Compilation of notes over Il sacramento del linguaggio

Please enjoy the PDF compilation of my notes over this book, complete with a bonus spellcheck. There were not many comments to the posts this time around, but those who want to look at the original serialized notes can always find them here or by clicking the drop-down box for “Categories” on the right and selecting the appropriate option under “Agamben.”

Since the last time I did this a year ago, to my knowledge the only people who have followed my example have been Andy, who provided great notes over Foucault’s final lecture course, and Thomas Bridges, who’s been sharing various notes over Hegel and the scholarship thereon. (If I’m wrong and you’ve done something similar, let me know in comments.) I am happy to do these notes as a service to the scholarly community (and as a way of motivating myself to generate the notes for my own use) — but I can’t personally do this for every book that would be helpful to people. So in short: go and do likewise.

More Agamben Notes: Il sacramento del linguaggio, §§22-29

§22. This section discusses so-called “ontological arguments” for the existence of God. Agamben claims that what’s really at stake in Anselm’s argument is that id quo maius cogitari non potest is the most fitting name for God — which ammounts to “that experience of language in which it is impossible to separate name and being, speech and thing.” Agamben highlights the places where Anselm explicitly mentions saying “God” (or the definition) as well as the original title Fides quaerens intellectum, which seems to link it up with the oath. The name of God, then, represents “the status of the logos in the dimension of the fides-oath, in which nomination immediately realizes the existence of that which it names.” He then says that Alain of Lyle and Aquinas do basically the same thing with the argument. In the end, pure existence (God) can be neither stated nor deduced logically: it can’t be signified, only sworn. Read the rest of this entry »

More Agamben Notes: Il sacramento del linguaggio, §§13-21

§13. Agamben now turns to another institution closely tied to the oath: sacratio (also called a devotio), by which a person is declared sacer. This act consecrates a person to the gods and separates him from human society — either voluntarily or because they have commited some grave crime. He then quotes a ton of sources, with the goal of showing that the sacratio helps us understand why the curse or malediction is so often tied to an oath (i.e., in the formula). Tons of sources occur again, and Agamben says that it’s important to note that in the most solemn form of oaths, a benediction and malediction are paired — both can be dropped, but the malediction is most often retained. The most common elements of an oath seem to be some kind of affirmation, the invocation of the gods as witnesses, and a curse in cases of perjury — a combination that leads Agamben to believe that the oath combines elements of pistis and sacratio-devotio and that both of those two seemingly separate institutions find their origin in the oath. Read the rest of this entry »

More Agamben Notes: Il sacramento del linguaggio, §§7-12

§7. Agamben refers back to the section of Homo Sacer I mentioned last time, where he critiques theoreticians of religion, and he continues that critique here, characterizing the notion of the “sacred” based on the concept of mana as a “scientific mytholegeme.” Theorists found a concept similar to mana in many “primitive” societies and came to believe that it named some kind of invisible force that it central to religious experience. This concept has even shaped the work of one of Agamben’s favorites, namely Benveniste. But everyone should’ve known better because in 1950 Levi-Strauss critiqued the religious interpretation of mana, saying that it is nothing more complex or mysterious than a word to designate something whose precise nature has not yet become clear, like the x of algebra. For Levi-Strauss, therefore, the only mysterious force associated with mana is its bizarre influence over the scholarly community. Agamben proposes that scholars are projecting their own lack of understanding of any religion, including that of their own culture, into the data of “primitive” cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

More Agamben Notes: Il sacramento del linguaggio, §§1-6

Last summer I produced a series of reading notes over Agamben’s Il Regno e la Gloria, a text that is still unavailable in English as of this writing. Since then, a follow-up volume has come to my attention. Designated as Homo sacer II, 3, it is entitled Il sacramento del linguaggio: Archealogia del giuarmento (The Sacrament of Language: Archeaology of the Oath). The book itself is constructed as a long essay, with 29 numbered sections adding up to just under 100 pages — more on the scale of State of Exception than Homo Sacer or Il Regno. I currently plan to divide the notes into five installments, pausing to summarize when I get through 5 or 6 sections. This first post will cover the first six sections, as indicated in the title. (It will likely seem much less substantial than my previous summaries, but that’s because of the short pagecount combined with larger type.)

Read the rest of this entry »

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