The Use of Bodies
Spanning over 20 years, theological worlds and Auschwitz concentration camps, Giorgio Abgamben’s Homo Sacer series comes to an end. The Use of Bodies traces the genealogy of politics that has been endemic to Western politics and philosophy since Aristotle. Following the revolutionary thought of Aristotle up to present day ideology, Agamben found errors and problems that were inherent to specific paradigms. Through language, the division of binaries such as act and potential, bios and zoe are shown to be inherent in doctrine, and thought, but this relationship leaves a shadow of unity through mutual interdependency. In the end, Agamben leaves his legacy by calling for a new ontological project that will resolve the aporias and binary relations of western philosophy, and politics where the state of exception is shown for what it truly is, and not in its concealed form.
Guy Debord, the head of the avant garde group The Situationists, stated that the “clandestinity of private life regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents”. Interestingly enough, Debord’s acute sense to privacy exemplified something that was contradictory. In several of his first films, and Panegyrique, he exhibits the faces of his friends continuously, his own face, and his lover. Panegyrique also showed many of the houses that he inhabited such as the country house at Champot. This contradiction, clandestine, our-form-of-life, is always at hand. If we attempt to grab at it, we are left with mundane everyday activities and life, the shadow of political and its preservation of it follows us around surreptitiously. The Society of the Spectacle, one of Debord’s most famous works, shows the shrewd and cunning power of his thoughts. Analyzing and describing the alienated life of existence, Debord himself became engulfed, devoured and innocently intertwined with until the end of his life. Agamben uses Debord to exemplify the peculiar metaphysical contradictions that many other Western intellectuals had and or attempted to through ideology, but could not.
Beginning with the expression “the use of the body”, Aristotle’s Politics discussed the relationships that define a “family”, which encompasses the despotic relation between the master and the slaves, the matrimonial relation between the husband and wife and the parental relation between the father and children. Aristotle makes two key statements in regards to this, first defining a slave that “while being human, is by its nature of another and not of itself,” and denoting the commandment of the soul over the body. To Aristotle, slaves represent the emergence of a dimension of human beings in which they represent “the use of the body”, where he compares them to equipment, or to an animate instrument. In relation to other occupations such as a carpenter, plumber, etc. the slave carries out his activities in the oikonomia of the household, but remains without work. This means that his praxis is not defined by the work that he produces but only by the use of the body.
The classic world always considered human activity and its products from the viewpoint of labor. Therefore, work contracts never determine the value of the commissioned object according to the amount of labor that it requires but solely according to the characteristics proper to the object produced (change language, plagarized). “Historians of law and economy are, for this reason, accustomed to affirming that the classical world does not know the concept of labor. (It would be more exact to say that they do not distinguish it from the work it produces.) The first time-this is Yan Thomas’s discovery-that, in Roman law, something like labor appears as an autonomous juridical reality is in contracts for the locatio operarum of the slave by someone who had ownership-in the case that is exemplary according to Thomas-the usufrust of that slave.”
Roman jurists distinguished the labor of the slave from use in the strict sense, the latter is and remains personal and inseparable from the body itself. The only possible way to separate a labor activity is by separating the body as object of use from its activity as alienable and enumerable: “the worker is divided between two zones of law that correspond respectively to what he is as body and what he is as merchandise, as incorporeal goods (Thomas 2, p.233).” From the dimension of labor, the slaver therefore entered into a historical process to eventually become a worker.
Another idiosyncratic use of the slave’s body, the intimacy and sexual relationship that existed between the slave and master was socially convened. Through the testimony of Artemidoru’s Interpretaiton of Dreams sexual relationships with slaves are “natural, legal, and customary”. Additionally, the slave and sexual relations can appear in ones dreams, as well as symbolize the best possible relationship with one’s own objects of use. “to dream of having sex with one’s slave, whether male or female, is good; for slaves are equipment [ktemata] of the dreamer, so that uniting oneself with them will mean, quite naturally, that the dreamer will derive pleasure from his equipment which will grow greater and more valuable (Artemidorus, 1.78).” This shrewd observation by Artemidorus shows that the slave’s body is used for sex but also of the indetermination of the two bodies “the ‘serviceability’ hand of the master is equivalent to the service of the slave. “Hence the striking promiscuity that always defines relationships with servants, whom masters (or mistresses) have bathe them, clothe them, and comb their hair without this corresponding to any real necessity.”
Aristotle’s concept of slavery is not only ambiguous, but bequeaths a special status to them. A slave is not included in political life, but has a special relation to it, hence represents allows the others to have a true “human life”. This intermediary between physis and nomos, zoe and bios, a slave is analogous to bare life.
Linguistics, a major theme in The Use of Bodies, is able to shows a great deal of metaphysical constructs and ontological apparatuses. Through Georges Redard’s study on the verb chresthai coherently shows that the different meanings of the term from “to consult an oracle” to “have sexual relations,” from “to speak” and top “be unhappy” is to show that the verb in question brings out meaning from the term that accompanies it. In regards to the modern day usage of “to make use of, to utilize something”, it is a matter of relationship with something, but this relationship is indeterminate. Although Redard attempted to return chresthai back to a unity, he failed, however, using this interlocutor perspective, Agamben is able to define the meaning of chresthai as “it expressed the relation that one has with oneself, the affection that one receives insofar as one is in relation with a determinate being.” Somatos chresthai “to use the body,” will then mean “the affection that one receives insofar as one is in relation with one or more bodies. In this way, the ethical and political is the subject who is constituted in us, in relation with a body.
Agamben traces the genealogy of western philosophy that attempts to interpret the meaning of the verb chresthai. Michel Foucault attempted to solve the problem of the meaning of the verb chresthai, after reading the passage of Plato Alcibiades. In this passage Socrates attempted to demonstrate “the one who uses” (ho chromenos) and “that which one uses” (hoi chretai) are not the same thing. He concludes that what uses of the body and one that must take care is the soul. (reword this). Foucault’s view is similar to the one found in Redard’s Memoire, which in regards to designating my behavior or my attitude to oneself. Also, Foucault suggests that when Plato uses chresthail to identify the heauton in “to take care of oneself” has nothing to do with the instrumental relationship with the soul or another thing, but rather the subject’s singular transcendent position. “Taking care of oneself will be to take care of the self insofar as it is the ‘subject of’ a certain number of things: the subject of instrumental action, of relationships with other people, of behavior and attitudes in general, and the subject also of relationships to oneself. It is insofar as one is this subject who uses, who has certain attitudes, and who has certain relationships, etc. that one must take care of oneself. It is a question of taking care of oneself as subject of chresis (with all that word’s polysemy: subject of actions, behavior, relationships, attitudes).”
Foucault applies this definition to the ethical dimension, care-of-oneself only has a relationship between the human and world. Reading Alcibiades, he states the distinction between soul-substance and soul-subject “the self with which on has the relationship is nothing other than the relationship itself… it is in short the immanence, or better, the ontology adequation of the self to the relationship” (ibid., p.514/533).
Aware of the aporias that came along with care-of-oneself, Foucault gives place to a dispossession and abandonment of the self, and becomes mixed up with use again. In attempts to situate the slave eventually become the master and vice versa, Foucault emphasizes that sadomasochism can eviscerate this issue and recreate the master/slave relation. This paradoxical relationship attempted to provide a more access to a freer and fuller use of bodies. “Master and slave, sadist and masochist here are not two incommunicable substances, but in being taken up into the reciprocal use of their bodies, they pass into one another and are incessantly indeterminated. As the language expresses so well, the masochist “causes to be done to him” what he suffers, is active in his very passivity. That is to say, sadomasochism exhibits the truth of use, which does not know subject and object, agent and patient. And in being taken up in this indetermination, pleasure is also made non-despotic and common.”
At the end of his intellectual career, Foucault created his idea of last conception of philosophy, aestheticization of existence. In The Hermeneutics of the Subject, and The History of Sexuality, the aesthetics of existence made a subject independent of good and evil and opposed to an ethical dimension. Specifically in the second volume of History of Sexuality, Foucault attempted to answer the questions regarding the activities, pleasures and sexual conduct an object of moral solitude. The aesthetics of existence created a new lineage of ethics.
Shortly before he died, Foucault revisited the question where antiquity posed care of the self together with the subject where it lacked a separate theory for the subject. Foucault attempted to use sadomasochism as an example to show the power relationships, where one could have the possibility to act upon the relations, therefore use them as inventions of new pleasures. However, Foucault falls short of solving the problem due to the fact that he never thought of a subject that was outside domination and power relations.
Deleuze and his discussion of masochism, and Hegel’s dialect between master and slave attempted to reverse the relationships where one can acquire independence. However, Agamben finds it to be insufficient for the task “Even in this dialectical reversal, what is nonetheless lost is the possibility of another figure of human praxis, in which enjoyment and labor (which is restrained desire) are in the last analysis unassigned. From this perspective, sadomasochism appears as an insufficient attempt to render inoperative the dialectic between master and slave by paradoxically finding it the traces of that use of bodies to which modernity seems to have lost all access.”
Continuing Aristotle’s line of thought, Agamben revisited Thomas Aquina’s and Agalen to find the meaning behind habitual use and Aristotle’s energeia. In academia, energeia has been separated from potential and habit. In Galen’s work De usu partium he opposes the use of energeia, which is identical to the state or habit that is opposed to a movement or an operation.
From Galen, Agamben rethinks and corrects potential and act starting from the Aristotelian doctrine of dynamis and energeia. Aristotle believed that hexis (habit) could eliminate the aporias that were inherited to this doctrine. Habit provides the possibility of the passage of potential from genericity to effective potential where one becomes a writer or a carpenter. In this way, habit becomes the form that potential exists and is given reality. However, Aristotle’s attempt to solve the aporia of generic potential are instantly reproduced in a new reality. Both habit and being-at-work, and hexis and energeia required a specific boundary that could not be crossed in order to remain distinctly different.
In Metaphysics Aristotle defines potential-habit in an ambiguous way where energeia, being-at-work still remained the end of potential. “waking corresponds to knowing in act, sleeping to a having without exercising (echein kai me energein; On the Soul, 412a 25).” By assembling energeia and being-at-work and separating it from habit as wakefulness from sleep, Aristotle’s thought created an uninhabitable zone. Use then became the form in which habit was given existence, but it was beyond the binary opposition between potential and being-at-work. This neutralization of the subject/object opposition, then there is rectitude of the subject, making it nothing other than the binary relationship.
In the Delta of Metaphysics, Aristotle’s thought of habit is defined as the relationship between the one who has and that which is had renders it “impossible to have a habit, because if it were possible to have the habit that one has, there would be infinite regress (1022b 7-10).” In doing so, Aristotle went against scholastic doctrine, and ameliorated his ambiguous implication of being where use does not belong to any subject. Through this, use as a habit became a form-of-life and not inherited in knowledge or faculty of a subject. The poet, carpenter, and piano player do not have their specific title based upon the potential or faculty to create or act upon will. These artisans and all human beings through the use and only in the use of their bodies in conjunction with experience in the world, constitute-themselves.
In Spinoza’s Ethics, the answers to what defines habitual use and how a habit is used without causing it to pass over into answer are found. “Acquiescence in oneself is the pleasure arising from a person’s contemplation of himself and his potential for acting (Spinoza 2, p. 183).” Contemplation, like use does not have a specific subject and object. The one that contemplates is lost , disintegrated, and only contemplates it (own) potential.
Much like Spinoza, in What is Philosophy? Deleuze equipped use on an habitual and sensational praxis where “contemplation without consciousness” is a “passive creation” that “is but does not act”. The dissecting of the relationship between contemplation and consciousness and between affectability and personality show the use-of-oneself to be an area of non-consciousness. This is not to be confused as a quagmire where the subject is lost, but the place where habit makes its home. Contemplation, and the zone of non-consciousness is engraved in every memory where it is simultaneously the immoral and perennial. It is the paradigm of use and proper definition of use-of-oneself.
Agamben briefly revisited The Highest Poverty (Homo Sacer IV.I) where the Franciscan Strategy enclosed itself into a juridical polemic without creating another definition that would not have placed them into that position. This renunciation entailed assuring that refusal of ownership in any form was justified. It was not the renunciation, as in the will of the subject, but based upon the nature of things and state of nature.
In Walter Benjamin’s writings entitled “Notes toward a Work on the Category of Justice”, Agamben finds similarities with Franciscan theorists, where justice and ontology are brought together as the state of nature and world. Benjamin discussed the relationship between justice, good and possession where justice is not designated has nothing to do with the requirements of individuals. This is because the individuals claim to good is not based on needs, but on justice. Benjamin conjoins ethics, and justice to altruism and a specific state of the world. “Justice does not appear to refer to the good will of the subject, but, instead, constitutes a state of the world [einen Zustand der Welt]. Justice designates the ethical category of the existent, virtue the ethical category of the demanded. Virtue can be demanded; justice in the final analysis can only be as a state of the world or as a state of God.” In juxtaposition with Franciscan ideals, poverty is not a based upon a decision of subject, but to the “state of the world”. However, the definition of use regarding Fanciscan concepts is reversed, and appears as the relation to an inappropriable.
One of the types of inappropriables that Agamben discusses is the body, where it the body proper was steered off course through the discussion of the body and congealing it with I as the most originary. Husserl’s concept of “the originary donation of the body” “can only be the donation of my body and no one else’s [meines und keines andern Leibes]. The apperception “my body” is in any originally essential way [urwesentlich] the first and only one that can be fully originary. Only if I have constituted my body can I appercieved every other body as such, and this apperception principally has a mediated character. (Husserl I, p.7)” runs into aporias and many difficulties where Husserl himself cannot answer. In the notes of Husserliana Vol. XIII and XIV, Husserl investigates the problem of perception of the hand of the other. However, Husserl duly noted that in reference to empathy “’that I first solipsistically constitute my things and my world, and then emphatically grasp the other I, as solipsistically constituting his world for himself, and that only then is the one identified with the other but rather my sensible unity, insofar as the external multiplicity is not separate from mine, is eo ipso empathetically perceived as the same as mine’ (Husserl I, p.10).” In introducing empathy, elcits a transcendence where consciousness goes beyond itself and is able to distinguish itself from another. Additionally, hypnosis and magnetism show that the body proper always has a shadow that can never be separated from it.
In 1935, Emmanuel Levinas’s essay De l’evasion (On Escape), subjects Dasein to an examination of bodily experiences such as shame, nausea, and need. This romanticized and extreme exhibition of Daesin, became somewhat of a parody because what defines experience is not lack or defect of being. Shame, nausea, and need represent a double movement, where the individual is involuntarily assigned to his own body, and on the other hand cannot assume it. Using shame in regards to nudity shows the intimacies that is proper to our own body and the double movement. “’Shame arises each time we are unable to make others forget our basic nudity. It is related to everything we would like to hide and that we cannot bury or cover up… What appears in shame is thus precisely the fact of being riveted to oneself, the radical impossibility of fleeing oneself to hide, the unalterably binding presence of the I to itself. Nakedness is shameful when it is the sheer visibility of our being, of its ultimate intimacy… It is therefore our intimacy, that is, our presence to ourselves, that is shameful.’ (Levinas I, pp. 86-86/64-67).” This antithetical relation to the body exposes the bare truth of the body proper, where the subjects body is given originarily, only when it unveils itself as inappropriable.
According to the Stoics, language seems natural and almost inborn, however, like nudity, shame, and nausea, stuttering, and aphasia show that it has always remained external. This structural analogy between body and language, is displayed through manner and poets. When poets attempt to make language proper, “must for this reason first of all abandon conventions and common use and, so to speak, render foreign the language that they must dominate, inscribing it in a system of rules as arbitrary as they are inexorable-foreign to such a point that according to a firm tradition, it is not they who speak but another, divine principle (the muse) who utters the poem for which the poet is limited to providing the voice.” The double gesture appropriation of language, is inscribed in style and manner where they determine two poles of poetic gesture. When style marks its most proper trait, then manner registers an inverse demand for expropriation and non-belonging.
Agamben denotes the structural relation and the double gesture as “use”, whose poles are style and manner, appropriation and expropriation. Regarding every human being from the poet to the carpenter, and languages, the double gesture appropriation and habit; on the other, loss and expropriation vacillates between homeland and an exile, to inhabit.
During the winter semester of 1929-30, Heidegger’s course published as The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude) sought to define the structure of human beings from the “poverty in world” where the passage from the animal towards the being-in-the-world that defines Dasein. Animals are poor in the world because they are fettered to the immediate series of elements which their receptive organs have selected. These disinhibitors are overburdening to the animal where they become “stunned” and “captured” in them. In an experiment where a bee is placed in front of a glass full of honey, and after it begins to suck, one can remove the abdomen to see honey flow out of it. The bee being absorbed in its disinhibitor, remains surrounded by the environment and can never open itself to the world. In this way, the animal never sees the open and can never perceive its own non-opennens due to its disinhibitors. From this point, Heidigger concludes that the openness of the world begins in the human being from the perception of non-openness.
In regards to the animal and human world, landscape, the third inappropriable, is an ulterior stage. The world begins to open up only through the nullification of the disinhibitor into a whole new dimension. Looking at the landscape at the various elements such as trees, birds, luscious green grass that no longer relate to the animal world becomes deactivated. Being becomes inoperative and the world goes beyond being and nothing, which renders landscape simply landscape. Agamben therefore finds Landscape to be the form of use par excellence. “In it, use-of-oneself and use of the world correspond without remainder. Justice, as a state of the world as inappropriable, is here the decisive experience. Landscape is a dwelling in the inappropriable as form-of-life, as justice. For this reason, if in the world the human begin was necessarily thrown and disoriented, in landscape he is finally at home. Pays! Paese! (‘country,’ from pagus, ‘village’) is according to the etymologists originally the greeting that is exchanged by those who recognize each other as being from the same village.”
Rudimentary aspects of bodily life such as sleeping, urinating, nudity, etc., specific moments of solitude that is held in the inappropriable zone of noncisousness is defined as “intimacy”, use-of-oneself as relation with an inappropriable. The ambigiuous area of non-awareness makes contact with “privacy” where it is defined as “’selective control of access to the self… It is an interpersonal boundary process, whereby the openness-closedness from others shifts with the circumstances'(Altman, p.8ff.).” This selective sharing of use-of-oneself is the composition of oneself because intimacy is a circular apparatus meaning that the individual is the assumption and proprietor of his “privacy”.
Through the transformation of use-of-oneself and in relation to the inappropriable shows this hidden connection with the political realm. The work of Sade brings this connection forward by showing that singular living beings transform into bearers of the new national sovereignty. “If the sovereign subject is first of all sovereign over his or her own body, if intimacy-which is to say, use-of-oneself as inappropriable-becomes something like the fundamental biopolitical substance, then one can understand that in Sade it can appear as the object of the first and unconfessed right of the citizen: each individual has the right to share his or her liking of the other’s inappropriable. Common above all is the use of bodies.”
The form-of-life, a life that cannot be separated from its form is a life, defines life as not merely facts, but always and above all possibilities of life and potential. What is denoted as form-of-life is the event of anthropogenesis the becoming human of the human being. This event coincides with the fissure between life and language, living being and speaking being, and for this reason becoming human being shows that there is an unending experience and division of such while simultaneously showing the new articulation and historical aspect that was divided. One way to show this event and division is through politics.
Political power that the Homo Sacer project began with the separation of a sphere of bare life from the context of forms of life. The state of exception in whichj we live in, is the state in which bare life which normally appears to be reconciled with multiple social forms of life is questioned as the upmost foundation of power. The thought of Walter Benjamin on state of exception still remains true to present day where “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of exception’ in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history that corresponds to this fact.” The state of exception from the severance of Marxian thought, has become a normality and has recodified individuals in new juridiopolitical terms. Presently, the inconspicious intrusion and use of scientific and medical idealogy have largely become caricatures for political control. Biological life in sickness, and accidents become disguised sovereign that the powerful use knowingly or not.
Politics in our form-of-life is intimate, and close enough for one to grab at it, but if we attempt to, we are only left with the ungraspable and we can never penetrate it. Much of Western thought has become an ethical problem, and Agamben provides an answer to ameliorate this problem through the “ontology of style”. This doctrine removes tastes from aesthetic dimensions and rediscovers their character, where it becomes inseparable from its context, and has its own mode of being.
The thought that was constituted in the juridico-political tradition, Western ontology from Aristotle on was identical: something is divided, excluded, and pushed to the bottom, and precisely through this exclusion, it is included in its foundation. Through language, exception coincides with anthropogenesis where it excluded and seperated from itself the non-linguistic, while simultaneously captured what was already inherent in the relation. The relation between being/language, bare life/law, etc. the link between the binaries is that of sovereign exception. Potential destituent shows the absence between the binary poles, to show that in a sense are in contact. In this way, it exposes the bond that pretends to hold them together. Although not within the scope of the Use of Bodies, Agamben states that radical heterogeneity can show the false pretenses that the modern state uses through the state of exception to act as a destituent potential.