Katargein. On Giorgio Agamben’s L’uso dei corpi. By Gerardo Muñoz

Luso dei corpi 2015

1. L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014) is the culmination of Agamben’s Homo Sacer project after a little more than a decade. The thinker has warned that the volume should not be taken as the end of the project, but as the last installment before its abandonment. To this effect, it is for future thinkers and scholars to continue carrying forth an investigation that polemically proposes an archeological destruction of politics in the West. L’uso is a book written with a backward gaze on what has been elaborated in other volumes, while thematizing instances of the unsaid in them. A novelty in L’uso dei corpi is the constant iteration of anecdotal impressions that enact as emblems of the indeterminate threshold between thought and life.

None of these details are meant to add flare to the content. Rather, they allude to one’s impossible strategy of sketching or bearing witness to life. It is precisely that alocation which already introduces the idea of form of life. It is worthwhile to note that in this bravado, there is little meditation on Agamben’s own life, which remains silently opaque and perhaps on the side of “ette clandestinité de la vie privée sur laquelle on ne possède jamais que des documents dérisoires”. The writing of a life is only potential or a habitual relation of the singular with itself, foreign to conventional literary genres or works of memory and identity. The form of life coincides here with a writing that never anticipates its own becoming; it seeks for an inclination or a “gusto” (as opposed to an ‘aesthetic’ form) [1]. Hence, if according to Benjamin Heidegger’s thinking is angular; one is tempted to say that Agamben’s style is scaly as in the skin of a fish, only visible when exposed to light, generating multiple intensities and shifting canopies.

2. As the culmination of Homo Sacer, L’uso dei corpi is in equal measure the writing of the end of the ontological metaphysical tradition and the opening of the question of life or existence. This is not accomplished, like in Heidegger or Schürmann, solely as an extraction of the history of metaphysics given primacy to philosophical discourse. Rather the methodological wager here is archeology, which allows not for a process of “destruction” (although in a certain sense it is consistent with a deconstructive practice), but for one of rendering inoperative the machine(s) that capture negativity into life and politics, or the political as always an impolitical foundation or archē of life:

L’identificazione della nuda vita come referente primo e pota in gioco della politica e stato perciò il primo atto della ricerca. La struttura originario della politica occidentale consiste in una ex-ceptio, in una esclusione inclusive della vita umana nella forma della nuda vita. Si rifletta sulla particolarità di questa operazione: la vita non e in se stessa politica – per questo essa deve essere esclusa dalla citta – e, tuttavia, e propio l’exceptio, l’esclusione-inclusione di questo Impolitico che fonda lo spazio della politica” (Agamben 333).

[“The identification of bare life as the prime referent and ultimate stakes of politics was therefore the first act of the study. The originary structure of Western politics consists in an ex-ceptio, in an inclusive exclusion of human life in the form of bare life. Let us reflect on the peculiarity of this operation: life is not in itself political – for this reason it must be excluded from the city – and yet it is precisely this exceptio, the exclusion-inclusion of this Impolitical, that founds the space of politics” (Agamben 263)].

This position allows Agamben to simultaneously bring the relation between biopolitics and sovereignty to a maximum proximity, while taking critical distance from the so-called Italian Theory, in the variants of Cacciari, Esposito, or Tronti. Like these three, politics cannot be rethought without the wrench of the theological register, but unlike them, Agamben is not interested in take part in the construction of a nomic difference posited as an exclusive modality of “Italian difference”.

His critique is situated against the political as a transversal in Western rationality and ontology vis-a-vis the unfolding of paradigms. In Agamben’s view there is no need for epochal structuration, and not even for a history of metaphysics proper. Rather, the ‘history of metaphysics’ is the history of its apparatuses; and that is why the critique of these apparatuses is not fulfilled at the domain of epochal presencing, but rather within an array of fields of tension and relays – from metaphysics proper to the classics, from theology to modern literature, from philology to jurisprudence and political philosophy – in which power articulates and divides the constitution of life.

In this way, Agamben is neither a philosopher nor a critical theorist (in the Foucaltian or Kantian sense), since for him the history of Western philosophical tradition cannot consecrate itself in two or more moment, since the narrative of the history of philosophy is far from being the place where the question of “life” is waged. (As opposed to Foucault’s position in Lectures at Dartmouth College would could still argue: “Maybe also we can say that there are two great philosophical moments: the pre-Socratic moments and the Aufklärung”). Archeology and the paradigm are not historical moments or epochs, but singular signaturas in which the amphibology between potentiality and actuality, the political and its impolitical are dispensed as ensembles of legibility.

3. Unlike conventional philosophical histories or historico-intellectual reconstruction of ideas, the archeology of paradigms has no intention of restituting something like an uncontaminated or esoteric tradition. Averroism, just to take one example, has been casted erroneously in such a light. There is no such thing as an alternative non-metaphysical history of Western metaphysics and ontology, and the form of life as the part construens does not amount to an alternative history, but rather to the unthought of metaphysics, secluded between the public and the private (in the sphere of life), the norm and the exception. What is then given is not a second history, but something like the history of intimacy of thought at the instance of contact, a region that dwells in an improper de-relation (itself-with-itself). How Agamben reads the notion of “intimacy” could also be displaced to his rewriting of the philosophical and political stakes of his work:

“א “Solo a solo” e un’espressione dell’intimità. Siamo insieme e vicinissime, ma non c’è fra noi un’articolazione o una relazione che ci unisca, siamo uniti l’uno all’altro nella forma del nostro essere soli. Ciò che di solito costruisse la sfera della privatezza diventa qui pubblico e comune. Pero questo gli amanti si mostrano nudi l’uno all’altro: io mi mostro a te come quando sono solo con me stesso, ciò che condividiamo non e che il nostro esoterismo, la nostra inappropriabile zona di non-conoscenza. Questo Inappropriabile e l’impensabile, che la nostra cultura deve ogni volta escludere e presupporre, per farne il fondamene negative della politica” (Agamben 302).

[“א Alone by oneself” is an expression of intimacy. We are together and very close, but between us there is not an articulation or a relation or a relation that unites us. We are united to one another in the form of our being alone. What customarily constitutes the sphere of privacy here becomes public and common. For this reason, lovers show themselves nude to one another: I show myself to you as when I am alone with myself; what we share is only our esoterism, our inappropriable zone of non-knowledge. This Inappropriable is the unthinkable; it is what our culture must always exclude and presuppose in order to make in the negative foundation of politics” (Agamben 237-238)]

The critique raised against negativity as a disjointed form stages the necessary condition for division and distribution of ontology as political. It would not be too grandiloquent to say that negativity for Agamben is always machination and positionality. The life of intimacy or the intimate life is consistent with an infrapolitical region that is at once “superpolitical and apolitical” (hypsipolis apolis): separated in the ban from the city, it nevertheless becomes intimate and inseparable from itself, in a non-relation that has the form of an “exile of one alone to one alone” (Agamben 236). An affirmation of the regime of exodus inscribes the life of beatitude that always dwells in an absolute politicity (to the extent that the exception is de-captured and suspended), opening to a new politics of exile. It is a unity, not separation, from the political. But calling for the politization of the absolute state of exodus is already recasting the political as something other than what it has been in the Western tradition, as tied to the duopoly of polis-oikos, of inclusion-exclusion, or one of doxology and sovereignty.

Agamben moves on to argue that there have signatures in the history of thought where this politics of exile could be recasted: first, Neo-Platonism vis-à-vis Plotinus and Marius Victorinus; and secondly, in Averroism as the signature of the noetic common intellect that evades the figure of the person. But these two traditions do not exhaust the form of life (eidos zoes) that Agamben wants to pursue. The task of the coming philosophy is to imagine and provide for such thought through traditions that function as paradigms for the potentialities of thought against the historical unfolding proper of metaphysics.

4. The project does not limit itself to an archive of philosophers, but necessarily poses problems for theology. This is the case, for instance, of the early Christian rhetor Marius Victorinus. Victorinus’ apothegm from his treatise on the Trinitarian polemic (Adversus Arium) functions as a sort of chant of the form of life: “quasi quaedma forma vel status viviendo progenitus” [“life is a habit of living, and a kind of form generated by living”] (Agamben 221). Victorinus displaces and renders inoperative the ontological ground of the post-Aristotelian Hellenistic School to a co-substantialism between Father and Son, existence and essence that already prefigures the modal ontology of the late Leibniz-Des Bosses epistolary exchange, but also the Spinozian singular substance of Nature. This is symmetrical to the Averroist intellect, since ‘life’ does not take the character of a declination between attributes, properties, and differences, but is a mode instantiated by its living. The way of living becomes the threshold of indistinction, and as such, an incalculable life that is always already singular and, by the same token, a common life. But what is not clear in Agamben’s glossing of Victorinus is his place within the debate of Trinitarian thought. In Regno e Gloria, the Trinitarian machine functioned as a dual-power that was able to divide sovereign power from administrative or oikonomical power, a regime of attribute causation to one of collateral effects, one of necessity into the site where the instrumentalization of contingency takes place [2].

The Trinitarian machine allowed for the emergence of governance and administration beyond the facticity of sovereignty in a perpetual form of the stasis of humanity. By placing Victorinus as a thinker of the eidos zoes (form of life) is a risky one, Agamben might be suggesting that another turn within the theological machine is potentiality within the Trinitarian machine [3]. And this would solidify Malabou and Esposito’s recent positions, against Agamben, that political theology cannot be deconstructed. But if stasis is always a conflict in representation of the political, what Marius Victorinus posits for thought is a reconsideration of conflict that cannot assume the form of a stasis against democracy. Perhaps at stake is a democracy that never one with the People or predicated upon legitimacy. Rather, a democracy without kratos that is generated in its living body that cannot take the shape of a bare body of life or the mystical body of the political already positioned for a governance in spite of the absent People, such as in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.

5. Agamben’s exodus is not from the political, but rather a return to an absolute politicity. But what is the proper sphere of policity here? Are all aspects of Life subordinated to the political? What is the political for Agamben? Here the recoil is to Plotinus for whom the political is the happy life is the coincidental principle of “living well” (eu zen). Agamben condemns the Heideggerian “letting-be” (galassenheit), as yet another gesture already determinate to produce necessary exception (a ban) to the political [4]. This is why happy life is always extreme and minimal politicity that incorporates life in its form as always already taking place and as a form of beatitude. In the section “A life inseparable from its form”, Agamben writes:

Il mistero dell’uomo non e quello, metafisica, della congiunzione fra il vivente e il linguaggio (o la ragione, o l’anima (, ma quello, pratico e politico, della loro separazione. Se il pensiero, le arti, la poesia e, in generale, le prassi umane hanno qualche interesse, ciò e perché essi fanno girare archeologicamente a vuoto la macchina e le opera della vita, della lingua, dell’economia e della società per riportarle all’evento antropogenico, perché in esse il diventar umano, non cessi mai di avvenire. La politico nomina il luogo di questo evento, in qualunque ambito esso si produca” (Agamben 265-66).

[“The mystery of the human being is not the metaphysical one of the conjunction between the living being and language (or reason or the soul) but the practical and political one their separation. If thought, the arts, poetry, and human practices generally have any interests, it’s because they bring about an archeological idling of the machine and the works of life, language, economy, and society, in order to carry them back to the anthropogenetic event, I order that in them the becoming human of the human being will never be achieved once and for all, will never cease to happen. Politics names the place of this event, in whatever sphere it is produced” (Agamben 208)].

Politics here coincides fully with inoperativity, its katargein (the suspension and accomplishment of Law according his reading of Paul in The Times that Remains), a singular strategy of profanation that turns each action into its improper destitution. This is what constitutes use (chresis) in Agamben’s early part of the book, and it is also a general methodology for thought that coincides with politics. Since politics is not a sphere of life, or of an administrative partition of what life is (ontology), politics is a general strategy that renders life into an event for whatever (qualunque) use [5]. Strategic politics does not posit a principle of action; it is rather what does not solicit calculation, submersing into thought and distance of the non-relation. A handy example comes by way of chess, as explicitly thematized in the drift on Wittgenstein’s form of life in language, since gaming itself results in strategy in which rules are co-substantial and infinite in the state of things (the game). Hence, in every sphere of human activity, thought exceeds the productionism of calculation normatively captured.

But the qualunque – as we also learned from Agamben’s The Coming Community – is what reimagines another possibility of a community of singulars and homonyms vis-à-vis praxis and use as the kernel of pure means. This ‘politics’ de-appropriates the form in life that has remained caught in the schism of every biopolitics. Here Agamben differentiates himself from understanding the political as a public presencing in Schürmann’s anarchistic destruction of principal thought [6]. Figures such as the landscape, the intimate exposition, style, or the inclination to animality, are metonymic tropes for a politics of use and of the contemplative region of a life that is co-substantial with its form. On the other end, whatever divides and administers singularity is always production of bare life, which is why evil is first and foremost a consequence of biopolitical machination.

6. The major volumes of Homo Sacer always revolved around a series of polemical signatures: Carl Schmitt in State of Exception, Erik Peterson in Kingdom and the Glory, Kojeve in The Open, or Kant in Opus Dei. It is fair to say that in L’uso dei Corpi we are confronted with two names: Michel Foucault and Martin Heidegger. Unlike Schmitt and Peterson, these two names are not presented as archenemies, but rather as the thresholds where the possibility of new thought is contested and waged. Whereas Foucault’s limit is the hidden question of pleasure as use (chresis) still co-related with a care of the subject; Heidegger appears as the highest aporia of Western thought in thinking the ontological difference in the limit of the animal. It is fair to say that Agamben situates his thought at the crossroads of the existential analytic on one side, and the intimacy constitutive of the “care of oneself” as a work of art on the other [7].

If Heidegger lays down a destruction of ontology in Western metaphysics, Foucault’s genealogy of contemporary subjection, avoids precisely that problematization. The confrontation is not longer given between negativity and existence, but rather on the question of life and the strategies (aporetic, which for Agamben entail entrapment in the theological machine) of making thinkable an inoperative zone of the form of life. There is a third figure, Guy Debord, who accomplishes perhaps two interrelated strategies in the vortex of the book: first, it plugs thought to strategy (Debord invited a game of war, a sort of alteration of chess); and second, out points to the impossibility of narrativizing life. Debord’s Panegyric is form of life precisely because it fails to assume an autobiographical testamentary form as documentation. Of course, Agamben appears here not a thinker of semiology and traces, but of gestures and signatures. The coming philosophy of the form of life is precisely that mobility of signatures inclined towards a region that coincides with the event of thought.

7. L’uso dei corpi is also an attempt to thematize the place of singularity. ‘Singularity’ is a term that is never mentioned as such, but instead it takes the name of the form-of-life, the Ungovernable, or the Inappropriable. Similarly, there are three places where the singular is investigated at different moments of the book: a first ontological exegesis of the Aristotelian ti en einai, vis-à-vis Curt Arpe’s work on the Aristotelian grammar in a 1937 essay (Das Ti en einai bei Aristoteles). Secondly, a recast of Leibniz’s correspondence with theologian Des Bosses on the “substantial vinculum” as to inform the question of hexis. Thirdly, the figure of the form of life as happy life in the Neo-Platonic tradition, departing from Plotinus, and making its way to Marius Victorinus and Averroes. Spinoza comes to the forefront as the thinker of the passive immanent cause, only insofar as he accompanies other strategies, such as Guillaume’s operational time or Arpe’s grammatological exegesis in Aristotelian writings. The singularity is the life of thought as occurring, which opens itself to a conceptualization of the inoperativity of man: “We call thought the connection that constitutes forms of life into an inseparable context, into form of life…Thought is, in this sense, always use of oneself, always entails the affection that one received insofar as one is in contact wit a determinate body” (Agamben 210).

8. L’uso dei corpi picks up where Altisima Poverta left off; that is, on the question of the relation between life and law (regula), which for the Franciscans overdetermined the thinking through a relation instantiated in propriety. Against the nexus of the proper and rule of law, Agamben radicalizes the archeology of form of life with the notion of use (chresis) against biopolitical subsumption of life that attempts at making form of life of divisible and instrumentalized in ontology. The passage towards a form of life that is always already in use, seeks to inaugurate, on one hand, an ethics that is no longer predicated on subjective metaphysics concepts of will and duty, and that on the other, free the anthropogenic event of the human vis-à-vis its inoperativity [8]. In political terms this is not entirely solved in Agamben, and at the very end of the book, the gesture for a translation of praxis seems to retort, against all ‘negrism’ and counter-hegemonic rehearsals, as a process of institutionalizing the deposition maneuver of the destituent potential.

What is central is to think the anthropogenic form of life coincide with a new institutionalization of every singularity beyond a procedure of administration (oikonomia), but also the fiction of sovereignty (exceptio). Contra-Schürmann, Agamben admits that staging another principle of an-archy is a false exit, since power is always anarchic, but more importantly because economy remains on the shadowy side of the political. As Agamben argued in Regno e Gloria, oikonomia is the apparatus in which the West has organized the contingency and inoperativity of the anthropogenic event. Thus, the procedure of destituent power is fundamentally anti-an-archic, if the latter is to be understood as principally tangled as an ‘economy’.

What emerges for the allowance of the form of life is a strategy of the Pauline ‘as if not’ (hos me). Agamben understands this modality as a turning of the state of things without voluntarism, and beyond the creation of a ‘new identity’. In tune with Simone Weil’s decreation, the hos me does not instantiate a messianic escathon, sacrificially putting life before the transcendental or in the community (as in Taubes). Rather, the messianic hos me detonate a klesis in life that is no longer grounded in action or in communitarian terms. The Pauline ‘katargein’ deactivates the apparatus of criminalization of sin (which for Illich represents the machine of modern subjection), as well as the historical horizon of the philosophy of History as accomplishment of the law [9]. What Agamben is after, and still remains unresolved in the case of Paul, is a new de-relation with law in which the singular could face law without passing thorough property (Franciscanism) or the rule of law (anomie).

The coming politics is a politics of impotential actions, which is necessarily post-hegemonic politics, to the extent that it displaces the centrality of active domination in the polis to another region that takes ‘distance’ with politics [10]. The Pauline hos me becomes the true state of exception. In this sense, it is not an impersonal power immanent in every articulation of law, and which is why the inoperativity of law also takes distance from Esposito’s deconstruction of the politico-theological machine. Whereas law is always necessarily impersonal, the katargein is not on the reverse side of the person contained in generic equivalence of jurisdiction, but the deposition of every law in the irreducible life of the singular.

Albeit the critique of folding duality of the principial One into the person-subject, Esposito’s impersonal remains bounded to the limit of law that haunts the coming of modern biopolitics. Thus, the destitution of political theology has less to do with the deployment of certain terms whose provenance is the theological sphere, than the necessity of facing the question of law beyond the community and anthropologic productiveness of the subject. The Pauline ‘as if not’ is an effort to render thinkable a form of law no longer effective (‘actual’), but studied (impotential). Far from constituting a telic historical time, the messianic points to the potentiality of freeing the ethics immanent in every form of life, that is, decapturing the beatitude of humanity, which is the promise of Justice [11].

But how could a law of pure mediality be institutionalized? How can one open the way for law in line with the form of life not as constituting an impersonal relation, but an anarchical regulated game like the one that all infants play? After all, playing, like studying, is what denotes the force of Justice in the time of the living.



*Giorgio Agamben. L’uso dei corpi. Rome: Neri Pozza, 2014.

*Giorgio Agamben. Use Of Bodies. (Trans. Adam Kotsko). Stanford University Press, 2016.

  1. This has been recently published in another essay, Gusto (Quidlobet, 2015), although originally written in the 1970s.
  1. Agamben makes this distinction between sovereignty and the machine of oikonomia dominated by contingency in The Kingdom and The Glory: “In other words, two different concepts of the government of men confront each other: the first is still dominated by the old model off territorial sovereignty, which reduces the double articulation of the governmental machine to a purely formal moment; the second is closer to the new economico-providential paradigm, in which the two elements maintain their identity, in spite of their correlation and the contingency of the acts of government corresponds to the freed of the sovereign decision” (108).
  1. Marius Victorinus conception of absolute substantialization of the Trinity in his Treatise reads as follows in a crucial moment when introducing the ‘living life’: “Indeed, life is a habit of living, and it is a kind of form or state be- gotten by living, containing in itself “to live” itself and that “to be” which is life, so that both are one substance. For they are not truly one in the other, but they are one redoubled in its own simplicity, one, in itself because it is from itself, and one that is from itself because the first simplicity has a certain act within itself. For repose begets nothing; but movement and the exercise of acting forms for itself from itself that which it is or rather that it is of a certain mode. For “to live” is “to be”; but to be life is a certain modes of being, that is, the form of the living produced by the very one for which it is form. But the producer, “to live,” never having a beginning-for that which lives from itself has no beginning since it lives always-it follows that life also has no beginning. Indeed as long as the producer has no beginning, that which is produced has not a beginning. As both are together, they are also consubstantial. […] Therefore, from life comes understanding, and life itself comes from living, that is, from the Father comes the Son, and from the Son, the Holy Spirit. For he added this: “All things that the Father has are mine”; “I said that all that the Father has is mine, because all the Father has is the Son’s, “to be,” “to live,” “to understand.” These same realities the Holy Spirit possesses. All are therefore homoousia (consubstantial). [“Against Arius IV”, 277, from Theological Treatises on the Trinity, 1978.
  2.  Agamben writes: “And if being is only the being “under the ban” – which is to say, abandoned to itself – of beings, then categories like “letting-be”, by which Heidegger sough to escape from the ontological difference, also remain within the relation of the ban” (Agamben 268).
  1. Agamben retells this anecdote on his essay “Metropolis”: “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 temporal signs and thus captured and somehow engaged in a strategy and urgency. I say this because my reflections will clearly be general and I won’t enter into the specific theme of conflicts but I hope that they will bear the marks of a strategy”.
  1. Agamben’s moment of maximum proximity to Schürmann is also the one of his greatest remoteness. At the end of the last part of L’uso dei corpi he writes: “The limit of Schürmann’s interpretation clearly appears in the very (willfully paradoxical) syntagma that furnishes the book’s title: the “principle of anarchy”. It is not sufficient to separate origin and command, principium and princeps: as we have shown in The Kingdom and the Glory, a kind who rules does not govern is only one of the two poles of the governmental apparatus and playing off one pole against he other is not sufficient to halt their functioning” (Agamben 276).
  1. At the end of the Intermezzo on Foucault, Agamben takes this aporia of the subject to the end: “Certainly the subject, the self of which eh speaks, cannot be inscribed into the tradition of the Aristotelian hypokeimenon and yet Foucault – likely for good reasons – constantly avoided the direct confrontation with the history of ontology that Heidegger had laid out as a preliminary task. What Foucault does not seem to see, despite the fact that antiquity would seem to offer an example in some way, is the possibility of a relation with thyself and of a form of life that never assumes the figure of a free subject – which is to say, a if power relations necessarily refer to a subject, of a zone of ethics entirely substrate form strategic relation of an Ungovernable that is situated beyond states of domination and power relations.” (108).
  1. Andrea Cavalletti. “http://ilmanifesto.info/agamben-la-vita-e-forma-e-si-genera-vivendo/
  1. Agamben literally repeats the elaboration of inoperativity of the Law from the book on St. Paul: “An example of a destituent strategy that is neither destructive nor constituent is that of Paul in the face of the law. Paul expresses the relationship between the messiah and the law with the verb katargein, which means, “render inoperative” (argos), “deactivate”. Thus, Paul can write that the messiah “will render inoperative (katargese) every power, every authority, and every potential (Cor 15:26) and at the same time that the messiah is the telos of the law” (Romans 10:4): here inoperativity and fulfillment perfectly coincide”. (Agamben 273).
  1. The notion of ‘distance’ as a region of relation in the polis that precedes the equivalence grounded in administrative politics is thematized by Spanish philosopher Felipe Martinez Marzoa in his El concepto de lo civil (Ediciones Metales Pesados, 2008). Alberto Moreiras has recently treated this cuasi-concept as an infra-political register in his “Nearness against Community”: https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/nearness-against-community-the-eye-too-many-by-alberto-moreiras/
  1. Carlo Salzani has listed a typology of “messianic figures” (the messianic that in Agamben has little to do with a philosophy of History). These are also figures of the hos me such as dancing, the party, gesture, play, poetry, landscape, or thought. Introduzione a Giorgio Agamben (Il Melangolo, 2013). But at stake here is also the question of Justice. In the chapter “The Inappropriable”, Agamben recalls a fragment written by W. Benjamin entitled “notes towards a Wok on the Category of Justice” (1916): “no order of possession, however articulated, can therefore lad to justice. Rather, this lines in the condition of a good that cannot be a possession. This alone is the good through which goods becomes possessions…Virtue can be demanded [exigency]; justice in the final analysis can only be as a state of the world or as a state of God” (81). It is a strange fragment mainly because exigency of virtue (arête) is isolated from a notion of “Justice” as a state of the World. But was not exigency as demand what happens without ever being demanded? On the opposite side, the ‘state of the world’ should not be equipped with the Heideggerian notion of ‘letting be’, but rather as a politics of exile of the singular or as Agamben says “to experience is absolutely inappropriable” (81). This is connected also with a later essay that Benjamin writes on the tenth anniversary of Kafka, in which he famously writes: “…legal scholar Bucephalus remains true to his origins, except that he does not seem to be practicing law – and this is probably something new, in Kafka’s sense, for both Bucephalus and the bar. The law, which is studied and not practiced any longer, is the gate to justice. The gate to justice is learning”. Benjamin quickly notes that there is a distinction between learning and studying; the first case being on the side of that which can be mastered. Playing or studying the law is in every case the praxis of Justice and nothing more.

10 thoughts on “Katargein. On Giorgio Agamben’s L’uso dei corpi. By Gerardo Muñoz

  1. Gerardo, brave attempt and very smart of course. But my interest is not in praising your text, rather in disagreeing with it: you already know of my disagreement, so this is only for the sake of discussion. I will sum it up: Agamben is neither after an “archeological destruction of politics in the West” nor “writing at the end of the ontological metaphysical tradition and the opening of the question of life or existence.” His desire is rather for a refoundation of metaphysics and for a refoundation of politics. He is not a thinker of existence–he is rather a vitalist. Life is the new principle, which is thoroughly consistent with an immanent political theology. Hence, in my opinion, although Agamben is a fascinating thinker, and many of his concepts and analyses are very useful and extremely valid, he is not an infrapolitical thinker–rather, in my opinion, he is the very opposite! Which is the reason why I think this discussion is necessary. He is a political ontologist. His “absolute politicity” is also an “absolute ontology.” His path to existence is marred and will always be marred by his insistence on “first philosophy,” which is at the same time–he makes no secret of it–theological and messianic through and through.


    1. Thanks, Alberto. I know you would disagree, and I also think that this is a important discussion, since it is crucial to establish a critical relation between Agamben’s end of the HS project and infrapolitics. (I am also thinking here of Jorge’s recent interventions about the notion of use and passivity as consistent with an infrapolitical register). I still that the Agamben’s messianism as well as its politicity is radically different from principial politics. And I would still insist that the messianic for him is the indetermined and hyperdetermined gap of every ontological foundation, and thus there is no solid ground or principle as to make that into a vitalism of ‘life’ (in fact, his reading of the pauline klesis is not a community of salvation either). Vitalism of the principle of life is always already biopolitics, including in its attempt to free itself from theology that is why Esposito’s critique is insufficient and remains bounded in the debate on secularization. It seems to me that a question here is if modal ontology goes beyond ontological difference or not? Agamben thinks that it does, and his project fundamentally depends on it, including his Aristotelian interpretation.


      1. I am not sure you can assert at the same time a non-principal politics and a prima philosophia that would rule over it. Yet, that is precisely what Agamben would do, according to your take. We can agree or disagree about the messianic as anthropological primacy, because that is just an ideological position, but the first seems to me to be a logical contradiction. Vitalism has been announced by Agamben himself as central to a “philosophy of the future” in the old 1996 foundational text for Homo Hacer, the article on Deleuze and Foucault. And yes, ultimately it is not clear to me that Agamben is not really positing a (different version of) a biopolitics from below, which would be what he credits both Deleuze and Foucault with. Obviously, in my opinion, modal ontology falls very short of the ontico-ontological difference. So that is the disagreement. Let us make it productive. I do agree that Agamben’s text is important for us.


  2. Yes, it is an important discussion and one we should have…or many: 1) The insistence on prima philosophy seems to contradict the idea of anarchic thought. 2) Modal ontology as in Spinoza-Deleuze does not seem to be equal to what Agamben is calling Modal ontology, and we should be clearer about this. 3) Vitalism and biopolitics are not the same, but according to what we have been discussing, biopolitics seems a logical consequence of vitalism, one that not necessarily is wrong, but insufficient from a infrapolitical viewpoint. 4) Modal ontology is (or is not) an alternative, answer or deviation, from the problem of ontological difference, and 5) Ontological difference itself is “abandoned” by Heidegger (that’s one of the main claims of Derrida’s seminar on The question of Being and History) in lieu of a radical understanding of being’s historicity through the historicity of Dasein. So, I just found five points to elaborate, but I should come back later with a more detailed comment…Thanks Gerardo for a great entry!!!


  3. Aquí nos jugamos infrapolítica, ni más ni menos. No se trata de reclamar ninguna línea ortodoxa contra los perros desviacionistas ni nada por el estilo, sino de entender su especificidad. La infrapolítica no es una política, y Agamben nunca ha dejado de decir que lo suyo sí lo es–de ahí vamos para adelante. Claro, los capítulos sobre el ser en Aristóteles y sobre la ontología modal son en mi opinión demasiado túrgidos, y no por casualidad, porque ahí se cifra todo. Yo creo que hay en ellos un juego de prestidigitación excesivo, incluso yo diría: para alentar la confusión. Pero aquí hay que mojarse, me temo. La infrapolítica no es una prima philosophia y la infrapolítica no es teología política. No es casual que la infrapolítica sea un intento de llevar más allá la destrucción heideggeriano-derrideana. Agamben da, con respecto de ellas, un paso atrás: es decir, las rechaza. Podemos ver qué significa eso. Yo estoy dispuesto a estudiar realmente a Averroes y a Spinoza en este contexto–ya no me animo tanto con Leibniz y Des Bosses y compañía, tampoco con Suárez! Pero para mí es esencial, no que uno siga o deje de seguir la apuesta que infrapolítica representa, o trate de desarrollarla, eso no me importa: pero sí me importa entender, y que se entienda, esa apuesta.


  4. Claro, de acuerdo, el abandono de la deconstrucción por el pensamiento italiano es curioso, por un lado, no es solo un abandono, pues nunca fue efectivamente abrazada la inquietud deconstructiva, y por otro lado, el problema de fondo, que ya advertía, entre otros, Bill Readings hace años, es la resistencia a deconstruir el concepto mismo de política, su demanda. Ahora, la inquietud infrapolítica hereda la puesta en cuestión de la politicidad como motor de la historia, y así, hereda la necesidad de cuestionar la política como último recurso para la permanente reconstitución del principio de razón que articula a la metafísica occidental. Ahí, creo, radica la importancia epocal del post-estructuralismo, y del mismo Schürmann, pero habría que ir “más allá” que esta mera constatación e interrogar hasta qué punto la restitución de la política inoperosa y la recuperación de la potencia aristotélica, en términos de una suspensión del accionalismo télico-instrumental, junto con la redefinición (neo) post-antropológica de lo común sin comunidad, no son simples estrategias, sofisticadas y eruditas, de responder a la demanda del principio de razón como politicidad.
    Por supuesto, no se trata de elegir entre Agamben o Derrida, o entre Heidegger o Deleuze, sino de ir avanzando en la formulación del horizonte problemático singular que define a la infrapolítica para no confundirnos con la retórica partisana de escuela, eso, con el escolasticismo de la deconstrucción o del deleuzianismo contemporáneo. Por ejemplo, leo con atención y cuidado a Spinoza, Agamben o Deleuze, pero no para encontrarles razón, sino para ver cómo responden a la problemática infrapolítica que traemos entre manos…es decir, no busco autores-príncipes que nos ahorren el problema de pensar siempre, en casa caso, atendiendo a la singularidad de la ocasión.


  5. “Contra-Schürmann, Agamben admits that staging another principle of an-archy is a false exit, since power is always anarchic, but more importantly because economy remains on the shadowy side of the political.” But here, Gerardo, is Agamben talking about an-archy in the same sense in which Schürmann is using that notion? What it means to recover the oikonomía to think politics? Isn’t the attempt to solve, once and for all, the constitutive amphibology of modern thought (trascendence and inmanence) what defines Agamben’s restitution of a pre-Kantian or modal ontology? Is this resource to Averroes-Spinoza-Leibniz enough to avoid the trap of metaphysics (as mythic violence, sovereignty, subjectivation, operativity, etc.)? And, what about the Hideggerian project of destruction of metaphysical understanding of time? Are we done with deconstructing time, temporalities and historicity? Wasn’t Foucault’s genealogy an attempt to deal with the same problem of temporality and temporarization of life?


    1. Exactly, I agree Sergio, but only with the caveat that he is not even subscribing anymore the critique of metaphysics as an ur-principle of thought, which gets trapped, as you have mentioned before, in the amphibological pendular movement between the destruction of metaphysics and the metaphysics of destruction. At the same time, metaphysics is not abandoned for sake of a new politics of the subject; rather the critique of metaphysics coincides with the critique of its apparatuses of subjectivation in language, politics, theology, and law…


  6. Me parece que estamos de acuerdo en un punto central aqui; obvio, no interesa defender ni ‘hablar en nombre de’ un pensador especifico y asi rebajar las tensiones que deberian problematizar la reflexion infrapolitica como intervencion de pensamiento. En cuanto al vitalismo, me parece que habria que discutir una diferencia fundamental que ya apuntaba Agamben, efectivamente Alberto, en su ensayo sobre Deleuze: por un lado el vitalismo de la accion sin la esencia, y por otro, un vitalismo la de la potencia sin accion. Pero ese vitalismo no es y nunca puede asumirse desde desde el principio de la ‘vida’ (a la manera de las filosofias de la vida de comienzos de siglo, tipo Portmann o Kluges, etc.). Uno puede decir que quizas el problema de la potencia / impotencia positiva es que sistematicamente es presentada como indeterminada, y de esta manera es convertida y traducida por Agamben en una ultra-determinacion o una ur-determinacion. Pero esa ur-determinacion no es de sustancia, sino de pura multiplicidad sin evento. De otra forma, el singular tambien seria una determinacion ya indeterminada como ur-principio. La cuestion de la potencia impotencia esta siempre determinando la cuestion de la ontologia, y por eso me para mi la prima filosofia tiene otro matiz aqui.

    La otra cuestion seria la teologia politica, que implica tambien la pregunta por la biopolitica y la soberania. Yo acepto que hay una teologia politica en Agamben, pero esta teologia politica no tiene suelo de la exceptio ni de la oikonomia. Es cierto, es una teologia politica al interior del fundamento de la Iglesia en la forma de la convergencia entre Padre e Hijo (de ahi que rescate a Marius Victorinus), y que es una forma directa de inmanentizar el trascendente, y que se repite con el hos me de Pablo. Aqui me parece que es un punto crucial porque lo que esta en juego es si de un lado, pensamos que es posible deconstruir la teologia politica, o de otro, si pensamos que es posible hacerse un pliegue a-teologico. No hay dudas que Agamben se va por lo segundo. Es lo que me parece que Agamben esta poniendo sobre la mesa con el hos me paulino, que es al fin y al cabo una reconceptualizacion del mesianismo como pliegue a la pregunta por la temporalidad de la historia (en ese sentido, Sergio, ese es un problema latente ahi). Yo me pregunto, no es el marranismo un pliegue a-teologico, una vida hos me y que como tal ya no es una biopolitica negativa o positiva, sino que es una profanacion interna? Para mi ese pliegue ateologico, le comenzare a llamar asi, tiene consecuencias transformadoras en la manera en que se ha entendido la politica en sus dos registros (el economico y el soberano). Es posible que GA piense lo contrario, y que este buscando refundar la politica, es cierto. Pero tal y como yo lo quiero ‘usar’ en funcion de infrapolitica es como pliegue entre politica y vida, en donde la in-determiancion de la segunda es ya siempre destituyente de la primera, pero entrando en otra relacion con ella. Algo asi…


  7. *PD: Entrar en relacion a traves del uso con la politica supone que hay un regreso a la felicidad sobre la igualdad, puesto que la segunda solo es posible en el momento (si biopolitico) de la ciudadania de la polis. Esto es importante para en algun momento encarar la cuestion de la ‘libertad’ que en algun momento se ha mencionado.


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