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Kierkegaard and the Figure of Form-of-Life

Frost, Tom (2021) Kierkegaard and the Figure of Form-of-Life. In: Norris, Marcos and Dickinson, Colby, eds. Agamben and the Existentialists. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, UK, pp. 64-79. ISBN 978-1-4744-7877-9. E-ISBN 978-1-4744-7880-9. (KAR id:102868)


Much attention has been paid to the influence that Carl Schmitt and his writings on the exception have had on the thought of Giorgio Agamben. Yet much less attention has been paid to how Søren Kierkegaard’s existentialist writings can inform Agamben’s philosophy, and specifically his figure of form-of-life. Agamben’s work is driven by a desire to explore a politics exemplified by the figure of form-of-life. If bare life is the result of biopolitical operations of sovereign power, then form-of-life is the figure of the coming politics which seeks to deactivate those modes of power that create and sustain bare life. I argue that form-of-life needs to be read as an existentialist figure, and that Kierkegaard’s own writings can shed light on this elusive concept. Form-of-life is a life lived in a non-relational ethical existence, not lived through identity politics or relationality. Rather, through ‘contact’ with other forms-of-life (contact refers to Agamben’s own form of proposed relation with others), and in living a life of contemplative use, it deactivates the appropriative biopolitics that constantly divides and separates life. I argue that form-of-life should instead be read as a new interpretation of Kierkegaard’s claim that the self results from the fact that the human being is a synthesis through which its existence is defined. In an existentialist reading of form-of-life, I illustrate how form-of-life is subject to a continual process of repetition, an existential process that is always already happening.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: Agamben; Kierkegaard; existentialism; radical politics; the human
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
J Political Science
K Law
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
Funders: University of Sussex (
Depositing User: Tom Frost
Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2023 16:55 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2024 14:31 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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