“Gestures of happiness” in Sophie Calle’s Trilogy of Desire

Gabriella Calchi-Novati


To have a name is to be guilty. And justice like magic is nameless. Happy and without a name, the creature knocks at the land of the magi who speak in gestures alone. (Giorgio Agamben, 2007: 22)

Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in his text Profanations relates happiness to magic. Commenting on Walter Benjamin’s claim that ‘a child’s first experience of the world is not his realisation that ‘adults are stronger but rather that he cannot make magic,’ Agamben concludes that ‘whatever we can achieve through merit and effort cannot make us truly happy’ (2007: 19). The philosopher explains the connection he sees between happiness and magic via Kafka’s words, namely ‘that there is plenty of hope - but not for us’. I would argue that it is because of this intriguing relationship between happiness and hope that Agamben claims that happiness ‘awaits us only at the point where it was not destined for us’, that in other words, we experience happiness only when we feel that we are capable of magic (2007: 21). Insofar as we ‘keep the genie in the bottle to [our] side’ we will be worthy of happiness. It is only when we know the magic words that we will gain the much-desired happiness. Happiness, thus, when understood within these coordinates, can never be something we deserve. As Agamben puts it: ‘what a disaster if a woman loved you because you deserved it’.

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