Elevate Difference

"What is an Apparatus?" and Other Essays

"What Is an Apparatus?" and Other Essays, is a collection of three essays by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Although only fifty pages, this collection is quite difficult for the reader unfamiliar with Agamben's work.

In the first essay, “What is an Apparatus,” the author engages with Foucault’s concept of the apparatus (_dispositif _in French). Defining the meaning of apparatus is one of the main points of the essay and difficult to convey here, but to give a brief definition, it is what Foucault conceptualized as a network established between various forms of power, institutions, and ideologies. Agamben outlines a genealogy of the evolution of Foucault’s interest and utilization of this concept, arguing that it is one of his most essential. He also expands the definition of an apparatus to include “anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings.” Agamben then briefly provides suggestions as to how we should attempt to combat apparatuses, given the fact that they are so ubiquitous at this stage of history.

The second essay, “The Friend,” is about the philosophy of friendship and the way that philosophers have tended to theorize friendship. “What is the Contemporary?” is the third and final essay, and ultimately deals with the task of trying to understand the meaning of time.

Agamben has written on a variety of issues, and has been an especially harsh critic of the U.S. response to 9/11, particularly speaking out against the U.S. treatment of prisoners. He also provides an interesting critique of modern society as a whole, continuing in the Foucauldian tradition. Although this collection of essays isn’t necessarily suitable as an introductory text, the reader who is unfamiliar with Agamben is likely to appreciate some of his insights, particularly those who have read Foucault and are familiar with other classic philosophers.

Written by: Liz Simmons, November 13th 2009