Tag Archives: Agamben

Simon Critchley and Recognitions…

I listened today to a lecture by Simon Critchley, not by any means a dharma talk (and in fact he mocks—in his ignorance—European or American Buddhism as being overly nihilistic and withdrawn into the self) but he was talking about the beginning of ethics, of compassion as it is recognized in the “other”.

Critchley said that ethics was born, and I think he was quoting the Hebrew bible (perhaps someone can correct me on this) in the “face of the widow, the orphan and the cripple” and what he meant is that in the face of the other, in the face of the person ‘not-me’, the one who is less fortunate, or even wholly unfortunate, I recognize my face, I see myself.  And when I see myself I can no longer act as I would towards “not-myself” but instead must act in the way of the good, however situationally or relationally or temporally that good might play out.  Of course there is in this a form of the do-unto-your-neighbor, but removing it from theology, making it in essence “atheologistic” is what makes it interesting. It universalizes the singularities of experience into multiples; rather than creating a single credo, a single law it allows me to always recognize myself in the other, that the other makes me as I make it, allowing for a purely subjective universal which is in the end, endlessly liberating.

As Arizona busies themselves criminalizing the “other”, recognizing in the face of the “other” not themselves, but something juridically mandated and categorized as “other” (a form of Agamben’s Homo Sacer) it is all the more important that we see no man, no “other”, as illegal.  The other is us.  It is in that mere glimmer of recognition that compassion is born, that a window onto the ethical good is opened. Like satori, that recognition, that demand towards the good might be brief, might even always be, after Levinas, unfulfillable, but it is in this philosophical exercising, in always investigating further, with an almost religious fervor, that a liberating freedom is also born.

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Girogio Agamben speaking at EGS

Giorgio Agamben. Liturgia and the Modern State. 2009


Giorgio Agamben at the European Graduate School in 2009 speaking about  the modern juridical state, its ties to the High Church and the Ufficium, as well as Michel Foucault, Heidegger and contemporary ethics.

Giorgio Agamben speaking to the European Graduate School (EGS) in Saas-Fee, Switzerland in August of 2009. Agamben spoke extensively about the role of the liturgy as well as the etymology and role of the Uficium in the Catholic Church and how those two concepts have carried forth into the contemporary juridical state, most notably in modern ethics and politics.

Giorgio Agamben is perhaps Italy’s most famous contemporary philosopher; as a leading figure in both philosophy and radical political thought, he has been intimately connected, along with Antonio Neri and Paolo Virno to Italy’s post-1968 leftist politics. During his tenure as professor at the Universita di Venizia, he has written widely on philosophy, politics, theology as well as radical critical theory—indeed, there is little in the world of critical theory that he has not at some point touched upon. Working in the wake of such thinkers as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, Agamben has become one the most influential thinkers of his generation, concerned primarily with the proper ethical and political task of thought.

With over sixteen titles translated into english so far, Agamben’s work covers fields as diverse as Biblical studies, cinema, classical and medieval literature, juridic philosophy, as well as commentary on world politics, theories of language, friendship, art, aesthetics, poetics and more.  Agamben, continuing the work of both Foucault and Derrida, through history and philosophy, seeks to confront and unwind the aporias and gaps which bind us in our mundane existence.

In his most well known book, Homo Sacer, Agamben uses Roman law as a departure point to investigate how, in contemporary politics, the “state of exception”—in which the law is suspended by the sovereign (or the republic)—has become not extraordinary, but in fact commonplace. Tracing the history of the state of exception from Aristotle through to contemporary times, he argues that the sovereign has constantly placed the idea of a state of exception—a state that remains outside (or above) both holy and mundane law—as a foundation for its actions. Turning from the idea of the state to the idea of community, Agamben traces, in his 1990 book The Coming Community,  a delicate re-designation of community.  Jean Luc Nancy describes it as “a community beyond any conception under this name; not a community of essence…but …a being-together of essences.” In his most recent book, What Is An Apparatus, Giorgio Agamben seeks to expand Foucault’s use of the term apparatus, or dispositif, to include, and implicate, all networks that bind us and and result not in the production of a subject, but a de-subjected subject.

Giorgio Agamben’s translated books include The Coming Community (U Minnesota, 1993); Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford, 1998); The Open: Man and Animal (Stanford, 2002); State of Exception (U Chicago, 2003). Giorgio Agamben’s most recent book, What Is An Apparatus was published in 2009 by Stanford University Press. He is currently, continuing the work of Michel Foucault, focusing on issues of the liturgy and the church.

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