Giorgio Agamben’s concept of landscape as an arche of architecture, by Minna Hagman

In this paper I examine Giorgio Agamben’s concept of landscape (Agamben 2014, 2017) as a possibility to think architecture in a way that includes Agamben’s notion of human existence determined by potentiality to learn to use historically developed and inherited habits, which have no necessary origins or ends as such (i.e. they are inoperative in relation to any apparatuses of power).

The work of a contemporary Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (1942-) has been examined during this millennium above all as a critique of biopolitics. The reason for this is Agamben’s internationally recognized Homo sacer series in which Agamben deconstructs Western ontology and metaphysics and demonstrates their inseparability from Western politics, which he claims to have been biopolitics ever since its Greek origins. Agamben’s critique of biopolitics includes the critique of sovereign power and the Western concept of subjectivity from which the modern conception of creative activity is inseparable. The sovereign power is, according to Agamben, biopolitical power, because Western ontology and politics have, since their Greek origins, taken life as their object: the being of living beings has been taken as an object of thought and natural life has been separated from politics and positioned as an object of law and economic government. The human subject has been understood as a rational being who masters his/her own life and his/her skills and whose acts and creativity originate from his/her will. Agamben problematizes the modern conception of creativity, according to which the creative power has its origins in the will of the creator, who creates from nothing, ex nihilo, following the idea that exists only in his mind. To replace this notion of creation Agamben proposes the Greek concept of poiesis, which can be translated as production. Poiesis requires art, techne. Now, architecture can be understood, according to the etymology of the word, as arche technes, i.e. the origin of the art of building (Agamben 2017). The origin can be easily understood according to the modern notion of creativity as a socially formed human need or will to structure the environment in accordance with the societal forms of life. But if we maintain the Greek conception of creative activity as poiesis, we can think of architecture as an art of building, the origin of which is in the historically developed and inherited habits of building, which are already there. Thus architecture would be one of the human habits in relation to which a human being is potential and which is inoperative in the same way as the other human habits.

Agamben has introduced his concept of landscape in one of the latest books of the Homo sacer series L’uso dei corpi (2014) (The Use of Bodies, 2016). In the background of the concept is Martin Heidegger’s concept of world. According to Agamben the world of a human being (Dasein) is inoperative in its historicity and contingency. Agamben claims that when a human being confronts the world as landscape, the inoperativity becomes inoperative itself (Agamben 2015, 127). This means that a human being’s relation to the environment is determined by habits and in these habits a human being is “at home”, perhaps as an animal in its environment but nevertheless “a little differently”. This “a little differently” defines Agamben’s conception of messianic time, which is a profane (non-religious) concept in Agamben’s thought, a way to think history inoperatively i.e. freed from the ideas of development, causes, effects and ends. This implies that we have only the time of now and before us there is the past as we know it has been. We can only let the past show itself in the time of now and set free the possibilities or potentialities of the past. Perhaps the past reveals itself most concretely in the landscape, where the acts of past generations can be seen and still affect us. When we “create” architecture originating form the landscape, the potentialities of the past can be taken in a new inoperative use i.e. freed from the origins or ends determined by the apparatuses of power.

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