Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Geller, Jeffrey. "Review of Giorgio Agamben's PROFANATIONS." NDPR June 2008.

Agamben, Giorgio. Profanations. Trans. Jeff Fort. New York: Zone Books, 2007. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex body of ideas, I will place Profanations in the context of at least a fraction of Agamben's thought. A fraction is all that can be expected here, principally because I cannot hope to duplicate the range of expertise Agamben commands. In the single short volume of Profanations, he builds on insights from a kaleidoscopic range of philosophers, including Aristotle, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Schmitt, Heidegger, Adorno, Benjamin, and Foucault, among many others, not to mention an equally wide range of figures from art and literature. The climactic essay "In Praise of Profanation" ties the collection together by explaining the apparatus of commodification. While that essay draws most extensively from Walter Benjamin, whose influence has been evident throughout Agamben's career, readers will also find it helpful to think of Theodor Adorno in the background. In earlier works, notably, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (one of three books in the Homo Sacer series), Agamben developed the unsettling thesis that everyone subject to the sovereign authority of the modern nation-state has been reduced by a system of biopolitics to naked life, existence devoid of personal dignity and rights. In this reduced state, people are not legally or morally protected against mistreatment at the hands of the sovereign. Reduction to the naked life is not restricted to a small minority, according to Agamben, but is virtually pervasive. The biopolitics responsible for Nazi concentration camps are on display in the general tendency of the modern nation-state to suspend the rights of citizens in cases of exception, that is, cases of national emergency, as illustrated in the United States, he has argued, by the USA Patriot Act and the power assigned to the Homeland Security Administration. Following Benjamin, Agamben contends that the modern nation-state careens from one national emergency to the next and weaves these emergencies seamlessly into one long state of exception. Whereas the power of the nation-state vis-à-vis the power of its citizens is expressly circumscribed, for example, by the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, the state of exception legally empowers the sovereign to expand its own power and to suspend individuals' rights. The state of exception, according to Carl Schmitt, authorizes the sovereign to detain and kill its subjects in the interest of maintaining the nation-state. Drawing from and expanding on Benjamin and Schmitt, Agamben argues that such authority strips citizens of their rights and leads to the formation of naked life. . . . Read the rest here:

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