Agamben as structuralist thinker, a transcendental idealist Catholic who masquerades as a Derrida, or as Derrida, the Holy Jew.
Takes explicit form in his distinction between an “anthropological machine” that operates and a machine that is rendered inoperative.
But these distinctions depend on a mode of argument of juxtapositions and supplementation that take the metaphoric form of “illustrations.”
The Old Titian-ment versus the New Titian-ment
In the Titian chapter, for example, pp. 85-87 Agamben arrives at his solution, “a human nature rendered perfectly inoperative,” depends on a reading of a single painting that rests on a negative supplement (the first painting); he needs a progression from a simple formulation to “new and more mature formulation” (87). The reading of one painting requires the non-reading of the other, or reading of the good proceeds as the negation as the unreading, refutation, “recanted . . . point for point” (86) or brushstroke for brushstroke, of he earlier one. So one painting is already a theological (recantation) of the earlier, but the earlier one gets jettisoned as the “new” gets (re)installed in relation as a figure of a conceptual opposition and reconciliation (“mutually forgiving,” 87).
So the “deconstructive” move to establish inactivity always takes an unacknowledged negative turn in Agamben’s (non)reading that fuels the construction of a new binary position “a higher stage beyond . . . beyond.. .”
There’s kind of repetition, sometimes carefully rhetorical, in his argument that approaches the structure of a litany. It’s as if he starts to stutter, or as if his record is stuck in a groove.
Other binaries and repetitions: “it lets it be outside of being” (91)
“To let it be outside of being.” (91)
Knowledge versus “zone of non-knowledge—or of a-knowledge . . . beyond . . . beyond . . . beyond” (91)
“a zone of non-knowledge” (91) versus knowledge
theological versus political and conjunction versus separation. (92)l:
the solution of the mysterium coniunction is by which the human has been produced passes through an unprecedented inquiry into the practico-political mystery of separation.”(92)
Subdivision of operative and inoperative into stop and idle:
“Understanding how they work so that we might, eventually, be able to stop them.” (38)
“today the machine is idling” (80)
Chaismus as uncritically examined trope defining the trope of the “zone”:
Insofar as the production of man through the opposition man / animal, human / inhuman, is at stake here, the machine necessarily functions by means if an exclusion (which is also already a capturing) and an inclusion (which is also always already an exclusion). Indeed, precisely because the human is already presupposed every time, the machine actually produces a state of exception, a zone of indeterminacy in which the outside is nothing but the exclusion of an inside and the inside is in turn only the inclusion of an outside. (37)
And here is the symmetrical moment of his so called deconstruction, the matching of one structure to another, describing them as symmetrical (ancient and modern; ape man [missing link] and Jew):
The machine of earlier times works in an exactly symmetrical way. If, in the machine of the moderns, the outside is produced through the exclusion of an inside and the inhuman produced by the animalizing the human, here the inside is obtained through the inclusion of an outside, and the non-man is produced by the humanization of the animal” . . .Both machines are able to function only by establishing a zone of indifference at their centers” (370.
I would call this a Catholic moment, like the move from car accident victims to concentration camps victims in Homo Sacer.
The masquerade as Holy Jew comes at the opening and ending of the book:
“risk ourselves to this emptiness: the suspension of the suspension, Shabbat of both animal and man. . . . what will appear in its place will not be a new . . ‘Veronica’ of a regained humanity or animality.”
This turn from Jewish (Shabbat) to anti-Catholic (“Veronica”) notion of work of art as resurrection leads to the most theological moment of the book, the last sentence, cited above:
the solution of the mysterium coniunction is by which the human has been produced passes through an unprecedented inquiry into the practico-political mystery of separation.” (92)
Here we supposedly move from theology to politics. But the terms Agamben uses--
“passes through” and “unprecedented” sound messianic to me, like Catholic transubstantion and miracle. Agamben sounds less like an idealist philosopher than an Old Testament prophet.
What we keep getting are variations of (un)holy trinities:
Bare life is the unholy third zone; whereas the “simply living being,” (70) the unsaved remainder “is an existing, real thing that has gone beyond the difference between being and beings.” (92) Bare life is like a demon; letting be is the angel. He can’t get beyond this theological language, to use his terms, because he can only think in terms of symmetrical structures, of structures with centers (defined negatively as indifference) but not of decentering and decentered structures (in-difference for Heidegger, difference for Derrida).
He misses the transformation of Catholic pastoral care into the State’s pastoral care of its population as a problem of secularization (the “secular” State is already theological). Biopolitics is not a secular concept, as he seems to think, and perhaps Foucault did too, which may account both for his leaping over psychoanalysis and religion (continuity between the Inquisition and the camps, as you know from Port Bou).
And Agamben cannot then really address Heidegger’s questions of technology and the work of art, instead uncritically using the metaphor of the machine and of the illustration. By the same token, he can’t through Judaism (or of Catholicism and the Counter-Reformation, especially) as the overcoming of Judaism through the work of art—overcoming the Bildsverbot in Judaism by representing the hidden wound).
I see what you mean about putting the machine in idle rather than stopping it (his earlier stated desire in the book). I totally agree with his account of the primacy of
ontology and of his claim that understanding bare life and biopolitics
trumps that of just affirming a human rights discourse (or PETA, for
The one thing I thought was odd, and it is also clear in his theses
chapter towards the end, about his notion of being (as an event that
does not end but keeps occurring as the machine operates through a
moving border and caesura) is that he closes down the seemingly open
zone of the exception (and opening) and ends with a monological notion
of bare life rather than the more dialogical conclusion, it seems to
me, of bare lives (or Nancy's being singular plural). But he has this
apparent need to resort to chiasmus--the animalization of man and
humanization of the animal, etc, while "deconstructing" the ancients
versus modern date). He writes these very tightl fine-tuned sentences (like about
the exteriorization of the inside and the interiorization of the
outside), but, as a result, he has nowhere to go in terms of
understanding ontology and its political ramifications) as a result
except to equate implicitly the rhetorical structure of chiasmus with
the metaphor of the machine and the metaphors of stopping it / putting
it in idle. Anthropogenesis is a trope, like anthropomorphism.
So I come back to my view of Agamben as a structuralist thinker, not a
post-structuralist thinker of genesis and structure, trapped /
captured by his old school philology rather than the returns to
philology taken by de Man ("anthropomorphism") and, less (anti-)
systematically and less explicitly by Derrida's. The open is kind a
like a zoo that lets animals roam in what seems to be their native
habitant, while humans go on "safaris" and drive through it.
Strange too that Agamben skips over Freud's Rat Man and Wolf Man.
reading of Heidegger, especially on boredom, is first-rate.
And, as you pointed out, his turns to illustrations (unreproduced in
the text) are really interesting to think about as his props,
4 Archive Fever in the Archive Camp
Substrate becomes a kind of spurplus for arhviists—focus firston the arhving scens of apper and other documents and hten of books in Renais
Then Archvist (raoul Hilberg answering Lanzmann’s question of going there in person versus the document—right there 10,000 dead Jews.
Andhe is only slowly identified , after he hads been talking about he transport order for some time.
At first, you think he is another surviror.
Then the archivist scene in Mr. Death—he had found a mission.
Also, in Lanzmann’s film, there is a way he does and does not repeat Renais, alternating (in this case with train footage, with the same shots), so alternating also becomes repeition, also long takes versus short takes inResnais (8 hours versus thirty minutes for Night and Fog). But where they are similar is the that the camp is empty. Renais goes around outside the camp in the opening shots, thethree shots. Mostly parroamic shots—or the shot from the guard tower.
Singer who returns to the camp—one shot as he walks—only ambient sound (never any extragieidetic music, as there is only n Night and Fog,) and then cut to the slow panoramic shot of the meadow and trees, then slowly the remains of the foundation, all the way over to the left, but then cut back to the shot of the survivor. Lots of continuity—interview of Hilberg is one motionless shot as Hilberg speaks, only some close ups at the start of the document as red ink underlines or circles certain parts. The long take creates a sense of continuity and close up as well as breadth, but also allows for excess that feels like gap—just silence that are usually cut by editors because they are not regarded as significant. There is a constant retarding effect in Lanzmann—you haven’t seen it yet—then you only see what is no longer there; you see people telling stories; also bring in against Hilberg the interview with the Nazis. Why in black and white?
He creates a version of Renais—black and white versus color. Also Film versus TV. And in Godard film and video.
So the survivor never goes in; nor does Lanzann in the crematoria; onlyLeucter goes inside.
So the actual archeologistis committing sacriliege.
Subtitle of Godard Ishypourbook is Aechaology of cinema.
Lanzmann on Corfu: Why did the Christians come?
Surviror answers: “parce que / pourquois le cinema?”
· 200 families to sue state and railway for war role
· Millions of euros may be paid in compensation
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Tuesday August 29, 2006
France and its national railway company, SNCF, face a deluge of compensation claims for their role in the deportation of Jews during the second world war. More than 200 families from France, Israel, Belgium, the US and Canada will launch suits this week against the French state and SNCF for colluding in the transport of Jews, political prisoners, homosexuals and Gypsies to the Nazi death camps during the German occupation. Cases brought in dozens of tribunals across France could last years and, if successful, force the state and the railway to pay millions of euros in compensation. Many of the cases are being brought by pensioners who as children were interned in Drancy, the transit camp north of Paris known as the "antechamber of death" - from which about 67,000 Jews were sent to their deaths in the concentration camps. They were transported to the camp on the national railway system, often crammed into cattle trucks. SNCF classified them as third-class passengers and continued to send bills for their tickets even after the liberation of France.
6 Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them.'
7 Marc Shell, Art and Money, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
8 Marc Shell, Art and Money, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
9 On the double meaning of “faux pas” in French as a both a blunder in speaking and a misstep, see the translator’s note in Maurice Blanchot, Faux Pas (Stanford, AC: Stanford, UP, 2001), xi. Derrida on the step backward in Restitutions in Truth in Painting.