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THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
Philosophy, Aesthetics and Cultural Theory Series Editor: Hugh J. Silverman, Stony Brook University, USA The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Cultural Theory series examines the encounter between contemporary Continental philosophy and aesthetic and cultural theory. Each book in the series explores an exciting new direction in philosophical aesthetics or cultural theory, identifying the most important and pressing issues in Continental philosophy today. Derrida, Literature and War, Sean Gaston Foucault’s Philosophy of Art, Joseph J. Tanke Philosophy and the Book, Daniel Selcer
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS
Continuum International Publishing Group The Tower Building 80 Maiden Lane 11 York Road Suite 704 London SE1 7NX New York, NY 10038 www.continuumbooks.com © William Watkin 2010 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: HB: 978-1-8470-6452-3 PB: 978-0-8264-4324-3 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Watkin, William, 1970– The literary Agamben: adventures in logopoiesis / William Watkin. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN-13: 978-1-84706-452-3 (hbk.) ISBN-10: 1-84706-452-3 (hbk.) ISBN-13: 978-0-8264-4324-3 (pbk.) ISBN-10: 0-8264-4324-9 (pbk.) 1. Agamben, Giorgio, 1942–Knowledge–Literature. 2. Literature–Philosophy. I. Title. B3611.A44W37 2010 2009030741 195–dc22
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a Emilia e Luca “Long have we laboured in miracle realms” .
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Philosophical Gesturality Potentiality x xi 1 4 6 9 13 17 20 23 26 32 41 41 44 48 52 54 58 61 63 vii . Thinking Thought Poetic Thinking Poetry and Philosophy Communicability.CONTENTS Acknowledgements List of Abbreviations Exoteric Dossier: The Literary Agamben Projection: There is Language Infancy: Animals and Children Ineffability and Experience The Stanza The Sign Negating Negation Subjective Enunciation The Semiotic Poetic Dictation FIRST EPISODE: ON THE WAY TO LOGOPOIESIS Chapter 1 Logos. The Idea of Prose Poetic Gestures The Tablet. The Thing Itself The Idea of Language Communicability.
Shape Entelechy Arche. the Turn of Verse The Definition of Poetry Boustrophedonics Kle sis. Modern Anti-Poiesis Chapter 3 Modernity.Chapter 2 Poiesis. Productive Anti-poiesis Living As If or As Not Auratic Twilight Shock! Profaning Scission Taste and Terror How to Exit Art Modern Aesthetic Desubjectivization 69 69 71 73 75 77 79 81 83 87 88 92 94 97 99 103 107 SECOND EPISODE: ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS Chapter 4 Logopoiesis. Thinking through Making Poiesis Praxis Techne The Art Thing Finitude Morphe. Thinking Tautology The Logo-Poiesis Tautology The Exemplary Tautology of Logopoiesis Infinite Poetry The Habits of the Muse Chapter 5 Enjambement. the Space of Thought The Caesura Apotropaics 117 119 122 124 129 135 135 139 144 149 153 155 162 166 166 174 viii . The Messianic As Not ˉ Messianic Kairos Messianic Rhyme An Endless Falling Into Silence Tension: The One Line Chapter 6 Caesura.
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.
living with someone so much more intelligent than I. . the writing of this book coincided with the birth of my daughter . granted by permission of Georges Borchardt. on behalf of the author. 1984 by John Ashbery. Reprint of the final stanza from “Down By the Station Early in the Morning” from A WAVE by John Ashbery. 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. Copyright © 1981. Inc. Chapter Two was presented as a seminar at Brunel University in March 2009. 1983. and Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy © 1999 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. . suggestions. So it is that the last but also always the first expression of gratitude as ever goes to my wife. Language and Death © 1991 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota. whose careful stewardship of the book in its latter stages was much appreciated. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. Permission to use “Warrant” granted by Charles Bernstein. and my son. I must also thank Brunel University for granting me a year-long sabbatical to complete this work. but also for her many comments. that is truly living.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks are due to my editors Hugh Silverman. The Man Without Content. Dearest Barbara. not merely because of the incredible support she has given me over this past. x . and Sarah Campbell. the title of this book is his. Barbara Montanari. Obvious it is that sharing a house with an Italian is useful when writing a book on Agamben.. 1982. University. Finally. I greatly appreciate the questions and remarks that followed which encouraged but also challenged me. intense. and aids to translation. Excerpts from Giorgio Agamben. miraculous year.
Handbook of Inaesthetics (1998). trans. Giorgio Agamben. Idea of Prose (1985). Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience (1978). 1995).LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS AP BT C CC EHP EP HI HS IH IP IPP Leland De La Durantaye. trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. PA: Bucknell University Press. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. William Watkin. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. trans. Alain Badiou. 1996). Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Giorgio Agamben. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. 3–24. Alain Badiou. 1999). Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. 2 (2000). trans. 2000).” Diacritics 30. xi . The Century (2005). trans. In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. “Agamben’s Potential. 1993). 2007). Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry (1981). trans. Being and Time (1953). trans. The End of the Poem (1996). 1993). no. Martin Heidegger. Liz Heron (London: Verso. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. trans. The Coming Community (1990). Giorgio Agamben. trans. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995). Giorgio Agamben. Giorgio Agamben. 2005). 1998). 2001). Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press.
Peter D. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. MWE Giorgio Agamben. PMD Andrew Norris ed. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1994).” Paragraph 31. Manifesto for Philosophy (1989). The Man Without Content (1970). P Potentialities (1999). Language. Muses II. trans. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity (1982). trans. Karen E. trans. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. trans. 2005). no. 1971). Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. trans. 344–364. 1999). NC: Duke University Press. trans. Margins of Philosophy (1972). LD Giorgio Agamben. 2008). MofP William Watkin. 1999). 1991). 2008). 2006). 3 (2008). The Open: Man and Animal (2002). Simon Sparks (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2004). Politics. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Philosophy. Means Without Ends (1996). Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. trans. MA Jean-Luc Nancy. 2008). M Jacques Derrida. Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1971). trans. 2004). 2 (2002). Literature. ed. PA Catherine Mills. Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. Poetry. On the Way to Language (1959). OM William Watkin. trans. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Thought. Shklovsky. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (1991). 2000). MP Alain Badiou. On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. N Giorgio Agamben.. xii . The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. Silliman and Agamben. no. O Giorgio Agamben. Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer (Durham. MWC Giorgio Agamben. Para Paragraph 25. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. 1982). PLT Martin Heidegger. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1999). Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Multiple Arts. “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the Work of Godzich & Kittay. OWL Martin Heidegger. LPN Shane Weller.LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS LAS Jean-François Lyotard. trans.
Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. Sovereignty and Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Three Poems (New York: Penguin. ST Giorgio Agamben. QCT Martin Heidegger. Ronald L. State of Exception (2003). Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (1977). trans. TTR The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (2000). 2005). Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2008). 2002). Blanchot and Agamben (Albany: SUNY Press. 1977). 2005). Radical Passivity: Lévinas. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. WWB William Watkin. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial. Nicholas Heron. http://williamwatkin. SAQ The South Atlantic Quarterly 107. trans. blogspot.com/. RP Thomas Carl Wall. 1993). SE Giorgio Agamben. trans. xiii .LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS Prof Giorgio Agamben. trans.no. Literature. 1 (2008). 2007). R Plato. SP Alexander Pope. 1993). trans. TP John Ashbery. 2008). and Alex Murray eds. Profanations (2005). trans. RA Giorgio Agamben. 2007). Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1999). 1999). Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books. The Question Concerning Technology. 2008). SL Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli eds. Republic. William Watkin’s Blog. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.. trans. WGA Justin Clemens.
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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. the homo sacer and our current “state of exception. This state of exception. That exception has become the norm is the basis of Agamben’s savage attack on our biopolitical modernity. is overseen by sovereign power. often unremittingly negative critique of our Western modernity in terms of the political and its relation to life. 1942) first came to prominence in the field of political philosophy with the publication in 1995 of his explosive book Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. confrontational studies that make up the ongoing Homo Sacer project Agamben proposes a radical. the homo sacer.” he presents a convincing cartography of the political in our age that is.EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (b. The sovereign’s legitimacy extends from the power of the state to reduce our existence to bare life or life as mere survival. makes of us that most despised figure from Roman law. Living perpetually in this denuded zone of indistinction between biological existence as such (zoé) and our social life (bios). whose sacred life was the possession and legitimization of the sovereign ready to be forfeited at any point without fear of legal repercussion. what Agamben calls the biopolitical. bare life. In particular through the consideration of sovereignty. now stretched to six volumes or around a third of his total published output. perhaps. through which he likens our advanced democracies to living in a camp. 1 . 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. In the complex and. Like the homo sacer. typically.
rather infamously:2 It seems there are two Agambens. he rediscovers pieces or elements of being. Canny enough perhaps. Away from the political/materialist Agamben there is another Agamben.5 Thus Negri. 2 . but no one can fully suppress the ability of the uncanny to undermine studiously erected structures of identity. attains the power of being (that is. through immersion in the work of philology and linguistic analysis. 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. ponders. and the one about whom I will have the least to say in the chapters that follow. This is the Agamben we are most familiar with.4 This enforced subjective scission is strategic. 111). 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. the uncanny unwelcome guest at the intimate if troubled feast that rages still tête-à-tête between metaphysics and politics. There is the one who lingers in the existential. and terrifying shadows. who. Numerous critics have noted a seemingly contradictory bifurcation in the Agamben methodology. one of Agamben’s great productive antagonists.3 Negri is far from alone in asserting that “Agamben” is a homonymic moniker referring to two thinkers of radical dissimilarity. These are the metaphysical and the political Agambens respectively. by manipulating and constructing them). sometimes so marked it is suggestive of the possibility that there are more Agambens out there writing philosophy than was first assumed. for example.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN the leading revolutionary political theory that we have. destining. where he is perpetually forced into a confrontation with the idea of death. so desperate to negate the third Agamben. one a philosopher of negative being and the other an etymo-philologer and habitué of material clues. And there is another Agamben.1 Antonio Negri. instead opens the door to just such a possibility of tertiary ruination. the literary Agamben. As is often the case with the dual structures of metaphysics the energy between two terms leaves little space for the imposition of a third. unless under the auspices of dialectical resolution or archeunity.
adventurer in poiesis. it is now poiesis. to the tones of the tern. Effectively. beyond the learnéd and almost overwhelming conversation between the two Agambens and his many critics. that the following pages wish to augment. It is this voice. and yet always persistent and quietly insistent. if you will. inasmuch as it endures as the only power of this dissolved universe” (SL. Attend then. muted by the clamour of the bios. an absolute voice.6 3 . absolved of the negativity of which it had been the bearer. 113–14). intimidated by the sovereignty of metaphysical thought. the literary Agamben.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.
over the years. I have stubbornly pursued only one train of thought: what is the meaning of ‘there is language’ [vi è il linguaggio]. Who. in its full material yet voided exteriority. his metaphysics and. clearly. cannot think its chirping.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE (The cricket. a characteristically confident Giorgio Agamben declares: “In both my written and unwritten books. to make language appear before us such as it is. in which one can encounter the pure exteriority of language” (IH. most pertinent to our study here.4 To see language as it is. 30 years later one has to concede that the young thinker was either preternaturally prescient or.)1 At the age of 36.” In this thin sheaf of pages he explains that he is undertaking an experiment with language “in the true meaning of the words. is able to predict the guiding topic of all one’s books.” Such an experience. This risk-bound declaration of intent occurs in the short piece that prefaces Infancy and History (1978) entitled “Experimentum Linguae. he suggests. written and unwritten?3 Now. in which what is experienced is language itself. 5). 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. requires that one “venture into a perfectly empty dimension . unbelievably obdurate for it is undoubtedly true that the questioning of the presence of language remains at the heart of Agamben’s political thinking. after all. to let language speak 4 . however. . in the preface to his third book. . 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. the centrality of literature to his work. past and future.
This unusual rumination leads to a series of related questions such as. one will take his word for it that this is also the case. the possession of voice/language by the animal and the privation of voice in the human. is this what we humans mean by language. if there is a human voice. what does it mean to live as a human being. 3). An adventure in the mind and in the word is how I would term such an experiment that can only commence through access to the singular nature of the relation between literature and linguistic exteriority that philosophy has traditionally termed poiesis. returns again and again in Agamben’s early work. In this incorporated and yet incorporeal work he asks: “Is there a human voice. up to this point. 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. This theme. The first of these is extrapolated from an. The two interlocutions are. 5 . To understand the relation between thought and literature through their complex. . and if we do not find a human voice. 4). a voice that is the voice of man as the chirp is the voice of the cricket .5 It is the nexus wherein his great ontological question. La voce umana (the human voice). or better drama. what is the relationship between voice and language in this regard. differential. what does it mean to have language. . where does this lead the classic philosophical definition of the human as zoon logon echon or “the living being which has ¯ ¯ language”? (IH.?” (IH. oversteps the threshold of his other great demand that primarily occupies the first two decades or so of his career. unpublished fragment of another great work Agamben never wrote. As for the unwritten. 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). bundled together in what might be termed his interim request.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.6 not posed until many years later. 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. in effect. and Agamben has indeed not yet done so.
and language’s materiality. language.7 What kind of language. but is an ontological term for a state of being indicating a compound of questions pertaining to how humans have language and how this relates to their 6 . 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. enunciation. my contention is that in order to take up a position in relation to the literary in Agamben one must come to terms with language. and 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. of language: communicability or a language that communicates itself without communicating any specific thing. and second they are pre-possessed of their voice as soon as they come into being. they do not actually speak although they do possess language. purely exterior landscape of language as such. echoing that of the animal. the role of language in subjective enunciation. tautological. and voice is therefore foundational.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Consistent with Negri’s remark and the critical community’s claims of the two Agambens. however. negation. Acquisition of voice.) Infancy does not describe our actual early childhood. scission. Aside from the obvious fact that literature is composed of language and constitutes a profound experience with language. and our acquisition of a voice. (The difference between speech. 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. Infancy as a concept originates in the observable phenomenon that humans learn to speak whereas animals do not in two significant ways. Agamben uses the term infancy in his early work to describe an interim state between our pure state of grace in language. the dependence of metaphysical definitions of language on division and negation. or as-such-ness. is this solipsistic. The cold light cast by this stelliform compound reveals for us linguistic exteriority defined as the very existence. what order of communication. First.
For the animal. (IH. as indeed developmentally we seem to do. . . or at least he is uncomfortable with the uncritical ¯ ¯ acceptance of this formulation within philosophy. by having an infancy. first. a dog’s bark. Unlike the metaphysical tradition Agamben is not at ease with the Aristotelian definition of human being as zoon logon echon. then man’s nature is split at its source. for infancy brings it discontinuity and the difference between language and discourse. . and chimpanzees. by preceding speech. has to constitute himself as the subject of language–he has to say I. for that matter. or a cricket’s chirping one also names the animal’s language and. in order to speak. if language is truly man’s nature .8 In one basic sense infancy captures the process wherein human animals learn. they are already inside it. language and speech are indivisible and when one speaks of an animal voice. are the only beings that are not born with a clearly identifiable voice then they must come to their voice or arrive at speech. acquire. If humans. they are always and totally language . regardless of our tireless encouragement. Animals do not enter language. as humans acquire 7 . .PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE apparently not having a voice of their own such as one finds in the cricket. as we saw. or have speech foisted upon them. 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. . 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. In disputation with the Aristotelian inheritance Agamben does not accept that animals are without language which. splits this single language and. One can say the cricket chirps but not the human “. thus far have not. for example. their being. instead. Thus. . The historicity of the human being has its basis in this difference and discontinuity. This could be taken to mean how we come to language but this is not how Agamben views infancy. the human has no voice of its own.10 In contrast to this.” Second. Man. 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. on the contrary. of all animals. by implication.
and finally as negation. and infancy as that which we must recuperate. in seeking to regain language we create the possibility of becoming something like a post-human. In losing language we become a human being and alive. voice. then as subordination. a period wherein we acquire speech. but the way in which we come to have it—not the zoon or the logon but the generally ignored echon ¯ ¯ that matters. as Agamben is at pains to show. forming the basis of the meaning of our possession of voice. and as a critique of the basis of modern thinking on negation. a return to a pre-divided idea of a pure language. or lack of it. Thus. and silence. in a destinal and possibly liberationist historicization. speech over language. first silencing language and then. Infancy submits us to history expelling us from language as such and propelling us into a bifurcated sense of language as phone and logos. Our entrance into this philosophical cul-de-sac is the fact that we humans have infancy. voice itself. and voice are therefore separate yet inseparable terms within Agamben’s thought.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. eventually. from this. The only way out of this metaphysical dead end. Agamben argues. the way we have language is first as bifurcation. this division and our awareness of it define human being as self-consciously different from all other beings. Yet it also involves us. Fourth. This is effectively the argument of Language and Death.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. that there are two infancies: infancy as that which we have lost. it is not the fact that we have language that defines our humanity. Life. 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. speech denies any experience of the nature of language as such comparable to the manner in which animals experience language. and this is a profoundly Heideggerian gesture. 8 . language. language-speech. In reality these two nascent states are simply two elements of an overall infancy as an ongoing process of being. It would seem. the follow-up text to Infancy and History. is infancy. Third.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN their voice a clear division between speech and language in the human animal develops.
It is a concept without a name and knowledge without an object. the concept of infancy is then an attempt to think through these limits in a direction other than that of the vulgarly ineffable” (IH. namely that of the ineffable. “far from indicating the limit of language. 4). 4–6). Kant calls this the “transcendental experience” of pure thought. “in which the limits of language are to be found not outside language. the ineffable in philosophy. as “not something ineffable but something superlatively sayable: the thing of language” (IH. actually comes to name language for this tradition. to identify the singularity of language as such. Ironically. Erdmann knowledge independent of sensibility (see IH. 4). For language to signify and thus become the human language we are all familiar with. which seems to direct us towards pure thinking without language. the unsaid and the ineffable. “If every thought can be classified according to the way in which it articulates the question of the limits of language. 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. after Benjamin. 4). 9 . In contrast to this tradition of negation Agamben involves himself in an experiment. the unsayable being precisely what language must presuppose in order to signify” (IH. 54–65). based on language. there must be reference to something that is not language that it signifies. presuppositionally negative (see LD. As Agamben says.” a place where thought can go and language cannot. and second. post-vocal divided language. a thing or a truth to be known. This is our old friend the experimentum linguae which Agamben renames here infancy.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. 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. defining being and thinking along the way as first. 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. Thought has become embroiled in thinking language in terms not of what it can say but of what it cannot. instead “express its invincible power of presupposition.
I am language.13 This problem has afflicted language for a good deal of time naming a clear division in philosophy between knowledge and experience. forcing the thinker to seek for a concept that cannot be named. This great quest to move beyond modern philosophical ineffability isolates a third and final issue in relation to infancy. that language exists” (IH. rather it is language that is content-less speech. . “But what can an experience of this kind be? How can there be an experience not of an object but of language itself . Rather than. experience me. pre. Finally. that which is outside of it (the referent). 6). as a thinker. 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. but in terms of what it can say if it does not refer to that which is outside of itself.referential language. a morass it has proven impossible to escape from. as the pure fact that one speaks. 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. Language as the basis of thought should be considered not in terms of what it cannot say. . but also testing. that we need language to name it.or ir. language that says nothing other than here I am. only to find that the name for such an experience is the ineffable or un-named as such. Agamben instead simply introjects the problem. thus concluding that language always remains insufficient to name objects. even if all one is saying is that one can say something. for if it is not named there can be no shortfall of plenitude. Infancy first names our coming away from being animal. in its pure self-reference” (IH. Important in this regard is the fact that the words “experiment” and “experience” share the same Latin root and consequently the meaning of experience for Agamben originates not only in the act of sustaining or going through something. in response to the problem that there is an object. a reification of the unspeakable. It then indicates our ability to conceive of a pure thinking not in terms of what cannot be said but what can. but in naming it we find that the name never entirely renders the object. or a typical conversation in a British pub towards closing time. but in an experience of language as such.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the direction of its referent. infancy names the problem of human experience. 10 . 15–49).
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. is by definition bifurcated. via that infancy that dwells in the margin between language and discourse. and then imposing unworkable unities to heal this rift is a habitual failing of Western thought. which he takes to be the experience of experience itself. it is an impossibility of speaking from the basis of a language. 8). evidenced by our endless pursuit of novel and new experiences. cannot be undertaken exterior to language as he contends some philosophers have attempted. denying that the event in question actually pertains to how we live. 8). Human language. To live as a human being means to live both from the outside of language as the being who knows but does not speak and from the inside as the being that speaks but does not know. as Agamben sees it. To undergo an experience with language. of the very faculty or power of speech” (IH. thinking. 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. In the modern age the division between the two meanings of experience is most profoundly felt. Maintaining the false division. 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. a form of thinking that does not look at language 11 . self-conscious subjectivity. defining human being as “neither Homo sapiens nor Homo loquens. between experience as knowledge and as going through. Either our experiences are so unique that they are one-off events that can hold no meaning for “the human experience” at large. he concedes. therefore. namely as the imposition of scission as a means of creating human. Infancy names this third possibility: to maintain experience as knowing and as undergoing. is to undergo a new form of experience as testing or thinking. primordial being for whom the division between phone and logos has not yet come about.14 For Agamben the experience of language. Infancy reveals the confluence of language. but Homo sapiens loquendi” (IH. it is an experience. or we observe events from the outside as judgemental critics. Yet nor can it be experienced entirely from the inside as in some imagined. As he says: “In this sense what is experienced in the experimentum linguae is not merely an impossibility of saying: rather.
a human defined as life. 39–62). while Agamben is critical of both Heidegger and Derrida. yet refusing to succumb to the various aporias that have traditionally arrested the progression of thought on this matter. 54–5). our actual infancy is merely a useful developmental analogue for an ontological temporality of development that presupposes a pre-human. If Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics resides in the tradition’s obfuscation of authentic Being. is silenced.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from the outside. and what does it mean to experience something? Most specifically. 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. said relation to language. and the imposition of a voice through the agency of speech. zoological. 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. and an in-between and constantly emergent human being. which is not only impossible to ascertain but also not what Agamben intends. In a way. 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. but which accepts the presence of language as such as exteriority as such. and Derrida’s on its privileging of speech over writing. 12 . accepting their division as a fact of our ontological Geschichte or deep history (see QCT. or occupy language and seek for exterior referents. 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. therefore. or psychosomatic empiricism behind our being with or having language. One issue here is that the very choice of the name infancy is as confusing as it is illustrative. suggesting a developmental. Infancy. If anything. therefore. which we might call infant being. what does language say. it opens up a zone that exists for thought and being between language as such and discourse. 24). 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.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.
to live our division. and as such is an ontological state of speechlessness within language that precedes the potential human being’s emergence into actual humanity. the ontic. If infancy is to resolve this difference then its hands are tied to some degree. In some way Agamben’s thought must enter into the scission of being and resolve the conflict therein without recourse to pre-human unity. although the term “before” needs careful reconsideration within what might be termed an ontological rather than historiographic or teleological temporality. Rather. Thus in-fancy. is nonspeech (see LD. is an ancient problem relating to how language names truth. to do with babies. the ontological. infancy is to be found within the human at all stages as both remnant of the animal and potential for the post-human.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE Nor should one suggest that Agamben is recounting an actual historical series: animal-infant-human. Infancy has little.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. the only remnant of the tradition that Heidegger leaves standing. Agamben sometimes writes it like this. and being as such. collapses the last great frontier of metaphysics. capitalized Being. or the eradication of difference. This is perhaps best illustrated by the etymological root of the word wherein fans originates from fari or to speak. 91). It is our existence in language before the primary scission of language into phone and logos. It cannot unify language and discourse into a single entity. reconfigured as the term différance. Human being is this ontological caesura (see O. THE STANZA In relation to Heidegger people often speak of the ontico-ontological difference between actual being-in-the-world. To live as human means. much as Agamben might wish. Certainly there are many forms of difference. and knowing. We must stress this is not the intention of infancy. in other words. 13–16 & 21–2). Dasein. but the asymmetric difference between experience.17 This difference is not simply the difference between different technical senses of being in the work of one philosopher however. simply put. but is the reliance of metaphysics on difference as such. or better there are myriad differentiations to be made. Nor can it choose language over discourse. endless deferral. for we are always in the world operating as already pre-divided beings. 13 .16 In a sense Derrida’s critical investigation of this difference.
although taking as its main area of concern the art object. In a way this is true although Agamben prefers to call it scission: The scission in question is that between poetry and philosophy. In addition. The space of the stanza. and his considerations of poetic space and rhyme.” According to a conception that is only implicitly contained in the Platonic critique of poetry. For the troubadour poets the stanza was not just a structural designation but the “nucleus” of their poetry. The split is so fundamental to our cultural tradition that Plato could already declare it “an ancient enemy. Again in the preface—Agamben has a penchant for the exoteric as well as the esoteric statement—he considers the various significances of the term stanza for poets of the twelfth. “when in fact it is the only thing truly worth interrogating” (ST. in its capacity. xvi). Students of Heidegger will immediately recognize this structure of imposed forgetting of the most important thing due to its assumed obviousness as Being. The majority of the book proceeds to investigate the object of love ever since in the arts and has little to say about the stanza as such.and thirteenth-century troubadour tradition. namely the joi d’amor or unattainable joy of love.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Agamben’s first major intervention on language concerns linguistic scission as the precondition for the later establishment of infancy. xvi). defined as a “capacious dwelling. and open reception not only holds the words contained in the poem’s structural segmentation but also conveys the unique object of all the poetry of this period. the troubadour concept of the stanza provides a model for discovering metaphysical truths within the very prosodic operations of the poem itself. the 14 . for the entire tradition. but that has in modern times acquired a hegemonic character. The 1977 volume Stanzas. a process Agamben emulates in his own work on the metaphysics of enjambement. caesura. 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 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. xvi). between the poetic word and the word of thought. dwelling-stability. By conflating a formal technique with a meta-thematic concern the troubadour stanza takes on the quality in poetry of a “receptive ‘womb’” (ST.
19 Here he effectively substitutes poetry for a number of terms—language as such. Poetry’s tragedy is possession of the thing without knowledge of the thing. as if fallen from the sky. by knowledge of what 15 . “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. (ST. 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. 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. because it can only experience language as going through or sustaining. “In the West. alone. poetry exists entirely in language on one side of the scission of the word. and philosophy entirely outside on the opposing side. the word is thus divided between a word that is unaware. holds the key to language’s capacious inner chamber. Both are victims of the cruel scission at the heart of human language and neither. In contrast. prose. Within our tradition. xvii). The poetic word. This grave. Agamben. between language and discourse.” We will take this word from now on to be the poetic word. This is particularly because infancy resides between the poetic and philosophic word or. Agamben clearly does not hypostatize poetry as an ideal. therefore. stanza in Italian means room of course. a direct experience of language as such within which resides the meaning of human being. Having said this. 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. experience—some of which we have already considered. Poetry does not know what it has. as we saw earlier. infant form of language. very early on in his career. dissatisfied word is the immaterialized insensible word of Western philosophy. for example. is now named as the closest we can get to an experience of language that speaks itself while not necessarily saying anything specific. while philosophy is able to test language it has no direct experience with language. and enjoys the object of knowledge by representing it in beautiful form.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE scission of the word is construed to mean that poetry possesses its object without knowing it while philosophy knows its object without possessing it. therefore.
While criticism differs in kind to the stanza. 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. Just as the ancient stanza manifests. Further. through its empty capaciousness. in modern aesthetics. He does not. one a modern quasi-philosophical discourse the other a historical prosodic-structural effect. The stanza. The power of criticism emerges out of its collapsing and nihilization of the category of art. For Agamben. xvii). What he reveals for us in these early pages is the state of aesthetics in the modern age whether he likes it or not. 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. both revealing it and rendering it inoperative. as Agamben calls it in relation to modern poetry and art. 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. but he is also something of a fatalistic thinker. criticism. The stanza of criticism. 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. and infancy are all manifestations of the tendency towards scission in Western thought imposed between two central modes of thinking language as such: philosophy and poetry.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be possessed and/or possession of that which can never be known. contains nothing. the missing thing of poetry via scission.20 We are presented with a model 16 . xvii). Agamben explains that criticism is marked by a formula “according to which it neither represents nor knows. here. Agamben is widely critical of the modern nihilistic tradition of valorizing negation. he states most openly that the assumed problem of metaphysics is to be revealed there in that room. that which it cannot possess. and we will investigate it in detail in the chapters to come. 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. whether in philosophy or. a nothingness that protects art’s most precious object. but knows the representation. so it is an ambiguous strength to say the least.
meaningless pleasure: phone. on language. Language as such. in terms of the future. but they are not genres at all. What language is is portrayed in this impossibly contracted history of everything. second that there never was. Agamben’s great project. Rather their generic subdivision courtesy first of Plato and then of Aristotle. or how we have language. and being. and a possible solution. 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. Yet there is something “in the room. is an attempt to veil the truth of the basis of all thought. The stanza is nothing other than a pure. leaving us with a dark legacy. is.” namely the room as such and while to us this appears as an empty and. The division between the two “words” is not so much imposed by Plato as reified. On one side of the stanza is the poetic word. this is just the inheritance of negativity from the metaphysics of scission. reveal its ubiquity across our culture. that is disguised. Because we see that the room is empty we assume that first there is nothing in the room. On the other is the philosophical word. neutral medium. one must valorize negation as such. This location contains nothing specifically and in our age we have made the error of assuming that. this is pure. scission as stanza. knowing: logos. if disgruntled. because of this indistinction. Saussure’s development of the idea of the sign first divides the sign in a classic metaphysical gesture and then places the two components of the sign in an essential 17 . hopeless space. as a philological consideration of the troubadours’ idea of the stanza.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE of generic languages. poetic and philosophic. Agamben uses the figure of the stanza to bring this complex logic into relief. This word is pure. almost. currently withheld from view. which all amount to the same thing. It exists as a containment space between opposing forces occupying the same zone of indifferent indistinction as infancy. or at least everything in metaphysics since the Greeks. because it is Being. or that there is language. and third there never can be. an error for which we suffer but which may also be a productive and generative errancy. and finally indicate the role poetry has to play in any future comments on metaphysics. art. like being. language as scission.
” meaning that “all that comes to presence comes there as to the place of a deferral and an exclusion. it has been widely ignored by classic metaphysical strategies. . All three gestures are typical of the metaphysical scission represented by Plato’s banning of poetry from the republic. rest in establishing one half of the division as more true than the other. is there the need to philosophize” (ST. familiar to us now. These strategies. not only does this scission produce the sign. 136). the act of recognition that reunites what is divided. temporarily or artificially impose a unity on the primacy of scission in metaphysics. especially for Hegel. The symbol. has been a source of metaphysical unease. 136). is located below the meaning of the word. yet the effect is not actual reconciliation but a painful reminder of this most destructive caesura.” In other words. positive destiny. then placed above material noise. in the model of paradigm and copy. For that matter. Symbolic acts. he argues. 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. and the two are separated by a bar. as he says: “Only because presence is divided and unglued is something like ‘signifying’ possible. in the sense that its manifestation is simultaneously a concealment. completing his narrative. Justifying this claim. it also creates the discipline of thinking called philosophy: “only because there is at the origin not plenitude but deferral . In this algorithm the phonic element of the word. our conception of language as a mode of signification reliant on the sign is not actually language at all but the historical solution to this primary scission of presence from absence. . a lack” (ST. and its being present. before access to materiality or intercourse between the two values is literally banned or barred. through a consideration of the aesthetics of the symbolic emblem. 136). is also the diabolic that continually transgresses and exposes the truth of this knowledge” (ST. and the relation of latent to sensible 18 .21 Agamben comes to this “original fracture of presence that is inseparable from the Western experience of being. therefore. primarily because the symbol brings together S/s into a single unified entity. Meaning is separated from.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet profoundly heterogeneous relation: S/s (with S representing meaning and s the material signifier). In this way all signs can be said to be part-symbolic or. the signifier. In so doing it naturally foregrounds the imposition of false scission: “The symbolic.
Stanzas is by far Agamben’s most sustained engagement with psychoanalysis. this interpretation is crystallized in the notion of the sign as the expressive unity of the signifier and signified” (ST. This scission is not specifically a division between one thing and another. or Derridean différance without succumbing to said division. Aside from his regular use of the term semiotics. . which has always been par excellence the plane on which the experience of the original fracture is represented. the bar. within its graphicality in the figuration of the bar. the bar (/) of the graphic S/s . is the very thing that is the source of its inauthenticity and possible rehabilitation. it is the structuring of thought qua scission. Agamben believes one can overcome scission. that is. Again here we can see the quasi-symbolic nature of the sign. Not only does it present a unity to mask the primary scission of language-thought. Agamben is not an adherent to the science of signification. as Agamben believes contentiously that Derrida has (ST. “In the reflection on language. in particular here “language. It is therefore metaphysical structural scission that Agamben consistently takes to task. as in Derrida. however. The bar is language as pure. 137). it betrays through its symbol-status the division at the heart of metaphysical systems of unity.” Our idea of language as signification is false. the very thing the philosophy of language does not see. It exists in the form of a cancelled stanza more accurately represented as S [ / ] s than the Saussurian S/s. with that omission. it contains within its own boundaries a sensuous representation of both unity and scission in the form of the bar. but the barrier within the sign functions as metaphysic’s betrayer. deferral.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE manifestation. insignificant. itself supposedly a symbol of unity. In a Lacanian gesture. Unlike Derrida. Every semiology that fails to ask why the barrier that establishes the possibility of signifying should itself be resistant to signification. 156). its own authentic intention” (ST. falsifies. the forgetting of the original fracture of presence is manifested precisely in what ought to betray it. and ultimately indifferent mediality. If the sign is a source of displeasure for Agamben.22 19 . As Agamben presciently states: “In modern semiology. 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. although the scission between presence and absence comes very close to being archetypal for Agamben. 136). . but rather.
most surprising and technical part of this critique. there. Each of these three themes is of no small relevance to what we have already learnt of infancy. 1–5 & 59–60). here. it. that.23 For Heidegger it is the impossibility of Dasein to ever actually occupy the space of its own being (LD. 4–5). the jongleur or performer used a series of gestures known to his mime-literate audience to show that he was speaking as someone else. These are most commonly personal pronouns. 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. I. With the slow but inexorable rise of prose this bringing in of the outside into the text. The second is the retention of ineffability within thought. philosophy’s reliance on deixis or pronouns to manifest being and the concomitant dissatisfaction they draw from this procedure. this. Deixis is a term used in linguistics to indicate the point of reference of a statement that relies absolutely on context. according to Godzich and Kittay. continues the development of the idea of infancy through a radical critique of the dependence of modern thought on negativity. For Hegel this is the inability of the sensuous sign to render in full the material realm (LD. Language and Death. you. The third is the reliance of both thinkers on deixis when trying to express language’s necessary insufficiency in relation to knowledge. or something was referred to over there. The first of these is a reliance on death as a means of defining being.25 Up to this point the normative mode of literature was performed poetry and if someone other than the narrator spoke. Reading Hegel and Heidegger he strives to demonstrate how nihilism dominates their thought in three ways. As we have already dealt with the issue of the ineffable through an analysis of unsayability we are left with the third. wherein the possibility of having an intra-textual technique for referring to assumed extra linguistic material or presences was developed. 13–14). but other pronouns indicative of space and time are also deictic: now. most famously in Heidegger’s being-towards-death (LD. then. This exophoric capability explains the rise of deixis as a literary device from the twelfth century onwards. an assumed quality of 20 . or of something else.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN NEGATING NEGATION Agamben’s first sustained engagement with the metaphysical tradition.24 Deixis as a form of indication can be described as exophoric in that it refers to extra-linguistic material.
and so on previously mentioned: “The gun. the complexity of either the world being occupies or how it occupies that world. Working at opposite ends of the rather colourless deictic spectrum.”28 All three elements of deixis.29 and cataphoric projective reference. for Heidegger. Imagine Islamic art. and then replace each with the reductive “this. For both authors this referential shortfall is represented by the silent voice at the heart of being. 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. give it to me. inaugural syntagm: “And justify the ways of God to man.” and so on. Hegel’s interest in the sensuous versus Heidegger’s in ontological topography. Naturally.27 Deixis is also regularly utilized as a form of anaphora or internal reference that refers back to a subject. noun. or the work of Lyn Hejinian. It tells us where being is but says nothing of how or why it is. 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.” Similarly. 4). They effectively use anaphoric/cataphoric deixis as shorthand for an already uttered or to be uttered authentic name of being. 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. will come to hold a central importance in Agamben’s thought and its relation to poetry.26 was facilitated by simple phrases such as “he said.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE prose that differentiates it from the so-called “univocality” of the poem. the very thing 21 . Venice. and in its anaphoric/cataphoric mode it is indeed nothing other than a convenience of abbreviation. by definition disappoints. “there” does little to convey. or indeed anything of use about the where or the there. the brevity and baldness of the pronominal will fail to convey the full complexity of a sensuous presence for Hegel. Finally. referring to the previously mentioned firearm (“firearm” in this sentence is anaphoric but not deictic). 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. There-being or being-the-there as Agamben re-translates Dasein (LD. 19–26).” The “it” in this sentence is both deictic and anaphoric. exophoric context-dependent indication. anaphoric recursive reference.” “that door.
Agamben systematically attacks the idea that human voice emerges from the animal. 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. which results in the negation of philosophical negativity by the end of the final seminar (LD. the metaphysical capitalization of the Voice as a condition of being in withdrawal. the world or being. Voice. valorize and exteriorize the signified only to discover a profound asymmetry in signification. although Agamben does not write it like this. with the voice being set up as the failure to speak or the failure to mean within thought’s reliance on 22 . One might then ask the question why thinkers of such sophistication resort to deictic indicators at all. the human voice as lack. both Hegel and Heidegger succumb to a primary scission in the word between signifier. and then perhaps the Voice under negation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN that enunciates being and yet leaves its truth unsaid. 106). Agamben believes. The tripartite critique of modern thought enacted in Language and Death. that the voice is defined by what it cannot say (the ineffable). this or there. While he blames the valorization of the voice for the dominance of negativity in metaphysics. There is the voice of the animal (especially in death). relies in each instance on an assault on the voice. and the failure of speech to evince knowledge. and signified. he also seeks for solutions to negativity ostensibly through the voice. If one demands of language that it is a tool for reference one consigns language to inevitable failure as regards knowledge. is not to try and render experience through language but to render experience as language. The only solution to this problem. In effect there are numerous voices in Language and Death. however diligently Proust attended to it. in reality a synecdochic anamorphism wherein one element of linguistic scission comes to stand in for language as a whole. They then. a work every bit as important to the collapsing of metaphysics as Being and Time or Of Grammatology. If language as pure mediality has been artificially and with violence bifurcated in metaphysics into phone (voice) and logos (language as discourse). Deixis is always used to indicate something exterior to language and so is shorthand for all the failings of language’s referential shortfall. which one could describe as the problem that a word does not totally contain its meaning or referent. To sum up in more familiar terms. Agamben’s relation to the voice is complex. through the idea of human infancy. classically. “This” may not capture Venice but nor will the prose of Ruskin.
Benveniste’s theory of subjectivity is based on the idea of linguistic enunciation and specifically how this relies on deixis. The possession of an articulated or bifurcated system of differential referentiality which we term. Agamben is inspired in particular by the ontological turn in the work of French structural linguist Emile Benveniste. means that we come to be human by 23 . or having to. As we saw. Agamben calls this exasperation. 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. but brings to presence truth or being as privation. then the voice is always both the villain and victim of philosophy. I will deal with each idea in turn. specifically his theories of the subject of enunciation and the semiotic. in part. or it struggles to sum up our whole world and our place within it. 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. one must pass through the negative abyssal gullet of the voice. culpable for modern negative metaphysics and this is correct. SUBJECTIVE ENUNCIATION It might appear from Agamben’s critique of metaphysics that deixis is. Rather than attempt to remove the reliance of objective and ontological referentiality on deixis. there-being. not being as such but language as such. for Hegel and Heidegger. “this” thing is always a privation of the plenitude of the actual thing. language. Benveniste defines the condition of the human subject by its being able to. therefore. One can see therefore that Benveniste allows Agamben to. instead he uses this very dependence to present a combined theory of referential ontology that he calls desubjectivization. Language brings to presence. enunciate its own self through language. To exit metaphysics. this plangent insufficiency. language is seen in modern philosophy as essential to thinking and yet source of thinking’s deficiency. synthesize his ideas on negation and scission in direct relation to language. mistakenly.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE language. the Voice. albeit under negation. The problem is that either language fails to convey the profound texturality and diversity of the sensuous. in part.30 The first theory allows us to think again about subjectivity.
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)
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Mills’ interpretation of this is especially strong in the manner of how she first shows that “in taking the place of ‘I’ as speaking subject, the speaker must effectively alienate him/herself as a phenomenal or empirical individual” and her realization that “by entering into language as a mode of ‘communicative action,’ the speaker loses touch with the mute experience of language as such” (PA, 25). Thus enunciation denies the subject both its subjectivity and its infancy. However, because infancy is not a stage in a developmental teleology, no more is subjectivity or being human, none of these possibilities are lost for good when one says “I am.” In fact, they only come about because of enunciation, even if their happening takes place in an instant before, or due to, their negation. Agamben is treading a very treacherous and perhaps impossibly fine line here. Infancy is the precondition of subjectivity only in that it allows for desubjectivization through the act of losing or emerging out of infancy. It appears that Agamben’s childhood is potentially a troubled, but ultimately liberating time.
The powerful malleability of the deictic pronoun “I”is well known allowing for any number of ontological compressions, of selfpresence “I am,” self negation “I am not,” and self-alienation “I is another.” The last of these is a famous promulgation by Rimbaud often analysed by philosophers, but initially it is to English poetry and Keats’ missives on deictic desubjectivization that Agamben turns to in his own work in the field. In the dense, remarkable, and troubling book Remnants of Auschwitz (1999), Agamben finds himself reading Keats’ letter to Richard Woodhouse on 27 October 1818. As he does so he isolates four themes of poetic, deictic desubjectivization. These are not unfamiliar, so I will merely summarize them here: (1) the poetic I is not an I nor is it identical to itself, (2) the poet is therefore the most unpoetical of things, (3) the statement “I am a poet” is not a statement but a contradiction in terms, and (4) poetic experience is that of desubjectivization. The third of these, “I am a poet,” is contradictory because, as Keats argues, “if he has no self, and I am a Poet, where is the wonder that I should say I would write no more?”35 Here Keats encounters the universal condition of enunciative desubjectivization but, significantly, he poses it as a poetically contingent experience. The poet is, by definition, always other to
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himself, an experience confirmed by Rimbaud, Eliot, and the anticonfessionalism of poetry from the so-called New York, Language, and Cambridge schools. As Agamben says with misleading lucidity: “In the Western literary tradition, the act of poetic creation, and indeed every act of speech, implies something like a desubjectivization (poets have named this desubjectivization the ‘Muse’)” (RA, 113). Agamben will also go on in his work to regularly refer to this as poetic dictation, but before we get to that let us concentrate on that almost offhand remark “and indeed every act of speech.” While fascinated by poetic desubjectivization one can perceive from his comments here that he is most interested in it as a form of general ontology. Indeed it is true that all acts of enunciation utilizing the pronoun “I” in the moment of indicating subjective presence negate its ever coming to presence as we saw in his analysis of Benveniste. All speech acts are in this way “poetic.” The experience of the subject coming to being by negating its own subjectivity is, according to Agamben and innumerable poets, a poetic experience, justifying once again my claim that any analysis of the philosophy of Agamben, so centrally located on the movement beyond negative metaphysics through a theory of language and desubjectivization, is meaningless without recourse to the literary Agamben. However determined this study may be to prove the importance of poiesis to Agambenian ontology it would be disingenuous to ignore the most obvious question that comes to mind at this stage: How can Agamben begin to argue that every act of speech is an instance of poetic desubjectivization via the universal category of deictic desubjectivization? Rather the opposite must be seen to be the case: poetic desubjectivization ought to be simply an example of general, ontological enunciative desubjectivization. To justify Agamben’s and Keats’ claim on behalf of poetry, namely that the essence of modern ontology resides therein, we must now return briefly to Benveniste’s other great ontological development, the idea of the semiotic. In his work on the semiotic Benveniste, on the surface, does little more than refine the terminology of Saussure. The well-known terms langue and parole become semiotic and semantic, while the arbitrary nature of the sign becomes the semiotic definition of the sign. This definition has a familiar ontological ring to it in that it consists of two preconditions. Benveniste’s appropriation of the sign develops the law of the semiotic as first, existing, and second, not being any other sign. The sign as semiotic is defined as that it is,
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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
“it” in philosophical discourse all have very different potential usages—indicative forms operate at the semantic level of discursive meaning. the process of pushing discourse to its limit or the retention of a remnant of pre-discursive “pure” language. thus establishing a tradition of civilization based on xenoglossia as a form of glossolalia.39 As Agamben explains: “The experience of glossolalia merely radicalizes a desubjectifying experience implicit in the simplest act of speech” (RA. Glossolalia and xenoglossia are. It is. as we know. In that they are entirely context dependent—“it” in conversation. glossolalia has associations with the term barbarism on which our preciously held concept of civilization hangs. 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. Yet at the same time such terms 29 . “it” in narrative.37 Additionally. Thus glossolalia confirms the first condition of the semiotic. 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. Demeny (“for I is another”). Nancy. The modern term for this experience or event of language as such. and Lacoue-Labarthe. it simply and materially is. in some ways. before and as precondition for discourse. and another more ancient missive. which still has aesthetic and political repercussions for us today. 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. is the phonetic transcription of languages the Greeks did not understand. In glossolalia we encounter the pure materiality of language away from any possible meaning. signs that we know are meaningful in a context but whose specific meaning we cannot glean. devoid of meaning. while xenoglossia gives us an experience of the second condition. it hints at all post-Adorno poetics of responsibility that can be located in the work of Derrida.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE desubjectivization. and which is aggressively attacked by the work of Badiou. Rimbaud’s letter to P. Agamben. opposite and revelatory experiences of the nature of language as such.36 Due to its Greek provenance. 115). is glossolalia and it has risen to prominence in investigations of the outer limits of poetic experience and experimentation. Deixis and types of indicative linguistic technique such as anaphora work differently to all other forms of signification. in effect. “it” in poetry. 114).38 Bar-bar.
once stripped of all extralinguistic meaning and constituted as a subject of enunciation.” (The becoming impersonal is a central moment in Agamben’s theory of the roots of poetry in desubjectifying dictation from the mouth of the muse. hating not. is so rich that it needs must be quoted in its entirety. and the semiotic are all examples of a possible experience of pure language or a language which speaks before voice and says nothing other than it exists as pure exterior presence. which is what the later sections of Remnants of Auschwitz constitute. the historical “fall” of being is both the loss of being and its potential recuperation. just choosing so. Just as.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN are devoid of specific meaning. they instead refer neutrally to the event of speech and language or what might be termed its passive taking place. Indicative forms of this order are not pure noise but nor are they meaningful. However. In another it is pure contextual differentiation in that it is potentially referential but is always awaiting a context to come to mean. xenoglossia. for example “I” out of context means nothing and is basically glossolalic. and stone the twenty-first.) “But. / Loving not. 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. 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. just choosing so. loving not. poetic desubjectivization. deictic desubjectivization. that he has gained access to being always already anticipated by a glossolalic 30 . This language as such is ruined by our having infancy and the concomitant desubjectivization of differential scission.40 In one sense deixis is meaningless and empty reference. in Heidegger. He then proceeds to bulldozer and flatten both sides of this impasse with a Calibanesque heavy-handedness: “On the one hand. 116). Glossolalia. hating not. rather.”41 The conclusion of the updating of Infancy and History. the subject discovers that he has gained access not so much to a possibility of speaking as to an impossibility of speaking—or. to break this task down I will progress through the page-long summary step by step. but infancy also allows us a possible route back to language. the psychosomatic individual must fully abolish himself and desubjectify himself as a real individual to become the subject of enunciation. Therefore deixis stages not a fixed meaning in language but language as such as medium for meaning’s transmission.
Those well-versed in contemporary philosophy may recognize this speck of alterity at the heart of self-presence from. the subject. In appropriating the “formal instruments” of discourse. This being the case. instead the subject finds himself “expropriated of all referential reality. and potentially devastating conclusion. He cannot speak. 114). while as Agamben explains the subject of enunciation is composed entirely of discourse. this I-other stands in an impossibility of speaking—he has nothing to say. 116). for example. feedback. once he is inside of discourse he becomes expropriated. insofar as it is solely sustained in a pure event of language. which is the event of language as such. post-alterity. The sound of language as such. if not removed. Lévinas and Derrida. Here. letting himself be defined solely through the pure and empty relation to the event of discourse” (RA. “him that speaketh a barbarian” (cited in RA. instead finds not meaning but the very absence of meaning. In enunciating the I. and both the flesh and blood individual 31 . 116). as Paul terms it. blurred or suspended as the subject uses deixis to access discourse only to find in place of discourse pure noise. which locates his work alongside Badiou as the only potential. wailing. and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. he concedes that it makes no more sense to say “this I-other speaks”: For. the subject becomes. profound.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE potentiality over which he has neither control nor mastery” (RA. Here she tunes in to white noise. and Agamben is well aware of the tradition he is potentially entering here. subjectification and desubjectivization coincide at every point. the final facet of his conclusion makes the radical step away from alterity and the philosophy of responsibility. This leads Agamben to a three-part. such as deixis. rather he is spoken in the glossolalic language of barbarians.” for what I hope now are clear reasons in that I is always other. sounds. This rather terrifying observation is crucial in our adventures under the leadership of the literary Agamben. In the absolute present of the event of discourse.42 However. Setebos to the subject’s Caliban. in seeming to access discourse (meaning) through the xenophora of deixis. an isle full of noises. 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. and thus affirmative philosophy of our age. independent of every meaning.43 Explaining that “I speak” is as meaningless as “I am a poet.
117) This experience of the powerful depersonalization of being spoken by language is a profoundly literary one. Agamben notes that while on the surface this tercet conforms to the scholastic definition of language as “notation and sign of a passion of the soul” (ST. he instead commits himself to thoughts about poetry. and in the manner that he dictates within I go signifying” (cited in ST. Love. Agamben prefers the term poetic dictation. . but language . 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 . 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. 124). I won’t speak of the complex theory of shame Agamben mounts here as this has been done very well elsewhere. in fact it radically calls into question the idea of language as a notation of intellection. namely the relationship between discursive prose and poetry: logo-poiesis. when Love inspires me. 127).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN and the subject of enunciation are perfectly silent.44 Repeating a quote from Dante’s Vita nuova. that poets need to be willing to “open to prose” the reasons for their poetry or face shame (his version of the troubadour razo de trobar or narrating of the inspiration for the composition of the work). Staying with Dante. This can also be expressed by saying that the one who speaks is not the individual. often called inspiration or the muse. 127). POETIC DICTATION At the end of this remarkable passage of Remnants of Auschwitz Agamben then brings us back to our main project here. as we know. which also finds great utility in The End of the Poem (1996). This relationship is marked by the experience of becoming impersonal that Agamben terms the poetic experience of ontological desubjectivization. Agamben proffers the touchstone to my whole study. takes note. poetry. “Dante instead characterized poetic expression precisely as the dictation of an inspiring love” (ST. rather than speaking of the poeticization of thought. (RA. or what he often refers to simply as poetic dictation when. .
the experience of language that forever presupposes words . Those who have not reached. like grammatical language. .45 Poetry. . what one might term a truly defining subjective event for which subjects habitually lack words. . .” where Agamben considers enigmatically what he calls decisive experience. 37) Having proposed a potentiality for a silent experience of materiality as such which is not unsayable but simply inexpressive and nonrepresentable presence. we now battle alongside the poet as she attempts to find a voice for her experience of the poetic word. [is] the language of poetry. which the ancients called silva (wildwood). in fact. as in a dream. Glossing on Celan’s assertion as to the uniqueness of poetic language. even when they keep silent. . The main body of the book commences with the essay “The idea of Matter. 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 . . (IP. 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.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. Agamben reveals that the experience of language is always doubled: There is. Contrariwise there is another experience in which man remains absolutely without words in the face of language. Knowing already that philosophy has fallen into the trap of misconstruing language’s neutral inexpressiveness as ineffability. matter or wildwood. this woody substance of language. which doesn’t pretend. to be there before being . therefore. 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. but rather where the matter of words begins. 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. are prisoners of representation. (IP. Where language stops is not where the unsayable occurs. The language for which we have no words.
Faced with the impossibility of seeing either wood or tree. no means of cutting a path through the wildwood of matter to an encounter of the forest as something composed of wood. 49). . Elle s’expose. therefore. Only the poet. vows to be able to encounter it. The poet is the infant who piously receives this promise and who. 49) The easiest summation of this is that the poet would like to testify to their experience of pure language as such but they cannot because 34 . as Celan argues. . and if one has words to speak of language one no longer has language before one of which to speak. as Agamben responds. Such a destiny is. 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. which is to say. calls this state of speechlessness before a language that precedes words infancy. Having asserted this. its grammar and its tradition. and reflects that such a state knows nothing of destiny. it would seem. so abandoned to itself that it can no longer in any way impose: “la poésie ne s’impose plus. decides for truth. of course. Poetry is always in the experience. If. so alone. Discursive grammatical prose does not concern itself with the semiotic and has. faced with the infancy of the world. Philosophy already has the words to convey the experience and thus can never undergo the experience. language stands before him. something to say of it” (IP. . can experience the tree in terms of what it is made of. a false eschatology for in speaking of the uniqueness of language one proves its impossibility. 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). . of what order is such a destiny in that. But at that point. to have forever . it precedes words as vehicles for meaning and to whom can it occur if we are not yet speakers? Agamben. as we have repeatedly seen. and so lacks access to the language needed to express the nature of the matter of language as such.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN traditional roles of philosophy and poetry respectively. through avowing its emptiness. irrespective of the form it takes. (IP.” so Celan writes . “Destiny is concerned only with the language that. and decides to remember that emptiness and fill it. Agamben realizes immediately the aporia at the heart of any conception of a unique language accorded to poetic dictation. uniqueness is the destiny of language.
Dictation. therefore.” and is analyzed here in relation to twentieth-century Italian poet Delfini. As Agamben notes more than once elsewhere.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE their experience of pure language cannot translate beyond that experience. but only occurs in the instance of its exposition.” A useful translator’s footnote in the English tradition explains that the Italian for dictation. between the inability to remember in the perfect. means both an authoritative declaration intended for preserving transcription and a mode of poiesis. Dictation therefore names a midway point or tension between being as the intimacy of undergoing an experience of language. between the experience of dictation as inspiration courtesy of the muse. and a power of only thinking. and the distanciation of a proceeding recollection of the experience. This mediality of poetic dictation explains why “the lyric—which uniquely keeps to such dictation—is necessarily 35 . 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. This tradition still holds for Dante. The combination of ideas of pure linguistic matter and language as subsequent philosophical discourse combine in “The Idea of Dictation. dettato. channelling the muse. say. stanza. testing the experience through thoughtful prose. finds significant examples in the modern tradition in works such as Coleridge’s famous narrative of the composition of “Kubla Khan. and this intimate divergence is its dictation” (IP. Reading Delfini and Campana Agamben summarizes dictation as the space or locale. . it is always written after the fact and so is obviously dictated by the already existent presence of the poem. 52). a sense also to be found in the German word Dichtung that Heidegger often prefers in reference to poetry. the events that led to the dictation of a poem.” 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. amorous attachment to the present. cannot be narrated after the fact. poetry is always divided. and the memory that arises precisely out of the impossibility of this love. . Such a poetic experience of language cannot impose itself in prose. retains an element from late Latin culture wherein the term refers to writing a literary work. and that of the subsequent declamation of the experience in discursive prose: “Between the impossibility of thinking . while the razo of a poem (and a razo can often be internal to the poem such as one finds in works such as Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” and “The Solitary Reaper.
and love. said experience cannot be recounted. 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. While one is in the moment of inspiration one lacks the space to speak. which the poet produces in the poem. Was it a vision.” (IP. Agamben notes that in ancient rhetoric ratio or ars invendiendi (inventive art/argument) was juxtaposed with ratio iudicandi or truthful. poetry is central to the work of Agamben. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN empty. but in this failure to recollect one is exposed to the dictatorial truth of poetry: recount and recall what cannot be said or remembered. This ancient rhetoric of topics however became watered down over centuries so that the place of speech 36 . Agamben supports his claim that language precedes life with citations from the theological tradition of the West. but a discovery through the belatedness of the razo or recounting of experience that yes. 52). correctly spoken discourse. 76). the source from which all arguments originate. the stanza. As I have been arguing. before honing in on the specificity of the relation between poetry and the poet’s life in the development of the razo de trobar. and once one is abandoned by the muse the only tale to tell is of said abandonment. .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. 93). produces life. 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. it is always transfixed on the verge of a day that has always already set . in the word. That said. 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. for example the Gospel of John. . 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. What I hope becomes clear by virtue of this positioning of the lyric at a moment of linguistic twilight is that like infancy. withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP.
that defies definition. between lived experience and what is poeticized . This allows Agamben to now explain once and for all the role of the razo in poetry: “The razo. 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. not only dramatizes the problematic of the emergence of human life out of language.PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE as arche-source simply became conventional arguments used as mnemonic techniques in oral cultures. which lies at the foundation of poetry and which constitutes what the poet calls its dictation (dictamen). can there be an experience of language as the basis of thinking being that retains language as a thing that can be said but which itself is not reduced to merely saying something? Poetic dictation. . ratio iudicandi. Clearly there is something about the original place of language. . which we share in common with all life? How. Rather.49 Agamben notes that over centuries this has given birth to the art of biography. then fable. 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. More interesting than the slippery nature of topics/razo perhaps is the relation between lived experience and the experience of language which typifies dictation. or the experience of inspiration becoming the tale of 37 . 79). 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. 79). an experience of the event of language as love. from the poetic experience of language as such. and indeed our whole tradition. for again over time the meaning of the razo was diluted in the same manner as was observed in topics so that “What for the troubadours was an experience of the razo—that is.” (LD. The impersonality of dictation becoming the personal element of biography. caught as it is between the wordless experience of language as such and the language-less process of language about language. as the tight unity of what is lived and what is poeticized—now becomes a giving of reasons for experience” (EP. what the troubadours called the stanza of love. in other words. Modern versions of the razo can be found in the work of Freud as much as in Joyce for example. but also that of philosophy. and finally the novel. the razo is a zone of indifference. is therefore neither a biographical nor a linguistic event. 80). ratio iveniendi.
poeticized. which is the basis of human being as both divided and potentially redeemed. is precisely the zone of indistinction between language and life that Agamben repeatedly seeks to reveal as the very place of a speechless language as such: dictated. indifferent. cannot be addressed unless one listens with care to the dictates of the many pages that comprise the work of the literary Agamben. ontological.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inspiration. This is why the fact that there is language. in-fancy. 38 .
FIRST EPISODE ON THE WAY TO LOGOPOIESIS .
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CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. 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.”2 Naturally. “Father dust who rises 41 . the author is present in the text only as a gesture that makes expression possible precisely by establishing a central emptiness within this expression. not a person as such who has the capacity for thought. the location of poetic thinking would ordinarily be seen to take place in the mind of an author. empty. Agamben is however unable to concede that there is no author as such in the text. a meaningless action. in a recent essay “The Author as Gesture” included in the collection Profanations (2005). a place-holder for a subjective category convenience. THINKING THOUGHT POETIC THINKING Going against the grain of the Platonic tradition and accepting as a given that poetry thinks. The gesture in question is. From the Latin gerere it is a type of bearing or carrying. Gesture is rather an unconscious occupancy of the hands in conversation. . after all.1 a functionality that attenuates the presence of creative agency to a mere support for discursive distributions of power along lines of ownership rights and so on. Accepting Foucault’s dictum that the author as creating subject is dead and replaced by the author-function. . Yet if the author is merely a functional facilitation or a supporting inexpressive gesture then it makes little sense to suggest that the thoughts of a poem or indeed any work of literature take place in the “mind” of said gesture. Agamben wonders where precisely the thought of the poem occurs. we can say that . Foraging for the place of poetic thinking Agamben reads a poem by the famous author-function César Vallejo.
suggesting rather that they most probably only came to be known to the author as he was writing. the author-function does not think but is a collaborating facilitator of social forces. at this point.?” (Prof. poetic thinking must be. Agamben adroitly comes to realize that this is equally impossible for thoughts imply by definition a thinking subject. contrary to one’s assumptions. 71). then can they ever even be said to be the thoughts of the poet? It would seem not. therefore. 98 fn. can be located neither in the poem nor the author/reader-function. its actual taking place as a mode of thinking-feeling.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN from Spain” (Prof. Agamben is forced to conclude. at the same time. in occupying the space vacated by the author becomes. then thought occurs at the 42 . nor can a poem as object be said to think either. but desubjectivized ontology. Influenced no doubt by his own views on dictation he refutes the possibility that they simply blew in to the poet who then wrote them down. Nietzschean. The reader becomes. . thinking subject. must be the reader who. or indeed even later as he was rereading his work. 71). in taking up the poem to read.3 The place of the poem. . 12).4 Instead. If the poem “thinks” or presents thoughts and this thinking is not to be located in the mind of an actual. 71). are infinitely withdrawn from it. willing agency. if the thoughts of a poem are not in the mind of the author-function as they cannot be.” (Prof. in effect. This being the case the author-function does not facilitate ownership or authority. “Does this mean that the place of thought and feeling is in the poem itself . speculating as to the exact location of the thoughts and sentiments contained in the work. Aside from it being almost impossible to stipulate the exact moment that a poet “thought” what they wrote. . a similarly evacuated subjectivity. creative. he will repeat the same inexpressive gesture the author used to testify to his absence in the work” (Prof. a reader-function. 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. touching the text into being through an act of empty. as Foucault would have it. The author is only the witness or guarantor of his own absence in the work in which he is put into play . Author-functions play tag with the text. “in the gesture through which the author and reader put themselves into play in the text and. “will occupy the empty place in the poem left by the author. in effect. The only outstanding thinking subject involved in poetry. Here Agamben realizes that the reader. .
available medium “to think” something. then paradoxically it ceases to be thought as such but a category subordinate to the thing. From being the presupposition of a thing’s truth the thing becomes the presuppositional necessity of thinking.LOGOS. the work becomes the place of thought without one personifying the poem in some absurd way by declaring that it is an autonomous. In an earlier piece “Bartleby. Through this Cimmerian light one is able to discern the topos of a poetic thinking. 72). It thinks a pure potentiality (to think and not to think)” (P. At this impossible point thought is reduced to being a presuppositional representation of the thing. Such a thought is obviously meaningless. Yet if thought instead comes to actuality and thinks something. thought would effectively think nothing as such. thought and its expression. thought no longer thinks some thing in its advent of singularity but is effectively what must be thought about some already presupposed thing. which for Agamben is a form of language.5 Aristotle illustrates this rather abstract point with reference to the 43 . THINKING THOUGHT moment that subject and object. The author can only come to being as the supporting gesture of the text. They are examples of ontological deixis. Each time thought thinks some thing therefore. 250–1). this time the more familiar discipline of philosophical thought or thinking as such. bring each other into presence then immediately withdraw. Does thought actually exist as such as a general. potential. Reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics Agamben presents the aporia of what thought actually thinks in terms of issues of potentiality and actuality. and thus thinking being. 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. Thought that thinks itself neither thinks of an object nor thinks nothing. 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. anything. 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. Aristotle contends. but the text “has no other light than the opaque one that radiates from the testimony of his [the author’s] absence” (Prof. between potentiality and actuality. paternal. In contrast. touch upon each other. They point to the presence of beings but they do not possess actual being.
POETRY AND PHILOSOPHY Yet one would be wrong if one then declared some kind of lasting amity between poetry and philosophy. yet generally ignored problem shared by poetic and philosophical thinking.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. producing an ontological caress. a bolstering figuration that shares a clear equivalency to Agamben’s idea of gesture as an empty facilitation of thinking. . 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. or at least Aristotle passes this belief on to Western metaphysics. If the philosopher’s vocation is to think then naturally to think what thought is would be their highest calling. . Thus to think thought is to think both the absence of thought as a thing to be thought. surprising. The author in a text is a potential to be while the realization of her thoughts in the text seems to be an actualization. . . In his treatise on how to establish the ideal totalitarian state Plato immortally excludes poets from the republic. 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 . of what potential is a poem the actualization of ? By definition potential must be the actualization of the potential to be and yet not be the author–reader of a thought expressed in the poem body. The same is true for the philosopher. which convinces me that the way we were trying to found our community was along absolutely the right lines . coyly withdraw. Both seem to founder on an aporia between potentiality and actuality.”7 Thus began proceedings for what Agamben translates as the “divorce” between poetry and prose 44 . and its presence as a coming to be a thing to be thought. That we flatly refused to admit representational poetry. Yet if. hand-in-hand. which at the same time negates thinking as such. as we saw. 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. the author as individual does not exist as such in a text. Yet to think thought as potentiality leaves thought with nothing to think. They touch on being and.
The stated intention of the Provençal poets’ razo de trobar was “to experience the topos of all topoi. Plato. then what is the extreme experience of language within the poetic tradition?” (LD. of mimesis. 66). until Hegel. for example. that not only typifies our culture’s response to the arts. Aristotle was more than happy to begin the discipline of aesthetics or philosophical categorical thinking about the arts spawning a long and illustrious tradition. Poetry is a form of expression. love. “And if love is presented in the 45 . . inevitably. he wonders. Defining philosophy as “the unspeakable experience of the Voice” (LD. In Language and Death. . came to remove from poetry thinking as a form of authentic modality. 66). Republic 607b–c) poetry . Although Troubadour love constitutes a promising avenue of inquiry. but for most it is not a form of thought. 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.. 68) as we have already seen. So much so that today it seems strange perhaps to even argue a role for poetry as a mode of thinking. THINKING THOUGHT (MWC. Agamben suspects as much when he presents just such a possibility at the foundation of modern poetics in the razo de trobar. They named the experience of the very advent of the poetic word. even radical disjuncture. this abyss weighs heavy upon our philosopher’s mind. of material pleasure. Agamben soon uncovers a dark truth at the heart of troubadour poetics. 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. 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. primarily excluded from the philosophical canon. that is. the place from which all places emerge. But on the whole poetry as a form of thinking. 52). Not that philosophy then neglected poetry. Love is not only the term for the very event and advent of the poetic word it also comes to stand for the unattainable. or even poetry’s role in thinking was. in particular. but has also introduced a disastrous aporia into Western metaphysics based around the presupposed difference between poetry and thinking which.LOGOS. 66). an attempt to experience the very taking place of the poetic word in the form of the joy of love seems a long way from nihilism. the very taking place of language as originary argument” (LD.
come together within the modern experience of metaphysics as negation detailed in Language and Death. seems necessarily to be marked by negativity” (LD. alone. also holds them together and seems to point beyond their fracture. unattainable. Neither is able. and so on. his philosophy of indifference. Both poetry and philosophy seek an indifferent experience of language as such before the moment of its division into language and voice. he is forced to conclude: Even poetry seems here to experience the originary event of its own word as nothing. modern metaphysics and Provençal poetics are. and this experience. in as much as the roots of European poetics lie precisely in the empty loveless stanzas of the troubadour lyric they mark the origin of an experience of poetic negativity which echoes that of modern metaphysics. as an ancient tradition of thought would have it. 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. nothingness. and yet accessible only in this distance. Agamben admits. that is because the experience of the taking place of language is at stake here. and thus. The two empty resonators. and modern art and aesthetics as nihilism. so much so that Agamben is willing to hand over ontology to the “poetic” experience of desubjectivization. These issues come to full appearance for both disciplines during the period of 46 . to understand that which. as such. while separating them. I showed this in the previous chapter by drawing parallels between algorithms for the sign S/s. to attain such an experience. 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). These two traditions and experiences of the word as negativity. seemingly divergent yet. Thus while poetry comes very close to an originary experience of language as such. but both rest originally in a common negative experience of the taking place of language. philosophy and poetry. unspeakability. Perhaps.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Provençal lyric as a desperate adventure whose object is far away. and the stanza S [/] s. (LD. 69). The poetic and philosophical experiences of language are thus not separated by an abyss. resorting always to negative constructions of language as unattainability. rather.
(He is referring here to Heidegger. without thereby becoming either philosophers of the voice or mere enthusiasts? Are we capable of reckoning with the poetic 47 . politics. and philosophy in a characteristically ambitious denouement (P. Tracing this articulation back to ancient Greek sources. He cites Heraclitus in describing this harmonia as “invisible” harmony before exhorting that “the last Western philosopher recognized a hint of this harmony in a painting by Cézanne in the possible rediscovered community of thought and poetry” (ST. . 157). gesture. 163). 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. yet the roots of their failure to find language go back several centuries at least. in the “Project for a Review” he ends the volume by calling for a radicalization of the ancient science of philology which would.8 Agamben is moved to wonder in this regard: Are we capable today of no longer being philosophers of the letter . In Infancy and History. THINKING THOUGHT modernity. That poetry and philosophy share such commonalities is not a coincidence. poeticize philology so that the site of the division between poetry and philosophy “becomes a conscious. but rather the result of a mutual origin in thinking as such that. 85).LOGOS. however. Ending books on a call for the healing of the fracture between poetry and philosophy then becomes something of a habitual gesture. essentially. 157). or On Gesture” he brings together poetry. Again and again he returns to this theme. 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. problematic experience rather than an embarrassed repression” (IH. 108) and forms the conclusion of two major essays in the collection Potentialities (1999). he names this possibility harmonia or “the idea of a laceration that is also a suture. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and a unity” (ST. .) The abyss between poetry and philosophy occupies the last of Agamben’s thoughts in Language and Death (LD. Stanzas concludes with an attempt to relocate a post-nihilistic idea of presence located in the very fold or articulation between signified and signifier. In “Kommerell. has been obscured by the Platonic tradition that Agamben habitually calls the “abyss” between poetry and philosophy.
paraphrasing Wittgenstein. Conceding this point. Rather. in the fold or invisible harmony that. emerges where no voice calls us? Only then would tradition cease to be the remission and betrayal of an unsayable transmission . Agamben believes. However. in the “last” essay of The End of the Poem. Agamben argues: “As for poetry. rather. its resolution resting with neither party nor an idealized unity of the two but between them somehow. has always existed in the midst of the two fundamental experiences of language in our culture: language as sustaining (poetry) and as testing (philosophy). and surrounding the two contesting ideas of thinking within our tradition.9 This usually takes the form of a summons to poeticize philosophy and expose philosophic prose to the semiotic presence of the poetic word. Or. . The answer to the problem of Western metaphysics can only be approached by the rehabilitation of poetry as a form of thinking but its solution does not simply emerge from poetry. 115). One presents to the apparently eager student the whole thing of 48 .” Agamben recounts a story told by Plato in one of his letters of how. pestered endlessly by the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius to once more attend his court. These two experiences form the basis of Agamben’s idea of the origin of all literature in dictation. that it is threatened by an excess of tension and thought. Plato devised an apotropaic pedagogical methodology. but they also come together in Agamben’s idea of the communicability of language as such as the place between. as a nonpresupposed principle. (P. 115) I believe our point is well made. one could say. COMMUNICABILITY. that poetry should really only be philosophised” (EP. while Agamben seeks for a true experience of language in poetry he is regularly disappointed. Poetry. on the contrary. it resides somewhere in the division between poetry and philosophy. provides an opening up of the pathway towards a future for philosophy but alone it is not the destination of this track. within.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN presentation of the vocation that. therefore. citing the famous Wittgenstein declaration that philosophy should really only be poeticized. 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 THING ITSELF In the opening essay of Potentialities entitled “The Thing Itself. .
image (eidolon). Yet.” but. but the basis of knowledge on this very obscurity. 33). Agamben’s translation finds that the four bases of being which define the Platonic theory of ideas. an arche thing impossible to retrieve. and knowledge. is the apotropaic heart of philosophy. all are dependent on the thing as such. Rather said thing is to be brought to light “in the very medium of its knowability. THINKING THOUGHT thought and all difficulties attendant on that. If the student is sincere he or she will embrace this difficulty. Rather than the thing as such being an unsayable and inaccessible part of being. Knowledge presupposes something as already existing about which it has knowledge whose veracity it can vouchsafe through the idea truth as agreement. therefore. Having presented this reading of Plato. “that by which the object is known. name (onama). 31). Much of this comes down to the problem of presupposition. in the pure light of its self-manifestation and announcement to consciousness” (P. This thing is not a thing in any ordinary sense of the term. The thing itself. the thing is “nevertheless possible only in language and by virtue of language: precisely the thing of language” (P. If this thing is not a thing in the world nor is it. a thing in the world or a thing than can be represented by language and thus known in this way. Modern science is the archetypal epistemology in 49 . its own knowability and truth” (P. definition (logos). Agamben reconstitutes the thing as such as the ground or support of knowability. but the very precondition of being: “no longer simply the being in its obscurity. The powerfully obscure nature of the thing dissuades the thinker but in so doing also attracts them to the very basis of philosophy’s being. as an object presupposed by language and the epistemological process. additional recondite element as the tradition has it. 28) will realize the dolour of “the thing” and task their tutor no more.LOGOS. 32). otherwise those merely “tanned” by philosophy (P. Plato concedes. the obscure nature of the presupposition of a thing. however. 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.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. This thing then is not a fifth. while language cannot say the thing as such. there but never to be made available to presence. the most difficult of all problems: the very thing of thought as such.
what we are always saying and communicating . 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. is the communicability of the very language that cannot express the thing but. which. 35). . If the thing is not a thing in the world.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN this regard operating as the very opposite structure to that of an apotropaic thinking that is. Communicability divided from communication. the thing could not come to presence. reveals that: “Language sup-poses and hides what it brings to light. nor is it “horribly or beautifully unreachable in its obscurity” (P. without which. The thing itself of thought. unsayability. inscribing a myth of absence. it is what we are always disclosing in speaking. Düttmann states: “Communicability always communicates itself. 35). it would take the form 50 . although not the same thing at all. Düttmann’s introduction to Idea of Prose. nor a presupposition or hypothesis. in the very act in which it brings it to light” (P. cannot however be thought separately. . I would argue. and negation at the heart of epistemology. the very open-ness at issue in language. why that which cannot be thought. declaring that the thing itself is not “something ineffable that must remain unsaid and hence sheltered” (P. more typical of modern ontology. an act of communication. 33). What is the very thing of thought itself ? this tradition seems to ask.” Communication and communicability. in using language as a means of accessing that about which one speaks. therefore. 34). 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. . spends some considerable effort defining communicability through its source in Benjamin and establishing it as the heart of Agamben’s thought. we always presuppose and forget . nor even an arche thing forever lost to which thought aspires.” (P. in language. Such thinking. Agamben strongly refutes this history of the thing.11 their presupposition of the thing itself will always make said thing inaccessible. While language and knowledge presuppose the thing itself as already existing as a thing about which they can speak and have knowledge. . it is nothing but communication itself. Yet communicability cannot be collapsed into communication in that in itself it cannot be communicated: “if communicability let itself be communicated. privation.
” one ought to note that the explicit history of this term in Plato is of no small water to our own study. however far the thing as such is from Agamben’s ideas on enjambement or poetic rhythm. and we as critics of literature can and must learn from him in these areas. This does not mean communicability is unsayable or invisible. merely that the means of encountering it are not provided by communication of something specific. Like Heidegger. The means by which this occurs is apotropaic in a historical sense in that the thing’s unsayability in philosophical language gives birth to the tradition of negativity. Language 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. 51 . THINKING THOUGHT of a thing. In addition. would erase itself immediately. While he has a great deal to say of poetry that is philological. It would not be possible to produce an Agambenian linguistics from it for example. and technical. reducing itself to the simple communication of something. Returning to “The Thing Itself. one presumes. 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. Agamben’s analysis of the thing as such should therefore act as a warning. lead it forward into the light). Language is the very thing that allows thought to occur and it is thought that Agamben pursues. For example. Agamben’s interest in poetry and the literary in general is only as a means of bringing him closer to language.” poetry is fundamentally important to thinking but not necessarily fundamentally important in itself. one can see here that the communicability of language. which is also essential to Agamben’s ideas on poetry. historiographic. is not precisely a comment on language. 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.LOGOS. a chattering mime of poets along the way. but at the same time allows us access to a profound realization. and his interest in language is piqued only as a way of revealing the very basis of thinking and being as such.”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.
The absolute presupposition is itself non-presuppositional. it is noted.” Agamben says making a point he often returns to. can presuppose nothing.” or a heuristic tautegorical structure that says its essence through the act of saying but saying nothing as such. meaning it also does not say some thing in the world. allowing Agamben to define that foundational theological declaration on language. . 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 . The meaning of revelation is that humans can reveal beings through language but cannot reveal language itself . This diversion through the tautegorical revelation. the first word of god. (P. “There is. en arkhe e ho ¯ ¯n logos (“In the beginning was the word”). Agamben calls this the movement of language’s “self-revelation.13 This word/name therefore cannot say something about something as there is no something that precedes it.14 is a strategy on Agamben’s part to suggest that modern metaphysics is similarly dominated by the impossible 52 . Instead it says the thing as such of language.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN THE IDEA OF LANGUAGE In the second essay Agamben has written under the title “The Idea of Language.” he considers the influence of the concept of revelation on the Western metaphysical ideas of linguistic unsayability. nothing precedes the “big word” of God. but is instead a truth that concerns language itself. This is elsewhere reformulated as there being no name for the name. “no word for the word” (P. Glossing on John. as a statement on the ontology of language as such. Agamben explains that the beginning word. a knowable thing that we did not previously know. the very fact that language (and therefore knowledge) exists. . 41). must contain within it not merely content that human ingenuity has not yet conceived of. . . humans see the world through language but do not see language. Like the quasi-theology of the “big bang” theory of our universe. Revelation. 40) This transparency of language within our tradition has come to be the very quality of god’s invisibility. or what Lyotard defines as thinking-feeling of something happening as the very happening in question.
if the presuppositional power of language knew no limits. however. Agamben believes. yet it provides no direct means of letting language speak itself. allow one to think language as such. THINKING THOUGHT logic of revelation. does not have a presence that can be named but nor is the Idea a nameless nothingness. is itself immediate. 47). Agamben sees the modern presupposition of language as profoundly aporetic in that it posits language as the presupposition to thought. 53 . Thus. Returning to Plato. Or what Plato calls the thing itself. then there would truly be no possible experience of the limits of language. as ever the quarry in Agamben’s sights here. On the other hand. he wonders. The Idea.LOGOS. Thus the conception of language as immediate mediation defines its communicability and reveals a possible way out of the nihilism of modern thought. for example. 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. Nothing immediate can be reached by speaking beings—nothing. The problem here is mapped out very succinctly. “this is an Idea. forcing it always to speak of something pertaining to the epochal closure of the metaphysical project. “Can there be discourse that. As Agamben says. 46–7). Language. 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). without being a metalanguage or sinking into the unsayable. and naturally enough he comes to call this the Idea of language. Yet the Derridean idea of language as subject to the logic of the trace. 47). does not. as immediate mediation “constitutes the sole possibility of reaching a principle freed of every presupposition” (P. 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. mediation itself ” (P. Such language is not presupposed. 46). which for human beings mediates all things and all knowledge.” but nor is an Idea some thing in the world outside: “it is a vision of language itself. except language itself. that is. “If every human word presupposed another word. The Greek sense of the Idea is not a word so cannot be named meta-linguistically. a perfect language purged of all homonymy and composed solely of univocal signs would be a language absolutely without Ideas” (P. says language itself and exposes its limits?” (P.
like a number of thinkers since Heidegger. True philosophy in this way ought to be doubly silent. Silent on the problems it has solved and silent as it comprehends the problems that remain. which is expressed in the formula ‘that there is language’? Is philosophy not concerned precisely with comprehending the incomprehensible?” (P. For example. In the pursuit of thought nothing is sacred. to solve the problem of philosophy itself rather than use philosophy to solve problems. as yet. THE IDEA OF PROSE While an essential element of Agamben’s thought critics have. self-avowed project is negated here in true philosophical thought. 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. does not understand what to say. or moment in history when all division is. not in song but in a pure language?16 He says. perhaps. Such a mode of thinking is not lost in the mire of unspeakability as one might assume and is silent on the subject about which it must speak only because it. via the mediation of Agamben’s text: “Its language is the idea of prose itself. even the most universal presupposition. 45). One name for this voluble silence in Agamben’s work is the Idea of Prose.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN COMMUNICABILITY.15 Such a moment ought to be celebrated should it not. in isolation poetry’s reserved role as the closest experience we can have of immediate mediation via dictation is not Agamben’s main point. made over much of linguistic communicability. which is understood by all humans 54 . Confusingly. Even Agamben’s own. “Was philosophy not perhaps the discourse that wanted to free itself of all presuppositions. for a second at least. alone it tells us little. Similarly. suspended. This object is the thing itself of thought defined by Agamben not by what it can know presuppositionally but what it cannot. or thought that does not find presuppositional commonalities but eliminates all presupposition leaving merely the great single object of true thinking. he reminds us that the original task of thought was not to discern the presuppositional bases for thinking problems but the elimination of presuppositions. He wishes.” 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.
instead it is perfectly transparent to itself ” (P. Such a language does not have a content and does not communicate objects through meanings. like many thinkers. or communicability. as our tradition often has it. At the moment that history is redeemed from division into integral actuality. to an impure process of attempted communication or trying to render transparent once more the opacity of signs. however. humanity will resolve the issue of the Babelian profusion of languages. not by taking up one single language and rejecting all others. “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. If. as confusion can of course lead again to a diversity of names for such things. but in the integration of all languages into one pure language that is not written or spoken but simply celebrated. nor can it refer to other names within language. How can this be? Agamben himself poses this question. I believe we now have an answer that we can retrieve from the mysticism of Benjamin’s wonderful prose. simply to a universal system of nouns but to a totally transparent system of pure coincidence between sound and sense. and actual presence of language as such. discourse presupposes names then a name cannot be anything that would ever need discourse again. 52).17 What would such prose consist of ? Primarily names. integrated. he writes. Such a name cannot refer to things in the world. This Benjamin famously calls “freed prose. naming the world. naming. 48). prose would name nothing other than the fact that it can name: nominal potentiality. language. Language as communicability is the moment of integral actuality when the thing as such of thought touches the medium of thinking. In the Idea of Prose we would not return. At this moment what is 55 . Discursive language is widely seen as a necessary evil to redeem the fall of language over time from a pure system of transparent signification. accepts the scission at the heart of human language between pure signification. To put it succinctly. Benjamin.” a language not tied down to communication but existing rather as pure communicability. THINKING THOUGHT just as the language of birds is understood by those born on Sunday” (cited in P. Thus the Idea of Prose is a system of pure and transparent naming that names one thing: the universal.LOGOS. and communication. as there would be no exteriority for such endless deferral. discourse.
language as semiotic mediality. transmit it. or to leave no excessive. At this point it would cease to be a sustaining experience of language as transmission and would instead be a specific transmissible meaning. A thought that precedes language simply reiterates the aporias of philosophy’s reliance on. the poet says. language.”19 However. is to be totally comprehended. ironically. 60). yet disregard for.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN revealed is that the medium that allows one to produce or perceive the thing as such. unity. 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 . given the weak choice of poetry or philosophy in the interim while we await the arrival of the Idea of Prose. by actually trying to think it. that is. but to say this it would have to cease transmitting immediately and choose a side. philosophy. 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. The very meaning of language is its transmission of meaning as such. He is not a poet. In so doing it discovers this possibility through the very medium that momentarily facilitates this question. But this is exactly what they cannot do without abolishing themselves” (P. Which is why. That said.” 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. Language too requires immediate mediation as Agamben explains: “to say what they mean. languages would have to cease to mean it. Benjamin’s choice of the confusing term prose. so to speak. He does not take dictation. It has to be this way.18 choosing to stay within language rather than distance himself from the source of all thought. seems to be promoted by an observation by Valéry that states “the essence of prose is to perish” (cited in P. semiotic. or material remnant. and difference. answering the very pertinent question why he did not describe an Idea of Poetry. is the thing of such of thought. 54). Agamben is a philosopher and purveyor of philosophical prose. Agamben opts for poetry. Thought thinks how it is possible for thought to think away from presuppositionality. A language that precedes thought places language in a position of presupposition immediately negating its true essence and making it a philosophical concept. The destiny of perfect or pure prose.
a poetry of materialized prose. for a messianic and impossible dream? Perhaps. surely. Only poetry. and Heidegger. the Idea of Prose. But remnants of it can be perceived first in the very communicability of language as such or as pure medium. Agamben is reaching here. which knows neither past nor repetition. can no longer be pursued through philosophical prose. it is “pure history”—history without grammar or transmission. it is the language that. in never having been. and thus Agamben. but essentially. 60) A language of perfect transparency would accept no division and therefore can be described as totally indifferent. insofar as it now says and understands only itself. if we are ever to arrive at that point. It is what is continually said and what continually takes place in every language not as an unsayable presupposition but as what. can pro-duce perfect prose. it would seem. are no longer in opposition but in a state of integral actuality.LOGOS. naming and signifying.20 Accepting that there are certain presuppositional and aporetic elements to this view. This indifference is not the result of unity or dialectic synthesis. having eliminated all of its presuppositions and names and no longer having anything to say. 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. is forced to turn to poetry. resting solely on its own never having been. It does not unify because it exists pre-divisively in a completely other order of thinking that has no conception of scission and opposition. Confusingly. As Agamben says of such prose: Insofar as it has reached perfect transparency to itself. (P. THINKING THOUGHT poetry itself. like Badiou. sustains the life of language. now simply speaks. in the collapse of philosophy into a linguistic presupposition of unsayability which ironically allows us to finally think of a silent language that speaks itself. The Idea of language is language that no longer presupposes any other language. and finally in poetry and its complex presentation and experience of the materiality of language as such through dictation. 57 . Derrida. speech restored to the Idea is immediately dispersed. Yet a pellucid language would not be reducible to dialectic either as the two elements. Nancy.
as such. He comes to define gesture. “in a means. .24 is what Agamben calls gesture: “Gesture is the display of mediation.22 He admits that Varro’s analysis of gesture as neither production nor enactment but “undertaking and supporting. the basis of Agamben’s presentation of form-of-life as a new mode of thinking in Means Without Ends (1996). the making visible of a means as such” (IH. it remains difficult for us perhaps to see how poetry and philosophy could even begin to be said to share a common ground. perhaps due to the Platonic inheritance. This is vintage Agamben. are removed from the sphere of mediation without thereby becoming ends” (IH. via the neo-Platonist Varro’s reading of Aristotle. and presents means which. gesture breaks the false alternative between ends and means .” while owing much to Aristotle. does it turn a res into a res gesta” (IH. but of a kind of mediation that is pure and devoid of any end” (IH. 155). however tense this dual occupancy may be. 154–5). or simply the radical nature of Agamben’s claim. Astonishingly. 155). inbuilt scepticism. this rapidly leads him to the conclusion that it is gesture as pure medium that allows us finally to understand the Kantian definition of beauty as “finality without purpose” or “without end” which is. combining Greek scholarship 58 . that potential for the gesture to interrupt it in its very being-means and only thus does it display it. presents a new. in fact. Agamben’s third foray into the theory of gesture. . One solution to this problem resides in Agamben’s theory of the gesture with which we already have some familiarity from what is. as that which resides between the two sides of Aristotle’s famous distinction between action (praxis) and production (poiesis).23 This definition of a means without determinate ends.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN POETIC GESTURES Although Agamben consistently affirms a common history and destiny for poetry and philosophy.21 This early work begins in characteristic fashion with the philosopher bemoaning the loss of gestures in modern life. third kind of action: “if doing is a means in sight of an end and praxis is an end without a means. 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. and we will need to wait before we can fully comprehend this final leap of his imagination. 155). He first raises the issue in an essay called “Notes on Gesture” inserted into the appendices of Infancy and History.
Agamben describes philosophy’s gag as being akin to that of what he calls the gesturality of cinema.LOGOS. poetry. 77). or On Gesture” he brings philosophy closer to an art form more central to our study. presents Agamben with a double negation typified by the use of the term gag. therefore. but in the aforementioned “Kommerell. therefore. 156). because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as a pure potential for mediation” (IH.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. Thus the muteness of philosophy. The insertion of speech into silence. much reviled in Language and Death for example. in its solitary moments” (P. The German defines gesture as closely tied but not reducible to. it is “the stratum of language that is not exhausted in communication and that captures language. so to speak. while a distraction from the truth of language. while yet another example of the mute voice within our tradition is. he reads Kommerell’s own comments on linguistic gesturality. These comments mark a fairly recognizable presaging of Agamben’s early thoughts on gesture here brought into the sphere of poiesis. A presence in language more originary than conceptual expression. Gesture’s muteness. the linguistic. 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. 156). language as such. 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. 59 . Lamentably the gag silences but it also inserts language into a hiatus which. however. The essay ends by explaining a relation the reader may already have discerned. in gesture. is also a betrayal of its importance. a positive silence.26 It transpires that philosophy speaks of silence to fill in its memory lapse as regards its true subject for speech. In itself it has nothing to say. THINKING THOUGHT forays into the European avant-garde and radical re-readings of the foundations of modern philosophy all within a few sentences. namely that gesture is another name for the communicability of language as pure medium: “gesture is the communication of a potential to be communicated. Defining the great twentiethcentury German critic as a “gestic” critic. provides the potential for a silence to once more speak. here becomes a positive gagging or “an exposition of the human being’s being-in-language: pure gesturality” (IH.
becomes almost unbearable. therefore. there must always be something in the poem not exhausted by a reading of it in terms of meaning. 78). This remaining mimetic element is its gesturality or what we can also call the semiotic. and a common if divergent response to their being “gagged” by language’s tendency towards muteness within our culture. then what is at issue in gesture is not so much a prelinguistic content as. It speaks not of the pre.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kommerell. its speechless dwelling in language” (P. the gestural is one of the means by which poetry and philosophy come together in Agamben’s work. Aside from the common history and destiny shared by poetry and philosophy. language as pure. compares gestural loneliness as akin to that found in lyric poetry. 78). according to Kommerell poetry is subject to the gestic gag or as Agamben says: “something put in someone’s mouth to keep him from speaking and. Agamben calls this the tablet and our second encounter with it. poets. noise. If this is the case. Kommerell proposes a decidedly odd equation of diminishing returns in this regard. its unspeakability as pure medium that Hegel identified in the inadequacy of the deictic diese. He says the more we have language the greater the weight of the unsayable. 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. the other side of language. before assuring us that prose is essentially the conceptual component of language. Thus for those possessed of the most words. A proposition that allows one to draw the conclusion that in-fancy is also gestural.but sublinguistic support of the semiotic as such in language. Not that philosophy as such is gestural. and poetry the mimetic. already heightened for them by their semiotic rather than semantic use of language. Kommerell defines speech as originary gesture leading Agamben to conclude: “If this is true . . the muteness inherent in humankind’s very capacity for language. it tends ever to the conceptual. Gesture is one name Agamben gives for the very mediality of language’s communicability. Like philosophy. so to speak. to better illustrate his point. . Quite the opposite. the weight of language’s gestic muteness. it would seem. then. Each word. the actor’s improvisation to make up for an impossibility of speaking” (P. graphicality. remember we have already considered Aristotle’s blank tablet. requires that we leave Kommerell in Germany and travel 60 . inexpressive materiality. bears a quantum of gestic mass.
but the site of a place” (IP. he was in despair “because how can thought pose the question of the beginning of thought . how can one comprehend the incomprehensible” (IP. but rather. THE TABLET. . . he narrates how. “Wasn’t what he was searching for exactly like the threshing floor. The entire. itself unthinkable and unspeakable. .LOGOS. PHILOSOPHICAL GESTURALITY In the sixth century AD.27 From this charming story of ancient times. 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. . an image occurred to him that would guide him towards the completion of this impossible task. in exile. taking his hand from the writing tablet for a moment. 33). the ageing philosopher Damascius decided to devote his last years to an impossible work entitled Aporias and Solutions Concerning First Principles. Describing Damascius setting about writing down the idea of the threshing floor. 32). Then. its own absolute potentiality. it was not even a space. 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. 34) 61 . (IP. with many interruptions. one night. This site of a place reminded him of nothing so much as the threshing floors of Damascus. . where the winnowing fans of thought and language separated the grain and chaff of everything?” (IP. . but something like the perfectly empty space in which only image. 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. the Syrian city where he was born many years before. not a place or thing. 33). breath. 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 . in a flash the old philosopher realized the truth of thought: The uttermost limit thought can reach is not a being. . no matter how free of any quality. the pure potentiality of representation itself: the writing tablet! . or word might eventually take place . “not an image. particular referent. .
but their middle term”). what. 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. Being a thinker not a poet he thus has no option but to break the tablet of material language and abandon his philosophical ambitions. refer to an already presupposed medium waiting to be occupied. 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. no doubt with great bitterness (although the text of this great work was in fact written).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. here represented by the medium of an as yet un-inscribed set of thoughts. rather medio must signify being in the midst of a milieu and being a milieu of the midst. “non era. a version of a kind of gestural or poeticized thinking. per lui.28 Düttmann is somewhat dissatisfied with the translation of medio as “middle term” by Sullivan and Whitsitt. As Damascius discerned. preferring the German translation “mitte” or midst. in the midst of poetry and philosophy. The term does not. as Düttmann correctly asserts. with its double sense of midst and milieu or “what takes place in the middle. Medio in this way would mean to be both in the midst of something. Mean here retains the sense of middleness and of sharing a common ground but 62 . the precondition of all thought on the materiality of a non-expressive language. not giving way to the extremes. One can see why the rather bland and non-suggestive “middle term” then is not to his or indeed my own liking. The closing words of the essay speak again of the enigmatic statement of Aristotle that Plato’s “idea del linguaggio” (“idea of language”). remains surrounded by the milieu that characterizes such an intermediary state” (IP. That said Düttmann’s version seems to miss the most obvious translation of the term medio. Düttmann’s analysis of the translation of the key phrase from “The Idea of Prose” is important here. né poesia né prosa. The tablet is. and the medium created by the bringing together of these two terms. therefore. namely mean. 5). ma il loro medio” (“was for him neither poetry nor prose. means he is unable to reconcile the conflict between writing that does not think (poetry) and thinking that cannot be written (philosophy).
specifically its ability to communicate nothing but its potential to communicate: whatever name. tension.LOGOS.32 63 . it is time to tell another story. aptly. 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. This portentous rhetorical portal opens up a debate on the meaning of “whatever” in terms of identity and being. It commences with prophesy: “The coming being is whatever being” (CC. For that matter he is also speaking of language. being French or being Muslim. 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. or On Contingency” for Potentialities. Average is a most common meaning for medio in Italian. This second volume.” in The Coming Community (1990). therefore. 1). is also a delineation of potentiality in terms of ontology as the opening essay “Whatever” reveals. I believe that without the concomitant implication of averaging out. but their mean.30 and again in the lapidarianally entitled “Bartleby.” It is a story Agamben has. suspension: “dialectic at a standstill. but indifferent being in that it is “such as it is. told twice over first as part of a co-authored book with Deleuze translated as “Bartleby. or the mean of communicability between poetry and prose. While Agamben is talking about being and ethics here we can now clearly see that he is also discoursing on the traditionally assumed qualities of poetry (ineffability) and philosophy (intelligibility). stillness. midst and milieu do not quite capture what is the essential experience of the Idea of Prose.” POTENTIALITY To draw together the diverse strands of Agamben’s theory of the medio.”29 The tablet. 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. THINKING THOUGHT importantly it adds a third sense: the average of two terms. 1).31 with Agamben explaining he does not mean an indifferent being in relation to a common property. this time the tale of different form of tablet named “Bartleby the Scrivener. namely balance. middleness (Wall’s aforementioned radical passivity). while a consideration of ethics and community.
Indeed. tabularity.” but the chance that potential will remain solely potential—potential inaction. 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. 64 . at every moment that the poet is not writing a poem they are in a state of potential privation: they could write but they choose not to. the simultaneous existence of not being within the very identity of one’s being.” the actual and surprising definition of poetic being is the possession of a faculty and not using it. which comes to define being as the presence of the not to be. in an odd way she is less of a poet when she is fulfilling her potential and writing poems. is defined in terms of being through negation or desubjectivization. “‘in this sense. 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. all potentiality is based on a choice not to do. “Thus the architect is potential insofar as he has the potential to not-build. simple privation. “What is essential is that potentiality is not simply non-Being. 179). and communicability all come together here in a sustained consideration of potential as the desubjectivizing presence of absence in being. Thus when Agamben goes on to define the artist. The poet here. means that you can write a poem but not that you are writing one or even that you ever will.” (P. for the sake of argument let us say the poet’s potential to make a poem. not the assumed movement from potentiality to actuality which we might call “creation” or “invention. the presence of an absence . is developed from the debate over what it means to have a faculty to do something and yet not be doing it. or whatever being. as indeed all makers are. we say of the architect that he or she has the potential to build. To have a faculty to write a poem. It ought now to be becoming increasingly clear how Agamben’s early ideas pertaining to authorial gesturality. Agamben concludes. 179). of the poet that he or she has the potential to write poems. . in-creation.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. non-invention. The presence of an absence for Agamben is the true definition of potentiality. Thus. Being is defined in its singularity by precisely this ontological condition of neutrality and passivity. . so that potentiality is not simply actuality to be but also the refusal to actuate one’s potential. the poet the potential to not-write poems” (P.
he celebrates Gould’s artistic power through a consideration of his potential to not not-play. Once potential passes over into actualization however. “I would prefer not to. “For if it is true that whatever being always has a potential character. Such a being is located in the mean or medial position between potentiality. . Returning to Bartleby. being in its potentiality. and actuality. nor is it simply incapable . a blankness that is never entirely blank and that. 35). 36). modern “poetic” thinking. Stating that any pianist can play or not play. Being. Clearly Gould is a thinker in his playing potential for rather than simply being a pianist. . or to turn his potential into actuality. 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 is equally certain that it is not capable of only this or that specific act. must retain a remnant in each of its two manifestations. so to speak. 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. 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. 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. having been. 65 .LOGOS. for those who are familiar with this remarkably prescient work by Melville. The tablet is the medium of this touch or what is touched. the simultaneous coming to being and desubjectivization of identity that Agamben describes as the essence of the author-function. not yet being. Gesture is the touch and withdrawal of being. Gould’s power is that “he plays. with his potential to not-play” (CC. he is able to consider his potential being beyond simply occupying this named position.”34 Agamben calls this supreme power using the figure of Glenn Gould to better illustrate the power of whatever being. 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. retains the element of blankness. it is capable of its own impotence” (CC. As such he is an exemplar of Aristotelian thought as potential and his controversial and apparently unhinged performance choices are recognizable examples of masterful. even when written upon. the potential not to be a poet as the very actualization of the poetic subjective state. Noting that true power comes from the capability for power and impotence. therefore.
Thought must have something to think. .” (CC.35 Just as Gould can think his own potentiality by playing with its negation. this time more centrally to its relation to potentiality: “If thought were in fact only the potentiality to think this or that intelligibility . the construction of an experience of the possible as such. but is not yet and may never be. Or. 37). stepping away from to play or not to play in favour of a position of playing to play and playing not to play.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Reading De Anima. written. so thought can think itself as a pure medium. but not in actuality think it for as soon as it is thought. neither an object nor its negation. But thought. but from an impotence that turns back on itself and in this way comes to itself as pure act . therefore. as possible or material intellect. in its essence. not thought considered as an object. as Agamben states midway through “Bartleby. action and passion coincide and the writing tablet writes by itself or. but being as presence becomes unthinkable. in other words. we can now reveal that it is the famous tabula rasa. “a scribe who does not simply cease writing but ‘prefers not to’” (CC. thought is no longer thought as such. . And Bartleby. Agamben glosses again on Aristotle’s definition of thought. “but that layer of wax. Aristotle compares it to a writing tablet on which nothing is written” (CC. . that rasum tabulae that is nothing but its own passivity” (CC. 37). Having met with this tablet once before. This waxen screen allows thought to turn back on itself and think itself as the thought of thought. as such. and. . Thought is neither presence. Not thought but the potential to think. 37). but is the presence of absence within presence that both affirms and negates being. 37). Being as pure absence remains nonbeing. simply put. or On Contingency”: “In its deepest intention. writes its own passivity. nor some negative theological absence. rather. The perfect act of writing comes not from a power to write. 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. is the archetype of pure potentiality as the passive writing medium upon which thought could. philosophy is a firm assertion of potentiality. not writing but the white sheet is what philosophy 66 . it is also the potentiality to not think. although Agamben notes that the correct term should be rasum tabulae or the layer of wax covering the tablet which the stylus engraves. it would always already have passed through to the act and it would remain necessarily inferior to its own object. is pure potentiality.
17).LOGOS. depersonalizes and desubjectivizes the writer. 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. 67 . with what resides in us but does not belong to us. a certain special pen. Duchamp. a series of dots. The impersonal is negated in the personal act of writing something specific. Looking in the mirror of their art. Then there are the great works that were written purely through genius: “Kubla Khan. On the Road.: “The ink. and the works never created: Mallarmé’s Livre. Each person’s character is engendered by the way he attempts to turn away from Genius. As I Lay Dying. the drop of darkness with which the pen writes. they have become someone they are not. as the poet sets pen to paper. what do they see? Dressed in second-clothes. . the late Rimbaud. Poets are called by the muse to write. yet each act of writing. 244). Or better a dot. . commences writing. a certain dim light shining from the left. Going on to describe the essence of the poetic as the tension between the demands of ego and genius. They are the art of pure character. The author attempted to merely will them into existence. that any paper and any light will suffice” (Prof. 14). changes her mind. Writer’s block is a phenomenon best explained by the ontology of potentiality. 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. as we saw. 10). These works did not come into being because they were not possessed of genius. to flee from him” (Prof. as is the writing of pure inspiration. the personal and impersonal (Prof. then opts not to . changes her mind. DeChirico. withdraws the pen.” The Magnetic Fields. however. Without being facetious. but as they write they murder the muse and assume her garb. 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. THINKING THOUGHT refuses at all costs to forget” (P. is thought itself ” (P.36 Potentiality in the writer is precisely this tension between genius and character. 249). Agamben concludes: “To some extent we all come to terms with Genius. not to write and to write. There are the great books that were never written. it is useless to tell yourself that just any pen will do. Agamben’s La voce umana. 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.
for Agamben. Then there are the few. the brush as it is lifted from the canvas not when it is applied. inspired flow are two sides of an imbalance of writerly potentiality. . A blank tablet acting as mere reproach to the woman of genius. The gesture alone is meaningless and sad. or not to write. . when genius has abandoned them? “It is the late and final stage when the old artist lays down his pen—and contemplates. The pen that grazes the page. but in their ongoing and self-conscious game with writing: to write. and that is the only way. or to write as not writing.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kenneth Koch’s When the Sun Tries to Go On. the powerful unfulfilment of true potential being. Here the author seemingly had little or nothing to do with writing. Their brilliance does not reside in what they write or what they excise or refute. And what of when a writer simply ceases to write. only now does the very long unlearning of the self begin . devoid of every charm . or not to not write. Some do not write and could never do so. too much character in one and overabundance of genius in the other. . that determine one’s subjective desubjectivity as a writer of potential. 68 . What does he contemplate? Gestures: for the first time truly his own. the great writers of genius. . and so on. 18). Does one fulfil one’s potential in the work? Never. They are happy with their lot and it would never occur to them not to write. all one’s written and unwritten works as Agamben phrases it.” (Prof. There are those who can write and do so with facility and alacrity. Gesturality signs the long and chequered history of one’s being with language. fulfil. Writer’s block and pure. Their destiny is otherwise.
poetry has come to be the archetype of all the arts. of filmic presentations of creation such as the various versions of Frankenstein. but is not limited to it. poiesis is “any cause” that results in creation. This includes willed creative agency therefore. Yet if we pay careful attention to Plato’s words here. the process of actually making is rather less glamorous than that.” Bringing something into presence could just as easily 69 . dark-browed genius does not necessarily have to work in the intermittent flashes of lightning accompanied by Wagnerian thunder and a rattling gurney to simply “bring something into presence. but the bringing into existence something that was not there before which could be an object. say. At the same time creation does not simply indicate the god-like making of a new object in the world. A sweating. for the modern philosophical tradition. Plato famously says in the Symposium: “any cause that brings into existence something that was not there before is poiesis.”2 Within the period of aesthetic modernity extending from Romanticism to our contemporary moment it has been common to interpret this dictum in such a way that poiesis could be taken to mean simply the willed making of something: creation. 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.CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. but could just as easily be a truth or observation. Finally. but its wider meaning is in fact creation. THINKING THROUGH MAKING POIESIS The Greek word poiesis1 is the origin of our term poetry explaining why. This view of creativity finds its culmination in Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power as Art or maker as creative genius.
Presence need not be awful. that he presents as poiesis. 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. Note the emphasis on the object’s availability for use here. the erecting of a statue in the temple precinct . guiding. and their causality in such a way as they will bring to presence a truth or being that was not available for view before. Relying on the ancient Aristotelian four causes theory of philosophy—matter. form. respecting the Greek provenance. and so on. The chalice makes one think of certain things in relation to ceremony and sacrifice. Beauty may be a part of poiesis but it is not necessarily the purpose of poiesis.g. and purpose will all fit together causally. reliability. 35). 21). 9). 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. thinking deeply about the “that” and the “how” of material. The temple. form. but the causality that combines all the other elements together into the coming to presence of a truth is not someone deciding to make something but someone. poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. soil. each of them must be made of matter that is formed to an end by a causality. toil. 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. purpose. The chalice is to hand or possesses Heideggerian equipmentality. rather than the beauty of the chalice. The statue makes one think of the materialization of a god within a temple. For Heidegger. at least not in the way in which they make the chalice. through making. The same would be true of the statue. purpose. the relationship between gods. . 70 .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN mean coaxing.” a process he defines as “producing that brings forth—e. or accompanying. It is what the chalice can produce for us as sacrificial vessel and all that entails. unveiling values such as equipmentality. Heidegger is careful to stipulate that the silversmith who makes the chalice is not the final and efficient cause of the chalice. making the chalice is really an afterthought following on from deep consideration on the part of the maker as to how material. the temple. form. and utility.. It may be timorous. Van Gogh’s peasant shoes “let us know what shoes are in truth” (PLT.” (QCT. Rather.
that of work. an experience of the production of something absent into presence and from concealment into the light. essentially guide or facilitator of truth. As Agamben explains: “The essential character of poiesis was not its aspect as a practical and voluntary process but its being a mode of truth as unveiling” (MWC. wilful action. Poiesis has in the modern age been mistaken therefore for praxis. what one might call modern “Romantic poiesis. This slip of the tongue unfortunately confines creation to the very process. voluntary. poiesis was. to confuse poiesis with praxis. un-concealment). that for many thinkers constitutes the opposite of what creation actually is. THINKING THROUGH MAKING PRAXIS According to Agamben poiesis was opposed. to praxis which meant to do something or to act in accordance with one’s will (MWC.” 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. was a concept at one remove from their 71 . lacks the subjective agency of an artist as a maker. We ought not to feel excessive culpability or remorse in this regard. It is an easy mistake to make. Poiesis as pro-duction. inaccurate order. Poiesis does not share with praxis the element of practical. One of the reasons for this confusion between poiesis and praxis in the modern age relates to a third category. 69). which is the Greek sense of experiencing truth as unveiling or a-letheia (un-forgetting. by making something new and wonderful in the world. a person able to bend their will to create themselves into being as The Artist. therefore yet today we often speak of creative production as practice and artists as practitioners. Poiesis of this second. for the Greeks. a doer. praxis. due to the reliance on that culture on the sustaining activities of slaves. 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. in contrast.POIESIS. in that both seem to fulfil Plato’s stipulation that creation is bringing something new into existence. poiesis. That said the difference between the two terms could not be clearer.3 Work. was directly tied into the biological processes of the human as animal and. for the Greeks. 68).
the lowest of the three categories for the Greeks to. Instead. 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. most notably in the work of Nietzsche. Over the centuries the clear differentiation between poiesis. pro-duction into presence. although the Greeks did not indulge habitually in work. the highest. 69). . the shift away from truth to genius facilitated the elevation of work. Greek and modern poiesis are both similarly ontological in basis in that both bring something into being and also operate as an act pertaining to one’s own being. 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. Marx. .THE LITERARY AGAMBEN lives. As this theme develops through materialism and then through philosophy.” that is. that is. The predominance of will over creation taken as a value of will.” to simply “I made this. is replaced by the question of the “how. “the point of arrival of Western aesthetics is a metaphysics of the will. For example. praxis. than between praxis as will and poiesis as almost passive experience. That said. eventually. . 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. . 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 . Heidegger. 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. of the process through which the object has been produced . (MWC. they were able to realize that work was “bare. and the materialists. the original productive state of the work of art is all but forgotten except by certain poets and. 70) As Agamben goes on to show through brief readings of Locke. Smith. eventually. For we “moderns” it would seem that making is something a subject does to 72 .”4 However different they are. of life understood as energy and creative impulse” (MWC. and work has been lost. it is much easier to find common ground between praxis and work understood as the basic production of all material life. Nietzsche’s definition of Will to Power as Art.
“The arts were not derived from the artistic.”6 73 . a premature seizing of the seat of the gods by presumptuous man. the Being of beings. Bernard Stiegler in his influential study of Technics and Time Vol. 10).” As Heidegger exudes in the closing sections of his influential essay “The Question Concerning Technology. as Heidegger suspects. 34). the second passive recipient. 59). Modern making defines being as making something. and this confirms the artist’s being as god-like maker. For them. These stipulations allow Heidegger to re-translate Plato’s definition of poiesis so that “any cause that brings into existence something that was not there before is poiesis. The first is active participant. 1 flags up this problematic synonymity between poiesis and technics citing Aristotle as claiming: “Every art [tekhne] is concerned with bringing something into being. This 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. it makes a new being. which is precisely the point. Art works were not enjoyed aesthetically. is bringing-forth [Her-vor-bringen]” (QCT.POIESIS. willed creation ex nihilo. it merely lifts the curtain to reveal what is behind. willed making into being is. 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.” becomes. This retranslation in effect negates the possibility that creation as poiesis can be Nietzschean. Greek making defines being as the experience of making. poiesis does not make anything new. meant that. the bringing to presence of the gods. Art was not a sector of cultural activity” (QCT. Most especially poiesis does not make what we would term “art. For the Greeks making is something that can happen to being or the subject to produce an authentic experience of truth.” during the halcyon days of Greek culture in its ascendancy the task granted to poiesis.5 TECHNE Staying with the Greeks a little longer one can see that the Nietzschean interpretation of poiesis as active. making the artist a technites (PLT. or as Heidegger interprets the Greek sense of truth as aletheia. “Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis.
that for the Greeks the three terms were all elements of a process of what they called bringing something into presence or aletheia. and techne as skilled knowing through doing.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN If there was no term for art as we conceive of it. Second. instead of art. 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. although alone making cannot simply will truth. praxis as simply doing. as this or that. As Heidegger states: “to create is to cause something to emerge as a thing that has been brought forth. Yet surely. he explains. direct relation between poiesis and art as such? Heidegger believes so in that for him pure poiesis. the unveiling of truth. if fleeting. and the Greeks used instead the word skill. Poiesis is the experience of the production or facilitation of the coming into the light of a truth. therefore. 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. there is no poiesis without making something. The Greeks conceive of techne. a form of artistic production. makes art make being come to full. within what is present. First. I believe we must accept two things at this stage. can one trace any actual. in terms of letting appear” (PLT. Techne. in this way or that way. is this not a definition of art but of philosophy? For poiesis to make any sense as creative act. Praxis is the physical activity and will necessary to bring this about. Therefore while one cannot assume that poiesis is definable as simply making something. while it does not always make art. Finally 74 . is not simply craft or skill. producing. “the making of making as such” as Jean-Luc Nancy translates poiesis in its modern manifestation as poetry as the archetype of all arts. but for the Greeks a specific type of knowing through creative making or as he says: “to make something appear. 60). our modern sense of creation is a muddle of these three Greek ideas. Heidegger is helpful in this regard by asserting that there can be no poiesis without techne. The work’s becoming a work is a way in which truth becomes and happens” (PLT. appearance. techne. we must come to terms with the making element of the term as well as the truth revealing or presencing element. poiesis as production of presence.
Thus Van Gogh’s shoes are not an object. 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 . then it can be termed poietic and as such art. but certainly for a work of art to happen there needs to be work as process and work as thing. the work of art. Here Heidegger attentively distinguishes an object or something with clear limits that the subject can observe and indeed make. ceremony. etc. or that poiesis will result in art. indeed they are not they are a mere image. the art object in this context. 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. and so poiesis and techne must function together for praxis in general to become artistic practice. the gods. One might. after Heidegger makes this simple distinction: if an act of making produces being or truth by bringing it into the light. if only briefly and partially. What is poietic about the shoes and the chalice is how they allow objects to become things through the process of making something. 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.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.8 Heidegger is careful to state that art is not simply a delimited made object in the world. or mechanical production.POIESIS. the religious world. but again a gathering of ancient ideas of sacrifice. It makes a small world effectively. and so on. There is no guarantee that techne will result in poiesis or the flashing bloom of truth. is not poietic as such but resultant from poiesis. A thing is something in the world that composes and gathers together truths in the world. rather its thingly status depends on the truths it makes manifest for human beings on earth: sacrifice. from a thing. If not then such a process is merely making something and is artisanal. therefore. 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. or gathers a continuum around itself made up of all the elements of its truthpresencing. instrumental. transmissible traditions. Even the chalice is not on object as such. equipmentality.
Nancy speaks of poetry as the very moment of meta-making or thinking about making through making (MA. and so on. the poietic art thing is not art for art’s sake but art for the sake of truth and world composition. even Turner. 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. Other philosophical themes are regularly addressed 76 . For critics this would be truth-revealing enough but it must be conceded that for thinkers of poiesis such as Heidegger and Agamben these quasi-truths would only be granted full truth status if they move the artist and observer towards greater truths such as the Being of beings for Heidegger or artistic desubjectivization for Agamben. which is the bringing to presence of truth through making. . Conceptual art is as thingly as Westminster Abbey. compression. Such knowing provides an opening up. That said the art thing must subsist in matter. composition. Its object-status is to some degree irrelevant. to be revealed as if for the first time through their ongoing skill and thoughtful experimentation. what Heidegger calls “Denken. Certainly. Alain Badiou speaks in a similar vein of poetry’s ability to negate the category of the object (MP. representational bronze. . Both forms of thinking can often think the same things. 13). In “Back” four bronze reliefs of a back are displayed side by side. Similar gradations of abstraction are observable in the art of Picasso. We are now at the point where we can differentiate thinking. 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. abstraction. simplification. from poiesis. colour. to be entirely at home in something. Pollock. Mondrian. 3).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.” which is the bringing to presence of truth. each showing increasing levels of abstraction from the first. As an opening up it is a revealing” (QCT. effectively negating subjectivity and defining so-called desubjectivization as the modern experience of the poeticization of being. to understand and be expert in it. Agamben notes how modern art has thought about being and subjectivity. Kandinsky. stuff. techne is itself “something poietic.” a form of “knowing in the widest sense . 89–96). and the sensuous realm. Poiesis must be hands-on. If poiesis is dependent on techne. representation. realistic.
the case with works of art as well. and Being as such. One could judge their completion against communally held values pertaining to what perfect and thus finished work was. not least because a flower is a living. and Agamben. being in the world. ostensibly.POIESIS. finitude. happiness. growing. 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. intuitive even. and decaying thing. after all.9 or what I will go on to name “logopoiesis. contested status. that a flower is complete but its completion is not of the order of its physical borders. Such a procedure of thinking through making defines “poetic thinking” as Heidegger and Badiou have termed it. makes a thing in the world in a way which provides a powerful point of difference between thinking as such and poietic thinking. in part. Issues such as part and whole. and balanced made things. Kant’s famous definition of the art work as that which has finitude without purpose is. causality. If we are to believe the philosophers. which cannot be considered in terms of art even if. 10). according to Heidegger. the human. The maker-thinker. It seems obvious. mobile. propriety. 77 . poised. flowers are in possession of poiesis. His chosen example of poiesis in nature is “the bursting of a blossom into bloom. Heidegger. not through pedestrian description or disciplined argumentation but through a form of thinking that occurs courtesy of the activity of making. are all thought by poietic activity. this used to be. and complexity of the term poiesis the artist can now be described as a “maker-thinker. THINKING THROUGH MAKING by the arts. traditional Greek culture such as that imagined by Hölderlin. law. a means by which to differentiate beauty made by human hands and the beauty of flowers and so on. subtlety. The finitude of a work of art in a totally transmissible. nature. Rather than dwell here on the much-vaunted Wildean uselessness of modern art.” FINITUDE A central element of the activity of poiesis is the complex issue of finitude or formal completion. death. I want to concentrate instead on the more complicated issue of its finitude. Thus a flower’s finitude is not its actual perfection but the perfection of flowers as such. infinity. in itself ” (QCT.” Due to the provenance. singularity.
and conceptuality of art works mean it is now often impossible to determine the actual.10 78 . The frame may become the work or its faming in the museum its poiesis. Taking all this into consideration one has to conclude we live in an age of very Greek art. Further. 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. material innovations in the performativity. There is no communally held view as to what a Work of Art in general should be. objective. not how it conforms to the model but how it is an original work that confounds modelling as a cultural process of imposed convention and cliché. or marginalia that surround the art object may indeed now constitute the art object. Here is the first stanza of a poem by Charles Bernstein entitled “Warrant”: I warrant that this poem is entirely my own work and that the underlying ideas concepts. we value art for not conforming to any such model if it did indeed exist which. We are also more than ever attuned to the material problems of delineating the work of art in that the parerga. 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. frames. and truth was. critical sensibility. 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. it does not. value. Finally. had always been. or material (even temporal) limits of a work of art. It was an act of mapping a perfect gestalt. with delicious paradox. unique object. For Agamben such a view is meaningless to modern. virtuality.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. In our epoch the value of a work of art is precisely the opposite. and would unquestionably always remain.
law. therefore. 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. aesthetically.” (MWC. As there is no poem object as such to view. and as the poetry on view is. 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. . THINKING THROUGH MAKING This is one of several examples of self-annihilating meta-poiesis in the work of the greatest conceptual poet writing today. . and ontology. illimited art things such as “Warrant. does not designate here an art among others. in that the poem being described and warranted does not exist except as something indicated within another “poem. either also called “Warrant” or perhaps nameless. That said he does not simply accede to Heidegger’s reading of the term. MORPHE. lineated legal prose and not “poetic” at all in any sense of profound techne. the process of a coming into being of an idea about art as object within the market place. poetry. of that productive action of which artistic doing is only a privileged example . that is. But what is the status of the ancient Greek term poiesis in a contemporary modern art environment? This is a question that Agamben in his work on poiesis has tried to answer. 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]. in fact. If modern and future art criticism and creation is based on a process of aesthetic judgement on nonpurposive non-objectal. beyond the deictic “this” as an indication of the presence of a poem in its legally. and that which finds its principle through 79 .” then we need poiesis if only to keep hold of art. Thus he declares: “Poiesis.” the one we are actually reading. the principle and origin of its entry into presence” (MWC. and ontologically warranted absence. There is. 59).POIESIS. but is the very name of man’s doing. 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. no actual delimited poem body here. aesthetic convention. The deixis of “this poem” immediately reveals pure indication. 60).
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
Ideas held in common. they are. Pop art is all form with no proximity to the concept. (MWC. 62). therefore. yet at the same time it is a comment on its rampant reproducibility. With the ready-made an industrial object is alienated from its context and thus raised up into the sphere of art. 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. 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.POIESIS. the only two movements available at present for modern acts of creation. 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. suspended in a kind of disquieting limbo between being and nonbeing. is poiesis in suspension. became during our age simply the commonplace. testifying as it does to its singular originality. is modern art’s first and most lasting poiesis: artistic desubjectivization or creative self-alienation. THINKING THROUGH MAKING in a living unity” (MWC. The curtain is grasped but never raised. now the artist is defined as the person who makes things that don’t fit the mould but which break with moulding. While in the past traditional values and lack of originality determined greatness as being proximate to the source of poiesis. The brilliance of Bernstein’s poem now becomes even more apparent in that he is able to demonstrate both situations in one single work. and that which is irreproducible cannot be reproduced. With pop art the situation is reversed in that an art object is made utilizing techne then reproduced using industrial processes. These hybrid forms of poiesis are not simply two movements in modern art. The object cannot attain presence and remains enveloped in shadow. 63–4) Modern art. for Agamben. It is pure eidos for its form and shape are irrelevant. the ready-made and pop art. in a sense. Thus the artist brings to being the very end of the lasting concept of the artist as subject and this.
He is forced to take on the act of making as the transition from nonbeing into being and all that entails. The very shape of a work of modern art is permanently split. and so on). and eidos. Modern art is either poiesis without techne or techne without poiesis. Like most of his peers. is problematized because it is bifurcated. 86 . philosophical understanding of poiesis. to an epochal apostrophe: “how is it possible to attain a new poiesis in an original way?” (MWC.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN arche-presence is undermined by there being no poem other than that indicated by the empty deixis of “this poem. modern art works such as these “constitute the most alienated (and thus most extreme) form of poiesis. categorical amnesia. in splitting poiesis. as ever. Perhaps Agamben should have consulted with Bernstein for. 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. arche-mimesis. Furthermore. unlike Plato and Aristotle. in contrast to the poet. meaning he accedes to the Greek world of Ideal Forms. within the dark defiles of modern art itself. wheels. which is perhaps why shape bears close proximity to indistinctness. at the very least. Agamben’s conception of creation depends on the Greek concept of poiesis. 64). 64).” and thus there can be no reproduction of the work precisely because the warrant controlling this process is the work itself. its taking shape. As Agamben says in reference to his chosen examples. including the subjective nonbeing of the artist. its becoming something. The answer to this question must lodge. modernity has turned poiesis into a problem and thus made it visible for us after many centuries of easeful. If it remains proximate to arche-presence it can take on no physical form and instead has to parasitically occupy an already existent. industrial form (urinals. the form in which privation itself comes into presence” (MWC. in some fashion. he seems locked here into a set of almost impossible aporias. he is writing in an age where the shape of the work. Leading him. While this is a lamentable state of affairs for a full. 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. In modern aesthetic theory since Kant.
This duality of temporality as regards being is the basis of what one might call ontological temporality. He calls this epoch. change. and “out of time” in that it sounds the death knell of the metaphysical project and dispatches being into hiding for an indefinite period of time. the very epoch of the epoch. he argues. potentially productive. and indeed one of Agamben’s aims is the bringing of modernity 87 . at some juncture. 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. nihilistic. and then. a time that is both out of time in that it is beyond everyday linear time. The Homo Sacer project and the metaphysical considerations of works such as Language and Death construct critical theories of political and philosophical modernity that are proving impossible to ignore. being is also profoundly historical in a deep destinal way he calls Geschichte. is currently withheld from view in the modern age of instrumental technology because. This was not always the case and our dire situation will. He too sees the temporality of human being as both immemorial ecstasy and contingent historicity and. like his great forebear.CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY.1 Under pressure from such attacks modernity can barely be said to remain intact. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS Since Heidegger questions pertaining to being are traditionally posed through two temporalities. Heidegger argues. Yet. historically. Agamben’s work on time is indebted to but not uncritical of this model of ontological time. he has a name for the coming together of the two elements of ontological time in a moment of crisis that is first. that is its destiny. Agamben is one of the most aggressive and suggestive critics of modernism that we have or ever will encounter. Being.
which is a common representation of time within modernity (TTR. and ending. This ¯sis call to vocation he defines as the “revocation of every vocation” (TTR. In this way.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN to a form of non-eschatological resolution. temporality. for example deixis. 62–3).3 and his complex revision of historiography.” When called by ¯ ¯. But more relevant to debates on modernity is the way in which the call to 88 . The messianic kle emulates many elements of ¯sis Agamben’s earlier work on language. 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. some might call it fatalism. takes the form of a messianic contracted time of remnants (TTR. the issue of modern time is so central to Agamben’s work from his very earliest pronouncements to his most recent. or the condition of the hos me “as not. That modernity allows us access to time as a remnant that will radically undermine the eschatological and chronological categories of modern time is both the tragedy of the modern and its lasting hope. il tempo che resta. subjective modernization is the realization of the radical change in the conception of time followed by the occupation of that site of transmutation as the only time left to us on this earth. For this reason. 5–6). 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). Rather. while modernity is a temporal epoch it demands a reconsideration of temporality in terms of ontological epochality that must replace a simple linear representation of modern time as moving towards the eschaton of completion. This time that remains. disallow him the simple act of finishing with the modern. desubjectivization. Rather. Agamben will not.2 Yet Agamben’s realism. Agamben will never allow a movement from temporal modernity to ontological or subjective modernity. indeed cannot abandon the dark and divided epochality of our modern age of aesthetic modernity. 23). the messianic the subject is called out of its current position and then required to occupy the process of its desubjectivization as its new subjective existence. and dictation.
but rather the now familiar suspension of actualization that exemplifies potentiality at its most powerful and creative. the archetypal example of living as if. The phrases “as not” and “as if ” both play games with the idea of negation and creation. one can begin to see how messianic time can be of great utility to ideas about modern art.MODERNITY. as Agamben shows. 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. to live “as if ” sounds initially like a creative potentiality for being. The call does not negate subjectivity but calls subjectivity into presence through desubjectivity. 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. however. 61–78).4 This. while messianic kle would seem to occupy a temporality of ending. has not been seen to be the case by the critical heritage.6 This then is a rare mention 89 . If “as not” is a negation of being that presages a positive coming of being to presence “after” negation (the messianic time that remains).” ending with Gaultier’s work Bovarysm. rather than aspiring towards actual redemption. So when Agamben posits the “as not” as a positive alternative to what he calls the “as if. Rather. as an ontological condition. Finally.” All the same Agamben presents a full analysis of the twentieth-century tradition of thinking the “as if. this is patently not the case as Agamben is at pains to demonstrate (TTR. This may seem less that auspicious terrain to seek out ideas pertaining either to literature or modernity but it is typical of Agamben’s work that one encounters comments about poetics. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS negation is not conceived by Agamben as just another form of modern nihilism but something potentially productive. and the arts in the most unexpected places.” typical of modern thought about aesthetics. 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. 35–40). aesthetics.5 This has no small importance for while Agamben regularly resorts to telling stories as an alternative philosophical method he rarely speaks of the fictive and narrative as such. therefore. which considers fiction. The “as not” is not negation as such. the time that ¯sis remains within temporal contraction. This alerts Agamben’s interest.
but we will come to see it as the specifically epochal manifestation of desubjectivization in general. in doing so one of course is pretending to be something other than what one is in that one is nothing. Yet. 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. Aesthetic beauty is the chastisement.” in this instance “as not” rather than “as if. he argues. . one pretends to be someone else because one is no one.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of the possibility that just as poetry and linguistics can be seen to enter the field of ontology. he must now really live in a world without God” (TTR. This ontological condition does not stand up to the test of modern ontological thinking perhaps. Gaultier defines the essence of human being as believing one is different to whom one is. Agamben’s consideration of “as if ” is a side issue in his attempt to present a credible messianic condition of living “as.7 while it takes a truly brave thinker to live as one “who no longer knows the as if. subjective agency value? In an age when god is dead. . . According to his 90 . ontology is reduced to pretending-to-be as a form of double ontological negation. at the same time this impotent turning to the aesthetic at the point of thought’s failure is more than acceptable to him as a definition of the modern era. so too fiction might be a credible category of thinking about being. thinkers of the “as if ” live on the earth as if they were gods. What is the Will to Power as Art except turning as-if-ness into creative. . That is why aesthetic beauty cannot be anything more than a spell over spells” (TTR. All of these considerations return Agamben’s attention back to Adorno. 37). 42). specifically his contention that “philosophy lives on because the moment to realize it was missed” (cited in TTR.” Such a subject “no longer has similitudes at his disposal . 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. First. 37). and Gaultier himself suggests that Nietzsche’s attempt to overcome nihilism was little more than an attempt to live the “as if ” of absent being through wilful and creative appropriation. but pretends to be something.” Yet it is significant. so to speak. This being man’s essence. bringing to mind Heidegger’s definition of poets as demi-gods. of philosophy’s having missed its moment . and second.
MODERNITY. one needs to traverse the problems of aestheticization and replace them with a radical poeticization.” Living “as if. but potentially redeeming modern novel. one first has to travel through the dread landscapes of aesthetic modernism. tragic. aestheticization of politics. thought. In each of these very modern formulations an assumed impropriety. If “as if ” is a belated and blinded decadence. The most familiar is the “as if. If “as not” involves negation. This as-if-ness requires that one ontologize the spell over spells that Agamben later says “may even aptly describe poetry” (TTR. 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. 91 . proving destructive and nihilistic in each instance. Thus one lives as if one lives. of art even. In contrast to this. the “as not” depicts an alternate futural moment of authentic being. One lives as if one is a character in a great. is added to the realm of the proper. Yet. as indeed it does. the empty violence of The Real.8 Nor can one live life itself for that has been reduced to horror and bareness.” Aesthetics becomes. and this is what Agamben’s early tome The Man Without Content ventures as he makes the first of several attempts to negate negation. 39). creativity. the State. under the spell of living “as if. The great question for modern thought. is: How does one travel from “as if ” to “as not”? To do this.” while seemingly creative and thus an act of poiesis. 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. For not only does the spell over spells cast a false veil over thinking it also misrepresents the poetic as well. I would argue. The second option is to live “as not. as if the philosophical pursuits of truth and happiness could be realized. 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.” that dreaded term aestheticization: aestheticization of philosophy. living as such. to live the “as not” is far from being nihilistic. as if one has being. aestheticization of life. the aesthetic. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS reading. turns out to be self-defeating both for thought and art. 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?). modern aesthetics has two potentialities available to it. To get to a “new” poiesis. therefore. therefore.
and totally possess: “Thus experience is now definitively something one can only undergo but never have. what we miss is a common experience that the modern subject can undergo.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN AURATIC TWILIGHT As we saw. The essays that make up this remarkable study then primarily investigate the implications of the thesis of the end of cultural transmission. a gradual decline that rapidly accelerates as the industrial process and consumer demand increases? Or would it be more accurate to state that a work is divested of its aura at the moment of its first reproduction. in the debate presented in Infancy and History on experience Agamben is quick to agree with Benjamin that one of the preconditions of modernity is the negation of experience (IH. and the Heideggerian adage that art no longer dwells among us. test. Experience is never accessible as a totality and never complete except in the infinite approximation of the total social process . 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. as he so often does.” (IH. for modern life is replete with new and exciting experiences. Rather. What is lacking in modernity is not the element of testing.9 The arrest of transmissibility is. has two meanings for Agamben. he argues. indeed criticism is in essence all that modernity has become. In a post-transmission. . to go through and to test. or the possibility of sustaining an experience. another way of expressing the end of experience in post-transmissible cultures. In the closing pages of The Man Without Content Agamben turns. 15). an idea also taken from Benjamin. you will recall. Experience. . the Nietzschean idea that god is dead. due to two modern statements by the masters of modern thought. one must 92 . specifically here highlighting a profound aporia in Benjamin’s work on the fading of the aura in modern art and culture. 38). 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 the work of Walter Benjamin. This consideration of the negation of experience in the modern is a development of what Agamben calls the end of the transmissibility of common values and experiences within our culture.
MODERNITY. As we saw the ready-made confers aura to an industrial object. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS determine if the auratic twilight of the modern is a historical process taking place over time or an a-chronological event. incomplete. probably Benjamin’s most astute and generous reader. becomes the very cipher of elusiveness. states the opposite. Pop art instead takes the process of industrial reproduction and applies it to the art object. a consumer item rather than a work of art. It becomes. one might presume. comments on aura. Agamben. perhaps the most central theory in the canon of cultural studies. it moves one more step away. The technical expertise that allowed for an industrial-scale reproducibility of art works thus removing from them their sacred quality. when he argues that Benjamin’s discovery of the loss of the auratic value of art is. seemingly. Duchamp questioning the authority of the creator. besmirching them in the profanity of repetition and excess did not. by way of the multiplication of the original. The best comparison here is made by Agamben himself elsewhere in this volume when he places together the two key examples of modern art. Warhol the singularity of the work. Agamben asserts. every text. 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. remove the aura from the work of art: Far from freeing the object from its authenticity. Benjamin argues. however. its technical reproducibility . like so many of the German thinker’s eclectic projects. 106) It remains hard to tell if Agamben is glossing Benjamin here or totally dismissing his most influential theory. the ready-made and pop art. carries authenticity to extremes: technical reproducibility is the moment when authenticity. . in effect. With each copy. The more an art object is reproduced. a urinal is signed into being singular and thus art. This is to say: the work of art loses the authority and the guarantees it derived from belonging to a tradition for which it built the places and objects that incessantly weld past and present together. This problem is not lost on Agamben. contains a historical 93 . . 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. Both are. (MWC. the further away from the source of its authority it is carried.
as well as its only coming forth to full legibility at a determinate historical moment” (TTR. 145). god is dead and an art no longer dwells among us. Myopically peering through the murk. 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. it also depends on the transmissibility of this quality (by transmissibility here read unquestioned status). reproducibility along with communicability. blinding anti-poiesis. both actual in terms of rail travel and virtual in terms of the mass media and new technologies such as the telegraph. we strain to see what is left of the concept of an authentic and singular work of art and in not being able to see authenticity it comes to view for the first time in a moment of tenebrous. works of auratic art. If aura exists it only exists for us at the moment that we see it in accordance with Benjaminian hermeneutics. What Agamben cannily reveals in reading Benjamin’s ideas on art under the heading of his ideas on history is that reproducibility is meaningless unless thought of in tandem with transmissibility. The authenticity and authority of the icon.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN index which indicates both its belonging to a determinate epoch. the lights lowered to dissuade further fading. that there is only one or that it has the quality of a magical relic. 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. are both comments on cultural intransmissibility. Indeed. Modernists have often been called iconoclasts but according to Agamben this is literally true in that they take religious relics. does not inhere solely in the work’s unique singularity. Reproducibility contributes to this malaise only by weakening the points wherein past and present meet. What Agamben realizes is that within the modern moment. The two great dicta of modern art’s destruction of tradition. 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. and deface them (think of Magritte’s infamous vandalization of a reproduction of the Mona Lisa). an activity that 94 . the religious icon say.
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. what Baudelaire attempts is to take the very value that ends tradition. along with his rumination that the modern is “the transient. temple or festival. or commonplace wherein modern shock can become what we hold in common. the fleeting.”10 easily confer upon him the honour of being the great precursor to contemporary reappraisals of modernity and aesthetics. in other words. it is the one half of art. The paradox of the eternal transient is the more well known and its oxymoronic nature obvious. 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 . In both formulations. Having to “invent a new authority. The end of experience experienced as shocking is. common experience. the lieu commun and the eternal transient. 106). In effect. As regards the proposal of shock as the “common place” of a post-transmissible culture however. 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. with the famous Baudelaire lieu commun. is the missing element of Benjamin’s great theory of aura. our new. Baudelaire’s comments on modernity here. Face to face with the dissolution of aura within a society where the authority of tradition was daily under attack.MODERNITY. 106).” 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. Baudelaire’s conception of shock. 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. 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. the other being the eternal and the immutable. the contingent. Agamben realizes. modern experience. Baudelaire was tasked with inventing a new source of authority for the art work. 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. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS replaces the communal places of common art.
Shock becomes not the collapse of meaning in art but the meaning of art as the collapse of meaning. 106). 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. unrecognizable from the work of art which precedes it but at the same time it operates as the lens through which that work can be called art. the alienation effected by the work of art. in effect. The work becomes a moment of shock. 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. art was transmission. Attend here to the means by which Agamben repositions the meaning of the terms reproducibility and transmissibility. expunging. 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 new work of art. This event alone produces what we now call modern art. in the final analysis. 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. absolutely and significantly finite. linking tradition with the present age.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN that was at the origin of the experience of shock: in this way he would succeed in turning the work into the very vehicle of the intransmissible” (MWC. that dissolves the finitude of the art object as a delimited and valued thing through its reproducibility and conversion into praxis. and relighting of aura’s eternal flame through the epochal hiatus between transmissibility and the transmission of a communal intransmissible experience of culture. and this alienation is in its turn nothing other 96 . 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. in this light. More than that. must be defined as a process of transmitting the very quality of intransmissibility. reproduction is instead reserved for the praxis of the creator. Instead of a work of art being a thing in itself whose reproduction undermines its sacral singularity effectively profaning the work. It becomes. Art did not act as a vehicle for transmission.
At this point. PROFANING SCISSION Both transmission and reproduction are dependent on metaphysical conceptions of scission and separation. for example. it fulfils the double meaning of epoch to be found in its etymology: epoche a point in time and a delimited period of time. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS that the measure of the destruction of its transmissibility. retrospectively. singularity and transmissibility. Epoch of epochs for. Transmissibility. In contrast. It would seem alienating shock is not the legacy of modern art but of self-satisfied traditional values. 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. a recursiveprojective interplay that we will later come to term poetic structure. that is.MODERNITY. Aesthetic modernity is the point in time when the epoch of the modern period of art is seen for the first time through its retrospective revelation via negation of the epoch of transmissibility which precedes it. When the transmissible act of making something singular comes to replace the singularity of the work of transmissibility one is both exiting art and seeing it for the first time as art. creating a continuum between tradition and the present that all but eradicates their difference. of tradition” (MWC. turning back to gaze over one’s fleeing shoulder. This experience of aesthetic epoche ¯ is Agamben’s definition of that epoch of epochs we call modernity. temporal and spatial. The “now” ceases to be a moment in time but rather is the endless extension of tradition into the future. ¯. occupying both the position of an event of major transition and the creation. 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. 97 . of both the premodern and modern epochs of transmissibility and intransmissibility respectively. each in violent contradiction—art is defined as the singular instance of the held in common—are seen critically for the first time. effectively eradicates separation. 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 arche-epoch of art’s very first coming into being or the conditions for art. 107).
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.
to return art to life. Yes. and build a new home that perhaps over time could become a city. then perhaps we are today in a privileged position to understand the authentic significance of the Western aesthetic project” (MWC. . Nietzsche. HOW TO EXIT ART “How can art. 6). for artists only” (MWC. 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 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. pit man against Terror?” (MWC. Such mad artists do not want to move to a fresh plain. Here Agamben merely hints at the now classic definition of the avant-garde to be found in the work of Burger and others. Having taken us across a ghostly plain we are now confronted with a burnt-out homestead. not least literary criticism. museums. calling for “another kind of art . The essay then ends by jettisoning us out onto this calcified outcrop with the words of a mad prophet.15 but also easily identified in the statements of the artists themselves. . statuary.16 a nihilistic art that seeks not so much innovation as is sometimes assumed (make it new). a destruction perhaps already in place: “If it is true that the fundamental problem becomes visible only in the house ravaged by fire. how can modern art subsist on the ambiguous fare of taste based on universal disinterest. with a senate. whistling about our ears. this most innocent of occupations. commissions. lay out foundations. and terror which is the result of interest? Taste seems to attract the spectator to participate in precisely 103 . but not so as to make art transmissible in life again but rather to make life subject to the very alienation the artist feels when faced with the uncanny presence of pure poiesis. and artistic scandals. Rather they want to burn the very dwelling of art to the ground. 8) the philosopher asks. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS The death of poets leads Agamben to a typically messianic conclusion which calls for the destruction of aesthetics. The landscapes of Agamben’s thinking are always appealing and slightly appalling. These artists wish to make artists of us all. or perhaps more pungently. an art for artists. 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. 7).MODERNITY.
In direct contradistinction. hesitating nuances. 9). the distinction is clearly reflective of a tendency within modern Western (anti)aesthetics or at the very least the two extremes of that most extreme epoch aesthetic modernity.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN what they cannot have. while terrorists “refuse to bend to this law and pursue the opposite dream of a language that would be nothing but meaning. a “living reality. an art which is auto-anthropophaganous or self-devouring. Loath as I am to succumb to the simple binary oppositions displayed in this. putting the writer face to face with the absolute” (MWC. a kind of aesthetic wine-tasting where they can sample Picasso but cannot become drunk on Joyce. 8). allows Agamben to begin to undermine not only the quest for the absolute in terror. Frenhofer labours at his masterpiece for ten years to create a work of art that negates art and becomes. 8). 9). in trying to create art that competes with. through a reading of the character of the artist Frenhofer in Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece that the dream of the terrorist is to create a work that exists in the world in the same manner as objects do: block of stone or drop of water. The rhetorician wishes to “dissolve all meaning into form” (MWC. 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. Agamben’s earliest work. As Agamben rightly indicates. This remainder. Agamben calls the terrorist a misologist. but also to commence with breaking down the differentiation between rhetoric and terrorism. His is an art of abstraction which repulses 104 . rhetoricians and terrorists. an art which exits art through the door marked “To Art. 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. tones. kitsch. like the Pygmalion myth. of course. silence.” Yet in reality the woman he has painted is reduced to mere colours and abstract forms: “a chaos of colors. and death. Agamben traces the relation between poiesis and terror to the distinction to be found in the mid-century French writer and critic Jean Paulhan between two types of writers. 9). “It is the dream of a product that exists according to the statute of the thing” (MWC. the dark face of his own beloved philology. indeed becomes transmissible with life.” Frenhofer invents a modern art. He notes. a kind of shapeless fog” leading the young Poussin to exclaim “but sooner or later he will have to realize there is nothing on the canvas!” (MWC. of a thought in whose flame the sign would be fully consumed.
Speaking of Frenhofer’s ever-collapsing. 10). he ends up with nothing in his hands but signs . rhetoric and terror. For what is the mystery we call Rimbaud if not the point where literature annexes its opposite. the repulsion from signs becomes an impossible attraction. The terrorist is left. unpalatable masterpiece he says: “The quest for absolute meaning has devoured all meaning. silence? Isn’t Rimbaud’s fame divided. or has the sign abolished the meaning?” (MWC. and the appetite for signs becomes a cause of disgust. namely. form. Instead one can only escape the matter of art by removing it from oneself entirely. as Blanchot rightly observed. To truly exit literature one cannot make literature into a thing. to survive. There are many famous examples of terrorism in modern art. But. set up by aesthetics. Returning to Rimbaud for a moment. the ultimate paradox is that the act of greatest terror is precisely that of aestheticoamputation. in the very apotropaic hall of mirrors that is modern art. he has no other means than form itself. Agamben’s conclusion to the tale is a devastating and much overdue total foundering of the differentiation between form and thought. convert poiesis into fiat lux. 10). . . which is the archetypal gesture of the modern artist: “But the paradox of the Terror is still present even in this extreme move. Gogol’s disappointment that Dead Souls did not liberate the peasants is matched by Mallarmé’s inability to complete Le Livre. Such confusion over the source of the conflagration of art’s dwelling place. the more he has to concentrate on it to render it permeable to the inexpressible content he wants to express.MODERNITY. between ‘the poems that he wrote and those he did not deign to write?’” Agamben then 105 . agitated and enflamed. isn’t the unknown masterpiece instead the masterpiece of Rhetoric? Has the meaning erased the sign. Fleeing from rhetoric leads him to terror. Roussel’s collapse when La Doublure did not change the world. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS the disinterested spectre of Poussin (literally spectral here. 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. But in the attempt. Yet. Misology becomes philology. and the more he wants to erase it. allowing only signs. Rimbaud’s flight from art. and Duchamp’s silence.” (MWC. then. or thought leads Agamben to posit the very paradox of the artist’s terror. “In order to leave the evanescent world of forms. a mere representation of the artist in art). De Chirico’s self-parody. meaningless forms. terror flings him back into rhetoric.
manifest the very condition of acsesis as both testament to the lack of events and precursive preparation for the event to come. 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. The way out of art into language is permanently barred by the very sign that indicates “Exit from Art. Rimbaud and Duchamp do not merely make and then choose not to make. risk accusations of the obvious. As soon as one actively pursues the negation of art one creates anew an art of negation as such. Will there ever be an end to art that is itself not a work of art but a pure experience of the poetic? 106 .18 He sits. never made. 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. but surely the greatest works of modernism are those which were never created: Lautréamont’s third book. This is why Kafka casts such a shadow over Agamben’s work and the modern age as a whole.17 does not the material depiction of silence. at the very nexus between the terrorist become rhetorician and the rhetorician facing up to the terror of the absolute void. There is no resisting dictation in the modern age. decomposed. the final version of Le Livre. 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 most eloquent rhetorician? Who has the most fiendish savour for violence and fear? While Malevich and (late) Beckett. surely. Even silence succumbs to speech it would seem. Consider the gesture we call author-function Rimbaud and Duchamp against those we call Malevich or Beckett. most potently.” As soon as one speaks of the creation of art one enters subjective negation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN finally and fatally enquires: “isn’t this the masterpiece of rhetoric?” (MWC. I mention this rhetorical flourish because it touches on the importance of the potential not to write that is the heart of the act of poiesis. as Badiou shows. His decision to have all his works destroyed at his death. becoming even kitsch? To paint absence is one thing. ignored by his “friend” Brod. Which is the greatest artist. 11). This is the ultimate desubjectivization of the poet. makes him the most pathetic and powerful of all modern artists: the man who sought silence and was thus then forced to speak. Bruno Schultz’s first novel. destroyed but.
that we currently live in the age of prose. First it is subordinate to the idea. as it were. 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. As we have seen at some point or over time in Western culture. Third its critical definition is also its negation. 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. A choice lies before modern poiesis therefore. or an art that celebrates subordination. The modern art work becomes a means of presenting that there was once art but now such work is at an end.19 and that this age is marked by its being the epoch of the end of art. and negation. 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. art. Second it is a mere prosaic remnant of the poetic art that once dwelled among us. courtesy of philosophy.MODERNITY. at the moment that poiesis becomes available for full view to us for the first time since the Platonic occlusion. This means that. through four central tenets to Hegel’s overall aesthetic theory. democratic. the prosaic. at the presentation of its own dissolution: the collapse of poetry into prose. Enlightenment democracy. For Hegel modern art is a valorization of the sensible presentation of the idea. and Nietzsche. that poetry is the archetypal art in that it exists between language (the sensible) and image (idea). at each level of Hegelian aesthetics modern art is denigrated. Hegel’s work is perhaps most central to Agamben’s reading of art under negation. poiesis arrives. As one can see. to accept its tripartite collapse or to turn these failings around and form from them a new lieu commun. These are that art is the sensible presentation of the idea. It arrives precisely at the moment that prose as bios or social ethics has inundated all during the period of Western. once the space of 107 .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. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS MODERN AESTHETIC DESUBJECTIVIZATION The Man Without Content is effectively a conversation between Agamben and the three fathers of modern aesthetics: Kant.
or when the creator becomes critical spectator of their own work. by which the inert world of contents in their indifferent. Art is now the absolute freedom that seeks its end and its foundation in itself. At this moment the work of poiesis enters the world of prose: The artist then experiences a radical tearing or split. any content. secular shock. prosaic objectivity goes to one side. Art got one ready for god who in his turn prepared one for Geist. as it were. autonomous. and to the other the free subjectivity of the artistic principle. and does not need. contagiously through the art work. At the moment that the creator steps out of the transmissibility of cultural traditions her relation to her material changes.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN display of a valued object changes and the object is placed under glass the relation of the spectator to the object also changes. All of her acts were the result of her consciousness so that when she made something she made herself as a subject within a unified culture. 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. the poem. is revelatory in this regard. substantially. For Hegel this scission within the subjectivity of the spectator is first enacted within that of the creator and transmitted. At this moment works of modern art are produced through the profanation of the relic into an art object already suffering auratic aphasia. which soars above the contents as over an immense repository of materials that it can evoke or reject at will. because it can only measure itself against the vertigo caused by its own abyss. This is the very essence of art as transmissibility. That Hegel placed art at the lowest level of the journey of the spirit from exteriority. 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 . 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. through exterior interiority. (MWC. In a very basic way this idealized act of creation was neither making something nor creating art as we moderns understand these terms. religion.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. Previous to that she had no direct selfconsciousness of material or making.
so that the semantic is handed over to prose and meaning becomes the absence of meaning. Agamben then turns to the very aesthetic system from which Hegel’s work emanates but also seeks to depart from. 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.MODERNITY. 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. Art is no longer measurable against culture as either being of the same standard or co-extensive. Modern art.22 Contentless-ness: what the work of art now contains as content is the work of art as such. Art becomes incommensurable in the moment that measuring art becomes possible through the Kantian discipline of criticism. Freedom: defined here in a Nancyian manner as a nonfoundational self-founding. The work of art is moved from being encased in a continuum to floating within the void. it holds in its hands not the beautiful but its shadow. as though its true object were not so much what art is but what it is not” (MWC. confounding common denominator. universality apart from concepts. floating in the sense that it both soars above and is endlessly falling away. purposiveness without purpose. Therefore. which is art as such defined by Agamben as art under erasure. This shadow of art is the modern experience of 109 . is thus definable by a conglomeration of the following quasi-events. Prose: at this juncture the meaning of the work becomes subject to the prose of the world. 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. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS modern art. that every time aesthetic judgement attempts to determine what the beautiful is. and normality without a norm “it seems . Central to the definitions of the object of aesthetic judgement as disinterested satisfaction. 42). Materiality: the work becomes a commodity fetish or non-utilitarian choice of the object purely for the sake of exchange. or the moment at which the artist becomes her own spectator or the spectator becomes the judge of art. . Summarizing the four characteristics of aesthetic judgement as Kant delineates them he finds a single. . Having set up Hegelian aesthetics as permanently under negation. namely that of Kant. the only measure of art on earth is art itself.
43). 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. is that judgement is the affect of the sensation of thinking. In finding the universal in the particular. or of discovering natural beauty defined as finality without purpose (objective perfection without teleology). The tautegorical nature of reflective judgement is to be found in the relation of judgement to the sensation which. 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. for us. judgement merely operates between practical reason and understanding which is judgement’s famous heuristic capacity. . 44). . 6). 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. therefore.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN inexperiencible art which is. . the only experience of art and also the first experience of art as a thing in itself. The moment that we engage the faculty of judgement we are negating the very object we are judging. Agamben then moves to Kant’s dictum that judgement is “a concept . which is the indication to thought that it is taking place. Agamben. put simply. 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). 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. which is the quintessence of taste. Reflective thinking 110 . He thus concludes that “our appreciation of art begins necessarily with the forgetting of art” (MWC. . or as Lyotard says: “The strength of reflective weakness can be explained by the heuristic function of reflection. from which . so to speak. the tautegorical aesthetic shares in the weakness of this strength” (LAS. presents a critical synthesis of Kant and Hegel here to provide a model for creation (Hegel) and judgement (Kant) that is based on the commencement of the art object from the moment of its selfnegation. The act of judgement produces the feeling of the activity of judgement. of understanding and reason. nothing can be known” (MWC.
and which therefore he can legitimately believe himself capable of expressing” (MWC. indeed for Kant nature is the regulative concept for aesthetic beauty—the very thing Hegel takes issue with. the spectator-critic. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS is. 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. 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. not on thinking something. the free creative-formal principle of the artist” (MWC. 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. “What he sees of himself in the work. In contrast.MODERNITY. . . he brings with him nonbeing and shadow” (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. The person whose job it is to shed light on modern art. At this juncture. the content he perceives. 47). is the very person who commits art to the realm of dark non-art: “whenever he exercises his reflection. 11). Yet while judgement seems almost to blame for the end of art thesis. or “once the work of art has been produced. concepts that could be known. 46). 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. therefore. 45). there is no way to return to it by way of the reverse path of taste” (MWC. 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. The very self-presence of the spectator is the pre-condition of the work of 111 . but on the sensation of thinking thinking. 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. it is in fact the content-less nature of the modern work of art that results in perhaps the ultimate. Natural beauty does not require a regulative concept.’ But this state is nothing other than the feeling that signals it . that is. “one can never return to it from a state posterior to its creation”. namely. appears to him no longer as a truth that finds its necessary expression in the work. but rather as something of which he is already perfectly aware as a thinking subject. therefore. 46). Judgments of taste are based.
and agrees to enter the circle of absolute perversion. and yet what they know is what they can never be. 48). he must split 112 . but as something absolutely Other. That is. The presence of the critic makes possible modern art. but the critic cannot share in it. at the same time the spectator is by definition not the artist. leaves behind all support. The result of this on all of us is devastating: “In the aesthetic judgement. desubjectivized being of the critic/spectator : If the spectator consents to the radical alienation of this experience. to use Hegel’s term. Agamben’s explanation of this double negation. but there is one simple fact separating the two. The pure creative principle results in the alienation of art and the critic not only recognizes this theme-less theme. the critic knows all. being-for-itself has as its object its own being-for-itself.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN art without content. it is the pure split and lack of foundation that endlessly drifts on the ocean of form without ever reaching dry land” (MWC. is the very basis of his theory of the potentially productive nature of the historically contingent. but the critic does not make modern art placing them/us in a doubly untenable position. it belongs with them. and at the same time immediately as itself. being-as-nonnart but not being 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. What they see in the work of art is what they already know. existing in both positions without any means of bringing the two together again. the critic cannot. Yet. perverts any relationship between the genius of creation and the communality of culture. they are of course part of what makes it possible. Thus the alienation of art is their subject. The critic identifies her being in the alienation of the work which rejects or. There is nothing the artist can teach the spectator. The annihilation of content may be familiar. The subject of judgement finds itself both subject and predicate of their judgement. he has no other way of finding himself again than wholly to assume his contradiction. as Agamben says both absolutely Other and immediately itself. The genius makes art.
. 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. Of the creative. 54). Hence Agamben’s conclusion: “The artist is the 113 . . Faced with this alternative. the artist is always living on what he calls “this side of his essence . is the absolute abstract inessence. for Agamben at least. 55). that artistic subjectivity is absolute essence. 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. the pure creative-formal principle. “trying to make of the split that inhabits him the fundamental experience starting from which a new human station becomes possible” (MWC. he cannot neglect the other half: artist as god-like creator. split from any content. Yet. Thus the modern artistic subject can be defined as a radical split. “outside of this split. without content. . and Agamben here names Rimbaud and Artaud as exemplary in this regard. everything is a lie” (MWC. 55). the heroic modern artist. (MWC. there is no escaping the fact that. however. however. . can attempt to totally inhabit the split and try to live this violence. for which all subject matter is indifferent. 48) The position of the modern spectator. negate his own negation . Yet even if one chooses to live the split. 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. In this alienation he owns himself. to live the epoch or to live outside of it. If she places her faith in a specific content she realizes she is lying as her own pure subjectivity is everything. Having dealt with one half of modern aesthetic desubjectivization. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS asunder his own split.MODERNITY. 54) Such a dire conundrum strands the artistic subject in a doubly desubjectivizing quandary. Which annihilates and dissolves every content in its continuous effort to transcend and actualize itself. and in owning himself he alienates himself. in fact. (MWC. Nietzschean genius he says: What the artist experiences in the work of art is. 54).
are as pure subjective inessence. who has no other identity than a perpetual emerging out of the nothingness of expression . First as an example of poeticized desubjectivization. how negation as such. the critic/spectator and the artist are both examples of self-annihilating nothings.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. 55). Yet. and certainly there is no greater negation than self-annihilating nothingness. Second in revealing the structural interdependence of philosophy and poetry in this process: formless thought or contentless form. perhaps predictably. modern art presents us with the most credible and challenging model of “poetic” desubjectivization as a solution to the failings of nihilistic ontology.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN man without content. as is indeed. 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. critically. Modern aesthetic double desubjectivization provides us with a prototype for the following three propositions in Agamben’s overall system. . And finally third. thoughts about art. or all form without content. 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. Either art is pure content without form.24 The end of art as art results in a double desubjectivization. in accordance with Benjamin’s hermeneutic principle. as if for the first time. for the very first time. . modern art.” (MWC. This has various benefits of course. It opens up to us the importance of tradition and transmissibility which we now see. 114 . Here one can see the importance of aesthetic modernity to Agamben’s wider philosophical project. Modern art is art that is under negation through the act of coming to view. For Agamben.
SECOND EPISODE ADVENTURES IN LOGOPOIESIS .
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novels. THINKING TAUTOLOGY The title of this volume proposes a compound construction or double thesis. an ancient by-way thicketed by prejudice. and the visual arts is merely as a means of approaching a post-nihilistic metaphysics. The tension between the philosophical and the literary in Agamben is the central animator of his whole intra-metaphysical. a political philosopher. Such a di-thetic approach runs the risk of being doubly unpopular in that for those who believe Agamben to be a philosopher or. 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. 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. my suggestion that no understanding of Agamben’s indifferent ontology is possible without recourse to the literary might even seem frivolous.CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. and by their occlusion of the fact that their inter-division is a false divide which. more pointedly. they must accept and actively live through. This cannot be helped. Neither a thinker of philosophy nor poetry alone and unable to succumb to any of the traditional modes of thinking division. At the same time. however. 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. the compound. expropriating appropriative methodology. And so I present for general perusal and 117 . thinker requires a compound and demonstrative term to present these tonal issues. or as we will come to see him comparative. that Agamben is “literary” and that the literary Agamben opens up a clearing around thinking through poetry/ poiesis that I am calling logopoiesis.
Other contemporary logopoietic thinkers therefore. Jacques Derrida. for Agamben at least thought is or must be poeticized and poiesis is a mode of material thinking. convenient possibility. and some comments would be reserved for the work of Deleuze. 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. 74). nor is it a type of poetry that thinks. or thinking through making. I will not here present a history of logopoiesis. indeed the inserts into such a narrative are sparse and inconclusive. 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. as we saw.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN perhaps initial scepticism or even weary derision my theory of logo-poiesis. or not entirely. Badiou is also a great logopoietic thinker of course and he. Agamben proposes various names for this alternate or “new” form of thinking. While. 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. or thinking thought as such. Poetic thinking is not thinking about poetry. One would not want to neglect Blanchot in this regard also. or not solely. thinkers who accept the centrality of Heidegger but also look to poetry as a way beyond his ontology. it does not accurately reflect the sophistication and tensile balance I intend to convey in the term logopoiesis. would include Jean-Luc Nancy. 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. 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. Having now dealt in some detail with logos. as is now apparent. which is why logos and poiesis alone are not sufficient designations even if. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and. The simplest definition of such poetic thinking is a turn to poetry to assist thinking to overcome the aporias of modern thought. A fully worked out vision of logopoiesis would require detailed reading of all their work in conjunction with that of Agamben. While this gesture is important and marks the roots of the term in the work of Heidegger. and poiesis. As we have seen. perhaps more contentiously. There may be others. one which thinks the very basis of thinking as such in the pure mediality of language the most 118 . like Heidegger before him. 20).
essentially name the same process of bringing to appearance. One cannot blithely produce neologisms and not expect certain repercussions. Thus logopoiesis is essentially tautological in essence. and the fact that poetic thinking really names a form of philosophy that considers poetry. Yet logopoiesis is not a neologism. witness Halliburton’s book on Heidegger of the same name. I have opted for the more obscure but also productively suggestive term. a full understanding of categorical thinking and the problems of naming. In contrast “poetic thinking. he does not hone in on one particular name or ever actually advocate a “poetic thinking” at all. The definition of the terms in play. balanced proximity giving way to a hierarchical topography and so on. For this reason. Certainly he does not use the term logopoiesis. as its novelty resides in the manner in which something original has been totally forgotten and then rediscovered centuries later).” which would be the translation of logopoiesis. especially considering the dangers of duality inherent within our tradition. THINKING TAUTOLOGY authentic experience of which is the poetic word (I hesitate to call it new. Poetic thinking ultimately stresses a form of thinking that relies on and appropriates poetry. 119 .LOGOPOIESIS. THE LOGO-POIESIS TAUTOLOGY The creation of a compound term out of two ancient. much debated and contested terms is unwise. however. Heidegger tells us. has found significant currency within philosophy.1 While sporadically mentioned by critics. The dangers are heightened further when it comes to the combination of two terms such as logos and poiesis which. One term will naturally seek dominance over the other. 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. logopoiesis has not come to be a developed rhetorical or critical term. and neglects the possibility of a poetry that thinks. None of the thinkers I have mentioned do so. As should be the effect on both terms when placed in a zone of bound proximity. Poetic thinking it could be logopoiesis it is.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. 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.
concept. judgement. Logos makes appear something in precisely this way: “to take things that are being talked about in legein as apophainethai out of their concealment. which effectively means speech. Yet the means by which poiesis does this differ from those of logos. 25) must be interpreted effectively as a symptom. judgement. rather it means that something makes itself known which does not show itself. Logos means speech as a means of bringing something out of concealment and making it appear not as the thing as such but as the concealed thing. relation. presuppositional philosophical thought? The answer he gives is that logos really means deloun or to make manifest what is being talked about in speech. 26). to let them be seen as something unconcealed (alēthes). 120 . but what does it mean to make something appear and how is this affected by mediation through language? Heidegger believes that the term appearance in the context of “what shows itself. and relation. the manifest” (BT. Appearance. 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. meaning something that shows itself to indicate something else that does not show itself. has come to be translated/interpreted variously as reason. bringing forth. The knowledge generating powers of logos as reason. How. 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. rely on the mediation of speech: making something appear which is hidden and remains so. the self-showing. If we now return briefly to Heidegger’s foundational work on the term poiesis. 22). Thus logos is definable as making something appear in speech. its definition as presencing. Like logos. and so on. to discover them” (BT. makes logos and poiesis appear as synonymous and thus the term logopoiesis as tautological. It makes itself known through something that does show itself ” (BT. therefore. 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. quite the contrary he is a thinker of obfuscation). poiesis makes something manifest to appearance that was not manifest before. ground. Heidegger specifically defines the bringing-forth of poiesis as producing something into presence. 29).THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Heidegger explains that for the Greeks the term logos. concept. he ponders.
therefore. while free techne or poiesis exceeds the frame and produces freed thinking. The difference between philosophical and poetic thinking. apportions itself into the revealing that brings forth and that also challenges . To sum up. Yet logos merely utilizes speech as a mediation. Truth is now produced into presence by virtue of techne. It could also be accused of using speech instrumentally as a form of Gestell. making. Perhaps it is more illuminating to write the tautology out thus: (logos) the truth of production—(poiesis) the production of truth. What is important here in early Heidegger is simply that the mediation indicates that the production of truth is not the production of a thing as such but of truth’s appearance as something concealed. 121 . Thus logos means making something manifest through the mediation of speech. Gestell is instrumental and pre-ordained production. one makes is not the thing produced by poiesis. Here language is merely symptomatic of truth. is that in philosophy truths are produced through the support of linguistic mediation. THINKING TAUTOLOGY whereas logos mediates presencing. . Techne is the active process of bringing something to presence through making. while poiesis means producing something into presence through the act of making. When one makes something the actual thing.” (QCT. but ultimately logopoiesis says the same thing twice: the production of truth—the production of truth. while poiesis is that form of revealing that “ever so suddenly and inexplicably to all thinking. and could indeed use another form of mediation. he differentiates two forms of producing forth. 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. production as instrumentality which he terms challenging-forth. This difference becomes clearer if we re-consider the role of production or techne in relation to presencing. . Yet in later Heidegger the emphasis has changed. which he also translates as presencing. 29). while in poiesis they are produced through making. logo-poiesis is primarily tautological as both logos and poiesis are mediating modes of producing truth. Enframed techne produces something to the dictates of the age in which it is produced.LOGOPOIESIS. Most certainly thinking and poetry produce truth in a different manner. rather in making something poiesis brings something that was hidden to presence. Yet to do so runs the risk of obfuscating the truth that logopoiesis is essentially a form of tautological circular thinking.
for truth is what is at issue in them” (P.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The tautology of the term is relevant for several reasons and thus must be retained. Agamben declares that this ought to be the “paradigm for literary writing. we are repeatedly assured. or On Contingency. in their way.” He then proceeds to explain: “Not only science but also poetry and thinking conduct experiments. Damascius’ consciousness of the tablet. I would also call this an archetypal definition of logopoiesis: a form of thinking that is without truthfulness. . Akhmatova’s ability not to write and Benjamin’s Idea of Prose are all. Glenn Gould’s playing with not-playing. they call into question Being itself. 190 and OWL. before or beyond its determination as true or false. it cannot be proved right or wrong by testing it for agreement in relation to concepts or things in the world. rather. 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. Finally. These experiences are without truth.” Here he speaks of the prose of Robert Walser which the critic Walter Lüssi called “pure poetry” because it “refuses in the widest sense. 260). 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. “Bartleby. Perhaps it would be useful here to adumbrate a few more examples provided by Agamben in that central essay in the canon of logopoiesis. These experiments do not simply concern the truth or falsity of hypotheses . First. 260). but which produces truth as the very precondition for thinking. tautology is true to the Heideggerian roots of the conception. tautology names the specificity. Such a truth resides in the fact that there is language as pure medium. is inimical to philosophical thought. models for logopoiesis. THE EXEMPLARY TAUTOLOGY OF LOGOPOIESIS We have already seen some examples of logopoietic thinking. to recognize the Being of something as something” (P. 174 respectively) and indeed the centrality of the hermeneutic circle. as I said. with the poets. it touches on the debate as regards the tautegorical nature of logopoiesis. it disallows philosophy or poetry to totally appropriate the term. at the same time. 122 . . as we shall now go on to see. Third. Second. the most profound experience of which belongs.
for the reptile. All poetic thinking. all logopoiesis produces life out of desubjectivization or. Each of these thinkers conducts an experiment in being which we should now recognize as that of desubjectivization. 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. but a scrivener whose potential never arrives at actualization. THINKING TAUTOLOGY Agamben then goes on to list a history. This is not. the moment when the subject “withdraws from both the lived experience of the psychosomatic individual and the biological unsayability of the species” (EP. the transformation of limbs that changed it into a bird” (P. 94) indicates how integral in actuality is his vision of thinking and poetry.LOGOPOIESIS. but as we saw desubjectivization is a central tenet in Agamben’s conception of the relevancy of poetry to philosophy and being. I believe. he ends with Heidegger. the only experiment to be conducted by logo-poets. 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. if I may but temporarily coin that rather horrendous-sounding neologism. Rather he does not want to. and most significantly.” He speaks of Cavalcanti’s description of the poetic experience of being like an automaton. but when asked to copy or write by his boss he replies that he would “prefer not to. This is what Agamben calls the “irreducibility of his ‘I would 123 . power. the father of logopoiesis. effectively. Of course he then recounts Rimbaud’s declaration “I is another” alongside Kleist’s use of the marionette as paradigm for the absolute. That Agamben uses precisely the same phrase when explaining that the importance of poetry is that it produces life (EP. He is a scrivener. 260). He remains a scrivener with the potential to write mimetically. He is a scrivener. Finally. who “replaces the physical ‘I’ with an empty and inessential being that is only its own ways of Being and has possibility only in the impossible” (P. He mentions Avicenna’s imagining of an eviscerated and dismembered being that can still state “I am. 260). as we saw. 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. and potential. It is not that he cannot copy. of remarkable logopoietic thinkers. this is his form of life. being.” Here he experiments with issues of will.3 Agamben stresses that Bartleby’s experiment with being and potential is of this kind. 93).
are somewhat dissatisfying. For a start Melville’s story seems to merely recount the conditions of potential in an allegorical or analogous form. A tautology is a form of thinking whose truth cannot be tested because it is always true.” poetry thrives on it. Logopoiesis therefore must be a construction dependent on the logic of potentiality as Agamben finesses it. between potential absoluta and potential ordinate. form-of-life (HS. In the end there is little difference between this presentation of truth 124 . another name Agamben gives to this ontology is life. he would simply prefer not to. Logopoiesis is a truth-testing tautology that can only occur outside the realms of philosophy. “The formula that he so obstinately repeats destroys all possibility of constructing a relation between being able and being willing.” It is not that he does not want to copy. 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. 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. 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. or better. as Keats demonstrates in the final line of “Ode on a Grecian Urn. but. 261). 259). In that this ontology withdraws subjectivity from actual identity and biological indistinction. as all illustrations are.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN prefer not to’. 188). It is the formula of potentiality” (P. The ontology of potentiality can also be termed that of logopoiesis confirmed by Agamben’s subsequent comments on the relation of the Bartleby’s formula to tautology “a proposition that is impenetrable to truth conditions on account of always being true” (P. Agamben goes on to describe how the green screen (another version of the tablet perhaps) that isolates Bartleby’s desk “traces the borders of an experimental laboratory” wherein the scrivener who can copy but chooses not to frees himself from the principle of reason: either one is a scrivener and one copies or one is not and does not. “Emancipating itself from Being and non-Being alike. potentiality thus creates its own ontology” (P. Similarly. Philosophy cannot abide the tautology. 255).4 INFINITE POETRY While illustrative these examples. he argues.
” Author-function Leopardi is then struck by a sense of “interminable spaces” in the distant beyond. He notes the deictic “this” is repeated six times in the poem’s fifteen lines.” moving one from proximity to distance.5 His is a truly engaged logopoiesis that gives as much attention to the operations of poetic thinking as to philosophical thought processes.” with “this hedgerow” becoming converted later into “that. 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.”6 Agamben’s analysis begins in technicalities which indicate the sincere philologer within him. as some have of Heidegger and Badiou. This is logopoiesis in its weakest state. and back again. along with an interesting interchange between “this” and “that. is this specific use of deixis singular to the poem when innumerable poems use the same technique? Agamben believes that Leopardi. of merely allegorizing literature in the service of philosophy. most specifically the circular tautological nature of thinking under the auspices of logopoiesis. / and this hedgerow that hides from view / so large a part of the remote horizon. While the use of deixis is fascinating Agamben rightly asks what we can learn of the poem’s reliance on deixis as indicating the instance of discourse. and dialogue have all been used by philosophy to make a point. Narrative. which it undoubtedly does in the poem.” Naturally. that moves beyond what we have already learnt of deixis from other sources. faced with the “immensity” of both infinite space and infinite time. indeed. This is best illustrated by the centrality he gives to poetry in Language and Death. poetry. 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.” At this point. the impersonal genius of the wind interjects and “I find myself comparing to this voice / that infinite silence: and I recall eternity. Yet Agamben is not to be accused. “L’infinito” begins: “This lonely knoll was ever dear to me. THINKING TAUTOLOGY and that found in Plato’s dialogues or the fabulous Nietzsche.” so that while we may assume that Leopardi did 125 . specificity to generality.LOGOPOIESIS. marked by “supernatural silences. always conceives of the sense-certainty assumed by the “this” as always already “universal and negative. like Hegel.
serving as the basis for the possibility of its infinite repetition. is indicated for example by how soon the “this” in the poem. In the Leopardian idyll. 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. he believes.” and then “this” for “that” suggests that. beyond the last horizon. however. as in the Hegelian analysis of sense-certainty. the “this” points always already beyond the hedgerow. first as regards the now fully fleshed-out conception of dictation. 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). already referentially deficient but still intimate. second as to how poetic structure. he is immediately transforming the sense-certainty of the poem into a set of universal qualities revealing. a That). here the This is always already a Not-this (a universal. that the procedure of author-function becoming reader-function. Previously. the knoll. referentiality in poetry is always already moving away from reference to an actual thing towards 126 . the hedgerow. reference. Agamben’s use of prose was illustrative. here his analysis of poetry is exemplary and paradigmatic. More precisely the instance of discourse is assigned to memory from the very beginning.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN once perceive a knoll in his home town of Recanati. and third how poetic thinking differs totally from that of philosophy. converting with haste Leopardi the existent-being into Leopardi the author-function gesture. (LD. toward an infinity of events of language. Poetic language takes place in such a way that its advent always already escapes both toward the future and toward the past.7 He is reading a poem by Leopardi but. is modified to become the more vague and distant “that. and rhythm work. in other words where and how poetry thinks? First. What are these qualities that typify the place of poetry. and into other realms of generality. in such a way. in the instance of discourse that the habitual use of deixis indicates. This. also converts the ontic object of the text as such into mere text-function. I believe. and the wind in the poem have immediately moved beyond referentiality to an existential fact. like the poet himself. reducing both subjectivities to mere gesturality.” The rapidity and alacrity with which the poet abandons a noun for “this.
Reference in poetry therefore is always an indication of the taking place of language either in actuality through use of heightened semiotic devices. Third. the uncertainties of memory down by the station early in the morning. they have already entered into a field of repetition. there was a Grecian urn but in the poem there is no Grecian urn. The event as such is either always already prepared for. Second. that the taking place of language is unspeakable and ungraspable. to a universal precondition of experience as such. Although the lived experience always precedes the act of mimesis in our tradition. He says that the poem “expresses the same experience which we saw as constitutive of philosophy itself. The poem deals with a truth that is always already in place before the poet ever even wanders lonely as a cloud. and thus available for perpetual repetition.LOGOPOIESIS.” located as it is beyond the knoll in 127 . or conceptually through such considerations of space and time that we find in “L’infinito. and yet as soon as the poet encounters daffodils. a poem is therefore always profoundly evental. namely. there was a solitary reaper but in the poem she has already fled. This invention of an encounter or happening is in fact an act of false memory. 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. The poem. or has always already been converted from singular event to universal quality. Finally. something singular to the poet. the poietic poem. 69). This is a point he also makes in reference to the razo de trobar. 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. Agamben’s first conclusion from this astonishing reading is itself somewhat predictable but essential all the same. poetic referentiality is always marked by a belatedness transferring all poetic temporality into memorialization.” There was a knoll but in the poem there is no knoll. THINKING TAUTOLOGY the thing first standing for something else and then finally an indication of the thing of language as such. this allows Agamben to make a truly profound revelation as to the nature of poetic structure. Its advent is both pre-cursive and reflective. therefore. fourth. is truly an event in that it negates the very possibility of its ever occupying this space and being termed as such. universal. a gesture conjured up to support to presence of the poem as such (LD. frog-spawn. the fiction of the razo creates lived experience simply to support the event of writing a poem that is long past. A poem can never be an event.
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. There are blessings and curses to be gleaned from this analysis. to return. of course. 128 . . if philosophy has already indicated this surely all that is left for poetry is to back philosophy up. comes about in such as way that its advent necessarily remains unsaid in that which is said” (LD. that they will return again. This is.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. Agamben’s definition of language’s sayability as pure medium being perpetually silenced by the instance of the Voice. in all poetry even contemporary mainstream free verse and experimental poetics. Thus literature can get there first. although in later studies he refers to it as the semiotic. not quite. to coincide perfectly with the philosophical experience of language” (LD. 77). . Its role as a functioning meta-deixis although not often enough remarked upon is central to the literary experience as a whole. from verto. weaving a complex planar and tabular matrix of anaphoric and cataphoric elements that are the essence of its form. This element is what he calls here poetry’s “super-shifter . is an essential part of poetry. 77). However the true significance of poetry is not that of winning a metaphysical race but lies elsewhere in the semiotic element of verse that philosophy simply cannot match. 77). and that the instance of the word that takes place in a poem is. The verse (versus. Well. He adds: “The word. the metrical-musical element” (LD. 77). for this reason. to proceed directly. as opposed to prorsus. thus. The utilization of metrical forms in poetry. Poetry and philosophy are most certainly linked in terms of how they think language. In addition. That said if philosophy is marked by language as negation then poetry too cannot escape this metaphysical nihilism. taking place in time. This is no more the case than in the poem which demands to be read then re-read. For a start Agamben excitedly notes in relation to Bartleby that Melville’s observations on will precede those of Nietzsche by three decades. the act of turning. as in prose) signals for a reader that these words have always already come to be.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN interminable silence (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.
You will recall that although poetry and philosophy both share as their object the unattainability of language as such. however. (LD. indeed. structure. philosophical discourse cannot. As the poem is always already in place before you even come upon it. the unattainable). lineation.LOGOPOIESIS. and while my formulation of logopoiesis advocates 129 . he believes. philosophy and poetry. There is. THE HABITS OF THE MUSE Agamben’s conclusion to his reading of Leopardi is complex and subtle. in what I have called logopoiesis. THINKING TAUTOLOGY ungraspable. and has always already taken place and then begun again before you even get to the end. But this placelessness has a place to be found in prosody itself. it performs or at least demonstrates that the very place of poetry. no quick solution to this problem. Through the musical element. but the commencement of a possible shift away from the aporias of both logos and poiesis. While philosophy is able to speak of the unspeakable giving us insight into negativity but no means of overcoming it. poetry seems to prepare a portal through which one could emerge into a post-nihilistic world or word that philosophy does not have at its disposal. Does it not. sound. where poetry thinks. is by definition a placeless one. finally. in poetry the unattainable is its very essence. which is something philosophical language can never do unless it becomes poeticized. that is. This is prosody as such or poetry’s reliance on repetition in terms of stress. modern poetic dictation is just as marked by negation as modern philosophical thinking. 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. poetic language commemorates its own inaccessible originary place and it says the unspeakability of the event of language (it attains. This allows poetry to take possession of language’s unattainability in a way. reference and. Philosophy’s prose proceeds but poetry’s verse returns and this constitutes their essential difference. 78) This is the essence of the nature of poetry for Agamben. counting as one of the most profound reflections on the literary ever penned in any language at any time. Thus the poem is able to take possession of the unattainable as the positive basis for its own self-generation. This is not the solution to our metaphysical problems.
” Two elements at the poem’s end recall. it never begins either commencing always on “always. unlike in the English translation. is. an adventure indeed. although always there in the metricalmusical element. 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. Consider rhyme as a simple example of this. for Agamben. “was ever dear to me” and “sweet to me. The first rhyme already recalls the second. Second. symphonies. novels.” This in fact is not a remarkable observation. combined with a positive potential. Every couplet is in miniature the ontological potential of the poem to save thought.” “This lonely knoll” and “this sea. if one is always proceeding and returning? One never is. the use of “this. its restless habitus. First. of which he finds the sem.” Here always. The poem proceeds through verse. going backwards to go forwards. so many lyrics. its advent. When is one ever in the poem spatially or temporally.” Agamben traces the etymology of sempre to the Latin semper which he first fractures into two elements.” a common enough construction of the experience of the always. In “L’infinito” the habitual. 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. Just as the poem never ends always returning our attention back to that first line. the habit of its reversal. progressing only to refer back. is also referred to directly by the first line of the poem which in Italian reads: “Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle.is the Indo-European word for single. and films recall their commencement in their ending. For now we must satisfy ourselves with Agamben’s final point in relation to “L’infinito” as regards what might be called poetic habit. This is the place of poetic thinking. Thus he defines the roots of always as meaning “once and for all.” and the emphasis on dearness/sweetness. turning. All that Agamben is really looking for is an honest experience of linguistic/ontological unattainability or the definition of poeticphilosophical being as by definition the unattainable. the second harks back to the first. This is not unique to this poem. He then suggests: “The sempre that opens the idyll thus points 130 . sempre. the poem form is dominated by the advent-finitude tabular matrix.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.
fully experiencing the unattainable of the place of language. 80). . the habitual dwelling with which the idyll began” (LD.” the poet instead founders in the multiplicity of potential experiences of the knoll. the perpetual place of always. invention in Derrida. 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. 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. seeks to think. 80). This “voyage” taken in the poem is “truly more brief than any time or measure. Yet we know that in trying to have the knoll the poet is instead cast into the interminable space that dismays his heart. . This is in a way a restatement of the logic of the name in Heidegger. 80–1). THINKING TAUTOLOGY toward a habit. Yet in a later poem. “Il pensiero dominante” he seems to embrace thinking which. to measure its dimensions” (LD. The singular cannot be attained except through its being named in language. The thought is a movement that. because it leads into the heart of the Same. to occupy its singular once-ness for all time indicated in the “this. by the poet’s trying to haveever-dear the experience of the knoll. 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. as is ever the case at least since Plato’s time. . Agamben now rereads the whole poem as an attempt to seize the habitual. Poetry. In trying to inhabit the experience of the knoll. 79). will even kill him if he is unable to change his situation. . cedes to thought its sovereign power in affairs of the mind but is wrong to do so. Habit cedes to a thought that ‘feigns’.LOGOPOIESIS. to hold this unattainability in suspense. a having (habitus) that unifies (once) a multiplicity (all times): the having ever dear this knoll” (LD. and the event in Badiou. here. 131 . although dominating is also sweet. it represents the initial sempre as an interminable multiplicity . But the drowning of thought in ‘this’ sea now permits a return to the ‘ever dear’ of the first line. This is perhaps why in an early letter Leopardi writes of the way in which thought makes him unhappy. the rupturing of a habitual dwelling into a ‘surprise’ . the that of the knoll or its endless repetition through its prophylactic and transmissible encounter in poetic language. It departs from a habit and returns to the same habit” (LD.9 that is.
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. inaccessible place of the word. Plato. is the highest stake” (LD. The circular journey to nowhere brings to the fore the darkness of the poem. spoken by it.10 Plato sees the community between poetry and philosophy. Agamben believes philosophy was born out of the very need to 132 . thus. 78). is the name the Greeks gave to the “ungraspability of the originary place of the poetic word” (LD.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN In contrast to our previous definition of thought as that which takes measure of the dimensions of the unattainable. In that “philosophy too experiences the place of language as its supreme problem (the problem of being)” (LD. Periplus as a term marks the structural pointlessness or meaninglessness of art. nothing that can be tested as being true in terms of agreement or reasoning. here thought cannot measure trapped as it is in the tautology of the same. radically productive uselessness. for speaking man. 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. much more than a simple rivalry. the circular journey immortalized by The Odyssey becoming a foundational recursive and tautological structure of so much Western art to follow. 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. “so that it necessarily escapes whoever tries to speak it” (LD. that it says nothing of worth. he claims. that it takes us nowhere. therefore. The name of this technique in poetry is the periplus. 78). is responsible for giving the poetic word the character of being an eurema Moisan or invention of the muses. Periplus describes. Both seek to grasp that original. amity. in the Ion. Agamben’s reading goes even further than this however: “The ‘confrontation’ that has always been under way between poetry and philosophy is. the habit. the circular structural basis of all logopoiesis. he sees a rival to his claim for thought’s sovereignty. Agamben believes Plato is correct in his calling philosophy supreme music and its muse the true muse. Wildean. 78). in a nutshell. anti-poiesis. Use of the poetic word in fact is an expropriated appropriation in that one is possessed by the muse. just sails around. philo-poiesis. and instead of appreciating filiation. 78). its utter. 78). Muse. Here. nothing new. which. a project of which I think we can say Heidegger is the greatest master. he explains.
perhaps neither poetry nor philosophy. no sooner launched the logopoietic bark is inundated by the cruel seas of the infinite and drowns. tautological logopoiesis. 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. he argues. Yet. Yet. would be the true human language).”’ At sea. 133 . Who will save us: poetry or philosophy? The answer is neither and both. the trans-planar and tabular experience of the anaphoriccataphoric matrix of poetic recursiveness. Yet. and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring. lost at sea as we say. along the way. that is. Thought in the poem. neither verse not prose. . once and for all. once and for all time. Returning one last time. The second the establishment of negative. and thus freed. thought “in its drowning” is “now truly lost forever . will ever be able to accomplish their millennial enterprise by themselves. sets out from only to return back to the same. in the periplus logic of tautological habitudes. Plato argues in Phaedrus. 78) With this parenthetical wondering Agamben gives birth to the new discipline of logopoiesis. THINKING TAUTOLOGY liberate poetry from inspiration or to retrieve language from mystical music-making and return it to statements of truth. the most beautiful voice of the muse is voice without sound marking the origins of two essential and ultimately destructive events in Western thought.” Thought has been truly poeticized by being sucked into the vortex of poetic periplus. as is often the case in such salty tales of the sea. vocal silence at the very heart of being.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. It does this. you recall. 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. Agamben inserts the following: (For this reason. 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. . thought has many adventures during which thought’s silence and interminable nature miraculously ceases to be “a negative experience. (LD. Thought now experiences.
for different yet related reasons. negativity as the breaking and making of the habit or of a poetic. Both the ability of poetic language to turn (projective-recursion) as a potential for a pro-ductive philosophy to come. without resorting to arche-presence of the false imposition of unity. and reflect on how far we have come. Logopoiesis in its tautology names a certain experience of truth that emulates that of potential.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN in the poem. In both tautology and potentiality. it suffices to pull ourselves from the ocean and back onto the shore. as the ethos of humanity” (LD. the figure of humanity’s having emerges for the first time in its simple clarity: to have always dear as one’s habitual dwelling place. its having-been and its coming to be .” its drowning and its tautological negation so that “in the negative dimensions of the event of language. At this point the metaphysical and poetic Agamben will once more come together and take the measure of each other. . . Everything hangs on the temporal-spatial essence of poetry. Yet the circularity of logopoiesis goes even further than this. in the exhaustion of the dimension of being. a truly original idea of language and thought that exceeds all the traditions of thinking from Plato as far as Heidegger by simply escaping the craft of thinking through drowning in equivalence and pointlessness. its habit and its versus. the very testing of truth through its own alienation. its having been. 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 yet how much further we still have to travel. however. its versification of language. The result is the “extinguishing of thought. This logic is the tautological logic of poetic thinking. time between times or between chronological time. its coming to be. and eschatological futural time. 134 . For now. 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. 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. The result of this is a form of radical desubjectivization. dry off. the truth of a statement cannot be tested. 81). Logopoiesis is the turn of verse in all senses of the word.
Never more powerfully apparent than here is it that Agamben is both negligent of the singularity of literature and yet entirely dependent on it. 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. and the arts. 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. (BT. THE TURN OF VERSE THE DEFINITION OF POETRY Bare space is still veiled.” Having spent several pages defining poetry in terms of lineation. All of which gives a certain piquancy to his avowed project here. From this we are now in a position to ascertain that the prosodic element of poetry which concerns so much of Agamben’s work on literature. 96) If it were not already apparent that there is a profound interdependence in Agamben between thinking. and finitude. the poem must die through a process of self-alienation to become what it is destined to be. without remaining unsaid in what is said” (EP.CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT. language. the end of the poem. Like all other identities in Agamben. 135 . 115). recurrence. interruption. interests him only in as much as it provides singular and privileged access to thinking the thing of thought as such: language. consider the conclusion of the short essay on poetics entitled “The End of the Poem.
strikes me as obvious—namely that poetry lives only in the tension and difference (and hence also the virtual interference) between sound and sense. by definition. If this tension were easy to maintain. 109) This deceptively simple definition of poetry as reducible to the prosodic technique of enjambement that does not even belong with Agamben1 establishes a set of preconditions for poetry which. not least because the non-relational relation between two terms in a zone of indistinction that typifies the Agambenian method is best described as a tension. not the case. that between the semiotic and the semantic. Rather the definition of poetry exists precisely in the ambivalence to be found at the heart of all structures of differential scission. (EP. perhaps Agamben might rapidly find what he is looking for in poetry but. but also that the specific tension of the poetic. here in the scission between phone and logos. is to define a poetic institution that has until now remained unidentified: the end of the poem. we now realize. as you can see summarized in the title of this lecture. this is. The fact that the poem comes to an end both allows 136 . 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. begins in a rather pedestrian vein that gives little indication of the direction it will eventually take: My plan. happens to emulate precisely the tension at the heart of modern. between the semiotic and the semantic sphere. I will have to begin with a claim that.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN The essay. yet as we saw poetry has a special place in this tradition. and poetry is the archetypal tensile linguistic form. without being trivial. Thus we can see that differential opposition. negative metaphysics. like all tension. This may indeed be a truism for all entities the result of the metaphysical tradition. namely that such a scission demands separation and relation. source of the tension he mentions here. This is not merely due to the repulsive attitude of first philosophy to poetry. which was originally a paper presented in French. 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. must also be those for thought. although widely attacked by Agamben cannot simply be eradicated. To do this.
poetry alone cannot be thought’s substitute. Does this mean that the last verse trespasses into prose? (EP. ongoing poetry of an impossible or virtual nature. Verse is verse because it will at some point cease to be verse defining a structure of identity based on self-alienation we are now more than familiar with under the wider ontological heading of desubjectivization. yet it implies consequences that are as perplexing as they are necessary. not least because without finitude there can be no poem. 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. Thus the final “verse” of any poem cannot be poetry for the tension is asymmetrically poised above a permanent rather than transitory space. and instead becomes a true abyss of philosophical proportions. This space. If poetry subsists in the tensions it calls up between semiotic and semantic forces. 115). not a preference for the semiotic over the semantic but the balancing of one precariously against the other. 137 . the abyssal presence of absence edging all poetry into being. while a potential for thought. a gap which words can pause before and then overleap as in enjambement. starts to unravel.2 Yet there would be no tension without this probable eventuality. THE TURN OF VERSE one to define the potential of its internal tensions and to understand how. only pure. 112) If something is defined by a tensile dynamic between arrest and sequential recommencement. This fact is certainly trivial. Agamben wonders: what happens at the point which the poem ends? Clearly.ENJAMBEMENT. it follows that the last verse of a poem is not a verse. it is inevitable that if the sequence cannot recommence then the thing in question at that point no longer exists. because at this point the whole texture of poetry. No wonder it is “as if for poetry the end implied a catastrophe and loss of identity” (EP. then. teetering on a ledge above an abyss of pure space or universal prose. carefully woven according to Agamben from the tensile interchange of semiotics and semantics. ceases to be a facilitator of poetic tension. For if poetry is defined precisely by the possibility of enjambement. if poetry is indeed this tension. here there can be no enjambement in the final verse of a poem. The poem is tense because it must end.
If space looms at the end of the poem. or is it merely the period when there is no poetic tension? Where does this space end into. questions begin to be asked of being. Is prose. Surely the essay would be better named “The Death of the Poem. 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. its uncanny angst. 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. Poetry is not marked by finitude. but rather is the experience of projective and imminent finitude as such. vacancy is just as present before the poem begins. Poetry is tense because it is permanently buffeted by recollected 138 . certainly suggested at the end of each line whether it runs on or not. to be perpetually born to presence. This is the source of poetry’s Stimmung. outside the collection or book? Is it actual space.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN If. tension. which is also a being-away-from-birth. by its ending. inevitable at the poem’s final footing on the edge before the abyss. composed of alinear but sequential marks. its mood or attunement. one might also wonder what happens at the point of incipit or the very birth of the poem. losing its footing on a slippery way it must follow to its death. implied before the poem has even begun. between the title and the poem body. but rather the already inscribed future failure of poetry. dissolving. not space at all but un-inscribed or zero-marked matter. This other tension is the tension of philosophical finitude. or the fake space of the blank page. before the title. the beginning of the poem. if it indeed ever does begin as such and not simply strike up again on its guitar or lute. indeed all creation precisely in the terms of Heidegger’s beingtowards-death. foreshadowed in the worrying gaps between stanzas. and hence poiesis. in other words. He comes to define poetry. the famous Agamben tablet of potential? The end of the poem raises more questions than it answers but what is certain is that it is not precisely the tension between semiotics and semantics that allows the poem to come to presence. meaning that poetry is the natural or normative state of language and prose merely its interim interruption? Such an argument is historically supportable in the work of Godzich and Kittay. For poetry is perpetually fading. Is the space before the poem the space between poems.” because Agamben is speaking here of deathly negativity. from this obvious if not trivial definition. and finitude.
maps out a planar surface. and the number of syllables—all elements that can equally well occur in prose—do not. Prose is the discourse in which this is impossible. THE TURN OF VERSE premonitions and intimations of mortality. rhythm. 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. 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. quasi-scientific formulation and the more complex rhetoric of “The End of the Poem” allows Agamben to add 139 . A plan. from this standpoint. Quantity. after all. however obvious it may seem to be. at some point of extension. simply listing actions.ENJAMBEMENT. and the intervening ten years between Agamben’s initial. Such plans always implicate the formation of a plane. for example. 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. among other things. A plan. provide sufficient criteria. will meet at a third and mutual point (in perspective the vanishing point). 39) This is taken from Idea of Prose. None of which is at all trivial. A plane occurs whenever there are three points or where there are two lines which are not parallel for. (IP. those two lines each made of two points. 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). 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.
the lowing heard winds slowly o’er the lea. There is a fundamental disjuncture in such successive series between words as they are heard and how they are written. for. and the regular. which is a grammatological differentiation. a designation which includes Italian. metrical iambic rhythm. and in phonology one cannot hear “words.4 So in grammatology one cannot “see” stress. one utters a single. English. 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. notice how hard is the conception of the phonetic as a line and the grammatological as a stream. difference. undifferentiated utterance. alphabetic languages which are written although not necessarily spoken.” These two realms rely on very different modes of sensation resulting in cognition of a language which remains permanently bifurcated and at odds with itself.” There are two clear levels of segmentation.” They are not. while the phonematic difference cannot contain the grammatological. Western. The brain that cuts up this continual stream into single units identified as “words. although of all of these mathematics also has a tabular potential. The second is less so and is based on scientific work on phonemes which establishes that when one speaks a stream of syntax. of course. and leaves the world to darkness and to me. and mathematics. words in any real sense. however. Let us take a random and innocent syntagm in English to better illustrate the issue: “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. which is phonematic. at least until one pauses for breath. This third difference is enjambement. by which I mean the simple appearance of the words does not reproduce stress. are all composed of successive series. and articulation charted here: the space between the words. Latin. rather they are electrical impulses giving an impression of words. a third level of segmentation available to only a very limited number of syntagms. resulting in the perfectly sensible and violently contested idea that the voice precedes writing.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN one additional element to this formula. the adoption of the terms semantic and semiotic to place atop of the initial bare skeleton of prose and poetry. There is. in that speaking the words does not reproduce textual spacing or planar dimensionality. the ploughman homeward plods his weary way. The first of these observations is. dare I say it. The grammatological difference cannot contain the phonematic. rather obvious. as you may have recognized when you 140 .3 Let us scientifically and geometrically proceed with this for a moment.
. Is such a break a grammatological or phonematic occurrence? The way Agamben presents it remains permanently unclear. 156). The first is the line taken by Agamben that without the line-breaks after every ten syllables this sentence is prose. there are a number of reasons why this cannot be the case. neither in writing nor in the voice. but in the fold of the presence on which they are established: the logos . The remaining evidence is much more empirical. the extract in question is more traditionally inscribed thus: The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea. 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.” There are two levels of analysis to present here. And leaves the world to darkness and to me.ENJAMBEMENT. True one needs in 141 . Agamben summarizes this ancient ontological counterpositioning in terms of the bar (/) that we found articulated the ban and articulation of the sign. as proven by my example that until those breaks are spatially imposed the sentence in question holds off from become a verse. THE TURN OF VERSE saw my example or felt when you read it. revealing not simply Derridean différance but also the “topological game of putting things together and articulating” (ST. As one can see from my little experiment in linguistic presentation. The ploughman homeward plods his weary way. 156). so I have to extrapolate from his evidence the possibility that it is both and neither. is the fold that gathers and divides all things in the ‘putting together’ of presence. 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. While attestation suggests Agamben conceives of enjambement grammatologically. And the human is precisely this fracture of presence” (ST. enjambement is neither purely grammatological nor phonological. . 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.
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. which can be presented graphically as follows: Geometrically speaking. more intangibly. while at the same time one can feel enjambement but it remains as discarnate as a feeling or uncanny sensation. . All of which brings us back to the poetic plane. But if one reads the four lines as one line. for indeed one cannot understand enjambement unless one understands the semantic content of the lines in view. Enjambement therefore not only establishes a tension between semantics and semiotics but it simultaneously eases or even eradicates another ancient antagonism. its ending. the use of zero enjambement facilitated by terminal caesurae at the end of every subsection of ten syllables.6 this is not essential but merely a contingency of 142 .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. the almost genetic inclination of English speakers to allow their speech to fall into iambs organized into groups of ten syllables or so. 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. this time not between poetry and prose (philosophy) but between speech and writing. entente. While prose fills a planar page space. until one has one’s suspicions confirmed by the graphical plan of the poem before one.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN some sense the spatial presentation of the break for the poem to be immediately perceptible as the visual entity called poem. but its full force comes through the combination of the two. if strained. and perhaps finally. 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. Enjambement artificially breaks the sequential line of language at the right hand side of the page here. one still finds oneself pausing every ten syllables. and its recommencement. poetry is the becoming planar of an endlessly extendable two-dimensional field we call prose. Certainly you can see a line-break or feel it.
Most avowedly the paragraph is not a stanza. . and reclaims that which it had the temerity to eject. spatial absence (the jagged abyss that looms at the right-hand edge of all poetry) the break is softened into a bend. and transportation of prose writing. Here voice shouts down writing. distribution.7 the verse finds that its very identity as verse is lost at the precise point of its being 143 . organization. Poetry affirms its identity at the very moment that it breaks the line indicating a preference for semiotic metrics and rhyme over semantic clarity and continuity. but boustrophedonic. interrupted by the paragraph certainly but never for anything other than stabilizing semantic dictates within this line. enjambement brings to light the original gait. that it abandons sense for the abyss of grammatical. In this way. 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. it is irresistibly drawn into bending over into the next line to lay hold of what it has thrown out of itself. It hints at a passage of prose with the very gesture that attests its own versatility. By this headlong dive into the abyss of meaning. as it were. the purely sonic unit of verse transgresses its own identity as it does its own measure. In abstract terms the line of prose is always one single line. of poetry . . (IP. Yet at the very point. namely sense. The cut folded back on itself always becomes a hinge except for the very last verse which remains severed not bent. I would argue. As Agamben argues: In the very moment that the verse affirms its own identity by breaking a syntactic link. and it is a point. 40) Agamben’s phrasing itself constructs something of a boustrophedonic folding logic. 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. neither poetic nor prosaic. 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. The paragraph. THE TURN OF VERSE the development of the book as a technology for the preservation.ENJAMBEMENT. 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.
such as the becoming planar of the cut/turn at the end of the poetic line. Between the cut and the fold. One of 144 . immediately closed down again by the cut becoming in an instant a fold.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN founded. as a threshold. “Poetic” remains therefore at the level of praxis. indeed poetry as such is based on the fundamental number three. since Plato certainly. – KLE SIS. cannot be cleared until the issue of time in poetry is resolved. the way it always refers both forwards and backwards. poetry is continually and permanently born to presence and withheld from view. something that writing does. This experience of space produced by the boustrophedonic transition from line to plane. therefore. If we take the structural shift of the metricalmusical element of the anaphora-cataphora projective recursive tabular matrix of poetic structure. THE MESSIANIC AS NOT The space of thought within the poem.9 Students of poetry will be more than aware of how considerations of space. and finally excision of an opening for suprasensuous thinking within the sensible body of a “work” of art. colonization. while poetry as such is poiesis. Students of metaphysics will be more than aware of how considerations of time become those of space. to refer to the activity of enjambement.8 opening up a planar space in writing that is the very basis of the grammatological. has suffered a ban. What poetry “makes happen” geometrically is that it adds a third point. rely on temporality. 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. revealed and concealed or vice versa. allows the poetic to become poetry. What poetry makes happen in the birth to plane is nothing other than thinking. 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. and vice versa. as a surround or framing device. to poetry as the tensile effect of this activity. and abyss. 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. At the point in the line when the line becomes a part of a plane the poiesis of poetry is revealed. an essential logopoietic opening up of space for thought in a medium that. or something that the poetic makes happen or brings into presence.
resolve the aporias of modernity. silence. Yet its essential combination with the theory of potentiality is. and the quest for a post-nihilistic theory of productive thought about art that did not succumb to the metaphysical-epochal designations of ending. Map-less but with guidance we will commence with the call of the messianic vocation. 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. Finally. The first of these is kle ¯sis or calling as a surrogate to epoch as event. and the messianic strand of potential. There are two central epochal moments in Agamben’s messianic The Time That Remains which we are already. 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 medium or supportive gesturality of language as such makes little reference to temporality. 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. space becoming time. in part. familiar with. poetic temporality. temporal. 145 . of course. in one of his recent and most important works The Time That Remains. the epoch of modernity. but also the possible solution as to how a future for thought can be found in the technicalities of prosody. 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. and so on.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 progress in our task of a logopoiesis in which poetry is an essential partner in the indifferential thought to come.ENJAMBEMENT. 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. negation. If we are to move from lineation to the space of poetry. 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. Yet such is the nature of the adventure. as regards Agamben’s own philosophy of indifference. Agamben has only been able to resolve these issues.
and thus it is from Paul that Agamben extricates the idea of kle as the calling to the messianic vocation. is that the commencement and completion of the vocation of the messianic all occur within the temporality of the act of calling. This occurs through a technical application of that. one might redefine this form of anaphora as tautegorical cataphoric anaphora. The call. now. or the call of the previous calling. The Time That Remains is a sustained philological analysis of the Pauline canon of messianic texts. Reading specifically a ¯sis sentence from 1 Cor. What deixis indicates here. To be called to the messianic vocation is to be called to the call. 7:17: 17–22. deixis.” Agamben focuses on the seemingly tautological phrase en te kle he ekle ¯.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. Such a use of anaphoric deixis is peculiarly tautegorical because not until the call is recalled. therefore. most familiar linguistic operator. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. While the tautology of this phrasing. but a “peculiar tautegorical movement that comes from the call and returns back to it” (TTR. 257). 198 & 209). usually translated as “the ¯ ¯sei ¯the same calling wherein he was called” (TTR. can the referent or call can be said to call at all. wherein the repeated term can only be presented as a term to be repeated 146 . 22). Agamben argues the problem is that the phrase is not tautological.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN Kle ¯sis. therefore. 19). the calling of being called. the messianic “calling. is one which commentators have struggled for centuries to render in their respective languages. 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. Clearly it presents a modification of Heidegger’s idea of the poetic as the calling of calling (PLT. Finally.” can be read intertextually in relation to three areas of concern for logopoiesis. Indeed. messianic calling is first presented in the “Second Day” of The Time That Remains bracketing the debate of modern. or to remain within the dynamic of calling indicated by the logical and linguistic operations of anaphoric deixis. fictive subjective as-if-ness that we have already delineated. until the deictic indicator refers back to its previous referent. Here the “he” is an anaphoric designation of the previous kle ¯sei. repeating the same logic we found in play with aesthetic judgement. is instigated and completed only after the fact of when it is called to call.
Precisely because such a remaining “signifies the immobile anaphoric gesture of the messianic calling. to another. and indeed there is increasing room for Benveniste here and in other later works. Jew. .” he says. yet cannot be repeated until it has occurred. . and only because of. but instead are called into the nullification of one’s vocation as one’s vocation. the “Ho s me ” of the Pauline text. almost an internal shifting between each and every single condition by virtue of being called” (TTR. it revokes a condition . Thus one is called to remain in the negation of vocation as a form of vocation. 23). Tautegorical. THE TURN OF VERSE after it has first been repeated. 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. 22). for example called to criticism as the critical tautegorical nullification of criticism. 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. . “Vocation. Agamben calls ¯ ¯ this the “ultimate meaning of kle ¯sis” (TTR.” (TTR. Think of this if you will as anaphoric deixis that refers to no particular thing but merely refers to its own operations. but for this same reason. “Why remain then in this nothing?” Agamben asks. The messianic vocation is the revocation of every vocation .ENJAMBEMENT. as though it were an urgency that works it from within and hollows it 147 . We are faced here therefore not with a matter of eschatological indifference. This being the case the messianic vocation has no specific content. its relation to the messianic event. Citing Paul when he says that kle involves ¯sis operating “as not having” a condition. 23)— immobilized by the confounding circular logic of the tautegorical. apostle. a form of indication that “may apply to any condition. “calls for nothing and to no place . . referring to the first half of the Pauline formulation. . 23). but of change.12 Calling or kle is first of all an empty ¯sis revocation of every vocation. . You are not called from one vocation. the classic definition of deixis. the vocation calls the vocation itself. of having a condition as not having a condition. One is called away from one’s vocation. its being essentially and foremost a calling of the calling” (TTR. 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. but not called to a new vocation.
for it does ¯ ¯ not push a concept’s semantic field toward that of another concept. As he says: “In the parable. “unless you become as children. 24). In Paul’s comparative explanation of the subjective effect of kle weeping ¯sis is pushed towards itself as not weeping.” and how this form of comparison was analysed by Medieval grammarians in a particular fashion as not a form of identity or resemblance.” Like the comparison the parable. is that of a thing with itself in the form of non-self-identity. . not until he starts to speak of figurality is one able to see how these comments pertain to modern aesthetics. rejoicing pushed towards not rejoicing. 23–4). that of the messianism of a temporality to come. but makes it pass. the difference between the signum and res significa thus tends to annul itself without completely disappearing. from the Greek 148 . the parable. “but rather they interpreted the comparative as an (intensive or remissive) tension that sets one concept against another” (TTR. noting how in the Bible the parable comes to stand for the word of god itself or logos. Speaking specifically of the parable of the sower where seed represents logos of course. . nullifying it in the very gesture of maintaining and dwelling in it” (TTR. the messianic does not simply cancel out this figure. if it exists at all. as the operation of language as such to such a degree that in many languages the word for language originates from the parable. He first uses the example of the technique of comparison within Paul. If this is true then for Paul men are not as children. 24–5). Instead. The comparison. . it prepares its end” (TTR. In the messianic parable signum and res significa approximate each other because language itself is what is signified. if I may refer to such a thing. “The Pauline hos me seems to be a special type of tensor. but are placed alongside children. 24). seed meaning seed and logos. Agamben identifies how a whole tradition of the parable develops that takes paraballisation. they do not resemble children. At the end of this section Agamben speaks of the process “as not” in terms of another classic form of rhetoric. Agamben concludes from this form of comparison: “In pushing each thing towards itself through the as not.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN out. but of the duality of language itself imposed upon it by human speech. it sets itself up against itself in the form of the as not: weeping as not weeping” (TTR. Traditionally a parable is assumed to have a double meaning but Agamben views this not as a signifier having two signifieds. While apparent that Agamben here is speaking of the mediality of language in another register.
and the atemporal eternity that extends after the end of time. signifier and signified. MESSIANIC KAIROS Agamben first addresses the term kairos. messianic time is neither of these epochal designations.ENJAMBEMENT.” however. how does that differ from the messianic figurality of anaphora. as I said.” (TTR. . comparison. To negotiate this subtle and complex difference will take the rest of my study here on the conception of poiesis. Rather. 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 . and to take us from negative modernity to productive poiesis we must turn to the second Pauline term. 62). chronos. . when the division of time is itself divided . but so as to put “each being and each term in tension with itself ” (TTR. and parable? These constructions are also self-regarding but in a manner that Agamben believes is truly redemptive. a consideration of a third form of figuration. The sign is not a system of difference and similarity but of a non-selfcoincidence as identity. 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. “As if ” would seem to be figuration as such.” The historical conflict he maps out between “as if ” and “as not” can now be situated around familiar territory pertaining to language and figuration. “it is a remnant. Language does not refer to the world but to language as such. 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. the time that remains between these two times. Agamben’s argument in The Man Without Content. the “as if. 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. indicates a process of internal division (as well as creating tabular space). The question therefore remains if modern “as if ” aesthetics finds its archetype in art for art’s sake. This shift from comparison to parable brackets. works in a manner which places figuration alongside itself. kairos. He explains that while Paul regularly uses eschatological time when speaking of the two Jewish time traditions. occasion or now. that which stretches from creation to the end of time. eschaton. 43).
As Agamben says. extends epochal time into the postepochal and post-epochal time back into epochal time. in regard of linear time. being neither point nor extension but the precondition and deconstruction of both. Be not afraid. Kairos. Messianic time. here represented as between the two vertical dotted lines. but accept such a time is unrepresentable. he notes that such a line has never accorded with the human experience of time. B the messianic event. although the time of the now. and dimensionalities. introduces a remainder [resto] into it that exceeds the division” (TTR. therefore. Agamben is aware that this messianic time presents a powerful challenge to our human consciousness of time and indeed the general difficulty of thinking time. interruptions. in its dividing the division between two times. in this instance messianic time. reiterations. Agamben hones in on this gap between representable and thinkable time by adopting the linguistic concept of operational time. insufficient to capture the complexity of time. 64). and C apocalypse. he explains that this linear model is. 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. Of the time line consisting of assumed strings of points. Such caesuric time operates as part of the epoch of chronos while exceeding it. or we concede the thinkable nature of time and all its complexities. is not a dot on the line of time but a segment or stanza within the divisions of epochs along this line. for example A—B—C wherein A is creation.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN which one situates epochs. and as part of the eschaton while exceeding that. stratifications. either we are confronted with a model that is representable but unthinkable as actual experience of time. As such it operates with precisely the same logic as the term epoch. The result is a caesuric division between an epoch’s cessation and the resumption of the new epoch. 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. nor a synthesis of all three tenses in a manner that emulates Bergson’s influential theory of modern time. as ever. 150 .
Whatever experience of time they undergo they are able to come to represent it as this idealized model in their minds subsequently. Agamben argues. It is as though man. 67). The benefit of operational time is that it adds “a projection in which the process of forming the time-image is cast back onto the time image itself ” (TTR. Rather. Instead. . or. 66) which. that prevented him from perfectly coinciding with the time out of which he could make images and representations.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. the time we take to bring time to an end. This interior time is what Agamben means by messianic time: “the time that time takes to come to an end.ENJAMBEMENT. insofar as he is a thinking and speaking being. the subject’s experience of time is constructed by the subject in accordance with this ideal representation. are both examples of the figural nature of the messianic for Agamben. 67). 66). THE TURN OF VERSE Operational time originates from the work of French linguist Gustave Guillaume. produced an additional time . and Guillaume calls this operational time or “the time the mind takes to realize a time-image” (TTR. . This process of temporal construction takes a period of time. (TTR. to achieve our representation of time” (TTR. 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. more precisely. Agamben concludes that In every representation we make of time and in every discourse by means of which we define and represent time. tautegorical calling and self-constructing temporal representation. This time that remains is the messianic kairos. and having been constructed. Kle ¯sis and kairos. formation. as we know. converts time from a linear to “three-dimensional” entity by which he means it conveys the three moments of temporality: potentiality. for Agamben figuration is a structural 151 . another time is implied that is not entirely consumed by representation. 68). 67) Such an “ulterior time” as he initially calls it is not a supplemental time added onto the exterior of chronological time but a “time within time—not ulterior but interior” (TTR. By this we do not mean they are simply rhetorical forms. perhaps only an instant but a period all the same.
76). Agamben argues. We have already considered comparison and parable in this regard. This tendency to think of time as a past prefigurement of a future yet to arrive. The calling of the “as not” places one’s subjectivity alongside its negation. what concerns us is “a tension that clasps together and transforms past and future.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN process wherein two conditions are placed alongside each other in a nonrelational fashion. 74). all things are recapitu¯ro ¯ lated in the messiah. in an inseparable constellation. The messianic is not just one of two terms in this typological relation. in which the past is dislocated into the present and the present is extended into the past” (TTR. 74). Paul adds one more final figural notion. although. typos and antitypos. not a third epoch following the past (typos) and future (antitypos) but the way in which these two epochs are brought face to face with each other by means of their caesura or “zone of indiscernibility. as Agamben says. the two elements are heterogeneous. This results in what might be called the relational tension of the nonrelational. the most famous example of which is that between zoe and bios in Homo Sacer. Agamben is now able to add a third figural term. the antitypos. that of recapitulation. 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. it is the relation itself” (TTR. ple ¯ ma ton kairon. typosantitypos. so too in the antitypos there is a compacted summation of the typos or. such a correspondence existed prominently throughout the medieval period. Without getting too lost in the theology of this suffice it to say that if in the messianic kairos there is in the typos a prefigurement of the antitypos. This means that each instant of messianic 152 . “messianic ple ¯ ma is therefore an abridgement and anticipation of eschatologi¯ro cal fulfilment” (TTR. while kairatic time places time’s constructed nature against its representation of non-constructed and proper perfection. as he considers Paul’s explanation of how all that is past will come to be taken into account at the end of time. Paul explains that at the messianic moment of total fulfilment of time. Rather. 74). To this typological caesuric figuration. At this stage then our extended debate on the epochal time of the messianic and our technical considerations of prosody also start to turn to face each other at long last. typos. is not important as a “biunivocal correspondence” (TTR. and yet in a manner in which their proximity naturally calls up some attempt at relation in the form of tension. he tells us. This is the epoch of the messianic.
and the structure of the poem. If we step back now from theology entirely we can first explain this more generally in terms of our experience of operational time. The law of figuration means that because messianic kairatic time extends the eschaton into the chronos. As soon as Agamben 153 . anaphora and cataphora that is the basis of any poem structure and which we have already defined. This situation is expressed by Agamben as Pauline messianic tension conveyed in the complex term epekteinomenos or straining forward in tension towards something which Paul uses to describe the effect on the subject of kairos due to kle ¯sis. and then in relation to poetry. “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. 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. 78). able to restate this fairly logically away from the theological philology of Agamben’s text. the temporality of poetry. something that is now past. is the poetic convention of rhyme. chronos or temporal extension. One is. Any theory of temporal extended linearity must contain some idea of completion and any theory of temporal completion must complete on something. In the kairos of operational time two incommensurable epochs or conceptions of epoch lie alongside each other. and eschaton or temporal finitude. as the very location of poetic thinking: logopoiesis. Everything about messianic time recalls the figurality of the poetic. must first consist of a summation of all that went before. As messianic time extends chronos into the eschaton all narratives of completion. The same goes for eschatological time. 78).ENJAMBEMENT. This example. in fact. MESSIANIC RHYME Perhaps now it does not surprise us. the greatest of which is surely modernity itself. each moment of chronological time is prefigured by its completion. or an act that demands the called subject “seize hold of his own being seized” (TTR. a kind of small-scale model of messianic time” (TTR. by virtue of the metrical-musical element. At this point Agamben wisely decides to give “something like a concrete example. A structure such as the kairatic kle depends ¯sis on the precise mix of occurrence and reiteration. and even he concedes this may be surprising.
he argues. it has a specific and unmistakable temporality. a fact made most apparent in that rather rare stanzaic form the sestina. in each case. one can begin to see how wonderfully this analogy works. although to describe it as analogy. This is especially true. example. every poem unfolds in linear time semiotically marking this out with great clarity by using artificially ended lines which graphically demonstrate chronos much more adeptly than in any other art form. a foundational quality of all poetic structure. 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. effectively. 79). Thus he says of the closed rhyming lyric form. as one moves towards the predictability of the end. look to how the next stanza will recombine the six fixed elements and thus one is always reading both forwards and backwards. insufficient. You begin to recognize the pattern. Put simply. the closed form means that in every line the end is prefigured. 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. At the same “hermeneutic” time one also picks up on the interplay. 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. repetition. This reading back however comes most to the fore in the tornada where. But for the more or less brief time that the poem lasts. and variance of the use of homologous rhyming end words. I have argued in my own study of this phenomena in modern experimental poetry. strains towards its end.14 The form still operates on occasion in modern poetry in other words. A kind of eschatology occurs within the poem itself. That said every poem is also a recursive or reiterative structure. all usages of the words thus far are 154 . Thus in the sestina. in the case of rhyme. only organized in different combinations. The first six stanzas are each six lines long and the six end words are always the same in each stanza. A sestina is made up of seven stanzas.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN describes the poem. from the very start. for example the sonnet. or model is. it has its own time” (TTR. 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. For example.
or indeed leitmotifs in Wagner. Agamben’s insights take the tabularity of poetic structure far beyond anything anyone else could have imagined. but it does have its own time. 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. on a shifting interrelational tensile comparative combination between temporal-structural projection and recursion. . The poem does not create a new.16 This aside. and. First he notes how the poem produces an internal disruption of linear time that is not an alternative “poetic time” to replace chronological time. Such a tabular-planar structure. transforms chronological time into messianic time . through the sophisticated mechane of the announcement and retrieval of rhyming end words (which correspond to typological relations between past and present). AN ENDLESS FALLING INTO SILENCE Agamben’s insights into the relation between poetic structural tabularity and a post-nihilistic modality of indifferent thinking depend. THE TURN OF VERSE recalled in their final combination. which I have already posed as the 155 . Poetry is not an example here or not solely exemplary. the time that the poem takes to come to an end” (TTR.15 In miniature therefore we have the whole basis of Agamben’s logopoiesis. of course.ENJAMBEMENT. in this sense. Nor is the philosophy of time handed over to poetic time. model or not. While Agamben calls the sestina a “model” of messianic time this same process is observable in the reiterations of symbols in Joyce’s work of novelistic epiphany. While I have worked for some years on this project. This is the time of the messiah. in any case the eschaton already fulfils that role. the time of the end. what we have is the same time that organizes itself through its own somewhat hidden internal pulsation. as we saw. and the narrative structures of the films of David Lynch. 82). 83). This matrix I have called the anaphoric-cataphoric matrix of every poem. post-chronological time. The same process is discernible in the rhythmic distribution of lines and colours in Pollock. Agamben explains: “The sestina—and. “on the contrary. every poem—is a soteriological device which. poetic structure is far from a mystery. in order to make place for the time of the poem” or what he also calls its “cruciform retrogradation” (TTR. . converting the poem from a linear-horizontal entity to a tabular planar form.
a trace of psychological pause. for hesitation as theme and/or category. a philosophical hesitation. Yet philosophical. hesitation true for all time as it were. but also structurally at the two extremes of the poem body. We must now remove ourselves from messianic time. and tabular structure. affective or intellectual. one must first experience hesitation as sensation. cannot be separated from the original experience of hesitation that one undergoes every time one reads poetry. and when one wants philosophically to speak of hesitation as such. Having assured us that poetry is a “prolonged hesitation” between sound and sense. Agamben immediately asks the question: What is a hesitation if one ceases to think of it psychologically? A hesitation of such an order. in a phenomenological reading. categorical hesitation.17 This difficulty pertaining to the actual nature of the experience of hesitation. but you do need to have experienced a line-break to think this way and to be sure of experiencing it at least more than once. 156 . one is likely to have recourse to a line-break and an example. and return to our original debate on poetic. stems for the most part from the well-documented and complex relation one finds in poetry between the sensuous and the suprasensuous which differentiates it from philosophy and other arts that share with poetry the emphasis on semiotics. is dependent on the permanent tension within the poetic line certainly. It leaves. as a thinker. what is hesitation in thought without the knowledge of an experience of hesitation in the world? Or to pose the issue in different terms. must surely be beyond an actually felt hesitation such as one experiences at the end of a line of poetry. Then one must dismiss hesitation as sensation without entirely dispensing with it. Rather this felt hesitation moves one into another realm of hesitation as such. and propositional hesitation. quasi-universal.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way in which poetry thinks. evental element. if only to confirm that enjambement is a recursive rather than unique. in particular through a consideration of the ends or limits of the poem and their dependence on certain ideas of silence. When one does experience a line-break one is likely to experience the opening up of the truth of hesitation. for a time. betimes. Hesitation is not the localized emotional experience of hesitating yet. tension. For an unveiling of philosophical. lodged within the trans-psychological definition of hesitation such as it is or ontological hesitation. recursive. most notably music. advental finitude. you do not need to experience a linebreak every time you wish to think about prolonged hesitation.
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.ENJAMBEMENT. is laid out through precisely the reading of specific poets and their singularly inventive effects. is not the name to be given to twentieth-century work on 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. Although Agamben denies it. Poetry has nothing to do directly with the object. the poem. to clear a future pathway for truth in what is a high-risk yet now essential intellectual strategy. between the dying away of a voiced vibration. while simultaneously sailing the ship of truth most perilously proximate to the ruining rocks of sensation. psychologically-actual and philosophical-conceptual. say as an inventive mode of bringing truth to presence. He applies truth to poetic sensation so as to be able. a word heard and its meaning. not literally from a voice. sensation.19 This is an unadmitted but now quite familiar aporia in modern philosophical work on poetry. THE TURN OF VERSE Heidegger clearly states that aletheia. definable at the very least as a thing. in this way. a project so vast it all but overwhelms his slight work on prosody. not a physiological voice imprinted on a psychological capability. Yet the pathway to poetry. but the Voice as such. The conceptualization of poetry in philosophy is never tied either to a particular poem or any one of its singular effects manifested in a clear set of differentiations: poetry is not in the poem per se. because after all sounds as such do not interest Agamben but voiced sounds. yet truth always proceeds from the sensible at the same time.18 Certainly truth precedes. truth. the science of sensation. 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. at which point he behaves almost like a literary critic. such a delay between voice and meaning which Agamben likens to a katechon 157 . A prolonged hesitation between sound and sense. Derrida. is not dependent on aiesthesis. from sensation. sensation. and that aesthetics. Badiou. and poiesis is not necessarily poetry. and Nancy and their use of what one can term epistemological exemplarity in relation to their reading of certain poems by certain poets as exemplary of the general conditions of poiesis. the two hesitations of verse. and then by using these techniques to mount a post-nihilistic metaphysics of indifference. This is an issue that occurs repeatedly in Heidegger.
singular and impossible to repeat. poetry. unlike poetry or at least its tension. the sounding cataract is any thing but mute. universal but not generalizable. Through such careful distinctions between orders of silence. of him who. Poetry is not silence per se but instead consists of the abyss into which poetry is thrown by the very possibility of its own being. self-negating finitude. between sound and sense. Agamben progresses towards the point of silence that is the end of the poem. the poem of a silence which is not local but over there. according to this. and what poetry is as that which goes on in the poem but which is not susceptible to or reducible to the poem. Instead poetry can be defined as the prolonged hesitation. that is rendered mute. and the poem. namely the opposition between metric and semantic pauses. and between actual opposition and possible or potential opposition. that is. would destroy the poetic machine by hurling it into silence” (EP. semiotic and semantic. self-willed. a perception of the tension of poetry. 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. 114). This would require here a differentiation between what the poem is as ergon partaking of an impossible. Poetry partakes of a local. For example. 158 . as they pause on the precipice of their own self-conscious. a kind of silence. general but not universal silence. The poem is. nothing is said therein. between two units. then there must be at least two orders of silence. differentiations between the poetic. 110). and almost in intermittent dispute with—sonorous (or graphic) units and semantic units” (EP. Such an abyss is not to be mistaken for silence either for. a single body of work which means that it must and indeed already has come to an end. self-dissolution. as poets teach us. is defined by a silence brought about by its finitude meaning that poetry is never silenced. having stated that “all poetic institutions participate in this noncoincidence” of which we speak here. is silence. Even as the poem is falling into a profound silence at its material and generic limits. it remains in full as the hesitant voice within these impossible limits. fulfilling the time of poetry and uniting its two eons. Yet the poem is also an ergon. Thus a poem. If this is.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN or “something which slows and delays the advent of the Messiah. as I contend. he points out that the poem is “grounded in the perception of the limits and endings that define— without ever fully coinciding with. repeatable. for poetry cannot survive its own finitude.
A boundary condition of a hexagonal crystal.ENJAMBEMENT. as if one has to somehow hack off a limb for the human body to be complete. surfaces were invented by the devil. or a tail. 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. a silent space that is not silence. As the physicist Pauli was fond of saying: “God made the bulk. 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. Without the internal space. This is another way in which one could read Agamben. a part of the body of the poem on the page or in the book but not a part of the poem body as such. THE TURN OF VERSE I must speak of silence but. for the poem to know of its finitude and be complete. a space which is inarticulate. A plane only becomes a surface when an actual cut is made in the infinitely extendable plane. then the ergon could not continually come to 159 . It may be useful analogously to think of this in relation to what physicists call a “boundary condition” when studying planes. I am always delaying its arrival. The body as such of poetry does not exist without that body suffering a moment of cutting or caesura. like the poet. 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. that jagged chasm to the right of the poem. as I said. this can only be an illustrative analogy. 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.” A plane becomes a surface when the boundary condition is suspended and the edge of a structure bounded by a vacuum occurs. but this space is of the order of a boundary condition: the line exits on the right and always enters to the left. Although. states that if something enters through the top line of the structure. Poetry must be ceaselessly. This means that the second sense of ergon is continually born to presence from the already existent presence of the par-ergon. it simultaneously exists through the bottom line á la Pacman. Space must be present for enjambement to occur for example. all the same a space of a similar structural order can be said to exist in some form internal to the poem. and locally cutting off. A plane is always defined as being imaginary because it is infinitely extendable in every two-dimensional direction. for example. The poem must be cut-off in order to be complete. some remnant of our animalistic past. hesitantly.
is not silent at all but simply unpronounced. or represented in unthinkable fashion. 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 . First. There are pauses. Surely the silence of sound is an actual silence while the silence of the grapheme. or as-yet blank tablet. it would seem. by which one can only mean space. however. There is. the body puts off by its extension and yet invites by the structural necessity of its completion. this consonance which was previously forgivable is harder to support. enjambement as boundary condition. The ergon of the poem body. then. which the poem invites into its body so as to expel it and thus allow itself to endlessly be born into being. but no silence as such. In speaking of silence.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN being. the unpronounced and the uninscribed. utilizing messianic time. A finitude which. like time. relies on two competing convocations with its borders. Nor is it even space as such but simply the uninscribed medium. merely perceptions of silence. gestural support. either a profound error on the part of the philosopher or we are still considering silence psychologically and not philosophically. is either thinkable and unrepresentable. constructions of the representability of an idealized construction of a concept that. This is the moment of the plane becoming a surface. silent sense. Second. 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. 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 potentially endless and thus infinite fake silence between one line and the next. Is there any actual silence within the body of the text? I would argue not. The perception of this double deconstructive presence of absence within the ergon of poetry is what the poem as such is reducible to. alinear prose? Agamben.
is silence. Here then we finally understand what Agamben means when he states that animals are always within language. the idea of the rose. an exteriority of the word that Agamben. 113). describes as silence. incessantly speaking and responding to signs even while keeping silent. however. without finding in this its own name. by which I mean the quality which allows it definition and availability to our apprehension.ENJAMBEMENT. because man is the sole animal who learns language through infancy. 111).” has engaged with the silence of philosophy. to me at least. exists only for man. Only the human knows of the quietude of the caesura. only man succeeds in interrupting. philosophy stands exposed. Silence is not its secret word—but rather. in a Heideggerian gesture. an entity beyond the trivial differentiations of sonorous versus graphic. This silence is the silence of philosophy of which Agamben says. he is the only creature capable of not having language.20 This being the case one must engage with the profound and complex conception of the idea of word in Agamben. in the word. philosophy’s word leaves unsaid its own silence” (IP. human living being as such through the faculty of language: Only the word puts us in contact with mute things. the becoming visible of the word: the idea of language” (IP. sensibly. THE TURN OF VERSE textuality to exist at all. The inviolate rose. which is anything but a sign. (IP. rather. “but silence of the word itself. This complex negotiation with a silence which exposes philosophy to a period without name which is not. “The Idea of Language. 113) Paradoxically.” an essay which only speaks. While nature and animals are forever caught up in a language. is the conclusion of the essay “The Idea of Silence. in what is almost a cryptogram: “In silence. Only the human animal can establish the quality of exteriority as regards language. not in other words as the cessation of speaking (surely what he means by a psychological hesitation). or an utterance. the name of poetry. the becoming visible but remaining silent word is. it endures the without-name. 161 . once the following essay. absolutely without identity. the infinite language of nature and placing himself for a moment in front of mute things. We now know that this encounter most powerfully occurs at the end of the poem. of interrupting words with the as-suchness of the word of language whose defining quality. The word as such. Here Agamben defines silence not as the suspension of discourse.
Poetry is literally elevated above its dyadic other at the end of the line. to resume the semantic stream. Prose literally overwhelms poetry in the following line.21 will continue its demonstration of deconstructive energies almost as an illustrative tool for Derrida’s work. and literally collapses back into this alterity as the next line commences. There is. Certainly Derrida is the thinker of a certain type of pure impurity. one condition always simultaneously the pre-condition and impossibility of the other. 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. Poetry. and leaves them suspended in an almost endless dynamic of supersession and negation. but which is often termed deconstruction as a form of intellectual short-hand in quasitranscendental self-critical thought.” While clear that the semiotic and the semantic are both radically heterogeneous and of differing 162 . At this point where the semiotics of the poetic line are unable. the end of the poem is marked by a change in the tension between the units of semiotics and semantics which is poetry. and Agamben’s work seems similar in the way he establishes two oppositional concepts. one is struck by how singularity is always immediately ruined by its repeatability. Yet Agamben is a thinker of another order of perfect. only to be literally interrupted and superseded at the line’s outermost point. which is also always the final line. for at the end of the poem. rather.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN As Agamben says. ironically pure semiotics does not hold sway. in fact. They are both units within an “almost intermittent dispute. 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. but it is an unavoidable reality however unpleasant. after a prolonged hesitation. If one were to think back to the Derridean conception of invention. as I have termed it elsewhere. there is no enjambement. no pure poetry. is itself an impurity between poetic techniques and prose. thus granting us finally access to the realm of pure poetry. semiotics and semantics. in the final verse. pure impurity as indicated first by the way he structurally treats the semantic and the semiotic as ostensibly of the same order. Left to its own devices the poetry machine.
which somewhat misleadingly he calls three-dimensional. Rather. (Sound and sense are not two substances but two intensities. then a machine. two series or lines in parallel flight. favouring instead a one dimensional and yet also trans-dimensional single line. repetitious mechanistic element of prosody with which we are all familiar. which in reality means very uneasily. Interestingly. Without quibbling over an extra dimension here and there. the caesura for the semantic) constantly. issues that would be strongly foregrounded by Derrida. as commit an act of violence to both so as to make them enter into the prison of the line with the promise of parole (enjambement for the semiotic. but intermittently. Both are equally out of their element in the line. and finally a tension or tone. a line which metamorphoses first into a current. dianoia and poiesis. for example. The metaphor of flow is a well established one in reference to prosody and is essential to sustain the interruptive power of enjambement’s “sharp interval” in the form of mechane. And between these two currents lies the sharp interval obstinately maintained by poetic mechane. but also the ancient Greek origin of the term in relation to the end of a play. incipit-interruption-continuation. (EP. suggesting that Agamben does not so much ignore the radical incommensurability between sense and matter. potentialityformation-having been constructed. for Agamben they can both be fitted to a pattern of similar units. rescinded.ENJAMBEMENT. The semantic can just as easily occupy the unit of the line as the semiotic. strictly speaking. at the moment of deus ex machina. the machine 163 . 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. THE TURN OF VERSE orders of magnitude. The machine of poetry referred to here is not simply the technical. what we can be certain of is Agamben seems to take the geometric presence of poetry backwards away from two (three) dimensions. a model which echoes Agamben’s own description of operational time. 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. two tonoi of the same linguistic substance). there is but one line that is simultaneously traversed by the semantic current and the semiotic current.
unlike the deconstructive mechane. I need a gag.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of art was regularly used both to end the work and also to allow characters to fly. 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. Keep up the tension in the line. they may form knots. The semiotic and the semantic are not differential terms but two tones within one single linguistic substance. and a figuration of the literal implied transcendence at the end of every Greek work of art. We will plunge to our death unless the tension in the lines is maintained. Don’t come too close. which are separate strands but not different from each 164 . flying. that way they can never become truly entangled. Second that it is a theory of the obvious and its obviation.22 Yet unlike Derrida the impurity of the line is permanently under question. I feel the tension of the tonoi of the line of poetry as it suspends me above the plane of the stage below. my lines and cues. thus it allows a literalization of a kind of localized transcendence. especially in relation to invention and the trace. In addition. and like the trace it is a theory of intermittent and almost interminable spacing. enjambement puts forward a theory of necessarily betrayed purity. or the moment when the material copy of essence is abandoned and essence alone remains: Deus. the tonoi of poetry. and metre of verse. Its complexities lie first in the apparent proximity of this theory and the work of Derrida. of the obstacle to sense that the premature line-ending constructs. and its obviation in the recommencement of the line within the planar territory I am calling the poem. but what does Agamben mean by suggesting that the semiotic and the semantic are not radically heterogeneous and different also in magnitude. enmeshed as it is into the very lines of prosody. 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. first that it marks out an axiom for poetics which we scholars of poetry can recognize. Like invention. Obvious in two ways. I am giddy. the lines with get entangled. 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. Tono in Latin is the tone. No wait.
In a form of agreement with Badiou. for example at the end of the line. Its unique combinatory structure of prefigured recursiveness is meaningless without a direct and complex relation with an absolute point of finitude: the end of the poem. in the endless falling into silence that defines the end of the poem. but the occupation of the time it takes time to end.ENJAMBEMENT. unlike perhaps in the work of Derrida. and the recursive cataphora that the poem experiences at the very moment of its negation through finitude. Instead in each instance of time the time of the end. something will happen. who himself admits to a sparse number of events. The poem excels in messianic temporality. THE TURN OF VERSE other. Unlike Badiou. This is not to be conceived of eschatologically as one last event of course. the time it takes for finitude to come to a point of tension or dissolution. for Agamben this event will be the final event. 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. will come to an end as the poem must also come to an end. 165 . in enacting an endlessly falling into silence rather than a structural point of cessation. and silence at the end of the poem. At which point. eschatological silence. is inserted into time as such or everyday vulgar temporality as Heidegger calls it. a messianic event. therefore. Rather the messianic temporality of the interval is the interruptive event of the cessation of the temporal succession chronos-eschaton. not the end of time or even the very last event. presents us with a messianic event of events. For time to come to an end it must find within itself the interval between prefigurement and recursiveness brought about by the impossibility and yet necessity of a local and structurally final relationship with silence. however. we experience messianic silence as the prefigured anaphora of absolute finitude of each local ending. for Agamben poetry is in preparation for the event to come. Between silence in the line. This end. chronological silence.
THE SPACE OF THOUGHT THE CAESURA The essay proceeding directly from “The Idea of Prose. As he says in caesuric cadence: “The rhythmic transport that gives the verse its impetus is empty. the caesura—for a little—thinks. Voice here is not the transport 166 . This allows Agamben to note that “For the poet. We now have a clear answer to a question I posed earlier. more fundamental or alternate mode of thinking. holds in suspense. is only the transport of itself.” Agamben’s first attempt to define poetry in terms of enjambement is entitled “The Idea of Caesura.” 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. Yet thought within the context of the poetic line is not of equal measure to that of the thinking of philosophy one finds at the line’s limits as the semiotic steed of haltered poetics gives way to the license of discourse. Agamben declares this couplet to be a treatise on the subject of the caesura before composing one of his many allegories. namely thinking as such. 43). this thought is another. Rather. 44). is thought” (IP. as pure word. 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. while for an instant the horse of poetry is stopped” (IP. The place of thought in the poem is the caesura. 43). 43) represented by the couplet from Penna “I go towards the river on a horse / which when I think a little a little stops. Agamben remarks on the “breaking action of the caesura” (IP. the caesura of verse. And it is this emptiness which. the element that arrests the metrical impetus of the voice.CHAPTER 6 CAESURA.
not a pause for thought so much as a slight stumble. 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. considering that the Latin origins of the term caesura inculcate it into the violent rites of cutting and separation.CAESURA. and the end of the poem. where breath is lacking. thought ventures forth” (IP. for example. but the infantile voice of language as such. and ecstatic thinking is presented in such a way that later in the book. the most common representation of caesuric pausing itself often reproduced in prosody by the so-called double pipes ||. here asleep on his horse. This pause most commonly occurs at the medial position. thought is not semantic discourse. and that it effects the ultimate violence to prosody by its interruption of linear flow. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT of expression nor the silent Voice of metaphysical nihilism. Thus the interplay between flow. 44). Surprisingly. This congeniality within prosodic flow to its own negation except at poetic 167 . “The poet. a little sign remains suspended. 104). 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. On nothing other than that. but a much more “poeticized” idea of thinking. arrest. including the poem’s incipit. 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. awakens and contemplates for an instant the inspiration that carries him—he thinks nothing else but his voice”’ (IP. the only venues within a line of poetry inhospitable to the caesura are at the beginning of the line. mid-line. As we are well aware this is all Agamben craves and we might now name this as the essential precondition of all logopoiesis. One such little sign in prosody is the comma. Similarly. prose as we might name it. is any word ending that did not coincide with the cessation of a metrical foot. hesitantly.” Agamben is able to conclude thus on thinking: “Where the voice drops. in the essay “The Idea of Thought. 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). Yet the comma is not a necessary element of caesura. Thus caesura was originally any displaced footing within the seamlessness of prosodic flow. The classical definition of a caesura.
but its greatest application is surely the double duality of the classical couplet revived in the English tradition by Dryden and Pope as the Heroic and eventually antithetical couplet. some to Pleasure take. Thus the place for thinking is a space within verse that works directly in opposition to enjambement. By contrast in the caesura the steady and irresistible progress of verse is suspended by the merest hint of a sign. then bound together by rhyme to a second line which may echo the antithesis of the first or. But ev’ry Lady would be Queen for life. some to public Strife. to allow time for thought to think the conditions of its own transport and its dependence on arrest. 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. Here is a particularly misogynistic and yet prosodically perfect example from Pope’s “Epistle to a Lady on the Characters of Women”: Men. quiet and strife. here. Men.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. In a sense this is the most perfect example of the tonos of poetry. In enjambement flow overtakes meaning and the space at the right hand side of the poem is negated by linear.” 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. in effect. Then semiotics 168 . terminal caesura can also be taken for true initial caesura. some to Quiet. and in this momentary.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN advent and total formal finitude suggests that caesura is an internal concern of the poem body. Yet. demonstrating prosodic femininity here as “Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear. operate as antithesis to the antithesis. enough to open a gap in flow. some to Bus’ness. But ev’ry Woman is at heart a Rake. In the ideal antithetical couplet a line is divided exactly in two by a caesura. transversal exuberance. Indeed the lack of caesura at the line’s incipit is simply a form of conventional display for. ecstatic space. Over the many thousands of years of European prosody the caesura has been used to various effects.
The verse unit is born of a tension first between flow and interruption. and its temporal-spatial matrix is the ultimate tonos of poetry in the service of the transport and arrest of thinking. of course. takes hold of the line and refers meaning back against the current to the preceding end word. a temporal-spatial self-consciousness is mapped across the neutrality of these two terms. life were what 169 . is undermined by the coincidence of sound across two syllables and/or words located each time at the final point of the line. 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. 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 implied separation between lines that occurs due to enjambement. The resumption of the line would then seem to be a victory for thinking. At the same time. even the zero. yet immediately in the second line flow inundates sense. then between interruption and flow. everything happens as if. And yet. The most fully developed and perhaps important of these caesurae is that to be found internal to the very definition of human ontology. in our culture. a three-way tension indeed. . Agamben uses the term caesura regularly in his essays when speaking of the numerous and problematic acts of scission performed by negative metaphysics. If flow is the presupposition of the poem then the first caesura negates the semiotic in favour of the semantic. arrest and flow. Yet at the instance of the cut we now know that meaning is interrupted not prosody. . with rhyme introducing a projective recursion that. the next line is ready to burst its stops and race ahead. life. terminal enjambement of the perfectly balanced Heroic couplet designed to halt and formalize the profligacy of the endlessly over-running Miltonic couplet. at the same juncture prosody.CAESURA. Then. When with the second cut discourse is able to impose a damn on flow and pause for thought. this thing that remains indeterminate gets articulated and divided time and again through a series of caesurae and oppositions . its transport. is indicative of messianic time but also the tabular trans-linear dimensionality not just of poetic structure but of poetic thinking as a whole. through the agency of rhyme. as we now know. This tension. Meanwhile. between thought. one of the first and most instructive observations to be made is that the concept never gets defined as such.
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. through the operations of the caesura as that which both divides and conjoins. 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. The interruption of thinking. must be ceaselessly articulated and divided. permanent. it comes to be the very definition of the problem of definition as such. yet. and yet as his comments show the essence of the caesura is not simply scission. imposes upon it a permanent indistinction. namely in-definition or. rather than defining the term life here. Human life for Agamben.3 First the caesura divides the line. (O. does not define human life per se but the idea of human life as both separate from and intrinsically linked to the animal. except at the moments of poetic advent and finitude. Yet. is meaningless and indeed inoperative until that division is divided from itself and cast back into linear flow. In the poem body suspension always results in resumption. resumption suspension. The same indeed is true of the end of the line and its relation to enjambement. The caesura initially performs a negative function directly at odds with his earlier valorization of the term as the basis for thinking thought. 13) The caesura Agamben is considering here is that between the human and the animal. In terms of the act of caesura within the poem we perceive that there are always two cuts. Life ceases to be a definition of something and instead. in this manner. then it articulates lineation as the transport of thinking. as he more commonly terms it. The caesura is not possessed of finitude any more than of inventiveness or evental 170 . indistinction. No caesura is. yet at the same time no caesura is momentous either. the cut and the cut of the cut. something we observed in relation to the (/) or barred caesura in the sign between gramma and phone.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN cannot be defined. precisely for this reason. Life then comes to stand not so much for something like biological existence. 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. if we look again at the definition of life in terms of caesura we find a productive negation. the first division. for example.
” While Pope conjures for us a world of balance encased in the harmony of the bi-linear couplet. Aside from being a masterclass in the extendibility and power of caesuric prosody. Here earth and water. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT status. and the same is true of life. the medio or mean point. 20) Here we can observe basic antithesis across a caesura. harmonious whole. and finally the caesuric cut of the cut internalized in the space of one line. double caesuric antithesis. should be like in fame. enjambement. Not Chaos like together crush’d and bruis’d. the woodland and the plain. these two acts of violence. (line b) caesura. result in classical poetics in a perfectly balanced. seem to strive again. Unexpectedly perhaps. harmoniously confus’d: Where order in variety we see. And where. “like them in beauty.” This last is perhaps the best prosodic-graphematic demonstration of the stanza of messianic time in that the antithesis is embedded within an extended caesuric zone between the first and second comma. the caesura always cuts in the midst. all reliant on the counting and positioning of stress: (line a) caesura. seem to strive again”. tho’ all things differ. But as the world. “And where. all agree. the cut and the cut of the cut. Rather. Here hills and vales. tho’ all things differ. at the same time every two lines 171 . Like them in beauty. enjambement. 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). should be like in fame”. (SP. This world of harmonious tension is both described and performed in the opening lines of Pope’s “Windsor Forest”: The groves of Eden. and look green in song: These. vanish’d now so long. One is always already in the midst of poetry. Live in description. were my breast inspir’d with equal flame. “Here hills and vales. harmonious oxymoronic implied semantic caesura “harmoniously confus’d: / Where order in variety we see”. all agree. the woodland and the plain. The tone of balance resides in the perfect tension of the four combined and yet separate units. / Here earth and water. the section in question also provides the perfect razo de trobar of prosody summarized by the phrase “harmoniously confused.CAESURA.
Left to their own devices. but in most sophisticated prosody there is a wide use of initial and terminal caesurae. sura cannot occur is within the word (as I have just demonstrated). interruption and flow retain poetic tonos. 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. and thus the shifting of the metrical–musical element between semiotics (langue) and semantics (parole) becomes the metrical–musical–semantic element. semiotic consonance. it provides the semiotic rules to sense what the next rhyme might be. 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. 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. in rhyme thought and language combine to produce a word-based semiotics that is both predictive. or enjambement where the obverse is true. and yet also recursive. at the moment of reading on into meaning development one always lags behind in some manner in sonic. however. say. Unlike the caesura where thought interrupts poetry. and indeed that is all they are gestic and meaningless prosodic devices. but 172 . If every second caesura is more forceful in that it cataphorically holds back flow. Although Agamben does not consider it in these terms. is dependent on semantics to perform. before the push and pull of lineation can continue. unless one ends the poetic line with the first sy/Llable and commences the next with the second. in that it interrupts the linear progression of the line.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN there is a moment of cataphoric recursion as the second rhyme is tabulated backwards to its previous rhyme partner. while powerfully semiotic. while enjambement is equal to chronos in that at the point of the line’s eschaton it overleaps finitude and imposes a retrograde return to sense. gathers within itself the recursion of that which went before. The only place internal to the poem that a cae. The caesura of classical prosody tends to what is called the medial but this is not compulsory as. 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. in French Alexandrines. For rhyme. The caesura represents the eschaton.
There are. therefore. even if they are poems in a sequence. There are. Also of some significance is the fact that all caesuric cuts occur “after” flow. The spacesilence made parergonal frame around the poem is not. Poems are not rocks. so too the beginning of a poem does not take up the line from the end of the last poem. even if the poem is part of a sequence. a frame at all for it has no continuity. The poem as a whole or thing is not.CAESURA. the parergon will always slice open the finitude of the ergon. Where the poem begins is of another order to where it ends and the two edges of its finitude will never meet. In this way. and two forms of silence cocooning the voice. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT even this is that peculiar form of terminal caesura called enjambement. 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. a miniaturized rule of some value when one comes to consider the very limits of the ergon. perpetually meeting and departing from their assignation. or a meta-linear version of its localized prosodic effects of flow and interruption. 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. never before it. The two edges of a poem’s frame will never meet. Therefore. two forms of exterior space to the poem body. The caesura is the essential complement to enjambement. Similarly the end of the poem. poems are not of the same order as flowers. Logopoiesis is an internal affair that occurs inside verse but which does not delimit verse. only two operative interdictions on caesuric scission. a cyclical loop. 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. If enjambement instigates the event of the poetic by interrupting discourse with voice and semiotic material rhythm. therefore. is not a pause but an endless falling into the silence of philosophy on the part of poetry. in this light. these at the moment of advent and finitude. or the line. 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. If they are in possession of finitude then not of this order. is interrupted by thought or by the silence that is apparently endemic to contemporary thinking. This is in contradistinction to the end of one line and the commencement of the next which are always in communion with each other. similarly voice. as we have seen. so that the point of the end of the line is radically dissimilar to its incipit.
a caesura midline leaves few syllables in the line to commence a new thought making another enjambement very probable. event: the prolonged hesitation between sound and sense that constitutes poetry. 157). 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.4 Agamben’s reasoning for this symbiotic relation between interruption and overflowing would be that both caesura and enjambement stem from different pathways to the same. A control of this rhythmic effect is an additional prosody still relatively mysterious to literary criticism which I have termed “line measure” or the metrical counting of the line as a rhythmic unit rather than solely the syllable. leading Agamben to look to the Greek sense of harmonia as “a laceration that is also a suture. the ideal of the poetic line is the exact match between syllables and thought so that all caesurae occur at the end of the line. intermittent and hesitant silence. or even in the case of real thinkers such as Milton and Wordsworth. It also conveys the messianic moment of a stilled 174 . the next. You will recall he is speaking here of the tensile harmony to be located in the work of Heraclitus. The line broken at the end then is the influx of the voice inundating thought and for a moment erasing it. its ripples spreading out through the lines and the calm surface of the poem taking some time/ lines to settle down once more. This simple consonance of oppositions is now clearer to us being typical.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN more likely than not either follows from or is followed by a caesura. 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. This hesitation is two-fold because the manner in which language has been lost to us is double. for example. The line arrested in the centre is the reversal of this flood of semiotics. or the next. Thus enjambement works like a stone cast into a still pool. As is regularly commented on. stopping the flow and for a second eradicating the voice entirely with a momentary. momentarily held. the idea of a tension that is both the articulation of a difference and unitary” (ST. of the parallelism of the comparison. Concomitantly.
I am speculating. While within the acoustical realm—the originary voice of poetry before it was split. which. Speaking of the term harmony in Heraclitus Agamben notes that for the Greek the idea of harmony pertained precisely to its invisibility. testifies to a decisive turn in Western thought. locating harmony as a basis for being in concealment within the visible realm. should then be transferred to the numericalacoustic sphere. were not placed on either side of a false bar or division as is articulated in the theory of the sign. appropriated. Thus there was philosophical harmony mirrored by poetic harmony and then a harmony between the two. but also the rule of poetry which is defined by the tension between interruption and flow. There was. for Heraclitus. speaking of Heidegger’s rediscovery of the harmony of harmonies between philosophy and poetry. This harmony of harmonies. then silenced by philosophy—there was the harmony between interruption and flow. 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. it transpires. (ST. Then there was the harmony between the monstrative and acoustical harmonies with. where it is still possible to discern the solidarity between signification and metaphysical articulation. 157) There was a time. not the eradication of division and unity but the tensile suspension of the metaphysical foundational categories of difference and identity. Of this Agamben says. still belongs to the tactile-visible sphere. and remember harmony here means just as much division as it does unification. the cut that is cut. the harmonious confusion of caesura as a division that combines. 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. therefore. He then adds: That this articulation. a double harmony. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT dialectic. philosophy playing the role of visibility/interruption. the visible and the acoustic. “Faithful to this apotropaic project. Harmony names. when thought and poetry. if I read this compacted section correctly. “back” then. in the passage from the visible to the acoustic aspect of language. and poetry invisibility/flow. whose signification had appeared to the dawning of Greek thought 175 . 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.
It makes perfect sense. shares a good deal in common with the more familiar rhetorical designation of the enigma. which also explains why poetry matters to Agamben and also helps clarify his many valuable comments on the technicalities of prosody. The sign is of the order of an enigma. Considering the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx in Stanzas.5 We are now more than familiar with the fracture of presence alluded to here. but a mode of speech in which the original fracture of presence was alluded to in the paradox of a word that approaches its object while keeping it indefinitely at a distance” (ST. If there were no secret then there needs must be no solution. Logopoiesis names little more than this at this stage in its development: an apotropaic harmony between poetic flow and philosophical interruption. is based on an impossible filiation therein to the fact that presence comes to philosophical thought as already divided. Speaking of the foundation of philosophy Agamben notes that the Western experience of being. The apotropaic. The presence of the sign is. crucial to his overall overcoming of metaphysics as I hope I have now shown. In this instant full presence becomes unavailable to view and the Greek activity of aletheia commences the strange affiliation called philosophy. 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. that which attracts and repels. 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.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as a mode of speaking that was neither a gathering nor a concealment. For truth to be unveiled it must first have been obscured by a sheet or material barrier. remain at a distance” (ST. 138). 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 relation between poetry and thinking in Agamben. called up at the moment that presence as such is split in two. Thus every truth is a form of enigma facilitated by the double 176 . the enigma of the order of a sign. ratified in the discipline of philosophy. is the apotropaic structure of all logopoiesis. 157). for the moment. For the truth to be unveiled it must first be transmitted through a sheet or material barrier. we cannot but approach that which must.
which he has misinterpreted by interpreting its apotropaic intention as the relation of an oblique signifier and a hidden signified” (ST. 138) If this is the case. The dancing path of the labyrinth. and conceptual even-ness: And so each day Culminates in merriment as well as a deep shock like an electric one. like the Gorgon. fable) of the ainigma is not only obscurity.CAESURA. therefore. and like the Sphinx that utters it. structural. but a more original mode of speaking. and an extraneous babble from the street Confirming the new value the hollow core has again. An apotropaic verse. As the wrecking ball bursts through the wall with the book shelves Scattering the works of famous authors as well as those Of more obscure ones. that is. the enigma belongs to the sphere of the apotropaic. is a poetics of the enigma as that which is not available for solution. to a protective power that repels the uncanny. is the model of this relation with the uncanny that is expressed in the enigma. . Returning to the enigma now. Early in the Morning. 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. Oedipus. Presupposing the enigma as a sign that needs to be made to signify. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT hindrance of matter. 138). .6 177 . or a maze which has no centre point or any point of exit/entrance. and Western thought since then. has valorized the very quality of interpretation over the fact of the enigma as such. One of the great contemporary works of logopoietic apotropaicism is John Ashbery’s much-admired “Down by the Station. letting in Space. The name of both these obstructions is rather obvious: the sign. and books with no author.” that ends with a shocking apocalypse for such a poet of tonal. Agamben suggests. prosodic. by attracting it and assuming it within itself. which leads to the heart of that which is held at a distance. the light From the lighthouse that protects as it pushes us away. (ST. Like the labyrinth. Oedipus’ sin was not incest but “hubris toward the power of the symbolic in general . Agamben goes on to state: The ainos (story.
” This work. Indeed. to the sudden collapse of all pedagogic certainty in the final stanza cited here. until you name it. it would appear. like Oedipus and Ariadne trapped in some terrible union neither dares to seek annulment for. “a dull crinkled leather that no longer exists. babble) and the semantic which typifies Agamben’s axiom. The poem. 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. and nonsense. while dense. Babelian tower of language. and the almost enjambed terminal caesura in the penultimate line suggests precisely this. and the enigma of naming. In some senses Ashbery has found the only solution to the paradox of the end of the poem. As the wrecking ball demolishes the walls of a book-lined labyrinth of enigmas one presumes is a library. The manifestation of the lighthouse is a double enigma. and yet the poem’s final image seems to resist an endless falling into silence. always leads my students and myself interminably across two verses which. Here it takes the form of enjambement. The line break after “letting in” admits the essential material presence of space foundational to poetic tension. a deliberation on impermanence. Following on from space comes the loaded term “babble. Or is Ashbery merely revealing the enigma of the very fact of the warning or the apotropaic nature of 178 . and more specifically in classrooms around the globe the enigma of the poem “Down by the station early in the morning.” an extraneous pure semiotic noise the result of the collapse of the single. space. and even then / It may not have existed” (W. / And nothing does. form and theme merge into harmony precisely through their being manifestly at odds. Indeed are not all enigmas thus doubled-up? The image draws you in. then one is drawn towards the core and simultaneously repelled. ontology. I have laboured over both the enigma that is Ashbery. Ashbery admits into the work the essence of the poetic: the semiotic. as the line folds back on itself. labyrinthine structure of the wrecked library. If the hollow core is as the lighthouse. memory. Here.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. 14). remembering. for years. is a comment on the tension between the semiotic (enjambement. 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. in a moment of supreme post-modern self-consciousness. I feel I can guide a passage through. space.
The poem neither concludes nor. 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. He says in relation to that which no longer exists “And nothing does. . the light of the lighthouse. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT the enigma? In drawing attention to itself. Rather. Certainly the bar divides poetry from thinking in a manner Agamben finds repulsive. within the enigma one finds the only instance within signification wherein the semiotic and the semantic are suspended without falling into silence all due to the presence of the semiotic. The first is of the order of the enigma. What the uncanny unearths is not that there is no solution. .” cyclically resumes at the poetic incipit. the possibility 179 . This leads to my second comment on the sign as fundamentally apotropaic in structure or. the bar within the sign between phone and logos. as many works do such as “L’infinito.” combining the impossibility of logos preceding phone (nothing exists until you name it). 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. I would attempt to say three things about this blinding moment of logopoiesis. . Ashbery’s comments on ontological inexistence are “instructive” in this regard in the way they maintain the impossible to resolve caesura between phone and logos to be found in the sign and emulated in prosody. 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. 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. which protects us and seems almost to gather us to its bosom. but that there can be an unresolved relation between the two. The third and final point is that by ending with an apotropaic Ashbery is able to endlessly defer the end of the verse while simultaneously suspending the poem within the very tension that Agamben suggests it is impossible to be suspended within. to be more precise. As regards the apotropaic structure of the enigma the elegance of Agamben’s formulation remains a thing of beauty. nor that there is a solution. of which Ashbery is the master. 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. gathers us by actually rejecting us. The enigmatic in verse.CAESURA. until you name it.
semiotics and semantics are post-Oedipal thinkers. 139). At the point when one reaches one’s final state and fulfils one’s own destiny. EASE: THE PROXIMATE SPACE Thus far we have spoken of space in terms of that which surrounds borders the poem. What is most proper to every creature is thus its substitutability. 139). however. In The Coming Community the short essay “Ease” speaks of the Talmudic tradition of the reservation of two places for each person in Eden and Gehenna (Hell). focuses its attention above all on the barrier between signifier and signified that constitutes the original problem of signification” (ST. signifier and signified. 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. 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. Meanwhile: “under the sign of the Sphinx must be placed every theory of the symbol that.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN of this proposition rests upon a second line. refusing the model of Oedipus. in the full sense of the term. space is what he describes as the space of ease. This enigmatic. 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. 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. its being in 180 . one finds oneself for that very reason in the place of the neighbour. 138–9). that which exists between the signifier and the signified within the sign. Agamben notes that the topology of interest here resides not between Eden and Gehenna but within “the adjacent place that each person inevitably receives. Citing specifically the “Hericlitean project of an utterance that neither ‘hides’ nor ‘reveals’ but rather ‘signifies’ the unsignifiable conjunction (synapsis) between presence and absence” (ST. Those who seek to define signification as that which occurs as a relation between code and solution. They seek to exit the maze into which they wished they had never been entered by their masters. There is.
as well as Derrida’s post-Lévinasian ethics of alterity and hospitality and. its being whatever—in other words. common space of singularity. He then traces this idea in reference to a Christian community founded in the last century by Arabist Louis Massignon called Badaliya whose name was derived from the Arabic for substitution. moving at ease) and convenience borders on the correct relation” (CC. One crucial factor is that the space of ease brings together the technical aspects of prosodic space as we have been analysing with earlier debates on poetic desubjectivization. under sail or beneath the effects of music. the space adjacent (ad-jacens. which soon enough we will locate within the poem. but describing a complex.CAESURA. 181 . adjacentia). Ease is the proper name of this unrepresentable space” (CC. They move to one side of who they are to a space of singular self-negation. 25). for good measure. therefore. the empty place where each can move freely. such as it is. 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. but it is necessary to allow one to comprehend the centrality of space in Agamben’s ideas on poetry.7 In the space of ease. 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. 23). The space of ease delineates. This leads to the potentiality of a new ethical topography no longer delineated around oppositions and individuals. in a semantic constellation where spatial proximity borders on opportune time (ad-agio. 25). 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. according to its etymology. the work of Blanchot. The ostensible purpose of this essay is clear within a collection on community that takes up dialogue with Nancy’s work on the coming community and being-with. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT any case in the place of the other” (CC. “the coming to itself of each singularity. although I am sure these issues are not unfamiliar. Forgive this digression into the biopolitical realm of the ethics of alterity. at one’s ease (slowly). the topography of kle or the vocation of ¯sis subjective revocation. 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.
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It also presents the original meaning of convenience as coming together or natural fittedness of things with other things. Thus ease is a temporal, spatial space to the side that gives one time/space to come to things, to step to one side, gain time, make space and so on. This sense of ease as a proximation and facilitation, opening up, making space for space, taking time to experience time, explains the centrality of the term for the origins of European prosody. Agamben therefore goes on to explain: “The provençal poets (whose songs first introduce the term into Romance languages in the form aizi, aizimen) make ease a terminus technicus in their poetics, designating the very place of love…not so much the place of love, but rather love as the experience of taking-place in whatever singularity” (CC, 25). Now we can begin to see that ease is supportive facilitation in the manner in which we have come to see love for the troubadour tradition. Love here is unattainable precisely because it is the medium, support, or space to the side that facilitates attainment as such but which itself, therefore, can never be possessed. Agamben speaks of a similar experience when he considers stil novist poetics, in particular Dante’s famous pursuit of the subjectposition called Beatrice. Beatrice is the name of the amorous experience of the event of language at play in the poetic text itself. She is thus the name and the love of language, but of language understood not in its grammaticality but, rather, in its radical primordiality, as the emergence of verse from the pure Nothing . . . It is because of its absolute originality that speech is the supreme cause and object of love and, at the same time, necessarily transient and perishable. (EP, 58) Such an understanding of speech as primordial, transient, and perishable relates, in Agamben’s work, to Dante’s reformulation of a central Humanist debate over the vernacular and grammar “that is, between the experience of the originary and secondary status of the event of language (or again between love of language and knowledge of language)” (EP, 54).8 Moving backwards through the arguments of the essay “The Dream of Language” where these quotes are couched we find ourselves gazing on an obscure fifteenth-century text, the Hypnerotomachia Polifili (1499), an image from which adorns the English translation of The End of the Poem. Agamben
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focuses our attention on the later debate around the language of this text which seems to be made up from a fusion of grammar (Latin) and the vernacular (what was to become modern Italian). The result, he assures us, is an awkward mismatch of Latin grammar and vernacular lexicon of which Agamben comments that the singularity of this text “is a matter not of agrammatical discourse but rather of a language in which the resistance of names and words is not immediately dissolved and rendered transparent by the comprehension of the global meaning; hence the lexical element remains isolated and suspended for a few seconds, as dead material, before being articulated and dissolved in the fluid discourse of sense” (EP, 46). Agamben usefully likens this effect to the use of the word in Mallarmé before going on to note the qualities of the vernacular that make it so central to the role of the space of ease as love in all poetry. Glossing on Dante’s Convivio he remarks that “the vernacular can only follow ‘use’ not ‘art’; and it is, therefore, necessarily transient and subject to continual death. To speak in the vernacular is to precisely experience this incessant death and rebirth of words, which no grammar can fully treat” (EP, 54). What Agamben is tracing here along admittedly obscure defiles, aside from the complex simultaneous development of the idea of language and poetry within European culture from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, is the double stream of language which we have already become familiar with, only this time reconfigured away from the becoming-planar of the line towards the point of the word. The vernacular in the Hypnerotomachia Polifili resembles Mallarmé’s verse as I said in that “words stand out in isolation while their semantic values are suspended” (EP, 46), precisely because the vernacular lexicon has not yet been assimilated into a vernacular grammar. This will not happen until Latin truly becomes a dead language and the vernacular becomes a grammar at which point one gazes on two senses of what it means for a language to die. For Latin it means that it becomes a kind of pure langue or a complete grammar that has no actual usage. In contrast, the vernacular is pure parole in that words are used for the love of language, the words themselves, before they are reformulated in relation to definition and syntax. Love, therefore, is to experience the imminent vernacular in all language, a primordiality of pure usage before grammar died wherein words rise up and then die away again. This is an atactic language freed of grammar, for
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what is grammar but an obviation of the need for syntax? Grammar is pure structure in which the specificity of the sign is totally irrelevant. The development of the vernacular into grammar by the death of grammar in the form of Latin allows us to see, as if for the first time, words for their own sake as purely vernacular. All of which forces us to now reconsider Agamben’s definition of the stanza as the “capacious dwelling, receptacle,” or womb of art. The stanza like a room is gifted with a certain set of spatial co-ordinates it being an enclosed space within a wider enclosure of space, the house, which is itself an enclosure of space surrounded by an illimitable space, the world, founded on the earth. The stanza, therefore, is a ventricle within the very conception of interiority and just as lineation rehearses the abyssal event of the end of the poem, so the stanza seems to act out the irresolvable aporetic relationship between interiority and exteriority which is, of course, modern philosophy. The stanza contains within its walls a double paradox. It is the material marking of an enclosure of space and also occupies the inside of the inside providing us now with a third messianic structure, not that of time as such, nor poetic time, but the interiority of space between space as enclosure (“eschatological” space) and space as endless extension and continuum (“chronological” space). While Agamben calls this the womb, he could, of course, have designated it with the Greek name chora.9 Now we are at our ease, our work here nearly done. Primed as we are to exit art and finally crack the puzzle of the maze of thought, let us pause for a moment on the complex entity that is called, in our tradition, the poem. What is a poem? A poem is made up of poetry that exists within the tension between the semiotic and semantic that occurs at the premature interjection of space as both temporal pause and spatial presence creating the line. This gesture of interruption is then reversed in boustrophedonic mode so that the seamless flow of metre is interrupted by the caesuric pause of thought. Thus a poem consists of the movement between two syntaxes, ignoring for now which take precedence: prose—poetry—prose and poetry—prose— poetry. Also overlooking the further complexity that spacing is a precondition for all writing and exists in equal measure between each sign and within each sign, we now advance propositionally to the centrality of the end of the poem, wherein the micro tensile oscillation of poetry is writ large and catastrophic. Agamben is clear that
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the end of the poem is the end of verse which means also always the end of a verse or stanza. The end of the poem is, therefore, triply the end of poetry, the end of lineation, and the end of stanzation. As can be seen by this definition the end of the poem cannot come to an end as a propositional statement without a full understanding of the stanza. The first thing to note in this regard is that the end of the poem occurs, paradoxically, in a medial position by virtue of the stanza (as I said the end is central). The end of each line is different from the end of the last line, Agamben assures us, and so too must it be the case that the end of the stanza is an ending of a different order. It would be tempting to ascribe the end of the stanza as a miniature disaster and in a semiotic sense it can seem as such, but in fact the stanza is not a vertical form. The space at the end of the stanza is only one quarter of the relevant space for a stanza must have four walls revealing that the spatiality between stanzas is not one of finality but proximity. A stanza, in fact, is not a unit of poetry at all but a unit of sense, part of the syllogistic globalization of meaning promised by the poem and ruined by its finitude.10 As such there is a different relation to space in the stanza to that of the poem as verse or line. The stanza is known, therefore, for what it can contain, for its jug-like capaciousness, and as a receptacle it transcends or somehow avoids the temporal-spatial linearity of versification providing an internal, fractal, Chinese-box nested form of spatiality that endlessly defers ending by the act of turning in on itself in a process of almost endless reduction and insertion. The stanza provides the space of ease but where does this spatiality reside within the receptacle or around it? Is its spatiality that of the page/tablet, the parergonal forces of title, frame, and so on; or is it literally over there, to the side, located in the semi-mythical righthand margin of the Western poetic tradition?11 Thus far I have summarized the relation of poetry to space around four spatialities: frame space, the pause at the end of the line, spacing as such, and the space into which the poem is endlessly falling that Agamben terms silence. There is, however, a fifth space here located in no one location within the poem but which cuts across and is inserted into all spacing. This space is what I am terming the space of ease as facilitated by the technicus terminus of the poem as such as determined by the pure love of the word as such, as mere matter, pure signification, dead stuff . . .
THE LITERARY AGAMBEN
CORN: IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM
In the essay “‘Corn’: from Anatomy to Poetics” Agamben traces the philology of an obscure term used in troubadour poetry: corn, or arse (specifically a woman’s). Agamben, alive to the rather suspect humour here, also shows that how, over time, a term referring to the female anatomy, corn, comes also, as cors, to represent the metrical unit of poetry as such. This odd transformation, although no odder than many similar semantic shifts, possibly stems from the tradition of equating the woman’s body to that of the poem, which we have already commented on in relation to the stanza as a kind of womb. Over time the term corn has come to stand for what is called the unrelated rhyme wherein an apparently unrhymed word in one stanza is later found to rhyme with a word in a subsequent stanza. This may seem obscure, indeed it is for Agamben the philologist who works hard to recuperate the meaning of this term, but as the essay progresses we come to realize that corn is an essential companion to the verse which, in relation to enjambement, has become so crucial to us in this discussion. If the etymological meanings of verse in the Latin versus explain so much about poetry, so too the potential meanings for corn as “tip,” “extremity,” “corner,” and “angle” open up a whole new aspect like an interior wall removed to flood a dull space with light. Now we can freely state that verse is the folding back of the line on itself, while corn is the retention of the line break as a break or exteriorized caesura. Corn allows one to see the extremity of the line at the same time as one sees it folding over to become, at least momentarily, prose. So what is corn? It is both verse and not verse, resembling something more like a remnant of verse at the moment of verse’s collapse into sense. Corn as a term retains the cut or tear in the fabric of meaning from which poetry attains its lasting power and significance but it is not verse as such. Corn is the corner of the room, what is left over as the line breaks. Undoubtedly it presents risk for the poem as it interrupts the semiotic precedence with that which is neither semantic nor apparently semiotic, which is why Agamben asserts that for the corn to function meta-strophically it must find its rhyme later in the poem. If corn did not find its rhyme it would cataphorically be revealed to be, after the end of the poem, in some sense a premature end resulting in the tension of verse dissipating prematurely and yet also, belatedly in its retrospective realization.
Structure is the trans-tensile containment of the obviousness of the poetic definition Agamben furnishes us with. in a wider sense referring to any larger structural unity within a work. every rhyme is delayed. structure. One thing this observation allows is a more prominent place for rhyme within Agamben’s linear definition of poetry: “What is rhyme. opening up a level of harmony. by definition. The rhyme is still there but located at what has traditionally been called the harmonic rather than melodic level. a writer who elevated corn to a metastrophic dominance in the development of the stanzaic form of the sestina in which. 35). No poem can 187 . The greater the distance between the first instance of the rhyme and its second. 34). the harder it becomes to hear the rhyme. 31). I am calling this higher relation structure here because it cuts across the localized effects of the semiotic/semantic tension. It takes us away from the localized issue of the line break versus the abyssal logic of the end of the poem. because of this. cannot be heard and therefore must ultimately be read. namely. Agamben proceeds to look at the work of Arnaut in this regard. Then again. transforms the unrelated rhyme into the principle of a higher relation” (EP. Corn distributes the tension of the poem across two different spatialities that accord. Taken within this context corn becomes an essential point of transition not only for poetry but also Agamben’s overall philosophy. As the corn delays rhyme until a later stanza it. it can find only a formal correspondence?” (EP.CAESURA. of course. such that the mind searches for an analogy of sense in the very place where. Of Arnaut’s sestina Agamben asserts “he is the poet who treats all verses as ‘corns’ and who. and allows us to move through the poem at a point between local and apocalyptic. between orality and writing. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT Corn is the poetic term for what can otherwise be termed structure. disenchanted. “cannot be understood if it is not situated in the context of a different formal register. and graphematics. 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. if not a disjunction between semiotic event (the repetition of sounds) and semantic event. The harmonic effects of corn. 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. In addition. with a wider understanding of what poetry is. of course. by thus rupturing the closed unity of the strophe. weakens the rhyme. that between sound and sense” (EP.
This is the space of ease or that space into which the poem moves at the local. Ease requires the thinking of proximate space as precondition for singularity. almost in astonishment. along with the impact of lineation. multi-dimensional. where he opposes cantio as a unit of sense (sententia) to stanza as a purely metrical unit (ars). Agamben is finally able to conclude that “Insofar as it opens . 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. intellectual and aesthetic rooms within rooms. with the caesura we have discourse. which of course calls to mind the womb. the unrelated rhyme (the corn!) constitutes a threshold of passage between the metrical unity of ars and the higher semantic unity of sententia” (EP. This is most readily found in poetry specifically in the material presence of an articulate space at the right hand of every lineated poem. 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. vertical space of the poem as a global entity. asserts: “Dante thus conceives of the structure of the canzone as founded on the relation between an essentially semantic.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN be complete unless. 36). the closed formal womb of the stanza. and his later choice to call the unrelated rhyme or corn the clavis or key. To sum up this long and complex series of arguments. Overviewing Dante’s remarkably prescient comments Agamben. the fifth trans-poetic tabular space. With enjambement we have lineation. 188 . This space. is likened in traditional poetics to the spatiality of the womb or semiotic chora. 35). sequential level into the tabular. Ease is also a superlative example of logopoiesis. 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. . yet at the same time it requires that one consider the poem as consisting of lines within stanzas. global unit and essentially metrical. we are informed. partial units” (EP. At this juncture we must return one more time to Dante and his discussion of the structure of the canzone cited by Agamben. 35). one does not take into consideration the means by which words are distributed through the poem based on alternative patterns. Based on two metaphors Dante utilizes. . The unrelated rhyme forces one to concede that the poem exists in space and time beyond the power of its voicing. and with corn we have the word.
and his most recent work on temporality harks back to his earliest work on the poem which itself presages the more sophisticated work to come. synecdochic view of a certain part of a collection of elements being the supra-elemental part. Agamben begins his treatise on rhythm by considering the age-old problem as to what constitutes structure. second explain its essential role to the very collection it is radically exterior and other too. The essay is a fairly unreconstructed Heideggerian reading of poetic rhythm. 96). 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. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT RHYTHM Agamben is a sporadic and yet profoundly consistent writer. and third (a point central to the work of Badiou) explain how this element exterior to one’s set can be 189 . 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. 97).CAESURA. but rather we are able now to look back on that essay and see in it the basis of all that is to come. in other words how do parts cohere into a unified structure: lines become a stanza. 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. Internalized structure assumes structure to be something more than its elements and yet at the same time reduces this additional thing to the prime element “the ultimate quantum beyond which the object loses its reality” (MWC. Aristotle asks in The Metaphysics what causes a collection of elements to be more than a mere aggregate. The first thing to accept here is that these contesting views of structure are either based on an internal. Both positions are problematic. they cannot as it precedes all such work.” I am unable to assert that all the matters pertaining to poetic structure as a mode of thinking come together in this essay. 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. stanzas a poem. 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. I am speaking here of the dense chapter in The Man Without Content entitled “The Original Structure of the Work of Art.
One can already see here the value of such a definition of structure as rhythm at least for the art work. inaugurates and announces the very existence of rhythm: “The word ‘rhythm’ comes from the Greek . Rhythm. Agamben argues. and everything swings from the poeticizing lips of the god” (Cited in MWC. This debate is promoted by a comment by a momentarily lucid. . This second element. and lines in the poem. That which flows does so in a temporal dimension: it flows in time .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 is outside of a work and makes it what it is (Form). This. 98). to flow. now feels after Aristotle that he can define rhythm as that which negotiates between the very principle of presence. He gives examples here of music and painting. supra-spatial ecstatic moment that he 190 . initially struggling to comprehend this statement. is a double measure. . and measure as such as a calculable number. This centrality is further perpetuated when Agamben attempts to define the essential and original definition of rhythm by explaining how the interruption of flow in art is an ecstatic arrest of rhythm which. Rhythm is the unquantifiable “extra” element that makes a thing a work of art. How can this “additional thing” exceed the very structure of aggregation it defines? After Aristotle. every work of art is one rhythm. in other words. words. yet at the same time rhythm is directly dependent on the elements that make up the work of art. for the sake of argument syllables.” and rhythm “that which causes something to be what it is” (MWC. the one preferred by Aristotle. . “element and minimal quantum. 99). Agamben. how in both cases the elements that function in harmony to create the work’s rhythm also provide us with an atemporal. decrepit Hölderlin: “Everything is rhythm . for a moment. at the same time. 100). . measure as the coming to presence of being on the earth (Heideggerian Measure) and measure as a countable number of units or quanta. is the tantalizing gift and reserve of art. as in the case of water. 94). the very structure of art “that is at once as Gestalt and number” (MWC. At the point that the rhythm stops we are launched. outside the work of art into the place of ecstasy and are gifted with a view of what art is before falling back into the incessant procession of the rhythm of the work below. the Greek philosopher renames Form. Agamben defines these two positions as number. . . Yet this rhythm—as we commonly understand it—appears to introduce into this eternal flow a split and a stop” (MWC.
falls back into said continuum. an interruption in the incessant flow in instants that. Agamben translates epoch as meaning “both to hold back. as soon it is raised up out of the structured continuum. . . and as flow. Yet this process of pro-duction is not entirely processual. sinks into the past” (MWC. as we saw. Agamben’s main argumentative thrust here is Heideggerian. however. human being is able to exist in the transition from presence as origin to presence as thing in the world. Through the act of pro-duction via entelechy. Both epoch and rhythm therefore are the making of a unity through a radical act of disjunctive ecstasy which. 100) before attempting a somewhat “violent” retranslation of the term as rhythm. . rhythm in defining art also defines the basis of being’s temporal existence in the world. but the ongoing process of the evental interruption of flow. namely the perpetual movement between time as origin. Yet rhythm is spoken of here in the very earliest work in terms of the Greek word epoch. he argues. both the cut in time and the definition of a period in time. coming from the future. Man has on earth a poetic status. Clearly rhythm conceived in this way is the basis for Agamben’s later construction of messianic time. This being the case rhythm is not a single event. and to hand over. 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. day-to-day vulgar time. This then explains a final. 101). to suspend. the poetic status of man on earth finds its proper meaning. rhythm grants men both the ecstatic dwelling in a more original dimension and the fall into the flight of measurable time” (MWC. While it certainly takes time and is composed of three stages 191 . to offer” (MWC. The same is true of epoch in relation to the definition of a period. namely “to be” in the sense of to dominate or to hold on to a place. 100). because it is poiesis that founds for him the original space of his world” (MWC.CAESURA. as well as providing an early prototype for the Idea of Prose and its subsequent reformulation as potential. third meaning for epochal rhythm in the Greek. for example modernity. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT describes thus: “we perceive a stop in time . centring in on issues of Measure. “In his authentic temporal dimension. As I mentioned. 99). gives and holds back . . ecstasy. Being’s destiny and authenticity. Thus Agamben concludes: “rhythm holds. What matters for us at this late hour however is how he relates rhythm to poiesis for. to present. not on ongoing flow. being-in-the-world. that is.
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. This interplay. is revealing. Agamben names this overall combination of elements into the rhythmical structure of the work of art that also determines human being through the means by which they make a space for themselves on the earth as productive beings in and out of time. art is the gift of the original space of man. and perhaps this is the truly original and poetic part of Agamben’s thinking. 102). and man recovers. architectonics par excellence” (MWC. is not however simply an erratic or intermittent. which would simply carve time up into the traditional aporia of moments along a single line. and there is the architectural organization of these two elements into a third element which is the projective-recursive spatiotemporality of structure (what Agamben terms the metrical–musical element). “In the experience of the work of art. etymologically: art. It dictates how human being exists in the essentiality of chronological time and space as a continuum. at various points.the term process does not convey the complexity of its operations. 102). a process wherein “in the work of art the continuum of linear time is broken. rhythm is the perpetual interplay between flow and its arrest. 101). poetic 192 . between past and future his present space” (MWC. Here is where poetic structure. poiesis. Rather. is pro-duction (τίκτω) of origin (άρχή). flowarrest-flow-arrest. In one final report from the great Aristotle. art’s architectonic basis. still very much in a Heideggerian strain at this early phase in his career. man stands in the truth that is. in the origin that has revealed itself to him in the poietic act” (MWC. As he says: “That art is architectonic means. Rather. does not dispense with the continuum below. being breaks with the continual and enters into the ecstatic. As we now know in terms of the spatiotemporality of the poem there is flow (enjambement). Poiesis is rhythmical structure. Poiesis. we can now reread this in a more Agambenian fashion. stuttering singular dimensionality. wherein the human sees its origins. So that when Agamben concludes. itself simply archetypal of innumerable such structures across all the arts and beyond. Said architectonics is a structure now extremely familiar to us across all that we have perused here. Yet this epochal moment. therefore. any more than the continuum permanently disallows the epoch. often by willed skilled acts of artistic making or artistic experience of the made thing. interruption (caesura). It determines how.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN (poiesis–entelechy–praxis).
Rather rhythm–. we make. simply put. productive mode of tabular thinking is logopoiesis. Poiesis as the ultimate architectonic of our being on this earth as potentially productive beings within the supportive medium of language as such.CAESURA. which is the name for this process. is a tabular-planar dimensional way of being always already projected towards a finitude that in turn always casts us back to an origin. we return and in doing so. We rise. 193 . negates simple processional temporality. in rhyme but also in numerous other elements of poetry such as referentiality. defines poiesis as ongoing. If. Poetry is able to save metaphysics from itself by providing another way of thinking. being and thinking are under negation they are also. for example. and so on. we progress. we fall. This. the name we now give to the whole structural process of logopoietic thinking. association. recurrence with modification (torquing). is why poetry matters to Giorgio Agamben. THE SPACE OF THOUGHT structure. spatiality. through poiesis. recursive. and suddenly surprising. being. This projective-recursive. under pro-duction also. and temporality–. due to the very logic of the epoch. patternation. projective. in the modern epoch. particularly the tabular-planar element of anaphoric– cataphoric projection–recursion that one finds.
. The inaccurate entitlement of this book. as most assuredly I have. 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. particularly metaphysical differential scission. political. he has made it his life’s work to overcome difference through the creation of a productive philosophy of indifference. is as strategic as it is descriptive. To propose a certain identity or division within Agambenian philosophy is ill-advised and. it is for this reason alone. for entirely mysterious and conventional reasons. literary . The enforcement of a “literary” Agamben is not simply reductive. His is a philosophy that resists identity in favour of neutral singularity. And while he concedes the omnipresence of division. Within our culture. Yet here at least I have made a start. . 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. This must now stand as my written book on Agamben. (it would be premature and presumptuous to reduce his work to just three categorizations). If I have neglected the political elements of Agamben’s work. every book demands a title: The Literary Agamben: Adventures in Logopoiesis. commenced with the adventure of reinstating the literary in the form of 194 . metaphysical. our understanding of this most remarkable thinker is incomplete. In my unwritten book I see that until the various strands of Agamben’s thought are presented as a whole. I must attest to being unhappy with such a designation even if it is my own. it goes against the very spirit of his work. like so many titles. As would the designation the “political” or “metaphysical” Agamben or even a composite of the three.RECURSION. self-defeating. Therefore as to the actual existence of a clearly definable “literary” Agamben.
Similarly I feel now that I never at any point clearly expressed why literature. and rhythmical structure as an alternative model for thinking. or inexpressive medium for expression. why poetry in particular is of such importance to the work of Agamben. The predominance of semiotics in the poem is felt at the level of the syllable. the semiotic basis of depersonalizing desubjectivization is most readily presented and investigated by poetry’s emphasis on the material effects of language at the expense of rational discursive meaning. visas to apply for. desubjectivization due to linguistic depersonalization. These five conditions of poeticized ontology. you forget to take the one thing you need most of all. extrapolated out across larger. and line. For Agamben there are five conditions of poetic language. has for centuries being attributed to the poetic experience of inspiration. At the same time. the funding committee. 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. I am fortunate enough to have the time and perspicacity to correct this. 195 . historical relation between poetry and philosophy. neglect to say the very thing that is most on your mind to your loved ones. experience. The rift may indeed be part cause of the modern philosophical collapse into negativity. discursive structures. THE TURN OF THINKING a sustained analysis of poetry into the heart of Agamben’s indifferent thought. connections to make. that exists within our tradition. 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. but also across the whole of the rhythm of poetic structure. As our departure is delayed here a few more pages due to an oversight in some paperwork. or the press. The fundamental experience of ontology via language being that of desubjectivization. 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. Sometimes when you set out on an adventure and you have a tight deadline. word. providing an archetype for a mode of thinking dominated by naming that does not name anything specifically. intimacy with the semiotic. a process of depersonalization at the hands of language.RECURSION. Or in taking your leave. proximity to language as such. That must suffice. Poetry produces the closest experience of language as such.
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. 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. as well as revealing a potential way out of this great abyss through the alternative modes of poietic thinking. dictation in poetry. This is not the book I set out to write. 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. The ancient antagonism established between poetry and philosophy is first revealed and then in part resolved by the rehabilitation of the category of poiesis. Badiou. The Agamben chapter got out of hand. suprasensuous and sensuous. real. Derrida.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN It is inevitable that one will lose one’s way and in losing it find one’s true way. I dropped it. and a character who at the beginning seemed one part of a great ensemble took over the story all but negating the early narrative. The order of the remaining chapters was endlessly changed. However aesthetic modernity provides a strong example of anti-poiesis that has two key effects. the stanza and poetic dictation specifically. It brings to presence the predominance of negation in all elements of metaphysics. Mine has been no different. “The Invention of Literary Singularity. Nancy. As this happened the previous disorder of the chapters froze into a pattern that came to seem as almost predestined. and the relation between the larynx and the syrinx. thousands of words on the category life.” now forever unwritten. In my case the usual: chapters which were central were removed entirely. is not illustrative but a fundamental part of his thinking. All great adventures work this way. 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. Logopoiesis. His recourse to literary examples in this regard. The actual book was lost along the way. That book. An analysis so profound. saw Agamben as a supporting figure in a grand narrative of the turn to poiesis in the work of Heidegger. I admit that. I am certain many books are like this. and ultimately Agamben. museums. The history of modern metaphysical nihilism is matched by the history of aesthetic modernity dissuading us from looking for solutions in poiesis alone.1 196 .
That Heidegger then turns away entirely from the categories of this book in the later work on poetry.RECURSION. Such a situation is. This is not simply thinking through the appropriation of the arts but the very structure of poiesis as an alternate and complimentary mode of thinking to that of the metaphysical tradition. narrativizing. aside from its myriad other merits. like the dark and yellowing illumination of the sky above you as you set out. Being and Time therefore. as common as marriage when seen through the thinking lens of Ozu. 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. is a powerful lesson in self-deconstruction in part obviating many of the critical studies of the work to come. Heidegger of course casts an ambiguous shadow over the work of Agamben. Indeed. Rhythm is the very ground upon which all future work on logopoiesis must be based. The structure of this thinking. summarizing. Mostly writers recount their thoughts but not their thinking. There are certain elements of Being and Time as a work of written thinking that tell us a good deal about thinking as such. syllogistic. revealed by Agamben to be that of poetry as such. People have called it thinking. deductive. THE TURN OF THINKING Bringing together thought and poetry I was able to propose the tautological compound logopoiesis. a turn or kehre he denies and 197 . I suspect. 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. However a powerful example of the presentation of thinking before thought exists in Heidegger’s unfinished work Being and Time. 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. threatening a storm that in the midst of such a swashbuckling tale might indeed be welcomed even if it poses real danger. The tensile rhythmic interchange between enjambement and caesura provides the medium for logopoiesis. This conclusion voyages far from my original intention. culminating. 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. We have arrived at the quintessence of the logopoietic thought process. and teleological thought is weakened as it progresses to its conclusions.
he defines this coming to presence of being as enframing as danger. an interiorization of thinking. turns away from this coming to presence. Thus the act of turning is not simply turning back or away from the present but a turning in. . and we can see the profound influence Heideggerian thinking has had on Agambenian thinking. suggests that turning away from and towards was. einkehren. but the process of the turning from the negative to the positive by virtue of the negative.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN yet which is all too apparent. 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. and framing technology.” Although Heideggerian negativity is the destinal ontology Agamben wants expressly to turn away from. He then adds: “As the danger. feeling. . to alight.” but. It recalls always the source. the possibility of a turning in which the oblivion belonging to the coming to presence of Being will so turn itself that. therefore. Add into this Heidegger’s claim that language “is never primarily the expression of thinking. particularly his study of the hymn “The Ister” and the periplus logic of the river developed there. and willing. the truth of the coming to presence of Being will expressly turn in—turn homeward—into whatever is” (QCT. with this turning. As the translator’s footnote informs the English edition of Heidegger’s text. Being turns about into the oblivion of its coming to presence. Speaking of the contemporary destiny of being in terms of instrumental. means both to turn in and to put up at an inn. “the primal dimension within which man’s essence is first able to correspond at all to Being . A turn from dispute into stasis and stillness. and in that way simultaneously turns counter to the truth of its coming to presence. The influence is neither negative nor positive. . is thinking” (QCT. 41). 198 . As they rightfully go on to explain this is of no small importance to Heidegger’s work on Hölderlin. the verb used here to express the activity of the “turn in” of thought. ever his method of thought and that the second division is not a failure but a triumph of recursive thought.2 A similarity further confirmed when Heidegger adds: “In the coming to presence of the danger there conceals itself . 41). one can recognize here the basis of Agamben’s methodology. This primal corresponding . . In the 1949 essay “The Turning” Heidegger comes to define thinking precisely in terms of recursion. As the river departs from the source one can describe is as both homely and unhomely. objectivizing. . . or stay.
great work of the last philosopher. through philosophy to language. 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. First because of Agamben’s powerful critique of Heideggerian Being as based on mute negation. And second because Agamben is able to draw out the turn of thinking in poetics through detailed analysis of prosody as such. allegorical. This is not the case. illustrative. archetypal. 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 . 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. This is an essential development in logopoietic thought from its origins in the later. which is also essential to Agamben’s theory of messianic time. but only in departing from it. Indeed much of Agamben’s work on poetry is prefigured in this text. In contrast Agamben demonstrates that the very definition of poetry in terms of semiotic rhythm is the quintessence of turning as a form of thinking in the form of the verse. Heidegger brings another interiorization into poetic ontology and thinking. In attaching the river to the ancient sea-bound periplus. THE TURN OF THINKING the homely. 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. rhythm. It exemplifies thought but it is not thought as such in my opinion. Thinking as rhythmical turning by virtue of poetry is my first thesis in relation to logopoiesis. Similarly as the river journeys it also provides the essential natural elements for settlement.RECURSION. the reason why so many great cities are on the banks of rivers. The river therefore is both a locality or founding of a place and an endless journeying. Thus the poem remains. The ocean works very well as the endless falling into silence of poetic finitude. to a degree. From poetry. My contention here is not that Heidegger had already said what Agamben goes on to say. the river drains into the ocean whose amorphous nature recalls the installation into shape of the source. and specifically singular in relation to thought. 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.
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. and the sensuous. I have understood it as the following: a modality of thinking through making and all that this entails. rummaging through my capacious pockets for some gizmo for gouging stones out of the hooves of horses. redefinition. but also thought about other categories that I have yet to address such as objectivity. I can now understand why you coin the term logopoiesis to indicate this complex compound of ideas although initially I was unconvinced. temporality. logopoiesis is the tautological turn of thought. I find a postcard from Giorgio. prosaic.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN as such. Logopoiesis names the rehabilitation. On one side is a sepia image of the Rome of his childhood. Rather than a syllogistic. That is: a self-consciously self-indicative anaphoric-cataphoric tabularplanar field or linguistic medium for thinking that is a projective recursion. deductive. and eventually conclusive mode of progression through logical cumulative analysis. 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). exhaustive. 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. As it progresses it does so by always simultaneously going on and looking back. as far as I can tell. our aims are more modest. progressive. If for Agamben poetic thinking. The first instalment of which is a consonance between the very structure of poetry and that of thinking. Thus if Agamben wishes to access the linguistic basis for all being. This is not our concern. logopoiesis. Such a thought is definable by precisely the same structure as that of the poem for which read all works of art. desolated by modernity and yet still eternally wonderful. 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. by submitting thought to 200 . objectal-instrumental. In such a model.3 it already prefigures its development and cessation. Later. by flowing and interrupting said flow. is a way-station along the obscured tracks of a greater mission. teleological. What I summarize as thinking through making. Certainly thought about being in terms of the subject.
A poetic thinking shares this structure. but which we cannot take hold of. If traditional thought advances. never comes to an end. For now at least. The last philosopher has spoken his final words. as indeed must all logopoietic thinking. let’s say the problem of being.RECURSION. it is always already within the problem. It must end. structural. thought and language. to come into existence. mono-dimensional space but also architectonic. in on itself. verse. By the same gesture as it seems to move towards its conclusions. it must at the same time be turning back on itself and away from summation. put on hold. but not for all time. we are held by that which possesses us. This rhythmical space is also the rhythmical temporality of thought. Yet the grammatological space required to actuate the caesura in the line reveals the dependence of linearity on not merely interruptive. Beware the sloughs of negative despond by the 201 . That said the poem never comes to an end because the cataphoric-recursive element always folds the poem back on itself. philosophy and poetry. Very interesting. subject and object. our habitual place. It is for this reason that we call poetry. The linear extension of the semiotic and its interruption are both temporal. a moment wherein categories such as beginning and end. You are not quite there yet but you are certainly moving towards very provocative territory. poetic thought turns. space and time. Philosophy has now passed. language. In the same manner the poem never commences. trans-linear space. As ever. Quite so. Not everything is as it should be. 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. As in thought so in art. and perpetually ends (did I get this right?). indeed all the arts. part and whole. In being dispossessed of the very thing which takes hold of us we turn from thinking about being to the turn of being as thinking. it is the turn of verse. as the poem ends it both comes to an end. Such a thought exists both in space and time you suggested at one point. Finally. I will need time to think more about it. inside and outside. THE TURN OF THINKING a constraining linearity and exploding linearity through a translinear tabular-planar rhythmic structure. Some ideas seem out of place. are suspended in every sense of this word. Just as human life can only come to life by ending the category of life and the tension therein. Rather than defining a problem and then seeking to solve it conclusively.
I have finished what I have to say.THE LITERARY AGAMBEN way. Good luck with your next guide. He is a close associate of mine although we do not always see eye to eye. 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. ignore the example of Orpheus. There. You will find his conversation and company very stimulating even if at first he seems obscure. It’s your turn now. By the way. Remember to take the right turn there. Giorgio 202 . upon an empty plateau about which they say great danger finds its dwelling. There are always benefits to be accrued from looking back along the way you have come.
’ Kritikos 2 (2005).NOTES EXOTERIC DOSSIER: THE LITERARY AGAMBEN 1 2 3 4 5 6 For various criticisms of Agamben’s supposedly dual methodology. “The Enigma of Giorgio 203 . 135. “Cutting the Branches for Akiba.” The Germanic Review 82. 190. 2005). 57. 1 (2008).” SL. “Whatever Politics. Kaufman. no. 2 (2007). “The Saturday of Messianic Time. “Playing with Law: Agamben and Derrida on Postjuridical Justice. Catherine Mills. SAQ. NC: Duke University Press. Rainer Maria Kiesow. 175. Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Henceforth cited as MWC. henceforth cited as PMD. The Man Without Content.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 107. and Eleanor Kaufman. Negri reiterates this critique in Antonio Negri. Agamben’s Critique of Derrida. Benjamin Noys.” SAQ.” in Sovereignty & Life. Nicholas Heron. 2007). See Adam Thurschwell. 2 (2002). 11.” PMD.” SL. henceforth cited as SAQ. Georgia Albert (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 173. 1–7. no. Matteo Mandarini (New York: Continuum. See Giorgio Agamben. 44. Arianna Bove. no. www. 2003). Agamben’s first published work begins with a consideration of the uncanny as the ability of literature to produce desubjectivization. “The Ripe Fruit of Redemption. Metaphysics and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer.” Angelaki 7. and Alex Murray. trans.” SAQ. Jean-Philipe Deranty. ed. trans. Siting Agamben. Colin McQuillan. Andrew Norris (Durham. ‘The Political Life in Giorgio Agamben. “Time of Death. 254.” PMD. 92. Dominick LaCapra. “Seeing the Impossibility of Seeing or the Visibility of the Undead: Giorgio Agamben’s Gorgon. No study of the uncanny is complete without reference to Nicholas Royle’s magisterial and unsettling The Uncanny: An Introduction (Manchester: Manchester University Press. “Giorgio Agamben: The Discreet Taste of the Dialectic. Negri’s provocation has been picked up by Jenny Edkins. see Erik Vogt. 38. 117–18.html. and Robert Buch. and Time for Revolution. 70. 27. unpaginated. 1999).” in Politics. henceforth cited as SL. “Witnessing the Inhuman: Agamben or Merleau-Ponty.” trans. and Ernesto Laclau. “Approaching Limit Events. 2003).generation-online. 112–13. ‘Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?’ SL. The first critical concession of the three Agambens can be found in Justin Clemens. Antonio Negri. “S/Citing the Camp. ed. “Law and Life.org/t/ negriagamben.
NOTES Agamben. Liz Heron (London: Verso. Means Without Ends. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. no. 1993). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. This is the function of the “anthropological machine” that Agamben describes in The Open. http://williamwatkin. Life. 84–5. Henceforth cited as HS. See for example Justin Clemens. The Philosophy of Agamben (Stocksfield: Acumen Press. Giorgio Agamben.” and “The Turning. trans. trans. Mills defines as a crucial element of Agamben’s thought the faculty of having or capacity to do something. 90. See “The Question Concerning Technology. and again in LD. For example. 2004). biological life. Giorgio Agamben. 140. “Article: Syrinx / Larynx: A Full-Throated Ease. trans. Daniel HellerRoazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. blogspot. “Introduction. Henceforth cited as PA.” Paragraph 25. PROJECTION: THERE IS LANGUAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Giorgio Agamben. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience.com/. It also forms the basis of a whole chapter in The End of the Poem. see William Lovitt. 204 . Henceforth cited as LD. 2 (2002). 163–79. Henceforth cited as WGA. Henceforth cited as WWB. The importance of the literary has finally been conceded by some critics. Nicholas Heron.” SL. later in the main body of the book. See Giorgio Agamben. 1991). 1999). social life. 3. trans. Henceforth cited as QCT. 1998). “The Role of the Shifter and the Problem of Reference in Giorgio Agamben. 3. and Alex Murray. Henceforth cited as EP.” William Watkin’s Blog. “Jamming the Anthropological Machine. 33–8. Justin Clemens. 107. trans. 2008). The End of the Poem. See for example Giorgio Agamben. 6. Henceforth cited as O. Henceforth cited as IH. Lovitt’s introduction is also useful. the question behind the “political” texts comprising the Homo Sacer project in terms of the relation of the human to the animal. IH. The Open: Man and Animal. and ontology. & 187–8. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.” WGA. For more on the role of animal voice to poetry see William Watkin. 1977).” in the collection Martin Heidegger. 43. ed. essentially. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press. trans. Literature. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. Karen E. 119. Pinkus with Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Henceforth cited as MWE. For a consideration of the status of the unwritten in Agamben see Andrew Dillon. See Giorgio Agamben. 1–11. For more see Matthew Calarco. 2000). The Question Concerning Technology.” in QCT. xxviii–xxxvi. 109. 2008). 62–75. William Lovitt (London: Harper Perennial. bare life. 3–52. “Introduction: The Interim.” in The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law. the inhuman. This is. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Henceforth cited as Para. See Catherine Mills. 10. 59. 29–30. trans.
henceforth cited as IP. Heidegger disputes this easy division. HS. henceforth cited as OWL. 1993). Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 106. messianic conception of post-humanism: O. “Can the Dead Speak to Us? De Man. Henceforth cited as PLT. His most veiled but sustained critique is to be found in the essay “Pardes: The Writing of Potentiality. Idea of Prose. for example Krzysztof Ziarek. 129–30. RA. 155–6. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality: Biopolitics. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. post-kehre. 187–210. see Alex Murray. 102–4. 205–19. 1971). 87–135. 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. 1995).” Culture. and is inevitably itself criticized by others.” Para. 266–90. no.” SAQ. his commitment to Being as such waxes. Ronald L.NOTES 13 14 15 16 Also Giorgio Agamben. 2005). Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. Henceforth cited as RA. PA. trans. henceforth cited as ST. Peter D. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. For more on this topic see Catherine Mills. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 44–5. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Johnson. 12.” in PMD. 44–6. “Potential European Democracy. Agamben’s critique of Heidegger spans the volumes Language and Death (LD.” WGA. 54–64). trans. 39–77). and Sean Gaston. and Testimony in Remnants of Auschwitz. Hertz (San Francisco: Harper Collins. “Beyond Spectacle and the Image: the Poetics of Guy Debord and Agamben. 103–4. trans. and The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. 53–7. Theory & Critique 45. and The Open (O. henceforth cited as P. For a useful analysis of the relation of Agamben’s thought to that of Debord’s concept of the spectacle. henceforth cited as TTR. Language. trans. Key moments come in the following texts Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture. 2009). His critique of Derrida is more sporadic yet insistent. For a consideration of this argument see Thomas Docherty. especially in the later texts on poetry. 164–9. 34–53. Affect and the Politics of Style. trans. Thought. 86–7. 2002). 15–88. trans. 2 (2007).” P. no. 90–2. 205 . no. “As If the Time Were Now: Deconstructing Agamben. “Absence as Pure Possibility. David E.” Textual Practice 15. Subjectivation. trans. PMD. Mills. For largely negative comments on Agamben’s critique of Derrida see Thurschwell. 200–2 and again Mills in PA. 1971). On the Way to Language. 23–46. “After Humanism: Agamben and Heidegger. 1 (2004). It is widely assumed that Heidegger’s interest in Dasein wanes as. The ontico-ontological difference refers to the division in Being and Time between Dasein or everyday being in the world and Being as such which he sees as epochally in withdrawal in the modern age. see for example Martin Heidegger. and Colin Davis. “Thinking the Post-human: Literature. Literature and War: Absence and the Chance of Meeting (London: Continuum.” in Martin Heidegger.” in Derrida. 110–14. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. Lévinas and Agamben. 1 (2001). 61–2. See also Lee Spinks. Potentialities. Poetry. The conclusion to The Open sets out a more positive. 173–97. 1999).
Henceforth cited as RP. no. 1987). See M. 3 (2008). . “Coetzee. 2008). Psyche: Inventions of the Other. See Shane Weller. and ellipsis dots in the title of the Deleuze essay “Immanence: A Life . 152–8. and Rachel Blau DuPlessis. 2008). . 1989).” Jacket 36 (2008). the colon. ed.” Paragraph 31. Steven C. The Emergence of Prose: An Essay in Prosaics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Henceforth cited as LPN. 50. James Ellroy. Henceforth cited as MofP. The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press. Agamben later speculates on various grammatological punctuation marks in relation to his theory of nonrelational harmonic articulation that is neither “hypotactic nor paratactic but. 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 also Wall’s ground-breaking analysis Radical Passivity: Lévinas. For a remarkable history of this process see Wlad Godzich and Jeffrey Kittay. 271–3. so to speak. Philosophy. 1977). See for example HS.” in Jacques Derrida. “Dismantling Theatricality: Aesthetics of Bare Life. Jacques Derrida. 181–92. atactic. Shklovsky. and the Politics of Exception. M. “‘Draft 33: Deixis’ / Notes on ‘Deixis’: a Midrashic Chain an exchange of thoughts. 7–26. II. Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press. no. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. com/36/watkin-duplessis. and Barbara Formis. Agamben. 4. Weller is somewhat scathing of this narrative of overcoming nihilism which he says typifies our tradition in relation to nihilism since Nietzsche. Vol. Semantics Vol. 114–23. Bakhtin. is implied but never fully developed in Agamben’s work. This is Agamben’s specific criticism of Derrida in Stanzas.” WGA. For a full consideration of all these issues see William Watkin.” in relation to the hyphen. ” (P. For an analysis of deixis.” SAQ 121–44. 636–7. Blanchot and Agamben (New York: SUNY. Silliman and Agamben. 221–3). Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 129–30. Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 344–64. 206 . trans.shtml.” American Anthropologist 108. Caton.1 (2006). Ontological Difference. 1981). and “Geschlecht I: Sexual Difference. 1999). 137 & 159–62. 2004). Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: Chicago University Press. See ST. and the Passion of Abu Ghraib. and William Watkin. “Except for Law: Raymond Chandler. see John Lyons. “The Materialization of Prose: Poiesis versus Dianoia in the work of Godzich & Kittay.NOTES 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 See Derrida’s two remarkable assaults on Heideggerian difference. Literature. John Milton. http://jacketmagazine. 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. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question.
self-conscious being. In contrast glossolalia suggests a reductive animalism and a position of epistemological dominance based on an ontological certitude: they speak like animals and I can designate the significance of this as their being “as animals” confirming my status as civilized and thus human. 1935). 2001). trans. in other words. “Au Hasard. and my own analysis of these issues in relation to poetry in William Watkin. “Signature Event Context. ed. 227. 1982).” PMD. 32–5. Henceforth cited as IPP. Norman Madarasz (Albany: SUNY. 2004). 1999). 92–4. Henceforth cited as M. In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Lewisburg. The Coming Community. a meaningless noise. See for example Wall. and Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press. 29–47. Manifesto for Philosophy. trans. In Agambenian terms much cultural imperialism is based on the false division between xenoglossia (bios) and glossolalia (zoe). 63–70 where Agamben considers Heidegger’s ideas pertaining to animal captivated being as fundamentally at odds with human privative. Maurice Buxton Forman (Oxford: Oxford University Press. For more on this see William Watkin.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. On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Mary Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press.” Representations 56 (1996). a language equal to our own in every way except the specificity of its material signification. Henceforth cited as CC. 207 . The English translation incorrectly names John Woodhouse as Keats’ addressee. Problems in General Linguistics. trans. 137–8. What barbarians utter is mere noise.” in Margins of Philosophy. John Keats. This admits into sovereign domination a double weakness. 1993). Second Edition. Cecile Lindsay. 1989). is surely the basis of much cultural chauvinism and imperialism through the ages. 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. but the first serious study of the issue was Thomas Wall’s Radical Passivity. See Alain Badiou. Alan Bass (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. PA: Bucknell University Press. 53. 217–30 & 35–40 respectively. See also RA. The importance of passivity and neutrality for Agamben’s post-metaphysical ontology has been noted by a number of critics. therefore they are alive without being human. 1971). 198–226. 307–30. Jonathan Culler. Memoires for Paul de Man. Henceforth cited as MP. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. “Vocal Utopias: Glossolalias. See Jacques Derrida. trans. The wilful treatment of xenoglossic alterity. The Letters of John Keats. 28–32. and the subsequent denuding of xenoglossia under the sign of glossolalia. trans. See Michel De Certeau. Eduardo Cadava. as glossolalic. I am thinking most specifically of the arguments put forward in Jacques Derrida. See Emile Benveniste. See O.
PMD.” in WGA. For further readings of the razo in Romantic and contemporary poetics see William Watkin. “Article: Poetic Dictation. and Mills. “Spacing as Shared: Heraclitus.” Giorgio Agamben. 2008). 5–8. 36–51. 149–63. 113–38. Pertinent to a later debate on the actual translation of the key term medio. Robin Winterfield (Oxford: Oxford World Classics. THINKING THOUGHT 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 See earlier comments on Foucault and desubjectivization in RA. See Zaraloudis. 90–1. “Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals. 86. 13. De La Durantaye goes so far as to claim they are the same. here Heller-Roazen opts for “mean. Mills.” also my preference. no. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books.” SAQ. What Agamben defines as the pseudonymical nature of written selfenunciation. See Mills. see Leland De La Durantaye. a consonance I would be hesitant to endorse. Agamben approaches the issue of the collusive nature of creation from a different angle.” WWB. 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 . 141–2.” Para. 203. State of Exception. Agamben. Profanations. “‘A Different Insignificance’: The Poet and Witness in Agamben. PMD. 66. Andrew Benjamin. Republic. 2004). “Soulblind. and Robert Eaglestone. trans. Pindar. the Other in Love. 85. 144. trans. PMD. “Face to Face with Agamben.” WGA. 167. “Agamben’s Potential. 131–2. For criticism of Agamben in relation to otherness see Andrew Benjamin. 211. Henceforth cited as R. Selected Poems (London: Penguin. Josh Cohen.” Para.NOTES 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 Robert Browning. For a consideration of the relation of life to poetry see WWB. Henceforth cited as AP. Badiou’s manifesto for “affirmative thinking” is mapped out in MP. CHAPTER 1 LOGOS. Henceforth cited as Prof. 2 (2000). PA. PMD. Plato. 2007). “On Giorgio Agamben’s Holocaust. For a consideration of this term and its relation to the semiotic in Agamben. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. concluding: “Every creation is always a cocreation. Debating the origin of the inter-relation between the ancient legal terms auctoritas and potestas. 64. Vogt. just as every author is always a coauthor. 344. trans. or. 76. Giorgio Agamben. 186. RA. For an interesting consideration of love in Agamben see Julian Wolfreys.” PMD. AP. 188. Henceforth cited as SE. 2005).” Diacritics 30. Thurschwell. “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.
For a consideration of pseudonym and homonym in literature see William Watkin. “Notes on Media and Biopolitics: ‘Notes on Gesture’. politics. 131. The Aristotelian saying something about something. 59–62. 60–1. 1994). 11–13. Jean-François Lyotard. Alexander García Düttmann. Henceforth cited as LAS. divine violence see Anne De Boever. where this argument is developed. 11–12). but says only itself. 169–231.” CC.” WGA. P.” IP. 70–102.” in IP. would correspond an action as pure means. The political implications of this occupy Means Without Ends (MWE. 241–2. See MofP. 123. which in turn defines the concept of the pure medium of mediality in SE. trans. “Politics and Poetics of Divine Violence: On a Figure in Giorgio Agamben and Walter Benjamin. IP. “The Ontology and Politics of Exception: Reflections on the Work of Giorgio Agamben. primarily in an attempt to reject tragedy from the republic.” WGA.” CC. 107.” SL. An excellent consideration of the messianic and the term integral actuality can be found in Irving Wohlfarth. unfortunately. . which shows itself. 107. 2004). see also “The Idea of the Name. This relentless degradation and attenuation of poiesis occurs in the fourth book of Republic. this definition of the Idea of Prose comes together with Agamben’s liberationist. See Bruno Gulli. See also Düttmann. “Idea of Poetry.” WWB. Add into this Agamben’s definition of living in the category form-of-life as thinking as such (MWE. For a consideration of knowability and sayability in relation to desubjectivization. In a rare but central moment for Agamben scholarship. and the three main strands of Agamben’s work. 1–28. ed. 4–6. without any relation to an end. Benjamin’s idea of a pure language finds an analogue in his conception of pure violence.” (SE. For a sustained reading of this essay see Deborah Levitt.NOTES 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Greek culture. post-juridical politics in final page of State of Exception: “To a word that does not bind . revealing a parity between the political and literary Agamben that. For more on Agamben’s consideration of the logical aporia that “Discourse cannot say what is named by the name. 105. 88). see Nicholas Heron. 41 and again does not provide the citation. Peter Osborne (London: Taylor and Francis. “Pseudonym. I do not have space to develop here. “Integral Actuality. 209 . “Article: Ontological Whisperings. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime. For more on pure. see R. 117). 84–8. For an insightful consideration of the origins of the Idea of Prose in the work of Benjamin. and “Homonym. 97–107. See also Wall’s analysis RP.” in Walter Benjamin: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory. see RA. 71–8.” WGA. and metaphysics come together. . “On the Messianic Structures of Walter Benjamin’s Last Reflections. poetry. Idea of Prose.” P. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press. He also mentions this fragment in IP. 193–211.
The gag comes to relate to later considerations of the use of the mask in drama which Agamben also defines as a gesture. 35–8. to anaphora. The final word however rests with Agamben and the relation of this. 72–3. “Resistance. 231. 26–43. 27–32. or On Profanation. Giorgio Agamben. See Gulli. 134–8.” Angelaki 10. . P. 110. 177–271. 375–85. Henceforth cited as N. SL. and because I am arguing for poiesis as a contemporary term covering issues around making as pro-duction into presence. THINKING THROUGH MAKING 1 Poiesis. he notes: “But here it is as if this anaphora were absolutized to the point of losing all reference. liberating future destiny. Idea della prosa (Macerata: Quodlibet. See Edkins SL. smooth glowing in which no point can be distinguished from any other” (P.” Para. See also his comments on the Hegelian grund or ground in this regard in P. 140–44. 223.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. It is indeed the origin of the political and its potential. He speaks of potentiality in most of his major texts with major statements in CC. I have decided not to italicize the term and so in effect neologise the very term for the formation of neologisms. Alexander Cooke. 9. “Soulblind. The archetypal activity of authentic being. “A Sense of Loss: Whatever it May Be.” in WGA. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press. Bartleby: La Formula della creazione (Macerata: Quodlibet. 255). 2006). Thought is not just another form of life but form-of-life as such: MWE. no. is thought. . Being and Time. 76. 3 (2005). The Parallax View (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. see Thanos Zartaloudis. See Giorgio Agamben and Gilles Deleuze. 116–8. as well as his description of the threshing floor of the ineffable as “a light. which he calls formof-life. 85. 210 . See Martin Heidegger. Ninfe (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. and Slavoj Zizek. CHAPTER 2 POIESIS. HS.” (P. 2002). 112). Potentiality and Law: Deleuze and Agamben on ‘Bartleby’. This being the case. 1993). 21. the ultimate statement of potentiality. 1996). 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. back toward the phrase itself— absolute anaphora. now turning. 2008). 45–7 & TTR. MWE. and Giorgio Agamben. trans. For further deliberations on this conception of Genius. MWE. Conceding the “to” refers to some act that preceded to which Bartleby refers. spinning on itself . while a Greek word. Henceforth cited as BT. 248–1 & 309–10. and Marc Froment-Meurice. 79. so to speak. 83. See O. See also P.
57. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press. “Poiesis and Art-Making: A Way of Letting-Be. See Derek H. ed. 9. Vols. We will find exactly the same structural model in terms of messianic temporality later on so that Potentiality = projective chronos.” SL. I consistently use the term modern here in the manner in which Agamben takes the term. Whitehead. See PLT. Modern art would. Ostensibly the modern epoch commences in the eighteenth century with the rise of Enlightenment rationalism and continues up to our present moment. and Life. 95.” SAQ. 253). 2006).” Thus Colebrook’s critique of Agamben’s theory of poiesis as both masculinist and theological is incorrect. and indeed many others. refuting a criticism often 211 . 19–20. The Collected Dialogues. 557. Handbook of Inaesthetics. Girly Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 62–3. Michael Joyce. be” (P. . One and Two.” www. and entelechy = chairatic interiorization. Cited in Bernard Stiegler. therefore. Synposium. See TTR. 1997).contempaesthetics. where Agamben makes clear that his messianic temporality and overall method is not eschatological. Robert Musil. the hardest thing is being capable of annihilating this Nothing and letting something. This is the basis of the thesis of Martin Heidegger. 165–86.org/newvolume/pages/article. 1961). The key term here is “letting. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 44. “From Sovereign Ban to Banning Sovereignty. The Man Without Qualities. 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. from Nothing. especially the phenomenological thick description of jug-ness as thing. trans. trans. in Plato. and Alain Badiou. 1998). Charles Bernstein. Potentiality.php?articleID=216. Actuality = recursive eschaton. trans.NOTES 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Plato. 110 & 115. . 2005). See the essay “The Thing” in PLT.” as opposed to praxis or a willed doing. encompass Romanticism and contemporary “postmodernity. Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike (London: Picador. Technics and Time: The Fault of Epimetheus. trans. See Claire Colebrook. 105–6. PRODUCTIVE ANTI-POIESIS 1 2 A solid overview of Agamben’s anti-modernity can be found in William Rasch. 205b. Henceforth cited as HI. CHAPTER 3 MODERNITY. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper One. Nietzsche. Edith Hamilton and Huntingdon Cairns (Princeton: Princeton 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 . 172–3. trans. 1991). accessed 17 September 2008. “Agamben: Aesthetics.
but of saying the suchness of as itself (CC. Charles Baudelaire.” PMD. 222–47. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry. 36–51. Paul Hegarty. Clearly a development of the idea of sacrifice in HS. PMD. Keith Hoeller (New York: Humanity Books. 74–106. 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. 97–100). Mills. “Linguistic Survival and Ethicality. to my mind. 19–20. For considerations of Agamben’s use of Levi. 139 & 156. no. 4 (2006). 110–12. Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister. “Dead Man Walking: Law and Ethics After Giorgio Agamben’s Auschwitz. “The Nazi Genocide and the Writing of the Holocaust Aporia: Ethics and Remnants of Auschwitz.NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 and misguidedly levelled at his work. and Esther Norma Marion. “The Painter of Modern Life. 64. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press. See Wall. 212 . 403. While both are important. trans. saying something as something. where he takes Agamben’s commitment to productive thought and declares it effectively fatalistic and unproductive. Badiou defines the century as defined by the violence of The Real in Alain Badiou. “The Sovereign Weaver: Beyond the Camp. 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. 104. 73–83.” PMD. see Vogt. Para. Such a process negates the age-old consideration of language as primarily metaphoric-symbolic. See Marin Heidegger. 2007). 2000). Henceforth cited as C. “Supposing the Impossibility of Silence of Sound. Henceforth cited as EHP.. See for example Andreas Kalyvas. 31. David Fraser. 198–221. trans. P. Agamben and the Holocaust. 397–417. The Century. William McNeill and Julia Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1009–22. centrally important and. they pertain more directly to the work around the Homo Sacer project which I have chosen not to dwell on in this study.E. P. Cohen. Charvet (Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Transmissibility is one of Agamben’s earliest. 4 (1999). “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. 1972). tautological indication of the anaphoric act of indication as such. of Voice: Bataille.” PMD.” MLN 121.” in Selected Writings on Art & Artists. This I believe is Negri’s final criticism of Agamben in SL. 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. most troublesome categories. I turn to the critical material around the Kafka story presently. trans. 1996). And Martin Heidegger. 120–4. no.’ trans.” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 12. PMD. 40). In Potentialities cultural traditional transmissibility is founded first on linguistic transmissibility (communicability).
135). trans. See Jean-Luc Nancy. See my own analysis of avant-garde manifestoes in IPP. “K. Andrew Benjamin. 84–5. In this second reading. 98. and The Decline of Modernism. THINKING TAUTOLOGY 1 2 Ezra Pound. ed.” WWB. 1992). Peter Connor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Bridget McDonald (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Nicholas Walker (Cambridge: Polity Press. 31–5). Agamben’s most recent posting into this dossier is Giorgio Agamben. 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. pro-verted. and my own consideration of these issues in William Watkin. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge. 213 . Culture and Politics 15. C. ed. 43–70. is now truly prose (that is pro-versa. See Jürgen Habermas. HS 40–4. no. For Weller’s argument in this regard see LPN. 2 (2002). Glossing Hegel on philosophy after its end he speculates on “a humanity that. 2005). ABC of Reading (London: Faber. 19–34. having fulfilled its past. 219–37. Michael Shaw (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 49–62 Agamben pits his reading against Derrida’s influential interpretation. trans. “Law of Friendship: Derrida and Agamben. 181–220. “Playing with Law. 1991). see Sean Gaston. Peter Connor in The Inoperative Community. See Jean-Luc Nancy. 1992). Derrida’s reading of the same text is to be found in Jacques Derrida. See Vogt.” Strategies: Journal of Theory.” SAQ. See Peter Burger. 19–31 See Badiou. trans. 18. 55–7 for his comments on Malevich. 1993). “Article: Under Glass. 115–48. 146. 156. 36. 89–105.” trans. see William Watkin. Theory of the Avant-Garde. “Myth Interrupted. PMD. trans. 1951). Poetic Thinking: An Approach to Heidegger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Derrida and Disinterest (London: Continuum.” PMD. 13–27. See my own consideration of this issue in IPP. For an excellent recent study of this classic theme. Acts of Literature. see Simon Morgan Wortham.” New Formations. 1992).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. “Spacing as Shared.” Postmetaphysical Thinking. “The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices. 1982). CHAPTER 4 LOGOPOIESIS. “Friendly Little Communities: Derrida’s Politics of Death. turned forward” (P. See David Halliburton. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge: Polity Press.” in WGA. The Experience of Freedom. For considerations of the relationship between the two texts. and Mills. 62 (2007). For a detailed analysis of Agamben’s theory of the museum. HS. 1984).
”’ WGA. 2008). it is no mere vacillation. Lingering in comparison calls to mind an almost passive. 176). thoughtless hanging around. Selected Poems (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. After all. such lingering has its own lofty resoluteness. 214 . “Introduction. not due to indecisiveness (vacillation) but an authentic desire to listen to poetry’s call. Oeuvres II. 85–6. 2007). Here “Heidegger” retains the caesuric and thetic nature of Valéry’s prose by translating prolongée in terms of the more suggestive “lingering. Jeff Fort (Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 1960). is a significant change to prolongation which suggests stretching as an act of willed extension. 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. 3–4 and clarifies such issues as Norris’s exemplary examples. See Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. 111 & 117. see Clemens. 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. Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry. Para. John Keats. which in part refutes the criticism of Agamben’s use of “extreme examples” such as one finds in Alison Ross.” PMD.” WGA. CHAPTER 5 ENJAMBEMENT.” Lingering. “Idea of Poetry.147–8. Signatura rerum: Sul metodo (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. All English quotes taken from Giacomo Leopardi. lingers even longer than the poem itself.” SAQ. of course. 50–1. cited in LD. For a consideration of Agamben’s contentious use of the paradigmatic example. trans. Σηµειωτιχη [Semiotike]: Recherches pour une Sémanalyse (Paris: Éditions du Seuil. “Beauty is truth. Para. 177. 1969). Giacomo Leopardi. 108–10. and even the thinking which prepares such listening. 274–6.NOTES 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 See Colebrook. 17–37.” is misleading in relation to the Italian. unfairly I believe. “thought conceives. The English here. see the first chapter of Signatura Rerum entitled “Che cos’è un paradigma?. For a summary of the arguments.11–134. 75. “The Role of the Shifter.” in Giorgio Agamben. 109. 637). SAQ. truth beauty”. by Froment-Meurice. 2008).” allowing him to conclude: “the listening to the poem. Idea of Prose. 114). I first came across the idea of the tabularity of poetic structure in Julia Kristeva. trans.” which really means tricks me or feigns for me. “mi fingo. ed. as “The poem—this prolonged lingering between sound and sense” (EHP. “The Exemplary Exception. Norris. Jean-Pierre Barricelli (Boston: 1986). Jean Hytier (Paris. This is a criticism levelled.
“The Virtual Codex from Page Space to e-space. yet in each case said reading works to develop what is effectively a quasi-universal or transcendental truth about poiesis as such. 35–6. 119 & 132. Agamben uses the example of Bill Viola’s 1995 work “The Greeting. 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. See BT. [Every instant. 81–2). 29–69. SL. See William Watkin. 269–80. See Jacques Derrida. . enjambement. 1994). For his initial conception of calling see BT. 1981). and rhyme are all dependent on an idea of duality which. stress-unstress. 2008).NOTES 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 See Stephen Pinker. 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. 203–6. 158–91. “Poetry Machines: Repetition in the Early Poetry of Kenneth Koch. and Giorgio Agamben. every image anticipates virtually its future unwinding and recalls its preceding gestures] Interestingly. ogni immagine anticipa virtualmente il suo svolgimento futuro e ricorda i suoi gesti precedenti” (N. Rilke. 1 (Dec.” WGA. therefore. PMD. 53–4 & 74–5. 17–19. See Gulli. Thomas Gray. See for example Johanna Drucker. See Johnson.com/drucker/. 26. It was the poets themselves who called this “retrogradatio cruciata . no. does not come to view as double until a third element occurs to confirm this duality. caesura. 222–47. 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. See TTR. Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet. of which he says: “Ogni istante. .” M. The essential bases of poetry. Celan. 117. 83–117. SAQ. 2000). Il sacramento del linguaggio: Archeologia del giuramento (Roma: GLF.” he calls it Greetings.” EnterText 1. The Language Instinct (London: Penguin. Mallarmé. “Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from Being and Time. As one can see. This logic resembles in miniature the logic of the epoch and of messianic time in a quite remarkable and universal fashion. Hölderlin.” http:// www. however. an alternation between inversion and progression” (TTR.philobiblon. 9–10). 231. 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. while Agamben gives an example of the caesura he never provides examples of enjambement as such. 29 for the commencement of a career-long attack on aesthetics in Heidegger. 266. A useful consideration of silence can be found in Hegarty. IPP. 215 .
Henceforth cited as W. 43). Gerald Stanton Smith and Marina Tarlinskaja (Oxford: Clarendon Press. For more on the gender implications of the appropriation of terms such as womb/khora. 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. before and after thought (penso). 200–6. 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. On the relation of this to the Benjaminian concept of the division of the division and the caesura. 1987).” the presence of being to the side. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press. “The Suspended Substantive: On Animals and Men in Giorgio Agamben’s The Open. 1995). 1984). OM. see Jacques Derrida. see Watkin. 84–119. of course. see Leland De La Durantaye. CHAPTER 6 CAESURA. Similarly. See IPP. 53–8. Revolution in Poetic Language.” Diacritics 33. CC. 355–8. the trace is not synonymous with language. 1996). see Mikhail Leonovich Gasparov. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 25–30 and 239n11 (for her critique of Derrida).’ On the Name. Derrida’s conception of language is problematically ensconced within the differing and deferring logic of the trace. See also MWE. even if this is not marked grammatologically. WGA. The New Sentence (New York: Roof Books. ‘Khōra. and. 216 .NOTES 22 For by far the best and most penetrating explanation of spacing and the trace in Derrida. 38–59. For more on Italian versification. A Wave (Manchester: Carcanet. Alexander Pope. For a brilliant attack on the omnipresence of end-directed syllogism as an unquestioned and damaging convention of poetic and prosaic structural coherence. although for Agamben at least. see Ron Silliman. For my own analysis see MofP. 2007). trans. A History of European Versification. 90–1. 1984). See De Boever. Starting with Derrida (London: Continuum. What he names “a paraexistence or a paratranscendence that dwells beside the thing. but is the endless collapsing of the traditional metaphysical distinction between the two. see Sean Gaston. 2008). 101. 89–130. For more on the right-hand margin in poetry. Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks. Here the hemistich in the second line breaks it into two clearly separate entities. 69–70. 14. 7–9. 122–4. Julia Kristeva.106. no. ed. Henceforth cited as SP. John Ashbery. trans. 2 (2003). CC. which he also terms the halo.
108. SAQ. Weller is in agreement. although I do not remember ever mentioning it. no. THE TURN OF THINKING 1 2 3 For an analysis of poiesis in relation to modernity see Colebrook. 217 . see LPN. 4 (2007). I believe. 499–529. 142.” Contemporary Literature 48. He refers. Could it be he knew of my work even before we met? It seems unlikely. to my piece “‘Systematic rule-governed violations of convention’: The Poetics of Procedural Constraint in Ron Silliman’s BART and The Chinese Notebook.NOTES RECURSION.
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27.22 Idea della prosa 210n. 212n. 210n. 204n. 196 as poetic spacing 137–8. Theodor 29. 45–7. 7–12. 24. 189–92. 72. 209n. 67–8. 205n.33. 98. 13.9. 212n. 141. 205n.24.6. 212n.30 The Coming Community 63–6 180–2. 204n. 158. 111. 143–4. 205n. Giorgio Bartleby 210n.18.12 Infancy and History 4–5. 79–86. 161.15. 204n.33.8 Ninfe 210n. 208n.4.15 Adorno. 158 actuality 43–4.26.3. 54–64. 210n. 205n.25. 204n.28 Idea of Prose 33–6. 209n.15. 206n.15.7. 163. 210n.12. 213n.INDEX abyss between poetry philosophy 45–7. 187–8. 89.18 Signatura rerum 213n.7 The End of the Poem 32. 208n. 229 “K” 213. 171. 47.6 The Man Without Content 45–6.2. 123. 213n. 208n. 205n.11. 48. 125.7 Language and Death 2. 5.12. 209n. 123.1. 100–14. 36–7.4. 30. 71–2. 174–80. 209n.n.12. 113.5 Homo Sacer 1.18.21. 216n.5. 135–9.35.1 Il sacramento del linguaggio 215n.22. 58–9. 213n.12. 61–2. 87. 126–34.29 The Open 5. 122–4. 83–4.18. 212n.9. 210n.29 Potentialities 43. 206n. 204n. 204n.5. 209n. 211n. 169–71.15. 157. 205n. 209n.15. 206n. 204n.10. 216n.13. 216n. 59. 12–13. 47–9. 209n.19 Profanations 41–3. 209n. 89–90 aesthetics 16.18 Agamben. 124. 205n.11 integral actuality 54–7.15. 215n. 204n. 204n. 148–9.31. 100–9.6.1. 207n. 92.5 Means Without Ends 58.16. 209n.19.34. 146. 89. 208n.13.2 Remnants of Auschwitz 26–32. 91–7. 213n. 206n. 209n.19.10.12 State of Exception 171. 215n.15. 54. 64–6. 210n. 206n. 182–3. 152.33. 212n. 81–3. 18. 203n. 37.10. 210n. 149. 206n. 8–9.13. 20–2. 47. 209n. 139. 209n. 25. 212n. 95. 91.18 .29. 207n.18. 210n. 32. 45. 209n.23. 213n. 210n.32.4. 204n. 166–7. 67. 211n.15. 206n. 133. 212n.7 Stanzas 14–19. 143.
Josh 208n. 146–54. 206n. 209n. 161. Charles 78–9. 53–7. Justin 204n. 189–92 Arnaut.15 Akhmatova.18 aura 92–7. Giorgio (Cont’d) The Time That Remains 88–94. 106.8. 62–6. 58. 71. 103. 91. 212n. 125. 27.18 Benjamin. 208n. 205n. 68–9. 97. 150. 193.10 lieu commun 85. 216n. 174–80 appropriation 7. Daniel 154. 152. 144. 210n. 135.9 Cooke. 156–7. 16. 111. 27–8. 157. 212n. Claire 211n. 215n. 210n.15. 178–9. Honoré de 104 Bartleby 43.42. 86. 170. 149 as not 68.9 Caton. 108 Badiou. 152. 99. 82 Hos me 88–94. 64. 153. 155. 95. 210n. Matthew 204n.1 communicability 6. 43–5. 138.4 anaphora/cataphora matrix 21. 59–60. 181 bios 1. 16. 216n. 197 arche (authentic origin) 49–50. 95. 57. 175.41 Buch.15.30 Bernstein. 212n. 159. 122 aletheia (truth as unveiled or unconcealed) 28. 79. 146. 107. 144–9. Charles 95.19 Celan 33–4. 207n. 50. 168–72 creation 16. 211n. 64. 63. 76. 165.2 Cohen.6 Attridge.17 Bakhtin. 215n.34 corn (tip/corner) 186–8 couplet 130. 196. 63–5. 146–7 . Steven 206n. 73–5. 142.17. 105. 164. 110–13.4. 196 apotropaic 48–51. 210n. 163. 98.33. 81–2. 119. 209n. Alain 29. 187 artist 16. 212n. 207n. 215n.6 Colebrook.32. 197. 171. 146. 161. 29. 184 bringing forth 70. 18. 60. 98.24. 178. 206n. 213n. 206n. 204n. 101–2.4 criticism 16. 65–6. 70–4. 41–4. 122. 83–6. 134. 210n.3. 70–4.15 caesura 13–14. 108. 92. 159. 216n.9. 3.12. 77. 152 ¯ ¯ Ashbery. 98. 199.1. M.39 anti-poiesis 83–114. 157.19 Clemens. 150. Alexander 210n. 132. 20–5.3 Calarco.34 Baudelaire. 100–14 as if 88–94. 128. 211n. 215n. 200 animal 5–8.38. 207n. 213n. Andrew 207n.17 Benveniste. 122–4. 215n. 131. 165. 106. 214n. Robert 203n. Peter 103. 10. 83–6 arche-presence 86. 168. 95 Benjamin. 133. Émile 23. 12–13. John 102. 48–51. 204n. Robert 30. Anna 64–5. 212n. 132. 189. 94. 146–7. 211n. 31. 201.44. Derek 213n. 149. 54–5. 206n. Walter 9.2.3. 69. 120.10. 207n. 176 anaphora 21.29. 137.8. 197.4. 211n. 120–1 Browning. 92–3.10 biopolitical 1. 98. 207n. 90. 102. 117. M.43.20. 79–91. 145 Aristotle 17.9. 79.INDEX Agamben. 166–93. 132. 154. 118. 71–6.6. 31. 147. 102.39 boustrophedonic 139–45. 213n. 87.4 Burger.26 230 Balzac. 66. 73. 212n. 211n. 128. 86. 109.
Rachel Blau 206n.32 genius 67–9. 64–5. 87–8. 88.12 De Boever.42 ease 180–5.4. Andrew 204n. 212n.11 231 enunciation 6.26 . 210n. Sean 205n. 88–90. 205n. 112. 126. 191 ex nihilo (creation) 69. 160. 132. 206n. 128–9.5 De La Durantaye. gestell) 78. 182–3. 35. 134. 106. 192. 67–8. 57. 85. 113. 22.16.6. 195 expropriation 31. 8–13. 180–1. Jenny 203n. 106 Drucker. 41–3. 126–7.4 epoch 53. 26–7. 86. 210n.15 Eaglestone. 146 figural 148–53. 199. 72. Anne 209n. 156.2. 29. 53. 62.3 deixis 20–3. 149–50.3 disinterest 101–3. 106. Michel 41. 43. 145. 162. 144.31 enigma 176–80 enjambement 14. 208n. 216n. 132 fiction 89–90.9 desubjectivization 23–32. 165. 206n. 170. 109.5 gag 59–60. 33.17 entelechy 81–3.22. 80–1. David 212n. 30. 121. 13. 127–8. 208n. 77–9. Robert 207n. 53. 146. 208n.36 gesture 20. 172–3. 93. 141. 196 différance 13. 126. 187.INDEX Damascius 61–2. 98. Mikhail Leonovich 216n. 53–4. 47–8. Jacques 12. 37. 137. Barbara 206n. 131. 45–8.8.34. 145. 212n. 88. 107. 215n.18. 196. 147. 82–3. 164–5. 191–2. 158–60. 109.24.10 dictation 28. 123. Leland 208n. 191. 46. 97. Alexander García 50. 182. 198 Fraser. 193. 211n.15.17. 185. 46. 195. Thomas 205n. 168. 203n. 24–5. 29.26 Gasparov. 208n.29 Deranty. 47. 42. 127. 165.6 Froment-Meurice. 106. 92. 31. 188 Edkins. 205n. 182.4 experience 4. 105. 96–7. 153. Marcel 67. 23–5. 201 form-of-life 58. 29–32. 173. 203n. 178. 210n. 24–37.21. 152–3. 27. 129. 215n.1 framing (parergon.14 Duchamp. 211n. 76. 131. 149. 215n. 208n. 206n. 186. 19.31. 42.1. Johanna 214n. 135–66. 215n. 57. 145–6.14 Docherty.33.19 Foucault. 51. 209n.24 Düttmann. 186 Davis. 210n. 117. Marc 210n. 134. 137–8. 215n.9. 123. 216n. 216n. 159. 73. 123. 96. 118. 60.18. 192. 25. 164 finitude 20. 213n. 67. 42.46. 141 Dillon. 79. 173–4. 88.8 event 24.24 Formis. 58–65.14. 94. 213n. 106. 94–7. 15. 209n. 215n. 67–8. 135. 125–6. 205n.18. 207n. 157. 31. 199. 179. Jean-Philippe 203n. 147. 192. 106. 156. 197.5. 105. 29–31. 130.6 DuPlessis. Colin 205n.4 Derrida. 207n. 209n. 170. 6. 199. 125. 188. 111–13.1 Gaston. 185. 32–8. 181.16. 208n. 122 Dante 32. 124. 128. 67.15. 56–7. 130. 150. 209n. 168–75. 106–13. 19. 107. 54.12.
199. 46. 99. 63.8. 170. 165. 179. 77. 174–5 Heron. 210n. 213n.1 Gray. Thomas 141 Guillaume. Bruno 209n. 59–60. 206n. 63. 146. 147.15 Johnson. 90. 25–6. 52–4. 159. 145. 28. 215n. 107–11 Kaufman. 212n. 30. 122. 201. 161–2.19 human 5–15.6. Andreas 211n. 210n. 174. 141. 71.16. 211n.17.13 Habermas.6. F. 79. Gustave 151 Gulli. 35.INDEX glossolalia (babble. 57. 86. 47. 145–8. 205n. 138.7 On the Way to Language 122.16 Poetry. 181 ¯ Kommerell. 100–1. 167. David E.1 kle sis 88–9. 134. 170 see also indifference ineffable 9–13. 101. 190.9 The Question Concerning Technology 12. 108. 50. 138. 136. 203n. 37. 37–8. 67. Rainer Maria 203n. 178. 107–12. 169–70. Nicholas 209n.1. 51. 215n. 162.6.15. 209n.8. 63.1. 198. 143–5.7. 38. 36. 45. 131–2. 73. 99–101. 206n. 37. 59–60 Kristeva. 16. Jürgen 109 habit 129–34.15. 146 Kafka. 17. 214n. 19. Babel) 29–31. 34. Glenn 65–6. 76. Immanuel 9. 205n. 57. 195 integral actuality 54–5. 60. 215n. John 26–7. 113. 212n. 135. 121. 117. 161 inspiration 32.34. 216n.32 Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’ 198–9.39 Ideal Form (eidos) 80–6. 215n. 205n. Paul 212n. 178. 80. 152.4 Keats. 201. 22–6. 77.8. 57. 73. 161. 124 Kiesow. 18. 204n. 77. 153. 70. 214n. 215n. 77.36. 87.27 infancy 6–17. 194–5 indistinction 1. 113. 210n. 174 having see habit and appropriation Hegarty. 35–8. 196–9. 58. 205n. 214n. 207n. Language.20 Hegel. 20.27 Gould.9 Hölderlin 47. 151. 100. 38. 94. 67. 210n. 210n. Franz 106. 133–4. 102. 120. 33. 191–2. 155. 75.9 . 204n. 216n. 211n. 118–25.32. G. 30. 133.17.16. 157. 212n. 124. 125–6.39 Godzich. 214n.3 232 hesitation 156–8.27.1. 99. 190 impersonality 30. 157. 77. 205n. 204n.25. 198–9.22. 12. 96. 54. 213n. 125 see also desubjectivization and dictation indifference 17. 22.32. 22. 32. 25. Wlad and Jeffrey Kittay 20. Max 47. 165.1 history 8.10 judgement 11. 207n. 74. 98. 212n. 207n.18 Kalyvas. 20. 20–3. 205n. 55. 207n. 206n. 205n. 204n.19 Heidegger. 87. 122 gramma (grammatology) 140–1.11 Heraclitus 47. 120. 211n. 20–3. 36.11. Martin 12–14. 107–13. 211n. 148. Thought 70.2 Kant. Julia 214n. 70–9.4. W. David 119 harmonia 47. 20.16. Eleanor 203n.18 Being and Time 22. 54–7.22.8 Halliburton. 197.
211n. 36–8. 167. 160. 55. 22. 48. 208n. 196. 103–4. 69. 67. Colin 203n. 114. 193. 155. 206n.3. 118. 63.24 Lyotard. Dominick 203n. 129. 157. Catherine 26. 35–7. 88–93. Antonio 2. 211n.21 Musil. 44–6. 211n. 213n. 213n. 91. 118. 133–4. 167. 6. 106. 204n.1 Laclau. 169–70. 196. 57. 169. 113. 169–71. 11. 28. 144. 184. 54. 209n.12. 8.18 Milton. 90. 144–6. 102–3.2 measure 97. 207n. 128. John 206n. 20–3. 57. 99. 107. 50–1. 182–5. 76–9. 35–6. 128.20. 157. 153. 209n.17 Mallarmé.3 Nietzsche. 118–21.22 negation/negativity 2–3. 209n. 183. 45–6. and subjectivity 25–8. Ernesto 203n. 45. 215n. 103.8. 203n. 160. 16–17. 6. 144–56. 9. 131. 110 Malevich 106. 203n.1.20 . Robert 83 name 9–10. 196. 8. Jean-Luc 29. 204n. 69. 191. 195–6. 89. 18.104.22.168 Morgan Wortham. 129. 26. 176–7. John 169. 103. 10. 32. 179. 200. 125. 179–80. Henri “Back” 76 McQuillan. 167. 197. 72–3.42.1. 32. 199. 188–9. 201. Stéphane 58. 117. 122. 213n.11. 55–66. Giacomo “L’infinito” 124–34. Friedrich 42. 196.1 Lacoue-Labarthe. 128.18. 123–4. 208n. 131–4. 212n. 72.5 nihilism 3. 88. 196. Simon 213n. 105. 158. 157. 106–7. 87–91. 210n. 166. 195–7. 15. 147. 49–52. 16.10 language experience of 10–11. 165.2.15. 211n. 41–68. 82–3. 30.15.48. 166. 85–6. 212n. 117. 171–5.11 Lyons. 96–8. 53. 65. 215n. 132.6. 179 Levitt. 211n. 33. 63. 89. 99. 210n.44. 198–9 and modernity 85. 122 thing of thought as such 49–50. 17.6. Alex 205n. 100–3. 45–7. 74. 213n. 209n. 16. 136. 136. 107–14.16 that there is 4–40. 76. 117–34. 135. 91.19 Marion. 216n. Esther Norma 212n. 196 Leopardi. 209n. Deborah 209n. 101–14. 143. 204n. 108–9. 129–34 museum 78. 57–8. 173.INDEX LaCapra. 21. 149. 214n.2. 83–116. 204n. 54.6 Matisse. 56. 153. Phillipe 29. 145. 47. 12. 208n. 13. 174 233 messianism 16. 160. 76. 6 as medium 53.13 Nancy. 92–4. 204n. 67. 141.21 life 1–2.19 logos 8. 128–9. 206n.3 modernity 1. 64–7. 25. 25. 199–201. 145. 215n.45 Lovitt.13 Muse 27. 92. 35–7. 148. 80. 11.13. 145. 195 Negri. 89. 179 love 14. 174 modern art 46. 67. 20. William 204n. 90. 155.18 morphe 79–81 Murray. Jean-François 52. 195 experimentum linguae 4. 203n.24 logopoiesis 77. 191.8 Mills. 193.
17. 211n. 216n. 137–46. 112. 178. 58. 173. 5. 151. 61. 123–4. 128–9. 44–8. 81. 159–60. 58–60. Ezra 102. 188. 146. 32.18 Rasch.33. 29. 167. 92–8 revelation 52–3 rhetorician 104–6 rhyme 14. 63–4. 138. 74–5. 113–14. 175. 145. 156. 62. 130. 34–5.8 Rimbaud. 88–92.25.9. 113. 93 Pope. 169. 11. 215n. 90.17. 211n. 200–1 recursive-projection 21. 180.4 Plato 14. 100. 163. 71–5. 178–9. 144. 129–31. 152–3 periplus 132–3. 87–90. 72. 153.47 ready-made 85. 142–4. 211n. 67. 144–5. 12–13. 173 poetry and philosophy 14. 98. 171.4. 67. 195–7. 145. 173 end of 135–9. 83. 209n. 144. 63–6.4 presupposition 9. 184–7. 138. 30–1. 51. 166. 24. 105–6. 42–6. 43–4. 206n.11 Pound. 122. 117–18. Arthur 26–7. 200. 120–1. 209n. 162. 198–9 philology 2. 129. 207n. 163. 184. 35. 43. 208n. 106. 102. 136. 32. 207n. 210n.1 anti. 208n. 97. 210n. 107–9. 114. 170. 120. 126. 23–8. 191–3. 93 reproducibility 84–6. 133. 139. 197. 172. 79. Andrew 214n. 31. 170. 198–9. 141. line 79.1 ontology 5–6.1 prose 15. 45. 91.9 poetry advent 126–33.27. Alexander 168–72 potential 13. 137.40. 137–43. 121. 71–2. 122. 140–1. 132–4. 172.7 Noys. 192 poem body 44.1 praxis 58. 134. 135. 153. 101–2.40. 133. 186–8. 192–3. 132. 20–1. 186. 179 Pinker. 104–5. 94. 28. 63–8. 88. 157. 49–57. 81–3.6. 207n.1 razo de trobar 32.34. 71–3. 113 . 62–3. 195. 48–9. 22. 211n. 86. 128–9. 195–6 planar 128. 156. 204n. 125. 69. 214n. 206n. 154–74. 214n. 79. 164–5. 211n. 154. 197.39. 168–9. 170. 27. 191.87–116 pop art 85. Stephen 214n. 193.1 Paul 29. 130. 79. 145–6.4 Pacman 159 parable 148–9. 117–18. 129. 205n. 69–87. 33. 169 production 58.3 Idea of 54–7. 146–9. 169–70.19. 132. 88. 137. 191.11 234 poiesis 3. 201 metrical-musical element (poetry) 128. 47. 144. 215n. 48. Benjamin 203n. 17. 35–7. 192. 183. 51. 49. 214n. 52.16. 140. 17. 50. 181. 124. 183–92. William 211n. 79. 208n. 28. 53. 175. 144–5. 213n. 210n. 21. 155–62.1.1. 213n. 153–5. 58–9. 44–5. 13. 8. 152 passivity 30. 186 phone 8. 137–40. 44. 160. 103–8. 127. 79–81. 193. 163–4. 86. 60.27.19. 155. 206n. 143. 28. 37. 99. 167. 60. 210n. 149. 172. 55. 167. 195. 134. 178–9.INDEX Norris. 96. 197.
216n. 194. 60. 75. 99.39 space 14. 196 235 state of exception 1 Stiegler. 172. 192. 48. 197. Ferdinand de 17.20 Silliman. 71. 130.9 Troubador 14–17. 150. 165. 11. 179. 92. 24. 32. 216n.4 terror 99–106 thing. 208n. 134–5. Bernard 211n. 172. 149. 72. 149. 19. 154. Ron 206n. 175–9. 59. 172–4. 107–8 sign 17–22. 105–6. 23. 46. 32–3. 154. 65. 117–18. 26–32. 201. 173 eschaton 88. 97–9. 150. 146–7. 153. 207n. 178–9. 56. 188. 127. 212n. 125–8. 133. 117. 169. 173–5. 63–4. 106. 125.11 kairos 145. 212n. 131. 201 tone/tonos 163–4 transmissibility 30. 83. 161.8 taste 99–103. 19. 97–8. 208n. 128. 108–9. 140. 165. 141. 46. 113. 51–2. 149. 80. 195. 67. 32. 17. 35–7. 186 turn see enjambment and verse . 137–8. 184–8. 131. 28. 144. 178–88.4. 127. 124. 211n. 57. 149. 182 tablet 44.6 stil novist 14. 61. 199.3 Royle. 157–8. 83. 185 tabular 64. 122.10 singularity 5.42 time/temporality chronos 145. 173. 197. 80. 154. 186–7. 93–7. 13–19. 144–5. 77–8. art 75–7 thing as such of thought 49. 136–44. 47–8. 35. 164–5. 142.47. 28. 142. 162. 57. 120–1. 22–3. 146. 131–2. 27–8. 109. 117–34. 32. 206n. 167. 192 operational time 150–3. 215n. 199. 159–60. 131. 121 tension 35. 125. 155. 53. 108. 181–3. 166–93. 150. 105–6. 199–201. 174 Thurschwell.3. 210n. 205n. 211n. 133. 12. 200. 43. 140. 184–9. 56–7. 160. 124. 196. 31. 55. 149–53 linear time 87. 160–9. 169. 185. 167–72. 206n. 27 scission 2. 214n. 122. 197. 207n. 197. 163 and space 20. 155–6.21. 187 shock 94–7. 184 silence 8. 48. 171. 178–9. 99. 84. 172.6 Spinks.19 stanza 13–17. 56. 199 semiotic 6. 149–50. 94–104. 110–11 tautegorical 52. 127–9. 133. 46. 158–64. 122. 20. 155–62. 84. 133. 21. 127. 188.4 techne 73–86. 193. 214n. 201. 85. 177–80.15. 32. 151 tautology 6. 60–8.12. Adam 203n.INDEX Romanticism 69.4 sestina 154–5. 111–12. 182. 37. 150–4. 6. 156. 136–43. 143. 160. 158. 197.46. 114. Nicholas 203n. 54. 30. 144. 145. 169. 152–65. 136. 110–11. 28. 171–2. 135. 211n. 34.5 Saussure. 30. 60. 212n. 149. 45–6. 63. 9. 199 sovereignty 1–2. 149. 199–201. 192. 125. 167. 184. 138.27. 194 semantic 27–9. 188. 131. 77. 170. 55–6. 136–9. Lee 205n. 70. 174–5. 133–4. 97.11 ergon 158–60.
Slavoj 210n.15 Zizek. 186.21. 216n. 157–8. 152. Krzysztof 205n.15 Wolfreys.27.36. 201 Vogt. 7. 213n. 8 236 . 199.10 Wall. Paul 56. 140–4. 82. 206n.10. 216n. 28.39 zoon logon echon 5. 214n.44. 211n. Shane 206n. 166–7. Erik 203n. 30. 207n.11 Weller.1.5 Walser. 45–8. Thanos 210n. 215n. Irving 209n. 103. 22.214.171.124.34 zoe 1. 171. Vincent 70.5 Valéry. 204n.13.45 work see praxis and entelechy writer’s block 67–8 xenoglossia 29–30. 212n. 207n. William 204n. 199. 207n. 209n.INDEX uncanny 2.39 Zartaloudis. Andy 93 Watkin. 208n. 168. 135–65. 206n. 12. 205n. 178. 207n. 21–5. 75. 213n. 33. 212n. Julian 208n.47.33. 177. Robert 122 Warhol. 128.2 whatever (quodlibet) 63–5 Whitehead.20 voice 3–8.37. 133.36 Ziarek.7 Wohlfarth. Thomas Carl 207n. 59.6. Derek H. 179. 102 Varro 58 verse as versus 128–34. 208n.1 van Gogh. 173–5.