New Criticals

Omar is perhaps the most interesting "criminal." Every one wants a piece of Omar. Chased by both police and gangsters, he has four large Scarlet "O"s proudly emblazoned on his sleeve: black, poor, gay, criminal. Yet, he is also deeply respected and feared, a demigod, seemingly invincible and sacred. We are confused and repulsed by Omar, while at the same time seduced and admiring. Who is this paradox "Omar?"

Just because Omar is excluded four times over does not mean leave him wholly outside. Omar's exclusion is precisely the mechanism whereby he is included. He moves between worlds like a phantasm: between the various street crews, between the street and the courthouse, between law and out-law. Agamben famously writes about the Homo Sacer, the "sacred man," a figure in Roman Law who is "set apart" from society for violating an oath. The sacer became the property of the gods, a being both sacred and accursed. He could be killed by anyone, yet he was not allowed to be sacrificed. Though the law no longer applied to him, the sacer remained "under the spell" of law. Agamben emphasizes that the major function of law is to define what constitutes "bare life" and what constitutes "good life." "Bare life" (zoe) is mere existence, something that we share with all plants and animals, whereas the "good life" is only possible inside community, which in modernity means law and the State. The State demarcates "bare life" from "good life," but also has the task of transforming the bare into the good, and, consequently, choosing which bare life is to become possibly good and which is not. Interestingly, "bare life" is not merely the marginal and excluded Other, but the very keystone that constitutes "the hidden foundation on which the entire political system rests."