March 17, 2011

Agamben’s argument sometimes seems as topologically deformed as the utopian, or messianic state he imagines for a coming community or a vanguard people. But if we tease out his terms, what he wants to argue for is a hyphenated ‘form-of-life’ (as distinct from the unhyphenated forms of life), in which the zoe cannot be separated out from the bios. That is, where the bare and fundamental life that is common to all living creatures (zoe), cannot be separated out from the manners and customary style of life that seems to qualify human existence, or human subjects (bios). Agamben’s critique of the (holy and/or secular?) trinity of nation-state-territory, is that the sovereign power peculiar to the nation-state is able to reduce its subjects to bare life, and thence to sacrifice them so as to further strengthen the identity and cohesiveness of its domain. There is always some group of people who must be excluded so that the interior identity of the nation-state is safeguarded: this is the situation Agamben wants to critique. The nation-state or sovereign power, which finds it originary figure in the father (pater), claims the right to decide over the life or death of those subjects who are gathered within its protectorate. It is a dark vision that Agamben paints of politics, both ancient and contemporary. What is his solution? He wants to suggest the outline of a coming community, a vanguard peoples, exemplified in the figure of the refugee, and currently circumscribed by the spatial configuration of the ‘camp’, that is, a coming community that challenges the paradox of the permanent state of exception, and undoes the contemporary version of the nation-state. But what kind of space will this as yet unimaginable community occupy? He tells us that a new state will or should be aterritorial or extraterritorial, as well as perforated and topologically deformed, so that interior and exterior will become indiscernible or fluidly intermixed. And presumably that movements and identities of peoples will be unhindered. Can architecture imagine such a space?



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