Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Routine Revolution

Whatever Being/Singularity, Community, and Agamben

Recommended Posts

I am looking for scholars who either reject or modify Agamben's concept of "whatever being" and "whatever singularity" as presented in The Coming Community. Journal articles, books, lectures, etc. are all welcome.

 

This is not for debate, but rather for an essay on Agamben's notion of community and its relation to politics. If possible, please provide a link to the source and/or a citation.

 

I am also open to a discussion on this topic in this thread. For those who have read differing philosophical accounts on community (Agamben, Nancy, Derrida, Bataille, Levinas, etc.), what are your thoughts on these scholars' ideas?

 

Thanks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
im an agamben expert

i run the community alt as it is easy to explain

ill trade

I am not looking for cards.

 

I would prefer either a discussion on Agamben's notion of community and/or some direction in regards to some theorists who reject his ideas on whatever being, particularly as a political possibility. As I mentioned before, this is for a paper, not debate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I forget the author, but one good answer is that local rejection of identity politics merely locks you in to letting others define your group identity for you. This makes it easier for the sovereign to manage through assumed (and thereby fixed) identity. The strategy is based in local rejection which has problems similar to that of an ironic protester at a mass rally. I think a good example of this is the 'silent 15%' of America that says whatever to the question of religion – as a result policymakers don't court non-religious as a demographic and almost everyone in Congress is officially religious.

Edited by Synergy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I recently gave a talk on The Coming Community. While I'm not sure it's the sort of thing one should be going around and citing, I will post the lecture notes when I get back to my computer.

 

The notes themselves, while part of an invited lecture on TCC, is also part of a bigger project on the notion of abandonment I am currently working on.

 

Regardless, I think that the reading of TCC that sees it as a rejection of identity or identity politics is a fairly unnuanced reading of what is admittedly a hard book to read (though I say this as someone who is not an Agamben expert, merely a scholar of political philosophy).

 

Anyway, I'll stop writing what I will just post later.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with what Scu said. I don't read Agamben's coming community or whatever singularity as rejecting identity. In a sentence, I understand the coming community as moving through identity and identity politics or at least through the commidified forms of bourgeois identity. We must select those forms that allow us to survive the planetary bourgeois crisis. And to take from the conclusion of Homo Sacer, not move into a new body (as he accuses Foucault) but to transform our current body (image) into a site of research and experimentation.

 

And I agree that this is a hard book. I was lucky enough to have bill shanahan lead us through this book. To me, this demonstrated not only his ability to understand but his capacity to teach.

 

Paul

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
see the compilation Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty & Life. Jenny Edkins & William Rasch's essays come to mind

I have read Edkins' essay ("Whatever Politics"), which is very useful. I have not, however, read Rasch's essay; I will have to take a look at that. By the way, for those interested in Agamben, that compilation of essays (Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty & Life) is great, as are the following:

 

The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature, Life, edited by Alex Murray, Nicholas Heron, and Justin Clemens

 

Politics, Metaphysics, and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer, edited by Andrew Norris

 

The Philosophy of Agamben, by Catherine Mills

 

The Agamben Effect, edited by Alison Ross

 

Radical Passivity: Levinas, Blanchot, and Agamben, by Thomas Carl Wall

 

The last one is particularly useful for those interested in community and relationships.

 

By the way, I am looking forward to reviewing your notes, Scu.

 

Thanks for everyone's help so far!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Disclaimer: In the interest of getting these up here more quickly, I have left them a little rawer than I would prefer. Besides all the normal mistakes that entails (and all the aides and marginalia not included), it also means that footnotes are left out and formatting is at times off. If you are interested in a citation, just ask and I will find it for you. Otherwise, enjoy and tell me what you think.

 

"The Task of Thinking: Notes on the Coming Community"

 

In the third Italian edition of The Coming Community, printed in 2001, a new postscript is added by Agamben. In that postscript, you’d find the oddest little parenthetical claim, “the coming does not mean the future.” And while it has become somewhat fashionable to write long essays on obscure footnotes and random parenthetical asides, and I am more than a little embarrassed to join this lineage, this presentation will focus on this strange claim. How is it that this coming community and this coming politics is not either a future community or a future politics?

I. Potentiality

One way to think of coming is to think of it as potential. Now, the notion that something can be potential (non-actual but still real) is something that seems so common place to us that we hardly concern ourselves with the heavy amount of metaphysical and ontological work that philosophy faced with thinking through this problem. Agamben returns to the work of Aristotle in The Metaphysics and De Anima to think through the problem of potentiality. There are two major ways we think about something being potential, the first is in a very generic way, like saying that a baby has the potential to be anything. This isn’t the sort of potential we want to concern ourselves with here. The other idea of potential is the potential of someone to do something in particular. For example, Agamben has the potential to write another a book of philosophy. We know he has all the relevant skills (maybe too many of some of them), and therefore he has the potential to do it. Or to modernize an example used by Aristotle, we might talk about a guitar player’s potential to play the guitar. Now, not everyone has the potential to play the guitar (I, for one, am a tone deaf clumsy handed untrained person), but even if we are not currently seeing a guitar player playing, we can speak of her potential to play. So, there is on the one hand this power to be, but in a very specific way. This is not the power to be anything, but to be what you are. A guitar player can play guitar; Agamben can write philosophy. There is on the other hand, another form this potentiality can take, which is the power not to be. What if a guitar player chooses not to play guitar, or Agamben never writes another book of philosophy? They remain still a guitar player and a philosopher, but they have also decided not to be what they are. Potentiality therefore names an ontological condition, a power to be what you are but also not to be what you are. And for those here who know their Spinoza, we can see how this ontology of potentiality is similar to Spinoza’s potentia, and at the same time is markedly different. We will return to this later on.

 

II. Machines

The importance of potentiality might require us to fast forward a bit in the work of Agamben, to his increasingly political work that The Coming Community initiates. Agamben explores the function of power in modernity by describing a series of metaphysical machines. Two machines are privileged, the anthropological machine of The Open and the state of exception of, well, the State of Exception. Let’s begin with what the machines contain; what exists on the inside of the machines, what drives them, what is their essence or content; let’s begin with the center. To begin with the center is to begin with nothingness. As Agamben states, the center is “perfectly empty,” “a kenomatic state, an emptiness and a standstill,” “ironic,” “an empty space,” and “anomie, juridical vacuum, … pure being, devoid of any determination or real predicate.” This kenomatic emptiness is exactly what powers the machine; it is what gives the machine purpose and function. If the machines contained a specific content, if there were actual delineated differences that the machines were trying to separate out, they wouldn’t function at all. Rather, they work by drawing and redrawing lines, by producing caesura after caesura. It works upon a zone of indifference, deciding what counts as legal and illegal, human and animal, bios and zoë. These machines don’t just draw the line once, but rather constantly redraw the lines, so there is no way to ever know which side of the line one stands on. Rather, the machinery operates by producing exclusive inclusions of inclusive exclusions. Everyone is potentially a criminal, everyone is potentially an animal.

The ontological condition of potentiality is not at all a hierarchy. We have described for us a plane or zone of immanence. Potentiality is the ground of this plane of immanence, and it is here that both our politics and the machinery of power meet. This posits a rather obvious distinction between Agamben and Antonio Negri. In Negri’s philosophy constitutive power, the power to make and create, is a power reserved for the life of humans. The forms of constituted power; capital, the state, etc., can only survive parasitically by consuming the constitutive power of the other. For example, think of the Marx’s understanding by which living labor is converted into dead labor. However, for Agamben, the presence of constitutive power is not enough to guarantee that oppression is not existing. Indeed, the very notion of the constitutive will come under suspicion (we will explore this in more detail later).

III. Destiny

Another way to think of coming is to think of it as destiny. That is to say, when we hear coming, we might hear it in teleological valences. This is exactly what would be meant by coming as future, for the destiny is always in the future. Here we have a break with Aristotle, as Agamben’s coming community is decidedly non-teleological. As he writes in the chapter entitled “Ethics”: “The fact that must constitute the point of departure for any discourse on ethics is that there is no essence, no historical or spiritual vocation, no biological destiny that humans must enact or realize. This is the only reason why something like an ethics can exist, because it is clear that if humans were or had to be this or that substance, this or that destiny, no ethical experience would be possible—there would be only tasks to be done.” It is certainly very fashionable in a current vein of radical politics that is sometimes called poststructuralist, in order to hear rejections of the teleological. It seems almost worth not mentioning that Agamben also rejects the teleological. I think the radical nature of this rejection risks being lost as just another generic poststructuralist gesture. Agamben here refuses that we can conceive of ourselves as subjects of a destiny. We cannot believe that we are simply fulfillers of tasks for a people, a class, a race, a nation, or a faith. The coming community is not a future one that we have to make. The Coming Community can be seen as a sort of anti-manifesto, it is a refusal of calls for action, of demands for the production of a future fate. This is what was meant before by the suspicion of constitutive power. In opposition to the political alternatives of many contintental thinkers; notably Antonio Negri, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and to a lesser extent, Michel Foucault; the coming community does not have to be produced.

IV. Inoperative

Antonio Negri encourages us to produce a “biopolitical englightment”, Deleuze and Guattari tell us that philosophy is for creating a new people for a new earth. Perhaps more humbly, Foucault at the end of his life encourages us to work on ourselves as subjects, to learn the techne tou bios, the art of living. In all these conceptions of the political, what is key is the power of life, a certain materialist vitalism, as a productive power. This is why for both Negri and Deleuze Spinoza remains the key thinker of the ontological (the prince of the philosophers! as Deleuze declares), in order to maintain the supremacy of an affective potentia, a physical and material power to create the world. If, as the most famous quotation by Spinoza is true, that we do not yet know what the body can do, it is because we have an infinite power to create an unwritten future. History is not over, the political exists, and we can have a new earth in an age of a biopolitical enlightment. In opposition to this very compelling view of the political, Agamben finds the very idea of the political as geared toward a production very problematic. The coming community is not a future one that needs to be produced. Against the affective potentia of Deleuze, Guattari, Negri, and Foucault; Agamben gives simply one political task.

Now, to speak of political tasks in Agamben is actually a relatively controversial thing to do. It has become almost a cliché to say that Agamben has no politics, or if he has a politics, it is the politics of the impossible. However, Agamben does propose a politics, a politics that is proper to the work of philosophy, or at least to the domain of thinking. If the plane that the machinery of power operates on is the potential, than what we have to do is render inoperative this very machinery. The machines, as explained above, operate through a constant cutting and dividing. You are human, you are animal. You are a citizen, you are a barbarian. You are a law maker, you are a criminal. These machines function through a sort of intellectual and material constitutive practice. We must render all of these machines as inoperative. Remember, opera, the root of the word, means work. This is a sort of anti-work, a sort of anti-task. Agamben associates this, again in the new postface, explicitly with the Shabbat. On the holy day no productive work is permitted. Only unproductive work is allowed. The coming community is a sabbatical, a vacation that is a vocation, a vocation of vacation. We are invited to take a sabbatical from all the communities of the future, from everything about the future that demands a production. A sabbatical from all the tasks that are demands by our race, class, people, nation, and faith. This is what is meant by the claims that the world is saved by its not being saved, that is repaired in its not being repaired. It is only when we stop trying to perfect the world that we will have a perfect world. This is also the political significance of Bartleby, of the gesture of “I’d rather not to.” To render inoperative requires neither the production of a new subjectivity, say the multitude, or a fleeing, say making a line of flight.

V. Identity

Another poststructuralist cliché is to be opposed to identity politics. And when Agamben speaks of whatever being or pure being, it is easy to read him as being just another proponent of the rejection of identity politics. And sure enough, the matrix of identities is certainly a political problem in Agamben, particularly over who gets to assign identities and the political qualifications that go along with those (such as, you are an animal and therefore killable). I want to suggest, though, that whatever being, which is the irreparable, is something different than say Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of becoming-imperceptible. The solution proposed by Agamben is something very different from giving up our identity (as if that were possible!). The model he proposes here is one of love, and we don’t mean some generalized universal love, but a specific love of a person. I Love you for your red hair, for the way you strum the guitar, for the silly jokes you tell while a movie plays. The traits of a person you love are not unessential. Their identity matters completely to your love. But it also doesn’t, for if tomorrow you dyed your hair brown, or if you broke your hands and never strummed the guitar again, or you suddenly stopped telling silly jokes during movies, I’d still love you. I love you for who you are, but also for who are not. Think back to the notion of potentiality, I love you when you are what you are but also when you are not what you are. I love you whatever.

This is a completely different conception of identity than one we must flee, or hide, or lose. We can be our identity or not, it makes no difference to the love, but no difference is not the same as inessential here. Another way to think of this is to think of this notion of the irreparable. In scholasticism it referred to that which was abandoned by God after the coming; plants, animals, and the rest. What will happen to them? Nothing, they are abandoned to their being-thus, to being what they are. With no compulsion to save them. To be abandoned by God is, in this sense, to be loved by God. When I love you, I do not have to change you, repair you, fix you. I abandon you to yourself, absolutely you, absolutely contingent.

To understand this even further, let us fast forward to Agamben’s book on Paul, The Time That Remains. In the messianic time, it matters not, in the language of Paul, if you are circumiscized or not. The language of Paul is to be a slave as not being a slave, to be free as not being free, etc. One can see here the distinction between Badiou who sees in Paul a calling for a new class, and a new identity, and Agamben that sees in Paul an identity that is whatever. You keep your identity, you keep your place, and yet all of that is radically transformed. You are a goy, but now you are a goy as not being a goy. You are a Jew, but now you are a Jew as not being a Jew.

VI. Messiah

Another way of thinking coming is to think of it as always coming. Sort of like the coming of Godot. This type of coming is often associated with the Messiah, with the messianic (as is the politics of Agamben). And yes, it is true that the coming in the coming community is a messianic coming, but not, an eschatological coming. We must draw a distinction between those who awaiting the end of time, and those who exist in the time of the end. We have not secular time, but neither divine time. Only profane time, the time that does not belong to us but that is for our free use. This again is a distinction made clearer in his work on Paul. However, it is here as well. The messianic time is often referred to as kairos, which means literally “occasion” in the Greek, specifically the occasion or moment when an arrow is released from a bow. It might be necessary to think of this through recourse to conception of kairos by the Anabaptists.

One of the most fabulous conceptions of two incommensurable worlds connecting is in the idea of when Heaven and earth will meet. The conception of that time is called millenarianism or chiliasm. It has become a conservative ideology used to justify atrocities. How it came to be repressive is not my concern here, rather I wish to explore the original, radical understanding of chiliasm. Chiliasm was the message preached by the Anabaptists, particularly Thomas Munzer. They were a protestant branch that was both communist and anarchist. The spread of chiliasm as a belief coincided with the Peasant Revolt. The Peasant Revolt is interesting because it represents the first modern revolution in Europe. What I mean by this phrase is that the Peasant Revolt was the first time a strata of society revolted against another strata of society. Until this time European revolutions had been about replacing political leaders. This is the first time that a strata revolted for itself. The other interesting thing is that the Peasant Revolt is not connected with any particular intellectual leader. The closest idea associated with the Peasant Revolt is chiliasm, and it is not a political philosophy but a certain energetic conception of time.

Chiliasm should be seen as a rejection of mysticism, particularly a mystical conception of time. The mystic is always stuck either remembering ecstasies of the past or anticipating ecstasies of the future. Often people perceive revolutionary thought as stuck in a similar way; either in the romanticism of the past or a yearning for a utopian future. Chiliasm is not mystical time, but rather a profound presentness. Not present in that we all have some here and now, spatially and temporally, but rather the realization that within the present lays the possibility that which is inward can burst out and transform the world.

The Chiliasts expects a union with the immediate present. Hence they are not preoccupied in their daily life with optimistic hopes for a future or romantic reminiscences. Their attitude is characterized by a tense expectation. They are always on their toes awaiting the propitious moment and thus there is no inner articulation of time for them. They are not actually concerned with the millennium to come: what is important for them is that it happened here and now, and that it arose from mundane existence, as a sudden swing over into another kind of existence. The promise of the future which is to come is not for them a reason for postponement, but merely a point of orientation, something external to the ordinary course of events from where they are on lookout, ready to take the leap.

VII. Worlds

All of this brings us to probably my favorite quotation from Ranciere, from his Disagreement: “Politics is not made up of power relationships, it is made up of relationships between worlds.” The notion of two incommensurable worlds being held together is termed ease in the coming community. That is the chapter, if you remember, that concerns Eden and Ghenna being seen not as divided, but as radically one. In the words of Agamben, a multiple common place. Ease means literally adjacent, in this sense next two but also the same. This is the final sense of coming as not being future. As a supplementary world that exists already, at least it exists in potential. Not the potential by which we need create new worlds, or new people, but by which we need to discover this community that already exists. In the chapter on Halos, Agamben relates a story from Ernst Bloch, who heard it from Walter Benjamin, who heard it from Gershom Scholem, that concerns the kingdom of heaven. It is the idea that all it takes to produce the kingdom of heaven is small displacement, not a new people, but to move “this cup or this brush or this stone just a little.” And everything there will be just as it is here. As Benjamin wrote, “Just as our room is now, so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world. And the clothes we wear in this world, those too we will wear there. Everything will be as it is now, just a little different” (emphasis added). That world is not a future world, though it remains to come. The coming community is here, it is now, we just need the occasion, the moment to grasp it. This grasping is not a task, but a vacation. What we need to do is to take a little break from this world, and we can find the world that is coming. And we will discover that it is just like this world, but a little different. You will still be you, and I will still be I. But you will also not be you, and I will also not be I. When we take a break, we will find that we are irreparably abandoned, irreparably loved.

  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
can you clarify the question somewhat?

 

While poetic, I think I fail to see just what it is that Agamben is cryptically saying re: messianic time/postponement/the coming community.

 

 

it seems like another way theory can shrug at practice..

 

In other words — yes there a 'global crisis' capital/rights/labor/environment/nuclear weapons/imperial war, but the coming community will be exactly the same, but different, of course.

 

what am i missing? (ive read the coming community, homo sacer, and some of the good stuff that i missed in other works through means without ends)

Edited by retired

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
While poetic, I think I fail to see just what it is that Agamben is cryptically saying re: messianic time/postponement/the coming community.

 

 

it seems like another way theory can shrug at practice..

 

In other words — yes there a 'global crisis' capital/rights/labor/environment/nuclear weapons/imperial war, but the coming community will be exactly the same, but different, of course.

 

what am i missing? (ive read the coming community, homo sacer, and some of the good stuff that i missed in other works through means without ends)

 

First, I should say, I am not saying I agree 100% with what I am writing, I am just trying to produce a reading. Though, as Althusser wonderfully put it in Reading Capital, "But as there is no such thing as an innocent reading, we must say what reading we are guilty of. " I want to make Agamben a useful thinker of the political for me, I want to think him out of the poststructuralist goo that he has been put in, which means highlighting the tensions between his work and the work of other continental political thinkers, particularly the ones that have been useful to me and that I know very well. This does not mean I always agree with the side he has taken, but I want to make clearer and crisper the political stakes of certain questions and formulations that has become dull and murkier in the poststrucuralist goo.

 

In general, the notion of time in Agamben is an important notion. It has nothing to do with postponement. Though the same can be said for Foucault, Negri, etc. However, I want to see in Agamben something of what Boaventura de Sousa Santos has referred to as an expansion of the present (in his "Critique of Lazy Reason"). It is rather common that those with radical politics see in the world around them nothing but shit. And yet, we also have to imagine that something very different from this world is possible. One way of doing this is to assume that the possibilities for another world lie only in the future. That we have to make something; a new people, a new body, a new subjectivity, a new class, a new state, a new earth. We have to start all over, wipe the slate clean. I think there are two important responses that Agamben would make to these claims. The first would be to say that just world historical projects have a history of violence. Of elimination, of deciding what is the old and the new. Of drawing lines, and all the violence that goes with it. The second response is that we have to find in this world, not some future world, but the possibility (the potential) for the world we would like to see. This means disabling, making inoperative, rendering profane, taking a break or shabbat, from all the world historical projects. Of every project that would make demands upon your genos, genus, genre, gender, generation.

 

If we are to change the world, it must begin with the time of the present, and it must be this world. No do overs. No utopias. No clean slates. We work in this world, and the potentialities of this world. So of course, everything will be the same (it will be this world) but things will also be different (this is about a radical politics).

 

Which is also the same point of identity. Many people who read The Coming Community confuse the concept of whatever being with a rejection of identity. Again, let us read Agamben out of the poststructuralist goo. We are not trying to escape identity here. My identity, and the identity of many in my life, are quite important. Just as the only political possibilities demand we refuse utopias, so too change will only occur not through a new subjectivity, but through the present identities that exist. Identities remain important, if inessential (without essence). In many ways most political responses to identity are pretty weak tea (at best). Either we have to subject our identity to some univocal reduction (this, again, is one of the major differences between Badiou's reading of Paul, and Agamben's). Or we have to give up all of our identity (think of becoming-imperceptible here, or Foucault's obsession with anonymity). Neither of those are useful alternatives. We have to maintain the fullness of who we are, but we also have to get rid of the essentialism that occurs.

 

In any case, I don't think we have a shrugging to practice. As Agamben says in the 1990 Italian postface, this is not the question of what to do, but how to do it.

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I am looking for scholars who either reject or modify Agamben's concept of "whatever being" and "whatever singularity" as presented in The Coming Community. Journal articles, books, lectures, etc. are all welcome.

 

This is not for debate, but rather for an essay on Agamben's notion of community and its relation to politics. If possible, please provide a link to the source and/or a citation.

 

I am also open to a discussion on this topic in this thread. For those who have read differing philosophical accounts on community (Agamben, Nancy, Derrida, Bataille, Levinas, etc.), what are your thoughts on these scholars' ideas?

 

Thanks!

 

So, how did the essay go?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I always understood the whatever being as that which is much akin to the notion of 'love'. In other words, to properly love is to love because of all of one's predicates, never 'in spite of'.

 

Think active nihilism--rather than flee the abyss of elusive identity (the deeply personal question, "Who am I?"), see one's identity as fundamentally grounded in the groundless (abgrund) abyss. To borrow from Adrian Johnston, identity is like an onion which forms layers around its empty core (I think Agamben uses Heidegger's example of the empty vase elsewhere). Identity doesn't necessarily escape articulation as much as its articulable components rest upon that fundamental core of 'whatever' or void-indeterminacy.

 

Scu-- it seems that your notes are missing what I think is an integral component to understanding Agamben's notion of time: the extent to which he endorses Heidegger's explanation of time. Time is somewhat like a mobius strip, neither linear nor circular. I think Zizek articulates this well in his chapter of Defense of Lost Causes; time for Heidegger was an interplay of revealing and concealing. In the context of the footnote you refer to, perhaps Agamben means what Zizek means: the coming community is not something that is acquired or stumbled upon through time as though it were some far off event, rather, it is here and already present, only to be "revealed" as part of the "concealment" of our older notions of community.

 

The largest impediment to Revolution the Coming Community is our failure to recognize that it is already here. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Read "The Fragmentary Demand" by Ian James. There is a pretty succinct flushing out of Nancy's work on the community and some pretty useful histories (if you will) of how community has been thought before Nancy (touching on Heidegger and Bataille as well as others).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...