Archive for July, 2015

Martin Hägglund “Radical Atheism. Derrida and the Time of Life”

Hägglund, Martin 2008. Radical Atheism. Derrida and the Time of Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

The notion of survival that I develop is incompatible with immortality, since it defines life as essentially mortal and as inherently divided by time. To survive is never to be absolutely present; it is to remain after a past that is no longer and to keep the memory of this past for a future that is not yet. I argue that every moment of life is a matter of survival, since it depends on what Derrida calls the structure of the trace. The structure of the trace follows fom the constitution of time, which makes it impossible for anything to be present in itself. Every now passes away as soon as it comes to be and must therefore be inscribed as a trace in order to be at all. (1)

The trace can only live on, however, by being left for a future that may erase it. This radical finitude of survival is not a lack of being that is desirable to. Rather, the finitude of survival opens the chance for everything that is desired and the threat of everything that is feared. (1-2)

The desire for survival cannot aim at transcending time, since the given time is the only chance for survival. There is thus an internal contradiction in the so-called desire for immortality. […] the state of immortality would annihilate every form of survival, since it would annihilate the time of mortal life. (2)

[…] différance articulates the negative infinity of time. No moment is given in itself but is superseded by another moment in its very event and can never be consummated in a positive infinity. The negative infinity of time is an infinite finitude, since it entail that finitude cannot ever be eliminated or overcome. (3)

His [Derrida’s] notion of autoimmunity spells out that everyting is threatened from within itself, since the possibility of living is inseparable from the peril of dying. (9)

I argue that the reason why autoimmunity is inscribed at the heart of life is because there cannot be anything without the tracing of time. The tracing of time is the minimal protection of life, but it also attacks life from the first inception, since it breaches the integrity of any moment and makes everything susceptible to annihilation. (9)

I – Autoimmunity of Time: Derrida and Kant
In Derrida’s analysis the autoimmunity of democracy is not a deplorable fact that we could or should seek to overcome. Rather, Derrida emphasizes that there can be no democratic ideal that is exempt from autoimmunity, since the very concept of democracy is autoimmune. In order to be democratic, democracy must be open to critique and to the outcome of unpredictable elections. But for some reason, democracy is essentially open to what may alter or destroy it. […] It must both protect itself against its own threat and be threatened by its own protection. (14)

The coimplication of life and death spells out an autoimmunity at the heart of life as such. Even if all external threats are evaded, life still bears the cause of its own destruction within itself. The vulnerability of life is thus without limit, since the source of attack is also located within what is to be defended. (14)

If we follow the philosophical logic of identity, autoimmunity is inconceivable. What is indivisibly identical to itself has no need to immunize itself against itself. It may be threatened by what is other than itself, but it cannot turn against itself. (14)

Given that the now can appear only in disappearing […] it must be inscribed as a trace in order to be at all. This is the becoming-space of time. The trace is necessarily spatial, since spatiality is characterized by the ability to remain in spite of temporal succession. Spatiality is thus the condition for synthesis, since it enables the tracing of relations between past and future. Spatiality, however, can never be in itself; it can never be pure simultaneity. Simultaneity is unthinkable without a temporalization that relates one spatial juncture to another. This becoming-time of space is necessary not only for the trace to be related to other traces, but also for it to be a trace in the first place. (18)

If the spatialization of time makes the synthesis possible, the temporalization of space makes it impossible for the synthesis to be grounded in an indivisible presence. The synthesis is always a trace of the past that is left for the future. Thus, it can never be in itself but is essentially exposed to that which may erase it. (18)

For Derrida, the spacing of time is an “ultratranscendental” condition from which nothing can be exempt. (19)

To think the trace as an ultratranscendental condition is thus to think a constitutive finitude that is absolutely without exception. From within its very constitution life is threatened by death, memory is threatened by forgetting, identity is threatened by alterity, and so on. (19)

For Kant, the unconditional is the Idea of a sovereign instance that is not subjected to time and space (e.g., God). For Derrida, on the contrary, the unconditional is the spacing of time that undermines the very Idea of a sovereign instance. (19)

Sovereignty is by definition unconditional in the sense that it is not dependent on anything other than itself. In contrast, Derrida argues that the unconditional is the spacing of time that divides every instance in advance and makes it essentially dependent on what is other than itself. What makes X possible is at the same time what makes it impossible for X to be in itself. Such is the minimal formula for the illogical logic of identity that deconstructive reason employs. (25)

For Derrida, time and space are not transcendental forms of human intuition, which would be given in the same way regardless of their empirical conditions. Rather, the ultratranscendental status of spacing deconstructs the traditional divide between the transcendental and the empirical. If time must be spatially inscribed, then the experience of time essentially dependent on which material supports and technologies are available to inscribe time. That is why Derrida maintains that inscriptions do not befall an already constituted space but produce the spatiality of space. (27)

If the essence of X is to be identical to itself, then the consummation of X must be thinkable as an Idea even though it is inaccessible for our temporal cognition. Finitude is thus a negative limitation that prevents us from having access to the fullness of being. But given the deconstructive logic of identity, a completely different argument emerges. If the essence of X is to not be identical to itself, then the consummation of X cannot even be posited as an Idea since it would cancel out X. finitude is thus not a negative limitation that prevents us from having access to the fullness of being. On the contrary, finitude is an unconditional condition that makes the fullness of being unthinkable as such. (30)

The relation between the conditional and the unconditional in Derrida’s thinking can thus be described as an autoimmune relation. Inscribed within the condition for X is the unconditional coming of time that attacks the integrity of X a priori. Accordingly, Derrida maintains that there can be nothing without autoimmunity. (30)

Derrida first asserts that for something to happen, there must be both a chance and a threat. He then asserts that this double bind cannot even in principle be eliminated, since if nothing happened there would be nothing at all. What I want to stress is that this argument presupposes that being is essentially temporal (to be = to happen) and that it is inherently valuable that something happens (the worst = that nothing happens). In other words, it presupposes that temporal finitude is the condition for everything that is desirable. (32)

The finitude of survival is not a lack of being that it is desirable to overcome. Rather, Derrida makes clear that whatever is desired is finite in its essence. Even the most intense enjoyment is haunted by the imminence of death, but without such finitude there would be nothing to enjoy in the first place. […] There is no way out of this double bind because the threat of loss is not extrinsic to what is desired; it is intrinsic to its being as such. (34)

There is no opposition between undecidability and the making of decisions. On the contrary, it is because the future cannot be decided in advance that one has to make decisions. If the future could be predicted, there would be nothing to decide on and no reason to act in the first place. (40)

Derrida describes the undecidable future as the very possibility of justice or quite simply as a “justice” beyond law. The point is that decisions concerning justice cannot be reduced to a rule for how the law should be applied. Rather, the demand for justice is always raised in relation to singular events, which there is no guarantee that the law will have anticipated. The condition of justice is thus an essential contingency. (40)

The exigency of “justice” is not something positive in itself but designates that every decision is haunted by the undecidable coming of time, which opens the risk that one has made or will have made unjust decisions. Without such risk, there would be no question of justice in the first place, since the execution of law would be nothing but a faultless application of rules. (41)

Absolute destructibility entails that deferral, detour, and delay is internal to life as such, since the final destination is nothing but death. From the first inception, life has to protect itself against the force of destruction that it bears within itself and without which it could not be. Life can thus only be given through the movement of survival, which takes the time to live by postponing death. (47-48)

On the one hand, life is opposed to death because to live is to be mortal, to resist and defer death. On the other hand, life is internally bound to what it opposes because mortality is inextricably linked to death. The defense of life is thus attacked from within. There can be no cure for such autoimmunity since life is essentially mortal. From the definition of life as essentially mortal, it follows that immortality is death. To live is to be mortal, which means that the opposite of being mortal – to be immortal – is to be dead. If one can no longer die, one is already dead. (48)

IV – Autoimmunity of Life: Derrida’s Radical Atheism
[…] Derrida maintains that we love the mortal as mortal and that there can be nothing beyond mortality. For Augustine, to love the mortal as mortal is deplorable and misguided. If one is bound to the mortal, the positive can never be released from the negative. Any mortal bond is a double bind, since whatever is desirable cannot be dissociated from the undesirable fact that it will be lost. (109-110)

The other is infinitely other – its alterity cannot be overcome or recuperated by anyone else – because the other is finite. (110)

It is because the beloved can be lost that one seeks to keep it, and it is because the experience can be forgotten that one seeks to remember it. As Derrida strikingly puts it, one cannot love without the experience of finitude. (111)

[…] Derrida relies on the desire for mortal life to read even the most religious ideas against themselves. Messianic hope is for Derrida a hope for temporal survival, faith is always faith in the finite, and the desire for God is a desire for the mortal, like every other desire. (120)

There is thus no exception to the law of survival, which is inscribed in the movement of life as such. To live is necessarily to affirm the time of survival, since it gives the possibility to live on in the first place. But to live is also to fear the time of survival, since it entails that one may always become dead or be left to mourn the death of the beloved. (122)

When Derrida argues that the coming of time is the undeconstructible condition of justice, he thus emphasizes that it is a “de-totalizing condition,” which inscribes the possibility of corruption, evil, and mischief at the heart of justice itself. If this impossibility of absolute justice were to be overcome, all justice would be eliminated. (123)

Every recognition is thus haunted by a possible misrecognition, every identification by a misidentification, and every decision by an undecidable future that may call it into question. (125)

The threat of evil does not testify to a lack of the good; it is internal to whatever good that we desire. (126)

Insofar as salvation is understood as the absolute immunity of immortality, it is out of the question. There can be no such salvation, since nothing can happen without the greeting of an other that can come to compromise any immunity. However, insofar as salvation is understood as a survival that saves one from death by giving one more time to live, it is not out of the question. It is rather a precarious possibility that always can “be refused, threatened, forbidden, lost, gone” because of the infinite finitude of time (“the endlessness of the end that is never-ending”). (131)

The crucial question […] is why Derrida chooses to retain the term messianic to designate the opening to the undecidable future. Derrida’s use of the term may seem counterintuitive and easily invites religious appropriations. My argument, however, is that Derrida’s notion of the messianic without messianism follows the radically atheist logic that we traced in his notion of the salut without salvation. A radical atheism cannot simply denounce messianic hope as an illusion. Rather, it must show that messianic hope does not stem from a hope for immortality (the positive infinity of eternity) but from a hope of survival (the negative infinity of time). (136)

V – Autoimmunity of Democracy: Derrida and Laclau
[…] the finitude of survival opens the possibility of everything we desire and the peril of everything we fear. The affirmation of survival is thus not a value in itself; it is rather the unconditional condition for all values. Whatever one may posit as a value, one has to affirm the time of survival, since without the time of survival the value could never live on and be posited as a value in the first place. (164)

Democracy to come does not designate a utopian hope for a democracy that will come one day and bring about a just society. […] Rather, all aspects of democracy require political negotiations that cannot be grounded in deconstruction or anything else. […] On the contrary, he argues that solutions and norms cannot be justified once and for all, since they are instituted in relation to the undecidable coming of time that precedes and exceeds them. Far from absolving us from politics, it is the undecidable coming of time that makes politics necessary in the first place, since it precipitates the negotiation of unpredictable events. (171)

If Derrida privileges the concept of democracy, it is not because he thinks it can guarantee a good or just society but because the concept of democracy more evidently than other concepts takes into account the undecidable future. (171)

The concept of democratic freedom is thus autoimmune, since the equality that protects it also attacks it from within and compromises its integrity. Inversely, the same autoimmunity is at work in the concept of democratic equality. If everyone is equally free, it follows that freedom is intrinsic to equality and threatens it from within. The calculation of equality is always the calculation of an incalculable freedom that opens the possibility of inequality. (174)

[…] it is misleading to say that democracy is “always deferred” insofar as this implies that there is a democracy (or an Idea of democracy) that remains out of reach. The point is not that democracy is deferred but that democracy is deferral and cannot overcome the movement of deferral without ceasing to be democracy. (175-176)

Even the most despotic monarch or totalitarian dictator is engaged in a “democratic” relation, since he must negotiate with past and future selves that may overturn his rule. (177)

[…] Derrida argues that what Schmitt denounces as depoliticization – namely, the absence of an autonomous domain for the political – answers to a “hyperpoliticization” that marks the political from its beginning. In other words, there has never been an autonomous domain for the political. The impossibility of a definitive delimitation of the political is both the reason why there is politics in the first place and why politics has no end. (181)

[…] what Derrida calls “the condition of the event” is radically descriptive, since it designates the condition for anything to happen and for everything that happens. Even the most active and sovereign decision is passive, for the same reason that even the most immediate autoaffection is inhabited by a heteroaffection. (184)

For a hyperpolitical thinking, nothing (no set of values, no principle, no demand or political struggle) can be posited as good in itself. Rather, everything is liable to corruption and to appropriation for other ends, which also means that no instance can have an a priori immunity against interrogation and critique. (184)

More forcefully than any other political concept, democracy brings out the autoimmunity that is the condition for life in general. In the name of democratic freedom one can assault the given delimitation of democratic freedom, and in the name of democratic equality one can assault the given delimitation of democratic equality. […] What distinguishes the concept of democracy […] is that it explicitly takes into account that the violence of exclusion does not have an ultimate justification. (195-196)

Thus, the concept of democracy testifies to an “absolute and intrinsic historicity” where nothing is immune from its own destructibility. (196)

The constitutive drive for survival is quite incompatible with the constitutive drive for fullness that Laclau assumes as the foundation for his theory. Laclau wants to recognize that “freedom and consciousness of our own contingency go together.” However, if we really desire an absolute fullness, the freedom of contingency can only be disappointing. (197)


Paul Patton “Agamben and Foucault on Biopower and Biopolitics”

Patton, Paul 2007. Agamben and Foucault on Biopower and Biopolitics. – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 203-218.
His “correction” of Foucault consists of the claim that the entry of bare life into the sphere of political calculation and the exercise of sovereign power involved no radical transformation of political-philosophical categories. (205)

His “completion ” of Foucault draws upon his own account of the manner in which bare life was originally included in the political realm, namely in the fo rm of an “inclusive exclusion,” in order to suggest that the decisive feature of modernity is not so much the emergence of biopolitics as the manner in which a phenomenon originally situated at the margins of poli tical order “gradually begins to coincide with the poli tical realm” (HS, 9). (205)

Whereas police government operated on the principle that there could never be too much government regulation, liberalism operated on the converse principle that there is always too much government. Instead or supposing that the population was in need of detailed and constant regulation, liberalism relied upon a conception of society and the economy as naturally self -regulating systems that government should leave alone. (207-208)

In comparison with the techniques of disciplinary power, biopower required the development of new mechanisms and new forms of knowledge to identify its objects and to facilitate its exercise. However, it remained a technology of power exercised by the state over people insof ar as they are living beings and insof ar as they belong to populations. In this sense, it enabled effective government by the sovereign of the biological life of the subjects. In the context of Foucault’s definition of the concept, this is how Agamben’s phrase “the entry of zoe into the sphere of the polis” must be understood. (209)

Homo sacer is not the same as simple natural life, since it is, as Agamben later notes, the natural lif e of an individual caught in a particular relation with the power that has cast him out from both the religious and the political community. (210)

In this sense, homo sacer is not simply pure zoe bur zoe caught up in a particular “status.” This status is defined by “the particular character of the double exclusion into which he is taken” (H S, 82). The double exclusion in terms of which this figure is defined mirrors the exceptional status of rhe sovereign; hence Agamben’s hypothesis that the figure of the sovereign and the figure of homo sacer are inextricably linked. (210)

In eff ect, Agamben’s argument relies on an equivocation with regard to the two senses of the term bare lift. While in the context of his analysis of sovereign ty, “bare life” is identified with the sacred lif e or status of homo sneer, in the context of his critical remarks about modern democratic politics he identifies it with the natural life of zoe. (211)

This right is strange because, ro the extent that the sovereign really does have the right to decide whether subjects live or die, the subject is, as it were, suspended between life and death. Qua subject, he or she has no right to live or die independently of the will of the sovereign: “in terms of his relationship with the sovereign, the subject is, by rights, neither dead nor alive. From the point of view of lif e and death, the subject is neutral, and it is thanks to the sovereign that the subject has the right to be alive or, possibly, the right to be dead.” In this sense, since the lif e of the subject is entirely encompassed within the sp ere of the sovereign’s power, it is biopolitical power in Agamben’s other sense of the term (homo sacer) . (213)

The life of the subject in the terms of the classical theory of sovere ignty , as Foucault defines it, is structurally identical to the bare lif e of the homo sacer : it is biological existence doubled by its exclusive inclusion within the political sphere. In this sense, Foucault’s analysis of classical sovereign right removes the need for any correction on this point. (214)

In the end, the difference between his approach and that of Foucault is not so much a matter of correction and completion as a choice between epochal concepts of biopolitics and bare
life and a more fine-grained, contextual, and historical analysis intended to enable specific and local forms of escape from the past. (218)

William E. Connolly “The Complexities of Sovereignty”

Connolly, William E. 2007. The Complexities of Sovereignty – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 23-42.

Agamben contends that biopolitics has become intensified today. This intensification translates the paradox of sovereignty into a potential disaster. The analysis that he offers at this point seems not so much wrong to me as overly fo rmal. It reflects a classical liberal and Arendtian assumprion that there was a time when politics was restricted to public life and
hiocultural lif e was kept in the private real m. What a joke. Every way of life involves the infusion of norms, judgments, and standards into the affective lif e of participants at both private and public levels. Every way of life is bioculrural and biopolitical. (29)

Biocultural life has been intensified today with the emergence of new technologies of infusion. But the shift is not as radical as Agamben makes it our to be. In !are-modern life, new technologies enable physicians, biologists, geneticists, prison systems, advertisers, media talking heads, and psychiatrists to sink deeply into human biology. They help to shape the
cultural being of biology, although not always as they intend to do. (30)

If I am right, biocultural life displays neither the close coherence that many theorists seek nor the tight paradox that Agamben and others discern. Bioculcural lif e exceeds any textbook logic because of the nonlogical character of its materiality. It is more messy, layered, and complex than any logical analysis can capture. The very illogicalness of its materiality ensures that it corres ponds entirely to no design, no simple causal pattern, no simple set of paradoxes. Agamben displays the hubris of academic intellectualism when he encloses pol itical culture within a tightly defined logic. (31)

Ernesto Laclau “Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?”

Laclau, Ernesto 2007. Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy? – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 11-22.

This is the perspective from which we want to question Agamben’s theoretical approach: his genealogy is not sensitive enough to structural diversity and, in the end, it risks ending in sheer teleology. (12)

[…] the ban holds together bare life and sover eignty. And it is important for Agamben to point our that the ban is not simply a sanctio n-which as such would still be representable within the order of the city-but that it involves abandonment: the homo sacer and the other figures that Agamben associates w him are simply left outside any communitarian order. That is why he can be killed bm nor sacrificed. In that sense the ban is non-relational: their victims are lef t to their own separatedness. This is for Agamben the originary political relation, linked to sovereignty. It is a more originary extraneousness than that of the foreigner, who still has an assigned place within the legal order. (13)

[…] has not Agamben chosen just one of those possibilities and hypostatized it so rhar it assumes a unique character? (14)

What remains as valid from the notion of ban as defined by Agamben is the idea of an uninscribable exteriority, bur the range of situations to which it applies is much wider than those subsumable under the category of homo sacer. I think that Agamben has not seen the problem of the inscribable/uninscribable, of inside/outside, in its true universality. In actual fact, what the mutual ban between opposed laws describes is the constitutive nature of any radical antagonism – radical in the sense that its two poles cannot be reduced to any super-game which would be recognised by them as an objective meaning to which both would be submitted. (15)

[…] it is enough that we introduce some souplesse within the Hobbesian scheme, that we accept that society is capable of some partial self -reg ulation, to im mediately sec that its demands are going to be more than those deriving from bare lif e, that they are going to have a variety and specificity that no “sovereign” power can simply ignore. When we arrive at that point, however, the notion of “sovereignty” starts shading into that of “hegemo ny.” This means that, in my view, Agamben has clouded the issue, fo r he has presented as a political moment what actually amounts to a radical elimination of the poli tical: a sovereign power which reduces the social bond to bare life. (16)

What is, anyway, wrong in the argument about a rigid opposition between political sovereignty and bare lif e is the assumption that it necessarily involv es an increasing control by an over-powerful state. All that is involved in the notion of a politicization of “natural” lif e is that in creasing areas of social lif e are submitted to processes of human control and regulation, but it is a non sequitur to assume that such a control has to crystallize around a tendentially totalitarian instance. (18)

This teleologism is, as a matter of fact, the symmetrical pendant of the “ethymologism” we have ref erred to at the beginning of this essay. Their combined effect is to divert Agamben’s attention from the really relevant question, which is the system of’ s truc tural possibilities that each new situation opens. The most summary exam ination of that system would have revealed that: (1) the crisis of the “automatic rules fo r the inscription of lif e” has freed many more entities than “bare lif e,” and that the reduction of the latter to the former takes place only in some extreme circumstances that cannot in the least be considered as a hidden pattern of modernity; (2) that the process of social regulation to which the dissolution of the “automatic rules of inscription” opens the way involved a plurality of instances that were far from unified in a single unity called “the State”; (3) that the process of State building in modernity has involved a far more complex dialectic between homogeneity and heterogeneity than the one that Agamben’s “camp-based” paradigm reflects. (21-22)

By unifying the whole process of modern political construction around the extreme and absurd paradigm of the concentration camp, Agamben does more than present a distorted history: he blocks any possible exploration of the emancipatory possibilities opened by our modern heritage. (22)

To be beyond any ban and any sovereignty means, simply, to be beyond politics. The myth of a fu lly reconciled society is what governs the (non-)political discourse of Agamben. And it is also what allows him to dismiss all political options in our societies and to unify them in the concentration camp as their secret destiny . Instead of deconstructing the logic of political institutions, showing areas in which fo rms of struggle and resistance are possible, he closes them beforehand through an essentialist unification. Political nihilism is his ultimate message. (22)

Julian Vigo “Biopower and Security”

Vigo, Julian 2015. Biopower and Security. CounterPunch, May 5. online:

No longer is it the institution seeking out individuals to normalize, for there is neoliberal social nexus where individuals voluntarily seek out their legitimacy within the structures of various institutions. The body, part of this panorama of securitization, is now procured by the subject who seeks to consolidate her identity through institutional narratives of legitimation.

Biopower is the bastard child of neoliberal societies which have created elaborate systems of surveillance to control the body in pursuit of securitizing culture.

It is axiomatic that this War on Terror, almost in its fifteenth year, has nothing to do with investigating or stopping “terror.” Instead the Global War on Terror thrives upon constructing and disseminating innumerable fictions of perceived terrorist acts and terrorist bodies whilst abstracting a panorama of violence that will unceasingly be impossible to defeat both domestically and abroad. Ultimately, the War on Terror can never end. The nature of biopower in the context of state security today is two-fold: first, to de-personify the object of western violence while humanizing the western pathos of the Global War on Terror; second, to re-create the enemy, re-embodied and pre-packaged as the Muslim “terrorist.” In this way, biopower functions to place focus on the body of the individual over the act, such as Foucault’s discussion of capital punishment which invokes less “the enormity of the crime itself than the monstrosity of the criminal…One had the right to kill those who represented a kind of biological danger to others” (1976, 138).