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Re: <nettime> Agamben: No to Bio-Political Tattooing
McKenzie Wark on Tue, 27 Jan 2004 00:14:26 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Agamben: No to Bio-Political Tattooing



Eugene asks about Georgio Agamben. Below is a short note on him. I find
his writings on the state les interesting and useful than his return to
the question of commodity fetishism, which is a refreshing revisiting of a
neglected concept. On the state, his approach seems more philological than
historical. By not bringing his thinking on the commodity and on the state
more closely together, one is not really given much of a handle on how
developments in the commodity form may have transformed the state.
'Biopower' becomes a vague, transhistorical notion in Agamben.

Agamben is one of the few contemporary thinkers to try to think *past*
Debord's Society of the Spectacle, which I think is still an untranscended
horizon in its matching of political and theoretical intransigence. And so
in the note below I concentrate on his handling of Debord.

k

"In the final analysis the state can recognize any claim for identity… But
what the state cannot tolerate in any way is that singularities form a
community without claiming an identity, that human beings co-belong
without a representable condition of belonging."

Giorgio Agamben, Means Without End: Notes on Politics, University of
Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2000, p87

How can we have fidelity to Debord’s memory? Agamben suggests we apply
Deleuze’s image of picking up tools on the run as a way to use Debord’s
books, as if they were tactics for thinking. They might be tactics to turn
not least against what became of Marxist thought in its long march through
the academic institutions.

Debord’s thought runs counter to much late 20th century Marxism in that it
did not abandon the question of the fetish character of the commodity.
Louis Althusser excised this troubling part of Marx’s legacy, allowing
Marxist thought to devolve into academic specialisms, each of which
addressed the economic, political or ideological instance which, without
the theory of commodity fetishism, no longer formed an integrated complex.
Marxist thought in its post-Althusserian guise was unable to think through
the becoming-image of the commodity, in which exchange value eclipses use
value, opening the Debordian spectacle toward Jean Baudrillard’s world of
pure sign value.

The spectacle may be the alienation of language itself, the expropriation
of the logos, of the possibility of a common good, but Agamben rightly
perceives a way out, at the end of the spectacle. What we encounter in the
spectacle is our linguistic nature inverted. It is an alienated language
in which language itself is – or can be – revealed. The spectacle may be
the uprooting of all peoples from their dwelling in language, the severing
of the foundations of all state forms, but this very alienation of
language returns it as something that can be experienced as such,
"bringing language itself to language."

Agamben finds the emerging crisis of the state in this complete alienation
of language. The state now exists in a permanent state of emergency, where
only the secret police are its last functioning agency. As Agamben says,
the state can recognize any identity, so proposing new identities to it is
not to challenge it, merely to require of it that it extend its logic. New
identities may push the state towards a further abstraction, but on the
other hand merely recognizes in the state a grounding it really doesn’t
possess as final authority on the kinds of citizenship that might belong
within it.

The coming struggle is not to control the state, but to exceed and escape
it into the unrepresentable. For Agamben Tiananmen is the first outbreak
of this movement that did not want to be represented, but rather to create
a common life outside of representation. Tiananmen might be a spontaneous
outbreak of a new Situationist movement. The situation, in Agamben’s
reading of Debord, is beyond the fusion of art and life sought by the
historic avant gardes. It comes after the supercession of art.
Surprisingly, Agamben offers Nietzsche’s eternal return as an image of the
situation, where everything repeats itself as the same, only without its
identity as such.

What never occurs to Agamben is to inquire into the historical – rather
than philological -- conditions of existence of this most radical
challenge to the state. Agamben reduces everything to power and the body.
Like the Althusserians, he too has dispensed with problem of relating
together the complex of historical forces. In moving so quickly from the
commodity form to the state form, the question of the historical process
of the production of the abstraction and the abstraction of production
disappears, and with it the development of class struggle.

It may well be that the coming community is one in which everything may be
repeated, as is, without its identity – but what are the conditions of
possibility for such a moment to arrive the first time? That condition is
the development of the relations of telesthesia, webbed together as a
third nature, which present as their negative aspect the society of the
spectacle, but present as its potential the generalized abstraction of
information, the condition under which the identity of the object with
itself need not reign.

The first citizens of Agamben’s community with neither origins or
destinies – without need of a state – can only be the hacker class, who
hack through, and dispense with, all properties of the object and subject.
The Situationist gesture that is neither use value nor exchange value, a
pure praxis, pure play, the beyond of the commodity form, can only be the
hacking of the hacker class as a class, calling into being its true
conditions of existence, which are simultaneously the conditions of its
disappearance as such. Language for Agamben can be the image and place of
justice, but only because language is an instance of what can exist
outside representation as property – information.

One might need more than a tactic, then, for approaching Debord. One might
need a strategy. One might not be able to wield his books as tools. One
might need to consider them as – incomplete – diagrams. Diagrams for this
time in which the true is merely a moment of the false, for turning the
false against itself. This is a time for plagiarism, in the most radical
sense, as Debord discovered in Lautréamont.



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