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Agamben’s Grammar of the Secret Under the Sign of the Law


This paper suggests that a grammar of the secret forms a concept in Agamben’s work, a gap that grounds the enigma of sovereignty. Between the Indo-European *krei, *se, and *per themes, the secret is etymologically linked to the logics of separation and potentiality that together enable the pliant and emergent structure of sovereignty. Sovereignty’s logic of separation meets the logic of relation in the form of abandonment: the point at which division has exhausted itself and reaches an indivisible element, bare life, the exception separated from the form of life and captured in a separate sphere. The arcanum imperii of sovereignty and the cipher of bare life are held together in the relation of the ban as the twin secrets of biopower, maintained by the potentiality of law that works itself as a concealed, inscrutable force. But the ‘real’ secret of sovereignty, I suggest, is its dialectical reversibility, the point at which the concept of the secret is met by its own immanent unworking by the critic and scribe under the *krei theme, and subject to abandonment through the work of profanation; here, different species of the secret are thrown against one another, one order undoing the other. The secret founded upon the sacred is displaced by Agamben’s critical orientation toward the immanent: what is immanent is both potential and hiddenness.

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