Bartleby and Agamben

Two (more) recent Bartlebys, at Culture Machine and Immanent Multiplicity, both via Agamben and his notion of potentiality. Timothy Dienes, in CM, reads around Agamben’s (and others’) “claims of immanence and subjectivity” to reach “Nancy’s thought of communication and community.” It’s a provocative article that also touches on decision-making, justice, and freedom.

Jason Adams, in IM, reads through Agamben’s Bartleby and the recent flare-up in the U.S. of border-fortification mania and the possibility for catching new lines of flight:

How might this reference to the migration of black people from the South to the North after the Civil War be understood to inflect this particular representation of the US/Mexican border, and what might it tell us about Bartleby’s privileging of potentialization over the old standbys of negation/affirmation? For starters, one is immediately reminded of the concentrated populations of African-Americans in the ghettoes of Los Angeles, San Diego and many other large Western cities, which was also a result of the Great Migration; if a stance of negation would be one that would argue ‘we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us’, thus looking to the past and seeking revenge for it, and if affirmation would posit instead, ‘the border crossed us, but thus we willed it’, leading to a position of reimagining ‘America’ to affirm the fact that Latinos have become the largest ‘minority’, then potentialization would take step back, both in time and space and consider all of the variables as such. Going back to the period just a couple of centuries ago in which capitalism, colonialism and industrialism began displacing the indigenous lifeworlds, it would ask how this positing of a border as a territorial violence might have been otherwise, perhaps instead as a ‘frontier’, which as in the Indian model was always a place of negotiation amongst disparate groups. It is here that we might consider what Michel Foucault has suggested apropos homosexual ‘friendship’ as being a possible model for a politics that would effectively constitute an exodus from the State apparatus’ partitioning of bodies in conformity with an ideology of ‘truth’, embracing instead the multiplicity that one always already ‘is’ immanently – a community without identity. Following this, queerness as a culture might exceed its own ‘bounds’ to posit a relation that threatens the official order not only as a ‘mode of life’ that connotes pleasure without law, but also as a fidelity without form, “outside of institutional relations, family, profession and obligatory camaraderie…[neither] the pure sexual encounter [nor] the lovers’ fusion of identities” (206) since “institutional codes can’t validate these relations with multiple intensities, variable colors, imperceptible movements and changing forms. These relations short-circuit it and introduce love where there’s supposed to be only law, rule or habit” (Foucault, 205). To understand Watts’ photography then, and what it might tell us about the current immigration politics in this country, we must begin to see the extent to which it posits an ontology of potentia absoluta, which is also the extent to which it is “neither a re-creation nor an eternal repetition; it is, rather, a decreation in which what happened and what did not happen are returned to their original unity in the mind of God, while what could have not been but was becomes indistinguishable from what could have been but was not” (270).


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