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.

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.

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Notes 

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.

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.

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Notes 

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 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.

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Notes 

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. 

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.

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Notes 

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. 

Police and Schools: two vectors of American civility. by Gerardo Muñoz

The conservative journalist David French has recently reported an interesting empirical fact about the social reality in the United States: according to a recent Gallup survey that measures public confidence in American public institutions, there are two institutions defended and discredited by both left and right: those on the conservative right expressed confidence in the police (about 70% or so), and those on the progressive left expressed confidence in schools and higher education (about the same percentage). This is an interesting fact only for the reason that it reveals with immense clarity – very much against French’s political idealism of overcoming the caesura – the two effective vectors of American civil society: police and schooling. In fact, aside from their divergent emphasis, progressives and conservatives agree fundamentally that policing and schooling are the indispensable elements in this moment of civil society. Let’s call it the “high modernist moment of the metropolis”.

This is why to any attentive observer of American reality, police and schooling are so intertwined and mingled with each other that it becomes impossible to separate them, and not just because there is police presence on university campuses or because the police articulates a discourse of “community” and educational instruction in their daily practice. Police and Schools are two vectors in the structure of civil society in the wake of the collapse of modern politics. In other words, what emerges after the end of politics in America is the intersection between police and school as two intersecting poles that sustain, nurture, and reproduce the axiomatic organization of civil society.

The zone of convergence of police and school is culture. Now culture should not be understood as symbolic distribution of mass consumption and public goods, but more specifically as a flexible regime of adaptation whose proper end is the optimization of the civil order. Hence, the fascination and continuous arousal of “cultural battles” in the public spheres is nothing but empty chatter of the same end: the acceleration of techniques and symbolic amalgamations in a social roundup of self-governance. When Sir Ernest Barker defined the necessity of civility as the precondition of the commonwealth, he took for granted that culture was meant to maximize singular character and conduct [1]. On the contrary, today the maximization of culture presupposes a paideia that revokes every character in the name of a flattening conduct that must be adaptive to the ends of abstract civil organization of values. If civility for Barker was condensed in the figure of the “gentleman”, in contemporary America, the figure is the nowhereman: an all-capable human-species that must adapt to the latest marching order and its temporal justifications. In this context, the police and school are elevated from social institutions to productive vectors of civil cohabitation.

It is still striking today to read what theologian Karl Barth wrote in 1928: “In paradise there were no schools and no police. Similarly, and in view of its intensity we must say specifically there was no gentleman unseen, and all the more penetrating “they” of costumes” [2]. And for Barth, it is only in the wake of Romanticism – in this way confirming Gianni Carchia’s important thesis about the consolidation of a subjective romantic modernity – that the police and the school was unleashed against every costume and against everything that stood in its way. Social abstraction is incapable of grasping this stealth transformation. And it cannot see it due to the fact that romantic civility offers, in return, a fundamental oblivion: eternal security within a hellish reality. All things considered, this is also why the United States remains the beacon of endless optimism – while being a deadly playground. The vectors of policing and schooling grammar of force expulses any possible ethical notion of paradisal life.

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Notes. 

1. Ernest Barker. Traditions of Civility (Cambridge University Press, 1948), 137.

2. Karl Barth. Ethics (Wipf and Stock, 2013), 390.

A noncatastrophic politics. Some notes on Erich Unger’s Politics and Metaphysics (1921). by Gerardo Muñoz

Erich Unger’s Politics and Metaphysics (1921), published just a year before Political Theology (1922), fully captures the spirit of the epoch: it is the moment when politics becomes catastrophic; a vehicle for war conflagration, an instrument for the acceleration of technology, and the spatial fragmentation of civil society and state. The overcoming of man through technology meant a new ‘reality principle’ in which the species were forced to adapt to an abstract process of catastrophic metabolic regulation. Unger’s essay, thoroughly ignored at the time of its publication, was a product of what in Political Theology (1922) was labeled as the force of indirect immanent powers. And from his side, Walter Benjamin, in his preparatory notes for his essay on violence, made the obscure remark that Unger’s Politics and Metaphysics (1921) ultimately favored the ‘overcoming of capitalism’ through errancy (at times translated as “migration”, which has been recently corrected by Fenves & Ng’s critical edition of the “Critique of Violence”) [1]. Indeed, in his short tract, Unger called for a “non-catastrophic politics”, which he understood as coming to terms with the problem of metaphysical structuration and positionality, and for politics to have a chance a principle of exodus was needed. This goes to show why Schmitt reacted against this spirit of the epoch, going as far as to say that his “concept of the political ” was the unified response to a sentiment of a whole generation, as well as the detector of enemies of the political demarcation [2]. In contrast, for Unger modern political autonomy had collapsed, and catastrophe now expressed itself as a civilizational problem of living forms, and so it demanded a confrontation with the problem of unity and separation of politics and metaphysics.

Politics is not metaphysics, but it had to be confronted with it if a non-catastrophic politics is to be imagined. This meant a new conception of the problem of “life”, which in Unger’s speculative philosophy received its historicity from immanence through the temporality of the tragic. The psychic separation between metaphysics and politics (a politics of the subject and subjection) meant fundamentally a catastrophic politics, which Unger read against the backdrop of the Oskar Goldberg’s Hebrew speculative reversal as a new re-constitution of the people (Volk) outside the fixation of the state. All of this is connected to his previous work on the stateless dimension of the Hebrew people in a short tract entitled Die staatslose Bildung eines jüdischen Volkes (1922). For Unger, the Hebrew prophetic rulers were not just a form of government, but rather also of healers, practitioners of a “techné alupias” of psychic intensification in the business of instituting an autoregulation between the metaphysical and the political.

The contrast with Carl Schmitt’s position is, once again, illuminating to say the least: whereas the figure central to Schmitt’s juridical thinking is that of the Pauline Katechon, the restrainer against the apocalyptic catastrophe; for Unger, no stranger to theological myth, appealed to a Parakletos of a universal People (Volk), coming to one as a single consciousness against unreality. The theological drama that informed the positions of both Schmitt and Unger, recasted the problem of separation the central concern of a particular thinking in a time of constituent power (and its infrastructure in the principle of civil society). But whereas Schmitt’s Katechon depends on an institutional mediation conditioned by revelation and authority; Unger’s non-catastrophic politics evokes a ‘people’ emptied of patrimony as reservoir of new energies for the unification of reality against psychic imbalance. Against the “relentless forms of domination”, Unger did not appeal to institutional mediation of the moderns, but instead to the interiority of the species that, in turn, required a “political principle of exodus”:

The principle of the exodus can end the civil war and represent the presupposition for the emergence of real political units, thus putting an end to those centrifugal tendencies which are lethal for any real synthesis. This principle of separation of communities operates an external delimitation of the Material to give rise to a possible real unity. It now considers establishing the basic regulatory principles of its internal structure.” [3]

The principle of exodus of politics meant, all things considered, the opening the metaphysical order of the possible against what was understood as domination of the species within the paradigm of civil war. It is telling that for Unger, like for Carl Schmitt, the true force to be confronted is that of the stasiological force, or nihilism, as the condition for the catastrophic politics in the perpetuity of separation during time of finality (Endgultigkeit) in historical transformation. For Unger this was no easy task, nor fully passive and open to gnostic reversal. On the contrary, it is connected to “a kind of intellectual orientation required of anything who might wish to understand this reflection” [4]. This is ultimately tied to Unger’s most enduring idea in Politics and Metaphysics (1922) – at least for some of us that look with suspicion anything that the contemporary has to offer today, or that has ever offered – which is the metapolitical universities, not mere supplementary communities against the politics of catastrophe, but rather practical forms of encounter, languages, and exercises in thought that return the dignity to the shipwrecked fragments in the field of immanence.

Unger knew very well that there was no absolute “exteriority”, and so the defense of a metapolitical university was offered not as a “new political unit” of intellectuals leading the masses, but something quite different: the encounter of a finality that is not knowledge but “the effective treatment of the concrete” elevating itself from mundane understanding of social knowledge [5]. This is no collective practice either, since the discriminatory point assumes the internal perspective of the instance of “intensification” [6]. And intensification is not executed from the coordinates immanence of the social but rather as a ‘possibility of an elevation (Steigerbarkeit) capable of returning to reality against a non-catastrophic politics. For Unger the notion of elevation – necessarily to destroy the compulsory mimesis and automatic recursiveness of subjection – is predicated as a path of innerness, “that is, in the inclusion of originally alien psychical factors within a single consciousness” [7]. The metapolitical universities were, hypothetically, hubs for the concrete practice of elevation vacant of any universal pretensions of unreality. Here Unger, like Schmitt, does not propose an exodus from politics, but rather an elevation to a coming politics whose mediation is neither annihilation nor exchange, but rather the imagination and concrete practice of organization. The question, of course, is whether the politics of exodus today has not also collapsed to the catastrophic (no longer an exception to it but immanent to the logic of equivalence), which means implies a relocation: the practice of the metapolitical university, mutatis mutandi, now presupposes an exodus from politics.

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Notes 

1. Peter Fenves & Julia Ng (eds.). Walter Benjamin: Toward The Critique of Violence: A Critical Edition (Stanford University Press, 2022), 92.

2. Carl Schmitt. Glossarium: Anotaciones desde 1947 hasta 1958 (El Paseo, 2019), 240. 

3. Erich Unger. Politica e metafisica (Edizioni Cronopio, 2009), 87.

4. Ibid., 92.

5. Ibid., 23.

6. Ibid., 100.

7. Ibid., 24.

A memory of Jean Franco (1924-2022). by Gerardo Muñoz

Jean Franco, pioneer of Latin American Cultural Studies and witness to its Cold War gigantomachy, passed away a couple of weeks in December at age 98. She remained lively and curious even at the very end of her scholarly life, and for some of us that saw her in action she embodied the memory of the century. The photograph above is of Jean’s visit to Arcadio Díaz Quiñones graduate seminar in the fall of 2015 where she discussed some of the main arguments of her last book Cruel Modernity (Duke U Press, 2014), a cartography showing the definite closure of the Latin American insomnia for political modernity in light of its most oblique mutations: narcoviolence, the emergence of a dualist state structure, and new global economic forces that putted an end to the vigil of the revolutionary enterprise. I write “definite” purposely, since Jean’s own The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City (Harvard U Press, 2002) already hinted at a certain exhaustion (to borrow the strategic term of Alberto Moreiras also writing during these years), most definitely a thorough disillusion, in the sense deployed by Claudio Magris, of cultural substitution for the belated state-making modernization. The function of “culture” (and its hegemonic state apparatus) was always insufficient, dragging behind, or simply put, unintentionally laboring for the cunning of a project forever postponed in the sweatshop of the newest ideologue, or for the hidden interests of the “local” marketplace of moral academicism. All of this has come crashing down rather quickly even if the demand for culturalist janitorial or housekeeping services are still in demand to sustain the illusion sans reve et sans merci.

What always impressed me about Franco’s scholarship was her intellectual honesty to record, even if through an adjacent detours and academic finesse, the destitution of all the main categories of the Latin American modern wardrobe: developmentalism, state-civil society relations, the intellectual, cultural hegemony, revolutionary violence, the “rights revolution”, and the intra-national spatiality (rural/metropolitan divide). From now on it is hard to say that there is a “task of the critic”, if we are to understand the critic in the Kantian aspiration of sponsoring modern values and perceptiveness to an enthusiastic disposition (definitely optimistic towards action) to transforming the present. As a witness to the twilight of the Latin American modern epoch, Franco univocally resisted the inflationary, value-driven, demand for politicity and ‘more politics’. This is why her attitude remained at the threshold of any given effective political panaceas or half-baked illusions.

Does her biographical experience say anything to this particular inclination? It is difficult to say, although as a witness of the century Jean had lived through the coup in Guatemala in 1954, visited the Cuban Revolution during its most “intense years” of the sugar cane milestone (La Zafra de los Diez Millones), and followed with attentiveness the rise and transformation of the Southern Cone dictatorships in the 1980s coupled with the irreversible social transformation of neoliberalism in the 1990s signaling the effective end to regional integration in the face of planetary unity. All of this to say that I find it hard – at least leaving aside the many nuances – to see in Jean’s scholarly witness an enthusiasm for the Latin American Pink Tide, the communal state, or abstract regional historicizing that could finally bring about the moral universe of the national-popular state (as if said moral realization would be anything worthwhile, which we some of us seriously doubt). If Jon Beasley-Murray once said that John Beverley was the “Latin American unconscious”, I guess it is fair to claim that Jean Franco was an authentic Latin americanist realist; that is, someone that was up to task to see in the face of the tragic, the cruel, and the heinous as the proper elements of the interregnum. Or to better qualify this: she was a worldly realist, leaving aside utopias and its abstractions. At the end end of the day, Leninists are also realists, or at least claim to be so. What places Jean’s earthly realism apart from the Leninist realism is the subtraction from the seduction of Idealization, which even in the name of the “idea” (“the idea of communism”, say) or “immanent higher causes” must bear and render effective the logic of sacrifice at whatever cost, even the real sense of freedom if demanded by the party, the leader, or the community. This is why at the closure of Latin American modernizing enterprise communitarian arrangements, posthistorical subjects / identities, or grand-spaces that mimic the constitution of Earth are foul dishes for a final banquet. It is always convenient to refuse them.


Going back to my conversations with Franco at Princeton, and some exchanges a few months later in a cafe near Columbia University, for her there was remaining only the anomic geography of Santa Teresa in Bolaño’s 2666, a novel that charts the current ongoing planetary civil war in the wake of the crisis of modern principles of political authority. I can recall one remark from Jean during these exchanges: “¿Y quién pudiera mirar hacia otra parte?” This is the general contour of her witnessing: how not to look somewhere else? In other words, how not to look here and now, into the abyss that is no longer regional or national, Latin American or cultural specific, but rather proper to our own civilization? A civilization is, after all, nothing but the organization of a civis, which has now abdicated to both the metropolitan dominium, as well as the campo santo of sacrificed life at the hand of techno-administrative operators (the new praetorian guard) of a well lighted and fully integrated Earth.

There is no alternative modernity, decolonial state, or hegemonic culture that will not serve to the compensatory and sadistic interests of the cruel policing of death and value, as the only masters in town. We are in Santa Teresa as a species of energy extraction. Can reflection be courageous enough to look through and against them? This is the lasting and eternal question that Franco left for those who are willing to see. It does not take much, although it amounts to everything: mirar / to gaze – in an opening where human form is lacking and categories are wretched – is the the most contemplative of all human actions. Whatever we make of it, this practice now becomes the daring task of the coming scholar.

The schism of the species: theses on Dionys Mascolo’s La révolution par l’amitié (2022). by Gerardo Muñoz

1. Remembrance without restitution. The publication of Dionys Mascolo’s essays in La révolution par l’amitié (La fabrique, 2022) opens a path to a singular thinking that refused to conform to a master thinking, and even less what has come to us as political theory, or radical critique. Theory and critique have shown their resilient adaptiveness to university discourse. Thinking, on the contrary, moves annexes a relation with the missing word. This caesura negates the closure of both politics and community, it shows its insufficiency. In a letter to Maurice Blanchot regarding his ceased friend Robert Antelme, Mascolo comes to terms with this specific question: the remembrance of what loss in the actual word is – the voice of his friend Robert Antelme – what cannot be posited as a restitution of representation, but rather as effective effort to transcend mutism and silence that would have sunk writing into a pathos not short of a “miserabilist” stance [1]. The exigency of language is absolute. In an analogous way, we can say that the writing in La revolution par l’amité (La fabrique, 2022) is not a matter of restituting the history of Marxism, the intellectual debates of French theory, or even the burial site of a thinker that rejected repeatedly the metaphysical function of the public intellectual (a sort of captain at the steering wheel of public opinion, a cybernetician); but rather the remembrance that thinking is the irreductible site of common to the species. Remembrance has no “archive” and it does not produce anything; on the contrary, it invites a path to thinking in order to bring the absolutism of reality to an end.

2. The irreducibility of the species. For Mascolo – as for Nicola Chiaromonte – the stimmung of the modern age is not a lack of faith, but a bad faith subscribed by the subject of knowledge, a guardian of the nexus of legitimacy. In his practice of writing, Mascolo explored something like a countermovement to the rationality of the intellectual posture, in which communication ceases to be a common means in order to become a production of ends and instrumentality. Hence, what Mascolo called the “part irreductible” – and its “doubt in any system of organized ideas in sight” – is the only intuition of the unity of the species in communication. And if the intellectual is an organic unity of hegemony that replaces the function of the priest in the Church bureaucracy and its paideia (recall Antonio Gramsci’s “organic intellectual”), for Mascolo irreducibility in the sharing of thought in communication is “not political” as he states in Autour d’un effort de mémoire – Sur une lettre de Robert Antelme (1987). This step back from the production of modern politics thoroughly imagines another figure of communism. It is at this point where the whole Cold War polemics between humanism and anti-humanism is destituted internally: the species finds a way out of political domestication.

3. Communism of thought. We can understand why for Mascolo “the word communism really belongs more to Hölderlin than to Marx, as it designates all the possibilities of thought; that which escapes in thinking, and only that can constitute its work (oeuvre)” [2]. In other words, communism for Mascolo is not a matter of doctrine or an Idea, nor about philosophy of history and its inversion; it is not about a political subject or a unity of organization of political force; communism is a use of thought in language in proximity with what escapes in every communication. The inoperative communism, hence, is only possible in friendship, as a continuous experimentation of taste that cannot coincide with a community form. As Mascolo writes in his essay on Antelme: “We did not live in community. This is a deceptive word…we existed in a sentiment of mutual gift of freedom” (53). Any reinvention of a politics to come after the collapse of authority must commence with this rejection of a compensatory communitarian closure. Today only a conspiratio between friends can animate a new field of intensification for renewal.

4. Refusal and friendship. Even in his earliest stages of writing such as “Refus incoditionnel” (1959), the condition for friendship for Mascolo is to refuse the current state of things; to retreat from the demand of reality in order to survive in the imagination of the shared word. In this sense, the thematic of friendship does not make subjects of duty towards a social bond, but rather a secret in the word designated by separation. Friendship floats high above symbolic representation, as it moves to an inclination that is singulare tantum. If modern politics thought itself as a repression and administration of the hostis; for Mascolo the practice of friendship is the sacred space that is never inherited, but, precisely the dwelling of those who “seek” after in the wake of the homelessness of man and nature. This is analogous to Hölderlin’s allowance of thought which moves in passion while accounting for the abyss of our relationship with the world (aorgic) of originary detachment.

5. Revolution as style. In a brief text on the Cuban revolution of 1959, originally written for the collective exhibition Salón de Mayo in Havana, Mascolo says a new revolution in the island could potentially offer a the opportunity of a new style [3]. Of course, as soon as Fidel Castro supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, it was clear that such promised crumbled, and that the Revolution will fall well within the paradigm of the metaphysics of historical project and the subject (“a new man”). But what is style? Once again, this speaks directly to Mascolo’s passion for the irreductible outside of the subject, and for this reason never alienated from the schism of the species. The notion of style relates fundamentally to our exposition to the outside, to the event of expropriation, which defines our fidelity to the invariant dimension of our character. A new style, therefore, is not something to be produced, an effect of the subject, but rather the unit of an ethical practice in our encounter with the outside. If the apparatus of the revolution was instituted as a the production of a civilization; the fidelity to a style names the modes of life that cannot be oriented towards a specific work. A new aberrant freedom emerges.

6. Saint-Just’s ethos. Mascolo never ceased to reflect on the ethical determination of politics, against politics, and for a transfigurative notion of a politics for the here and now. And he dwelled on this problem in his writings on the ethical figure of Saint-Just during the French Revolution (“Saint Just” and “Si la lecture de Saint-Just est possible”). Unlike the monumental historiographies – both left and right, revolutionary and conservative, historicist or revisionist – that situated the revolutionary under the sign of Terror and Revolution, of will power and the emergency of Jacobinism; for Mascolo Saint-Just stands a figure that keeps an important secret. And this is it: “the inhumanity of Saint Just is that unlike many men, he does not possess many lives but only one” (130). This is a concrete definition of a ethos that is irreducible to the “monstrous arts of government” in an epoch where the political had become the secularization of fate. In the same way that Hölderlin turned his gaze towards the impossible and concealed distance of the moderns in relation to truth of the Greeks, for Mascolo’s Saint-Just the legitimacy of the modern universalization (in the State, the Subject, the Social) does not have the last word. The ethos of life keeps the remembrance of an abyss of the monstrosity of historical universality and the social equality.

7. Borrowed existence. Dionys Mascolo lived at the dusk of the modern arch of the revolution, whether understood as eschatology or a conservation of the natural order of the species, as Saint-Just proposed against the Rousseaunian social contract and the Hobbesian mechanical Leviathan in exchange for authority. We have already crossed this threshold, and we are in the desert of the political, retreating on its shadow fallen into administration of fictive hegemonies. Hence, the question of an ethos of existence becomes even more pressing from Mascolo’s thematic of friendship in order to refuse what he calls in “Sur ma propre bêtise et celle de quelues autres”, a “borrowed existence in a comedy that feels as if we are being watch by God alone” (219). Indeed, as some have diagnosed with precision, the religion of our time is absolute immanence, the full disposition of the tooling of our means [4]. A cybernetic dreamworld, whose pathetic figure is the “influencer” (a few strata beneath the luminosity of the intellectual). This can only fix us into the stupidity of intelligence of the species: specialized intelligence, in other words, prisoners in the sea of nihilism. The intelligence of the species, on the contrary, is the cunning (methis) of the fox: a way out in spite of the swelling tides. But against the nihilism of a borrowed life of immanence (beatitude of the impersonal, and iconicity of things), Mascolo’s thought insists stubbornly in friendship as the initiation in an uncharted path to reenter the world once again.

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Notes 

1. Dionys Mascolo. Autour d’un effort de mémoire: Sur une lettre de Robert Antelme (Maurice Nadeau, 1987). 

2. Ibid., 50.

3. Dionys Mascolo. “Cuba premier territoire libre du socialisme”, in A la recherche d’un communisme de pensée (fourbis, 1993).

4. Lundi Matin. “Éléments de descivilisation. Partie 4”, Lundi Matin, 2019: https://lundi.am/Elements-de-decivilisation-Partie-4

Homo Lupus Felix: Against Civilization. Notes for a presentation in the Eckhardt S. Program, Lehigh University. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is no question that Alice Rohrwacher’s Lazzaro felice (2018) is a marvelous cinematic work insofar as it measures up against the epoch by radically questioning the principles that have upheld what we know as civilization. This slight adjustment is critical given that ideology, political economy, or subject oriented frameworks of analysis have become insufficient to deal with the crisis of civilization. As a matter of fact, they have become functional (mere deployments of technique, to put it in Willy Thayer’s vocabulary) to the infrastructure, and its specific philosophy of History that promotes the maintenance of Order after the liquidation of its legitimacy. I would like to clarify that I am understanding civilization in a twofold register: as a genetic process of human anthropology based on the matrix of “appropriation, distribution, and production” of the world (a techno-political grid popularized by Carl Schmitt); but also as the total realization of an economic or political theology, which we can directly link to the function of “credit” (and the process of abstract dialectic between credit and debt, as a ground of a new “faith”) that is deployed as the medium of the total sum of social relations that commands beings in the world. Civilization is the general matrix of a process of optimal rationalization of the events that take place in the world, making us potential reactionary agents of the time of its phenomenality.

Aside from all the Christian and religious imaginary, Lazzaro felice is a theological film, but only insofar as it takes the irruption of the mythical remnant very seriously. There is something to be said here – and I think the film stresses this in several parts of the story – between religion and theology, dogma and the spiritual (anima), and the sacred and the commandment solicited by faith (pistis). In other words, Lazzaro felice enacts a destruction of a political theology by insisting on the civilizatory decline towards reproduction of as mere life of survival; a life that is delegated to the abstract faith of credit. In this sense, it is no mistake that Lazzaro’s homicide takes place in a bank and executed by the community of believers (capital, in the end, has already been incarnated; it is the Subject). The laboratory where this takes place is the metropolis, which as I have argued elsewhere is the site of devastation and optimization life in our epoch, which unifies world and life putting distance into crisis, in a suspense of the experiential [1]. The consumption of the new political theology of unreserved equivalence between humans and objects is what Rohrwacher interrupts through the fable of the beatitude of Lazzaro as a life to come in the threshold of the highest phase of the metropolitan stagnation. I will limit my commentary here to three nodes that allow the Lazzaro felice to expand this critique of civilization and the principle of the “civil society”, a notion that we will return to.

First, there is the fable, a capsule of an ancient gnostic wisdom. The fable is what can radically alter evil by tipping its objective realism into a real of the imagination against the grammar of order. Avoiding the order of narration based to account for the history of progress and developmentalism from the rural to the civilization of the metropolis, Rohrwacher’s strategy resorts to the ancient craft of the fable. This is fundamental for a number of reasons. First of all, because the fable allows to withdrawal from pure counter-narrative of historical development and its justifications that allow for the interruption of the time of development, while offering a possibility of an otherwise transformation of the world. This is the gnostic texture of the fable that Hans Blumenberg identified in this form, since obscuring of the distinction between humans and animals relaxes the burden of proof of the absolutism of reality as predicated in the matter of facts [2]. It through fables that something escapes, because there is always an image that escapes the narration of the events of this world. But the fable also offered something else: the beginning of myth as the site of legitimation for foundations of social relations. This is why, as T.J. Clark has reminded recently, Hegel associated the fable with the origin of master and slave dialectic, as a new form of domination of world once the world’s enchantment and mystery was dissolved: “In the slave, prose begins” [3].

The end of a paractical poetics? Perhaps. This means that the price to be paid to enter into the prose of “civilization” is to assimilate the unfathomable and invisible contours of the world into the polemos of storytelling; to be a subject of a story, and as a result, of historical transition. This is what civilization mobilizes through the fable as its posited legitimacy. It is in the fable where the abyss that separates us from the world becomes animated, ordered, and narrated in order for the apparatus of production to commence. It seems to me that Alice Rohrwacher goes to arcanum of civilization when she treats the fable of the wolf, which has functioned to legitimize the passage from the state of nature to the modern concept of the civil in Hobbes’s theory of the state. We should remember the brief fable in Lazzaro felice:

“Let me tell you the story of the wolf. A very old wolf had become decrepit, he could hunt wild animals anymore. So, he was excluded from the pack…and the old wolf went to houses, to steal animals, checks and sheep. He was hungry. The villagers tried to kill him in every way possible, but they didn’t succeed…as if he were invisible.”

It is a remarkable fable that inverts the political fiction of the wolf in Hobbes; mainly: a man is an arrant wolf to another man (homo homini lupus), which justifies the exodus from the state of nature as the “miserable condition of civil war” between men. The stakes are clear: by repressing civil war (stasis), civil society emerges as a divided but unified body under a sovereign principle of authority [2]. The wolf is first established as creature of fear and depredation in order to allow for the principle of civilization to emergence as uncontested and necessary. The fable of the wolf is the protofigure that guards the history of perimeters of civilization as a way to pacify and repress the latency of civil war. Rohrwacher, against the Hobbes political fable, gives us a fable of the wolf that not only is uncapable of waging life as war, but that it enacts full refusal and desertion to be hunted; that is, to be invisible, which ultimately entails a life not outside of a politics of hunting and the secondary pacification by which the end of hunting mutates to the enclosure of domestication [4]. 

If the wolf stands for the invisible it is because it occupies the excess of total legibility of a new civil order, that is, of a world administered by technique of order. The wolf is a prefiguration of the invisible that is improper to every life (and thus to all biopolitical domestication proper to civilization) in the passage from the organic community of the living to the civilizatory topos of the metropolis. The wolf condenses the instructive character in every life; that is, what cannot be reduced to the fiction or the depredatory total war of the civilization nor the fiction of the community lacking an open relation to the world.  This fable, then, is not just what unveils the fictional grounds of the legitimacy of civilization (its “black magic” under the light of rationality and control) but also what reprepares another community. A community in which what we have in common is not an attribute, a substance, or an identity, but an irreducible ethical relation in which civil war cannot equate total hostility and what establishes an absolute difference between life and the “principle of the civil” that formalized the aspiration of isonomic equality:

“The immemorial bad reputation of the wolf (wolf bashing) informs us about one of the oldest tricks of civilization. This consists of bearing the weight of predation on what is heterogeneous to it. To be able to say that man is a wolf of man, the wolf must first have been disguised as a “predator.” We do not mean that the wolf is gardener of daisy flowers, we mean that he behaves neither as a tyrant nor as a bloodthirsty animal, and even less as an individualist (the famous “lone wolf”). In fact, the wolf may have taught communism to humans. The cub that opens its eyes among humans recognizes them as part of its clan. Two lessons: 1) friendship ignores categories; 2) the common is the place where we open our eyes to the world. What the human, for his part, has “taught” to the wolf – like an angry father yelling at his son “I’ll teach you!” – is the servility of the good puppy and the good cop”. [5]. 

               The end of the film comes full circle with the only condition of finding a way out, producing a break in the infrastructure of the domestication, opening a path within and against the metropolis. It is almost as if the film, like in life, was a preparation for the moment of exodus and retreat. In fact, the wolf deserts the metropolis passing through and beyond the highway in plain rush hour. According to Alice Rohrwacher, the wolf leaving the city and not being seen was a reinforcement of the invisible ethical dimension that is proper to every life (an ethos, which in the old Pindaric sense that refers not only our character, but also, and more fundamentally to our abode and habits that are world-forming), and that is devastated by the anthropological crisis of the species in the wake of the process of civilization [6]. However, the wolf exit from the metropolis is not an abandonment of the world in the manner of a monastic communitarian retreat; but rather the pursuit of liberating an encounter with the events of the world foreclosed by topological circulation of credit that amounts to borrowed life without destiny. 

Now to the question that signals an instance of construens in what follows the desertion: what about happiness? It is here, it seems to me, where the beatitude of Lazzaro could be thought as an ethical form of life – as preparation to learn to how live a life against the abstract processes of domestication – that exceeds the two hegemonic paradigms of happiness offered by Western civilization: on the one hand, happiness understood as an equilibrium operative to virtue (aretē); or, on the other, the community of salvation as a compensatory effect for the structural gap of the fallen subject, original sin (felix culpa). One could clearly see that politics at the level of civilization could now be defined as the instrument that manages the production of happiness as a temporal exception in life, but never a defining form of our character.

The wolf that is Lazzaro’s form of life – at a posthistorical threshold that dissolves the anthropological divide man and animal – offers us a third possibility: happiness understood as the refusal to partake in the promises of civilization in order to attune oneself to an errancy of life that allows itself to be hunted by an experiential imbuing of the world. Happy Lazzaro? Yes, but never a Sisyphus who is incapable of experiencing the vanishing horizon between earth and sky in infinite divisibility of the world. The wolf unleashed traverses a geography against domestication, revoking the phantasy of home (the oikos). I will let the last words be made by some fellow-travelers contemporary American thinkers: “Civilisation, or more precisely civil society, with all its transformative hostility was mobilized in the service of extinction, of disappearance. Fuck a home in this world, if you think you have one.” [7].

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Notes

1. Gerardo Muñoz. “Dix thèses sur Lazzaro felice” en tant que forme de vie”, Lundi Matin, May 2019: https://lundi.am/Dix-theses-sur-Lazzaro-felice-en-tant-que-forme-de-vie

2. Hans Blumenberg. “Of Nonunderstanding: Glosses on Three Fables” (1984), in History, Metaphors, Fables (Cornell University Press, 2020), 562-566.

3. T. J. Clark. “Masters and Fools”, LRB, vol.43, No.18, September 2021. 

4. Thomas Hobbes. Man and Citizen (De Homine and De Cive) (Hackett, 1991), 11.

5. “Éléments de descivilisation” (part 2), Lundi Matin, april 2019:  https://lundi.am/Elements-de-decivilisation-Partie-2

6. Jerónimo Aterhortúa Arteaga. “Creer en las imágenes: entrevista a Alice Rohrwacher.”, Correspondencias, May 2021: http://correspondenciascine.com/2021/03/creer-en-las-imagenes-entrevista-a-alice-rohrwacher/

7. Stefano Harney & Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Minor Compositions, 2013), 132.