Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Symposium: Judith Butler and Giorgio Agamben

Judith Butler and Giorgio Agamben combined a session of their classes to discuss ideas about THE PROBLEM OF THE SUBJECT AND ACTION.

NOTE: As with all my notes from the EGS, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.

Judith Butler (JB): We're going to jump from topic to topic

Giorgio Agamben (GA): this peculiar liturgy of the trial. connect the office of Eichmann - who spoke Officialese - see the film The Specialist (trailer at the link). He presents himself as just a man of the law, there is the counterpart in the film (the prosecutor). The problem became the bureaucracy.

JB: Arendt refers to the trial as a spectacle, would this correspond to liturgy

GA: ...It's embarrassing to see the inability of the Law here: the calls for papers, this call to the bureaucracy.

JB: The mystery of the Law, its administrative tragedy in its ridiculousness, is there a legitimate Law and an illegitimate Law? Or do they both participate in liturgy?

GA: There is this book The Mystery of the Process (???). The truth of the Law is the process. The normativity is not the essence, the process itself is the truth of Law. To distinguish in the process might, after Schmidt, be legality and legitimacy. This is hypothetical, the Nazi laws were legal but not legitimate. Today this is not easy to do, Arendt takes a position outside Law, from a moral position.

JB: I'm wondering if we could talk about Kafka for a minute. The way you're discussing Law suggests there is no grounding outside of jurisprudence, no moral call. Perhaps we could talk of a Kafkan law?

GA: But there is no House of Law, it shifts, sometimes it's in the laundry room...

JB: But there is a resonance between what you are saying, that Law is only maintained due to a faith in the liturgical process.

GA: Kafka's process shows what he thinks. Law is a process, it is never clear if he's been accused. Law is something in which man's subjectivity gets involved. It is K that goes to the House of Judgement, the Priest tells him the Law wants nothing from him. The novel starts with calumny, from the Latin calumnia, the Roman process would put the accused on a list, thus the falsely accused was a great problem. Those that are found guilty of calumnia are branded with the letter "K" on their foreheads (read this discussion!). Each man calumniates himself, thus K goes to the House of Law.

JB: Doesn't one's name falsely name and carry an ineffable guilt from another time? In The Illuminations Arendt writes about the transmission, a sickness of transmission - there is no chain of command in the trial, there are these exoteric ways in which Law is transmitted. K carries him in ways that we cannot trace. Is there a difference in Jewish Law and liturgical Law? Is there more than one model of the transmission of the Law?

GA: Benjamin says that ours is a transmission that has nothing more to transmit. We are this moment now: we have a transmission but it has nothing to tell us.

JB: Are there many?

GA: There are many, yes. In Kafka the Law rebels against itself so that the stories of the Talmud are vying for transmission of the Law.

JB: Is Justice recoverable or is it lost?

GA: Law is the door of Justice, when we study Law but don't apply it we enter the House of Law.

Tim Giman-Sevcik (PhD student): Do we accept the death penalty?

GA: I do not support any form of punishment at all. I recognize that people will be punished, but how can we be pro-Punishment?

JB: I do not support capital punishment and I think this would be true for Eichmann. Maybe one has to work with these passions, for seeing destruction, and sober-up from this intoxicated destructiveness that exists. This is a Nietzschean problem.
  • Naming should be subjected to the same liabilities of any other transmission
GA: Happiness is beyond naming.


JB: I do believe we need accountability, but how to use the juridical as the primary organ for sensing aggrievements and that suffering can somehow be equated to a punishment against the guilty. Perhaps there is no subject which can be found guilty for certain crimes. Perhaps some kinds of happiness that courts can't give us.
  • If we were to base our politics on the sovereign decider, we would have a Schmidtian disaster.
(Micah asks Agamben about his thoughts on The Coming Insurrection)

GA: The Coming Insurrection was written by friends of mine and it is difficult to talk about. We should be concerned that now every political action outside of Parliament is equated with terrorism.

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