Nietzsche in Italy (Pushkin Press, 2023) by Guy de Pourtalès, originally published in 1929, has a particular texture that makes it inadequate to consider it a standard intellectual biography. Pourtalès does not follow the contours of the psychological and chronological construction; rather he is more interested in sketching out the telluric effects on the transformative tonality in the thinker’s soul. Nietzsche’s radiant affinity to Italy and “latinity” has been well known, and at stake there is the possibility of finding an exit from the grandiose enactments of the German romantic gestalt. For Pourtalès, “latinity” is the prescription that Nietzsche writes out for himself in order to maintain sanity in the world; and, ultimately, to find its own destiny and path in the face of modern nihilism. Sure thing, Italy is many things for Nietzsche: it is the zenith of his poetic relationship with the Wagners but also their farewell in Sorrento; it is Venetian music and pleasant weather; it is the open and physical form of a possible community of the Free Spirits and artistic expressivity. And Italy is also a refuge from brewing culture of force in the North through the Renaissance uomini singulari where music persists, as he writes to his friend Peter Gast: “Life without music is imply a mistake, enfeeblement, an exile” (94). Pourtalès narrative collage (the different vignettes of Nietzsche’s visits and residencies in the Italian geography) detects the philosopher’s fundamental existential homecoming: a melody of the soul in a world increasingly organized through the chaos as the essence of force. To be attuned to the melody of the soul becomes the task of the artist: “to hear and see beyond the vast “lost time” of humanity what others no longer hear or see, but just unwittingly hum as a tune, vague and wordless”, writes Pourtalès (41).
And if music is an aesthetic form of prophecy, Pourtalès’ sheds light on Nietzsche’s insistence to become a prophet of the age of nihilism: wrestling with the poignant homelessness in the human world of a postmythical age. Pourtalès insists that the “Italian experience” opens up for Nietzsche multiple possibilities to confront the Wagnerian solution through the concretion of the forced and unhealthy (these are Pourtalès’ terms) aesthetic formalization of the mythic redemption. The Nietzschean attempt (the beloved and unresolved versuch) is the final confrontation of “music versus music”, since “all philosophy is a series of events of the soul and finds its symbol only in music” (49) explains Pourtalès. This is what Italy seems to be providing Nietzsche with: the withdrawal from the intoxication of the “Wagnerian flame without being consumed by it” (66). This entails an acceptance to pain without instrumentalizing the rewards provided by the genial artistic form of the Gesamtkunstwerk and the enslaving commandments of Christianity. Wagner and Christianity now stand in the way of the path of destiny without paying dues to mimetic investments. This is Nietzche’s last battle, and thanks to Pourtalès we realize that Italy becomes the battleground for an ultimate detachment. But is it successful? Is Nietzsche as the artistic genialismus prophet able to accomplish the radical abandonment?
This is the resolute ambiguity in Nietzche’s proximity and distance from the Italian tonality. Indeed, Nietzsche seems never to have abandoned the rhetoric of the genialismus. Pourtalès quotes him: “Italian genius is by far the one which makes the freest and most subtle use of what it has borrowed…..and is thus the richest genius, the one with the most to give” (89). At times Nietzsche’s words about Italians or latinity is a metonymic for Christianity, his ultimate confrontation after Wagner, because to overcome Christianity implies to embrace the melody of life. This is why for Nietzsche Jesus is a higher form of life, whose kingdom is, according to Pourtalès (resonating here with the late work of Von Balthasar), “that of children, his faith is without rancor and without reprimand; it lives, it is itself its own miracle and reward” (100). The transfiguration of Christianity becomes a path to arrive at the very attunement of life itself, although this requires understanding love so that the “Kingdom of heaven becomes a state of the heart” (100). This nomos of the heart is Nietzsche’s ultimate and impossible search; perhaps one that does not truly find the path to a proper homecoming.
Was it due to Nietzsche’s failed efforts at finding the melody of the soul in his ruthless, cuerpo a cuerpo (“Dionysius against The Crucified”), struggle against Christianity? Were the terms of the prophetic transfiguration a mere illusion of guidance and redemptive incarnation? To put it in Cowper Powys’ lucid observation: “If Nietzsche had not been obsessed by Christianity he would have thought of Life before Christ came”. Pourtalès does provide us with another hypothesis: “Perhaps amongst the last things he [Nietzsche] understood was the profound speech of this piano, of this fiend, whose inner music he had always been the only one to hear. But no thought, no word emerged from this ruinate soul. Nietzsche expired, walled up his silence” (110-111). In Pourtalès’ interpretation, Nietzche’s lacked the central aspiration of melody of the soul: “knowing how to love”, which is obviously the unlearned lesson from the Italian landscape and the world of visuality. The fact that Nietzsche had no patience for painting according to Pourtalès says a lot regarding his incapability for an erotic mediation to escape spiraling towards madness in a desperate effort for completion. I am not saying that painting could have saved Nietzsche; but, as the last active metaphysical activity in modern nihilism (Kurt Badt), pictorial persistence is the ultimate exercise to hold on to the world from the point of view of one’s daimon. Pictorial persistence clears the illusionary strife over concepts of the tradition. Pourtalès’s Nietzsche in Italy (2023), even if only obliquely, is as lucid of a portrait as we might get in order to raise this question in a serious fashion.
Towards the end of his life, poet José Lezama Lima will mysteriously begin to sign the letters to his friends and family as “the Trocadero Etruscan”, a “member of the Etruscan religiosity”, and even the “man who lives in the Etruscan village” . Why call himself an “Etruscan” in this particular moment of his life, and what could it possibly mean? The question about the meaning of the Etruscan authorial mask has been so thoroughly ignored by the literary critics that commentators at their best have noted that “being Etruscan” merely stands for his “cosmopolitanism” and “well-learned Europeanism”. Of course, this explains little to nothing. A sophisticated poet such as Lezama Lima, who ruminate over every single word he would write, could not have ignored that the Etruscans, unlike the civilized Romans and the Latin authorities, was a remnant to the very civilizational enterprise; a prehistoric people poor in written culture, achieved expressivity by the whole outlook of their form of life. And as in the case of Hölderlin’s adoption of different nom de plume (Scardanelli, Killalusimeno, Scaliger Rosa, etc), Lezama’s becoming Etruscan points to something so fundamental that if underscored we would fail to grasp the endgame of his vital poetic experience. The transfiguration of the name does not merely stand as a metaphor; rather it points to a distant figure that will finally dissolve him so that his immortal voice could continue to live on.
Indeed, the self-identification as an Etruscan for Lezama became a subterfuge to flee a political reality – his political reality, entirely structured by the revolutionary gigantic productivism and subjectivism – through a poetic refraction that would free an ethos from the overpowering of alienated autonomous space of the linguistic reproduction of social life. If at first glance it seems like a paradox that Lezama will adopt the Etruscan figure for his antisocial ethos – a civilization lacking written records or high literary achievements, a religious community known for its necropolis – this strangeness will ultimately prove that behind the Etruscan name there was no poetic exclusivity of the poet’s genius, but rather, as he claims in “A partir de la poesía”, the possibility for a divinization of reality to retreat from the historical epoch. In fact, Etruscan culture for Lezama was not a mere archeological ornament, but one of the “imaginary eras” of the West; that is, a stage of condensed and unnumbered imaginative possibilities resistant to griping subsumption and totalization of values. The Etruscan was the mythic remnant through the pantheistic divinization between language and the world. As Lezama writes glossing, in passing, Vico:
“Vico cree que las palabras sagradas, las sacerdotales, eran las que se transmitían entre los etruscos. Pero para nosotros el pueblo etrusco era esencialmente teocrático. Fue el más evidente caso de un pueblo surge en el misterio de las primeras inauguraciones del dios, el monarca, el sacerdote, y el pueblo unidos en forma indiferenciada … .les prestaba a cada una de sus experiencias o de sus gestos, la participación en un mundo sagrado. […] Pues en aquel pueblo, el nombre y la reminiscencia, animista de cada palabra, cobran un relieve de un solo perfil” .
The divinization of the Etruscans stubbornly insisted on the wonder of things. The human participation in divinity is no longer about founding a new theocracy or a “theocratic politics” in the hands of a ‘mystic accountant’ that would finally put the nation back in track (into the res publica), as Lezama would solicit out of desperation in the 1950s diaries . On the contrary, for Etruscan people the fundamental tonality was the divine music of experience. Of course, we know that D.H. Lawrence captured this when claiming in his Etruscan Places (1932) that “the Etruscans are not a theory or a thesis. If they are anything, they are an experience. An experience that is always spoilt” . And this experience (like every true experience) needs to be necessarily spoiled, which ultimately means that it cannot be mimetically rendered, arbitrarily modified, or subsumed into the order of idealization. But all of this is merely redundant, since the Etruscan inscription is what accounts for the limit to civilization, becoming the impossibility of the destruction of myth in the arrival of modern aesthetic autonomy. Thus, for Lezama the Etruscan way had something of a persistent cure against the ongoing civilizational disenchantment, even if it does not cease to appear in the modern attitude. In fact, Lezama writes that: “Rimbaud is the best reader of the Etruscan liver” (“hígrado etrusco”) to describe the dislocated position of the poet in the modern world of technology . In the Etruscan cosmology, the liver was a symbolon of the vision of the cosmos registering the divisions of the spheres in the sky through the divine naming of the gods; it is the figure by which the poet guards the desecularizing remnant of the prehistoric inception of myth . But this does not mean that Lezama will look at himself in the mirror of Rimbaud’s symbolist alchemy.
Rimbaud as an Etruscan is the poet who descends into hell because his lyricism can bear the pain in the disruption of language after the archaic peitho. Does the possibility mean a travel back in historical time? Not the least, as Lezama knew how to let go of storytelling and historical necessity. This is why Etruscans stand for an image or a sort of handwoven picture (the hand will make a comeback, as we will see) to gain vision. And this is one case on point: the Etruscan stands paradigmatically to the “sufficient enchantment” (“la cantidad hechizada”) , which discloses a higher knowledge of the soul (psychê) in the taking place of poetic errancy: “Sabemos que muchas veces el alma, al escaparse de su morada, tripulaba un caballo inquieto, afanoso de penetrar en las regiones solares” . To wrestle against the historical reduction of autonomy of the modern age means to find this enchanted sufficiency necessarily for myth remnant to elevate itself against the aesthetic mediation that, in the words of Gianni Carchia, had become a consoling surrogate of the emptied historical time . An entirely other conception of freedom is firmly implicated the Etruscan way: the gathering of the enchanted poetic dwelling to dissolve a reality that had become too thick in the business of brute force purporting to call ‘what’s out there’. The Etruscan reintroduces a divine nominalism of pure exteriority.
However, the Etruscan way does not commute with things of the world; rather, his soul unbinds the empirical limit of death to overcome death, and learn to live as if it were already dead. The trespassing of death through the poetic enchantment – which Lezama will also call an ‘potens etrusca’, or the Etruscan potentiality- will multiply the invisible possibilities against the rhetorical closure of reality legitimation. By accepting the thick of the dead as an illuminated presence, the Etruscans draw out the most important consequence: learning to live among the dead as the ultimate form of a dignified life. This is why D.H. Lawrence reminds us that the underworld of the Etruscans – their refusal of reality, the embrace of their dead, the augurium – was after all “a gay place…For the life on earth was so good, the life below could but be a continuation of it. This profound belief in life, acceptance of life, seems characteristic of the Etruscans. It is still vivid in the painted tombs. They are by no means downtrodden menials, let later Romans say what they will” .
If civilization is a construction that takes place at the crust of the Earth as some have claimed; the way of the Etruscan is a downward declination away from the architectural reduction of world sensing . For Lezama the Etruscan dreams of a civilization submerged in the depths that only an acoustic totality that bear witness to its sensorial gradation: “Esas civilizaciones errantes por debajo del mar, sumergidas por el manteo de las arenas o por las extensivas exigencias…reaparecen, a veces, en los sueños de los campesinos” . Hence, the fundamental dignity of poetry resides in the mythical homecoming that guards the possibility for what remains inexistent: “this is why the poet lives in the Etruscan world of the birth of fire” . And although the Etruscan stands as one of the worlds in possession of an imaginary epoch (the other two for Lezama being the Catholic world and the feudal feudal Carolingian Empire), it is only in the Etruscan where the resurrection had taken the transubstantiation in the name itself; even if the price was its own liquidation as a historical people that refused to be incorporated into the doxa of postmythical order .
The fiery force of the mythic peitho outlives and predates the political epoch of the nomos of fixation organized as “One People, One State, One Language” . As Lezama explains in “La dignidad de la poesía”: “…el odio en la polis contra el daimon socrático, hizo que la nueva doxa no logra sustituir a cabalidad el período mítico….Si por lo mitos, los dioses se irritable con la felicidad de los de los mortales, pero al menos, se interesaban por sus destinos; en la nueva doxa, la poesis se extinguía – el daimon individual reemplazando al destino individual liberado de la polis” . The primacy of myth as orientation to happiness should make clear that for Lezama the poetics of naming follows the overflow of its permanent modalization . The Etruscan way marks the path for the irrevocable retreat from the space of the polis where civilization will be erected on the grounds of deliating ethos and daimon, polis and poesis, and ultimately life and death as a rubric of a new science of separation. The fact that the civilization of social reproduction has been erected on the basis of the destruction of the chthonic underworld speaks to the systematic erasure from the dead as a vital extension of life . The poetic natality of the Etruscans will only be cultivated, as Aby Warburg suggests, from the assumption of deep superstition in the face of the placement of political autonomy, which allows for the persistence of the image as inseparable from the needs and uses of the living . And only persistence could prepare the final triumph over death.
Towards the later phase of his work, the poet seems to never want to abandon the Etruscan inframundo. Lezama returns to the Etruscan scene towards the end and unfinished novel, Oppiano Licario (1977), in which the central character Fronesis describes at length the mutation of reality following the footsteps at a distance of Ynaca Licario slowly merging into the Tarquinia necropolis painted wall, which is accompanied by a visual reproduction of the Etruscan tomb:
“El sacerdote, en el lateral izquierdo, hace gestos de ensalmo en torno a una espiga de triga. Un pájaro que se acerca queda detenido sin poder posarse en el ámbito hechizado de la hoja. En el lateral derecho, el sacerdote repite idéntico rito, pero ahora de la raíz colorida hace saltar la liebre que cavaba en las profundidades. El aire cubría como unas redes de secreta protección en torno de la mutabilidad de las hojas y de la inmovil jactancia de los troncos. Una indetenible pero resguardada evaporación alcanza aquella llanura con los muertos …La conversación subterránea era el símbolo del vencimiento de la muerte. 
The ongoing conversation (the shared word koina ta philōn) in a mysterious divine language had triumphed over death because it had overcome death and the sight of death. It is no longer the transposition of a historical sublime that must protect experience from the fixity of the human corpse, since the soul can escape the limit of form. In passing through and embracing death, the Etruscan validated their passions for mirrors and the palm, which according to Lezama is the true keep of the appearance of the uttermost revealing of the face in its own irreducible ethos. The possibility (potens etrusca) of defeating death while in life finds in the Etruscan appearance Lezama’s most intimate poetic arcana: the persistence of the anima renounces symbolic legibility as too innocuous and ornamental; where the flags of victories now resembled an accumulation of well settled defeats nurtured in the name of the muteness over “life”.
The Etruscan distance mysterium validated myth as the affirmation of the cosmos as based on the potentiality of contemplative imagination . Lezama will call this distance the “eros de la lejanía” (Eros of distance) in the experience of the inframundo that will break through by affirming the possibilities of divine naming as a correlative causation in the world . As Lezama tells his sister in a letter from 1966, he had already assumed to have crossed the bridge between the dead and the living: “Para mi ya ha sucedido todo lo que podía tocarme….Pues creo ya haber alcanzado en mi vida esa unidad entre los vivientes y los que esperan la voz de la resurrección que es la supresa contemplación” . Or yet again: “El que está muerto en la muerte, vive, pero el que está muerto en la vida, es la única forma para mi conocida de la vida en su turbión, en su escala musical, en su fuego cortado” . To scale up life to the higher music is the final trope of happiness as already dead. The Etruscan dirita vía of descension – “a weight going down” of stepping into the Earth, as Ruskin would have it – achieves the arrest of the divine contact between the voice and the dead . It is for us to raise this mirror before our impoverished and fictive unswerving reality.
1. José Lezama Lima. Cartas a Eloísa y otra correspondencia (1939-1976) (Verbum, 1998), 230.
2. José Lezama Lima. “A partir de la poesía”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 831.
3. José Lezama Lima. Diario (Verbum, 2014), 87.
4. D. H. Lawrence. Etruscan Places (The Viking Press, 1957), 90.
5. José Lezama Lima. “La pintura y la poesía en Cuba”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 968
6. Gustav Herbig. “Etruscan Religion”, in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume V (Dravidians-Fichte, 1912), 533.
7. José Lezama Lima. “Introducción a los vasos órficos”, Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 861.
8. Gianni Carchia. Orfismo e tragedia (Quodlibet, 2019), 81.
9. D.H. Lawrence. Etruscan Places (The Viking Press, 1957), 31.
10. Amadeo Bordiga. “Specie umana e crosta terrestre”, in Drammi gialli e sinistre della moderna decadenza sociale (Iskra, 1978).
11. José Lezama Lima. “Estatuas y sueños”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 449.
12. José Lezama Lima. “La dignidad de la poesía”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 774.
13. Ibid., 776.
14. Erich Unger. Die staatslose Bildung eines jüdischen Volkes (Verlag David, 1922).
15. José Lezama Lima. “La dignidad de la poesía”, in Obras Completas, Tomo II (Aguilar, 1977), 777.
18. Aby Warburg. The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity (Getty, 1999), 189.
19. Image included in Chapter VII of Oppiano Licario (Cátedra, 1989), 375.
20. José Lezama Lima. Oppiano Licario (Cátadra, 1989), 374.
21. Aby Warburg’s treatment of the symbolic mediation between myth and distance appears at the center of his essay on Pueblo Indians. See, Aby Warburg, El ritual de la serpiente (Sexto Piso, 2022), 66. And also, Franz Boll, Vita Contemplativa (Heidelberg, 1920), who connects contemplari to the augur’s spatiality of the templum.
22. José Lezama Lima. Cartas a Eloísa y otra correspondencia (1939-1976) (Verbum, 1998), 411.
23. Ibid., 109.
24. Ibid., 266.
25. John Ruskin. The Letters of John Ruskin (George Allen, 1909), 133.
The well-established American Liberal historian of ideas, Mark Lilla, writes in his recent essay “The Once and the Now” an outlandish thesis: “the ideologies of modern fascism are all heirs to the Aeneid.” Any reasonable reaction should start not by disputing the content of such superficial assertion, but rather by raising the central question: what has taken place in America so that this level of intellectual putrefaction and conscious oblivion towards the past could take place, thus becoming permissible and reasonable? From where does the intellectual confidence emerge so that such a lethal rhetorical force can be deployed? At a high paced rate, the United States has become a beacon for an ongoing fascination over “fascism and anti-fascism” to the point of adapting an absolute form of parody in the “serious” forms of culture, academic production, and current event discussions.
Perhaps it is not that difficult to find an answer; and, one can say that once a culture repeatedly defines itself by the parameters of its parodic enactment is precisely a culture that has effectively ceased to exist. Carl Schmitt was up to something when he writes in Glossarium (an entry from 1953) that fascism after the war amounted to the ultimate victory of Stalinism over every other geopolitical actor in the Western world. The Cold War was also a battle for mimetic containment and pacification: the uttermost consummation to the highest case of metonymic endurance. The diffused “cultural war” in America in every symbolic dimensions of life (the media, the university, the political jargon, the legal profession, the community interaction, etc) shows that the victory has now reached definitive and unprecedented heights. It is true that fascism has always triggered a sort of libidinal drive – something that Susan Sontag knew well – in the societal attachment to symbolic production. In this sense there is little new here. But the novelty shows itself if one understands that the rhetoric of fascism has now become autonomous and sine qua non to cultural solvency into nihilism.
If Lilla’s remark caught my attention it is because it fully captures this transformation at the highest levels of the American elite. This transformation is nothing but the essence of Americanism as a fictive rhetorical parody of everything belonging to “Western culture”. This is why, regardless of ideological commitments (or precisely because of them), Americanism is in the business of an active forgetting of the West; while, at the same time, presuming credentials to be its most courageous defender. But it should be clear that Americanism’s defense of the West ultimately means the compulsive expansion of public opinion through a trivialization of the alienability of the past in its own ever-changing image.
In 1935, a short book appeared in Europe penned by Catholic intellectual Theodor Haecker that was entitled Virgil, Father of the West. This essay reminded its readers that culture in Virgil’s Aeneid and Georgics is best understood as the possibility of dwelling in the land through the cultivation of the Eros itself. In fact, Haecker will go on to write that the paradigm of Virgil’s Georgica should remain well into the end of the epoch as a solid commitment to the iustissima tellus against the “mysticism of the machine and the glorification of technology”. Almost a century after, Haecker’s hope in the possibility of cultivating homecoming has literally vanished. To any attentive observer it is clear that American intellectual elites have abdicated their commitment to iustissima tellus, while the marching orders of Americanism, driven by the artificial hells of the Metaverse and planetary conflagration, have already animated the flock through the gate leaving behind nothing but resilient and uninterrupted destruction.
At his rubric at Quodlibet, Giorgio Agamben has recently reflected on the famous Goethe-Napoleon exchange on the destiny of human beings as entirely political. This theme is central to any observer of contemporary geopolitics, which as Carl Schmitt noted towards the end of The Concept of the Political (1932) was realized through the indirect powers of economy and war. During the interwar years Schmitt wanted to preserve the autonomy of the political at all costs, although he will soon conclude in his postwar writings that it was no longer possible given the full extent of a global police management (as he notes in the Italian prologue “Premessa alla edizione” to the 1963 Mulino edition).
What does it mean that politics has become the only destiny of Western Man? One could only imagine Goethe’s surprise at Napoleon given that he was the poet that most passionately reflected on the demonic opening towards destiny. Now, the fact that politics is destiny is a way to emphasize the dislocation of character from destiny as the search for one’s own freedom.
It is no surprise that it was another poet, William Butler Yeats who, in the dark hour of 1939, confronted this issue in his poem “Politics” published in his very last book. The poem in question is a sort of farewell to the eclipse of life of the soul constituting the releasement of destiny. It is also interesting that Yeats does not cite the Napoleon-Goethe scene recorded by Eckermann, and rather uses an epigraph from Thomas Mann to reiterate this preposition. The poem should be considered in its totality:
‘In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms.’ – Thomas Mann
How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics,
Yet here’s a traveled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.
No destinial politics, however, can totalize the experience of language and thought. This is the crux of Yeats’ poem, it seems to me. In the opening of an epoch of catastrophic politics (as Unger would register it), it was a poet that resisted the metaphysical valence of political destiny working through the imaginal remembrance through the appearance of a “girl standing there”. The last poetic apostrophe of a caducous time could only be redeemed erotically; forever disentangling the fictive conflation of life and politics.
Monica Ferrando’s short but dense book L’elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradito (Neri Pozza, 2022) refines our understanding of the secularization debate in the wake of the epochal crisis of modernity and planetary domination. For Ferrando this current domination is rooted in a specific retheologization that must be grasped at face value, no abstractions allowed. The force of theological domination, which has become a proper religious imperialism, expresses itself as a true corruptio optimi pessima, which Ferrando locates in a very precise intersection: the passage from the suppression of dilectio to an instrumental manifestation of electio that will culminate in the unleashed power to dominate not only the relation with the world, but the very existence of the species. If the Ancient covenant of early Judaism was a prophetic covenant with God, the force of predestination will suppress the mysterious relationship of blessed life to render a “selective process” of theological election . It is only with the rise Protestantism, and Luther’s specific hermeneutical efforts to neutralize the messianic message of Paul’s Letters to Romans that election becomes the paradigm of a new government of the soul in this world, which will ultimately find its material legitimacy with the advent of the reproductive logic of capital. Implicitly building on the thesis of economic theology, for Ferrando the advent of the machine of election materializes in the theological reform that translates the universal salvation of the prophecy into a never before seen economy of the dispensing grace through wealth retribution for human labor .
The reformation based on dispensation (oikonomia) differed fundamentally from the Church’s idea of change rooted in the ius reformandi. As Gerhart Ladner shows, if the “idea of reform” up until modernity presupposed periods of spiritual reform through monastic experience in relation to wordly profane time, the apparatus of dispensation of election was oriented at securing an integral government rationality combining law, economy and subjective production without reminder . In this light, the operation of the dispensation paradigm is twofold: on the one hand, it promotes an anti-Judaic operation of reducing Jews to a people of this world that will ultimately will be identified with political Zionism; and, on the other, it dismisses the coming of Christ as worthless, and in the best case as merely postponed . For a reformed theologian like Karl Barth – at odds with the economic evangelism that ultimately triumphed in the United States and that now it extends across the global – there was only a ‘great dispensation’ putting end to the abstraction of value and the homogeneity of the time of production . But more importantly for Ferrando, the triumph of the dispensatory paradigm entails a new fundamentalism of judgement based on “election” (in the broadest sense of value equity and competition) will appear as the only immanent force capable of considering every other religion and confession exterior to itself as “merely pagan and idolatrous” . It would amount to the triumph of the self-made ‘gentleman’ over the outward message of Paul.
The dominance of dispensation meant a full convergence between salvation and profane economic life that will bring exteriority into a crisis in the deepest sense. This is why for the reformist mentality, its own modern image initiates the epoch of irreversibility; that is, the pure historical progress guided by the will of election and the work of grace as an exception to universal salvation. If the modern reform has been at times understood as the new regime of social pluralism and system of indirect separations (between Church and State, civil society and religion, the public and the private, etc) for Ferrando it is on the side of the theological presupposition where its most terrifying arcanum must be found: a dispensational theology whose main unity is the recurrent intrusion, training, modification, and discipline of the forum internum, that is, the administration of the consciousness of man. Whereas the felix culpa allowed for the mystery of repentance and universal salvation; the political meditation of election through accumulation and economic benefits will legitimize the new discourse on toleration, “liberty”, and even democracy as the distribution of surplus value. In this sense, Liberalism (with Locke and other thinkers of the English and Scottish Enlightenments) was born, as later understood by Carl Schmitt, with the structural weakness of “individual freedom” and maximized autonomy that will require the expanding checks of police and governmental penalties to cope with the production of effects. Of course, every deviation or movement that could put a halt to the fiction of election will find itself on the side of illegality, or turned into a remnant of a surreptitious past that must be overcome at all costs. This implied, as Ferrando reminds us, nothing less than a novel modification of the anthropogenesis of the human species.
It is one of Ferrando’s most daring and surprising tasks to show how the machine of election does not merely occupy the economic-political sphere, but that it will eventually also imply an aesthetic imperative in Northern European culture; specifically with the rise of German romantic response to the crisis of the Enlightenment and the question of “classicism” of the classical Greece. If according to Gianni Carchia the aesthetic dimension of modernity should be read as a compensatory answer to the futility of the romantic revolution in subjectivity; Ferrando’s complementation to the thesis brilliantly shows how this attempt was meant to fail at its original ground due to the mimetic appropriation and metaphorization of the Greek historical past in the aesthetics program of Winckleman and German Idealism (with the exception of Hölderlin’s fugitive position) . The mimetic “hellenization” of German romanticism and its posterior afterlives (one thinks of the Stefan George Circle, and Max Kommerell’s Der Dichter als Führer) gave birth to a notion of “culture” that hinged upon the separation of the aesthetic and the religious spheres that had to sacrifice the appearance of beauty in order to attest for the dialectics of objective and subjective forms of the “Spirit”, and thus leading to the triumph of the grotesque and the aesthetic imperative of uniformity and museification. For Ferrando the German spirit of genialismus had as a mission the overcoming Latin, Mediterranean and Mesopotamian forms of life where the distinction between beauty and life never understood itself as a “culture” or objective project of enlightened intellectuals and artists on the mission to transform the contingency of poesis into the realization of the Idea .
Displacing this aesthetic dimension to the present, for Ferrando the intrinsic disconnect between appearance and substance of art’s truth emerges today in the predominant social morality of today’s global bourgeoisie: hypocrisy. It is in hypocrisy where today one can see the inflationary hegemony of discourse over the true organization of life that is proper to the dominant metropolitan class of the West, and its maddening obsession with identity politics or “race” oriented discourse as a moral inquisitorial abstraction (it is in this process that the notion of election appears in the least expected of places: sky color, language use, demands for inclusivity, and hyperconscious towards an invented past). The work of hypocrisy, in fact, appears as a secularized form of the dispensation paradigm that aims to normalize and domesticate every form of life that challenges its specular regime. This is why according to Ferrando – and I do not think she is incorrect in saying so – the possibility of art (especially that of “painting”), as the undisclosed of truth will disappear from human experience, as it has no place in the moral functionalism of ‘contemporary art’ nor in the discursive struggle over global communication and opinion battles (the so-called ‘cultural wars’) . The aesthetic museification of the world liquidates the possibility of art’s truth. Paradoxically, in this new scenario everyone must declare himself “an artist” of their own emptiness: the nowhere men that stroll in the works of Robert Walser or Franz Kafka – who never declared themselves to be anything – in our present are flipped on their heads becoming informers of the regime of a universal politics of recognition and moral judgement . These ‘bloomesque figures’ confirms in the last epochal dispensation of the Reformist revolution that the premises of subjective freedom, economic gain, and autonomy of value have culminated in a new aesthetic imperialism that is anthropological and rooted in the triumphant religion of immanence and the sacralization of ultimate values. The endgame has been dispensed in the creation of a “new man” through the sacrifice of every exteriority in man, that is, of the invisibility outside the fiction of his personality.
The paradigm that Ferrando is describing vis-a-vis the operative force of “election” is also one of profound irony, since the mechanism of predestination and election, by betraying prophetic dilectio (love), the “free election” of the moderns entails that everything can be elected at the expense of losing dilectio: the only path towards the mystery of life. This is what the epoch of irreversibility and the arrogance of historical progress has foreclosed and it is incapable of considering. But for Ferrando life remains an ethics, which she links to Eros, whose appeal to the law of the heart is neither religious nor political, but rather an instance to the disclosure of truth. As she beautifully writes towards the end of L’ elezione e la sua ombra (2022): “Occorre osservare che qui si tocca una sorta di grado zero teologico, che scivola nel mero «biologico» solo a patto di esautorare la sapienza della madre o, detto altrimenti, la sapienza come madre, custode di una legge non scritta, di un nomos del cuore, che non necessita di alcun mandato esterno per esercitare la conoscenza che gli è propria. Si apre insomma quello spazio, costantemente e variamente negato, ma imperturbabile, di cui solo la madre, in virtú di una sapienza propria della natura umana, può custodire la legge.” .
The foreclosure of the acoustic relation to prophecy documents the recurrent political interest in the subordination of music to the moral captivity of the reproduction of humanity . On its reverse, the law of eros, prior to the moral domain of natural law and the authoritative domain of positive law, is the protection of the indestructible region of the human soul where no political, moral, or economic dispensation can exert its force. This is confirmed today by the monstrous techno-scientific interventions and dysphoric alterations in the life of children as the last utopia in the long dispensation of the anthropomorphism of capital legitimized by rhetorical force of an unending sermo homilis . In this sense, what Ferrando accomplishes in this wonderful essay is to remind us that the event of theology remains outside the dominion of priests and bureaucrats and situated in the prophetic dimension of Eros (love) that guards the inclination towards beauty and the disposition to attune oneself to the prophecy of the world’s fulfillment . Hence, it is not in the community or in an integralist Christian traditional family order where the sacred dimension of humanity can be retrieved; rather, for Ferrando it is in the non-knowledge reserved by the eros of the mother who never decides nor choses before law, whose nonverbal “tacit authenticity” (“tacita autenticità del legame materno”) unconceals a true experiential depth away from the the delirious cacophony of our world.
1. Monica Ferrando’s L’ elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradito (Neri Pozza, 2022), 8-9.
2. Ibid., 22.
3. Gerhart B. Ladner. The Idea of Reform: Its Impact on Christian Thought and Action in the Age of the Fathers (Harvard University Press, 1959).
4. Monica Ferrando. L’ elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradito (2022), 24.
5. Karl Barth. “The Great Dispensation”, Interpretation, V.14, July 1960, 311.
6. Monica Ferrando L’ elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradito (2022), 30.
7. Gianni Carchia. “Modernità anti-romantica”, in Il mito trasfigurato (Ernani Stamptore, 1984).
8. Monica Ferrando. L’ elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradito (2022), 60.
9. Ibid., 91-92.
10. Ibid., 94.
11. Ibid., 106.
12. On the controversy of music as a tool to tame human’s passions, see John Finnis’ “Truth and Complexity: Notes on Music and Liberalism”, American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 62, 2017, 119-124.
13. Gianni Carchia. “Eros y Logos: Peitho arcaica y retórica antigua”, in Retórica de lo sublime (Tecnos, 1990), 29.
14. Gianni Carchia. “Dialettica dell’immagine: note sull’estetica biblica e cristiana”, in Legittimazione dell’arte (Guida Editores, 1982), 21.
Llegamos a la última sesión en el cursillo sobre el pensamiento de Emanuele Coccia (pueden consultarse aquí las entradas sobre las sesiones previas: i, ii, iii, iv, v). En lugar de ofrecer un resumen quiero aprovechar esta última sesión para tematizar algunos de los problemas que quedaron abiertos, y, que constituyen ahora sí que un punto de debate tête-à-tête con el horizonte antifilosófico de Coccia. Quizás todo esto es muy prematuro de momento, porque, como dijo el propio Rodrigo, el pensamiento de Coccia se encuentra aun en proceso de cristalización. Es pensamiento incompleto. Esto no es solo una cuestión de “fase” de una obra, sino más bien de la propia naturaleza del pensamiento en tanto que pensamiento desobrado y ruinoso y abierto. Coccia está ahí, y sus errancias constituirán una de las más interesantes aventuras en los próximos años. Pero, al final de día, lo importante hoy es moverse, y ya con eso nos preparamos para que nos encuentre algo nuevo.
En las últimas sesiones se vino tematizando lo que yo propuse como la “cuestión del corte” al interior de la medialidad de toda imaginación descentrada. Creo que en esta sesión este problema quedó mucho más redondeado. Aquí habría que desplegar varios incisos.
A) la cuestión del corte nos vincula al problema del deseo, y el problema del deseo abre el diálogo con el psicoanálisis.
B) El corte nos abre a la separación entre mundo y vida, y entre el viviente y lo petrificado; esto es, lo que anteriormente llamamos la caducidad de las cosas como ángulo invisible en el trabajo de Coccia. Y esto remite al problema de la muerte.
C) El corte es relación con lo amoroso: ¿amamos todo con todo en una impronta cósmica como energía solar; o, más bien, es el amor lo que separa y discrimina entre la existencia y mis cosas cuando reparo en mi lugar en el mundo?
Obviamente que a mí me interesa defender esto último, en la medida en que no creo que podamos amar todo. Un amor así de absoluto me llevaría al precipicio. La energía amorosa del mundo no constituye la fuerza de individuación. Al final, creo que la obra de Coccia nos habilita a pensar seriamente sobre la relación entre amor y corte, o lo que quisiera llamar una física amorosa del corte. Por suerte, tenemos un texto del propio Emanuele Coccia sobre el tema titulado “La finalidad del amor” (trabajamos con una edición inglesa “End of Love”, 2012). Claro, sabemos que en inglés la noción de “end” es polisémica, ya que remite al “final” como algo concluido, pero también al “propósito” de una fuerza. Coccia navega esa ambigüedad. Es un texto demasiado corto, pero en él encontramos algo así como la signatura de una posible transfiguración del límite. O al menos, es el vórtice que a mi me interesa pensar contra una reducción de su obra en la tradición de la inmanencia, de la defensa del lujo, o en la restitución del panteismo. La “física del corte” establece una mínima distancia con estas improntas filosóficas. El corte estaría del lado de la anti-filosofía.
En “End of Love”, Coccia dice que el amor no es una cuestión del “origen’, sino del fin, ya siempre caída al “dios de la ruina”. Esto es, el amor no es la cupiditas espinosista de la inmanencia. Pero Coccia dice más: el amor es el resto de “una vida” después de la vida; y por eso es, siempre en cada caso, “muerte atravesada”. Esta postura, en efecto, ya no tiene que ver ni con el vitalismo ni con la finitud “eticisista” del “reconocimiento” ante el rostro de un otro. El “fin del amor” rompe contra eje inmanente del vitalismo, y pulveriza la trascendencia eticista de la “otredad”. Coccia dice que en la medida en que el amor se corta como imagen, cada cosa tiene su “vida póstuma” (Nachleben). Una vida póstuma que es fin de la subjetividad, que es siempre mala tonalidad de vivir una vida que pudiera ser otra; una vida sin singularidad y sin individuación. Cacciari en Dallo Steinhof (1980) buscaba tematizar algo similar cuando apostaba por las vidas oblicuas del 900 contra la ‘nueva transparencia’ de los cristales de la arquitectura decimonónica. Y, sin embargo, Coccia no piensa el amor como viaje interno del alma (tomista), sino como recorrido autopoiético de individuación. Por eso para mi el momento más importante de ese ensayo es el siguiente. Intento traducirlo al castellano:
“Y solo somos imágenes cuando somos capaces de producir el “esta” persona, pero nunca persona genérica. En efecto, quien alcance a completar su devenir-imagen; aquellos quienes pueden devolverse así mismos como imagen, dejan de ser humanos y así liberar del “encantamiento innombrable” que el “este” ya no refiere a cualquier otra cosa. Así, los individuos ya no solo especie ni tipo; sino singularidades sin un solo grano de humanidad. El amor puebla el mundo de vidas inhumanas, porque solo hay vidas ultra-humanas, o subhumanas, o en ruinas. La pura haceidad, el ser-este puro, el hoc-esse: este es el paraíso de nuestras imágenes que se construyen y se encarnan” (14).
Hay mucho que desplegar en este fragmento, aunque lo interesante y novedoso para mí es la manera en que Coccia coloca al amor como vórtice para organizar su pensamiento. El amor ya no es una afección del sujeto (vitalismo), ni es una fuerza cósmica, sino que es el sol negro de lo inhumano en el humano que, en su reverso, es la génesis con las verdades que encontramos. Me gustaría poner todo el énfasis en ese momento cuando Coccia habla de un “encantamiento innombrable” que ya no refiere a ninguna otra cosa sino a esa cosa que hemos encontrado. Ese es el acontecimiento del “esto” de la haceidad como corte. Y aquí Coccia muestra abiertamente una fragmentación del singular que despeja el hyle mens del politeísmo, pero que también toma distancia del amor entendido como pulsión de muerte en el deseo freudiano.
Rodrigo Karmy tiene razón cuando dice que la “cripta” o el “arcano” del psicoanálisis es la imaginación. ¿Qué quiere decir esto? Obviamente es mucho más que el hecho de que el “psicoanálisis” es una lengua privada e interna. Pero sabemos que si el inconsciente está “estructurado como lenguaje” (Lacan), entonces no es fácil reducir el psicoanálisis a un dispositivo pastoral (le agradezco a Alberto Moreiras un reciente intercambio sobre esto). ¿Dónde estaría la diferencia entre Coccia y el psicoanálisis? Para mí, se encontraría en el hecho de que el psicoanálisis sigue siendo una ciencia de la realidad; aún cuando la ciencia de la realidad fuese una ciencia de lo insondable o de lo “real” en la determinación del sujeto del inconsciente. ¿Qué supone esto? Que hay una dimensión que encarcela la imaginación a las mediaciones de lo real y lo simbólico. La revolución copernicana del descubrimiento de la “latencia” es también una ciencia del corte, en la medida en que fragmenta la posible deriva del “absolutismo de la realidad”. Esto es lo que pudiera responder el psicoanálisis. En este sentido, entonces, la física del corte en la estela cocciana sería un corte en segundo registro, donde la técnica aparece atravesada hacia otro uso. Pero aquí hay dificultades.
José Miguel Burgos Mazas desnudó el problema cuando dijo: “el operador central de Coccia es la Técnica”. La técnica es la mediación entre luz y vida en la exposición misma de la violencia del medio. ¿Pero qué es el amor en relación con la técnica? Creo que en esta pregunta abriríamos otro seminario, y obviamente que este no es el espacio ni el medio para responder a ella. Sin embargo, si acepto la tesis fuerte de que la técnica es el operador en Coccia, entonces el amor es el corte que la transfigura la obra del mundo, y que produce individuación. El amor, contra lo que se ha dicho de que es una fuerza “unitaria”, es una física del corte.
El amor ya no es unión de entes, sino, como dice el propio Coccia es tenor del “apocalipsis de un mundo que ha abdicado en su ruina hipnótica” (15). Y esa ruina hipnótica es siempre pasaje órfico, esto es, es develamiento entre la sombra de mis cosas y la cosa en sí. Porque, al final, nunca hay cosa en sí. Por eso la tesis fundamental aquí es la siguiente: el pensamiento que viene será un pensamiento del vestido. Un pensamiento “estilizado”. José Miguel Burgos controversialmente remató: el vestido, en la medida que es moda, impone una nueva jerarquía. Claro está, quien dice jerarquía, dice técnica. Desplegar todo esto requiere un proyecto sistemático sobre el horizonte de lo que Peterson llamó el problema de la “teología del vestir”. Por eso – y estas puede ser “malas noticias” para José Miguel – desde el vestido tampoco salimos del registro teológico, porque se pliega de otra manera. Un pensamiento del dobladillo.
Y justo porque el vestido es una atopia entre cuerpo y su afuera, es ahí donde mora el ‘dios impenetrable’ de mi inclinación como amor que se da en cada corte del fin. Esto es lo que vemos en las últimas telas de Ticiano, como pueden ser “Venus con Cupido” (1555) o “La ninfa y el pastor” (1575), que para Giorgio Agamben, en Lo aperto (2002), denota un “otium” desobrado entre espirito y piel. Se corta en el momento de mayor proximidad. Y más importante aún, dice Agamben, esta es una “condición” que le devuelve lo “inaparente” [inapparenti] a la experiencia sin salvación. Y esta inaparencia, que yo ligaría fuertemente al paisaje irreductibilidad de lo mundano, es siempre denotación del afuera en la apariencia misma de las cosas.
*Imagen: “Venus con Cupido” (1955), de Ticiano. Museo Del Prado. De mi colección personal. 2019.