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Department of English, NTNU


My contention is that apophatic or negative theology is a classic tradition of interpretation of what Agamben is (not) talking about but of what is silently manifest in the phenomena he analyzes. Negative theology happens to be lucidly revealing of the logic of exception that the political-juridical history reconstructed by Agamben also reveals. I advocate negative theology as a model for understanding Agamben’s logic of exception because it has a certain precedence historically and serves as matrix for later, more secularized forms of thinking. It is itself a decisive first step on the path of secularization. It remains conversant with both theology and its negations—and precisely negation is foundational for so many distinctively modern approaches to reality. Yet apophatic postures of thinking are most natural to Asian philosophical and religious traditions. Deeply probing apophatic insight has been developed from earliest times in Asian currents of culture such as Taoism, Advaita Vedanta, and Mahayana Buddhism. The not very well acknowledged apophatic thrust of Agamben’s thinking is thus one axis aligning it with the Asian traditions that are generally excluded from his otherwise exceptionally wide-ranging interests and allusions. I maintain that exposing apophatic thinking as the underlying (a)logic and driving inspiration of Agamben’s thinking shows him to be in unexpected proximity with millennial tendencies of thought running deep in Asian philosophy and culture. Fittingly, the deep and far-reaching significance of Agamben’s own work is thereby revealed by what it ostensibly excludes—or at least leaves largely out of account.