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Agambens Limbos: Robert Walser and the Refugee
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Textual Practice RTPR-2011-0071 Original Article

limbo, sovereignty, play, law, Kafka

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Agambens Limbos: Robert Walser and the Refugee

Into a Limbo large and broad, since called The Paradise of Fools Milton, Paradise Lost, Book III, 495-96

in the writings of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, illumines and informs the altered stakes in the latters approach to political eschatology. What is at issue, what inspires Agambens critique of the procedures, principles and occlusions of Western law, its global reach and its religious modelling is a vision not of utopia, but of limbo. For Agamben, Walsers fictions are of an innocence that nonetheless cannot be saved; his characters reinvent the sense of an outside of sovereign power. In The Coming Community (La comunit che viene, 1990) Agamben articulates the promise of their hopelessness:

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The figure of the Swiss writer Robert Walser, as construed and invoked

This nature of limbo is the secret of Robert Walsers world. His creatures are irreparably astray, but in a region that is beyond perdition and salvation: Their nullity, of which they are so proud, is principally a neutrality with respect to salvation the most radical objection that has ever been levied against the very idea of
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redemption. The truly unsavable life is the one in which there is nothing to save, and against this the powerful theological machine of Christian oiconomia runs aground. This is what leads to the curious mixture of rascality and humility, of cartoon-style thoughtlessness and minute scrupulousness that characterizes Walsers characters; this is what leads, also, to their ambiguity, so that every relationship with them seems always on the verge of ending up in bed: It is neither pagan hubris nor animal timidity,

The final sentence, with its appeal to simple human life, effectively positions Walsers characters as positive counterfigures of the bare life that Agamben, in a series of writings from the mid nineties on, has confronted in the homo sacer of ancient Roman law, the stateless individuals of internment camps, and the
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but simply the impassibility of limbo with respect to divine justice. Like the freed convict in Kafkas Penal Colony, who has survived the destruction of the machine that was to have executed him, these beings have left the world of guilt and justice behind them: The light that rains down on them is that irreparable light of the dawn following the novissima dies of judgment. But the life that begins on earth after the last day is simply human life.1

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overcomatose patient on life support.2 The limbo that Agamben discerns in Walsers texts he denies to the homo sacer and its modern avatars; indeed, for Agamben, these incarnations of so-called bare life are misunderstood in their relevance to the self-conception of power if shunted off to a notional outside. It is as though Agamben intervenes in the name of the one limbo to rescue it from being confused with the limbo for which the contemporary imaginary has discovered a descriptive use. The truly bare life, the life that is simply human, is not what Agambens archaeology of the structure of Western sovereignty will reveal; it is the life that in his reading of Walser he grapples to express, the unjudgeable life glimpsed and disavowed by the Church Fathers in the limbo of

unbaptised children.

homo sacer his homo Walser?3 If there is a substitutivity, it can take into account solely the claim, contested by Agamben in the case of homo sacer and asserted by him in the case of Walser, to denote a human life that is detached in its relations with the law. Walser is what survives of a libertarian dream in Agamben after he exposes the lawless human body at the heart of sovereignty. Walser, who is not he who can be killed and yet not sacrificed (the definition of homo sacer that Agamben draws from the second-century Roman grammarian and historian Pompeius Festus), is also not the natural life that is fancied will affirm itself with
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Without developing the speculation, Anton Schtz asks, Is Agambens

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the voiding of all repressions, be they political, social, sexual or religious. What distances and differentiates Walser from the law is not easily pinned down, and Agambens remarks on this point are suggestive, if not merely teasing. Without Walser more precisely, without what Agamben makes of him there would be more of a temptation to view Agamben as an apologist of the law, albeit a decidedly sombre one.4 If the exteriority of bare life, once it is demonstrated to be a political and juridical construction, is no longer the unambiguous ratio cognoscendi of the limits of sovereign power, is reformism alone what can remain of an opposition to sovereignty? Walser enters here to save the day by not saving it. Homo Walser is not the truly natural human being, but rather a shiftless scatterbrain with an appetite for incongruous speechifying; he is not a denizen of a recovered Eden, but rather of limbo. That political hopes could be invested in him at all is at once a joke la Walser and an exigency of the confrontation with dialectics. Walser is an unlikely adversary of sovereign power and, for Agamben, this is as it were what gives him his chance. Where the bare life of homo sacer and its modern variants is essentially implicated in sovereign power as the miserable double of its own lawless splendour, between Walser and sovereignty there exists a morphological asymmetry. The rules change and in place of an berwindung (overcoming) that, as late Heidegger contends, leaves the basic organisational principles intact, there is the promise
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of a Verwindung (deflection) of these principles themselves and the biopolitical catastrophe to which Agamben sees them committed (one might query, by the way, whether Walser is for Agamben what Hlderlin is for Heidegger, observing not only the comparable heavy investments of these readings, their wilful obtuseness and the expectations placed on their subjects, but also the mayhem that ensues for the vision of the age to come when, satirically but not for that reason facetiously, Walser is pronounced its herald, rather than Hlderlin).

theologico-political programme to Walsers texts that is patently not there, this would be to miss that what Agamben notes in Walser and tries to expound is the very evacuation of any such programme. It is the irony of Agambens exegesis that in wanting to take the measure of the oblivion in which Walsers universe has sunk the apparatus of divine and earthly justice, and for which he valorises Walser, Agamben invokes the terms and objectives of sovereign power even as he would prefer to forget them. The fact of this navety, when remade into an achievement of sentimental consciousness, is enough to draw Walser and Kafka closer together. The forcibleness of this result is not trivial (whatever Kafkas admiration for Walser, Carl Seelig twice documents hitting a brick wall with Walser on the topic of Kafka, although this could be a matter simply of
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Were one to object to Agambens commentary that he attributes a

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Walsers general attitude toward his literary contemporaries.)5 Yet if one were not to read Walser against the grain, professing instead to stick to the letter of his inconsequentialities, one might easily find oneself in the grips of a similarly forcible reading wherein the novelty and operation of Walsers inconsequentialities are elided: the insignificance at which Walser arrives is not the insignificance into which another writer tumbles through sententiousness and unwitting conventionality. That Agamben reads Walser by the light of Kafkas star is of course not something that Agamben endeavours to conceal. His Walser is the Walser that reappears as a vanishing point in Kafkas reflections on law and power, as the inscrutable obsequiousness and daydreaminess of the assistants with whom Blumfeld and K., for instance, are lumbered. It is the Walser whose outline was solidified in the first wave of his reception and does not pretend to tally with the gigantic, pointillistic corpus drastically enlarged since the 1970s by the transcription and publication of the so-called micrograms that defeats any formularisation. What Agamben proposes is a commentary on the commentary that Kafka performs on Walser, restoring centrality to the character type marginalised in Kafka while adopting the juridical and theological framework that Kafka had first given it. From the vantage ground of the central figures in Kafkas narratives, the assistants, for whom Walser had furnished prototypes, are comic persecutors; from the
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vantage ground that they themselves occupy, an altogether different world opens up. In wanting to seize upon this perspective, in thinking it worth appropriating, Agamben exhibits also the Benjaminian legacy of his interpretation. In his brief but influential assessment of Walser from 1929, Benjamin affirms what he believes distinctive of Walsers characters: They are figures who have left madness behind them, and this is why they are marked by such a consistently heartrending, inhuman superficiality. If we were to attempt to sum up in a single phrase the delightful yet also uncanny element in them, we would have to say: they have all been healed.6 Reading Kafka and Benjamin alongside and beyond each other, Agamben ventures to answer that what Walsers characters have been healed of is the law. This might seem a stronger claim than the reference to limbo supports, but in Agambens tendentious paraphrase of Aquinas limbo passes from being a borderland of Hell to a sovereignless Arcadia of irreligious joy. The passage in question occurs in The Coming Community immediately before the previously

quoted excerpt:

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According to Saint Thomas, the punishment of unbaptized children who die with no other fault than original sin cannot be an afflictive punishment, like that of hell, but only a punishment of
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privation that consists in the perpetual lack of the vision of God. The inhabitants of limbo, in contrast to the damned, do not feel pain from this lack: Since they have only natural and not supernatural knowledge, which is implanted in us at baptism, they do not know that they are deprived of the supreme good, or if they do know (as others claim) they cannot suffer from it more than a reasonable person is pained by the fact that he or she cannot fly. If they were to feel pain they would be suffering from a penalty for which they could not make amends and thus their pain would end up leading them into hopelessness, like the damned. This would not be just. Moreover, their bodies, like those of the blessed, cannot be affected; they are impassible. But this is true only with respect to the action of divine justice; in every other respect they fully enjoy their natural perfection. The greatest punishment the lack of the vision of God thus turns into a natural joy: Irremediably lost, they persist without pain in divine abandon. God has not forgotten them, but rather they have always already forgotten God; and in the face of their forgetfulness, Gods forgetting is impotent. Like letters with no addressee, these uprisen beings remain without a destination.
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Neither blessed like the elected, nor hopeless like the damned, they are infused with a joy with no outlet.7

At this point Agamben introduces Walser, as though by applying sufficient pressure to Aquinas the latter can be made to give up the name of the Swiss writer. By challenging the correctness of Agambens presentation of Aquinass thought, we are perhaps in a better position to register the novelty and peculiarity of the theologico-political programme that Agamben ascribes to Walser. Agambens source, for which he does not provide a citation, is almost certainly the material compiled by Nicolai from Saint Thomass commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard and appended to the Summa Theologica.8 Agamben begins a new paragraph when he takes his leave from Aquinas, for Agamben cannot impute to Aquinas the statement that the unbaptised children who inhabit limbo have forgotten God. For Aquinas, unbaptised children have natural, but not supernatural knowledge of God, reasoning from the cosmological proof of God that is the world rather than from the gift of grace that is Christ. Where Augustine9, Alexander of Hales10, Albertus Magnus11, Bonaventure12, Dante13 among others affirm that unbaptised children suffer pain from the privation of the vision of God, Aquinas controversially denies it: the sorrow of the damned is the worm of conscience and as the demerit of original
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sin is Adams, not theirs, unbaptised children do not grieve. The absence of this one particular grief is a long way from Agambens natural joy in the oblivion of God.14 Fifteen years after the publication of the above text, Agamben returns to limbo to overcode the naturalness of the joy that he earlier credited its inhabitants. In Profanations (Profanazioni, 2005) their joy is at once natural and parodic:

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A reading of the theological treatises on limbo shows, beyond any doubt, that the Church Fathers conceived of the first circle as a parody of both paradise and hell, of beatitude as well as damnation. It is a parody of paradise insofar as it contains creatures who, like the blessed, are innocent and yet carry in themselves the original stain children who died before being baptized or righteous pagans who could not have known. The most ironically parodic moment, however, concerns hell. According to the theologians, the punishment an inhabitant of limbo undergoes cannot be an afflictive one, like that reserved for the damned, but must be a privative one, consisting in a perpetual inability to perceive God. This lack, though, which constitutes the
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first of the infernal punishments, does not cause the residents of limbo pain, as it does the damned. Since they have only natural consciousness and not the supernatural one that derives from baptism, the lack of the highest good does not cause them the slightest regret. Thus the creatures of limbo convert the greatest punishment into a natural joy, and this joy is certainly an extreme and special form of parody.15

It is fair to ask in exactly whose eyes limbo is a parody. That, according to theological tracts from late antiquity and the medieval period, limbo resembles paradise and hell in certain respects and differs from them in others is, of course, not enough to establish it as a parody of both paradise and hell. For the inhabitants of limbo, deprived as they are of the beatific vision, such joy as they feel cannot be infused with a consciousness of its difference from the joy of the inhabitants of heaven and thus also cannot easily be claimed for parody. If Agamben does not rest content with recording the generally conceded ignorance of the denizens of limbo but proceeds to interpret it as parody, it is because he wants to array it against the very structure of divine judgement and its secular palimpsests. This is the moment in his thinking where Agamben shows himself an heir of the nineteenth-century potes maudits: like Rimbaud, he
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arms himself against justice. In this respect, Agambens extremism is consistent with his wholesale (and problematic) rejection of sovereignty. The longstanding practice of appealing to a higher justice in the course of objecting to the acts and verdicts of a more immediate authority (if only the King knew what is being done here in His name) acknowledges and perpetuates the myth of the sovereign when, for Agamben, the properly political task is the dismantling of this myth. Robert Walser is the unlikely combatant all the more effective in this particular struggle for being an unlikely combatant who Agamben sees entering the lists against justice.

parodist the playfulness is far more tangible than anything it could be said to be playing with in the sense of parodying. For Agamben, Walsers writings are of interest as a figure or intervention in a theologico-political field whose repercussions it falls first to the commentator to chart and to situate rather than as an autonomous, self-referential work of art. To put it differently, the very autonomy of Walsers universe, its playfulness and innocence, attracts Agamben by virtue of the judgement it appears to hand down on judgement. Playfulness comes into its own as playfulness when it succeeds in even forgetting what it is playing with. If extravagant playfulness is to set Walser in direct confrontation with the law, it should not allow itself to be dampened by
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Doubtless it is easier to grant that Walser is playful than that he is a

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an awareness of the gravity of this confrontation. For Agamben, the confrontation with law is an affair of play and not of sheer lawlessness (the dead-end ordained for anarchist politics is that it strives for the tabula rasa that the law needs to inscribe itself). Wanting to criticise the law while also maintaining the dialectical recuperation of lawlessness for the concept of law, Agamben revives the revolutionary hopes that Schiller, for instance, cherishes for play in his letters on aesthetic education. It is difficult to know what to make of this. In State of Exception (Stato di eccezione, 2003), Agamben writes: One day humanity will play with law just as children play with disused objects, not in order to restore them to their canonical use but to free them from it for good.16 In Profanations the scope of play is wider still:

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[P]lay frees and distracts humanity from the sphere of the sacred, without simply abolishing it. The use to which the sacred is returned is a special one that does not coincide with utilitarian consumption. In fact, the profanation of play does not solely concern the religious sphere. Children, who play with whatever old thing falls into their hands, make toys out of things that also belong to the sphere of economics, war, law, and other activities

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that we are used to thinking of as serious. All of a sudden, a car, a firearm, or a legal contract becomes a toy.17

That play could effect a fundamental transformation of the law seems unintelligible, not least because the workings of the courts, as Huizinga points out in Homo Ludens, already find themselves (pre-emptively?), with their protocols, suspensions and costumes, within a world of play. An ironical detachment in relation to the law might, besides, manage to persuade itself that it is playing with the law while, in practical terms, amounting to nothing beyond acquiescence to its continued operation. Yet perhaps what is at issue in Agambens reading of Walser is a rebirth not so much of the law through play as of the human beings who live with it. The goal is to become creatures of such flightiness and levity that the action of the law encounters nothing substantial on which it might inflict suffering. More precisely, the goal is to have already become such beings, since as a goal toward which one makes piecemeal progress, as a result of conscious stratagems and subterfuges, it is unattainable, an oxymoronic artful ingenuousness. Walser is a figure of consummate play: he is not the evidence of a path out of the legal and political impasse that Agamben describes, but rather a postulated exteriority to it (this is Agambens appropriation, as it were, of Kafkas demoralising words of
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comfort: There is hope, but not for us). If one wants to be healed of the law, one must play with it, but insofar as ones desire to be healed is in earnest, one is not playing and therefore will not be healed. Agamben has to abandon Walser to the joy of play, hollowing him out of all misery and design, if he is to be capable of fulfilling the function with which Agamben invests him. Both Benjamin and Agamben interpret Walser as an allegory of carefreeness (when Mark Harman brings forward in supposed refutation of Benjamin the many corrections and revisions in Walsers drafts, he disregards the figurative nature of Benjamins assessment and the citation from Walser on which it is based18). The allegorical reading is not unmotivated. A crisis, never subsequently invoked, appears the prehistory of Walsers texts. Benjamin speaks of Walsers characters as having left madness behind them, and Agamben detects parallels with the protocol-laden language that Hlderlin, under the pseudonym Scardanelli, adopted on occasion after the onset of schizophrenia.19 In the longwindedness that is abetted rather than cowed by their own depreciation of what they have to say, Walsers characters also recall Ippolit from Dostoyevskys Idiot, yet without the linguistic panic being attributable to an impending calamity.20 A calm has come to reign over this world of tics and foibles. Walser writes of the eponymous hero of his late novel The Robber: He resembled the

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product of a watercolour painter.21 It is as though at the conclusion of the tragedy of world history Pee-wee Herman were to spring from the ruins. That Walser constitutes the counterweight in Agambens thinking to the bleakness of his appraisal of bare life is easily overlooked, both because Agamben does not himself discuss the two together and because Walser seems so little suited to bearing the political and philosophical burdens of this task. In an article from 2004, Dieter Thom sketches what he proposes as a contrary of homo sacer only to arrive at a valorisation of play unwittingly like Agambens

own.

account of the rightless individual, denying that the refugee and the homo sacer of early Roman law are interchangeable as proofs and outcomes of sovereign power. The explanatory limitations and rhetorical excesses of Agambens position derive, according to Thom, from a narrow focus on the centripetal forces of human society to the neglect of its centrifugal forces. Agambens apocalyptic scenario in which today it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West22 anticipates a future in which the screws are ever tightened until sovereign power has rendered the entire population a homo sacer, thereby normalising what was originally an exception. The proliferation of rightless individuals in the refugee camps of
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Thom very reasonably objects to the one-sidedness of Agambens

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modern states is, from Agambens perspective, symptomatic of the consolidation of the ancient biopolitical truth of sovereignty. The centrifugal dynamic of migration, which attests to the powerlessness of sovereign states to retain their citizens, goes unacknowledged and the provenance of the refugee, once suppressed in its historical and geographical contingency, becomes a matter of the transpolitical constitution of sovereign power: the camp inmates homeland is the brutal truth of the machinery of the state. Thom observes: The refugees and internees of today testify not to a structural or even tragic conflict at the heart of modern society, but rather to the latters insufficiency.23 Their rightlessness does not straightforwardly demonstrate the power of the state to strip them of rights, since this rightlessness also reveals an incapacity to integrate newcomers.

in its dealings with refugees, Thom presumably does not wish to push simply for the other extreme, namely the comparably misleading thesis that the legal and political limbo to which refugees are consigned is the result of nothing besides a backlog in administrative processing. Of more significance for Thoms polemical undertaking is that he distances the refugee from the constellation of the homo sacer and the Muselmann of the Nazi death camps. He allows the refugee another determinacy than the abasement before state power
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Having set out to temper Agambens sinister portrait of the modern state

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the masterless man. This contrasting definition he draws from a 1933 British colonial report on Tanganyika quoted by the ethnologist Richard Thurnwald:

The Chiefs and Elders are convinced that the reason for the existence of this undesirable type are twofold: firstly, the fact that [...] he [...] grows up without having grown accustomed to manual labour in the field and, what is worse, has grown to despise his elders as illiterate and ignorant peasants. The second factor consists in the facilities for easy travel that exist today. When the planting or reaping season begins the young Mpare is apt to take the next train to Moshi or Tanga, there to live on his wits until work is over. As a result we have a generation of men who have no stake in their country, no houses, no family, no cattle, nor shamba (field) an unpleasant reminder of that medieval scourge,

Needless to say, as a blanket description of the modern refugee this passage, flattening and trivialising the many different causes of migration, has little to recommend it. The context of its defensibility is Thoms inversion of
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the masterless man.24

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Agambens approach: where Agamben claims to make out a general truth concerning modern society in the bare life of the refugee, Thom pretends to detect in the refugee the mobility and lack of commitment that is definitive for him of liberal society. Thoms masterless man, who is not himself a master, who in his rootlessness becomes an actor rather than an animal and plays with his essence, has more in common with Walsers and Kafkas assistants. That Agamben does not make out any Walserian traits in the refugee is

not a matter of simple blindness. Walser, as a conceptual figure, differs from both the rightless individual of the internment camp and the citizen with his or her battery of rights. It is by differing, playfully, from both that Walser constitutes a way out of the dilemma of the haves and have-nots that Agamben, following Arendt, confronts in the discourse of human rights. In The Origins of Totalitarianism Arendt debunks the specious cosmopolitanism of the Rights of Man, but where Agamben will appeal to Walser in the impasse, Arendt cites Plato that Not man, but a god, must be the measure of all things:

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From the beginning the paradox involved in the declaration of inalienable human rights was that it reckoned with an abstract human being who seemed to exist nowhere, for even savages lived in some kind of a social order. If a tribal or other backward
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community did not enjoy human rights, it was obviously because as a whole it had not yet reached that stage of civilization, the stage of popular and national sovereignty, but was oppressed by foreign or native despots. The whole question of human rights, therefore, was quickly and inextricably blended with the question of national emancipation; only the emancipated sovereignty of the people, of ones own people, seemed to be able to insure them. As mankind, since the French Revolution, was conceived in the image of a family of nations, it gradually became self-evident that the people, and not the individual, was the image of man. The full implication of this identification of the rights of man with the rights of peoples in the European nation-state system came to light only when a growing number of people and peoples suddenly appeared whose elementary rights were as little safeguarded by the ordinary functioning of nation-states in the middle of Europe as they would have been in the heart of Africa.25

It is against this backdrop that the strangeness of Agambens Walser as a political intervention is at its least strange. Walsers levity is, for Agamben, an image of a new relationship to law where the possession of human rights does
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not entail, as its calamitous supplement, the possibility and reality of rightlessness (it is the far-from-innocent fact of the rightless human body that lends credibility to the fiction of a social contract, for even if one cannot recall ever signing the contract, one can recognise oneself as a signatory in the rightlessness of the non-signatory). Playing with the law (generously understood) shuts down the decision between possession and non-possession (it is both and neither), between the rightlessness of the displaced person stripped of every political status and wholly reduced to bare life26 and the citizen whose human rights are secured not by his or her humanity but by belonging to a determinate and hence always more or less exclusionary body politic. Play is the prerogative of the inhabitants of limbo. Agambens limbo is decidedly not the Hades that Arendt distinguishes from Purgatory and Hell in her taxonomy of concentration camps: To Hades correspond those relatively mild forms, once popular even in non-totalitarian countries, for getting undesirable elements of all sorts refugees, stateless persons, the asocial and the unemployed out of the way; as DP camps, which are nothing other than camps for persons who have become superfluous and bothersome, they have survived the war.27 Agambens limbo is even less the limbo between life and death where Wolfgang Sofsky, from whose The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp Agamben quotes, situates the Muselmann, the complete and therefore
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speechless witness of Nazi genocide.28 Agambens limbo is not in the gift of sovereign power. It is not a site, but a practice or, more precisely, a gesture. If it is a stretch to interpret limbo as a parody of heaven and hell, it is unmistakable that many of Walsers characters are engaged in caricaturing submissiveness to authority. They are not descendants of Hegels Knecht, who lives in fear yet whose coming to power the dialectical forces of world history guarantee. One text, written as a job application, concludes: so I shall be waiting, esteemed gentlemen, to see what it will be your pleasure to reply to your respectful servant, positively drowning in obedience.29 This is overkill without being sarcastic rebelliousness. More a popinjay than a Caliban, Walser explores a new stream of subaltern literature. J. M. Coetzee attributes Walsers affectations to the self-suppression supposedly involved in embracing High German: Writing in High German which was, practically speaking, the only choice open to Walser entailed, unavoidably, adopting a stance of a person of learning and of social refinement, a stance with which he was not comfortable.30 The foppishness, then, would be a work of mourning and protest over the earthiness that has been sacrificed with an eye to a larger readership. This, however, is not how Walser himself construed his position on the use of Swiss German dialects, as Carl Seelig reports: I have intentionally never written in dialect. I always found that an unseemly attempt to curry
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favour with the masses. Artists must keep their distance.31 When Walser was a resident in the psychiatric facility in Waldau (1929-33), he was clearly writing without considering the practicalities of the German book market. Although the texts are in High German apart from the occasional regionalism, they are composed in such a minute hand as to foil ready comprehension. Here the act of writing discards its communicative aspect to become muscle memory, a dance of microscopic movements. Werner Morlang, who with Bernhard Echte and Jochen Greven transcribed Walsers late works, speaks of the courage that kept the prose piece business going and that can best be seen in the texts Walser wrote in direct defiance of the original contents of the draft-paper, such as in his overwriting of a rejection letter from a journal.32 This courage is at times also the obliviousness for which Agamben prizes Walser. It is the obliviousness that gives Walser the lightness of touch that many of his Jugendstil contemporaries could only approximate through resorting to the fantastical. When Walser himself goes in for imaginative writing, as in the dream of Paris in The Tanners (Geschwister Tanner, 1907), it is not at all to flout the law of gravity:

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All at once a fragrant white cloud bowed down into the street. [] The cloud remained lying there on the street as white foam, resembling a large swan. Many ladies ran up to it and plucked off
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little bits, which they placed, moving their arms with wondrous grace, upon their hats, or else they threw the bits at one another in jest, which stuck to their dresses. [] Then the wicked street urchins of Paris arrived to tickle the cloud with burning matches, and so it flew back up into the sky again, light and majestic, until it vanished above the buildings.33

This cloud, which does not suffer the fate of Baudelaires albatross, belongs to a world on which violence, as Agamben perceives, is never allowed to leave a

lasting mark.

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Notes
1

Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis,

MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), pp. 6-7. Five years earlier, in Idea Della Prosa (1985), Agamben proceeds from Origens wrathful withdrawal of God to unbaptised childrens supposedly joyous obliviousness to the beatific vision and, making no mention of Walser, speaks of their limbo nature as the secret of Melvilles impassive scribe Bartleby. See Agamben, Idea of Prose, trans. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany, NY: State University of New York

Press, 1995), pp. 77-78.


2

An early treatment of homo sacer occurs in the 1982 article *Se: lAssoluto e l

Ereignis, translated and published as Agamben, *Se: Hegels Absolute and Heideggers Ereignis in id., Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, ed. and trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), pp.

136-37.
3

Anton Schtz, Thinking the Law With and Against Luhmann, Legendre,

Agamben, Law and Critique, 11 (2000), p. 131.


4

Cf. William E. Connolly, The Complexities of Sovereignty in Giorgio

Agamben: Sovereignty and Life, ed. Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), p. 27: But nothing else is

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offered to replace it. Agamben thus carries us through the conjunction of sovereignty, the sacred, and biopolitics to a historical impasse.
5

See Carl Seelig, Wanderungen mit Robert Walser (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1990),

pp. 56 and 113.


6

Walter Benjamin, Robert Walser, trans. Rodney Livingstone in id., Selected

Writings, Volume 2: 1927-1934, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 259.
7

Agamben, The Coming Community, pp. 5-6. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English

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Dominican Province, vol. 21 (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1912-36), pp.

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220-23.
9

See, for instance, Augustine, De peccatorum meritis et remissione et de baptismo

ie

parvulorum, 1.16.21.
10

Alexander of Hales, Glossa in quator libros Sententiarum Petri Lombardi, In 4

On

Sent.
11

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Albertus Magnus, De resurrectione.

12

Bonaventure, Commentaria in quator libros Sententiarum, In 2 Sent. Dante, Inferno IV, 28-30. Cf. Aquinas, On Evil, trans. Richard Regan, ed. Brian Davies (Oxford: Oxford

13

14

University Press, 2003), p. 241: The souls of children who die in original sin
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indeed know happiness in general regarding its common aspect but not in particular. And so they do not grieve about losing it.
15

Agamben, Profanations, trans. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books, 2007), p. 44. Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: The University of

16

Chicago Press, 2005), p. 64.


17

Agamben, Profanations, p. 76. Mark Harman, A Secretive Modernist: Robert Walser and His Microscripts,

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18

Review of Contemporary Fiction, 12 (1992), p. 114. Benjamin reserves judgement on the literal truth of the claim stemming from Walser himself that the latter never revised a single line in his writings. See Benjamin, Robert Walser, p.

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258.
19

Agamben, The Coming Community, p. 59.

20

For a study of Walsers relationship to Dostoyevsky, see Michel Cadot,

Robert Walsers Lektre von Dostojewskij in Immer dicht vor dem Sturze: Zum Werk Robert Walsers, eds. Paolo Chiarini and Hans Dieter Zimmermann

(Frankfurt am Main: Athenum, 1987), pp. 222-36.


21

Robert Walser, The Robber, trans. Susan Bernofsky (Lincoln, NE: University of

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Nebraska Press, 2000), p. 10.


22

Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-

Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 181.


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23

Dieter Thom, Der Herrenlose: Gegenfigur zu Agambens homo sacer

Leitfigur einer anderen Theorie der Moderne, Deutsche Zeitschrift fr Philosophie, 52 (2004), p. 969.
24

Report by His Majestys Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain

and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of the Tanganyika Territory for the year 1932, London, 1933 (Colonial no. 18) quoted in Richard C. Thurnwald, Black and White in East Africa: The Fabric of a New Civilization (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1935), p. 393 and then in Thom, p. 972.
25

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (London: George Allen and

Unwin, 1967), p. 291.


26

Agamben, Homo Sacer, p. 171.

27

Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 445.

28

Wolfgang Sofsky, The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp, trans. William

Templer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 294; quoted in Agamben, The Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books, 2002), p. 48.
29

Walser, The Job Application, trans. Christopher Middleton in id., Selected

Stories (New York: New York Review Books, 1982), p. 28.

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30

J. M. Coetzee, The Genius of Robert Walser, The New York Review of Books, 47

(2 November 2000), p. 17.


31

Seelig, Wanderungen mit Robert Walser, p. 26. Werner Morlang, The Singular Bliss of the Pencil Method: On the

32

Microscripts, trans. Susan Bernofsky, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 12 (1992), p. 99.
33

Walser, The Tanners, trans. Susan Bernofsky (New York: New Directions,

2009), pp. 237-38.

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