October 25, 1999 – Giorgio Agamben: “History and Messianic Time”

Monday, October 25 | Oakes Mural Room | 4:00 PM

Giorgio Agamben’s work began to appear in English in the early 1990s, and has had enormous impact in a range of disciplines, including hermeneutics, semiotics, ethics, literary theory, and political theory. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity (translation 1991, Italian original 1982), made a remarkable linkage of Heidegger and Hegel under the rubric of negativity, which Agamben identified as central to Western metaphysics. The Coming Community (English translation 1993 of 1990 original) continued Agamben’s thinking through of the social, turning to medieval European philosophy, among other sources, to identify an ethical ground for community and sociality beyond identity, ideology, or morality. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998/1995) has probably been Agamben’s most influential work. It is foundational to all current discussions of sovereignty, as that concept has been deployed and debated in political philosophy and in ethics, and applied philosophically to issues such as refugees, citizenship, health care, abortion, and individual rights. Drawing on Foucault and Carl Schmitt, among others, Homo Sacer aims for nothing less than the foundation for a new politics, one which can supersede the “strange continuum connecting democracy to totalitarianism,” and the dead ends of Western political philosophy’s “biopolitical paradigm.” Agamben’s talk at UCSC is part of a current project considering the problem of messianic time as paradigmatic of historical time, through a comparative reading of Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History and Paul’s “Letter to the Romans.” Giorgio Agamben, in addition to his position at the University of Verona, has held distinguished professorships at several U.S. and European universities.