“Apocalypse” is the first chapter from my dissertation, Broken: Thought-Images of Life in the State of Exception (2005). Broken was my unpublished dissertation on Deleuze, Agamben, Benjmain, Debord, affect and the state of exception (filtered through my experience of homelessness). The chapters, “Apocalypse,” “Urgency,” “Failure” and “Spiral,” were written as affective thought-images. It was set up for publication at a university press, but by the time I got around to sending the revised MS, it was rejected due to financial reasons (academic publishing took an economic hit by 2007). I had planned to shop it around, but by then I was teaching 5 courses a semester with upwards of 300-400 students.
I am posting the first chapter here, along with the prefatory material, because it expands on work that appears in more contracted form in my “Remnants of the World” essay. These materials answer basic questions that scholars of Agamben’s work still seem confused by today (e.g. how the project of Homo Sacer can productively be read in relation to contemporary theory and politics, the “prior movement” of the exception and the eternal return, the failure of the political, or even the fairly simple question of why Agamben doesn’t read Paul as an apocalyptic figure).
If you are already familiar with Agamben’s work, I suggest skipping ahead to page 11, Thesis 5 in the Introduction, “The exception concerns a “prior movement”—one that precedes all of our ways of thinking about ethics and politics in the post-war era.” This, and later parts of the introduction, together with the first chapter, delves into material that I think is rarely discussed in relation to Agamben (at least in the U.S. reception of his work). This includes the “prior movement” of the exception and Agamben’s problematization of Nietzsche’s eternal return in relation to the present.
This book was written as an effort to bear witness to my experience of homelessness; as a result of which, I could no longer go on thinking with Deleuze and Guattari and Foucault. I was fortunate enough to study with Agamben just three years after this. An event that made it possible for me to think again; to think with these figures again, giving potentiality back to their thought. Seemingly unknown to most people, Agamben’s project in Homo Sacer, is about extending the work of these three thinkers after their deaths, picking it up and developing it further. His overall problem can be defined as how a potentiality can remain within itself, and even be realized, without being “taken” or exhausted in the form of the exception. The commodity relation in postmodern capitalism—which seeks to take every experience, encounter, and relation, every potentiality, and separate it from itself—is an image of this problem (and was, itself, according to Agamben during the seminar on Il tempo che resta, one of the sparks behind the project of Homo Sacer). This book was written for poststructuralists working within the tradition of D&G and Foucault: an effort to demonstrate how the philosophy of negation in Agamben’s work in no way overdetermined the project of Homo Sacer. Nearly two decades after I began this project, it seems more evident than ever that it was needed, both then and now. I can only say that I am bewildered by the odd reception of Agamben’s work in the U.S. It is my hope that those who happen upon these writings are able to make productive use not only of the mistakes in the reception of Agamben’s work over the past two decades, but whatever mistakes I, myself, may have inadvertently made in writing this little, and now somewhat lost, book.
Preface, Introduction, and “Apocalypse” [PDF Version] from Broken: Thought-Images of Life in the State of Exception (2005)
Gojira tricycle toy image © 1969, 2006, Toho