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Products for grant FT-255030-17

The Ancient Christian Understanding of Slavery and Contemporary Discourse on the Meaning of Being Human
Jennifer Glancy, Le Moyne College

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"Precarity of Use" (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: "Precarity of Use"
Author: Jennifer A. Glancy
Abstract: Exploring the implications of a distinction Aristotle draws between bios (politically qualified life) and zoe (natural life), Giorgio Agamben develops the notion of bare life, life stripped of political protections. To exemplify the precarity of bare life, Agamben turns not to the ubiquitous figure of the ancient slave but to homo sacer, an obscure figure of Roman law. This despite the fact that the passage in the Politics where Aristotle distinguishes bios from zoe continues with a discussion of natural slavery. Agamben returns to that passage and its treatment of slavery in the final volume of his Homo Sacer project, The Use of Bodies (2016). There, however, rather than deepening his genealogy of bare life, he elaborates “a theory of use.” He stipulates messianic dimensions for this theory. Quoting 1 Cor 7:21, Agamben contends, “The messianic call…consists first of all in the capacity to ‘use’ the factical condition in which each one finds himself.” Agamben speculates that “the use of the body” in slavery “evoke[s] the paradigm of a human activity that is reducible neither to labor, nor to production, nor to praxis.” He imagines an originary “community of life” between master and slave, an elision of the brute force fundamental to despotic relationships. Following Agamben’s philological lead, I investigate Paul’s use of chresis and cognates in passages involving either slaves or invocations of slavery and freedom Agamben’s take on “use” is belied by standard Greek idioms. Moreover, the conception of slavery in terms of mutual use obscures the precarity inherent in the lives of enslaved. Work on this paper was supported by a 2017 Summer Stipend award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Date: 11/12/2017
Primary URL: http://
Primary URL Description: Link on online conference program to the paper I gave based on the work I did with support of 2017 Summer Stipend.
Conference Name: Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Boston Massachussetts