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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

3. Ibid., 161.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The political elite and the dead. by Gerardo Muñoz

Over the weekend, the Catalan journalist Enric Juliana interviewed Ramón Tamames, former member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) who embodies the living memory of the 1978 transition to democracy. Nowadays he is the main protagonist of the motion of confidence against the government coalition raised by the nationalist right-wing party Vox. There is no surprise (at least for those of us that follow closely the idas y venidas of Spanish politics) that a former member of the Communist Party makes amends with with the neo-sovereignist right. Even the Medieval jurist Bártolo de Sassoferrato centuries ago diagnosed that an epoch void of political authority, leads to a ‘monstrous form’ of arbitrary governance. This is not the place to analyze the cartoonish Vox-Tamames’ alliance. Rather, what generated a chilling effect while reading Juliana’s exchange was the moment when he asked about what he would have said to the communist prisoners in the Burgos correctional facilities in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. And, to this Tamames responded: “Están todos muertos”. They are all dead. It is a monstrous phrase voiced by a hyperbolic figure of the Spanish political elite. The answer is bold and lacerant because the message is stated without formal investidures or pathos: the dead are dead, and we own them nothing, since they are nothing. They are less than nothing.

It is no minor feature that historical communist parties during the twentieth century, in spite of the public and rhetorical monumentalization of their ‘heroic pantheon’, had little patience with the dead. This is why a motto in some socialist countries was, indeed, “los hombres mueren pero el Partido es Inmortal” (men died, but the Party is Immortal). So, by organizing immortality and the relation to the dead around the Party, historical communism was able to solve two problems at some: it was able to justify sacrifice in the name of a transcendent cause; and, at the same time, it introduced the dead corpse in Party as a government that kept operating even well beyond people had ceased to believe in it. I mention this because as a historical communist, Ramón Tamames is still embedded in this metaphysical enframing, only that now it takes different garments through a full erase of the dead that a posteriori justifies a concrete political action. 

I have underlined a few times already the fact that Tamames is a trained political elite, because his alignment with Vox is rooted in his alleged elite credentials. This is an important feature. I remember a few years ago that Mario Tronti told me, in a Weberian spirit, that a new epochal transformation of Western politics required the elaboration of an elite in possession of vocation and conviction. But this is, paradoxically, what Tamames has always stood for, regardless of his political commitments. The problem is that today the restitution of political elitism is not only insufficient, but it is also visibly catastrophic and opportunist. It is opportunist because it can only self-affirm itself as a supreme value in the world of the living, which necessarily entails killing, once again, the dead. Under this light one should reconsider what Carl Schmitt enigmatically writes in his Glossarium: “elite is that category which no one dares to write a sociology about” [1]. It seems, however, that the contrary is true: sociology is the predominant form of political elite, since its final aim is the reproduction of material social relations at the expense of the dead. As administrators of the public life of the city, the political elite must hide the cemeteries and the world of the dead away from the arcana of its public powers (this is very visible in Washington DC or Madrid). This void demands a  relation with the dead as a fictitious memory based on public memory, monumentalization, infinite naming, and cultural commodification in exchange for foreclosing the relation with the dead. This also explains why the epoch of high-secularization is fascinated with the investment of public memory and practices of memorialization which maintain the equilibrium and endurance of the society of the living against the dead. 

And isn’t Tamames’ depreciation of the dead just an expression of the attitude present during the high peak of the epidemic across Western metropolises? The corpses amassed in registrator hums outside hospitals in New York was a monstrous spectacle that bore witness to the disconnect between the living and the dead in the triumphant epoch of absolute immanence. What is important here, it seems to me, is that one cannot but expect this from a “political elite”; that is, a denegritation and blockage from a contact with the dead that is neither in the home nor in the city, but in the khora or the extra muros. Whenever this has been achieved, the political consequence has been, precisely, punitive acceleration, social death or expulsion. 

In a beautiful text written during the height of the epidemic controls, Monica Ferrando reminded us that the socratic philosophical ethos was not rooted in the space of the city, but rather in relation to the underworld that grants “freedom every time” [2]. In times gone awry, nothing is more urgent than to do away with the gatekeepers that keep society a total space of inmates, while making the whirling presence of the dead a silent echochamber between cemeteries, as a friend likes to put it. In a certain way, we are already dead, and it is only the fiction of political elitism (or the permanence of those that appeal to the “political elite”) that taxes death – and our dead – to the sensible modes that we relate with the mysterious and the unfathomable.




1. Carl Schmitt. Glossarium: Anotaciones desde 1947 hasta 1958 (El Paseo Editorial, 2021), 351.

2. Monica Ferrando. “Terra Giustissima: sulle tracce dei morti”, Laboratorio Archeologia Filosofica, February, 2021: 

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.

Eros, destiny, and politics. by Gerardo Muñoz

At his rubric at Quodlibet, Giorgio Agamben has recently reflected on the famous Goethe-Napoleon exchange on the destiny of human beings as entirely political. This theme is central to any observer of contemporary geopolitics, which as Carl Schmitt noted towards the end of The Concept of the Political (1932) was realized through the indirect powers of economy and war. During the interwar years Schmitt wanted to preserve the autonomy of the political at all costs, although he will soon conclude in his postwar writings that it was no longer possible given the full extent of a global police management (as he notes in the Italian prologue “Premessa alla edizione” to the 1963 Mulino edition).

What does it mean that politics has become the only destiny of Western Man? One could only imagine Goethe’s surprise at Napoleon given that he was the poet that most passionately reflected on the demonic opening towards destiny. Now, the fact that politics is destiny is a way to emphasize the dislocation of character from destiny as the search for one’s own freedom.

It is no surprise that it was another poet, William Butler Yeats who, in the dark hour of 1939, confronted this issue in his poem “Politics” published in his very last book. The poem in question is a sort of farewell to the eclipse of life of the soul constituting the releasement of destiny. It is also interesting that Yeats does not cite the Napoleon-Goethe scene recorded by Eckermann, and rather uses an epigraph from Thomas Mann to reiterate this preposition. The poem should be considered in its totality:

“Politics” (1939)

‘In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms.’ – Thomas Mann 

How can I, that girl standing there,

My attention fix

On Roman or on Russian

Or on Spanish politics,

Yet here’s a traveled man that knows

What he talks about,

And there’s a politician

That has both read and thought,

And maybe what they say is true

Of war and war’s alarms,

But O that I were young again

And held her in my arms.

No destinial politics, however, can totalize the experience of language and thought. This is the crux of Yeats’ poem, it seems to me. In the opening of an epoch of catastrophic politics (as Unger would register it), it was a poet that resisted the metaphysical valence of political destiny working through the imaginal remembrance through the appearance of a “girl standing there”. The last poetic apostrophe of a caducous time could only be redeemed erotically; forever disentangling the fictive conflation of life and politics.

Cowper Powys on catastrophic world-events. by Gerardo Muñoz

In the short epilogue “Historical Background to the year of grace A.D. 499” to his novel Porius (1951), John Cowper Powys lays out a remarkable prophetic evaluation of a world fallen into a permanent catastrophic condition. Powys’ return to the sixth century in his novel departed from the fascinating fact that during the mid-fifth century there appears to be “an absolute blank” page about the history and culture of its people. And the only historical record proves that the central element was the Arthur’s commanding political dominion over the English territories. In these blank pages of history there are no tormented voices or traces of everyday existence, but the most absolute compacted pressure of barbarism and grandiose “crafty personal diplomacy” oriented by political rule. For Powys, this is the movement of abstract historical force that raises up the mirror of civilization and barbarism in the West.

However , this mirror is completely alien to any notion of happiness, imagination, and sensibility between the surviving human species. A world war had just concluded and atomic menace was the strange tune of daily life. But, in contrast to the triumphalist and historical narrative of postwar diplomatic theaters, Cowper Powys directs his vision (like Hölderlin and Pound before him with Greece and the Latin Mediterranean poets) to a prehistoric strata where language and sensation still had a chance against the civilizational collapse of the West. Against both civilization and barbarism, Powys prepares himself to drift away from something major, perhaps more even more catastrophic, which he never names directly in the Porious prologue, although he can unravel its essence in the last paragraph:

“As we contemplate the historic background to the autumn of the last year of the fifth century, it is impossible not to think of the background of human life from which we watch the first half of the twentieth century dissolve into the second half. As the old gods were departing then, so the old gods are departing now. And as the future was dark with the terrifying possibilities of human disaster then, so, today, are we confronted by the possibility of catastrophic world events compared with which those that Arthur and his Counsellor and his Horsemen contented against seem, as the Hebrew poet said, a “very little thing” [1]”.

It is thanks to the genius of Cowper Powys that the coming of catastrophe is understood not as another phase in world-history, but rather, as the opening of endless catastrophic world-events. Even before Martin Heidegger would define the essence of cybernetics as the consummation of the calculation of world events, Powys had already suspected that a stealth rationality towards calculation of events was the catastrophe that crossed the very line of the polarity of barbarism and civilization. The catastrophe of world-event consummation was hinged upon the total convergence of machine and humanity that would liquidate the free relation of the living in the world. As Powys had written in The Meaning of Culture (1930) decades prior: “Money and machines between them dominate the civilized world. Between them, the power of money and the power of the machine have distracted the minds of our western nations from those eternal aspects of life and nature, the contemplation of which engenders all noble and subtle thoughts” [2].

The ascent of atomic existence and the absolute dependency on administrative infrastructure to contain the world, will validate Powys’ astute observation about the ongoing catastrophe at a moment when its development was barely beginning to gain traction. And against futile political fictions, Powys was aware that in a civilization of collapse, political chatter becomes the only legible foul discourse: “Among other aspects of our destiny in this modern regime, the rumor of politics makes itself only too audible” [3]. The seriousness of this rumor has only deepened almost a century after.




1. John Cowper Powys. “Historical Background to the year of grace A.D. 499”, Porius (1952), xi.

2. John Cowper Powys. The Meaning of Culture (Jonathan Cape, 1932), 150. 

3. Ibid., 302-303.

The future of Saint Cassian. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is a painting from the early sixteenth century at the galleries of the University of Bologna that depicts the gruesome death of Saint Cassian of Imola at the hands of his own students. The story goes that Cassian was a fleeing Christian in the Roman Empire who found a teaching position in the town of Imola, until he was discovered and exposed. In the saints’ hagiographies, it is emphasized his passion concerning reading and writing for his students. This would confirm the high price of Cassian’s punishment: torture and death at the hands of young students (some allegedly even brought their sharpened styli). The Bologna painting is, in fact, a miniature of about five by seven inches, and it depicts eight young students striking at a naked and tied up Cassian. The anonymous painter has chosen carefully to have all of the figures turn away from the spectator, except for a student in the far right corner of the painting who seems to be holding a sort of bowl in the air. He seems disengaged from the frenzied mob. And yet, there are no wounds or bruises in Cassian’s body, which could be an allegorical statement by the painter about the martyrdom condition, or, more literally, the plain fact that the cruel feast has just begun. Cassian’s face is monotone, and one of disbelief, but not yet of someone consumed by the ecstasy of bodily suffering. He is definitely humiliated amidst such violent and naked act. This is highlighted by the stage-like setting of the assault, which does not seem to be taking place somewhere outside, but rather in a strange room whose only way out is a dark and ominous black counter to the left side of the painting.

This black square immediately recalls martyrdom. And yes, in modernity this means David’s Death of Marat (1793) floating figure who stands as the secularized martyr at the year zero of modern representation. In the early modern bolognese painting we are far from there, but the resources at the painter’s disposal (myth, depth, and figure) speak to a postreligiousity at the threshold of a new historical time. Strangely, the figure of Saint Cassian as represented here by the anonymous bolognese painter throws a shadow to our present, given that the teacher or professor has been sacrificed, not so much the literal violence of his students, but by the an even greater disposition towards a shameless nakedness driven by value and a complicit abandonment of its mission. In the United States at least, the long dispensation of the “closing of the American mind” – driven by competition, ranking, placement, mentorship, cultural wars, and identity politics – entails the uttermost collapse of the teacher into the administrator and facilitator of a rather unknown enterprise.

Even in 1983 Carl Schmitt could identify the martyrdom of Saint Cassian as an emblem of the professor betrayed by his former students: “I have also been stabbed by my students”, he will confess to Lanchester [1]. So, just four decades ago the teacher could still stand as an object of fidelity and betrayal. It would be hard to make the case for this hypothesis today, since the pain of the teacher is no longer of betrayal, but of indifference insofar as he can be disposed of. In this sense, only something that possesses a certain aura can be said to be betrayed; while something that can be discarded altogether is something that has seen better days and no longer has value. And if universities and schools today have become larger centers of monotony and alienation of the most basic activities (such as discussion, reading and writing), this is because both students and professors have been, for the most part, replaced by “mentors” and consumers” under the holy contract of hypocrisy, the true and last ethics of the enlightened metropolitan class.

Anyone that has ever had the good fortune to encounter a good teacher or professor will know that his example springs not from what he knows or professes to know, but rather from what he can transpire unto others: to search of a form of one’s own path. The ethos of a teacher has little do with specialization or success, and everything to the incarnation of a gestalt that is not accidental or transient, but perpetually springing from its myth, as Carchia suggested for the work of art [2]. And myth is the sensorial mediation that resista to be instrumentalized into the endless amassing of value by the powerful administrative subjects. This amounts to saying that the teacher finds self-legitimization in its capacity to inspire the shared sense of wonder of the inaccessible.

Or, at least, this has been the teacher at its most groundbreaking moments. The eradication of teaching – which like mostly every other area foreclosed by the crisis of the human experience was unveiled during the years of the pandemic – and its complete abdication to models of “leadership” and “training” (under the fictitious rubric of the syllabus as an economic contract) is the bleakest of the futures that Cassiano could have taken. A nihilist future that, it goes without saying, will be void of martyrs and myths.




1. Carl Schmitt. “Un jurista frente a sí mismo: entrevista de Fulco Lanchester a Carl Schmitt”, CSS, 1, 2017, 220.  

2. Gianni Carchia. Il mito in pittura: la tradizione come critica (Celuc Libri, 1987), 155. 

Civilization and revolution. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is something insufficient and risible in the attempt to isolate notions like “revolution” or “emancipation” from the total collapse of the grammar of politics. This insufficiency speaks to a rhetorical inflation which already at the turn of the twentieth century Carlo Michaelsteader identified with the attempt at securing the social bond at all costs. The rhetoric of “saving” (the revolution, emancipation, liberation: saving the subject) at bottom, only shows the simulacra of a redemptive movement of value at the heart of social exchange. And we also know that modern political revolutions were experiments in general socialization. Whether it is Saint-Just appealing to the laws of nature against the positive social contract in the wake of the French Revolution; or Lenin and the Bolsheviks more than a century later in their efforts to stage a utopia of production and classless society, the revolutionary horizon was ultimately about the production of the social bond and little else.

The dialectization between subject and the totality of the modes of production was realized in its reverse: the passage to a new temporal domination unto all sensual activities of life. This was expected given the premise: at the center of the genesis of political organization of the West is not the state, but rather the rhetorical structures of civility. That the last theoretical project of politics hinges on the so-called “rhetorical foundations” of society now comes full circle: the development of civilization in the open.

Of course, revolutionary and emancipatory imagination, except in rare occasions, has always been oblivious to the problem of civilization. And this is why Fordism and high Stalinism were perceived as civilizational projects that mirrored and competed against each other. In this sense, the civilizational rise never escaped the duality between politics and nihilism that is proper to the anxiety over order in the genesis of modern European public powers. This is also why early in revolutionary moments of triumph the excess of barbarism was never left behind, but rather it emerged as its siamese twin of the humanist enterprise. As Merleau-Ponty hinted in his old book Humanism and Terror (1947): “Even though our political life creates a civilization we can never renounce, does it not also cointan a fundamental disease?” [1]. This was Ponty in 1947, where the debris of the war was still in full display in major European cities. To some extent one could imagine not wanting to renounce civilization of such barbarism in the face of atomic disaster. But is this our predicament today? Obviously not, since, precisely the collapse of politics (and its main institutional forms such as positive law and political parties) also amounts to an ongoing crisis that is civilizational in nature.

It is not surprising that what emerges in front of us is a different typology than the one that Merleau-Ponty witnessed in 1947: it is no longer the piling of rubbish, but the rise of metropolitan paradises that organize the infrastructural regime of a contactless world. A decade later, written in the 1950s, Amadeo Bordiga will redefine the stakes of civilization: “…the vigorous coarseness of the barbarian peoples was less dire than the decadence of the masses in the capitalist epoch, the epoch that our enemies name as civilization – a word used well here, and in its proper sense, because it means the urban way of life, the way of life proper to the great amalgamated monsters of the bourgeois metropolises” [2]. Bordiga’s lucidity was capable of grasping that Fordism as the triumph of the utopia of capital now meant that civilization (now reduced as the allocation of exchange and distribution) became the central figure of nihilism. Perhaps Bordiga was too imprudent to call for the shadow of the civilized – that is, the barbarian – but his problem, I take it, is still ours to reflect upon.




1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Humanism and Terror (Beacon Press, 1969), xxxviii.

2. Amadeo Bordiga, “Specie umana e crosta terrestre”, in Drammi gialli e sinistre della moderna decadenza sociale (Iskra, 1978), 95. My translation. 

The End of the Human Species. by Gerardo Muñoz

The testimony of Michi Panero in Jaime Chaverri’s El desencanto (1976) still resonates today as a salient witness of the eclipse of the human race and its possibility of experience. I offer here a very straightforward translation of the last sequence of the documentary: “From my own experience, I fear that we will not achieve descendancy…we are the end of the species (fin de raza), an end that is far from being Wagnerian, a species that has been eroding with time. And we simply cannot go on…”. Although Michi uses the expression “fin de raza”, it is obvious that he is not referring to “race”, but rather evoking the human species or the ‘human race’ as a whole (in the same way that, for instance, Robert Antelme’s memoirs of the camp was rendered as The Human Race, originally in French L’Espèce humaine). If our epoch is frivolously obsessed with race and identity tribulations, it is simply because it has opted to suppress that the exhaustion of Man in the moment of the death of God has been set as a concrete end of the human species itself.

This is not necessarily due to a series of immanent threatening events that could put the species at extinction on earth – from ecological catastrophes to nuclear war and global epidemics, to other forms of unimaginable outbreaks – but more fundamentally because everywhere the end of the human is signaling that the human species merely occupy a bulky and flat space and time. In this sense, Michi’s existential witness is not about the decadence of the family structure (of an aristocratic Spanish family during the Franco Regime, which the film denounces as the epochal crisis of the family was becoming a reality in the West), but as Teresa Vilarós reminds us in her classic study, that from now on life will only be perceived as fossilized life, and thus devoid of any existence [1]. And I will add a complementary element to Vilarós’ analysis: there is no resurrection in the fossil residue, but only debris and decomposition of the most elemental kind.

Hence, the last of the human species will linger on for a while, but this is a separate question from what this transformation entails for the originary community of the species. The end of the species, insofar as it belongs to the trained to the regime of adaptation, will only relate through a process of abstraction of absolute expropriation. This is why increasingly today, in the wake of the ruins of politics, the social bond emerges as a brute force of inhuman mediation. In a way, socialization can only socialize the last reserve of the human species: its inhumanity.

If the end of the human species is rarely rationalized, it is due to the fact that within the regime of adaptation, the passage from the sense of belonging to the ‘human species’ into the community of inhumanity is intertwined and at times completely blurred. In fact, this is the same numbing of experience that Robert Antelme captured in The Human Race (1947): “For in fact everything happens in that world as though there were a number of human species, or, rather, as though belonging to a single human species wasn’t certain, as though you could join the species or leave it, could be halfway in it or belong to it fully, or never belong to it, try though you might for generations, divisions into races and classes being the canon of the species and sustaining the axiom we’re always prepared to use, the ultimate line of defense: ‘They aren’t people like us” [2]. The proliferation of the fictitious community today registers the absolute obsolescence of the human species rendered legible in the furious processes of adaptation and reproduction. Michi’s complaint – “somos un fin de raza” – should be inserted in its proper indictment. Un desencantamiento ante el mundo: the revealing of the inhumanity of the human species unleashed in the most natural ways imaginable against the world.




1. Teresa M. Vilarós. El mono del desencanto (Siglo XXI, 2018), 56.

2. Robert Antelme. The Human Race (Marlboro Press, 1998), 5.

The unperishable. On Ernst Jünger’s On the Marble Cliffs (NYRB, 2023). by Gerardo Muñoz

On the Marble Cliffs (1939), which appeared for the first time in Nazi Germany in 1939 (the new NYRB has just been published) offered a narrative of a thorough civilizational collapse of the West. I will side with many of the commentators that have reminded the readers that this novel doesn’t simply amount to an allegory of the rise of National Socialism or the reemergence of indirect powers of civil war in the European interwar years. By underlining “just”, I also mean to say that it is also very much about its epoch. Jünger was an insider of the German elite, and one of the most astute interpreters of his time as his theses on the dominion of the worker and the force of total mobilization were fully realized. It happens that On the Marble Cliffs introduces the civilizational collapse not through the allegorical reduction of the narrative procedure, but rather through a weaving, never truly resolved (much to Jünger’s own intentions), of temporalities that do not land in historical form. Circumventing the meanderings of a dreamlike stage and that of a thick and sensorial description, the novel diachronous movement resembles the stage of a vigil that retrospectively looks from page one at the advent of the disaster: “Only then do we recognize how fortunate we humans are to live from day to day in our small communities, under peaceful roofs, engaged in please conversation, and with the effective greetings morning and night. Alas, we always recognize too late that these simple things offered us a cornucopia of riches” (Jünger, 3). Granted, the vigil is an incomplete assessment of how (not so much as to why, which speaks to Jünger’s separation between his critico-politico essays and his narrative universe) the luminous community of brothers at Grand Marina entered the stage of destruction. During their peaceful time at Grand Marina, the brothers dedicate themselves to studying plants: a contemplative activity through an herbarium that becomes an exercise in clearing the mind and “draining time”. Botany has always stood as a minor activity to escape the realization of death, even if inevitable the cycle of temporal caducity.

But the ruinous time begins with the dominion of the Head Forester, an old governor of Mauretania region whose territorial ambitions are rooted in the domination of world affairs, and the willful defense of its doctrine Semper Vitrix (Jünger, 23). For those familiar with the worldview of Jünger, it is not surprising to find that domination does not begging at the original act of taking, but rather in the scheme of disposition that prepares the liquidation of the originary depth of the world’s opacity. Hence, imperii vitrix is always cartographical, and thus concerned with the the procedure of legible reduction: “For them [Mauretaninas] the world was reduced to a map like those thare engraved for amateour using little compasses and polished insutrmentions that are pleasing to hold. And so it seemed odd to come upon figures like the Head Forester in these clear, perfectly abstract realms freed of any shadows” (Jünger, 23). To dominate the world, one must first dominate over the ideals and images that unify a world. This is why Jünger, just a few years earlier in The Worker, had ended his treatise pointing at the passage from the classical social contract theories of social cohesion to the efficiency of planning of production in order to weaken any possible resistance [1]. This is another reason why On the Marble Cliffs fails at any allegorical instantiation, since allegory hinges upon the unfulfilled stage of historical consciousness, whereas Jünger levels his narrative with the metaphysical disposition that is accomplished in modernity. One could call this the triumph of nihilism and anarchy; the never-ending triumph of ‘barbarism and religion’ of the West since at least the Roman Empire to put in the terms of historian J.G.A. Pocock. This is the “line” of modernity, but it is also the line that is breached at the collapse of modernity staged On the Marble Cliffs.

Anarchy and nihilism – for Jünger these are for two routes for prompting a relation with the epochal collapse. More than clearcut positions to endorse, these are unbreachable counters of the limitless epoch. Jünger distinguishes them well through the character of Braquemart: “Suffice it to say that there is a profound difference between fully formed nihilism and unchecked anarchy. The outcome of the struggle will determine whether human settlements will become wasteland or virgin forest. With regards to Braquemart, he was marked by all the traits of full-fledged nihilism. His was a cold, rootless intelligence with a penchant for utopias…On seeing him, one inevitably thought of his master’s profound saying: “The desert grows – woe to him who carries the deserts within!” (Jünger, 76-77). The nihilist suffers from a rather coldness of intelligence, and what Jünger qualifies as the ill-fated adventure of the theorist, always unmatched with that of the pragmatist (Jünger, 78). Granted, everything depends on the internal capacities to react against the growing systematic devastation. On the other side, the anarchist cloaks his accomplice condition within the corruption of the law, where nothing is sacred. This is why the anarchist transforms the forest into an enclosed land for hunting and predatory practice where “cadavers left to rot in the fields spread pestilence, wiping out the herds. The downfall of order brings good to none” (Jünger, 62). On the Marble Cliffs is at times too emphatic with the reiteration of the order in opposition to terror: ‘Terror establishes its reign behind a mask of order” (Jünger, 38). And this speaks to National Socialism antipositivist attitudes to the rule of law, which Jünger seemed to have perceived clearly.

However, it is also true that Jünger’s insistence on order is not just about conservation in the abyss, but rather about how the civilizational collapse is expressed in the puncturing of indirect powers that will ultimately unify the anarchy of domination. To insist on nihilism means to de-hegemonize the indirect powers and factional domination against the visceral hatred of the gratitude of language and the mystery of beauty that burns the inside of demonic spirits (Jünger 39). The luminosity of Jünger’s style and symbolic nakedness speaks, in turn, to an attempt at a mythologization of beauty that emerges in a language devoid of parody. In this sense, Jünger displaces Gianni Carchia’s important thesis about the narrativization of the parody of mystery into the form in the bourgeois novel. Jünger’s beauty is mysterious because it exceeds signification and conceptual closure of the novel conflict, as what language does (or seems to do) on the line of nihilism. For Jünger the revocation of anarchy implies taking a distance from the subsumption of prose into narrative order. Thus, Jünger’s order is a primary order, one of retaining the reserves of sacred and the unfathomable character in the face of barbarism and the destruction of the world.

“We take leave more easily when things are in order” (Jünger, 59). This is the primary order of a plain state of the world, which does not presuppose the obsession with organization and management; it is what allows for the flourishing of contemplative life and the possibility of retreating to the density of the forest. But we know that this is, precisely, what comes crashing down in the rise of anarchy and nihilism, both working in tandem in modernity. Attaching oneself to primary order amounts to “concrete dreaming” at best, as the narrator says early in the book. And it is at this point that On the Marble Cliffs solves this conundrum: the idea of order must not be reduced to a nomos of the world, but rather the possibility of an outside from thinking that there is a finite and finished work of the world. This is where Jünger’s genius shines with usual intensity. It is the moment, towards the end, when the narrator admits: “the beauty of this world now enveloped, I saw, in the purple mantle of destruction” (Jünger, 102). The conflagration of the world, however, only undoes a new capacity for seeing that which had remained in the dense fog of consciousness and aesthetics. In other words, the total collapse brings forth the unperishable element between existence and the world. Jünger achieves the highest point of condensation in this elaboration:

“The harvest of many years of labor fell prey to the element and with the house, our work returned to dust. We cannot count on seeing our work completed here below, and happy is the man whose will is not too painfully invested in his efforts. No house is built, no plan created, in which ruin is not the cornerstone, and what lives imperishably in us does not reside in our works. We perceived this truth in the flame, and its glow was not devoid of joy” (Jünger, 108).

This is not joy or appetite for destruction, but more a joy about what remains unperishable in every destructive act that realizes itself just so that everything could be renewed more or less the same. At the narrative level the unperishable of every work is the mystery that cannot be fully captured either by the deployment of historical allegory or by the mimetic translation of the work of narrative. On the Marble Cliffs remains stubbornly an open novel, but in a very precise sense: it gestures to the divergence between life and the world is barely touched parabolically at a distance. This is why the character of On the Marble Cliffs reaches the end by stressing “the sight of it [an old oak grove] made us feel at home…”(Jünger, 113). Whereas sight is an index of landscape, of seeing beyond the abyss. This is a condition for living among the dead once again. Perhaps this is why Jünger felt the need to record in his French war diaries that Pablo Picasso had asked him if the novel was based on a real landscape [2].

Only a painter that had witness the crisis of modern space (beginning with the “Blue Room” of 1900) could directly engage with the trope of the ‘marble cliff’: it is here that the altar of a sacrificial history and political domination turns into the site of theoria. Now the faculty of seeing grows outside of itself, “to manifest freedom in the face of danger” (Jünger, 117). On the Marble Cliffs is an invitation to this interior unperishable landscape that removes us from idle fictions in the face of anguish if only we do not turn our back to it (in the name of science or technology or new idols). Given that the desert of nihilism can only grow, I wonder how many today could even stand on the cliff. I fear that the effort of raising the head and looking beyond is already too much to ask.




1. Ernst Jünger. The Worker: Dominion and Form (Northwestern University Press, 2017), 173-178.

2. Ernst Jünger. A German Office in Occupied Paris: The War Journal 1941-1945 (Columbia University Press, 2019), 78.