In this letter to you I must speak of a call. It’s addressing me personally and I can’t ignore it. Try as I may, I can’t block my ears, my eyes, my intellect or, for that matter, my love; for what I’m hearing is a wake-up call, and not just for me personally.
Okay, the call is addressing me (as I’m addressing you) and it matters that it is me; yet it also matters that I could be anyone whomsoever, which could be you.
So I’m called and, what’s more, the situation in which I’m found and which is defining my existence is also called. I am, as you are, only ever to be found in a situation, and this situation—any situation—has conditions operating within it and constituting it. And with these called and addressed, I can’t ignore the conditions of my existence, and it would be the same for anyone.
The call hasn’t stopped addressing me, and as it continues what I can’t stop hearing is the ‘calling’ of a vocation. Nothing in me wants to deny or ridicule this calling, but I have to say that it is not at all straightforward—what comes is a vocation that is the revocation of every vocation.
This much I can say: the vocation of revocation is remarkable in that it doesn’t really bring a task to be done. With the vocation of revocation an internal tension occurs as vocation is set in relation to itself in the form of ‘as not’. And what this brings (at least for me) is nothing other than deactivation. It’s not negation. It’s not destructive. Something else is going on.
So, I’m being called, but I’m not called away. I stay exactly where I am, and what happens is that the conditions that situate me, steer me, constitute me, organise me, manage me, locate me, divide me and even abandon me are becoming exposed to deactivation. And deactivation brings a time that is unlike anything I know. Yet there is the feeling of intensification, and that’s the feeling of my heart near to breaking—but I’m not weeping. And I’m sure it would be the same for anyone.
I’ve already said the vocation of revocation is remarkable and it is even more so in that the calling refers only to its own operation, which is to say that nothing remains external to it. In short, there is no power or transcendent cause, no bigger being, that is out there pulling strings.
I’ll say I am the subject of this vocation, yet as that subject I am immediately revoked; perhaps what truly makes this a vocation is dwelling in that revocation and for it to be a living revocation.
What does it mean to say that?
To dwell in the vocation of revocation is to have no central figure to rally around. It is to have no substantive identity to adopt, no determinate content to set down, no dogma to spell out; indeed, with the vocation of revocation a law is not revoked to destroy it so that a new law can be put in its place, in as much as an identity is not negated or overthrown in order to impose a sparkling and perhaps bloody new one. Here it is: what comes with living revocation is a life that has not already been enacted, prefigured, planned and, let’s say, governed. And that is what is going on in the time of deactivation—something is being released, perhaps from itself.
So, the vocation of revocation only refers to its own operation. There is not a task to be done and even less of anything is handed down to me from a sacred source, and even though as the subject of this vocation there immediately comes revocation, this is not to say that the conditions of my existence are destroyed or that I am on my knees and rendered powerless, hopeless. For sure, with the vocation of revocation there doesn’t come the revocation of one vocation for another vocation, but what does arise in that time of deactivation is the possibility of releasing potentials that have been inactive.
Yes, within this time that is not like anything I know and which brings neither task nor fixed content, there turns and returns nothing other than the potentiality to think and act. With living revocation, I have the chance to return to there where I have never been able to be—and the return is not mine alone, mine to own. And this is what I need to say (to you): as we become what we have been unable to be there emerges what truly deserves to be called, and loved as, the Ungovernable.
Giorgio Agamben, “Toward a Theory of Destituent Potential” in The Use of Bodies (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2015)