August 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

Agamben traces the genealogies of originary fractures (into zoe and bios, voice and language, being and praxis). Skimming the symposium up at the Political Theology blog, i wonder if we can’t heuristically divide lines of critique into those arguing against his reading practice (for supposed failures to historicize, flattening historical fields, etc.) and those arguing against the configuration of the fractures he presumes (e.g., The Beast and the Sovereign). Rereading my last post, I realize the way I read him proceeds by presuming his general model, tries to map the genealogies he provides onto Islam, and then takes the resulting gaps and uncertainties as possible points of departure for a conversation. By this kind of critical reading I hoped both to get away from the cruder uses to which the “theoretical toolbox” metaphor is put (“I will use theorist X to argue Y thesis…”, as though tools themselves cannot be changed by their use, as though tools are not resisted by the field they work in) and also from presuming the primacy in the conversation either of Agamben’s or traditional Islamic modes of argument (being in either case apologetics). The aim is not quite a fusion of horizons but it is nonetheless animated by something of that hermeneutical spirit. (I posted some similar comments on method last year while reading Nudities.)

In any case, i read through part of The Kingdom and the Glory this week. As is obvious, the story told there about economy does not work for the resolutely non-Trinitarian Islam, which (so far as I can tell) is absent in Agamben’s text apart from some references to Ibn Rushd and is reflected more in his descriptions of Monarchic Judaism. The broader insight that the relation between praxis and being is transformed into an economic paradigm, however, is quite brilliant, and left me wondering whether we can read the massive classical debates on divine freedom and human ability in this key. The Ash’ari theologians, in their desire to maintain God’s absolute creative power, would say that rather than creating our deeds we more properly “acquire” them as they are divinely engendered, this acquisition being a mode of ability involving an effective power that does not subsist prior to the act. Maturidi theologians add the qualification that the conditions for sound acquisition do subsist in humans as moral agents, although without in themselves comprising an effective power. These debates, central to Islamic intellectual history, are routinely discussed with reference to sovereignties divine and human, but I have not seen them discussed with reference to economy – surprising, since the idiom adopted to describe these relations is so explicitly economic. Aspects of Agamben’s argument, then, although he himself does not move in these directions, suggest ways one might write an Islamic theological genealogy of economy though less so of government. (The angelology section of that hypothetical text might prove a bridge.) This would also, finally, give a different perspective on Agamben’s dismissal in Potentialities of Ash’ari doctrine as foreclosing the possibility of philosophy, his own approach to the mystery of the economy providing vantage to critique that infelicitous moment in his work.


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