G.Agamben: What is a commandment?

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When I first began this investigation I immediately realised that I had to cope with two preliminary difficulties. The first was that the task, the archæology of commandment, contained in its very formulation a paradox. Archæology as you know is the quest for an ἀρχή, but ἀρχή has in Greek a double meaning. It means both beginning/origin and commandment/order. Thus, in Greek, the verb ἄρχω means to begin, to be the first, to do, but also to command, to be the chief. And you know probably that the ἄρχων, meaning literally the one who begins, was in the Greek city the name for the main authority. Now this kind of a homonymy is quite common; [it] is a quite common fact in our languages, so as you know our dictionaries usually begin by carefully distinguishing the many meanings of the word and then we have the etymologists who try to bring back to a unity what seems completely divergent. By the way, I think that this double movement of semantic dissemination and semantic unification is substantial to our languages. Probably, it is only through this double movement that a word can function. Now, as for the term ἀρχή, this homonymy seems in some way understandable. It is not so strange that from the idea of an origin or a beginning one could derive the idea of a command, [that] from the fact of being the first to do something could come the idea of being the chief. And vice versa, the one who commands is the first; in the beginning there is a commandment. By the way, this is exactly what we have in the bible, you know. In the beginning, ἐν ἀρχ, in the Greek translation of the Septuagint, God created heaven and earth. But he did this through a commandment: γενηθήτω, i.e. through an imperative. And the same happens also in John’s Gospel: in the beginning, ν ἀρχῇ, was the Word, ὁ Λόγος. But a word, a language, that is in the beginning can only be a commandment, can only be in the imperative form, [i.e.] a law in the beginning can only command. And I would suggest that a possible translation, perhaps a better translation of the phrase ν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος would be not “in the beginning was the word”, but «in the commandment was the word». And if this translation — perfectly possible — had prevailed, many things would be more clear in theology and perhaps also in politics. In any case, I would like to draw your attention to this fact: in our culture, the ἀρχή, the origin is always already the commandment; the beginning is also the foundation that commands and rules. And there is [perhaps] an ironic awareness of this in the fact that in Greek the term ἀρχός means both the chief and the anus [rectum (sic)]. I think that the [state?] [modus] of language that likes to joke in this way transforms in a pun the strategy according to which the origin must be what founds and commands. And I think that the special status, the authority of the origin in our culture comes precisely from this fact: that, in the beginning, [there] is what commands and rules not only the word but also the development, the growing, the circulation, the transmission — in one word, the whole history of that of which it is the origin (whatever this may be: an idea, a being, a knowing, a science, a praxis).

The beginning in our culture is not a mere start which then disappears in what follows; on the contrary, the origin never ceases beginning, i.e. never ceases to govern and command what it has initiated. This is true in theology, where as we saw God not only created the world but governs it and always continues to govern it, because if he would stop ruling it, the world would collapse. The idea here is that the creation, creatio, is a continuous creation, creatio continua, that there is an intimate connection between creation and government. But this is also true, as you probably know, in philosophy. And I will just mention here the decisive function of the concept of the ἀρχή, Anfang, beginning, in Heidegger’s thought. According to Heidegger, the beginning Anfang can never pass, can never become a past. It is always present, because it commands and governs the whole history of Being — I suppose you are familiar with the etymological pun through which the German term for history (Geschicte) is referred back to the verb schicken, which means to send, and to the term Geschick, which means destiny — in order to prove that what we call an historical epoch must be conceived as a Schickung, as something which was sent by an ἀρχή, an origin, which remains concealed in what it commands and mandates. You can [also make here] a pun because mandāre in Latin means command and also to send, to mandate. Command comes from the Latin mandāre, to command. So ἀρχή in the sense of origin and ἀρχή in the sense of commandment here coincide. And this close connection [between] beginning and commanding and sending and destination defines Heidegger’s conception of the history of Being.

Ι would just mention that this close link of beginning and commanding has produced two interesting developments in post-Heideggerian philosophy. The first would be [what could be called] an anarchichal interpretation of Heidegger. I refer to the beautiful book by Reiner Schürman, Le principe d’anarchie (The Principle of Anarchy). And [it/his] is an attempt to split and separate origin and commandment, in order to reach a pure origin as a coming-to-presence, as he puts it, disjoined from any historical commandment. So it is a kind of a neutralization of the ἀρχή. Then, there is the perhaps less interesting but more successful, we could call it, democratic interpretation, by Jacques Derrida — deconstruction — where it is on the contrary the origin which is neutralized and reduced to a kind of a zero degree, in the form of the trace as you know, while the commandment is maintained in the form of a pure injunction which has no other content than the injunction itself. But let’s leave this problem. You can realize now what I meant when I spoke of the difficulties and even the aporias which an archæology of commandment has to face. There is no origin for a commandment because the commandment is the origin or it is in the place of origin.

The second difficulty I mentioned is the fact that, as soon as I began to inquire on commandment, I discovered that in the philosophical tradition there is almost no reflection on this problem. I mean, the concept appears here and there of course, but there is no systematic treatment of the concept of origin. We have some very interesting inquiries on obedience such as La Boétie’s famous booklet De Discours de la Servitude Volontaire, but the obedience is analysed as if its necessary counterpart, the commandment, did not exist. So here we have a beautiful work on the idea of obeisance but no [referring] to the idea of the commandment. And, on the contrary, I have the idea that power is not defined only by its capacity to be obeyed but, first of all, by its capacity to give orders and commandments, even if those orders are not totally obeyed. A power does not fall when it is no more obeyed or completely obeyed, but when it ceases to give orders. A power [which] continues to give order[s] will always find someone, perhaps a few persons, that will obey. But if a power ceases, if it is unable to give orders, this the only moment when a power [will] collapse.

So confronted with this lack of investigation on the concept of commandment, I decided to start from the more simple level. I decided to start with an analysis of the linguistic form of a commandment. What is a commandment from the point of view of language, what [is] its logic and even its grammar. And here [so] the first [thing] I had to face was the fundamental partition, the division which Aristotle establishes in a very important passage of his book Περὶ ἐρμηνείας, which by the way is also at the origin of the general disregard of the commandment in Western logic. Let me quote this passage: «not every discourse, not every logos, not every language, is apophantic, but only that discourse in which truth and falseness are present» [ἀποφαντικὸς δὲ οὐ πᾶς, ἀλλ’ ἐν ᾧ τὸ ἀληθεύειν ἢ ψεύδεσθαι ὑπάρχει]. In Greek, you have two words, two verbs: ἀληθεύειν and ψεύδεσθαι — «in which you can say the truth or say the false». And this is not present in all discourses. Thus, for example, the prayer, the εὐχὴ, is a logos, is a discourse, but it cannot be true or false. Of course, a prayer cannot be true or false. We will therefore neglect the non-apophantic … the philosophers will disregard the non-apohantic discourses because their analysis belongs to rhetorics and poetics, while the object of our present philosophical inquiry is only the logos apophantikos: the logos, a discourse which can be true or false. Strangely enough … he said this belongs to rhetorics and poetics … but, strangely enough, if you take Aristotle’s book on poetics you discover that the exclusion is still there. And it is referred to a set of non-apophantic discourses which includes among others the commandment. I quote the passage from the poetics: «the knowledge of the figures of discourse [τὰ σχήματα τῆς λέξεως {λόγου}] belongs to the art of the actor [ὑποκριτής]»[1] Curious… I mean, the question what is a commandment, what is a prayer, what is a threat, what is a question, what is a narration? [All] this does not concern poetics. This is why we [do not] have to care here whether Homer is wrong, when in the beginning of the Iliad, mistakes a prayer for a commandment, saying, as you know, «[μῆνιν] ἄειδε, θεὰ» «goddess sing for me». So in the poetics commandment is mentioned among the non-apophantic forms of logos, but even there you don’t have a treatment of the question. So the problem of the commandment and of other [forms] of non-apohantic logos is completely disregarded.

Let’s consider, let’s reflect a little on this big split, this big partition which cuts according to Aristotle the field of language. There is a logos, discourse, which is capable of apophansis, of manifestation, because it signifies whether a thing exists or not and can, therefore, be true or false. And there are other discourses, such as prayer, command, threat, question, and you can also add, curses, exclamations, imprecations, advices, etc. which are indifferent to truth and falseness, because they do not manifest or reveal anything in the apophantic sense. Aristotle’s decision to disregard non-apophantic logos was indeed ominous in the sense that it decided the history of Western logic. For centuries, logic focused only on the analysis of the proposition having the form of apophantic logos and this other huge share of language, the non-apophantic, was left to rhetoricians [or] to theologians, when it was not completely ignored. And when occasionally commandment was mentioned, it was simply explained as an act of will and as such confined [to] the sphere of morale. Thus, for instance, we find a very brief but very interesting definition of commandment in Hobbes’s Elements of Law. He defines commandment as an expression of the appetite or will. It’s only in the twentieth century, as you probably know, that logicians began to analyse what they call prescriptive language, language in the imperative form. We shall not dwell here on this chapter of logic — which is interesting, which sometimes it is referred to as deontic logic; we will only say that I find it generally unsatisfying, from my point of view, because the problem seems there to be only how to transform an utterance in the imperative form in a proposition in the indicative from, in the indicative mode. While the problem is, on the contrary, precisely to understand the imperative mood as such.

Let’s then, therefore, try now to understand what happens when I utter a non-apophantic discourse in the form of an imperative. For example, when I say «Walk!». In order to understand the meaning of this utterance, let’s compare it with the same verb in the indicative mood: “he walks” or “Charles walks”. This second sentence is apophantic in the Aristotelian sense because it states something (“he walks”) about someone and it can then therefore be true, if Charles is truly walking, or false, if Charles is not walking. But in many cases, the proposition refers to something in the world; it refers to being. On the contrary, although morphologically identical with the indicative and although having the same semantic kern[el] (the idea of walking), “Walk!” as a commandment in the imperative mood says nothing of no one, does not describe a state of things and, without being for that false, does not refer to something being, to something existing.

By the way, you [ have] here carefully to avoid the misunderstanding according to which the meaning of the imperative consists in the act of its execution. The order, for instance, given by an officer to his soldiers, is accomplished, is perfect, by the mere act of its utterance. The fact that the soldiers obey or disobey does not put in question the validity of the commandment. The commandment is perfect in its mere utterance. We must therefore admit that the commandment does not refer to something existing. Nothing in the world as it is could respond to the imperative. And this is why people say that the imperative does not imply, does not refer to an “is”, but rather to an “ought”. And in German you have this distinction, between sein and sollen, which is very difficult to translate in English: “is” and “ought”. We don’t have a verb [like] explaining [expressing] the obligation, on which as you know Kant grounded his morale and which Kelsen has expressed in the most clear way when he writes — Kelsen, as you probably know, is a great theorician of law — so Kelsen writes very clearly “when a man utters the will that another man behave in a […] certain way, the sense of this act can’t be described saying that the other man will behave in that way, but only say that he ought to behave in that way” [soll]. So you see that the meaning of the imperative is not in its execution, is only the fact that you “ought” [sollen]. But does this dimension of the “sollen” or the “ought” as distinguished from being, from the ist, makes us really understand what is the meaning of a commandment? As a matter of fact, another thing that I discovered, linguists are not at ease, when they have to define the semantic[s] of the imperative.

And we just […] mention here two useful observations due to two great French linguists, perhaps the greatest French linguists of the twentieth century, Antoine Meillet and Émile Benveniste. Meillet underlines the morphological identity between the formal verb in the indicative mood, which is employed to state something, and the form of the verb which is employed in the imperative commandment. “He walks”, “Walk!”. Then he also observes, this is very interesting, that the imperative usually, in the European languages, coincides with the root, with the theme of the verb: the verb “to love”, “Love!” — it’s identical to the theme of the verb. And then he suggests that the imperative could be the primitive form of the verb. So, the verb first existed, according to Meillet, in the imperative form. This is only from morphological grounds. And then Émile Benveniste, who was a scholar […] of Meillet, in an article … he wrote an article in which he criticised Austin’s interpretation of the commandment and the imperative as a speech act. As you know. Austin mentions the commandment and the imperative as an instance of the performative, of speech act, or illocution […]. So Benveniste in this article in which he criticises this opinion affirms that the imperative has no denotation, no reference in the world and does not aid to communicate something. It is, I quote, le sémantème nu — it’s very [difficult] to translate in English this, the naked semantic core. So the imperative corresponds to the naked semantic core of the word employed as a commandment. What does this mean? The naked semantic kern[el], sémantème nue, of the verb, but without reference or denotation. So let’s try to develop this curious definition. The sémantème, the semantic content of the term, of the verb in this case, which expresses usually the ontological relation of language to reality, here is employed in a different aim which could seem non-ontological or pre-ontological, because apparently there is no reference to something being; but which implies, I think, in fact, a peculiar kind of ontology which has not the apophantic form of the assertion but that of a commandment — not “is” but “be!”. The relation of language to reality is not asserted but commanded. Sémantème nu means this: the ontological relation of language to world, to being, is not there, it is commanded. It is not, [it] ought to be or must be.

This is very interesting, isn’t it? So, I think that we could suggest the following hypothesis: there are in Western culture two ontologies, distinguished and yet related. The first [is the] obvious [one]: the ontology of an assertion expresses itself in the indicative mode as you know — something is. The second one, the ontology of commandment, expresses itself in the imperative mode. We can therefore call the first one the ontology of the στi, which is the Greek term for “is”, and the second the ontology of the ἔστω, which is the Greek term for “be!”, for the imperative. The first one, the ontology of the “is” rules and governs the domain of philosophy and science. The second one governs the not less important domain of law and religion – and we can add magic too.

You [may] remember the phrase in Parmenides’ Poem which as you know inaugurates western metaphysics. Parmenides writes ἔστι γὰρ εἶναι, “there is indeed being”. We must posit beside this [dimension], beside this formulation, another formulation, which inaugurates a different ontology, ἔστω γὰρ εἶναι, “let there be being”. I don’t know if could translate it like that. And if ontology is the relation between language and being, in the ontology of commandment the accent is on language, which makes something be, while in classical ontology the stress is on being or on the correspondence between language and reality. [And in the other ontology we have] just a commandment of being. These two ontologies clearly distinguish and sometimes oppose, continuously cross and intertwine and even [struggle] in the history of Western culture. Western ontology is in this sense a double or bi-polar machine. We must [accustom ourselves to] the idea that the ontology, not simply, doesn’t have only the form of “is”. This is like this. There is another ontology which has the form of the imperative. And the pole of the ἔστω, of the imperative, which was neglected, as we saw, and remained in the background in the classical times starting with Christianity begins to become progressively more and more important. And I think that we could say that law, magic and religion, which as you know in the beginning are difficult to distinguish … and when you go really back [in that time ..] you cannot distinguish between law and religion and magic. So law, magic and religion define a sphere where language is constitutively in the imperative mode. I think that a good definition of law, religion and magic could be as the attempt … they are the attempt to build a whole world on the ground of a commandment. This is of course true in the sense that as you know God speaks in the form of commandment. But it is not only this. Men in religion speak in the form of commandment. The prayer has the form of a commandment. [Now we may reflect on] this very strange thing: you pray in the form of a commandment. “Give us our daily bread!”. So you address God in the form of an imperative. And this is true everywhere. You remember that Aristotle notices that in the beginning of the Iliad Homer addresses the Goddess in the form of an imperative. So is this a prayer? So, this sphere grounded on the commandment has therefore its own peculiar ontology. And perhaps nobody expresses this ontology so clearly as Paul did in the letter to the Hebrews when he says that faith is the ὑπόστασις, the substance of hoped things [Ἔστι δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις] where ὑπόστασις is the technical Greek term this time for being. So the faith, the main category of religion according to him, is the substance, the form in which the hoped things exist. It’s an ontological formulation. I think that that, you know that Paul had … knew a lot about Greek philosophy. And this is clearly an ontological statement.

Let’s try to understand the peculiar efficacy which defines this ontology which gives a hypostasis, a substance, a being to things that seem deprived of any being. We should therefore consider the fact that in the famous 1962 book by Austin I already quoted, How do to things with words, the commandment was classified as a speech-act, an […] illocutionary act, i.e. as a discourse which does not simply mean or describe a state-of-things but, through its mere utterance, [it] realizes what it means. So, when I say “I swear”, for instance, this utterance, realizes the truth as a fact — sorry, the oath as a fact. How does a speech-act function? What is it that gives to a mere utterance the force and reality of a fact? Linguists do not explain this peculiar efficacy. As if they reached here a kind of magic[al] layer in language. [Absolutely, like that,] absolutely. So we just say it is like that, as if in these [instances] language had a kind of magic power to realize as a fact what it means. I think that the problem becomes more clear, if we go back to our hypothesis of the double ontology which governs our culture. The distinction of locutionary and illocutionary acts corresponds to the double structure of the Western ontological machine. The speech-act represents in language [the …] of the stage or the presence of a structure where the relation between words and things was or is not apophantic but rather of the kind of a commandment through which language enacts and realizes this relation as a fact. And I think if we consider the constantly growing success of the notion of speech-act, not only among linguists, but also among the philosophers and the jurists, we could perhaps suggest the hypothesis that the centrality of this concept corresponds to the fact that in our contemporary societies the ontology of commandment is not only eroding the primacy of the ontology of the στi but also slowly overcoming and replacing it. This means that, in a sort of returning of the repressed, religion, magic and law [and all] the domain of non-apophantic logos which has been neglected and pushed in the background are secretly beginning to govern the function of our secularized society. In our so-called democratic societies commandment[s] are given usually in the form of advice, suggestion, invitation, advertising, or you’re asked by reason of security to co-operate, and people do not realize that these are just commandments disguised in the form of suggestion, advice, or… #00:36:23-2# The stupidity of the modern citizen is without limit. So I mean that perhaps without… we’re not aware of this but the non-apophantic logos is really governing […] in this disguis[ed] form, societies, while we still continue to think in the form of the assertion, of the scientific and the philosophical ontology of the “is”, while everywhere this other form is ruling.

I told you that I meant to give you a short account of my archæological investigation on commandment, so I have something more to say. Now when you begin to inquire on the commandment, there is another concept which does not cease to appear beside it and seems to accompany it like a secret [share[r]] , I mean the concept of will. Commandment is constantly explained as an act of will or volition. Everybody, [as I said] … there are few reflections on commandment, but always these reflections have this form: commandment is obviously an act of will. Unfortunately, this amounts to explaining an obscurum de obscuros, something obscure through something even more obscure, because, as you probably know, no one could ever explain what will means. Absolutely impossible! It is not easy to define a commandment, but to give a definition of will [is something] only crazy people can do. This is why in the beginning of my investigation I decided to take into account Nietzsche’s suggestion that reverses the proceedings and explains will through commanding. To will means according to Nietzsche simply to command. There is a general agreement amongst scholars that the concept of will is generally lacking in classical thought and begins to appear first in Roman stoicism, and finally in Christian theology, where it reaches its full development. And when you closely … this, I think, is in some way true, not completely, but it is true in some way, and when you closely follow the formation of this verb to will, how will enters in philosophy, because this is what happens, it was not completely absent as the scholars say, but we see that in Christianity, in Christian theology, will is really introduced in philosophy and then as you know it [sprang/sparked] since that moment from the mental part of philosophy. So when you closely follow the formation of this and you notice that the verb to will or the concept “will” grows, is developed from another concept to which it remains strictly related: another verb, the verb to can; so the verb to will, when it appears, is linked to the verb to can. While Greek philosophy focused more on potentiality, dynamis, and possibility, Christian theology and following it modern thought focused on will. And in modern times, the verb to will replaces the verb to can. Man is no more a being of possibility, a being who can, it is a being who will. Now to can and to will as you know also […] are so-called modal verbs, that as ancient grammarians used to say, lack the thing, they are empty. And, there’s this very beautiful…according to Greek grammarians these verbs to will, to can, they are empty, κενά. Why? Because in order to mean something they need another non-modal verb which follows them. So, I walk, I write, I eat are not empty. But I can or I will need to be filled by another, supplemented by another verb. That’s why they said these modal verbs are κενά, void, empty. I would like to draw you attention on the fact that philosophy works precisely with these empty modal verbs. Philosophy, I think, could be defined as an attempt to grasp the meaning or to give a meaning to empty modal verbs.

To [know] to can, what does it mean to can? what does it mean to will? And tie them, to unite them, to graft them one onto the other. And this intertwining reached perhaps its extreme point in the drastic, the almost insane formulation by which Kant expresses the very core of his morale. Mann muss wollen können. I don’t know if you can translate it in English, “one must can will”. So Kant expresses the core of his morale in this way, Mann muss wollen können. This absurd, insane intersection or intertwining of the three modal verbs defines modernity. And also, I believe, the collapsing or the impossibility or ethics in our time. Kant is often regarded as the founder of modern ethics, this is false. It’s the contrary. Kant marks the impossibility of an ethic, because the ethic can only have the form of a commandment, according to him, or of a very strange commandment Mann muss… And so when I hear today foolish people repeat the [fad] slogan “I can”, I can’t help thinking that what they really mean is “I will”, i.e. I command, or better I command myself to obey. So, but … to give an idea , a more precise idea of this relation which links to will and to can, volition and potentiality, I choose an example to show you how will grounds [sic] on the notion of potentiality and possibility in order to check and limit it. So why will was introduced in philosophy: to check, control and limit potentiality.

So the example I’ve chosen is a big chapter in the history of theology, scholastic theology, and it was the problem, the fundamental problem , we will see, of divine almightiness. [In order to…] the idea of God’s omnipotence had acquired the status of a dogma in the Nicene credo, credimus in unum deum patrem omnipotente, we believe in one God Father almighty. So it was a dogma, but it was a very delicate question because … if God is omnipotent, if nothing is impossible for him, this means that he could do or he could have done anything that does not imply a contradiction. Thus, this is the hypothesis that the theologians make, I’m just referring to this discourse of the theologians. Thus, for instance, God could have chosen to become incarnate not in Jesus but in a woman or in a [whore?] or could have chosen to damn Peter and save Judas, or immediately destroy his creation, or to lie or to commit a crime. If God is omnipotent, he could have done all these things without any contradiction. Or, also, this is a big problem they discussed, or also undo the past. For example, this is a question, I don’t know why the theologians liked that a lot, so that you had thousands of pages on that problem. So could God make a raped virgin recover her virginity? It seemed particularly [absurd] to theologians, I do not know why. So you see the problem. From the eleventh till the fourteen century, this scandalous question, this dark side of God’s omnipotence was debated and analysed in detail among theologians in thousands and thousands of pages, because it was a scandalous … God is omnipotent, but then if he is omnipotent, he could lie, he could, as I said, save Judas and damn poor Peter. And, even … the theologians are incredible, they make the most absurd hypotheses, I told you really [some of them], but for instance, another very interesting hypothesis is this: but if God is omnipotent, he could also do nonsense, senseless things, for instance, suddenly start [to run], God suddenly starts to run. This seemed scandalous. Why not…God do some jogging? So, I think you see the problem, now this was for them a serious problem. The solution, the remedy, the pharmakon for this dark side of potentiality, of omnipotence, was to distinguish between what they called potentia absoluta (absolute potentiality, power) and potentia ordinata (ordered potency or potentiality). Theologians argue that the potentia absoluta … as far as potentiality is considered in itself, in [the] abstract, god can indeed do anything, anything; but the potentia ordinata — i.e. as far he chose to do something, as far as his will is taken in[to] account — then he can only do what he decided to do, what he willed, what he wanted. And this is the meaning, by the way, of the expression potentia ordinata. Potentia ordinata means literally commanded potentiality. Ordinatio means […] commandment. So [in] the potentia absoluta he could have done anything, but as far as his commanded potentiality, commanded by will, is concerned, he could only do what he did. You see the subtle way to solve the contradiction, the problem, but they need the concept of will. They had to introduce the concept of will. Will [is…] will limits and commands and rules potentiality. Will is what checks and contains within its bounds the scandalous chaos of potentiality. And this is also true for man of course: […] what was thought or what was said [of] God was [then] also transferred … Man, like God, has to will, has to command himself, in order to limit and control. That’s also why he is responsible. He’s not responsible from his potentiality, he’s responsible from his will. You see that Nietzsche’s hypothesis was correct. To will is to command. Will is a commandment and what it gives command to is potentiality. So to will commands to can. So to conclude, I’d like to leave the last word, this brief archæology of commandment and will, to one of Melville’s characters. I’m very fond of, Bartleby the Scrivener. To the man of law who asks, who’s continually asking, “You will not?”, he incessantly answers “I would prefer not to”.

[1] He is probably quoting from: Τί γὰρ ἂν εἴη τοῦ λέγοντος ἔργον, εἰ φαίνοιτο ᾗ δέοι καὶ μὴ διὰ τὸν λόγον; Τῶν δὲ περὶ τὴν λέξιν ἓν μέν ἐστιν εἶδος θεωρίας τὰ σχήματα τῆς λέξεως, [10] ἅ ἐστιν εἰδέναι τῆς ὑποκριτικῆς καὶ τοῦ τὴν τοιαύτην ἔχοντος ἀρχιτεκτονικήν, οἷον τί ἐντολὴ καὶ τί εὐχὴ καὶ διήγησις καὶ ἀπειλὴ καὶ ἐρώτησις καὶ ἀπόκρισις καὶ εἴ τι ἄλλο τοιοῦτον. Παρὰ γὰρ τὴν τούτων γνῶσιν ἢ ἄγνοιαν οὐδὲν εἰς τὴν ποιητικὴν ἐπιτίμημα φέρεται ὅ τι καὶ ἄξιον [15] σπουδῆς.Τί γὰρ ἄν τις ὑπολάβοι ἡμαρτῆσθαι ἃ Πρωταγόρας ἐπιτιμᾷ, ὅτι εὔχεσθαι οἰόμενος ἐπιτάττει εἰπὼν ‘Μῆνιν ἄειδε θεά’; Τὸ γὰρ κελεῦσαι, φησίν, ποιεῖν τι ἢ μὴ ἐπίταξίς ἐστιν. Διὸ παρείσθω ὡς ἄλλης καὶ οὐ τῆς ποιητικῆς ὂν θεώρημα. (Περὶ Ποιητικῆς, 1456b)

[Next, as regards Diction. One branch of the inquiry treats of the Modes of Utterance. But this province of knowledge belongs to the art of Delivery and to the masters of that science. It includes, for instance — what is a command, a prayer, a statement, a threat, a question, an answer, and so forth. To know or not to know these things involves no serious censure upon the poet’s art. For who can admit the fault imputed to Homer by Protagoras — that in the words, ‘Sing, goddess, of the wrath, he gives a command under the idea that he utters a prayer? For to tell some one to do a thing or not to do it is, he says, a command. We may, therefore, pass this over as an inquiry that belongs to another art, not to poetry. (S.H. Butcher)]

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Posted by στο 01/04/2011 in Φιλοσοφία



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