Giorgio Agamben: Beyond the Threshold of Deconstruction

Giorgio Agamben: Beyond the Threshold of Deconstruction

Giorgio Agamben: Beyond the Threshold of Deconstruction

Giorgio Agamben: Beyond the Threshold of Deconstruction

Synopsis

Agamben's thought has been viewed as descending primarily from the work of Heidegger, Benjamin, and, more recently, Foucault. This book complicates and expands that constellation by showing how throughout his career Agamben has consistently and closely engaged (critically, sympathetically, polemically, and often implicitly) the work of Derrida as his chief contemporary interlocutor.

The book begins by examining the development of Agamben's key concepts infancy, Voice, potentiality from the 1960s to approximately 1990 and shows how these concepts consistently draw on and respond to specific texts and concepts of Derrida. The second part examines the political turn in Agamben's and Derrida's thinking from about 1990 onward, beginning with their investigations of sovereignty and violence and moving through their parallel treatments of juridical power, the relation between humans and animals, and finally messianism and the politics to come.

Excerpt

In a letter to his wife dated September 5, 1966, Martin Heidegger wrote that upon arriving at the Provençal village of Le Thor, where he was to give an informal seminar on Heraclitus, he was greeted by the young poet Dominique Fourcade and “a highly talented young Italian from Rome” (ein junger hochbegabter Italiener aus Rom). That young Italian was, of course, a twenty-four-year-old Giorgio Agamben, who had had, through a series of lucky connections, the good fortune to be invited to join the small seminar at the home of the poet René Char. Agamben’s attendance at Heidegger’s seminars in Le Thor in 1966 and 1968, and the significant influence this experience had on his early philosophical vocation, is by now a well-known story. In many ways it marks the auspicious beginning of the long intellectual itinerary that would take Agamben repeatedly back through the ways and byways of Heidegger’s thought—a body of work that, by any account, was and remains one of Agamben’s major philosophical touchstones.

Though there is far less documentation to show it, the 1966 and 1968 seminars also mark another starting point in Agamben’s intellectual itinerary, one that would also prove to be decisive through decades of thought. This is because 1966 and 1968 define the time in which Agamben begins to formulate a critical philosophical position with regard to the work of Jacques Derrida. In September 1968—that is to say, around the time of the second Le Thor seminar, and one year after the first Derridean annus mirabilis of 1967—Agamben published an article titled “L’albero del linguaggio” (The tree of language), which contains his first public engagement with Derrida. In this piece, which surveys several trends in contemporary . . .

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