Praxis Seminar: Research Colloquium in Practical Philosophy, Session 1

Gavin Rae

Complutense University of Madrid

Strategies of Political Resistance: Agamben and Irigaray

4 February 2020, 18:00 h

Room B6 – Library Building

Faculty of Arts and Humanities – University of Lisbon



This talk focuses on the thought of Giorgio Agamben and Luce Irigaray to engage with the question of political resistance. Little work has been done to bring these two thinkers together, but my guiding contention is that there are important overlaps between them, especially on this issue. To develop this, I first outline Agamben’s analysis of homo sacer and related claim that Western juridical-political systems are structured around a binary exclusion/inclusion opposition that is used to regulate life (zoe) itself. Although there is significant contention in the literature regarding whether Agamben offers the possibility of moving beyond this logic, I argue that he does and focus on his analysis of the Aristotelian conception of ‘potentiality,’ from which he derives the notions of ‘impotentiality,’ ‘inoperativity,’ and ‘destituent-power’ to develop a political strategy that argues for the initial deactivation of the biopolitical machine to permit a space to subsequent re-conceive what he calls the coming politics. On first glance, Irigaray’s critique of the West’s phallogocentrism appears to have little to do with Agamben’s biopolitical project, but I will argue that it actually shares a number of its logical presuppositions, insofar as she claims that Western thinking on sexual difference has been structured around a binary opposition wherein ‘woman’ is devalued and excluded from (masculine-defined) law, with this permitting the phallogocentric regime to better regulate her life. I subsequently show that, in her early work, Irigaray points to the political importance of mimicry and laughter to ‘jam the theoretical machine’ sustaining phallogocentrism to subsequently permit a rethinking of sexual difference in non-phallogocentric terms. I conclude that with this Agamben and Irigaray share a common political project that aims to move us from a politics of conflict and contestation to one based around a logic of disarmament and deactivation, before raising some critical questions regarding this endeavour.