The Agamben and the Ethics of Abstinence

© Tine Poppe. Post factual landscapes derive from observing a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy
Community to come
Forfatter: Giorgio Agamben
Forlag: H//O//F (Norge)
The community that is to come is a learned, rich, complex and sometimes obscure text. Here and there it borders on the mysticism: Agamben empties the ram of a patriarchal God Father with one hand and reintroduces with Spinoza all the divinity of things with the other, before drawing it all back into the profane, and then holding the "solution", a quivering aura, ahead of us.

Two attempts to establish community characterized the last century; both suffered shipwreck. One, Soviet Communism, which was initially seeking justice, would build a community based on collective property rights, ruled by a self-proclaimed elite, the dictatorship of the proletariat. The second, that of fascism, which sought injustice, would build a community based on biological purity and strength, ruled by a self-governed dictator.
Both forms of society shared a central feature with the communities that humans have established over time, whether it was the clan, class, race, religion, war, gender or fatherland: The communities we know of are established by delimiting oneself from the outside world and excluding it who does not submit.
In Russia, communism was replaced by oligarchic capitalism where the people are now bound together by an exclusionary, religion-supported nationalism; In the West, a gradually eroded democracy was replaced by hyper-capitalism (which is about to burn off the resources of the globe), where the people are bound together by ideological self-glorification and the illusion of individual freedom as a new heaven over the plunder of people and nature.

Community opportunity. Rethinking the community after last century's disasters has not been easy, and is much of the reason why aggressive capitalism has had free rein; there are no obvious alternatives. Apart from some attempts in the sixties and seventies, where, among other things, experiments were carried out with flat power structures, and now important, ongoing, far too little-regarded experiments with eco-collectives and eco-villages, the very idea of ​​what is a non-based community has stood still. on exclusion can be.
But in 1983, the silence was broken. Then came Jean Luc-Nancy's book La communauté désoeuvrée, which can be translated by "the working-out" or "the non-implementing community". The book was met the same year by Maurice Blanchot's La Communauté inavouable, "The unspoken community". In 1990, Giorgio Agamben publishes the book to be discussed here: La comunità che viene, The Community to Come; in 1994, the American Levinas translator Alphonso Lingis publishes The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, and in 1998 Roberto Esposito publishes his analysis: Communitas, "Community."
The main source of this series of philosophical works is found in George Battalie's experiments and reflections on what a community can be, from 1935 onwards. Bataille understood the colonization and oppression of people and nature as a result of the emphasis of capitalism and communism on work, works and implementation. Whatever one might think of Bataille: With great personal investment, he repeatedly asks what a community can be if it is not to be based on oppression, acquisition and exclusion.

Ontology. Where the professional philosopher Jean Luc-Nancy envisions a community where one does not establish a new, violent identity, but comes together to share, the literary Maurice Blanchot explores, among other things, the community of love and literature, while Agamben, with his philosophical archeology, opens new common rooms. And as the phenomenal and experimental Lingis delve into the sensory experiences of the community, Esposito goes to Roman law and biopolitics to unravel the destructive genealogies of communities and seek new ones. One thing unites these projects: the dismantling of the pompous Western ego and the question: How to avoid repeating the violence that the community is waging against its own and the outside world?
Of these pivotal works in recent continental philosophy, the Agambens Fellowship is the only one to be translated into Norwegian. It is an event in itself.
Community to come is a complicated book, some would say sophisticated or even philosophically a little poignant. But it's on the outside. With this book (which opens for the Homo sacer work), Agamben emerges as a philosopher one must expect: The book is also an ontology – a study of what is and in what way it is; a prerequisite for being able to say something significant about the world and about politics. It is short and fragmentary, it has a high level of abstraction, and it defies definition.

The Particular. The first chapters use Agamben to produce what is relevant. And that is the particle that always applies – you, me, the guest, the stranger, an "whatever" being exempt from definition, attributes and belonging, neither condemned nor saved, red or blue – Paul would say neither man nor woman, Roman or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised – and with as much value as any other "any" being. How to find freedom and space for this "any" being, which is always suppressed, and which is itself a potential suppressor, is Agamben's project.

It is in the very act of refraining from actualizing a potential – not building a dam, founding a kingdom, going to war – that ethics opens up.

"Truth opens up both for itself and for the false," Agamben quotes from a saying, turning key conceptual pairs in our culture out and in to show how sizes like common and own, good and evil, the particular and universal do not contradict to each other, but conditional on one another, flowing into each other, yes, as you go deeper, are dependent on each other, and eventually also dissolve. And it is in this open, non-exclusive room Agamben seeks the seed for the community to come, where "any" being in his quest to be alive can find love and well-being.
In many ways, Agamben's dismantling of Western metaphysics is similar to Chinese philosophy's understanding of the ridge's dependence on the valley floor, where light and shadow, hot and cold, strong and weak, one and many presuppose one another in a more neutral world, where life, according to Agamben , perhaps, can be lived the way it is, before it is determined and classified, before it is ejected and ejected.
Agamben cites Swiss author Robert Walser's "anti-novels" as examples of a way to get there. In Waler's neutral, non-signifying and exhausted romance speech and his equally insignificant and insignificant novel characters, who do not yearn to be anything, the petty bourgeois (Agamben thinks we have all become petty bourgeoisie) under the radar, relinquishes the desire to stand out, be something ... and just be, equally, identityless, conflictless, in a world he "lets be".
Agamben also sees a way out in the realization of the commodity and advertising of us: With a kabbalistic interpretation of the shekhina's revelation of all things nothingness, he lets the anonymous body slip out of the mask the advertising and the play society has given us, and into the freedom, identity, irregularity – released, as a singularity, in a non-exclusive community.

Method. Instead of building systems and logical reasoning, Agamben poetically juxtaposes his elliptical philosophical excavations, in order to depart from philosophy a non-controlling, non-exclusionary space – departing from an ontology that neither captures nor allows itself – so as to give room for what applies; a "whatever" particular being – you, me, the guest, the stranger, and his life.
Agamben is an extremely well-read – and sophisticated – archaeologist. He moves freely and eclectic between Aristotle and Jewish Kabbalism, the language of advertising and Christian medieval theology, mixing high and low, old and new, and seamlessly connects the thought of various thinkers such as Simone Weil (whom he does not mention), Benjamin, Heidegger and Foucault.
Community to come is a learned, rich, complex and sometimes obscure text. Here and there it borders on the mysticism: Agamben empties the ram of a patriarchal God Father with one hand and reintroduces with Spinoza all the divinity of things with the other, before pulling it all back into the profane, and then holding the "solution", a quivering aura, ahead of us.
The text is difficult to criticize because it evades at the same time as it presents itself. But then this is also Agambens – and the coming community's – project. For in the community to come one does not come together to confirm values ​​(and thereby exclude other values), but to share, yes, renounce identity. It is a community that consistently evades the power of the state – populated by "whatever" beings, you, me, that the state cannot identify, employ, govern and punish. And "we" don't want power either. It is a community beyond good and evil, where life is lived the way it should be lived, as we refrain from realizing ourselves as value, identity, power.
Agamben captures deep impulses from Gershom Scholem's studies of Jewish religious life and Walter Benjamin's messianism: There must come a different world than this violent world of today. And the world to come, it seems, will come as a gift, a grace. And it will be absolutely identical to this final, profane world, but with a very small (big) difference, a shift that will make it something completely different once it is realized. What this shift implies is a little unclear. But we must see the identity mark as something we have left, a shell we have stepped out of and left behind.

Any necessary change begins with an idea, which seeks, searches, thinks aloud, listens, longs, feels.

The Ethics of Abstinence. With the Community to come, Agamben opens up concepts to develop in the Homo sacer work, where man is understood as subject to biopolitics: We are already in a kind of camp, German Läger, where our capitalized lives – our biology – are governed and regulated by forces outside us.
From Aristotle, Agamben derives the concepts of potentiality and timeliness. A carpenter, a baker, is tasked with actualizing the potential of carpentry a chair, making a loaf of bread. But man as such has no obligation to actualize any potential. On the contrary. It is in the very act of refraining from actualizing a potential – not building a dam, founding a kingdom, going to war – that ethics opens up. Man can realize an opportunity and it can refrain from realizing an opportunity. And it is precisely here, in this gap between potentiality and actuality, that the reflection arises, where we as the "non-linguistic being-in-language" think and think of ourselves, and where the seed of the new community lies , in relinquishment, anticipation, inaction and non-implementation.
The Coming Community is a book that insists on not being seized. It may not have been easy to translate. Espen Grønlie has allowed the Norwegian text to remain quite foreign. It feels like a good and right choice. The book appears in Norwegian language costume as a work you must relate to, work with.
So what kind of book is this? A dream factory, devoid of realities – for the laws of biology and geology, to which we are all subject? Yes, in part. Also the possibility of nature and animals to live on par with any "whatever" being is absent in this human-exceptionalist universe. An abstract, masculine, bookish intellect seeks freedom in its own closed history, from a position where lust, anxiety, fear and rivalry are already considered to be overcome.
So we have to do with a utopia. A pure utopia. But a necessary utopia, in which new relationships between language and the world are explored, new realities almost come to the fore. But so it must be. Any necessary change, which has not yet found its shape, begins with an idea, which seeks, searches, thinks aloud, listens, longs, feels. Community to come is one such book.


See also the newspaper heads about Agamben.

Subscription NOK 195 quarter