Ethics, Gesture and the Western


  • Michael Minden Jesus College, University of Cambridge



gesture, Agamben, Western, genre


This paper relates the Western Movie to Agamben’s implied gestural zone between intention and act. Film is important in the realisation of this zone because it was the first means of representation to capture the body in movement. The Western movie explores the space of ethical indistinction between the acts of individual fighters and the establishment of a rule of law, or putting this another way, between violence and justice. Two classic examples of an archetypal Western plot (Shane, 1953 and Unforgiven, 1991) that particularly embodies this are cited. In both a gunfighter who has forsworn violence at the start is led by the circumstances of the plot to take it up once more at the conclusion. In these terms all the gestures contained between these beginning- and end-points are analysable as an ethics of gesture because, captured as gestures, they occupy the human space between abstraction and action, suspended between them, and reducible to neither.  David Foster Wallace's definition of this narrative arc in Infinite Jest (and embodied in it) is adduced in order to suggest a parallel between Agamben's notion of an ethics of gesture, and an ethics of genre.

Author Biography

Michael Minden, Jesus College, University of Cambridge

Michael Minden was until 2016 Reader in German Literature and Culture at the University of Cambridge and is Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. He has written on a wide range of topics in German literature, thought and film, including books on Arno Schmidt and the Bildungsroman. His most recent book is Modern German Literature (Polity, 2011), since the publication of which he has written on Christa Wolf, Günter Grass, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ingeborg Bachmann and Ruth Klüger, all more or less under the broad heading of ‘Literature and Experience’.


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How to Cite

Minden, M. (2017). Ethics, Gesture and the Western. Performance Philosophy, 3(1), 40–53.



Special Section: Towards an Ethics of Gesture