In the concluding volume of his Homo Sacer project, The Use of Bodies, Giorgio Agamben briefly turns to Marx to distinguish his own account of what he terms ‘inoperativity’ from a Marxist account of production. Accepting Marx’s account of the decisive relationship between production, social relationships and culture, he nonetheless suggests that Marx neglected the forms of inoperativity that exist within every mode of production, opening it to a new use. ‘One-sidedly focused on the analysis of forms of production, Marx neglected the analysis of the forms of inoperativity’, he writes, ‘and this lack is certainly at the bottom of some of the aporias of his thought, in particularly as concerns the definition of human activity in the classless society’ (UB 94). Agamben’s reference to Marx is typically brief and enigmatic, and he neither expands on the claim that Marx, the thinker of the classless society, neglected inoperativity, nor identifies the aporias to which he refers. Nonetheless, in these brief and enigmatic remarks we find the crystallisation of a position developed in works stretching back to Agamben’s first book, The Man Without Content. Marx remains a subterranean influence on Agamben’s thought, and the diverse accounts of his work throughout Agamben’s oeuvre oscillate between critiques of his supposed productivism and praise for his thematisation of a non-substantive, self-negating subject.1 It is in the course of this oscillation that Agamben has clarified his own accounts of both political subjectivity and inoperativity.
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