Agamben’s (Anti-)Utopia? Walter Benjamin Clues. Drunken Risibility.


The thought of Giorgio Agamben has been often accused of being utopian. Antonio Negri, for example, branded Agamben’s core concept, “naked” or “bare life,” as a “utopian escape” and then identified in (State of Exception) a “feverish utopian anxiety.” Agamben has also been accused that his notion of politics of dissolves “into an eschatological, utopian vision of social life,” infused with strong theological and messianic overtones, which would make of it a particular version of political theology. But, what of the quite common unease for a political project that is deemed unrealizable, empty, even impolitic. Is it Utopia or Anti-utopia? The clue is provided for through Walter Benjamin.

At the end of his essay on Surrealism (Surrealism The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia), Walter Benjamin writes:

For what is the program of the bourgeois parties? A bad poem on springtime, filled to bursting with metaphors. The socialist sees that ‘finer future of our children and grandchildren’ in a society in which all act ‘as if they were angels’ and everyone has as much ‘as if he were rich’ and everyone lives ‘as if he were free.’ Of angels, wealth, freedom, not a trace – these are mere images.

In a piece written two years later, Der destruktive Charakter, he insists that a radical, revolutionary politics must renounce optimistic, metaphoric contemplation:

The destructive character sees no image hovering before him.

Benjamin does not employ the term utopia; it is clear nonetheless that a political project founded on mere – and optimistic – images of the future is the target of his harsh criticism. If political utopianism in fact originated – strongly influenced by world travels and discoveries of new lands – by situating a political alternative in a spatial displacement (a nonplace that is, however, another place), at least from the Enlightenment it assumed the character of a “better future” toward which a progressive politics should strive. If, following Benjamin, we define “utopia” as a political project construed around images of the future and rhetorically based on the syntagma “as if ” (als ob), then Agamben’s project exudes an intrinsic and intense anti-utopianism. It is true that there is no explicit attack on utopia in his work and even that, in the preface to (Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture), he defines the “philosophical topology” presented as his method as “constantly oriented in the light of utopia”; however, the messianism in which his philosophical project is steeped constitutes an implicit but evident rejection of utopianism.

Is Depeche Mode an Alt-Right Band?

The members of Mode all emerged from fashy signalling New Romantic and avant grade electronic milieu. The band’s first album, mainly written by the synth pop guru and genius Vince Clarke of later Yazoo (Yaz in the U.S) and Erasure fame, launched the band with their first album Speak and Spell.  Politics was not so present on the first album, but was more reflected the band’s name a reference to Fast Fashion and New Romance – a pre-Bret-Easton-Ellis type notion that celebrated the decadent 80s love of surface, fast living, young love, good looks, and high times. But, as soon as Vince Clarke left the band and Martin Gore took over the songwriting slot, they began signalling political ideas of both the Left and Right.

This Left and Right synthesis was both progressive and forward-looking for the era, and really added to the band’s power level, intellectual weight, longevity, and the ability of their work to sound as relevant today as ever. A Broken Frame, their second LP, featured a Neo-Realist folk type cover, reminiscent of both Nazi art and the Communist “Realism” that was favoured by the Stalin and subsequently China and North Korea. The follow up Construction Time Again was an open rebellion to Jacques Derrida’s openly nihilistic and destructive deconstructionism that was all the rage in the 80s intellectual scene. It also featured a fascistic cover of an Aryan man smashing down a hammer. From that image alone the Alt-Right could have been born. Again, the Left and Right symbolism were being mixed together. The album Music for the Masses featured a kind of overarching, fashy motif of a loudspeaker in the wilderness on the cover and an anthem and theme song on the record, Pimpf, given visual expression with the help of the wonderful Anton Corbijn. This was quite openly the most fascist reference in their whole oeuvre. Pimpf was named after a Nazi Youth Movement, and at this time Martin Gore began making his most fashy statements in the media about politics. Gore, the rumour goes, was getting into fascist aesthetics, fashion, and ideas from the mid to late 80s until the early 90s, until he discovered his real father was of mixed race, or something along those lines. Then he went silent on the issue. But he still continued to signal these ideas in his art, albeit in a slightly more diffused and subterranean way. But he was also signalling some left-wing Socialist ideas. With him, it seems, there’s always been a kind of dialectic at play.

Exceprted from and denials here, here against the claim by Richard Spencer.


Agamben and the Biopolitical – Nihilistic and Thanatopolitical Expressions. Thought of the Day 56.0


Agamben’s logic of biopolitics as the logic of the symmetry between sovereign power and the sacredness of bare life should be understood in terms of its historico-ontological destiny. Although this theme is only hinted at in Homo Sacer and the volumes that follow it, Agamben resolutely maintains that biopolitics is inherently metaphysical. If on the one hand ‘the inclusion of bare life in the political realm constitutes the original […] nucleus of sovereign power’ and ‘biopolitics is at least as old as the sovereign exception’, on the other hand, this political nexus cannot be dissociated from the epochal situation of metaphysics. Here Agamben openly displays his Heideggerian legacy; bare life, that which in history is increasingly isolated by biopolitics as Western politics, must be strictly related to ‘pure being’, that which in history is increasingly isolated by Western metaphysics:

Politics [as biopolitics] appears as the truly fundamental structure of Western metaphysics insofar as it occupies the threshold on which the relation between the living being and the logos is realized. In the ‘politicization’ of bare life – the metaphysical task par excellence – the humanity of living man is decided.

Commentators have not as yet sufficiently emphasized how biopolitics is consequently nothing else than Agamben’s name for metaphysics as nihilism. More specifically, while bare life remains for him the ‘empty and indeterminate’ concept of Western politics – which is thus as such originally nihilistic – its forgetting goes together with the progressive coming to light of what it conceals. From this perspective, nihilism will therefore correspond to the modern and especially post-modern generalisation of the state of exception: ‘the nihilism in which we are living is […] nothing other than the coming to light of […] the sovereign relation as such’. In other words, nihilism reveals the paradox of the inclusive exclusion of bare life, homo sacer, qua foundation of sovereign power, as well as the fact that sovereign power cannot recognize itself for what it is. Beyond Foucault’s biopolitical thesis according to which modernity is increasingly characterized by the way in which power directly captures life as such as its object, what interests Agamben the most is:

the decisive fact that, together with the process by which exception everywhere becomes the rule, the realm of bare life – which is originally situated at the margins of the political order – gradually begins to coincide with the political realm.

The political is thus reduced to the biopolitical: the original repression of the sovereign relation on which Western politics has always relied is now inextricably bound up with its return in the guise of a radical biopoliticisation of the political. Like nihilism, such a generalisation of the state of exception – the fact that, today, we are all virtually homines sacri – is itself a profoundly ambiguous biopolitical phenomenon. Today’s state of exception both radicalizes – qualitatively and quantitatively – the thanatopolitical expressions of sovereignty (epitomized by the nazis’ extermination of the Jews for a mere ‘capacity to be killed’ inherent in their condition as such) and finally unmasks its hidden logic.

Agamben explicitly relates to the possibility of a ‘new politics’. Conversely, a new politics is unthinkable without an in-depth engagement with the historico-ontological dimension of sacratio and the structural political ambiguity of the state of exception. Although such new politics ‘remains largely to be invented’, very early on in Homo Sacer, Agamben unhesitatingly defines it as ‘a politics no longer founded on the exceptio of bare life’. beyond the exceptionalist logic – by now self-imploded – that unites sovereignty to bare life, Agamben seems to envisage a relaional politics that would succeed in ‘constructing the link between zoe and bios’. This link between the bare life of man and his political existence would ‘heal’ the original ‘fracture’ which is at the same time precisely what causes their progressive indistinction in the generalized state of exception. Having said this, Agamben also conceives of such new politics as a non-relational relation that ‘will […] have to put the very form of relation into question, and to ask if the political fact is not perhaps thinkable beyond relation and, thus, no longer in the form of a connection’.

Infinitesimal and Differential Philosophy. Note Quote.


If difference is the ground of being qua becoming, it is not difference as contradiction (Hegel), but as infinitesimal difference (Leibniz). Accordingly, the world is an ideal continuum or transfinite totality (Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque) of compossibilities and incompossibilities analyzable into an infinity of differential relations (Desert Islands and Other Texts). As the physical world is merely composed of contiguous parts that actually divide until infinity, it finds its sufficient reason in the reciprocal determination of evanescent differences (dy/dx, i.e. the perfectly determinable ratio or intensive magnitude between indeterminate and unassignable differences that relate virtually but never actually). But what is an evanescent difference if not a speculation or fiction? Leibniz refuses to make a distinction between the ontological nature and the practical effectiveness of infinitesimals. For even if they have no actuality of their own, they are nonetheless the genetic requisites of actual things.

Moreover, infinitesimals are precisely those paradoxical means through which the finite understanding is capable of probing into the infinite. They are the elements of a logic of sense, that great logical dream of a combinatory or calculus of problems (Difference and Repetition). On the one hand, intensive magnitudes are entities that cannot be determined logically, i.e. in extension, even if they appear or are determined in sensation only in connection with already extended physical bodies. This is because in themselves they are determined at infinite speed. Is not the differential precisely this problematic entity at the limit of sensibility that exists only virtually, formally, in the realm of thought? Isn’t the differential precisely a minimum of time, which refers only to the swiftness of its fictional apprehension in thought, since it is synthesized in Aion, i.e. in a time smaller than the minimum of continuous time and hence in the interstitial realm where time takes thought instead of thought taking time?

Contrary to the Kantian critique that seeks to eliminate the duality between finite understanding and infinite understanding in order to avoid the contradictions of reason, Deleuze thus agrees with Maïmon that we shouldn’t speak of differentials as mere fictions unless they require the status of a fully actual reality in that infinite understanding. The alternative between mere fictions and actual reality is a false problem that hides the paradoxical reality of the virtual as such: real but not actual, ideal but not abstract. If Deleuze is interested in the esoteric history of differential philosophy, this is as a speculative alternative to the exoteric history of the extensional science of actual differences and to Kantian critical philosophy. It is precisely through conceptualizing intensive, differential relations that finite thought is capable of acquiring consistency without losing the infinite in which it plunges. This brings us back to Leibniz and Spinoza. As Deleuze writes about the former: no one has gone further than Leibniz in the exploration of sufficient reason [and] the element of difference and therefore [o]nly Leibniz approached the conditions of a logic of thought. Or as he argues of the latter, fictional abstractions are only a preliminary stage for thought to become more real, i.e. to produce an expressive or progressive synthesis: The introduction of a fiction may indeed help us to reach the idea of God as quickly as possible without falling into the traps of infinite regression. In Maïmon’s reinvention of the Kantian schematism as well as in the Deleuzian system of nature, the differentials are the immanent noumena that are dramatized by reciprocal determination in the complete determination of the phenomenal. Even the Kantian concept of the straight line, Deleuze emphasizes, is a dramatic synthesis or integration of an infinity of differential relations. In this way, infinitesimals constitute the distinct but obscure grounds enveloped by clear but confused effects. They are not empirical objects but objects of thought. Even if they are only known as already developed within the extensional becomings of the sensible and covered over by representational qualities, as differences they are problems that do not resemble their solutions and as such continue to insist in an enveloped, quasi-causal state.

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