There is no surprise that the growth of social fragmentation runs parallel to appeals to community and communitarian affirmations. For anyone today in the university (at least in the United States, but I am told that the trend is similar across parts of Europe and elsewhere) it is easy to see that all initiatives and justifications for actions (an art curatorial project, a library event, you name it) is almost always done in the name of the community. The communitarian affirmation emerges to help cure the otherwise too crude and unbearable wounds of the social bond and the community of the species (Gemeinwesen). A friend was on point recently in defining these communities of obligation, participation, and self-valorization as a minima societas; a mini society that helps to create the illusion that “Society”, somehow, is still here.
As we know, this is not far off from Edmund Burke’s famous theory of “little platoons” meant to orient humanity towards the virtues of public affections. The collapse of civil-society and state mediations realized the Burkean predicament to its integral idealization, which is why today radical Marxist, academic bureaucrats, postliberal nationalists, experts in mental health and psychiatric treatments, contemporary art curators and even special units of the police can all agree that community is the highest value that must protected and sustained. In this framework, there is no outside to the community, and every outside becomes integrated into the community as a value.
The community lodges the artificial allure to retract from catastrophe, but it does so by reproducing the catastrophic it seeks to avoid: that is, by negating the possibility of exteriority of every community sustained by the affective transmission of vanity and recognition. This is why to speak of community of friendship is a misnomer at best, which introduces a great amount of confusion between these two forms of contact. In a fabulous moment in his Il dialogo della salute, Carlo Michelstaedter goes as far as to write that: “In the communities of friendship that are born from a common vanity, every life off the death of those who are already outside the community. Everyone in its own solitude swallows with an empty stomach the sour implications of these lethal conversations. But these are the companies that please men”.
It is a remarkable passage that exposes the irredeemable position of a community of friendship, which ultimately subsumes the friend into the logistics of debt, obligation, and recognition and satisfaction. As in Mary McCarthy’s novel The Oasis (1949) about a group of disaffected antinuclear intellectuals who form a community in the mountains of New England, every community of friendship is destined to the worst catastrophe imaginable sacrificing both friendship and the world through the circulation of value.
Precisely, if friendship means anything, is that it is on the other side of valorization that permanently conflates language and directives of action. What happens in McCarthy’s The Oasis is precisely that language becomes a medium for directives and exchange, and friendship a hellish reality of ‘those who belong’ but now have nowhere to go.
The impossibility of separating community and friendship will only perpetuate the politics of catastrophe that has colored the entire course of Western political modernity. The Spanish political leader Pablo Iglesias recently captured the bad faith of our times: “Puede que la manifestación no tenga un impacto político inmediato pero del mismo que los católicos se encuentran en misa nosotros nos encontramos, nos abrazamos en las movilizaciones. Somos parte fundamental de una comunidad.”
For sure, a magnetic secularized religious liturgy lives on Iglesias’ candid heart. But we know that the partition of friendship is neither an offshoot nor a declension of a substantive community; it is what takes place on the other side of pathetic valorization.
I want to thank Lucia Dell’Aia for putting together the PAN Group, which she describes as a natural garden composed of different voices already constituted and dispersed around the world. The group’s initial inspiration springs from Giorgio Agamben’s Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (Nottetempo, 2015), a beautiful and important book. Pulcinella is, prima facie, a book about a puppet (the famous Napolitan puppet that I remember first encountering years ago in an Italian pizzeria in New York Upper West Side without knowing much about him), but it is also something else. As it is already common to Agamben’s thought, these figures are depositary of arcanii of the western tradition, and Pulcinella is no exception. I want to suggest to all of you something obvious: Pulcinella stands for the arcana of blissful and happy life in the wake of a catastrophic civilization. It should be obvious that the thematics of happiness have always occupied a central place in the Italian philosopher’s work, and every book is a way to measure up to this latent sensibility proper to the mystery of anthropogenesis. In a way, then, Pulcinella rehearses an idea that has been present since the early books, although restated in new garments that have remained unsaid. In this short intervention I want to address these two dimensions, and perhaps contribute to the already rich discussion on Pulcinella in the intersection between philosophy, poetry, ethics and politics, which Lucia suggests it should be the way that we approach the field of forces of thought.
As early as in the gloss “Idea of Happiness” in Idea of Prose (1985), Agamben thematizes the problem of happiness inscribed in the relationship between character and destiny that will reappear in a central way in Pulcinella: “In every life there remains something unlived just a s in every word there remains something unexpressed…The comedy of character: at the point when death snatches from the hand of character what they tenacious hide, it but grasps a mask. At this point character disappears: in the face of the dead there is no longer any trace of what has never been lived…” . Against the metaphysics of eudaimonia and the theological tribulation of happiness as a reflection of property (“in pursuit of happiness”, Thomas Jefferson will define civic life within the organization of the goods of the res publica); the idea of character is what traces the unlived in every life; and, more importantly, what neutralizes the tragic dimension of the narrative of destiny. Narration is the point of fixation and representation transcendence; it creates order and irreversibility, it hold us accountable. This is why character is a parabasis of destiny, thus its comic axis: “Character is the comic aspect of every destiny, and destiny is the tragic shadow of character. Pulcinella is beyond destiny and character, and tragedy and destiny” . Pulcinella breaks aways from the prison of the metaphysics of destiny and character posited as “substance” for action. This is why, radicalizing the relation to death in the gloss on happiness, Agamben will introduce the theatrical figure of the parabasis to define the desertion from the conditions of fixation and historical time . In other words, there is happiness when there is a possibility of parabasis in the face of catastrophe. And catastrophe is nothing but the integral adaptive operation between character and destiny that regulates legal fictions, political mediations, and ultimately the opposition between life and death. If Søren Kierkegaard understood Pulcinella as a figure of privation in opposition to the knight of faith; for Agamben, on the contrary, Pulcinella does not depend on fides or the persona, but rather on a comic intensification that allows “life itself” to move beyond the theological conditions dispensed by sin, guilty, or fear of death – all guarantees of the economy of salvation . Pulcinella heresy is to move within and beyond the world, as Agamben writes in a remarkable orphic moment of the book:
“Che Pulcinella abbia una speciale relazione con la morte, è evidente dal suo costume spettrale: come l’homo sacer, egli appartiene agli dei interi, ma appartiene loro così esageratamente, da saltare tutt’intero al di là della morte. Ciò è provato dal fatto che ucciderlo è inutile, se lo fucilano o impiccano, immancabilmente risorge. E come è al di là o al di qua della morte, cosí è in qualche modo al di qua o al di là della vita, almeno nel senso in cui questa non può essere separata dalla morte. Decisivo è, in ogni caso, che una figura infera e mortuaria abbia a che fare essenzialmente col riso.” .
The comic dimension in Pulcinella’s expressive character, then, has little to do with an anthropological laughter automatism that would reveal the species proximity to animality (but also its outermost distance and alienation). More specifically, Pulcinella’s character is a lazzo or medial relation that exceeds life and death fixation. At the same time, Pulcinella (like Hölderlin, Pinocchio, to recall the other figures in Agamben’s most recent books) irradiates a new type of existence; in fact, an existence against all reductions of subjectivity and personalism, which could very well defined by the pícaro motto “vivir desviviéndose” . If we grant this, we are in a better position to grasp that death is not finality to “a life”, but rather a limit of caducity of experience that those in possession of character can breach in order to affirm the releasement of happiness. In a fundamental way, life is always unto death, so it is through his character that one could accomplish resurrection and become eternal. It is obvious that Pulcinella’s character has important consequences for a novel characterization of freedom; a freedom beyond the attributes of the person (be the ‘harm principle’ or the ‘non-intervention’) and the modern legitimation through the rise of interests as a way to suppress the passions. One could say that the politico-civil conception of freedom always stood on the firm ground of the fiction of the person, which Pulcinella destitutes by emphasizing the unlived reminder: the soul. And it is the soul that renders – this is not explicit in Giorgio Agamben’s book, and could perhaps be a theme of discussion – a new principle of differentiation within the logic of immanence of nature. Towards the end of the book, Agamben appeals to Plato’s Myth of Er, which speaks to the penumbra or zone of indetermination between life and death, character and destiny; while preparing the ground for a different conception of freedom. A freedom defined through a very important term: “adéspoton” or virtue – which he designs as without masters and beyond adaptation, and it has been taken as one of the earliest affirmations of the notion of freedom as a separate intellect (a rendition elaborated by Plotinus’s Enneads VIII) – but this, I think, could be fully assessed in another ocassion. This is what Agamben writes:
“Nel racconto di Er il Panfilio alla fine della Repubblica, Platone ha rappresentato le anime che, giungendo dal cielo o dal mondo sotterraneo “in un luogo demonico” davanti al fuso che sta sulle ginocchia di Ananke, scelgono la vita in cui dovranno reincarnarsi. Un araldo le mette in fila e, dopo aver preso in mano le sorti e i paradigmi di vita, proclama che sta per cominciare per esse un nuovo ciclo di vita mortale: “Non sarà un demone a scegliere, ma voi sceglierete il vostro demone. Chi è stato sorteggiato per primo, scelga la forma di vita [bios] a cui sarà unito per necessità. La virtù invece è libera [adespoton, “senza padrone”, “inassegnabile”] e ciascuno ne avrà in misura maggiore o minore a seconda che la’- miola disprezzi. La colpa è di chi sceglie, dio è innocente” (617e).” 
The adéspoton is a strange and sui generis virtue, since it does not appeal to a moral conception of the good. Of course, this allows for something very subtle: retreating from the tribune of morality, the adéspoton belongs to the access of a life in happiness. I think this complicates the picture of Agamben’s insistence through his work on “beatitude” – and in large measure, Spinoza’s conatus essendi – since adéspoton is not a form of absolute immanence, but rather of a soul that is always inadequate in relation to the assigned preservation of its nature (perseverantia in suo esse). In other words, the adéspoton is the intensity that allows for a relation between interiority and exteriority through an acoustic attunement with the world. The adéspoton refuses the conditions of possibility for “freedom”; since it conceives freedom as emanating from the non-objective conditions of the contact with the outside.
At this point I will reach a preliminary conclusion in my intervention picking up on this last problem: the outside. Of course, to speak of the outside – the “transmigration of souls” as in Plato’s quintessential myth – already announces an imaginary of flight. And it is no coincidence that Pulcinella is a sort of half-bird creature: a chicken that cannot flight, but nonetheless experiences the outside thanks to its adéspoton. Agamben reminds us of the etymological proximity of Pulcinella with “pullecino” or chicken like creature like the Donald Duck . It is also no coincidence that Agamben closes the book recalling how Giandomenico during his last years of life was fascinated with all kinds of birds that he painted in the Palazzo Caragiani in an effort to radically dissolve the human form . I think that birdly nature of Pulcinella is to be taken seriously, given that in the mythical register of the Hebrew bible, the large bird, the Ziz, is the third mythic creature along with the Leviathan and the Behemoth, the creates of the sea and the land that have marked the world historical opposition of appropriation. And it is more strange that, in The Open, Agamben mentions the Ziz without thematizing its potentiality for the flight from the nomos of the earth that today expresses itself as a civilizational conflagration. The Ziz, very much like Pulcinella, prefers “not to” to participate in the geopolitical confrontation between land and sea undertaking a flight of its own from life towards freedom.
The arcana of Pulcinella resonates with the Ziz mythic figure, but it is not dependent on myth or allegorical substitution. The parabasis is the exposition of every life here and now. Although the figure of the bird disappeared from Agamben’s mature work, one should not dismiss his first publication, the poetic short-story “Decadenza” (1964), which he wrote while a law student at Sapienza, and which tells the story of a depressed community of birds with eggs that do not hatch and species that have lost the contact with the external world . I think it’s fair to say that Agamben’s Pulcinella finds the ‘exit’ to the oblique and impoverished world of “Decadenza” through Pulcinella’s adéspoton: a new capability is imagined to flee from the catastrophe of the world, against nihilism and the global conflagration (think of the fetichistic avatar of political destruction), but rather to dwell in the non-event of happiness in the mystery of every life. If as Agamben writes, metaphysics is always the production of a dead-end – always arousing a feeling of “being-stuck”, always in need of “catching up” at the expense of suppressing our ethical freedom – one could very well see how Pulcinella’s flight of freedom is the path against metaphysics par excellence . As Agamben writes at the closing of Pulcinella: “Il segreto di Pulcinella è che, nella commedia della vita, non vi è un segreto, ma solo, in ogni istante, una via d’uscita” . One can imagine him being a truly unforgettable anti-Sisyphus.
1. Giorgio Agamben. Idea della prosa (Quodlibet, 2002), 93.
2. Giorgio Agamben. Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (Nottetempo, 2015), 4
3. Ibild., 35
4. Søren Kierkegaard. Fear and Trembling (Penguin Classics, 1985), 79.
5. Giorgio Agamben. Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (Nottetempo, 2015), 65.
The posthumous volume Lo cóncavo y lo convexo: escritos filosóficos-político (Guillermo Escolar, 2022) of essays by the late political theorist Jorge E. Dotti is a very much needed contribution that opens up a conversation about a theoretical corpus that witnessed the collapse of the modern state and the crisis of its political categories in times of postliberal forms of global domination. Although an astute observer of the key moments in modern Argentine political history (from Peronism to the dictatorship, from the return to democracy to the failure of the democratic socialist party experiment), Dotti’s intellectual stamina remained on the margins of political adventurism, while openly rejecting the organic intellectual political advisor to heads of state. As editor Damian Rosanovich writes in his introduction, Dotti refused to subordinate his political thinking to immedaite ideological projects; a rather unique position to undertake in a national context like the Argentine, historically inclined towards philosophia militants of the national popular type. Complementary to this inclination, Dotti’s political thinking also had little to say (at least in a direct manner) to the Latin-Americanist disputes about state modernization, regionalism as supranational identity, or cultural formation hegemonies that dominated twentieth century discussions in the region.
Dotti’s theoretical ambitions had a more prudential wager: a confrontation against all kinds of abstract universalities, as well as its partner in crime, locational exceptionalism always ready to infuse doctrinal flavor unto nominal situations and practical problems. A modernist political thinker at heart, Dotti was also a keen observer of the the modern state genealogical crisis, which he read in a tripartite scheme that included the classics of modern political thought (Hobbes, Rousseau, Hegel, Kant), modern philosophy of positive law (infomed by his research years in the Italian context), and finally the work of Carl Schmitt on sovereignty, divisionism, the exception, and the difficulty of “revolution” as the esoteric form of political crises. As an heir to this modern tradition, for Dotti modernity is best defined not as predicated on contingency or anthropological reserves, but rather about a certain ethos, historical in nature and spatially grounded (in this way his vision was close to that of JGA Pocock and the Cambridge School, although less emphatic to the centrality of concepts), which claimed that the political thinking of the classics had to their disadvantage the idealization of every practical situational problems encountered in concrete determinations . In this way, Modernity was best defined as a struggle against abstraction and the taming of indirect powers over the configuration of social stability and endurance.
The classics of political thought, while claiming the intrinsic political nature of man and the primacy of organic totality over every principle of differentiation, imposed a nomalist metaphysics that turned its back to discrete and discontinuous situations. For Dotti at the heart of modern politics – very much in line with Hobbes’s critique of Aristotelian critique of the virtuous politics – is rooted in a practice that is attentive to practical reasons for action and the normative foundation of a social order. Hence, the modern ethos was able to favor the primacy of authority (auctoritas non veritas facit legem) as a minimalist non-substantive framework of public law. In other words, prior to doctrinal and categorical arrangement of modern political theories (social contract, constituent power, or individual conscience), authority helped dissolve the anarchy over words and actions proper to the European civil wars. Needless to say, legal positivism had to walk along modern subjectivity (“Quiero, luego existo…”) inadvertently promoting, while neutralizing, the latency of civil war from its inception. As Dotti claims in an essay on Melville too long to be included in this volume: “Quien contrata se concede el derecho de desencadenar la guerra civil” . The concrete situation of the modern ethos, in this sense, is never enough for containment; and its positive arrangements, being insufficient, will ultimately depend on direct police powers. The story of political modernity is that of legality trumpeting legitimacy for optimal reasons of political control. The insufficiency of the modern political order entails that politics and nihilism walked every step of the way too near each other.
This outlook towards political modernity renounces all nostalgia as it is a genealogical critique. This position speaks to Dotti’s systematic dialogue with Carl Schmitt’s juristic thinking regarding the polemic over secularization of the state and its political categories. Like very few political thinkers of modernity, Dotti accepts Schmitt’s lessons without prejudices and against the political black legends (Schmitt as the poisonous enemy of legal positivism, political liberalism, archaic Catholic, or ally of Nazism) that have been incapable to comprehend the German jurist lessons. If according to Raymond Aaron Schmitt was far from thinking like a Nazi, Dotti take this promises to more refined elaborations: the combination of decisionism and institutional rule of law coagulate an compossitum whose main aim is to regulate the internal functions of validity of the every political order . The force of political theology, then, is neither doctrinal nor axiological, but rather attentive to situational stress of instances as to deter the indirect powers and the logistics of immanence . Dotti understands Schmitt’s political theology as a decision that is only possible within a normative system in order to guarantee the authority of the state. The minimalist conception of political-theology stands as the antithesis of immanent factional ends, which, ultimately, reality will venge in the worst possible ways . Adjacent to the modernist ethos against indirect powers, Dotti’s stages the copernican discovery’ of Schmittian thought: the autonomy of the political as the only category capable of defending the sovereignty of the state in an energetic manner without stepping into either a hyperpolitical or an apolitical vectors common to messianic and subjectivist positions. If for Schmitt there were few things more modern than the battle against the political, for Dotti the consecration of global postmodern time opened a crisis of the political and the expansion of the field of immanence which freely drives “por la autopista preferential de la corriente antipolítica” in which all politics is exception and all exceptions are treated as antagonism for the political . The epochal dispensation of total immanence of power means a liquidation of the regulatory conception of the political as well as the formal recognition of enmity within the modern state now vested into the global fabric of Empire.
Dotti’s scene of writing is that of the closure of the eon of the liberal secular state from its very conditions that made possible the development of its genesis. It is in this specific sense that Dotti’s prognosis is similar to that of Ernst W. Böckenförde’s famous theorem: the liberal secular state survives by conditions that it can no longer guarantee . For both Böckenförde and Dotti the epigonal process of secularization meant the end of state authority and the exhaustion of the separation of state legitimacy and the internal legal rules for social action. Dotti, however, introduces a minimal although fundamental nuance to Böckenförde’s theorem: the liberal state collapses not at the apex of the compilation of secularization, but rather at its very origins in the notion of revolution. This is a lesson extracted from Political Theology II: the ius reformandi of the ecclastical powers soon became an unlimited ius revolutionis of subjective domination during the nineteenth century. . It is to this transformation that political theology effectively looks to respond to. In fact Dotti suggests that the category of revolution is the strongest force to be secularized, which entails that what paved the way for the modern liberal state becomes an open ended indirect force against all mediations of legitimate rule. As Dotti writes in his late essay “Incursus teológico político”: “Estado y revolución son inseparables en su complementación y en su simultánea oposición inconciliable. Esta relación es el cogollo mismo de la legitimación de todo orden político moderno: está en el origen y la muerte de la era de la estatalidad.”  The immanent force of revolution has no single figure: it is the movement against state sovereignty, the emergence of the total state in the twentieth century, as well the legal interpretation of statutes as idealistic forms (as in the jurisprudence of Robert Alexy) that intensifies a permanent state of exception whose real end is now a power for “definition, differentiation, regulation” as the tripartite form of political struggle. In this framework, the revolutionary spirit against formal mediation and authority can only take the form of an uninterrupted holy war against its enemies without end .
To the extent that revolution does not disappear but becomes unmatched immanent power, it becomes possible to understand Dotti’s central theorem in its proper light: “the problem with the revolution is not how to make it, but rather how to bring it to a close” . There are at least two things we can say regarding the theorem: first, political modernity was fundamentally understood as the making of the revolution without any attention to formal mediation and the autonomy of the political; secondly, even the exponents of political liberalism during the second half of the twentieth century did not think of a revolution as closure, but rather they continued to foment an aperture based on a necessary retheologizaiton. It is in this way that John Rawls’ social state depends on a specific conception of original sin for equity; while Ronald Dworkin’s defense of principles and moral interpretative constitutionalism reintroduces a secularized form of the old iusnaturalist model. The socialization of the modern state at the historical instance of its eclipse had to pay the price of abandoning its commitments to both Pelagianism and positive law on behalf of a permanent exceptionality now dressed as the balancing of social equity. It is an irony that the two strongest attempts at the secularization of the concept of the revolution provided, in turn, a restitution of theological hidden subtleties that are ultimately optimal for the transformation of the rule of law into an instrument of world legal revolution. And, it is no coincidence that the closure of the eon of the state meant the end of exclusive legal positivism, while socializing the state police powers as compensatory for the collapse of the modern transcendental authority. The alleged neo-liberal state now subsists as an all encompassing administrative rule that mimics the practice of the confessional state. This could explain why today some jurists continue to understand the practical function of the administrative state as the concrete instance to constitute an uninterrupted iustitium. Dotti’s comprehensive and panoramic view of the modern tradition and its conceptual fulmination leaves open a task for future political thought: how would the closure of revolution might look like? This is no optimist question, as the only honest answer must depart from the farewell of the modern state, while also rejecting the substantive, doctrinal, and militant reallocations of power that steer, but never bring to an end, the violence of a planetary unity devoid of separation or enmity.
1. Jorge Dotti. Lo cóncavo y lo convexo: los escritos filosoficos-polilicos (Guillermo Escolar, 2022)
2. Ibid., 133.
3. Ibid., 28.
4. Ibid., 174.
5. Ibid., 176.
6. Ibid., 26.
7. Ibid., 79.
8. Ernst W. Böckenförde. “The Rise of the State as a Process of Secularization”, en Religion, Law, and Democracy: Selected Writings (Oxford U Press, 2022). 167.
9. Carl Schmitt. Political Theology II (Polity, 2008 ), 101.