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Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics) Hardcover – 31 Jul 1998

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (31 July 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804732175
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804732178
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,939,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"Agamben's intuition, chronicle and meditation are fascinating." - The Review of Politics "The story of homo sacer is certainly worth reading because of its suggestiveness and provocations." - Modernism/Modernity

About the Author

Giorgio Agamben teaches philosophy at the University of Venice.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mark on 16 May 2008
Format: Paperback
This is an important book, and one which deserves wide readership. It deals with the relationship between sovereignty and bare life, and explores this theme through the concept of the "homo sacer" - a man in ancient Rome whose life is not subject to conventional legal protection (he can be killed, but not put to death under the law), and thus exists within the state of exception - a legal space where, paradoxically no law exists, that defines the limit of the law.

With the advent of National Socialism - brilliantly analyzed through Agamben's application of Foucault's notion of "biopolitics" - homo sacer becomes central to the way in which citizenship and life are conceived by the state. The concentration camp, an arena legally constituted where no law exists, becomes the ultimate space where sovreignty over life is constituted. Even with the disappearance of Auschwitz in 1945, argues Agamben, the concentration camp casts its shadow over the way the state describes life, different legal categories of life and their limits. While perhaps Agamben concepts could be tested more thoroughly in their various mid and late twentieth century contexts in order to refine his argument, this is a compelling (and terrifying) view of the operation of state power and politics in our era.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Adam Frankenberg on 19 May 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Homo Sacer is one of those few books that after reading I was a different person. It is a profound but very difficult text to understand. However difficult it may be, I would argue it is a necessary read for anyone who is interested in current politics matters of law and many contemporary ethical issues. In the introduction Agamben reflects on the fact that the Ancient Greeks had two words for life bios, and zoe: he characterizes Zeo as natural or "Bare Life" and argues that this, inclusions by exclusion of Zoe from bios is a fault-line that has been in the heart of politics (western) from its very inception. Building on the ideas of Foucault, Arendt, and in definition of Sovereignty suggested by Schmitt "sovereign is he who decides on the state of exception" Agamben constructs a power critic of political-Judical systems, and how they come more and more to exercise their power on the bodies of their subjects, the camps and the holocaust being the most extreme expression. However Homo Sacer is a very difficult read in the tradition of Continental Philosophy, I also feel it is something of an introduction to Remnants of Auschwitz.

Once read nobody can hear the argument surrounding "the war on terror" in the same way. Agamben raises many challenging questions, although it has to be said not all that many solutions. However difficult this text is it is profound and important a must read.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By ldxar1 on 18 May 2006
Format: Paperback
This is an extremely heavy philosophical text which is not for beginners or those unfamiliar with continental philosophy.

The basic thesis Agamben advances is that sovereignty (hence state power) is constructed through the exclusion (which is simultaneously an inclusion-as-exception) of "bare life", which is to say, the body and relations of force. This exclusion returns in the figure of sovereign power (as law-making and thus as excess over law) and its construction of homo sacer, a type of subject who can be "killed but not sacrificed" (and who is thus outside both profane and sacred law). Homo sacer reaches his apogee in the camp, such as Nazi concentration camps. The camp is the "paradigm" of the modern state, and homo sacer and the "state of exception" in which the state suspends basic rights is becoming the normal condition of politics.

There are several problems here. The first is that Agamben is prone to argue by assertion and exegesis. The result is that his claims are largely unsupported and "take it or leave it" - either you're convinced by his account or you aren't. The second is that he doesn't draw political conclusions from what is obviously a political subject. If the state of exception and homo sacer are inherent to state sovereignty as such, Agamben's thesis would seem to be a powerful case for anarchism, yet he never draws any such implication, nor addresses the corresponding question of how else bodies can be "politicised". Thirdly, the thesis isn't really as original as Agamben seems to think - it's a repetition of themes arising in the work of A. Hirschman, John Zerzan, ecofeminists such as Robyn Eckersley, the Frankfurt School (e.g.
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Format: Paperback
Avant-Garde Politician: Leaders for a New Epoch

This is an important book making striking points, though it is dominated by an exaggerated view of "biopolitics." Also, the validity of important insight does not prove the complex theses on the foundational significance of homo sacer, as bare life under a "ban," who "can be killed but not sacrificed" (p. 113). Thus, there is no shred of evidence for statements such as "Not simple natural life, but life expose to death (bare life or sacred life) is the original political elements" (p. 88). The main ideas making this book significant do not depend on the theory of "homo sacer" and may well be clearer without it.

Leaving aside the discussion of "state of exception," which Agamben develops in another book to be reviewed separately, the strong points of the Homo Sacer book include, inter alias, the following:

1. Emphasis on ontology of potential, with the valid conclusion that "Until a new and coherent ontology of potentiality...has replaced the ontology founded on the primacy of actuality ... a political theory freed from the aporias of sovereignty remains unthinkable" (page 44).

2. Pinpointing weaknesses of democracy, such as "The understanding of the Hobbesian mythologeme in terms of contract ...condemned democracy to impotence every time it had to confront the problem of sovereign power and has also rendered modern democracy constitutionally incapable of truly thinking a politics freed from the form of the State" (p. 109). This may well provide a key to understanding and coping with increasingly fateful global issues on which organizations based on states are quite impotent.
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