Agamben and Animality

At Inhunamities, Scu writes in his response to Caralco’s chapter on Agamben, which I recommend. I just want to focus on this part:
agamben4In Leland de la Durantaye’s authorative work, Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction, he writes: “In this light [that being how The Open functions in the economy of Agamben's writing], to read Agamben in the context of debates about animal rights is, though illuminating for those debates, somewhat misleading as a frame through which to understand The Open. For Agamben, the point is not to locate a continuity or an interruption in the line of evolution, not to align himself with those advocates of continuity like Aristotle or those who see a fundamental break between man and animal like Descartes and Heidegger, and not to bring about a more just treatment of animals, but instead to glimpse a new and different paradigm for human life” (p. 333). He explicitly cites Calarco’s “Jamming the Anthropological Machine” as just such a reading. The problem with such a reading by Durantaye is he implies that such an “illumination” is a one-way street. Indeed, Agamben’s work has been very illuminating for those of us committed to bringing about a more just treatment of animals. However, this illumination moves both ways. We in critical animal studies are not merely parasitically mouthing the words of ‘masters’ in an attempt to justify our work. Rather, we also argue that to the degree these authors stay within a metaphysical anthropocentrism their projects run against certain internal limits.
agamben5This may seem a bit unfair here, but I was quite disappointed in certain ways by Durantaye’s book. I didn’t read it cover to cover yet (it’s about 350 pages), but I think I can safely say that it does a good job of noting critiques of Agamben’s positions. The problem, though, since I share some of these problems is that I don’t think, pace Durantaye’s continued suggestion, that I’ve misunderstood Agamben or mis-read him, or just need to read him deeper. While I’m grateful to Durantaye’s book and see it as a real help to students of Agamben’s work, I don’t appreciate a rhetoric that links together various critiques and then suggests that they are wrong in some undefined or superficial way before moving on quickly to the next chapter. Scu, I think, picks up on one such place. Most disappointing in Durantaye’s work is that he never seems to point out the contradictions among his many works. Agamben is not consistent and Durantaye often has to elide these differences to come up with a comprehensive and cohesive account. Perhaps one avenue Durantaye would have would be to read Agamben as a critic of himself. For example, you might start out with Homo Sacer’s view that the political is originary and the that the relgious views of sacredness and sacrifice are secondary. Then you might have the Agamben from the second volume, third part (Il regno e la gloria) come back and critique this view, saying that all modern political concepts are indeed theological.

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2 comments

    1. I think you mean that he moves the problem to language. Is that right? The strange thing is that Agamben has argued this in various places. What I’ve never understood is if to speak is to speak sovereignly, then what’s the point of all the rest of the analysis? He does seem to think this about language–it creates relations and therefore you can’t have the plenitude of the animal, and that’s his claim in the Open. I just then don’t understand what a messianic moment would mean, which really amounts to just shutting up.

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