GIORGIO AGAMBEN, WHAT IS THE CONTEMPORARY? CHE COS'E' IL CONTEMPORANEO?

Translated by David Kishik and and Stefan Pedatella, published by Stanford University Press in 2009

 

Giorgio Agamben begins his lecture on questioning what it means to be contemporary by calling the reader and audience to reflect on the demand to attend this question at the present time. His formula in attempting to answer this question is a spiral that circumnavigates his point but never defines its target. He begins his case by quoting Nietzsche through Roland Barthes "The Contemporary is the untimely" he who is embedded within a period and yet seeks refection that necessarily produces a sense of detachment. To visualize this state of affairs he calls to mind the Poem by Osip Mandelstom " The Century" where the poem weaves a mans time with his own flesh and blood, in this case the individual who wants to understand his period must brake his own spine to look behind himself and be reflective. In both cases he mentions the monstrosity of this action, there is a sense of doom and permanent failure to grasp, a torturing and tormenting task, to make the impossible possible.

 

He goes on to pose the idea that to be contemporary is the person who is able not to see in the light but in darkness. He compares this to the ability of who perceives what is not immediately apparent but that one senses even in its absence like a distant star or planet in space. This distance is not just in space but also in time and he connects it to being close to the archaic and the origin, thus the past. There is always a displacement, a negative or an absence that is present. There is in such a way a constant, which is constantly changing and impermanent.

 

This sensation for me is also evidenced in the Photograph that attempts to capture the here-and-now in its appearance, yet it is doomed to fail in the moment as an accurate representation of a present and reinforces instead what has already past, distorted, a continuum that moves forward that is impossible to hold still. It becomes only in retrospect when all traces have ceased to be that the photograph acts as an agent, shedding light by concealing. It is within its legibility and interpretability in the future that the split-second of the photograph is able to act as contemporary.