chapter  2
12 Pages

Giorgio Agamben

ByNICK VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS

Giorgio Agamben is an Italian thinker whose work does not consist of a single aim or ‘big idea’. Rather, it is helpful to approach his thought as a series of overlapping fragments, which engage in a range of problems relating to language, metaphysics, aesthetics, politics and ethics. When taken as a whole, these fragments form a rich historical and philosophical mosaic that is difficult to label or classify as belonging to a particular school of thought. In recent years, especially since the publication of his work in English from the early 1990s, Agamben has had a significant impact across the humanities and social sciences and beyond. In international relations, there has been a spirited (though not uncritical) uptake of his controversial diagnosis of the nature of the relationship between politics, life and sovereign power. Increasingly, this diagnosis is taken as a starting point for many analyses of practices associated with the current ‘War on Terror’ unleashed by the US and its allies in the wake of the attacks of 11 September 2001. Indeed, Agamben has personally protested against the US government’s response to these attacks by resigning from his position as Visiting Professor at New York University. He also refuses to travel to the US and submit to what he considers to be the ‘biopolitical tattooing’ of the Immigration Department. Nevertheless, the topicality of his thought belies the extent to which it is rooted in rigorous and painstakingly detailed philosophical thinking developed over the past four decades.