Essay: Georgio Agamben’s ‘Notes on Gesture’

If we understand the ‘word’ as the means of communication, then to show a word does not mean to have at one’s disposal a higher level (a metalanguage, itself incommunicable within the first level), starting from which we could make that word an object of communication; it means, rather, to expose the word in its own mediality, in its own being a means, without any transcendence. The gesture is, in this sense, communication of a communicability. It has precisely nothing to say because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as pure mediality. However, because being-in-language is not something that could be said in sentences, the gesture is essentially always a gesture of not being able to figure something out in language.

Agamben’s essay argues that society has lost its sense of gestures from the end of the 19th century onwards. Drawing on a diverse examples, from Gilles de la Tourette (who lends his name to the sydrome) to the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge and the films of Guy Debord, Agamben attempts to reconcile the gesture to both philosophy and cinema. He controversially makes a case for the gesture exhibited in film as a way of restoring images to the dynamism of movement.

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