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Agamben “The Coming Community”

Agamben, Giorgio 2005. The Coming Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

The coming being is whatever being. […] The common translation of this term [quodlibet] as „whatever” in the sense of „it does not matter which, indifferently” is certainly correct, but in its form the Latin says exactly the opposite: Quodlibet ens is not „being, it does not matter which,” but rather „being such that it always matters.” (1)

One concept that escapes the antinomy of the universal and the particular has long been familiar to us: the example. In any context where it exerts its force, the example is characterized by the fact that it holds for all cases of the same type, and, at the same time, it is included among these. It is one singularity among others, which, however, stands for each of them and serves for all. On one hand, every example is treated in effect as a real particular case; but on the other, it remains understood that it cannot serve in its particularity. Neither particular nor universal, the example is a singular object that presents itself as such, that shows its singularity. […] Exemplary being is purely linguistic being. Exemplary is what is not defined by any property, except by being-called. (9-10)

It is the Most Common that cuts off any real community. Hence the impotent omnivalence of whatever being. It is neither apathy not promiscuity nor resignation. These pure singularities communicate only in the empty space of the example, without being tied by any common property, by any identity. They are expropriated of all identity, so as to appropriate belonging to itself […] (10-11)

Truth cannot be shown except by showing the false, which is not, however, cut off and cast aside somewhere else. On the contrary, according to the etymology of the verb patefacere, which means „to open” and is linked to spatium, truth is revealed only by giving space or giving a place to non-truth – that is, as a taking-place of the false, as an exposure of its own innermost impropriety. (13)

Whatever is the matheme of singularity, without which it is impossible to conceive either being or the individuation of singularity. (17)

This means that the idea and common nature do not consitute the essence of singularity, that singularity is, in this sense, absolutely inessential, and that, consequently, the criterion of its difference should be sought elsewhere than in an essence or a concept. The relationship between the common and the singular can thus no longer be conceived as the persistence of an identical essence in single individuals, and therefore the very problem of individuation risks appearing as a pseudoproblem. (18)

Decisive here is the idea of an inessential commonality, a solidarity that in no way concerns and essence. Taking-place, the communication of singularities in the attribute of extension, does not unite them in essence, but scatters them in existence. (18-19)

Whatever is the thing with all its properties, none of which, however, constitutes difference. […] the human face is neither the individuation of a generic facies nor the universalization of singular traits: It is whatever face, in which what belongs to common nature and what is proper are absolutely indifferent. (19)

[…] the passage from potentiality to act, from common form to singularity, is not an event accomplished once and for all, but an infinite series of modal oscillations. (19)

The passage from potentiality to act, from language to the word, from the common to the proper, comes about every time as a shuttling in both directions along a line of sparkling alteration on which common nature and singularity, potentiality and act change roles and interpenetrate. The being that is engendered on this line is whatever being, and the manner in which it passes from the common to the proper and from the proper to the common is called usage – or rather, ethos. (20)

What is most proper to every creature is thus its subtitutability, its being in any case in the place of the other. (23)

Ease is the proper name of this unrepresentable space. The term „ease” in fact designates, according to its etymology, the space adjacent, the empty place where each can move freely, in a semantic constellation where spatial proximity borders on opportune time (ad-agio, moving at ease) and convenience borders on the correct relation. […] In this sense, ease names perfectly that „free use of the proper” […] (25)

Only the idea of this modality of rising forth, this original mannerism of being, allows us to find a common passage between ontology and ethics. The being that does not remain below itself, that does not presuppose itself as a hidden essence that chance or destiny would then condemn to the torment of qualifications, but rather exposes itself in its qualifications, is its thus without remainder – such a being is neither accidental nor necessary, but is, so to speak, continually engendered from its own manner. (28)

Perhaps the only way to understand this free use of the self, a way that does not, however, treat existence as a property, is to think of it as a habitus, an ethos. (28-29) – But a manner of rising forth is also the place of whatever singularity […] (29)

The being that is properly whatever is able to not-be; it is capable of its own impotence. Everything rests here on the mode in which the passage from potentiality to act comes about. The symmetry between the potentiality to be and the potentiality to not-be is, in effect, only apparent. In the potentiality to be, potentiality has as its object a certain act, in the sense that for it energhein, being-in-act, can only mean passing to a determinate activity […] as for the potentiality to not-be, on the other hand, the act can never consist of a simple transition de potentia ad actum: It is, in other words, a potentiality that has as its object potentiality itself, a potentia potentiae. (35-36)

Only a powe that is capable of both power and impotence, then, is the supreme power. (36)

The world is now and forever necessarily contingent or contingently necessary. Between the not being able to not-be that sanctions the decree of necessity and the being able to not-be that defines fluctuating contingency, the finite world suggests a contingency to the second power that does not found any freedom: It is capable of not-being, it is capable of the irreparable. (40)

The fact that must contitute the point of departure for any discourse on ethics is that there is no essence, no historical or spiritual vocation, no biological destiny that humans must enact or realize. This is the only reason why something like an ethics can exist, because it is clear that if humans were or had to be this or that substance, this or that destiny, no ethical experience would be possible – there would be only tasks to be done. (43)

There is in effect something that humans are and have to be, but this something is not an essence nor properly a thing: It is the simple fact of one’s own existence as possibility or potentiality. (43)

Breaking away from the double chains of biological destiny and individual biography, it took its leave of both the inarticulate cry of the tragic body and the dumb silence of the comic body, and thus appeared for the first time perfectly communicable, entirely illuminated. […] the body now became something truly whatever. (48)

While commodification unanchors the body from its theological model, it still preserves the resemblance: Whatever is a resemblance without archetype – in other words, an Idea. (48)

This is also the basic exodus of the human figure from the artwork of our times and the decline of portraiture: The task of the portrait is grasping a unicity, but to grasp a whaterverness one needs a photographic lens. (49)

And yet it is precisely this tiny displacement, this „everything will be as it is now, just a little different,” that is difficult to explain. This cannot refer simply to real circumstances, in the sense that the nose of the blessed one will become a little shorter […] The tiny displacement does not refer to the state of things, but to their sense and their limits. It does not take place in things, but at their periphery, in the space of ease between every thing and itself. This means that even though perfection does not imply a real mutation it does not simply involve an external state of things, an incurable „so be it.” (54)

[…] if instead of continuing to search for a proper identity in the already improper and senseless form of individuality, humans were to succeed in belonging to this impropriety as such, in making of the proper being-thus not an identity and an individual property a singularity without identity, a common and absolutely exposed singularity – if humans could, that is, not be-thus in this or that particular biography, but be only the thus, their singular exteriority and their face, then they would for the first time enter into a community without presuppositions and without subjects, into a communication without the incommunicable. (65)

Whatever is the figure of singularity. Whatever singularity has no identity, it is not determinate with respect to a concept, but neither is it simply indeterminate; rather it is determined only through its relation to an idea, that is, to the totality of its possibilities. Through this relation, as Kant said, singularity borders all possibility and thus receives its omnimoda determinatio not from its participation in a determinate concept or some actual property […] but only by means of this bordering. It belongs to a whole, but without this belonging’s being able to be represented by a real condition: Belonging, being-such, is here only the relation to an empty and indeterminate totality. (67)

Whatever adds to singularity only an emptiness, only a threshold: Whatever is a singularity plus an empty space, a singularity that is finite and, nonetheless, indeterminable according to a concept. But a singularity plus an empty space can only be a pure exteriority, a pure exposure. Whatever, in this sense, is the event of an outside. (67)

The outside is not another space that resides beyond a determinate space, but rather, it is the passage, the exteriority that gives it access – in a word, it is its face, its eidos. The threshold is not, in this sense, another thing with respect to the limit; it is, so to speak, the experience of the limit itself, the experience of being-within an outside. This ek-stasis is the gift that singularity gathers from the empty hands of humanity. (68)

Being-called or being-in-language is the non-predicative property par excellence that belongs to each member of a class and at the same time makes its belonging an aporia. (73)

In other words, in the terms that interest us here, if the word through which a thing is expressed were either something other than the thing itself or identical to it, then it would not be able to express the thing. (74)

Whatever is singularity insofar as it relates not (only) to the concept, but (also) to the idea. This relation does not found a new class, but is, in each class, that which draws singularity from its synonymy, from its belonging to a class, not toward any absence of name or belonging, but toward the name itself, toward a pure and anonymous homonymy. While the network of concepts continually introduces synonymous relations, the idea is that which intervenes every time to shatter the pretense of absoluteness in these relations, showing their inconsistency. Whatever does not therefore mean only […] “substracted from the authority of language, without any possible denomination, indiscernible”; it means more exactly that which, holding itself in simple homonymy, in pure being-called, is precisely and only for this reason unnameable: the being-in-language of the non-linguistic. What remains without name here is the being-named, the name itself; only being-in-language is subtracted from the authority of language. […] the name, insofar as it names a thing, is nothing but the thing insofar as it is named by the name. (76-77)

It is clear that the spectacle is language, the very communicativity or linguistic being of humans. […] The extreme form of this expropriation of the Common is the spectacle, that is, the politics we live in. But this also means that in the spectacle our own linguistic nature comes back to us inverted. (80)

The risk here is that the word – that is, the non-latency and the revelation of something (anything whatsoever) – be separated from what it reveals and acquire an autonomous consistency. (81)

Whereas under the old regime the estrangement of the communicative essence of humans took the form of a presupposition that served as a common foundation, in the society of the spectacle it is this very communicativty, the generic essence itself (i.e., language), that is separated in an autonomous sphere. What hampers communication is communicability itself; humans are separated by what unites them. (82)

[…] language is not only consituted in an autonomous sphere, but also no longer even reveals anything – or better, it reveals the nothingness of all things. (82)

[…] the era in which we live is also that in which for the first time it is possible for humans to experience their own linguistic being – not this or that content of language, but language itself, not this or that true proposition, but the very fact that one speaks. Contemporary politics is this devastating experimentum linguae that all over the planet unhinges and empties traditions and beliefs, ideologies and religions, identities and communities. (83)

The novelty of the coming politics is that it will no longer be a struggle for the conquest or control of the State, but a struggle between the State and the non-State (humanity), and insurmountable disjunction between whatever singularity and the State organization. (85)

Whatever singularities cannot form a societas because they do not possess any identity to vindicate nor any bond of belonging for which to seek recognition. In the final instance the State can recognize any claim for identity – even that of a State identity within the State […] What the State cannot tolerate in any way, however, is that the singularities form a community without affirming an identity, that humans co-belong without any representable condition of belonging (even in the form of a simple presupposition). […] For the State, therefore, what is important is never the singularity as such, but only its inclusion in some identity, whatever identity […] A being radically devoid of any representable identity would be absolutely irrelevant to the State. (86)

Whatever singularity, which wants to appropriate belonging itself, its own being-in-language, and thus rejects all identity and every condition of belonging, is the principal enemy of the State. (87)

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