Care of the Self

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‘Raulff: As I understand it, almost every philosopher has had a vision of the good and the right or of a philosophical life as well. What does yours look like?

Agamben: The idea that one should make his life a work of art is attributed mostly today to Foucault and to his idea of the care of the self. Pierre Hadot, the great historian of ancient philosophy, reproached Foucault that the care of the self of the ancient philosophers did not mean the construction of life as a work of art, but on the contrary a sort of dispossession of the self. What Hadot could not understand is that for Foucault, the two things coincide. You must remember Foucault’s criticism of the notion of author, his radical dismissal of authorship. In this sense, a philosophical life, a good and beautiful life, is something else: when your life becomes a work of art, you are not the cause of it. I mean that at this point you feel your own life and yourself as something “thought,” but the subject, the author, is no longer there. The construction of life coincides with what Foucault referred to as “se deprendre de soi.” And this is also Nietzsche’s idea of a work of art without the artist.’

From this 2004 interview.

Inoperativity as the Real Truth

‘While for the ancients it was labour—negotium—that was defined negatively with respect to the contemplative life—otium—moderns seem unable to conceive of contemplation, inoperativity, and feast otherwise than as rest or negation of labour.’

Giorgio Agamben, Creation and Anarchy (trans. Adam Kotsko)

Philosophy and Potentiality

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‘After many years spent reading, writing, and studying, it happens at times that we understand what is our special way—if there is one—of proceeding in thought and research. In my case, it is a matter of perceiving what Feuerbach called the “capacity for development” contained in the works of the authors I love. The genuinely philosophical element contained in a work—be it an artistic, scientific, or theoretical work—is its capacity to be developed, something that has remained—or has willingly been left—unspoken and that needs to be found and seized. Why does the search for the elements susceptible to being developed fascinate me? Because if we follow this methodological principle all the way, we inevitably end up at a point where it is not possible to distinguish between what is ours and what belongs to the author are reading. Reaching this impersonal zone of indifference in which every proper name, very copyright. and every claim to originality fade was, fills me with joy.’

Agamben’s writing is a voyage. There are passages like the one above that stop me reading any further, for the need to admire and reflect at length. This is from Adam Kotsko’s translation of Creation and Anarchy, lectures held at the Mendrisio Academy of Architecture.

Complete Disintegration of Reality

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Reality is the ‘name we assign to a state in which the dimensions of essence (what something is) and of existence (that something is) are inextricably bound to each other, without merging into one another’.”

“The present condition of metaphysical nihilism, that strips all things of their essence and existence, turning them into mere instances of an ontology of positions, signals towards a complete disintegration of reality — a collapse of the background that allows characters to act on stage, as per the metaphor that opened this book. When the frame of reality refuses to act as a frame, thus preventing the existent from emerging within it as a ‘world’, reality’s disintegration begins.”

Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality, Federico Campagna

Douceur

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Douceur: from sweetness to delight to pleasure to slowness to softness to mildness to languor to tenderness to civility to smoothness. It is useless to try to circumscribe what, at different times, for different people, that word contained . . . History after the French Revolution is the history of progress devoid of the patina of douceur . . . After the Revolution, progress forgets sweetness . . . When the very memory of sweetness is eliminated, when all history becomes son et lumière and no longer cohabitation with protective shadows, then certain well-meaning expressions begin to appear (“leisure time,” “quality of life”), just as people began to talk about “landscape” after nature had already been disfigured . . . Douceur is the patina that is spread over life, that makes it liveable—the dust on the butterfly’s wings. Producing it requires slow, careful alchemy, long simmering, a gentle heat. But this is nonetheless a fire, which ultimately seeks to kill.’

The Ruin of Kasch, Roberto Calasso (trans. William Weaver and Stephen Sartarelli)