As a quick note on my position, I have reservations about Agamben's work. Firstly, as an academic with his stated credentials (studying under Heidegger, assisting Italo Calvino, acquaintances with Derrida, Lyotard, Klossowski, etc.) and his professorial position, it is surprising his sparse use of citations. He often incorporates summations and quotations into his own text, which allows for a very fluid reading. It does, however, lead one to take him at his word. Secondly, I find Agamben to be overly abstract and opaque for a practical position for his chosen philosophical problems. He likes to use these general, hopeful terms like 'coming community' to point at some nebulous future state of being that is very unclear as to how it is supposed to come into being. Yes, with the abandonment of the 'state of exception' and for a qualitative approach to life and not simply it's basic needs ('bare life'). But how? And I mean exactly how? Why can't he articulate a position on these dire circumstances with their overcoming? Agamben is very willing to diagnose the problem, in rather confusing terms at times, but never, ever to prescribe. I understand that one is solely responsible for defining one's own being, but this is highly dubious at best for any sort of political praxis and leads me to question Agamben's viability and dedication to his own prophetic outcomes. He suffers from some of the same criticisms leveled against Walter Benjamin, Foucault, and Derrida in my eyes. This is more troubling as he should know better as a result.
This being said, "The Open" is a beautifully mind provoking read. Agamben delivers a quick and engaging overview of philosophical and theological debates as to what separates man from animal. It becomes very apparent that there has been a very thin line between the two. His narrative on early scientific classifications of man and other animals is a very fascinating read. The chapters dealing with Heidegger are particularly dense. These suffer too much from Agamben engaging in Heidegger's ontological word games. It can be a rewarding slog though as he points to some very curious moments in Heidegger's thought on the defining ontological basis of animals (this also being where the title of the book comes from). In short, the question "What is animal?" has been repeatedly answered with "All that is not man." Consequently, "What is man?" has never been answered. This book left me with some rather disturbing questions related to my own thinking on the subject and a very critical mindset to bring to previously acquired and, hopefully, soon to always be acquired knowledge. And for this, I'll err on the side of four instead of 3 with no halves. And this book deserves a half as it itself is only a half book.
Meaning that this book didn't appease my reservations about Agamben. Yet again, there is this pointing at - ? or this feeling of arriving at some great breakthrough that propels you through the book to the inevitable let down. I was left seriously wanting more and a little frustrated. And as this is a constant in reading Agamben for me, it unfortunately leads me to doubt the efficacy of his position. Of course, what that position is, exactly, is also very difficult to elucidate. OK, so man has never been adequately defined and therefore it's definition becomes open. Now, how does one define it or even approach a definition to bring that lovely sounding 'coming community'? And yet again, historical and philosophical points are dropped into the text on a faith basis. This leaves the reader to spend, at the very least, several hours in a library researching to verify or further explore the anecdotes Agamben addresses instead of a very quick, simple citation in the text that one could quickly look up. Agamben himself may have considerable credibility with his peers, but his text lacks it.