Glosses on Rodrigo Karmy’s Averroes and Italian theory. by Gerardo Muñoz

These are just a few notes on Rodrigo Karmy’s excellent presentation today on Averroes and averroism in Italy in the framework of a two-month course that I am teaching at 17 instituto on contemporary Italian political thought. And this series is a way to supplement and contribute to an ongoing discussion. So, these notes have no pretensions of being exhaustive, but rather to leave in writing some instances that could foster the discussion further in the subsequent interventions with Philippe Theophanidis, Francesco Guercio and Idris Robinson. There are two subtexts to this presentation: Rodrigo Karmy’s essay on Averroes and medieval theology of the person published in the new collection Averroes intempestivo (Doblea editores, 2022), and his preface to my own Tras la política on Italian thinkers forthcoming at some point this year (this text is unpublished at the moment).

1. Rodrigo Karmy is interested in advancing an averroist genealogy of Italian theory, and not just a matter of historical influence or history of ideas. The genealogical central unity for Karmy is the “commentary”, which I guess one could relate to the gloss, but also to philology (in the broad sense), and to the concrete practice of translation and incorporation of a way of thinking about life and the life of thought. Averroes is the signatura of a strong reading of Aristotle (the strongest argues Karmy against Renan). However, there is no academic ideal here, but rather a force of thought.

2. This force of thinking for Karmy is to be found in Averroes’ unique contribute on the Aristotelean text: the common intellect is substance. This will have important and decisive consequences for anthropology and the anthropological determination in Medieval philosophy (the absolutization of the person in Thomism, for instance). So, for Karmy it is no coincidence that Italian theory is heavily invested in the “common intellect”: from Mario Tronti’s elaboration on the autonomy of the worker to Antonio Negri’s general intellect when conflating Marx and Spinoza, but also in Esposito’s thought on the impolitical up to Giorgio Agamben’s self-serving averroism and its relation to experience of language and poetry as a form of life. The common intellect in Averroes allows, then, the separation of the the nominal subject from the genus of Man or Human. For Karmy this signals a fracture of the theological-political paradigm.

3. Why does Averroes emerge in Italian theory, and not, say, in French philosophy or German hermeneutics? Karmy relates this to the Italian tradition as a laboratory of translation, sedimentation, and the commentary. To which I responded that this is consistent with Bodei’s emphasis on fragmentation of the Italian tradition, Esposito’s idea of contamination of Italian living thought, and even Agmben’s most recent emphasis of diglossia and bilingualism in the Italian language from Dante onwards (in fact, Agamben is the editor of the Ardilut series on Italian poetry at Quodlibet). I tried to add to Karmy’s thesis the following: the notion of the “commentary” is far from being just a standard glossing over the corpus of an author, it could be very well taken as a sort of problem of language – a poetics, not a politics – which expresses a dynamic of the living that is prior to grammaticalization and political separation of power, for instance. This is the event of a language as such (una voce). It occurs to me that Karmy’s notion of the commentary could be analogous to the vocative in poetry (formidable present in Andrea Zanzotto’s poetics, for instance).

4. Finally, Karmy insisted that Averroes is, indeed, a sort of step back from the modern foundation of politics and the res publica. I suggested that this must entail a decisive step back from Machiavellian politics, or the ‘Machiavellian moment’ (JGA Pocock), insofar as Machiavelli inaugurates the sequence of technical nihilism from the force the political to the force of the worker (ways of arranging the administration of power). This is very neatly stated in Martin Heidegger’s seminar on Jünger’s The Worker. So, Averroes insofar as it gestures to a step back is something other than political republicanism, and this forces us to rethink the genealogy of politics. That seems a heavy but important task at the core of contemporary Italian theory.

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.





  1. Alberto Moreiras. “Preliminary remarks on Infrapolitical anarchy: the work of Reiner Schürmann.
  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.