Robbie Duschinsky’s “Pure and Impure in the Philosophy of Giorgio Agamben” appears in Telos 160 (Fall 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.
The issue of the “ambiguity of the sacred” plays a significant role in Giorgio Agamben’s thought. Both the importance of the pure and impure to Agamben, and the nature of his theory of this issue, are revealed more clearly in his recent text Il Sacramento del Linguaggio. In contrast to functionalist explanations of themes of purity and impurity as an expression and affirmation of the social order (e.g., Emile Durkheim, Mary Douglas), Agamben considers purity and impurity as essentializing discourses. They contribute to the establishment of a transcendent but empty ideal, as the mandate for the social and political governance of individuals. In the course of this analysis, Agamben offers many philosophical reflections on purity and impurity that will be of note to researchers across the social sciences and humanities.