"A figure of annihilated human existence": Agamben and Adorno on gesture

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In this paper, I consider Giorgio Agamben’s essays on gesture, and the loss of gesture, in relation to Theodor Adorno’s account of gesture given in his work on Kafka. I argue that both share an account of gesture as an involuntary, yet non-intentional figure of a generalised destruction of experience. However, in their respective accounts of an emphatic possibility that can be located in the loss of gesture, Agamben and Adorno move in fundamentally different philosophical directions. For Agamben, the loss of gesture opens up the possibility of a space of existing within the pure possibility of speaking itself. For Adorno, the loss of gesture returns us to a reified embodiment that can nevertheless image the possibility of a different way of relating to materiality. I argue that, in the attempt to immanently construct forms of resistance within a generalised destruction of experience, Agamben’s articulation of an absolute gesturality tends towards an immuring of the subject within the repetitive space of what Adorno terms ‘objectless inwardness’. Although Adorno’s account of gesture and its relation to metaphysics and politics is equally problematic in many ways, I argue that his account of a metaphysical experience that appears within alienated gestures offers the possibility for moving beyond the destruction of experience
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-307
Number of pages8
JournalLaw and Critique
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009


  • Awakening – Experience – Expression – Freezing – Gesture – Loss


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