Giorgio Agamben speaks at the second meeting organized by Future Generations and Ugo Mattei in Turin — December 8, 2021
English translation by Lena Bloch, transcription of the speech by Elia Velluti and Arturo Bandini. The original video is here.
“I have been asked to conclude this conference, also because apparently (and I had noticed this too) there was a strong distortion with a very unpleasant echo in my brief introduction. First of all I hope you will understand that for me to speak remotely, as I am doing, is particularly unpleasant and I hope I will never have to do it again. So I hope you will excuse me if I am particularly brief.
Just to go back for a second to what I said this morning, here’s what I wanted to say: it doesn’t seem to me that now is the time for meetings. In my not-too-long academic career, I have always avoided attending meetings and I still remember hearing straight from the mouth of Gilles Deluze “les colloques sont infâmes (conferences are infamous)”: for many reasons, those who know the academy know that professors do not like to teach, they only like to hold meetings. And then I will always remember the words of Noventa, of Giacomo Noventa about meetings. Giacomo Noventa said that there are three types of meetings: 1) there are divine or angelic meetings, between those who love each other and know each other and want to love and know each other more, 2) then there are the conferences, the human meetings, which are between those who do not love each other and do not know each other yet, but would like to know and love each other, 3) and then there is a diabolical meeting which is between those who do not love each other, do not know each other and do not want to love or know each other.
I would say that today this is often the norm. So one must avoid diabolical meetings. Of course, the situation is different in our case, because our case is a conference on rather specific matter, whose purpose, so to speak, is concrete and takes into account this particular political situation in which we found ourselves: it is a non-academic conference that has a specific purpose. However I don’t think that one can one organize conferences on the resistance. Can you imagine that during the resistance to fascism or to Hitler a resistance conference being held? No, we must move on to other forms of action, more concrete action. And concreteness does not mean the opposite of theory. Etymologically, con-crete means something that develops in accordance, that is inseparable from its object.
The opposite of concreteness is a discourse, a concept that is presumed to be self-standing, separable from its object. Contrary to what is taught at university, there is no method that applies to all objects, each method applies only to its object, so we must try to adhere closely to our object.
Of course this means that we need a particular lucidity to follow our situation and then find the right course of actions for it. I believe that it is not certain that we can continue to do as we have done so far, that is, to fight or act in the name of principles and concepts such as democracy, the constitution, law, which perhaps we already knew, we long ago saw losing their meaning. So you can of course continue to wage battles in the name of our rights, but you can do it in a tactical way. Strategically, I think, it may be futile, in the sense that facing a government that ignores legality, it seems a bit vain to invoke human rights. And I repeat: what sense would it make to invoke rights to Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini? It doesn’t make sense, we should not try to counter those who have abandoned all legality with the talk about rights. We are facing a government that has abandoned all legality. If you don’t understand this, you don’t understand the situation we are in. There is no legality. Of course the adversary we are facing may appear (and certainly is) irrational, perhaps he is confused, perhaps he does not know where he wants to go, certainly low key.
I also believe that it may be, and this would perhaps be the only positive hope, that this adversary represents a civilization or rather an un-civilizataion at its end. What we have before us, is an adversary, an uncivilization at its end, and this seems to be confirmed by the extreme measures this adversary has chosen. How could a government choose such infamous, extreme, destructive measures as this government has done. However, the fact that we are facing an opponent who is intellectually, spiritually — I want to quote Mattei — spiritually dead, does not necessarily make things easier. Mind you, fighting against a dead opponent is more difficult than fighting against an opponent who is alive, spiritually alive, to whom one can counter arguments and discussions, reasons. With a spiritually dead opponent you cannot use arguments, you cannot try to convince him, it is not possible. Therefore, I believe, we have to invent new strategies, facing such an adversary we have to invent new strategies.
I was told that I would have to conclude the meeting, but luckily it seems that Mattei might do it. I am not used to making conclusions, a thought cannot be concluded, because a thought, once it has reached its goal, is exhausted and gets out of the way. A thought that wants to remain after it has reached its goal, even if only to draw conclusions, seems to be not a true thought.
Therefore, I can only wish you to keep thinking, because the good of what you will truly think and desire somehow will be attained, in fact I believe you have already attained it.