14 September 2014

How to Read Agamben

How to Read Agamben, by Adam Kotsko (Los Angeles Review of Books, 4 June 2013)

For someone who has been following the career of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben from the beginning — perhaps even including his cameo appearance in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) — his current notoriety as a political thinker might seem surprising and even baffling. A good portion of Agamben’s early work focuses on questions of aesthetics, and much of the rest is devoted to careful and idiosyncratic readings of major figures in the history of philosophy. Familiarity with his most recent writing would likely increase that puzzlement. In addition to the ongoing, overtly political Homo Sacer series — which so far includes Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995; translated 1998), State of Exception (2003; translated 2005), and Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1998; translated 2002) — he has turned his attention to a commentary on St. Paul’s “Epistle to the Romans,” an enigmatic and fragmentary study of the relationship between the human and the animal, and a series of investigations into the history of Christian theology.