Clandestine life in the open. by Gerardo Muñoz

In the very last article that Maurice Blanchot wrote for the collective publication Comité in the wake of May 68, he draws a scenario that is still very much with us in the present. The “realism” is almost outstanding when Blanchot writes the following: “…from now on I will hold onto an exigency: to become fully conscious that we at the end of history, so that most of our inherited notions, beginning with the from the revolutionary tradition, must be reexamined and, as such, refuted. Let us put everything into question, including your own certainties and verbal hopes. The revolution is behind us: it is already an object of consumption, and occasionally, of enjoyment.” [1]. There was no question that the crisis of the very foundation of modern political thought has collapsed, including, as it couldn’t be otherwise, the generative principle of revolution. Blanchot did not even attempt to convince himself that the revolution could be brought back in an astronomical sense to revitalize a naturalism previous to Rousseau’s social contract.

So, for Blanchot the revolution was over, and yet, whatever it was that followed had no name. What was left, then? In order to avoid paralysis, Blanchot toyed during those months at the Comité (September-December 1968) with two possible maneuvers. The first position resided in what he called the “movement of possible speech” in order to establish an ardent and rigorous relation between the sequence of the French May and the Czech May, Soviet domination and Gaullian State. Blanchot called for (in the spirit of Bataille) a “transgressive speech”: “the impetus of outrageous, ways speaking beyond, spilling over, and thus threatening everything that contains and has limits” [2]. But we know that transgression is still within the logistics of the administration of order and temporal containment of the regulated exception. This was, in fact, the very rupture of the revolutionary break that was in crisis.

But Blanchot was up to something along with his friend Dionys Mascolo in thinking through language and communication as a path towards the outside. Hence the second option, which is really a third option (after the sleepwalking of ideological revolutionary ‘racketing’ of voluntarism); mainly, what he calls, although does not get to tease it out, the “clandestine resistance in the open”. Blanchot only tells us what he is thinking about through a recent example: some members of the Czech resistance when law was suspended had to confront the raw enemy military power, but they also experienced a freedom “through words and through writing than ever before”, tells us Blanchot. But this still does not explain much, given that if there is a naked military power threatening us, how could something like a clandestine form of life take place in the open? And at what risk?

I think one way to read this incorrectly or insufficiently would be to think of Blanchot’s suggestions as a sort of martyrdom or self-immolation. But it is no less true that Blanchot wanted to avoid a sort of Batallian “inner experience” or monastic xeniteia. Thus, he “refused” the fiction of self-clandestine life as sponsored by the Situationists; while, at the same time, also rejecting subjective revolutionary militancy. A third way emerges: the clandestine life into presence by way of friendship. A new “estilo de vida”, which I think could be read in the way that cryptojews and averroists lived in early Modern Spain: “a modo de sociedades secretas o semi-clandestinas, deben haber concebido la filosofía como un estilo de vida para sus iniciados…” [3]. Unlike the bogus image of the secret society as an alienated community of knuckleheads, I think what emerges in the clandestine open region is a form of shared friendship that does not retreat from the world, but rather that is capable of living in it. This was most definitely the transformative practice that during these years, Dionys Mascolo, dared to call the communism of thought that for him belonged to Hölderlin rather than to Marx. If open conspiracy is an act of the sharing and participating in language without meaning or command dependence, then this is already a poetic practice. After all, for Hölderlin the poets reveal an originary loss from nature. It is no surprise that Hölderlin favors a world opening even after the destruction of the leader-figure of the poet (Empedocles).

So, there is only clandestine life in the open when the sharing of language among friends take place (an event). This use of language is always harboring on the threshold of the last word to come. In short, the clandestine form of life has nothing oblique with respect to the world – it is not necessarily the space of an infinite night of contemplation, and it is also indifferent about fugitivity – it demands a return to appearance by way of experience. This might explain what Gilles Deleuze tells Dionys Mascolo at the end of their correspondence about friendship and thought: “it is a question of what we call and experience as philosophy” [4]. This form of experiential thought against the dissatisfaction of political domestication points a way out. For Blanchot this was a “fragmentary, lengthy, and instantaneous” path; a conspiratio unlocked by philia.

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Notes

1. Maurice Blanchot. “On the Movement”, in Political Writings 1953-1993 (Fordham University Press, 2010), 106.

2. Maurice Blanchot. “Clandestine resistance in the open”, in Political Writings 1953-1993 (Fordham University Press, 2010), 106.

3. Francisco Márquez Villanueva. “El caso del averroísmo popular español”, in Cinco Siglos de La Celestina: aportaciones interpretativas (1997), 121-134.

4. Gilles Deleuze. “Correspondence with Dionys Mascolo”, in Two Regimes of Madness (Semiotexte, 2007), 332-338.

Four Theses on the Mujercitos Collective. Notes for a brief gallery talk, March 2021. by Gerardo Muñoz

1. Youth and persuasion. The originality and force of the Mujercitos Collective emerging from Cuba (2019 –) I think it feeds from a specific vortex: the youth. I will say this as an anecdote: at the beginning of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to exchange with the great Jacques Camatte (former founder of the PCI and early critic of the exhaustion of the revolutionary horizon and the Marxist praxis), and at the time he suggested something quite beautiful: mainly, that if the youth is continuously assaulted today it is because its texture lodges a vital process of inversion that puts pressure to the world of domestication (the absolutization of commodity form as an ongoing anthropological process). In this sense, the energy of the youth is always a counter-adult making of the world. When I found and I began exchanging with the Mujercitos Collective, I think that they had the same intuition: a desire to provide the youth with a “space in order to foment our discontent, because only the youth want liberation”, as Claudia Patricia, the designer of the collective told me. In a country (but it is also our epoch) of revolutionary stagnation, this is a tremendous insight, since liberation is no longer posited as a craft of History, but rather as a form of life. While the youth have world, the adult is the general process of socialization and political order. So, if the world of the youth is that of persuasion, that of the adult is guided by rhetoric. This means that if the youth can persuade with its body and movement; the rhetorical logos is a mere moral application of “duty” (this is how you should behave, act, accomplish this or that, become a self-commanded influencer, etc.). As Carlo Michelstaeader understood it a century ago, it is only in persuasion where one can relax the world of rhetorical closure (intention and signification and predication) in order to find a way out into the world. This is the gesture that traverses the Mujercitos visual and artistic constellation. 

2. Iconicity. Secondly, one of the ways in which I have tried to think what takes place in Mujercitos is by reflecting on what gets transmitted. Obviously, there is here something that I would like to call a “negative pedagogy”, in which experience thematizes a process of unlearning (this is a feature of the ongoing process against domestication of the Subject) of the elements that frame reality in a specific way while incarcerating other possibilities. In this sense, unlearning is the way in which one takes a step back from any attempt at “normalization of relations” within the Social. Now this disavowal of normalization necessarily multiplies conflictivity; mainly, conflict between images and modes of being. In Mujercitos Collective there is one specific tool to mobilize this momentum: the power of iconicity against the grammar and rhetoric of the Social. This is why the facture of design becomes important for the project; since iconicity becomes the suspension of the rhetorical construction of the adult world without recurring either morality, politics, or even “social imaginaries” (which is artistic extraction from the wells of History). Although Mujercitos has been labeled “virulent” or “sardonic”, there is no such a thing if analyzed at the level of the iconic practice, given that the icon is a way to explore the affective and medial dimension of the “thing”. This, in turn, radically suspends the fiction (and the –res, the original juridical form of “thing” in law). In this apparent simple iconicity, the preparation of a transfiguration and a new violence takes over reality. This profane iconicity is the poetic vanishing point of Mujercitos’ designs.

3. Countercommunity. Thirdly, Mujercitos offers a third way out a debate that we have inherited from the forms of political modernity: individualism and community. One does not need to remind anyone that the notion of “community” today enjoys a very good reputation; at times it seems that anyone who says “community” is already participating in a public liturgy that can pass uncontested. But what is community? Or, to put it in another way: can community as a form of socialization truly exhaust life and its encounters? For instance, does not every community produce exclusion as necessarily and permanent for its own thetic separation? In any case, as a friend would say, there are no communities but processes of communization. And where there is a community of wills and aggregated subjects, then there is a primacy of a substance that hinges upon obedience, normative legislation, and ultimately obligatory communion. Mujercitos Collective does not speak in the name of a community nor of unity, but rather it stands a counter-community without future (this is the Punk dimension to the project), that knows how to dwell in the desert of the present, because it knows that it is here where the true kingdom of friendship can happen and repeat itself in a double-time. If the community offers salvation in history; the counter-community offers no false promises, since it is only interested in modes of experimentation with the fragments of the world.

4. Totality is a ruse. I think I will end these brief notes quoting something Claudia Patricia told that, to my knowledge, best encompasses this visual-collective project: “The only thing we know is that today to play with totality is a ruse” (“El juego a la totalidad es la trampa de este mileneo”). There is a lot to unpack here, but I would just say without reading too much into it that the problem is how the sense of play becomes exhausted every time that there is a fiction of totalization. This is obviously a reference to the world of order and morality of adult symbolization. Now, a false exit is to cancel “play” in order to take a distance away from total morality. But, a more beautiful strategy is to liberate play at the level of our experiences and the materials and tonalities affecting life. To put play at the center of what takes place in life is, in turn, the most serious task of a a new ethics at the threshold of our epoch. 

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*Image: ArtCover by Claudia Patricia, February 19, 2021, Mujercitos Magazine.