Giorgio AgambenEdit

[b. 1942] Italian philosopher identified with his research on aesthetics and political philosophy, states of exception and homo sacer (cursed or set apart man).

“What is an Apparatus?”Edit

Apparatus and FoucaultEdit

Agamben's essay pursues Foucault's notion of the apparatus foremost, examining its relation to Christian theological doctrines of governance.

Foucault defines the apparatus as a network between a heterogeneous set of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, laws, regulations, administrative measures, scientific statements, etc. Its major strategic function is the response to an urgency and is always inscribed in a play of power. “a set of strategies of the relations of forces supporting, and supported by, certain types of knowledge” (2)

Agamben traces the philosophical tradition of the dispotif (apparatus), through the word positivite, which he comes to via Hyppolite via Hegel [this word is in the Archeology of Knowledge]. Positivity, for Hegel, is the “historical element—loaded as it is with rules, rites, and institutions that are imposed on the individual by an external power, but that become, so to speak, internalized in the systems of beliefs and feelings...” Foucault will take this notion and later dub it apparatus, which positions him in relation to a decisive problem: “the relation between individuals as living beings and the historical element” [the historical element being “the set of institututions, of processes of subjectification, and of rules in which power relations become concrete”] (6). But Foucault does not seek to reconcile these; rather, he seeks the investigation of concrete modes in which the apparatuses act within the relations, mechanisms and plays of power. An apparatus is not merely a technology of power; it is the network [le reseau] between these elements.

Agamben then embarks on an investigation of “the strategy of practices or of thought, what is the historical context, from which the modern term originates”. Thus, the apparatus that defines apparatus. Agamben traces this to the Greek notion of oikonomia, which is translated into Latin as dispositio. Thus, apparatus stems from a complex semantic sphere of Christian theological governance. “The term “apparatus” designates that which, and through which, one realizes a pure activity of governance devoid of any foundation in being. This is the reason why apparatuses must always imply a process of subjectification, that is to say, they must produce their subject” (11). Heidegger's notion of Ge-stell also goes back to this semantic tradition of oikonomia, “a set of practices, bodies of knowledge, measures, and institutions that aim to manager, govern, control, and orient—in a way that purports to be useful—the behaviors, gestures and thoughts of human beings.”

Departing from FoucaultEdit

Agamben then departs from Foucault, suggesting that “there comes a moment when we are aware of our inability to proceed any further without contravening the most elementary rules of hermeneutics […] it becomes impossible to distinguish between the author and the interpreter […] it is now time to abandon the text that he is analyzing and proceed on his own” (13).

First, Agamben expands Foucault's notion of apparatus: “literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings […] the pen, writing, literature, philosophy, agriculture, cigarettes, navigation, computers, cellular phones and—why not—language itself” (14). Agamben seeks to partition beings into three groups: living beings and “apparatuses in which living beings are incessantly captured”, and in between these a third group, subjects, “that which results from the relation and, so to speak, from the relentless fight between living beings and apparatuses.” Agamben theorizes that "The same individual can be the place of multiple processes of subjectification (writer, cell phone user, web surfer, student, etc.)" and that, simultaneously, the boundless growth of apparatuses in our times corresponds to the equally extreme proliferation in processes of subjectification. Apparatus, then, is first of all a machine that produces subjectifications, and only as such is it also a machine of governance (20).

For Agamben, capitalism is the mass accumulation and proliferation of apparatuses. For Agamben, these apparatuses are negative, systems with which we “hand-to-hand struggle” on a daily basisApparatuses are “rooted in the very process of 'humanization' that made 'humans' out of the animals we classify under the rubric Homo sapiens” (16). The event that produced “human beings”, this division, “separates the living being from itself and from its immediate relationship to its environment.” The break in this relationship produces both boredom and the Open [the possibility of knowing being as such, by constructing a world]. The Open is crowded with apparatuses, attempting to nullify the animalistic behaviors that are now separated from him, and to enjoy the Open as such, to enjoy being insofar as it is being. At the root of each apparatus lies an all-too-human desire for happiness. The capture and subjectification of this desire in a separate sphere constitutes the specific power of the apparatus.

Agamben begins to theorize profanation as a strategy for “the liberation of that which remains captured and separated by means of apparatuses, in order to bring it back to a possible common use” (17). “Profanation is the counter-apparatus that restores to common use what sacrifice had separated and divided” (19). Profanation is the inverse of sacralization, which takes the sacred and restores it to the use and property of human beings. Religion, then, is “that which removes things, plces, animals, or people from common use and transports them to a separate sphere, regulates through the apparatus of sacrifice. “The restitution to common use of what has been captured and separated in [apparatuses]--is, for this reason, all the more urgent. But this problem cannot be properly raised as long as those who are concerned with it are unable to intervene in their own processes of subjectification, and more than in their own apparatuses, in order to then bring to light the Ungovernable, which is the beginning and, at the same time, the vanishing point of every politics” (24).

“Modern apparatuses differ from their traditional predecessors in a way that renders any attempt to profane them particularly problematic” (19). “What defines the apparatuses that we have to deal with in the current phase of capitalism is that they no longer act as much through the production of a subject, as through the processes of what can be called desubjectification (20). A desubjectifiying moment is present in every process of subjectification. Contemporary societies there present themselves as inert bodies going through massive processes of desubjectification without acknowledging any real subjectification (22). The apparatus triumphs (through self-replication) when we no longer presuppose the existence of subjects and real identities. The more apparatuses pervade and disseminate their power in every field of life, the more government will find itself faced with an elusive element, which seems to escape its grasp the more it docilely submits to it (23). Why is this the case? Why does this produce the terrorist? History is not ending, rather there is an incessant aimless motion of the machine of providential governance, leading us to catastrophe.

For Your ConsiderationEdit

Questions: What is desubjectification? Agamben states “In the nontruth of the subject, its own truth is no longer at stake” (21). Is this what it means to become desubjectified? Section 10 discusses the relationship between the citizen and the terrorist, how nothing is more like a terrorist than a citizen—but why? Totally unexplained why the ascension of apparatuses produces this collapse.

He doesn't consider that the body is an apparatus (perhaps because it does not, in the tradition of oikonomia, attempt to move the subject toward good? Is it rather, the discourse of the body which does this?)

How might we profane an apparatus? What does that look like?

Talking Points:

Under this definition, is not everything an apparatus?

Define the apparatus according to Baudry, Foucault and Agamben

Relationship between apparatus and media?

For Foucault, the apparatus is a network—Agamben seems less interested in this function. How might this make the proposition of profanation more difficult or abstract?

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