Giorgio Agamben opens his lapidary essay “Notes on Gesture” with a striking claim: “By the end of the nineteenth century the gestures of the Western bourgeoisie were irretrievably lost.” A little later we are presented with the consequences:
An era that has lost its gestures is, for that very reason, obsessed with them; for people who are bereft of all that is natural to them, every gesture becomes a fate. And the more the ease of these gestures was lost under the influence of invisible powers, the more life became indecipherable. It is at this stage that the bourgeoisie—which, only a few decades earlier, had still been firmly in possession of its symbols—falls a victim to interiority and entrusts itself to psychology.1
These words point to a paradox: how are we to acknowledge the loss of our gestures if they were never ours to possess?
One way to answer...