I’m beginning to think that at the end of the day, Agamben’s Homo Sacer series isn’t “about” sovereignty at all. If there’s a single core problem in this overlapping and yet heterogeneous collection of studies, it might be the threshold between the household and the political. Both Homo Sacer and State of Exception spend considerable time on that issue, though it’s rarely highlighted in discussions I’ve seen (or discussions I’ve participated in). In the first half of Stasis, it’s absolutely front and center.
The second half of Stasis deals primarily with political theology, through a reading of Hobbes — but in The Kingdom and the Glory (whose former place in the ordering Stasis is now taking), we learn (or kind of get hints?) that the root of the political theology problem is precisely the “economization” of the political, or in other words, the breakdown of the threshold between the household and the political. And — spoiler alert, sorry! — The Use of Bodies studies the place of the slave in the Greek household extensively.
I don’t want to sound more definitive than I am — obviously there is stuff that is hard to fit into this scheme. But I think that a reading of the Homo Sacer project from this starting point could at least be interesting and productive.
11 thoughts on “A few scattered thoughts after reading Agamben’s Stasis”
How would Agamben’s exploration of the division between the domestic and the political differ from Habermas’s discussions of the public sphere? In Structural Transformations, a lot of work is put into explaining the uniquely modern construction of private life alongside the emergence of the public sphere.
I have only the haziest knowledge of Habermas, so you might need to write that particular paper yourself.
And I only the haziest understanding of Agamben. But could you maybe at least clarify whether Agamben would deal this threshold between household and the political (assuming your observation is accurate) as a kind of issue unique to modernity? Or does Agamben not concern himself with the pre-/modern periodization issues?
Definitely not unique to modernity. A continual problem for the West that is dealt with in different ways in different eras.
I speak only from my experience with Homo Sacer 1.0. I think Adam is on to something when he looks at the ‘threshold.’ Certainly HC 1.0 is about sovereignty, but those jarring thresholds inform that ‘aboutness’ structurally. I have made a connection between HC 1.0 and Marion’s Negative Certainties ( http://www.currentcatholics.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-mark-of-cain-and-biopolitics-of.html ) and the liminal aspect of ‘threshold’ seems to drive what happens to ‘bare life’ in proximity to ‘sovereignty,’ which I’ve called the “biopolitical commodification of the human being.” I also think there might be a bizarre kind of hylomorphism of bios and zoe at work if those terms, as appropriated by Agamben, are read through what Marion is attempting in Negative Certainties.
In line with what you’ve said, it seems to me that alot of the Homo Sacer series can be read as fleshing out Hannah Arendt’s thesis in The Human Condition that the political is being conceived more and more in terms of the organization of the household. I’ve not read The Use of Bodies – so I don’t know if it does reference Arendt or not – but she makes a great deal about the fact that the pursuit of bare life is more or less what defines the condition of the slave, as opposed to the freeman who can properly engage in the space of the political. If you throw away Arendt’s liberalism, you sorta see Agamben’s latest works pursuing the implications and genesis of this line of thought all the way back through Christian theology and so on. In any case, still keen to read UB!
Oh, and I forgot, what I meant to add is that to the extent that the above is the case (re: Arendt), then I see Agamben being motivated by the same sort of questions: just exactly what is the Human Condition as it stands today? What does it mean to be human, in this day and age? While it may not be fair to peg all of Agamben’s work into this one box, this for me is what’s ultimately at stake in his work.
Doesn’t Homo Sacer open with some odd comments on Arendt and Foucault?
Yes, supposedly the book (and the whole series, then?) is a synthesis of Arendt and Foucault. Arendt almost never explicitly comes up thereafter, though, and Foucault only episodically.
I always like to recall his letter to Arendt – http://www.critical-theory.com/letter-young-giorgio-agamben-hannah-arendt/ – where he speaks of “[those] who feel all the urgency of working in the direction you pointed out.”
Arendt is Agamben’s basis from which e delves into discussion of the political, and Foucault the same for the other end of the spectrum, the bio. Together, the bio-political.
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