The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature, Life

The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature, Life

The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature, Life

The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature, Life


Giorgio Agamben has emerged, in the past five years, as one of the most important continental philosophers. This burgeoning popularity of his work has largely been confined to a study of the homo sacer series. Yet these later 'political' works have their foundation in Agamben's earlier works on the philosophy of language, aesthetics and literature. From a philosophy of language and linguistics that leads to a broader theory of representation, Agamben develops a critical theory that attempts to explore the hiatuses and paradoxes that govern discursive practice across a broad range of disciplines. Gathering some of the most important established and emerging scholars to examine his body of work, this collection of essays seeks to explore Agamben's thought from these broader philosophical and literary concerns, underpinning its place within larger debates in continental philosophy. This volume will be a valuable addition to the understanding and reception of this major thinker. Including a contribution by Agamben himself makes it essential reading for anyone interested in his work. Features:
• the first volume to focus on Agamben's early work on language and literature
• includes established as well as up-and-coming scholars working in a variety of disciplines
• includes a contribution by Agamben himself


Giorgio Agamben

1. In Roman law, in which prosecution had a limited role, slander (calumnia, in old Latin kalumnia) represented so serious a threat for the administration of justice that the false accuser was punished by the branding of the letter K (the initial of kalumniator) on his forehead. It is Davide Stimilli's merit to have demonstrated the importance of this fact for the interpretation of Kafka's Trial, which the incipit unreservedly presents as a slanderous trial ('Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested'). K., Stimilli suggests, recalling that Kafka had studied the history of Roman law while he prepared for the legal profession, does not stand – according to the common opinion that goes back to Max Brod – for Kafka, but for kalumnia, slander.

2. That slander represents the key to the novel (and, perhaps, to Kafka's entire universe, so powerfully marked by the mythic powers of the law) becomes even more illuminating, however, if one observes that, since the letter K. does not stand simply for kalumnia, but refers to the kalumniator – that is, to the false accuser – this can only mean that the false accuser is the very protagonist of the novel, who has, so to speak, brought a slanderous trial against himself. The 'someone' (jemand) who, with his slander, has initiated the trial is Josef K. himself.

But this is precisely what an attentive reading of the novel demonstrates beyond any doubt. Indeed, although K. may know all along that it is not at all certain that the court has accused him ('I can't report that you've been accused', the inspector says to him in the first interview), and that, in any case, his 'arrested' condition does not entail any change in his life, he seeks to enter the court buildings anyway (which are not really court buildings, but attics, lumber rooms and laundries, which, perhaps, only his gaze transforms into courtrooms) and to . . .

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