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Agamben and the Politics of Human RightsStatelessness, Images, Violence$
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John Lechte and Saul Newman

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748645725

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748645725.001.0001

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Language, the Human and Bare Life: From Ungroundedness to Inoperativity

Language, the Human and Bare Life: From Ungroundedness to Inoperativity

(p.77) Chapter 4 Language, the Human and Bare Life: From Ungroundedness to Inoperativity
Agamben and the Politics of Human Rights

John Lechte

Saul Newman

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter is concerned with the extent to which a theory of language as essentially ungrounded can contribute to a deeper appreciation of the human. In this light, Agamben emphasises Benveniste's distinction between énonciation (act of stating – the existential character of discourse) and énoncé (the completed statement). For Agamben, the human is equivalent to language as always in process – never finally completed. It is thus never a matter of human nature, or its equivalents. The human, constituted through language, is ungrounded. Although so constituted, the human can also remain silent, which evokes Agamben's notion of ‘impotentiality’. Such an approach fundamentally challenges all notions of the human indebted to ‘bare life’. It opens the way to a certain transcendence. Coupled with the notion of inoperativity, the ungroundedness of the human also challenges the notion of the human as essentially wedded in its definition to a political project. The chapter also considers how gesture, the image, violence and poetry might contribute to a more profound conception of the human.

Keywords:   énonciation/énoncé, impotentiality, inoperativity, image, language, poetry, politics, ungroundedness, violence

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