Monday, November 05, 2012
Agamben's Potentiality Explained
Contrary to the assertions of many, Agamben's is not a philosophy of potential or impotential but a critique of the Aristotelian category of potential when applied to the signatures of thought and actions.
Summary of Aristotelian Potentiality in The Metaphysics:
Potential is the capacity to do something as the basis for the principle of change of state.
If A changes to B how can we be sure that B was once A, how can we trace causality?
Not just the capacity for child say to grow and learn to speak.
You must have acquired a potential through skill.
To prove you have this potential you must first actualise it.
Megarans argued you can only prove a potential when it is in operation. Thus all potentiality is actuality. Aristotle argues against this sophistry.
He accepts that actuality precedes potentiality. One cannot think potentiality without actuality but you can think actuality without potentiality.
But if potential only existed when actualised, there would be no potential.
If however potential existed before actualisation, you could never be certain a person has the potential.
This led to the idea of im-potential. The capacity to not-do something.
Thus if you are a builder and not building but you can build and have done so, when you are not building you have the im-potential not to build.
Agamben notes that impotential has the following effects.
In terms of actuality, what is negated is not your potential but your im-potential. Thus actualisation retains the capacity for potentiality.
At the same time im-potential means that potentiality always will be actualised, it is fated to occur because it is not “I could do something” but “I can do something I am just not doing it now”.
For Agamben potentiality (the common) and actuality (the proper) are only made logically possible by both being mediated by impotential.
Impotential is the indifferent element that undermines the structure of capacity to do something, will, agency, desire, creation, non-creation, change and stability.
Agamben's is not a philosophy of the potential, as many have suggested. The logical impossibilities of the potential-actual pairing founds the signature of western thought on the capacity to do something (thought and act). Impotential is, therefore, the indifferent suspension of all 'thought' since Aristotle in terms of two of Agamben's three key areas of investigation: thought and act. These two are mediated by that which indifferentially suspends thought (common) and act (proper) namely language.
The supra-signature of Agamben's system is life as the composite operativity of thought and act through the indifferentiation of language. Language suspends the oppositon between common and proper, represented by potentiality, and then ultimately suspends itself.
The logical aporias of Aristotle's potential necessitate the category of impotential as the inoperativity not of potential or actual states but their assumed difference and the manner in which they effectively co-found each other. For while the actual ought to be the founder, after all it precedes potential, it is itself always the proper or particularity of the realisation of a generalised potential. The same logic can be applied to potential in reverse.
I repeat Agamben's is not a philosophy of potential or even impotential. His is a philosophy of indifferent suspension applied here to the very signature of the category of thought itself: Aristotelian potentiality.