Not unlike the life of God, the life of man is a zone of indetermination that
is “said in many ways.” A human being is therefore conceived in Agamben’s
philosophy as “the living being that has no specific nature and vocation,” as
the form of life that no particular work or destiny can exhaust. If humans
learn to lead their lives as present-absent whatever singularities, it will become
very difficult, if not impossible, to subsume them under a predetermined class,
group, concept, or identity. The problem, however, is that in our culture it is
still difficult for some to realize that “whateverness” is a blessing and not a
curse, that this condition can empower rather than weaken our way of being.
Consider, for example, the Heideggerian orthodoxy, which considers life to
be “hazy,” as “constantly being re-enshrouded in fog.” This view is crucial
to the argument of Being and Time, in which the concept of life is systematically
disregarded as “undetermined.” Unbestimmtheit is usually translated as
“indetermination,” though it is also possible to render it as “indecision” or
“uncertainty.” But what is most interesting about this word is its connection
to such crucial Heideggerian notions as stimmung (mood), stimmen (tuned),
and stimme (voice). From this perspective, the strategy of Heidegger’s book
is to find a way to determine human life in an ontological manner by means
of the new term “Dasein” in order to give this life a decisive voice, to put it
in a certain mood, to ensure that it will no longer be out of tune with Being.
Nevertheless, it is important to note, as Jean-Luc Marion does, that the key sections
in the book dedicated to anxiety, death, and the call are precisely the moments
when Dasein finds itself in an indecisive state of being. Without those
three uncertain terrains, Dasein’s eventual and overall ontological determination
would simply be inconceivable. It is therefore not so surprising to hear
the young Heidegger, five years before the publication of his magnum opus,
telling his students that the “indeterminateness of the object, ‘my life,’ is not
a defect”; that “this indeterminateness points out the object and yet does not
predetermine it”; that regarding the notion of life, “we merely play with the
term – or, rather, it is this term that plays with the philosopher.” He therefore
gives an ominous warning about the day when the intention to grasp the concept
of life will be “abandoned, and this abandonment [will be] justified on the
grounds that life is ambiguous and therefore impossible to understand clearly
and precisely. Yet the height of indolence, and the bankruptcy of philosophy,
consists in the plea that the term is not to be used at all. We thereby avoid a
troublesome admonition – and write a system.” Though Heidegger seems to
be criticizing here the mature Hegel for betraying his youthful philosophy of
life, the development of Heidegger’s own work shows that he could not help
making this same dubious move.

David Kishik, The power of life : Agamben and the coming politics


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