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Session 3 – May 26, 2022

1. We reviewed the first two parts of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Part One was mainly on the paradox of sovereignty; Part 2 was on the figure of homo sacer, the life that can be taken at will, the person that can be killed but not sacrificed, the life that is abandoned and returns to its bare form. We then focused on the third and final part of the book, “The Camp as Biopolitical Paradigm of the Modern.” The idea that the camp has become the biopolitical paradigm of modernity, namely, that we are virtually all homines sacri, people that can be eliminated for no reason whatsoever, just like in the Netflix series Squid Game, which we used as a powerful illustration, seems to be a perfect description of the enhanced control society, the society of enhanced surveillance, in which we live, at the global level. Here biopolitics, the politics which includes biological life, bare life, as one of its main concerns, also becomes thanatopolitics, the politicization of death. We also noted how the notion of the camp as a paradigm is also a way of recasting and refining Michel Foucault’s notion of the prison extended to society as a whole. The reading of this book by Agamben allowed us to engage in the type of complex thinking this FIG is about. The complexity of our global societies, looked at from the viewpoint of extreme violence, also offers pointers to reflect on the importance of the radical imagination. Is there an exit (perhaps an ethical exit) from the biopolitical paradigm of sovereign and extreme violence, or what some have called exterminism? Hopefully, we will take up this question again in the next semesters by way of engaging other complex and illuminating texts.

-Bruno Gulli


2. We discussed section 3 of Agamben’s Homo Sacer. Among the themes of our discussion were:

–Agamben’s use of and response to Hannah Arendt (Eichmann in Jerusalem, in particular); unthinking application of law by functionaries.

–Applications of Agamben’s concept of the camp to various films, including those about the Nuremberg trials, as well as films by the Japanese filmmaker Fukosaku.

–The application of Foucault’s concept of normalization to Agamben’s chapter “The Camp as Nomos.”

–Potential for the development of two learning communities courses: Philosophy and Literature and Philosophy and Film.

-Tony Iantosca

Session 2 – Friday, April 22

We discussed section 2 of Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Among the themes of our discussion were:

The differences between simple biological life and politically qualified life, as it exists in a contradictory relation in the case of homo sacer, as that which is excluded from both the sacred and the profane and yet still included by way of exclusion in the law.

Contemporary applications of these concepts to efforts made to manage the coronavirus pandemic; in particular, mask mandates and the debates over lockdowns; affinities between these in their basic assumptions about life.

The importance of the act of killing as the sovereign act; how this act joins the sovereign and the homo sacer in the realization of the first “properly political space of the west” as distinct from earlier secular and religious spheres of life.

The question of an “exit” from this situation; as a first step to this answer, the centrality of investigation and critique of the foundational categories of the west (sovereign power/bare life).

–Tony Iantosca

Session 1 – Thursday, March 24

This semester we are reading Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Last Thursday, we discussed the introduction and Part One, “The Logic od Sovereignty.” In particular, we spoke about the paradox of sovereignty: the sovereign as a borderline concept, being inside and outside of the juridical order. We then introduced some fundamental concepts, such as the twofold understanding of life for the Greeks: life as zoē (natural life) and as bios (individual or communal life). We highlighted the importance, according to Agamben, of natural life entering the sphere of the polis, and thus the beginning of biopolitics. We spoke about the exception, bare life, homo sacer (as the life that can be taken away at will; a person that can be killed but not sacrificed.) We problematized the notion od sovereignty as supreme power with references to various philosophical traditions, conservative (e.g., Hobbes) and more progressive (e.g. Rousseau). We thus spoke about the emergence of the law and asked whether there could be an order of the law different from the sovereign law. One attendee made an analogy between political law and physical/mathematical law. We also spoke about the difference between the political (typical of the sovereignty paradigm) and the ethical order of the law. We also addressed the question of violence, as it follows from the theme of sovereign power. We will continue to address these issues in our next meetings. In keeping with the general theme and framework of the FIG, we will try to challenge such philosophical and political concepts (usually taken for granted), such as power, authority, the state, and so on, from a transdisciplinary perspective in order to gauge their importance in the contemporary world.

-Bruno Gulli

Session 1 – Thursday, March 24, 4:00-5:00pm

Complex Thinking and the Radical Imagination
Facilitators: Bruno Gullì (History) and Tony Iantosca (English)
Reading: Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford University Press, 1998.

Session 1 – Thursday, March 24, 4:00-5:00 pm
Introduction and Part One: The Logic of Sovereignty (pp. 1-67)
Available at Kingsborough Library OneSearch: Type in title (homo sacer) or code: AN 1519297
https://web-s-ebscohost-com.kbcc.ezproxy.cuny.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=787a1650-cde6-4edf-b427-7843dddb4e09%40redis&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=1519297&db=nlebk General plan

General plan

Complex Thinking and the Radical Imagination
-facilitators: Bruno Gullì and Tony Iantosca
(Reading Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life and related material)

Part 1: Before the Law
Sections to focus on: Potentiality and Law; Form of Law
Concepts: Life and bare life; state of exception; logic of inclusion and exclusion

Part 2: Neither Man nor Beast
Sections to focus on: Homo Sacer; The Ban and the Wolf

Part 3: Biopolitics
Sections to focus on: The Politicization of Life; Biopolitics and the Rights of Man

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