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Giorgio Agamben's The Kingdom and the Glory

Lecturer: Nicholas Heron

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 1 2014

Dates: Wednesdays. March 26 to April 30.  No Easter Break.

The genealogy of power which contemporary Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has been progressively unfolding since the first appearance of Homo sacer in 1995 undoubtedly attained a decisive point in its development with the publication, in 2007, of its longest and most ambitious volume to date: Il Regno e la Gloria. Per una genealogia teologica dell'economia e del governo [The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government]. Having focused his analysis primarily on the question of sovereign power in the earlier volumes, The Kingdom and the Glory, in a seeming about-face, proposes by contrast to investigate that subtler and even opposed technology of power which Michel Foucault termed government. For Agamben, undertaking such an investigation necessitates extending his inquiry well beyond the chronological limits envisaged by Foucault himself and into a region rarely engaged by contemporary thought: the first centuries of the Christian era. The point of departure for his investigation is his startling recovery of the paradigm of economic theology, which the ante-Nicene Fathers had employed in order to ground the first articulation of the Trinitarian dogma (and which Agamben himself will employ in order to make striking intervention with respect to the debates regarding political theology); but this recuperation sets in train an analysis which carries all the way through the medieval period to the threshold of modernity and beyond. This course, then, will provide a detailed walkthrough of the eight chapters that compose Agamben's book, in each instance pursued together with a sustained theoretical engagement with one of its key patristic or medieval intertexts. In this way, in addition to reconstructing the highly sophisticated argument that underpins the book, the course will also provide an introductory overview of a much-neglected chapter in the history of political thought whose surprising topicality it intends to assert. And yet, far from attempting in this way to explain what the book describes as the "current triumph of the economy and of government over every aspect of social life", the course will advance the thesis that Agamben's genealogy merely seeks to furnish a theoretical paradigm with which to interpret it.

Set text

  • Agamben, Giorgio. The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government. Translated by Lorenzo Chiesa and Matteo Mandarini. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011.

Course Schedule

March 26: Introduction/Outline of the Argument

April 2: 1. The Two Paradigms / 2. The Mystery of the Economy

Preparatory reading:

  • Peterson, Erik. "Monotheism as a Political Problem." Translated by Michael J. Hollerich in Theological Tractates. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011. 68-105.
  • Tertullian. Adversus Praxean. Edited and translated by Ernest Evans. London: S.P.C.K., 1948. Excerpts.

April 9: 3. Being and Acting / 4. Kingdom and Government

Preparatory reading:

  • Aristotle. Metaphysics. Translated by W.D. Ross. In The Complete Works of Aristotle. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. Excerpts.
  • Augustine. De genesi ad litteram. In On Genesis. Translated by Ronald J. Teske. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1990. Excerpts.

April 16: 5. The Providential Machine / 6. Angelology and Bureaucracy

Preparatory reading:

  • Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. In The Theological Tractates and The Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by E. K. Rand, H. F. Stewart and S. J. Tester. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973. Excerpts.
  • Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae, Volume 14: On Divine Government. Translated by T.C. O'Brien. London: Blackfriars, 1975. Excerpts.

April 23: 7. Power and Glory / 8. Archaeology of Glory

Preparatory reading:

  • Origen. Commentary on the Gospel According to John. 2 vols. Translated by Ronald E. Heine. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989-1993. Excerpts.

April 30: Appendices / Discussion

Preparatory reading:

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Translated by Christopher Betts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. Excerpts.