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Griogio Agamben “Remnants of Auschwitz”

Agamben, Giorgio 1999. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (Homo Sacer III). New York: Zone Books

4 – The Archive and the Testimony

If enunciation, as we know, does not refer to the text of what is uttered but to its taking place, if it is nothing other than language’s pure reference to itself as actual discourse, in what sense is it possible to speak of a „semantics“ of enunciation? (137-138)

Like the philosophers’ concept of Being, enunciation is what is most unique and concrete, since it refers to the absolutely singular and unrepresentable event of discourse in act; but at the same time, it is what is most vacuous and generic, since it is always repeated without its ever being possible to assign it any lexical reality. (138)

In other words: enunciation is not a thing determined by real, definite properties; it is, rather, pure existence, the fact that a certain being – language – takes place. Given the system of the sciences and the many knowledges that, inside language, define meaningful sentences and more or less well formed discourses, archaeology claims as its territory the pure taking place of these propositions and discourses, that is, the outside of language, the brute fact of its existence. (139)

What gives his [Foucault’s] inquiry its incomparable efficiency is its refusal to grasp the taking place of language through an „I“, a transcendental consciousness or, worse, and equally mythological psychosomatic „I“. (140)

In truth, to take seriously the statement „I speak“ is no longer to consider language as the communication of a meaning or a truth that originates in a responsible Subject. It is, rather, to conceive of discourse in its pure taking place and of the subject as „a nonexistence in whose emptiness the unending outpouring of language uninterruptedly continues“ (Foucault 1998: 148). In language, enunciation marks a threshold between an inside and outside, its taking place as pure exteriority; and once the principal referent of study becomes statements, the subject is stripped of all substance, becoming a pure function or pure position. (140-141)

The subject of enunciation, whose dispersion founds the possibility of a metasemantics of knowledges and constitutes statements in a positive system, maintains itself not in a content of meaning but in an event of language; this is why it cannot take itself as an object, stating itself. There can thus be no archaeology of the subject in the sense in which there is an archaology of knowledges. (142)

Foucault gives the name „archive“ to the positive dimension that corresponds to the plane of enunciation, „the general system of the formation and transformation of statements“ (Foucault 1972: 130). (143)

As the set of rules that define events of discourse, the archive is situated between langue, as the system of construction of possible sentences – that is, possibilities of speaking – and the corpus that unifies the set of what has been said, the things actually uttered or written. The archive is thus the mass of the non-semantic inscribed in every meaningful discourse as a function of its enunciation; it is the dark margin encircling and limiting every concrete act of speech. (143-144)

[…] the archive is the unsaid or sayable inscribed in everything said by virtue of being enunciated; it is the fragment of memory that is always forgotten in the act of saying „I“. (144)

In opposition to the archive, which designates the system of relations between the unsaid and the said, we give the name testimony to the system of relations between the inside and the outside of langue, between the sayable and the usayable in every language – that is, between a potentiality of speech and its existence, between a possibility and an impossibility of speech. (145)

Precisely because testimony is the relation between a possibility of speech and its taking place, it can exist only through a relation to an impossibility of speech – that is, only as contingency, as a capacity not to be. (145)

The subject is thus the possibility that language does not exist, does not take place – or, better, that it takes place only through its possibility of not being there, its contingency. (146)

But the relation between language and its existence, between langue and the archive, demands subjectivity as that which, in its very possibility of speech, bears witness to an impossibility of speech. This is why subjectivity appears as witness; this is why it can speak for those who cannot speak. Testimony is a potentiality that becomes actual through an impotentiality of speech; it is, moreover, an impossibility that gives itself existence through a possibility of speaking. These two movements cannot be identified either with a subject or with a consciousness; yet they cannot be divided into two incommunicable substances. Their inseparable intimacy is testimony. (146)

The subject, rather, is a field of forces always already traversed by the incandescent and historically determined currents of potentiality and impotentiality, of being able not to be and not being able not to be. (147-148)

An author’s act that claims to be valid on its own is nonsense, just as the survivor’s testimony has truth and a reason for being only if it is completed by the one who cannot bear witness. The survivor and the Muselmann, like the tutor and the incapable person and the creator and his material, are inseparable; their unity-difference alone constitutes testimony. (150)

Bichat could not have foretold that the time would come when medical resuscitation technology and, in addition, biopolitics would operate on precisely this disjunction between the organic and the animal, realizing the nightmare of a vegetative life that indefinitely survives the life of relation, a non-human life infinitely separable from human existence. (154)

[…] a formula that defines the most specific trait of twentieth-century biopolitics: no longer either to make die or to make live, but to make survive. The decisive activity of biopower in our time consists in the production not of life or death, but rather of a mutable and virtually infinite survival. (155)

With its every word, testimony refutes precisely this isolation of survival from life. (157)

The authority of the witness consists in his capacity to speak solely in the name of an incapacity to speak – that is, in his or her being a subject. Testimony thus guarantees not the factual truth of the statement safeguarded in the archive, but rather its unarchivability, its exteriority with respect to the archive – that is, the necessity by which, as the existence of language, it escapes both memory and forgetting. (158)

If we now return to testimony, we may say that to bear witness is to place oneself in one’s own language in the position of those who have lost it, to establish oneself in a living language as if it were dead, or in a dead language as if it were living – in any case, outside both the archive and the corpus of what has already been said. […] Poets – witnesses – found language as what remains, as what actually survives the possibility, or impossibility, of speaking. (161)

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