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How and why did experience and knowledge become separated? Is it possible to talk of an infancy of experience, a “dumb” experience? For Walter Benjamin, the “poverty of experience” was a characteristic of modernity, originating in the catastrophe of the First World War. For Giorgio Agamben, the Italian editor of Benjamin’s complete works, the destruction of experience no l How and why did experience and knowledge become separated? Is it possible to talk of an infancy of experience, a “dumb” experience? For Walter Benjamin, the “poverty of experience” was a characteristic of modernity, originating in the catastrophe of the First World War. For Giorgio Agamben, the Italian editor of Benjamin’s complete works, the destruction of experience no longer needs catastrophes: daily life in any modern city will suffice. Agamben’s profound and radical exploration of language, infancy, and everyday life traces concepts of experience through Kant, Hegel, Husserl and Benveniste. In doing so he elaborates a theory of infancy that throws new light on a number of major themes in contemporary thought: the anthropological opposition between nature and culture; the linguistic opposition between speech and language; the birth of the subject and the appearance of the unconscious. Agamben goes on to consider time and history; the Marxist notion of base and superstructure (via a careful reading of the famous Adorno–Benjamin correspondence on Baudelaire’s Paris); and the difference between rituals and games. Beautifully written, erudite and provocative, these essays will be of great interest to students of philosophy, linguistics, anthropology and politics.


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How and why did experience and knowledge become separated? Is it possible to talk of an infancy of experience, a “dumb” experience? For Walter Benjamin, the “poverty of experience” was a characteristic of modernity, originating in the catastrophe of the First World War. For Giorgio Agamben, the Italian editor of Benjamin’s complete works, the destruction of experience no l How and why did experience and knowledge become separated? Is it possible to talk of an infancy of experience, a “dumb” experience? For Walter Benjamin, the “poverty of experience” was a characteristic of modernity, originating in the catastrophe of the First World War. For Giorgio Agamben, the Italian editor of Benjamin’s complete works, the destruction of experience no longer needs catastrophes: daily life in any modern city will suffice. Agamben’s profound and radical exploration of language, infancy, and everyday life traces concepts of experience through Kant, Hegel, Husserl and Benveniste. In doing so he elaborates a theory of infancy that throws new light on a number of major themes in contemporary thought: the anthropological opposition between nature and culture; the linguistic opposition between speech and language; the birth of the subject and the appearance of the unconscious. Agamben goes on to consider time and history; the Marxist notion of base and superstructure (via a careful reading of the famous Adorno–Benjamin correspondence on Baudelaire’s Paris); and the difference between rituals and games. Beautifully written, erudite and provocative, these essays will be of great interest to students of philosophy, linguistics, anthropology and politics.

30 review for Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience

  1. 5 out of 5

    Scot

    Heady yet digestible, truly enjoyable, and for me fantastic. The Italian legacy of thought is brought into the modern age through the pen (or computer) of Agamben. The titular essay, "Infancy and History," was such an enjoyable read because despite the dense subject matter he concluded each section with an exploration of a related piece of literature, poetry or history that helped uncover the deeper meaning of his thoughts. "In Playland," was a fun-filled look at the sacred and the profane of li Heady yet digestible, truly enjoyable, and for me fantastic. The Italian legacy of thought is brought into the modern age through the pen (or computer) of Agamben. The titular essay, "Infancy and History," was such an enjoyable read because despite the dense subject matter he concluded each section with an exploration of a related piece of literature, poetry or history that helped uncover the deeper meaning of his thoughts. "In Playland," was a fun-filled look at the sacred and the profane of life as seen through religious artifacts and toys. And my favorite, "Time and History," took a close look at the instant and the continuum and the role of time in our age that was mind bending. Highly recommended for those that enjoy philosophy, and especially people who are trying to place it in modern context where it has deep roots in ancient philosophy yet feels completely relevant to this strange time we find ourselves living in.

  2. 5 out of 5

    sologdin

    Preface: purpose is to “redefine the concept of the transcendental in terms of its relation to language” (4). Because Kant was able to “articulate his concept of the transcendental only by omitting the question of language, here the ‘transcendental’ must instead indicate an experience which is undergone only within language, an experimentum linguae” (id.). By fortuitous correspondence of cause, “Infancy is an experimentum linguae of this kind, in which the limits of language are to be found not Preface: purpose is to “redefine the concept of the transcendental in terms of its relation to language” (4). Because Kant was able to “articulate his concept of the transcendental only by omitting the question of language, here the ‘transcendental’ must instead indicate an experience which is undergone only within language, an experimentum linguae” (id.). By fortuitous correspondence of cause, “Infancy is an experimentum linguae of this kind, in which the limits of language are to be found not outside language, in the direction of its referent, but in an experience of language as such, in its pure self-reference” (5). The interrogation of the transcendental can thus proceed along these lines. First essay: Comes to an initial point in “Connecting the ‘heavens’ of pure intelligence with the ‘earth’ of individual experience is the great discovery of astrology, making it not an antagonist, but a necessary condition of modern science” (20), wherein “The rationalism/irrationalism which is so irreducibly a part of our culture has a hidden genesis in this primary kinship between astrology, mysticism, and science” (21). We see that this is not aberrant insofar as “with Descartes and the birth of modern science, the function of phantasy is assumed by the new subject of knowledge: the ego cogito (observe that in the technical vocabulary of medieval philosophy, cogitare referred rather to the discourse of the imagination than to the act of intelligence)” (25). This is a sort of primary unity that is broken: “The expulsion of imagination from the sphere of experience indeed sunders what Eros […] united in himself: desire (tied to imagination, insatiable and boundless) and need (tied to corporeal reality, measurable and theoretically able to be satisfied), in such a way that they can never coincide in the same subject” (26). The result is “the Sadeian universe’s necessity of perversion, which, by conjoining need and desire, converts the essential frustration of desire into pleasure […] To Juliette’s statement he could answer: ‘What you feel as the intimate estrangement of corporeal need is what I feel as the estranged intimacy of desire: your need is my want; my want is your need’” (27). This leads to the question: “does a mute experience exist, does an infancy of experience exist?” (37); “the search for the ‘new’ does not appear as the search for a new object of experience; instead, it implies an eclipse and a suspension of experience. New is what cannot be experienced, because it lies ‘in the depths of the unknown’: the Kantian thing in itself, the inexperiencible as such” (41). Ergo “Estrangement, which removes from the most commonplace objects their power to be experienced, this becomes the exemplary procedure of a poetic project which aims to make of the Inexperiencible the new ‘lieu common,’ humanity’s new experience. In this sense, Fleurs du Mal are proverbs of the inexperiencible” (42). Second essay: Notes a conjunction: “If the sacred can be defined as the consubstantial unity of myth and ritual, we can say that play exists when only one half of the sacred enactment is fulfilled, translating myth alone into words and ritual alone into actions” (70). In the absence of this conjunction: “Everything which is old, independent of its sacred origins, is liable to become a toy. What is more, the same appropriation and transformation in play (the same illusion, one could say, restoring to the word its etymological function, from in-ludere) can be achieved” (id.): The toy is what belonged – once, no longer – to the realm of the sacred or of the practical-economic. But if this is true, the essence of the toy (that ‘soul of the toy’ which, Baudelaire tells us, us what babies vainly seek to grasp when they fidget with their toys, shake them, throw them on the ground, pull them apart, and finally reduce them to shreds) is, then, an eminently historical thing: indeed, it is, so to speak, the Historical in its pure state. (71)The conclusion? “If ritual is therefore a machine for transforming diachrony into synchrony, play, conversely, is a machine for transforming synchrony into diachrony” (74). Third essay: something similar to Bakhtin on the chronotope, as “Every conception of history is invariably accompanied by a certain experience of time which is implicit in it, conditions it, and thereby has to be elucidated” (91)—throwing back to the prior essay’s notion of “in Greek mythology, the absolute diachrony of infernal time, symbolized by Ixion’s wheel and the toils of Sisyphus” (78). Here, “even historical materialism has until now neglected to elaborate a concept of time that compares with its concept of history” (91). A “homogenous continuum has thus diluted the Marxist conception of history: it has become the hidden breach through which ideology has crept into the citadel of historical materialism” (id.), picking up on one of Benjamin’s theses. The Greek concept of an “infinite continuum of precise fleeting instants” allows “no real experience of history” (93). For them, “time is something objective and natural, which envelops things that are ‘inside’ it as if in a sheath” (93). By contrast, the Christian concept envisions that “every event is unique and irreplaceable” (95). Augustine retains the Aristotelian notion of the ‘instant,’ which apparently leads him into aporia. We live in a synthetic moment: “The modern concept of time is a secularization of rectilinear, irreversible Christian time, albeit sundered from any notion of end and emptied of any other meaning but that if a structured process in terms of before and after” (96). The arche here is nasty: “the representation of time as homogenous, rectilinear, and empty derives from the experience of manufacturing work” (id.). Vico had observed that the abstraction of the geometric point is “malignum adytum, the ‘evil opening through which metaphysics invaded physics” (100); this is applied also to the temporal instant. He locates in Gnosticism “an experience of time in radical opposition to both the Greek and the Christian versions” (id.); it is a “broken line,” “incoherent and unhomogenous,” but “resolutely revolutionary”: “it refuses the past while valuing in it, through an exemplary sense of the present, precisely what was condemned as negative (Cain, Esau, the inhabitants of Sodom), and expecting nothing from the future” (101).The stoics also had a different sense, “springing from the actions and decisions of man” (id.). Noting that Heidegger regarded the marxist concept of history as superior (103), Agamben closes with the notion that historical materialism is best described by Benjamin’s theses: “But a revolution from which there springs not a new chronology, but a qualitative alteration of time (a cairology), would have the weightiest consequence” (105). Not sure if the preface’s purpose is fulfilled in all this. Several other shorter essays included at no extra cost.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mateo Jaramillo

    Agamben propone pasar de pensar la historia cronológica, a pensar una historia trascendental, esto es, no el paso de una realidad a otra de manera sucesiva y una vez por todas, sino un ciclo interminado donde el acto de "pasar" se renueva continuamente. En lo concreto, encuentra que este movimiento se ve claramente en el origen del hombre, entendido como sujeto del lenguaje. Esto es, el paso de la infancia, donde hay carne humana pero aun no sujeto (estado de persona), a la de sujeto del lenguaj Agamben propone pasar de pensar la historia cronológica, a pensar una historia trascendental, esto es, no el paso de una realidad a otra de manera sucesiva y una vez por todas, sino un ciclo interminado donde el acto de "pasar" se renueva continuamente. En lo concreto, encuentra que este movimiento se ve claramente en el origen del hombre, entendido como sujeto del lenguaje. Esto es, el paso de la infancia, donde hay carne humana pero aun no sujeto (estado de persona), a la de sujeto del lenguaje (discurso incorporado, hable que se expresa desde un "yo"). Así, la "salida" de la infancia no sería un acontecimiento único y resuelto, sino un movimiento que acontece continuamente, actualizándose. Es, según Agamben, esencialmente el paso de lo semiótico a lo semántico, del signo percibido al discurso comprendido, ejercicio que realizamos activamente a diario. Se piensa, pues, como un "nacer" que aun no ha terminado de nacer, un naciendo, y el poder dar este paso es la realidad que llamamos "experiencia" (de la realidad muda a la realidad que se hace hablar). De ahí que, la destrucción de la experiencia, a los ojos de Agamben, surja a raíz de la destrucción de los misterios, esto es, la eliminación de aquello que enmudece y hace padecer, puesto que se ha convertido el páthêma a máthêma: el misterio se ha vuelto realidad sabida, siempre sabida y calculado. Su efecto, pues, es la imposibilidad de la experiencia en estos términos. A saber, la imposibilidad de volver lo mudo hablante, puesto que ya es un parlanchín autoritario. La experiencia, entonces, es trasladado a un afuera que nunca poseemos, sino que sabemos que ya está hecho.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Greer

    This book was written because another book needed to be written but was not written at this time. So the book you are now holding in your hands is merely the sketch of the book that ought to be here but is not. It's like so many love affairs, all fantasy and no reality. So be not too concerned with this book which is only the death mask of another book that may be written some day but not today. Today is all we have before it disappears and we will need to make due with what is now at hand. The This book was written because another book needed to be written but was not written at this time. So the book you are now holding in your hands is merely the sketch of the book that ought to be here but is not. It's like so many love affairs, all fantasy and no reality. So be not too concerned with this book which is only the death mask of another book that may be written some day but not today. Today is all we have before it disappears and we will need to make due with what is now at hand. The author, after disavowing his own work, then writes: "The best way to introduce this book would be to sketch out the outlines of the unwritten work of which this forms merely the prologue, and then refer to the later books which are its afterwords." The author wishes to focus on the human voice. Odd. Why isn't the title of this book, The Human Voice? Instead we find "Infancy and History" or something like it. How to characterize the human voice. Better think of it as a scream or a serenade? How are voice and language related? Voice as Saussure wrote is the immediate enactment of the entire language system, or "parole." There is no dialectic without first a voice. Now that we have established a theoretical interest in voice, where is the author taking us? To infancy? Infancy is the place between language and experience that will consume our labors.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bahman Bahman

    این سومین کتاب مهم آگامبن درباره کودکی و تجربه است که متناظر مفاهیم زبان و زمان است. برنامه فلسفی ای که آگامبن در این کتاب و تا حدودی در کتاب بعدی اش زبان و مرگ پی می گیرد عبارتند از یافتن تلاقی میان مقولات زبانی و مقولات تاریخی و در واقع همان نقطه ای که آثار بعدی فیلسوف در پیکر مفهوم توانش صورت بندی می شود. در این کتاب درباره ناممکنی انتقال تجربه ها و موضوع زبان و شکافی که زبان بین سوژه و واقعیت ایجاد می کند، بحث های مفصلی می شود. کتاب از جستارهایی مستقل تشکیل شده که ارتباطی درونی و تنگاتنگ با این سومین کتاب مهم آگامبن درباره کودکی و تجربه است که متناظر مفاهیم زبان و زمان است. برنامه فلسفی ای که آگامبن در این کتاب و تا حدودی در کتاب بعدی اش زبان و مرگ پی می گیرد عبارتند از یافتن تلاقی میان مقولات زبانی و مقولات تاریخی و در واقع همان نقطه ای که آثار بعدی فیلسوف در پیکر مفهوم توانش صورت بندی می شود. در این کتاب درباره ناممکنی انتقال تجربه ها و موضوع زبان و شکافی که زبان بین سوژه و واقعیت ایجاد می کند، بحث های مفصلی می شود. کتاب از جستارهایی مستقل تشکیل شده که ارتباطی درونی و تنگاتنگ با هم دارند. طولانی ترین جستار درباره ویرانی تجربه است. که وی به دلایل و ریشه های این ویرانی تجربه می پردازد. و موضوع این بخش همان جدایی سوژه و تجربه است که منجر به فروپاشی تجربه می شود. در بخش دوم تحلیلی ارائه می شود از تاریخ و بازی و به آیین ها و رابطه ان با بازی می پردازد. که در این بخش به بحث های لویی اشتراوس درباره قبالی بدوی رجوع می کند و آیین های اقوام ابتدایی با رویکردی ساختارگرایانه مورد بررسی قرار می گیرد.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Matt Sautman

    While not as cohesive as Homo Sacer and State of Exception—likely as the essays forming this book are from earlier in Agamben’s career, even though these were published in English after the others were translated—Agamben’s thoughts on language and history here are fascinating. His thoughts on the concept of infancy in particular, as a state of growth and learning, invite the reader to reflect on how human experiences of the world have evolved over time and continue to evolve as we strive to refi While not as cohesive as Homo Sacer and State of Exception—likely as the essays forming this book are from earlier in Agamben’s career, even though these were published in English after the others were translated—Agamben’s thoughts on language and history here are fascinating. His thoughts on the concept of infancy in particular, as a state of growth and learning, invite the reader to reflect on how human experiences of the world have evolved over time and continue to evolve as we strive to refine our languaging.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Garuda Guru

    Essencial para todos os estudiosos de todas as áreas. A perda da experiência, à base de W. Benjamin, está muito bem elaborada. Essas obras do começo da carreira de Agamben são excepcionais. Especial atenção aos ensaios finais do livro sobre o tempo.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Araceli.libros

    Sólo leí el primer capítulo: “Infancia e historia”, que conforma la mitad del libro. Me encantó el planteo del autor (cuándo no me gusta? xD) y cómo lo relacionó con el lenguaje. Voy a ir retomando el resto de los ensayos a lo largo del año.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dante

    Swift and subtle movement from Marx to Mallarmé to Chomsky. Beautiful.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alessio

    Dieses Buch ist philosophisch, überraschend in seinen Gedanken/Abhandlungen und es behandelt, aus meiner Sicht, Zusammenhänge, die abstrakt und doch irgendwie tief in der Gesellschaft sind (laut Giorgio) . Ich kann ehrlich gesagt nicht sagen, wo diese Zusammenhänge stehen. Das, was er sagt, macht Sinn, doch ist es so kompliziert, dass ich nicht bestätigen will/kann, ob es wirklich so ist. Gedankenanregend, geeignet für Leute die komplizierte Literatur mögen (erfahrene Leser?) und Menschen, die s Dieses Buch ist philosophisch, überraschend in seinen Gedanken/Abhandlungen und es behandelt, aus meiner Sicht, Zusammenhänge, die abstrakt und doch irgendwie tief in der Gesellschaft sind (laut Giorgio) . Ich kann ehrlich gesagt nicht sagen, wo diese Zusammenhänge stehen. Das, was er sagt, macht Sinn, doch ist es so kompliziert, dass ich nicht bestätigen will/kann, ob es wirklich so ist. Gedankenanregend, geeignet für Leute die komplizierte Literatur mögen (erfahrene Leser?) und Menschen, die sich gerne über alles Gedanken machen.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melusine Parry

    Livre très intéressant à bien des égards mais éparpillé et mal ciblé. Les différents essais sont extrêmement érudits, mais à des niveaux très différents les uns des autres. L'essai du début sur l'enfance n'est pas vraiment sur l'enfance, mais sur l'expérience. Il y a de l'analyse littéraire, de la philo, de la socio et des trucs non identifiés type manifeste de revue littéraire. Bref, individuellement, c'est bien, mais tout packagé ensemble, ça n'a ni queue ni tête. Livre très intéressant à bien des égards mais éparpillé et mal ciblé. Les différents essais sont extrêmement érudits, mais à des niveaux très différents les uns des autres. L'essai du début sur l'enfance n'est pas vraiment sur l'enfance, mais sur l'expérience. Il y a de l'analyse littéraire, de la philo, de la socio et des trucs non identifiés type manifeste de revue littéraire. Bref, individuellement, c'est bien, mais tout packagé ensemble, ça n'a ni queue ni tête.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amari

    I had hoped that this would engage me, as did my earlier forays into Agamben's work. It didn't. I had hoped that this would engage me, as did my earlier forays into Agamben's work. It didn't.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Corey

    Not gonna lie, most of this went way over my head... I don't have a solid enough background in philosophy to understand it. Not gonna lie, most of this went way over my head... I don't have a solid enough background in philosophy to understand it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Brilliant...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Israel Chilton

    It really grows on you the second time through. Gets you all excited about linguistics and subjectivity and stuff.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

  17. 5 out of 5

    Moh. Alie

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  20. 4 out of 5

    Francesca

  21. 4 out of 5

    Hadi Mamani

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Dobran

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Sands

  24. 5 out of 5

    Esteban Galarza

  25. 5 out of 5

    David

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Scappettone

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joel Call

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cody Bishop

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amir Rezaee

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cemsoa

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