Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Trouble with Agamben (Part 2)

Here's another way to look at the critique of Agamben found in the previous post. The turn to theology, especially the St-Paul cottage industry, runs the the risk of making the ‘recovery’ of the theological tradition itself  a rampart defending what appears to its partisans to be a besieged European intellectual tradition. Consider, for instance, the way in which Agamben’s ‘Occident’ becomes both the greatest threat to, and saving power for, humanity.

Agamben does not help himself out of his occidental standpoint when he argues in The Signature of All Things (a variant appears in, perhaps unsurprisingly, The Time That Remains)—while providing very little evidence—that his “philosophical archaeology” avoids the problems of “writing the history of the excluded and defeated, which would be completely homogeneous with the history of the victors, as the common and tedious paradigm of the history of the subaltern classes would have it.” That he enlists for his political theology Walter Benjamin, whose “On the Concept of History” is an attempt to think through a concept of the history of the oppressed, is even more incongruous.

One other way to approach this: Samir Amin argues in his book Eurocentrism that there are four elements, which need not always be present, to the system of Eurocentricism: 1) the annexation of ancient Greece to modern Europe, 2) the presentation of Christianity, “employing an immutable vision of religion,” as the basis of European unity, 3) the construction of biological racism, and 4) an orientalism that distinguishes social groups by their supposedly invariable cultural traits. At least (1) and (2) are present in Agamben's work, and the monolithic history of the West verges on, or at least does not address (4).

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