Four positions of refusal. by Gerardo Muñoz

A friend recently suggested that the refusal is at center of multiple critical positions against the moralization of politics. And I agree. In fact, I would go as far as saying that the strategy of refusal is something like a common denominator in positions critical of political mediation. Although the refusal could take many forms, I would also add that the refusal is directed against hegemony broadly understood (culturalist, political, logistical, etc.). Primarily, the refusal awakes from the dream of hegemony as contributing towards any real substantive transformation anchored in “political realism”. Realism today is mostly deployed as a freestanding argument aimed at political traction, although it merely contributes to stagnation and paralysis; it is a katechon to any concrete transformative movement of the actual moment.

It is telling that the notion of ‘refusal’ was first developed in the French political context by the likes of Maurice Blanchot and Dionys Mascolo in the journal Le 14 Julliet, a project obscured by the monumental historiographies of May 68. In his short text “Refusal”, Maurice Blanchot defines the notion as the gap in representation between an event and language: “accomplished by neither us nor in our name, but from a very poor beginning that belongs to those who cannot speak” [1]. The refusal denotes a limit to representation. Similarly, in “Refus Inconditional”, Dionys Mascolo understands refusal as the constitutive possibility of silence so that true communication can indeed take place [2]. For both Mascolo and Blanchot, the notion of refusal was the condition for the possibility of friendship preceding subjectivism. By way of refusal, the realization of a “community of the species” is guarded against the socialization of alienable classes. I think one could name four positions of refusal against the closure of hegemony as the organization of secondly separations (alienation). These might not be the only positions – and many a time there is a clear overlap of the problem at hand.

1. The refusal of culture. First, there is Mario Tronti’s “The Strategy of refusal” (Operaio e capitale), which grasps the refusal in classical Marxist terms by way of criticizing culture as resistance against capitalist form. In fact, for Tronti culture amounted to a mediation of social relation of capitalism uncapped expansion. And for Tronti, “oppositional culture does not escape this fact; rather, it merely states the body of the worker’s movement ideologies in the common clothing of bourgeoisie culture” [3]. Hence, for Tronti, refusal meant disengaging from “becoming of intellectuals” as disengaged from the practice of the class struggle. The critique of culture functioned as an inversion of mediation with no transformative leverage whatsoever. However, for Tronti ‘refusal’ was still understood as a political strategy, which necessarily needed to engage with the “subjected” force of class and organized in the party form. In other words, the refusal in Tronti’s early work was the rejection of cultural mediation by intensifying the antagonism of the autonomy of the political. There is not yet a rejection of politics, but rather the assumption that the refusal can lead the way in the destruction of capital production given the “pagan force” of the proletariat. 

2. Refusal and fugitivity. Second, there is a clear and direct strategy of refusal in Afropessimism aimed at the totalization of the social bond organized around the destruction of black existence. Hence, for Afropessimism refusal takes the form of an archipolitics that seeks fugitivity from logistics of social death [4]. As Moten & Harney argue in All Incomplete (2021): “The Undercommons is the refusal of the interpersonal, and by extension the international, incomplete in the service of a shared incompletion, which acknowledges and upon which politics is built. To be undercommon is to live insists the inoperative condition of the individual and the nation as these upon brutal and unsustainable fantasies and all of the material effects they generate oscillate in the ever-foreshortening interval between liberalism and fascism. These inoperative forms still try to operate through us” [5]. Against all forms of bondage subsidized by hegemonic sature, the afropessimist refusal opens up a fugitive life in errancy that points to a new central antagonism now framed between black life and the world. In Wayward Lives (2020), Saidiya Hartman puts it in this way: “To strike, to riot, to refuse. To love what is not loved. To be lost to the world. It is the practice of the social otherwise, the insurgent ground that enables new possibilities and new vocabularies; it is the lived experience of enclosure and segregation, assembling and huddling together. It is the directionless search for a free territory; it is a practice of making and relation that enfolds within the policed boundaries of the dark ghetto; it is the mutual aid offered in the open-air prison. It is a queer resource of black survival. It is a beautiful experiment in how-to-live” [6]. The refusal of the total circulation of social relations allocates Black existence at the threshold of politics. This negative community refuses any hegemonic social rearticulation.

3. Refusal of logistics. Thirdly, in the work of the Invisible Committee the refusal entails destituting the social bond, although the emphasis is placed in infrastructure as the concrete and operative terrain of domination. For the collective the refusal becomes twofold: on the one hand, blocking the logistics of circulation and production of subjection; and on the other, separating the form of life from the regime of subjective domestication. At bottom, the refusal in the Committee’s takes aim against the mystification of the social as a site for autonomous gain from political struggle. For both Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee one needs to refuse the artificiality of the subject (Bloom) in the name of the form of life and reject politics of class antagonism favoring the civil war as a generic science of desertion (what remains after the collapse of the authority of modern politics).

4. Posthegemonic refusal. Finally, posthegemony refuses the codependency of politics and domination, and favors their non-correspondence; it refuses politics as hegemony, and hegemony as newcomer after the closure of metaphysics.  In this sense, posthegemony favors the exit from the total structure of socialization ordered through the equivalence of demands. One could say that posthegemony affirms the “realistic option of non-cooperation” with hegemony. But the space of non-cooperation allows the exit from subjective limit of the political. The posthegemonic separation, therefore, is the refusal of cooperation on the basis of refusal of conditions of obligation (what Eric Nelson labels being “stuck on the boat”), whether predicated on a distributive conception of social justice, or as the maximization of indirect interests proper to liberalism [7]. In this sense, the posthegemonic refusal abandons the temptation of establishing a new civilizatory principle with politics as its auxiliary and optimizing tool of order [8]. 

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Notes 

1. Maurice Blanchot. “Refusal”, in Political Writings (1953-1993) (Fordham U Press, 2010). 7.

2. Dionys Mascolo. “Refus inconditionel”, en La révolution par l’amitié (La Fabrique éditions, 2022). 27-30. 

3. Mario Tronti. “The Strategy of Refusal”, in Workers and Capital (Verso, 2021).

4. Alberto Moreiras. “An Invitation to Social Death: Afropessimism and Posthegemony, Archipolitics and Infrapolitics”, Tillfällighetsskrivandehttps://www.tillfallighet.org/tillfallighetsskrivande/an-invitation-to-social-death-afropessimism-and-posthegemony-archipolitics-and-infrapolitics

5. Fred Moten & Stefano Harney. All Incomplete (Minor Compositions, 2021). 29.

6. Saidiya Hartman. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (Norton, 2019). 227.

7. Eric Nelson. The Theology of Liberalism: Political Philosophy and the Justice of God (Harvard U Press, 2019). 163-164.

8. Gerardo Muñoz. “Posthegemonía, o por una retracción de los principios de la civilización”, Infrapolitical Reflections, 2020: https://infrapoliticalreflections.org/2020/08/03/posthegemonia-o-por-una-retraccion-de-los-principios-de-la-civilizacion-por-gerardo-munoz/

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