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 https://www.quodlibet.it/giorgio-agamben-gaia-e-ctonia 

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.

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.

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.

Jesus as gardener in the landscape. by Gerardo Muñoz

A reproduction of Titian’s early work “Noli Me Tangere” (~1514) cannot do justice to its majestical prudence if contemplated directly on the walls of the National Gallery. To use the terms “majestical prudence” might be a bit of a misnomer, but at least it allows to be slide into what entails the central enigma of the picture: its underemphasized contours of the biblical encounter from John 20:15, in which the resurrected Christ appears to Mary Magdalene as a gardener. A lot has been made about the Giorginesque influence on the picture, but it seems to me that the underemphasized composition speaks to the real triumph of Titian’s masterpiece. This is a triumph achieved not so much through the imports of allegory and pagan motifs, but rather as a complex web of distances untangled in the picture: the distance between Christ’s gaze with Magdalene’s upward look, but also the solitary tree inclined leftward, which compensates for the downwards light jerk movement of Christ as he takes distance to escape touching.

I have said nothing of the deep and overpainted deep blue sea in the background; or the receding landscape in the distance with a flock of sheep, high grasesses, barns, and a modest castle to the upper right side of the picture. A little man walks his dog, and we guess he is moving towards the sheep. Or perhaps not. The underemphasized and inconspicuous composition of the picture is precisely in the formulation of distances; invisible distances that allows the gathering of proximity. Only in this minimalist case can the painting be described as giorgenesque. Herbert Cook in his monograph on Giorgione captures this balance by what he calls invisible threads: “Peculiar, however, to an artist of genius is the subtlety of composition, which is held together by invisible threads, for nowhere else, perhaps, has Giorgione shown a greater mastery of line.” [1]. This is also a fair treatment of what holds up the elements in Titian’s picture.

Now, the invisible threads in “Noli me Tangere” do not merely substantiate the networks of lines; rather they also bring the picture to a point of a distant presence. This is what we are able to perceive when confronted with the painting in the walls of the National Gallery. There is another more straightforward way of stating the same: there is something “earthy” to Titian’s rendering of John 20:15, and by “earthy” we attempt to point to point at the distribution of distances between earth, sky, and landscape. This also implies how bodies move in it. It does not take much to document it: one could start by attending to Magdalene’s merciful arm raising to Christ’s cloaked body, followed by his holding of the hoe, which immediately swayes us to the tree. Magdalene’s left hand on an ointment vase reinstates the dowards movement to the ground. The earthly character is the tension elaborated by these distances – a very modern sensation that we will not get in the later pictures of resurrection in the glorious skies of redemption, as noted by Erwin Panoksky [2]. The earthly deposes the relieves of both glory and incarnation. Titian wants to give us the picture of a resurrection in a world that passes by as it retains its tranquility, which painting can only provide us through a non-emphatic incorporation of its distancing.

This could very well account for the assumption that “Noli Me Tangere” becomes a decisive “stepping stone in the evolution of modern culture…from the Byzantine theology to Pantheism and spiritual freedom” [3]. The fact that Renaissance painting was absorbent to the pagan myths is something that has been studied by the major art historians of the twentieth century, so one could also take Richter’s thesis somewhere else. Pantheism is not about the symbolic restitution of specific iconography or motifs, but it is rather the exposition of a particular experience: Jesus as gardener services the disclosure of an unmediated world granted by the perception of distances. The mistaken perception of Jesus as gardener can only be understood, even if momentarily, as undoing the work of Adam, only to be resumed and “served” (ābad) by the Savior [4]. But this might be reading too much “meaning” into the picture, which is deliberately underemphasized in its avoidance to allegorical weight.

To any modern attentive observer, it becomes impossible not to bring into the picture the early modern dispute between gardeners and architects. This opposition does not justify Titian’s “Noli Me Tangere’”, but it does serve (at least it serves me) to insist on the open relation between gardening and the disclosing of an unmediated world, which stands as a theological idiom of the picture. It is most definitely a picture of a resurrected life that is only apprehended by the possibility of immersing itself in the rhythms of the invisible that pertain the world. So, we do not have to wait for the late mysterious and dark Titian to find a full coincidence between painting and thought. “Noli me Tangere ” seems to tell us that there is thought whenever there is earthy grounding in the bifurcation between bodies and things in space.

And so, we can return to the thin blue sea on the left side of the painting, which magically brings all the earthly elements to the forefront. It is the ultimate distance, as well as the unbreachable region where all elements converge (pay attention to the vegetation and the clouds literally becoming blue) sharply on the horizon. It is also the most emphatic instance of the picture; the lacunae that guarantees the masterful structure of invisible threads that ultimately pins its intimate proximity to natural dissolution.




1. Herbert Cook. Giorgione (George Bells & Sons, 1900), 41.

2. Erwin Panofsky. Problems in Titian: Mostly Iconographic (NYU Press, 1969), 40-41.

3. George M. Richter. “The problem of the Noli Me Tangere”, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, V.65, July 1934, 10.

4. Nicolas Wyatt. “When Adam Delved: The Meaning of Genesis III 2″, Vetus Testamentum, Vol.38, 1988, 121.

Persuasion of the surround. by Gerardo Muñoz

The friend Andrés Gordillo has generously sustained an ongoing conversation in light of the talk delivered in Mexico on institution and immanence (a first reaction could be read here). In a recent note he brings many elements to the table, and his versatile writing makes it difficult – alas, this is a wish come true for any reader – to locate an univocal point of entry. This is perhaps because there is none. Andrés wants to keep us at the edge, and so he enacts the set up: there is communication, and because communication is the event of language, there is still the possibility of mystery. Many things already pop up here, but this might be doing injustice to Andrés’ elaborate draft. So, for the sake of the exchange, let me open the route by running through a moment that impacted my first reading. It is this moment: “El desencuentro que aviva la amistad de ambos personajes [Narcissus and Goldmund] es el de haber decidido resguardarse en la exterioridad de sus elecciones, ahí donde son obra del amor”.

This is a condensation of what the Hesse’s novel means to him; or, rather, how it speaks to him in light of a discussion regarding the dominance of the civil principle, and the question of an experiential dimension that we defined provokingly as a minor transcendence. I am not sure I am in the position to unpack Andrés’ thesis, if it is a thesis at all. I do remember a couple of years ago an exchange with Alberto Moreiras on the logic of the encounter and the misencounter related, precisely, to the problem of the eclipse of experience. This is the problem that keeps soliciting thought; it is the problem of thought itself.

However, I am getting ahead of myself. Andrés stages a complex framing: there is friendship as absolute difference (or in virtue of a fundamental misencounter), and then there is an exteriority of their existential decisions; that is, in the manner that they are irreductible to their being in the world. I spoke of framing purposely, since I find myself these days with Pablo Picasso’s “The Blue Room” (1901) from the early period that I encountered in Washington DC. It is a rather small picture – and to the viewer, the semi-statue like nude, a female figure it seems, comes to the forefront sliding downwards. A mysterious resonance dilates between things – and indeed, the objects in the room (the sheets, the rug, the bouquet of flowers, the paintings, the half-open window) feel like things. This is an intimate surround at the threshold of catastrophe, where things could be lost at any moment. And we know that epochally they soon were.

We are in a strange setting – and if it is strange to us it is because there is a sense to which alienation and solitude here is the fundamental harmony of dwelling. This is not yet the assumption into plain and continuous historical time that will amass things into objects. The “Blue Room” (1901) inscribes esoterically the thematics of pain – it is a work in which Picasso responds to his friend Carles Casagemas’ suicide that very same year. No metaphorical or allegorical reading will do the job to put us in “The Blue Room”. In the wake of an elliptical death, pain stands in, like the nude the water basin, as the irreductible to history and the menacing social sphere. I will bounce this to another moment of Andrés’ text: “Por ahora me siento inclinado a conversar: avanzar hacia un umbral que se desploma”. This ‘crumbling threshold’ now appears to me as a sound and prudent description of what “The Blue Room” (1901) was able to achieve. An experiential awakening against the conflagration of modern historical time: soon enough – and boy was it soon – the interior space of “The Blue Room” will multiply into infinite cells of the planetary designs in which social man will be just a potential inmate. This is why Picasso in 1901 speaks still today a strange language for us – it discloses a surround, an exteriority that we have been deprived of. It is a surround that is fully folded within.

If pictorial practice is not mere representation, but also, more fundamentally, a form of thought, then we can claim that “The Blue Room” (1901) attests to the proximity of the misencounter of friendship that outlives in the experience of the surround. And here the painter had no privileged position – he is no figure of genius, no commander of historical destiny, no magician of forms. He is also a befallen figure because he is the cipher of life. But to overcome the rhetorical surplus of socialization requires techniques in the face of the irruption of pain. Nothing less solicited Carlo Michaelsteadter when criticizing the reduction of the “man of society” to the pieties in “exchange for the tiny learned task and his submission, the security of all that human ingenuity has accumulated in society, what he would not otherwise obtain except by individual superiority, the potency of persuasion”, he wrote in Persuasione e la rettorica, another masterpiece of the 1900s. Yet, persuasion requires to be vigilant at the moment where things enter the historical penumbra and its rhetorical artifice; the reign of endless confusion amidst the most transparent and disingenuous computations.

How one becomes persuaded within a tonality, and remaining to be so – this is also a surrounding mystery of “The Blue Room” at the outset of the century. We still dwell in its dissonance.



*Image: Pablo Picasso, “The Blue Room” (1901), Philipps Collection, Washington DC. From my personal archive.

A new science of experience. by Gerardo Muñoz

This is merely a footnote to an exchange in light of the short talk “Immanence and Institution” that I delivered yesterday in Mexico City under the generous auspices of Professors Benjamin Mayer Foulkes and Andrés Gordillo (the recording should be available soon in the audio archive). In the rich discussion that followed the hypothesis regarding the triumph of the dominance of the civil concept today, Andrés Gordillo noted that a practice of “discernment” was required to confront the ongoing condition of planetary catastrophe that has only intensified in the wake of AI automation processes that orient the optimizing and unifying the totality of world-events. Alluding to his historiographical research on early modern epoch, Gordilo alluded to the mysticism of the seventeenth century’s “science of experience” (following Michel De Certau’s The Mystic Fable but not only this work) as an existential practice to retreat from the dominium of confession, but also to refuse the Protestant unification driven by the ends of predestination and grace. And unlike the early Christian mystics of the void and releasement, the proponents of a science of experience favored a discernment with God that was vested in every creation of possibilities and modalities exterior to life.

The mystical defense of a science of experiences, then, refuses the concretion of the social subject: being a subject of sin through the postlapsarian condition, but also reflecting the Protestant subject of election that will give birth to the secularization of consciousness and will. The science of experience is the exposure of the soul to the possible transformation with the exteriority as prefigured in transcendental exteriority. A transfiguration of the foundational unity of theological revelation. I find it fascinating that these mystics of the seventeenth century (some of them marranos or facing the problem of conversion) were already aware that an epoch of total dominium and absolute collapse against life requires a transformative nexus with the temporality of experience. 

When Erich Unger in 1921 contemplates the rise of a catastrophic politics in his Politics and Metaphysics, he retorts to a politics of exodus that, precisely, affirms the experiential dimension of existence and communication through what he would call the elevation of the imaginative capacities. In the face of a subsumption of politics into catastrophe, for Unger the immediate task was to elaborate the praxis of experience from the psychic imbalance of the corrosive effects of the subject. In other words, the science of experience names an interior exodus against every instance of rhetorical and mimetical fabrication that seeks to hold the plan discernment of life into a regime of administration and accumulation of plain historical time.

I agree with Gordillo that perhaps the diverse experiments of the “science of experience” could very well be understood as experiments in transitional thought against historiographical closures. The notion of experiment could be extrapolated from Saidiya Hartman’s usage, in a minimalist sense: ways of living on the other side of the rhetorical assignment of the fictitious life of the subject. But perhaps the very term “science of experience” today is a misnomer, in the same way that the proto-concept of “experiential politics” deployed by Michalis Lianos during the cycle of the Yellow Vests runs into an aporetic threshold to name the crisis of the soul’s attunement in the face of the conflagration of the world. Precisely the errancy of experience (and its non-sacrificial relation to pain) is what cannot be subsumed – and for this reason the invisible fleeting gradation – neither to a science nor to a politics.

Can holistic politics do the heavy lifting? On Michalis Lianos’ Direct Democracy: The Change Towards Holistic Politics (2022). by Gerardo Muñoz

Michalis Lianos’ Direct Democracy: The Change Towards Holistic Politics (2022) defines itself as a social manifesto to confront the transformation of the nature of political power, public institutions, and the tradition of political representation inherited from the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. This is something that Michalis Lianos – one of the most interesting sociologists of social control of his generation – had already alluded to in his writing during the cycle of revolts of the Yellow Vests in France [1]. In more than one way, Direct Democracy: The Change Towards Holistic Politics (2022) is an expansion of this intuition; although, unlike most manifestos, the book does not take up the tone of denunciation and rupture, but rather of extreme prudence to construct and adequate itself to the complexity of our contemporary societies to a new regime of power distribution and individual empowerment. The total political alienation from public deliberation and participation is, according to Lianos, what stands in the way of people’s common interests. Institutions, political parties, the formalist separation of powers, and the legislative bodies (now in the hands of administrative agencies and corporate firms) have been radically disconnected from people’s lives to the point of becoming endogamic in its practices of decision making and public governance.

No one today can doubt the univocal distrust on all things political (a sentiment dating back to the Romantic age if we are to believe Carl Schmitt) which reminds us that the most interesting social insurrections in recent times have been against the democratic neutralization of the specific metropolitan and capital organization of administrative power. In the face of this schism, Lianos proposes a move towards direct democracy that can short circuit these institutional actors and partisan interests in order to revitalize people’s empowerment. The realization of direct democracy presupposes – and this Lianos’ propositional reinvention of the unity of politics – what he terms a new ‘Holistic Politics”, which he understands as a new civic attitude and a culture between citizens in a “holistic away, as a whole” (Lianos 2022, 2). The aim is to empower and lower public and private decision making at the scale of people’s life consistent with “social trust as the key for a happy collective life” (Lianos 2022, 3). The operative notion of Holistic Politics is, then, both a model of institutional design through the problem of scale; and, at the same time, a reassessment of the epistemological grounds of social action. In other words, for Lianos Holistic Politics should not be oriented towards putting the right answers in any social project, but rather to “ask society the right questions each time” (Lianos 2022, 9). We presume that what is “right” in the “right questions” point to an existential need of the whole, since given the plasticity of Holistic Politics, it cannot appeal directly to neither social facts (since these are always changing) nor a stable legislative agenda of higher representatives (there are inexistent for direct democracy). Regardless of these specificities, Holistic Politics does impose a need that the direct democracy will demand a greatest individual and community participation on fundamental issues raised by the social assembly list of objectives as raised by anyone in the community.

Lianos defines the problem of mitigating social issues within the framework of Holistic Politics in this way: “Holistic Politics recognizes that the most basic political process is the equal right of anyone to put forward issues for discussion and decision. So it is constantly vigilant to ensure, with specific measures that wherever exercises power is required to give answers as to the issues and priorities raised but never to ask the questions or influence how they are put. Issues are raised and ranked in order by the citizens themselves” (Lianos 2022, 15). Lianos is aware that every form of established institutional behavior ends up becoming a social habit (it has what some political scientists called, at least years back, “institutional stickiness”) , and this is why rules for immersion in social interaction must change on a regular basis (Lianos 2022, 17). It is true that rules are the infrastructure to limit social actions (this is, in fact, its unlimited possibilities); although, it begs to ask to what extent the regular change of social rules do not become in itself a habit within the very logic of exchange that defines structurally the social. To put it in different terms, it is insufficient to think, as Lianos does, that capitalism is a concentration of all entities into money form; rather, it is because there is an anterior civil form of exchange that the problem of value always emerges as an indirect force against the unit of the political (Lianos 2022, 21). If one changes the lens from strict capitalist exchange to the problem of value, then it becomes clear that what first appears as an alteration of rules in social facts could, potentially, constitute itself as an aleatory imposition of values, where the “happy life” of some could amount to the valorized “hellish life” of others. Holistic Politics in the same way that it does not say anything about values, it remains silent about the problem of institutions, even though institutions are far from being part of the stagnation of representative democracy that Lianos wants to surpass.

The central question for Holistic Politics is whether it can do the heavy lifting that it promises to accomplish. Can Holistic Politics really open up a way out of the current poverty of the species in the wake of social and civilizational collapse? Lianos seems to be aware of this question if only in passing, as he writes on the subdivision on “Foreigners”: “Holistic Politics is an approach for the entire human species at its present stage of development” (Lianos 2022, 41). This ‘present stage of development’ of the human species remains largely unqualified, and Lianos takes the route of geopolitics and the necessity to overcome the classical separation of powers. But to the extent that we are taking recourse to the human species, there is a fundamental topological and territorial dimension that we are sidestepping too quickly. At bottom the human species is a creature that steps on the Earth crust, and which today have been designated in relation (whether included or excluded) to the metropolitan regime of concentrated and amalgamated reserves for production and consumption [2]. We can say that this is the last expression of civil nihilism: the capability of putting to work; or rather, of the power to put into energy certain elements in any given structure of exchange. And we are barely raising the question here that lingers from Lianos’ assumption. It suffices to say that the spatial composition of the human species today is erased from Lianos’ Holistic Politics, which is raises enormous doubts as to whether a social assembly, the rotation of social rules, and the redesigning of democratic voting can really do the heavy lifting for what is required for this “moment” of the human species. If this is so, then Lianos’s Direct Democracy has not moved past the Atlantic republicanist tradition that placed voting and participation at heart of the democratic polity (this is the heart of the Federalist, as Sanford Levison argued a few years ago). Holistic Politics in this outlook is probably the last residue of modern politics now grafted into the regime of social organization. But we would like to be as precise as possible about this affirmation.

Towards the end of the manifesto Michalis Lianos argues that Holistic Politics brings the individual and society face to face (Lianos 2022, 114). But if this is endgame of Holistic Politics it is also where we found ourselves in the gridlock of social denomination as an extensive (and intensive) regime of adaptation; of forever changing norms, of arbitrary rule making and rule erecting, and governing through contingent situation through the balancing of cost and benefit rationality of social cohesion. In this sense, the conception of the “overall point of view of the social experience” can describe the social composition, but it cannot transcend, as alteration and changing based on needs and values is already folded within it (Lianos 2022, 90). I take it that something analogous could be said of the problem of equity and proportionality in relation to adjudication and the rule of law in the paradigm of Holistic Politics, since what has triumphed in advanced societies of the West is not the fossilized conception of the separation of powers and the empire of judges and courts, but rather the expansion of equity and balancing of principles based on a cost & benefit rationalization to adjust and transform always already mutating social facts (Lianos 2022, 105).

Insofar as it is committed to the primacy of principles of equity and balancing, Holistic Politics does not breach the current framework of value distribution for specific ends of social reproduction (Lianos might say that his ends are better and stronger since he has done away with political representation, but we are also aware that there is an autonomy of value that can be operative on the borders of the political, in fact, it no longer depends on the political unit). There is an interesting discussion by Lianos on the question of failure and social expectations in Holistic Politics – to take up failure beyond the economic penalties and social mortification of the current neoliberal regime – that open up new possibilities only insofar as we move then from and against the infrastructure of the civil exchange principle for social action. Perhaps the realism that Direct Democracy (2022) appeals to has also something to tell us here, since the current collapse of the social regime is one in which failure is abundant, regularly optimized, and rendered productive through forms that accrue greater and intensive force of valorization. But can the irruption of failure in Holistic Politics be taken as a hole within the scheme of valorization? Perhaps it is in this schism where the question of the present stage of the human-species and a politics of experience can be posited against the grain of total social subsumption. The task of a different democratic imagination should depart from this void.




1. Michalis Lianos. “La política experiencial o los chalecos amarillos como pueblo”, traducción & introducción por Gerardo Muñoz, eldiario, Noviembre 2019: https://www.eldiario.es/interferencias/politica-experiencial-chalecos-amarillos-pueblo_132_1289123.html

2. Amadeo Bordiga. The Human Species and the Earth’s Crust (Pattern Books, 2020), 30-31. 

The Gnostic residue. On Mårten Björk’s The Politics of Immortality in Rosenzweig, Barth, and Goldberg (2022). by Gerardo Muñoz.

Mårten Björk’s The Politics of Immortality in Rosenzweig, Barth, and Goldberg: Theology and Resistance Between 1914-1945 (Bloomsbury, 2022) is a major contribution to the ongoing discussion on theology, politics, and life in our present. Indeed, this book of unmatched originality will radically change the coordinates that have structured these debates in and beyond the academic disciplines involved. First conceived as a longer dissertation entitled Life outside life and defended at Gothenburg University in 2018 (which included an voluminous and illuminating chapter on the work of German theologian Erik Peterson, not included in the published monograph and scheduled for publication in the near future) studies three figures of the German interwar period that confronted the civilizational catastrophe of the twentieth century and the rise of the regime of mass production. Through different conceptual elaborations in Franz Rosenzweig, Karl Barth, and the Oskar Goldberg Group (it also includes thinkers such as Adolf Caspary and Erich Unger) a unified thesis emerges: these thinkers crafted a fundamental response to the collapse of the legitimacy of the modern epoch through a radical imagination of immortality and eternal life (Björk 2022, 3). From an angular perspective, Björk’s book measures to Hans Blumenberg’s groundbreaking defense of the legitimacy of modernity through “self-affirmation” of the human; a philosophical anthropology predicament that today has become fully integrated into the arts of planetary destruction, although its genesis is to be captured in the first decades of twentieth century through the dawn of a new catastrophic politics (the term is coined by Erich Unger in his Politics and Metaphysics). In Björk’s account, these thinkers took the stance against the stimmung of the epoch, its historical closure as well as the immanence of nature in order to take up a historical collapse that was civilizational in nature.

It would be a common place to remind the readers of this book that the figures of the research (with the exception of Rosenzweig who in some corners has been taken as the greatest Jewish philosopher since Maimonides) have been unwarranted buried in the monumental and political historiographies of the period and in the edifice of normative Continental philosophies of the twentieth century. However, Björk’s monograph is no simple restitution of dead old men, as this would be too accommodating to the field of the history of philosophy. Behind these figures there are multiple strategic displacements that connect the destruction of biopolitics to the reformulation of ethics of the dead, as well as the revision of Judaic theological sources to execute an effective retreat from the collapse of civilization of the last 5000 years of the human species. In this quadrant there is also a timely gesture on the complicated relationship between Judaism and Christianity; a relation that the book never really solves, although it runs throughout the book flagged for possible future explorations. Methodologically, it is the field of “theology” (not of science of religions a la Weber) that returns to the center as a way to explored an unthought dimension of immortality – that Björk properly renders as life outside life, against all biopolitical saturation and ecological catastrophe of the natural world. It goes without saying that there is an untimely tone that directly speaks to our present. Indeed, it is the radical theological and cosmological presuppositions (outside the formalism of religion and the apocalyptic historical saeculum of the Church) where something like a radical new existence of what it means to live can be rethought. This is Björk’s fundamental invitation.

In “Yearning for a system: Franz Rosenzweig and the great paganism of life’, Björk offers an all-encompassing outlook to the work of the Jewish scholar whose famous Star of Redemption was also accompanied by an interest in European geopolitics of the first decades of the century. In the midst of the First World War, Rosenzweig witnessed the rise of a new paganism of the state as the acceleration of the struggle for life in the West reproducing forever war (Björk 2022, 29). For Rosenzweig modernity was not an authentic or unfinished secularization, but rather the institutionalization of a pagan order of depredatory confrontation that foreclosed the world without outside: absolute immanence now meant the subjectivation of new false gods of modern civilization ordered towards survival and struggle (Björk 2022, 25). Against this backdrop, Björk reads Rosenzweig’s Star as an original theosophy of redemption of the world that exceeds the national political counters, while offering a new planetary and universal dimension of salvation beyond the state as articulated in Globus. Furthermore, Björk notes that Rosenzweig saw himself as a sort of Jewish fighter in the defense for a new planetary community with “religion as an instrument for change” (Björk 2022, 53). Even though the language had residues of imperial imagination proper to the time, it is the theological vector that distorts the political register of the ground battle for survival. Here Judaism appears as a subtraction from conventional historicity by retreating to a prehistoric past where the ‘unity of the world’ had no nomoi, states, or borders (Björk 2022, 54). It should be noted that something similar was advocated in his 1922 booklet Die Staatslose Bildung eines Judischen Volkes about the stateless wandering of the Hebrew people, by Erich Unger who thought could show a way out of the decadence of Western civilization through the revitalization of ancient Judaism. The Jew had never been a member of the polis or a slave of the state, since the Judaic Kingdoms were ruled, as Björk explains, “by an antipolitical priesthood” or a “metapolitical priesthood and not political kingdoms” (Björk 2022, 61). The sharp contrast to the modern Judaic subtext is of importance: whereas Eric Nelson shows in The Hebrew Republic (2010), how the ancient Jewish sources influenced the constitution of the modern state theories of Thomas Hobbes and John Milton; the work of Unger and Rosenzweig centuries later, in the wake of the Weimar era, seeked to radically alienate the command of Judaic prophecy from the regulatory political and geopolitical techniques of anthropological modernity. The gap between the two, for Rosenzweig, would be the hope for eternal life against the management of survival to which modern political grammar succumbed without return (Björk 2022, 66).

But theology offers the route to imagination and vocabulary of restitution, and infinite recapitulation. To grossly synthesize Björk’s thesis: life is best understood as an endless dialogue with the dead. The second chapter “Abundance and scarcity” glosses aspects of Reformed theologian Karl Barth’s thought against the materialism of scarcity of the world and the principle of abundance proper to eternal life. By tracing Barth’s critical dialogue with Feaubach’s sociology of religion of the species-being (which radically impacted the way Marx and Marxism came to understand theology), Björk’s theology puts paradisal life at the center of the mission of salvation; a heretical notion that exceeds the predestination theology of grace deployed in the organization of the modern kakedomonic public powers of modernity (Björk 2022, 88). In this sense it is insufficient to define the capitalist religion as merely a cult without dogma or atonement; it is also, perhaps more fundamentally, an axiomatic system that accentuates the two-dimensional positionality of death and life without residue. For Barth, Björk reminds us, theology is a way out from the cultish axiomatics of the countable and measurable of the visible world: “Theology….seeks to open the believer to the belief in the invisible side of the reality of the world. Theology must become an investigation of this invisible world to which further posits that the visible world is related” (Björk 2022, 103). And Barth’s lifelong interest in the theology of resurrection was precisely a way to insist on the invisible register that conflates nature, morality, and survival of the living within the objective normativity of the world.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Barth’s theology discussed by Björk comes by way of the opposition of ethics and morality – this is elaborated as a rejection of the predicament of natural law’s imago naturae and its dependency on rationality – where the second is discarded as merely finite life unto directive command of the natural good. On the contrary, an ethics suspended by the postlapsarian stage is guided by the principle of suum cuique (Björk 2022, 114). The suum cuique (‘to each its own’), although prima facie echoes the Thomist epikeia, it is also free standing for something more: it is a limit to the irreducibility of life in relation to God, which cannot be inscribed in a system of balancing of moral principles in the hands of a sacerdotal authority. Whereas the moral principle of equity (epikeia) organizes the government of this world through principles and moral reasons for action; the suum cuique is the limit set upon our finite life and the eternal in the scope of the saeculum. Björk connects the notion of the suum cuique to the Barthian figure of the “strange saint” who “with tears and laughter provides God and in this provocation is obedient to the election that forms death into life” (Björk 2022, 116). The suum cuique, accepting the postlapsarian condition rejects the instrumentalization of original sin in order to become a “vast eon of the cosmos itself…temporal and finite but also eternalized as that which once was” (Björk 2022, 117). In this way, the suum cuique prepares the paradisal affirmation of every unlived life, an anathema to the thomist substantiation of merely personal dignity and the exceptional mechanism of individual mediation with the economy of election and grace.

The theological exploration of modality of being – this is one of Björk’s implicit lessons in the book – never truly disappears in modernity, but rather reemerges in unexpected spheres. The politics of immortality does not pretend to exhaust this problem. But it is in the last chapter on the enigmatic figure of Oskar Goldberg where this theme is best explored as the true meaning of a life outside life at the center of the book’s conceptual development. Oskar Goldberg is one of the most enigmatic figures of the Weimar era; a magnetic personality that gathered diverse personalities from all corners of the intellectual milieu. He was looked with high suspicion by Thomas Mann, who portrayed him as a mystical undemocratic thinker in Doctor Faustus, but also dismissed by Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem (it only suffices to look at the correspondence collected in Scholem’s Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship). A scholar with strong and sedimented knowledge in the Talmud and Ancient Judaism, Goldberg developed a highly sophisticated and speculative theology of the transcendental organism, to put it in Bruce Rosenstock’s terms, which provided an original formulation of a transcendent being based on the Torah in the wake of the new biological theories of the species (the work of Driesch, Uexküll, Spemann, among others) [1]. The biological and mystical vocabulary of Goldberg aroused immediate skepticism from the German intellectual class, but Björk convincingly shows that Golberg’s project was not an arabesque of a madman, but rather a very peculiar modal speculative system that seekd to confront the 5000 years of the civilization of fixation of the Western transition from the society of myth to the civilization of production and psychic energy imbalance (Björk 2022, 127). For Goldberg the passage from the prehistoric stage of myth to the inauguration of the religion of the state meant the sedimentation of a civilizational regimen oriented towards production, devastation, and positionality (Theophanidis recently expressed the proximity between Goldberg’s fixation and Heidegger’s Gestell, unexplored in Björk’s book). Björk is attentive to the fact that Goldberg was not just a proper name but also the constitution of a sort of ‘metapolitical university’ that gathered diverse figures, such as the economic historian and political thinker Adolf Caspary or the philosopher Erich Unger, both who developed their own critique of technological domination under the shadow of Goldberg. Thus, the critique of civilization is not to be taken as an abstract mysticism; for Björk, the concrete effects can be read in Caspary’s forgotten The Machine Utopia (1927), which criticized the utopia of machine civilization proper to both Soviet Bolshevism and Western capitalism – two social orders that shared the same the same historical horizon: reproduction and accumulation of surplus value (Björk 2022, 142).

In this framework, and against the historicist analytics of Marxism, for the Goldberg circle class antagonism and division of labor was not oriented towards emancipation, but rather towards the realization of a global total state. For the Goldberg circle to escape the civilization of the Behemoth of the industrial state required nothing short than a politics of errancy (defended by Unger in his Politics and Metaphysics of 1921) and the reversal to a modal relation with YHWH as an effective and potential dimension against the imbalance of an impoverished reality. Björk claims that for the Goldberg circle there were three possibilities of existence of coming to terms of the modern decline towards: civilizational fixation, myth, or Torah (Björk 2022, 154). And in different ways, they opted for the Torah, which implied not an identitarian reversal to a territorialized Volk but rather an infinite task of becoming immortal, given that our modes correspond to the nature of God and the world (Björk 2022, 166). The task was to depose the production of evil and suffering here and now as mobilized by the incarnation of historical progress. This infinite retreat from the materiality of the finite of the species was a way to open a new polytheism to the Ancient Hebrew metaphysics elaborated in Goldberg’s book, The Reality of the Hebrews (Die Wirklichkeit der Hebräer, 1925). In other words, to exit from the fixation of the 5000 years civilization required a passage to immortality as a way to “make us unadapted to the normal laws of evolution” and to the objective world (Björk 2022, 178).

Truth be told, immortality never disappears from modern political imagination and governmentality. Some of us still remember that one of the famous mottos of the Cuban Communist Party was: “Los hombres mueren, el Partido es Inmortal” (“Men die, but the Party is immortal”), which ultimately served to guarantee the idolatry of the state’s sacrificial principle through a continuous “lucha” (struggle) of everyday life under real-existing administrative communism. Likewise, in recent years Boris Groys has argued at length that immortality lives off in the topology of contemporary art, where archivization, spatial flexibility, and museification of the historical Vanguard stand in for the desire to become immortal [3]. This is, indeed, what Björk calls, following Blumenberg, the moralization of immortality whose political translation resulted in truly barbaric consequences that we are still suffering (Björk 2022, 186). Against all moralization and political instrumentalization of immortality, The Politics of Immortality in Rosenzweig, Barth, and Goldberg (2022) rises the theological mirror so that yet another anthropogenesis event through the “the Gnostic residue by insisting that the problem of evil could only be solved by God” (Björk 2022, 190). In other words, the problem of immortality restores the gnostic residue to its proper place beyond exceptionalism and anthropological humanism, since finitude (death) externalizes what is living, while “life” now becomes the meaning as its own otherness to the modes of God. Departing from the fourfold structure of the history of the modern error in Nietzsche’s typology, we could add a fifth: the error of conceiving the gnosis as worldly aspiration to domesticate exteriority as a forever postponed apocatastasis.

It is in the sense that Björk’s important book complements the unfinished elaboration on the gnosis undertaken by Giannia Carchia towards the end of his life: the exodus from the fiction of the subject and the person implies nothing short than the “resurrection of the human community capable of renewing the arc of history that appears so dramatically broken” [3]. Perhaps Carchia was a bit of an optimist here: the historical arch emanating from the potstlapsarian moment is now in ruins, but the gnostic residue remains once the darwinism of human-assertion has fallen flat into pieces across our planet (Björk 2022, 197). But Mårten Björk majestically teaches us that to keep insisting on life (on absolute life, on dignified life, or the monstrous “good enough life” recently proposed in a frank instance of academic nihilism) cannot but reproduce the civilization of calamities that has put the world in the road to extinction. In the current epochal implosion all these pieces are more apparent than in any other time in history. Yet, life is elsewhere, always escaping objectivity and immanence: “it is the invisibility of the wished, the desired and the dreamt. This is what human life entails. It is related to the wide world of what could have been or what should have been” (Björk 2022, 199). The modality of eternal life is also what value cannot apprehend, and for this reason what remains undialecticized, stubbornly disjointed from every unbearable fiction of the world. The Politics of Immortality (2022) is not only an exceptional book; it moves us to look to what always remains on the side of the invisible, to the unsaved in the exterior elan of every life, our lives.




1. Bruce Rosenstock. Transfinite Life: Oskar Goldberg and the Vitalist Imagination (Indiana University Press, 2017).

2. See, Boris Groys, Política de la inmortalidad (Katz editores, 2008), and “The Immortal Bodies”, Res, Vol.53-54, 2008.

3. Gianni Carchia. “Elaborazione della fine: mito, gnosi, modernità”, in L’amore del pensiero (Quodlibet, 2000), 150.