Giorgio Agamben: Wikis


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Giorgio Agamben
Full name Giorgio Agamben
Born 1942 (age 67–68)
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Aesthetics
Main interests Aesthetics · Political philosophy
Notable ideas Homo sacer
"State of exception"
"Whatever singularity"

Giorgio Agamben (born 1942) is an Italian philosopher who teaches at the Università IUAV di Venezia. He also teaches at the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris, at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and previously taught at the University of Macerata and at the University of Verona, both in Italy. He also has held visiting appointments at several American universities, from the University of California, Berkeley, to Northwestern University, Evanston, and at Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf. Agamben's best known work includes his investigations of the concepts of state of exception and homo sacer.[1]

Agamben received the Prix Européen de l'Essai Charles Veillon in 2006.[2]



Agamben was educated at the University of Rome, where he wrote an unpublished thesis on the political thought of Simone Weil. Agamben participated in Martin Heidegger's Le Thor seminars (on Heraclitus and Hegel) in 1966 and 1968.[3] In the 1970s, he worked primarily on linguistics, philology, poetics, and topics in medieval culture. During this period, Agamben began to elaborate his primary concerns, although their political bearings were not yet made explicit. In 1974–1975 he was a fellow at the Warburg Institute in London, due to the courtesy of Frances Yates, whom he met through Italo Calvino. During this fellowship, Agamben began to develop his second book, Stanzas (1977).

Agamben was close to the poets Giorgio Caproni and José Bergamín, and to the Italian novelist Elsa Morante, to whom he devoted the essays "The Celebration of the Hidden Treasure" (in The End of the Poem) and "Parody" (in Profanations). He has been a friend and collaborator to such eminent intellectuals as Pier Paolo Pasolini (in whose The Gospel According to St. Matthew he played the part of Philip), Italo Calvino (with whom he collaborated, for a short while, as counsellor of the publisher house Einaudi and developed plans for a journal), Ingeborg Bachmann, Pierre Klossowski, Guy Debord, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida, Antonio Negri, Jean-François Lyotard and others.

His strongest influences include Martin Heidegger and Walter Benjamin. Agamben edited Benjamin's collected works in Italian translation until 1996, and viewed Benjamin's thought as "the antidote that allowed me to survive Heidegger." [4] In 1981, Agamben discovered several important lost manuscripts by Benjamin in the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Benjamin had left these manuscripts to Georges Bataille when he fled Paris shortly before his death. The most relevant of these to Agamben's own later work were Benjamin's manuscripts for his theses On the Concept of History. [5] Agamben has engaged since the nineties in a debate with the political writings of the German fascist jurist Carl Schmitt, most extensively in Agamben's study State of Exception (2003). His recent writings also elaborate on the concepts of Michel Foucault, whom he calls "a scholar from whom I have learned a great deal in recent years"[6].

Agamben's political thought was originally founded on his readings of Aristotle's Politics, Nicomachean Ethics, and treatise On the Soul, as well as the exegetical traditions concerning these texts in late antiquity and the middle ages. In his later work, Agamben intervenes in the theoretical debates following the publication of Nancy's essay La communauté désoeuvrée (1983)[7], and Maurice Blanchot's response, La communauté inavouable (1983). These texts analyzed the notion of community at a time when the European Community was under debate. Agamben proposed his own model of a community which would not presuppose categories of identity in The Coming Community (1990). At this time, Agamben also analyzed the ontological condition and "political" attitude of Bartleby (from Herman Melville's short story) — a scrivener who does not react, and "prefers not" to write. In the Homo Sacer series, Agamben responds to Hannah Arendt's and Foucault's studies of totalitarianism and biopolitics. Since 1995 he has been best known for this ongoing project, the volumes of which have been published out of order, and which currently includes Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995), State of Exception. Homo Sacer II, 1 (2003), Il Regno e la Gloria: Per una genealogica teologica dell'economia e del governo. Homo Sacer II, 2 (2007), Il sacramento del linguaggio. Archaeologia del giuramento. Homo Sacer II, 3 (2008), and Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. Homo Sacer III (1998). [8] In the projected final volume of the series, Agamben intends to address "the concepts of forms-of-life and lifestyles." "What I call a form-of-life," he explains, "is a life which can never be separated from its form, a life in which it is never possible to separate something like bare life. [...] [H]ere too the concept of privacy comes in to play." [9]


In The Coming Community (1993), Giorgio Agamben writes:

If human beings were or had to be this or that substance, this or that destiny, no ethical experience would be possible... This does not mean, however, that humans are not, and do not have to be, something, that they are simply consigned to nothingness and therefore can freely decide whether to be or not to be, to adopt or not to adopt this or that destiny (nihilism and decisionism coincide at this point). There is in effect something that humans are and have to be, but this is not an essence nor properly a thing: It is the simple fact of one's own existence as possibility or potentiality...


This reduction of life to 'biopolitics' is one of the main threads in Agamben's work, in his critical conception of an homo sacer, reduced to 'bare life', and thus deprived of any rights. Agamben's concept rests on a crucial distinction in Greek between 'bare life' (la vita nuda, Gk.ζωή: zoê) and 'a particular mode of life' or 'qualified life.' In the “Camp as the nodus of the Modern” he evokes the Concentration camps of WWII. “The camp is the space that is opened when the state of exception begins to become the rule.” Agamben says that "What happened in the camps so exceeds (is outside of) the jurical concept of crime that the specific juridico-political structure in which those events took place is often simply omitted from consideration." The conditions in the camps were "Conditio inhumana." and the incarcerated somehow defined outside the boundaries of humanity, under the exception laws of Schutzhaft Where law is based on vague, unspecific concepts such as "race" or "good morals," law and the personal subjectivity of the judicial agent are no longer distinct. [Camp as the nodus of the Modern]</ref>

“In United States criminal law, people accused of committing crimes cannot be compelled to incriminate themselves verbally, but can be compelled to incriminate themselves physically.”[citation needed] In the process of creating a state of exception these effects can compound. In a realized state of exception, one who has been accused of committing a crime, within the legal system, loses the ability to use his voice and represent themselves- the individual has can not only be deprived of their citizenship, but also of any form of agency over their own life. “Agamben identifies the state of exception with the power of decision over life.”[citation needed] Within the state of exception, the distinction between zoe(citizen) and bios(homo sacer) is made by those with judicial power. For example, Agamben would argue that Guantánamo Bay exemplifies the concept of 'the state of exception' in the United States following 9-11.

Agamben mentions that basic universal human rights of Taliban individuals while captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2001 were negated by US laws. In reaction to the removal of their basic human rights, detainees of Guantánamo Bay prison went on hunger strikes. Within a state of exception, when a detainee is placed outside of the law, he is according to Agamben, reduced to 'bare life' in the eyes of the judicial powers.[citation needed] Here, one can see why such measures as hunger strikes can occur in such places as prisons. Within the framework of a system that has removed the individual of power, and their individual basic human freedoms, the hunger strike can be seen as a weapon or form of resistance. “The body is a model that can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious.”[citation needed] Within a state of exception the boundaries of power are precarious and threaten to destabilize not only the law, but one’s humanity, as well as their choice of life or death. Forms of resistance to the extended use of power within the state of exception as suggested in Guantánamo Bay prison also operate outside of the law. In the case of the hunger strike, the prisoners were threatened and endured force feeding not allowing them to die. During the hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay prison, accusations and founded claims of forced feedings began to surface in the autumn of 2005. In February 2006, The New York Times reported that prisoners were being force fed in Guantánamo Bay prison and in March 2006, more than 250 medical experts, as reported by the BBC [2], voiced their opinions of the forced feedings stating that this was a breach of the government’s power and was against the rights of the prisoners.

The Coming Community (1993)

In The Coming Community, published in Italian in 1990 and English translation by Michael Hardt in 1993, Agamben describes the social and political manifestation of his philosophical thought. The beauty and brevity of the text is augmented by the book layout, filled with design, white space and random dots. Employing diverse short essays he describes the nature of “whatever singularity” as that which has an “inessential commonality, a solidarity that in no way concerns an essence”. It is important to note his understanding of “whatever” not as being indifference but based on the Latin translation of “being such that it always matters”

He starts off by describing “The Lovable”

Love is never directed toward this or that property of the loved one (being blond, being small, being tender, being lame), but neither does it neglect the properties in favor of an insipid generality (universal love): The lover wants the loved one with all of its predicates, its being such as it is.


Following the same trend, Agamben employs, amongst others, the following to describe the “watershed of whatever”:

  • Example – Particular and Universal
  • Limbo – Blessed and Damned
  • Homonym – concept and idea
  • Halo – Potentiality and Actuality
  • Face - common and proper, genus and individual
  • Threshold – inside and outside
  • Coming Community – State & Non-state (humanity)[12]

Other themes addressed in The Coming Community include the commodification of the body, evil, and the messianic.

Unlike other continental philosophers he does not reject the age-old dichotomies of subject – object, potentiality - actuality etc outright, but rather turns them inside-out, pointing out the zone where they become indistinguishable.

Matter that does not remain beneath form, but surrounds it with a halo


The political task of humanity, he argues, is to expose the innate potential in this zone of indistinguishability. And although criticised as dreaming the impossible by certain authors [13], he nonetheless shows a concrete example of whatever singularity acting politically:

Whatever singularity, which wants to appropriate belonging itself, its own being-in-language, and thus rejects all identity and every condition of belonging, is the principle enemy of the State. Wherever these singularities peacefully demonstrate their being in common there will be Tiananmen, and, sooner or later, the tanks will appear


Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998)

In his main work "Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life" (1998), Giorgio Agamben analyzes an obscure[15] figure of Roman law that poses some fundamental questions to the nature of law and power in general. Under the Roman Empire, a man who committed a certain kind of crime was banned from society and all of his rights as a citizen were revoked. He thus became a "homo sacer" (sacred man). In consequence, he could be killed by anybody[citation needed]—while his life on the other hand was deemed "sacred", so he could not be sacrificed in a ritual ceremony.[citation needed]

Roman law no longer applied to someone deemed a Homo sacer, although they would remain "under the spell" of law. Agamben defines it as "human life...included in the juridical order solely in the form of its exclusion (that is, of its capacity to be killed)". Homo sacer was therefore excluded from law itself, while being included at the same time. This figure is the exact mirror image of the sovereign (Basileus) -- a king, emperor, or president -- who stands, on the one hand, within law (so he can be condemned, e.g., for treason, as a natural person) and outside of the law (since as a body politic he has power to suspend law for an indefinite time).

Giorgio Agamben draws on Carl Schmitt's definition of the Sovereign as the one who has the power to decide the state of exception (or justitium), where law is indefinitely "suspended" without being abrogated. But if Schmitt's aim is to include the necessity of state of emergency under the rule of law, Agamben on the contrary demonstrates that all life can't be subsumed by law. As in Homo sacer, the state of emergency is the inclusion of life and necessity in the juridical order solely in the form of its exclusion.

Since its origins, Agamben notes, law has had the power of defining what "bare life" (zoe, as opposed to bios: qualified life) is by making this exclusive operation, while at the same time gaining power over it by making it the subject of political control. The power of law to actively separate "political" beings (citizens) from "bare life" (bodies) has carried on from Antiquity to Modernity -- from, literally, Aristotle to Auschwitz.[citation needed] Aristotle, as Agamben notes, constitutes political life via a simultaneous inclusion and exclusion of "bare life": as Aristotle says, man is an animal born to life (zen), but existing with regard to the good life (eu zen) which can be achieved through politics. Bare life, in this ancient conception of politics, is that which must be transformed, via the State, into the "good life"; that is, bare life is that which is supposedly excluded from the higher aims of the state, yet is included precisely so that it may be transformed into this "good life". Sovereignty, then, is conceived from ancient times as a state of exception.[citation needed] According to Agamben, biopower, which takes the bare lives of the citizens into its political calculations, may be more marked in the modern state, but has essentially existed since the beginnings of sovereignty in the West, since this structure of ex-ception is essential to the core concept of sovereignty.[16]

Agamben would continue to expand the theory of the state of exception first introduced in "Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life", ultimately leading "State of Exception" in 2005. During 2003, he delivered a lecture describing the eclipse that politics has undergone. Instead of leaving a space between law and life, the space where human action is possible, the space that used to constitute politics, he argues that politics has “contaminated itself with law” in the state of exception. Because “only human action is able to cut the relationship between violence and law”, it becomes increasingly difficult within the state of exception for humanity to act against the State[17]

State of Exception (2005)

In this book, Agamben traces the concept of 'state of exception' (Ausnahmezustand) used by Carl Schmitt to Roman justitium and auctoritas. This leads him to a response to Carl Schmitt's definition of sovereignty as the power to proclaim state emergency.

Giorgio Agamben’s text State of Exception investigates the increase of power structures governments employ in supposed times of crisis. Within these times of crisis, Agamben refers to increased extension of power as states of exception, where questions of citizenship and individual rights can be diminished, superseded and rejected in the process of claiming this extension of power by a government. Agamben explores the effect of the state of exception on the individual by looking at the ideas of bios and zoe.

The state of exception invests one person or government, with the power and voice of authority over others extended well beyond where the law has existed in the past. “In every case, the state of exception marks a threshold at which logic and praxis blur with each other and a pure violence without logos claims to realize an enunciation without any real reference" (Agamben, pg 40). Agamben refers a continued state of exception to the Nazi state of Germany under Hitler’s rule. “The entire Third Reich can be considered a state of exception that lasted twelve years. In this sense, modern totalitarianism can be defined as the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system" (Agamben, pg 2).

The political power over others acquired through the state of exception, places one government - or one form or branch of government - as all powerful, operating outside of the laws. During such times of extension of power, certain forms of knowledge shall be privileged and accepted as true and certain voices shall be heard as valued, while of course, many others are not. This oppressive distinction holds great importance in relation to the production of knowledge. The process of both acquiring knowledge, and suppressing certain knowledge, is a violent act within a time of crisis.

Agamben’s State of Exception investigates how the suspension of laws within a state of emergency or crisis can become a prolonged state of being. More specifically, Agamben addresses how this prolonged state of exception operates to remove individuals of their citizenship. When speaking about the military order issued by President George W. Bush on 13 November 2001, Agamben writes, “What is new about President Bush’s order is that it radically erases any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally unnamable and unclassifiable being. Not only do the Taliban captured in Afghanistan not enjoy the status of POW’s as defined by the Geneva Convention, they do not even have the status of people charged with a crime according to American laws" (Agamben, pg 3). Many of the individuals captured in Afghanistan were taken to be held at Guantánamo Bay without trial. These individuals were termed as “enemy combatants.” Until 7 July 2006, these individuals had been treated outside of the Geneva Conventions by the United States administration.

Auctoritas, "charisma" and Führertum doctrine

Agamben shows that auctoritas and potestas are clearly distinct - although they form together a binary system".[18] He quotes Mommsen, who explains that auctoritas is "less than an order and more than an advice".[19]

While potestas derives from social function, auctoritas "immediately derives from the patres personal condition". As such, it is akin to Max Weber's concept of charisma. This is why the tradition ordered, at the king's death, the creation of the sovereign’s wax-double in the funus imaginarium, as did Ernst Kantorowicz demonstrate in The King's Two Bodies (1957). Hence, it is necessary to distinguish two bodies of the sovereign in order to assure the continuity of dignitas (term used by Kantorowicz, here a synonym of auctoritas). Moreover, in the person detaining auctoritas -- the sovereign -- public life and private life have become inseparable. Augustus, the first Roman emperor who claimed auctoritas as the basis of princeps status in a famous passage of Res Gestae, had opened up his house to public eyes.

The concept of auctoritas played a key-role in fascism and Nazism, in particular concerning Carl Schmitt's theories, argues Agamben:

To understand modern phenomena such as the fascist Duce or the Nazi Führer, it is important not to forget their continuity with the principle of auctoritas principis {Agamben refers here to Augustus's Res Gestae}. {...} Neither does the Duce nor the Führer represent constitutionally defined public charges - even though Mussolini and Hitler endorsed respectively the charge of head of government and Reich's chancellor, just as Augustus endorsed the imperium consulare or the potestas tribunicia. The Duce’s or the Führer’s qualities are immediately related to the physical person and belong to the biopolitical tradition of auctoritas and not to the juridical tradition of potestas


Thus, Agamben opposes Foucault's concept of "biopolitics" to right (law), as he defines the state of exception, in Homo sacer, as the inclusion of life by right under the figure of ex-ception, which is simultaneously inclusion and exclusion. Following Walter Benjamin's lead, he explains that our task would be to radically differentiate "pure violence" from right, instead of tying them together, as did Carl Schmitt.

Agamben concludes his chapter on "Auctoritas and potestas" writing:

It is significative that modern specialists were so enclined to admit that auctoritas was inherent to the living person of the pater or the princeps. What was evidently an ideology or a fictio aiming to be the groundwork of auctoritas ' preeminence or, at least, specific rank compared to potestas thus became a figure of right's {law - "droit"} immanence to life. (...) Although it is evident that there can't be an eternal human type that would incarnate itself each time in Augustus, Napoleon, Hitler, but only more or less comparable ("semblables") mechanisms {"dispositif", a term often used by Foucault} - the state of exception, justitium, the auctoritas principis, the Führertum -, put in use in more or less different circumstances, in the 1930s - overall, but not only - in Germany, the power that Weber had defined as "charismatic" is related to the concept of auctoritas and elaborated in a Führertum doctrine as the original and personal power of a leader. In 1933, in a short article intending to define the fundamental concepts of national-socialism, Schmitt defines the Führung principle by the "root identity between the leader and his entourage" {"identité de souche entre le chef et son entourage"} (we shall note the use of weberian concepts).


Agamben’s thoughts on the state of emergency leads him to declare that the difference between dictatorship and democracy is thin indeed, as rule by decree became more and more common, starting from World War I and the reorganization of constitutional balance. Agamben often reminds that Hitler never abrogated the Weimar Constitution: he suspended it for the whole duration of the 3rd Reich with the Reichstag Fire Decree, issued on 28 February 1933. Indefinite suspension of law is what characterizes the state of exception. Thus, Agamben connects Greek political philosophy through to the concentration camps of 20th century fascism, and even further, to detainment camps in the likes of Guantanamo Bay or immigration detention centers, such as Bari, Italy, where asylum seekers have been imprisoned in football stadiums. In these kinds of camps, entire zones of exception are being formed: the state of exception becomes a status under which certain categories of people live, a capture of life by right. Sovereign law makes it possible to create entire areas in which the application of the law itself is held suspended, which is the basis of Bush administration's definition of an "enemy combatant".

Interregnum, justitium and nomos empsuchos (the sovereign as "living law")

In the chapter preceding "Auctoritas and potestas", Agamben advances an explanation of the transformation of justitium, a technical term referring to the state of exception, declared to cope with tumultus state (rebellion, uprising, riots...), at the end of the Roman Republic, into a term simply referring to the mourning of the sovereign's death during interregnum periods:

The correspondence between justitium and mourning here shows its true signification. If the sovereign is a living nomos, if then anomie and nomos coïncide in his person without any left-over, then anarchy (which, at his death, when the link attaching him to law his broken, threatens to unleash itself in the city) must be ritualized and controlled, by the transformation of the state of exception into public mourning and of mourning into justitium (...) Before acquiring the modern form of a decision on emergency {Schmitt's definition}, the relationship between sovereignty and state of exception presents itself under the form of an identity between the sovereign and anomie. As living law, the sovereign is deeply anomos. Here also the state of exception is the life -- more secret and true -- of the law.


The first formulation of the thesis according to which "the sovereign is a living law" found its first formulation on the treatise "On law and justice" by pseudo-Archytas, conserved by Stobaeus with Diotogene's treatise on sovereignty. It is the first attempt to conceive a form of sovereignty completely enfranchised from laws, being itself the source of legitimacy.[citation needed] This theory must be radically distinguished from natural rights theory or Antigone's appeal to the "eternal and unwritten laws" to which even monarchs must abide, as it is a theory of sovereignty (in fact, it is quite the reverse of Antigone's rebellion).

Pseudo-Archytas distinguished the sovereign (basileus), who is the law, from the magistrate (archōn), who limits himself to observing the law. "Identification between law and sovereign has as consequence, writes Agamben, the scission of law into a "living" law (nomos empsuchos), hierarchically superior, and a written law (gramma), which is subordinate to the first one". He then quotes A. Delatte's Essais sur la politique pythagoricienne (Paris, 1922), himself quoting the pseudo-Archytas:

"I say that all communities are composed of an archōn (the magistrate who commands), a commanded one, and, as tierce party, laws. Among those ones, the living one is the sovereign (ho men empsuchos ho basileus), and the inanimate one is the letter (gramma). Law is the first element, the king is legal, the magistrate accorded to law, the commanded free and all of the city happy; but, in case of corruption ("dévoiement"), the sovereign is a tyrant, the magistrate is not accorded to law and the community is unhappy."[citation needed]

Criticism of US response to "9-11"

Giorgio Agamben is particularly critical of the United States' response to 11 September 2001, and its instrumentalization as a permanent condition that legitimizes a "state of exception" as the dominant paradigm for governing in contemporary politics. He warns against a "generalization of the state of exception" through laws like the USA PATRIOT Act, which means a permanent installment of martial law and emergency powers. In January 2004, he refused to give a lecture in the United States because under the US-VISIT he would have been required to give up his biometric information, which he believed stripped him to a state of "bare life" (zoe) and was akin to the tattooing that the Nazis did during World War II.[23][24]

However, Agamben's criticisms target a broader scope than the US "war on terror". As he points out in State of Exception (2005), rule by decree has become common since World War I in all modern states, and has been since then generalized and abused. Agamben points out a general tendency of modernity, recalling for example that when Francis Galton and Alphonse Bertillon invented "judicial photography" for "anthropometric identification", the procedure was reserved to criminals; to the contrary, today's society is tending toward a generalization of this procedure to all citizens, placing the population under permanent suspicion and surveillance: "The political body thus has became a criminal body". And Agamben notes that the Jews deportation in France and other occupied countries was made possible by the photos taken from identity cards.[25] Furthermore, Agamben's political criticisms open up in a larger philosophical critique of the concept of sovereignty itself, which he explains is intrinsically related to the state of exception.

Critiques of Agamben

At least two criticisms of Homo Sacer and the related State of Exception may be offered. First, one can concede the fact of Bare Life production under exceptional, e.g. Hitlerian circumstances, without at the same time admitting that sovereignty is always connected with the extra-legal generation of the same. Joel Olson, for instance, has argued that the formation of United States democracy,contemporaneous with slavery, was not somehow internally inconsistent on this account, but rather that the sovereign (white) American polity was directly predicated on the "peculiar institution."[26] Likewise, Judith Shklar contends that “black chattel slavery stood at the opposite social pole from full citizenship and so defined it.”[27] The point is that sovereignty in this case depends on the legal creation of bare (non-political, animalized) life, and not on any exception.

Second, Professor Agamben's allusion to U.S. State torture at Guantanamo Bay as evidence of Bare Life production under the sovereign exception incorrectly interprets the nature of the exception on which his theory is based. The notion of detainees as Homo Sacer-- beings stripped of their political bios--is convincing insofar as inmates really are constituted as sub-human. However, especially given that both Homo Sacer and State of Exception rely heavily on Schmitt, it should be evident that laws are not laws in the absence of some supra-legal, i.e. sovereign power, which may both guarantee their efficacy and violate them at will.[28] Since no genuine, de facto, international mechanism exists for the enforcement of provisions in the Geneva Conventions, the latter provisions exist in name only. In other words, Iraqi and Afghani prisoners never had any "rights" in the first place: one cannot suspend a legal order which is purely fictitious. No violent sovereign exception was therefore necessary for their constitution as Bare Life. In fact, insofar as inmates did fall under the jurisdiction of a true sovereign (the United States--and not the U.N., an organization with absolutely no sovereignty in the Schmittian sense), they were immediately constructed as Bare Life under law i.e. by the USA Patriot Act. This unfortunate fact is consonant with the earlier American practice of legally sub-humanizing Black American existence.[29]

Endnotes and references

  1. ^ Generally speaking, "state of exception" includes German Notstand, English state of emergency and others martial law. Agamben prefers using this term as it underlines the structure of ex-ception, which is simultaneously of inclusion and exclusion. "Ex-ception" can be opposed to the concept of "example" as developed by Kant.
  2. ^
  3. ^ See Martin Heidegger, Four Seminars (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003).
  4. ^ Leland de la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), p. 53.
  5. ^ See de la Durantaye, p. 148-49.
  6. ^ Giorgio Agamben, The Signature of All Things: On Method (New York: Zone, 2009), p. 7.
  7. ^ Nancy's essay responded to a proposal by Jean-Christophe Bailly, who put the word and concept of community, then relatively neglected in French philosophical discourse, up for discussion. Bailley's contribution was "The community, the number," a topic for an issue of the French magazine Aléa, which was edited at that time by Christian Bourgois. Cf. Jean-Luc Nancy, La communauté désoeuvrée (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1983). In english transl., The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
  8. ^ Leland de la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction (2009), p. 247
  9. ^ Ulrich Rauff, "An Interview with Giorgio Agamben," German Law Journal 5.5 (2004): 613. PDF available at [1]
  10. ^ The Coming Community (1993), section 11.
  11. ^ The Coming Community (1993), page 2.
  12. ^ a b The Coming Community (1993)
  13. ^ IJBS
  14. ^ The Coming Community (1993), page 86.
  15. ^ (Homo Sacer, p. 8)
  16. ^ Of course, this understanding of "biopower" is distinct from Foucault's use of the term.
  17. ^ Video clip of Agamben's lecture: On the State of Exception, Saas-Fee, Switzerland (2003) is available here or a smaller file here
  18. ^ Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (2005)
  19. ^ Theodor Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht ("Roman Constitutional Law", volume III) (Graz, 1969)
  20. ^ Agamben, State of Exception (ibid.), chapter 6 "Auctoritas and potestas", §7.
  21. ^ Agamben, ibid., chapter 6, §8.
  22. ^ Agamben, ibid., chapter 5, §3.
  23. ^ (French)"Non au tatouage biopolitique "No to Bio-Political Tattooing"". Le Monde. 10 January 2004. 
  24. ^ [|"No to Bio-Political Tattooing" By Giorgio Agamben, Le Monde, Saturday 10 January 2004
  25. ^ (French)"Non à la biométrie ("No to Biometrics")". Le Monde. 5 December 2005.,40-0@2-3232,50-717595,0.html.  (also available here)
  26. ^ Joel Olson, The Abolition of White Democracy, University of Minnesota Press, 2004
  27. ^ Judith Shklar, American Citizenship, Harvard University Press, 1991
  28. ^ Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, University of Chicago Press, 1985
  29. ^ Keith David Sherman, M.A. Thesis, Northern Arizona University, 2010


Agamben's major books are listed in order of first Italian publication (with the exception of Potentialities, which first appeared in English), and English translations are listed where available. There are translations of most writings in German, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. There is also an updated list of publications including translations to other languages and links to texts here and a more complete bibliography here.

  • L'uomo senza contenuto (1970). Trans. The Man without Content (1999). 0-8047-3554-9
  • Stanze. La parola e il fantasma nella cultura occidentale (1977). Trans. Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (1992). 0-8166-2038-5
  • Infanzia e storia: Distruzione dell'esperienza e origine della storia (1978). Trans. Infancy and History: The Destruction of Experience (1993). 0-86091-645-6
  • Il linguaggio e la morte: Un seminario sul luogo della negatività (1982). Trans. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity (1991). ISBN 0-8166-4923-5
  • Idea della prosa (1985). Trans. Idea of Prose (1995). ISBN 0-7914-2380-8
  • La comunità che viene (1990). Trans. The Coming Community (1993). ISBN 0-8166-2235-3
  • Bartleby, la formula della creazione (1993, with Gilles Deleuze). Agamben's essay trans. in Potentialities, below (1999). ISBN 0-8047-3278-7. Deleuze's essay trans. in Deleuze, Essays Clinical and Critical (1997). ISBN 0816625697
  • Homo Sacer: Il potere soverano e la vita nuda (1995). Trans. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998). ISBN 0-8047-3218-3
  • Mezzi senza fine. Note sulla politica (1996). Trans. Means Without End: Notes of Politics (2000). ISBN 0-8166-3036-4
  • Categorie italiane. Studi di poetica (1996). Trans. The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics (1999). ISBN 0-8047-3022-9
  • Quel che resta di Auschwitz. L'archivio e il testimone (Homo sacer III) (1998). Trans. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. Homo Sacer III (2002). ISBN 1-890951-17-X
  • Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. (1999). First published in English translation and edited by Daniel Heller-Roazen. ISBN 0-8047-3278-7. Published in the original Italian, with additional essays, as La potenza del pensiero: Saggi e conferenza (2005).
  • Il tempo che resta. Un commento alla Lettera ai Romani (2000). Trans. The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (2005). ISBN 0-8047-4383-5
  • L'aperto. L'uomo e l'animale (2002). Trans. The Open: Man and Animal (2004). ISBN 0-8047-4738-5
  • Stato di Eccezione. Homo sacer, 2,1 (2003). Trans. State of Exception (2005). ISBN 0-226-00925-4
  • Profanazioni (2005). Trans. Profanations (2008). ISBN 189095182X
  • Che cos'è un dispositivo? (2006). Trans. in What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays (2009). ISBN 0-8047-6230-9
  • L'amico (2007). Trans. in What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays (2009). ISBN 0-8047-6230-9
  • Ninfe (2007).
  • Il regno e la gloria. Per una genealogia teologica dell'economia e del governo. Homo sacer 2,2 (2007).
  • Che cos'è il contemporaneo? (2007). Trans. in What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays (2009). ISBN 0-8047-6230-9
  • Signatura rerum. Sul Metodo (2008). Trans. The Signature of All Things: On Method (2009). ISBN 978-1-890951-98-6
  • Il sacramento del linguaggio. Archeologia del giuramento. Homo sacer 2,3 (2008).
  • Nudità (2009).
  • Various articles published by Multitudes, available here.
  • The State of Emergency, extract from a lecture given at the Centre Roland Barthes-University of Paris VII, Denis Diderot
  • (Italian) "Nei campi dei senza nome". Il Manifesto. 3 November 1998. 
  • (French)"Gênes et la peste ("Genoa and the plague")". L'Humanité. 27 August 2001. 

Further reading

  • Calarco, Matthew and Steven DeCaroli, eds. Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.
  • Clemens, Justin, Nicholas Heron, and Alex Murray, eds. The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature, Life. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.
  • de la Durantaye, Leland. Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.
  • Geulen, Eva. Giorgio Agamben zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius Verlag, 2005.
  • Mills, Catherine. The Philosophy of Giorgio Agamben. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.
  • Murray, Alex. Giorgio Agamben. London and New York: Routledge, 2010 [forthcoming].
  • Norris, Andrew, ed. Politics, Metaphysics, and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.
  • Ross, Alison, ed. The Agamben Effect. A special issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly, Volume 107, Number 1, Winter 2008.
  • Wall, Thomas Carl. Radical Passivity: Lévinas, Blanchot, and Agamben. New York: State University of New York Press, 1999.
  • Watkin, William. Literary Agamben: Adventures in Logopoiesis. London and New York: Continuum, 2010 [forthcoming].
  • Zartaloudis, Thanoi. Giorgio Agamben: Power, Law and the Uses of Criticism. London and New York: Routledge, 2010 [forthcoming].

See also

External links






Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Giorgio Agamben (born 1942) is an Italian philosopher who teaches at the Università IUAV di Venezia. He became famous for his investigations on the concepts of a "state of exception" and homo sacer. He is particularly critical of the United States' response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the use of terrorism as a permanent condition that legitimizes a "state of exception" as the dominant paradigm for governing in contemporary politics.


The Coming Community (1993)

  • If human beings were or had to be this or that substance, this or that destiny, no ethical experience would be possible... This does not mean, however, that humans are not, and do not have to be, something, that they are simply consigned to nothingness and therefore can freely decide whether to be or not to be, to adopt or not to adopt this or that destiny (nihilism and decisionism coincide at this point). There is in effect something that humans are and have to be, but this is not an essence nor properly a thing: It is the simple fact of one's own existence as possibility or potentiality.
    • Ch. 11 : Ethics
  • Today, in the era of the complete triumph of the spectacle, what can be reaped from the heritage of Debord? It is clear that the spectacle is language, the very communicativity or linguistic being of humans. This means that a fuller Marxian analysis should deal with the fact that capitalism (or any other name one wants to give the process that today dominated world history) was directed not only toward the expropriation of productive activity, but also and principally toward the alienation of language itself, of the very linguistic and communicative nature of humans, of that logos which one of Heraclitus' fragments identified as the Common. The extreme form of this expropriation of the Common is the spectacle, that is, the politics we live in. But this also means that in the spectacle of our own linguistic nature comes back to us inverted. This is why (precisely because what is being expropriated is the very possibility of common good) the violence of the spectacle is so destructive; but for the same reason the spectacle remains something like a positive possibility that can be used against it.
    • Ch. 18 : Shekinah

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