The Figure of This World

The Figure of This World: Agamben and the Question of Political Ontology

Mathew Abbott
Series: Crosscurrents
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Figure of This World
    Book Description:

    What if we’ve been wrong when reading Agamben? The work of the Italian Continental philosopher Giorgio Agamben is usually read in terms of critical theory or traditional political philosophy. Now Mathew Abbott argues that Agamben’s thought has been widely misunderstood. Instead, he shows that it engages with political ontology: studying the political stakes of the question being.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-8410-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Christopher Watkin
  5. Introduction: The Figure of This World
    (pp. 1-12)

    Thingsare. Philosophy is constitutively ill equipped to own up to this fact, which is both banal and singularly inexplicable.

    This is because it is a very particular kind of fact. Specifically, it is not the kind of fact that can be represented, not the kind of fact that we canknow.

    Yet this is not because it is ineffably ‘beyond language’. It is because our relation to it goes deeper than representation and knowing, because this very particular fact makes a particular kind ofclaimon us.

    This claim ispoliticalin a fundamental sense. It bears on our...

  6. 1. The Question of Political Ontology
    (pp. 13-32)

    In his studies of the thought of Carl Schmitt, Heinrich Meier insists on a distinction he takes to be crucial for understanding the challenge posed by the jurist’s ‘lesson’: the difference between political philosophy and political theology. If political philosophy is the study of the political good carried out ‘entirely on the ground of human wisdom’,² Meier argues, then political theology is the study of the same from the standpoint of a ‘faith in revelation’.³ In a trenchantly Straussian fashion, then, Meier understands the difference as far more than simply doctrinal, arguing instead that it ‘concerns the foundation and assertion...

  7. 2. The Poetic Experience of the World
    (pp. 33-57)

    In the preface toInfancy and History, Agamben writes that the question ‘which defines themotivum’ of his thought – the single problem he has pursued in all his works, both written and unwritten – is the following: ‘[W] hat is the meaning of “there is language”; what is the meaning of “I speak”?’² While the philosophy of language is a significant sub-field in contemporary philosophy, Agamben’s way of posing his question shows how far his concerns are from those of most professional philosophers, including not only analytic but also many ‘continental’ thinkers. His question is not about the nature of meaning...

  8. 3. The Myth of the Earth
    (pp. 58-79)

    In the final paragraph of his preface toInfancy and History, Agamben turns Wittgenstein’s statement about the right expression in language for the miracle of the world’s existence on its head. Referring to it as the Viennese philosopher’s version of theexperimentum linguae– the experience with the fact of language that occupies Agamben throughout his works – he writes:

    [I]f the most appropriate expression of wonderment at the existence of the world is the existence of language, what then is the correct expression for the existence of language? The only possible answer to this question is: human life, asethos, as...

  9. 4. The Unbearable
    (pp. 80-105)

    Agamben’sLanguage and Deathopens with a famous passage from Heidegger:

    Mortals are they who can experience death as death. Animals cannot do so. But animals cannot speak either. The essential relation between death and language flashes up before us, but remains still unthought. It can, however, beckon us toward the way in which the nature of language draws us into its concern, and so relates us to itself, in case death belongs together with what reaches out for us, touches us.²

    As the position of this citation makes clear, this is an important thought inLanguage and Death. Why...

  10. 5. The Creature before the Law
    (pp. 106-122)

    The previous analyses of the problem of foundation have important implications for how we understand the question of law in Agambenian political ontology. As I show in this chapter, this is because the problem of foundation goes to the heart of the concept of legitimation, throwing light on the secret connection established in modernity between life, authority and violence. I achieve this by carrying out an extended analysis of an essay that is pivotal for Agamben’s own engagements with these issues: Benjamin’s early essay ‘Critique of Violence’. A key thesis of Benjamin’s piece is that there is no stable opposition...

  11. 6. The Animal for which Animality is an Issue
    (pp. 123-143)

    It appears this theory of law and violence – and, in some respects, the concept of atheist redemption at work in political ontology – chimes with the diagnosis of modernity one finds in Nietzsche. For Nietzsche not only shares with political ontology a commitment to a certain this-worldliness, to the idea that modernity is the age in which the possibility of a purely profane existence arises. He also figures this in terms of the human relation to its animal life: for Nietzsche, the possibility of overcoming nihilism rests on whether and how the human animal could come to terms with – and the...

  12. 7. Understanding the Happy
    (pp. 144-161)

    What are the consequences of our taking the world as a picture, of viewing it as though it were a picture, ofpicturingthe world? This question, which is arguably at the heart of the problem of representation, is complicated by the depth at which the picture-concept – the idea of the world as a representable totality of facts – is embedded in our ways of speaking and writing. In everyday language we find ‘points of view’ and ‘perspectives’ (not to mentionWeltbilderandWeltanschauungen); we say ‘that’s not how I see it’, ‘I see what you mean’, or ‘I get the...

  13. 8. The Picture and its Captives
    (pp. 162-178)

    It is characteristic of Wittgenstein’s work that the picture-concept and the philosophical problems associated with it appear as if they have sprung up from nowhere. What I mean is that Wittgenstein’s analyses can give the impression of dealing with issues that are secure in their status as internal to philosophy, as having no obvious relation to the wider historical milieu in which we work on them. Connected to this is the sense that Wittgenstein’s therapeutic approach to philosophy is relevant only tophilosophers, only to the kinds of people who, whether because of temperament, intellectual propensity, economic capacity or whatever,...

  14. 9. The Passing of the Figure of This World
    (pp. 179-200)

    In his brilliant study of what he calls ‘the politics of logic’, Paul Livingston investigates the relations between the linguistic and logical paradoxes that arose in the twentieth century and recent European political thought. In particular Livingston shows the paradigmatic status of the Russell set which, as the set of all sets that are not members of themselves, appears to both include and exclude itself. To quote from him:

    The paradoxical structure of sovereignty, upon which is founded its power to determine the distinction between the normal and the exceptional, law and fact, is . . . formally identical to...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-213)
  16. Index
    (pp. 214-224)