The philosophical trajectory of Giorgio Agamben

Fritz Wotruba (1907-1975), Große Skulptur, 1972.


Commentary on the newly released book by Adam Kotsko.

Adam Kotsko offers in Agamben's Philosophical Trajectory an alternative reading key to the one underlying many of the available interpretations of the author's texts. These interpretations presuppose and frame this set of texts like stones in a monument or a temple, the link between a multiplicity of words from a half-century intellectual trajectory operating as a “hidden pantry,” rendering them as mere mechanisms, without the which the spirit of genius would not have a body.

By doing so, in the tradition bequeathed to us by late romanticism, these interpretations do not so much criticize, as they comment on the texts before them, and by doing so, they contribute like slaves to a master, for their growth and nourishment, instead of marking their survival. It is not without some irony, then, that a considerable portion of the comments dedicated to the writings of Giorgio Agamben end up remaining in contradiction with what these texts, when read from another perspective, such as the one proposed by Kotsko, call and inspire, that is, that they be unoperated. and not interpreted, but used – so that a thousand “Agambens” can flourish, to refer me directly to Kotsko's words.

The first chapter is dedicated to what other authors call Agamben's “apolitical” phase. For Kotsko, it is not so much a question of an apolitical phase, but of disgust with the options that appeared to him at the time of the Cold War, between the 1980s and 1990s, causing Agamben to return to a general theory of linguistics and a pursuit of individual experience through the human sciences.

The second chapter deals with the so-called “political” phase of Agamben, in which the project that would launch Agamben to the center of the stage of contemporary political theory begins. In the light of the Yugoslavian tragedy, but also as a contribution to the debate between Jean-Luc Nancy and Maurice Blanchot about the notion of community, Agamben writes Holy man (ed. UFMG), the holy man who could not be sacrificed, but still killed. Taking advantage of the distinction between zoe e bios as articulated by Hannah Arendt, but also from the weak messianism of Walter Benjamin. Correspondingly, Benjamin, quoting Maimonides, emphasized how the difference between the present world and the Messianic world would ultimately be negligible.

Having marked the distinction between these two phases, the third chapter “In search of the method” deals with the expansion and structure of the project Holy man, towards the domains of theology. In Paulo, Agamben finds strategies to advance in relation to Benjamin's weak messianism, giving a word that would become as dear to him as his signature, potentiality, an important historical index. It would not be, therefore, just a weak messianism, but a hos me, an as if not, the inverse of a fiction, the non-operation of fiction that, by interrupting the course of time, anticipates a messianic era conceived in an original way.

The fourth chapter shows how the conclusion of Holy man leads to the use of bodies. The use, unlike the work, implies disoperation. When both the liturgy and the law cease to operate, there is the opening of a space of experience marked by the notion of use, rescued through the careful reading of consecrated texts of the western tradition, this mode of reading that we designated at the beginning and that, Arguably, it can be read in Kotsko's effort in proposing to start using it to read Agamben himself. The fifth chapter, in turn, dedicated to late works, offers an interesting explanation for the decision to edit all volumes of the series. Holy man in a single work.

In addition to biographical interests, based on the conversations that Adam Kotsko had with Giorgio Agamben at his home in Venice, Kotsko creatively mobilizes these fragments of the author's life, dismantling the relationship between life and work that constitutes the canons of interpretation still in force in the field. of the humanities. In an elegant formulation about a philosophical effort that launched itself into the challenge of thinking contemporary, Kotsko suggests that in his apolitical phase, Agamben was more contemporary.

In contrast, in his political phase, by being explicitly contemporary, Agamben ends up being out of time. Indeed, it is difficult not to read in this character perhaps his main contribution to archeology as a method. Agamben's archeology, according to Kotsko, does not seek to find a arks in the sense of a command forcing everything to necessarily come to be in the way in which it came to be. On the contrary, Agamben would seek to insert a space between our tradition and the origin, rendering tradition something contingent and without foundation. Arguably, it is the effort to insert this space in Agamben's work, dismantling it as such and revealing it in terms of a trajectory, which characterizes and highlights the originality and importance of Agamben's Philosophical Trajectory.

*Ari Marcelo Solon is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among others, of books, Paths of philosophy and science of law: German connection in the development of justice (Prisms).


Adam Kotsko. Agamben's Philosophical Trajectory: The Development of a Contemporary Thinker. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2020, 240 pages.


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