And I do not think we need to shy away from the possibility that what we are attempting to describe is a dimension that bears some similarity to the structure of a miracle: it is an experience that defies all preconditions and is impossible to foresee; an experience both at and of the boundaries of possibility. Or how are we to imagine such an experience? Is it conceivable at all? Any relation to language, as that with which the subject also constitutes his or her world, is here suspended, invalidated.
In other words, within this experience it is impossible to gain the necessary distance to oneself as is needed to define anything. Schiffers image, such as the reconstruction of a laboratory experiment, to describe this peculiar state of exception, passive potentiality. Ticks do not normally have a distancing perspective on the world. They only perceive what is of immediate relevance to their existence. Of essential significance for the life of a tick is thus its close and intense relationship, in fact total emergence, with the elements that define its environment.
How is it possible that a tick by its very nature, as we have described, corresponds totally to its environment, can at the same time be capable of surviving in total isolation from it? Is it merely asleep? The tick appears to have been totally indifferent, suspended in a kind of neutral state with regard to the laboratory environment; alive, yet existing outside of its necessary conditions for life.
It is alien to itself, residing in a state that is in fact impossible and contrary to its nature, passive, like a stem cell, unspecified or as yet undifferentiated. It even seems as if this inactivity, this persistence in a state of indefinition, were not a lack but precisely that by which the tick manages to stay alive for so long, as if everything were possible for the tick precisely because it chooses to do nothing. It is this confrontation or encounter with the paradox that Agamben seems to want to extend.
Ought not the limitations of language and of power be welcomed and celebrated as a source of philosophical—not just poetic—inspiration? Here, in this state, we cannot speak. But we could begin to make a new start with language. It is not about mastering differences. For the point here is not to transform the experience of not-being-able-to-do-something into a particular being-able-to-do but rather to transform it into a being-able-to-do-anything!
Yet it is not about omnipotence but about the passive potentiality of pure promise. At stake, in fact, is our ability to live up to the very existence of language and of thought—and thus to the factual potentiality thereof.
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To begin with it is but philosophy. All real decisions contain within them an undecidable core. Were this not the case, then the decision would be pre-determined and therefore as such no longer required. Would this passive state be the state of exception? A certain experience of confusion is at play, in which a confrontation and collapse, an intermingling of elements, occurs.
But this does not lead to chaos or madness so much as to a bright clarity in which openness itself becomes perceptible. Schiffers possible resides.
Implied here again is an understanding of negativity that cannot be reduced to a mere negation and which is neither simply the opposite of positivity and productivity nor an ineffable, which, as such, would be a kind of positive substance. Rather, the very possibility of incapacity is perhaps our condition humana. For evil does not correspond to this or that particular action or type of behaviour, but to the possibility of doing evil. But this very possibility also and at the same time contains the possibility of doing good Agamben c, p.
That is to say that what is ethical here is neutral in the important sense that it is not to be understood as normative. What all humans have in common is perhaps not a substance but the very absence or lack of substance, which is in fact the level of possibility itself.
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It is the act that separates me from potentiality as well as from the other. For only in action is the unity separated that exists between capability and incapability within the potential. To believe that will has power over potentiality, that the passage to actuality is the result of a decision that puts an end to the ambiguity of potentiality which is always potentially to do and not to do —this is the perpetual illusion of morality Agamben e, p.
Instead of trying to justify i. Ethics begins at the point when I understand that nothing, neither a particular faculty, nor a particular action or a kind of behaviour, can be expected of the other. Rather, what connects me with the other is that I am able to recognise in 3 See Melville And it is also what resides within every separating act as well as within the performativity of language by which subjectivity is constituted, but without ever coinciding with it completely.
Human commonality and perhaps even community is therefore something that exists before any reference, or relationship, before any justification. It corresponds, in a sense, to the very experience of philosophy, insofar as it has to do with an attempt to conceptualise transition, the in-between, a thinking of thought itself—this side of the separation between action and passion: freedom is thus initially an experience of thought.
For love too is a sweeping, ambivalent principle, one that does not exclude its own inability or powerlessness… [ALICE LAGAAY]…You mean in the sense that we can never properly take hold of love but that it is something that happens to us? Passion is ignited by precisely that which we cannot define or chose…. It takes its pick, as it were, without us having a choice. Love is an event, which we never totally command, which cannot be incorporated. It is a challenging experience precisely because it touches the very boundary of categorial distinctions—and thus also the boundary of empowered decision-making.
At stake, therefore, in a sense, is our ability to let ourselves be defined. As passive potency, passion is capable of its own powerlessness for it accepts not only the possible but also the impossible. The capacity to sustain a kind of fundamental passivity involves the possibility of finding a singular—i. The experiment of love testifies to the possibility of experiencing potentiality as such.
Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philos...
It stands as an example for the fact that capacity and incapacity, the potential to be and the potential not to be are not destroyed in actuality but remain at work therein. Or, in a nutshell: is it possible to say what would seem logically impossible, i. References Agamben, Giorgio. The coming community trans. Michael Hardt. Agamben, Giorgio. Infancy and history. The destruction of experience trans. Liz Heron. The idea of infancy. In Idea of Prose trans. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt , 95— Collected essays in philosophy, ed.
Stanford: Stanford University Press.
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The idea of language. In Potentialities.
Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. On potentiality. The passion of facticity. Bartleby, or on contingency.
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