Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Object-Oriented is Agamben: Inoperativity

      Now for the first of a possible series: How Object-Oriented is Agamben?

      Per Tim Morton’s comments on Agamben in a recent course lecture on Object Oriented Ontology (Agamben seeks to out-meta Heidegger, to find The Ground beneath Heidegger’s ground), my readings in OOO, and Agamben’s own recently published essay collection, Nudities, I feel it is time to put the radical Italian philosopher to the test.
     First, in regards to Tim’s assertion that Agamben seeks to out-ground Heidegger: he does, repeatedly and exhaustively. Take for example the final pages of The Open, where Agamben explicitly attempts to work beyond the aporia of Heidegger’ conception of the open and human Dasein. Yet, I wonder, is Agamben, in general, actually out-grounding in a meta-critique? While this question may not fit well with The Open, it does with the essay “Hunger of an Ox: Considerations of the Sabbath, the Feast, and Inoperativity.” Much like his concept of profanation, Agamben’s inoperativity is a process that renders all hegemonic (specifically “sacred” -- a term that for Agamben, means all life, activity, objects, and use within hyper-capitalism, which functions through sacralization, the jettisoning of objects from the realm of free use into a separate, isolated, alienated sphere) objects and activities free from “productive” ends. Inoperativity is, therefore, not abstinence or idleness, but rather “a particular modality of acting and living” that opens itself up through the suspension of the sacred (105). At first glance, inoperativity looks like a meta-process: one steps outside of hegemonic forces (hyper-capitalism) in order to enact a more authentic (or at the least, different) manner of living. This appears “meta” by such a stepping outside -- in the suspension of sacredness. However, to be properly “meta,” this suspension must double its glance back towards that which it enacts itself upon: our inoperativity would then distance itself from the forces imbricating living being in order to perceive them lucidly (“What is the Contemporary?” calls for such an activity: “Contemporariness is, then, a singular relationship with one’s time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it” [41]. Clearly, Agmaben's thought runs in two direction: a meta-grounding rightly criticized by Morton, and a radical lateral removal from all previous ground. This second direction is, to a degree, a minor chord in Agamben's work, although the political implications might attest to its ultimate significance).
     This, however, is not the case with inoperativity as sketched in Nudities. Inoperativity is simply a radically lateral removal and intervention in the processes of sacralization that seeks in no way to interpret or interrogate those processes. It simply is the modality of living and acting in a post-sacred society. If it has an aim it is merely “to open [human activities] to a new -- or more ancient -- use in the spirit of the Sabbath” (112) -- the hiatus of time in which all activities are stripped of their productive force. Suspension here is not an excepting process; inoperativity does not come about through a constituting exception of sacralization (this would be the meta-suspension -- a distancing that remains constitutively connect to that which it excepts). Instead, inoperativity is a radical suspension in which all aspects of sacralization are obliterated and those beings and activities that were previously imbricated in forces of sacralization are open to their free and proper play.
     Of course, Agamben repeatedly ties inoperativity to the human -- a decidedly un-OOO maneuver. And while this focus may in large part result from spatial constraints (“Hunger” is only eight pages long), it nevertheless represents a potential blind spot in Agamben’s recent work: the re-ascendant primacy of the human (granted a “humanness” not defined by the anthropological machine). Nevertheless, might inoperativity be extended to all objects? Take my earlier post on apparatuses. Near the conclusion, I claimed that the apparatus refers to a certain potentiality for capture inhering in any given object that is activated only when placed in the correct circumstances. For example, a book is simply a paper weight until it is picked up and read, therein serving its apparatic function of capturing the living being of its reader, who not only expropriates his/her mental faculties to the text, but his/her living being: he/she renders themselves relatively immobile and docile. Of course, the book prior to reading is still an apparatus (it captures the papers it rests on top of), but this is not the “proper” or intentional apparatic function of the book. Now, the book's undergoing inoperativity would be involve the cessation of its apparatic potential -- to capture both the mental and living being of humans and the mobility of a loose pile of paper. The book may still be read and sit atop papers, but it would do so in a manner that does not capture objects within a larger field of forces -- the reading-human within hypercapitalism, the papers within the strictures of an “organized” desk. This inoperativity of the book is performed by foreclosing the possibility of placing it within the contingent circumstances of capture. What was once a vessel ferrying one object into a larger object (the reading human into hypercapitalism) becomes merely an object. The book can therefore be read, but in so being read the book does not shuttle the reader into contact with hypercapitalism. The reader simply reads -- he/she enters into contiguous (vicarious) contact with the book through the sensual object “text,” a mediator hovering between the book and the reader that is both of the book and of the reader -- something like the “gesture.”
     Insofar he does not extend inoperativity to all objects, Agamben is not object-oriented; nevertheless, inoperativity does provide the means for an object-oriented analysis of apparatuses and the political consequences of contact and causation.