Beyond Objects, Beyond Subjects: Giorgio Agamben on Animality, Particularity and the End of Onto-theology
Keywords:Agamben, Butler, ontotheology, animality, pantheism
The work of Giorgio Agamben could perhaps best be described as an original extension of the onto-theological critique that has dominated much of the last century's philosophical endeavors. For him, this fundamental critical perspective extends itself toward the deconstruction of traditional significations, including the boundaries said to exist between the human and the animal as well as between the human and the divine. By repeatedly unveiling these arbitrary divisions as being a result of the state of ‘original sin' in which we dwell, Agamben aims to advance philosophical discourse ‘beyond representation' and toward a ‘pure' encounter with the myriad of faces always ever present before us. In this sense, he works toward redefining ‘revelation' as being little more than an exposure of our animality, something which indeed lies now unveiled at the real root of our being. This animality is in fact locateable beyond the separation of being into form and content, a division which is rather indebted to the onto-theological representations that have governed the discourse of being.
By focusing instead on the manner in which paradigms could be said to operate over and against the (sovereign) rule of representations, he articulates a movement from particularity to particularity that resists the temptation to universalize our language on being. In this sense, then, the analogical logic of the paradigm, expressed always through the absolutely singular, exposes the beings which we all are before another, rather than violently condense any given (‘whatever') being into a formal representation. By thus determining the contours of the paradigmatic expression, this essay intends to unite several ‘loose' strands of Agamben's thought in order to demonstrate the consequence of this line of inquiry: that the end of representation, often criticized as a form of political nihilism, is the only way in which to develop a justifiable ethics, one beyond the traditional binary divisions of subject and object, or of universal and particular. In the end, as Agamben illustrates repeatedly, there is only the ‘thingness' that each thing is, and which must be safeguarded in its precarity, thus paving the way (through a messianic intervention) for an ethical discourse to appear.
It is a final gesture toward the messianic, then, toward a religiously-inflected terminology which hovers over his entire oeuvre, that will ultimately guide Agamben's ‘political' project back toward its canonical moment most clearly identifiable within the Christian heritage. As his reading of Benjamin's relationship to Saint Paul indicates, there is much to be discerned for him in the transition from Judaic law (with its representational logic) to Christian ‘forms of life' (with its paradigmatic focus). Rather than be content with a simple re-affirmation of Christian claims, however, Agamben deftly maneuvers his own position toward one of exposing the logic of Christianity as that which reveals a deep investment in a pantheistic worldview, one which theology can no longer afford to ignore.