Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Form-of-LIfe: Beyond Law?

In Giorgio Agamben's The Open, the crucial point is to understand that every generation of the concept of man as not-animal because functional of developing a concept of animal, produces a possibility: Neither man nor animal; a figure that resonates as delineating a more complete picture of the metaphsyics of homo sacer. And if you'll recall the vision at the end, the idea of Feasting on Leviathan (ahem...) is caught up in the figure of the acephalus, the one that has become ignorant of division within (existence): the one that no longer sees herself as human, essentially, and, as such, willing to become a mini-Eichmann; for it is the definition of 'human' that produces bios (citizen) and thereby produces the outside (zoe), and therefore, also, the virtual possibility of 'bare-life', if it is not already present in the mere reality of non-citizen being a function of citizen. 

The extent to which we are willing to merely follow orders is proven by our willingness to entertain bios. We go to work, we make a wage; we consume products that have nasty origins in Third world countries; and the bios that is given to us in entering into citizen-life marks us. Our essence is built on the bare-life of the outsider that cannot become one of us, because they must produce the possibility of us.


The politics of civil disobedience are often associated with pacifism; but existential sedition, or drop out culture has more to it than is recognized. This is why monasticism is analyzed in his Highest Poverty.  If you know anything about the cell and the monk, it is the case that the Franciscans held no personal property and as such, were in tension with their  catholic "owners". Francis traveled to see Pope Innocent III after having his church burned to the ground; and yet, the meeting between Innocent and Francis became a different kind of thing. Here was a Christian focused on Jesus, and that very same Jesus led him to poverty, to a life of charity, and to holiness and anti-materialism. The Pope was humiliated for what had been done, but he responded in humility by kneeling to Francis' feet. From thence, the relationship was tense between the Franciscans and their "sponsors" (Dominicans) because the politics of Jesus tends to call the church into question (even now!). And metaphysically too! The politics of the Franciscans was based on the simplicity of metaphysical individuation--the privileging of nothing above anything else: the animal and the stone, the human and the weed; all are creatures, on equal footing, under God as created-being. Here, in this beautiful metaphysical vision, there can be no sense of "bare life".

If Francis called for a rejection of the hierarchy of (created) beings under Uncreated Being, then it is not impossible to see this (heavenly?) economy as having far reaching consequences. The revealed Christian economy of God (to become a fool for Christ, as Francis did) calls us out of  the wisdom of the world into the foolishness of faith. It calls us to serve God, never ourselves; it never calls us to serve Mammon (You cannot serve both God and Money). And so, it is no surprise that more can be said about the early Christians than their mere resistance to Emperor Worship (as the common Conservative Evangelical tradition would have it). As Hornus articulates in It Is Not Lawful for Me to Fight: Early Christian Attitudes toward War, Violence, and the State, the early church was also guided by indifference to the state and its desires, to the point that governing the vast sections of Christian reality became impossible because they were unwilling to participate in Mammon politics. We know that the early church, after Pentecost, were led to sell all their possessions and live to feed the poor.  That we don't do this is testament to our lack of faith. Indeed, one might spend a life figuring out how to link not-World economy with God's Economy.

It is not impossible that this vision of non-participation is what Agamben has in mind. There can be no doubt that it rejects the principle that None are Free unless all are Free. And yet, it seems clear enough that this position of non-participation cannot fail to do violence to Mammon. The real question is why the early Christians were so effective, and why contemporary anarchist approximations don't catch fire. Could it be that the monastic life involves more than mere existence?

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