Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Concrete Life

Agamben explains bare life by way of an ontological analogy:

In the syntagm "bare life," "bare" corresponds to the Greek haplōs, the term by which first philosophy defines pure Being. The isolation of the sphere of pure Being, which constitutes the fundamental activity of Western metaphysics, is not without analogies with the isolation of bare life in the realm of Western politics. What constitutes man as a thinking animal has its exact counterpart in what constitutes him as a political animal. In the first case, the problem is to isolate pure Being (on haplōs) from the many meanings of the term "Being" (which, according to Aristotle, "is said in many ways"); in the second, what is at stake is the separation of bare life from the many forms of concrete life. Pure Being, bare life–what is contained in these two concepts, such that both the metaphysics and the politics of the West find their foundation and sense in them and in them alone? What is the link between the two constitutive processes by which metaphysics and politics seem, in isolating their proper element, simultaneously to run up against an unthinkable limit? For bare life is certainly as indeterminate and impenetrable as haplōs Being, and one could say that reason cannot think bare life except as it thinks pure Being, in stupor and in astonishment (almost astonished, Schelling).

(p. 182)

"Concrete life" offers yet another way to conceptualize life. We might call it vita, which as Agamben notes, "brings together the meaning of both zoē and bios" in a single term (p. 87). Is the indistinction between bios and zoē in "bare life" the same indisctinction of vita? Agamben's thinking in Homo Sacer doesn't extend into the concrete life, but merely presupposes it. We are on our own here. Why wouldn't metaphysics want to task itself with thinking the concrete life, or its many forms?

What does purity have to do with the concrete life? Haplôs also means "plainly," "simply," "singly" or "in one way." It is the single journey. A life of peregrinations unfolds (haploô) concretely. It opens onto many planes, a life lived planely. Is this the life of a single journey, a simple life, a discrete life, or is haplôs merely said of it? What needs to be explained here?

Agamben says, "Today bios lies in zoē exactly as essence, in the Heideggerian definition of Dasein, lies (liegt) in existence" (p. 188). If I had to think of existence in terms of either bios or zoē, I would go with bios. But, not being an ancient Greek philosopher, I don't have to decide between the two terms. I also have the option of thinking the many forms of concrete life. What strikes me about the concrete life is not its purity but its haplessness. Sometimes we think "I am lucky to be here" or "I am lucky to be alive." In fact luck has nothing to do with it because luck doesn't exist. Nothing occurs by hap. Existence finds itself hapless. If essence lies in existence, it is in this sense of being hapless. Is to be hapless to be on one's own, indebted to no one, not even to happenstance? The task of thinking this very minute is to imagine the hapless happening, the hapless happenstance.

If to be hapless feels like an abandonment by hap, the abandoment is not the inclusive exclusion of the Agambenian ban because hap neither includes or excludes. It simply fails to be. Haplessness expresses a yearning for hap, but it can never be consummated. It is never made plain. We have to ask whether biopolitical abuses attempt to make plain what can never be made plain, the concrete life with its yearnings and its haplessness.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:36 AM.


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