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Giorgio Agamben “The Use of Bodies”

Agamben, Giorgio 2016. The Use of Bodies. Homo Sacer IV, 2. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Prologue

Ivan Illich observed that the conventional notion of life (not “a life”, but “life” in general) is perceived as a “scientific fact”, which has no relationship with the experience of the singular living person. It is something anonymous and generic, which can designate at times a spermatozoon, a person, a bee, a cell, a bear, an embryo. It is this “scientific fact”, so generic that science has given up on defining it, that the Church has made the ultimate receptacle of the sacred and bioethics the key term of its impotent foolishness. In any case, “life” today has more to do with survival than with the vitality or form of life of the individual. (xx)

PART I. THE USE OF BODIES

  1. The Human Being without Work

The soul is to the body as the master is to the slave. The caesura that divides the household from the city persists in the same threshold that separates and at the same time unites body and soul, master and slave. And it is only by interrogating this threshold that the relationship between economy and politics among the Greeks can become truly intelligible. (4)

That the slave is and remains a human being is, for Aristotle, beyond question (anthropos on, “while being a human being”; 1254a 16). This means, however, that there are some human beings whose ergon is not properly human or is different from that of other human beings. (5)

“the work of the human being is the being-in-action of the soul according to the logos

the work of the slave is the use of the body”

energeia and chresis, being-at-work and use, seem to be juxtaposed precisely as are psychè and soma, soul and body. (5)

The slave is here compared to equipment or to an animate instrument, which, like the legendary automatons constructed by Daedalus and Hephaestus, can move itself on command. […] let us note that for a Greek, the slave plays, in modern terms, more the part of the machinery or fixed capital than of the worker. […] it is a matter of a special machine, which is not directed to production but only to use. (11)

In the expression “use of the body”, use must therefore be understood not in a productive sense but in a practical one: the use of the slave’s body is similar to that of a bed or clothing, and not that of a spool or plectrum. (12)

A first, necessary precaution is therefore that of abstracting the slave’s “use of the body” from the sphere of poiesis and production, in order to restore it to the sphere – according to Aristotle by definition unproductive – of praxis and mode of life. (12)

[…] it is necessary to restore to the Greek term organon its ambiguity: it indicates both the instrument and the organ as a part of the body (in writing that the slave is an organon praktikon kai choriston, Aristotle is obviously playing on the double sense of the term). (13)

The strategy that leads Aristotle to define the slave as an integral part of the master shows its subtlety at this point. By putting in use his own body, the slave is, for that very reason, used by his master, and in using the body of the slave, the master is in reality using his own body. The syntagma “use of the body” represents a point of indifference not only between subjective genitive and objective genitive but also between one’s own body and that of another. (14)

[The slave’s] praxis is not defined by the work that he produces but only by the use of the body. (15)

The separation of something like a labor activity is here possible only by separating the body as object of use from its activity as alienable and remunerable: “the worker is divided between two zones of law that correspond respectively to what he is as body and what he is as merchandise, as incorporeal good” (Thomas 2, p. 233). (16-17)

[…] while the one who acts or uses without producing possesses energeia in his very action, the artisan who produces an object does not possess in himself the energeia of his activity, which instead resides outside him in the work. For this reason his activity, constitutively submitted to an external end, is presented as inferior to praxis. (19)

The slave in fact represents a not properly human life that renders possible for others the bios politikos, that is to say, the truly human life. And if the human being is defined for the Greeks through a dialectic between physis and nomos, zoè and bios, then the slave, like bare life, stands at the threshold that separates and joins them. (20)

Let us attempt to fix in a series of theses the characteristics of the activity that Aristotle defines as “use of the body”.

  1. It is a matter of an unproductive activity (argos, “inoperative”, “without work” in the terminology of the Nicomachean Ethics), comparable to the use of a bed or a garment.
  2. The use of the body defines a zone of indifference between one’s own body and the body of another. The master, in using the body of the slave, uses his own, and the slave, in using his own body, is used by the master.
  3. The body of the slave is situated in a zone of indifference between the artificial instrument and the living body (it is an empsychon organon, an animate organ) and, therefore, between physis and nomos.
  4. The use of the body is, in Aristotelian terms, neither poiesis nor praxis, neither a production nor a praxis, but neither is it assimilable to the labor of moderns.
  5. The slave, who is defined by means of this “use of the body”, is the human being without work who renders possible the realization of the work of the human being, that living being who, though being human, is excluded – and through thus exclusion, included – in humanity, so that human beings can have a human life, which is to say a political life. (22-23)
  6. Chresis

The process does not pass from an active subject toward the object separated from his action but involves in itself the subject, to the same degree that this latter is implied in the object and “gives himself” to it. We can therefore attempt to define the meaning of chresthai: it expresses the relation that one has with oneself, the affection that one receives insofar as one is in relation with a determinate being. (28)

Somatos chresthai, “to use the body”, will then mean the affection that one receives insofar as one is in relation with one or more bodies. Ethical – and political – is the subject who is constituted in this use, the subject who testifies of the affection that he receives insofar as he is in relation with a body. (29)

  1. Use and Care

[…] if it is true, as Deleuze observed, that masochism always entails a neutralization of the juridical order by means of its parodic exaggeration, then one can form the hypothesis that the master/slave relation as we know it represents the capture in the juridical order the use of bodies as an originary prejuridical relation, in whose exclusive inclusion the juridical order finds its proper foundation. In use, the subjects whom we call master and lave are in such a “community of life” that the juridical definition if their relationship in terms of property is rendered necessary, almost as if otherwise they would slide into a confusion and a kononia tes zoes that the juridical order cannot admit except in the striking and despotic intimacy between master and slave. And what seems so scandalous to us moderns – namely, property rights over persons – could in fact be the originary form of property, the capture (the ex-ceptio) of the use of bodies in the juridical order. (36)

  1. The Use of the World

It is with this neutralization of handiness that, with a radical subversion of the rank (up until then primary) of the “familiarity that uses and handles,” he can propose the striking thesis according to which intimacy with the world “is a mode of Dasein’s uncanniness [Unheimlichkeit], not the reverse. From an existential-ontological point of view, the ‘not-at-home’ must be conceived as the more primordial phenomenon” (p. 189/234). And it is only after the apparent primacy of familiarity has been swept aside thanks to anxiety that care can appear, in the paragraph immediately following, as the original structure of Dasein. That is to say, the primacy of care has been rendered possible only by means of an operation of annulling and neutralizing familiarity. The originary place of care is situated in the non-place of handiness, its primacy in making the primacy of use disappear. (43)

  1. Use-of-Oneself

In all these texts – whether it is a matter, as for the physician Galen, of affirming the providential character of nature or, as for the philosopher Hierocles, of proving the familiarity of each animal with itself – the decisive element every time is in fact use. Only because the animal makes use of its body parts can something like a self-awareness and therefore a familiarity with itself be attributed to it. The familiarity, the oikeiosis of the living being with itself is dissolved without remainder into its self-perception, and this latter coincides in turn with the capacity of the living being to make use of its own body parts and its own constitution. (51)

The reversal of the relation between organ and function amounts to liberating use from every established teleology. The meaning of the verb chresthai here shows its pertinence: the living being does not make use of its body parts (Lucretius does not speak of organs) for some one predetermined function, but by entering into relation with them, it so to speak gropingly finds and invents their use. The body parts precede their use, and use precedes and creates their function. (51)

Let us reflect on the extraordinary intertwining of familiarity and self-hood, of consciousness and use-of-oneself that Seneca, though of course not without some contradictions, develops […]. Oikeiosis or conciliatio does not have as its ultimate object the constitution of the individual, which can change over time, but, by means of it, its very self […]. This self – despite the fact that the Stoics seem at times to preconstitute it in a nature or an innate knowledge – is therefore not something substantial or a preestablished end but coincides entirely with the use that the living being makes of it […]. If one accepts this relational and non-substantial interpretation of the Stoic self, then – whether it is a matter of self-sensation, of sibi conciliatio, or of use-of-oneself – the self coincides each time with the relation itself and not with a predetermined telos. […] The self is nothing other than use-of-oneself. (54)

  1. Habitual Use

Habit is what renders possible the passage of potential from mere genericity to the effective potential of the one who writes or plays the flute, builds tables or houses. Habit is the form in which potential exists and is given reality as such. (59)

Use is the form in which habit is given existence, beyond the simple opposition between potential and being-at-work. And if habit is, in this sense, always already use-of-oneself and if this latter, as we have seen, implies a neutralization of the subject/object opposition, then there is no place here for a proprietary subject of habit, which can decide to put it to work or not. The self, which is constituted in the relation of use, is not a subject, is nothing other than this relation. (60)

Habit is the point at which subjectivity seeks to make itself master of being, the place in which, with a perfect circularity, having, which derives from being, appropriates the latter to itself. Having is nothing but the appropriation of a being. (61)

There is a text of Aristotle in which a different conception of habit could perhaps have been founded. In the above-cited passage from book Delta of the Metaphysics, one reads that if habit is defined as the relation between the one who has and that which is had, then “it is impossible to have a habit, because if it were possible to have the habit that one has, there would be infinite regress” (1022b 7-10). It is in this elusive, fugitive place that modern thought will situate its subject, which is posited as master of what cannot be had. (61)

Contemplation is the paradigm of use. Like use, contemplation does not have a subject, because in it the contemplator is completely lost and dissolved; like use, contemplation does not have an object, because in the work it contemplates only its (own) potential. Life, which contemplates in the work its (own) potential of acting or making, is rendered inoperative in all its works and lives only in use-of-itself, lives only (its) livability. We write “own” and “its” in parentheses because only through the contemplation of potential, which renders inoperative every energeia and every work, does something like the experience of and “own” and a “self” become possible. The self – whose place the modern subject will usurp – is what is opened up as a central inoperativity in every operation, as the “livability” and “usability” in every work. And if the architect and the carpenter remain such even when they are not building, that is not because they are title-holders of a potential of building, which they can also not put to work, but because they habitually live in use-of-themselves as architect or carpenter: habitual use is a contemplation and contemplation is a form of life. (63)

  1. The Animate Instrument and Technology

Technology is in fact nothing other than a human action directed at a goal. (68 – of Heidegger)

What defines the instrumental cause – for example, the axe in the hands of a carpenter who is making a bed – is the particularity of its action. On the one hand, it acts not in virtue of itself but in virtue of the principal agent (namely, the carpenter), but on the other hand, it works according to its own nature, which is that of cutting. That is to say, it serves the end of another, only to the degree that it realizes its own end. The concept of instrumental cause is thus born as a splitting of the efficient cause, which is divided into instrumental cause and principal cause, thus securing an autonomous status for instrumentality. (70)

Technology is the dimension that is opened when the operation of the instrument has been rendered autonomous and at the same time is divided into two distinct and related operations. This implies that not only the concept of instrument but also that of “art” now meet with a transformation with respect to their status in the ancient world. (74)

The connection between the instrumental cause and the figure of the slave is, however, still more essential. It is implied in the very formula “the human being whose ergon is the use of the body” and in the definition (which we have seen to have an ontological and not a juridical character) of the slave as the one who, “while being human, is by nature of another and not of himself.” The slave constitutes in this sense the first appearance of a pure instrumentality, which is to say, of a being that, while living according to its own end, is precisely for that reason and to the same extent used for another’s end. (75)

What is decisive, rather, from the perspective of our study, is to ask ourselves if between modern technology and slavery there is not a connection more essential than the common productive end. Indeed, if it is clear that the machine is presented from its first appearance as the realization of the paradigm of the animate instrument of which the slave had furnished the originary model, it is all the more true that what both intend is not so much, or not only, an increase and simplification of productive labor but also, by liberating human beings from necessity, to secure them access to their most proper dimension – for the Greeks the political life, for the moderns the possibility of mastering the nature’s forces and thus their own. (78)

It is necessary, at this point, to restore to the slave the decisive meaning that belongs to him in the process of anthropogenesis. The slave is, on the one hand, a human animal (or an animal-human) and, on the other hand and to the same extent, a living  instrument (or an instrument-human). That is to say, the slave constitutes in the history of anthropogenesis a double threshold, in which animal life crosses over to the human just as the living (the human) crosses over into the inorganic (into the instrument), and vice versa. The invention of slavery as a juridical institution allowed the capture of living beings and of the use of the body into productive systems, temporarily blocking the development of the technological instrument; its abolition in modernity freed up the possibility of technology, that is, of the living instrument. At the same time, insofar as their relationship with nature is no longer mediated by another human being but by an apparatus, human beings have estranged themselves from the animal and from the organic in order to draw near to the instrument and the inorganic to the point of almost identifying with it (the human-machine). For this reason – insofar as they have lost, together with the use of bodies, their immediate relation to their own animality – modern human beings have not truly been able to appropriate to themselves the liberation from labor that machines should have procured for them. And if the hypothesis of a constitutive connection between slavery and technology is correct, it is not surprising that the hypertrophy of technological apparatuses has ended up producing a new and unheard-of form of slavery. (78-79)

  1. The Inappropriable

And only in this context does the opposition between style and manner acquire its true sense. They are the two poles in the tension of which the gesture of the poet lives: style is disappropriating appropriation (a sublime negligence, a forgetting oneself in the proper), manner an appropriating disappropriation (a presenting oneself or remembering oneself in the improper). We can therefore call “use” the field of tension whose poles are style and manner, appropriation and expropriation. And not only in the poet but in every speaking human being with respect to their language and in every living thing with respect to its body there is always, in use, a manner that takes its distance from style and a style that is disappropriated in manner. In this sense, every use is a polar gesture: on the one hand, appropriation and habit; on the other, loss and expropriation. To use – hence the semantic breadth of the term, which indicates both use in the strict sense and habitual praxis – means to oscillate unceasingly between a homeland and an exile: to inhabit. (87)

The passage from the environment to the world is not, in reality, simply the passage from a closure to an opening. The animal in fact not only does not see the open, beings in their unveiled being, stunned in its own non-openness, its own being captured and stunned in its own disinhibitors. The skylark that soars in the air “does not see the open,” but neither is it in a position to relate to its own closure. “The animal,” writes Heidegger, “is excluded from the essential domain of the conflict between unconcealedness and concealedness.” The openness of the world begins in the human being precisely from the perception of a non-openness. (90)

The openness that is in question in the world is essentially the openness of a closure, and the one who looks into the open sees only a closing up, sees only a non-seeing. (90)

We can call “intimacy” use-of-oneself as relation with an inappropriable. (91)

[…] intimacy is a circular apparatus, by means of which, by selectively regulating access to the self, the individual constitutes himself as the pre-supposition and proprietor of his own “privacy”. (92)

The dominion of privacy therefore replaces, as a constitution of subjectivity, the use of bodies, in which subject and object were indeterminated. One can therefore understand how, in a society formed from individuals, the transformation of use-of-oneself and of the relation to the inappropriable into a jealous possession in reality has a political significance that is all the more decisive insofar as it remains stubbornly hidden. […] If the sovereign subject is first of all sovereign over his or her own body, if intimacy – which is to say, use-of-oneself as inappropriable – becomes something like the fundamental biopolitical substance, then one can understand that in Sade it can appear as the object of the first and unconfessed right of the citizen: each individual has the right to share his or her liking of the other’s inappropriable. Common above all is the use of bodies. (92-93)

Intermezzo I

The relation with oneself, that is to say, constitutively has the form of a creation of self, and there is no subject other than in this process. For this reason Foucault breaks with the conception of the subject as foundation or condition of possibility of experience. On the contrary: “experience is the rationalization of a process, itself provisional, which results in a subject, or rather in subjects” (Foucault 2, p. 706). This means that properly there is not a subject but only a process of subjectivization: “I would call subjectivization the process through which results the constitution of a subject” (ibid.). And again: “I don’t think there is actually a sovereign, founding subject, a universal form of subject that one could find everywhere. … I think on the contrary that the subject is constituted through practices of subjection, or, in a more anonymous way, through practices of liberation, of freedom …” (p. 733). (101)

Ethics is, for Foucault, the relationship that one has with oneself when one acts or enters into relation with others, constituting oneself each time as a subject of one’s own acts, whether these belong to the sexual sphere, the economic, the political, the scientific, etc. (102)

The practice of the self is that operation in which the subject adequates itself to its own constitutive relation and remains immanent to it: “the subject puts itself into play in taking care of itself” (Foucault 1, p. 523). The subject, that is to say, is what is at stake in the care of the self, and this care is nothing but the process through which the subject constitutes itself. And ethics is not the experience in which a subject holds itself behind, above, or beneath its own life but that whose subject constitutes and transforms itself in indissoluble immanent relation to its life, by living its life. (104)

The ontological aporia is found in Foucault, as one could have foretold, on the level of practice, in the theory of power relations and of the governance of human beings that is actualized in it. Power relations, unlike states of domination, necessarily entail a free subject, which it is a matter of “conducting” and governing and which, as free, stubbornly resists power. And yet, precisely insofar as the subject “freely” conducts and governs itself, it will inevitably enter into power relations, which consist in conducting the conduct of others (or allowing one’s own to be conducted by others). The one who, by “conducting” his life, has been constituted as subject of his own actions, will thus be “conducted” by other subjects or will seek to conduct others: subjectivation into a certain form of life is, to the same extent, subjection to a power relation. The aporia of democracy and its governance of human beings – the identity of the governors and the governed, absolutely separated and yet to the same degree indissolubly united in an indivisible relation – is an ontological aporia, which concerns the constitution of the subject as such. As constituent power and constituted power, the relation with the self and the subject are simultaneously transcendent and immanent to one another. And yet it is precisely the immanence between self and subject in a form of life that Foucault persistently sought to think up to the end, tangling himself in ever more difficult aporias and, at the same time, forcefully pointing in the only direction in which something like an ethics could become possible for him. (106)

What Foucault does not seem to see, despite the fact that antiquity would seem to offer an example in some way, is the possibility of a relation with the self and of a form of life that never assumes the figure of a free subject – which is to say, if power relations necessarily refer to a subject, of a zone of ethics entirely subtracted from strategic relationships, of an Ungovernable that is situated beyond states of domination and power relations. (108)

PART III. FORM-OF-LIFE

  1. Life Divided

A genealogy of the concept of zoe must begin from the recognition – not initially to be taken for granted – that in Western culture “life” is not a medical-scientific notion but a philosophico-political concept. (195)

The De anima is probably the first text in which “life” (zoe) takes on a generic sense, distinct from the life of the single individual, from a life. Ivan Illich has defined the modern concept of “life” as a “spectral” concept and a fetish, and he has traced its first appearance to the Gospel passage in which Jesus says: “I am the Life.” He does not say, “I am a life”, but “I am Life”, tout court” (Illich, p. 225). “The notion of an entitative life”, he writes, “which can be professionally and legally protected has been tortuously constructed through a legal-medical-religious-scientific discourse whose roots go far back into theology” (samas, 226). Church and lay institutions are converging today in regarding this spectral notion, which can be applied in the same way to everything and nothing, as the sacred and principal object of their care, as something that can be manipulated and managed and, at the same time, defended and protected. (201)

What we can now call the ontological-biopolitical machine of the West is founded on a division of life that, by means of a series of caesurae and thresholds (zoe/bios, insufficient life/autarchic life, family/city), takes on a political character that was initially lacking. But it is precisely by means of this articulation of its zoe that the human being, uniquely among the living, becomes capable of political life. The function proper to the machine, that is to say, is an operation on the living that, by “politicizing” its life, renders it “self-sufficient”, namely, capable of taking part in the polis. What we call politics is above all a special qualification of life, carried out by means of a series of partitions that pass through the very body of zoe. But this qualification has no content other than the pure fact of the caesura as such. This means that the concept of life will not truly be thought as long as the biopolitical machine, which has always already captured it within itself by means of a series of divisions and articulations, has not been deactivated. Until then, bare life will weigh on Western politics like an obscure and impenetrable sacral residue. (203)

  1. A Life Inseparable from its Form

With the term form-of-life, by contrast, we understand a life that can never be separated from its form, a life in which it is never possible to isolate and keep distinct something like a bare life. (207)

It defines a life – human life – in which singular modes, acts, and processes of living are never simply facts but always and above all possibilities of life, always and above all potential. And potential, insofar as it is nothing other than the essence or nature of each being, can be suspended and contemplated but never absolutely divided from act. (207)

[…] form-of-life is a being of potential not only or not so much because it can do or not do, succeed or fail, lose itself or find itself, but above all because it  is its potential and coincides with it. For this reason the human being is the only being in whose living happiness is always at stake, whose life is irredeemably and painfully consigned to happiness. But this constitutes form-of-life immediately as political life. (208)

This means that what we call form-of-life is a life in which the event of anthropogenesis – the becoming human of the human being – is still happening. (208)

The mystery of the human being is not the metaphysical one of the conjunction between the living being and language (or reason, or the soul) but the practical and political one of their separation. (208)

Biological life, a secularized form of bare life, which has in common with the latter unspeakability and impenetrability, thus constitutes the real forms of life literally into forms of survival, remaining intact in them as the obscure threat that can be suddenly actualized in violence, in extraneousness, in sickness, in an accident. It is the invisible sovereign that watches us behind the idiotic masks of the powerful who, whether they realize it or not, govern us in its name. (210)

We call thought the connection that constitutes forms of life into an inseparable context, into form-of-life. […] Thought is, in this sense, always use of oneself, always entails the affection that one receives insofar as one is in contact with a determinate body […]. (210)

  1. Living Contemplation

For Plotinus, however, with a radical inversion that constitutes one of the most characteristic traits of the late-ancient world’s vision, it is not that thought is also living, but life itself, in all its forms (including animals and plants), is immediately contemplation (theoria). (215)

The first consequence of this “theoretical” or contemplative character of physis is a transformation of the very idea of natural life (zoe), which ceases to be a sum of heterogeneous functions (psychic life, sensible life, vegetative life) and is defined from the very start with a strong accent on the unitary character of every vital phenomenon, as “neither vegetative nor sensitive nor psychic” but rather as “living contemplation”. (215)

Thos who deny to irrational beings the capacity of living well end up, without realizing it, placing living well in something other than life (for example, in reason). (217)

  1. Toward an Ontology of Style

Form-of-life is not something like a subject, which preexists living and gives it substance and reality. On the contrary, it is generated in living; it is “produced by the very on for which it is form” and for that reason does not have any priority, either substantial or transcendental, with respect to living. (224)

If every body is affected by its form-of-life as by a clinamen or a taste, the ethical subject is that subject that constitutes-itself in relation to this clinamen, the subject who bears witness to its tastes, takes responsibility for the mode in which it is affected by its inclinations. Modal ontology, the ontology of the how, coincides with an ethics. (231)

It is not justice or beauty that moves us but the mode that each one has of being just or beautiful, of being affected by her beauty or her justice. For this reason even abjection can be innocent, even “something slightly disgusting” can move us. (232)

A double tendency seems to be inherent to form-of-life. On the one hand, it is a life inseparable from its form, and indissoluble unity in itself, and on the other, it is separable from every thing and every context. This is evident in the classical conception of theoria, which is in itself united but separated and separable from every thing, in perpetual flight. This double tension is the risk inherent in form-of-life, which tends to separate itself ascetically into an autonomous sphere, theory. It is necessary to think form-of-life as a living of its own mode of being, as inseparable from its context, precisely because it is not in relation but in contact with it. (232)

What we call form-of-life corresponds to this ontology of style; it names the mode in which a singularity bears witness to itself in being and being expresses itself in the singular body. (233)

  1. Exile of One Alone with One Alone

Exile from politics cedes its place to a politics of exile. In this way, philosophy is presented as an attempt to construct a life at once “superpolitical and apolitical” (hypsipolis apolis): separated in the ban from the city, it nevertheless becomes intimate and inseparable from itself, in a non-relation that has the form of an “exile of one alone to one alone”. “Alone with one alone” (“alone by oneself”) can only mean: to be together beyond every relation. Form-of-life is this ban that no longer has the form of a bond or an exclusion-inclusion of bare life but that of an intimacy without relation. (236)

Western politics is, in this sense, constitutively “representative”, because it always already has to reformulate contact into the form of a relation. It will therefore be necessary to think politics as an intimacy unmediated by any articulation or representation: human beings, forms-of-life are in contact, but this is unrepresentable because it consists precisely in a representative void, that is, in the deactivation and inoperativity of every representation. To the ontology of non-relation and use there must correspond a non-representative politics. (237)

Intimacy as a political concept, which is here in question for us, is situated beyond the Heideggerian perspective. It is not a question of having an experience of difference as such by holding firm and yet negating the opposition but of deactivating the opposites and rendering them inoperative. Archeological regression must neither express nor negate, neither say nor un-say; rather, it reaches a threshold of indiscernibility, in which the dichotomy diminishes and the opposites coincide – which is to say, fall together. What then appears is not a chronologically more originary unity, nor a new and superior unity, but something like a way out. The threshold of indiscernibility is the center of the ontlogico-political machine: if one reaches it and holds oneself there in it, the machine can no longer function. (239)

  1. Work and Inoperativity

What we call form-of-life is not defined by its relation to a praxis (energeia) or a work (ergon) but by a potential (dynamis) and by an inoperativity. A living being, which seeks to define itself and give itself form through its own operation is, in fact, condemned to confused its own life with its own operation, and vice versa. By contrast, there is form-of-life only where there is contemplation of a potential. Certainly there can only be contemplation of a potential in a work. But in contemplation, the work is deactivated and rendered inoperative, an in this way, restored to possibility, opened to a new possible use. That form of life is truly poetic that, in its own work, contemplates its own potential to do and not do and finds peace in it. The truth that contemporary art never manages to bring to expression is inoperativity, which it seeks at all costs to make into a work. If artistic practice is the place where one is made to feel most forcefully the urgency and, at the same time, the difficulty of the constitution of a form-of-life, that is because in it there has been preserved the experience of a relation to something that exceeds work and operation and yet remains inseparable from it. A living being can never be defined by its work but only but its inoperativity, which is to say, by the mode in which it maintains itself in relation with a pure potential in a work and constitutes-itself as form-of-life, in which zoe and bios, life and form, private and public enter into a threshold of indifference and what is in question is no longer life or work but happiness. And the painter, the poet, the thinker – and in general, anyone who practices a poiesis and an activity – are not the sovereign subjects of a creative operation and of a work. Rather, they are anonymous living beings who, by always rendering inoperative the works of language, of vision, of bodies, seeks to have an experience of themselves and to constitute their life as form-of-life. (247)

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