"One day humanity will play with law just as children play with disused objects, not in order to restore them to their canonical use but to free them from it for good. What is found after the law is not a more proper and original use value that precedes the law, but a new use that is born after it. And use, which has been contaminated by law, must also be freed from its own value. This liberation is the task of study, or play."
from State of Exception (2005)
Giorgio Agamben is an Italian philosopher and radical theorist, whose work on concepts of state of exception, homo sacer, and zoe-bios has profoundly influenced postwar and contemporary art, protest, and cultural criticism. In conversation with theories of Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Aby Warburg, Hannah Arendt, Guy Debord, and Antonio Negri, Agamben forged deep ties with Autonomism and the Situationist International in the 1970’s, in particular writing on Debord’s film and The Society of the Spectacle. Agamben’s concepts of political life were fundamental to Tiqqun, a French-Italian left anarchist philosophical journal (1999-2001), as well as the student protest movements post-Autonomia. In 2004, Agamben resigned from his distinguished professorship at New York University in protest against the new U.S. biometric measures.
Agamben was born in Rome, Italy on April 22, 1942. He pursued post-secondary studies in law and philosophy at the University of Rome, which he concluded in 1965 with a thesis on the political thought of the French philosopher and social revolutionary Simone Weil. From 1966-1968, he was a post-doctoral scholar in Freiburg and participated in Martin Heidegger's 1966 and 1968 seminars on Heraclitus and Hegel. He was also a fellow at the Warburg Institute, University of London, from 1974-1975. Alongside the theories of Heidegger and Weil, Agamben engaged with works ranging from those of Aristotle, Carl Schmitt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard. More broadly, Greek and Roman law, as well as Jewish and Christian theological texts, became crucial influences for Agamben’s trajectory as a thinker of contemporary political life. His social nexus also included numerous postwar filmmakers and writers, such as Elsa Morante, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Calvino, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Pierre Klossowski, many of whom Agamben frequently wrote on or collaborated with.
Agamben received wide-ranging international attention for his multi-volume project entitled Homo Sacer, which was published between 1995 and 2016. The project attends to issues of bio-politics, sovereignty, and concepts of zoe and bio under modernity. His concurrent works span aesthetics, literature, language, ontology, and nihilism, such as The Man Without Content (1970), Potentialities (1999), and The Use of Bodies (2016). Agamben received the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the University of Tübingen in 2013 and the Italian Premio Nonino Prize, Maestro del nostro tempo, in 2018. Agamben held professorships at the Italian Universities of Macerata and Verona and, until his retirement in 2009, at the Instituto Universitario di Architettura in Venice. He has had visiting appointments at German universities (Düsseldorf and Cologne) as well as at American institutions (UC Berkeley, Northwestern University). He has also taught at the College international de philosophie in Paris.
Infancy and history: on the destruction of experience (London and New York: Verso, 2007)
Giorgio Agamben is an Italian philosopher and radical theorist, whose work on concepts of state of exception and homo sacer has profoundly influenced postwar and contemporary art, protest, and cultural criticism. In conversation with theories of Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Guy Debord, and Antonio Negri, Agamben forged deep ties with Autonomism and the Situationist International in the 1970’s, writing on Debord’s film and The Society of the Spectacle. Agamben’s concepts of political life were fundamental to Tiqqun, a French-Italian left anarchist philosophical journal (1999-2001).
Giorgio Agamben Papers
The Giorgio Agamben Papers is comprised of material created and compiled by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Spanning the period from the mid-1960s to ca. 2016, the archive documents the research, teaching, and lecturing activity of a leading contemporary European intellectual and scholar.
The collection consists of writings by Agamben, correspondence with distinguished figures of the postwar intelligentsia, including Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy and Guy Debord; documents relating to the Italian student protest movement "La Pantera" (1990); documents relating to Agamben's protest resignation from his appointment as Distinguished Professor at New York University; unpublished manuscripts and correspondence by the German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), including letters; notes and manuscripts relating to Agamben's work on Benjamin.
Writings by Agamben comprise annotated manuscripts of books published between 1982 and 2015, including research material and drafts; annotated manuscripts of articles and essays published between 1978 and 2004, including notes and supporting material; manuscripts of published and unpublished lectures held between 1977 and 2015 in Italian, French or English; annotated manuscripts of courses taught at American, French or Italian universities between 1987 and 2014; manuscripts, notebooks and journals related to unfinished projects by Agamben (1970-2016); manuscripts of Agamben's writings on Walter Benjamin.
Homo Sacer 1, circa 1992-1996, original kernel, research materials and sketches within five notebooks and four folders.
Il linguaggio e la morte, circa 1980-1982, five folders and one notebook with preliminary sketches, two manuscripts, one typescript, notes and research materials
On Antonio Negri's Book, "Pouvoir Constituant," 1997, manuscript of lecture
On Jean-Luc Nancy, 1986, manuscript of lecture
Bataille e l'Esperienza del Limite, 1987, manuscript of lecture
Le Cinema de Guy Debord, 1995, manuscript of lecture
Quatra theses non hermeneutiques sur Walter Benjamin, 1988, an unpublished typescript
Documents on the Italian student movement, La Pantera, 1990-1991, documents and newspaper articles related to "La Pantera," a protest movement undertaken by Italian students in 1990 against the privatization of education.
Documents related to Agamben's NYU resignation in protest, 2003-2004, documents relating to Agamben's resignation following US's imposition of biometric controls at the US border.
Walter Benjamin material
Typescript of Walter Benjamin's "Der Rogenbogen. Gespräch über die Phantasie," 1915, the only known typescript of Benjamin's famous essay
Notes with transcriptions of dreams, circa 1939, 6 leaves with handwritten transcriptions of dreams.
To view a detailed listing of contents for the Giorgio Agamben Papers and to request materials for consultation in the Beinecke Reading Room, visit the Online Finding Aid.
Manuscripts with annotations and sketches for Il Linguaggio e la morte (1982)