Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 9, No 1 (2013)

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Time and Presence in Agamben's Critique of Deconstruction

Jenny Doussan


Enmeshed with Agamben’s critique of metaphysics is his critique of deconstruction. Following the sentiment he first outlined in Language and Death: The Place of Negativity (1982), deconstruction’s alleged attempt to displace the privileging of speech with that of writing to thereby dispel the negativity at the core of Western metaphysics, to the contrary has the effect of reifying this problem by expressing its terms most perfectly. Agamben takes this criticism further in the Homo Sacer series by suggesting that not only does deconstruction reiterate the problem of metaphysics, it mimics the conditions of the state of exception as rule in the temporal suspension of its infinite deferral of signification. As a counter to deconstruction’s “thwarted messianism,” in The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (2001), Agamben posits a messianic time immanent to every instant, likening it to both the speech act and the very structure of thought itself. Implicit in this critique is an ongoing concern with temporality and presence that resonates across his corpus, and has grave consequences for his professed fidelity to Walter Benjamin.

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