Recent Reading

Wed Oct 26, 2005

Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford, 1998) invokes Hegel on the perfectability of language: “[it] is the perfect element in which interiority is as external as exteriority is internal.” A pregnant statement, to be sure. I haven’t read Kantorowicz’s (mentioned by Agamben on p. 91) The King’s Two Bodies, but I wonder how influential Bloch’s Les Rois Thaumauturges was for its argument. Freud’s use of Karl Abel (a “now discredited linguist”) and his “On the Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words” is explored, and the Group Psychology essay would probably be worth paying more attention to in the development of biopolitical discourse, I suspect. Sorel and Le Bon and recapitulationist crowd logic seem to me to be important to Agamben’s argument, but I haven’t read his subsequent work yet, so I’m not sure how this has developed. The discussion of the lupine taboo and the bizarre spectacle of the poena culli (and the anecdote recounted in 565d and e of the Republic) led me to think of “The Hero as Werwolf” in divers ways. Celine, also, for the homo sacer proper.

A parting thought on Agamben: “Just as the law of the physical world, the heimarmene, integrates the individual bodies into the general system, so the moral law integrates the souls, and thus makes them subservient to the demiurgic scheme” (Hans Jonas, “Gnosticism and Modern Nihilism” Social Research 19.1-4 [1952]. 443).

Am currently reading with intense interest Roger Luckhurst’s The Invention of Telepathy: 1870-1901 (Oxford, 2002) and hope to have a detailed post about it later.