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Picturing the Messianic: Agamben and Titian's The Nymph and the Shepherd

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>01/2010
<mark>Journal</mark>Theory, Culture and Society
Issue number1
Number of pages16
Pages (from-to)94-109
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In The Open (2002), a series of reflections on the historical endeavours to define the essential features of the human figure in relation to the biological existence it shares with animals, Giorgio Agamben offers a detailed reading of Titian’s painting The Nymph and the Shepherd. He argues that the scene depicted enables the contemporary viewer to visualize the advent of radical freedom, the moment when the historical dialectic of nature and culture comes to a ‘stand-still’. In this article, I offer a different reading of The Nymph and the Shepherd, whereby the advent of radical freedom and death become indistinguishable. This different reading, I argue, calls into question Agamben’s understanding of corporeal being. I conclude by suggesting more speculatively and tentatively that ‘bioart’, the field now emerging at the intersection of the creative arts and the bio-medical sciences, may provide a better site of reflection on the questions Agamben ultimately poses about the future of bio-political governmentality.