Hölderlin in Agamben. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is no question that Hölderlin occupies a central place in Giorgio Agamben’s work, although he always appears within a specific strategic deployment. Of course, it might be the case that Hölderlin is always present in instances where he is not directly cited or thematized, but in the following note I want to record four instances where Hölderlin appears in different phases of Agamben’s thinking. These notes are preliminary for a larger work in progress that looks at the status of the comic as a potential force for a transfigured politics, which is informed, although not limited by Hölderlin’s work. Hölderlin occupies, after all, the entry point to L’uso dei corpi (2014) in relation to the well-known maxim “the use of the proper”; the territory where the (modal) ontology will be measured. However, esoterically Agamben’s incorporation of the German poet suggest a ‘way out’ from the tragic politicity of modernity. It might useful here to recall Schmitt’s annotation in Glossarium about what Hölderlin symbolized in the larger picture of modern German thought: “Youth without Goethe (Max Kommerell), that was for us since 1910 in concrete youth with Hölderlin, i.e. the transition from optimistic-ironic-neutralizing genius (genialismus) to pessimistic-active-tragic genialism (genialismus). But it remained within the genialistic framework, yes, deepened it into infinite depths. Norbert von Hellingrath is more important than Stefan George and Rilke.” (18.5. 1948) [1]. To overturn Hölderlin as the figure of the tragic caesura and witness to the crisis of “distance” in modernity is most definitely at stake here in order to avoid (subjective) conditions for something like an Enlightenment renewal. More broadly, it could be productive to think of Hölderlin as the poetic site that grants Agamben a possibility of thinking the event beyond the dependency of messianism and history, now displaced by the relation between language and world. 

a) As early as in Stanzas (1977) Agamben writes about Hölderlin: “The name of Hölderlin – of a poet, that is, for whom poetry was above all problematic and whom often hoped that it could be raised to the level of the mēchane (mechanical instrumental) of the ancients so that its procedures could be calculate and taught – and the dialogue that with its utterance engages a thinker who no longer designs his own mediation with the name of “philosophy”, are invoked here to witness the urgency, for our culture, of rediscovering the unity of our own fragmented word” (xvii) [2]. Hölderlin occupies here the site of antiphilosophy, in which the event of language does not longer coincide with a structure of the subject, but of the potentiality of “saying”; a sayability in which fragmentation removes any commanding closure of language. The event of appearing and bring to conclusion (in the book on Paul, Agamben will associate it with the rhetorical figure of the enjambment in the poem) gains primacy over formalization. 

b) In another early book, L’uomo senza contenuto (1994) Agamben takes up the question of fragmentation of language in Hölderlin but this time provides a specific category: rhythm. On the chapter about the original structure of the work of art he writes: “Everything is rhythm, the entire destiny of man is one heavenly rhythm, must as every work of art is one rhythm, and everything swings from the poetizing lips of the god”. This statement was passed down to us by Hölderlin’s own hand. […]. What Hölderlin’s sentence says appears at first blush too obscure and general to tempt us to take into consideration in a philosophy query on the work of art. However, if we want to submit to its proper meaning, that is, if we want, in order to corrupt to it, to make it first of all into a problem for us, then the question that immediately arises is: what is rhythm, which Hölderlin attributes to the work of art as it original characteristic?” (94) [3]. So, the category of rhythm “holds men” epochally as a form of incommensurable distance with the world, which Agamben relates to an-archic original structure of dwelling. For Agamben this step-back to the “original site” vis-à-vis rhythm releases “art” as poesis from a productivist “destiny”. So, it would be obvious to say that rhythm, insofar it abolishes the production, it also thematizes the ethical life as the form of life (which is why Agamben also attaches Hölderlin as a counter-figure of the notion of “vocation”) [4]. There is no form of life without rhythm in nearness to the common ground. 

c) In Autoritratto nello studio (2017), Agamben glosses (a) and (b), that is, he recognizes the importance of Von Hellingrath reconstruction of the late Hölderlin of the Pindaric translations and the fragmentary syntax, but now situates him at the center of modernity. Agamben writes: “Walser noted, as Hölderlin before him, that the world had become simply unhabitable. And there was not even the possibility of amending it…I am convinced that Hölderlin in his last thirty years of this life was not unhappy, as some professors of literature tend to describe him. On the contrary, Hölderlin was able to dream at his house without worrying about duties. The Tubingen tower and the clinic of Herisau: these are two places that we should never cease to reflect upon. What took place behind these walls – the rejection of reason by these two poets [Walser and Hölderlin] – is the most powerful rejection against our civilization” (140-141) [5]. So here Hölderlin, like Walser, is an epochal gestalt capable of generating the separation between thinking and doing, world and experience, which became totalized in the legitimacy of the modern. What could be interpreted as ‘domestic interiority’ for the poet becomes a symptom of a radical form of dwelling at the end of reason subsumed by nihilism.

d) Finally, in a recent essay published this year entitled “Hölderlins antitragische Wendung”, Agamben goes a step further to qualify Hölderlin’s breakthrough, taking radical distance from his relation to the tragic and identifying him as a poet that must be read in a comic register. This is all the more surprising given that, as Agamben himself notes, there is almost no mention of comedy in Hölderlin’s prose, except in the review of Siegfried Schmid’s play The Heroine. And although it is true one could argue that Hölderlin undertook a destruction of the tragic poet in The death of Empedocles, as far as I am aware there has been no interpretation of Hölderlin as opening to the “comedy of life”, except for a brief mention, almost in passing, about his laughter by the Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto [6]. Agamben concludes his essay suggesting that: “With this concept of “ordinary life” I should like to conclude my reflections, at least for the time being. Isn’t it precisely this ordinary life, what in the thirty-six years in the tower, Hölderlin’s life and poetry – or his “poetry” – have persistently sought to carry it out in an exemplary and funny way? And isn’t “ordinary” life the same as the “living” life (to live according to habitus and habits), which is distant and perfect in the last tower poems: When people go into the distance, living life …?” In any case, if Hegel defines the idyll as “the half descriptive, half lyrical poems […] and mainly nature, the seasons, etc., the subject matter”; then the tower poems – this extreme, incomparable poetic legacy of the West – are an idyll of the genre” (40) [7]. And here Hölderlin appears not just as another figure in “the age of the poets” (and the genialismus‘ commanding force), but rather as the moment in which the problem of life opens to its inoperosità. The unity of humanity now navigates the fragmented reality not through the subject, but rather through the singular form of life. Comedy, then, in the idyll genre in which life is freed from both desire and liberty.

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Notes 

1. Carl Schmitt. Glossarium: Aufzeichnungen aus den Jahren 1947 bis 1958 (Duncker & Humblot, 2015). 114.

2. Giorgio Agamben. Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1993).  

3. Giorgio Agamben. The Man without Content (Stanford U Press, 1999). 

4. Giorgio Agamben. “Vocazione e voce”, in La potenza del pensiero (Neri Pozza, 2005). 77-89.

5. Giorgio Agamben. Autoritratto nello studio (nottetempo, 2017). 

6. Andrea Zanzotto. “Con Hölderlin, una leggenda”, in Friedrich Hölderlin: Tutte le liriche (Mondadori, 2001). i-xxiv.

7. Giorgio Agamben. “Hölderlins antitragische Wendung”, Studi Germanici, 17, 2020. 27-40.

A few remarks about Giorgio Agamben’s theory of civil war. by Gerardo Muñoz

In the conference “The Undercommons & Destituent Power”, I was particularly interested in a suggestion made by Idris Robinson regarding the status of the theory of civil war in Giorgio Agamben’s work. I think Robinson’s position on this problem pushes thought forward, and it allows me say a little more about a possible transfiguration of politics, a sort of unsaid in many of the recent discussions. There are at least two levels that I would like to address: the first one is philological, and the second one is more speculative. The moment that I want to dwell upon specifically is when Robinson claimed that Giorgio Agamben at some point abandoned the question of “civil war”. Robinson is right. There is no mention about civil war, insurrectional politics, or even forms of direct political strategy in the endgame of L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014). Indeed, in this book it is as if the “concrete political” horizon is transformed by recasting a modal ontology, a theory of use, and an archeology of “form of life”. My hypothesis, however, is that the logistics of civil war never fully disappear, since it is explored through other regional quadrants of the tradition. In other words, one should understand civil war as fold within the signatura of potentiality. This is an important point of departure since, early in Homo Sacer, we thought that the vortex of the project was going to be the critique of sovereignty; but, on the contrary, it ended up being an archeology of the notion of potentiality. Thus, in a way, civil war is to war what potentiality (dunamis) is to actuality (energeia). 

But the question of civil war never truly disappears. In a new gloss included in the Italian “integral edition” (Quodlibet, 2018) entitled “Nota sulla guerra, il gioco, e il nemico”, Agamben thematizes the concept of war in a way that sheds light to the problem of civil war. Agamben starts by pointing to the circularity of war and enmity in Schmitt’s theory of the political. For Schmitt – says Agamben – enmity “presupposes” [Voraussetzung] war, insofar as war is the condition for every enmity distinction [1]. Agamben continues to say that war and enmity converge in the same doctrine of the political: politics is always about war. However, the important metaphysical ingredient here is that war brings about a “serious” dimension to the political. So, state and politics, by means of seriousness (war), deters the influence of the “society of entertainment”, play, and the end of order. The legitimacy of war in Schmitt is weighted by a neo-Hobbesian maximization of “total war”. However, Agamben invites to take a step back. This is important, because at this point enters Johan Huizinga’s critique of Schmitt’s concept of the political, which reminds us war is constitutive of the ludic sphere that suspends all seriousness of politics rooted in enmity. So, it is war’s capacity to translate “political seriousness” what generates a politics of sacrifice proper to bare life. 

Unlike war, civil war would be a “zone of indetermination” (an event of human separation) that is more at home in play than in political action. Civil war is, each and every time, irreducible to war as the central conflict of human existence, since it stands for the free-playing interactions between forms of life as they come into inclination and divergence without ever being domesticated to a regulatory war. I take this also to be consistent with Agamben’s theory of comedy as an unthought site of Western metaphysics, which works against the tragic (constitutive to destiny), but also against war (constitutive of the political). This stasiological theory insofar as it expresses the movement of potentiality, it’s also an exodus from desire. This is why for Agamben the figure (gestalt) of the “coming politics” or a transfigured politics, is not the militant but a sort of puppet, as he writes in his book the character of Pulcinella. The comic texture of form of life leaves the epoch of tragic titanism behind. It is now expression or style what colors the outside to a politics of desire, which is always substantiated on a lack. Pulcinella does not desire anything, but only “seeks a way out”. The civil war, then, is the moment in which the comic destitutes the fiction of the subject into a form of life. This is why, as Julien Coupat has recently argued, that the role of the police is to watch and intervene at the moment when the game of civil war breaks out. The taskforce of the police become the exercise of the flattening of civil war into the grammar of war that regulates the very functioning of social order [2].

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Notes

1. Giorgio Agamben. “Nota sulla guerra, il gioco e il nemico”, in Homo Sacer: Edizione Integrale (Quodlibet, 2018). 296-310.

2. Julien Coupat. “Engrenages, fiction policière”, in Police (La Fabrique, 2020). 

Five hypotheses on Reiner Schürmann’s anarchy. (Gerardo Muñoz)

It was pitch black at Bryan’s Revolution Café and Bar, a smoky fire behind us, when Sergio Villalobos claimed that more vital than becoming “experts”, what really mattered was to produce an encounter that permitted us to leave our “skins behind”. In a similar vein, I added, that lizards too lose their skin in the desert. Lizards in the desert: that seems to be the right image to describe what was indeed a productive and worthwhile, and much needed conference on Reiner Schürmann’s oeuvre.

The purpose of the workshop, if any at all, was far from wanting to establish a consensual theoretical frame on “Schürmann” as yet another proper name within the marketplace of ideas. Rather, it seems to me that at the center of our debates, to paraphrase Schürmann himself, was a “nocturnal knowledge” of sorts, a constellation that produced moments of encounter and releasement; a thinking on the basis of the epochal structuration of the history of being and the exhaustion of principial thought.

What remains of interest in Schürmann’s thought is the potential to make thinkable the relation between hegemonic phantasmatic maximization, principial articulation, and the question of finitude (what he calls the tragic denial in his monumental and posthumous Broken Hegemonies). If anything, Schürmann contributes, as noted by Alberto Moreiras’ introductory remarks, to the archive of infrapolitical thought in a line of reflection folded within the contemporary university discourse and the consummated politicity of globalized machination [1]. To be sure, to “become lizards” is very different from “becoming Schürmanians”. The first thrives for releasement of tragic denial, and posit in the singularization to come in what it can no longer be reduced to the will, which is also the predicament at stake in thinking by and through principles. The second is the professional philosopher committed to the accumulation of knowledge, and by consequence, to the denial of the singular in the name of the duties of imposed on life. There is no normative judgment in making this distinction, but rather it is a matter of a tonality, and of establishing differences. One needs not “sacrifice” the epistemological grounds that demand the first in appropriative gestures of the second.

“Nocturnal knowledge” signals a drift of thought that is not longer bounded by the location drawn by heritage, proper name, archive, expertise, or even ethical relation. Yet all of these remain of importance, even if not exhausting the possibility of thinking otherwise beyond the masters and the articulation of “being in debt” as a structural position or intellectual commitment. It is futile to reconstruct a debate whose consequences and “effects” are always beyond our reach. What I would like to do in the remainder of this note, is to sketch out a hasty catalogue of “five hypothesis” – by no means the only hypotheses discussed during the rich two days of discussions at Texas A&M – that will inscribe, at least for me, a path of further investigation and writing to come in line with the project of infrapolitics.

  1. The “epochal” hypothesis. Schürmann’s breakthrough philosophical project is without question the monumental Broken Hegemonies. Surpassing a telic drive of Heidegger: Being and acting, BH installs the topology of the history of being as a heterochronic montage that, as powerfully argued by Stefano Franchi, “rewinds” or unwrites to a certain extent Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Deremption against the synthetic offers parameters to think the differend of naturality and mortality in a strictly non-dialectical movement, but still a politically significant one. For my purposes, what is at stake here, besides the ruin of any philosophy of history, is the translation of the legitimacy-legality differend that opens another way of thinking the legal and legitimate grounding of the categories of modern political thought. Epochality and epochs establish a reversal of the metaphoricity of history, contributing to the historicity of being that radically retreats from the “poem” of development. The nexus between epochality and the end of principial thought (or anarchy in the face of globalization) is a daunting question that remained open in much of our own reflection on Schürmann. Villalobos-Ruminott picked up the subtle but open Schürmann critique of the “deconstructive text” at the beginning of BH as to go into the “thicket of the text” (BH, 15). But if this is a crucial task, is not the task of deconstruction precisely the drifting beyond the “hegemonic maximization” towards those spaces that remain contaminated by the labor of minimization and transgression? The very legislative differend Derrida-Schürmann remains a fertile space for problematization. In other words: how can we think the postulate of the post-hegemonic ultimate from BH last pages with the deconstructive differànce?
  1. The Democracy hypothesis. It is not obvious in any case how Schürmann himself situates the problem of “Democracy” at the intersection between the end of principial thought and the maximization of legislative-transgressive norms. If infrapolitical reflection is also a question about the potential of democracy, then it remains to be thought how Schürmann’s work contribute to this task beyond the limitations of the political that structure Arendt’s work (which seems to be the modern thinker that best informs Schürmann’s thought on democracy). Guillermo Ureña’s transversal take on Schürmann and Marzoa’s Concepto de lo civil, indicates a point of departure in light of singularization to come as it faces its tragic destiny. The question of democracy gains space of its own if it could radically differentiate itself from the maximization of community, which binds the maximum phantasm of hegemonic politics in light of natality and the denial of the tragic. If we take Arendt to be a thinker that establishes an antinomy between the oikos and the polis, it is easy to sidestep the question of stasis or civil war as always already fantasmatic constitutive of any demos articulated between these two poles, as well as any promise of “democracy” regulated by the category of the citizen [2]. In light of our current “global war”, however we understand it, is difficult to affirm democracy without taking into consideration the facticity of neoliberalism. This was the relevant point made by both Charles Hatfield and Patrick Dove on the “life without why” as replicating or even coinciding with the nihilist condition of transnational accumulation at the “end of history” ideologies.
  1. The “life” hypothesis. Alberto Moreiras and Stefano Franchi’s noted in contrasting ways how BH necessarily opened to the question of “life”. The radical opening towards the tragic denial recoils back to this problem where another relation of experience (passion) must be thought. If for Franchi the tragic opens back to natality and even to the comic; in Moreiras’ grammar it is a matter of affirming the existential analytic where something like an “infrapolitical breakthrough” could possibly take place [3]. Let’s call this instance infrapolitical dwelling or breakthrough. In terms of the “possible”, and what is meant by the possibility of that which remains impossible, Ronald Mendoza reminded us that it is a task to be pursued on the threshold of Heidegger’s rendition of possibility in Being and Time. This is no mere exegetical task, since what is at stake here is nothing other than the confrontation with the economies of reading and thinking through Aristotle’s Metaphysics, reconsidering the relation between dunamis and energeia. It is in this direction or turning towards the possibility where something other than a biopolitical closure. Releasement towards the tragic destiny is only evoked to reopen the question of life beyond the antinomies that organized logics of causation and distributive ontologies that, in the words of Agamben in Lo aperto, have only fueled the anthropological machine of the West that divides the animal and the human.
  1. The “text” hypothesis. It would be unfair to treat Schürmann’s architectonics of the topology of being as sidestepping the question of narrativity and the literary text in general. What are myths if not a textual machine, as understood by Jesi, which plays on the organization as well as excesses of each economic phantasm? Nevertheless, much work needs to be done to wrench Schürmann’s topological arrangement of the history of being in relation to the function of literature. It is at this intersection where Dorfsman’s meditation on the poetics dwelled, as well as perhaps the figure of the marrano strategically analyzed by Humberto Nuñez. Literature has all to do with a textual economy that is the excess of hegemonic maximization, and that for this reason is difficult to locate on a single plane of ordering and commandment of language. But what becomes clear is that through Schürmann a tropology opens with fundamental consequences for grapping with “life”: this is the “fool” as suggested by Franchi, Don Quixote’s wandering joy through La Mancha alluded by Teresa Vilarós, or Moreiras’ pícaro. I would also suggest Dante’s Divina Comedia, where mundane life seem to mark the passage from the hegemonic Latin phantasm of natura to the sovereignty of the modern passive epochality [2].
  1. The Luther hypothesis. It seems to me that the only major figure that throws off a shadow at the grand epochs of the topology of being is that of Martin Luther. It is a risk that Schürmann takes, but that allows him to read the modern tradition of the subject against the grain of Descartes’ cogito, Kant’s autonomous subject, or Spinoza’s Deus sive natura. Luther stands out in BH as an outsider that fundamentally returns to inflict the totality of the modern structuration. It is through Luther that we are confronted negatively with a possibility of the de-basement of the subject, emptying the signifier of “God” that connects with the releasement and play in his analysis of Eckhart’s sermons. Jaime Rodriguez Matos rightfully noted that the arguments on the existence of God, far from being the central problem, function as a pretext for an underlying problem consistent with the ruination of the subject. And what has been modern politicity if not hyperbolic to the condition of subjectivity? The figure of Luther for Schürmann signals passive transcendentalism and the opening towards heteronomy, which must be understood in light of the subject of command through duty and debt. It is here where Sam Steinberg’s reflection on the Mexican modern politicity as a history of debt resonates with the modernizing paradigm in Luther. The militant figure of Worms offers another paradigm to understand the epochality of secularization, and reassess Schmitt’s well-known “occasional decisionism” (Löwith) in differential positioning with the passivity of the vocation. It is also through Luther that Hegelianism becomes an epochal possibility (impossible?) for the narrativization of the history of the West. Luther also signals the problem of returns not only in the modern epoch, but also as Jose Valero argued in his own terms, in relation to the arche of metaphysics and repetition. How does tradition gets transmitted and repeated? In slightly different terms, Michela Russo’s problematization of heritage also speaks beyond the metanarrative task imposed by Schürmann’s “archive”, situating the archive as command and origin of a form of doing history of philosophy; even if it is aprincipial history that questions the very antinomy of progression / containment.

As Hispanists or Latinamericanists working in the contemporary university, one must renounce the burden that implies carrying forth or reproducing Schürmann’s legacy as a question of fidelity, preservation, or even detachment. The history of the topology of being, argued Moreiras, seems at moments even more complex than the one offered by Heidegger himself. This much is needed. Metaphysics will neither be abolished nor put to a standstill with Schürmann’s injunction in the theoretical scene. For my purposes, a possible turning would always be a-locational, and for that very same nature, incalculable. In lesser words, this would imply the suspension of the very ground that feeds into our beliefs.

 

 

 

Notes

  1. Alberto Moreiras. “Preliminary remarks on Infrapolitical anarchy: the work of Reiner Schürmann. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/preliminary-remarks-for-no-peace-beyond-the-line-on-infrapolitical-an-archy-the-work-of-reiner-schurmann-a-workshop-january-11-12-2016-texas-am-by-alberto-moreiras/
  1. Giorgio Agamben. Stasis: civil war as a political paradigm. Stanford University Press, 2015.
  1. Eric Auerbach. Dante: poet of the secular world. University of Chicago Press, 1961.