Friday, January 27, 2006


Let's read that one again. In contestation with dogmatic misinterpretations of both his own work (especially Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, as paradigmatic rather than para-digmatic) and that of Foucault (as purely "metaphorical" rather than paradigmatic), and with Kant (whose 'example' remains "the example of a [universal] rule which cannot [itself] be stated") – contestations which go to the heart of his philosophical project (as signaled most clearly in The Coming Community and Potentialities), Agamben wishes to show that, on the contrary, "the logic of the example has nothing to do with the universality of the law." Right then.

More precisely:
In order to have the appearance of rigor of seriousness, academic disciplines which have no epistemological status, such as those in the humanities, specialize in a chronological context, for example "Eighteenth-century German literature". This is really ridiculous, because the century is just a convention for measuring which has no reality at all. It’s also very recent, because the use of the concept of century came into popularity only after the French Revolution. The apparent seriousness of metonymical contexts, like the chronological and geographical, have no epistemological basis at all. Let me now try to describe the logic of the paradigm. Usually scholars refer to Foucault’s methods as "metaphorical"-this isn’t true, it’s just the paradigm. Let’s try to describe this logic which is, so to speak, a forgotten chapter, or even a better a displaced concept in the history of Western philosophy.


Philosophy very rarely refers to the problems of paradigm and analogy; Aristotle is perhaps the first, however briefly. Aristotle says that the paradigm, the example, does not concern a part with respect to the whole, nor the whole with respect to the part, it concerns a part with respect to the part. This is a very interesting definition. This means that the paradigm does not move from the particular to the universal, nor from the universal to the particular, but from the particular to the particular. In other words, we first have deduction which goes from the universal to the particular, we have induction which goes from the particular to the universal and then the third we have the paradigm and the analogy which go from the particular to the particular. But what does this mean? What kind of movement is this, and how can a paradigm, which is a singularity, create a new analogical context, a new generality, as we saw in Foucault? To understand how a paradigm works, we first have to neutralize traditional philosophical oppositions such as universal and particular, general and individual, and even also form and content. The paradigm analogy is depolar and not dichotomic, it is tensional and not oppositional. It produces a field of polar tensions which tend to form a zone of undecidability which neutralizes every rigid opposition. We don’t have here a dichotomy, meaning two zones or elements clearly separated and distinguished by a caesura, we have a field where two opposite tensions run. The paradigm is neither universal nor particular, neither general nor individual, it is a singularity which, showing itself as such, produces a new ontological context. This is the etymological meaning of the word paradigme in Greek, paradigme is literally "what shows itself beside." Something is shown beside, "para". Yet Aristotle’s treatment of the paradigm is in a way inadequate, though he had these beautiful ideas of the paradigm as going from the particular to the particular, he does not seem to develop this point and like Kant still sticks to the idea that the individuals concerned in the example belong to the same genus. Thus in the "Rhetorics", 1357b, he writes that the two singularities in the paradigm are under the same genus. But then he has a very enigmatic statement immediately afterwards: "But only one of them is more knowable than the other." It’s a very interesting point. The important thing is not that the two are homogenous but precisely that one is more knowable. Why is the example, the paradigm, more knowable? What is the sense of this excess of knowability?...


A paradigm, an example, is something which is what it seems. In it being and seeming are undecidable. Philosophy and poetry coincide insofar as both are contemplation of phenomenon in the medium of their knowability, as examples.

The discussion that follows is perhaps especially revealing:
Audience: The fragment as a pure singularity, it seems that in your phrasing, the paradigm is a means for comprehending the set, yet at the same time it’s a singularity.

Agamben: This is the para problem, precisely as you’ve said. It’s a singularity which in some way stands for all the others. I try to show it’s an element of the set which is withdrawn from it by means of the exhibition of its belonging to it. This is the strange movement of the example.

What is most significant, Agamben's unique ontology remains a "para-ontology, an ontology which is still to be thought" though the latter, obviously a reference to Derrida, might still be a bit optimistic, as a bridge between Badiou and Derrida? (Clearly he would like to position himself somewhat so.) But in any case, for Agamben this "para-" quality, rather crucially, cannot be reduced to straight (Heideggerian) phenomenology:
The problem here is that it’s not the phenomenon as such which is being seen, but only by means of the example which is a kind of strange movement beside, it is not itself, but beside itself. This para is the essential problem of the example, so we have to invent and define the para-ontology, paradigm, paradoxa, it’s still to be defined, it’s kind of a pataphysics [n+1?]. What adds itself to be metaphysics, what is besides metaphysics, a para-ontology. It is the problem of this being shown beside and not the immediate knowability of the thing itself. The problem is this para, beside being.

Obviously, for those of us with a serious interest in Agamben, some reckoning with Badiou is in order. It is only a matter of time.

nb. Very sorry, no pretty pictures with this blog. For those see Form of Life.


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