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).


  1. Esposito had that same annoying quality. It is almost as if these authors feel they have to sound far more original than they really are.

    Hey, are you (re)reading The Kingdom and the Glory? If so, I had to return my copy (it was ILL), and I don’t remember if Agamben talks about the theological beginnings of the notion of the person in that book. If you happen to come across him talking about it, can you drop me the citations? If you aren’t reading it right now, don’t worry about, I am going to ILL it again shortly.

    1. Do you mean the origins of the notion of persona? If I recall correctly, there’s a brief mention in Profanazioni in the chapter on “a special being.” I have that in my notes, though the book is in the office. I just checked through Il regno and I don’t see it. I thought he mentions it somewhere else, but it’s certainly not in Homo Sacer or the other work of the 90s. That leaves likely an early mention in Language and Death, or in his book on method. But I don’t see it there either. (I guess this play by play as I type and check a book doesn’t help.) Steve DeCaroli has a nice essay that mentions the political notion of persona, though I don’t remember it came out of Agamben per se. It’s in his edited volume with Matthew Caralco, Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life.

  2. Ah, you are right. I had remembered that Agamben mentioned the connection of persona to the trinity, I had incorrectly thought that must have been in RG, when it was in “Special Being.” (Which explains why my notes of RG didn’t mention it at all).
    I had actually pulled down the Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life book earlier today to relook at the Negri essay and the DeCaroli essay. I agree, it is a nice essay (even though he makes the common textual error of equating bare life with zoe).

    Thanks for doing all of that for me, well beyond the call of duty (and very quickly, too).

  3. I’m sorry to respond on that last point, but to defend Decaroli, I think it’s because Agambne, if one can say it this way, makes the same “textual error.” He’ll say at times that the one ought not to confuse the two (something about bare life appearing later on the seen in symmetry to homo sacer) but just take his paradigmatic and famous framing of the issue in Homo Sacer:

    “In Foucault’s statement according to which man was, for Aristotle, a ‘living animal with the additional capacity for political existence,’ it is therefore precisely the meaning of this “additional capacity” that must be understood as problematic. The peculiar phrase “born with regard to life, but existing essentially with regard to the good life” can be read not only as an implication of being born (ginomen!) in being (ousa), but also as an inclusive exclusion (an exceptio) of zoê in the polis, almost as if politics were the place in which life had to transform itself into good life and in which what had to be politicized were always already bare life. In Western politics, bare life has the peculiar privilege of being that whose exclusion founds the city of men.”
    To sum up, by this logic of course bare life is INCLUDED (sorry for the caps, but I can’t italicize in comments) in the exceptio, as well as excluded: that’s the whole point of the “zone of indistinction” between the two. There are numerous passages where he says in exception “bios and zoê…. sacred life and bare life….” are indistinguishable in such a zone in Homo Sacer. Now, I understand where you’re taking this, but I think it’s because of Agamben’s problematic metaphysical claim (ALL of the West is based on this bios/zoê dinstinction) and his more or less historical claim (bare life appears with sacred life). But he also himself produces a number of sentences that…well, make them appear indistinguishable. But I throw that out there for your correction—but it seems to me that Agamben isn’t as precise on this as he’ll at times claim to be.

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