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Giorgio Agamben

(b. 1942)

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Italianphilosopher best known for his concept of homo sacer. Agamben studied at the University of Rome, completing a doctorate on the political thought of Simone Weil. In 1966 and 1968 he participated in Martin Heidegger's seminars on Heraclitus and Hegel. He was close friends with Pier Paolo Pasolini (who gave him a bit part in one of his films) and Italo Calvino, two of Italy's most prominent intellectuals of the period. Passionate about Walter Benjamin's work, which he researched extensively in the archives at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France where he discovered several important manuscripts, Agamben also edited the translation into Italian of his complete works. More recently, his work has focused on Carl Schmitt and Michel Foucault. A highly erudite philologist, Agamben reads contemporary works through the lens of Classical Philosophy. Probably the most well-known instance of this is his observation that the distinction between bios and zoē—which Classical Philosophy uses to distinguish between political life (bios), i.e. a form of life regulated by notions of the good and the proper, and the simple fact of life itself (zoē), i.e. that which animals and humans have in common—does not exist in most modern European languages. Following Foucault, he shows that the effect of this collapsing of the distinction between bios and zoē has been the creation of a kind of politics of bare life, or biopolitics. Agamben finds this development disturbing. He sees it as the genesis of fascism because it enables a politics that puts the biological before the social, regulating bodies not people. Agamben's later work follows the thread from this starting point to the paradoxes of democratic constitutions, which allow that to ‘save’ democracy, democracy itself may be suspended by the declaration of martial law. Agamben describes this as a ‘state of exception’ and his work traces the way this paradoxical process of excluding to include features in a wide variety of social mechanisms.

Further Reading:

M. Calarco and S. Decaroli On Agamben: Sovereignty and Life (2007).L. De la Durantaye Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction (2009).C. Mills The Philosophy of Agamben (2008).

http://www.iep.utm.edu/agamben/ A comprehensive overview of Giorgio Agamben's work, with references and further reading.

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