence in Agamben between thinking. the end of the poem. 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. 115). interests him only in as much as it provides singular and privileged access to thinking the thing of thought as such: language. All of which gives a certain piquancy to his avowed project here.
negative metaphysics. but also that the specific tension of the poetic. and poetry is the archetypal tensile linguistic form. 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. which was originally a paper presented in French. To do this. this is. 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. that between the semiotic and the semantic. although widely attacked by Agamben cannot simply be eradicated. we now realize. 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. like all tension. Rather the definition of poetry exists precisely in the ambivalence to be found at the heart of all structures of differential scission. not the case. (EP. must also be those for thought. happens to emulate precisely the tension at the heart of modern. by definition. without being trivial. between the semiotic and the semantic sphere. perhaps Agamben might rapidly find what he is looking for in poetry but. I will have to begin with a claim that.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The essay. here in the scission between phone and logos. If this tension were easy to maintain. 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. This may indeed be a truism for all entities the result of the metaphysical tradition. yet as we saw poetry has a special place in this tradition. The fact that the poem comes to an end both allows 136 . strikes me as obvious—namely that poetry lives only in the tension and difference (and hence also the virtual interference) between sound and sense. as you can see summarized in the title of this lecture. begins in a rather pedestrian vein that gives little indication of the direction it will eventually take: My plan. namely that such a scission demands separation and relation. source of the tension he mentions here. 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. Thus we can see that differential opposition.
the abyssal presence of absence edging all poetry into being. and instead becomes a true abyss of philosophical proportions. yet it implies consequences that are as perplexing as they are necessary. This fact is certainly trivial. Thus the final “verse” of any poem cannot be poetry for the tension is asymmetrically poised above a permanent rather than transitory space. if poetry is indeed this tension. If poetry subsists in the tensions it calls up between semiotic and semantic forces. This space. The poem is tense because it must end. then. 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. it is inevitable that if the sequence cannot recommence then the thing in question at that point no longer exists.2 Yet there would be no tension without this probable eventuality. 115). starts to unravel. 137 . because at this point the whole texture of poetry. carefully woven according to Agamben from the tensile interchange of semiotics and semantics. here there can be no enjambement in the final verse of a poem. a gap which words can pause before and then overleap as in enjambement. only pure. ongoing poetry of an impossible or virtual nature. teetering on a ledge above an abyss of pure space or universal prose. For if poetry is defined precisely by the possibility of enjambement. not a preference for the semiotic over the semantic but the balancing of one precariously against the other. while a potential for thought. 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. 112) If something is defined by a tensile dynamic between arrest and sequential recommencement. it follows that the last verse of a poem is not a verse. THE TURN OF VERSE one to define the potential of its internal tensions and to understand how. not least because without finitude there can be no poem.ENJAMBEMENT. Agamben wonders: what happens at the point which the poem ends? Clearly. ceases to be a facilitator of poetic tension. No wonder it is “as if for poetry the end implied a catastrophe and loss of identity” (EP. poetry alone cannot be thought’s substitute. Does this mean that the last verse trespasses into prose? (EP.
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. certainly suggested at the end of each line whether it runs on or not. Poetry is not marked by finitude. by its ending. or is it merely the period when there is no poetic tension? Where does this space end into. This is the source of poetry’s Stimmung. losing its footing on a slippery way it must follow to its death. or the fake space of the blank page. Poetry is tense because it is permanently buffeted by recollected 138 . Is the space before the poem the space between poems. For poetry is perpetually fading. He comes to define poetry. if it indeed ever does begin as such and not simply strike up again on its guitar or lute. implied before the poem has even begun. 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. and finitude. the beginning of the poem. vacancy is just as present before the poem begins.” because Agamben is speaking here of deathly negativity. between the title and the poem body. before the title. 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. and hence poiesis. Surely the essay would be better named “The Death of the Poem. its mood or attunement. Is prose. from this obvious if not trivial definition. foreshadowed in the worrying gaps between stanzas. 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. questions begin to be asked of being. indeed all creation precisely in the terms of Heidegger’s beingtowards-death. dissolving. one might also wonder what happens at the point of incipit or the very birth of the poem. not space at all but un-inscribed or zero-marked matter. composed of alinear but sequential marks. to be perpetually born to presence. in other words. its uncanny angst. but rather is the experience of projective and imminent finitude as such. tension. outside the collection or book? Is it actual space. inevitable at the poem’s final footing on the edge before the abyss. but rather the already inscribed future failure of poetry. If space looms at the end of the poem. which is also a being-away-from-birth. This other tension is the tension of philosophical finitude.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN If.
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). THE TURN OF VERSE premonitions and intimations of mortality. Prose is the discourse in which this is impossible. for example. 39) This is taken from Idea of Prose. will meet at a third and mutual point (in perspective the vanishing point). and the intervening ten years between Agamben’s initial. Such plans always implicate the formation of a plane. however obvious it may seem to be. those two lines each made of two points. rhythm. (IP. A plane occurs whenever there are three points or where there are two lines which are not parallel for. among other things. provide sufficient criteria. after all. from this standpoint. A plan. and the number of syllables—all elements that can equally well occur in prose—do not.ENJAMBEMENT. Quantity. 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. simply listing actions. 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. at some point of extension. A plan. Any line therefore at a slant—tell the truth but tell it slant—holds within it an invitation to some future assignation wherein its linearity will become planar. quasi-scientific formulation and the more complex rhetoric of “The End of the Poem” allows Agamben to add 139 . maps out a planar surface. 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.
undifferentiated utterance. Let us take a random and innocent syntagm in English to better illustrate the issue: “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. while the phonematic difference cannot contain the grammatological. and the regular. rather they are electrical impulses giving an impression of words.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN one additional element to this formula. the lowing heard winds slowly o’er the lea.” 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. rather obvious. The first of these observations is. as you may have recognized when you 140 . resulting in the perfectly sensible and violently contested idea that the voice precedes writing. and leaves the world to darkness and to me. The second is less so and is based on scientific work on phonemes which establishes that when one speaks a stream of syntax. one utters a single. the adoption of the terms semantic and semiotic to place atop of the initial bare skeleton of prose and poetry. Western.4 So in grammatology one cannot “see” stress. although of all of these mathematics also has a tabular potential. The grammatological difference cannot contain the phonematic.” They are not. This third difference is enjambement.” There are two clear levels of segmentation. dare I say it. in that speaking the words does not reproduce textual spacing or planar dimensionality. which is phonematic. English. a third level of segmentation available to only a very limited number of syntagms. alphabetic languages which are written although not necessarily spoken.3 Let us scientifically and geometrically proceed with this for a moment. and in phonology one cannot hear “words. metrical iambic rhythm. a designation which includes Italian. notice how hard is the conception of the phonetic as a line and the grammatological as a stream. are all composed of successive series. by which I mean the simple appearance of the words does not reproduce stress. however. and articulation charted here: the space between the words. words in any real sense. for. There is a fundamental disjuncture in such successive series between words as they are heard and how they are written. There is. the ploughman homeward plods his weary way. which is a grammatological differentiation. difference. of course. although free verse has made the potential for this differentiation available in principle to all syntax with Agamben’s theory backing this up to some degree. Latin. and mathematics. The brain that cuts up this continual stream into single units identified as “words. at least until one pauses for breath.
enjambement is neither purely grammatological nor phonological. .ENJAMBEMENT. . Agamben summarizes this ancient ontological counterpositioning in terms of the bar (/) that we found articulated the ban and articulation of the sign. As one can see from my little experiment in linguistic presentation. is the fold that gathers and divides all things in the ‘putting together’ of presence. the extract in question is more traditionally inscribed thus: The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. The first is the line taken by Agamben that without the line-breaks after every ten syllables this sentence is prose. 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. neither in writing nor in the voice. as proven by my example that until those breaks are spatially imposed the sentence in question holds off from become a verse. The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea. but in the fold of the presence on which they are established: the logos . The second takes us into a much more complex question as to what is actually meant by a line-break.5 So goes famously the first stanza of Gray’s exemplary “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. THE TURN OF VERSE saw my example or felt when you read it. And leaves the world to darkness and to me. 156). so I have to extrapolate from his evidence the possibility that it is both and neither. And the human is precisely this fracture of presence” (ST. The ploughman homeward plods his weary way. True one needs in 141 . 156). there are a number of reasons why this cannot be the case. 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. Is such a break a grammatological or phonematic occurrence? The way Agamben presents it remains permanently unclear. revealing not simply Derridean différance but also the “topological game of putting things together and articulating” (ST. While attestation suggests Agamben conceives of enjambement grammatologically. The remaining evidence is much more empirical.
while at the same time one can feel enjambement but it remains as discarnate as a feeling or uncanny sensation. this time not between poetry and prose (philosophy) but between speech and writing. . Enjambement therefore not only establishes a tension between semantics and semiotics but it simultaneously eases or even eradicates another ancient antagonism. All of which brings us back to the poetic plane. the use of zero enjambement facilitated by terminal caesurae at the end of every subsection of ten syllables. and its recommencement. and perhaps finally. 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. one still finds oneself pausing every ten syllables. more intangibly. 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. While prose fills a planar page space. but its full force comes through the combination of the two. Certainly you can see a line-break or feel it. for indeed one cannot understand enjambement unless one understands the semantic content of the lines in view. the almost genetic inclination of English speakers to allow their speech to fall into iambs organized into groups of ten syllables or so. poetry is the becoming planar of an endlessly extendable two-dimensional field we call prose. 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. Enjambement artificially breaks the sequential line of language at the right hand side of the page here. if strained.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. its ending. entente. which can be presented graphically as follows: Geometrically speaking.6 this is not essential but merely a contingency of 142 .
as it were. In this way. interrupted by the paragraph certainly but never for anything other than stabilizing semantic dictates within this line. it is irresistibly drawn into bending over into the next line to lay hold of what it has thrown out of itself. Most avowedly the paragraph is not a stanza. 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. . and it is a point. It hints at a passage of prose with the very gesture that attests its own versatility. and reclaims that which it had the temerity to eject. In abstract terms the line of prose is always one single line. but boustrophedonic. 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. and transportation of prose writing. As Agamben argues: In the very moment that the verse affirms its own identity by breaking a syntactic link. By this headlong dive into the abyss of meaning. The paragraph. 40) Agamben’s phrasing itself constructs something of a boustrophedonic folding logic. distribution. The cut folded back on itself always becomes a hinge except for the very last verse which remains severed not bent. that it abandons sense for the abyss of grammatical. Here voice shouts down writing. I would argue. the purely sonic unit of verse transgresses its own identity as it does its own measure. of poetry . neither poetic nor prosaic. Paradoxically Agamben terms this accommodating recuperation a “dive into the abyss of meaning” for in recovering a state of stable continuity through the renunciation of the cut for the hinge.ENJAMBEMENT. . spatial absence (the jagged abyss that looms at the right-hand edge of all poetry) the break is softened into a bend. (IP. Yet at the very point. organization. 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.7 the verse finds that its very identity as verse is lost at the precise point of its being 143 . 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. Writing scribbles down voice. enjambement brings to light the original gait. namely sense. THE TURN OF VERSE the development of the book as a technology for the preservation.
and abyss. 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. 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. or something that the poetic makes happen or brings into presence. immediately closed down again by the cut becoming in an instant a fold. while poetry as such is poiesis. has suffered a ban. as a threshold. colonization. What poetry makes happen in the birth to plane is nothing other than thinking. Students of metaphysics will be more than aware of how considerations of time become those of space. indeed poetry as such is based on the fundamental number three. If we take the structural shift of the metricalmusical element of the anaphora-cataphora projective recursive tabular matrix of poetic structure. an essential logopoietic opening up of space for thought in a medium that. rely on temporality.8 opening up a planar space in writing that is the very basis of the grammatological. 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. and vice versa. such as the becoming planar of the cut/turn at the end of the poetic line. allows the poetic to become poetry.9 Students of poetry will be more than aware of how considerations of space. THE MESSIANIC AS NOT The space of thought within the poem. and finally excision of an opening for suprasensuous thinking within the sensible body of a “work” of art. to refer to the activity of enjambement. as a surround or framing device. something that writing does. therefore. At the point in the line when the line becomes a part of a plane the poiesis of poetry is revealed. One of 144 . since Plato certainly. cannot be cleared until the issue of time in poetry is resolved. This experience of space produced by the boustrophedonic transition from line to plane.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN founded. Between the cut and the fold. revealed and concealed or vice versa. What poetry “makes happen” geometrically is that it adds a third point. – KLE SIS. the way it always refers both forwards and backwards. poetry is continually and permanently born to presence and withheld from view. “Poetic” remains therefore at the level of praxis. to poetry as the tensile effect of this activity.
temporal. and so on. poetic temporality. 145 . 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. 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.10 The combination of these two terms not only involves an even more ontological radicalization of enjambement as the obvious definition of the poem. and the quest for a post-nihilistic theory of productive thought about art that did not succumb to the metaphysical-epochal designations of ending. Yet such is the nature of the adventure. Agamben has only been able to resolve these issues. the epoch of modernity. of course. 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. There are two central epochal moments in Agamben’s messianic The Time That Remains which we are already. and progress in our task of a logopoiesis in which poetry is an essential partner in the indifferential thought to come. in one of his recent and most important works The Time That Remains. space becoming time. negation. familiar with. Finally.ENJAMBEMENT. Map-less but with guidance we will commence with the call of the messianic vocation. and the messianic strand of potential. In our considerations of Agamben’s interventions on art in general we saw how in his critique of aesthetic modernism he was committed to a rather different temporality of epochal ending. The first of these is kle ¯sis or calling as a surrogate to epoch as event. If we are to move from lineation to the space of poetry. as regards Agamben’s own philosophy of indifference. The second is kairos as an alternative time to chronos presenting to us a possible historical existence that is neither chronological nor eschatological but between and incisive of both. the medium or supportive gesturality of language as such makes little reference to temporality. but also the possible solution as to how a future for thought can be found in the technicalities of prosody. Yet its essential combination with the theory of potentiality is. resolve the aporias of modernity. silence. in part. 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 Time That Remains is a sustained philological analysis of the Pauline canon of messianic texts. is that the commencement and completion of the vocation of the messianic all occur within the temporality of the act of calling.” can be read intertextually in relation to three areas of concern for logopoiesis. deixis. messianic calling is first presented in the “Second Day” of The Time That Remains bracketing the debate of modern. Here the “he” is an anaphoric designation of the previous kle ¯sei. Agamben argues the problem is that the phrase is not tautological. is instigated and completed only after the fact of when it is called to call. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. can the referent or call can be said to call at all. is one which commentators have struggled for centuries to render in their respective languages. the calling of being called. Finally. While the tautology of this phrasing. Reading specifically a ¯sis sentence from 1 Cor. wherein the repeated term can only be presented as a term to be repeated 146 . Such a use of anaphoric deixis is peculiarly tautegorical because not until the call is recalled. repeating the same logic we found in play with aesthetic judgement. 257). but a “peculiar tautegorical movement that comes from the call and returns back to it” (TTR. therefore.” Agamben focuses on the seemingly tautological phrase en te kle he ekle ¯. usually translated as “the ¯ ¯sei ¯the same calling wherein he was called” (TTR.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kle ¯sis. therefore. now. The call. and thus it is from Paul that Agamben extricates the idea of kle as the calling to the messianic vocation. This occurs through a technical application of that. 7:17: 17–22. until the deictic indicator refers back to its previous referent. 19).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. Indeed. 198 & 209). one might redefine this form of anaphora as tautegorical cataphoric anaphora. fictive subjective as-if-ness that we have already delineated. or to remain within the dynamic of calling indicated by the logical and linguistic operations of anaphoric deixis. the messianic “calling. most familiar linguistic operator. To be called to the messianic vocation is to be called to the call. 22). Clearly it presents a modification of Heidegger’s idea of the poetic as the calling of calling (PLT. or the call of the previous calling. and establishing an impossible to ignore parallel between negative modern criticism and a possible positive outcome of this vocation through the act of messianic calling to the call. What deixis indicates here.
Think of this if you will as anaphoric deixis that refers to no particular thing but merely refers to its own operations. almost an internal shifting between each and every single condition by virtue of being called” (TTR. One is called away from one’s vocation. a form of indication that “may apply to any condition. of having a condition as not having a condition. . 23). 23)— immobilized by the confounding circular logic of the tautegorical. Precisely because such a remaining “signifies the immobile anaphoric gesture of the messianic calling. it revokes a condition . Thus one is called to remain in the negation of vocation as a form of vocation. as though it were an urgency that works it from within and hollows it 147 . “Why remain then in this nothing?” Agamben asks. You are not called from one vocation. This being the case the messianic vocation has no specific content. “Vocation. THE TURN OF VERSE after it has first been repeated. Tautegorical. apostle. its being essentially and foremost a calling of the calling” (TTR. . 23). the “Ho s me ” of the Pauline text. We are faced here therefore not with a matter of eschatological indifference. . but not called to a new vocation. yet cannot be repeated until it has occurred. 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. but of change. As Agamben says with more admirable clarity than I can muster: “Kle indicates the particular transformation that every juridical ¯sis status and worldly condition undergoes because of. and only because of. but for this same reason. 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. “calls for nothing and to no place .” he says. the classic definition of deixis. its relation to the messianic event. Jew. 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. but instead are called into the nullification of one’s vocation as one’s vocation. the vocation calls the vocation itself. . Agamben calls ¯ ¯ this the “ultimate meaning of kle ¯sis” (TTR. referring to the first half of the Pauline formulation.12 Calling or kle is first of all an empty ¯sis revocation of every vocation. . . Citing Paul when he says that kle involves ¯sis operating “as not having” a condition. The messianic vocation is the revocation of every vocation . 22).” (TTR.ENJAMBEMENT.
but makes it pass. At the end of this section Agamben speaks of the process “as not” in terms of another classic form of rhetoric. .” Like the comparison the parable. for it does ¯ ¯ not push a concept’s semantic field toward that of another concept. If this is true then for Paul men are not as children. Traditionally a parable is assumed to have a double meaning but Agamben views this not as a signifier having two signifieds. Speaking specifically of the parable of the sower where seed represents logos of course. “unless you become as children. is that of a thing with itself in the form of non-self-identity. Instead. In Paul’s comparative explanation of the subjective effect of kle weeping ¯sis is pushed towards itself as not weeping. if I may refer to such a thing. not until he starts to speak of figurality is one able to see how these comments pertain to modern aesthetics. noting how in the Bible the parable comes to stand for the word of god itself or logos. it prepares its end” (TTR.” and how this form of comparison was analysed by Medieval grammarians in a particular fashion as not a form of identity or resemblance. but of the duality of language itself imposed upon it by human speech. the messianic does not simply cancel out this figure. . that of the messianism of a temporality to come. Agamben identifies how a whole tradition of the parable develops that takes paraballisation. “but rather they interpreted the comparative as an (intensive or remissive) tension that sets one concept against another” (TTR. The comparison. In the messianic parable signum and res significa approximate each other because language itself is what is signified. but are placed alongside children. 24). As he says: “In the parable. from the Greek 148 . 23–4). Agamben concludes from this form of comparison: “In pushing each thing towards itself through the as not. nullifying it in the very gesture of maintaining and dwelling in it” (TTR. 24). the difference between the signum and res significa thus tends to annul itself without completely disappearing. the parable.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN out. “The Pauline hos me seems to be a special type of tensor. it sets itself up against itself in the form of the as not: weeping as not weeping” (TTR. . they do not resemble children. as the operation of language as such to such a degree that in many languages the word for language originates from the parable. seed meaning seed and logos. He first uses the example of the technique of comparison within Paul. if it exists at all. rejoicing pushed towards not rejoicing. While apparent that Agamben here is speaking of the mediality of language in another register. 24–5).
The sign is not a system of difference and similarity but of a non-selfcoincidence as identity. the time that remains between these two times. as I said. 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. Agamben’s argument in The Man Without Content. messianic time is neither of these epochal designations. but so as to put “each being and each term in tension with itself ” (TTR. and to take us from negative modernity to productive poiesis we must turn to the second Pauline term.” The historical conflict he maps out between “as if ” and “as not” can now be situated around familiar territory pertaining to language and figuration. occasion or now. “it is a remnant. “As if ” would seem to be figuration as such. Language does not refer to the world but to language as such. 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. and parable? These constructions are also self-regarding but in a manner that Agamben believes is truly redemptive. . THE TURN OF VERSE para-ballo to place one thing next to another. in relation to what he sees as a common misrepresentation of apostolic messianic time as eschatological. works in a manner which places figuration alongside itself. The question therefore remains if modern “as if ” aesthetics finds its archetype in art for art’s sake. In the language of messianic time comparisons and parables exist not in terms of linguistic comparison. Glossing on the traditional representation of time as a line along 149 . eschaton.” however. To negotiate this subtle and complex difference will take the rest of my study here on the conception of poiesis. 43). a consideration of a third form of figuration. kairos. comparison. chronos.ENJAMBEMENT. and the atemporal eternity that extends after the end of time. signifier and signified. that which stretches from creation to the end of time. MESSIANIC KAIROS Agamben first addresses the term kairos. Rather. indicates a process of internal division (as well as creating tabular space). This shift from comparison to parable brackets. how does that differ from the messianic figurality of anaphora. . when the division of time is itself divided .” (TTR. 62). the “as if. He explains that while Paul regularly uses eschatological time when speaking of the two Jewish time traditions.
As such it operates with precisely the same logic as the term epoch. or we concede the thinkable nature of time and all its complexities. in its dividing the division between two times. Be not afraid. although the time of the now. introduces a remainder [resto] into it that exceeds the division” (TTR. in regard of linear time. here represented as between the two vertical dotted lines. 150 . therefore. nor a synthesis of all three tenses in a manner that emulates Bergson’s influential theory of modern time. Such caesuric time operates as part of the epoch of chronos while exceeding it. and dimensionalities. as ever. and C apocalypse. he explains that this linear model is. The result is a caesuric division between an epoch’s cessation and the resumption of the new epoch. interruptions. in this instance messianic time. either we are confronted with a model that is representable but unthinkable as actual experience of time. but accept such a time is unrepresentable. for example A—B—C wherein A is creation. Messianic time. Kairos. Agamben hones in on this gap between representable and thinkable time by adopting the linguistic concept of operational time. As Agamben says. he notes that such a line has never accorded with the human experience of time. Kairos adds futurity to the past and pastness to the future but it is not the moment or instant. the classic representation of time since Aristotle. is not a dot on the line of time but a segment or stanza within the divisions of epochs along this line. reiterations. and as part of the eschaton while exceeding that.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN which one situates epochs. 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. insufficient to capture the complexity of time. Of the time line consisting of assumed strings of points. B the messianic event. 64). stratifications. 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. extends epochal time into the postepochal and post-epochal time back into epochal time. being neither point nor extension but the precondition and deconstruction of both.
. or. insofar as he is a thinking and speaking being. to achieve our representation of time” (TTR. for Agamben figuration is a structural 151 . 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. Whatever experience of time they undergo they are able to come to represent it as this idealized model in their minds subsequently. tautegorical calling and self-constructing temporal representation. By this we do not mean they are simply rhetorical forms. 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. Instead. Agamben concludes that In every representation we make of time and in every discourse by means of which we define and represent time. are both examples of the figural nature of the messianic for Agamben. 67). perhaps only an instant but a period all the same. Kle ¯sis and kairos. more precisely. Agamben argues. 67). converts time from a linear to “three-dimensional” entity by which he means it conveys the three moments of temporality: potentiality. the time we take to bring time to an end. formation. This process of temporal construction takes a period of time. 66) which. This time that remains is the messianic kairos. as we know. the subject’s experience of time is constructed by the subject in accordance with this ideal representation. This interior time is what Agamben means by messianic time: “the time that time takes to come to an end. produced an additional time . . and having been constructed. and Guillaume calls this operational time or “the time the mind takes to realize a time-image” (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.ENJAMBEMENT. (TTR. that prevented him from perfectly coinciding with the time out of which he could make images and representations. 66).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. another time is implied that is not entirely consumed by representation. Rather. THE TURN OF VERSE Operational time originates from the work of French linguist Gustave Guillaume. It is as though man. 68).
the antitypos. ple ¯ ma ton kairon. while kairatic time places time’s constructed nature against its representation of non-constructed and proper perfection. and yet in a manner in which their proximity naturally calls up some attempt at relation in the form of tension. This tendency to think of time as a past prefigurement of a future yet to arrive. that of recapitulation. The calling of the “as not” places one’s subjectivity alongside its negation. Paul adds one more final figural notion. Paul explains that at the messianic moment of total fulfilment of time. We have already considered comparison and parable in this regard. This results in what might be called the relational tension of the nonrelational. 74). 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. it is the relation itself” (TTR. 76). although. Agamben is now able to add a third figural term. in an inseparable constellation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN process wherein two conditions are placed alongside each other in a nonrelational fashion. the two elements are heterogeneous. This means that each instant of messianic 152 . is not important as a “biunivocal correspondence” (TTR. in which the past is dislocated into the present and the present is extended into the past” (TTR. so too in the antitypos there is a compacted summation of the typos or. To this typological caesuric figuration. This is the epoch of the messianic. such a correspondence existed prominently throughout the medieval period. as Agamben says. typosantitypos. typos. 74). typos and antitypos. The messianic is not just one of two terms in this typological relation. all things are recapitu¯ro ¯ lated in the messiah. the most famous example of which is that between zoe and bios in Homo Sacer. Rather. A good example of this is Adam whose sin acts as a typos or prefiguration of the coming of the messiah and the negation of sin. “messianic ple ¯ ma is therefore an abridgement and anticipation of eschatologi¯ro cal fulfilment” (TTR. 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. 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. he tells us. what concerns us is “a tension that clasps together and transforms past and future. 74). as he considers Paul’s explanation of how all that is past will come to be taken into account at the end of time. Agamben argues.
the temporality of poetry. In the kairos of operational time two incommensurable epochs or conceptions of epoch lie alongside each other. able to restate this fairly logically away from the theological philology of Agamben’s text. A structure such as the kairatic kle depends ¯sis on the precise mix of occurrence and reiteration. 78). The same goes for eschatological time. each moment of chronological time is prefigured by its completion. If we step back now from theology entirely we can first explain this more generally in terms of our experience of operational time. This example. and then in relation to poetry. Everything about messianic time recalls the figurality of the poetic. At this point Agamben wisely decides to give “something like a concrete example. must first consist of a summation of all that went before. in fact. as the very location of poetic thinking: logopoiesis. As messianic time extends chronos into the eschaton all narratives of completion. and eschaton or temporal finitude. “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. by virtue of the metrical-musical element. a kind of small-scale model of messianic time” (TTR. One is. 78). and the structure of the poem. Any theory of temporal extended linearity must contain some idea of completion and any theory of temporal completion must complete on something. As soon as Agamben 153 . THE TURN OF VERSE kairos effectively fulfils the eschatological moment of immediacy with god rather than conforming to this as a one-off event that occurs at the end of time. The law of figuration means that because messianic kairatic time extends the eschaton into the chronos. something that is now past. anaphora and cataphora that is the basis of any poem structure and which we have already defined. MESSIANIC RHYME Perhaps now it does not surprise us. 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. or an act that demands the called subject “seize hold of his own being seized” (TTR. chronos or temporal extension.ENJAMBEMENT. and even he concedes this may be surprising. the greatest of which is surely modernity itself. is the poetic convention of rhyme.
That said every poem is also a recursive or reiterative structure.14 The form still operates on occasion in modern poetry in other words. a fact made most apparent in that rather rare stanzaic form the sestina. or model is. 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. A kind of eschatology occurs within the poem itself. only organized in different combinations. all usages of the words thus far are 154 . You begin to recognize the pattern. Put simply. 79). I have argued in my own study of this phenomena in modern experimental poetry. 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. Agamben’s analysis of the rhythm of the sestina while most apparent in this poem form is. Thus he says of the closed rhyming lyric form. he argues. for example the sonnet. it has a specific and unmistakable temporality. the closed form means that in every line the end is prefigured. At the same “hermeneutic” time one also picks up on the interplay. from the very start. as one moves towards the predictability of the end. it has its own time” (TTR. although to describe it as analogy. repetition. 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 is especially true. in the case of rhyme. The first six stanzas are each six lines long and the six end words are always the same in each stanza. strains towards its end. insufficient. 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. and he is truly gifted in his appreciation of the technicalities of prosody along with the implications of poetic ontology. example. But for the more or less brief time that the poem lasts. A sestina is made up of seven stanzas. Thus in the sestina. This reading back however comes most to the fore in the tornada where. effectively. look to how the next stanza will recombine the six fixed elements and thus one is always reading both forwards and backwards. a foundational quality of all poetic structure. in each case.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN describes the poem. one can begin to see how wonderfully this analogy works. and variance of the use of homologous rhyming end words. 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.
Agamben’s insights take the tabularity of poetic structure far beyond anything anyone else could have imagined. in any case the eschaton already fulfils that role. and the narrative structures of the films of David Lynch. The same process is discernible in the rhythmic distribution of lines and colours in Pollock. . 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. While I have worked for some years on this project.ENJAMBEMENT. in order to make place for the time of the poem” or what he also calls its “cruciform retrogradation” (TTR. which I have already posed as the 155 . the time that the poem takes to come to an end” (TTR. Poetry is not an example here or not solely exemplary. what we have is the same time that organizes itself through its own somewhat hidden internal pulsation. the time of the end. 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. This is the time of the messiah. 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. model or not. in this sense. on a shifting interrelational tensile comparative combination between temporal-structural projection and recursion. transforms chronological time into messianic time . as we saw. This matrix I have called the anaphoric-cataphoric matrix of every poem. The poem does not create a new. First he notes how the poem produces an internal disruption of linear time that is not an alternative “poetic time” to replace chronological time. converting the poem from a linear-horizontal entity to a tabular planar form. . through the sophisticated mechane of the announcement and retrieval of rhyming end words (which correspond to typological relations between past and present).15 In miniature therefore we have the whole basis of Agamben’s logopoiesis.16 This aside. or indeed leitmotifs in Wagner. Agamben explains: “The sestina—and. of course. “on the contrary. post-chronological time. poetic structure is far from a mystery. THE TURN OF VERSE recalled in their final combination. 82). Such a tabular-planar structure. every poem—is a soteriological device which. 83). Nor is the philosophy of time handed over to poetic time. but it does have its own time.
17 This difficulty pertaining to the actual nature of the experience of hesitation. We must now remove ourselves from messianic time. as a thinker. quasi-universal.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way in which poetry thinks. but also structurally at the two extremes of the poem body. It leaves. one is likely to have recourse to a line-break and an example. in particular through a consideration of the ends or limits of the poem and their dependence on certain ideas of silence. evental element. When one does experience a line-break one is likely to experience the opening up of the truth of hesitation. and tabular structure. if only to confirm that enjambement is a recursive rather than unique. for a time. Hesitation is not the localized emotional experience of hesitating yet. and propositional hesitation. lodged within the trans-psychological definition of hesitation such as it is or ontological hesitation. For an unveiling of philosophical. you do not need to experience a linebreak every time you wish to think about prolonged hesitation. Yet philosophical. most notably music. affective or intellectual. Rather this felt hesitation moves one into another realm of hesitation as such. Then one must dismiss hesitation as sensation without entirely dispensing with it. 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. what is hesitation in thought without the knowledge of an experience of hesitation in the world? Or to pose the issue in different terms. tension. one must first experience hesitation as sensation. betimes. must surely be beyond an actually felt hesitation such as one experiences at the end of a line of poetry. advental finitude. and when one wants philosophically to speak of hesitation as such. a philosophical hesitation. hesitation true for all time as it were. 156 . recursive. for hesitation as theme and/or category. and return to our original debate on poetic. in a phenomenological reading. cannot be separated from the original experience of hesitation that one undergoes every time one reads poetry. is dependent on the permanent tension within the poetic line certainly. Agamben immediately asks the question: What is a hesitation if one ceases to think of it psychologically? A hesitation of such an order. a trace of psychological pause. Having assured us that poetry is a “prolonged hesitation” between sound and sense. 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. categorical hesitation.
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. 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. to clear a future pathway for truth in what is a high-risk yet now essential intellectual strategy. Poetry has nothing to do directly with the object. is laid out through precisely the reading of specific poets and their singularly inventive effects. Although Agamben denies it. 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. Derrida. yet truth always proceeds from the sensible at the same time. yet it always proceeds from a poem in Heidegger and all his students. First by applying a philosophical category to the technical specifics of prosody.18 Certainly truth precedes. but the Voice as such. He applies truth to poetic sensation so as to be able.19 This is an unadmitted but now quite familiar aporia in modern philosophical work on poetry. and that aesthetics. 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. definable at the very least as a thing. from sensation. is not the name to be given to twentieth-century work on poiesis. Yet the pathway to poetry. This is an issue that occurs repeatedly in Heidegger. the science of sensation. say as an inventive mode of bringing truth to presence. the poem. truth. sensation. in this way. not literally from a voice. at which point he behaves almost like a literary critic. Badiou.ENJAMBEMENT. is not dependent on aiesthesis. the two hesitations of verse. a project so vast it all but overwhelms his slight work on prosody. THE TURN OF VERSE Heidegger clearly states that aletheia. while simultaneously sailing the ship of truth most perilously proximate to the ruining rocks of sensation. not a physiological voice imprinted on a psychological capability. A prolonged hesitation between sound and sense. and then by using these techniques to mount a post-nihilistic metaphysics of indifference. psychologically-actual and philosophical-conceptual. and poiesis is not necessarily poetry. sensation. between the dying away of a voiced vibration. such a delay between voice and meaning which Agamben likens to a katechon 157 . a word heard and its meaning. because after all sounds as such do not interest Agamben but voiced sounds.
between two units. the poem of a silence which is not local but over there. and between actual opposition and possible or potential opposition. 158 . of him who. Yet the poem is also an ergon. fulfilling the time of poetry and uniting its two eons. Poetry partakes of a local. poetry. self-dissolution. If this is. is silence. semiotic and semantic. he points out that the poem is “grounded in the perception of the limits and endings that define— without ever fully coinciding with. This would require here a differentiation between what the poem is as ergon partaking of an impossible. Instead poetry can be defined as the prolonged hesitation. that is. namely the opposition between metric and semantic pauses. is defined by a silence brought about by its finitude meaning that poetry is never silenced. general but not universal silence. 110). self-negating finitude. unlike poetry or at least its tension. that is rendered mute. For example.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN or “something which slows and delays the advent of the Messiah. The poem is. Agamben progresses towards the point of silence that is the end of the poem. differentiations between the poetic. it remains in full as the hesitant voice within these impossible limits. 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. according to this. as I contend. between sound and sense. would destroy the poetic machine by hurling it into silence” (EP. Such an abyss is not to be mistaken for silence either for. 114). a kind of silence. Even as the poem is falling into a profound silence at its material and generic limits. a perception of the tension of poetry. singular and impossible to repeat. self-willed. and the poem. Thus a poem. as they pause on the precipice of their own self-conscious. nothing is said therein. then there must be at least two orders of silence. Through such careful distinctions between orders of silence. as poets teach us. the sounding cataract is any thing but mute. universal but not generalizable. having stated that “all poetic institutions participate in this noncoincidence” of which we speak here. for poetry cannot survive its own finitude. a single body of work which means that it must and indeed already has come to an end. and almost in intermittent dispute with—sonorous (or graphic) units and semantic units” (EP. and what poetry is as that which goes on in the poem but which is not susceptible to or reducible to the poem. repeatable. 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.
as I said. a silent space that is not silence. A boundary condition of a hexagonal crystal. it simultaneously exists through the bottom line á la Pacman. As the physicist Pauli was fond of saying: “God made the bulk. all the same a space of a similar structural order can be said to exist in some form internal to the poem. This is another way in which one could read Agamben. I am always delaying its arrival. A plane only becomes a surface when an actual cut is made in the infinitely extendable plane.” A plane becomes a surface when the boundary condition is suspended and the edge of a structure bounded by a vacuum occurs. for the poem to know of its finitude and be complete. 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. that jagged chasm to the right of the poem. 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. some remnant of our animalistic past. The body as such of poetry does not exist without that body suffering a moment of cutting or caesura. This means that the second sense of ergon is continually born to presence from the already existent presence of the par-ergon.ENJAMBEMENT. We can deduce from this line of reasoning that the ergon of the poem is defined by two concepts uncomfortable in each other’s presence and yet not contradictory. and locally cutting off. but this space is of the order of a boundary condition: the line exits on the right and always enters to the left. or a tail. THE TURN OF VERSE I must speak of silence but. 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. as if one has to somehow hack off a limb for the human body to be complete. for example. this can only be an illustrative analogy. Space must be present for enjambement to occur for example. A plane is always defined as being imaginary because it is infinitely extendable in every two-dimensional direction. Poetry must be ceaselessly. 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. Without the internal space. surfaces were invented by the devil. The poem must be cut-off in order to be complete. Although. states that if something enters through the top line of the structure. a space which is inarticulate. It may be useful analogously to think of this in relation to what physicists call a “boundary condition” when studying planes. then the ergon could not continually come to 159 . like the poet.
it would seem. is either thinkable and unrepresentable. constructions of the representability of an idealized construction of a concept that. is not silent at all but simply unpronounced. In speaking of silence. There are pauses. silent sense. this consonance which was previously forgivable is harder to support.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN being. enjambement as boundary condition. First. There is. Agamben suggests that true silence only occurs once one has exited the text and entered the abyss of sense which has no requirement of 160 . the unpronounced and the uninscribed. A finitude which. gestural support. or represented in unthinkable fashion. relies on two competing convocations with its borders. This is the moment of the plane becoming a surface. while differentiating the semiotic and semantic unit does not make a clear distinction between sonorous or graphic semiotics unearthing a rare moment of indistinction in his meticulous work. the body puts off by its extension and yet invites by the structural necessity of its completion. but no silence as such. 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. Is there any actual silence within the body of the text? I would argue not. the final moment of finitude that is singular and plunges the ergon of poetry into infinite. What is silence? Was that it? Is it after the question mark or between these lines? Is it even possible to encounter silence within a text such as this so clearly an example of discursive quasi-philosophical. The ergon of the poem body. like time. by which one can only mean space. The perception of this double deconstructive presence of absence within the ergon of poetry is what the poem as such is reducible to. either a profound error on the part of the philosopher or we are still considering silence psychologically and not philosophically. or as-yet blank tablet. Surely the silence of sound is an actual silence while the silence of the grapheme. Nor is it even space as such but simply the uninscribed medium. then. the potentially endless and thus infinite fake silence between one line and the next. utilizing messianic time. Second. however. merely perceptions of silence.
the becoming visible but remaining silent word is. Only the human knows of the quietude of the caesura. it endures the without-name. incessantly speaking and responding to signs even while keeping silent. While nature and animals are forever caught up in a language. sensibly. absolutely without identity. in what is almost a cryptogram: “In silence. exists only for man. because man is the sole animal who learns language through infancy. philosophy’s word leaves unsaid its own silence” (IP. is silence. of interrupting words with the as-suchness of the word of language whose defining quality.” an essay which only speaks. This complex negotiation with a silence which exposes philosophy to a period without name which is not. the idea of the rose. in a Heideggerian gesture. The word as such. is the conclusion of the essay “The Idea of Silence.” has engaged with the silence of philosophy. by which I mean the quality which allows it definition and availability to our apprehension. This silence is the silence of philosophy of which Agamben says. Only the human animal can establish the quality of exteriority as regards language. he is the only creature capable of not having language. “The Idea of Language. rather. 113) Paradoxically. Here Agamben defines silence not as the suspension of discourse. an exteriority of the word that Agamben. The inviolate rose. the becoming visible of the word: the idea of language” (IP. an entity beyond the trivial differentiations of sonorous versus graphic. in the word. once the following essay. 113).ENJAMBEMENT. describes as silence. 111). the name of poetry. only man succeeds in interrupting. human living being as such through the faculty of language: Only the word puts us in contact with mute things. however. “but silence of the word itself. to me at least. THE TURN OF VERSE textuality to exist at all. or an utterance. without finding in this its own name. Silence is not its secret word—but rather.20 This being the case one must engage with the profound and complex conception of the idea of word in Agamben. (IP. philosophy stands exposed. We now know that this encounter most powerfully occurs at the end of the poem. not in other words as the cessation of speaking (surely what he means by a psychological hesitation). which is anything but a sign. the infinite language of nature and placing himself for a moment in front of mute things. Here then we finally understand what Agamben means when he states that animals are always within language. 161 .
ironically pure semiotics does not hold sway. rather. after a prolonged hesitation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN As Agamben says. Certainly Derrida is the thinker of a certain type of pure impurity. for at the end of the poem. the end of the poem is marked by a change in the tension between the units of semiotics and semantics which is poetry. only to be literally interrupted and superseded at the line’s outermost point. Poetry. Prose literally overwhelms poetry in the following line. in the final verse. no pure poetry. If one were to think back to the Derridean conception of invention. as I have termed it elsewhere. pure impurity as indicated first by the way he structurally treats the semantic and the semiotic as ostensibly of the same order.21 will continue its demonstration of deconstructive energies almost as an illustrative tool for Derrida’s work. but it is an unavoidable reality however unpleasant. Poetry is literally elevated above its dyadic other at the end of the line. there is no enjambement. They are both units within an “almost intermittent dispute. semiotics and semantics. and Agamben’s work seems similar in the way he establishes two oppositional concepts. and literally collapses back into this alterity as the next line commences. 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. one is struck by how singularity is always immediately ruined by its repeatability. At this point where the semiotics of the poetic line are unable. Left to its own devices the poetry machine. but which is often termed deconstruction as a form of intellectual short-hand in quasitranscendental self-critical thought. Yet Agamben is a thinker of another order of perfect. thus granting us finally access to the realm of pure poetry.” While clear that the semiotic and the semantic are both radically heterogeneous and of differing 162 . and leaves them suspended in an almost endless dynamic of supersession and negation. There is. 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. in fact. is itself an impurity between poetic techniques and prose. which is also always the final line. one condition always simultaneously the pre-condition and impossibility of the other. to resume the semantic stream.
Without quibbling over an extra dimension here and there. and finally a tension or tone. (EP. (Sound and sense are not two substances but two intensities. Both are equally out of their element in the line. but intermittently. for Agamben they can both be fitted to a pattern of similar units. The semantic can just as easily occupy the unit of the line as the semiotic. suggesting that Agamben does not so much ignore the radical incommensurability between sense and matter. 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. but also the ancient Greek origin of the term in relation to the end of a play. Interestingly. And between these two currents lies the sharp interval obstinately maintained by poetic mechane. for example. THE TURN OF VERSE orders of magnitude. then a machine. Rather.ENJAMBEMENT. the machine 163 . incipit-interruption-continuation. at the moment of deus ex machina. a model which echoes Agamben’s own description of operational time. a line which metamorphoses first into a current. the caesura for the semantic) constantly. 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. rescinded. which somewhat misleadingly he calls three-dimensional. issues that would be strongly foregrounded by Derrida. repetitious mechanistic element of prosody with which we are all familiar. The machine of poetry referred to here is not simply the technical. strictly speaking. 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. two series or lines in parallel flight. there is but one line that is simultaneously traversed by the semantic current and the semiotic current. dianoia and poiesis. what we can be certain of is Agamben seems to take the geometric presence of poetry backwards away from two (three) dimensions. favouring instead a one dimensional and yet also trans-dimensional single line. 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. potentialityformation-having been constructed. two tonoi of the same linguistic substance). which in reality means very uneasily.
tension. 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. especially in relation to invention and the trace. my lines and cues. Its complexities lie first in the apparent proximity of this theory and the work of Derrida. thus it allows a literalization of a kind of localized transcendence. and a figuration of the literal implied transcendence at the end of every Greek work of art. I have forgotten everything. 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. No wait. I am giddy. Second that it is a theory of the obvious and its obviation. enjambement puts forward a theory of necessarily betrayed purity. which are separate strands but not different from each 164 . I need a gag. of the obstacle to sense that the premature line-ending constructs. flying. first that it marks out an axiom for poetics which we scholars of poetry can recognize. We will plunge to our death unless the tension in the lines is maintained. they may form knots. the tonoi of poetry. Obvious in two ways. unlike the deconstructive mechane. but what does Agamben mean by suggesting that the semiotic and the semantic are not radically heterogeneous and different also in magnitude.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of art was regularly used both to end the work and also to allow characters to fly. I feel the tension of the tonoi of the line of poetry as it suspends me above the plane of the stage below. or the moment when the material copy of essence is abandoned and essence alone remains: Deus. that way they can never become truly 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. and its obviation in the recommencement of the line within the planar territory I am calling the poem. and metre of verse. Don’t come too close.22 Yet unlike Derrida the impurity of the line is permanently under question. the lines with get entangled. enmeshed as it is into the very lines of prosody. and like the trace it is a theory of intermittent and almost interminable spacing. In addition. Keep up the tension in the line. Tono in Latin is the tone. The semiotic and the semantic are not differential terms but two tones within one single linguistic substance. Like invention.
Rather the messianic temporality of the interval is the interruptive event of the cessation of the temporal succession chronos-eschaton. we experience messianic silence as the prefigured anaphora of absolute finitude of each local ending. is inserted into time as such or everyday vulgar temporality as Heidegger calls it. who himself admits to a sparse number of events. unlike perhaps in the work of Derrida. Between silence in the line. chronological silence. presents us with a messianic event of events. In a form of agreement with Badiou. and the recursive cataphora that the poem experiences at the very moment of its negation through finitude. 165 . for Agamben this event will be the final event. Unlike Badiou. will come to an end as the poem must also come to an end. but the occupation of the time it takes time to end. and silence at the end of the poem. however. for Agamben poetry is in preparation for the event to come. not the end of time or even the very last event. 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. 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 time it takes for finitude to come to a point of tension or dissolution. a messianic event. This is not to be conceived of eschatologically as one last event of course. The poem excels in messianic temporality. in the endless falling into silence that defines the end of the poem.ENJAMBEMENT. something will happen. 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. This end. Instead in each instance of time the time of the end. At which point. for example at the end of the line. THE TURN OF VERSE other. eschatological silence. in enacting an endlessly falling into silence rather than a structural point of cessation. therefore.
” Agamben’s first attempt to define poetry in terms of enjambement is entitled “The Idea of Caesura. 44). namely thinking as such. Rather. As he says in caesuric cadence: “The rhythmic transport that gives the verse its impetus is empty. Agamben remarks on the “breaking action of the caesura” (IP. 43). 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 allows Agamben to note that “For the poet. the caesura—for a little—thinks. more fundamental or alternate mode of thinking.CHAPTER 6 CAESURA. 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.” Speaking specifically of the Italian poet Sandro Penna.”1 Invoking an ancient European exegetical tradition which takes the horse to represent the “sound and vocal element of language” (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. the element that arrests the metrical impetus of the voice. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT THE CAESURA The essay proceeding directly from “The Idea of Prose. The place of thought in the poem is the caesura. Agamben declares this couplet to be a treatise on the subject of the caesura before composing one of his many allegories. is thought” (IP. And it is this emptiness which. the caesura of verse. is only the transport of itself. while for an instant the horse of poetry is stopped” (IP. We now have a clear answer to a question I posed earlier. Voice here is not the transport 166 . 43). this thought is another. as pure word. holds in suspense.
Thus caesura was originally any displaced footing within the seamlessness of prosodic flow. This congeniality within prosodic flow to its own negation except at poetic 167 . thought is not semantic discourse. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT of expression nor the silent Voice of metaphysical nihilism. and ecstatic thinking is presented in such a way that later in the book. Surprisingly. 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. the only venues within a line of poetry inhospitable to the caesura are at the beginning of the line. in the essay “The Idea of Thought. is any word ending that did not coincide with the cessation of a metrical foot. 44). for example. 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). but a much more “poeticized” idea of thinking. Yet the comma is not a necessary element of caesura. On nothing other than that. and that it effects the ultimate violence to prosody by its interruption of linear flow. and the end of the poem. a little sign remains suspended. here asleep on his horse. One such little sign in prosody is the comma. not a pause for thought so much as a slight stumble. mid-line. 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. but the infantile voice of language as such. thought ventures forth” (IP. This pause most commonly occurs at the medial position. considering that the Latin origins of the term caesura inculcate it into the violent rites of cutting and separation. Similarly.” Agamben is able to conclude thus on thinking: “Where the voice drops. “The poet. 104). including the poem’s incipit. hesitantly. As we are well aware this is all Agamben craves and we might now name this as the essential precondition of all logopoiesis.CAESURA. Thus the interplay between flow. awakens and contemplates for an instant the inspiration that carries him—he thinks nothing else but his voice”’ (IP. where breath is lacking. The classical definition of a caesura. prose as we might name it. the most common representation of caesuric pausing itself often reproduced in prosody by the so-called double pipes ||. 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. arrest.
” 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. Thus the place for thinking is a space within verse that works directly in opposition to enjambement. 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. and in this momentary. Men. In the ideal antithetical couplet a line is divided exactly in two by a caesura. operate as antithesis to the antithesis. then bound together by rhyme to a second line which may echo the antithesis of the first or. Here is a particularly misogynistic and yet prosodically perfect example from Pope’s “Epistle to a Lady on the Characters of Women”: Men. In enjambement flow overtakes meaning and the space at the right hand side of the poem is negated by linear. Then semiotics 168 . quiet and strife. Indeed the lack of caesura at the line’s incipit is simply a form of conventional display for. some to Quiet. here. But ev’ry Lady would be Queen for life. some to Bus’ness. Yet. In a sense this is the most perfect example of the tonos of poetry. enough to open a gap in flow. transversal exuberance. 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. ecstatic space. demonstrating prosodic femininity here as “Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear. some to Pleasure take. Over the many thousands of years of European prosody the caesura has been used to various effects. some to public Strife. to allow time for thought to think the conditions of its own transport and its dependence on arrest. By contrast in the caesura the steady and irresistible progress of verse is suspended by the merest hint of a sign.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN advent and total formal finitude suggests that caesura is an internal concern of the poem body.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. But ev’ry Woman is at heart a Rake. in effect.
even the zero. Agamben uses the term caesura regularly in his essays when speaking of the numerous and problematic acts of scission performed by negative metaphysics. life. takes hold of the line and refers meaning back against the current to the preceding end word. The resumption of the line would then seem to be a victory for thinking. life were what 169 . . this thing that remains indeterminate gets articulated and divided time and again through a series of caesurae and oppositions . 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. everything happens as if. arrest and flow. 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. 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. of course. At the same time. When with the second cut discourse is able to impose a damn on flow and pause for thought. 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. the next line is ready to burst its stops and race ahead. is indicative of messianic time but also the tabular trans-linear dimensionality not just of poetic structure but of poetic thinking as a whole. Meanwhile. its transport. Then. a temporal-spatial self-consciousness is mapped across the neutrality of these two terms.CAESURA. If flow is the presupposition of the poem then the first caesura negates the semiotic in favour of the semantic. as we now know. with rhyme introducing a projective recursion that. in our culture. a three-way tension indeed. The verse unit is born of a tension first between flow and interruption. is undermined by the coincidence of sound across two syllables and/or words located each time at the final point of the line. then between interruption and flow. through the agency of rhyme. one of the first and most instructive observations to be made is that the concept never gets defined as such. This tension. And yet. . at the same juncture prosody. terminal enjambement of the perfectly balanced Heroic couplet designed to halt and formalize the profligacy of the endlessly over-running Miltonic couplet. Yet at the instance of the cut we now know that meaning is interrupted not prosody. yet immediately in the second line flow inundates sense.
precisely for this reason. it comes to be the very definition of the problem of definition as such. must be ceaselessly articulated and divided. 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. does not define human life per se but the idea of human life as both separate from and intrinsically linked to the animal. The same indeed is true of the end of the line and its relation to enjambement. except at the moments of poetic advent and finitude. the cut and the cut of the cut. as he more commonly terms it. (O. Rather the caesura in separating a term off with the desire of imposing definitional distinction instead inculcates said term into a mechanism of division and articulation which. yet. and yet as his comments show the essence of the caesura is not simply scission. is meaningless and indeed inoperative until that division is divided from itself and cast back into linear flow. yet at the same time no caesura is momentous either. In terms of the act of caesura within the poem we perceive that there are always two cuts.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be defined. The caesura is not possessed of finitude any more than of inventiveness or evental 170 . the first division. through the operations of the caesura as that which both divides and conjoins. then it articulates lineation as the transport of thinking. 13) The caesura Agamben is considering here is that between the human and the animal. for example. if we look again at the definition of life in terms of caesura we find a productive negation. rather than defining the term life here. namely in-definition or. imposes upon it a permanent indistinction. The interruption of thinking. In the poem body suspension always results in resumption. resumption suspension.3 First the caesura divides the line. 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. indistinction. Life ceases to be a definition of something and instead. No caesura is. The caesura initially performs a negative function directly at odds with his earlier valorization of the term as the basis for thinking thought. in this manner. Life then comes to stand not so much for something like biological existence. Human life for Agamben. Yet. something we observed in relation to the (/) or barred caesura in the sign between gramma and phone.
Here earth and water. “And where. “like them in beauty. harmoniously confus’d: Where order in variety we see. all agree. vanish’d now so long.” 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. these two acts of violence. enjambement. One is always already in the midst of poetry. (SP. seem to strive again. the woodland and the plain. Like them in beauty. the cut and the cut of the cut. were my breast inspir’d with equal flame. This world of harmonious tension is both described and performed in the opening lines of Pope’s “Windsor Forest”: The groves of Eden.CAESURA. enjambement. the medio or mean point. the caesura always cuts in the midst. But as the world. and finally the caesuric cut of the cut internalized in the space of one line. harmonious oxymoronic implied semantic caesura “harmoniously confus’d: / Where order in variety we see”. tho’ all things differ. The tone of balance resides in the perfect tension of the four combined and yet separate units. 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). Rather. double caesuric antithesis. and the same is true of life. at the same time every two lines 171 . tho’ all things differ. Unexpectedly perhaps. (line b) caesura. Not Chaos like together crush’d and bruis’d.” While Pope conjures for us a world of balance encased in the harmony of the bi-linear couplet. result in classical poetics in a perfectly balanced. “Here hills and vales. should be like in fame. all agree. Live in description. and look green in song: These. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT status. Aside from being a masterclass in the extendibility and power of caesuric prosody. the woodland and the plain. Here hills and vales. seem to strive again”. all reliant on the counting and positioning of stress: (line a) caesura. / Here earth and water. 20) Here we can observe basic antithesis across a caesura. And where. should be like in fame”. the section in question also provides the perfect razo de trobar of prosody summarized by the phrase “harmoniously confused. harmonious whole.
and indeed that is all they are gestic and meaningless prosodic devices. 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. The caesura of English tends also to the medial rising to a degree of compulsarity in Old and Middle English verse. but 172 . 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. semiotic consonance. Left to their own devices. and thus the shifting of the metrical–musical element between semiotics (langue) and semantics (parole) becomes the metrical–musical–semantic element. Yet the inclusion of rhyme suggests instead a messianic moment that does not rise out of this stuttering continuum but uncovers a solution to the metaphysical logic of the caesura internal to the poem itself. unless one ends the poetic line with the first sy/Llable and commences the next with the second. in rhyme thought and language combine to produce a word-based semiotics that is both predictive. before the push and pull of lineation can continue. 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. The caesura represents the eschaton. The only place internal to the poem that a cae. however. is dependent on semantics to perform. Although Agamben does not consider it in these terms. in that it interrupts the linear progression of the line. If every second caesura is more forceful in that it cataphorically holds back flow. The caesura of classical prosody tends to what is called the medial but this is not compulsory as. gathers within itself the recursion of that which went before.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN there is a moment of cataphoric recursion as the second rhyme is tabulated backwards to its previous rhyme partner. For rhyme. Unlike the caesura where thought interrupts poetry. it provides the semiotic rules to sense what the next rhyme might be. sura cannot occur is within the word (as I have just demonstrated). 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. while powerfully semiotic. say. and yet also recursive. interruption and flow retain poetic tonos. but in most sophisticated prosody there is a wide use of initial and terminal caesurae. at the moment of reading on into meaning development one always lags behind in some manner in sonic. or enjambement where the obverse is true. in French Alexandrines.
a cyclical loop. a frame at all for it has no continuity. two forms of exterior space to the poem body. never before it. There are. the parergon will always slice open the finitude of the ergon. Poems are not rocks. Also of some significance is the fact that all caesuric cuts occur “after” flow. therefore. therefore. There are. or the line. If enjambement instigates the event of the poetic by interrupting discourse with voice and semiotic material rhythm. perpetually meeting and departing from their assignation. similarly voice. even if they are poems in a sequence. If they are in possession of finitude then not of this order. Therefore. or a meta-linear version of its localized prosodic effects of flow and interruption. Where the poem begins is of another order to where it ends and the two edges of its finitude will never meet. even if the poem is part of a sequence. Similarly the end of the poem. The poem as a whole or thing is not. The caesura is the essential complement to enjambement. This is in contradistinction to the end of one line and the commencement of the next which are always in communion with each other. For those of us well versed in prosody this is highly satisfying as it is true that an enjambement 173 . contrary to its internal structure. is interrupted by thought or by the silence that is apparently endemic to contemporary thinking. 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.CAESURA. as we have seen. 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. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT even this is that peculiar form of terminal caesura called enjambement. a miniaturized rule of some value when one comes to consider the very limits of the ergon. is not a pause but an endless falling into the silence of philosophy on the part of poetry. in this light. Logopoiesis is an internal affair that occurs inside verse but which does not delimit verse. only two operative interdictions on caesuric scission. The spacesilence made parergonal frame around the poem is not. In this way. The two edges of a poem’s frame will never meet. 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. so too the beginning of a poem does not take up the line from the end of the last poem. and two forms of silence cocooning the voice. poems are not of the same order as flowers. so that the point of the end of the line is radically dissimilar to its incipit. these at the moment of advent and finitude.
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN more likely than not either follows from or is followed by a caesura. leading Agamben to look to the Greek sense of harmonia as “a laceration that is also a suture. The line arrested in the centre is the reversal of this flood of semiotics.4 Agamben’s reasoning for this symbiotic relation between interruption and overflowing would be that both caesura and enjambement stem from different pathways to the same. its ripples spreading out through the lines and the calm surface of the poem taking some time/ lines to settle down once more. You will recall he is speaking here of the tensile harmony to be located in the work of Heraclitus. or the next. 157). The line broken at the end then is the influx of the voice inundating thought and for a moment erasing it. 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. of the parallelism of the comparison. stopping the flow and for a second eradicating the voice entirely with a momentary. event: the prolonged hesitation between sound and sense that constitutes poetry. 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. 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. for example. a caesura midline leaves few syllables in the line to commence a new thought making another enjambement very probable. This hesitation is two-fold because the manner in which language has been lost to us is double. It also conveys the messianic moment of a stilled 174 . This simple consonance of oppositions is now clearer to us being typical. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and unitary” (ST. Enjambement only occurs at moments when the thought is too big for the line pushing the caesura into the middle of the next line. either to thought or to poetry. or even in the case of real thinkers such as Milton and Wordsworth. As is regularly commented on. Thus enjambement works like a stone cast into a still pool. Concomitantly. momentarily held. the next. intermittent and hesitant silence.
speaking of Heidegger’s rediscovery of the harmony of harmonies between philosophy and poetry. Of this Agamben says. if I read this compacted section correctly. testifies to a decisive turn in Western thought. This harmony of harmonies. but also the rule of poetry which is defined by the tension between interruption and flow. and remember harmony here means just as much division as it does unification. should then be transferred to the numericalacoustic sphere. 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. in the passage from the visible to the acoustic aspect of language. not the eradication of division and unity but the tensile suspension of the metaphysical foundational categories of difference and identity. One can now also see that harmony not merely names an ideal state of being in the universe as it did for the Greeks.CAESURA. locating harmony as a basis for being in concealment within the visible realm. a double harmony. it transpires. “Faithful to this apotropaic project. 157) There was a time. the harmonious confusion of caesura as a division that combines. then silenced by philosophy—there was the harmony between interruption and flow. where it is still possible to discern the solidarity between signification and metaphysical articulation. the cut that is cut. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT dialectic. the visible and the acoustic. Then there was the harmony between the monstrative and acoustical harmonies with. whose signification had appeared to the dawning of Greek thought 175 . There was. “back” then. Thus there was philosophical harmony mirrored by poetic harmony and then a harmony between the two. which. and poetry invisibility/flow. Harmony names. (ST. He then adds: That this articulation. While within the acoustical realm—the originary voice of poetry before it was split. were not placed on either side of a false bar or division as is articulated in the theory of the sign. I am speculating. still belongs to the tactile-visible sphere. 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. appropriated. for Heraclitus. when thought and poetry. Speaking of the term harmony in Heraclitus Agamben notes that for the Greek the idea of harmony pertained precisely to its invisibility. philosophy playing the role of visibility/interruption. therefore.
Considering the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx in Stanzas. for the moment.5 We are now more than familiar with the fracture of presence alluded to here. The presence of the sign is. is the apotropaic structure of all logopoiesis. Logopoiesis names little more than this at this stage in its development: an apotropaic harmony between poetic flow and philosophical interruption. Speaking of the foundation of philosophy Agamben notes that the Western experience of being.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as a mode of speaking that was neither a gathering nor a concealment. is based on an impossible filiation therein to the fact that presence comes to philosophical thought as already divided. Aletheia’s unveiling of truth moves one to the very heart of the almost awkward formulation of truth as unconcealedness which so dominates Heidegger’s work. as Agamben concedes. It makes perfect sense. ratified in the discipline of philosophy. we cannot but approach that which must. shares a good deal in common with the more familiar rhetorical designation of the enigma. that which attracts and repels. the enigma of the order of a sign. crucial to his overall overcoming of metaphysics as I hope I have now shown. 138). which also explains why poetry matters to Agamben and also helps clarify his many valuable comments on the technicalities of prosody. but a mode of speech in which the original fracture of presence was alluded to in the paradox of a word that approaches its object while keeping it indefinitely at a distance” (ST. For the truth to be unveiled it must first be transmitted through a sheet or material barrier. The relation between poetry and thinking in Agamben. If there were no secret then there needs must be no solution. 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. 157). For truth to be unveiled it must first have been obscured by a sheet or material barrier. 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. called up at the moment that presence as such is split in two. The sign is of the order of an enigma. Thus every truth is a form of enigma facilitated by the double 176 . 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. The apotropaic.
or a maze which has no centre point or any point of exit/entrance.CAESURA.6 177 . and an extraneous babble from the street Confirming the new value the hollow core has again. structural. has valorized the very quality of interpretation over the fact of the enigma as such. (ST. which he has misinterpreted by interpreting its apotropaic intention as the relation of an oblique signifier and a hidden signified” (ST. but a more original mode of speaking. and like the Sphinx that utters it. Presupposing the enigma as a sign that needs to be made to signify. prosodic. is a poetics of the enigma as that which is not available for solution. Like the labyrinth. 138) If this is the case. Agamben goes on to state: The ainos (story. and conceptual even-ness: And so each day Culminates in merriment as well as a deep shock like an electric one. The dancing path of the labyrinth. which leads to the heart of that which is held at a distance. and Western thought since then. Early in the Morning. the enigma belongs to the sphere of the apotropaic.” that ends with a shocking apocalypse for such a poet of tonal. Oedipus’ sin was not incest but “hubris toward the power of the symbolic in general . 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. letting in Space. . 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. that is. the light From the lighthouse that protects as it pushes us away. One of the great contemporary works of logopoietic apotropaicism is John Ashbery’s much-admired “Down by the Station. fable) of the ainigma is not only obscurity. . Returning to the enigma now. Agamben suggests. like the Gorgon. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT hindrance of matter. An apotropaic verse. to a protective power that repels the uncanny. and books with no author. The name of both these obstructions is rather obvious: the sign. is the model of this relation with the uncanny that is expressed in the enigma. therefore. 138). Oedipus. by attracting it and assuming it within itself.
then one is drawn towards the core and simultaneously repelled. 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. like Oedipus and Ariadne trapped in some terrible union neither dares to seek annulment for. “a dull crinkled leather that no longer exists. Ashbery admits into the work the essence of the poetic: the semiotic. Here it takes the form of enjambement. 14). The line break after “letting in” admits the essential material presence of space foundational to poetic tension. The poem. until you name it. for years. and even then / It may not have existed” (W. As the wrecking ball demolishes the walls of a book-lined labyrinth of enigmas one presumes is a library. Or is Ashbery merely revealing the enigma of the very fact of the warning or the apotropaic nature of 178 . it would appear. Indeed are not all enigmas thus doubled-up? The image draws you in. 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.” an extraneous pure semiotic noise the result of the collapse of the single. in a moment of supreme post-modern self-consciousness. Here. while dense. memory. to the sudden collapse of all pedagogic certainty in the final stanza cited here. If the hollow core is as the lighthouse. I feel I can guide a passage through. space. is a comment on the tension between the semiotic (enjambement. form and theme merge into harmony precisely through their being manifestly at odds. remembering. space. Following on from space comes the loaded term “babble. babble) and the semantic which typifies Agamben’s axiom. and the enigma of naming.” This work. ontology. Indeed. I have laboured over both the enigma that is Ashbery. labyrinthine structure of the wrecked library. Babelian tower of language. a deliberation on impermanence. In some senses Ashbery has found the only solution to the paradox of the end of the poem. and nonsense. always leads my students and myself interminably across two verses which. and yet the poem’s final image seems to resist an endless falling into silence. / And nothing does. as the line folds back on itself. and the almost enjambed terminal caesura in the penultimate line suggests precisely this.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. and more specifically in classrooms around the globe the enigma of the poem “Down by the station early in the morning.
. the light of the lighthouse. until you name it. Ashbery’s comments on ontological inexistence are “instructive” in this regard in the way they maintain the impossible to resolve caesura between phone and logos to be found in the sign and emulated in prosody. What the uncanny unearths is not that there is no solution. 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. Rather. As regards the apotropaic structure of the enigma the elegance of Agamben’s formulation remains a thing of beauty. 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. to be more precise.CAESURA. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT the enigma? In drawing attention to itself. I would attempt to say three things about this blinding moment of logopoiesis. The poem neither concludes nor. 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.” combining the impossibility of logos preceding phone (nothing exists until you name it). gathers us by actually rejecting us. is indeed as Agamben suggests not there to be solved but persists so as to retain within itself the presence of the problem as such. the possibility 179 . . nor that there is a solution. He says in relation to that which no longer exists “And nothing does. 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. 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. which protects us and seems almost to gather us to its bosom. This leads to my second comment on the sign as fundamentally apotropaic in structure or.” cyclically resumes at the poetic incipit. Certainly the bar divides poetry from thinking in a manner Agamben finds repulsive. of which Ashbery is the master. 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. as many works do such as “L’infinito. but that there can be an unresolved relation between the two. . The enigmatic in verse. the bar within the sign between phone and logos. The first is of the order of the enigma.
in the full sense of the term. semiotics and semantics are post-Oedipal thinkers. its being in 180 . 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. 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. that which exists between the signifier and the signified within the sign. 139). refusing the model of Oedipus. 138–9). focuses its attention above all on the barrier between signifier and signified that constitutes the original problem of signification” (ST. 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). 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. however. 139). There is. one finds oneself for that very reason in the place of the neighbour. space is what he describes as the space of ease.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of this proposition rests upon a second line. Meanwhile: “under the sign of the Sphinx must be placed every theory of the symbol that. What is most proper to every creature is thus its substitutability. They seek to exit the maze into which they wished they had never been entered by their masters. The first is more than familiar to we Oedipal decoders of poetic and literary Sphinxes. Speaking of the inheritance of Oedipus Agamben divides our epoch into two tendencies. signifier and signified. 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. that which can be found internal to the poem and of course Derridean spacing as such in the form of the trace. EASE: THE PROXIMATE SPACE Thus far we have spoken of space in terms of that which surrounds borders the poem. Agamben notes that the topology of interest here resides not between Eden and Gehenna but within “the adjacent place that each person inevitably receives. This enigmatic. Those who seek to define signification as that which occurs as a relation between code and solution. At the point when one reaches one’s final state and fulfils one’s own destiny.
The space of ease delineates. the topography of kle or the vocation of ¯sis subjective revocation. the empty place where each can move freely. moving at ease) and convenience borders on the correct relation” (CC. He then traces this idea in reference to a Christian community founded in the last century by Arabist Louis Massignon called Badaliya whose name was derived from the Arabic for substitution. Ease is the proper name of this unrepresentable space” (CC. 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 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. such as it is. the work of Blanchot. its being whatever—in other words. for good measure. Forgive this digression into the biopolitical realm of the ethics of alterity. under sail or beneath the effects of music. but it is necessary to allow one to comprehend the centrality of space in Agamben’s ideas on poetry. at one’s ease (slowly). 181 . 25). but describing a complex. Further useful consonance between prosodic space and considerations of desubjectivization and language arrives in the mode in which Agamben goes on to describe the origins of the word ease: “The term ‘ease’ in fact designates. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT any case in the place of the other” (CC. although I am sure these issues are not unfamiliar. but rather on the universal substitutability of singularity as non-representable (lacking in individuality). the subject as individual is alienated from identity without succumbing to biological indetermination. according to its etymology. as well as Derrida’s post-Lévinasian ethics of alterity and hospitality and. 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.CAESURA. in a semantic constellation where spatial proximity borders on opportune time (ad-agio. An avenue of enquiry that moves Agamben to a conclusion that Badaliya and the Talmud allow for a possibility of a community based not on non-substitutable individuality. “the coming to itself of each singularity. They move to one side of who they are to a space of singular self-negation. 25). adjacentia). common space of singularity. 23). the space adjacent (ad-jacens. therefore. This leads to the potentiality of a new ethical topography no longer delineated around oppositions and individuals.7 In the space of ease. which soon enough we will locate within the poem.
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.
namely. One thing this observation allows is a more prominent place for rhyme within Agamben’s linear definition of poetry: “What is rhyme. Corn distributes the tension of the poem across two different spatialities that accord. cannot be heard and therefore must ultimately be read. of course. The rhyme is still there but located at what has traditionally been called the harmonic rather than melodic level. No poem can 187 . As the corn delays rhyme until a later stanza it. such that the mind searches for an analogy of sense in the very place where. The harmonic effects of corn. 35). if not a disjunction between semiotic event (the repetition of sounds) and semantic event. 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. disenchanted. it can find only a formal correspondence?” (EP. Of Arnaut’s sestina Agamben asserts “he is the poet who treats all verses as ‘corns’ and who. transforms the unrelated rhyme into the principle of a higher relation” (EP. that between sound and sense” (EP. and allows us to move through the poem at a point between local and apocalyptic. Agamben proceeds to look at the work of Arnaut in this regard. structure. in a wider sense referring to any larger structural unity within a work.CAESURA. It takes us away from the localized issue of the line break versus the abyssal logic of the end of the poem. and graphematics. Structure is the trans-tensile containment of the obviousness of the poetic definition Agamben furnishes us with. 34). every rhyme is delayed. I am calling this higher relation structure here because it cuts across the localized effects of the semiotic/semantic tension. with a wider understanding of what poetry is. by thus rupturing the closed unity of the strophe. 31). THE SPACE OF THOUGHT Corn is the poetic term for what can otherwise be termed structure. The greater the distance between the first instance of the rhyme and its second. “cannot be understood if it is not situated in the context of a different formal register. because of this. Then again. the harder it becomes to hear the rhyme. of course. between orality and writing. weakens the rhyme. a writer who elevated corn to a metastrophic dominance in the development of the stanzaic form of the sestina in which. Taken within this context corn becomes an essential point of transition not only for poetry but also Agamben’s overall philosophy. by definition. 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. In addition. opening up a level of harmony.
is likened in traditional poetics to the spatiality of the womb or semiotic chora. At this juncture we must return one more time to Dante and his discussion of the structure of the canzone cited by Agamben. To sum up this long and complex series of arguments. This is most readily found in poetry specifically in the material presence of an articulate space at the right hand of every lineated poem. This space. 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. 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. yet at the same time it requires that one consider the poem as consisting of lines within stanzas. Based on two metaphors Dante utilizes.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN be complete unless. This is the space of ease or that space into which the poem moves at the local. Ease is also a superlative example of logopoiesis. along with the impact of lineation. 35). 36). we are informed. sequential level into the tabular. With enjambement we have lineation. intellectual and aesthetic rooms within rooms. 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. the fifth trans-poetic tabular space. the closed formal womb of the stanza. The unrelated rhyme forces one to concede that the poem exists in space and time beyond the power of its voicing. and his later choice to call the unrelated rhyme or corn the clavis or key. 188 . almost in astonishment. which of course calls to mind the womb. where he opposes cantio as a unit of sense (sententia) to stanza as a purely metrical unit (ars). asserts: “Dante thus conceives of the structure of the canzone as founded on the relation between an essentially semantic. vertical space of the poem as a global entity. the unrelated rhyme (the corn!) constitutes a threshold of passage between the metrical unity of ars and the higher semantic unity of sententia” (EP. Agamben is finally able to conclude that “Insofar as it opens . multi-dimensional. 35). and with corn we have the word. global unit and essentially metrical. partial units” (EP. Ease requires the thinking of proximate space as precondition for singularity. . Overviewing Dante’s remarkably prescient comments Agamben. with the caesura we have discourse. . one does not take into consideration the means by which words are distributed through the poem based on alternative patterns.
Agamben begins his treatise on rhythm by considering the age-old problem as to what constitutes structure. 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. 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 his most recent work on temporality harks back to his earliest work on the poem which itself presages the more sophisticated work to come. but rather we are able now to look back on that essay and see in it the basis of all that is to come.CAESURA. stanzas a poem. and so on? Structure is always a gestalt in that the parts cohere into something that is in excess of the particulate and yet which gives the particulate a single quantum: such and such a thing. Both positions are problematic. 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. 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. synecdochic view of a certain part of a collection of elements being the supra-elemental part. 96). THE SPACE OF THOUGHT RHYTHM Agamben is a sporadic and yet profoundly consistent writer. second explain its essential role to the very collection it is radically exterior and other too. 97). 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. 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. Aristotle asks in The Metaphysics what causes a collection of elements to be more than a mere aggregate.” I am unable to assert that all the matters pertaining to poetic structure as a mode of thinking come together in this essay. I am speaking here of the dense chapter in The Man Without Content entitled “The Original Structure of the Work of Art. in other words how do parts cohere into a unified structure: lines become a stanza. and third (a point central to the work of Badiou) explain how this element exterior to one’s set can be 189 . they cannot as it precedes all such work.
decrepit Hölderlin: “Everything is rhythm . how in both cases the elements that function in harmony to create the work’s rhythm also provide us with an atemporal. This debate is promoted by a comment by a momentarily lucid. in other words. 94).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN a set-defining element and yet itself escape the problems of infinite regression and bad infinity intrinsic to set theory. That which flows does so in a temporal dimension: it flows in time . and lines in the poem.” and rhythm “that which causes something to be what it is” (MWC. How can this “additional thing” exceed the very structure of aggregation it defines? After Aristotle. words. for a moment. At the point that the rhythm stops we are launched. now feels after Aristotle that he can define rhythm as that which negotiates between the very principle of presence. initially struggling to comprehend this statement. . is the tantalizing gift and reserve of art. every work of art is one rhythm. . supra-spatial ecstatic moment that he 190 . is a double measure. This second element. “element and minimal quantum. the Greek philosopher renames Form. . the one preferred by Aristotle. as in the case of water. He gives examples here of music and painting. Rhythm. 98). One can already see here the value of such a definition of structure as rhythm at least for the art work. Agamben. Rhythm is the unquantifiable “extra” element that makes a thing a work of art. . and everything swings from the poeticizing lips of the god” (Cited in MWC. Agamben argues. . 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. to flow. Agamben defines these two positions as number. This. yet at the same time rhythm is directly dependent on the elements that make up the work of art. that which is outside of a work and makes it what it is (Form). and measure as such as a calculable number. the very structure of art “that is at once as Gestalt and number” (MWC. for the sake of argument syllables. 99). . Yet this rhythm—as we commonly understand it—appears to introduce into this eternal flow a split and a stop” (MWC. inaugurates and announces the very existence of rhythm: “The word ‘rhythm’ comes from the Greek . measure as the coming to presence of being on the earth (Heideggerian Measure) and measure as a countable number of units or quanta. 100). at the same time. 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.
While it certainly takes time and is composed of three stages 191 . Agamben translates epoch as meaning “both to hold back. not on ongoing flow. but the ongoing process of the evental interruption of flow. human being is able to exist in the transition from presence as origin to presence as thing in the world. that is. and to hand over. . Being’s destiny and authenticity. day-to-day vulgar time. Man has on earth a poetic status. to suspend. because it is poiesis that founds for him the original space of his world” (MWC. Thus Agamben concludes: “rhythm holds. as we saw. falls back into said continuum. “In his authentic temporal dimension. rhythm grants men both the ecstatic dwelling in a more original dimension and the fall into the flight of measurable time” (MWC. and as flow. Agamben’s main argumentative thrust here is Heideggerian. 99). This then explains a final. namely “to be” in the sense of to dominate or to hold on to a place. gives and holds back . The same is true of epoch in relation to the definition of a period. to offer” (MWC. Clearly rhythm conceived in this way is the basis for Agamben’s later construction of messianic time. sinks into the past” (MWC. as soon it is raised up out of the structured continuum. . 101). Through the act of pro-duction via entelechy. 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. Yet rhythm is spoken of here in the very earliest work in terms of the Greek word epoch. As I mentioned. 100). for example modernity. as well as providing an early prototype for the Idea of Prose and its subsequent reformulation as potential. ecstasy. What matters for us at this late hour however is how he relates rhythm to poiesis for. 100) before attempting a somewhat “violent” retranslation of the term as rhythm. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT describes thus: “we perceive a stop in time . rhythm in defining art also defines the basis of being’s temporal existence in the world. centring in on issues of Measure. Both epoch and rhythm therefore are the making of a unity through a radical act of disjunctive ecstasy which. both the cut in time and the definition of a period in time. coming from the future. Yet this process of pro-duction is not entirely processual. This being the case rhythm is not a single event. an interruption in the incessant flow in instants that. being-in-the-world.CAESURA. . however. the poetic status of man on earth finds its proper meaning. he argues. to present. namely the perpetual movement between time as origin. . third meaning for epochal rhythm in the Greek.
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). is pro-duction (τίκτω) of origin (άρχή). any more than the continuum permanently disallows the epoch. flowarrest-flow-arrest. Rather. poetic 192 . art is the gift of the original space of man. and perhaps this is the truly original and poetic part of Agamben’s thinking. Rather. 101). poiesis.the term process does not convey the complexity of its operations. between past and future his present space” (MWC. So that when Agamben concludes. wherein the human sees its origins. 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. therefore. man stands in the truth that is. rhythm is the perpetual interplay between flow and its arrest. Poiesis. 102). architectonics par excellence” (MWC. This interplay. Said architectonics is a structure now extremely familiar to us across all that we have perused here. is revealing. still very much in a Heideggerian strain at this early phase in his career. etymologically: art. 102). Yet this epochal moment. art’s architectonic basis. a process wherein “in the work of art the continuum of linear time is broken.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN (poiesis–entelechy–praxis). at various points. As he says: “That art is architectonic means. and man recovers. stuttering singular dimensionality. It determines how. It dictates how human being exists in the essentiality of chronological time and space as a continuum. which would simply carve time up into the traditional aporia of moments along a single line. often by willed skilled acts of artistic making or artistic experience of the made thing. 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. itself simply archetypal of innumerable such structures across all the arts and beyond. As we now know in terms of the spatiotemporality of the poem there is flow (enjambement). we can now reread this in a more Agambenian fashion. Poiesis is rhythmical structure. does not dispense with the continuum below. interruption (caesura). in the origin that has revealed itself to him in the poietic act” (MWC. “In the experience of the work of art. In one final report from the great Aristotle. being breaks with the continual and enters into the ecstatic. is not however simply an erratic or intermittent. Here is where poetic structure.
is why poetry matters to Giorgio Agamben. we make. we fall. particularly the tabular-planar element of anaphoric– cataphoric projection–recursion that one finds. we return and in doing so. the name we now give to the whole structural process of logopoietic thinking. Poetry is able to save metaphysics from itself by providing another way of thinking. through poiesis. and temporality–. This. If. which is the name for this process. due to the very logic of the epoch. in rhyme but also in numerous other elements of poetry such as referentiality. is a tabular-planar dimensional way of being always already projected towards a finitude that in turn always casts us back to an origin. defines poiesis as ongoing. spatiality. patternation. Poiesis as the ultimate architectonic of our being on this earth as potentially productive beings within the supportive medium of language as such. Rather rhythm–. we progress. productive mode of tabular thinking is logopoiesis. under pro-duction also. and so on. 193 . This projective-recursive. We rise. recurrence with modification (torquing). and suddenly surprising. projective. negates simple processional temporality. being. simply put. in the modern epoch. being and thinking are under negation they are also. association.CAESURA. recursive. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT structure. for example.
The enforcement of a “literary” Agamben is not simply reductive. And while he concedes the omnipresence of division. (it would be premature and presumptuous to reduce his work to just three categorizations). our understanding of this most remarkable thinker is incomplete. As would the designation the “political” or “metaphysical” Agamben or even a composite of the three. it is for this reason alone. as most assuredly I have. self-defeating. is as strategic as it is descriptive. To propose a certain identity or division within Agambenian philosophy is ill-advised and. Within our culture. metaphysical. Yet here at least I have made a start. I must attest to being unhappy with such a designation even if it is my own. 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. he has made it his life’s work to overcome difference through the creation of a productive philosophy of indifference. every book demands a title: The Literary Agamben: Adventures in Logopoiesis.RECURSION. Therefore as to the actual existence of a clearly definable “literary” Agamben. His is a philosophy that resists identity in favour of neutral singularity. If I have neglected the political elements of Agamben’s work. . particularly metaphysical differential scission. . like so many titles. This must now stand as my written book on Agamben. it goes against the very spirit of his work. In my unwritten book I see that until the various strands of Agamben’s thought are presented as a whole. THE TURN OF THINKING At the end of a great adventure the intrepid in repose often set down their encounters and observations in the form of a book. political. The inaccurate entitlement of this book. for entirely mysterious and conventional reasons. commenced with the adventure of reinstating the literary in the form of 194 . literary .
historical relation between poetry and philosophy. I am fortunate enough to have the time and perspicacity to correct this. 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. Poetry produces the closest experience of language as such. 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. experience. THE TURN OF THINKING a sustained analysis of poetry into the heart of Agamben’s indifferent thought. 195 . 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. 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. word. These five conditions of poeticized ontology. The fundamental experience of ontology via language being that of desubjectivization. At the same time. The predominance of semiotics in the poem is felt at the level of the syllable. desubjectivization due to linguistic depersonalization. For Agamben there are five conditions of poetic language. you forget to take the one thing you need most of all.RECURSION. discursive structures. As our departure is delayed here a few more pages due to an oversight in some paperwork. the funding committee. connections to make. 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. intimacy with the semiotic. visas to apply for. has for centuries being attributed to the poetic experience of inspiration. or the press. and line. proximity to language as such. providing an archetype for a mode of thinking dominated by naming that does not name anything specifically. neglect to say the very thing that is most on your mind to your loved ones. That must suffice. extrapolated out across larger. but also across the whole of the rhythm of poetic structure. Sometimes when you set out on an adventure and you have a tight deadline. Or in taking your leave. a process of depersonalization at the hands of language. why poetry in particular is of such importance to the work of Agamben. that exists within our tradition. and rhythmical structure as an alternative model for thinking. or inexpressive medium for expression.
dictation in poetry. the stanza and poetic dictation specifically. The actual book was lost along the way. The history of modern metaphysical nihilism is matched by the history of aesthetic modernity dissuading us from looking for solutions in poiesis alone. 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. I admit that. The ancient antagonism established between poetry and philosophy is first revealed and then in part resolved by the rehabilitation of the category of poiesis. All great adventures work this way. An analysis so profound. thousands of words on the category life. and a character who at the beginning seemed one part of a great ensemble took over the story all but negating the early narrative. 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 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. That book. The order of the remaining chapters was endlessly changed. I dropped it. It brings to presence the predominance of negation in all elements of metaphysics. “The Invention of Literary Singularity. suprasensuous and sensuous. and unexpectedly normal that when the niece and her new beau reappear back on screen at the film’s end you have all but forgotten who they are. and the relation between the larynx and the syrinx. saw Agamben as a supporting figure in a grand narrative of the turn to poiesis in the work of Heidegger.1 196 . Mine has been no different.” now forever unwritten. I am certain many books are like this. and ultimately Agamben. As this happened the previous disorder of the chapters froze into a pattern that came to seem as almost predestined. Derrida. The Agamben chapter got out of hand. However aesthetic modernity provides a strong example of anti-poiesis that has two key effects. as well as revealing a potential way out of this great abyss through the alternative modes of poietic thinking. is not illustrative but a fundamental part of his thinking. real. His recourse to literary examples in this regard. Logopoiesis. In my case the usual: chapters which were central were removed entirely. This is not the book I set out to write.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN It is inevitable that one will lose one’s way and in losing it find one’s true way. museums. Nancy. Badiou.
However a powerful example of the presentation of thinking before thought exists in Heidegger’s unfinished work Being and Time. There are certain elements of Being and Time as a work of written thinking that tell us a good deal about thinking as such. Being and Time therefore. is a powerful lesson in self-deconstruction in part obviating many of the critical studies of the work to come. threatening a storm that in the midst of such a swashbuckling tale might indeed be welcomed even if it poses real danger. narrativizing. 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. Indeed. culminating.RECURSION. Rhythm is the very ground upon which all future work on logopoiesis must be based. like the dark and yellowing illumination of the sky above you as you set out. as common as marriage when seen through the thinking lens of Ozu. Heidegger of course casts an ambiguous shadow over the work of Agamben. People have called it thinking. summarizing. deductive. I suspect. That Heidegger then turns away entirely from the categories of this book in the later work on poetry. We have arrived at the quintessence of the logopoietic thought process. 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. a turn or kehre he denies and 197 . 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. and teleological thought is weakened as it progresses to its conclusions. The tensile rhythmic interchange between enjambement and caesura provides the medium for logopoiesis. it has been observed that the second division takes up the issues of the first and in reconsidering them undermines them so that the powerful forward thrust of Heidegger’s propositional. Such a situation is. Mostly writers recount their thoughts but not their thinking. 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. aside from its myriad other merits. This conclusion voyages far from my original intention. THE TURN OF THINKING Bringing together thought and poetry I was able to propose the tautological compound logopoiesis. syllogistic. revealed by Agamben to be that of poetry as such.
41). turns away from this coming to presence. As they rightfully go on to explain this is of no small importance to Heidegger’s work on Hölderlin.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet which is all too apparent. einkehren. 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. . As the translator’s footnote informs the English edition of Heidegger’s text. he defines this coming to presence of being as enframing as danger. . Speaking of the contemporary destiny of being in terms of instrumental.” but. Add into this Heidegger’s claim that language “is never primarily the expression of thinking. the verb used here to express the activity of the “turn in” of thought. “the primal dimension within which man’s essence is first able to correspond at all to Being .2 A similarity further confirmed when Heidegger adds: “In the coming to presence of the danger there conceals itself . In the 1949 essay “The Turning” Heidegger comes to define thinking precisely in terms of recursion. 198 . As the river departs from the source one can describe is as both homely and unhomely. This primal corresponding . and framing technology. an interiorization of thinking. particularly his study of the hymn “The Ister” and the periplus logic of the river developed there. with this turning. . the truth of the coming to presence of Being will expressly turn in—turn homeward—into whatever is” (QCT.” Although Heideggerian negativity is the destinal ontology Agamben wants expressly to turn away from. ever his method of thought and that the second division is not a failure but a triumph of recursive thought. suggests that turning away from and towards was. The influence is neither negative nor positive. therefore. and willing. . objectivizing. and we can see the profound influence Heideggerian thinking has had on Agambenian thinking. the possibility of a turning in which the oblivion belonging to the coming to presence of Being will so turn itself that. . and in that way simultaneously turns counter to the truth of its coming to presence. . Thus the act of turning is not simply turning back or away from the present but a turning in. means both to turn in and to put up at an inn. feeling. A turn from dispute into stasis and stillness. one can recognize here the basis of Agamben’s methodology. is thinking” (QCT. He then adds: “As the danger. 41). to alight. Being turns about into the oblivion of its coming to presence. It recalls always the source. or stay. but the process of the turning from the negative to the positive by virtue of the negative.
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.RECURSION. 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. From poetry. In attaching the river to the ancient sea-bound periplus. rhythm. 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. and specifically singular in relation to thought. It exemplifies thought but it is not thought as such in my opinion. Thus the poem remains. In contrast Heidegger’s reading of “The Ister” concentrates on the meaning of the river as expressed by the semantic base of Hölderlin’s great hymn. This is not the case. allegorical. The river therefore is both a locality or founding of a place and an endless journeying. THE TURN OF THINKING the homely. My contention here is not that Heidegger had already said what Agamben goes on to say. Indeed much of Agamben’s work on poetry is prefigured in this text. Thinking as rhythmical turning by virtue of poetry is my first thesis in relation to logopoiesis. 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 . through philosophy to language. archetypal. This is an essential development in logopoietic thought from its origins in the later. And second because Agamben is able to draw out the turn of thinking in poetics through detailed analysis of prosody as such. Heidegger brings another interiorization into poetic ontology and thinking. great work of the last philosopher. This rhythm is the essence of thought as a form of turning embedded in my choice of the tautological term logopoiesis to express this mode of poetic thinking. the reason why so many great cities are on the banks of rivers. which is also essential to Agamben’s theory of messianic time. to a degree. First because of Agamben’s powerful critique of Heideggerian Being as based on mute negation. but only in departing from it. Similarly as the river journeys it also provides the essential natural elements for settlement. illustrative. the river drains into the ocean whose amorphous nature recalls the installation into shape of the source. The ocean works very well as the endless falling into silence of poetic finitude.
That is: a self-consciously self-indicative anaphoric-cataphoric tabularplanar field or linguistic medium for thinking that is a projective recursion. Thus if Agamben wishes to access the linguistic basis for all being. by flowing and interrupting said flow. temporality. If for Agamben poetic thinking. 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. Later. deductive. Such a thought is definable by precisely the same structure as that of the poem for which read all works of art. rummaging through my capacious pockets for some gizmo for gouging stones out of the hooves of horses. Logopoiesis names the rehabilitation. I have understood it as the following: a modality of thinking through making and all that this entails. desolated by modernity and yet still eternally wonderful. my own sensibly founded modesty forbids me from venturing any further than a total reappraisal of all the arts in terms of their being a form of thought. progressive. and the sensuous. and eventually conclusive mode of progression through logical cumulative analysis. exhaustive.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as such. but also thought about other categories that I have yet to address such as objectivity. The first instalment of which is a consonance between the very structure of poetry and that of thinking. is a way-station along the obscured tracks of a greater mission. by submitting thought to 200 . As it progresses it does so by always simultaneously going on and looking back. our aims are more modest. 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). I can now understand why you coin the term logopoiesis to indicate this complex compound of ideas although initially I was unconvinced. as far as I can tell. This is not our concern. 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. I find a postcard from Giorgio. logopoiesis is the tautological turn of thought. In such a model. Certainly thought about being in terms of the subject.3 it already prefigures its development and cessation. teleological. logopoiesis. On one side is a sepia image of the Rome of his childhood. Rather than a syllogistic. What I summarize as thinking through making. redefinition. prosaic. objectal-instrumental.
indeed all the arts. If traditional thought advances. let’s say the problem of being. As ever. language. and perpetually ends (did I get this right?).RECURSION. it is always already within the problem. as indeed must all logopoietic thinking. Yet the grammatological space required to actuate the caesura in the line reveals the dependence of linearity on not merely interruptive. In the same manner the poem never commences. You are not quite there yet but you are certainly moving towards very provocative territory. verse. I will need time to think more about it. 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. A poetic thinking shares this structure. THE TURN OF THINKING a constraining linearity and exploding linearity through a translinear tabular-planar rhythmic structure. space and time. it is the turn of verse. It must end. but not for all time. trans-linear space. but which we cannot take hold of. mono-dimensional space but also architectonic. Rather than defining a problem and then seeking to solve it conclusively. to come into existence. are suspended in every sense of this word. we are held by that which possesses us. It is for this reason that we call poetry. as the poem ends it both comes to an end. Beware the sloughs of negative despond by the 201 . a moment wherein categories such as beginning and end. philosophy and poetry. Quite so. Very interesting. Not everything is as it should be. That said the poem never comes to an end because the cataphoric-recursive element always folds the poem back on itself. As in thought so in art. For now at least. Just as human life can only come to life by ending the category of life and the tension therein. subject and object. it must at the same time be turning back on itself and away from summation. thought and language. inside and outside. in on itself. The linear extension of the semiotic and its interruption are both temporal. Finally. structural. our habitual place. put on hold. This rhythmical space is also the rhythmical temporality of thought. By the same gesture as it seems to move towards its conclusions. never comes to an end. 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. Some ideas seem out of place. Such a thought exists both in space and time you suggested at one point. poetic thought turns. The last philosopher has spoken his final words. Philosophy has now passed. part and whole.
He is a close associate of mine although we do not always see eye to eye. ignore the example of Orpheus. upon an empty plateau about which they say great danger finds its dwelling. It’s your turn now. There. I have finished what I have to say. By the way. Remember to take the right turn there.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way. Giorgio 202 . You will find his conversation and company very stimulating even if at first he seems obscure. 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. Good luck with your next guide. There are always benefits to be accrued from looking back along the way you have come.
org/t/ negriagamben. Negri’s provocation has been picked up by Jenny Edkins. 2 (2002). “Cutting the Branches for Akiba. 190. 2005). 92.NOTES EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN 1 2 3 4 5 6 For various criticisms of Agamben’s supposedly dual methodology. ed. “Giorgio Agamben: The Discreet Taste of the Dialectic. trans.” in Politics. “Law and Life. 1–7. Kaufman. ed.’ Kritikos 2 (2005). no. 38. 112–13.” SL. Jean-Philipe Deranty. Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer. 11.” Angelaki 7. Matteo Mandarini (New York: Continuum. See Giorgio Agamben. and Robert Buch. Benjamin Noys. henceforth cited as PMD. Nicholas Heron. Arianna Bove. unpaginated.” PMD. Andrew Norris (Durham. “The Enigma of Giorgio 203 . Negri reiterates this critique in Antonio Negri. Colin McQuillan. Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2003). 135. See Adam Thurschwell.” trans. Dominick LaCapra. Antonio Negri. 173. no. 57.” The Germanic Review 82. No study of the uncanny is complete without reference to Nicholas Royle’s magisterial and unsettling The Uncanny: An Introduction (Manchester: Manchester University Press. ‘Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?’ SL. and Ernesto Laclau. “The Ripe Fruit of Redemption. The Man Without Content. 70.” in Sovereignty & Life.generation-online. 254.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 107.” SL. 175. and Alex Murray. 2 (2007). 27. Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Agamben’s first published work begins with a consideration of the uncanny as the ability of literature to produce desubjectivization. 1 (2008). trans. and Eleanor Kaufman. Henceforth cited as MWC. “Approaching Limit Events. “The Saturday of Messianic Time. Catherine Mills.” SAQ.html. “S/Citing the Camp. henceforth cited as SAQ.” SAQ. 2003). no. Agamben’s Critique of Derrida. NC: Duke University Press. 44. “Time of Death. SAQ. and Time for Revolution. 1999). henceforth cited as SL. 117–18.” PMD. see Erik Vogt. 2007). “Playing with Law: Agamben and Derrida on Postjuridical Justice. The first critical concession of the three Agambens can be found in Justin Clemens. Siting Agamben. Rainer Maria Kiesow. “Seeing the Impossibility of Seeing or the Visibility of the Undead: Giorgio Agamben’s Gorgon. “Whatever Politics. ‘The Political Life in Giorgio Agamben. www. “Witnessing the Inhuman: Agamben or Merleau-Ponty.
90. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Nicholas Heron. This is the function of the “anthropological machine” that Agamben describes in The Open. trans. bare life. Henceforth cited as QCT. later in the main body of the book. 2000). 1999). See for example Justin Clemens. For example. Henceforth cited as PA. 6. See Giorgio Agamben. 43. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 204 . “Introduction. The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. 2 (2002).” in the collection Martin Heidegger. “Jamming the Anthropological Machine.com/. The Question Concerning Technology. & 187–8. 107. Henceforth cited as O. For more see Matthew Calarco. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Henceforth cited as WGA. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. 163–79. 1998). essentially. blogspot. 1977). 2008).” in QCT. trans. Giorgio Agamben. 2004). Literature. Henceforth cited as WWB. trans. 84–5. “The Role of the Shifter and the Problem of Reference in Giorgio Agamben. trans. 10. This is. 140. Liz Heron (London: Verso.” Paragraph 25. Giorgio Agamben. 3. Justin Clemens. See for example Giorgio Agamben. 119. The Open: Man and Animal. and again in LD. Means Without Ends. biological life.” SL. 3. 3–52. xxviii–xxxvi. Mills defines as a crucial element of Agamben’s thought the faculty of having or capacity to do something. trans. “Introduction: The Interim.” WGA. Karen E. trans. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Daniel HellerRoazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Lovitt’s introduction is also useful. see William Lovitt. and Alex Murray. 59. ed.” and “The Turning. social life. Henceforth cited as MWE. See Catherine Mills. Henceforth cited as LD. It also forms the basis of a whole chapter in The End of the Poem. 1993).NOTES Agamben. no. The importance of the literary has finally been conceded by some critics. The End of the Poem. 1991). For a consideration of the status of the unwritten in Agamben see Andrew Dillon.” William Watkin’s Blog. IH. 109. the inhuman. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience. See Giorgio Agamben. Henceforth cited as IH. the question behind the “political” texts comprising the Homo Sacer project in terms of the relation of the human to the animal. For more on the role of animal voice to poetry see William Watkin. PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Giorgio Agamben. Henceforth cited as HS. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. and ontology. 29–30. “Article: Syrinx / Larynx: A Full-Throated Ease. Life. 1–11. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. http://williamwatkin.” in The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. See “The Question Concerning Technology. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial. 62–75. 33–8. trans. Henceforth cited as EP. Henceforth cited as Para. 2008).
henceforth cited as IP. 1993). 1971). Peter D. His critique of Derrida is more sporadic yet insistent. It is widely assumed that Heidegger’s interest in Dasein wanes as. 266–90. 200–2 and again Mills in PA. Literature and War: Absence and the Chance of Meeting (London: Continuum. Potentialities. trans. 1995). Key moments come in the following texts Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture. and is inevitably itself criticized by others. 23–46. 1 (2004). Henceforth cited as PLT. 2009). “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality: Biopolitics. For largely negative comments on Agamben’s critique of Derrida see Thurschwell. trans. Ronald L. 90–2. henceforth cited as P. On the Way to Language. “After Humanism: Agamben and Heidegger. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press. Thought. Affect and the Politics of Style. his commitment to Being as such waxes. 103–4. 173–97. trans. RA. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. henceforth cited as OWL. Poetry. no. Henceforth cited as RA. henceforth cited as ST.” Culture.” in Martin Heidegger. For a useful analysis of the relation of Agamben’s thought to that of Debord’s concept of the spectacle. Agamben’s critique of Heidegger spans the volumes Language and Death (LD. Subjectivation. Lévinas and Agamben.” in PMD.” in Derrida. See also Lee Spinks. For a consideration of this argument see Thomas Docherty. 1999). 164–9. 155–6. trans. 39–77). 53–7. post-kehre. PA. 102–4. David E. and Sean Gaston. HS. see Alex Murray. 86–7. and Colin Davis. and Testimony in Remnants of Auschwitz. 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. 2 (2007). Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. 205 . messianic conception of post-humanism: O. Mills. 15–88. no. 12. 54–64). Language. Idea of Prose.” SAQ. 2002). 44–6.” Para. 187–210. 1 (2001). Johnson.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 106.” Textual Practice 15. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. “Beyond Spectacle and the Image: the Poetics of Guy Debord and Agamben. “Potential European Democracy. For more on this topic see Catherine Mills.” WGA.” P. for example Krzysztof Ziarek. trans. “Absence as Pure Possibility. “Thinking the Post-human: Literature. no. PMD. 205–19. 2005). Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. especially in the later texts on poetry. Heidegger disputes this easy division. trans. “Can the Dead Speak to Us? De Man. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. The conclusion to The Open sets out a more positive. see for example Martin Heidegger. His most veiled but sustained critique is to be found in the essay “Pardes: The Writing of Potentiality. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. 34–53. Theory & Critique 45. 1971). 61–2. and The Open (O. “As If the Time Were Now: Deconstructing Agamben. 44–5. 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. trans. and The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. 110–14. 87–135.NOTES 13 14 15 16 Also Giorgio Agamben. 129–30. henceforth cited as TTR.
and William Watkin. the colon.1 (2006). 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. 271–3. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 152–8. 3 (2008). and “Geschlecht I: Sexual Difference. 1999).NOTES 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 See Derrida’s two remarkable assaults on Heideggerian difference. 2008).” in Jacques Derrida. “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the work of Godzich & Kittay. 2004). Henceforth cited as MofP. ” (P. John Milton. For an analysis of deixis. 50. 1989). “Coetzee. Bakhtin. and the Passion of Abu Ghraib. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2008). Henceforth cited as LPN. The Emergence of Prose: An Essay in Prosaics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.” WGA. See also Wall’s ground-breaking analysis Radical Passivity: Lévinas. Silliman and Agamben. Agamben later speculates on various grammatological punctuation marks in relation to his theory of nonrelational harmonic articulation that is neither “hypotactic nor paratactic but. http://jacketmagazine. The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press. ed. 206 . Ontological Difference. . and Barbara Formis. and Rachel Blau DuPlessis. See Shane Weller.” Paragraph 31. For a remarkable history of this process see Wlad Godzich and Jeffrey Kittay. no. so to speak. 7–26.” SAQ 121–44. Three essays which are not germane to my argument here in that they attempt to apply the ideas of Homo Sacer to literary analysis but still worth considering are Lee Spinks. see John Lyons. Blanchot and Agamben (New York: SUNY. James Ellroy. “Dismantling Theatricality: Aesthetics of Bare Life. trans. Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press. See for example HS. 181–92.” in relation to the hyphen. atactic. Agamben. Weller is somewhat scathing of this narrative of overcoming nihilism which he says typifies our tradition in relation to nihilism since Nietzsche. M. II. Vol. 4. Caton. This is Agamben’s specific criticism of Derrida in Stanzas. Henceforth cited as RP. Philosophy. and ellipsis dots in the title of the Deleuze essay “Immanence: A Life . 1987). 221–3). 344–64. For a full consideration of all these issues see William Watkin. 1981). 137 & 159–62. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. “Except for Law: Raymond Chandler. no. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: Chicago University Press. Psyche: Inventions of the Other. 114–23. is implied but never fully developed in Agamben’s work. com/36/watkin-duplessis. 129–30.” American Anthropologist 108. 636–7. . Steven C. Shklovsky.” Jacket 36 (2008). 1977). Jacques Derrida. Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Literature. See ST.shtml. “‘Draft 33: Deixis’ / Notes on ‘Deixis’: a Midrashic Chain an exchange of thoughts. See M. and the Politics of Exception. Semantics Vol.
as glossolalic. Cecile Lindsay. 63–70 where Agamben considers Heidegger’s ideas pertaining to animal captivated being as fundamentally at odds with human privative. Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. 53. 1935). Henceforth cited as M. Second Edition.” Representations 56 (1996). On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ed. self-conscious being. Henceforth cited as IPP.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. The importance of passivity and neutrality for Agamben’s post-metaphysical ontology has been noted by a number of critics. 29–47. See Jacques Derrida. 28–32. a meaningless noise. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. 137–8. I am thinking most specifically of the arguments put forward in Jacques Derrida. In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. and the subsequent denuding of xenoglossia under the sign of glossolalia. See Michel De Certeau. The English translation incorrectly names John Woodhouse as Keats’ addressee. trans. Problems in General Linguistics. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1971). See Emile Benveniste. In Agambenian terms much cultural imperialism is based on the false division between xenoglossia (bios) and glossolalia (zoe). Memoires for Paul de Man. This admits into sovereign domination a double weakness. 1993). 2001). The wilful treatment of xenoglossic alterity. The Letters of John Keats. 198–226. 92–4. 207 . 1982). trans. 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. Maurice Buxton Forman (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 217–30 & 35–40 respectively.” in Margins of Philosophy. What barbarians utter is mere noise. PA: Bucknell University Press. For more on this see William Watkin. is surely the basis of much cultural chauvinism and imperialism through the ages. and Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press. Mary Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press. a language equal to our own in every way except the specificity of its material signification. trans. 1989). See also RA. “Au Hasard. Eduardo Cadava. but the first serious study of the issue was Thomas Wall’s Radical Passivity. trans. 2004). See O. and my own analysis of these issues in relation to poetry in William Watkin. 307–30. “Vocal Utopias: Glossolalias. See Alain Badiou. 1999). 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. trans. John Keats. See for example Wall. Henceforth cited as MP. Manifesto for Philosophy. 227. The Coming Community. Jonathan Culler.” PMD. 32–5. therefore they are alive without being human. in other words. “Signature Event Context.
PA. concluding: “Every creation is always a cocreation. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 36–51. AP. 64. 2008). no.” Para. For an interesting consideration of love in Agamben see Julian Wolfreys. 141–2. Agamben approaches the issue of the collusive nature of creation from a different angle. 2 (2000). 86. Josh Cohen. 144. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. 167. the Other in Love.NOTES 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 Robert Browning. and Mills. 13. Henceforth cited as Prof.” SAQ. 90–1. RA. here Heller-Roazen opts for “mean. 203. 344. “Article: Poetic Dictation. State of Exception.” Para. For a consideration of the relation of life to poetry see WWB. “Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals. 186. “Face to Face with Agamben. trans. Henceforth cited as AP. Agamben. THINKING THOUGHT 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 See earlier comments on Foucault and desubjectivization in RA.” PMD. “‘A Different Insignificance’: The Poet and Witness in Agamben. “Agamben’s Potential. PMD. Pindar. See Zaraloudis. For further readings of the razo in Romantic and contemporary poetics see William Watkin. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. see Leland De La Durantaye.” WGA. or. Mills. CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. 2004). Andrew Benjamin. 66. 113–38.” Giorgio Agamben. “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. and Robert Eaglestone. Henceforth cited as SE. For criticism of Agamben in relation to otherness see Andrew Benjamin. For a consideration of this term and its relation to the semiotic in Agamben. 188. See Mills. trans. 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 . 2007). 85. What Agamben defines as the pseudonymical nature of written selfenunciation. Thurschwell. PMD. 149–63. Plato. 2005). PMD.” Diacritics 30. 131–2. PMD. “Spacing as Shared: Heraclitus. Vogt. Republic. 211. Selected Poems (London: Penguin. a consonance I would be hesitant to endorse.” WWB. 76. Henceforth cited as R. just as every author is always a coauthor. 5–8. Badiou’s manifesto for “affirmative thinking” is mapped out in MP. trans. Profanations. Pertinent to a later debate on the actual translation of the key term medio. Giorgio Agamben. “Soulblind.” in WGA. Debating the origin of the inter-relation between the ancient legal terms auctoritas and potestas.” also my preference. “On Giorgio Agamben’s Holocaust. De La Durantaye goes so far as to claim they are the same.
See also Düttmann. “Integral Actuality. unfortunately. IP. In a rare but central moment for Agamben scholarship. For an insightful consideration of the origins of the Idea of Prose in the work of Benjamin. 123. He also mentions this fragment in IP. “Idea of Poetry. ed. “Politics and Poetics of Divine Violence: On a Figure in Giorgio Agamben and Walter Benjamin. which shows itself.NOTES 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Greek culture. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime. this definition of the Idea of Prose comes together with Agamben’s liberationist. . see R. I do not have space to develop here. Benjamin’s idea of a pure language finds an analogue in his conception of pure violence. see RA. 107. 70–102. Peter Osborne (London: Taylor and Francis. politics.” CC. revealing a parity between the political and literary Agamben that. primarily in an attempt to reject tragedy from the republic. and the three main strands of Agamben’s work. “Article: Ontological Whisperings. Idea of Prose. For a sustained reading of this essay see Deborah Levitt. 41 and again does not provide the citation.” IP.” SL. 131. Henceforth cited as LAS.” (SE. 107. . 84–8. 71–8.” in Walter Benjamin: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory. Jean-François Lyotard. without any relation to an end. For a consideration of knowability and sayability in relation to desubjectivization. Alexander García Düttmann. 60–1. 11–12). For more on pure. 1994). see also “The Idea of the Name. “On the Messianic Structures of Walter Benjamin’s Last Reflections.” in IP.” WWB. 59–62.” CC. For more on Agamben’s consideration of the logical aporia that “Discourse cannot say what is named by the name.” WGA. and “Homonym. and metaphysics come together. 4–6. 1–28. 105. 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. 117). See also Wall’s analysis RP. P. “Pseudonym. See Bruno Gulli. 193–211. 241–2. poetry. 169–231. 209 . 97–107. where this argument is developed. “Notes on Media and Biopolitics: ‘Notes on Gesture’. For a consideration of pseudonym and homonym in literature see William Watkin. See MofP. 2004). 88). would correspond an action as pure means. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. which in turn defines the concept of the pure medium of mediality in SE. trans. An excellent consideration of the messianic and the term integral actuality can be found in Irving Wohlfarth. but says only itself. Add into this Agamben’s definition of living in the category form-of-life as thinking as such (MWE.” WGA. 11–13. This relentless degradation and attenuation of poiesis occurs in the fourth book of Republic.” WGA. see Nicholas Heron. post-juridical politics in final page of State of Exception: “To a word that does not bind . The Aristotelian saying something about something.” P.
smooth glowing in which no point can be distinguished from any other” (P. see Thanos Zartaloudis. 76.NOTES 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 In Means Without Ends Agamben defines “form of life” as the ontic prefigurement of the specific life you will lead in a self-consciously critical manner. 2002). . This being the case. Being and Time. trans. no. SL. 223. 21. 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. 112). Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. 2008). Bartleby: La Formula della creazione (Macerata: Quodlibet. and Slavoj Zizek. Alexander Cooke. 140–44. 2006). 79. Henceforth cited as BT. 3 (2005). liberating future destiny. now turning. . Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. See also P. 116–8. 231. THINKING THROUGH MAKING 1 Poiesis. MWE. which he calls formof-life. 26–43. The Parallax View (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. 1996). the ultimate statement of potentiality. Thought is not just another form of life but form-of-life as such: MWE. 248–1 & 309–10. or On Profanation. “A Sense of Loss: Whatever it May Be. For further deliberations on this conception of Genius. “Resistance. See Martin Heidegger. See Giorgio Agamben and Gilles Deleuze. CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. He speaks of potentiality in most of his major texts with major statements in CC. Idea della prosa (Macerata: Quodlibet. I have decided not to italicize the term and so in effect neologise the very term for the formation of neologisms. and because I am arguing for poiesis as a contemporary term covering issues around making as pro-duction into presence. spinning on itself . See Edkins SL. See O.” in WGA. The archetypal activity of authentic being. See also his comments on the Hegelian grund or ground in this regard in P. 375–85. 1993). The gag comes to relate to later considerations of the use of the mask in drama which Agamben also defines as a gesture. he notes: “But here it is as if this anaphora were absolutized to the point of losing all reference. back toward the phrase itself— absolute anaphora. while a Greek word. 134–8. 255). 210 . It is indeed the origin of the political and its potential. Giorgio Agamben. 27–32. 9. The final word however rests with Agamben and the relation of this. as well as his description of the threshing floor of the ineffable as “a light. so to speak. P. 177–271. 85. MWE. Potentiality and Law: Deleuze and Agamben on ‘Bartleby’. is thought.” Angelaki 10. 110. HS. and Giorgio Agamben. 72–3.” (P. 45–7 & TTR. to anaphora. See Gulli. “Soulblind. Conceding the “to” refers to some act that preceded to which Bartleby refers. and Marc Froment-Meurice.” Para. Henceforth cited as N. 35–8. 83.
NOTES 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Plato. Edith Hamilton and Huntingdon Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press. This is the basis of the thesis of Martin Heidegger. . trans. trans. “Poiesis and Art-Making: A Way of Letting-Be. Synposium. I consistently use the term modern here in the manner in which Agamben takes the term.” www.php?articleID=216. Girly Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. in Plato. The Collected Dialogues. Whitehead. 1998). The Man Without Qualities.contempaesthetics. 62–3. be” (P. 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. 9. 1997). 105–6. trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 172–3. . See Claire Colebrook. 57. See the essay “The Thing” in PLT. Cited in Bernard Stiegler. 2006). 19–20. See PLT. 44. See TTR.” SAQ. “Agamben: Aesthetics. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS 1 2 A solid overview of Agamben’s anti-modernity can be found in William Rasch. Actuality = recursive eschaton.org/newvolume/pages/article. especially the phenomenological thick description of jug-ness as thing. Charles Bernstein. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 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 . from Nothing. and Alain Badiou. the hardest thing is being capable of annihilating this Nothing and letting something. See Derek H. 1961). trans. 557. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper One. refuting a criticism often 211 . accessed 17 September 2008. encompass Romanticism and contemporary “postmodernity. 110 & 115. 1991). Henceforth cited as HI. Vols. 165–86. Ostensibly the modern epoch commences in the eighteenth century with the rise of Enlightenment rationalism and continues up to our present moment. trans. Robert Musil. and entelechy = chairatic interiorization. Technics and Time: The Fault of Epimetheus. and Life. We will find exactly the same structural model in terms of messianic temporality later on so that Potentiality = projective chronos.” SL. 95. therefore. Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike (London: Picador. Modern art would. Handbook of Inaesthetics. 253). CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. ed. 2005). Nietzsche. One and Two.” as opposed to praxis or a willed doing. and indeed many others. where Agamben makes clear that his messianic temporality and overall method is not eschatological. The key term here is “letting. Michael Joyce. Potentiality. “From Sovereign Ban to Banning Sovereignty.” Thus Colebrook’s critique of Agamben’s theory of poiesis as both masculinist and theological is incorrect. 205b.
centrally important and. PMD. 40). Para. Henceforth cited as C. William McNeill and Julia Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Clearly a development of the idea of sacrifice in HS.NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 and misguidedly levelled at his work. “As such” here names the relation itself of relation between denotation (semiotics) and meaning with such-ness being the exposition of as-ness as tensile relation. trans. 19–20. 4 (1999). P. This I believe is Negri’s final criticism of Agamben in SL.” PMD. Charles Baudelaire. Mills. 2007). where he takes Agamben’s commitment to productive thought and declares it effectively fatalistic and unproductive.’ trans. PMD. Such a process negates the age-old consideration of language as primarily metaphoric-symbolic. 74–106. trans. 1996). 73–83. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. to my mind. Badiou defines the century as defined by the violence of The Real in Alain Badiou. 2000). 403. 120–4. And Martin Heidegger.” PMD. but of saying the suchness of as itself (CC. While both are important. 97–100). 110–12. 104. See Wall. tautological indication of the anaphoric act of indication as such. See for example Andreas Kalyvas. Paul Hegarty. most troublesome categories. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality. 397–417. “Supposing the Impossibility of Silence of Sound. 1972).” PMD. “The Painter of Modern Life. Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister. Two of the most infamous analyses of literature in Agamben are his consideration of Kafka’s “Before the Law” in Homo Sacer and his reading of the work of Primo Levi in Remnants of Auschwitz. This 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. Cohen. In Potentialities cultural traditional transmissibility is founded first on linguistic transmissibility (communicability). Transmissibility is one of Agamben’s earliest. saying something as something. of Voice: Bataille. I turn to the critical material around the Kafka story presently. For considerations of Agamben’s use of Levi. see Vogt. Charvet (Cambridge: Cambridge UP.” in Selected Writings on Art & Artists. P. they pertain more directly to the work around the Homo Sacer project which I have chosen not to dwell on in this study.” MLN 121. Agamben and the Holocaust. 36–51. no. 198–221. 139 & 156.. 4 (2006). The Century. no. “Dead Man Walking: Law and Ethics After Giorgio Agamben’s Auschwitz. “The Sovereign Weaver: Beyond the Camp.E. 1009–22. 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. trans. See Marin Heidegger. Henceforth cited as EHP. 64.” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 12. and Esther Norma Marion. 222–47. “The Nazi Genocide and the Writing of the Holocaust Aporia: Ethics and Remnants of Auschwitz. 31. 212 . David Fraser.
Bridget McDonald (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Nicholas Walker (Cambridge: Polity Press. turned forward” (P. and my own consideration of these issues in William Watkin. no. is now truly prose (that is pro-versa.” SAQ. 13–27. “Playing with Law. “Spacing as Shared. Acts of Literature. “Myth Interrupted. C. 84–5. 98. 36. For an excellent recent study of this classic theme. 1982).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. 1993). In this second reading. 219–37.” New Formations. “Article: Under Glass. trans. Culture and Politics 15. 2 (2002). see William Watkin. trans. pro-verted. THINKING TAUTOLOGY 1 2 Ezra Pound. “The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices. Peter Connor in The Inoperative Community. HS. 146. For Weller’s argument in this regard see LPN. Peter Connor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. trans.” Strategies: Journal of Theory. 181–220. See Jean-Luc Nancy. Derrida’s reading of the same text is to be found in Jacques Derrida. Theory of the Avant-Garde. and Mills. Agamben’s most recent posting into this dossier is Giorgio Agamben. 43–70. 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. having fulfilled its past. Glossing Hegel on philosophy after its end he speculates on “a humanity that. 213 . 18. “K. 1991). See Vogt. Poetic Thinking: An Approach to Heidegger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1992). See Jürgen Habermas. See my own analysis of avant-garde manifestoes in IPP. See Jean-Luc Nancy.” trans. HS 40–4. 115–48. See my own consideration of this issue in IPP. 62 (2007). CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge. “Law of Friendship: Derrida and Agamben.” in WGA. See Peter Burger. For a detailed analysis of Agamben’s theory of the museum.” PMD. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge: Polity Press. The Experience of Freedom. Derrida and Disinterest (London: Continuum. See David Halliburton. ed. 2005). and The Decline of Modernism. Andrew Benjamin. ABC of Reading (London: Faber. 1992). 135). “Friendly Little Communities: Derrida’s Politics of Death. 1984). For considerations of the relationship between the two texts. ed. 31–5). 1992).” WWB.” Postmetaphysical Thinking. see Sean Gaston. see Simon Morgan Wortham. 55–7 for his comments on Malevich. 156. 19–31 See Badiou. trans. 19–34. 1951). Michael Shaw (Manchester: Manchester University Press. PMD. 89–105. 49–62 Agamben pits his reading against Derrida’s influential interpretation.
as “The poem—this prolonged lingering between sound and sense” (EHP. trans. Idea of Prose. 176). see Clemens. 75. “The Role of the Shifter. Oeuvres II. such lingering has its own lofty resoluteness. 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.” Lingering. 111 & 117.” PMD. For a consideration of Agamben’s contentious use of the paradigmatic example. not due to indecisiveness (vacillation) but an authentic desire to listen to poetry’s call.” is misleading in relation to the Italian. Para. 2007). Σηµειωτιχη [Semiotike]: Recherches pour une Sémanalyse (Paris: Éditions du Seuil. Norris. 274–6. Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry.” in Giorgio Agamben. Jeff Fort (Urbana: University of Illinois Press. of course. 214 .NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 See Colebrook. I first came across the idea of the tabularity of poetic structure in Julia Kristeva. See Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. lingers even longer than the poem itself. Giacomo Leopardi. and even the thinking which prepares such listening. SAQ. “thought conceives. ed. “Beauty is truth. “The Exemplary Exception.147–8. Jean Hytier (Paris. Lingering in comparison calls to mind an almost passive. “Idea of Poetry.” WGA. 108–10. 177. 1960). The English here. 114). Jean-Pierre Barricelli (Boston: 1986).11–134. Selected Poems (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. 17–37. 2008). 109. trans.”’ WGA.” which really means tricks me or feigns for me. is a significant change to prolongation which suggests stretching as an act of willed extension.” SAQ. thoughtless hanging around. This is a criticism levelled. John Keats. Here “Heidegger” retains the caesuric and thetic nature of Valéry’s prose by translating prolongée in terms of the more suggestive “lingering. 3–4 and clarifies such issues as Norris’s exemplary examples.” allowing him to conclude: “the listening to the poem. “mi fingo. by Froment-Meurice. 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. For an introduction to some of these concepts see Heron. For a summary of the arguments. unfairly I believe. Para. After all. truth beauty”. 50–1. 1969). see the first chapter of Signatura Rerum entitled “Che cos’è un paradigma?. All English quotes taken from Giacomo Leopardi. 85–6. cited in LD. 637). “Introduction. it is no mere vacillation. CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. 2008). which in part refutes the criticism of Agamben’s use of “extreme examples” such as one finds in Alison Ross. Signatura rerum: Sul metodo (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri.
117. therefore. caesura.com/drucker/. and Giorgio Agamben. See Johnson. an alternation between inversion and progression” (TTR. [Every instant. stress-unstress. See Gulli. 203–6. and rhyme are all dependent on an idea of duality which. 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. 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. 158–91.” http:// www. See BT. . 231. This logic resembles in miniature the logic of the epoch and of messianic time in a quite remarkable and universal fashion. SAQ. ogni immagine anticipa virtualmente il suo svolgimento futuro e ricorda i suoi gesti precedenti” (N. IPP. 26.” he calls it Greetings. Mallarmé. 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. while Agamben gives an example of the caesura he never provides examples of enjambement as such. does not come to view as double until a third element occurs to confirm this duality. Agamben uses the example of Bill Viola’s 1995 work “The Greeting. 17–19. . 266. Il sacramento del linguaggio: Archeologia del giuramento (Roma: GLF. The essential bases of poetry. 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. Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet. every image anticipates virtually its future unwinding and recalls its preceding gestures] Interestingly. 29 for the commencement of a career-long attack on aesthetics in Heidegger. 2008). 119 & 132. See TTR.NOTES 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 See Stephen Pinker. A useful consideration of silence can be found in Hegarty. 269–80. 1994). See William Watkin. however.” WGA.” EnterText 1. 81–2). 83–117. Thomas Gray. SL. “Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from Being and Time. 29–69.” M. As one can see. Celan. PMD. The Language Instinct (London: Penguin. See for example Johanna Drucker. For his initial conception of calling see BT. 2000). of which he says: “Ogni istante. 1981). Rilke. 1 (Dec. no. “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to e-space. 222–47. 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. 35–6. “Poetry Machines: Repetition in the Early Poetry of Kenneth Koch. See Jacques Derrida. 215 . 9–10).philobiblon. enjambement. Hölderlin. It was the poets themselves who called this “retrogradatio cruciata .
Derrida’s conception of language is problematically ensconced within the differing and deferring logic of the trace. and. 2 (2003). 14. Here the hemistich in the second line breaks it into two clearly separate entities. see Sean Gaston. 200–6. See IPP. Julia Kristeva. 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. 25–30 and 239n11 (for her critique of Derrida). see Mikhail Leonovich Gasparov. 355–8. CC. What he names “a paraexistence or a paratranscendence that dwells beside the thing. of course. no. Henceforth cited as W. CHAPTER 6 CAESURA. 43). which he also terms the halo. the trace is not synonymous with language.’ On the Name. even if this is not marked grammatologically. although for Agamben at least. 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. WGA. 7–9. The New Sentence (New York: Roof Books. but is the endless collapsing of the traditional metaphysical distinction between the two. 84–119. 1996). For a brilliant attack on the omnipresence of end-directed syllogism as an unquestioned and damaging convention of poetic and prosaic structural coherence. 216 . trans. 122–4. see Ron Silliman. 1995). John Ashbery. “The Suspended Substantive: On Animals and Men in Giorgio Agamben’s The Open. 2008).106. Starting with Derrida (London: Continuum. A Wave (Manchester: Carcanet. 1987). Alexander Pope. A History of European Versification. 89–130. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. see Watkin. 1984). 90–1. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press. 53–8. Similarly. 38–59. 101.NOTES 22 For by far the best and most penetrating explanation of spacing and the trace in Derrida. 1984). See also MWE. For more on Italian versification. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press. See De Boever. before and after thought (penso).” Diacritics 33. 2007). see Jacques Derrida.” the presence of being to the side. see Leland De La Durantaye. For more on the gender implications of the appropriation of terms such as womb/khora. Gerald Stanton Smith and Marina Tarlinskaja (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Revolution in Poetic Language. For my own analysis see MofP. ed. Henceforth cited as SP. trans. CC. On the relation of this to the Benjaminian concept of the division of the division and the caesura. ‘Khōra. 69–70. For more on the right-hand margin in poetry. OM.
no. I believe. 108. see LPN. to my piece “‘Systematic rule-governed violations of convention’: The Poetics of Procedural Constraint in Ron Silliman’s BART and The Chinese Notebook. Weller is in agreement. 4 (2007). SAQ.” Contemporary Literature 48. 217 . 499–529. THE TURN OF THINKING 1 2 3 For an analysis of poiesis in relation to modernity see Colebrook. Could it be he knew of my work even before we met? It seems unlikely. He refers. although I do not remember ever mentioning it. 142.NOTES RECURSION.
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25.4.18 Signatura rerum 213n.4.n.2. 204n. 36–7. 212n.13. 146. 209n. 216n. 158 actuality 43–4. 205n.12.5 Means Without Ends 58. 113. 209n. 95. 81–3. 157. 87.15.12.INDEX abyss between poetry philosophy 45–7. 7–12. 209n. 59. 24. 206n.18. 213n. 216n.18. 67–8. 61–184.108.40.206.6. 171.25.15. 92. 123. 139. 206n. 135–9. 215n.15. 47. 204n.7 Stanzas 14–19. 204n. 149. 189–92. 72.18 Agamben.27. 5. 210n. 205n. 169–71.12 State of Exception 171.19. 215n. 204n. 12–13. 204n. 54–64. 47–9. 47.26. 212n. 126–220.127.116.11. 206n.18. 152. 161. 125. 209n. 204n. 141. 18. 32.29. 209n.24. 212n.1.32. 213n. 91–7. 20–2. 206n. 207n. 122–4. 205n. 210n. 79–86. 91. 213n.10.28 Idea of Prose 33–6.30 The Coming Community 63–6 180–2.15.34. 54.31. 210n.12. 204n.33. 205n.9. 204n. 212n.19.15 Adorno. 209n. 209n. 204n. 196 as poetic spacing 137–8. 212n. 111. 13. 209n.6 The Man Without Content 45–6.11 integral actuality 54–7. 205n. Theodor 29.15.29 Potentialities 43. 166–7. 210n.10.23.7.5. 143–4.10. 58–9. 89–90 aesthetics 16.11.5 Homo Sacer 1.15. 210n. 203n.33.6. 174–80. 209n. 209n. 212n. 64–6. 123. 208n.7 The End of the Poem 32. 209n.15. 133. 89. 98. 208n.9. 211n. 71–2. 210n. 204n. 208n. 206n. 89. 206n. 148–9. Giorgio Bartleby 210n. 100–9. 209n.18 . 216n. 45.12 Infancy and History 4–5. 48. 209n. 100–14.7 Language and Death 2.22 Idea della prosa 210n. 211n. 83–4.22.2 Remnants of Auschwitz 26–32.35. 67. 8–9. 143.13. 213n. 210n. 158. 163.33. 124.1 Il sacramento del linguaggio 215n. 212n. 45–7.13. 205n. 207n. 213n.3. 206n. 187–8. 229 “K” 213.5. 210n.29 The Open 5. 37.19 Profanations 41–3. 30.4. 208n. 182–3.8 Ninfe 210n. 205n.
18. 210n. 210n. 98. 147. 212n. 57.18 Benjamin. 146–7 . 146–7. 171. 64. 120. 208n. 212n. 70–4. 199. 206n. 212n. 70–4.15. 146. 94. 77. 69. 71–6.2 Cohen. 73–5. 166–93. Steven 206n. Claire 211n. 118. 79. 197 arche (authentic origin) 49–50. 102.17 Bakhtin. 128. 128. 132. 210n. 153. 63. Matthew 204n. 135. 105. 213n. 161. 50. 150. 175. 102.INDEX Agamben. 189. 120–1 Browning. 108. 205n. 43–5. 204n. 101–2. 65–6. 20–5. 71.10 lieu commun 85. 211n. 170. 156–7. 157.6 Colebrook. 215n. 122. 98.10. 27. 207n. 209n. 27–8.43.3. 196. 16.8. 165. Alain 29. 31. Alexander 210n. Peter 103. 48–51. 83–6.9.6. Émile 23. 176 anaphora 21. 109. 92. 181 bios 1. 207n. John 102. 117. Honoré de 104 Bartleby 43. 150. 60.41 Buch. 211n. 207n. 210n.3. 154. 119. 197.39 boustrophedonic 139–45. 216n.12. 79.17. 189–92 Arnaut. 204n. Charles 78–9.44. 31. 165.6 Attridge. 193. 212n. 95 Benjamin. 86. 178–9.4 Burger. 87. 3. 133. 100–14 as if 88–94. 145 Aristotle 17. 54–5.8. 138. 122–4.30 Bernstein. 95. M. 137. 98.38. 215n. 178. Derek 213n. 174–80 appropriation 7. 209n. 206n. 81–2. 111. 211n.20. 161. 212n. Andrew 207n.15 caesura 13–14. 83–6 arche-presence 86.19 Clemens. 66. 152. Giorgio (Cont’d) The Time That Remains 88–94.1 communicability 6.18 aura 92–7.17 Benveniste. 211n.19 Celan 33–4. 122 aletheia (truth as unveiled or unconcealed) 28.24.10 biopolitical 1. 146. 99. Charles 95. Robert 30.9. 163. 106. 79–91. 134. M. 108 Badiou. 152.15.34 Baudelaire. 106. 152 ¯ ¯ Ashbery.4 anaphora/cataphora matrix 21. 164. 197.42. 76.15 Akhmatova. 62–6. 216n. 213n. 155. 103. 132.29. 210n. 196 apotropaic 48–51. 92–3. Daniel 154.1.9 Caton. 211n.32. 12–13. 64. 187 artist 16. 63–5. 97. 214n. 29. 90. 132. 131.39 anti-poiesis 83–114.4 criticism 16. 212n. 16. Justin 204n. 18.104.22.168 Calarco. 207n. 200 animal 5–8. 82 Hos me 88–94. 10. 215n. 149. Walter 9. 184 bringing forth 70.2. 215n.26 230 Balzac.4. 149 as not 68. 142. 215n. 159. 213n. 216n. 110–13. 206n. 98. 159. Josh 208n. 58. 144–9. 59–60. 53–7. 73. Anna 64–5.9 Cooke. 201. 207n. 125. 157.34 corn (tip/corner) 186–8 couplet 130. Robert 203n. 168. 107. 168–72 creation 16. 68–9. 146–54. 41–4. 86. 206n. 95. 91.
18. Thomas 205n. 56–7.15. 96. Michel 41.32 genius 67–9. 199. 135–66. 191–2. 182. 47–8. 31. 42. 144. 117. 105. 215n.4 Derrida. 172–3. 123. 173. 212n.14. 46. 37. 118.6. Colin 205n. 128–9. 182. 88. 13. 206n. 22. 88. 180–1. 185. 128. 141. 178. Jenny 203n. 29–32. 145. 165. Sean 205n. 162. 53. Marcel 67.18. 130. Leland 208n. 197. 82–3. 106. 132 fiction 89–90. 53. 109. 156. 92.42 ease 180–5.1 framing (parergon. 31. 105. Rachel Blau 206n. 29–31. 106 Drucker. Jacques 12.16. 165. 173–4.10 dictation 28.INDEX Damascius 61–2. 210n. 51. 211n. 158–60. 212n. 216n. 137.17. 199. 42. Alexander García 50.14 Docherty.15 Eaglestone. 126. 29. 46. 164 finitude 20. 215n. 135. 156. 127–8.24. 170.26 Gasparov. 188 Edkins. 210n. 152–3. 53–4. Johanna 214n. 43.4 experience 4. 191. 54. 181. Robert 207n.14 Duchamp.12 De Boever. 125. 57. 191 ex nihilo (creation) 69.5 gag 59–60. 170. 86. 213n. 15. 134. 106. 64–5. 107. 80–1. 208n.15. 58–65.34. 129.3 deixis 20–3. 8–13.4 epoch 53. 149. 57. 145. 208n. 216n. 72. 77–9.36 gesture 20. 30.11 231 enunciation 6. 131. 179. 141 Dillon. 27. 88–90. 25.33. 126–7. 137–8. 208n. 206n.16. 45–8. 215n. 209n. gestell) 78. 106. 41–3. 132. 130. 159. Anne 209n. 207n. 106. 106. 122 Dante 32. 42. Marc 210n. 67–8. 168. 188.9 desubjectivization 23–32. 123.2. 109. 121. 127. 123. David 212n. Mikhail Leonovich 216n. 60. 146. 93. 186.24 Formis.1.46. 209n. 153. 205n. 195 expropriation 31. 107. 145–6. 124. 88. 67.31. 215n. Andrew 204n. 213n. 24–37. 164–5.6 DuPlessis. 192. 215n. 198 Fraser. 73. Jean-Philippe 203n. 182–3. 195. 201 form-of-life 58. 19.18. 208n. 67. 196 différance 13. 209n. 26–7. 203n. 209n. 192. 131. 62. 199. 111–13. 208n. 97.3 disinterest 101–3. 147. 33. 210n. 207n. 192. 208n. 85. 205n. 206n. 149–50. 134. 106–13. 113. 150.22. 168–75. 23–5. 19. 125–6. 160.12. 32–8. 196. 94. 216n. 98. 6. 193.31 enigma 176–80 enjambement 14.6 Froment-Meurice. 29. 47. 147. 94–7.21. 215n.26 .9.5 De La Durantaye. 112. 24–5.29 Deranty. 76. 96–7.17 entelechy 81–3.8. 211n.19 Foucault. 205n.1 Gaston. 79. 146 figural 148–53. 126. 35. 185. 67–8. 203n.5.24 Düttmann. 187. 157.4. 87–8. 210n.8 event 24. Barbara 206n. 186 Davis.
122 gramma (grammatology) 140–1. 215n. 37. Jürgen 109 habit 129–34. 210n. 178. 205n. 138. 22. 87. 18. 206n. Andreas 211n. Paul 212n. Babel) 29–31. 211n. 138. 211n. 101. 190. 135. 195 integral actuality 54–5. 96. Glenn 65–6. 215n. 63. 207n.16. Wlad and Jeffrey Kittay 20. 47.27 infancy 6–17.8. 57. 99. 145. 33. 161 inspiration 32. 77.18 Kalyvas. 63. 30. 121. 50.1 history 8. 191–2. 212n. 77. 167. 79. 207n. 152. 20–3. 210n. 74. 215n.1. 215n. 199. 206n. Julia 214n. 170.17.32. 20.16. 35–8. 214n. 102. 60. 147. 211n. 143–5. Franz 106. 212n. 80.6. G. 204n.27. 124 Kiesow.8.6. 146 Kafka. 51. 38. Bruno 209n. 178. 58.7. 204n. 205n. 108. 57. 12. 125 see also desubjectivization and dictation indifference 17. 196–9.20 Hegel.INDEX glossolalia (babble.16 Poetry. 36.11 Heraclitus 47.19 Heidegger. 75. 216n.9 . Eleanor 203n. 205n.8. 131–2. 145–8. 77. 63. 107–13. 206n. 209n.32 Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’ 198–9.39 Ideal Form (eidos) 80–6. 197. 57. 146.22. 55. 190 impersonality 30. 205n.15. 52–4. 59–60 Kristeva. 214n. 54–7. 118–25.27 Gould. 28. 122.22. Language. 16. 59–60. 19.36.13 Habermas. Martin 12–14.19 human 5–15. 165.2 Kant. 205n. David 119 harmonia 47. 76. 215n. 77.4 Keats.10 judgement 11. 210n. F. 20. 67. 214n. 100–1. Gustave 151 Gulli. 212n.18 Being and Time 22.15. 36. 87. 198–9. 198. 203n. 213n. 213n. 22. 211n. 125–6. 141. 174 having see habit and appropriation Hegarty. 117. W. 161. 37. 94. Immanuel 9. 216n. Rainer Maria 203n. 207n. Max 47. 70–9. 124. 136. 201. 210n. 155. 148. 73. 77. 157. 71. 35. 204n. 207n. 174–5 Heron.4. 162. 214n. 210n. 151. 120. 99–101. 37–8. 165.32.1. 30.9 The Question Concerning Technology 12. 161–2. 159. 98.1 kle sis 88–9. 113. 194–5 indistinction 1.34. 181 ¯ Kommerell. 179. 113. 107–11 Kaufman. 174. 22.214.171.124 Gray.17. 70. 45. 169–70. 90.8 Halliburton.39 Godzich. 34. 205n. 204n.15 Johnson. 32. 133–4. 54. 153. 205n. David E. 17. 46. 20–3. 25–6. 100. 120. 170 see also indifference ineffable 9–13. 20. 22–6.3 232 hesitation 156–8. 38. Thomas 141 Guillaume. 67. 157. 25.1. 201. Nicholas 209n.7 On the Way to Language 122. Thought 70. 212n.16. 133. 99. 86.9 Hölderlin 47.11. 107–12. John 26–7. 73.
6 Matisse. 208n.2 measure 97. 117. 155. 145. 157.1 Lacoue-Labarthe. 45–6.12. 209n.48. 89. 171–5. 200. 193. John 206n.19 logos 8. Deborah 209n. 165. 55–66. 147. 9. 89. 103. 216n. 11. 118. 209n. 204n. 57. 103.24 Lyotard. Phillipe 29. 131. 53. 47. 48. 96–8. 133–4. 90. 169. 196. 129. 57–8.3 Nietzsche. 209n. 209n. 54. 157. 91. 35–7.13. 57. 132. 32. 179–80. 63. 153. 211n. 8. 128. 160. 11. 76. Friedrich 42. 45. 213n. 30. 67. 12. 199. 204n. 90. 102–3. Alex 205n. 188–9. 35–7. 17.6. 145. Antonio 2. 16. 153. 174 modern art 46. 129. 82–3. 210n. 45–7. 33. 167. 88–93. 101–14. 183. 117.18 morphe 79–81 Murray. 85–6. 211n. 160. 207n. 118–21. Henri “Back” 76 McQuillan. John 169.5 nihilism 3. 193. 67. 16–17. William 204n. 67. 158. 128. 92–4. 174 233 messianism 16. 103–4. 80. 128. Stéphane 58.16 that there is 4–40. 123–4. Giacomo “L’infinito” 124–34. 196. 128–9. 169–71. 144. 76.24 logopoiesis 77. 8. 105. 206n. 49–52. 176–7. Simon 213n.8. 56. 215n.3.1 Laclau. 141. 87–91.18 Milton. 6 as medium 53. 155. 208n.2. Catherine 26. Esther Norma 212n. 213n. Ernesto 203n. 118. 215n. 208n. 83–116.20 . and subjectivity 25–8.1. 72. 196 Leopardi. 125.21 Musil. 92. Colin 203n. 173. 179. 211n. 41–68. 82.INDEX LaCapra. 117–34.3 modernity 1. 25.1. 145. 69. 69. 25.22 negation/negativity 2–3. 44–6. 6.15. 122. 143. 106. 210n. 198–9 and modernity 85. 211n. 166. 108–9. 136. 20–3. Jean-Luc 29. 28. 149. 144–56.10 language experience of 10–11.1 Morgan Wortham.45 Lovitt. 201. 99. 179 love 14.11. Dominick 203n.17 Mallarmé.8 Mills. 21. 144–6. 197. 204n.6. 179 Levitt.19 Marion. 22. 191. 209n.42. 166. 129–34 museum 78. 35–6. 26. 136. 20. 212n. 100–3. 195 Negri. 72–3. 91. 110 Malevich 106. 206n.3. 148. 10. 204n. 213n. Robert 83 name 9–10. 16. 13. 199–201. 63. 107. 215n.18. 195–7. 191. 196. 36–8. 195 experimentum linguae 4. 15. 167. 76–9. 169–70.21 life 1–2. 195–6. 157.44. 196. 203n. 131–4. 114. 203n. 214n.20. 107–14. 50–1.11 Lyons. 88.13 Nancy. 113.13 Muse 27. 167. 135. 64–7. 182–5. 160. 204n. 122 thing of thought as such 49–50. 212n. 203n. 196.12. 6. 32. 89. Jean-François 52. 54. 211n. 55. 74. 184. 106–7. 99.15. 65. 213n.2.
1 anti. 195. 101–2.3 Idea of 54–7. 99.1 prose 15. 145. 21.25. 11. 93 reproducibility 84–6. 170. line 79.40.6. 201 metrical-musical element (poetry) 128. 207n. 208n. 62–3. 28. 81–3. 42–6.40. 160. 144–5. 120. 135. 79. 81. 146–9. 214n. 106. 79–81. 153. Arthur 26–7. 117–18. 197. 173 end of 135–9. 50. 67. 192–3. 86.1 praxis 58. 213n. 44–8. 98. 27. 137–46. 32. 164–5. 124. 48. 90. 154. 83.47 ready-made 85.4 presupposition 9.17. 71–2. 178.34. 17.27. 178–9. 163. 197. 52. 198–9. 211n. 122. 175. 128–9.1 ontology 5–6.27. 170. 172. 30–1. 91. 130. 44. 192. 144.1 Paul 29. 132. 20–1.INDEX Norris. 94.11 234 poiesis 3. 43–4. 156. 210n. 74–5. 123–4. 17. 129–31. 206n. 29. 72. 129. 117–18. 86. 200. 103–8. 151. 186. 126. 122. 207n. 51. 33. 175.4 Plato 14. 171. 206n. 137. 120–1. 209n. 193. 58–60. 67. 105–6. Ezra 102. 210n. 139. 210n. 169–70. 168–9.11 Pound. 163. 63–8. 141. 114. 172. 193. 166.9. 170. 125. 195–6 planar 128. 144–5. 79. 31. 181. 35.19. 34–5. 113–14. 35–7. 183–92. 88. 157. 136. 211n.19. 137–40. 215n. 209n. 153–5. William 211n. 55. 211n. 12–13. 133. 22. 113 . 155–62. 134. 142–4. 211n. 167.39. 62. 128–9. Andrew 214n.1 razo de trobar 32.18 Rasch. 28. Benjamin 203n. 61. 180. 107–9. 48–9. 17.9 poetry advent 126–33. 132–4. 198–9 philology 2. 186 phone 8. 113. 144. 88–92. 121. 216n. 205n. 71–3. 195. 195–7. 49. 58.87–116 pop art 85. 184. 144. 163–4. 23–8. 137–43. 132. 206n. 112. 155. 100. 179 Pinker. 37. 97. 146. 49–57. 13. 63–6. 173. 169 production 58. 87–90. 69. 210n. 130. 152–3 periplus 132–3. 211n. 93 Pope. 51. 169. 213n. 167. 28. 140. 197. 172. 154–74. 79. 208n. 92–8 revelation 52–3 rhetorician 104–6 rhyme 14. 44–5. 191. 69–87. 143.8 Rimbaud. 153. 156. 127. 188.4. 32. 140–1.1. 191. 24.16.4 Pacman 159 parable 148–9. 8. 183. 71–5. 214n. 162. 88. 204n. 149. 191–3. 138. Alexander 168–72 potential 13. 215n.7 Noys. 145–6. 192 poem body 44. 60. 167. 208n. 5. 137. 43. 145.33. 200–1 recursive-projection 21. 129. 138. 58–9. Stephen 214n. 134. 104–5. 159–60. 102. 79. 47. 53. 63–4. 207n. 96. 214n. 186–8. 184–7.1. 60. 133. 45. 173 poetry and philosophy 14. 152 passivity 30. 178–9.
149. 164–5. 60–8. 142. 142. 197. 201. 17. 109. 131. 23. 75. 169. 188. 122. 84. 152–65. 12. 83. 63. 21. 136–43. 150. 206n. 130. 45–6. 149–50. 174–5. 145. 149. 125. 140. 56. 197. 57. 208n.11 ergon 158–60. 194. 149. 125. 166–93.5 Saussure. 117–18.3. 127.10 singularity 5. 136. 155–62. 34. 94–104. 77–8.47. 111–12. 184–9.12. 173 eschaton 88. 199–201. 110–11. 178–88. Ferdinand de 17. 212n. 199 sovereignty 1–2. 127. 188. 24. 120–1. 133. 179. 110–11 tautegorical 52. 184–8. 84. 149–53 linear time 87. 97–9. 160. 141. 121 tension 35.4 sestina 154–5. 184 silence 8. Ron 206n. 158. 9. 186–7. 172. 28. 136–9. 117. 173–5. Adam 203n. 207n. 169. 206n. 53. Lee 205n. 212n. 149. 37. 172. 208n.4 terror 99–106 thing.20 Silliman. art 75–7 thing as such of thought 49. 192 operational time 150–3. 54. 214n. 31. 131–2. 46. 106. 19. 167–72. 169. 134–5. 32. 127–9. 46. 154.46. 187 shock 94–7. 127. 193. 214n. 105–6. 212n. 13–19. 150. 181–3. 80. 149.3 Royle. 175–9. 185 tabular 64. 140.6 Spinks. 185. 196 235 state of exception 1 Stiegler. 125. 133–4. 108. 131. 107–8 sign 17–22. 32. 216n. 27 scission 2. 133. 186 turn see enjambment and verse . 151 tautology 6. 56. 154. 46.11 kairos 145. 155. 70. 122.19 stanza 13–17. 85. 177–80. 35–7. 60. Nicholas 203n. 60. 131. 35. 150. 26–32. 184. 170. 47–8. 136–44. 211n. 210n. 201. 154. 122. 173. 144. 6. 55–6. 57. 32. 196. 201 tone/tonos 163–4 transmissibility 30. 150–4. 125–8. 32–3. 158–64.42 time/temporality chronos 145. 199–201. 32. 144–5. 93–7.15. 133. 83. 65. 188. 199. 207n. 167. 11.9 Troubador 14–17. 135.39 space 14. 128.8 taste 99–103. 174 Thurschwell. 167. 67. 143. 71. 157–8. 99. 114. 178–9. 216n. 159–60. 205n. 197. 108–9. 171. 171–2. 211n. 48. 192.27. 63–4. 28. 131. 192. 30. 20. 138. 178–9. 182. 28. 200. 137–8. 197. 199 semiotic 6. 155–6. 59. 48. 195. 194 semantic 27–9. 215n. 153. 77. Bernard 211n. 113. 182 tablet 44. 97–8. 162. 124. 117–34. 97. 27–8. 72. 133.4. 43. 146. 161. 22–3. 165. 146–7. 165.6 stil novist 14. 156. 61. 149. 144. 160–9. 199. 30. 92. 124.4 techne 73–86. 99. 80. 172–4. 55. 56–7.INDEX Romanticism 69. 163 and space 20.21. 197. 172. 105–6. 160. 211n. 19. 51–2.
11 Weller. 140–4.7 Wohlfarth. 102 Varro 58 verse as versus 128–34. Paul 56.1 van Gogh. 204n. 103. 212n. 207n.13.27. 128. 205n. 28.INDEX uncanny 2.5 Valéry.47. 213n.37. Thanos 210n. 212n. Julian 208n.36 Ziarek. 157–8. 173–5.34 zoe 1. Derek H. 135–65. 207n.10. 152. 211n. 207n. Krzysztof 205n.39 zoon logon echon 5.24.5 Walser. 177. 12. 30. 75. 8 236 . 125. Thomas Carl 207n. Slavoj 210n. 178.44. 216n.21. 21–5.21.2 whatever (quodlibet) 63–5 Whitehead.45 work see praxis and entelechy writer’s block 67–8 xenoglossia 29–30.39 Zartaloudis.15 Wolfreys.1. 208n. 208n. 214n.33. 7. 199. 215n.20 voice 3–8. 201 Vogt. 213n. 206n. 59.36. Vincent 70. 186. 133. 166–7. 209n. 168. 216n. Shane 206n.6. 33. 45–8.15 Zizek. 199. 179. Irving 209n. William 204n.20. 207n. 206n.10 Wall. Erik 203n. 82. Robert 122 Warhol. Andy 93 Watkin. 171.