John Law “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics”

February 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Law, John 2009. Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics. In: Turner, Bryan S. (ed). The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory. Malden; Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 141–158.

Actor network theory is a disparate family of material-semiotic tools, sensibilities, and methods of analysis that treat everything in the social and natural worlds as a continuously generated effect of the webs of relations within which they are located. It assumes that nothing has reality or form outside the enactment of those relations. Its studies explore and characterize the webs and the practices that carry them. (141)

First, it is possible to describe actor network theory in the abstract. I’ve just done so, and this is often done in textbooks. But this misses the point because it is not abstract but is grounded in empirical case studies. We can only understand the approach if we have a sense of those case studies and how these work in practice. (141)

Second, the actor network approach is not a theory. Theories usually try to explain why something happens, but actor network theory is descriptive rather than foundational in explanatory terms, which means that it is a disappointment for those seeking strong accounts. Instead it tells stories about “how” relations assemble or don’t. (141)

Three, I’ve talked of “it”, an actor network theory, but there is no “it”. Rather it is a diaspora that overlaps with other intellectual traditions. As I have already hinted, it is better to talk of “material semiotics” rather than “actor network theory”. This better catches the openness, uncertainty, revisability, and diversity of the most interesting work. (142)

My final contextual suggestion is that actor network theory can also be understood as an empirical version of poststructuralism. For instance, “actor networks” can be seen as scaled-down versions of Michel Foucault’s discourses or epistemes. Foucault asks us to attend to the productively strategic and relational character of epochal epistemes (Foucault 1979). (145)

This study [Law’s study on Portuguese] displays all the ingredients of actor network theory 1990. There is semiotic relationality (it’s a network whose elements define and shape one another), heterogeneity (there are different kinds of actors, human and otherwise), and materiality (stuff is there aplenty, not just “the social”). There is an insistence on process and its precariousness (all elements need to play their part moment by moment or it all comes unstuck). There is attention to power as an effect (it is a function of network configuration and in particular the creation of immutable mobiles), to space and to scale (how it is that networks extend themselves and translate distant actors). New for actor network theory, there is an interest in large-scale political history. And, crucially, it is a study of how the Portuguese network worked: how it held together; how it shaped its components; how it made a center and peripheries; in short, of how differences were generated in a semiotic relational logic. (146)

In actor network webs the distinction between human and nonhuman is of little initial analytical importance: people are relational effects that include both the human and the nonhuman (think, for instance, of “Pasteur”) while object webs conversely include people (ephemeredes). Particular networks may end up being labeled “human” or “nonhuman” but this is a secondary matter. Here then, as with Foucault, there is a powerful if controversial nonhumanist relational and semiotic logic at work quite unlike that of humanist sociology. (146)

We are no longer dealing with construction, social or otherwise: there is no stable prime mover, social or individual, to construct anything, no builder, no puppeteer. Pasteur, we have seen, is an effect rather than a cause. Rather we are dealing with enactment or performance. In this heterogeneous world everything plays its part, relationally. The shift is easily misunderstood, but it is crucial. The metaphor of construction – and social construction – will no longer serve. Buyers, sellers, noticeboards, strawberries, spatial arrangements, economic theories, and rules of conduct – all of these assemble and together enact a set of practices that make a more or less precarious reality. (151)


Giorgio Agamben “State of Exception”

January 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Agamben, Giorgio 2005. State of Exception. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

  1. The State of Exception as a Paradigm of Government

The state of exception is not a special kind of law (like the law of war); rather, insofar as it is a suspension of the juridical order itself, it defines law’s threshold or limit concept. (4)

Schmitt’s distinction between commissarial dictatorship and sovereign dictatorship reappears here as an opposition between constitutional dictatorship, which seeks to safeguard the constitutional order, and unconstitutional dictatorship, which leads to its overthrow. (8)

[Schmitt]: “No sacrifice is too great for our democracy, least of all the temporary sacrifice of democracy itself.” (9)

In truth, the state of exception is neither external nor internal to the juridical order, and the problem of defining it concerns precisely a threshold, or a zone of indifference, where inside and outside do not exclude each other but rather blur with each other. The suspension of the norm does not mean its abolition, and the zone of anomie that it establishes is not (or at least claims not to be) unrelated to the juridical order. (23)

[…] in the forms of both the state of exception and revolution, the status necessitatis appears as an ambiguous and uncertain zone in which de facto proceedings, which are in themselves extra- or antijuridical, pass over into law, and juridical norms blur with mere fact – that is, a threshold where fact and law seem to become undecidable. […] The essential point, in any case, is that a threshold of undecidability is produced at which factum and ius fade into each other. (29)

In analogy with the principle according to which the law may have lacunae, but the juridical order admits none, the state of necessity is thus interpreted as a lacuna in the public law, which the executive power is obligated to remedy. In this way, a principle that concerns the judiciary power is extended to the executive power. But in what does the lacuna in question actually consist? Is there truly something like a lacuna in the strict sense? Here, the lacuna does not concern a deficiency in the text of the legislation that must be completed by the judge; it concerns, rather, a suspension of the order that is in force in order to guarantee its existence. Far from being a response to a normative lacuna, the state of exception appears as the opening of a fictitious lacuna in the order for the purpose of safeguarding the existence of the norm and its applicability to the normal situation. The lacuna is not within the law, but concerns its relation to reality, the very possibility of its application. It is as if the juridical order contained an essential fracture between the position of the norm and its application, which, in extreme situations, can be filled only by means of the state of exception, that is, by creating a zone in which application is suspended, but the law, as such, remains in force. (31)

  1. Force-of-Law

In Dictatorship, the operator of this inscription of an outside of the law within the law is, in the case of commissarial dictatorship, the distinction between norms of law and norms of the realization of law and, in the case of sovereign dictatorship, the distinction between constituent power and constituted power. Indeed, because it “suspends the constitution in concreto in order to protect its concrete existence” (Schmitt 1921, 136), commissarial dictatorship ultimately has the function of creating a state of affairs “in which the law can be realized” (137). In commissarial dictatorship, the constitution can be suspended in its application “without thereby ceasing to remain in force, because the suspension signifies solely a concrete exception” (137). On a theoretical level, commissarial dictatorship can thus be wholly subsumed in the distinction between the norm and the techno-practical rules that govern its realization. (33)

In suspending the norm, the state of exception “reveals, in absolute purity, a specifically juridical formal element: the decision” (Schmitt 1922, 13). The two elements, norm and decision, thus show their autonomy. “Just as in the normal situation the autonomous moment of decision is reduced to a minimum, so in the exceptional situation the norm is annulled. And yet even the exceptional situation remains accessible to juridical knowledge, because both elements, the norm as well as the decision, remain within the framework of the juridical” (13/12-13). (34)

Being-outside, and yet belonging: this is the topological structure of the state of exception. (35)

Take now the opposition between norm and decision. Schmitt shows that they are irreducible, in the sense that the decision can never be derived from the content of a norm without a remainder (Schmitt 1922, 9/6). In the decision on the state of exception, the norm is suspended or even annulled; but what is at issue in this suspension is, once again, the creation of a situation that makes the application of the norm possible (“a situation in which juridical norms can be valid must be brought about”). That is, the state of exception separates the norm from its application in order to make its application possible. It introduces a zone of anomie into the law in order to make the effective regulation of the real possible. We can, then, define the state of exception in Schmitt’s theory as the place where the opposition between the norm and its realization reaches its greatest intensity. (36)

[…] the concept of “force of law”, as a technical legal term, defines a separation of the norm’s vis obligandi, or applicability, from its formal essence, whereby decrees, provisions, and measures that are not formally laws nevertheless acquire their “force”. (38)

[…] from a technical standpoint the specific contribution of the state of exception is less the confusion of powers, which has been all too strongly insisted upon, than it is the separation of “force of law” from the law. It defines a “state of the law” in which, on the one hand, the norm is in force but is not applied (it has no “force”) and, on the other, acts that do not have the value of law acquire its “force”. (38)

[…] in the case of law, the application of a norm is in no way contained within the norm and cannot be derived from it; otherwise, there would have been no need to create the grand edifice of trial law. Just as between language and world, so between the norm and its application there is no internal nexus that allows one to be derived immediately from the other. (40)

[…] in order to apply a norm it is ultimately necessary to suspend its application, to produce an exception. (40)

  1. Gigantomachy Concerning a Void

What the law can never tolerate – what it feels as a threat with which it is impossible to come to terms – is the existence of violence outside the law; and this is not because the ends of such a violence are incompatible with law, but because of “its mere existence outside the law” (Benjamin 1921, 183/239). (53)

The theory of sovereignty that Schmitt develops in his Political Theology can be read as a precise response to Benjamin’s essay. While the strategy of “Critique of Violence” was aimed at ensuring the existence of a pure and anomic violence, Schmitt instead seeks to lead such a violence back to a juridical context. (54)

The sovereign violence in Political Theology responds to the pure violence of Benjamin’s essay with the figure of a power that neither makes nor preserves law, but suspends it. Similarly, it is in response to Benjamin’s idea of an ultimate undecidability of all legal problems that Schmitt affirms sovereignty as the place of the extreme decision. (54)

While for Schmitt the decision is the nexus that unites sovereignty and the state of exception, Benjamin ironically divides sovereign power from its exercise and shows that the baroque sovereign is constitutively incapable of deciding. (55)

While in Schmitt “the sovereign is identified with God and occupies a position in the state exactly analogous to that attributed in the world to the God of the Cartesian system” (Schmitt 1922, 43/46), in Benjamin the sovereign is “confined to the world of creation; he is the lord of creatures, but he remains a creature” (Benjamin 1928, 264/85). This drastic redefinition of the sovereign function implies a different situation of the state of exception. It no longer appears as the threshold that guarantees the articulation between an inside and an outside, or between anomie and the juridical context, by virtue of a law that is in force in its suspension: it is, rather, a zone of absolute indeterminacy between anomie and law, in which the sphere of creatures and the juridical order are caught up in a single catastrophe. (57)

What opens a passage toward justice is not the erasure of law, but its deactivation and inactivity – that is, another use of the law. This is precisely what the force-of-law (which keeps the law working beyond its formal suspension) seeks to prevent. Kafka’s characters – and this is why they interest us – have to do with this spectral figure of the law in the state of exception; they seek, each one following his or her own strategy, to “study” and deactivate it, to “play” with it. (64)

  1. Auctoritas and Potestas

In the sphere of private law, auctoritas is the property of the auctor, that is, the person sui iuris (the pater familias) who intervenes – pronouncing the technical formula auctor fio [I am made auctor] – in order to confer legal validity on the act of a subject who cannot independently bring a legally valid act into being. Thus, the auctoritas of the tutor makes valid the act of one who lacks this capacity, and the auctoritas of the father “authorizes” – that is, makes valid – the marriage of the son in potestate. Analogously, the seller (in a mancipatio) is bound to assist the buyer in confirming his title of ownership in the course of a claim proceeding involving a third opposing party. (76)

[…] we need only reflect on the formula auctor fio (and not simply auctor sum) to realize that it seems to imply not so much the voluntary exercise of a right as the actualization of an impersonal power [potenza] in the very person of the auctor. (77)

As we have seen, in public law auctoritas designates the most proper prerogative of the Senate. The active subjects of this prerogative are therefore the patres: auctoritas patrum and patres auctores fiunt [the fathers are made auctors] are common formulas for expressing the constitutional function of the Senate. (77)

Under extreme conditions (that is to say, under the conditions that best define it, if it is true that a legal institution’s truest character is always defined by the exception and the extreme situation) auctoritas seems to act as a force that suspends potestas where it took place and reactivates it where it was no longer in force. It is a power that suspends or reactivates law, but is not formally in force as law. (79)

The norm can be applied to the normal situation and can be suspended without totally annulling the juridical order because in the form of auctoritas, or sovereign decision, it refers immediately to life, it springs from life. (85)

The juridical system of the West appears as a double structure, formed by two heterogeneous yet coordinated elements: one that is normative and juridical in the strict sense (which we can for convenience inscribe under the rubric potestas) and one that is anomic and metajuridical (which we can call by the name auctoritas). The normative element needs the anomic element in order to be applied, but, on the other hand, auctoritas can assert itself only in the validation or suspension of potestas. (86)

The aim of this investigation – in the urgency of the state of exception “in which we live” – was to bring to light the fiction that governs the arcanum imperii par excellence of our time. What the “ark” of power contains at its center is the state of exception – but this is essentially an empty space, in which a human action with no relation to law stands before a norm with no relation to life. (86)

The normative aspect of law can thus be obliterated and contradicted with impunity by a governmental violence that – while ignoring international law externally and producing a permanent state of exception internally – nevertheless still claims to be applying the law. (87)

But if it is possible to attempt to halt the machine, to show its central fiction, this is because between violence and law, between life and norm, there is no substantial articulation. (87)

There are not first life as a natural biological given and anomie as the state of nature, and then their implication in law through the state of exception. On the contrary, the very possibility of distinguishing life and law, anomie and nomos, coincides with their articulation in the biopolitical machine. Bare life is a product of the machine and not something that preexists it, just as law has no court in nature or in the divine mind. Life and law, anomie and nomos, auctoritas and potestas, result from the fracture of something to which we have no other access than through the fiction of their articulation and the patient work that, by unmasking this fiction, separates what it had claimed to unite. (88)

To show law in its nonrelation to life and life in its nonrelation to law means to open a space between them for human action, which once claimed for itself the name of “politics”. […] The only truly political action, however, is that which severs the nexus between violence and law. And only beginning from the space thus opened will it be possible to pose the question of a possible use of law after the deactivation of the device that, in the state of exception, tied it to life. We will then have before us a “pure” law, in the sense in which Benjamin speaks of a “pure” language and a “pure” violence. To a word that does not bind, that neither commands nor prohibits anything, abut says only itself, would correspond an action as pure means, which shows only itself, without any relation to an end. And, between the two, not a lost original state, but only the use and human praxis that the powers of law and myth had sought to capture in the state of exception. (88)

Sergei Prozorov “Like a Thief in the Night”

January 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Prozorov, Sergei 2017. Like a Thief in the Night: Agamben, Hobbes and the Messianic Transvaluation of Security. Security Dialogue 48(6): 473–487.

I shall argue that in the messianic approach, security does not figure as an unquestionable good or as a necessary (or even unnecessary) evil but rather as the problematic aspiration, whose failure itself brings about the messianic event in an oblique manner, ‘like a thief in the night’. Rather than denounce or renounce security, the messianic approach retains it as a demand at the same time as it maintains the impossibility of its fulfilment. The state’s claim to provide security thus becomes the effective means of its undoing. (474)

What messianic politics thereby seeks is only security from the existing apparatuses that are undermined by the demands they could not possibly fulfil. This affirmation of ‘security from security’ reorients security studies towards at once a greater appreciation of security as a desirable good and the dissociation of this good from the structures and institutions that have derived their legitimacy from claiming to provide it. (474)

Rather than read Hobbes’s theory in the familiar terms of the exchange of liberty for security, Agamben insists that the Hobbesian commonwealth ensures no such trade-off and the Leviathan and Behemoth, nomos and anomie, remain entwined to the point of indistinction in every secular order. Insofar as it is not and cannot be the kingdom of God, the security state is forever resigned to the insecurity of stasis. (474)

Since Tertullian, the katechon has been identified with the Roman Empire, a worldly power that delays the end of days and secures public order. For Carl Schmitt, who brought the concept of the katechon into late-modern political-philosophical discourse in his Nomos of the Earth (2003), the idea of the katechon endowed Christianity with a historical dimension, serving as the ‘only bridge between the notion of an eschatological paralysis of all human events and a tremendous historical monolith like that of the Christian empire of the German kings’ (Schmitt, 2003: 60; see also Hooker, 2009: 49–54; De Wilde, 2013; Hell, 2009). (475)

It is a real kingdom, in which God reigned not merely over all beings but also commanded, in a literal sense, such ‘peculiar subjects’ as Adam, Noah and his family, Abraham, Moses and others, with whom he spoke and made covenants. It is this real kingdom with God as its real king that will be restored after the Second Coming and it will be restored here on earth and not in heaven (Hobbes, [1651] 1985: 480–484). (476)

The analyses of the civil commonwealth in the preceding chapters of Leviathan are therefore only valid until the second coming of Christ, after which a different kind of kingdom takes hold, for all eternity. The two kingdoms are perfectly autonomous and only coordinated from the eschatological perspective: ‘both take place on earth and the Leviathan will necessarily disappear when the Kingdom of God is realized politically in the world’ (Agamben, 2015: 48). (476)

The impossibility of fully separating the state of nature from the civil state of the commonwealth, whereby the former survives in the latter in the form of the state of exception (1998: 35–36, 105), only testifies to the transitory and ultimately unsuccessful character of the commonwealth as the project of attaining unity and peace, tranquility and security. Until the kingdom of the God at the end of time, ‘no real unity, no political body is actually possible: the body political can only dissolve itself into the multitude and the Leviathan can only live together up until the end with Behemoth – with the possibility of civil war’ (Agamben, 2015: 49). (477)

While Benjamin’s text is notoriously elliptic, Agamben’s reinterpretation of Hobbes actually helps us to understand this point. ‘The Leviathanstate, which must ensure the “safety” and “contentments of life” of its subjects, is also what precipitates the end of time’ (Agamben, 2015: 53). It does so precisely by repeatedly failing to ensure the security that should render it legitimate. It is precisely the understanding of this failure as necessary and inescapable that underlies the messianic disposition. At the very end of Stasis, Agamben makes an allusion to Paul’s famous claim in the First Letter to the Thessalonians, the consideration of which will help us understand the messianic approach to security: ‘For you are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and security”, destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in the darkness so that this day should overtake you like a thief.…’ (1 Thessalonians 5:3, cited in Agamben, 2015: 53). (478)

The accelerationist disposition is thus an important part of the Western ontopolitical tradition that has served as an explicit or implicit antagonist of the arguably more dominant katechontic disposition. What is common to different strands of accelerationism is their impatience with the katechon and its politics of restraint, which keeps at bay the danger that accelerationism views as pregnant with possibility. (479)

While continuing to be obsessed with security as a scarce good, the neoliberal state no longer posits its own function in the katechontic terms of restraint or delay. Instead, it simply seeks to manage things as they are, with no end in sight in both senses of the word, there being no ultimate goal of government and no recognition of its finitude. (480)

The neoliberal state may therefore be termed a postsecurity state, not because it relinquishes the katechontic function, but rather because in its concern with its own efficiency it loses sight of the effects it was meant to produce. In the post-security state, the katechon which does not delay any end joins forces with the accelerator which does not have any end in view. Critical studies of neoliberalism that emphasize its ‘zombie-like’ status as ‘dead but still dominant’, repeatedly surviving every proclamation of its demise albeit in an ever more dysfunctional state (Peck, 2010; Smith, 2008), illuminate a highly important feature of neoliberal government – its drivenness with no direction and hence no possible end; only a perpetual imperative for acceleration. (480)

The responsible and resilient subject must instead make its security its business: come to terms with a perpetual presence of insecurity, invest in insuring itself against it, learn to bounce back after suffering from it, etc. In this manner, the apparatuses of the Leviathan have not only learned to coexist with Behemoth, but also succeeded in making this coexistence the basis of a veritable ‘ethics’ of eternal insecurity. (480)

In the messianic perspective, little would be gained from a return from a ‘postsecurity’ discourse of risk, responsibilization and resilience to some ‘proper security’. The significance of Agamben’s reinterpretation of Hobbes in the messianic key consists precisely in demonstrating that the katechontic promise was void already in and for Hobbes. The contemporary developments in the governance of security that downgrade, diminish or devolve the katechontic function only make this void character painfully clear. And yet, if the katechontic claim to hold back the disaster is no longer credible, should we then welcome the disaster in question with open arms and even hasten it as the condition of possibility of our emancipation? Such an extreme version of the accelerationist position would locate the problem in our very desire for security, on which the state feeds to justify its existence and then proceeds to convert into the production of insecurity, all in the name of the aversion of the greater catastrophe. Thus, wars are fought in the name of our presumably threatened way of life, while our rights and liberties are trampled on in the name of our physical survival. If it is our desire for security that leads to the production of insecurity, then perhaps this desire should be renounced and (at least a modicum of) insecurity should be affirmed as such (Neocleous and Rigakos, 2011). (481)

The affirmation of insecurity over security ends up in a fatal contradiction, since it was precisely the production of insecurity in the name of security that was the problem in the first place. If we desire security, we could not possibly affirm its opposite. Yet if we happen, for some reason, to desire insecurity, then we do not seem to have a problem because our apparatuses of security already provide more than enough of it to go around. A critique of security would thus find itself with precious little to criticize. (482)

The insecurity that the state produces in the name of security must be exposed and opposed not in the name of a better security to come (or in the name of the insecurity that we should tolerate and come to terms with), but solely in the name of twisting loose from the existing apparatuses and the dangers they pose. The messianic disposition affirms neither a pure security that cannot be attained nor the insecurity that no one could possibly want, but rather security from security, safety from the harm that comes with being secured by the Leviathan that always uncannily resembles Behemoth. (482)

Thus, security in the messianic approach is neither valorized as a glorious end-state nor scornfully refused in a quasi-heroic posture. Instead, it is what we desire and demand but, having seen that our demands lead to nothing more than insecurity, we are now content to be secure from it. Messianic security is a modest and transient – but still eminently real – experience of relief, of being without care or at least of having one of our cares lifted off our shoulders. (483)

The messianic disposition thus resonates with one of the famous slogans of 1968: by demanding the impossible, the security that Leviathan/Behemoth could never provide, messianic subjects act as genuine realists who have freed themselves from all illusions of better security and only seek security from the apparatuses of security themselves. (484)

Kalevi Kull “On the logic of animal umwelten”

January 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Kull, Kalevi 2017. On the logic of animal umwelten: The animal subjective present, or zoosemiotics of choice and learning. In: Marrone, Gianfranco (ed.). Zoosemiotica 2.0: forme e politiche dell’animalità. Palermo: Museo Pasqualino, 143–156.

Interpretation, in all these cases, has some obligatory features. The main one of these is that it assumes the existence of options. This is because interpretation as a semiotic process differs from physical (non-interpretative) interaction by the choices it can make. Interpretation assumes a certain arbitrariness, a contingency, since it only works if there are options, which means freedom. Neither determinism nor a fixed probability distribution provides the freedom necessary for enabling interpretation. (145)

Options can only be plural and simultaneous. A single possibility is not an option, by definition. For the same reason, the options cannot be just sequential – then they would be single, at each moment. (145)

An important consequence we arrive at here is that the existence of the specious present is coextensive with semiosis. This means that semiosis is what happens in the present and only in the present. In other terms, representamen, object, and interpretant occur simultaneously. Semiosis takes place in the Now. (145)

Interpretation in the situation of presented options always includes an aspect of novelty and unpredictability. This is because the situation of true choice as a part of interpretation assumes the unavailability or unaccessibility of algorithm that would apply for the given situation. “The present in our common experience always contains a part of radical novelty, a genuinely new part”, observes Jacques Coursil (2015, p. 232). This is evidently a universal characteristic of Now in all living beings. (145)

Knowledge is acquired by learning7. Learning, from a fundamental semiotic point of view, is the creating and establishing of new sign relations, or modifying the existing ones. Different types of sign relations can be products
of different mechanisms of learning. (146)

3.1. Imprinting, and icon
The simplest form of learning would be the one that just makes a sign connection with something one. Among the options, one is chosen. We use for this type the name imprinting. In case of imprinting, the temporal coincidence of anticipation and option is required. Following the Peircean tradition, the simplest sign relation can be called iconic. An iconic sign is then a sign which refers to the existence of something. Iconic semiosis is the process of recognition, and it can be described as a reference to something that fits into the recognition window8. Iconic relations imply classification. The recognition process constructs similarity as based on indistinguishability in the context of the recognition window. Thus that is not the mind-independent similarity, but the similarity as mediated and constructed via the operation of the recognition window, i.e., the mediation-created similarity. (147)

3.2. Conditioning, and index
In the case of conditioning as a form of learning, the coexistence of two icons provides a condition for creating a link – a new relation – between them. The icons have to be temporally close enough, in order for the integration to be possible. The link itself may become stronger as a result of repetition. This means that the link – the index – represents correlation between icons. An index is a relation between two signs – a sign which refers to another sign: i.e., a sign which refers to correlation (correlatedness) between icons. An index certainly does not require a causal relation between the objects (as is sometimes stated) – correlation is enough. There exist many forms of conditioning. These include classical (Pavlovian) conditioning, operant conditioning, etc. However, all these can be seen as constructing indexes. (147)

3.3. Imitating, and emon
In the case of imitation as a form of learning, the link or sign relation that should be made is more complex than in the case of conditioning. It requires a connection between a certain behaviour perceived in two ways and the same behaviour created. Imitation requires the linking of proprioceptive and exteroceptive recogniton of a particular action. On the one hand, due to proprioception, or feedback from the organs of action, a link between perception of behaviour and the action that produces this behaviour in the same organism is commonly established by the functional cycle. Via conditioning, the proprioceptive recognition with exteroceptive recognition, a link between e.g. seeing one’s behaviour and making (producing) it can be developed. For instance – an animal can see a movement of what is recognised as a leg. Without yet distinguishing between one’s own and another’s leg while seeing it, there is thus a link between seeing a movement of another’s leg and operating one’s own leg – thus imitation can happen.
The sign relation produced by imitation is more complex than the index and less complex than the symbol. We term this type of sign as emon. An emon is a sign which refers to the identity between signs. […] The word emon as proposed here for the name of the sign type can be seen as a derivation from the Greek ημων (ἡμῶν), meaning ‘company’. (148)

The ability for imitation is what is necessary for social learning (e.g., learning certain behaviours from parents or other specimens of the community). Accordingly the availability of emonic signs may be limited to vertebrate animals. (149)

3.4. Conventioning, and symbol
Establishing a connection on the basis of convention (e.g., naming) can also be a version of learning – though a more complex type than the earlier three. It assumes a capacity for freely combining and recombining different signs. The symbol is a relation that is based on the capacity of intentional (re) combination. This enables the creation of connections that may not depend on any specific features the objects combined possess. Hence the symbolic relation can be detached from similarities or correlations or causal relations the objects may have. Thus one can say that the symbol is the sign that refers to a difference between signs. This allows the interpreter to learn that particular sign is the sign of something else, i.e. to have a concept of the sign as such (see Deely 2005; Rattasepp, Kull 2016). These features of symbols are precisely those that enable an agent to freely create sentences as combinations of signs, and produce language, as it is common in humans. (149)

4.1. Vegetative umwelten
The simplest imprints are evidently single qualities. We can identify these as qualia, or qualisigns. An umwelt that does not include anything else than qualisigns, an umwelt that consists merely of separate acts of recognition-action, cannot represent a direction or movement, since there is nothing that would connect the qualisigns to a compound image. If there is no sign-to-sign connectedness due to the absence of associative learning, then this is an umwelt in which space cannot be constructed. We call such umwelt vegetative. This is because the type of learning that creates it may not require even a nervous system. A vegetative umwelt is an umwelt without subjective space or subjective
time (however there can temporarily be a subjective Now). Being as simple as this, it nevertheless can be responsible for collective phenomena like the organisation of swarms or structures based on family resemblance (see Kull 2016). (150)

4.2. Animal (and spatial) umwelten
The availability of indexes in addition to icons (as a result of associative learning) makes a huge difference in the representation of the world. A particularly impressive faculty concerns the construction of space. At first, it may not resemble much of the spatial cognition we humans are used to. The construction of minimal space may start from connecting spots either in rows or networks, but already this, as linked to the acts of moving the body, allows the organism to search the way back to the place already visited, on the condition of course that the difference between the spots as perceived is detailed enough in comparison to the heterogeneity of the habitat. Due to the capacity for associative learning, it makes sense to develop multicellular perceptual organs and to make use of sensory and motor categorizations. The functional cycles supplied to associations can enable an agent to establish relations of angle and distance and thus to build cognitive maps. (150)

4.3. Social (and emotional) umwelten
The operation of imitating provides a powerful mechanism of amplification. This can work at various levels of behaviour. For instance, reciprocal imitation enables the emergence of play. The capacity for imitation is also the basis for social learning and accordingly for social inheritance. As a consequence, group differences in behavioural rules can appear that may remind one the cultural or subcultural differences in many ways. Another significant feature that seems to be connected to this level of umwelt is the existence of emotions. Emotions provide the level of categorisation that delimits or channels the choices in establishing new relations simultaneously for all modes. Emotions as linking systems also organise the whole syndrome of behaviour. Moreover, together with emotions appears the faculty of empathy that considerably enhances the ways of cooperation. As said before, these phenomena are rather widespread among vertebrate animals. (151)

4.4. Cultural (and lingual and narrative) umwelten
The neotenic change that was accompanied by overcoming the symbolic threshold in early humans turned in the organisation of the umwelt via the means of language. The symbolic semiosis itself is evidently responsible for the capacity of counting and (re)ordering (manipulating) various things following a given example. A crucial change accompanied by symbolic reference is the origin of the operation of negation which can exclude the third. The oppositions available at the presymbolic levels do not exclude the third. The introduction of negation enables the development of syllogistic logic in lingual animals. A particularly important consequence of symbolic reference is the combinative reordering of images which results with the constructive representations of past and future. Together with the construction of narratives (earlier levels of semiosis being incapable of this) it creates the possibility for imaginable travelling in time, or chronesthesia (this concept has been introduced by Endel Tulving – see Tulving 2002). Accordingly, a true semiotics of time begins here, with symbolic semiosis. Time travel (or daydreaming) masks much of the external perception otherwise available in the animal umwelt. This often results in a certain decrease in attentiveness towards the current surrounding, causing to some extent alienation from life in the present. (151)

A distinct feature that the language faculty gives origin for is the capacity for true violence (see Kull 2011). Will and the ability for mindreading give humans the capacity to make intentionally bad decisions that may hurt someone. Thus, true violence – torture – is a result of language. This is radically different from animal predator-prey  relationships which cannot be considered as violent because they cannot include an intention to torture (Weber 2016). However, it is not only the world of suffering that enlarges – all the emotional world, including the modes of joy, become more elaborated and more diverse (see also Deacon 2006). (152)

Semiosis occurs in the Now. The second semiotic rule states that the movement from iconic to indexical to emonic to symbolic semiosis is taking place in connection with the widening of the internal present (the specious present). The advancement in the complexity of semiosis is dependent upon the extent of subjective present. Or, in other words, intellectual advancement is related to the expansion of the Now. (152)

Donna Haraway “The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies”

January 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Haraway, Donna 1991. The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Determinations of Self in Immune System Discourse. In: Harawa, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 203–230.

My thesis is that the immune system is an elaborate icon for principal systems of symbolic and material ‘difference’ in late capitalism. Pre-eminently a twentieth-century object, the immune system is a map drawn to guide recognition and misrecognition of self and other in the dialectics of western biopolitics. That is, the immune system is a plan for meaningful action to construct and maintain the boundaries for what may count as self and other in the crucial realm of the normal and the pathological. (204)

Bodies, then, are not born; they are made. Bodies have been as thoroughly denaturalized as sign, context, and time. Late twentieth-century bodies do not grow from internal harmonic principles theorized within Romanticism. Neither are they discovered in the domains of realism and modernism. One is not born a woman, Simone de Beauvoir correctly insisted. It took the political-epistemological terrain of postmodernism to be able to insist on a co-text to de Beauvoir’s: one is not born an organism. Organisms are made; they are constructs of a world-changing kind. The constructions of an organism’s boundaries, the job of the discourses of immunology, are particularly potent mediators of the experiences of sickness and death for industrial and post-industrial people. (207)

[…] bodies as objects of knowledge are material-semiotic generative nodes. Their boundaries materialize in social interaction; ‘objects’ like bodies do not pre-exist as such. (208)

From the eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, the great historical constructions of gender, race, and class were embedded in the organically marked bodies of woman, the colonized or enslaved, and the worker. Those inhabiting these marked bodies have been symbolically other to the fictive rational self of universal, and so unmarked, species man, a coherent subject. (210)

Any objects or persons can be reasonably thought of in terms of disassembly and reassembly; no ‘natural’ architectures constrain system design. Design is none the less highly constrained. What counts as a ‘unit’, a one, is highly problematic, not a permanent given. Individuality is a strategic defense problem. (212)

Bodies have become cyborgs – cybernetic organisms – compounds of hybrid techno-organic embodiment and textuality. (212)

The genetics of the immune system cells, with their high rates of somatic mutation and gene product splicings and rearrangings to make finished surface receptors and antibodies, makes a mockery of the notion of a constant genome even within ‘one’ body. The hierarchicaly body of old has given way to a network-body of truly amazing complexity and specificity. The immune system is everywhere and nowhere. Its specificities are indefinite if not infinite, and they arise randomly; yet these extraordinary variations are the critical means of maintaining individual bodily coherence. (218)

The concatenation of internal recognitions and responses would go on indefinitely, in a series of interior mirrorings of sites on immunoglobulin molecules, such that the immune system would always be in a state of dynamic internal responding. It would never be passive, ‘at rest’, awaiting an activating stimulus from a hostile outside. In a sense, there could be no exterior antigenic structure, no ‘invader’, that the immune system had not already ‘seen’ and mirrored internally. ‘Self’ and ‘other’ lose their rationalistic oppositional quality and become subtle plays of partially mirrored readings and responses. The notion of the internal image is the key to the theory, and it entails the premise that every member of the immune system is capable of interacting with every other member. (218)

‘Organism’ and ‘individual’ have not disappeared; rather, they have been fully denaturalized. That is, they are ontologically contingent constructs from the point of view of the biologist, not just in the loose ravings of a cultural critic or feminist historian of science. (220)

It is photography that convinces the viewer of the fraternal relation of inner and outer space. But curiously, in outer space, we see spacemen fitted into explorer craft or floating about individuated cosmic foetuses, while in the supposed earthy space of our own interiors, we see non-humanoid strangers who are supposed to be the means by which our bodies sustain our integrity and individuality, indeed our humanity in the face of a world of others. We seem invaded not just by the threatening ‘non-selves’ that the immune system guards against, but more fundamentally by our own strange parts. No wonder auto-immune disease carries such awful significance, marked from the first suspicion of its existence in 1901 by Morgenroth and Ehrich’s term, horror autotoxicus. (222-223)

Harmony of the organism, that favourite theme of biologists, is explained in terms of the aggressive defence of individuality […]. (223)

Marina Brilman “Canguilhem’s Critique of Kant”

January 11, 2018 Leave a comment

Brilman, Marina 2017. Canguilhem’s Critique of Kant: Bringing Rationality Back to Life. Theory, Culture & Society 0(0). DOI: 10.1177/0263276417741674

It is argued that three ideas form the cornerstones of Canguilhem’s critique. First, his discussion of concepts as preserved problems, rather than as a unification or unity of a manifold (AA 5: 373, 1987: 252, 373; AA 5: 377, 1987: 256, 377), as Kant suggested regarding concepts of the living (AA 5: 396, 1987, 278: 396; AA 5: 385–6, 1987: 266, 385–6). Second, Canguilhem’s idea of vital normativity as the potential to institute new, always provisional, normative orders, as opposed to Kant’s idea of the normative as standard of evaluation or principle of judgment with regard to the living. Third, Canguilhem’s introduction of the environment as a ‘category of contemporary thought’ (2003: 165) engages the ‘problem of individuality’ in the life sciences (Canguilhem, 2003: 79) and introduces contingency, thereby challenging the centrality of Kant’s knowing subject. (2)

Canguilhem’s epistemological critique and political project is this: to oppose any rationality that relies on principles that judge, limit, or extinguish life, and to propose an alternative rationality that relies on life’s creative contingency, resistance, and resilience. (2)

[…] since it is always a particular problem that gives rise to a concept and that this concept – in turn – formulates, all concepts are necessarily normative (Duroux, 1993: 49). (6)

For Canguilhem, a concept is not productive because it ‘economize[s] thought’ (2002: 344) but because it ‘preserve[s] a problem’ that should be maintained ‘in the same state of freshness as its ever-changing factual data’. Philosophy’s task as the ‘science of solved problems’ is, then, to ‘reopen rather than close problems’ (Canguilhem, 1978: xxv, referring to Brunschvicg; Osborne, 2003; Schmidgen, 2014: 249, 234; Rheinberger, 2005: 193). (6)

Goldstein argued, based on the pathological data obtained while treating soldiers with brain damage incurred in the First World War (Goldstein, 1995: 15, 29–30; Canguilhem, 2006: 120), that there are two concepts of the norm, the ‘idealistic’ and the ‘statistical’, and that neither can be satisfactorily applied to the living: the former because it ‘is not oriented on any reality but, rather, would have to justify itself in reality’; the latter because it represents an average that cannot do justice to the individual. What was required was a normative concept that is: (i) generally valid, but (ii) able to account for the individual, while at the same time (iii) avoiding the subjective (Goldstein, 1995: 325). It is argued that Canguilhem’s vital normativity can be understood as an attempt to construe this almost logically impossible normative concept. It signifies that which (i) all living processes have in common, but (ii) is actualized in each individual, while (iii) the living cannot be judged as normal or pathological with regard to an ideal or average, but only objectively with regard to itself (Canguilhem, 2006: 87). (7-8)

Health and sickness, or the normal and pathological, are values of life that can only be re-evaluated by the particular life that leads it. No value can be attributed by reference to an existing norm, nor can value be derived from life itself. Vital normativity, therefore, regards nothing more or less than techniques of living; a potential for ‘switching . . . perspectives’ (Badiou, 1998: 232, referring to a ‘shift of meaning’). (8)

Vital normativity regards a capacity (Canguilhem, 2006: 120, 129) or a potential to confront the particular
problems that living implies (Osborne, 2003: 5–6). (9)

Contemporary biology seems to embrace life’s contingency, at least epistemologically (Rheinberger, 1997: S247; Jacob, 1976: 323). It has also been said that ‘the biological . . . has, in a sense, become a wholly contingent condition’ (Franklin, 2003: 100), implying that living processes have recently become contingent – not only been understood as such – supposedly because of technological developments. However, at least since Kant has life’s diversity been characterized as contingent. In this sense, Luhmann noted that, although contingency may seem a modern notion, it ‘is a part of any search for necessity, for validity a priori, for inviolate values’ (1998: 44), while Foucault said that what characterizes ‘modernity’ is only a certain ‘attitude’ towards contingency (1984: 39), not the idea of contingency itself. (10)

Whereas Luhmann referred to an almost Kantian ‘concept of contingency’ and wondered whether a ‘theory’ exists in which such a concept might be useful (1998: 46), Canguilhem recognizes that contingency cannot be understood through concepts, only through living. A consideration of life’s contingency is only productive when it is divorced from a theory that generalizes or rationalizes it. Vital normativity is, therefore, not a concept of contingency; it is itself contingent. Not because, following Kant, a norm is always applied to the living by a particular subject, but because all norms represent the possibility of their own replacement. (11)

The misunderstanding of vital normativity’s ‘immanence’ (Deleuze, 2001), as something that is in living processes, can be seized upon from the outside, and – in turn – applied to it, is similar to the misinterpretation of Foucault’s biopower as power wielded over or applied to the living. Such understanding regresses biopower back into sovereign power, rather than appreciating Foucault’s efforts to describe the transformation of power itself (1998: 139–40). (12)

Perhaps Canguilhem’s focus on the ‘existential priority’ of the abnormal (1978: 149) and the centrality of error – following Bachelard and Nietzsche (Wolfe, 2010: 203; Talcott, 2014: 259–61) – invites the idea of the norm as correction. However, Canguilhem regarded normalization as an inherently ‘anthropological’ or ‘cultural’ phenomenon, as opposed to normativity, which he associated with life rather than lived experience (Canguilhem, 1978: 147; but see Rabinow, 1994: 18). His idea of vital normativity refers to the confrontation of life’s predicaments through a potential to re-evaluate values, institute new normative orders, and liberate the living from understanding, judgment, and mediocre regularity. (12)

It is in fact the environment’s particular relativity that addresses the vital predicament whether direction of action should be attributed to organism or environment (Goldstein, 1995: 84; Nietzsche, 1968: 344). Canguilhem does not attribute action to either, but to the continuous process of differentiation or becoming, which Goldstein referred to as ‘Auseinandersetzung’ (Canguilhem, 2003: 187) and Simondon as ‘individuation’ (Simondon, 1964: 4: 281–2). (16)

The idea of the knowledge of life, or the living knowing itself as living through living, means that life ceases to be an exception to understanding or rationality’s blind spot. Rather, life lies at the heart of rationality and constitutes its condition of possibility. Canguilhem’s alternative to Kant’s rationality is a ‘reasonable’ or vital rationality that does not seek to introduce order to the world or impose norms on the living, but always takes the point of view of the living itself. (17-18)

Giorgio Agamben “The Sacrament of Language”

December 7, 2017 Leave a comment

Agamben, Giorgio 2011. The Sacrament of Language. An Archaeology of the Oath (Homo Sacer II, 3). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

[…] the issue here, above all, is the question, What is an oath? What is at stake in it, if it defines and calls into question man himself as a political animal? If the oath is the sacrament of political power, what is it in its structure and its history that has made it possible for it to be invested with such a function? What anthropological level – a decisive one in every sense – is implicated in it, so that all of man, in life and death, can be called to account in it and by it? (2)

Benveniste, 1948: “[The oath] is a particular modality of assertion, which supports, guarantees, and demonstrates, but does not found anything. Individual or collective, the oath exists only by virtue of that which it reinforces and renders solemn: a pact, an agreement, a declaration. It prepares for or concludes a speech act which alone possesses meaningful content, but it expresses nothing by itself. It is in truth an oral rite, often completed by a manual rite whose form is variable. Its function consists not in the affirmation that it produces, but in the relation that it institutes between the word pronounced and the potency invoked.” (B, The Expression of the Oath in Ancient Greece, 81-82, 4)

All the sources and scholars seem to agree that the oath’s primary function, in its various forms, is that of guaranteeing the truth and efficacy of language. (4)

It is possible […] not only that what was originally at issue in the oath was the guarantee of a promise or of the truthfulness of an affirmation but that the institution that we know today by that name contains the memory of a more archaic stage, in which it was concerned with the very consistency of human language and the very nature of humans as “speaking animals”. The “scourge” that it had to stem was not only the unreliability of men, incapable of staying true to their word, but a weakness pertaining to language itself, the capacity of words themselves to refer to things and the ability of men to make profession of their condition as speaking beings. (8)

The oath is, then, a verbal act that accomplishes a testimony – or a guarantee – independently by the very fact that it has taken place. The formula of Pindar cited above acquires here its full meaning: karteros horkos martys esto Zeus, “as a mighty oath, may Zeus be our witness”: Zeus is not a witness of the oath, but rather oath, witness, and god coincide in the utterance of the formula. As in Philo, the oath is a logos that is necessarily accomplished, and this is precisely the logos of God. The testimony is given by language itself and the god names a potentiality implicit in the very act of speech. The testimony that is in question in the oath must therefore be understood in a sense that has little to do with much of what we normally understand by this term. It concerns not the verification of a fact or an event but the very signifying power of language. (33)

Blasphemy presents us, then, with a phenomenon that is perfectly symmetrical to the oath, to understand which there is no need to drag in the biblical interdiction or the ambiguity of the sacred. Blasphemy is an oath, in which the name of a god is extracted from the assertorial or promissory context and is uttered in itself, in vain, independently of a semantic context. The name, which in the oath expresses and guarantees the connection between words and things and which defines the truthfulness and force of the logos, in blasphemy expresses the breakdown of this connection and the vanity of human language. The name of God, isolated and produced “in vain”, corresponds symmetrically to perjury, which separates words from things; oath and blasphemy, a bene-diction and male-diction, are co-originally implied in the very event of language. (40-41)

What the curse sanctions is the loosening of the correspondence between words and things that is in question in the oath. If the connection that unites language and the world is broken, the name of God, which expressed and guaranteed this connection based in blessing [bene-dicente], becomes the name of the curse [male-dizione], that is, of a word that has broken its truthful relation to things. (42)

If, in polytheism, the name assigned to the god named this or that event of language, this or that specific naming, this or that Sondergott, in monotheism God’s name names language itself. The potentially infinite dissemination of singular, divine events of naming gives way to the divinization of the logos as such, to the name of God as archi-event of language that takes place in names. (49)

It is a certainty, or better a “faith”, of this kind that is in question in the oath and in the name of God. The name of God names the name that is always and only true, that is, that experience of language that it is not possible to doubt. For man this experience is the oath. In this sense very name is an oath, and in every name a “faith” is in question, because the certainty of the name is not of an empirico-constative or logico-epistemic type but rather always puts in play the commitment and praxis of men. To speak is, above all, to swear, to believe in the name. (54)

It is precisely the status of the oath that we have sought so far to reconstruct that allows us, in fact, to understand in a new light the theory of performatives. They represent in language a remnant of a stage (or, rather, the co-originarity of a structure) in which the connection between words and things is not of a semantico-denotative type but performative, in the sense , as in the oath, the verbal act brings being into truth. This is not, as we have seen, a magico-religious stage but a structure antecedent to (or contemporaneous with) the distinction between sense and denotation, which is perhaps not, as we have been accustomed to believe, an original and eternal characteristic of human language but a historical product (which, as such, has not always existed and could one day cease to exist). (55)

[…] in the performative, language suspends its denotation precisely and solely to found its existential connection with things. (56)

Considered in this perspective, the ontological (or onto-theological) argument simply says that if speech exists, then God exists, and God is the expression of this metaphysical “performance”. (56)

[…] metaphysics, the science of pure being, is itself historical and coincides with the experience of the event of language to which man devotes himself in the oath. If the oath is declining, if the name of God is withdrawing from language – and this is what has happened beginning from the event that has been called the “death o f God” or, as one should put it more exactly, “of the name of God” – then metaphysics also reaches completion. (56)

Assertion and veridiction define, that is to say, the two co-originary aspects of the logos. While assertion has an essentially denotative value, meaning that its truth, in the moment of its formulation, is independent of the subject and is measured with logical and objective parameters (conditions of truth, noncontradiction, adequation between words and things), in veridiction the subject constitutes itself and puts itself in play as such by linking itself performatively to the truth of its own affirmation. (57)

Religion and law do not pre-exist the performative experience of language that is in question in the oath, but rather they were invented to guarantee the truth and trustworthiness of the logos through a series of apparatuses, among which the tecnicalization of the oath into a specific “sacrament” – the “sacrament of power” – occupies a central place. (59)

The interpretation of sacretas as an originary performance of power through the production of a killable and unsacrificeable bare life must be completed in the sense that, even before being a sacrament of power, the oath is a consecration of the living human being through the word to the word. The oath can function as a sacrament of power insofar as it is first of all the sacrament of language. This original sacratio that takes place in the oath takes the technical form of the curse, of the politike ara that accompanies the proclamation of the law. Law is, in this sense, constitutively inked to the curse, and only a politics that has broken this original connection with the curse will be able one day to make possible another use of speech and of the law. (66)

With a tenacious prejudice perhaps connected to their profession, scientists have always considered anthropogenesis to be a problem of an exclusively cognitive order, as if the becoming human of man were solely a question of intelligence and brain size and not also one of ethos, as if intelligence and language did not also and above all pose problems of an ethical and political order, as if Homo sapiens was not also, and of course precisely for that reason, a Homo iustus. (68)

[…] uniquely among living things, man is not limited to acquiring language as one capacity among others that he is given but has made of it his specific potentiality; he has, that is to say, put his very nature at stake in language. (68)

Just as, in the words of Foucault, man “is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question”, so also is he the living being whose language places his life in question. These two definitions are, in fact, inseparable and constitutively dependent on each other. The oath is situated at their intersection, understood as the anthropogenic operator by means of which the living being, who has discovered itself speaking, has decided to be responsible for his words and, devoting himself to the logos, to constitute himself as the “living being who has language”. In order for something like an oath to be able to take place, it is necessary, in fact, to be able above all to distinguish, and to articulate together in some way, life and language, actions and words – and this is precisely what the animal, for which language is still an integral part of its vital practice, cannot do. The first promise, the first – and, so to speak, transcendental – sacratio is produced by means of this division, in which man, opposing his language to his actions, can put himself at stake in language, can promise himself to the logos. (69)

On the one hand, there is the living being, more and more reduced to a purely biological reality and to bare life. On the other hand, there is the speaking being, artificially divided from the former, through a multiplicity of technico-mediatic apparatuses, in an experience of the word that grows ever more vain, for which it is impossible to be responsible and in which anything like a political experience becomes more and more precarious. When the ethical – and not simply cognitive – connection that unites words, things, and human actions is broken, this in fact promotes a spectacular and unprecedented proliferation of vain words on the one hand and, on the other, of legislative apparatuses that seek obstinately to legislate on every aspect of that life on which they seem no longer to have any hold. The age of the eclipse of the oath is also the age of blasphemy, in which the name of God breaks away from its living connection with language and can only be uttered “in vain”. (70-71)

The decisive element that confers on human language its peculiar virtue is not in the tool itself but in the place it leaves to the speaker, in the fact that it prepares within itself a hollowed-out form that the speaker must always assume in order to speak – that is to say, in the ethical relation that is established between the speaker and his language. The human being is that living being that, in order to speak, must say “I”, must “take the word”, assume it and make it his own. (71)