Reading Agamben

Spent part of the long weekend reading two small books by Giorgio Agamben. The Idea of Prose (1985) and the more recent The Open, Man and Animal. I will put up a few quotes later on.

I enjoy reading Agamben, especially when he’s writing these short ‘vignettes’. I enjoy his prose: his thoughts might not always be easy to get, his style is clear. If he sounds obscure, it’s (mostly) not because he writes bad academese. But I have to admit — both to those who do not like Agamben, and those who adore him — that what probably saves my reading enjoyment is that I do not read Agamben for his analysis of Heidegger, his take on Hegel, his discussion with Benjamin.

The Open is mostly a very beautiful and clearly written meditation on the difference between ‘man’ and ‘animal’. Taking it’s cue from an ilustration in a Hebrew Bible, of men with animal heads, then going through Thomas of Aquino and Linneaus to early 20th century biology. Only when Agamben comes to analyze Heideggers mediations on the subject, I lose the ‘plot’. But then, I do not care so much about Heidegger, and I’m happy to more or less skip that part (is it a sign that those chapters are the longest?). I pick up the thread where Agamben applies his insights to the contemporary condition. Do I really need to go through a heideggerian brainwash for that? Maybe some philosophers would say ‘yes’. (Agamben has to, being a student of Heidegger). I’d say ‘no’. (Not me, that is), The Open takes me on a thought-trip, that I don’t understand one passage of that trip does not bother me. Moreover, I know that spending time to learn to understand that passage, will be — for me — time badly spent.

(How can it be that I am so sure about that?).

Then, the more I read of Agamben — even without always getting it — the better I begin to see how his thoughts and philosophy cohere. The tracing of the difference between man and animal in Western philosophy directly informs Agambens contemporary concept of biopolitics and bare life. Both The Open and The Idea of Prose show how the concepts of potentiality, ‘the open’, politics and thought are connected. Reading through different books of Agamben is like watching the slow uncovering of a whole network of intersecting thoughts and concepts.

And that, I think, makes for reading enjoyment too.

en,reading matter | April 18, 2006 | 14:27 | Comments Off on Reading Agamben |


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