The Work of Giorgio Agamben

The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature, Life

Justin Clemens
Nicholas Heron
Alex Murray
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Work of Giorgio Agamben
    Book Description:

    This collection of essays seeks to explore Agamben's work from philosophical and literary perspectives, thereby underpinning its place within larger debates in continental philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3463-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. The Enigma of Giorgio Agamben
    (pp. 1-12)
    Justin Clemens, Nicholas Heron and Alex Murray

    Every true philosopher introduces something new into the world, perhaps even a new world. This novelty is an essential phenomenon, not simply an accident or by-product of philosophy. As such, it cannot quite be evaluated, for no existing mode of thought is able to account fully for its emergence, its enunciation, its elaboration. Novelty is untimely, inasmuch as it irrupts into already established habits of thought, deranging or diverting customary modes of attention and expression, their rhythm and composition. Novelty is delocalising, insofar as it disrupts the standardised places of thought and resculpts their topologies. Taking such novelty seriously is...

  6. CHAPTER 1 K
    (pp. 13-27)
    Giorgio Agamben

    1. In Roman law, in which prosecution had a limited role, slander (calumnia, in old Latin kalumnia) represented so serious a threat for the administration of justice that the false accuser was punished by the branding of the letter K (the initial of kalumniator) on his forehead. It is Davide Stimilli’s merit to have demonstrated the importance of this fact for the interpretation of Kafka’s Trial, which the incipit unreservedly presents as a slanderous trial (‘Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested’¹). K., Stimilli suggests, recalling that Kafka had studied...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Integral Actuality: On Giorgio Agamben’s Idea of Prose
    (pp. 28-42)
    Alexander García Düttmann

    If only by the discontinuous or elliptical character of its prose, Giorgio Agamben’s Idea of Prose revives the question of the relationship between philosophy and poetry.¹ Is the constellation of ideas that it forms the product of a poetic vocation or of a thought that seeks to liberate truth from its linguistic reification? This question, the question of the relationship between philosophy and poetry, between meaning and melos, between a prose whose implicit philosophical determination regulates the effects of its signifying function and a poetry whose purely sonorous and rhythmic dimension seems to resist any translation – this question is also...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Role of the Shifter and the Problem of Reference in Giorgio Agamben
    (pp. 43-65)
    Justin Clemens

    If language constitutes the philosophical problem for Giorgio Agamben, it’s not just any part of language that obsesses him. It is, rather, a peculiar kind of word, which twentieth-century linguistics denominated the ‘shifter’. It is even possible to say that, for Agamben, ‘in the beginning was the shifter’. In demonstrating this here, I deploy a number of words beginning with the letter ‘p’. These include: paradigm, parable, parataxis, paleonymy, potentiality, philology, prose and poeisis. These are directed against other p-words, such as ‘phatic’ and ‘performativity’. (This is admittedly kind of cheesy, but possibly mnemonically providential.) Above all, to miss the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 ‘Its Silent Working was a Delusion’
    (pp. 66-81)
    Jessica Whyte

    In his short story ‘In the Penal Settlement’, Franz Kafka describes a machine, ‘the apparatus’, in which a condemned man is to be executed. This apparatus – as lovingly described by the officer who supervises it – works in the following way. Firstly, the condemned man is laid naked on a bed, stomach down; next, he is strapped in by his hands, feet and throat, while a piece of felt is stuffed into his mouth ‘to keep him from screaming and biting his tongue’.¹ Above the bed is the inscriber and, attached to that, the harrow – a word that refers not only...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Politics and Poetics of Divine Violence: On a Figure in Giorgio Agamben and Walter Benjamin
    (pp. 82-96)
    Arne De Boever

    Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘Critique of Violence’ is a foundational text for Giorgio Agamben’s study of sovereign power because it lays bare the link between violence and law that is so important for Agamben’s critical project. As Agamben observes, Benjamin understands this link as a dialectical oscillation between the violence that posits the law and the violence that preserves it. The aim of Benjamin’s essay is to propose a third figure that would break the circularity of this dialectic. Agamben finds Benjamin’s essay problematic, however, in that it leaves this figure largely undefined, suggesting even that it can’t be recognised in...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Idea of Poetry, Idea of Prose
    (pp. 97-113)
    Nicholas Heron

    1. It has long been the tendency of critics to treat Walter Benjamin’s doctoral dissertation on ‘Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik’, which was first published as a monograph in 1920, as something of an anomaly within his often fragmentary, but nonetheless vast body of work. And, at a first, provisional glance, this indeed appears to be the case. It was the first – and, to be sure, the last – of his writings to be conceived and accommodated entirely within the parameters of the university. Its successful defence before the faculty of philosophy at the University of Bern in...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Fading Memory of Homo non Sacer
    (pp. 114-131)
    Anton Schütz

    Has there been a time before homo sacer? A bios forfeited (proscribed, banned, vogelfrei) and stripped of significance, reduced to zero-status and at the same time unsacrificeable: how far back does the history of this life disposed and disposed-of, supplied and confiscated, go? The question is all the more inevitable as Giorgio Agamben does not subscribe to the confident gesture with which Michel Foucault assigned a date of emergence to Western modernity, a ‘birth’ of what he called ‘biopolitics’. A clean-slate type discontinuity, particularly the idea of modernity as innovation – whether the innovation is a point, or whether it extends...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Soulblind, or On Profanation
    (pp. 132-148)
    Thanos Zartaloudis

    1. At stake: eu-daimonia, happiness. To traverse the juridico-political and theological model of a theocracy still prevalent today what is most in need of separation is the order of happiness from the order of the messianic. A profane experience of happiness (not conceived psychologically or transcendentally) may lie in the word. Working towards the conception of a profane historical order Walter Benjamin diagnosed as the condition of his time what seems to be still at stake today: the redemption of the mode of transmission of things that are held as ‘sacred heritage’: the hypocrisy of ‘the closedmouth’ as a place...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Face to Face with Agamben; or, the Other in Love
    (pp. 149-163)
    Julian Wolfreys

    Love is found everywhere in the text of Giorgio Agamben. We should neither confuse nor conflate ‘love’ with either desire or any erotism, as I shall go on to explain. Separating what is already other than these clinical and classical terms, love must be maintained as other to them. Neither synonymous nor supplementary, love remains in Agamben as that for which we will have to account in a language that, though indirect, must keep itself separate from the philosopher’s economy. More than merely ‘found’, as if it were encountered, scattered like the wind-blown detritus of hastily ripped apart love letters,...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Beyond Spectacle and the Image: the Poetics of Guy Debord and Agamben
    (pp. 164-180)
    Alex Murray

    In the opening to a short essay on the metropolis Agamben relates the following story:

    Many years ago I was having a conversation with Guy (Debord) which I believed to be about political philosophy, until at some point Guy interrupted me and said: ‘Look, I am not a philosopher, I am a strategist’. This statement struck me because I used to see him as a philosopher as I saw myself as one, but I think that what he meant to say was that every thought, however ‘pure’, general or abstract it tries to be, is always marked by historical and...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Dismantling Theatricality: Aesthetics of Bare Life
    (pp. 181-192)
    Barbara Formis

    A theatre stage, bare, without setting. The boards and walls are black. All at once, men and women enter the stage, one after the other, without clear order, without rhythmic scansion. They come from nowhere, as if they were already on the stage, as if they were already part of it. Each follows his or her own movement, without paying attention to the others, whether those are persons on the stage or spectators sitting comfortably in their armchairs. These men and women are neutral bodies. Identically dressed, they wear black suits, black shoes and white shirts. They walk.¹ One foot...

  17. CHAPTER 12 Notes on Media and Biopolitics: ‘Notes on Gesture’
    (pp. 193-211)
    Deborah Levitt

    In ‘Notes on Gesture’, a brief essay which has appeared in English in three different versions, Giorgio Agamben extends Gilles Deleuze’s reflections on the cinematic image and on the image in general, on ‘the status of the image in modernity’:

    Gilles Deleuze has argued that cinema erases the fallacious psychological distinction between image as psychic reality and movement as physical reality. Cinematographic images are neither poses éternelles (such as the forms of the classical age) nor coupes immobiles of movement, but rather coupes mobiles, images themselves in movement, that Deleuze calls movement-images.

    It is necessary to extend Deleuze’s argument and...

  18. Index
    (pp. 212-214)