Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 13, No 1 (2017)

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Agamben’s Curio Cabinet, Animality, and the Zone of Indeterminacy

Wendell Kisner


As I have argued elsewhere, Agamben’s thought remains mired in a transcendental way of thinking that falls under the Hegelian critique. In this essay, through a hermeneutical method that can be aptly characterized by the “curio cabinet” Agamben had earlier thematized in The Man Without Content, I intend to indicate where this occurs specifically with respect to his understanding of animality in The Open: Man and Animal, an understanding bound up with his well-known concept of “bare life.” Doing so will bring Agamben into contact with Hegel precisely at that point where they both meet from within the innermost thought of each: the zone of indeterminacy. But whereas, according to Hegel’s argument, indeterminacy in the political sphere is an appropriate point of departure for deriving the structures of freedom, such indeterminacy cannot function in a similar manner for understanding the meaning of animality. By following a transcendental logic that always returns us to a humanity/animality indeterminacy, Agamben effectively hinders any further understanding of animality as well as of the mechanistic character of the “anthropological machine” he presupposes in the same gesture, a machine whose operation he wishes to halt but cannot. I will then suggest where a possible alternative better suited to satisfying Agamben’s own goals might lie.


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