The Philosophy of Agamben

The Philosophy of Agamben

Catherine Mills
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of Agamben
    Book Description:

    Giorgio Agamben has gained widespread popularity in recent years for his rethinking of radical politics and his approach to meta-physics and language. However, the extraordinary breadth of historical, legal, and philosophical sources that contribute to the complexity and depth of Agamben's thinking can also make his work intimidating. Catherine Mill's critical introduction covers the full range of Agamben's work, presenting his key concerns - metaphysics, language and potentiality, aesthetics and poetics, sovereignty, law and biopolitics, ethics and testimony - as well as his powerful vision of post-historical humanity. Highlighting the novelty of Agamben's approach while situating it in relation to the work of other continental thinkers, The Philosophy of Agamben presents a clear and engaging introduction to the work of an innovative and influential thinker.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9489-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Giorgio Agamben has become well known in recent years for his interventions in political theory, ethics and questions of law. Since the translation of his enigmatic work,The Coming Community, in 1993, English publication of his work has occurred at an ever-increasing rate. In the process, his complex and philosophically dense reflections on contemporary problems of sovereignty, biopolitics and ethics have transformed the terms of much of the critical discourse of radical theory. Terms such as sovereignty, the exception, biopolitics and life can scarcely be used today without reference to Agamben. Moreover, his approach to questions of language, subjectivity and...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Metaphysics: negativity, potentiality and death
    (pp. 9-34)

    Some of the most intractable problems that Agamben addresses in his work derive from his engagement with the history of metaphysics in Western philosophy, and particularly the tendency that he diagnoses in metaphysical thought to presuppose and posit a foundation for being and language in negativity. This position is elaborated most explicitly in the complex text,Language and Death, where Agamben sets himself the project of surpassing this metaphysical tendency towards negative foundation, which he argues first requires an examination of the true meaning of the terms “Da” and “Diese” central to the thought of the German philosophers Martin Heidegger...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Aesthetics: language, representation and the object
    (pp. 35-58)

    Agamben indicates in the 1989 preface to the English translation ofinfancy and Historythat the key question that unites his work is what it means for language to exist, what it means that “I speak”. In taking up this question throughout his work, and most explicitly in texts such asinfancy and History, Language and DeathandThe Open, Agamben reinvigorates consideration of philosophical anthropology through a critical questioning of the metaphysical presuppositions that inform it and, in particular, the claim that the defining essence of man is that of having language. In taking up this question, Agamben proposes...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Politics: biopolitics, sovereignty and nihilism
    (pp. 59-80)

    In what is perhaps his best-known book,Homo Sacer, Giorgio Agamben takes up the concept of biopower proposed by Michel Foucault to provide a radical reinterpretation of the modern political condition as one of legal abandonment and nihilism. In the final chapter ofThe History of Sexuality, Foucault argues that the regime of power that emerged from the seventeenth century onwards involved a fundamental reversal of the principle of power’s operation.¹ He claims that whereas sovereign power operated on the principle of the right to commit its subjects to death in order to enhance the strength of the sovereign, modern...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Ethics: testimony, responsibility and the witness
    (pp. 81-106)

    As we saw in Chapter 3, Agamben appropriates Walter Benjamin’s apothegm that the exception has become the rule as a means of responding to the Schmittian conception of sovereignty and law as founded on the exception. Solidifying this thesis through empirical reference, Agamben subsequently argues that the paradigmatic manifestation of exceptional biopolitics is the concentration camp. Given this critique of the camps and the status of the law that is revealed in 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...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Messianism: time, happiness and completed humanity
    (pp. 107-132)

    As we saw in Chapter 3, Agamben’s diagnosis and critique of contemporary juridico-political conditions revolves around the notion of bare life. Obscure as this concept seems at times, it provides not only the central axis for his analysis of exceptional politics, but also the starting point for a theorization of a way beyond contemporary nihilism and the violence of biopolitical capture and abandonment. The notion of bare life develops from the distinction that Aristotle makes betweenzoē, or biological life, andbios, or a specified way of life within a political community. At its most conceptually specific, bare life is...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 133-138)

    Throughout this book, we have seen that Agamben’s recent contributions to political and legal theory and to ethics are driven by and based on a complex critique of the metaphysical tendencies within Western thought. For Agamben, much Western philosophy remains tied to ways of thinking about the human that reinstitute and maintain a condition of nihilism by presupposing a non-nature at the heart of human nature. That is, by building an idea of human nature on the conception of having language, where language is founded in negativity, human nature is itself relegated to nihilism. This tendency towards a negative foundation...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 139-144)
  13. Chronology of major works
    (pp. 145-146)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 147-150)
  15. Index
    (pp. 151-154)