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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Drew me in and left me wanting more, 3 Nov 2004
David J. Smith (UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Open: Man and Animal (Crossing Aesthetics) (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics) (Paperback)
This work assumes a depth of reading - relying on a fluency with various European cultural or religious icons and motifs, and also assumes a fluidity of thinking that for me comes only from reading and practising existential phenomenology and poststructuralism; Heidegger, Derrida, etc. This is a text that calls into question, and reveals the process (underway) of overcoming, the human/animal structure, so in my thinking it deserves to be called, roughly, "poststructuralist".
In essence we are led towards considering that we are at the end of the history of humanity and stand in the possibility of being the human animal alongside other animals.
The author writes quite sparsely, each short chapter appearing out of nowhere, anouncing something that feels quite genuinely significant, and then dissapearing into the mist again. The text in this sense feels somewhat disconnected, evanescent and mysterious, like bubbles of dreamtime surfacing momentarily.
For example, in one chapter we find ourselves meditating on the meanings of a series of gnostic images, in another we gingerly explore the topography of a spiders' web, until Agamben settles down somewhat and looks at what I suspect he was yearning to do from the onset, existential angst.
Looking at angst, a defining stigmata of human identity, Agamben wonders it through its various moments to discover the possibility that angst itself is not the most proximal experience in angst, and that instead there is first a kind of boredom. We are reminded of that in Heidegger's thinking, a stone is worldless, an animal is impoverished of world, whereas human beings are rich of world. Other animals, according to existential phenomenology, are not "open" to "the open" in the way that humans are, they are captivated by the disinhibitors in their environment, their umwelt.
Agamben finds a way clear to argue that human beings too can now be considered as animals alongside others, with our own peculiar disinhibitors being something like what has traditionally been thought of as "existentialia".
In some way, the fibrous chapters that had seemed so flimsy on first reading are woven together as the work reaches its finale, but as with all such works, there is a sense that there is far more to be said than has actually been performed by the author.
This is, as no doubt intended, a most thought-provoking work, especially in its post-eschatological ramification: we are now living after the human apocalypse, the end of history, and it is only now that we get to find out who we are in relation to nature. Now this would be an interesting thought-experiment, if nothing else, but for philosophy, anthropology, psychology and sociology, the actual meaning of this is deadly serious. What if we were to give up our notion of our exclusivity, our anthropocentricism, and accept our place alongside other species?
I cannot recommend this book on that basis - since it only sweeps the floor in preparation of finding the path these questions might lead us in - but I can recommend it in the same way I might recommend a song or a poem "about" what is at stake in taking such paths.
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The Open: Man and Animal (Crossing Aesthetics) (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics)
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