08.18.2003

Monday Reading Group — 08.18.03 – Agamben’s Homo Sacer

Topic(s): 16 Beaver | No Comments

Date/Time: 18/08/2003 12:00 am


http://www.16beavergroup.org/pdf/agambenhs.pdf


Chapter 4: Form of Law

http://www.16beavergroup.org/pdf/agambenhs2.pdf


__________________________________________________
3. Related materials
Below you will also find a set of related texts. This material is intended to be there more as a reference point. It includes a couple of short reviews, additional materials for folks who would like to read some of the discussions around or near the vecinity of this text. The last text by Agamben was one of the readings previously discussed at 16Beaver.
They include:
a. (via Netime) a short review by Alain Renon
b. A recent review in Radical Philosophy by Andrew Norris: “The exemplary exception – Philosophical and political decisions in Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer”
Also:
c. Slavoj Zizek’s “Are we in a war? Do we have an enemy?”
d. Toni Negri Review of Giorgio Agamben’s The State of Exception :”The Ripe Fruit of Redemption”
e. “Sovereignty, Multitudes, Absolute Democracy: A Discussion between Michael Hardt and Thomas Dumm about Hardt and Negri’s Empire”
f. Giorgio Agamben’s “The State of Emergency”
========================
a. (via Netime) a short review by Alain RENON: review of Giorgio AGAMBEN, Homo Sacer
Homo Sacer, a human being that could not be ritually offered, but whom one. could kill without incuring the penalty of murder according to ancient Roman law, is being used in this book as underpinning for a fresh decoding of the major political difficulty in our century: the rise of the worst sort of totalitarisms, with nazism at its apex. Giorgio Agamben sheds light on the paradoxical, but inherent link between the Rule of Law (Etat de Droit) and the State of Emergency (Etat d’Exception). This author invites us to reflect about “the strange continuum connecting democracy to totalitarism”, and describes the trap in which the Western democracies have fallen, “in gaining (…) rights and liberties in their conflicts against the central(ising) powers, individuals are each and every time simultaneously laying the foundation for a silent but ever deeper insertion of their life within the political order of the state, and hereby giving new and even more formidable power to the ruling authority from which they sought emancipation.”
By questioning this “secret complicity” between democracy and its opposite, we might possibly, says Giorgio Agamben, achieve a situation in which nazism and fascism are no longer “a clear and present danger”.
Giorgio AGAMBEN, Homo Sacer. Le pouvoir souverain et la vie nue. (‘Homo Sacer, On Sovereign Power and Naked Life’) Paris: Seuil, 1997 (collection “l’ordre philosophique”), 216p 130FF
(Paul Virilio’s choice as book of the year 1997)
(from Le Monde Diplomatique, feb 1998)
(Edited by Olga Nieuwenhuys)
========================
b. The exemplary exception – Philosophical and political decisions in Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer
Andrew Norris
Of all the beings that are, presumably the most difficult to think about are living creatures, because on the one hand they are in a certain way most closely akin to us, and on the other are at the same time separated from our ek-sistent essence by an abyss.
Martin Heidegger, ‘Letter on Humanism’
In Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life Giorgio Agamben draws upon metaphysics, philosophical anthropology, set theory and the philosophy of language to advance a number of radical politico-philosophical claims. In contrast to arguments that understand political community as essentially a common ‘belonging’ in a shared national, ethnic, religious, or moral identity, Agamben argues that ‘the original political relation is the ban’ in which a mode of life is actively and continuously excluded or shut out (ex-claudere) from the polis. The decision as to what constitutes the life that is thereby taken outside of the polis is a sovereign decision. Sovereignty is therefore not a historically specific form of political authority that arises with modern nation-states and their conceptualization by Hobbes and Bodin, but rather the essence of the political. Similarly, biopolitics is not, as Foucault sometimes suggests, incompatible with sovereign as opposed to disciplinary power; nor is it a distinctively modern phenomenon. Instead it is the original form of politics: ‘the fundamental activity of sovereign power is the production of bare life as originary political element and as threshold of articulation between nature and culture, zoe and bios.’ Attending to the etymology of the word ‘decide’ one can understand this sovereign decision as a cut in life, one that separates real life from merely existent life, political and human life from the life of the non-human. As this cutting defines the political, the production of the inhuman – which is correlative with the production of the human – is not an activity that politics might dispense with, say in favour of the assertion of human rights. More specifically, the Nazi death camps are not a political aberration, least of all a unique event, but instead the place where politics as the sovereign decision on life most clearly reveals itself: ‘today it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West.’1
The Lager is a threshold in which human beings are reduced to bare life; and the torture this life suffers is nothing else but its exclusion from the polis as a distinctively human life. The bare life that is produced by this abandonment by the state is not biological life; ‘not simple natural life, but life exposed to death (bare life or sacred life) is the originary political element’.2 This is the Muselmann as described by Primo Levi in If This is a Man. One speaks of the Shoah as industrialized mass death, and of the camps as ‘factories of death’. But the product of these factories is not death but, as Arendt puts it, a mode of life ‘outside of life and death’.3 If for Arendt, however, the production of Muselm_nner is anti-political, in that the camps are spaces in which plurality is foreclosed, for Agamben it is the emergence of the essence of the political.
we could not fit the entire text in this e-mail so
to continue reading and/or to print please visit:

http://www.16beavergroup.org/monday/archives/000374.php

========================
c. Are we in a war? Do we have an enemy?
Slavoj Zizek
When Donald Rumsfeld designated the imprisoned Taliban fighters ‘unlawful combatants’ (as opposed to ‘regular’ prisoners of war), he did not simply mean that their criminal terrorist activity placed them outside the law: when an American citizen commits a crime, even one as serious as murder, he remains a ‘lawful criminal’. The distinction between criminals and non-criminals has no relation to that between ‘lawful’ citizens and the people referred to in France as the ‘Sans Papiers’. Perhaps the category of homo sacer, brought back into use by Giorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998), is more useful here. It designated, in ancient Roman law, someone who could be killed with impunity and whose death had, for the same reason, no sacrificial value. Today, as a term denoting exclusion, it can be seen to apply not only to terrorists, but also to those who are on the receiving end of humanitarian aid (Rwandans, Bosnians, Afghans), as well as to the Sans Papiers in France and the inhabitants of the favelas in Brazil or the African American ghettoes in the US.
Concentration camps and humanitarian refugee camps are, paradoxically, the two faces, ‘inhuman’ and ‘human’, of one sociological matrix. Asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, ‘Concentration Camp’ Erhardt (in Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be) snaps back: ‘We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.’ A similar distinction applies to the Enron bankruptcy, which can be seen as an ironic comment on the notion of a risk society. Thousands of employees who lost their jobs and savings were certainly exposed to a risk, but without having any real choice: what was risk to those in the know was blind fate to them. Those who did have a sense of the risks, the top managers, also had a chance to intervene in the situation, but chose instead to minimise the risk to themselves by cashing in their stocks and options before the bankruptcy – actual risks and choices were thus nicely distributed. In the risk society, in other words, some (the Enron managers) have the choices, while others (the employees) take the risks.
The logic of homo sacer is clearly discernible in the way the Western media report from the occupied West Bank: when the Israeli Army, in what Israel itself describes as a ‘war’ operation, attacks the Palestinian police and sets about systematically destroying the Palestinian infrastructure, Palestinian resistance is cited as proof that we are dealing with terrorists. This paradox is inscribed into the very notion of a ‘war on terror’ – a strange war in which the enemy is criminalised if he defends himself and returns fire with fire. Which brings me back to the ‘unlawful combatant’, who is neither enemy soldier nor common criminal. The al-Qaida terrorists are not enemy soldiers, nor are they simple criminals – the US rejected out of hand any notion that the WTC attacks should be treated as apolitical criminal acts. In short, what is emerging in the guise of the Terrorist on whom war is declared is the unlawful combatant, the political Enemy excluded from the political arena.
This is another aspect of the new global order: we no longer have wars in the old sense of a conflict between sovereign states in which certain rules apply (to do with the treatment of prisoners, the prohibition of certain weapons etc). Two types of conflict remain: struggles between groups of homo sacer – ‘ethnic-religious conflicts’ which violate the rules of universal human rights, do not count as wars proper, and call for a ‘humanitarian pacifist’ intervention on the part of the Western powers – and direct attacks on the US or other representatives of the new global order, in which case, again, we do not have wars proper, but merely ‘unlawful combatants’ resisting the forces of universal order. In this second case, one cannot even imagine a neutral humanitarian organisation like the Red Cross mediating between the warring parties, organising an exchange of prisoners and so on, because one side in the conflict – the US-dominated global force – has already assumed the role of the Red Cross, in that it does not perceive itself as one of the warring sides, but as a mediating agent of peace and global order, crushing rebellion and, simultaneously, providing humanitarian aid to the ‘local population’.
Slavoj Zizek, philosopher and pyschoanalyst, is a researcher at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia – i.e. he doesn’t have to teach. His latest book is Welcome to the Desert of the Real.
we could not fit the entire text in this e-mail so
to continue reading and/or to print please visit:

http://www.16beavergroup.org/monday/archives/000374.php

========================
d. “The Ripe Fruit of Redemption”
Toni Negri Reviews Giorgio Agamben’s The State of Exception

http://slash.autonomedia.org/BookReviews/03/07/30/138212.shtml

Giorgio Agamben’s latest book is dedicated to the State of Exception, the condition that now invests each power structure and radically empties any experience and definition of democracy. Despite being a habitual reader of Giorgio Agamben, so far I have only reviewed one of his books, entitled Language and Death and published in 1982 [1].
Language and Death was a proper introduction to philosophy and proposed the method of analysis that was to mark his future work: to critically build, digging at the margins the existential and the linguistic, a road of redemption on the terrain of being: a fully immanent redemption that never forgets the mortal condition.
To labour in philosophy then entailed going through being with ethical commitment whilst eliminating all dialectical residues (that were at the time so popular amongst the epigones of idealism and the declining socialism), and consequently producing a knowledge that was true, politically oriented, ethically qualified, and moved towards a possible human redemption. At first sight Agamben seemed to be close to Derrida and Nancy, looking through a point of being desiring another, however illusiory. But this was not the case. As Agamben deepened his phenomenological analysis of being, he worked on the possible and on a new horizon, similarly, in other words, to Blanchot when he went through the linguistic world in terms of critical ontology. It is in this way that Agamben and the description of the reality he observes come close to the General Intellect, i.e. to a positive idea of the linguistic being of the common as traversed by struggles, processes of exploitation and quivers of liberation.
How is it possible to structure the world that this ontological approach constitutes? How can someone like Agamben, who has always borne death in mind in his phenomenological descriptions, positively construe the idea of redemption? It is on this project that Agamben’s theoretical path presented increasingly evident jolts. Perhaps, we find the greatest jolt in The Coming Community of 1990 [2], when the experience of redemption presents itself as distopia. It demanded of the threshold of death to be traversed by the tension of life, and of the method to interiorise the Spinozian maxim: “Rather than thinking death, the wise man thinks of life.” In Agamben’s thought, the idea of the biopolitical here began to emerge as core potenza, surely a restless and perhaps alternative power, yet structurally innovative. Then again in Homo Sacer [3] this problematic is manifest in all its complexity and contradictions.
There are in fact two Agambens. The one holding onto an existential, fated and horrific background, who is forced into a continuous confrontation with the idea of death; the other seizing (adding pieces, manouvering and building) the biopolitical horizon through an immersion into philological labour and linguistic analysis: here, in the latter context, Agamben sometimes almost looks like a Warburg [4] of critical ontology. The paradox is that these two Agamben always live together and, when you least expect it, the first re-emerges to darken the second, and the gloomy shadow of death spreads over and against the will to live, against the surplus of desire. Or vice versa.
we could not fit the entire text in this e-mail so
to continue reading and/or to print please visit:

http://www.16beavergroup.org/monday/archives/000374.php

========================
e. human rights project
Sovereignty, Multitudes, Absolute Democracy: A Discussion between Michael Hardt and Thomas Dumm about Hardt and Negri’s Empire (Harvard University Press, 2000)
4:3 | © 2000 Michael Hardt and Thomas Dumm
1. Thomas Dumm. First of all it seems important to ask, how is Toni Negri? When might he be released?
2. Michael Hardt. Negri now has a work release arrangement whereby he is free to go where he pleases during the day but must return each night to the Rebibbia prison near Rome. After spending fourteen years in exile in France, he returned to Italy and prison in 1997 in the hope that he could both resolve his own case and work for a general amnesty for all those accused of crimes on the basis of their political activities in the 1960s and 70s. There has been no movement in the Italian parliament toward such an amnesty, however, and Negri’s own case has proceeded according to normal criminal procedures. In 1998 he reached the midpoint of his sentence (including the four and a half years he served before going to France) and he was thus eligible for work release. In 2001, when he reaches the point when three years remain on his sentence, he will be eligible for parole.
3. TD: It is good to know that despite his status it is possible for him to be able to continue his work, which includes the collaborative projects he has completed with you.
4. One of my favorite aphorisms is the opening sentence from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd.” Some may already be aware that the two of you have already written Labor of Dionysus together, and have worked on the French journal Futur Antérieur for some time, but could you tell us a little bit about how you and Antonio Negri came to collaborate on Empire?
5. MH: Negri has worked collaboratively for a long time, in journal collectives and political organizations. He also wrote a book together with Félix Guattari. I imagine that I learned how to write collaboratively largely from him.
6. I profit enormously from collaboration and I think collaborative writing should be encouraged more in the humanities. (It is already necessary in the natural sciences and many areas of the social sciences due in part to the technologies of research.) It is obvious I imagine how much collaborators learn from each other. Negri and I have very different disciplinary training — he in political science and I in comparative literature — and we refer primarily to different national literatures. Our writing projects thus always begin by making reading lists for the other person of what each of us consider to be the relevant literature. The collaboration is in this way a kind of mutual education process.
7. What is most exhilarating and challenging about collaborative writing is the negotiation involved in the writing itself. But really negotiation is not the right concept, because that would involve some kind of dialogue between two individuals. Alchemy is a better notion for the process. In cooperation, Marx says, humans are stripped of the fetters of their individuality. And this is why so many people have difficulty embarking on collaborative writing projects — it is so hard to abandon our individuality! I have found that there is a tendency when writing collaboratively to think like the other person and construct sentences that he or she would form. I feel the resulting prose is both mine and not mine. That is why it is futile to try to divide collaborative texts into passages written by this author or the other. Each author is adopting the other’s voice or, really, they are both adopting some third voice or numerous other voices. This is what I think Deleuze and Guattari mean when they refer to the crowd who wrote Anti-Oedipus. The alchemy of collaboration does not merge the two authors into a single voice but rather proliferates them to create the chorus of a multitude.
we could not fit the entire text in this e-mail so
to continue reading and/or to print please visit:

http://www.16beavergroup.org/monday/archives/000374.php

========================
f. The State of Emergency by Giorgio Agamben
In his Political Theology (1922), Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) established the essential proximity between the state of emergency and sovereignty. But although his famous definition of the sovereign as “the one who can proclaim a state of emergency” has been commented on many times, we still lack a genuine theory of the state of emergency within public law. For legal theorists as well as legal historians it seems as if the problem would be more of a factual question than an authentic legal question.
The very definition of the term is complex, since it is situated at the limit of law and of politics. According to a widespread conception, the state of emergency would be situated at an “ambiguous and uncertain fringe at the intersection of the legal and the political,” and would constitute a “point of disequilibrium between public law and political fact.” The task of defining its limits is nevertheless nothing less than urgent. And, indeed, if the exceptional measures that characterize the state of emergency are the result of periods of political crisis, and if they for this very reason must be understood through the terrain of politics rather than through the legal or constitutional terrain, they find themselves in the paradoxical position of legal measures that cannot be understood from a legal point of view, and the state of emergency presents itself as the legal form of that which can have no legal form.
And, furthermore, if the sovereign exception is the original set-up through which law relates to life in order to include it in the very same gesture that suspends its own exercise, then a theory of the state of emergency would be the preliminary condition for an understanding of the bond between the living being and law. To lift the veil that covers this uncertain terrain between, on the one hand, public law and political fact, and on the other, legal order and life, is to grasp the significance of this difference, or presumed difference, between the political and the legal; and between law and life.
Among the elements that render a definition of the state of emergency thorny, we find the relationship it has to civil war, insurrection and the right to resist. And, in fact, since civil war is the opposite of the normal state, it tends to coalesce with the state of emergency, which becomes the immediate response of the State when faced with the gravest kind of internal conflict. In this way, the 20th century has produced a paradoxical phenomenon defined as “legal civil war.”
we could not fit the entire text in this e-mail so
to continue reading and/or to print please visit:

http://www.16beavergroup.org/monday/archives/000375.php

__________________________________________________
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“>Monday Reading Group — 08.18.03 – Agamben’s Homo Sacer
Contents:
1. About this Monday
2. PDF links to readings
3. Materials Related to Homo Sacer
(includes texts by Renon, Norris, Zizek, Negri, Agamben and an interview w/ Hardt,)

http://www.16beavergroup.org/monday

http://www.16beavergroup.org/monday/archives/000374.php

http://www.16beavergroup.org/monday/archives/000375.php

__________________________________________________
1. About this Monday
What: Discussion of Agamben’s Homo Sacer
Who: All are Welcome
When: 7:00 pm
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 5th Floor
We have over the course of the last few years discussed texts and issues related to Giorgio Agamben’s writings/thoughts. In addition to reading his texts, more recent discussions have also incorporated questions raised by Agamben.
Last month, our discussions of ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’ addressed specific questions raised by Zizek in relation to Homo Sacer. In the chapter “From Homo Sucker to Homo Sacer” Zizek critiques or restages Agamben’s central question by positing:
“What if the true problem is not the fragile status of the excluded but rather the fact that on the most elementary level, we are excluded in the sense that our most elementary, zero position is that of an object of biopolitics and that possible political and citizenship rights are given to us as a secondary gesture in accordance with biopolitical strategic considerations. What if this is the ultimate consequence of the notion of post-politics?”
More recently, as a part our discussions following Trevor Paglen’s lecture/performance click here for more info addressing the prison industrial complex (with particular focus on the Pelican Bay’s super maximum incarceration facility) at 16Beaver, the questions raised in Homo Sacer were again of critical importance. What is the status of the prisoner? What rights are afforded to prisoners and how do those rights fall within a larger field of rights afforded to individuals? What can the status (or treatment or classification or organization) of prisoners (or refugees or stateless people for that matter) tell us about one’s more general relation to sovereignty, democracy, the rule of law, and states of exception/emergency? What is the relation of democracy to totalitarianism?
===
According to ancient Roman law, homo sacer (sacred man) referred to a person that could be killed but not ritually sacrificed. For Agamben, this figure offers “the key by which not only the sacred texts of sovereignty but also the very codes of political power will unveil their mysteries”.
We begin this week with the introduction to Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, followed by “Form of Law” the fourth chapter in the book. The text is relatively short, but challenging. We hope to have enough time to discuss and go through the text together.
As much as this reading will be a continuation of our earlier discussions, we hope that it will also serve as a marker for further readings, discussions, events this summer and Fall that will deal specifically with Agamben’s writings as well as with broader questions related to fascism.
__________________________________________________
2. PDF Links
Introduction:

http://www.16beavergroup.org/pdf/agambenhs.pdf


Chapter 4: Form of Law

http://www.16beavergroup.org/pdf/agambenhs2.pdf


__________________________________________________
3. Related materials
Below you will also find a set of related texts. This material is intended to be there more as a reference point. It includes a couple of short reviews, additional materials for folks who would like to read some of the discussions around or near the vecinity of this text. The last text by Agamben was one of the readings previously discussed at 16Beaver.
They include:
a. (via Netime) a short review by Alain Renon
b. A recent review in Radical Philosophy by Andrew Norris: “The exemplary exception – Philosophical and political decisions in Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer”
Also:
c. Slavoj Zizek’s “Are we in a war? Do we have an enemy?”
d. Toni Negri Review of Giorgio Agamben’s The State of Exception :”The Ripe Fruit of Redemption”
e. “Sovereignty, Multitudes, Absolute Democracy: A Discussion between Michael Hardt and Thomas Dumm about Hardt and Negri’s Empire”
f. Giorgio Agamben’s “The State of Emergency”
========================
a. (via Netime) a short review by Alain RENON: review of Giorgio AGAMBEN, Homo Sacer
Homo Sacer, a human being that could not be ritually offered, but whom one. could kill without incuring the penalty of murder according to ancient Roman law, is being used in this book as underpinning for a fresh decoding of the major political difficulty in our century: the rise of the worst sort of totalitarisms, with nazism at its apex. Giorgio Agamben sheds light on the paradoxical, but inherent link between the Rule of Law (Etat de Droit) and the State of Emergency (Etat d’Exception). This author invites us to reflect about “the strange continuum connecting democracy to totalitarism”, and describes the trap in which the Western democracies have fallen, “in gaining (…) rights and liberties in their conflicts against the central(ising) powers, individuals are each and every time simultaneously laying the foundation for a silent but ever deeper insertion of their life within the political order of the state, and hereby giving new and even more formidable power to the ruling authority from which they sought emancipation.”
By questioning this “secret complicity” between democracy and its opposite, we might possibly, says Giorgio Agamben, achieve a situation in which nazism and fascism are no longer “a clear and present danger”.
Giorgio AGAMBEN, Homo Sacer. Le pouvoir souverain et la vie nue. (‘Homo Sacer, On Sovereign Power and Naked Life’) Paris: Seuil, 1997 (collection “l’ordre philosophique”), 216p 130FF
(Paul Virilio’s choice as book of the year 1997)
(from Le Monde Diplomatique, feb 1998)
(Edited by Olga Nieuwenhuys)
========================
b. The exemplary exception – Philosophical and political decisions in Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer
Andrew Norris
Of all the beings that are, presumably the most difficult to think about are living creatures, because on the one hand they are in a certain way most closely akin to us, and on the other are at the same time separated from our ek-sistent essence by an abyss.
Martin Heidegger, ‘Letter on Humanism’
In Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life Giorgio Agamben draws upon metaphysics, philosophical anthropology, set theory and the philosophy of language to advance a number of radical politico-philosophical claims. In contrast to arguments that understand political community as essentially a common ‘belonging’ in a shared national, ethnic, religious, or moral identity, Agamben argues that ‘the original political relation is the ban’ in which a mode of life is actively and continuously excluded or shut out (ex-claudere) from the polis. The decision as to what constitutes the life that is thereby taken outside of the polis is a sovereign decision. Sovereignty is therefore not a historically specific form of political authority that arises with modern nation-states and their conceptualization by Hobbes and Bodin, but rather the essence of the political. Similarly, biopolitics is not, as Foucault sometimes suggests, incompatible with sovereign as opposed to disciplinary power; nor is it a distinctively modern phenomenon. Instead it is the original form of politics: ‘the fundamental activity of sovereign power is the production of bare life as originary political element and as threshold of articulation between nature and culture, zoe and bios.’ Attending to the etymology of the word ‘decide’ one can understand this sovereign decision as a cut in life, one that separates real life from merely existent life, political and human life from the life of the non-human. As this cutting defines the political, the production of the inhuman – which is correlative with the production of the human – is not an activity that politics might dispense with, say in favour of the assertion of human rights. More specifically, the Nazi death camps are not a political aberration, least of all a unique event, but instead the place where politics as the sovereign decision on life most clearly reveals itself: ‘today it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West.’1
The Lager is a threshold in which human beings are reduced to bare life; and the torture this life suffers is nothing else but its exclusion from the polis as a distinctively human life. The bare life that is produced by this abandonment by the state is not biological life; ‘not simple natural life, but life exposed to death (bare life or sacred life) is the originary political element’.2 This is the Muselmann as described by Primo Levi in If This is a Man. One speaks of the Shoah as industrialized mass death, and of the camps as ‘factories of death’. But the product of these factories is not death but, as Arendt puts it, a mode of life ‘outside of life and death’.3 If for Arendt, however, the production of Muselm_nner is anti-political, in that the camps are spaces in which plurality is foreclosed, for Agamben it is the emergence of the essence of the political.
we could not fit the entire text in this e-mail so
to continue reading and/or to print please visit:

http://www.16beavergroup.org/monday/archives/000374.php

========================
c. Are we in a war? Do we have an enemy?
Slavoj Zizek
When Donald Rumsfeld designated the imprisoned Taliban fighters ‘unlawful combatants’ (as opposed to ‘regular’ prisoners of war), he did not simply mean that their criminal terrorist activity placed them outside the law: when an American citizen commits a crime, even one as serious as murder, he remains a ‘lawful criminal’. The distinction between criminals and non-criminals has no relation to that between ‘lawful’ citizens and the people referred to in France as the ‘Sans Papiers’. Perhaps the category of homo sacer, brought back into use by Giorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998), is more useful here. It designated, in ancient Roman law, someone who could be killed with impunity and whose death had, for the same reason, no sacrificial value. Today, as a term denoting exclusion, it can be seen to apply not only to terrorists, but also to those who are on the receiving end of humanitarian aid (Rwandans, Bosnians, Afghans), as well as to the Sans Papiers in France and the inhabitants of the favelas in Brazil or the African American ghettoes in the US.
Concentration camps and humanitarian refugee camps are, paradoxically, the two faces, ‘inhuman’ and ‘human’, of one sociological matrix. Asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, ‘Concentration Camp’ Erhardt (in Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be) snaps back: ‘We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.’ A similar distinction applies to the Enron bankruptcy, which can be seen as an ironic comment on the notion of a risk society. Thousands of employees who lost their jobs and savings were certainly exposed to a risk, but without having any real choice: what was risk to those in the know was blind fate to them. Those who did have a sense of the risks, the top managers, also had a chance to intervene in the situation, but chose instead to minimise the risk to themselves by cashing in their stocks and options before the bankruptcy – actual risks and choices were thus nicely distributed. In the risk society, in other words, some (the Enron managers) have the choices, while others (the employees) take the risks.
The logic of homo sacer is clearly discernible in the way the Western media report from the occupied West Bank: when the Israeli Army, in what Israel itself describes as a ‘war’ operation, attacks the Palestinian police and sets about systematically destroying the Palestinian infrastructure, Palestinian resistance is cited as proof that we are dealing with terrorists. This paradox is inscribed into the very notion of a ‘war on terror’ – a strange war in which the enemy is criminalised if he defends himself and returns fire with fire. Which brings me back to the ‘unlawful combatant’, who is neither enemy soldier nor common criminal. The al-Qaida terrorists are not enemy soldiers, nor are they simple criminals – the US rejected out of hand any notion that the WTC attacks should be treated as apolitical criminal acts. In short, what is emerging in the guise of the Terrorist on whom war is declared is the unlawful combatant, the political Enemy excluded from the political arena.
This is another aspect of the new global order: we no longer have wars in the old sense of a conflict between sovereign states in which certain rules apply (to do with the treatment of prisoners, the prohibition of certain weapons etc). Two types of conflict remain: struggles between groups of homo sacer – ‘ethnic-religious conflicts’ which violate the rules of universal human rights, do not count as wars proper, and call for a ‘humanitarian pacifist’ intervention on the part of the Western powers – and direct attacks on the US or other representatives of the new global order, in which case, again, we do not have wars proper, but merely ‘unlawful combatants’ resisting the forces of universal order. In this second case, one cannot even imagine a neutral humanitarian organisation like the Red Cross mediating between the warring parties, organising an exchange of prisoners and so on, because one side in the conflict – the US-dominated global force – has already assumed the role of the Red Cross, in that it does not perceive itself as one of the warring sides, but as a mediating agent of peace and global order, crushing rebellion and, simultaneously, providing humanitarian aid to the ‘local population’.
Slavoj Zizek, philosopher and pyschoanalyst, is a researcher at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia – i.e. he doesn’t have to teach. His latest book is Welcome to the Desert of the Real.
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d. “The Ripe Fruit of Redemption”
Toni Negri Reviews Giorgio Agamben’s The State of Exception

http://slash.autonomedia.org/BookReviews/03/07/30/138212.shtml

Giorgio Agamben’s latest book is dedicated to the State of Exception, the condition that now invests each power structure and radically empties any experience and definition of democracy. Despite being a habitual reader of Giorgio Agamben, so far I have only reviewed one of his books, entitled Language and Death and published in 1982 [1].
Language and Death was a proper introduction to philosophy and proposed the method of analysis that was to mark his future work: to critically build, digging at the margins the existential and the linguistic, a road of redemption on the terrain of being: a fully immanent redemption that never forgets the mortal condition.
To labour in philosophy then entailed going through being with ethical commitment whilst eliminating all dialectical residues (that were at the time so popular amongst the epigones of idealism and the declining socialism), and consequently producing a knowledge that was true, politically oriented, ethically qualified, and moved towards a possible human redemption. At first sight Agamben seemed to be close to Derrida and Nancy, looking through a point of being desiring another, however illusiory. But this was not the case. As Agamben deepened his phenomenological analysis of being, he worked on the possible and on a new horizon, similarly, in other words, to Blanchot when he went through the linguistic world in terms of critical ontology. It is in this way that Agamben and the description of the reality he observes come close to the General Intellect, i.e. to a positive idea of the linguistic being of the common as traversed by struggles, processes of exploitation and quivers of liberation.
How is it possible to structure the world that this ontological approach constitutes? How can someone like Agamben, who has always borne death in mind in his phenomenological descriptions, positively construe the idea of redemption? It is on this project that Agamben’s theoretical path presented increasingly evident jolts. Perhaps, we find the greatest jolt in The Coming Community of 1990 [2], when the experience of redemption presents itself as distopia. It demanded of the threshold of death to be traversed by the tension of life, and of the method to interiorise the Spinozian maxim: “Rather than thinking death, the wise man thinks of life.” In Agamben’s thought, the idea of the biopolitical here began to emerge as core potenza, surely a restless and perhaps alternative power, yet structurally innovative. Then again in Homo Sacer [3] this problematic is manifest in all its complexity and contradictions.
There are in fact two Agambens. The one holding onto an existential, fated and horrific background, who is forced into a continuous confrontation with the idea of death; the other seizing (adding pieces, manouvering and building) the biopolitical horizon through an immersion into philological labour and linguistic analysis: here, in the latter context, Agamben sometimes almost looks like a Warburg [4] of critical ontology. The paradox is that these two Agamben always live together and, when you least expect it, the first re-emerges to darken the second, and the gloomy shadow of death spreads over and against the will to live, against the surplus of desire. Or vice versa.
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e. human rights project
Sovereignty, Multitudes, Absolute Democracy: A Discussion between Michael Hardt and Thomas Dumm about Hardt and Negri’s Empire (Harvard University Press, 2000)
4:3 | © 2000 Michael Hardt and Thomas Dumm
1. Thomas Dumm. First of all it seems important to ask, how is Toni Negri? When might he be released?
2. Michael Hardt. Negri now has a work release arrangement whereby he is free to go where he pleases during the day but must return each night to the Rebibbia prison near Rome. After spending fourteen years in exile in France, he returned to Italy and prison in 1997 in the hope that he could both resolve his own case and work for a general amnesty for all those accused of crimes on the basis of their political activities in the 1960s and 70s. There has been no movement in the Italian parliament toward such an amnesty, however, and Negri’s own case has proceeded according to normal criminal procedures. In 1998 he reached the midpoint of his sentence (including the four and a half years he served before going to France) and he was thus eligible for work release. In 2001, when he reaches the point when three years remain on his sentence, he will be eligible for parole.
3. TD: It is good to know that despite his status it is possible for him to be able to continue his work, which includes the collaborative projects he has completed with you.
4. One of my favorite aphorisms is the opening sentence from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd.” Some may already be aware that the two of you have already written Labor of Dionysus together, and have worked on the French journal Futur Antérieur for some time, but could you tell us a little bit about how you and Antonio Negri came to collaborate on Empire?
5. MH: Negri has worked collaboratively for a long time, in journal collectives and political organizations. He also wrote a book together with Félix Guattari. I imagine that I learned how to write collaboratively largely from him.
6. I profit enormously from collaboration and I think collaborative writing should be encouraged more in the humanities. (It is already necessary in the natural sciences and many areas of the social sciences due in part to the technologies of research.) It is obvious I imagine how much collaborators learn from each other. Negri and I have very different disciplinary training — he in political science and I in comparative literature — and we refer primarily to different national literatures. Our writing projects thus always begin by making reading lists for the other person of what each of us consider to be the relevant literature. The collaboration is in this way a kind of mutual education process.
7. What is most exhilarating and challenging about collaborative writing is the negotiation involved in the writing itself. But really negotiation is not the right concept, because that would involve some kind of dialogue between two individuals. Alchemy is a better notion for the process. In cooperation, Marx says, humans are stripped of the fetters of their individuality. And this is why so many people have difficulty embarking on collaborative writing projects — it is so hard to abandon our individuality! I have found that there is a tendency when writing collaboratively to think like the other person and construct sentences that he or she would form. I feel the resulting prose is both mine and not mine. That is why it is futile to try to divide collaborative texts into passages written by this author or the other. Each author is adopting the other’s voice or, really, they are both adopting some third voice or numerous other voices. This is what I think Deleuze and Guattari mean when they refer to the crowd who wrote Anti-Oedipus. The alchemy of collaboration does not merge the two authors into a single voice but rather proliferates them to create the chorus of a multitude.
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f. The State of Emergency by Giorgio Agamben
In his Political Theology (1922), Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) established the essential proximity between the state of emergency and sovereignty. But although his famous definition of the sovereign as “the one who can proclaim a state of emergency” has been commented on many times, we still lack a genuine theory of the state of emergency within public law. For legal theorists as well as legal historians it seems as if the problem would be more of a factual question than an authentic legal question.
The very definition of the term is complex, since it is situated at the limit of law and of politics. According to a widespread conception, the state of emergency would be situated at an “ambiguous and uncertain fringe at the intersection of the legal and the political,” and would constitute a “point of disequilibrium between public law and political fact.” The task of defining its limits is nevertheless nothing less than urgent. And, indeed, if the exceptional measures that characterize the state of emergency are the result of periods of political crisis, and if they for this very reason must be understood through the terrain of politics rather than through the legal or constitutional terrain, they find themselves in the paradoxical position of legal measures that cannot be understood from a legal point of view, and the state of emergency presents itself as the legal form of that which can have no legal form.
And, furthermore, if the sovereign exception is the original set-up through which law relates to life in order to include it in the very same gesture that suspends its own exercise, then a theory of the state of emergency would be the preliminary condition for an understanding of the bond between the living being and law. To lift the veil that covers this uncertain terrain between, on the one hand, public law and political fact, and on the other, legal order and life, is to grasp the significance of this difference, or presumed difference, between the political and the legal; and between law and life.
Among the elements that render a definition of the state of emergency thorny, we find the relationship it has to civil war, insurrection and the right to resist. And, in fact, since civil war is the opposite of the normal state, it tends to coalesce with the state of emergency, which becomes the immediate response of the State when faced with the gravest kind of internal conflict. In this way, the 20th century has produced a paradoxical phenomenon defined as “legal civil war.”
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