Thursday, July 08, 2010

Bon Mots: Agamben on Ausnahmezustand

In State of Exception (University of Chicago Press, 2003, p.86-7), Giorgio Agamben writes:

The aim of this investigation-- in the urgency of the state of exception "in which we live"-- was to bring to light the fiction that governs this arcanum imperii [secret of power] par excellence of our time. What the "ark" of power contains at its center is the state of exception-- but this is essentially an empty space, in which a human action with no relation to law stands before a norm with no relation to life...

...Of course, the task at hand is not to bring the state of exception back within its spatially and temporally defined boundaries in order to then reaffirm the primacy of a norm and of rights that are themselves ultimately grounded in it. From the real state of exception in which we live, it is not possible to return to the state of law [stato di diritto], for at issue now are the very concepts of "state" and "law." But if it is possible to attempt to halt the machine, to show its central fiction, this is because between violence and law, between life and norm, there is no substantial articulation. Alongside the movement that seeks to keep them in relation at all costs, there is a countermovement that, working in an inverse direction in law and in life, always seeks to loosen what has been artificially and violently linked. That is to say, in the field of tension of our culture, two opposite forces act, one that institutes and makes, and one that deactivates and deposes. The state of excecption is both the point of their maximum tension and-- as it coincides with the rule-- that which threatens today to render them indiscernible. To live in the state of exception means to experience both of these possibilities and yet, by always separating the two forces, ceaselessly to try to interrupt the working of the machine that is leading the West toward global civil war.

1 comment:

John said...

This will not be exactly on point, and much more would need to be said about Agamben's political thought, but I offer a quote from an earlier work by Agamben, Language and Death: “perhaps only a language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word, and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring, would be the true human language”

I wonder about the way totality in political thinking, totalitarian thinking on the left or perhaps above all on the right, is complicit with a certain closed, circular-- and poetic vision of the world, which it is up to the prose of philosophy to interrupt.

If any thinking within philosophy (or within political discourse, and ideology) that advances itself as total contains a poetic vision and justification, from ancient thought to contemporary thought, can we not try to identify this poetry and founding myth even in something like a neoconservative worldview that justifies perpetual war, and the "state of exception". This would not be a matter of being against poetry, but of interrupting it with prose or something like the prose poem the moment grand poetry threatens to paralyze thought.