March 23, 2011


The Sovereign and Bare Life

Within the piece ‘The sovereign and bare life’, Giorgio Agamben examines not the existence of the camp, or even the detailed operation of the camp, but rather he examines how such a thing can occur, what processes must be administered in order for such a terrible phenomenon to take place, what creates such a condition,and also the ways in which it can occur within what are considered everyday settings.

Within this piece we find a term which has been a constant within the writing being examined,’the state of exception’, a term which constitutes the replacement of the conventional law of a nation-state with a temporary standing state of martial law, within a situation which is considered to be of danger to the security of the state. This implementation of a state of exception is the first step in achieving the ultimate goal for the Nazi’s in Germany, it constitutes the stripping of all rights and liberties from the person and removing from them the status of citizen, leaving them only with bare life; the separation of the Zoe’ and the Bios, and the removal of the Bios in order to leave only naked life, the life of an animal.

This state of exception was initially put into place in order to suspend specific articles of the German constitution which relate to human rights and liberties in a time of emergency; this state of exception which is by definition a temporary act, was then reintroduced and enacted upon the German people under the title ‘Decree for the protection of the people and the state’, or ‘shultzhalf’; indefinitely in order to permanently suspend those same articles of the constitution relating to liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and telephone and postal privacy. It is at this point that we come across the camp; the condition which is created when the state of exception is implemented, under a different name, and instated in a permanent manner. The camp as a condition operates by its very definition, outside of the traditional realm of the law, and therefore, the traditional laws of a nation-state do not apply to this condition.

Here we find the bio-political body, the voice of a leader who’s words are not translated into law, but become law in themselves; there is no longer a need for criterion upon which a rule is instated, but the voice of the leader becomes the criterion, the rule, and the decider of application; or as Agamben puts it, “a juridical rule that decides the fact that decides the application”. The leader within this state becomes the judge, jury, and the executioner by means of his words.

The camp becomes a space which functions outside of all conventional law and application, within it exists the homosacer, the person who has been stripped of all rights and liberties indefinitely, and through this process, no longer retains any of their human characteristics, allowing all events to take place. Within the camp the carrying out of orders is not a translation of rule into actions as a result of criteria, but rather, it would appear that fact, rule, action, and outcome are all one thing. There is no crime, for there is no law and no criteria; events which take place within the condition of the camp merely happen, in the same way that, “Neither an order nor an instruction for the origin of the camps exists: they were not instituted; one day they were there”.This piece outlines the manner in which exclusion takes place within a society, the ways in which people are excluded from a population in order to produce an outcome. In the final paragraph Agamben relates this to the manner in which poorer classes of people are excluded by means of development, and relegated to ‘bare life’. We see this in many forms within contemporary society, gentrification of an area in order to create an intended outcome, design and policy in order to create exclusion, racial discrimination, exclusion of minorities and homeless.

The camp is not a place, it is condition which can be created within a myriad of situations though the implementation of policy by bodies of government, and the inactivity of the population.

Luke Flanagan


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