‘The Comming Community’ by Georgio Agamben

Because of the need to return the book to the library, I spent yesterday reading ‘The Comming Community’ by Agamben.

Translated by Micheal Hardt, who worked with the other prominent recent Italian theorist Antonio Negri on ‘Empire’, I  initially started reading this book because I felt it might be useful for one of my PhD students, but then thought that it might have something to offer in terms of a different understanding of both community and communication.

Well, the book did have some vague ideas about this which I will bastardise as this:

  1. that understanding truly occurs through the occupying the position of the other.
  2. that commodity fetishism is a continuation of the idol worship (and deferrence of judgement) implicit to religion
  3. That we remain in  fascistic system of meaning through representation.
  4. That emancipation is no longer possible by seizing  control of the state but rather all community must exist in opposition to the state.

So these are important points and, to be fair, these points are made among some very detailed and historically interesting arguments about representation, meaning and community. There were a few passages that struck me as somewhat profound:

In regard to some recent thinking I’ve been doing around AI, ethics and zombism:

‘The fact that must constitute the point of departure for any discourse on ethics is that there is no essence, no historical or spiritual vocation, no biological destiny that humans must enact or realise. This is the only reason why something like an ethics can exist, because it is clear that if humans were or had to be this or that substance, this or that destiny, no ethical experience would be possible – there would be only tasks to be done.’  P. 42

In regard to the paradox of representation:

‘If the word through which a thing is expressed were either something other than the thing itself or identical to it, then it would not be able to express the thing.’  P.73

and on the issue of the meaning of communication/ communication as information exchange:

‘What hampers communication is communicability itself; humans are separated by what unites them. Journalists and mediacrats are the new priests of this alienation from human linguistic nature… There is nothing of God, or of the world, or of the revealed in language…

…Even more than the economic necessity and the technological development, what rives the nations of the earth toward a single common destiny is the alienation from linguistic being, the uprooting of all peoples from their vital dwelling in language’. P. 82

Did I love the book? Well it was easy and quick to read and it generated quite a bit of associated knowledge on my part, such as the discovery of Swiss writer Robert Walser and Canadian pianist Glenn Gould both of whom seem incredibly interesting. The quotes above really gave me a bit of a thrill as well.

However, overall, this was philosophy and not really critical theory. As philosophy it seemed to treat religious ideas and texts as sacrosanct and while there was also some interesting meditations on the various mathematical/biological and philosophical debates about individuation vs transcendentals I found it weird that there was always a deferrment to the religious perspective.

Overall, while reading this was a nice break from the Marxist history I’ve otherwise been progressing through, I’m not really sure that I comprehend how to ‘use’ these arguments; possibly that is Agamben’s hope.