Saturday, August 10, 2013

17. Giorgio Agamben - The Kingdom and the Glory

Published in English in 2011 (originally in Italian in 2007 as Il Reigno e la Gloria), Agamben's The Kingdom and the Glory is the decisive turning point of his longstanding Homo Sacer project, tentatively figured as II, 2 (this while temporally written after State of Exception and Remnants of Auschwitz, this book would be situated in between the two). Much like almost every other book in the series (except State of Exception), in lucid fashion the subtitle contains the book's central concepts from which his archaeological method will unfold: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government. The summation of the title is perhaps misleading, for the subtitle does not relate in any structural or direct way to the former, but instead by privileging the first two Agamben pre-emptively reveals a conclusion to the book itself by diagnosing a fundamental problematic in the contemporary political sphere in its supposedly secular (i.e. modern) nature. From this point, we could state that the intention of the book is to reveal the essentially theological, religious foundation of Western power that has only recently manifested itself in contemporary forms of biopolitics. Agamben does this by tracing in painstaking detail the contingent historical evolution of certain concepts from Ancient Greece, through Christianity, into the Middle Ages, and into the Enlightenment.

While Foucault might have revealed the metaphysics of power in governmentality, his project was undeniably left unfinished and insufficient for rendering pliable its contemporary manifestations. While certain theorists have continued his project forward towards societies of control and the pharmacopornographic regime, Agamben instead looks back in an eruditic, if not hermetic, fashion that posits the immutable nature of power itself, and as such seeks provides the vocabulary for its contemporary philosophical disentanglement. The chapter titles reveal a surprising amount about his methodological rigor: The Mystery of the Economy, Being and Acting, The Kingdom and the Government, the Providential Machine, Angelology and Bureaucracy, The Power and the Glory. While these concepts seem to be rather general and applicable to many discourses today, Agamben shows how the specific utilization of these terms figured decisively in the evolution of philosophical thought, and more importantly, governmental politics. My intention behind discussing the books structure is not to vault Agamben's methodology above those of other methods, but merely communicate the challenging nature of this book, lest one be from a properly theological background (which I am not).

Agamben ultimately defines the nature of Western power as essentially bipolar, in which he locates a contemporary problematic our inheritance of modern political form in its secularizing gesture (despite explicit reference to theology in the works of Rousseau). The consequences of this are profound, only few of which Agamben details himself, while primarily centering himself on 20th century's catastrophic attempts of reintroducing sacredness into politics in fascism. What if power cannot be reduced to merely the organization of things, but is also what legitimizes that organization and keeps the system running? If government, a unified body of power, is not our source of causality, we can witness some potential consequences from over the past 50 years of money and fame taking its place. If neither the former nor latter are neither suitable nor desirable, it is only through comprehending their fundamental (and necessary) coexistence and coproduction can we potentially conceptualize its total inoperativization and the possibility of a future.

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