Illegitimacy? Review of Giorgio Agamben’s The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days. By Gerardo Muñoz.

agamben mystery 2017Giorgio Agamben’s Il mistero del male, now translated in English as The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days (Stanford U Press, 2017), is an intense repudiation of the mundane legitimacy of every institution, costume, and political structure hitherto existing on earth. For Agamben, the decline towards illegitimacy has not been a matter of a few years or decades, but part of a larger inherited drama. The core of the book reads Benedict XVI’s “great refusal” as an ‘exemplary act’ [sic] against the Church, bringing to awareness a vital “loss of substantial legitimacy” (Agamben 3). Overstating the dual structure characteristic to Western governmentality – potestas and autorictas, or economy and mystery, legality and legitimacy – Agamben asserts that Ratzinger’s gesture cuts through the very thicket of the ekklesia arcanum, reversing the mystery of faith in time to the point of abandoning the very vicarship of Christ (Agamben 5). Of course, this comes as no surprise to those that have engaged with his prior The Kingdom and the Glory (2011), where Agamben interprets the Trinity as a stasiological foundation of an oikonomia that plays out (vicariously) as a praxis without Being [1].

In many ways, this essay is supplemental to the larger turn already undertaken in The Kingdom, only that this time, Agamben brings to focus a seminal institution of the Western political tradition. Here Agamben seems to be pressing more heavily on the state of global affairs in which the Church is a metonymy: “…if this gesture interests us, this certainly is not solely insofar as it refers to a problem internal to the Church, but much more because it allows us to focus on a genuinely political theme, that of justice, which like legitimacy cannot be the eliminated from the praxis of our society” (Agamben 16-17). This is consistent with overall structure of The Kingdom, by which the structure of the oikonomia is understood vis-à-vis the true ‘providential machine’ of human administration. So every administrative structure is illegitimate, since for Agamben, it governs through de-substantial vicarious being. It is a true ‘kakokenodicy’ (referring to the emptying) that can only justify effective evil (Agamben 36). To the extent that Agamben’s overarching project seeks to establish a responsive unity to the problem of discessio or internal division, it is not difficult to grasp how Benedict XVI’s return to Tyconius’ obscure thesis of the Church composite of good and evil is highly relevant, as we shall see.

We are far from Augustine’s City of God, where the split was produced between two cities, allowing for what Erik Peterson understood, against Schmitt, as the impossibility of any political theology. Tyconius is, in a sort of way, the persistence of an Anti-Augustinian gnosis. Agamben’s effort, let’s be clear, tries to make Augustine a son of Tyconius, which makes it even more mysterious; since whereas Augustine separated Church and Empire, Tyconius separates evil and good in the temporal katechontic nature of the Church (Agamben 10-11). Agamben cites Illich’s testimony to claim that the Church is always already mysterium iniquitatis as corruption optima pessima (the worst possible corruption of the best). But once again, Agamben seems to be forcing positions, since whereas for Illich the Church, consistent with Augustine, allowed for ius refomandi (reform), Agamben posits discessio as the arche of the corporeal Church, in this way reintroducing the myth of political theology to stage the mysterical drama of History.

In a strange sense, the mystery is not that mysterious. It becomes messianic eschatology on reserve. According to Agamben’s narrative, the Church as a dual nature of opposites, possesses an internal stasis between a temporal restrainer (katechon), the evil that runs counter to against law’s integrity (anomos), and the eschatological dimension of the End. This last character points to the Pauline’ messianicity, which allows Agamben to link Benjamin and Tyconius’ in a common salvific structure. As he writes: “The mysterium iniquitatis…is a historical drama, which is underway in every instant, so to speak, and in which the destiny of humanity, the salvation or fall of human beings, is always at stake.” (Agamben 14). Benedict XVI is a counter-katechon, as he is able to reveal, in his exodus, the eschatological structure that leaves behind the vicarious economy. According to Agamben, Benedict XVI’s message was “nothing but the capacity to keep oneself connected to one’s own end” (Agamben 16).

On the reverse, this entails subscribing a messianic turning of life from within the Church in order to posit a metapolitical form without remainder. The renunciation of the katechon implies that we are left with an economy (oikonomia) devoid of legitimacy. The central problem here is that history itself has become mystery of the economy, instead of an economy of mystery, which is the Pauline arche. What compensates for this illegitimacy becomes messianic politics that “does not remain a mere idea, entirely inert and impotent in the face of law and economy, but succeeds in finding political expression in a force capable of counter-balancing the progressing leaving out onto a single technico-economic plane of the two coordinated but radically heterogeneous principles [legitimacy and legality] that constitutes the most preciouses patrimony of European culture” (Agamben 18).

But if the machine of governance of the West is dual, playing legitimacy and legality in a skirmish co-dependency, why does Agamben conflate the renewal of legitimacy to the coming of a new politics? The reason seems to be that once you accept the condition that what exhausts government is an economical structure of the Christian katechon, you can then accept as exodus a metapolitics of salvation. What is interesting is that this politics, seemingly against Schmitt, actually re-enacts the same movement for an exact, albeit reverse, political trade-off. Agamben does not follow Peterson here. Let us recall that Peterson’s argument was never that the Church is an oikonomia, but that Schmitt’s totalizing and unifying political theology applied not to the Church, but only to Empire. This principial politics, as we know, has always led to catastrophic dominance, from Rome to Christian Monarchy to Nazi Germany. Counter to Schmitt, Agamben wants to produce not an imperial katechon, but “a time of the end, [where] mystery and history correspond without remainder” (Agamben 30).

The problem becomes that in order to set the stage for such “drama”, Agamben needs to avoid at all costs the Augustinian/Petersonian split of the Church in its facticity (as it actually happened). This explains why, in the second essay, history is understood as mysterical. In this context, it is noteworthy that Peterson is fully absent, even though he famously authored the essay “The Church”. There he writes in an important passage:

“The worship the Church celebrates is public worship and not a celebration of the mysterious; it is an obligatory public work, a leitourgia, and not an initiation dependent on voluntary judgment. The public-legal character of Christian worship reflects the fact that the church stands much closer to political entities like kingdom and polis, rather than voluntary associations and unions” [2].

I highlight Peterson’s reference to the “the mysterious”, because this is an explicit polemical stance against Casel, the Benedictine monk that informs Agamben’s mysterical adventure in history. But this has important implications, only two of which I will register here. First, accepting Casel’s mysterical Church leads us to conclude that internal worldly illegitimacy requires that we embrace a messianic politics ‘again’ (Agamben 38). In fact, politics is ultimate salvation in Tyconius, Casal, and Benjamin.

Secondly, mysterical historicity demands voluntary filiation. Agamben lays this out in plain sight: “it is in this drama, always underway, that all are called to play their part without reservation and ambiguity” (Agamben 39). Messianism forces agonic politics, displacing administrative vicarship with a conceptual theodicy. But profane life does not need to coincide with or abdicate a metapolitics of salvation. Now, if this is so, perhaps the accusation raised against governmental structure as illegitimate is in itself not legitimate. What if instead of being on the side of the metapolitics of the eschatological mystery, legitimacy is nothing other than the internal rational enactment of the separation of the profane that is always taking place in the world?




  1. Agamben writes in The Kingdom and the Glory (2011): “And, more generally, the intra-Trinitarian relation between the Father and the Son can be considered to be the theological paradigm of every potestas vicaria, in which every act of the vicar is considered to be a manifestation of the will of the one who is represented by him. And yet, as we have seen, the an-archic character of the Son, who is not founded ontologically in the Father, is essential to the Trinitarian economy. That is, the Trinitarian economy is the expression of an anarchic power and being that circulates among the three persons according to an essentially vicarious paradigm… The mystery of being and of the deity coincides entirely with its “economical” mystery. There is no substance of power, but only an “economy,” only a “government.” 138-39 pp.
  2. Erik Peterson. “The Church”. Theological Tractates (Stanford U Press, 2011). 38 pp.


Pious Humor: on José Luis Villacañas’ Freud lee el Quijote. By Gerardo Muñoz.

villacanas freud leeThe almost banal simplicity of the title of José Luis Villacañas’ most recent book, Freud lee el Quijote (La Huerta Grande, 2017), could incite false expectations. This is not a book about the esoteric references of the Quijote in the father of psychoanalysis, and it is most certainly not a psychoanalytic contribution on Cervantes, the author. Although these principles are at the center of Villacañas’ meditation, they do not exhaust his argument. There are, I think, at least two other important premises that deserve to be noted at the outset: on the one hand, Freud lee el Quijote is a continuation, a sort of minimalist diagram, of Villacañas’ massive Teología Política Imperial (Trotta, 2016); while on the other, it is an exoteric ongoing polemic with Carl Schmitt, who understood Quijote as a Catholic hero of the European destiny in the wake of secularization and the crisis of the Catholic ratio. Although Villacañas does not explicitly cite Schmitt’s early essay on Quijote (preferring to polemicize with the late work Hamlet or Hecuba), Schmitt lingers as an accompanying shadow figure throughout Villacañas’ intervention [1].

It must be said that, at a time of contemporary debates around political theology and the future of Europe, Freud lee el Quijote is a salient exposition of a decisive question on the political and historical defeat. Villacañas’ book is really about an affirmation of defeat as an irreducible condition of the political. It does not come to a surprise that Villacañas is fully honest when he writes in the prologue: “… [este libro] es mi hijo menor, pero en verdad el de más larga gestión, y el más querido de todos mis libros” (Villacañas 9).

The names of Freud and Schmitt work jointly and at opposite ends and they limit the frame of Villacañas’ strong reading of the Quijote. The central idea is that Cervantes wrote neither a work of cruelty or tragedy, nor of comedy.  El Quijote for Villacañas is a work of humor. But let us step back from this assertion. Villacañas is generous and attentive to the archival sources (Freud’s letters to Silberstein, among other things), which allows him several factual connections, such as the mimesis between the Academia Española as an antecedent of the Psychoanalytic Association, or even the Coloquio de los perros as a formal precedent of the psychoanalytic session. But more importantly, these juxtaposed scenes pepper the ground for the question that Villacañas is after: how to think the heroic figure of the Quijote, and what relation does it contract with the origin of psychoanalysis?

Villacañas’ thesis is that the Quijote is an eruption beyond the comic and the tragic into the humorous. This is, he tells us at the very end, a process of moral rationalization that Freud understood only after Cervantes’ discovery of the “pious humor” (humor piadoso) (Villacañas 25). To understand the way to Freud’s reading of humor in Cervantes, Villacañas first needs to cross paths with Schmitt. He recalls that in Schmitt’s reading of European secularization, there are three potential mythical representatives. We should bare in mind that the three are intellectual representatives: that of the Catholic Quijote in Spain, the Protestant Faust in Germany, and that of the rational and doubtful Hamlet, pulled by the tragic phantasm of the Law-Father. Throughout the essay, Villacañas wants to correct Schmitt’s perhaps too hasty typology of the first heroic type. It is not that Villacañas wants to dispute Schmitt’s circumscription of Cervantes’ Quijote into the Spanish catholic tradition; the problem is that Quijote only emerges in the ruinous aftermath of the catholic imperial ratio. Quijote in La Mancha is an existential and moral figure of a defeat that confronts reality without resentment or guilt. Hence, Quijote, like the Marranos and the Spanish pícaro, affirms without reserve the time of the interregnum as a profane Post-Reform location. Spain is the land of a double fissure into modern secularization. Villacañas tells us:

“…allí donde dominó el catolicismo nacional posterior, tal proceso fue imposible, pues ese catolicismo se puso al servicio de toda tradición mundana. Entre un catolicismo que ya no podía ser universal y un Estado que nunca sería soberano, don Quijote es el héroe errante en un mundo escindido y roto, sin soberano estatal ni Iglesia universal: el mundo español. Por eso es que es mito existencial y concierne a cualquier español que reflexione sobre su destino histórico” (Villacañas 32).

Cervantes’ profane epoch is that of the newborn Leviathan, which Villacañas reminds us did not need to wait for Hobbes, since the myth was noticed by Juan de Santa María, a Felipe III’ censor, in his Tratado de república y policía cristiana. The mythic Leviathan demolishes the old principles of medieval history based on the absolute potentiality of God in the name subjective freedom protected by the new mechanicist secular state (Villacañas 34). Up to this point, this narrative is very much consistent with Schmitt’s The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes. But Villacañas abandons Schmitt when contenting that Quijote cannot amount and should not be reduced to a mythical Spanish katechon. Quijote is, in fact, the very opposite of any positing of time restrainer of terrestrial time. He is, unlike Schmitt, not the last witness of the European ius, but the prima witness of the time of ruin and devastation: “Don Qujiote es un héroe católico, pero su figura emerge de entre las ruinas de Roma y del Imperio” (Villacañas 37). Villacañas seems to place Schmitt, vis-à-vis Quijote, on its head: whereas in Hamlet and Hecuba, Shakespeare’s tragedy inscribed the irruption of history within the work, in Cervantes’ Quijote irrupts the historical end of the roman imperium, and the Catholic Church as form of the gnosis. But how does the humor play out within this configuration?

Quijote represents a turning point of the triumph of the modern gnosis, which in a turn to Hans Blumenberg’s Legitimacy of the Modern Age, equips Villacañas with the possibility of fleeing the stereotype of the reformist and salvific composition of the modern subject. For Villacañas, Don Quijote “es la paranoia del impotente y del solitario, mientras el reformado se entrega a la experiencia entusiasta y sin fisuras del que es consciente de su poder y lo ve compartido por los que confiesan con él” (Villacañas 68-69). Quijote is a marrano figure away from Protestant salvific subjection, but also turning its back to the messianic kingdom of the Catholic fidelitas. The wonder and uniqueness of the Quijote is that he represents a third option that does not run through resentment or will to power, since its compensation is a pious humor in the face of the ruinous and the powerlessness (impotencia). Villacañas summarizes the point in an important moment of his book:

“Lo decisivo está en la forma de interpretar las derrotas. La autoafirmación moderna no trata de culpabilizar a un poder mágico por sus fracasos, ni a una finalidad perversa del mundo, ni a un manipulador chapucero y cruel, sino solo a una falla del principio epistemológico respecto a lo real, lo que constituye un nuevo reto a la curiosidad” (Villacañas 73).

The disheveled Quijote can only compensate the wake of the imperial absolute trauma with humor. This is a complex game, Villacañas notes, since it is done through phantasy as the possibility of exodus for what otherwise could amount to the acceleration of the death drive, the sublimation of the Ideal, and the proximity with the speculative teleology of the genius and the superhuman. This latter was the rubric by which German Romanticism read and appropriated the “Catholic” myth as fetish after the failure of the Protestant bourgeois transformation. The work of humor is the possible thanks to the work of self-affirmation in the face of tragic finitude: “Está diseñado para mostrar la finitud del héroe que un día fuimos, y que todavía somos, y ese el trabajo del humor, el que asegura a pensar de todo el triunfo del yo y su condición narcisista” (Villacañas 88). While the joke and comedy are blind to loss, Villacañas goes as far as to claim that the joke or the prank are always potentially on the side of aggression (Villacañas 92). Not so the humor, which can divide itself in a psychic equilibrium between the Ego and the Super-Ego, between the playfulness of the youngster and the theatrical seriousness of the elder. The joke, as reactive mechanism, does not recoil back to the Ideal. Humor – as in “tiene sentido de humor” – is always a singular form of humility.

This is, at heart, the latent gnosticism of Cervantes as Quijote, and Quijote as Cervantes. The function of comedy, which Giorgio Agamben has elevated in work as a phantasm of Italian culture and of his own potenza, dissolves in the Hispanic Marrano tradition in which Villacañas places Quijote as a humorous figure [2]. The work of compensation of the super-ego makes humor a substrate of the psychotic figure of disbelief, while affirming the narcissist drive of a modern fragile and gracious “I”. It makes sense that Villacañas argues at the end of his book this superego cannot be tyrannical (Villacañas 99). This could open rich and important discussions that we can only register here.

As a treacherous hidalgo, Alonso Quijano is never a psychotic leader, but a humorous madman. And humor is only an aftereffect of an epistemological rupture of the modern, of an unclear and unforgotten defeat that characterizes modern man, and that characterized, no doubt, Cervantes himself in his attempt to find a proper balance to nihilism. But, did he succeed? The book does not say openly, but it is fair to say that the impossible balance to nihilism is also symmetrical to the nihilism of the political.






  1. Schmitt in his early essay on Quijote notes some of the aspects that he will take up in the late book on Hamlet, such as the “image of the Hispanic heroism”, and the “great sense of humor of the work”. See, “Don Quijote un das Publikum” (1912). There is a Spanish translation of the essay by Isabel Moreno Salamaña (2009).
  2. For Agamben on the comic as a category of Italian thought in the wake of Dante, see “Comedia” in Categorie italiane: Studi di poetica e di letteratura (2010). Most recently, this is also the problem at the heart of his book on the Neapolitan puppetry figure Pulcinella, Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (2016).

Una nota a la pregunta a José Luis Villacañas. Por Gerardo Muñoz.

El intercambio con Villacañas y Moreiras ha sido iluminador, en parte, porque como decía un amigo por comunicación privada estas notas ayudan a delinear posiciones. Yo no quiero disputar ninguna parte de los argumentos, y lo que sigue es tan solo un apunte mental hecho público sobre lo que me parece que es una posición de desacuerdo y que pudiera ser tema de futuros debates. Aunque el punto del desacuerdo tampoco es tan nuevo.

Me refiero, desde luego, a lo que Villacañas llama la necesidad de legitimidad en su réplica a Moreiras. En específico, J.L.V escribe: “El republicanismo no necesita de la hegemonía, pero si necesita de la legitimidad. Y el problema es que la legitimidad no es una afirmación de archē” [1]. Pero, ¿por qué no puede la legitimidad ser jamás una afirmación arcaica? Es sabido que Weber en Economía y Sociedad habla del necesario arcano de la dominación, pero solo como trazo transitorio hacia una función moderna de los tres tipos de apelación a la legitimación racional (la tipología tripartita: racionalización, autoridad personal, y carisma) [2].

Pero lo que Villacañas entiende por legitimidad tiene sus propios tintes, y ya ha quedado muy bien esbozado en su importante ensayo “Poshegemonía de Gramsci a Weber”. Allí, J.LV. pide el abandono de la hegemonía gramsciana en nombre de una noción de legitimidad en función de una institución visible [sic], capaz de renovación en cada instancia, y garante del pacto social [3]. Y es cierto que esto no tiene nada que ver con un principio legislativo supremo o metafísico, tal y como lo comenta Schürmann en el apartado sobre la legitimidad y la legalidad en la primera parte de Broken Hegemonies.

Ahora bien, en la medida en que la legitimidad no tiene arcano, habría que preguntarse si en el momento de la expansión del estado administrativo – que pienso que es consistente con lo que Moreiras llama la ruina del orden categorial moderno de lo político, o lo que Williams llama decontainment – no hace de la legitimidad algo defectuoso. Pero defectuoso ya no como ‘equilibrio’ de movilización e instalación propiamente político, sino defectuoso en el sentido de un vacío o abismo efectivo. De ser así: ¿cómo pensar aquí la legitimidad caída hacia la pura administración?

Si se apela a la “legitimidad” se apelaría solo al concepto. Por eso la cuestión medular es si la legitimidad tiene gancho compensatorio, o es todo lo contrario. En su librito sobre Benedicto XVI, Il mistero del male (2013), Agamben ha declarado que no existe estructura de gobierno legítima hoy en la tierra. Y quizás Villacañas diría que esta conclusión se debe a su prole schmittiana que desde el registro del mito deja intactas “muchas realidades históricas operando”. Y es verdad que tiene razón.

Y con esto concluyo: lo que si es importante derivar de esto es que si ya la legitimidad no es compensatoria para un momento democratizante, lo que prosigue a la hegemonía es la poshegemonía en la medida en que, en cuanto a su segundo registro infrapolítico, abandona ya la ratio última de la política como acceso de mundo y de vida. La biopolitica ha sido el último avatar de esta posición. Si el populismo contemporáneo – la mejor posibilidad populista, digamos Bernie Sanders, digamos ciertos grupos a escala estatal batallando contra los intentos revocatorios del Civil Rights Act en el sur estadounidense, el errejonismo – tiende hacia a la apelación a la legitimidad o a la poshegemonía es ya otro asunto. Pero yo no tengo dudas que esta es la verdadera bifurcación en nuestro momento para el pensamiento.




  1. Ver en este mismo espacio, a José Luis Villacañas. “Réplicas”.
  1. Max Weber. Economy and Society. University of California Press, 1978. P.953-54.
  1. José Luis Villacañas. “Poshegemonía: De Gramsci a Weber”, en Poshegemonía: el final de un paradigma de la filosofía política en América Latina (Biblioteca Nueva, 2015). P.165-66.

Katargein: notes on Giorgio Agamben’s L’uso dei corpi. By Gerardo Muñoz

Luso dei corpi 2015

1. L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014) is the culmination of Agamben’s Homo Sacer project after a little more than a decade. The thinker has warned that the volume should not be taken as the end of the project, but as the last installment before its abandonment. To this effect, it is for future thinkers and scholars to continue carrying forth an investigation that polemically proposes an archeological destruction of politics in the West. L’uso is a book written with a backward gaze on what has been elaborated in other volumes, while thematizing instances of the unsaid in them. A novelty in L’uso dei corpi is the constant iteration of anecdotal impressions that enact as emblems of the indeterminate threshold between thought and life.

None of these details are meant to add flare to the content. Rather, they allude to one’s impossible strategy of sketching or bearing witness to life. It is precisely that alocation which already introduces the idea of form of life. It is worthwhile to note that in this bravado, there is little meditation on Agamben’s own life, which remains silently opaque and perhaps on the side of “ette clandestinité de la vie privée sur laquelle on ne possède jamais que des documents dérisoires”. The writing of a life is only potential or a habitual relation of the singular with itself, foreign to conventional literary genres or works of memory and identity. The form of life coincides here with a writing that never anticipates its own becoming; it seeks for an inclination or a “gusto” (as opposed to an ‘aesthetic’ form) [1]. Hence, if according to Benjamin Heidegger’s thinking is angular; one is tempted to say that Agamben’s style is scaly as in the skin of a fish, only visible when exposed to light, generating multiple intensities and shifting canopies.

2. As the culmination of Homo Sacer, L’uso dei corpi is in equal measure the writing of the end of the ontological metaphysical tradition and the opening of the question of life or existence. This is not accomplished, like in Heidegger or Schürmann, solely as an extraction of the history of metaphysics given primacy to philosophical discourse. Rather the methodological wager here is archeology, which allows not for a process of “destruction” (although in a certain sense it is consistent with a deconstructive practice), but for one of rendering inoperative the machine(s) that capture negativity into life and politics, or the political as always an impolitical foundation or archē of life:

L’identificazione della nuda vita come referente primo e pota in gioco della politica e stato perciò il primo atto della ricerca. La struttura originario della politica occidentale consiste in una ex-ceptio, in una esclusione inclusive della vita umana nella forma della nuda vita. Si rifletta sulla particolarità di questa operazione: la vita non e in se stessa politica – per questo essa deve essere esclusa dalla citta – e, tuttavia, e propio l’exceptio, l’esclusione-inclusione di questo Impolitico che fonda lo spazio della politica” (Agamben 333).

[“The identification of bare life as the prime referent and ultimate stakes of politics was therefore the first act of the study. The originary structure of Western politics consists in an ex-ceptio, in an inclusive exclusion of human life in the form of bare life. Let us reflect on the peculiarity of this operation: life is not in itself political – for this reason it must be excluded from the city – and yet it is precisely this exceptio, the exclusion-inclusion of this Impolitical, that founds the space of politics” (Agamben 263)].

This position allows Agamben to simultaneously bring the relation between biopolitics and sovereignty to a maximum proximity, while taking critical distance from the so-called Italian Theory, in the variants of Cacciari, Esposito, or Tronti. Like these three, politics cannot be rethought without the wrench of the theological register, but unlike them, Agamben is not interested in take part in the construction of a nomic difference posited as an exclusive modality of “Italian difference”.

His critique is situated against the political as a transversal in Western rationality and ontology vis-a-vis the unfolding of paradigms. In Agamben’s view there is no need for epochal structuration, and not even for a history of metaphysics proper. Rather, the ‘history of metaphysics’ is the history of its apparatuses; and that is why the critique of these apparatuses is not fulfilled at the domain of epochal presencing, but rather within an array of fields of tension and relays – from metaphysics proper to the classics, from theology to modern literature, from philology to jurisprudence and political philosophy – in which power articulates and divides the constitution of life.

In this way, Agamben is neither a philosopher nor a critical theorist (in the Foucaltian or Kantian sense), since for him the history of Western philosophical tradition cannot consecrate itself in two or more moment, since the narrative of the history of philosophy is far from being the place where the question of “life” is waged. (As opposed to Foucault’s position in Lectures at Dartmouth College would could still argue: “Maybe also we can say that there are two great philosophical moments: the pre-Socratic moments and the Aufklärung”). Archeology and the paradigm are not historical moments or epochs, but singular signaturas in which the amphibology between potentiality and actuality, the political and its impolitical are dispensed as ensembles of legibility.

3. Unlike conventional philosophical histories or historico-intellectual reconstruction of ideas, the archeology of paradigms has no intention of restituting something like an uncontaminated or esoteric tradition. Averroism, just to take one example, has been casted erroneously in such a light. There is no such thing as an alternative non-metaphysical history of Western metaphysics and ontology, and the form of life as the part construens does not amount to an alternative history, but rather to the unthought of metaphysics, secluded between the public and the private (in the sphere of life), the norm and the exception. What is then given is not a second history, but something like the history of intimacy of thought at the instance of contact, a region that dwells in an improper de-relation (itself-with-itself). How Agamben reads the notion of “intimacy” could also be displaced to his rewriting of the philosophical and political stakes of his work:

אSolo a solo” e un’espressione dell’intimità. Siamo insieme e vicinissime, ma non c’è fra noi un’articolazione o una relazione che ci unisca, siamo uniti l’uno all’altro nella forma del nostro essere soli. Ciò che di solito costruisse la sfera della privatezza diventa qui pubblico e comune. Pero questo gli amanti si mostrano nudi l’uno all’altro: io mi mostro a te come quando sono solo con me stesso, ciò che condividiamo non e che il nostro esoterismo, la nostra inappropriabile zona di non-conoscenza. Questo Inappropriabile e l’impensabile, che la nostra cultura deve ogni volta escludere e presupporre, per farne il fondamene negative della politica” (Agamben 302).

[“א Alone by oneself” is an expression of intimacy. We are together and very close, but between us there is not an articulation or a relation or a relation that unites us. We are united to one another in the form of our being alone. What customarily constitutes the sphere of privacy here becomes public and common. For this reason, lovers show themselves nude to one another: I show myself to you as when I am alone with myself; what we share is only our esoterism, our inappropriable zone of non-knowledge. This Inappropriable is the unthinkable; it is what our culture must always exclude and presuppose in order to make in the negative foundation of politics” (Agamben 237-238)]

The critique raised against negativity as a disjointed form stages the necessary condition for division and distribution of ontology as political. It would not be too grandiloquent to say that negativity for Agamben is always machination and positionality. The life of intimacy or the intimate life is consistent with an infrapolitical region that is at once “superpolitical and apolitical” (hypsipolis apolis): separated in the ban from the city, it nevertheless becomes intimate and inseparable from itself, in a non-relation that has the form of an “exile of one alone to one alone” (Agamben 236). An affirmation of the regime of exodus inscribes the life of beatitude that always dwells in an absolute politicity (to the extent that the exception is de-captured and suspended), opening to a new politics of exile. It is a unity, not separation, from the political. But calling for the politization of the absolute state of exodus is already recasting the political as something other than what it has been in the Western tradition, as tied to the duopoly of polis-oikos, of inclusion-exclusion, or one of doxology and sovereignty.

Agamben moves on to argue that there have signatures in the history of thought where this politics of exile could be recasted: first, Neo-Platonism vis-à-vis Plotinus and Marius Victorinus; and secondly, in Averroism as the signature of the noetic common intellect that evades the figure of the person. But these two traditions do not exhaust the form of life (eidos zoes) that Agamben wants to pursue. The task of the coming philosophy is to imagine and provide for such thought through traditions that function as paradigms for the potentialities of thought against the historical unfolding proper of metaphysics.

4. The project does not limit itself to an archive of philosophers, but necessarily poses problems for theology. This is the case, for instance, of the early Christian rhetor Marius Victorinus. Victorinus’ apothegm from his treatise on the Trinitarian polemic (Adversus Arium) functions as a sort of chant of the form of life: “quasi quaedma forma vel status viviendo progenitus” [“life is a habit of living, and a kind of form generated by living”] (Agamben 221). Victorinus displaces and renders inoperative the ontological ground of the post-Aristotelian Hellenistic School to a co-substantialism between Father and Son, existence and essence that already prefigures the modal ontology of the late Leibniz-Des Bosses epistolary exchange, but also the Spinozian singular substance of Nature. This is symmetrical to the Averroist intellect, since ‘life’ does not take the character of a declination between attributes, properties, and differences, but is a mode instantiated by its living. The way of living becomes the threshold of indistinction, and as such, an incalculable life that is always already singular and, by the same token, a common life. But what is not clear in Agamben’s glossing of Victorinus is his place within the debate of Trinitarian thought. In Regno e Gloria, the Trinitarian machine functioned as a dual-power that was able to divide sovereign power from administrative or oikonomical power, a regime of attribute causation to one of collateral effects, one of necessity into the site where the instrumentalization of contingency takes place [2].

The Trinitarian machine allowed for the emergence of governance and administration beyond the facticity of sovereignty in a perpetual form of the stasis of humanity. By placing Victorinus as a thinker of the eidos zoes (form of life) is a risky one, Agamben might be suggesting that another turn within the theological machine is potentiality within the Trinitarian machine [3]. And this would solidify Malabou and Esposito’s recent positions, against Agamben, that political theology cannot be deconstructed. But if stasis is always a conflict in representation of the political, what Marius Victorinus posits for thought is a reconsideration of conflict that cannot assume the form of a stasis against democracy. Perhaps at stake is a democracy that never one with the People or predicated upon legitimacy. Rather, a democracy without kratos that is generated in its living body that cannot take the shape of a bare body of life or the mystical body of the political already positioned for a governance in spite of the absent People, such as in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.

5. Agamben’s exodus is not from the political, but rather a return to an absolute politicity. But what is the proper sphere of policity here? Are all aspects of Life subordinated to the political? What is the political for Agamben? Here the recoil is to Plotinus for whom the political is the happy life is the coincidental principle of “living well” (eu zen). Agamben condemns the Heideggerian “letting-be” (galassenheit), as yet another gesture already determinate to produce necessary exception (a ban) to the political [4]. This is why happy life is always extreme and minimal politicity that incorporates life in its form as always already taking place and as a form of beatitude. In the section “A life inseparable from its form”, Agamben writes:

Il mistero dell’uomo non e quello, metafisica, della congiunzione fra il vivente e il linguaggio (o la ragione, o l’anima (, ma quello, pratico e politico, della loro separazione. Se il pensiero, le arti, la poesia e, in generale, le prassi umane hanno qualche interesse, ciò e perché essi fanno girare archeologicamente a vuoto la macchina e le opera della vita, della lingua, dell’economia e della società per riportarle all’evento antropogenico, perché in esse il diventar umano, non cessi mai di avvenire. La politico nomina il luogo di questo evento, in qualunque ambito esso si produca” (Agamben 265-66).

[“The mystery of the human being is not the metaphysical one of the conjunction between the living being and language (or reason or the soul) but the practical and political one their separation. If thought, the arts, poetry, and human practices generally have any interests, it’s because they bring about an archeological idling of the machine and the works of life, language, economy, and society, in order to carry them back to the anthropogenetic event, I order that in them the becoming human of the human being will never be achieved once and for all, will never cease to happen. Politics names the place of this event, in whatever sphere it is produced” (Agamben 208)].

Politics here coincides fully with inoperativity, its katargein (the suspension and accomplishment of Law according his reading of Paul in The Times that Remains), a singular strategy of profanation that turns each action into its improper destitution. This is what constitutes use (chresis) in Agamben’s early part of the book, and it is also a general methodology for thought that coincides with politics. Since politics is not a sphere of life, or of an administrative partition of what life is (ontology), politics is a general strategy that renders life into an event for whatever (qualunque) use [5]. Strategic politics does not posit a principle of action; it is rather what does not solicit calculation, submersing into thought and distance of the non-relation. A handy example comes by way of chess, as explicitly thematized in the drift on Wittgenstein’s form of life in language, since gaming itself results in strategy in which rules are co-substantial and infinite in the state of things (the game). Hence, in every sphere of human activity, thought exceeds the productionism of calculation normatively captured.

But the qualunque – as we also learned from Agamben’s The Coming Community – is what reimagines another possibility of a community of singulars and homonyms vis-à-vis praxis and use as the kernel of pure means. This ‘politics’ de-appropriates the form in life that has remained caught in the schism of every biopolitics. Here Agamben differentiates himself from understanding the political as a public presencing in Schürmann’s anarchistic destruction of principal thought [6]. Figures such as the landscape, the intimate exposition, style, or the inclination to animality, are metonymic tropes for a politics of use and of the contemplative region of a life that is co-substantial with its form. On the other end, whatever divides and administers singularity is always production of bare life, which is why evil is first and foremost a consequence of biopolitical machination.

6. The major volumes of Homo Sacer always revolved around a series of polemical signatures: Carl Schmitt in State of Exception, Erik Peterson in Kingdom and the Glory, Kojeve in The Open, or Kant in Opus Dei. It is fair to say that in L’uso dei Corpi we are confronted with two names: Michel Foucault and Martin Heidegger. Unlike Schmitt and Peterson, these two names are not presented as archenemies, but rather as the thresholds where the possibility of new thought is contested and waged. Whereas Foucault’s limit is the hidden question of pleasure as use (chresis) still co-related with a care of the subject; Heidegger appears as the highest aporia of Western thought in thinking the ontological difference in the limit of the animal. It is fair to say that Agamben situates his thought at the crossroads of the existential analytic on one side, and the intimacy constitutive of the “care of oneself” as a work of art on the other [7].

If Heidegger lays down a destruction of ontology in Western metaphysics, Foucault’s genealogy of contemporary subjection, avoids precisely that problematization. The confrontation is not longer given between negativity and existence, but rather on the question of life and the strategies (aporetic, which for Agamben entail entrapment in the theological machine) of making thinkable an inoperative zone of the form of life. There is a third figure, Guy Debord, who accomplishes perhaps two interrelated strategies in the vortex of the book: first, it plugs thought to strategy (Debord invited a game of war, a sort of alteration of chess); and second, out points to the impossibility of narrativizing life. Debord’s Panegyric is form of life precisely because it fails to assume an autobiographical testamentary form as documentation. Of course, Agamben appears here not a thinker of semiology and traces, but of gestures and signatures. The coming philosophy of the form of life is precisely that mobility of signatures inclined towards a region that coincides with the event of thought.

7. L’uso dei corpi is also an attempt to thematize the place of singularity. ‘Singularity’ is a term that is never mentioned as such, but instead it takes the name of the form-of-life, the Ungovernable, or the Inappropriable. Similarly, there are three places where the singular is investigated at different moments of the book: a first ontological exegesis of the Aristotelian ti en einai, vis-à-vis Curt Arpe’s work on the Aristotelian grammar in a 1937 essay (Das Ti en einai bei Aristoteles). Secondly, a recast of Leibniz’s correspondence with theologian Des Bosses on the “substantial vinculum” as to inform the question of hexis. Thirdly, the figure of the form of life as happy life in the Neo-Platonic tradition, departing from Plotinus, and making its way to Marius Victorinus and Averroes. Spinoza comes to the forefront as the thinker of the passive immanent cause, only insofar as he accompanies other strategies, such as Guillaume’s operational time or Arpe’s grammatological exegesis in Aristotelian writings. The singularity is the life of thought as occurring, which opens itself to a conceptualization of the inoperativity of man: “We call thought the connection that constitutes forms of life into an inseparable context, into form of life…Thought is, in this sense, always use of oneself, always entails the affection that one received insofar as one is in contact wit a determinate body” (Agamben 210).

8. L’uso dei corpi picks up where Altisima Poverta left off; that is, on the question of the relation between life and law (regula), which for the Franciscans overdetermined the thinking through a relation instantiated in propriety. Against the nexus of the proper and rule of law, Agamben radicalizes the archeology of form of life with the notion of use (chresis) against biopolitical subsumption of life that attempts at making form of life of divisible and instrumentalized in ontology. The passage towards a form of life that is always already in use, seeks to inaugurate, on one hand, an ethics that is no longer predicated on subjective metaphysics concepts of will and duty, and that on the other, free the anthropogenic event of the human vis-à-vis its inoperativity [8]. In political terms this is not entirely solved in Agamben, and at the very end of the book, the gesture for a translation of praxis seems to retort, against all ‘negrism’ and counter-hegemonic rehearsals, as a process of institutionalizing the deposition maneuver of the destituent potential.

What is central is to think the anthropogenic form of life coincide with a new institutionalization of every singularity beyond a procedure of administration (oikonomia), but also the fiction of sovereignty (exceptio). Contra-Schürmann, Agamben admits that staging another principle of an-archy is a false exit, since power is always anarchic, but more importantly because economy remains on the shadowy side of the political. As Agamben argued in Regno e Gloria, oikonomia is the apparatus in which the West has organized the contingency and inoperativity of the anthropogenic event. Thus, the procedure of destituent power is fundamentally anti-an-archic, if the latter is to be understood as principally tangled as an ‘economy’.

What emerges for the allowance of the form of life is a strategy of the Pauline ‘as if not’ (hos me). Agamben understands this modality as a turning of the state of things without voluntarism, and beyond the creation of a ‘new identity’. In tune with Simone Weil’s decreation, the hos me does not instantiate a messianic escathon, sacrificially putting life before the transcendental or in the community (as in Taubes). Rather, the messianic hos me detonate a klesis in life that is no longer grounded in action or in communitarian terms. The Pauline ‘katargein’ deactivates the apparatus of criminalization of sin (which for Illich represents the machine of modern subjection), as well as the historical horizon of the philosophy of History as accomplishment of the law [9]. What Agamben is after, and still remains unresolved in the case of Paul, is a new de-relation with law in which the singular could face law without passing thorough property (Franciscanism) or the rule of law (anomie).

The coming politics is a politics of impotential actions, which is necessarily post-hegemonic politics, to the extent that it displaces the centrality of active domination in the polis to another region that takes ‘distance’ with politics [10]. The Pauline hos me becomes the true state of exception. In this sense, it is not an impersonal power immanent in every articulation of law, and which is why the inoperativity of law also takes distance from Esposito’s deconstruction of the politico-theological machine. Whereas law is always necessarily impersonal, the katargein is not on the reverse side of the person contained in generic equivalence of jurisdiction, but the deposition of every law in the irreducible life of the singular.

Albeit the critique of folding duality of the principial One into the person-subject, Esposito’s impersonal remains bounded to the limit of law that haunts the coming of modern biopolitics. Thus, the destitution of political theology has less to do with the deployment of certain terms whose provenance is the theological sphere, than the necessity of facing the question of law beyond the community and anthropologic productiveness of the subject. The Pauline ‘as if not’ is an effort to render thinkable a form of law no longer effective (‘actual’), but studied (impotential). Far from constituting a telic historical time, the messianic points to the potentiality of freeing the ethics immanent in every form of life, that is, decapturing the beatitude of humanity, which is the promise of Justice [11].

But how could a law of pure mediality be institutionalized? How can one open the way for law in line with the form of life not as constituting an impersonal relation, but an anarchical regulated game like the one that all infants play? After all, playing, like studying, is what denotes the force of Justice in the time of the living.



*Giorgio Agamben. L’uso dei corpi. Rome: Neri Pozza, 2014.

*Giorgio Agamben. Use Of Bodies. (Trans. Adam Kotsko). Stanford University Press, 2016.

  1. This has been recently published in another essay, Gusto (Quidlobet, 2015), although originally written in the 1970s.
  1. Agamben makes this distinction between sovereignty and the machine of oikonomia dominated by contingency in The Kingdom and The Glory: “In other words, two different concepts of the government of men confront each other: the first is still dominated by the old model off territorial sovereignty, which reduces the double articulation of the governmental machine to a purely formal moment; the second is closer to the new economico-providential paradigm, in which the two elements maintain their identity, in spite of their correlation and the contingency of the acts of government corresponds to the freed of the sovereign decision” (108).
  1. Marius Victorinus conception of absolute substantialization of the Trinity in his Treatise reads as follows in a crucial moment when introducing the ‘living life’: “Indeed, life is a habit of living, and it is a kind of form or state be- gotten by living, containing in itself “to live” itself and that “to be” which is life, so that both are one substance. For they are not truly one in the other, but they are one redoubled in its own simplicity, one, in itself because it is from itself, and one that is from itself because the first simplicity has a certain act within itself. For repose begets nothing; but movement and the exercise of acting forms for itself from itself that which it is or rather that it is of a certain mode. For “to live” is “to be”; but to be life is a certain modes of being, that is, the form of the living produced by the very one for which it is form. But the producer, “to live,” never having a beginning-for that which lives from itself has no beginning since it lives always-it follows that life also has no beginning. Indeed as long as the producer has no beginning, that which is produced has not a beginning. As both are together, they are also consubstantial. […] Therefore, from life comes understanding, and life itself comes from living, that is, from the Father comes the Son, and from the Son, the Holy Spirit. For he added this: “All things that the Father has are mine”; “I said that all that the Father has is mine, because all the Father has is the Son’s, “to be,” “to live,” “to understand.” These same realities the Holy Spirit possesses. All are therefore homoousia (consubstantial). [“Against Arius IV”, 277, from Theological Treatises on the Trinity, 1978.
  2.  Agamben writes: “And if being is only the being “under the ban” – which is to say, abandoned to itself – of beings, then categories like “letting-be”, by which Heidegger sough to escape from the ontological difference, also remain within the relation of the ban” (Agamben 268).
  1. Agamben retells this anecdote on his essay “Metropolis”: “Many years ago I was having a conversation with Guy (Debord) which I believed to be about political philosophy, until at some point Guy interrupted me and said: ‘Look, I am not a philosopher, I am a strategist’. This statement struck me because I used to see him as a philosopher as I saw myself as one, but I think that what he meant to say was that every thought, however ‘pure’, general or abstract it tries to be, is always marked by historical and temporal signs and thus captured and somehow engaged in a strategy and urgency. I say this because my reflections will clearly be general and I won’t enter into the specific theme of conflicts but I hope that they will bear the marks of a strategy”.
  1. Agamben’s moment of maximum proximity to Schürmann is also the one of his greatest remoteness. At the end of the last part of L’uso dei corpi he writes: “The limit of Schürmann’s interpretation clearly appears in the very (willfully paradoxical) syntagma that furnishes the book’s title: the “principle of anarchy”. It is not sufficient to separate origin and command, principium and princeps: as we have shown in The Kingdom and the Glory, a kind who rules does not govern is only one of the two poles of the governmental apparatus and playing off one pole against he other is not sufficient to halt their functioning” (Agamben 276).
  1. At the end of the Intermezzo on Foucault, Agamben takes this aporia of the subject to the end: “Certainly the subject, the self of which eh speaks, cannot be inscribed into the tradition of the Aristotelian hypokeimenon and yet Foucault – likely for good reasons – constantly avoided the direct confrontation with the history of ontology that Heidegger had laid out as a preliminary task. What Foucault does not seem to see, despite the fact that antiquity would seem to offer an example in some way, is the possibility of a relation with thyself and of a form of life that never assumes the figure of a free subject – which is to say, a if power relations necessarily refer to a subject, of a zone of ethics entirely substrate form strategic relation of an Ungovernable that is situated beyond states of domination and power relations.” (108).
  1. Andrea Cavalletti. “
  1. Agamben literally repeats the elaboration of inoperativity of the Law from the book on St. Paul: “An example of a destituent strategy that is neither destructive nor constituent is that of Paul in the face of the law. Paul expresses the relationship between the messiah and the law with the verb katargein, which means, “render inoperative” (argos), “deactivate”. Thus, Paul can write that the messiah “will render inoperative (katargese) every power, every authority, and every potential (Cor 15:26) and at the same time that the messiah is the telos of the law” (Romans 10:4): here inoperativity and fulfillment perfectly coincide”. (Agamben 273).
  1. The notion of ‘distance’ as a region of relation in the polis that precedes the equivalence grounded in administrative politics is thematized by Spanish philosopher Felipe Martinez Marzoa in his El concepto de lo civil (Ediciones Metales Pesados, 2008). Alberto Moreiras has recently treated this cuasi-concept as an infra-political register in his “Nearness against Community”:
  1. Carlo Salzani has listed a typology of “messianic figures” (the messianic that in Agamben has little to do with a philosophy of History). These are also figures of the hos me such as dancing, the party, gesture, play, poetry, landscape, or thought. Introduzione a Giorgio Agamben (Il Melangolo, 2013). But at stake here is also the question of Justice. In the chapter “The Inappropriable”, Agamben recalls a fragment written by W. Benjamin entitled “notes towards a Wok on the Category of Justice” (1916): “no order of possession, however articulated, can therefore lad to justice. Rather, this lines in the condition of a good that cannot be a possession. This alone is the good through which goods becomes possessions…Virtue can be demanded [exigency]; justice in the final analysis can only be as a state of the world or as a state of God” (81). It is a strange fragment mainly because exigency of virtue (arête) is isolated from a notion of “Justice” as a state of the World. But was not exigency as demand what happens without ever being demanded? On the opposite side, the ‘state of the world’ should not be equipped with the Heideggerian notion of ‘letting be’, but rather as a politics of exile of the singular or as Agamben says “to experience is absolutely inappropriable” (81). This is connected also with a later essay that Benjamin writes on the tenth anniversary of Kafka, in which he famously writes: “…legal scholar Bucephalus remains true to his origins, except that he does not seem to be practicing law – and this is probably something new, in Kafka’s sense, for both Bucephalus and the bar. The law, which is studied and not practiced any longer, is the gate to justice. The gate to justice is learning”. Benjamin quickly notes that there is a distinction between learning and studying; the first case being on the side of that which can be mastered. Playing or studying the law is in every case the praxis of Justice and nothing more.