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 Giorgio Agamben - Homo Sacer and the State of Exception

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PostSubject: Giorgio Agamben - Homo Sacer and the State of Exception   Fri 18 Dec 2009, 2:54 pm

Giorgio Agamben



I've just come across Agamben, who has some extremely relevant thoughts on the world we live in, post 9/11. He ascribes to our time the first ever global "state of exception":

Quote :
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). However simplistic and obvious it is to mention, one must acknowledge the state of exception is a dangerous and violent place of operation.

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.

Link to State of Exception PDF:

http://www.filestube.com/9edd47cbcd1439bf03e9,g/Agamben-State-of-Exception.html

His related concept of Homo Sacer is intriguing too:

Quote :
Agamben describes the homo sacer as an individual who exists in the law as an exile. There is, he thinks, a paradox. It is only because of the law that society can recognize the individual as homo sacer, and so the law that mandates the exclusion is also what gives the individual an identity.

Agamben holds that life exists in two capacities. One is natural biological life (Greek: Zoë) and the other is political life (Greek: bios). This zoe is related by Agamben himself to Hannah Arendt's description of the refugee's "naked life" in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). The effect of homo sacer is, he says, a schism of one's biological and political lives. As "bare life", the homo sacer finds himself submitted to the sovereign's state of exception, and, though he has biological life, it has no political significance.

Agamben says that the states of homo sacer, political refugees, and those persecuted in the Holocaust and other sites are similar.[citation needed] As support for this, he mentions that the Jews were stripped of their citizenship before they were placed in concentration camps.

Thus, Agamben argues, "the so-called sacred and inalienable rights of man prove to be completely unprotected at the very moment it is no longer possible to characterize them as rights of the citizens of a state", following in this Hannah Arendt's reasoning concerning the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which tied human rights to civil rights. Although human rights were conceived of as the ground for civil rights, the privation of those civil rights (as, for example, in the case of stateless people or refugees) made them comparable to "savages", many of whom were exterminated, as Arendt showed, during the New Imperialism period. Arendt's thought is that respect of human rights depends on the guarantee of civil rights, and not the other way around, as argued by the liberal natural rights philosophers.

PDF link to Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life:

http://korotonomedya2.googlepages.com/GiorgioAgamben-HOMOSACERSovereignPow.pdf

Wikipedia fails to explain the profoundity of his thought I feel, completely. The following piece from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy is much better. His thoughts on language, and the Sausserian semiotic system of the signifier and the signified are quite dazzling I think, where language is only self-referential and that the ultimate meaning of what a person wishes to say is entirely ineffable and uncommunicable.

Quote :

Aesthetics.

In Language and Death, Agamben raises the question of the relation of philosophy and poetry by asking whether poetry allows a different experience of language than that of the “unspeakable experience of Voice” that grounds philosophy. From a brief reflection on Plato’s identification of poetry as the “invention of the Muses,” Agamben argues that both philosophy and poetry attain toward the unspeakable as the condition of language, though both also “demonstrate this asunattainable.” Thus rejecting a straightforward prioritization of poetry over philosophy, or verse over prose, Agamben concludes that “perhaps only a language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word, and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring, would be the true human language” (LD, 78). This thematic subsequently drives Agamben’s contributions to aesthetics, and in doing so, the distinction between philosophy and poetry grounds a complex exercise of language and representation, experience and ethos, developed throughout his works in this area and designed to surpass the distinction itself as well as those that attend it.

This is also of note:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_Agamben#Criticism_of_US_response_to_.229-11.22

Quote :
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.[19][20]


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.[21] 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.

Agamben lecture on the State of Exception (quite dry stuff, but worthwhile persevering and really payng attention to). I've included them all here as it seems the video's playlist is all over the place on YouTube:













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PostSubject: Re: Giorgio Agamben - Homo Sacer and the State of Exception   Sat 19 Dec 2009, 4:00 pm

Fascinating stuff. I'm just starting to get into the meat of it...
thanks very much for posting it. More comments later...
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PostSubject: Re: Giorgio Agamben - Homo Sacer and the State of Exception   Sun 20 Dec 2009, 6:42 am

ScoutsHonor wrote:
Fascinating stuff. I'm just starting to get into the meat of it...
thanks very much for posting it. More comments later...

You're welcome.
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