Tracing how the logic of inoperativity works in the domains of language, law, history and humanity, 'Agamben and Politics' systematically introduces the fundamental concepts of Agamben's political thought and a critically interprets his insights in the wider context of contemporary philosophy.
While Foucault’s work on biopolitics continues to inspire diverse studies in a variety of disciplines, it has largely been missing from the debates on the possibility of “affirmative biopolitics” which have been primarily influenced by the work of Agamben and Esposito. This article restores Foucault’s work to these debates, proposing that his final lecture course at the Collège de France in 1983–1984 developed a paradigm of affirmative biopolitics in the reading of the Cynic practice of truth-telling. The Cynic problematization of (...) the relation between truth and life and their transvaluation of conventional truths by relocating them to the domain of bare life not only seeks to transform one’s life in accordance with the truth but also, through the confrontation with the existing conventions and norms, to transform the world as such. Cynic parrhesia is thus biopolitical, insofar as it reclaims the power of one’s life from the social order and its rationalities of government and applies it to oneself, investing one’s existence with truth. Since Foucault developed this reading of Cynicism in the context of his political engagement on behalf on East European dissidents, the article proceeds to analyse the resonances between parrhesia and Václav Havel’s idea of “living within the truth,” elaborating the biopolitical significance of both practices. We conclude by addressing the implications of our interpretation for Foucault scholarship and the wider debates on biopolitics. (shrink)
This article addresses the relationship between ontology and politics in Jean-Luc Nancy’s theory of democracy by probing the implications of his latest ontological innovation, the concept of struction. We argue that Nancy’s democracy is a mode of politics that makes the radical pluralism of struction legitimate, opening and guarding a political space for the coexistence of the incommensurable. From this perspective, and despite Nancy’s own skepticism about the concept of biopolitics, the notion of struction opens a pathway for theorizing democracy (...) in a biopolitical key as the regime of coexistence of radically incommensurable forms of life in the absence of any coordinating principle. We nonetheless take issue with Nancy’s prescription for democracy to remain devoid of any political affirmation of its own. Instead, we suggest that the prescriptive content of democracy consists in the affirmation of the contingency of all the forms of life that coexist in it, which implies their freedom, equality, and comm... (shrink)
The article takes Giorgio Agamben’s declaration of his optimism with regard to the possibilities of global political transformation as a point of departure for the inquiry into the affirmative aspects of Agamben’s political thought, frequently overshadowed by his more famous critical claims. We reconstitute three principles grounding Agamben’s optimism that pertain respectively to the total crisis of the contemporary biopolitical apparatuses, the possibility of a radically different form-of-life on the basis of their residue and the minimalist character of this transformation (...) that consists entirely in the subtraction of existence from these apparatuses. While the first two principles are unproblematic in the wider context of Agamben’s work, the third principle introduces the problematic of will that remains highly ambiguous in his philosophy. In the remainder of the article we address this ambiguity in an analysis of Agamben’s reading of Melville’s ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ and conclude that Agamben’s optimism ultimately consists in the affirmation of absolute contingency, beyond both will and necessity. (shrink)
The publication of The Use of Bodies, the final volume in Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer series, makes it possible to take stock of Agamben’s project as a whole. Having started with a powerful critique of the biopolitical sovereignty as the essence of modern politics, Agamben concludes his project with an affirmative vision of inoperative politics of form-of-life, in which life is not negated or sacrificed to the privileged form it must attain, but rather remains inseparable from the form that does (...) nothing but express it. The article begins by reconstituting the non-relational logic that Agamben develops in order to render inoperative the existing apparatuses of ontology, ethics and politics. We then address the dimension of lifestyle as a new key domain of Agamben’s work, in which biopolitics may be recast in an affirmative key of form-of-life. While Agamben is better known for sceptical and scornful statements about contemporary liberal democracies, we shall argue that his affirmative biopolitics, characterized by destituent power, resonates with Claude Lefort’s understanding of democracy as structured around the ontological void and epistemic indeterminacy. In the conclusion we question the viability of this biopolitical democracy, focusing on Agamben’s example of the Nocturnal Council in Plato’s Laws. (shrink)
The problematic of biopolitics has become increasingly important in the social sciences. Inaugurated by Michel Foucault's genealogical research on the governance of sexuality, crime and mental illness in modern Europe, the research on biopolitics has developed into a broader interdisciplinary orientation, addressing the rationalities of power over living beings in diverse spatial and temporal contexts. The development of the research on biopolitics in recent years has been characterized by two tendencies: the increasingly sophisticated theoretical engagement with the idea of power (...) over and the government of life that both elaborated and challenged the Foucauldian canon and the detailed and empirically rich investigation of the concrete aspects of the government of life in contemporary societies. Unfortunately, the two tendencies have often developed in isolation from each other, resulting in the presence of at least two debates on biopolitics: the historico-philosophical and the empirical one. This Handbook brings these two debates together, combining theoretical sophistication and empirical rigour. The volume is divided into five sections. While the first two deal with the history of the concept and contemporary theoretical debates on it, the remaining three comprise the prime sites of contemporary interdisciplinary research on biopolitics: economy, security and technology. Featuring previously unpublished articles by the leading scholars in the field, this wide-ranging and accessible companion will both serve as an introduction to the diverse research on biopolitics for undergraduate students and appeal to more advanced audiences interested in the current state of the art in biopolitics studies. (shrink)
The article addresses the ongoing debate about the origins of biopolitics. While Foucault’s analysis of biopolitics approached it as a modern rationality of government, Agamben’s Homo Sacer series presented biopolitics as having a longer provenance, dating back to the antiquity. These polar positions are not mutually exclusive but coexist in these and other theories of biopolitics, which approach its object as both modern and ancient, having its chronological origin in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries yet also possessing a prehistory of (...) precursors. The article interprets this dual origin in terms of Paolo Virno’s theory of historical temporality, which distinguishes between the chronological past of historical events and their potential past, which accompanies and is negated in them. Coexisting with its own unrealized potential, every historical event remains incomplete and extends itself both backwards and forwards, positing its precursors and prefiguring its future outcomes. While modern in the chronological sense, biopolitics is retrospectively inscribed in a longer historical lineage, its antecedents easily identifiable in the history of political thought. Finally, we apply this approach to Virno’s own account of the history of biopolitics, questioning his identification of past potential with labour-power. (shrink)
Sergei Prozorov challenges the assumption that the biopolitical governance means the end of democracy, arguing for a positive synthesis of biopolitics and democracy. He develops a vision of democratic biopolitics where diverse forms of life can coexist on the basis of their reciprocal recognition as free, equal and in common.
The article addresses the critical strategy of profanation in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben, focusing on the example of pornography. Agamben’s references to pornography as a site of radical political transformation have recently been criticized as abstruse, vacuous or absurd. Moreover, his own work on the concentration camps in the Homo Sacer series has been disparagingly referred to as ‘pornography of horror’. This article ventures to refute these accusations by interpreting Agamben’s paradigmatic use of pornography in the context of his (...) wider project of profanation, understood as the overcoming of all social separations and the return of objects of social praxis to free use. Read in this context, pornography is grasped as the paradigmatic site of the constitution of the unprofanable, the epitome of the late capitalist ‘society of the spectacle’ and thus the primary target of profanatory criticism. In the remainder of the article we elucidate the logic of Agamben’s profanatory strategy and conclude that, far from being politically irrelevant, profanation constitutes the condition of the actualization of Agamben’s messianic ideal of a generic and non-exclusive community. (shrink)
The article addresses the ‘messianic turn’ in contemporary continental philosophy, focusing on the concept of the katechon as the restraining force that delays the advent of the Antichrist in the Second Letter to the Thessalonians. While Carl Schmitt held the passage on the katechon to ground the Christian doctrine of state power, Giorgio Agamben’s reading of Pauline messianism rather posits the ‘removal’ of the katechon as the pathway for messianic redemption. In our argument, the significance of this text goes beyond (...) the persistence of a vestige of the theological in modern politics. On the contrary, the logic of the katechon only comes into its own under modern nihilism as the resolution of the problem of social order in the absence of the eschatological dimension. The article focuses on the lethal paradox of the logic of the katechon, whereby the function of protection and restraint is converted into violence and anomie, and global political order becomes indistinguishable from global civil war. We conclude by outlining the conditions for suspending the katechonic function in a critical engagement with Agamben’s messianic politics. (shrink)
The paper addresses Giorgio Agamben’s affirmation of post-sovereign politics by analyzing his critical engagement with the Hobbesian problematic of the state of nature. Radicalizing Carl Schmitt’s criticism of Hobbes, Agamben deconstructs the distinction between the state of nature and the civil order of the Commonwealth by demonstrating the ‘inclusive exclusion’ of the former within the latter in the manner of the state of exception, which functions as a negative foundation of any positive order. Since the state of nature is no (...) longer cast as spatially external and temporally antecedent to the former, it cannot be escaped by the perfection of the legal order, nor can it itself be posited in an essentialist manner as a pre-political site uncontaminated by sovereign violence. While denying any way out of the state of exception, Agamben nonetheless argues for the possibility of its appropriation in the way that dissociates anomie from the locus of sovereignty and reclaims it as an attribute of free social praxis. The paper analyzes three central features of this ‘post-sovereign’ politics and concludes with a discussion of the differences between Schmitt and Agamben with regard to the fate of Hobbes ’s Leviathan in late modern politics. (shrink)
Prozorov reinterprets the familiar principles of community, equality and freedom in ontological terms as attributes of pure being, subtracted from all positive determinations, and presents them as axioms of universalist politics valid in any world whatsoever.
The article ventures a reading of Russian postcommunist politics from the perspective of the messianic turn in continental political philosophy, specifically Giorgio Agamben’s conception of the ‘end of history’. Taking its point of departure from a retrospective construction in the Russian political discourse of the 1990s as a period of ‘timelessness’, the paper argues that postcommunism may indeed be viewed as a paradoxical ‘time out of time’, a rupture in the ordinary temporality that entirely dispenses with the teleological horizon of (...) politics. While the problematic of the ‘end of history’ has been popularized by Francis Fukuyama’s liberal recasting of Kojève’s reading of Hegel, the Russian experience is entirely contrary to this complacent and self-gratifying account of the triumph of liberalism and accords, instead, with Agamben’s understanding of the end of history as the deactivation of the teleological dimension of politics as such. The effect of this deactivation is not a catastrophic disintegration of the social order but rather the opening of the possibility of an inoperative political praxis that is oriented towards the affirmation of existence in the pure present. The article proceeds with outlining the implications of this reading of Russian postcommunism for understanding the present conjuncture of Russian politics. (shrink)
This article focuses on Foucault’s and Agamben’s readings of Augustine’s account of human nature and original sin. Foucault’s analysis of Augustine’s account of sexual acts in paradise, subordinated to will and devoid of lust, highlights the way it constitutes the model for the married couple, whose sexual acts are only acceptable if diverted by the will away from desire and towards the tasks of procreation. While Agamben rejects Augustine’s doctrine of original sin and reclaims paradise as the original homeland of (...) humanity, his reappropriation of paradise remains conditioned by our turn towards our true nature, from which we have been estranged by sin. Agamben’s politics of reclaiming paradise necessarily involves the demand for obedience to this originary model of human nature. It therefore follows to the letter Augustine’s description of paradisiacal sex, in which the will prevails over desire by applying itself to and curtailing itself. (shrink)
The article critically engages with Giorgio Agamben’s reading of Rousseau in order to explore the affinities between the two authors’ subtractive approach to political subjectivation. In The Kingdom and the Glory. Agamben argues that Rousseau’s Social Contract reproduces, in a secularized manner, the providential paradigm of government, whose origins Agamben finds in early Christianity. This paradigm establishes a fictitious articulation between transcendent sovereignty and immanent government, presenting particular acts of government as emanating from general divine laws. We shall demonstrate that (...) Rousseau was neither unaware of the problematic character of this paradigm nor did he venture to conceal its problems, but, on the contrary, he highlighted them throughout the Social Contract, whose key motif was the danger of the contamination of general will by particular acts, identities or interests. The same wariness of particularism characterizes Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker, often read as entirely heterogeneous to the political project of the Social Contract. By reading these two works together as the affirmation of generic existence against all forms of particularism, we bring Rousseau’s analysis closer to Agamben’s own attempts to rethink politics as subtracted from all identity predicates and contained in the affirmation of ‘whatever being’. The elucidation of affinities between Rousseau and Agamben will permit us to identify the limits of this subtractive approach to politics and outline an alternative to it. (shrink)
This article addresses the ontological presuppositions of the discourse on world politics in political and international relations theory. We argue that the ambivalent status of world politics is due to the understanding of its central concept, that is, the world, in terms of totality or ‘the whole’. Drawing on Alain Badiou's set-theoretical ontology, this article demonstrates that such a concept is logically inconsistent, which leads the discourse on world politics to a perpetual oscillation between the presupposition of a universal totality (...) and the unmasking of its impossibility. We then proceed to the particularistic concept of the world as a limited totality with no pretense to universality, as developed in Heidegger's phenomenological ontology and Badiou's objective phenomenology. Although this approach affirming the existence of the infinity of infinite worlds appears of little use to the universalist problematic of world politics, it provides us with a pathway to the third concept of the world as the void, in which a plurality of positive worlds coexist and which is their ontological condition of possibility. We argue that only this concept of the world enables a logically consistent notion of universality as non-totalizable and immediate. The final section addresses the implications of this concept for rethinking world politics as a practice of transformation of particular worlds in accordance with the universal principles derived from the disclosure of the world as void. (shrink)
Despite its increasing prominence in critical political and IR theory, the significance of the Foucauldian problematic of biopolitics remains underestimated. The frequent conflation of paradigmatically distinct sovereign and biopolitical forms of power, inspired by influential readings of Agamben and Hardt and Negri, results in increasingly incoherent applications of the concept of biopolitics. This is particularly evident in the attempts to theorise resistance to bio-power, which remains cast in conventional 'emancipatory' terms of resisting transcendent and exterior power. Critically engaging with Hardt (...) and NegriÕs attempt to theorise resistance to biopolitics in terms of the liberation of the domain of biopolitical production, this article offers an alternative pathway of resistance that consists of the refusal of biopolitical 'care of the living' and the creation of autonomous forms of life outside the terrain of biopolitical governmentality. The example of such resistance is offered by the social practices of the late-Soviet period, whereby the alienation from and subversion of the socialist biopolitics and the concomitant experimentation with alternative forms of life in the 'shadow society' reduced Soviet power to its pure form of sovereignty. The article concludes with outlining the implications of this mode of resistance in the contemporary context of the global neoliberal Empire. (shrink)
The article addresses Giorgio Agamben’s critical commentary on the global governance of the Covid-19 pandemic as a paradigm of his political thought. While Agamben’s comments have been criticized as exaggerated and conspiratorial, they arise from the conceptual constellation that he has developed starting from the first volume of his Homo Sacer series. At the centre of this constellation is the relation between the concepts of sovereign power and bare life, whose articulation in the figure of homo sacer Agamben traces from (...) the Antiquity to the present. We shall demonstrate that any such articulation is impossible due to the belonging of these concepts to different planes, respectively empirical and transcendental, which Agamben brings together in a problematic fashion. His account of the sovereign state of exception collapses a plurality of empirical states of exception into a zone of indistinction between different exceptional states and the normal state and then elevates this very indistinction to the transcendental condition of intelligibility of politics as such. Conversely, the notion of bare life, originally posited as the transcendental condition of possibility of positive forms of life, is recast as an empirical figure, whose sole form is the absence of form. We conclude that this problematic articulation should be abandoned for a theory that rather highlights the non-relation between sovereign power and bare life, which conditions the possibility of resistance and transformation that remains obscure in Agamben’s thought. (shrink)
This paper addresses the 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict in the context of the post-Soviet spatial order, approached in terms of Carl Schmitt’s theory of nomos and Giorgio Agamben’s theory of the state of exception. The ‘five-day war’ was the first instance of the violation by Russia of the integrity of the post-Soviet spatial order established in the Belovezha treaties of December 1991. While from the beginning of the postcommunist period Russia functioned as the restraining force in the post- Soviet realm, the (...) 2008 war has made further recourse to this function impossible, plunging the post-Soviet space into the condition of anomie, or the state of exception. This paper interprets this disruptive policy in the post-Soviet space as the continuation of the domestic political process of the ‘management of anomie,’ which has characterized the entire postcommunist period. In the conclusion, we address the implications of the transformation of the international order into the ethos of anomie for rethinking the ethical dimension of global politics.Keywords: Russia; Georgia; postcommunism; anomie; Giorgio Agamben; Walter Benjamin; Carl Schmitt. (shrink)
The article addresses the puzzling silence of the Foucaldian studies of biopolitics about Soviet socialism by revisiting Foucault’s own account of socialism in his 1970s work, particularly his 1975–6 course ‘Society Must Be Defended’. Foucault repeatedly denied the existence of an autonomous governmentality in socialism, demonstrating its dependence on the techniques of government developed in 19th-century western Europe. For Foucault Soviet socialism was fundamentally identical to its ideological antagonist in its biopolitical rationality, which he defined in terms of racism. This (...) article challenges Foucault’s reading, demonstrating that his notion of racism is ill-suited to describe the governmental rationalities of Soviet socialism during both the formation and the consolidation of the Stalinist regime. While the Soviet project was paradigmatically biopolitical in its ambition to transform the forms of life of the population in line with the communist ideology, its biopolitics was fundamentally different from the security-oriented logic of racism, focusing instead on the exposure of the population to the violent transformation of their forms of life. Revisiting Foucault’s genealogy of racism, we argue that the point of descent of this biopolitics lies in the 19th-century split of the ‘counter-historical’ discourse of the struggle of the races into the discourses of state racism and class struggle. While Foucault’s genealogy focuses on the development of the former into liberal and totalitarian biopolitics as we know them, it leaves class struggle out of the history of biopolitics and is therefore unable to account for the biopolitical specificity of the Soviet project. (shrink)
The article presents a conception of the end of history, developed on the basis of Giorgio Agamben’s critical engagement with Alexandre Kojève’s reading of Hegel. Departing from Agamben’s concept of inoperosity as an originary feature of the human condition, we argue that the proper or ‘second’ end of history consists not in the fulfilment of its dialectical process but rather in the radical interruption of the dialectic that terminates the teleological dimension of social praxis. Introducing the figure of the ‘workless (...) slave’ into the scenario of the Master—Slave dialectic, the article demonstrates how the dialectic of history may be ended in a non-dialectical fashion through inoperative praxis that subtracts itself from the struggle for recognition. In the conclusion, the implication of this reading of the end of history for the understanding of Agamben’s ‘coming politics’ is addressed. (shrink)