GIORGIO AGAMBEN’S REMNANTS OF AUSCHWITZ. Nicholas Chare. “M ind the Gap,” a common phrase on the London Under- ground, a phrase so familiar as. English] Remnants of Auschwitz: the witness and the archive / Giorgio . ‘5 REMNANTS OF AUSCHWITZ Primo Levi is a perfect example of the witness. Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive Victor Jeleniewski Seidler, Shadows of the Shoah: Jewish Identity and Belonging.

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Volume 2 Number 1, The Witness and the Archive, trans.

b o r d e r l a n d s e-journal

Daniel Heller-Roazen, Zone Books: Catherine Mills Australian National University 1. In the first volume, entitled Homo Sacer, Agamben agamebn a political analysis of the contemporary biopolitical conditions of existence, whereas in its companion volume, Remnants of Auschwitz, he develops an account of ethical response to biopolitical subjection.

In doing so, he argues for a conception of ethics as bearing witness to the absolute separation of human life from inhuman survival that biopower aims at. Agamben argues that ethics can no longer remnsnts thought through the fundamentally juridical categories of responsibility or dignity, but must instead be sought in a terrain before judgment, a terrain in which the conditions of judgment are suspended through the indistinction of the human and the inhuman.

Locating the figure of the Muselmann at the zone of indistinction between the human and the inhuman, Agamben elaborates on Levi’s paradox that the Muselmann, the one who cannot speak, is the true witness remnanst the camps. The ethical aporia of testimony that Agamben circumscribes in reflection on this paradox yields an account of an ethics of bare life, that is, natural life politicized through its irreparable exposure to sovereign violence and death Agamben, The particular contribution to the project of an ethics ‘after Auschwitz’ that Agamben makes then lies in his evocative reconsideration of testimony as an ethics of witnessing the collapse of the human and inhuman.

As with Agamben’s other books, Remnants of Auschwitz is a deeply enigmatic text, in which the central argument develops recursively through interlocking comments and philosophical observations, the connections between which are not always made explicit.

Indeed, much of the argumentation remains suggestive, often without clarification of the central claims and their implications.

J. L. Sherwood, Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive – PhilPapers

Gioegio this may leave many political and og theorists unconvinced, Agamben’s insights nevertheless disclose and expose the assumptions often too readily accepted in contemporary debates and open temnants theoretical space for further elaboration. Conversely though, Agamben’s silences on for instance, the intersubjective affectivity of ethics and questions remmnants representation and historical responsibility leave the impression that he holds back from his own problematization of ethical responsibility, which makes this problematization less compelling than it might otherwise be.

One of the central though equivocal concepts within Agamben’s account of an ethics of witnessing is that of the remnant, indicated in the title. Toward the end hiorgio the book, Agamben notes that the notion of remnant does not simply indicate the part of a whole remaindered through a process of selection od segregation but instead indicates the troubled caesuras and points of contact between the part and the whole.

Agamben claims that the remnant is a theologico-messianic concept, which designates the consistency of a people in relation to salvation or the messianic event. Marking the division or non-coincidence between the whole and the part, the remnant appears as the ‘redemptive machine’ that permits the salvation of the whole from which it emerges as the signification of division and loss Agamben, The remnants mark the division between the whole and part and provide the only means of redemption.

Thus in relation to Auschwitz, the remnants of Auschwitz are neither those who died in the gas chambers nor those who survived the camps, neither the drowned nor the saved, but rather, that which remains between them. And insofar as testimony marks rrmnants non-coincidental intimacy of the human and inhuman, that is, the human being’s remaining human in enduring the inhuman, testimony appears as the task of the remnant of biopolitics.

Agamben begins his reflections on the aporia of witnessing the event of Auschwitz by noting two terms for witness in Latin: The second is superstes, a term that designates a person who has lived through something, ‘who has experienced an event from beginning to end and can therefore bear witness to it’, that is, one who has survived an event and can thus speak of it from the position of having undergone it.

It is in the second of these definitions of witnessing that Agamben is most interested, as it is on the basis of this definition of witnessing that Auschwitz presents a particular problem for an account of testimony. Agamben’s question then is: What are the ethical implications of this paradox? To respond to this question, Giorgoo takes up Levi’s reference to the ‘Muslims’ or ‘Muselmann’ of the camps, the extreme figures ausdhwitz survival who no longer sustained the sensate characteristics agambem the living but who were not yet dead.

The term ‘Muselmann’ refers to those in the camps who had reached such a state of remnahts decrepitude and existential disregard that ‘one hesitates to call them living: For Agamben, the suggestion that the Muselmann is the true witness of the camps reveals that ‘the value of testimony lies essentially in what it lacks; at its centre it contains something that cannot be borne witness to and that discharges the survivors of authority’ Agamben: Further, assuming the task of bearing witness in the name of those who cannot speak reveals that the task of bearing witness is at base a task of bearing witness to the impossibility of witnessing.

While the impossibility of bearing witness has been addressed previously in post-Holocaust literature, the particular contribution that Agamben makes to this literature is to link the question of the aporia of witnessing to the definition of the human and the inhuman within the context of biopolitics.

Against understanding the status of the Muselmann as a threshold state between life and death, Agamben argues instead that the Muselmann is more correctly understood as the limit-figure of the human and inhuman.

Rather than simply being a death camp, Auschwitz is the site of an extreme biopolitical experiment, agammben ‘the Jew is transformed into a Muselmann and the uaschwitz into a non-human’ Agamben, As the threshold between the human and the inhuman, however, the figure of the Muselmann does not simply mark the limit beyond or the human is remnantts longer human.


Agamben argues that such a stance would merely repeat the experiment of Auschwitz, in which the Muselmann is put outside the limits of human and the moral status that attends the categorization. Instead then, the Muselmann indicates a more fundamental indistinction between the human and the inhuman, in which it becomes impossible to distinguish them from each other.

The Muselmann is an indefinite being in whom the distinction between o and non-humanity is brought to crisis, and as such, calls into question the moral categories that attend the distinction Agamben, Agamben concludes then that ‘in Auschwitz, ethics begins precisely at the point where the Muselmann, the complete witness’ makes it forever impossible to distinguish between man and non-man’ Agamben, The ethical problematic presented by Auschwitz then is that of remaining human or not; however, in the biopolitical situation of the camps, remaining human takes on a particular cast that eludes and contradicts attempts to sanctify human life through moral categories such as dignity and respect.

In light of the pf of the dignity of either life or death to definitively characterize the human being and ground a post-Auschwitz ethics, Agamben characterizes the Muselmann remnnats ‘the non-human who obstinately appears as human: How then does he understand the distinction between the human and the inhuman and what are the implications of its irreparable collapse in the biopolitical space of the camps? Being human is a question of enduring, of ‘bearing all that one could bear’, and surviving the inhuman capacity to bear everything.

In this, testimony plays a constitutive role, agabmen for Agamben remaining human is ultimately a question pf bearing witness to the inhuman: Correlatively, the survivor is human to the extent that they bear witness to an impossibility of bearing witness, that is, of being inhuman.

Hence, testimony takes place at the site of non-coincidence between the human and the inhuman as the task of the human being’s bearing witness to the inhuman. The human being exists as the nodal point for ‘currents of the human and the inhuman’, and as such, presents testimony itself as a question of the human being’s remaining human.

Agamben argues that the disjuncture between the human as living being and speaking being is the condition of possibility of testimony. Testimony arises in the intimate non-coincidence of the human and inhuman or the speaking being and the living being, the subject and non-subject.

As Agamben states, ‘if there is no articulation between the living being and language, if the ‘I’ stands suspended in this disjunction, then there can be testimony’ Agamben, It is in this sense then that testimony appears as the practice of remaining human, since testimony marks the trial by which the human being undergoes the double process of appropriation and expropriation in speaking, in which the human endures the inhuman and survives beyond its own expropriation or desubjectivation in language.

Agamben’s account of subjectivation, which he defines as the ‘production of consciousness in the event of discourse’ Agamben, Taking up Levi’s identification of the particular shame felt by survivors of the camps, Agamben argues that shame is the constitutive affective tonality of subjectivity.

Agamben rejects interpretations of the shame of the survivor in terms of guilt or innocence to argue that the experience of shame derives not from culpability but from the ontological situation of being consigned to something that one cannot assume Agamben, This conception of shame is extended through an analysis of pronouns as grammatical shifters, in which Agamben argues that the enunciative taking place of the subject is itself an occasion for shame and the double movement of subjectification and desubjectification it entails.

Grammatical shifters, or ‘indicators of enunciation’, are linguistic signs that have no substantive reference outside of themselves, but which allow a speaker to appropriate and put language to use.

Thus, terms such as ‘I’ and ‘you’ indicate an appropriation of language, without referring to a reality outside of discourse. Instead, their sole point of reference is to language itself and particularly the taking place of enunciation Agamben, For Agamben, the appropriation of language as an enunciative taking place of language indicates the double movement of subjectification and desubjectification that marks the relation of the subject to the language in which it speaks and thus appears.

That is, the appropriation of language requires that the psychosomatic individual erase or desubjectify itself as an individual in its identification with the grammatical shifters that indicate the taking place of enunciation in order to become the subject of enunciation. From this, testimony then appears as a matter of bearing witness to the impossibility of speaking, that is, to the process of desubjectivation that attends every subjectivation.

In testimony, the subject turns back on itself to give account of its ruin in the constitutive desubjectivation endured in becoming a subject of enunciation and in doing so, bears witness to the impossibility of speaking Agamben, Consequently, the ethics of witnessing that Agamben develops can be understood as an ethics of survival, insofar as the subject survives its radical and constitutive de-subjectification in testimony.

As Agamben notes, the double movement of desubjectification and subjectification suggests that within humans, ‘life bears with it a caesura that can transform all life into survival and all survival into life’ Agamben, Thus, against Foucault, Agamben suggests that the definitional formula of biopolitics is not ‘to make live or let die’, but rather, to make survive, that is, to produce bare life as life reduced to survival through the separation of the human from the inhuman, or the speaking being from the living being.

In this, biopolitics entails the absolute breaking apart of the double articulation of subjectification and desubjectification in the space of the camps, where subjectification is installed in the place of desubjectification and the impossibility of speaking, that is, the reduction of the human or the speaking being to the living being, the inhuman.

Given then that testimony takes place in the interstices between the human and the inhuman, the speaking being and the living being, that is, between subjectification and de-subjectification, the value of testimony is that it presents an interminable opposition to the reduction of human life to survival. In bearing witness to desubjectification, testimony resubjectifies and resists the biopolitical operations on the caesuras in human life.


Testimony provides a means of response to bare life that does not either abandon bare life to its absolute exposure to violence or sacralize human life at the expense of the biological and inhuman. The motivating aim of Agamben’s elaboration of an ethics of witnessing is the specification of an ethical domain before the legal codification of judgment and culpability, since the law is only ever concerned with judgment and not with justice or truth.

Hence, for Agamben, what is at issue is ‘a zone of irresponsibility and “impotentia judicandi” This infamous zone of irresponsibility is our First Circle, from which no confession of responsibility will remove us’ Agamben, Taking inspiration from Levi’s text ‘The Grey Zone’, in which Levi refuses to allocate blame and culpability in his analysis of complicity within the camps, Agamben points out though that the necessity of elaborating an ethical domain apart from the juridical is not because a judgment cannot be made, but simply because it cannot be presumed that the law exhausts the question of responsibility.

Moreover, it is precisely that which exceeds the law that concerns the survivor. Given this, Agamben rejects the concept of responsibility, claiming that it is founded in the Latin legal term of ‘spondeo’ or sponsor, meaning someone who offers legal guarantee for a course of action, and therefore always returns ethics to the problems of the law. Over and against this conception of responsibility, which is ‘irremediably contaminated by law’, Agamben suggests that ethics has seized terrain from the juridical not in order to assume another kind of responsibility, but to articulate ‘zones of non-responsibility’.

By the idea of non-responsibility, Agamben indicates not a zone of impunity or amoralism, but rather, ‘a confrontation with a responsibility that is infinitely greater than any we could ever assume. At the most, we can be faithful to it, that is, assert its unassumability’ Agamben, One might note the resonance of such a conception of non-responsibility set against the juridical delimitation of culpability and responsibility with Derrida’s conception of justice as that which exceeds the law, which also find precedent in Levinas’ considerations of an ethics before the law.

Additionally though, it is important to ask here how such an unassumable responsibility bears upon the subject of ethics.

Agamben argues that the non-responsibility or ethical confrontation with responsibility imposes itself upon the subject through the apostrophic address that emerges in the absolute exposure of bare life.

The rhetorical device of apostrophe, by which the narrative convention of a text is disrupted in a figurative turn to an absent character or audience, marks an unavoidable call within a text, an authorial turning toward the reader or audience to call them into the text. The proper response to such a call is testimony, a task in which the inhuman is borne witness to and which thus allows the human to endure.

As provocative as this formulation is, the figure of apostrophe also helps bring into focus several important silences within Agamben’s text.

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First, given the centrality of the rhetorical figure of apostrophe in Agamben’s ethics, there does seem to be a sense in which Agamben overemphasizes the theoretical need to move away from the terms of responsibility in his selective etymology of the term, since apostrophe brings out the sense of responsibility as response that subtends Agamben’s argument. While Agamben bases his rejection of the term of responsibility on its juridical origins in the Latin root of ‘spondeo’, he neglects that responsibility can also be traced to the term ‘responso’, meaning to give an answer, to reply or respond to another Oxford English Dictionary; Oxford Latin Dictionary.

This alternative etymology of responsibility as a kind of capacity for response is of course central to the Levinasian precedent of Derrida’s formulation of an ethics of hospitality. It is also given articulation in Kelly Oliver’s recent account of an ethics of witnessingin which she strives to overcome the perceived problems of recognition-based theories of subject-formation such as those of Axel Honneth and Judith Butler.

Oliver argues that ‘response-ability’ must be central to an account of witnessing, as it brings to light the fundamental dependence of the subject on the dynamic of address and response entailed in bearing witness for its own emergence and survival. In this light, the ethical confrontation with legally delimited concepts of responsibility that Agamben suggests also seems to require a conception of response, which in turn presupposes a prior capacity for response.

The alternative sense of responsibility suggested here also highlights Agamben’s theoretical neglect of the intersubjective foundation of ethics, or the sense in which ethics always entails auscwhitz others Nancy, Oliver also makes a similar point in her account of witnessing, where she claims that the problems of hiorgio and bearing witness are central to subjectivity.

For Oliver, the dependency of the subject on auschwjtz possibilities of address and response means that witnessing appears as the dilemma at the heart of the subject. The dynamic of address and response in testimony means that the subject is necessarily in relation with others, a condition that indicates that subjectivity itself entails a fundamental responsibility to and for others Oliver, Similarly, in Agamben’s account, the taking place of enunciation can itself be seen as always a matter of ‘being-with’ others, insofar as grammatical shifters do not simply indicate the double movement of remmnants and desubjectification, but also indicate the position of the subject in relation to others.

Pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘you’ auschwiz ‘we’ necessarily position the speaking subject in rremnants with those being addressed or discussed cf. Furthermore, the figuration of apostrophe as a call auachwitz ethical ‘non-responsibility’ raises questions of historical responsibility and representation that are not sufficiently addressed by Agamben. Agamben claims auchwitz one point that ‘a mute apostrophe [is] flying through time to reach us, to bear witness’ to those who died in the camps.

This suggests that the affective force of apostrophe is not lessened by time and reaches us unmediated by the successive transmissions of testimony and historical record. But it is unclear that that is the case, particularly given the aporia of testimony that structures Agamben’s argument: