Erik Davis: Phantasy Island

Stanzas, the nerdishly titled study of "word and phantasm in western culture" that I just finished, is one of the tastiest and most nourishing books of scholarly cultural criticism I have read since Morris Berman’s study of nomadic spirituality, Wandering God. Stanzas is the first book by Giorgio Agamben, who is now one of Europe’s most famous philosophers. I dig him too, although some of my reasons are more hedonistic than rigorous. For one thing, Agabmen writes beautifully, in a compact, literary style rich with allusions and echoes from art and literature. Taking its cue from Benjamin, Agamben’s thought is not systematic but essayistic. His writings possess an almost aphoristic economy, which, though they can grow precious at times, are way more pleasant to read than the jargon machines that battered my brain when I studied "theory" in college. This economy also means that his books and chapters are often rather short, which makes the whole "reading contemporary European philosophy" thing more like an afternoon tea than like recongifuring your intellectual router.

‘To judge from the Wikipedia entry, Agamben is perhaps best known for his concept of the "state of exception." The basic idea here is that extraordinary circumstances (like really big buildings collapsing) function as a kind of wild card in the deck of the modern constitutional state, a "state of exception" that allows the state to abrogate the very laws and procedures that constitutes its legitimacy. Marital law is a general examples; the savaging of civil liberties and due process under the Bush administration is a specific one. Let us pray those two examples do not have any reason to further cross-breed.’ (Techgnosis article with thanks to Mark Pesce).

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