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.

Words and Things

Larval Subjects has a great response to the ongoing discussion between Harman and Shaviro here. (Note to self: definitely part of the SR class I’m teaching in the Spring will have to take up the form of argumentation used, in particular the use of blogs, which means finding a way to make LS‘s stuff part of the course without wholly taking it out if its ongoing, experimental space.)


Let me dip my finger in here somewhere...

Let me dip my finger in here somewhere...

Now, if I can use of one of the terrible analogies that bring my classes to screeching halts, if the people doing SR are potters dutifully working away at their clay wheels on certain problems spinning past them, then I’m more like the person who comes by, tastes the mud, and offers a non-sequitur about the taste. But let me say that though I agree with about all that LS has written in his post, though I won’t step into the subject of Whitehead (what matters more, anyway, is less the reading of Whitehead than what LS and Harman are trying to argue through him). But let me cite a passage where I would take a pause:

If you find yourself immediately talking about language, signs, subjects, co-constitution, power, the nature of inquiry, etc., then you are an idealist. There is no ambiguity here. The implicit thesis in all these moves that the being of being cannot be even entertained independent of the human. …All philosophical questions do not revolve around the human. Nor is there any conflation of questions of access in Whitehead with questions of ontology. The question of how we have access to such and such a being, say a rose, is irrelevant to the question of what constitutes the being of beings. I find myself utterly baffled as to why philosophers seem to have such a difficult time distinguishing these two issues…

As I noted here, I think LS is right about access, since once one asks about the being of that access itself (this is the move of Meillassoux) then the epistemological question “how do you know the real?” moves to the background. There is a conflation of the epistemological and the ontological in the name of an idealism that goes by another name (I think that Hallward is right that there is a slight of hand move in Meillassoux on this, but that’s something I discuss quickly in my Pli article). But the linguistic turn was not wholly concerned with access, and where it was it ended up being a neo-Kantian schematism. In fact, it’s not an accident that the same people getting vapors over SR and the non-human are also likely to be heard railing against discursive systems, linguistic structures, and other marks of the end of what Foucault called “man” (the doublet of thinking being and being). One need not take on Foucault’s account—I don’t—to say that (a) linguistic questions do abound when we talk about questions of power, about articulations of onto-theology, and so on. Nietzsche, to cite one figure mentioned by SR, was clear, since this desire that SR discusses manifested itself in the oppositions of metaphysical language, (b) beyond this political question, this view of language as a wholly human artifact appears rather unsubtle. This, at least, I think is behind some of the work I’ve read at Fractal Ontologies.


This is why I tend to read back through SR in terms of Nancy’s work since I think it’s not enough to give a non-human account of the real, but what is truly interesting about work in OOO or OOP is a non-human account of the sense or meaning of being. This is not to say that language is our access to being. Let me repeat that: this is not the new linguistic schematism. (This is why codeFoucault, for those interested, took time out in two lecture courses to argue against “social constructivism.”) But one doesn’t need to believe that universe is one large mechanism for the transfer of information (variations of string theory and even evolutionary biology have this idea), which only shows how we tend to transfer the later technologies to our metaphors for the universe, be it the watch of modern philosophy or the computers of today, to think that language is not a wholly human province. (Which is Heidegger’s argument and Agamben’s in the Open.

So, ok, you might say with that last point: critiquing Agamben and Heidegger, you can expand language to animals, but that still leaves us with philosophy as explaining the being of beings as it is to the living. But if language is an object among others (I mean this not as an artifact, but in the larval sense), then why not think the sense that passes between each object and the object that is language? Why think language as a mere human artifact? It’s not a question of access. But it is a question about the non-human dimension of language, which is one I’ll come back to, filling this out better with quotes from LS and OOP that show this isn’t a lazy insertion of the human back into SR.

Agamben, correcting and extending Foucault…

agamben4I pulled this from a footnote that I’m about to delete, but this connects to something I was saying (half-jokingly) about Agamben in a recent post: Agamben argues that Foucault’s analysis needs to be “corrected” and “clarified,” since, despite Foucault’s extended analysis of pastoral power back to many of the theological figures mentioned by Agamben in Security, Territory, Population and The Birth of Biopolitics, “he appears to ignore the theological implications of the term oikonomia” (Il regno e la gloria, 128). Two pages later, he follows up on this dubious claim to point out a lesson: “when one undertakes an archaeological research, one must take into consideration the possibility that the genealogy of a concept” will lead to a “different sphere than one originally envisaged.” Thus, Foucault’s references to a number of the same, but not all figures, means that he concentrated on “medieval political treatises,” since “he was not attentive enough” to look for cconcepts in “different milieux” (RG, 129-30).

Has anyone tried it?

I’m working on two different things at the moment, both of which ended in procrastination. First, I was playing the intrepid reporter that I once thought I would be, but am not, and used the magic google machine to pull up most egregious blogposts on woman by senior faculty in positions to hire (potentially–not literally in the sense of having jobs listed in the JFP). Wow, that left me even more sad. Not surprisingly, if you see the word “gender” or “feminism” on a site devoted to anything like phil of logic of phil of math, it’s generally not headed anywhere good. I’ll post my favorites (worsts?) later.

But second, I found this “how to write like Agamben site,” since I happened to be trying to get a pdf of an article on his latest book. It’s been online for a while. I wonder if it works. It was strange to see this right after a way-too-glowing review of Il regno e la gloria that I found. I won’t quote it here, not least because a book review is there to send you to read a book, and so it may not necessarily hold that what an author thinks is important is what she thinks is right. So quoting it to critique it is unfair.

Anyway, I was wondering if anyone produced some actual prose off of this. I wouldn’t pick the Old Testament, though. Too eastern. It has to be Roman. Also, one must say it “was the first time” x happened (though you can think of other examples can be thought of well predating it); it must say “it was the hidden juncture” of the whole Western paradigm, which itself has remained hidden (until this book appeared); and it must contradict exactly what you’ve either just said, or said in a previous book. And bonus points if you don’t ever mention your change in views: how, say, your claim that sovereignty in the West in Il regno is theological at its base completely contradicts the political case made in Homo Sacer. Oh and double bonus points if Foucault discussed it and you can say you now are “completing” his project by accusing him of neglecting the very point he first raised.

Agamben and animals

I see over at posthumanism Agamben’s The Open on the list of classics in the area. Hmm. I think he only reinforces all of Heidegger’s problematic assertions about animality. If one goes by what he says elsewhere about language, isn’t it the case that animals are always already in the open since they are not taken by the decisionary and sovereign language of human beings, that is, the logos? That is, they are purely present to objects as such, whereas humans are said to need to overthrow an entire era of politics and metaphysics that have kept us propagating discourses and thus every-keeping us from the open. Now, leaving aside the completely abusive use of “animals” for all manner of beings; leaving aside questionable assumptions about language (I’m writing on that now); leaving aside an entire history of writing on the animal as perfect–and thus sacrificable (we do shoot Bambi, after all); at the least can’t we start by questioning this opposition at the heart of that work? Just a question.