continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 1.2 / 2011: 145-147

Covering Giorgio Agamben's Nudities

Gregory Kirk Murray

continent. 1.2 (2011): 145-147.

Here I accoutred myself in my new habiliments; and, having em-
ployed the same precautions as before, retired from my lodging
at a time least exposed to observation. It is unnecessary to des-
cribe the particulars of my new equipage; suffice it to say, that
one of my cares was to discolour my complexion, and give it
the dun and sallow hue which is in most instances characteristic
of the tribe to which I assumed to belong; and that when my
metamorphosis was finished, I could not, upon the strictest ex-
amination, conceive that any one could have traced out the per-
son of Caleb Williams in this new disguise.

William Godwin
Caleb Williams (352).

Giorgio Agamben. Nudities. Trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011.
144 pp. | 10 illustrations. | ISBN: 9780804769501 | $16.95

A.      The Protective Overcoat.

The most pervasive, resilient, robust, sneaky, and significant concept in all of Giorgio Agamben’s essays is that of separation. This is not the same as alienation. Separation is more nostalgic, for Agamben valorizes an ancient world in which human society and its beings were not subject to such separation. He implies that these separations are damaging to human beings, crippling them at the very level of their identities.

B.      The Handsome Gloves.

Giorgio Agamben’s Nudities, like Profanations before it, employs a wide range of subjects in order to establish separation as a metaphor, in much the same way that interdisciplinary scholars have adopted Michel Foucault’s concepts in order to rethink societies and texts. The longest essay from Profanations, entitled “In Praise of Profanation,” laments humankind’s inability to profane as the result of what Walter Benjamin has called “the capitalist religion.” Likewise, “Nudity” adopts a pessimistic stance on the Christian theological tradition’s perverse asphyxiation of the unclothed body.

C.     The Hoop Earrings.

Religion separates humans from things by procuring for itself items as “sacred,” thus taking them out of common use. In this state, human beings are unable to play with them, unable to change their use-value. They become off-limits, museified.

D.     The Uncomfortable Shoes.

Biometrics polices identity, replacing meaningful metrics of identity. It is a deplorable situation that leaves human beings in danger of, and indeed already victims of, mass persecution.

E.     The Prince Albert.

One could characterize Giorgio Agamben’s desire to catalogue a history of ignorance as a recognition that human beings are separated from knowledge by language. Where then is the prophet, and how shall we be saved?
$49.50 + tip

F.     The Corset.

Franz Kafka’s character of Joseph K. has put himself on trial, as in Roman trials when the Kalumniator was marked with the letter K. The torture he undergoes is meant to elicit a confession of the truth. It is possible that Giorgio Agamben perceives his role as a philosopher to be confined to self-trial, and that with every passage he flays the unclothed page with prophetic intent.

G.     The Derby.

Giorgio Agamben himself tries to bridge various separations through exploratory play. He is not a performative writer semantically, but his exploratory style is rooted in the play spirit. His strategy of numbering points is almost comical, yet it is not misleading. It is play, after all, not ruse. He denudes with pecks, like carrion on a tattered corpse.

H.     The Trousers.

Although Giorgio Agamben is elsewhere concerned with the profanation of religion’s apparatuses, in essay nine he would like to consider what is consumed during days of inoperativity, how religion governs these, and how to account for our binges and purges. Inoperativity is inextricably bound to feasting, to the festival.

I.     The Stylish Belt.

The only essay in Nudities to contain photographs is the essay entitled, “Nudity.” All of these photographs project human bodies.


    The aim here is not to tap
    into an original state prior to the separation
    but to comprehend and neutralize the
    apparatus that produced this separation.

    The contemporary is he  
    who firmly holds his gaze on his own time
    so as to perceive not its light but rather its

    We can therefore only     
    experience nudity as a denudation and a
    baring, never as a form and a stable

    Just as genius and talent
    originally distinct and even opposite—are
    nevertheless united in the work of the poet,
    so the work of creation and the work of
    salvation, inasmuch as they represent the
    two powers of a single God, remain in some
    way secretly conjoined.

    In our culture,
    the face-body relationship is marked by a
    fundamental asymmetry, in that our faces
    remain for the most part naked, while our
    bodies are normally covered.

    Every man initiates
    a slanderous trial
    against himself.

    The glorious body is not
    some other body, more agile and beautiful,
    more luminous and spiritual; it is the body
    itself, at the moment when inoperativity
    removes the spell from it and opens it up
    to a new possible common use.

    As Kleist understood
    so well, the relationship with a zone of     
    nonknowledge is a dance.

    The deactivation of this
    apparatus retroactively operates, therefore,
    as much on nature as on grace, as much on
    nudity as on clothing, liberating them from
    their theological signature.

    At any rate,
    whether festive inoperativity precedes religion
    or results from the profanation of its
    apparatuses, what is essential here is a
    dimension of praxis in which simple, quotidian
    human activities are neither negated nor
    abolished but suspended and rendered
    inoperative in order to be exhibited, as such,
    in a festive manner.


    This is just how much
    [of] the land [the] surveyor is allowed to catch
    a glimpse.


Agamben, Giorgio. Nudities. Trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011. Print.

Godwin, William. Caleb Williams. London: Colburn and Bentley, 1831. Print.

Issue 1.2 / 2011

Gregory Kirk Murray
Georgia Perimeter College

Gregory Kirk Murray is assistant professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. His essay, “Kenneth! Kennebunkport!: Exclamatory Play in Frank O’Hara,” is currently under review in Postmodern Culture. Gregory is at work on his first book, a study of the play element in modernist literature. His poetry has appeared in DIAGRAM, alice blue, Scythe, Mandala, Denver Syntax, epidermis, and elsewhere.