Richard Wolin: About Giorgio Agamben

Open lecture

27. November , ROOM: 15.A.1. 11

Giorgio  Agamben: Bare Life, States of Emergency, and the Perils of Left Schmittianism

“Thought is form-of-life . . . and it is this form-of-life, that, abandoning bare life to ‘Man” and to the ‘Citizen,’ who clothe it temporarily and represent it with their ‘rights,’ must become the guiding concept and the unitary center of coming politics.” Giorgio Agamben, Means without Ends

 In contemporary cultural theory, Giorgio Agamben’s notions of “bare life” and the “state of emergency” have become common currency. Building on Foucault’s analysis of biopower and on Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism, Agamben has developed a powerful critique of modern sovereignty and rule of law. Thus Agamben contends, in a Foucaultian spirit, that the legal and constitutional provisos that we habitually view as the institutional guarantors of liberty are, ultimately, only conducive to moresophisticated and totalizing techniques of domination and social control – or, in Foucaultian parlance the triumph of “carceral society.” Yet, this ethos of total critique also risks courting a type of theoretical and political paralysis: by removing the grounds of immanent criticism, we find ourselves bereft of any and every capacity for contestation or "praxis." In the end, Agamben can only rely on the weak and uncertain claims of political Messianism (e.g., in The Time that Remains) or “form-of-life.