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Thinking relationality in Agamben and Levinas

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Giorgio Agamben’s development of a messianic politics-to-come seeks to counter the law which is in force without significance, a law which creates bare life. Embodying this messianic politics, and a call for the law’s fulfilment, is the figure of
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  Thinking relationality in Agamben and Levinas * Tom Frost * Abstract: Giorgio Agamben’s development of a messianic politics-to-come seeksto counter the law which is in force without significance, a law which creates barelife !mbod"ing this messianic politics, and a call for the law’s fulfilment, is thefigure of whatever-being, a form-of-life This article contends that there is animportant conceptual problem in respect of Agamben’s construction of such aform-of-life, namel" the issue of relationalit" The problem of relationalit" inAgamben is e#plored here through the comparative lens of relationalit" in$evinas’s thought %t is contended that Agamben’s messianic sub&ect, his form-of-life, has a negative relation to its other, in contrast to $evinas’s positive, sub&ectforming view of relationalit" %t was !rnst 'loch who stated that (messianism is the red secret of ever" revolutionar")  This applies &ust as much to Giorgio Agamben as it does to +arl ar# Agamben’s diagnosisof the nihilism of estern politics is well-known, and has been much commented on within ** *  Tom Frost is Lecturer in Legal Theory at the University of Sussex. His research interests include post-colonialism, critical theory and continental philosophy. He has pulished !or" on #gamen in the $ournals Oxford Journal of Legal Studies  and Critical Horizons , and is the editor of Giorgio Agamben: Legal, Political and Philosohical Persecti!es , pulished y %outledge in &'().  !ould li"e to than" +anu in""inen, ren en-/or and 0ames aclean for their detailed discussions and thoughts on earlier drafts of this article.  !ould also li"e to than" the anonymousrevie!ers for their incredily thoughtful and detailed comments, as !ell as the ever cromulent Tanya +almer and 0ohn 1hild. ( loch 2(3445 )(4.(  legal theor" and political philosoph" .  The focus of this article turns to Agamben’s /redsecret’, his messianism, and specificall" Agamben’s conception of form-of-life This form-of-life is a being which is onl" its own bare e#istence and remains inseparable from thate#istence 0  %t is form-of-life which embodies the potentialit" of messianic politics, andrepresents a life which cannot be captured b" apparatuses of control%n e#ploring the figure of form-of-life, Agamben aims to think the thing itself, the ontologicalfact of the human being, as a messianic singularit" 1 this he terms /whatever-being’ 2  Thisarticle interrogates Agamben’s thought b" looking at how the conceptual problem of relationalit" operates within this figure of form-of-life %t is contended here that in developingthis messianic life, Agamben develops a position on relationalit" which creates potentialcontradictions and confusions within the figure of whatever-being, form-of-life 3  %n e#pounding this argument, this article first illustrates how Agamben sees relationalit"operating through both the spectre of the $aw and the messianic kingdom to come The law,for Agamben, instigates a fundamentall" negative relation with respect to the sub&ect The position of the law here is crucial for Agamben’s emphasis on messianism %t is the law whichinstitutes the negative relation to the sub&ect, not the sub&ect itself This is wh" Agamben callsneither for an overcoming of the law nor its deferral, which do not challenge the negativerelationalit" at its heart, but rather its fulfilment %t is the necessit" of this move that leadsAgamben to turn to messianism and form-of-life, a life seemingl" be"ond all relationalit" 4 & de la /urantaye 2&''356 1alarco and /e1aroli 2&''456 7all 2(3335.) #gamen 2(3385 (88. 9  #gamen 2&''4a5 (. : #s !hatever-eing is the paradigmatic example #gamen gives of his form-of-life, the t!o terms are used interchangealy throughout. ; #gamen 2&''4a5 8:.&  %t is this aspect of Agamben’s thought that this article wishes to develop and challenge,through a comparative stud" of the role of relationalit" with respect to the sub&ect in thethought of Agamben and !mmanuel $evinas The use of $evinas’s work is 5uite deliberatehere Agamben goes out of his wa" to distance himself from $evinas, especiall" in  Remnantsof Auschwitz   Agamben goes so far as to label $evinas’s ethics as essentiall" negative innature hat Agamben refers to b" the negativit" in $evinas is a charge that $evinas’ssub&ect is defined negativel", through holding itself in relation to a /lack’, a negativefoundation %t is this negative foundation which Agamben sees embodied in the law, and howlegal concepts of guilt and responsibilit" define the self not through what it is, but throughwhat it is not, which he appears to tie to the notion of relational e#istence 6owever, it is contended here that Agamben’s politics to come, and form-of-life, doese#hibit a form of relationalit", ver" similar to the form he criticises in $evinas %ncontradistinction to Agamben’s criti5ue of $evinas’s sub&ect as negative, Agamben’s ownseemingl" non-relational form-of-life should be understood as e#hibiting its own negativerelation to its other, which can be placed in contrast to $evinas’s more positive view of relationalit" 6ere, Agamben’s sub&ect is defined negativel" due to his diminishing theimportance of relationalit" for the self As such, the sub&ect, whilst e#isting in relation withothers, is not defined through that relation %n this manner, Agamben’s sub&ect, with itsnegative relation to the other, can be seen as e#hibiting a negative non-relation to the otherThis being-with the other is not positive in the sense that the other does not directl" define thesub&ect for Agamben %n contrast, $evinas’s view of relationalit" is defended here asembod"ing a positive form of relationalit", whereb" the relation between the % and the 7ther  positivel" defines the %’s e#istence The crisis of the La! )  %n State of Exception , Agamben speaks of the est being led toward a /global civil war’ 8 This seemingl" dire prognosis can be understood in its proper light if seen in respect of Agamben’s philosophical aims to develop an immanent thought %t is Agamben’s position thatthe sub&ect, like law, has alwa"s-alread" been conceived of as a division betweentranscendent and immanent realms 9  This division, based upon a separation, provides anegative basis for law and for life %ndeed, this has been a theme in Agamben’s thought sincehis earliest writings   %n What Is An Apparatus?  Agamben e#plains that:The event that has produced the human constitutes, for the living being, something like adivision  This division separates the living being from itself and from its immediaterelationship with its environment ;  Thanos <artaloudis’s description of the immanent=transcendent relation holds true: such arelation ends up defining the immanent sphere through being held in relation to atranscendent sphere that it cannot reach and has no part of %n this sense, the immanent sphereof e#istence is defined through a negativit", through being held in relation to a sphere whichcan neither be defined nor grasped There e#ists a realm of participation and an/unparticipated’ realm that the immanent sphere cannot reach   The result of thisfundamentall" negative relation will be the creation of a remainder, the most famous of whichis the figure of homo sacer  ,    bare life 4 #gamen 2&'':a5 84. 8 #gamen has also criti<ued the role the $uridical plays in creating a =mas"> for the human. See +arsley 2&'('5.3 #gamen 2&'';5.(' #gamen 2&''35 (;. (( ?artaloudis 2&'('5 ;.9  The creation of this human remainder occurs through the /state of e#ception’ This is no truee#ception as understood b" theorists of emergenc" powers The e#ception is a >one of indistinction where law and fact completel" coincide A distinction is drawn b" Agamben in State of Exception  between the &uridical order ? il diritto @ and the law ? la legge @ The conceptof a &uridical order maintains a fiction The &uridical order represents an abstract notion of /$aw’, which acts as a transcendent referent, its application to all of realit", to all of life itself'" contrast, the law ? la legge @ of a tate ma" be unprincipled and contain lacunae in certainareas .  The &uridical order maintains that there are no lacunae, in the sense that the &uridicalorder covers all lacunae and all situations that arise Through the operation of the e#ception, the sphere of law shows its pro#imit" to that of language $inguistic elements e#ist in langue , in language, without an" real meaning Theselinguistic elements onl" gain meaning through their use in actual speech,  parole  Bet e5uall"speech, concrete linguistic activit", onl" gains meaning if a language is presupposed 0 $ikewise, the method of application of a legal norm can in no wa" be established throughlooking at the legal norm itself Cather, it is the e#ception which acts as the ne#us that holdsthe norm in relation to its application %n order to appl" a norm, it is ultimatel" necessar" to produce an e#ception, to suspend its application 2  A norm is defined through instances andsituations in which it does not appl" 3  The e#ception is not, therefore, separate from the law, but operates as a >one of indeterminac" between inside and outside 4  The law gains meaning through its ownsuspension, through the e#ception determining when the rule, the norm, does not appl" This (& #gamen 2&'':a5 &4.() #gamen 2&'':a5 );-)4.(9 #gamen 2&'':a5 9'. (: #gamen 2&'':a5 &;-)(.(; #gamen 2&'':5 (':. :
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