Constitutionalism and sense. Text for “Legal Crisis in Chile” Session, Red May Forum, 2023. by Gerardo Muñoz

It has been said repeatedly – in the best hyperbolic spirit, no doubt – that Chile always stands, regardless of the angle from which we are looking, for what is to come in our epoch. The Chilean laboratory prefigures the coming mutations and solidifies the effective tendencies of public powers. The 2019-2023 political cycle is no different: it began with the experiential revolt at the heart of the metropolitan center, and it culminated with yet another constitutional scene seeking to replace the “constitución tramposa” now at the mercy of those that hold a deep admiration for the post-dictatorship subsidiary state. The newly elected advisors and experts will place the final cap to the momentum of institutional transformation, which welcomes back the official garments of public legality, official languages, and grammars of public security. And even if it is true, as Rodrigo Karmy has argued, that the most recent electoral results confirm the exhaustion of the Chilean post-dictatorship regime, the question posed to us is what capacity can constitutionalism and the constituent scene contribute for any possible transformation. [1]. In other words, can a breakthrough be produced from within the conditions of constitutionalism? As Martin Loughlin has recently demonstrated, our historical epoch is one marked by the irreversible triumph of constitutionalism; a design that differs from the modern constitutional state of representation and legislative legitimacy, envisioning an encompassing “dynamic order of an evolving society rather than an authoritative text, the basic ideals of constitutionalism have been realized” [2]. Constitutionalism emerges in the wake of the end of the liberal presuppositions of modern political theology and everything that it implies for the stability, separation, and judicial control of public powers.

The system of constitutionalism presupposes a total governmental nexus whose legality (discretionary, exceptional, based on the application of general principles / ius) will be treated as “an order of values that evolves as social conditions change” [3]. The passage into an administrative system of legal order presupposes a suture between principles and political necessity, state and civil society, economic rationality and executive planning and oversight. The old paradigm of the modern “dual state”, theorized by Ernst Fraenkel in the 40s have now supplied an internal abdication of positivist jurisprudence and minimalist constitutional framework, paving the way for the total constitutionalization as a flexible art of governance. Although it has been said that the first constitutional drafting of the new Chilean constitution was confusing and overtly ideological (a “magical realist” menu of rights and everything under the sun, one contemporary jurist called it), there is still something to say about the veneer of “social rights” within the epochal system of constitutionalism [4]. It is at times forgotten that the abundance of enumerated social rights implies the infrastructure of constitutionalism to bind legal, political, and social spheres into a regulatory apparatus without fissures. To govern the social means steering over the abstraction of social values. There are good reasons to discharge skepticism against constitutionalism, and they keep coming. Of course, the argument of skepticism, alas, rarely has good press (it fails to provide an insight into totality, Max Horkheimer famously argued), but I do think it is necessary to reclaim skepticism in the wake of the systematization of public constitutional principles [5]. Skepticism demands separation from constitutional absolutism and the legal nexus in which social action interaction finds itself. The skeptical position in the face of constitutionalism at its most minimalist bearing insists in the separation of life from law, of experience from political order, of expression from the order of rhetorical mimesis. The skeptic might not want to negative law as authority; but it wants to refuse the post-authoritarian conflation of life and social rule underpinning political domination.

To be able to see beyond the framework of constitutionalism is the task at hand, especially when the old predicates around the political subject and the social contract make their way back from a position of weakness and desperation (another way of saying that morality returns as nihilism). But one does understand its success: it is a compensatory psychic mechanism for the ongoing existential pain under the abstract orderability of the world. And where there is pain, there is also an accumulation of experience that pokes through the fictive state of things, refusing the objective staging of phenomena. Simply, it refuses to be absorbed by what’s available. At this point it becomes impossible not to recall the October revolt for one particular motive: mainly, that its emergence did not favor social demands nor was it driven by the grammar of a political program. Every experiential uprising has an aesthetic dimension – or even better, pictorial set up, a canvas of everyday life – that we have yet to rediscover. Painting from real life is no easy thing, some painters have told us. And something similar goes for the revolt: an alteration of gestures, inscriptions, graffitis, and corporal tracings, dissonances and masks color the expressive discharge against the pledge of objective realism and the police of languages. Indeed, pictorial skepticism can only emerge when there is an excess to representation; that is, when there is a sensible stubbornness to enter into contact with the unfathomable of the world as such. The world and its others, one should say. This pictorial dislocation of reality dispenses a rhythmic structure of the senses that is neither chaos nor destruction, but an arrangement of a different sort: the communication between souls (from soul to soul, Rimbaud had said) without regulatory mediations through the tokens of recognition and filiation. The rhythmic movements provide a spatial continuation devoid of justifications [6]. This is why pictorial semblance tells us something that language or the science of politics cannot. How can we last together as a community that is not?

Pictorial dislocation wants to claim distance and separation the non-totalizable while being there. Let us take a painting like Nicolas Poussin’s The Abduction of the Sabine Women (1633-1634): here we have a complex composition ordered around rhythms and modes of figures and distances; the possibilities of communication between forms and the expressivity of the figures hold everything as if in a state of grace. What is striking in the picture is the subtle mounting of activities and gestures without ever falling into the sublimation of the concept. There are no guidelines, and yet we feel that everything communicates. Or to put it in Poussin’s pictorial terminology: “what follows is unlearnable” [7]. I do not think that the painter tried to posit a negative foundation of knowledge for an even higher learning; rather the unlearnable is a practical activity (a gesture, a word, a contact) that is both unique and indispensable; impossible to let itself be arranged into a set of alienated function for a task. Poussin reminds us of the unknowability of rhythms taking place: an uncompressed experience outside the force of systematization. We need thought to incorporate something like this exercise in rhythm.

It does not come as a surprise that a conservative scholar during the first months of the October revolt hypostatized the event as a “gnostic program” claiming that: “Plato’s philosophy offered a simple solution to the agnostic problem: instead of adapting the world to our desire, the task is to adapt the soul of the world…we now know that public order is the our most urgent occupation” [8]. Needless to say, and as Díaz Letelier noted at the time, this was a political Platonism devoid of chōra as a nonsite of our sensible imagination that allows the renewal of the creative experience with the world [9]. There is no ‘common sense’ as the pragmatists of realism assert with conviction; there is only the sensorial passage allowed by the chōra. This is what constitutionalism needs to pacify and incorporate: the battle over the status of the soul at a moment in which material goods and its economic arrangement (and in the Chilean case, its negative subsidiarity principle) becomes insufficient for the psychic production of a rectilinear subject (a masculine subject, Alejandra Castillo would claim) [10]. The postliberal constitutionalism as it stands (and it is postliberal because it cannot longer said to appeal to an internal principle of positive norm nor to a source of ‘Higher Law’, but to the executive command of the principle); a world legal revolution of governmental administration of anomia, amounts to a systematic offensive that exceeds mere material appropriation or personal liquidation. And this is so, because its ultimate mission is the “soul murder” (seleenmord) that currently stands as the basic unit of the ensemble to govern over socialization [11]. Constitutionalism now appears as the last avatar of Americanism. Perhaps there is no higher and modest task at hand than affirming the medium of the chōra that preexists the submission of life into the polis, and which retains, like the pictorial gesture, the unlearnable and the unadaptive. Only this could slowly render another possible sense in the relationship between liberty and law.




* This text was in preparation for the conversation panel on the current legal and political cycle in contemporary Chile with Alejandra Castillo, Rodrigo Karmy, and Philip Wohlstetter that took place in May 31, 2023 at the Red May Seattle Forum. The conversation is now archived here.

1. Rodrigo Karmy. “Ademia portaliana: algunos puntos para el “nulo” debate”, La Voz de los que sobran, May 5, 2023: 

2. Martin Loughlin. Against Constitutionalism (Harvard University Press, 2022), 11-12.

3. Ibid., 161.

4. Pablo de Lora. “Constitucionalismo mágico”, The Objective, May 2022: 

5. Max Horkheimer. “Montaigne and the Function of Skepticism”, in Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings (MIT Press, 1993), 265-313. 

6. Rodrigo Karmy. “The Anarchy of Beginnings: notes on the rhythmicity of revolt”, Ill Will, May 2020:

7. Avigdor Arikha. “On Nicolas Poussin’s Rape of Sabines and Later Work”, in On Depiction (Eris | Benakis Museum, 2019), 112.

8. Manfred Svensson. “Una revolución gnóstica”, The Clinic, November 2019: 

9. Gonzalo Díaz Letelier. “Un platonismo sin khorâ”, Ficcion de la razón, December 2023: ​​ 

10. Carlos Frontaura. “Algunas notas sobre el pensamiento de Jaime Guzmán y la subsidiariedad”, in Subsidiariedad en Chile: Justicia y Libertad (Fundación Jaime Guzmán, 2016), 123.

11. Ernst Jünger. The Forest Passage (Telos Press, 2003), 93.

Treasure of the earth: on Elizabeth Sewell’s The Orphic voice: Poetry and Natural History (2022). by Gerardo Muñoz

Written at a time when the sciences of biological life were becoming fully integrated to technological and procedural social experimentation, Elizabeth Sewell’s 1960 The Orphic voice (nyrb, 2022) dared to pose the question of poetic myth as the mirror of scientific transformation of the modern world. Given that myth reopens the question of poetry and the natural world, for Sewell the modern exposure entails a profound misunderstanding: it is not that myth has eclipsed from the developments of scientific regime, but rather that science is incapable of absorbing it through its formal explorations in a system of subdivisions, classifications, and applicabilities. But for Sewell, it is myth itself that conditions scientific activity, providing ground for the discovery of situations and play in the world of forms. In other words, it is the persistence of myth in biological imagination the real forgotten path in the crisis of the transmission of tradition in a world aligned by the movement of scientific objectivity. For Sewell’s understanding of myth, there is no positive dialectical movement between myth and calculative rationality; rather, myth is what stands for the irreducibility of life in the cosmos. It is the very mystery of the anthropogenesis of creation as pure metamorphosis of forms. Why Orpheus, then? For Sewell, the orphic figure becomes “myth as a living thought and the very type of thought in action, and for all those other self-reflecting forms; for the human organism as an indivisible whole trying to understand itself….for biology reflection on the whole span of life in which thinking man appears as the last enigmatic development” (41). Orphism is the natural prehistory of becoming. This implies nothing less than reminding modern science of its “mistaken mythology”; as it is poetry – not mathematics or a scientific theory of language – the proper site for the adventure of life.

The strange career of orphism in the modern age is one of struggle, according to Sewell. A “struggle” that accounts for change, process, organism, and life” in an epoch that thinks of itself as definite and irreversible; completing the demythologization of the old gods and the ultimate achievement of secularization. Unlike for Oskar Goldberg for whom the civilizational regime of fixation of humanity is a matter of thousands of years (at least since Cain); for Sewell it has only bern a couple of centuries that has led to an esoteric experimentation with natural history in the wake of his postmythical substitution. At bottom, her task is to bring together, once and for all, the voice of Orpheus and “natural history and poetry, had not parted company and it only remains to try to bring them, after their long and wintry estrangement, back to one another” (48). This is the central task of the modern poet, Sewell seems to tell us: to wrestle the potentiality of myth to craft the a “model of thought” that transfigures the logical framework of rational thought into a “flexible and plastic” (beweglich und bildsam) play between form and formlessness that becomes inalienable from the metamorphosis of nature. This does not mean that all modern poets are orphic; and, I am not sure that Sewell will go as far as to accept that all orphism comes in the form of poetry (this will be of scarce persuasion). What the Orphic voices are saying “is that the poet and his world is part of natural history…it is postlogic” (153). The postlogic stands a tenuous and loose term to avoid the supreme autonomy of reason of scientific modernity. Rather than a tool to understand the causation of natural processes, or a set of artificial strategies for representation, the postlogical poetics is the music of a world as being transformed through experience and immersion. It is no doubt strange that Sewell calls postlogical method to account for the permanent overflowing of the orphic voice; although it becomes clear that she wants to think of it as a utensil inseparable from the form that it makes. In other words, the “method” stands for the possibilities of use through the attunement with worldly phenomena. Postlogical method wants to give substance to how well we construct and tailor the potent infinity of form. As Sewell writes: “The method, the lute strung with the poet sings, consists in the use of the self, and mind, heart ,as well as intelligence, as an instrument of wider interpretation, with language assisting in the process” (168).

The free use of one’s own is surely the hardest task for the poet, as we already know from Hölderlin who grasped the crisis at the outset of Romantic modernity. The capacities of the orphic poet wants to wrestle the force of expression from the stage of history into the methodology of forms. This is what Sewell reads positively in Goethe’s Urworte and Urpflanze as the “methodology of transformations…the key to all the signs in nature” (274). It is noteworthy that Sewell does feel the need to revise Hölderlin’s poetological attempt at the insufficiency of the tragic poet embedded in the play of Empedocles mediation between the material craft of art and the aorgic excess of nature. And it is too bad that she does not (alas, Hölderlin remains the missing key for many of these problems). But it might be that for Sewell the orphic voice is not a transfigurative element, but rather the acoustic composition of the play between creation and decreation. In this sense, the bios orphikos is, not merely of this world, but also the immemorial journey to the infraworld sidestepping tragic overflowing. It is very late in her book that Sewell defines this pathways that transcends all form and contours of scientific vitality:

“The origins of all our bodily and mental powers are in an exact sense with the dead, in heredity and tradition; thus the dead are not wholly dead here within the living body. The heart and the center of the kingdom of the dead to which Orpheus goes in search of Eurydice is also the penetralia of the individual human life which pulsates and thinks…Anthropology suggest that the labyrinth of primitive man, the maze emblem and the real mazes of the caves, were capable also of being the body, and the site of a journey between the two worlds of living and dead. The orphic search here goes past Orpheus back into immemorial antiquity.” (326-327). 

Immemorial antiquity – these are the wonderful markers of everything that Sewell’s book does not accomplish or flesh out in its voluminous 400 plus plages. But, it is only at this point that we are capable of understanding that what Sewell calls “biological thinking” has nothing to do with the basic mental capacities that dispenses the anthropological density of the modern reserve to self-assertion (in Blumenberg’s unsurpassed definition), and everything with a tradition of the immemorial that is creation’s most intense point of bifurcation between the living and the dead. The passage to this region becomes testament to the validity of one’s experience. This is also why the orphic voice cuts through the the subdivision of the polis and the modern autonomy of art; as it takes life through the fleeting instance of the freedom of forms in its non dependency with historical necessity and domestication, as Gianni Carchia lucidly reminded us [1].

The orphic immemorial will not appeal to a morality of nature based on its fictive aura of normative order, but rather, it will supply the potentiality of the taking place of language. Hence, it is no surprise that the taking place of the voice (its postlogical status) lifts the human outside of itself, at the same time that it retains its most absolute nearness to the symbolic strata of myth. Commenting on Wordsworth, Sewell writes: “…the first provisional conclusion on method in the poem: that each language is a treasure of the earth but that poetry is the more valuable (as if our word, postlogic, might here receive additional justification)” (358-359). The voice has never been an organ or a specific faculty that belongs properly to the human; it is the passage between humanity and its constitutive exteriority in the world. Like the harmony of the spheres, the voice registers tone in the wake of the impossibility of communicating in the murky waters of physis.

If at the turn of the century Aby Warburg had shown how modern technical civilization had ended up soaking the mythical force of the serpent from the stormy sky of the Pueblo Indians (and thus the luminous space of contemplation of man in the cosmos); Sewell’s extremely idiosyncratic essay shows, between lines and amidst rhetorical inflation, that the echoes of the mythic imagination are still an integral part of the sliding amore fati, whose “aim is the discovery of the world” (405) [2]. The lesson in our epoch becomes easily adapted: the ethical standard does not prove itself by appealing to norms and substitute fictive authorities, but rather in terms of how well one is able to attend to the incoming vibrations of forms. One can even go as far as contradict Sewell post factum and say that this is no longer a request to be made on science, which has fully ascended to the place of prima philosophia as prima politica. So, it is perhaps love (that figures so poorly in Sewell’s book in relation to the centrality of cerebral intelligence, barely making an appearance in the very last page) the symbol of the highest riches transfiguring myth into a voice that outlives the specter of humanity and the futility of the machine. If orphism means anything, it is that the voice implies withdrawing from the cacophony of a world that has imprisoned the living in the blistering entertainment of their own wrongdoing. “Flebile lingua murmurat exanimis”, signs Ovid — right, but who is still able to listen?




1. Gianni Carchia. Orfismo e tragedia: Il mito trasfigurato (Quodlibet, 2019), 

2. Aby Warburg. “A lecture on Serpent Ritual”, Journal of the Warburg Institute, April 1939, 292. 

The melody of the soul: on Guy de Pourtalès’ Nietzsche in Italy (2023). by Gerardo Muñoz

Nietzsche in Italy (Pushkin Press, 2023) by Guy de Pourtalès, originally published in 1929, has a particular texture that makes it inadequate to consider it a standard intellectual biography. Pourtalès does not follow the contours of the psychological and chronological construction; rather he is more interested in sketching out the telluric effects on the transformative tonality in the thinker’s soul. Nietzsche’s radiant affinity to Italy and “latinity” has been well known, and at stake there is the possibility of finding an exit from the grandiose enactments of the German romantic gestalt. For Pourtalès, “latinity” is the prescription that Nietzsche writes out for himself in order to maintain sanity in the world; and, ultimately, to find its own destiny and path in the face of modern nihilism. Sure thing, Italy is many things for Nietzsche: it is the zenith of his poetic relationship with the Wagners but also their farewell in Sorrento; it is Venetian music and pleasant weather; it is the open and physical form of a possible community of the Free Spirits and artistic expressivity. And Italy is also a refuge from brewing culture of force in the North through the Renaissance uomini singulari where music persists, as he writes to his friend Peter Gast: “Life without music is imply a mistake, enfeeblement, an exile” (94). Pourtalès narrative collage (the different vignettes of Nietzsche’s visits and residencies in the Italian geography) detects the philosopher’s fundamental existential homecoming: a melody of the soul in a world increasingly organized through the chaos as the essence of force. To be attuned to the melody of the soul becomes the task of the artist: “to hear and see beyond the vast “lost time” of humanity what others no longer hear or see, but just unwittingly hum as a tune, vague and wordless”, writes Pourtalès (41).

And if music is an aesthetic form of prophecy, Pourtalès’ sheds light on Nietzsche’s insistence to become a prophet of the age of nihilism: wrestling with the poignant homelessness in the human world of a postmythical age. Pourtalès insists that the “Italian experience” opens up for Nietzsche multiple possibilities to confront the Wagnerian solution through the concretion of the forced and unhealthy (these are Pourtalès’ terms) aesthetic formalization of the mythic redemption. The Nietzschean attempt (the beloved and unresolved versuch) is the final confrontation of “music versus music”, since “all philosophy is a series of events of the soul and finds its symbol only in music” (49) explains Pourtalès. This is what Italy seems to be providing Nietzsche with: the withdrawal from the intoxication of the “Wagnerian flame without being consumed by it” (66). This entails an acceptance to pain without instrumentalizing the rewards provided by the genial artistic form of the Gesamtkunstwerk and the enslaving commandments of Christianity. Wagner and Christianity now stand in the way of the path of destiny without paying dues to mimetic investments. This is Nietzche’s last battle, and thanks to Pourtalès we realize that Italy becomes the battleground for an ultimate detachment. But is it successful? Is Nietzsche as the artistic genialismus prophet able to accomplish the radical abandonment? 

This is the resolute ambiguity in Nietzche’s proximity and distance from the Italian tonality. Indeed, Nietzsche seems never to have abandoned the rhetoric of the genialismus. Pourtalès quotes him: “Italian genius is by far the one which makes the freest and most subtle use of what it has borrowed…..and is thus the richest genius, the one with the most to give” (89). At times Nietzsche’s words about Italians or latinity is a metonymic for Christianity, his ultimate confrontation after Wagner, because to overcome Christianity implies to embrace the melody of life. This is why for Nietzsche Jesus is a higher form of life, whose kingdom is, according to Pourtalès (resonating here with the late work of Von Balthasar), “that of children, his faith is without rancor and without reprimand; it lives, it is itself its own miracle and reward” (100). The transfiguration of Christianity becomes a path to arrive at the very attunement of life itself, although this requires understanding love so that the “Kingdom of heaven becomes a state of the heart” (100). This nomos of the heart is Nietzsche’s ultimate and impossible search; perhaps one that does not truly find the path to a proper homecoming. 

Was it due to Nietzsche’s failed efforts at finding the melody of the soul in his ruthless, cuerpo a cuerpo (“Dionysius against The Crucified”), struggle against Christianity? Were the terms of the prophetic transfiguration a mere illusion of guidance and redemptive incarnation? To put it in Cowper Powys’ lucid observation: “If Nietzsche had not been obsessed by Christianity he would have thought of Life before Christ came”. Pourtalès does provide us with another hypothesis: “Perhaps amongst the last things he [Nietzsche] understood was the profound speech of this piano, of this fiend, whose inner music he had always been the only one to hear. But no thought, no word emerged from this ruinate soul. Nietzsche expired, walled up his silence” (110-111). In Pourtalès’ interpretation, Nietzche’s lacked the central aspiration of melody of the soul: “knowing how to love”, which is obviously the unlearned lesson from the Italian landscape and the world of visuality. The fact that Nietzsche had no patience for painting according to Pourtalès says a lot regarding his incapability for an erotic mediation to escape spiraling towards madness in a desperate effort for completion. I am not saying that painting could have saved Nietzsche; but, as the last active metaphysical activity in modern nihilism (Kurt Badt), pictorial persistence is the ultimate exercise to hold on to the world from the point of view of one’s daimon. Pictorial persistence clears the illusionary strife over concepts of the tradition. Pourtalès’s Nietzsche in Italy (2023), even if only obliquely, is as lucid of a portrait as we might get in order to raise this question in a serious fashion.

Lezama Lima and the Etruscan way. by Gerardo Muñoz

Towards the end of his life, poet José Lezama Lima will mysteriously begin to sign the letters to his friends and family as “the Trocadero Etruscan”, a “member of the Etruscan religiosity”, and even the “man who lives in the Etruscan village” [1]. Why call himself an “Etruscan” in this particular moment of his life, and what could it possibly mean? The question about the meaning of the Etruscan authorial mask has been so thoroughly ignored by the literary critics that commentators at their best have noted that “being Etruscan” merely stands for his “cosmopolitanism” and “well-learned Europeanism”. Of course, this explains little to nothing. A sophisticated poet such as Lezama Lima, who ruminate over every single word he would write, could not have ignored that the Etruscans, unlike the civilized Romans and the Latin authorities, was a remnant to the very civilizational enterprise; a prehistoric people poor in written culture, achieved expressivity by the whole outlook of their form of life. And as in the case of Hölderlin’s adoption of different nom de plume (Scardanelli, Killalusimeno, Scaliger Rosa, etc), Lezama’s becoming Etruscan points to something so fundamental that if underscored we would fail to grasp the endgame of his vital poetic experience. The transfiguration of the name does not merely stand as a metaphor; rather it points to a distant figure that will finally dissolve him so that his immortal voice could continue to live on.

Indeed, the self-identification as an Etruscan for Lezama became a subterfuge to flee a political reality – his political reality, entirely structured by the revolutionary gigantic productivism and subjectivism – through a poetic refraction that would free an ethos from the overpowering of alienated autonomous space of the linguistic reproduction of social life. If at first glance it seems like a paradox that Lezama will adopt the Etruscan figure for his antisocial ethos – a civilization lacking written records or high literary achievements, a religious community known for its necropolis – this strangeness will ultimately prove that behind the Etruscan name there was no poetic exclusivity of the poet’s genius, but rather, as he claims in “A partir de la poesía”, the possibility for a divinization of reality to retreat from the historical epoch. In fact, Etruscan culture for Lezama was not a mere archeological ornament, but one of the “imaginary eras” of the West; that is, a stage of condensed and unnumbered imaginative possibilities resistant to griping subsumption and totalization of values. The Etruscan was the mythic remnant through the pantheistic divinization between language and the world. As Lezama writes glossing, in passing, Vico:

“Vico cree que las palabras sagradas, las sacerdotales, eran las que se transmitían entre los etruscos. Pero para nosotros el pueblo etrusco era esencialmente teocrático. Fue el más evidente caso de un pueblo surge en el misterio de las primeras inauguraciones del dios, el monarca, el sacerdote, y el pueblo unidos en forma indiferenciada … .les prestaba a cada una de sus experiencias o de sus gestos, la participación en un mundo sagrado. […] Pues en aquel pueblo, el nombre y la reminiscencia, animista de cada palabra, cobran un relieve de un solo perfil” [2]. 

The divinization of the Etruscans stubbornly insisted on the wonder of things. The human participation in divinity is no longer about founding a new theocracy or a “theocratic politics” in the hands of a ‘mystic accountant’ that would finally put the nation back in track (into the res publica), as Lezama would solicit out of desperation in the 1950s diaries [3]. On the contrary, for Etruscan people the fundamental tonality was the divine music of experience. Of course, we know that D.H. Lawrence captured this when claiming in his Etruscan Places (1932) that “the Etruscans are not a theory or a thesis. If they are anything, they are an experience. An experience that is always spoilt” [4]. And this experience (like every true experience) needs to be necessarily spoiled, which ultimately means that it cannot be mimetically rendered, arbitrarily modified, or subsumed into the order of idealization. But all of this is merely redundant, since the Etruscan inscription is what accounts for the limit to civilization, becoming the impossibility of the destruction of myth in the arrival of modern aesthetic autonomy. Thus, for Lezama the Etruscan way had something of a persistent cure against the ongoing civilizational disenchantment, even if it does not cease to appear in the modern attitude. In fact, Lezama writes that: “Rimbaud is the best reader of the Etruscan liver” (“hígrado etrusco”) to describe the dislocated position of the poet in the modern world of technology [5]. In the Etruscan cosmology, the liver was a symbolon of the vision of the cosmos registering the divisions of the spheres in the sky through the divine naming of the gods; it is the figure by which the poet guards the desecularizing remnant of the prehistoric inception of myth [6]. But this does not mean that Lezama will look at himself in the mirror of Rimbaud’s symbolist alchemy.

Rimbaud as an Etruscan is the poet who descends into hell because his lyricism can bear the pain in the disruption of language after the archaic peitho. Does the possibility mean a travel back in historical time? Not the least, as Lezama knew how to let go of storytelling and historical necessity. This is why Etruscans stand for an image or a sort of handwoven picture (the hand will make a comeback, as we will see) to gain vision. And this is one case on point: the Etruscan stands paradigmatically to the “sufficient enchantment” (“la cantidad hechizada”) , which discloses a higher knowledge of the soul (psychê) in the taking place of poetic errancy: “Sabemos que muchas veces el alma, al escaparse de su morada, tripulaba un caballo inquieto, afanoso de penetrar en las regiones solares” [7]. To wrestle against the historical reduction of autonomy of the modern age means to find this enchanted sufficiency necessarily for myth remnant to elevate itself against the aesthetic mediation that, in the words of Gianni Carchia, had become a consoling surrogate of the emptied historical time [8]. An entirely other conception of freedom is firmly implicated the Etruscan way: the gathering of the enchanted poetic dwelling to dissolve a reality that had become too thick in the business of brute force purporting to call ‘what’s out there’. The Etruscan reintroduces a divine nominalism of pure exteriority.

However, the Etruscan way does not commute with things of the world; rather, his soul unbinds the empirical limit of death to overcome death, and learn to live as if it were already dead. The trespassing of death through the poetic enchantment – which Lezama will also call an ‘potens etrusca’, or the Etruscan potentiality- will multiply the invisible possibilities against the rhetorical closure of reality legitimation. By accepting the thick of the dead as an illuminated presence, the Etruscans draw out the most important consequence: learning to live among the dead as the ultimate form of a dignified life. This is why D.H. Lawrence reminds us that the underworld of the Etruscans – their refusal of reality, the embrace of their dead, the augurium – was after all “a gay place…For the life on earth was so good, the life below could but be a continuation of it. This profound belief in life, acceptance of life, seems characteristic of the Etruscans. It is still vivid in the painted tombs. They are by no means downtrodden menials, let later Romans say what they will” [9].

If civilization is a construction that takes place at the crust of the Earth as some have claimed; the way of the Etruscan is a downward declination away from the architectural reduction of world sensing [10]. For Lezama the Etruscan dreams of a civilization submerged in the depths that only an acoustic totality that bear witness to its sensorial gradation: “Esas civilizaciones errantes por debajo del mar, sumergidas por el manteo de las arenas o por las extensivas exigencias…reaparecen, a veces, en los sueños de los campesinos” [11]. Hence, the fundamental dignity of poetry resides in the mythical homecoming that guards the possibility for what remains inexistent: “this is why the poet lives in the Etruscan world of the birth of fire” [12]. And although the Etruscan stands as one of the worlds in possession of an imaginary epoch (the other two for Lezama being the Catholic world and the feudal feudal Carolingian Empire), it is only in the Etruscan where the resurrection had taken the transubstantiation in the name itself; even if the price was its own liquidation as a historical people that refused to be incorporated into the doxa of postmythical order [13].  

The fiery force of the mythic peitho outlives and predates the political epoch of the nomos of fixation organized as “One People, One State, One Language” [14]. As Lezama explains in “La dignidad de la poesía”: “…el odio en la polis contra el daimon socrático, hizo que la nueva doxa no logra sustituir a cabalidad el período mítico….Si por lo mitos, los dioses se irritable con la felicidad de los de los mortales, pero al menos, se interesaban por sus destinos; en la nueva doxa, la poesis se extinguía – el daimon individual reemplazando al destino individual liberado de la polis” [15]. The primacy of myth as orientation to happiness should make clear that for Lezama the poetics of naming follows the overflow of its permanent modalization [16]. The Etruscan way marks the path for the irrevocable retreat from the space of the polis where civilization will be erected on the grounds of deliating ethos and daimon, polis and poesis, and ultimately life and death as a rubric of a new science of separation. The fact that the civilization of social reproduction has been erected on the basis of the destruction of the chthonic underworld speaks to the systematic erasure from the dead as a vital extension of life [17]. The poetic natality of the Etruscans will only be cultivated, as Aby Warburg suggests, from the assumption of deep superstition in the face of the placement of political autonomy, which allows for the persistence of the image as inseparable from the needs and uses of the living [18]. And only persistence could prepare the final triumph over death.


Towards the later phase of his work, the poet seems to never want to abandon the Etruscan inframundo. Lezama returns to the Etruscan scene towards the end and unfinished novel, Oppiano Licario (1977), in which the central character Fronesis describes at length the mutation of reality following the footsteps at a distance of Ynaca Licario slowly merging into the Tarquinia necropolis painted wall, which is accompanied by a visual reproduction of the Etruscan tomb:

“El sacerdote, en el lateral izquierdo, hace gestos de ensalmo en torno a una espiga de triga. Un pájaro que se acerca queda detenido sin poder posarse en el ámbito hechizado de la hoja. En el lateral derecho, el sacerdote repite idéntico rito, pero ahora de la raíz colorida hace saltar la liebre que cavaba en las profundidades. El aire cubría como unas redes de secreta protección en torno de la mutabilidad de las hojas y de la inmovil jactancia de los troncos. Una indetenible pero resguardada evaporación alcanza aquella llanura con los muertos …La conversación subterránea era el símbolo del vencimiento de la muerte. [20]

The ongoing conversation (the shared word koina ta philōn) in a mysterious divine language had triumphed over death because it had overcome death and the sight of death. It is no longer the transposition of a historical sublime that must protect experience from the fixity of the human corpse, since the soul can escape the limit of form. In passing through and embracing death, the Etruscan validated their passions for mirrors and the palm, which according to Lezama is the true keep of the appearance of the uttermost revealing of the face in its own irreducible ethos. The possibility (potens etrusca) of defeating death while in life finds in the Etruscan appearance Lezama’s most intimate poetic arcana: the persistence of the anima renounces symbolic legibility as too innocuous and ornamental; where the flags of victories now resembled an accumulation of well settled defeats nurtured in the name of the muteness over “life”.

The Etruscan distance mysterium validated myth as the affirmation of the cosmos as based on the potentiality of contemplative imagination [21]. Lezama will call this distance the “eros de la lejanía” (Eros of distance) in the experience of the inframundo that will break through by affirming the possibilities of divine naming as a correlative causation in the world [22]. As Lezama tells his sister in a letter from 1966, he had already assumed to have crossed the bridge between the dead and the living: “Para mi ya ha sucedido todo lo que podía tocarme….Pues creo ya haber alcanzado en mi vida esa unidad entre los vivientes y los que esperan la voz de la resurrección que es la supresa contemplación” [23]. Or yet again: “El que está muerto en la muerte, vive, pero el que está muerto en la vida, es la única forma para mi conocida de la vida en su turbión, en su escala musical, en su fuego cortado” [24]. To scale up life to the higher music is the final trope of happiness as already dead. The Etruscan dirita vía of descension – “a weight going down” of stepping into the Earth, as Ruskin would have it – achieves the arrest of the divine contact between the voice and the dead [25]. It is for us to raise this mirror before our impoverished and fictive unswerving reality.




1. José Lezama Lima. Cartas a Eloísa y otra correspondencia (1939-1976) (Verbum, 1998), 230.

2.  José Lezama Lima. “A partir de la poesía”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 831.

3.  José Lezama Lima. Diario (Verbum, 2014), 87.

4. D. H. Lawrence. Etruscan Places (The Viking Press, 1957),  90.

5. José Lezama Lima. “La pintura y la poesía en Cuba”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 968 

6. Gustav Herbig. “Etruscan Religion”, in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume V (Dravidians-Fichte, 1912), 533.

7. José Lezama Lima. “Introducción a los vasos órficos”, Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 861. 

8. Gianni Carchia. Orfismo e tragedia (Quodlibet, 2019), 81.

9. D.H. Lawrence. Etruscan Places (The Viking Press, 1957), 31.

10. Amadeo Bordiga. “Specie umana e crosta terrestre”, in Drammi gialli e sinistre della moderna decadenza sociale (Iskra, 1978). 

11. José Lezama Lima. “Estatuas y sueños”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 449.

12.  José Lezama Lima. “La dignidad de la poesía”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 774. 

13. Ibid., 776.

14. Erich Unger. Die staatslose Bildung eines jüdischen Volkes (Verlag David, 1922).

15.  José Lezama Lima. “La dignidad de la poesía”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 777.

16. Monica Ferrando. “Presentazione”, in Hermann Usener, Triade: saggio di numerologia mitologica (Guida Editori, 1993).

1176.  Giorgio Agamben. “Gaia e Ctonia”, Quodlibet, 2020 

18. Aby Warburg. The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity (Getty, 1999), 189.

19. Image included in Chapter VII of Oppiano Licario (Cátedra, 1989), 375. 

20. José Lezama Lima. Oppiano Licario (Cátadra, 1989), 374.

21. Aby Warburg’s treatment of the symbolic mediation between myth and distance appears at the center of his essay on Pueblo Indians. See, Aby Warburg, El ritual de la serpiente (Sexto Piso, 2022), 66.  And also, Franz Boll, Vita Contemplativa (Heidelberg, 1920), who connects contemplari to the augur’s spatiality of the templum.

22. José Lezama Lima. Cartas a Eloísa y otra correspondencia (1939-1976) (Verbum, 1998), 411.

23. Ibid., 109.

24. Ibid., 266. 

25. John Ruskin. The Letters of John Ruskin (George Allen, 1909), 133.

Virgil in contemporary America. by Gerardo Muñoz

The well-established American Liberal historian of ideas, Mark Lilla, writes in his recent essay “The Once and the Now” an outlandish thesis: “the ideologies of modern fascism are all heirs to the Aeneid.” Any reasonable reaction should start not by disputing the content of such superficial assertion, but rather by raising the central question: what has taken place in America so that this level of intellectual putrefaction and conscious oblivion towards the past could take place, thus becoming permissible and reasonable? From where does the intellectual confidence emerge so that such a lethal rhetorical force can be deployed? At a high paced rate, the United States has become a beacon for an ongoing fascination over “fascism and anti-fascism” to the point of adapting an absolute form of parody in the “serious” forms of culture, academic production, and current event discussions.

Perhaps it is not that difficult to find an answer; and, one can say that once a culture repeatedly defines itself by the parameters of its parodic enactment is precisely a culture that has effectively ceased to exist. Carl Schmitt was up to something when he writes in Glossarium (an entry from 1953) that fascism after the war amounted to the ultimate victory of Stalinism over every other geopolitical actor in the Western world. The Cold War was also a battle for mimetic containment and pacification: the uttermost consummation to the highest case of metonymic endurance. The diffused “cultural war” in America in every symbolic dimensions of life (the media, the university, the political jargon, the legal profession, the community interaction, etc) shows that the victory has now reached definitive and unprecedented heights. It is true that fascism has always triggered a sort of libidinal drive – something that Susan Sontag knew well – in the societal attachment to symbolic production. In this sense there is little new here. But the novelty shows itself if one understands that the rhetoric of fascism has now become autonomous and sine qua non to cultural solvency into nihilism.

If Lilla’s remark caught my attention it is because it fully captures this transformation at the highest levels of the American elite. This transformation is nothing but the essence of Americanism as a fictive rhetorical parody of everything belonging to “Western culture”. This is why, regardless of ideological commitments (or precisely because of them), Americanism is in the business of an active forgetting of the West; while, at the same time, presuming credentials to be its most courageous defender. But it should be clear that Americanism’s defense of the West ultimately means the compulsive expansion of public opinion through a trivialization of the alienability of the past in its own ever-changing image.

In 1935, a short book appeared in Europe penned by Catholic intellectual Theodor Haecker that was entitled Virgil, Father of the West. This essay reminded its readers that culture in Virgil’s Aeneid and Georgics is best understood as the possibility of dwelling in the land through the cultivation of the Eros itself. In fact, Haecker will go on to write that the paradigm of Virgil’s Georgica should remain well into the end of the epoch as a solid commitment to the iustissima tellus against the “mysticism of the machine and the glorification of technology”. Almost a century after, Haecker’s hope in the possibility of cultivating homecoming has literally vanished. To any attentive observer it is clear that American intellectual elites have abdicated their commitment to iustissima tellus, while the marching orders of Americanism, driven by the artificial hells of the Metaverse and planetary conflagration, have already animated the flock through the gate leaving behind nothing but resilient and uninterrupted destruction.

Planetary subsidiarity: an observation on Luigi Ferrajoli. by Gerardo Muñoz

I recently attended a conversation around Luigi Ferrajoli’s most recent book translated into Spanish, Por una Constitución de la Tierra (Trotta, 2022), where the eminent Italian legal positivist defends the construction of a world constitution. The proposal is meant to be taken at face value; that is, unlike world constitutionalism and constituent revolutions models, Ferrajoli departs from the fact that sovereign states are no longer efficient to deal with international indirect powers. For him, a global constitutionalization of the Earth will bring about much needed juridical protection to natural resources, commercial, and migratory disputes that, unlike the already existing international law decrees, will generate binding guarantees between the different global actors. There is a sharp realism in Ferrajoli’s proposal in at least two levels: on the one hand, the insufficiency of state sovereignty is incapable of stable and long term adjudication; and on the other, the lack of guarantees of international law not only do not prevent serious violations of human rights, but also repeatedly provoke it for special interests. What legal positivism promises to achieve at the national level becomes the mirror of international principles that appeal to the concrete techno-geopolitical equilibrium of a historical conjecture.

Perhaps Farrojoli is not willing to admit it, but the crisis of legality is now best understood as the loosening of the formal mediation between principles and norms, which can only complement each other through the executive force and expansion of police powers. This explains why the figure of “equity” has become predominant in both domestic and international legal systems, since ‘aequitas’ is what allows a broad discretionary rule making and norm elasticity in any given situation. It is not difficult  to identify the crystallization of “equity” as the highest axiom that seeks to hold up the structural positionality of social order. But an unchecked legality – now fully detached from modern judicial review – becomes increasingly removed from the conditions of secularized liberal politics. In fact, police powers and principles of equity are no longer dependent on judicial review; on the contrary, it is judicial review that becomes adapted to the balancing of equity of social principles. Obviously, this can only unleash an unbound legal process that is no longer rooted in  judicial minimalism or countermajoritarian rule. 

I am not sure that Ferrajoli is able to escape this problem; in fact, he seems to aggravate it when claiming that what we needed today was “something like a global principle of subsidiarity”. That a great European legal positivist philosopher fully coincided with anti-positivist jurist Adrian Vermeule’s “common good constitutionalism” based on delegated bureaucratic powers of the executive’s discretion, confirms the deep crisis of contemporary legal thought. But such collision is expected, given that the principle of subsidiarity is at the center of a project like that of a constitutionalization of the Earth: the subsidium is no longer understood here as the secularized meeting point between belief and reason, but rather as a policing reserve required to intervene whenever an perturbance  in equity takes place.

It does seem that application of a principle of global subsidiarity rather than crafting a new principle of authority is the result of a “unity of the world” that has turned the world increasingly smaller given the large scales of technological integration, as Carl Schmitt understood early in “La unidad del mundo” (1951). And technological integration presupposes the capacity for total legibility and total transparency, and thus total extraction – it is not difficult to see here a homologous ambition in the Chinese civilizational principle of Tianxia. In this framework, the subsidium can only become compensatory to the ongoing malignant epoch where all authority fails, and thus, in the words of Joseph Roth, “performs  unworthy imitations…with barbarism and falsehood” [1]. A global constitutionalism can only exist through the ongoing production and consumption of mimetic debris; and this is the anomic make-believe that shouts that the world will be given to us in return. 




1. Joseph Roth. “Our homeland, our epoch”, in On the End of the World (Pushkin Press, 2013), 70. 

On clemency. by Gerardo Muñoz

The last mail that I received from my friend, the philosopher Emilio Ichikawa (1962-2021) before passing away stated the following: “Eres clemente, creo que esa palabra ya ni se usa”. Being clement (or ser clemente) has fallen in disuse, both in English and Spanish. One can only guess the reason as to why being clement or clemency has disappeared from a world governed primarily by force. It is notable that for Seneca in his treatise De Clementia (55 A.D) thought of the scope of this notion as precisely the preservation of the human political bond (vinculum) in moments of social disintegration. Speaking directly to the Roman rulers, Seneca argued that state power is never enough; there was also a standing requisite of clementia needed when dealing with weakest members of the social bond (membris languentibus) [1]. In modern legal discussions, clemency has not only disappeared as a practice, but been fully incorporated into the administrative function of the “pardon powers”; which, as we have seen in the last years in the United States, it has become a mere political token in favor of the powerful and not the weakest members in society.

On the contrary, it seems that the decline of politics and the full emergence of social administration presupposes a necessary forgetting of the principle of clemency. Perhaps a current Supreme Court case will suffice to bring this to light: a 94 years old lady, Geraldine Tyler evaded interest rates and property taxes for some years and ended up being expropriated from her home, which was immediately sold by the State of Minnesota for forty thousand dollars in order to charge her the fifteen thousand dollar fine, while keeping the equity surplus of the sale. The fact that the SCOTUS judges were not fully convinced of Minnesota state action and its lawyer (Neal Katyal), matters little to one fact that no one seems to have noticed: mainly, that the legal process has become main vehicle for injuries. In this framework, clemency has no place in in the statuary structure of public order.

Indeed, the main trait of the Americanization of ‘force’ is not just limited to physical or electoral stasis; rather, it is the motorization of legality without restraints. For every action that circumvents from public administration there is no possibility of clemency, but only subjection to legal rationalization through abstract principles of “equity” (passive exceptionalism mandated by costs and benefits models). And so, the clementia juris (the sweetness of law) as once imagined by Quintilian has been expelled from law, leaving behind only an obsessive legality that preserves an increasingly inclement schism of social life.

Perhaps “clemencia” as used by Ichikawa had nothing to do with politics; and, in a way, Seneca’s term in his treatise was already inflated by rhetorical functionalism at the service of the axiomatic order of socialization. There is a more originary sense of clemency – as the prefix *klei indicates – which is the clinamen that names the encounter (the Peitho) between the disinterested souls that freely subtract themselves from rhetorical force [2]. I would like to imagine that this is what Ichikawa had in mind when, instead of defining a concept, he appealed to an ethical disposition: being clemente.




1. Seneca. De clementia (Oxford U Press, 2009), 74.

2. Gianni Carchia. “Eros e logos: Retorica antica e peitho arcaica”, in Retorica del sublime (Laterza, 1990).

Bonnard (1910): painting and dissonance. by Gerardo Muñoz

Here is a little masterpiece by Pierre Bonnard at the Phillips Collection, “Interior with boy” (1910). Its simplicity does not shy away from the fact that it is a picture struggling with the problem of sensation as the highest task of painting. Bonnard is most definitely working on the threshold of Pissarro for whom the supreme mystery of a picture at the turn of the century is the act of wrestling with sensation as the world is coming to an eclipse. Or, to put it in a straightforward manner: departing from the objectivized world. If there is anything at the outset of the first decade of the twentieth century – from the stretch of 1890s to the 1910s – is the vibrant undertone of a conscious sense of what experience has become in the world. Painting, it would seem, takes up the challenge of this seeming aspect of life among things.

For Bonnard this means disclosing what appears for the first time: “to show what one sees when one enters a room all of a sudden”. And this is what “Interior with boy”(1910)  is showing us: peeking into a room with a boy sitting at a table quietly reading or going through something. The object is dissolved. We are not sure what the boy is doing. But, does it matter? The painting works around this silent vortex (although silent might not be the exact word). The figure does emphatically grows out the different color blocks of the interior (there is a solid black line that makes his body stand out). The effort of painting is achieving the seemingly weightless there-ness of the figure, blending itself to its surround, and gathering a strong sense of its appearance. 

As Bonnard would tell Matisse years later: “I see things differently every day, the sky, objects, everything changes continually; you can drown in it. But that is what brings life” [1]. For Bonnard it is not that painting gifts the events of the world with life; rather it brings the event of life away from the drowsiness of the temporal organization of its own elements. Painting is not disorganized for the sake of disorganization; it organizes life around its unmitigated appearance where form does not have the last word. Hence the insufficiency of the question “What is the boy really doing?”. The attempt to define it would ruin the experience of the painting – the subtle but well placed magenta hue connects a fragment of the back door with the boy’s downwards face, and finally to the left corner of the table. In a superficial sense the magenta is a schism of light coming through the picture, but it is also a diagonal that registers the dissonance of the painting, and thus, its ultimate mystery. Can painting integrate dissonance? The early Lúkacs seem to have thought against it. This is what he had to say in Soul and Form (1910): 

“In painting there cannot be dissonance— it would destroy the form of painting, whose realm lies beyond all categories of the temporal process; in painting, dissonance has to be resolved, as it were, ante rem, it has to form an indissoluble unity with its resolution. But a true resolution— one that was truly realized— would be condemned to remain an unresolved dissonance in all eternity; it would make the work incomplete and thrust it back into vulgar life.” [2].

But does painting need to find a resolution to dissonance, or is it quite the contrary? Bonnard’s search for the ante rem is not the sensorial apprehension to this dilemma; it is what refuses recoiling to “vulgar life”. But the passage from Soul and Form (1910) allows me to claim that the vulgarity of life begins when things start to tip towards the end of appearance; that is, when the soul disappears and the only thing remaining is the aggregation of allocated forms for sake of ‘originality’. If anything is achieved, then, in Bonnard’s “Interior with boy” (1910) is that it folds the question of dissonance to the task of painting while acknowledging that the taking place of life is always unattainable; as invisible as the boy’s inscrutable undertaking can be.




1. Bonnard/Matisse Letters Between Friends: 1925-1946 (H.N. Abrams, 2007), 62.
2. Gyorgy Lukács. “Longing and Form”, in Soul and Form (Columbia University Press, 2010), 123.

Hölderlin’s song. Provisional annotations. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is a moment in Hölderlin’s late hymn “Friedensfeier” (1801) where communication is strictly defined as becoming a song. The verses in question are about midway into the poem, and we read read the following: 

“Viel hat von Morgen an, 

Seit ein Gespräch wir sind und hören voneinander, 

Erfahren der Mensch; bald sind wir aber Gesang.”

“Mucho ha, desde la mañana, 

desde que diálogo somos y oímos unos de otros, 

aprendido el ser humano; pronto empero seremos canto”.

This is the Spanish rendition by the Venezuelan poet and translator Verónica Jaffé [1]. These lines stand for Hölderlin’s unique effort during the years 1800-1804 to substantially qualify what he had confessed to his mother as his true task: to live a serene or quiet life. I think this Spanish translation is much closer to the original German. Jaffé hangs on the present perfect with conviction: “Mucho ha…”, as if knowledge remained at a distance in the metric while becoming a temporal duration, a form of experience. This is the poetic “strict mediacy” for Hölderlin that can only be cultivated [2]. And it is only through the duration of experience that one will become a song (“seremos canto”). We are not yet there, hence the apostrophe. In the late period, duration meant dealing directly with Pindar. Thus, the song is something other than language – even if announced through language. But it is a paratactic dispersion that seeks to free the pure voice. In one of the “Pindar fragments”, this is what Hölderlin claims: “then only the difference between species makes a division in nature, so that everything is therefore more song and pure voice than accent of need or on the other hand language”. [3]

I am caught up in the moment of “division in nature”. The subtraction from representational language allows for the true appearance of a more originary separation, where the song can finally emerge in its proper attunement with the world. The becoming song is another form of separation, which institutes the passage from the Empedocles (tragic sacrifice) to the Pindaric relation to the divine. This is the “highest” poetic challenge for Hölderlin – an impossible task after the fleeing of the gods. It is definitely maddening. Nevertheless, the song remains. It puts us in nearness in a postmythical world without recoiling back to the image of the tragic. Indeed, as Hölderlin says in passing in “The Ground of Empedocles”, his time already “did not demand a song” [4]. The passion for natural unity was an Olympic illusion whose retribution could only become romantic debris as the exclusive possession of the dichter. On the contrary, the clearing for the song has emancipated itself from the exclusivity of the modern autonomy of dichtung as mimetically separated from the experience of life. This is what the song wants to pursue before the closure of a significant (and signifying) world. Fundamentally, this means a subtraction from the continuum of language, and thus a form of prophecy as elaborated by Gianni Carchia in a difficult passage from “Dialettica dell’immagine”: 

“Where music and prophecy, in the inexhaustibility of their tension – an endless effort to overcome the Babel dissipation of language by freeing the residual state of the unexpressed – testify to a disposition to meet precisely in what passes, in pure transience, the need for salvation and the idea of fulfillment, beauty as a totalitarian and exclusive appearance is, on the other hand, nothing but the product of an arrest in the dynamics of the spirit which withdraws from the horror of worldly laceration to seek refuge on the scene circular and static of the eternal”. [5]

If the song addresses the prophetic it is because language has fallen to the fictitious needs that arrest the experience of the human being into the exclusivity of rhetorical force and poetic genius. Is not the song a refusal of both? A refusal now aimed at the “highest” task – that is, the serene life? Against the exclusivity of appearance that Carchia points to, what appears discloses a different sense of law. A few verses in the same poem, in fact, we are confronted with the “law of destiny”: when there is serenity (or peace) there are also words. And a few lines after: “the law of love” is equilibrium from “here” to the “sky”. What appears there is the landscape that comes through in a pictorial depiction: “[Sein bild….Und der Himmel word wie eines Mahlers Haus Wenn seine Gemälde sind aufgestellt] / “[su cuadro e imagen….y el cielo se vuelve como de un pintor una casa cuando sus cuadros de exponen]”.

Does not this also speak to the insufficiency of language, which justifies the step into a folded painting? There is a painting and a vanishing image, but also the painter marveled at gleaming finished masterpieces. Is painting the original placeholder for the song as originary attunement of life? Perhaps. But in its enactment it also means that the song is impossible to disclose except through pictorial invocation. It is a painting of a life in the world, and nothing less. The transfiguration of the law places men no longer into undisputed submission, whether in its positive or natural determinations, but rather of a “strict mediacy” that is ethical in nature. A third way of the law that does not renounce the problem of separation.

Monica Ferrando has insisted upon the enormous importance of this conception: the fact that Pindar’s nomoi, in fact, relates to the nomos mousikos, which is fundamentally dependent on gathering substance of the song [6]. The strict mediacy finds itself between the mortal and the immortal. It is definitely not a “return to the state of nature”, and I do not see how it could be reduced to “genius”, except as an ethics whereby appearing is no longer at the service of objectivity [7]. Adorno was of course right: it is a ruthless effort to deal with disentanglement of nature – and the nature of reason – but only insofar as it is a return to the song. Or, at least, to have a path toward the song: a lyricism of the indestructible against the closure of a finite time dispensed and enclosed.




1.  Friedrich Hölderlin. “Fiesta de Paz”, in Cantos hespéricos (La Laguna de Campona, 2016), Traducción y Versiones Libres de Veronica Jaffé, 93. I thank Philippe Theophanidis the exchange initial exchanges on these verses.

2. Friedrich Hölderlin. “Pindar fragments”, in Essays and Letters (Penguin Classics, 2009), 566. Kindle Version. 

3.Ibid., 565.

4. Friedrich Hölderlin. “The Ground of the Empedocles”, in Essays and Letters (Penguin Classics, 2009), 465. Kindle Version. 

5. Gianni Carchia. “Dialettica dell’immagine: note sull’estetica biblica e cristiana”, in Legittimazione dell’arte (Guida Editori, 1982), 21.

6. Lucia Dell’Aia. “Il Regno d’Arcadia: intervista a Monica Ferrando”, in Il mito dell’Arcadia (Ledizioni, 2023), 121. 

7. T.W. Adorno. “Parataxis: On Hölderlin’s Late Poetry”, in Notes to Literature (Columbia University Press, 1992), 148-149.

The metapolitical collapse. by Gerardo Muñoz

We had a very rich and productive conversation this week with Josep Rafanell i Orra around the new and updated edition of his book En finir avec le capitalisme thérapeutique (éditions météores, 2022). But here I just want to entertain an early moment in the book that has some importance for some ongoing discussions. In the introduction that he writes for the new edition, Rafanell engages in a rare and honest exercise in self-critique. This is what he writes:

“Dans mon livre, je défendais une politique du soin. Onze ans après, je me livrerai bien volontiers à une autocritique rétrospective : la politique me semble destinée, irrémédiablement, à devenir une métapolitique, si nous entendons par là l’inévitable ré-institution d’identités qu’il faut représenter. Retour éternel de la police avec la violence de ses abstractions. Je pense que la politique, le politique (que vaut-t-elle encore aujourd’hui cette distinction?) nous condamne à nous absenter des mondes pluriels de la communauté et à neutraliser les effectuations de la différence” [1]. 

A lot could change in a matter of a decade. Indeed, a lot has changed for some of us, and it seems that for Orra it is no different. He is willing to admit it. He is no longer interested in defending a “politics of care” (or a hyperbolic politics), and not because it has become a recursive cliché in the empty chatter of governing metropolitan progressivism (I think of NYC or Colau’s Barcelona), but more fundamentally because the full affirmation of politics today can only contribute to the ever expansive calculative scheme of representational politics; a representational enframing that has become defunct and emptied out with the rise of administrative rationality evolving from the internal premises of political liberalism. It is true that the liberal democratic project from its inception was too weak to deal with indirect powers, and its long-lasting solution has been to engage in practices of optimization and value dispensation. But no amount of social representation can minimize effective domination. No one could defend this except in bad faith. The destiny of politics now transformed into metapolitical saturation can only muster social existence into predatory lines.

But there is another sense in which the metapolitical collapse could be understood. At least this is where I would like to displace Rafanell’s lucid intuition: the metapolitical destiny of politics emerges in the wake of the fault line between the metapolitical conditions of politics and political representation and mediation as such. Obviously, this is the problem that, already in the 1960s, the German jurist Ernst Böckenförde had to confront in his now famous theorem: the liberal state lives through conditions that it can no longer guarantee or promote.

In other words, the metapolitical conditions required for secularization have evolved (now fully realized through the West with different intensities and semblances) into the collapse of society-state mediations, turning to police powers to maintain the ‘one piece garment’ of social life. Theoretically, the dissociation between politics and its metapolitical conditions has led to attempts at generating sedative hegemonies that are always furiously defended – even at the expense of their failures – through rhetorical bravado. So, the decline of metapolitical condition entails the passage from the conditions of social contact to the endgame of the flexible and coercive management of indirect powers.



1. Josep Rafanell i Orra. En finir avec le capitalisme thérapeutique (éditions météores, 2022), 21.