Total Pageviews

Friday, 13 June 2014

Agamben on Esti and Esto: the two ontologies

In his beautiful and inspiring "Che cos'è il commando?" Agamben deals with archeological excavation as the source of all discovery: it is a Foucauldian thought, but he puts it in a way that makes me think that it can be extended to what has no starting point, no ground but layers of floors. In this sense, the excavation his on about is present both in archeological and in anarcheological endeavours. Agamben investigates these starting points - the question of ground. He starts out with archés, that are both commencement and commandment (commencer, commander, in French); the original element and the commanding force. He conjectures that to command is to start something out. Western philosophy, he says, never considered power in terms of command. Obedience has attracted more attention and indeed it is crucial, but authority really disappears only when commands are no longer given - there is likely always someone to obey any command provided that it is actually issued. He then attempts to analyze command - and starts out with the normative language. To approach it as something reducible to the descriptive language won't do. He turns to Benveniste's intuition that the imperative form of a word is its purest, archaic form. It was concocted to do something else with words, to relate to the world in one and not in the other direction of fit in Anscombe's shopper (see her Intention, p. 56 in the Oxford 1957 edition) - not like beliefs, in a descriptive way, but as desires, in an imperative way.

Agamben then introduces the idea that the west has always fiddled with two and not one ontology - the one of esti and the one esto (that would have the following Parmenidean formulation: esto gar einai). This is the ontology of the "let be". His take could be seen as comparable to Souriau's realism about prepositions - his existential pluralism. In any case, Agamben reckons that these two ontologies have been intertwined because they are distinct just because we separate out two poles - the user of language and the object of language - and two directions - the pole that acknowledges things and the pole that issues orders. The two directions of fit in Anscombe's vocabulary. The two directions of fit also bring about the difference between the natural - to be described - and the cultural - where interference and disagreement can take place. Agamben then makes some very interesting comments concerning how esto is prevalent today and how esti is put at its service. I read this in line with my thesis of the modern belief that Antropea could take off, leaving nature behind. The normative is gaining prevalence, but at the cost of loosing its bite as a power to start something out to become a mere instrument of control.

No comments:

Post a Comment