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The Limit of Thought

Frost, Tom (2013) The Limit of Thought. In: Frost, Tom, ed. Giorgio Agamben: Legal, Political and Philosophical Perspectives. Routledge, Abingdon, UK, pp. 1-9. ISBN 978-0-415-63758-9. E-ISBN 978-0-203-51580-8. (KAR id:102862)


Karl Marx, in the eleventh of his Theses on Feuerbach, declared that the philosophers had only ever interpreted the world. In doing so, they had missed the point that philosophy, as a discipline, is meant to change the world. If this is philosophy’s purpose, then the most important question to ask is how, exactly, should the world be changed?

The thought and philosophy of Giorgio Agamben is certainly world-changing, but perhaps not in the way Marx would have imagined. Indeed, it is not altogether clear to some that Agamben can be read as offering any way in which the world can be changed. Agamben has been seen as an ‘apocalyptic chronicler’, someone whose thought is utterly pessimistic and even demonstrates disdain for the world. Such a reading almost necessarily leads to a conclusion that Agamben implies that we are living in a tragic situation, one which is being affected by an irreversible historical necessity.

Reconstructing Agamben’s thought can be difficult. This difficulty of re-telling Agamben’s work has been portrayed as a ‘reaction block’ by Alice Lagaay. Despite this reaction block, Agamben’s work has reached the forefront of academic discourse over the past decade. Much of this secondary literature has focused upon Agamben’s continuing Homo Sacer series of works, and in particular Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life and State of Exception. Like Marx’s claim that a man’s history is made under circumstances occurring in the past, so to can Agamben’s rise to prominence be traced to external events. Although Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life was published in 1998, it was the terrorist attacks of September 2001 on the United States of America, and the subsequent ‘War on Terror’, conducted by the Administrations of President Bush and President Obama, that catapulted Agamben’s work to national and international attention.

The claims that today, the camp, not the city, is the biopolitical paradigm of the West, and that the state of exception is the dominant paradigm of government, resonated most strongly in a world where the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were being waged, where the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was making the daily news, and where emergency powers aimed at combating the threat of terrorism were being passed across scores of states worldwide. These claims also (ultimately) led Agamben to be seen as a pessimist. Homo Sacer and State of Exception allowed many scholars to cast Agamben as a modern-day Cassandra, seeming to warn (unheeded?) of the tumults of the twenty-first century’s first decade.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: Agamben; philosophy; political theory; legal theory
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
J Political Science > JC Political theory
K Law
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
Funders: University of Sussex (
Newcastle University (
Depositing User: Tom Frost
Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2023 16:29 UTC
Last Modified: 19 Sep 2023 16:42 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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