Saturday, October 5, 2013

21. Giorgio Agamben - Opus Dei

"The problem of the coming philosophy is that of thinking an ontology beyond operativity and command and an ethics and a politics entirely liberated from the concepts of duty and will"

Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty, written by Giorgio Agamben and translated by Adam Kotsko, is the chronological and conceptual culmination of his long-standing Homo Sacer project. It could be conjectured that the overarching goal of the project has been to understand the present: to explain why we do things the way we do them and how the world as it is now could have come to be. Frustratingly so, more than pointing the way forward, Agamben reveals how what has and can be conceived of as the foundation for a future is in fact only solidifying the grip upon which the logics of the present impede the coming of history.

The book explicates two radically distinct yet congruous and overlapping modes of existence, one of "being" and one of "having-to-be." In other words, whether the substance of the individual is either their bare fact of existing, or what the individual does, makes, produces, effects. This latter ontology is posited as the dominant mode of the moderns, one in which has resulted in the total economization of time and space. Importantly, this economic ontology, in which what is only is because it can be measured in a particular way and for a particular reason and as such is structurally dependent on that system of measurement, is not itself foreign from a more classical ontology of being, but instead emerged from within it, from its very ambivalence to definition. In fact, the only way in which the ontology of "operativity" could overcome the ontology of "being" is by appropriating its language of virtue and framing it a new way and towards other ends, by making virtue a duty.

By tracing the evolution of existential ontology as akin to a colonial process, Agamben shows the impossibility of utopically returning to this more 'authentic' mode of being, but instead posits the need for a new conceptualization of being, in its reasons and its means.

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