Exemplary Readings

Exemplary Readings applies the practice of the Department of Reading to Giorgio Agamben's writings. Though dedicated to topics such as that of the gesture this series pays particular attention to the inner movements of Agambens writings, those lines that draw the reader from one essay into the ones aside to it, as much as Exemplary Readings follows the very braces with other writers. But what does it mean to enter Agamben's writings within a mode of reading that can be called exemplary? How exactly can these writings be addressed as well as summarised within the fold of the example?

Agamben defines his own method in reference to the paradigm, that is the exemplary exposition of a singular historical phenomenon. The paradigmatic relation advances from singularity to singularity. Its register is that of analogy. But according to Agamben the paradigm is never given as such. Only in exposing itself, only due to suspending its actual reference, due to a semantic emptiness and thus being situated adjacent, does a singularity appear as an example that can be called paradigmatic. In exposing its belonging to a class the example is always already excluded from this class. Thus the fold of the example is an adjacent space that remains empty.

Again, Agamben's essays themselves offer a figure that seems to be in relation to the adjacent and empty space that the example suggests. This figure is the helper. Anything that enters the class of the example belongs to the realm of the helpers. It is in this respect that Exemplary Readings addresses Agamben’s writings and reflects on the concept of reading that seems to be at issue with them.

Although incessantly active, as Agamben notes with regard to Kafka’s novels, the helpers cannot follow any of their intentions through. They are incapable of completion and thus they remain without a work. But exactly this circumstance constitutes their proximity to Agamben’s writings. Without a work the helpers are in relation with an unwritten work that Agamben comes to mention in the preface of Infancy & History. Illegible as such this "inexistent text" nevertheless seems to occupy a crucial place in his writings. Following Agamben it forms the empty space at their centre and comprises nothing less than the ethics inherent to his philosophy of language – a philosophy that itself doesn't get tired of insisting on the experience of an emptiness within language. The helpers are in correspondence with this experience. In fact Agamben conceives of their activities as an incessant act of revelation, a kind of translation that takes place in gestures. Akin to each other the helpers furthermore prefigure a faint community. Their appearance brings the question of belonging about. It thus seems as if these helpers, who remain without a work and assemble within similitude, offer an access to Agamben’s unwritten work, the empty space that it forms and that it seems to address.

The figure of the helper though asks to be directly connected and questionned in relation to our own manner of reading. For instance, are we the unwanted helpers to the texts we let appear, to Agamben's texture? Aren't we the ones who always act within the realm of seriousness and nonsense at the same time? Never realizing a finished work, always remaining within the frame of the gesture. What is the writing of the helpers like? Agamben speaks of the inconclusive gesture of the helpers, and the idea of the gesture in Agamben ususally suggests to deny an aim, an ending by definition, always remains suspended in between potentiality and act.

Exemplary Readings is a collaboration
between Tanja Widmann, Inga Zimprich and Sönke Hallmann.


previous sessions
20/21 March 2010
15 July 2009
12 February 2009

Preceding the presentation of Echo's Book the reading session on March 20/21 addresses Agamben's lecture Liturgia and the Modern State. Each session runs from 2-5 pm. On Sunday from 7 pm you are invited to take a look at Echo's Book.

Die zweite Session von Exemplary Readings findet am 15. Juli in der GfKFB, am Flutgraben (Berlin) statt. Die Session ist in zwei Abschnitte unterteilt, beginnt um 15 Uhr und dann nochmals um 18 Uhr. Gelesen wird Giorgio Agambens Essay Der Autor als Geste.

The first session of Exemplary Readings, entitled Hiatus Gag Gesture, takes up excerpts from Giorgio Agamben's The Author as Gesture. With the concept of the "life form," Agamben puts forward a figure counter to conventional definitions of life, with the aim of leading us out of the paradox of sovereign power and trying to open up a kind of politics beyond the entanglement of law with life. In the process, crucial importance is attributed to the interconnection of two concepts - namely, the experience of language in the guise of an experiment, and the addressing of a potential character of life, of life's possibilities. Agamben ties these two concepts to the paradigm of literary experience. He draws on experiments in literature, on poetological mutations of language in which it is not "the truth of the statements but rather the way of life" that is up for discussion, and hence nothing less than the concept of what it is to be human. The words "hiatus," "gag," "gesture" call up these paradigms of experience in Agamben's writings. This reading session of the Department of Reading asks therefore what political potential can be attributed to the literary experiment, and which place language has in Agamben's ethical thinking.