Volume 15, 2013
Existence, Diacritics, Animality
“The Animal is like a Quiet Force”
Emergence and Negativity in Agamben and Merleau-Ponty
The concept of natural, common life is distinguished from life as political existence in the opening lines of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer – a schism within ‘life’ that has profound consequences for Agamben’s political theory and ontology. Agamben claims that bare life now “dwells in the biological body of every living being” (HS 140). As such, it is necessary to ascertain what the ‘life’ of biopolitics is – the life capable of politicization. The notion of natural living being is central to Agamben’s account, and yet it remains an ambiguous and indeterminate concept. This conceptual ambiguity is informed by Agamben’s account of anthropogenesis and the relation between the ‘human’ and the realm of animality, to which the concept of negativity is pivotal. Negativity is also central to Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. However, for Merleau-Ponty the ontology of Nature and man constitute “the leaves of one sole Being” (N 220). Animality and human being are emergent; Merleau-Ponty adamantly maintains, “there is no rupture” (N 272). This paper analyzes the notion of negativity in Agamben and Merleau-Ponty’s accounts of Being and life, and contends that Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy gives rise to an ontology that offers a more open and productive account of animality and nature. In Agamben’s account, negativity is constitutive of man, which gives rise to an irreducible disjuncture between Being and life. For Merleau-Ponty, negativity is ‘in’ Being. There is no tension between Being and ‘life’: Nature is “a leaf or layer of total Being,” and we must conceive of “the ontology of Nature as the way toward ontology” (N 204).