The publication of Karman marks an unexpected expansion of Giorgio Agamben’s field of inquiry, placing his work in dialogue with texts and concepts drawn from the Buddhist tradition.
At the center of Agamben’s investigation is the question of how it is possible for humans to become blameworthy and according to the history he presents the notion of fault is joined to the Sanskrit karman (“intentional action”) by way of an etymological link with the Latin crimen, meaning “an action insofar as it is sanctioned”, which is to say, a crime. This shared lineage of karman/crimen betrays, however, a striking difference in the manner in which the two traditions address the problem of intentional action. Agamben recognizes this and locates within Buddhism an alternative to the Western conception of intentional action that does not imply a fixed subject for whom infinite responsibility and purposiveness can be irrevocably attached. This essay extends Agamben’s inquiry by emphasizing the importance of habituation in formulating an ethics without a subject and by highlighting the place of habituation in the theory of karmic causation.