Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  422 / 142 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 422 / 142 Next Page
Page Background






suggesting, as Martin posits, “it is not the absence of an answer that

is disappointing but the answer’s anticlimactic presence, which is

never exactly what we expect it to be and thus

leaves us perpetually

waiting for something else

” (2012: 173; italics added), what then is

that “something else” that Landsman is groping for, and what is it

that he has learned from his investigation into Mendel’s murder?

First of all, Landsman finds in Mendel a character who, despite

his alleged potential to be his generation’s Messiah, cracks under the

pressures of too great expectations. The story of Mendel is one that

spills out of its generic boundary as he is expected to fit his role and

satisfy his manifest destiny. In Mendel, Landsman witnesses both the

ambivalence and the paradox of the state of exception. He is called

upon to respond to, in an act of reading or misreading, the state of

exception that Mendel embodies, to determine whether the “state

of exception” signifies one’s subordination to the forces of

sovereignty or one’s exemption from the sovereign power and its


For Giorgio Agamben, as pointed out by Agata Beilik-Robson,

the “state of exception” carries an assemblage of ideas, some of

which are mutually exclusive, if not mutually cancelling. It may

signify “the redemptive possibility of liberation from sovereign

power,” and it may also signify “a moment of extreme

intensification of power from which there is no escape” (2010:



If so, if the state of exception carries both possibilities, one

positive and liberating, the other negative and oppressive, under

what circumstances can the “oppressive state of exception” be

turned into a positive state of exception? How can, that is, the

oppressive state of exception be “converted into a positive,

Benjamin ‘real state of emergency,’ where the human being will

finally lead a ‘happy life’ beyond any imposed project, work, or


Bielik-Robson actually identifies eight different definitions that Agamben has used

in his discussion of the state of exception in his various writings: “whatever,”

“limbo,” “the righteous with animal heads,” the tragic hero, “

homo sacer

,” “the

remnant,” “the man without content,” and “

der Muselmann

” (2010: 104).