Ancilla amicitiae: amistad y testimonio de Iván Illich. por Gerardo Muñoz

El pensamiento del exsacerdote y arqueólogo de los sedimentos teológicos de Occidente hubiera permanecido inconcluso si no fuese gracias a su amigo e interlocutor David Cayley, quien hizo posible The Rivers North of the future: the testament of Ivan Illich (2005) póstumamente. Si bien desde comienzos de los sesenta Illich —luego de la experiencia catastrófica de generar una ius reformandi dentro del paradigma misionero en Washington Heights y Puerto Rico— había avanzado en una serie de críticas a los dispositivos de la vida contemporánea, no fue hasta el final de su vida cuando tuvo la valentía de esbozar lo que él mismo llamó su testimonio sobre el destino de Occidente. Este testimonio buscaba el desaprendizaje de las raíces proféticas cristianas para “dar comienzo a una teología de nuevo tipo”. 

Como en múltiples ocasiones Illich no se cansó de repetir, la signatura de su pensamiento (la “idea única” a la que es fiel todo pensador, según Cayley) residía en la comprensión de la caída de la Modernidad hacia la corruptio optimi quae est pessima (“la corrupción de lo mejor es lo peor”). La peor de las corrupciones había tenido lugar con el advenimiento de la profecía universal cristiana, cuya economía de la salvación terminó administrando los hábitos y los modos sensibles de la vida de los hombres. La idea de “reino” como espacio de apertura a la “sorpresa”, ahora pasaba a estar en manos de la institucionalización de la Iglesia; de la misma manera que la conspiratio convertía el pecado en administración de la comunidad de los vivos en un tiempo sin redención. Así, las páginas de la Historia vencían el misterio de las relaciones entre hombres que ya no podían elegir sus maneras libres de inclinación y afección. 

En un trabajo, complementario a su última conversación, Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey (Penn State University Press, 2021), David Cayley da forma a una especie de testimonio que recorre las estelas del pensamiento de su viejo amigo. Como sabemos, escribir sobre la clandestinidad de la amistad es siempre una misión imposible. Por esa razón el libro evita la biografía convencional del “sujeto que supone saber”, optando por la indeterminación entre vida y pensamiento, constelando fragmentos que siguen generando la “extrañeza” ante el pensamiento vivo de un testigo de su época. Por esta razón, la escritura de Cayley es también un ejercicio autográfico sobre la potencia de un pensamiento cuya vitalidad, ante y contra la muerte, se coloca en el umbral del testimonio. Todo esto implica, como ha señalado Giorgio Agamben recientemente, generar una verdad en el mundo que solo puede comunicar lo que es absolutamente incomunicable.[1] El libro de Cayley erra en esta dirección, sin abonar modelos o ideas aplicables para un mundo caído al mysterium iniquitatis. El misterio del mal desborda la tarea de las instituciones que alguna vez dotaron a los hombres de las certezas del mundo de la vida y de sus técnicas de sobrevivencia. El testimonio da cuenta de la humillación del hombre ante este declive antropológico que hoy multiplica las compensaciones. Y, sin embargo, no es menos cierto que los hombres en la medida en que “hablan”, no pueden dejar de ser testigos de una verdad, como un vagabundo en la noche que tropieza con ella.

En uno de los momentos más hermosos del libro —hermosos en la medida en que la belleza es también la complicidad secreta de toda amistad— Illich le confiere el secreto abierto de su pensamiento a Cayley de esta manera: “Yo dejo en tus manos lo que yo quiero hacer con mis intenciones… decirte esto en gratitud y fidelidad detrás de este candelabro que está prendido mientras te hablo de mi testamento verdadero que no es reducible a una traición, sino que ha sido elegido en mi propia vida”.[2] Como en pocos otros momentos de la conversación Illich-Cayley, encontramos aquí una instancia del brillo de la proximidad entre el carácter singular y el desasosiego histórico de Occidente. Desde luego, podemos pensar en la etapa paratáctica de Hölderlin, en la que el poeta alemán pudo dar testimonio destruyendo la gramática del poema y la razón, para así dejar ver el abismo entre el mundo moderno de las maquinaciones y la pulsión aórgica de la vieja Grecia. Tras la luz de la vela, Illich abría una instancia que, más allá de la profecía, pudiera orientar otro camino: por eso la figura del amigo ya no era un profeta, sino simplemente como una existencia que, mediante la experiencia, recordaba que las “percepciones vitales ahora eran ajenas a todos en el mundo”.[3] De ahí que Illich diga que “solo una vez que borramos la predictibilidad del rostro del otro podemos ralamente ser sorprendido por él”. 

¿Puede el pensamiento de Illich preparar una ius reformandi política o una revolución institucional en un mundo atravesado íntegramente por el mysterium iniquitatis? Ahora hemos llegado a este punto. Cuando le he preguntado esto a Cayley como antesala a nuestra conversación, me ha contestado con una respuesta que pone el acento en la vacilación: “Axiomáticamente nunca es tarde, pero esto no quiere decir que no sea, en verdad, ya muy tarde”.[4] No caben dudas de que Illich es un pensador que toma distancia de la política, y que es ajeno a sustancializar un principio de comunidad redentora. No debemos olvidar que el común para Illich es el silencio irreductible del ejercicio de dar un testimonio. De ahí que su testamento —el de una vida ex ecclesiamex universitatis, y ex mundi— solo puede hacerse desde la práctica de amistad y como reparación para las condiciones de una “práctica de amor”. Este amor ya no es una inscripción universal dispensada por la profecía, sino que afirma la celebración ante las cosas que encontramos. En este punto es que es insuficiente pensar teológicamente a Ivan Illich como un pensador mesiánico ante el agotamiento de la comunidad de salvación cristiana y sus instancias de deificación. El testimonio del último Illich registra, sin programa ni determinación teórica alguna, que el reino es la separación de nuestros modos (el espacio invisible de lo vernáculo) del régimen de la escasez. La amistad libera el espacio invisible que le devuelve la subsistencia al existente. 

Y hacerse cargo de la subsistencia supone, en última instancia, la afirmación del carácter ante la muerte por encima de los controles de optimización (risk management) de la Vida entendida como abstracción o como guerra contra la muerte singular.[5] Todo esto resuena en el presente pandémico en el que la nueva oikonomia del “polo médico” busca incidir, una y otra vez, sobre la vida haciendo de los seres vivos una mera reserva para la administración del “delivery of death” y de las estadísticas del “death toll”. Si en nuestro presente estamos atravesados por la pérdida absoluta de “la hora de tu propia muerte”, como me ha recordado Alberto Moreiras, entonces lo fundamental es retraerse de una “Vida” para comenzar a vivir verdaderamente. 

El vórtice del pensamiento de Illich recae sobre la tarea más difícil de la existencia que, en el afuera de la vida, orienta a todo destino. Buscar una tonalidad con la verdad supone retraerse de la mala fe de los valores del dominio cibernético. Fue así como Illich abrazó la amistad y la compasión al interior de un mundo roto. Por eso, en un ensayo tardío podía decir que “la amistad, la philia, era la verdadera constancia de su enseñanza… y que para la amistad no hay un nombre, puesto que varía en cada respiro”.[6] El retiro a la amistad devenía una teología transfigurada, la única ancilla amicitiae del pensamiento y el único testamento de una experiencia en un mundo en tinieblas. Y es la proximidad del testimonio aquello que atraviesa un mundo incapaz de transmitir la música de las cosas tras el fin del eón de los profetas.  

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* La presentación de Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey (Penn State University, 2021) de David Cayley tendrá lugar el viernes 16 de abril junto al autor, en el marco de “Conversaciones a la intemperie” organizada por 17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos.Para asistir al encuentro, abierto al público, es necesario el registro en: https://17edu.org/conversaciones-a-la-intemperie-ivan-illich-an-intellectual-journey-de-david-cayley/

Bibiliografía


[1] Giorgio Agamben, “Testimonianza e verità”, en Quando la casa brucia. Giometti & Antonello, Macerata, 2020, pp. 53-88.

[2] David Cayley. Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey. Penn State University Press, Pensilvania, 2021, p. 9.

[3] Ivan Illich. “The Loss of World and Flesh”, Barbara Duden y Muska Nagel (trads.), Freitag, 51, Bremen, diciembre, 2002.

[4] Correspondencia personal con David Cayley, abril de 2021.

[5] Gerardo Muñoz, “Teologías post-coronavirus”, José Luis Villacañas (ed.), Pandemia. Ideas en la encrucijada. Biblioteca Nueva, Madrid, 2021, pp. 254-265.

[6] Ivan Illich. “The cultivation of conspiracy”, Lectura en Villa Ichon, Bremen Archive. Bremen, Alemania, marzo, 1998. 

A gloss on the “element” of love. by Gerardo Muñoz

It might be the case that the self-evident nature of love as an affection proves itself lacking mediation in thought, insofar as it is a resource of mediation between thought and the world. In this sense, it is true that what one “loves” resists to be grasped as an object of representation or exposition; it is a question of limits, and those limits posit the question of the world. Now, love gives form, but it is not in itself a form or a mandate or an object. This means that love is outside of reality; indeed, it is the absolute indifference between object and world. 

The question perhaps is one regarding proximity and distance. The problem of “nearness”, which is why in the text one reads the orphic inscription: “When we are in nearness to which we love we then go through the other side of the mirror.” Of course, what is interesting it not the “other side”, but rather to have become transformed by something without ever being entirely dissolved. Amor fati? Perhaps. In the transient path of the night one is opened to the condition of the “moon hunter”, in which one path reveals itself as the question of destiny (“one life”). The trick is that no path is ever ‘obligatory’, but rather validated by an access to an experience. Now, it is obvious that love cannot exhaust an experience, but there is no experience that is not affected by love, since it is this affection what inscribes the limit of a world without the fantasy of possession and abuse. 

Another moment: “In abusing something we no longer love; and even in the pleasure that were invested in we do not love”. Here the exotic (extemporaneous) nature of love becomes visible: no love is exhausted in materiality and form. Love is ex-scription: it demands exodus as homecoming. However, no fundamental fantasy of love can validate what is granted to us by the irreducibility of an experience. Perhaps this is after all what Gianni Carchia, reading Schelling called the “transfiguration with the divine”. Or, as I would like to call it, the intromission with the invisible [1]. In the invisible we carve out the limits of our deconstitution with our world in which our existence is possible through separation. 

There might a rebuttal, although it might not be one after all. It is a recent suggestion by a friend who claimed in a psychoanalytic speculation that: “Perhaps after all ‘love’ is a Christian invention, a compensatory and necessary one for the fact that we do not communicate”. There might be a few ways to respond to this claim; the first one being that the task of the transfiguration of love responds, precisely, to the subordinated status of love as mere compensation to the subject of sin and thus of the pleasure principle. The existence that can traverse the pleasure principle of the subject could be said to have gained reentry into a happy life capable of outsourcing the succession of infinite deaths while in life. 

Contrary to life or death, love might be another name for the orphic passage between the two states of potentiality; that is, of pure affection and the opening of the impotential in every life. To experience the death of what is possible as transient to the time of existence opens the path towards a “life to come…in underground streams” (Auden). If love is to be taken as compensatory to the impossibility of communication, then there is a love of thinking, but not necessarily a thinking of love. It is strange that philosophy – just as “liberty” for political thought – fails when measuring itself up to a thinking of love, a vertigo before the immemorial attunement to the state of mousikos. Such is the taking place among the things that we have surprised in the world, but only accessible to those who “seek” outside reality. 

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Notes 

1. Gianni Carchia. “Indifferenza, eros, amore: la critica dell’essere spirituale nella “filosofia della libertà” di Schelling”, in L’amore del pensiero (Quodlibet, 2000), 101-121.

¿Comuna o práctica de comunización? Nota al debate en Le Grand Continent sobre 150 años de la Comuna de París. por Gerardo Muñoz

A la altura de los 150 años de la Comuna de París se impone la necesidad de un balance. ¿Puede todavía la irrupción de la comuna decir algo a un presente marcado por la movilización de demandas y por la proyección de futuros previsibles? El balance de la Comuna presupone una serie de despejes para mostrar la intempestividad de su fibra. En primer lugar, entonces, podemos decir que en realidad nunca existió ninguna “Comuna” monumental e instituida en el devenir de la historia (precedente desordenado de la revolución, por ejemplo). Al contrario, la comuna pone en la superficie la “existencia del inexistente” [1]. En otras palabras: la comuna no fue un proceso histórico ni una instancia de sujeción política, sino un proceso de disyunción entre existencia y acontecimiento. La existencia es la multiplicidad que evita la concreción del sujeto; el acontecimiento, por su parte, la dislocación contra el cierre de la forma. 

Por eso es por lo que jamás existió una “Comuna” tal y como quieren hacernos creer los historiadores monumentales, puesto que la comunización es necesariamente un proceso de afectación entre lo que somos y los encuentros que nos transforman en la manera en que moramos en un lugar. No se equivoca un autor anónimo al decir que la comuna, bajo el pensamiento práctico de Blanqui, constituyó la impronta de la amistad por fuera de los fueros de la organización, del Partido, de la planificación, o de la “unidad”. Todavía aquel esquematismo seductor resuena entre nosotros. De ahí que en la inscripción de los acontecimientos queden en dos subrogados: el partido de la Unidad y el partido de una amistad que sabe que lo que ha acontecido no es una “sucesión de hechos, fechas, ni un armario de ropa vieja; es el reservorio de las fuerzas de los gestos: la proliferación de posibilidades de existencia” [2]

Todavía guarda enigma aquel apotegma de José Martí, un testigo de su época: “No debe decirse la Comuna”. Lo indecible en cada comuna se retrae de la idealia de la cual extraemos lecciones para ratificar traducciones espacio-temporales. A través de esta traducción hacemos de la tierra un territorio. Otra vez: no podemos decir Comuna porque ésta es la manera en que se disuelve la comunidad para llevar a cabo algo así como “una práctica de comunización, es decir, el misterio de nuestras transfiguraciones. Y estas no tienen límites. Pero experimentar un mundo es siempre una prueba que requiere nuevas determinaciones” [3]. Desde luego, las determinaciones de cada intensificación se inscriben en las condiciones no-objetivas que atacan el ordo de la realidad. Le podemos llamar comunización a la manera en que un encuentro genera un montaje entre los materiales que disponemos y la novedad irreversible que nos ha transformado para siempre. Aquello que ha cambiado no es una fase o secuencia histórica, sino las condiciones para otros posibles modos de vida. En la contaminación y filiación cortamos sobre unificación del mundo.  

El inexistente, lo no-objetivo, y lo indecible: el proceso de comunización insiste en la división invisible de cada vida en virtud de la conquista de su destino [4]. Entendida así, es probable que la comuna ya no sea un concepto político, sino una figura para dar cuenta de una transformación de la vida una vez que ésta se ha expuesto al evento. Y, como sabemos, el evento es el enemigo del imperio. Más allá de la historia y del mesianismo, la medida de lo propio en la comunización abandona la caída de la infelicidad para vivir en lo infinito fuera de la vida.

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Notas 

1. Alain Badiou. “The Paris Commune: A political declaration on politics”, en Polemics (Verso, 2006).

2. Quelques agents du Parti imaginaire. “À un ami”, en Auguste Blanqui: Maintenant, il faut des armes (La Fabrique, 2006).

3. Una conversación mía con el pensador Josep Rafanell i Orra, de próxima aparición en la revista Disenso, mayo de 2021.

4. Gerardo Muñoz. “La época y lo invisible”, Ficción de la razón, 2020:  https://ficciondelarazon.org/2020/08/10/gerardo-munoz-la-epoca-y-lo-invisible-una-conversacion-con-asedios-al-fascismo-dobleaeditores-2020-de-sergio-villalobos-ruminott/

  • Esta nota es preparatoria para la conversación que tendrá lugar el próximo miércoles 3/17 en la revista Le Grand Continent, junto a Carlos Illades y Clara Ramas San Miguel.

Four Theses on the Mujercitos Collective. Notes for a brief gallery talk, March 2021. by Gerardo Muñoz

1. Youth and persuasion. The originality and force of the Mujercitos Collective emerging from Cuba (2019 –) I think it feeds from a specific vortex: the youth. I will say this as an anecdote: at the beginning of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to exchange with the great Jacques Camatte (former founder of the PCI and early critic of the exhaustion of the revolutionary horizon and the Marxist praxis), and at the time he suggested something quite beautiful: mainly, that if the youth is continuously assaulted today it is because its texture lodges a vital process of inversion that puts pressure to the world of domestication (the absolutization of commodity form as an ongoing anthropological process). In this sense, the energy of the youth is always a counter-adult making of the world. When I found and I began exchanging with the Mujercitos Collective, I think that they had the same intuition: a desire to provide the youth with a “space in order to foment our discontent, because only the youth want liberation”, as Claudia Patricia, the designer of the collective told me. In a country (but it is also our epoch) of revolutionary stagnation, this is a tremendous insight, since liberation is no longer posited as a craft of History, but rather as a form of life. While the youth have world, the adult is the general process of socialization and political order. So, if the world of the youth is that of persuasion, that of the adult is guided by rhetoric. This means that if the youth can persuade with its body and movement; the rhetorical logos is a mere moral application of “duty” (this is how you should behave, act, accomplish this or that, become a self-commanded influencer, etc.). As Carlo Michelstaeader understood it a century ago, it is only in persuasion where one can relax the world of rhetorical closure (intention and signification and predication) in order to find a way out into the world. This is the gesture that traverses the Mujercitos visual and artistic constellation. 

2. Iconicity. Secondly, one of the ways in which I have tried to think what takes place in Mujercitos is by reflecting on what gets transmitted. Obviously, there is here something that I would like to call a “negative pedagogy”, in which experience thematizes a process of unlearning (this is a feature of the ongoing process against domestication of the Subject) of the elements that frame reality in a specific way while incarcerating other possibilities. In this sense, unlearning is the way in which one takes a step back from any attempt at “normalization of relations” within the Social. Now this disavowal of normalization necessarily multiplies conflictivity; mainly, conflict between images and modes of being. In Mujercitos Collective there is one specific tool to mobilize this momentum: the power of iconicity against the grammar and rhetoric of the Social. This is why the facture of design becomes important for the project; since iconicity becomes the suspension of the rhetorical construction of the adult world without recurring either morality, politics, or even “social imaginaries” (which is artistic extraction from the wells of History). Although Mujercitos has been labeled “virulent” or “sardonic”, there is no such a thing if analyzed at the level of the iconic practice, given that the icon is a way to explore the affective and medial dimension of the “thing”. This, in turn, radically suspends the fiction (and the –res, the original juridical form of “thing” in law). In this apparent simple iconicity, the preparation of a transfiguration and a new violence takes over reality. This profane iconicity is the poetic vanishing point of Mujercitos’ designs.

3. Countercommunity. Thirdly, Mujercitos offers a third way out a debate that we have inherited from the forms of political modernity: individualism and community. One does not need to remind anyone that the notion of “community” today enjoys a very good reputation; at times it seems that anyone who says “community” is already participating in a public liturgy that can pass uncontested. But what is community? Or, to put it in another way: can community as a form of socialization truly exhaust life and its encounters? For instance, does not every community produce exclusion as necessarily and permanent for its own thetic separation? In any case, as a friend would say, there are no communities but processes of communization. And where there is a community of wills and aggregated subjects, then there is a primacy of a substance that hinges upon obedience, normative legislation, and ultimately obligatory communion. Mujercitos Collective does not speak in the name of a community nor of unity, but rather it stands a counter-community without future (this is the Punk dimension to the project), that knows how to dwell in the desert of the present, because it knows that it is here where the true kingdom of friendship can happen and repeat itself in a double-time. If the community offers salvation in history; the counter-community offers no false promises, since it is only interested in modes of experimentation with the fragments of the world.

4. Totality is a ruse. I think I will end these brief notes quoting something Claudia Patricia told that, to my knowledge, best encompasses this visual-collective project: “The only thing we know is that today to play with totality is a ruse” (“El juego a la totalidad es la trampa de este mileneo”). There is a lot to unpack here, but I would just say without reading too much into it that the problem is how the sense of play becomes exhausted every time that there is a fiction of totalization. This is obviously a reference to the world of order and morality of adult symbolization. Now, a false exit is to cancel “play” in order to take a distance away from total morality. But, a more beautiful strategy is to liberate play at the level of our experiences and the materials and tonalities affecting life. To put play at the center of what takes place in life is, in turn, the most serious task of a a new ethics at the threshold of our epoch. 

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*Image: ArtCover by Claudia Patricia, February 19, 2021, Mujercitos Magazine.

Reform and Ecstatic Politics: Notes on Gramsci’s Prison Writings (VIII). by Gerardo Muñoz

Gramcsi’s turning away from economic primacy of the Third International meant that he had to endorse a robust principle of “politics” to suture the separation (and there crisis thereof) between theory and praxis, which is also a division of action and thought. In a certain way, going back to Machiavelli’s writings or Croce’s Hegelian Idealism is a way to introduce a total politics suture over philosophy and life. This becomes clear when in Notebook 8, while glossing Croce “Hidden God”, Gramsci asks rhetorically but with force: “In what sense can one speak of the identity of history with politics and say that therefore all life is politics? How could one conceive of the whole system of superstructures as (a system of) political distinctions, thus introducing the nothing of distinction in the philosophy of praxis? Can one even speak of a dialectic of distincts? (271). 

It becomes rather obvious that what has passed as the great Gramscian novelty – mainly, the emphasis on “superstructure” as a way to relax the mechanistic economic structure of capitalist development driving the laws of History – in fact, it rests on a metaphysical principle rooted in the total politics over life. In other words, Gramscianism means, if anything, a new totalization of political domination over the texture of life and every singular destiny. This conceptual maneuver is nothing original if placed in the epochal framework of what Alain Badiou called the “ecstatic politics” of the 1930s, in which politics (and later legality) became the instrument to suture philosophy and life. 

It is almost as if Gramscian political life becomes the new instrument for the age of total mobilization and the worker insofar as life is nothing but the site of immanence that must be reintegrated, conducted, and translated as co-terminus with full political activity. At the moment where “life” was fleeing from the organic reproduction of capitalist development unto autonomous forms (Camatte), the Gramscian emphasis on “superstructure” became the progressive technology to “contain” its eventual dispersion. Again, in the same section 60 of the eighth notebook this insight is explicit: “One must say that political activity is, precisely, the first moment or first level of the superstructures; it’s the moment in which all the superstructures are still in the unmediated phase of mere affirmation – willful, inchoate, and rudimentary” (271). The question solicited here is where does the “class struggle” fit in this picture, if at all? 

If superstructural political life is not the site of the horizon of the working class’ emancipation, this could only entail, as Jacques Camatte understood it very early on, that the conduction of the communist party in politics demanded that militants and the working class had to act as if the communist society was a “living fact”. In turn, this meant that there was a clear “reformist” transmutation, since one could discard (in fact, as later authors of the so-called post-foundational theory of hegemony demanded, it *had to be discarded*) the horizon of revolutionary emancipation. What is surprising is that even today a reformist declination of ecstatic politics is announced and branded as “true radical political thought”, when it is just a mere inversion and reorganization of capitalist value organization. On the contrary, the total politics of the superstructure over life could only mean, as Íñigo Errejón repeated recently, merely a “struggle between opposite values”; in other words, it is no longer a transformation of the world instead of interpreting it, but a mere gaming of values to facilitate the occupation of the state.  

This could explain why, many pages later in Notebook 8 Gramsci could define hegemony as the crystallization of morality. He writes univocally: “Hegemony” means a determinate system of moral life [conception of life] and therefore history is “religious” history along the lines of Croce’s “state-church” principle” (373). And of course, history is always “a struggle between two hegemonies”, whose main nexus is the unity of rulers and the ruled (373). Gramsci gives this unification without separation the label of “patriotism”, which amounts to a direct secularized form of the medieval pro patria mori. This is the vortex that organizes the ecstatic political dominium over life in every hegemonic order.  

An epoch unmoved (V). by Gerardo Muñoz

The intrusion of appearance in the world posits the question of the unlived in every life. This taking place that appears in the world descends temporal finitude; and, more fundamentally, it posits the caducity of its unlived possibilities. In a recent book on the history of citrus in Italy, the author says in passing that blood oranges, being from the lowlands near the Etna, mixes a variation of flavors that ultimately make this particular orange expire sooner than others of its kind. Heterogeneity is a marker of caducity. The shimmering crust of this orange reveals that something like the mystery of what has not happened yet (and perhaps never will) comes to us in the sensorium, in the open of the ambient, and in the time of decay: “It gave us pause for thought. How long does it take for a lemon to completely rot?” [1]. This sense of the unlived in life was thematized by Hölderlin in his late drama The Death of Empedocles, a figure intimate to the Etna volcanic topoi“In holy union each beloved clings to love, a love One thought was dead…To they are this! The ones we so long did without, the living; The goodly gods, declining with the star of life! Farewell!” [2]. We have yet to develop a theory of the encounter that opens the epoch. But the solicitation for an experience entails the seeking of an outside to reality, in which the unlived facilitates nearness to an escape route. As we know, Hölderlin thought of the fissure of unity as excess between outside and reality, in which the relation between object and subject, thinking and action, imagination and things come to a tragic diremption.  

In this light, the actualization of the unlived is the vortex against the immobility of the epoch in which life is rendered actual in its becoming. But this requires specification; or at least a certain amendment of the pure aorgic immanence. We know that centuries before Hölderlin, Angelus Silesius provided a point of entry: “The Sun gives movement unto all, and makes the stars dance in the sky: if I still stand immovable, no part in the great whole have I” [3]. The mystical kenosis is ground cero to attunement of life. However, Silesius also seems to be suggesting that even under the dress of nature, movement is the condition for any instantiation with the abode. If glimpsed from the interior of the site of the natural world, pure immanence appears as the interrupted image without partition; but if described from the exteriority of the unlived, then world and life now meet in a kinetic extraneous divergence. 

But what is the limit of an intensity? There are two ways of coming to terms with this problem: every process of intensification reaches its caducity whenever its violence is overcome by the seduction of possession in submitting to the absolutism of reality. On the other hand, every intensity is perturbed when it finds an obstruction in the formal orientation of the concept. Therefore, when the co-existence between the exogenic and ecstatic limits meet, the free playing of forms becomes flow (plynein).  In other words, we cease to become immobile to deviate from the obstruction of the suspended wreck of every encounter.

Untimely, this invites that we reconsider the status of happiness. As a contemporary philosopher that I admire has insinuated it: perhaps happiness is the unthought notion in our tradition. In a certain way, the unthought and the unlived depart from the caesura of their own evasion. There is perhaps no need to reconstruct how “happiness” has been subordinated to designs proper to politics or commerce; or, as in the more classical tradition, the moral virtue for self-regulation and privation. Everything changes if we locate happiness in the site of the unlived, insofar as now the violence that is constituted of the separation between form and event in the texture of life. The immediacy of happiness is not being able to conquer something like a state of “blessed life” but being able to release the unlived in every succession of deaths that traverse a life [4]. 

But the unlived exits not only to de-constitute the vital determination, but also, and more fundamentally, to escape the seduction of the negative that assumes that loss and tragicity are irreparable limits. Rather, because there is something like an unlived there is happiness in the way that we constantly move within the available set of unlimited possibilities. The unlived initiates a physics that cuts absolute immanence in virtue of the genesis of style, since it is only in style where the overcoming of the unlived shelters the soul in the face of caducity. Indeed, it is in this invisible texture where the color of our mobility approaches asymptotic twirl between divinity and the world.

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Notes

1. Ciaran Carson. Still Life. Winston: Wake Forest University Press, 2020. 16.

2. Friedrich Hölderlin. The Death of Empedocles. Trad. Farrell Krell. Albany: SUNY, 2008. 93.

3. Angelus Silesius. El peregrino querúbico. Madrid: Ediciones Siruela, 2005. 

4. Pacôme Thiellement. “Le Bonheur est un twist”, 25 june 2017: www.pacomethiellement.com/corpus_texte.php?id=326 : “l y a deux lumières: il y a la lumière d’avant la nuit et il y a la lumière d’après. Il y a celle qui était là au début, l’aube radieuse du jour d’avant, et puis il y a celle qui a lutté contre les ténèbres, la lumière qui naît de cette lutte : l’aube scintillante du jour d’après. Il n’y a pas seulement deux lumières, il y a aussi deux joies : il y a la joie d’avant la peine et il y a celle d’après. La joie originelle, la joie innocente, primitive, cette joie est sublime, mais c’est juste un cadeau de la vie, du ciel, du soleil… La joie qui vient après la peine, c’est le cadeau que tu te fais à toi-même : c’est la façon dont tu transformes ta peine en joie, l’innocence que tu réussis à faire renaître des jours d’amertume et des nuits de bile noire. C’est le moment où tu commences à vivre, mais vivre vraiment, parce que tu commences à renaître de toutes tes morts successives. C’est le moment où tu t’approches de la divinité ou du monde”.

*Image from my personal archive: Etna as seen from Palermo, summer of 2016.

Three ideas for a discussion on «Éléments de décivilisation» by Gerardo Muñoz.

[These are some preliminary notes for an ongoing discussion on Lundi Matin’sÉléments de décivilisation’’, a text that condenses a series of problems dealing with, although by no means, limited to infrapolitical reflection, the event, world, and the question of civilization in the wake of the ruin of hegemonic principles. This particular essay, more than content, raises the question of the status of the style of thought; and, in broad terms, I tend to link the notion of style to the constitution of an ethos. But let me offer three theses to open the discussion in very broad terms. What follows is the reconstruction of three brief points in a recent group meeting about this text.] 

i. The priority of the event. For me at least it is very important to consider that Éléments de décivilisation’’ moves away from at least two important precedents of a common intellectual orbit: messianism and the political theory of modern sovereignty. Of course, this is important for many reasons, but most it speaks to what I would call a strong opposition between thought and philosophy (favoring the first over the second). These two registers open important distinctions, such as, for instance, a displacement between historical temporality (messianism) to a notion of the taking place (the event or encounter) as exteriority. Whereas we were told that the “event is the enemy within Empire” (Gloss in Thesis 60 of Introduction à la guerre civile) , now we have a more through sketch about the way in which the form-of-life is not a category reducible to vitalism or the problem of the subject, but rather about the play between form and event. Here I think that Carlo Diano’s Forma ed evento (1952) is crucial as a backdrop that is not just philosophically (Aristotelian formalization against Stoic predication), but rather a sound position of thinking in relation to what has been passed down as “civilization”. 

ii. Civilization as a principle. Now, the question of civilization raises to a problem of thought insofar as is neither an ontological problem nor an operative idea in the history of intellectual concepts. Civilization becomes the apparatus by which the total regimen of production in any given epoch is structured to establish an order. And here order is both authority and police. To put it in juridical terms: the first secures legitimacy while the second posits the flexible energy of legality and execution. This is the same problem in the relation to the world. In other words, civilization means enclosing, domesticating, and producing. By the same token, civilization is the operative domain by which nomōs, history and the subject come together in virtue of their separation. Is not this the very issue in the Greek polis in the wake of the discovery of measurement, isonomy, and the distribution of the goods in which hegemony replaces the basileus (Vernant)? It is one of the merits of the text not having understood this problem at the level of an “archeology of Western political thought” (Agamben), but rather as an evolving transhistorical process that binds the axis of domination and power to the axis of anthropology and domestication. Civilization, then, would name the total apparatus of hegemony under which politics falls as a problem of metaphysical structure (I have tried this problem in recent positions here). Whether there is an assumed anthropological anarchy at the level of substance, capable of “inversion” (Camatte), is something that must be explored in further detail. 

iii. Happiness cuts absolute immanence. My last point. I would like to insist on something that Rodrigo Karmy mentioned recently: “Happiness is the unthought of the Weestern tradition”. I agree with Karmy not on the basis that there has not been any reflection of “happiness” in the tradition, but rather that this reflection has either been a) subordinated to politics or economics (Jeffersonian “happiness” conditioned by commerce); or, as a moral virtue of self-regulation and privation. But it seems to me that “Elements” wants to offer something else in a very novel way. It is here where the question of violence must be inscribed. A curious displacement since violence has been thought in relation to beauty, but not happiness. The violence at the level of forms puts us in proximity with the event at the end of life itself. In this sense, the Pacôme Thiellement footnote is important:

“l y a deux lumières: il y a la lumière d’avant la nuit et il y a la lumière d’après. Il y a celle qui était là au début, l’aube radieuse du jour d’avant, et puis il y a celle qui a lutté contre les ténèbres, la lumière qui naît de cette lutte : l’aube scintillante du jour d’après. Il n’y a pas seulement deux lumières, il y a aussi deux joies : il y a la joie d’avant la peine et il y a celle d’après. La joie originelle, la joie innocente, primitive, cette joie est sublime, mais c’est juste un cadeau de la vie, du ciel, du soleil… La joie qui vient après la peine, c’est le cadeau que tu te fais à toi-même : c’est la façon dont tu transformes ta peine en joie, l’innocence que tu réussis à faire renaître des jours d’amertume et des nuits de bile noire. C’est le moment où tu commences à vivre, mais vivre vraiment, parce que tu commences à renaître de toutes tes morts successives. C’est le moment où tu t’approches de la divinité ou du monde”. This position  – which I think it is prevalent throughout the text – allows the opening of a series of articulations:

a) it is no longer happiness an effect on the subject, which has only grown in the Spectacle or consumption; that is happiness as an exception to life.

b) it is not that happiness is a theological state of ‘blessed life’, which would presuppose the transmutation of sin and thus overcoming of the non-subject. This position depends on conditions of mythic-history and theology.

c) It is rather that happiness is the way in which the singular gathers his possibilities in use without enclosing the other possibles. To live a life among the fragmentation of the use of our disposed potentialities is a way to violently cut the seduction of absolute immanence in which style is diluted. Play could name the variations of use. But there is a second order risk in what constitutes “play”: a transfiguration of politic as civil war. The problem becomes how to think of ‘play’ (i. messianic abandonment, ii. political intensification – insurrection, or the separation between rhythm and voice, a poesis). I am interested in pushing for the third figure of play; a third figure in which the event and happiness impose a new division of souls, moving away from the separation from life. 

Photogenesis and the invisible: on John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1959). Notes for a seminar presentation. by Gerardo Muñoz

i. What is your name? Every time that I have watched John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1959) I end up facing the same question: what is taking place in this film? Perhaps it is the incorrect question insofar as Shadows (1959) is, first and foremost, a film about the event; about “what takes place”. Unlike Hollywood’s telic form over conflict, the whole premise of Cassavetes’ method of improvisation is a way to liberate the event in the moving image. This is what I would like to call here a photogenic event. The whole structure of Shadows is, to this effect, the bringing-fourth of appearing without narration or naming. Hence, what takes place is the way in which characters or figures emerge from light, retracting from the plunge unto theatricality. The photogenetic effect in Cassavetes is a way out of the logic of naming: remember “what is your name?”, as Bennie asks very early in the film (the café sequence). Indeed, the naming is always what emerges after the event, once boredom has kicked him and the separation from light and shadow, human and animal, theater and theatrically have taken place. The taking place in Shadows is a return to an abysmal site predating naming, faces, or intentions: it is absolute proximity. 

ii. The vocation of the quotidian. The photogenetic image works through the texture of life: this is why in Shadows nothing truly happens in virtue that everything takes place. The difference between happening and taking place is an irreducible distinction; mainly, what happens is not provoked a mediation between subjects and objects, but rather at a moment when both subject and object coincide only to immediately suspend each other. What takes place is life’s destiny, which ultimately entails that we are figures of exposure before we are subjects of narrative and causality. As in a diary or a midnight party, what takes place is the clandestine life once it enters in relation with other bodies, languages, and gestures. In this sense, Shadows remains faithful to one and only one principle: how to transfigure the boredom of factical life into a vocation of a clandestine life. It is not too clear that Cassavetes arrives at a successful answer to this problem; almost as if, indeed, to remain clandestine is to insist on the “invisible” image that is always missing from every life. The promiscuity between shadows and light transpires the possibility of the living all the other invisible and nonexistent lives that are scarified within that which we call “life”. 

iii. Under the glorious sky. If the task of vocation opens to the invisible in life, then this means that there is always a dimension that is exterior the anthropological determination. In the solitude of the nocturnal splendor of the late modern metropolis – as in the instance in which Lelia is outside of a Manhattan theater lost in thought or contemplating the shimmering lights above – the existence of the human shines along with the embers of the sky. This most definitely an inherence of paganism in the sense of the medium in life as a mode of appearance without judgement. As one can still contemplate it from the frescos at Villa Fernesina, the pagan gazing towards the sky is not a flight towards abstraction or transcendence, but rather a releasement of life’s destiny as affirmed in the terrestrial presence [1]. Paradoxically, at the moment of the total subsumption of life into the Spectacle, the medium frees the possibility of the deconstitution of life into the modes and resources of appearing. From the photogenic perspective, this entails full saturation on the horizon; from the pagan perspective, the onwards unfolding of existence becomes a fragment in the exploration of the common sky. 

iv. Inharmonious tonality. Now, fragmentation opens a heterochronic disassociation between images and events. Indeed, all of Shadows unfolding bears witness to the way in which the tonality of life is always at odds with the attunement of the rhythms of the world. It is in this threshold where interiority of the self and exteriority of music point to the peak of prophecy. For one thing, because music is the medium through the residual mystery of the “inexpressive” becomes the process of traversing the ecstatic formlessness of the event. This disharmony dislocates the homogenization vis-à-vis the sky of cinematography.  Bresson says something very beautiful about this disharmony: the image of cinematography must be such that it puts in relation the voice and the steps of a person in a way that the protagonist themselves have not foreseen. This nocturnal knowledge between image and sound, rhythm and tonality of life, becomes the triumph of the photogenic medium in which life dissolves in a kinetic outburst without recourse. 

v. The invisible and intoxication. At a very superficial dimension, Shadows is about alcohol consumption; hence about what happens to a life under the stage of intoxication. The only knowledge is that of the oblique pedagogy in which the way of the flesh becomes a pathway for language, friendship, and violence among other bodies. There is no transgression as an intoxicated subject, since intoxication is already the violence against the substance of the subject. In other words – and this was suggested to me by the contemporary artist and designer Claudia Patricia – the logistics of errancy is being able to do otherwise from a site in which no other possibility could have emerged. This absolute necessity moves against reality and the future planning of the metropolis. And here I must return to the beginning: what takes place is what allows a relation with the invisible. Already in 1959, Cassavetes understood that intoxication redeems an ethical life against an epochal phase in which total anthropological exposure would become the concrete utopia of the socialization of capital. 

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Notes 

1. Fritz Saxl. La fede astrologica di Agostino Chigi. Interpretazione dei dipinti di Baldassarre Peruzzi nella Sala di Galatea della Farnesina (Bardi Edizioni, 2017).

2. Gianni Carchia. “Dialettica dell’immagine: note sull’estetica biblica e cristiana”, in La legittimazione dell’arte: studi sull’intelligibile estetico (1982). 

3. Bresson on Bresson: Interviews, 1943-1983 (NYRB, 2016).

Production as a total religion of man: Notes on Gramsci’s Prison Writings (VII). by Gerardo Muñoz

In an important moment of Notebook 7, Antonio Gramsci writes that production in the age of industrialization amounts to a “new religion of the common man”. This thesis conditions many aspects of Gramsci’s thought and fully exposes his thinking as determined by the epoch of industrialization. If so, this means that his thinking is fundamentally insufficient for our historical present as defined by stagnation and the end of growth. First of all, the condition of industrialization allows for the famous “war of position”, which is exerted as a moralization of politics (hegemony). It is important to note that the concept of hegemony is introduced only “after” the historical reduction to industrial productivity is rendered as the unity of all historical time.  In an explicit Hegelian fashion, Gramsci argues that: “The process of historical development is a unity in time, which is why the present contains the whole of the past and what is “essential” of the past realizes itself in the present, without any “unknowable” residue that would constitute its real “essence”. Whatever is lost….it pertained to chronicle not History, a superficial episode and, in the final analysis, negligible” (175). This is at the core of Gramsci’s thinking, not at the margins.

So, the Hegelian absolute movement of the philosophy of history as coterminous with the flattening of the “rational is the real” is the metaphysical ground in which Gramsci not only operates but the venue through which he offers us a “new religion of the common man”. A few sections later (§. 35), Gramsci confesses that “hegemony was also a great “metaphysical event”. Of course, one could suppose that Gramsci was delivering a new God within the gigantomachy of the age of production. The irony is, of course, that this strict “political theology” is only justified by the industrial regime that it seeks to overturn. Therefore, the question that the so-called contemporary Gramscians (or anyone taking up Gramsci today, say from the 1970s to the present) should respond is: how can the analytical conditions of Gramsci’s thought illuminate post-Fordism in the wake of the exhaustion of growth? 

If according to Jason E. Smith’s important new book Smart Machines and Service Work (2020) since the 1980s we are witnessing an ever-expanding service sector (in the US and the UK drifting well above the 80% of the GDP) as a compensatory for growth stagnation in the age of technological innovation, how could the Gramscian “new religion” on industry mobilize a horizon of emancipation, or even minimal transformation from said regime of exploitation? On the contrary, it seems (as I tried to argue recently here) that if we take Gramsci’s insight about the material conditions of “production” in any given epoch, the work of hegemony today can only open to a demand for exploitation as subjected to servant domination in the stagnant regime. In other words, if we accept Gramsci’s own analytical conditions (industrial production), this necessarily entails that we must move beyond hegemonic domination. To think otherwise – say, believing that a “temporal form of dictatorship” or “populist takeover”, now in ruins – amounts to a solution oblivious to the historical conditions, which can only blindly accept the “command” of a hegemonic principle. It is not a surprise that only the new nationalist right in the United States today can be properly labeled “Gramscian”, since they want to recoil political form to industrialization, organic community flourishing, and national “delinking” from globalization decomposition of the regime of total equivalence. But this is only a “storytelling” (a bad one, indeed) in times of stagnation.

More broadly, this speaks to the divergence between Gramsci’s faith in industrialization and Protestantism, as he defends it in section 47 of the Notebook. While glossing Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic, Gramsci notes that only the “spirt of the Reform” can produce reciprocal positions vis-à-vis grace and “good works”; whereas in Catholicism, activity and human action is not bounded by labor form, but by corporativism. On the surface this links Gramsci’s thesis with that of Max Weber’s; however, given the conditions explained above, it also shows that Gramsci’s thinking is really at odds with a commitment to thinking reform within the concrete conditions of a historical epoch. In other words, the political categories of Gramscianism (war of position, hegemony, production) are undeniably more on the side of reaction rather than in the production of new reforms. Of course, his position is not even a Catholic reaction; since, as Carl Schmitt observed in Roman Catholicism and Political Form (1923), at least the Church offered formal institutionality as a response to the total electrification of the world, whether in the hands of the Soviets or the American financial elite. But, as we know, the theory of hegemony is also oblivious to the problem of institution and the concrete order. 

Going nowhere: on Jason E. Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work (2020). by Gerardo Muñoz

Jason Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work (Reaktion Books, 2020) provides us with a renewed cartography of the labor transformations in the wake of automation and the cybernetic revolution, which has ultimately created a “vast service sector” (9). Although at first sight Smith’s book seems to be preoccupied with questions of technology innovation in the post-fordist epoch, the central vortex of the book sheds light on the notion of “servant economy” that has become the fast-evolving segment of today’s job-market. Smith notes that the expansion of the servant economy propelled by automation “poses special obstacles to organization and action in a fragmented workforce. The rise of the “servant economy”, increasingly forces workers into smaller, spatially dispersed workplaces, where they carry out labor-intensified production processes…. deemed low-skill occupations and therefore poorly paid” (14). The new region of the service economy is an effect of the exceptionality of capital form self-abdication where unemployment becomes an existential problem for the social fabric. 

The nuanced analysis undertaken by Smith shows how the fragmented spatialization of labor has become the byproduct of the automation in which control, optimization, and feedback ensemble a new regime of total calculation. Already in 1956, Friedrich Pollock warned of a potential “totalitarian government” that could lead to mass unemployment. Pollock’s Cold War predicament was not off target: the fear of totalitarian unemployment (Habermas would call it crisis of legitimation) was answered with a total (service) economy that compensated for the paradox of stagnation of profit growth. The encompassing force of real subsumption through compartmentalization of services rendered effective James Boggs’ “nowhere to go” in the final dispensation of historical capitalism.

The phase of stagnation announces the “productivity paradox”. Smith writes glossing Mason: “If ours is an age defined by monopolies, cheap credit, rent-seeking and asset bubbles, it is not due to the concerted efforts of elites keen to forestall or smother in the cradle a new, sustained period of productivity gains….despite claims to the contrary, the weather of stagnation and drift that has settle over the advanced capitalist economies since the 1970s, and special since the turn of the century is attributable in no small part technological inertia” (41). The boom of “diversionary gadgets” are on the side of unproductiveness; and, as Ure argues, “do nothing towards the supply of the physical necessities of society” (43). But perhaps diversion usage accounts for the mobilization of the medium of the new phase of automated capitalism. In other words, precisely because traditional form of political legitimacy has crumbled, zero value technology becomes the compensatory psychic equilibrium within the process of abstraction of profit. The subjective dimension of the “medium” in the new phase of automation operates to drive dynamism in the “historic low” of labor productivity growth and the disjointed structural relation between economic growth and rise in wages (64, 69).

One of the conclusions that one can derive from Smith’s rich political economy empirical analysis is that the expansion of the service economy is fundamentally an anti-institutional phenomenon, both at the level of social forms (unions, movements, legal grounds for disputes) as well as in terms of mediations of exchange (intellectual labor, shadow-work, spatial relations to urban centers, etc.). In this sense, the absolutization of the regional “service economy” is the reallocation of reduced labor. In the same way that all ‘originary accumulation’ is an ‘onging accumulation’; the “crisis” of the economy is always already the recurrent stagnation of growth. But Smith notes with precision: “services therefore appear to obscure more than it clarifies” (80). This new process of rationalization mobilizes the valorization of the outside, that is, of every non-market sphere. This process draws a specific ordo rationality: “The true “advances” such as they are, have been in the domination of the labor process by employers: their ability to coerce more labor out of a given hour by means of refinement in supervision, oversight, and workplace discipline” (112). 

Mirroring the optimal logistics of cybernetic and automation processes, one could claim that the expansion of the service economy initiates a regime of governmentality that allows for the attenuation and cost-benefit management of flows. Now I think one can clearly see that “service” is not just an avatar to formal processes of value, but also, as Ivan Illich showed, a secularized theological concept of the Christian notion of hospitality. According to Illich, hospitality was transformed into a use of power and money to provide services and needs [1]. For the ex-Catholic priest, this meant nothing less than the corruption of human freedom, which became tied to the logistics of equivalence. This is why, more than an economic theory, neoliberalism needs to defend an ever-expanding freedom of the subject. In the context of deep social atomization, the service economy self-legitimizes itself as absolute freedom in the social (141). 

At the end of the book, Smith notes that in the wake of automation the relation between political struggles and the new economic composition begin to diverge. There is on one side the model of the teachers and that of the expendables (146-147). In a sense, the “nowhere land” registered by Boggs in the 60s has only intensified, as modern politics forms no longer seem up to the task in the face of total extraction and exclusion. If we think of arguably the most successful leftist political strategy in the last decade or so (the strongest cases have been in Latin America and Spain), the left populism rooted in the theory of hegemony; it becomes clear that after the empirical analysis of Smart Machines, any set of ‘equivalential demands’ is already a demand for exploitation within the regime of the service economy. During this months of pandemic the right has been calling for the immediate reintegration into the economy, bring to bear the internal production at the heart of the project of hegemony. Rather than thinking about a new multitude or unified subject of class, the expendables that Smith situates at the outskirts of the metropolis (the ‘hinterland’), constitute perhaps a new experiential texture of life that is no longer moved by representation but rather expression; it is no longer defined by class, but consumption; it is not interested in negation, but rather in “discovery” (148). Indeed, the new marginalized surplus population does not constitute a new “subject”, but an energy that seeks an exodus from the ruins of the political given the collapse of the whole framework of leftist hegemony [2]. It seem reasonable to think that it is precisely in the threshold of Boggs’ call for a “discovery” (a movement of anabasis), devoid of place and time, where the unfathomable stagnation of our epoch is defied.

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Notes

1. Ivan Illich. The Rivers North of the Future (Anansis, 2005). 

2. “Onwards Barbarians”, Endnotes, December 2020: https://endnotes.org.uk/other_texts/en/endnotes-onward-barbarians