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Agamben's Method Explained in 300 words



In 2008 Agamben published probably his most significant work: The Signature of All Things: On Method. Here he corrects his numerous critics the majority of whom mis-construe how he uses historical paradigms within a philosphical system. His remarkable synthesis of philosophy and philology, heavily inspired by Foucault and Benjamin, he calls philosophical archaeology. The system as it is presented in The Signature of All Things is summarised below:

Philosophical Archaeology: Agamben's Method

This method consists of tracing the origins of large scale concepts back to the moment when they first became operative as modes of organising and legitimising discourse through Foucauldian intelligibility.

That said, these moments of arising, as he calls them, are not historical data in the usual sense but, inspired by Benjaminian now-time, they actually say as much about us as contemporaries as they do about historical origins.

 Thus every contemporary moment, is founded on an origin or arche, yet every arche is constructed by our contemporary discourse. Thus the past only lives in the present yet the present is constantly a construct of the past. In this way time is marked by an essential double anachronism, of past things projected forward into the present and the present as a construct of the past.

Revealing this historical paradox at the basis of large scale concepts such as power, being, secularization, language and so on, is Agamben’s aim, so as to show them as logically unworkable.  The past, or temporal common, is founded on the present or temporal proper, yet the present founds the past through its attempts to access it as origin.

Thus take any concept, here for example the modern age, and you reveal the paradox between a past found, even created, by the present and present founded on the past, allowing you to suspend or make indifferent a clear separation between origins and current examples, subsequently freeing yourself of the discursive control of said concept.

It is Foucault with a happy ending.
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