Here, Agamben draws upon the linguistic notion of deixis to isolate the self-referentiality of language in pronouns or grammatical shifters, which he argues do not refer to anything beyond themselves but only to their own utterance LD, The problem for Agamben, though, is that both Hegel and Heidegger ultimately maintain a split within language - which he sees as a consistent element of Western thought from Aristotle to Wittgenstein - in their identification of an ineffability or unspeakability that cannot be brought into human discourse but which is nevertheless its condition.
This is the problem of potentiality, the rethinking of which Agamben takes to be central to the task of overcoming contemporary nihilism. While this relation is central to the passage of voice to speech or signification and to attaining toward the experience of language as such, Agamben also claims that in this formulation Aristotle bequeaths to Western philosophy the paradigm of sovereignty, since it reveals the undetermined or sovereign founding of being. In this way then, the relation of potentiality to actuality described by Aristotle accords perfectly with the logic of the ban that Agamben argues is characteristic of sovereign power, thereby revealing the fundamental integration of metaphysics and politics.
These reflections on metaphysics and language thus yield two inter-related problems for Agamben, which he addresses in his subsequent work; the first of these lies in the broad domain of aesthetics, in which Agamben considers the stakes of the appropriation of language in prose and poetry in order to further critically interrogate the distinction between philosophy and poetry. While dedicated to the memory of Martin Heidegger, whom Agamben here names as the last of Western philosophers within this book, also most evidently bears the influence of Aby Warburg.
In order to pursue this task, Agamben develops a model of knowledge evident in the relations of desire and appropriation of an object that Freud identifies as melancholia and fetishism. Yet, Agamben argues that Derrida does not achieve the overcoming he hopes for, since he has in fact misdiagnosed the problem: metaphysics. Metaphysics is not simply the interpretation of presence in the fractures of essence and appearance, sensibility and intelligibility and so on.
This enigmatic text is perhaps especially difficult to understand, because these fragments do not constitute a consistent argument throughout the book. In bringing into play various literary techniques such as the fable, the riddle, the aphorism and the short story, Agamben is practically demonstrating an exercise of criticism, in which thought is returned to a prosaic experience or awakening, in which what is known is representation itself.
In this volume, Foucault argued that modern power was characterized by a fundamentally different rationality than that of sovereign power. Suggesting that Foucault has failed to elucidate the points at which sovereign power and modern techniques of power coincide, Agamben rejects the thesis that the historical rise of biopower marked the threshold of modernity.
Several theoretical innovations inform this thesis, two of which are especially important. For Schmitt, it is precisely in the capacity to decide on whether a situation is normal or exceptional, and thus whether the law applies or not—since the law requires a normal situation for its application—that sovereignty is manifest. Further, what is required is the inauguration of a real state of exception in order to combat the rise of Fascism, here understood as a nihilistic emergency that suspends the law while leaving it in force.
In addressing this conflict between Schmitt and Benjamin, Agamben argues that in contemporary politics, the state of exception identified by Schmitt in which the law is suspended by the sovereign, has in fact become the rule.
The subject of the law is simultaneously turned over to the law and left bereft by it. The importance of this distinction in Aristotle is that it allows for the relegation of natural life to the domain of the household oikos , while also allowing for the specificity of the good life characteristic of participation in the polis— bios politikos.
More importantly though, for Agamben, this indicates the fact that Western politics is founded upon that which it excludes from politics—the natural life that is simultaneously set outside the domain of the political but nevertheless implicated in bios politicos. The question arises, then, of how life itself or natural life is politicized. The answer to this question is through abandonment to an unconditional power of death, that is, the power of sovereignty.
According to Agamben, the camp is the space opened when the exception becomes the rule or the normal situation, as was the case in Germany in the period immediately before and throughout World War 2. For Aristotle, the transition from voice to language is a founding condition of political community, since speech makes possible a distinction between the just and the unjust.
Hence, for Agamben, the rift or caesura introduced into the human by the definition of man as the living animal who has language and therefore politics is foundational for biopolitics; it is this disjuncture that allows the human to be reduced to bare life in biopolitical capture. In this way then, metaphysics and politics are fundamentally entwined, and it is only by overcoming the central dogmas of Western metaphysics that a new form of politics will be possible.
This damning diagnosis of contemporary politics does not, however, lead Agamben to a position of political despair. Rather, it is exactly in the crisis of contemporary politics that the means for overcoming the present dangers also appear. Given this critique of the camps and the status of the law that is revealed in, but by no means limited to, the exceptional space of them, it is no surprise that Agamben takes the most extreme manifestation of the condition of the camps as a starting point for an elaboration of an ethics without reference to the law, a term that is taken to encompass normative discourse in its entirety.
Taking up the problem of skepticism in relation to the Nazi concentration camps of World War II—also discussed by Jean-Francois Lyotard and others—Agamben casts Remnant s as an attempt to listen to a lacuna in survivor testimony, in which the factual condition of the camps cannot be made to coincide with that which is said about them. Importantly, Agamben argues that it is precisely this non-coincidence of the speaking being and living being and the impossibility of speech revealed in it that provides the condition of possibility of testimony. The question that arises here then is what Agamben means by testimony, since it is clear that he does not use the term in the standard sense of giving an account of an event that one has witnessed.
Instead, he argues that what is at stake in testimony is bearing witness to what is unsayable, that is, bearing witness to the impossibility of speech and making it appear within speech. In this way, he suggests, the human is able to endure the inhuman. As the account of subjectification and desubjectification indicates, there can be no simple appropriation of language that would allow the subject to posit itself as the ground of testimony, and nor can it simply realise itself in speaking.
Instead, testimony remains forever unassumable. Against juridical accounts of responsibility that would understand it in terms of sponsorship, debt and culpabililty, Agamben argues that responsibility must be thought as fundamentally unassumable, as something which the subject is consigned to, but which it can never fully appropriate as its own. What Agamben means by this is particularly unclear, not least because he sees elaboration of these concepts as requiring a fundamental overturning of the metaphysical grounds of western philosophy, but also because they gesture toward a new politics and ethics that remain largely to be thought.
As he states,. Drawing on this figuration, Agamben appears to construe happiness as that which allows for the overturning of contemporary nihilism in the form of the metaphysico-political nexus of biopower. In taking up the problem of community, Agamben enters into a broader engagement with this concept by others such as Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy, and in the Anglo-American scene, Alphonso Lingis.
The broad aim of the engagement is to develop a conception of community that does not presuppose commonality or identity as a condition of belonging. Importantly though, this entails neither a mystical communion nor a nostalgic return to a Gemeinschaft that has been lost; instead, the coming community has never yet been.
Interestingly, Agamben argues in this elliptical text that the community and politics of whatever singularity are heralded in the event of Tianenmen square, which he. He takes this event to indicate that the coming politics will not be a struggle between states, but, instead, a struggle between the state and humanity as such, insofar as it exists in itself without expropriation in identity.
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