Agamben on Auschwitz. The terror of the extinction of the human.

Some of the most significant moments in a text is when the chain of argumentation you experience a breakup, it does not reach where one could expect that heads. It is there where he reveals a text.

The breakdown of the argument: we cannot accept as possible.

By reading the magnificent text by Giorgio Agamben on Auschwitz –Homo Sacer III, The remnants of Auschwitz: The archive and the witness (original in Italian, 1999, Spanish edition of 2002 – there are two moments, that in addition to reproducing the same tension, in which Agamben avoids to follow a certain argument for a moral consideration. This is relevant because, in other texts (in the series of the Homo Sacer) Agamben is characterized precisely by letting his arguments lead him to any part, by more complex that may be from the point of view of the ‘moral norm’. It will be illustrative to examine those moments because it can help us to illuminate the specific terror of Auschwitz.

The citation then:

The muslim has penetrated to a region of the human -since to deny simply humanity would accept the verdict of the SS, repeating his gesture – which, at the time that the help, dignity and self-respect have become useless (2.13, page 63)

But if combining what is unique and what is unspeakable, to make Auschwitz a reality absolutely separated from language, if canceled, the muslim, the relationship between impossibility and possibility to say that is the testimony, are repeating it without realizing the gesture of the nazis, are showing secretly in solidarity with the arcanum imperii. (4.9, page 154)

Two times the same gesture: it Is prohibited to a certain position because of darla by true would imply that the nazis would have had a reason. As I already said is a type of argument clearly does not-Agambiano, who in previous texts had not had any problems in bringing a conclusion by more complex that I could think of for their minds think well of others.

The situation of ‘muslim’.

In both cases, not only is the same gesture, the same impulse, is the same theme: The situation of ‘muslim’. That word was used by the prisoners of the fields some of them seemed to have lost all will, all desire, having been reduced to something not even you could say animal because it had lost even that which they retain. The references to the undead are common in the texts of surviving that review Agamben (in particular, those of Primo Levi, in some sense, the text of Agamben is a continuous reflection on the trilogy of Auschwitz of the author already mentioned). The feeling that after the muslim there is nothing, which represents the loss of all that in normal conditions the human beings given by valuable is recurrent, and not for nothing the title of the text in that Levi bears witness of Auschwitz is called If this is a man. Agamben reminds that, in contrast with the horrors of the dead, the muslim is not even something that you can see (2.5).

Let me quote some of the expressions of the testimonials that quote Agamben:

‘Not possessed a state of knowledge that would allow him to compare between good and evil, nobility and baseness, spirituality and non-spirituality – Was a corpse peddler, a bundle of physical functions already in agony (Améry)

That being idiotizado and without a will (Ryn and Klodzinski)

Off on them the divine brilliance, too many loopholes already to suffer really (Levi)

Their readiness for death, however, was not something similar to an act of will, but a destruction of the will (Kogon)

Front of this to be without will, that is beyond speech and almost of the experience (at least how the witnesses consider it, you’ll see at the end that this has its relevance), the question is simple, what can be considered the muslim human or is beyond the human condition?

It is interesting, that is why we have highlighted, that the language of several of the testimonies refer to a loss of the ethical criteria normal (‘divine brilliance’, ‘good and evil’, ‘nobility and baseness’). One of the strongest points of the argument of Agamben is that none of the ethics that we have, nothing in the language of ethics traditional (no idea and experience of dignity, of goodness, of value, of guilt) makes sense in the case of Auschwitz. The critique of Agamben’s ethics of communicative Apel is, in that sense, devastating. The problem is not that in front of the Kapo of the SS is impossible to communicate:

The objection decisive is another. It is, once more, the muslim. Let’s imagine for a moment that, thanks to a miraculous time machine, we enter in a field the professor Apel and take him to a muslim, with the request that also try to verify his ethics of communication. I think that it is better, from any point of view, turn off at this time our time machine and not continue the experiment (2.14, page 65)

Face the tyranny of traditional always subsisted the idea that, being able to defeat the ‘body’, it was always possible to maintain the value itself: That there is a background of resistance that, in principle, one can maintain; and that in this consists the own victory. Can send me to the lions, but I will be able to witness to my faith; and in this I can show and defend my worth. Agamben shows that all that vision it becomes impossible to maintain in Auschwitz: That in the face of muslim all attempt to maintain their own decency appears as radically indecent.

Now, the lack of ethical normal in Auschwitz, Agamben concludes that they are wrong. All ethics should pass that test, and the proof is that applicable to the muslim. Not be applicable to the latter, it so happens that we accept the dictum of the Kapo and the jettison of humanity. And it may not be.

The capacity of witness. The argument agambiano on humanity in Auschwitz.

In Agamben, there is a pulse, but there is not only a compulsion. The argument that develops is that of the witness. It is a complex argument, and here we will limit ourselves to its general lines -and a critique, also, general.

The starting point is, again, Levi: The true witness of the camps is the muslim -those who write memories never came, of truth, to the bottom of what was going on there. But the muslim is beyond the word, and then I can not testify to that. How do you solve that paradox? In a certain sense, argues Agamben, is that the difference between the living and the speaker is a constituent of the human condition: human beings, speech can never coincide fully with the life, or comes before or comes after (and only for moments, not necessarily experienced positively, such as epilepsy can be intra festum, see 3.20).

So, yes, there may be testimony at Auschwitz -and to be witness, then, should not be to completely remove the humanity: The figure that is always unfurled, here it is, more radically: The witness is someone who speaks, and the muslim is only as living. Through that cleavage is manifested as human, and then the muslim cannot be excluded from the human:

The paradox, at this point, is that if the witnesses truly human is the one whose humanity has been destroyed, that means that the identity between man and not-man is never perfect, that it is not possible to destroy completely the human, which always subtracts something. The witness is the remnant (3.23, page 133)

There are, however, two strands which, I think, undermine the argument -at precisely the point that always subtracts something. The first is that the difference between speaking and living is not operating ‘normally’ in the relationship between witness-muslim. Because the witness, Levi, he lives the same cleavage between speaker and living living of all human beings. And this shows us that the very fact of split those roles into two different bodies bust what is universally human: ‘I’ am not that speech that I say, but that I live it and experiment; in the same way that the experience of others is always experienced as a lived experience of others. The muslim would be, precisely, where this tension between speaking and living is lost, and would require another, so that it is just played, but no longer would be a split lived. Which brings us to the second point, which is, apparently, the witnesses are not bearing witness to the experience of a muslim. At the end of the text of Agamben there is a series of testimonies from muslims themselves (in later years). What they testify is very different to what we’re told by the other witnesses, in particular the radical objectification that describe these other disappears. Now, if this is so then the seem the figure of the witness as the poses Agamben is not operated. But, then, there is the question about do you speak the muslim through who it was but now you can witness to? What is witnessing? There remains the suspicion that those who were able to ‘go back’ were also people anomalous, and perhaps the muslim is beyond it. Because the muslim can be witnessed from the outside and then, but not near to the experience. Remember: the experience is not speakable in and of itself, but you can testify from the experience of that difference. The question is still open, and the possibility denied by Agamben -that yes, it is possible to remove without remainder to what is human – is not yet eliminated.

Beyond the testimony. The horror of the extinction of the human.

Now, what if we follow another path? I think with that is that we can go deeper in the horror especially of Auschwitz. Suppose that the following is true: That at Auschwitz was discovered, and practiced, an action that allows to strip a person of everything that we value in the be, and leave him out of all ethics. It is not that ethics fail in Auschwitz and why they are wrong, is that the very possibility of an ethical conduct is that which is abolished there. Human beings are, indeed, able to destroy all the humanity of someone and let it actually become something that it remains for us to see it as an object. The horror of removing the human (something more profound than just killing him), the horror of which raises the Kapo, is precisely that it is possible.

If one examines some of the texts written in the immediate post-war period we can see that what unites thinkers as diverse as Orwell (in 1984) or Arendt (in The Origins of Totalitarianism) is that it would be possible for such a society, where eternally is to produce muslims. Somehow, by insisting that it is not possible to accept that the muslim has been extinguished in the human, Agamben is to resist the horror that corresponded to the fields.

We live in a society where it is possible to have a human life-in the most basic sense of the word, where it makes sense to think worry about the dignity, of decency, of truth – is something that we have to build. But it is not necessary for this to happen, we may as well build otherwise. Even more so, and I have there the specific terror, the question remains if we can build this anti-humanity and there is no output whatsoever.

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