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Gathering some of the most important established and emerging scholars to examine his body of work, this collection of essays seeks to explore Agamben's thought from these broader philosophical and literary concerns, underpinning its place within larger debates in continental philosophy. Including a contribution by Agamben himself, it is essential reading for anyone interested in his work.

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In the past five years, Giorgio Agamben has emerged as one of the most important continental philosophers. This burgeoning popularity of his work has largely been confined to a study of the homo sacer series. Yet these later 'political' works have their foundation in Agamben's earlier works on the philosophy of language, aesthetics and literature. From a philosophy of language and linguistics that leads to a broader theory of representation, Agamben develops a critical theory that attempts to explore the hiatuses and paradoxes that govern discursive practice across a broad range of disciplines.

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Edinburgh University Press Books. My Account Log In. Search: Search. Add to Basket. Add to Wishlist. Key Features The first volume to focus on Agamben's early work on language and literature Includes established as well as up-and-coming scholars working in a variety of disciplines Includes a new contribution by Agamben. K, Giorgio Agamben 2.

Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature, Life: Law, Literature, Life

It is this which lies at the center of all his disparate writings. The notion receives a meticulous genealogical investigation, following the decisive stages of its evolution from early Greek philosophy to the present, from Plato and Aristotle through the Stoics, Paul and the Church Fathers, scholasticism, Leibniz and Spinoza on to the tradition of German Idealism which culminates in Heidegger.

The word subject literally means that which is cast down or beneath. This Latin notion is an inheritance from a Greek word, hypostasis , which, although completely absent in Plato and Aristotle, rose to sudden prominence in the second and third centuries CE with the Stoics and has, in various forms, under various names, determined modern conceptions of subjectivity since.

In ancient Greek hypostasis literally meant the remnant or residue of a process, such as the solid remnant of an evaporated liquid Aristotle uses the term only in this sense, in a discussion of urine. The form of our life, for ourselves as for others, need not be that of a subject, a residue, a part below which moves a part above, and might be something just as substantial while far less subject to the reigning political conceptions which, for Agamben, are undergoing acute crisis.

For about our current state of emergency, and the need to reconceive the global situation in which we find ourselves, there is permitted no doubt.

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Giorgio Agamben

Such claims will sound airy to anyone unwilling to entertain the notion that ontological determinations are intimately related to political ones, right down to their mundane or murderous minutiae. How then would this truth—if it is one—coexist alongside explanations of global terrorism focusing on factors of a more concrete nature, such as oil in the Middle East, abandoned allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rise of radical Islam, sectarian conflict, economic disenfranchisement, flows in global capital, and a long list of other quite concrete factors?

Here and elsewhere in the Homo Sacer series, we are exhorted to rethink our notion of what politics is for the reason that this one is not working, and it is through the first distinctions—such as sacred and profane, man and animal—that such a reconception must proceed. If the murderous state of exception is to cease being the rule, the edifice of which it is a part needs not just to change but to fall. Following in the footsteps of Marx and Weber, and more precisely in those of Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt, Agamben has stressed at a number of points in the series the degree to which political conceptions have a sacred lineage, the degree to which a political theology shapes our thinking and our institutions.


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  • But political concepts are not the only ones in Western culture Agamben deems to have a sacred lineage. So too are literary and artistic ones.

    At the outset of still another recent book not within the Homo Sacer series Agamben has been uncommonly prolific of late , Il fuoco e il racconto The Fire and the Story, , Agamben tells a story about fire, one that had been told before by Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Gershom Scholem, Elie Wiesel, and others. When Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism, was confronted with a difficult task he would go into the forest, light a fire, speak the sacred words, and receive what he needed.

    A generation later, when the Maggid of Mezeritz was faced with a similar difficulty, he went to the place in the forest and though he could no longer light the fire, he could still say the prayers. This sufficed, and what he desired came to pass.

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    A generation still later, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov was confronted with an equally intractable problem, and though he could no longer light the fire, and no longer knew the prayers, he went to the place in the forest, and this too was enough. But of all this we can tell the story. This is seen not only in the care he takes with his own language, but also in his manner of approaching philosophical questions.

    It has, moreover, no internal or external limits besides those of language. A naturally occurring phenomenon in philosophy is that the key concept, the one whose weight is greatest and thus whose gravity is strongest— eidos in Plato, cogito in Descartes, Dasein in Heidegger—is all but untranslatable, the convergence of meanings that allows the philosopher to make a term a central one often insuring its untranslatability.

    For Agamben, the word denotes a mode where no opera , no work opera is Italian for work , either in the sense of an ongoing activity or a finished product, is at issue. And the meaning he assigns to it is best seen through a lens offered to him by Aristotle. Aristotle says that happiness is unique in human affairs in being its own end. Have the carpenter, then, and the tanner certain functions or activities, and has man none?

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    Is he naturally functionless? To speak of such a vocation or function is to assign a task—an essential defining activity—to mankind as a whole, and it should come as no surprise that Aristotle pauses to wonder whether mankind could indeed be said to have such a collective calling. For Agamben the great political danger, in the name of which the Homo Sacer series and all of his books are written, is in seeing the world with an end, in seeing humanity as something that involves the accomplishment of a task, individual or collective.

    For Agamben, mankind has no millennial or messianic task to complete, no divinely ordained work it must do, no set function it must exercise. For there can be no one thing that humanity must do, no specific single task that must be accomplished or work that must be done, no tower to the heavens or coalition of the pure that will allow us to become what we already are. The story for Agamben is thus not about how far we have fallen, how lost we are, how remote the once bright fire of sacred speech, pure thought, and incandescent experience.

    His is a story where there is no task that must be accomplished, no work that must be completed, no single spot, no sacred words, no special fire. Christian theology sees time as a line and its point an arrow.

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    The intersection of the vector of history with that of eternity is the mystery of Christianity and its guiding notion. One of its effects is to project forward, ceaselessly, a state that will at last be in alignment, and thereby end the world, and an interim in which that world must be governed in a certain manner. If there is no thing that we as a society or species must do, nothing that humans must accomplish so as to be, become, or remain human, then philosophical, political, and artistic activity appear in a new light, where everything is just as sacred as it is profane.

    If the Homo Sacer project has now been abandoned, it is in the way that Giacometti abandoned his works: with mastery. Editor's note : All translations from L'uso dei corpi are the author's own.

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