Treasure of the earth: on Elizabeth Sewell’s The Orphic voice: Poetry and Natural History (2022). by Gerardo Muñoz

Written at a time when the sciences of biological life were becoming fully integrated to technological and procedural social experimentation, Elizabeth Sewell’s 1960 The Orphic voice (nyrb, 2022) dared to pose the question of poetic myth as the mirror of scientific transformation of the modern world. Given that myth reopens the question of poetry and the natural world, for Sewell the modern exposure entails a profound misunderstanding: it is not that myth has eclipsed from the developments of scientific regime, but rather that science is incapable of absorbing it through its formal explorations in a system of subdivisions, classifications, and applicabilities. But for Sewell, it is myth itself that conditions scientific activity, providing ground for the discovery of situations and play in the world of forms. In other words, it is the persistence of myth in biological imagination the real forgotten path in the crisis of the transmission of tradition in a world aligned by the movement of scientific objectivity. For Sewell’s understanding of myth, there is no positive dialectical movement between myth and calculative rationality; rather, myth is what stands for the irreducibility of life in the cosmos. It is the very mystery of the anthropogenesis of creation as pure metamorphosis of forms. Why Orpheus, then? For Sewell, the orphic figure becomes “myth as a living thought and the very type of thought in action, and for all those other self-reflecting forms; for the human organism as an indivisible whole trying to understand itself….for biology reflection on the whole span of life in which thinking man appears as the last enigmatic development” (41). Orphism is the natural prehistory of becoming. This implies nothing less than reminding modern science of its “mistaken mythology”; as it is poetry – not mathematics or a scientific theory of language – the proper site for the adventure of life.

The strange career of orphism in the modern age is one of struggle, according to Sewell. A “struggle” that accounts for change, process, organism, and life” in an epoch that thinks of itself as definite and irreversible; completing the demythologization of the old gods and the ultimate achievement of secularization. Unlike for Oskar Goldberg for whom the civilizational regime of fixation of humanity is a matter of thousands of years (at least since Cain); for Sewell it has only bern a couple of centuries that has led to an esoteric experimentation with natural history in the wake of his postmythical substitution. At bottom, her task is to bring together, once and for all, the voice of Orpheus and “natural history and poetry, had not parted company and it only remains to try to bring them, after their long and wintry estrangement, back to one another” (48). This is the central task of the modern poet, Sewell seems to tell us: to wrestle the potentiality of myth to craft the a “model of thought” that transfigures the logical framework of rational thought into a “flexible and plastic” (beweglich und bildsam) play between form and formlessness that becomes inalienable from the metamorphosis of nature. This does not mean that all modern poets are orphic; and, I am not sure that Sewell will go as far as to accept that all orphism comes in the form of poetry (this will be of scarce persuasion). What the Orphic voices are saying “is that the poet and his world is part of natural history…it is postlogic” (153). The postlogic stands a tenuous and loose term to avoid the supreme autonomy of reason of scientific modernity. Rather than a tool to understand the causation of natural processes, or a set of artificial strategies for representation, the postlogical poetics is the music of a world as being transformed through experience and immersion. It is no doubt strange that Sewell calls postlogical method to account for the permanent overflowing of the orphic voice; although it becomes clear that she wants to think of it as a utensil inseparable from the form that it makes. In other words, the “method” stands for the possibilities of use through the attunement with worldly phenomena. Postlogical method wants to give substance to how well we construct and tailor the potent infinity of form. As Sewell writes: “The method, the lute strung with the poet sings, consists in the use of the self, and mind, heart ,as well as intelligence, as an instrument of wider interpretation, with language assisting in the process” (168).

The free use of one’s own is surely the hardest task for the poet, as we already know from Hölderlin who grasped the crisis at the outset of Romantic modernity. The capacities of the orphic poet wants to wrestle the force of expression from the stage of history into the methodology of forms. This is what Sewell reads positively in Goethe’s Urworte and Urpflanze as the “methodology of transformations…the key to all the signs in nature” (274). It is noteworthy that Sewell does feel the need to revise Hölderlin’s poetological attempt at the insufficiency of the tragic poet embedded in the play of Empedocles mediation between the material craft of art and the aorgic excess of nature. And it is too bad that she does not (alas, Hölderlin remains the missing key for many of these problems). But it might be that for Sewell the orphic voice is not a transfigurative element, but rather the acoustic composition of the play between creation and decreation. In this sense, the bios orphikos is, not merely of this world, but also the immemorial journey to the infraworld sidestepping tragic overflowing. It is very late in her book that Sewell defines this pathways that transcends all form and contours of scientific vitality:

“The origins of all our bodily and mental powers are in an exact sense with the dead, in heredity and tradition; thus the dead are not wholly dead here within the living body. The heart and the center of the kingdom of the dead to which Orpheus goes in search of Eurydice is also the penetralia of the individual human life which pulsates and thinks…Anthropology suggest that the labyrinth of primitive man, the maze emblem and the real mazes of the caves, were capable also of being the body, and the site of a journey between the two worlds of living and dead. The orphic search here goes past Orpheus back into immemorial antiquity.” (326-327). 

Immemorial antiquity – these are the wonderful markers of everything that Sewell’s book does not accomplish or flesh out in its voluminous 400 plus plages. But, it is only at this point that we are capable of understanding that what Sewell calls “biological thinking” has nothing to do with the basic mental capacities that dispenses the anthropological density of the modern reserve to self-assertion (in Blumenberg’s unsurpassed definition), and everything with a tradition of the immemorial that is creation’s most intense point of bifurcation between the living and the dead. The passage to this region becomes testament to the validity of one’s experience. This is also why the orphic voice cuts through the the subdivision of the polis and the modern autonomy of art; as it takes life through the fleeting instance of the freedom of forms in its non dependency with historical necessity and domestication, as Gianni Carchia lucidly reminded us [1].

The orphic immemorial will not appeal to a morality of nature based on its fictive aura of normative order, but rather, it will supply the potentiality of the taking place of language. Hence, it is no surprise that the taking place of the voice (its postlogical status) lifts the human outside of itself, at the same time that it retains its most absolute nearness to the symbolic strata of myth. Commenting on Wordsworth, Sewell writes: “…the first provisional conclusion on method in the poem: that each language is a treasure of the earth but that poetry is the more valuable (as if our word, postlogic, might here receive additional justification)” (358-359). The voice has never been an organ or a specific faculty that belongs properly to the human; it is the passage between humanity and its constitutive exteriority in the world. Like the harmony of the spheres, the voice registers tone in the wake of the impossibility of communicating in the murky waters of physis.

If at the turn of the century Aby Warburg had shown how modern technical civilization had ended up soaking the mythical force of the serpent from the stormy sky of the Pueblo Indians (and thus the luminous space of contemplation of man in the cosmos); Sewell’s extremely idiosyncratic essay shows, between lines and amidst rhetorical inflation, that the echoes of the mythic imagination are still an integral part of the sliding amore fati, whose “aim is the discovery of the world” (405) [2]. The lesson in our epoch becomes easily adapted: the ethical standard does not prove itself by appealing to norms and substitute fictive authorities, but rather in terms of how well one is able to attend to the incoming vibrations of forms. One can even go as far as contradict Sewell post factum and say that this is no longer a request to be made on science, which has fully ascended to the place of prima philosophia as prima politica. So, it is perhaps love (that figures so poorly in Sewell’s book in relation to the centrality of cerebral intelligence, barely making an appearance in the very last page) the symbol of the highest riches transfiguring myth into a voice that outlives the specter of humanity and the futility of the machine. If orphism means anything, it is that the voice implies withdrawing from the cacophony of a world that has imprisoned the living in the blistering entertainment of their own wrongdoing. “Flebile lingua murmurat exanimis”, signs Ovid — right, but who is still able to listen?




1. Gianni Carchia. Orfismo e tragedia: Il mito trasfigurato (Quodlibet, 2019), 

2. Aby Warburg. “A lecture on Serpent Ritual”, Journal of the Warburg Institute, April 1939, 292. 

Hölderlin’s song. Provisional annotations. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is a moment in Hölderlin’s late hymn “Friedensfeier” (1801) where communication is strictly defined as becoming a song. The verses in question are about midway into the poem, and we read read the following: 

“Viel hat von Morgen an, 

Seit ein Gespräch wir sind und hören voneinander, 

Erfahren der Mensch; bald sind wir aber Gesang.”

“Mucho ha, desde la mañana, 

desde que diálogo somos y oímos unos de otros, 

aprendido el ser humano; pronto empero seremos canto”.

This is the Spanish rendition by the Venezuelan poet and translator Verónica Jaffé [1]. These lines stand for Hölderlin’s unique effort during the years 1800-1804 to substantially qualify what he had confessed to his mother as his true task: to live a serene or quiet life. I think this Spanish translation is much closer to the original German. Jaffé hangs on the present perfect with conviction: “Mucho ha…”, as if knowledge remained at a distance in the metric while becoming a temporal duration, a form of experience. This is the poetic “strict mediacy” for Hölderlin that can only be cultivated [2]. And it is only through the duration of experience that one will become a song (“seremos canto”). We are not yet there, hence the apostrophe. In the late period, duration meant dealing directly with Pindar. Thus, the song is something other than language – even if announced through language. But it is a paratactic dispersion that seeks to free the pure voice. In one of the “Pindar fragments”, this is what Hölderlin claims: “then only the difference between species makes a division in nature, so that everything is therefore more song and pure voice than accent of need or on the other hand language”. [3]

I am caught up in the moment of “division in nature”. The subtraction from representational language allows for the true appearance of a more originary separation, where the song can finally emerge in its proper attunement with the world. The becoming song is another form of separation, which institutes the passage from the Empedocles (tragic sacrifice) to the Pindaric relation to the divine. This is the “highest” poetic challenge for Hölderlin – an impossible task after the fleeing of the gods. It is definitely maddening. Nevertheless, the song remains. It puts us in nearness in a postmythical world without recoiling back to the image of the tragic. Indeed, as Hölderlin says in passing in “The Ground of Empedocles”, his time already “did not demand a song” [4]. The passion for natural unity was an Olympic illusion whose retribution could only become romantic debris as the exclusive possession of the dichter. On the contrary, the clearing for the song has emancipated itself from the exclusivity of the modern autonomy of dichtung as mimetically separated from the experience of life. This is what the song wants to pursue before the closure of a significant (and signifying) world. Fundamentally, this means a subtraction from the continuum of language, and thus a form of prophecy as elaborated by Gianni Carchia in a difficult passage from “Dialettica dell’immagine”: 

“Where music and prophecy, in the inexhaustibility of their tension – an endless effort to overcome the Babel dissipation of language by freeing the residual state of the unexpressed – testify to a disposition to meet precisely in what passes, in pure transience, the need for salvation and the idea of fulfillment, beauty as a totalitarian and exclusive appearance is, on the other hand, nothing but the product of an arrest in the dynamics of the spirit which withdraws from the horror of worldly laceration to seek refuge on the scene circular and static of the eternal”. [5]

If the song addresses the prophetic it is because language has fallen to the fictitious needs that arrest the experience of the human being into the exclusivity of rhetorical force and poetic genius. Is not the song a refusal of both? A refusal now aimed at the “highest” task – that is, the serene life? Against the exclusivity of appearance that Carchia points to, what appears discloses a different sense of law. A few verses in the same poem, in fact, we are confronted with the “law of destiny”: when there is serenity (or peace) there are also words. And a few lines after: “the law of love” is equilibrium from “here” to the “sky”. What appears there is the landscape that comes through in a pictorial depiction: “[Sein bild….Und der Himmel word wie eines Mahlers Haus Wenn seine Gemälde sind aufgestellt] / “[su cuadro e imagen….y el cielo se vuelve como de un pintor una casa cuando sus cuadros de exponen]”.

Does not this also speak to the insufficiency of language, which justifies the step into a folded painting? There is a painting and a vanishing image, but also the painter marveled at gleaming finished masterpieces. Is painting the original placeholder for the song as originary attunement of life? Perhaps. But in its enactment it also means that the song is impossible to disclose except through pictorial invocation. It is a painting of a life in the world, and nothing less. The transfiguration of the law places men no longer into undisputed submission, whether in its positive or natural determinations, but rather of a “strict mediacy” that is ethical in nature. A third way of the law that does not renounce the problem of separation.

Monica Ferrando has insisted upon the enormous importance of this conception: the fact that Pindar’s nomoi, in fact, relates to the nomos mousikos, which is fundamentally dependent on gathering substance of the song [6]. The strict mediacy finds itself between the mortal and the immortal. It is definitely not a “return to the state of nature”, and I do not see how it could be reduced to “genius”, except as an ethics whereby appearing is no longer at the service of objectivity [7]. Adorno was of course right: it is a ruthless effort to deal with disentanglement of nature – and the nature of reason – but only insofar as it is a return to the song. Or, at least, to have a path toward the song: a lyricism of the indestructible against the closure of a finite time dispensed and enclosed.




1.  Friedrich Hölderlin. “Fiesta de Paz”, in Cantos hespéricos (La Laguna de Campona, 2016), Traducción y Versiones Libres de Veronica Jaffé, 93. I thank Philippe Theophanidis the exchange initial exchanges on these verses.

2. Friedrich Hölderlin. “Pindar fragments”, in Essays and Letters (Penguin Classics, 2009), 566. Kindle Version. 

3.Ibid., 565.

4. Friedrich Hölderlin. “The Ground of the Empedocles”, in Essays and Letters (Penguin Classics, 2009), 465. Kindle Version. 

5. Gianni Carchia. “Dialettica dell’immagine: note sull’estetica biblica e cristiana”, in Legittimazione dell’arte (Guida Editori, 1982), 21.

6. Lucia Dell’Aia. “Il Regno d’Arcadia: intervista a Monica Ferrando”, in Il mito dell’Arcadia (Ledizioni, 2023), 121. 

7. T.W. Adorno. “Parataxis: On Hölderlin’s Late Poetry”, in Notes to Literature (Columbia University Press, 1992), 148-149.

Adespoton, the flight of freedom. An intervention on Pulcinella for the PAN Group Meeting. by Gerardo Muñoz

I want to thank Lucia Dell’Aia for putting together the PAN Group, which she describes as a natural garden composed of different voices already constituted and dispersed around the world. The group’s initial inspiration springs from Giorgio Agamben’s Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (Nottetempo, 2015), a beautiful and important book. Pulcinella is, prima facie, a book about a puppet (the famous Napolitan puppet that I remember first encountering years ago in an Italian pizzeria in New York Upper West Side without knowing much about him), but it is also something else. As it is already common to Agamben’s thought, these figures are depositary of arcanii of the western tradition, and Pulcinella is no exception. I want to suggest to all of you something obvious: Pulcinella stands for the arcana of blissful and happy life in the wake of a catastrophic civilization. It should be obvious that the thematics of happiness have always occupied a central place in the Italian philosopher’s work, and every book is a way to measure up to this latent sensibility proper to the mystery of anthropogenesis. In a way, then, Pulcinella rehearses an idea that has been present since the early books, although restated in new garments that have remained unsaid. In this short intervention I want to address these two dimensions, and perhaps contribute to the already rich discussion on Pulcinella in the intersection between philosophy, poetry, ethics and politics, which Lucia suggests it should be the way that we approach the field of forces of thought.

As early as in the gloss “Idea of Happiness” in Idea of Prose (1985), Agamben thematizes the problem of happiness inscribed in the relationship between character and destiny that will reappear in a central way in Pulcinella: “In every life there remains something unlived just a s in every word there remains something unexpressed…The comedy of character: at the point when death snatches from the hand of character what they tenacious hide, it but grasps a mask. At this point character disappears: in the face of the dead there is no longer any trace of what has never been lived…” [1]. Against the metaphysics of eudaimonia and the theological tribulation of happiness as a reflection of property (“in pursuit of happiness”, Thomas Jefferson will define civic life within the organization of the goods of the res publica); the idea of character is what traces the unlived in every life; and, more importantly, what neutralizes the tragic dimension of the narrative of destiny. Narration is the point of fixation and representation transcendence; it creates order and irreversibility, it hold us accountable. This is why character is a parabasis of destiny, thus its comic axis: “Character is the comic aspect of every destiny, and destiny is the tragic shadow of character. Pulcinella is beyond destiny and character, and tragedy and destiny” [2]. Pulcinella breaks aways from the prison of the metaphysics of destiny and character posited as “substance” for action. This is why, radicalizing the relation to death in the gloss on happiness, Agamben will introduce the theatrical figure of the parabasis to define the desertion from the conditions of fixation and historical time [3]. In other words, there is happiness when there is a possibility of parabasis in the face of catastrophe. And catastrophe is nothing but the integral adaptive operation between character and destiny that regulates legal fictions, political mediations, and ultimately the opposition between life and death. If Søren Kierkegaard understood Pulcinella as a figure of privation in opposition to the knight of faith; for Agamben, on the contrary, Pulcinella does not depend on fides or the persona, but rather on a comic intensification that allows “life itself” to move beyond the theological conditions dispensed by sin, guilty, or fear of death – all guarantees of the economy of salvation [4]. Pulcinella heresy is to move within and beyond the world, as Agamben writes in a remarkable orphic moment of the book:

“Che Pulcinella abbia una speciale relazione con la morte, è evidente dal suo costume spettrale: come l’homo sacer, egli appartiene agli dei interi, ma appartiene loro così esageratamente, da saltare tutt’intero al di là della morte. Ciò è provato dal fatto che ucciderlo è inutile, se lo fucilano o impiccano, immancabilmente risorge. E come è al di là o al di qua della morte, cosí è in qualche modo al di qua o al di là della vita, almeno nel senso in cui questa non può essere separata dalla morte. Decisivo è, in ogni caso, che una figura infera e mortuaria abbia a che fare essenzialmente col riso.” [5].

The comic dimension in Pulcinella’s expressive character, then, has little to do with an anthropological laughter automatism that would reveal the species proximity to animality (but also its outermost distance and alienation). More specifically, Pulcinella’s character is a lazzo or medial relation that exceeds life and death fixation. At the same time, Pulcinella (like Hölderlin, Pinocchio, to recall the other figures in Agamben’s most recent books) irradiates a new type of existence; in fact, an existence against all reductions of subjectivity and personalism, which could very well defined by the pícaro motto “vivir desviviéndose” [6]. If we grant this, we are in a better position to grasp that death is not finality to “a life”, but rather a limit of caducity of experience that those in possession of character can breach in order to affirm the releasement of happiness. In a fundamental way, life is always unto death, so it is through his character that one could accomplish resurrection and become eternal. It is obvious that Pulcinella’s character has important consequences for a novel characterization of freedom; a freedom beyond the attributes of the person (be the ‘harm principle’ or the ‘non-intervention’) and the modern legitimation through the rise of interests as a way to suppress the passions. One could say that the politico-civil conception of freedom always stood on the firm ground of the fiction of the person, which Pulcinella destitutes by emphasizing the unlived reminder: the soul. And it is the soul that renders – this is not explicit in Giorgio Agamben’s book, and could perhaps be a theme of discussion – a new principle of differentiation within the logic of immanence of nature. Towards the end of the book, Agamben appeals to Plato’s Myth of Er, which speaks to the penumbra or zone of indetermination between life and death, character and destiny; while preparing the ground for a different conception of freedom. A freedom defined through a very important term: “adéspoton” or virtue – which he designs as without masters and beyond adaptation, and it has been taken as one of the earliest affirmations of the notion of freedom as a separate intellect (a rendition elaborated by Plotinus’s Enneads VIII) – but this, I think, could be fully assessed in another ocassion. This is what Agamben writes:

“Nel racconto di Er il Panfilio alla fine della Repubblica, Platone ha rappresentato le anime che, giungendo dal cielo o dal mondo sotterraneo “in un luogo demonico” davanti al fuso che sta sulle ginocchia di Ananke, scelgono la vita in cui dovranno reincarnarsi. Un araldo le mette in fila e, dopo aver preso in mano le sorti e i paradigmi di vita, proclama che sta per cominciare per esse un nuovo ciclo di vita mortale: “Non sarà un demone a scegliere, ma voi sceglierete il vostro demone. Chi è stato sorteggiato per primo, scelga la forma di vita [bios] a cui sarà unito per necessità. La virtù invece è libera [adespoton, “senza padrone”, “inassegnabile”] e ciascuno ne avrà in misura maggiore o minore a seconda che la’- miola disprezzi. La colpa è di chi sceglie, dio è innocente” (617e).” [7]

The adéspoton is a strange and sui generis virtue, since it does not appeal to a moral conception of the good. Of course, this allows for something very subtle: retreating from the tribune of morality, the adéspoton belongs to the access of a life in happiness. I think this complicates the picture of Agamben’s insistence through his work on “beatitude” – and in large measure, Spinoza’s conatus essendi – since adéspoton is not a form of absolute immanence, but rather of a soul that is always inadequate in relation to the assigned preservation of its nature (perseverantia in suo esse). In other words, the adéspoton is the intensity that allows for a relation between interiority and exteriority through an acoustic attunement with the world. The adéspoton refuses the conditions of possibility for “freedom”; since it conceives freedom as emanating from the non-objective conditions of the contact with the outside.

At this point I will reach a preliminary conclusion in my intervention picking up on this last problem: the outside. Of course, to speak of the outside – the “transmigration of souls” as in Plato’s quintessential myth – already announces an imaginary of flight. And it is no coincidence that Pulcinella is a sort of half-bird creature: a chicken that cannot flight, but nonetheless experiences the outside thanks to its adéspoton. Agamben reminds us of the etymological proximity of Pulcinella with “pullecino” or chicken like creature like the Donald Duck [8]. It is also no coincidence that Agamben closes the book recalling how Giandomenico during his last years of life was fascinated with all kinds of birds that he painted in the Palazzo Caragiani in an effort to radically dissolve the human form [9]. I think that birdly nature of Pulcinella is to be taken seriously, given that in the mythical register of the Hebrew bible, the large bird, the Ziz, is the third mythic creature along with the Leviathan and the Behemoth, the creates of the sea and the land that have marked the world historical opposition of appropriation. And it is more strange that, in The Open, Agamben mentions the Ziz without thematizing its potentiality for the flight from the nomos of the earth that today expresses itself as a civilizational conflagration. The Ziz, very much like Pulcinella, prefers “not to” to participate in the geopolitical confrontation between land and sea undertaking a flight of its own from life towards freedom.

The arcana of Pulcinella resonates with the Ziz mythic figure, but it is not dependent on myth or allegorical substitution. The parabasis is the exposition of every life here and now. Although the figure of the bird disappeared from Agamben’s mature work, one should not dismiss his first publication, the poetic short-story “Decadenza” (1964), which he wrote while a law student at Sapienza, and which tells the story of a depressed community of birds with eggs that do not hatch and species that have lost the contact with the external world [10]. I think it’s fair to say that Agamben’s Pulcinella finds the ‘exit’ to the oblique and impoverished world of “Decadenza” through Pulcinella’s adéspoton: a new capability is imagined to flee from the catastrophe of the world, against nihilism and the global conflagration (think of the fetichistic avatar of political destruction), but rather to dwell in the non-event of happiness in the mystery of every life. If as Agamben writes, metaphysics is always the production of a dead-end – always arousing a feeling of “being-stuck”, always in need of “catching up” at the expense of suppressing our ethical freedom – one could very well see how Pulcinella’s flight of freedom is the path against metaphysics par excellence [11]. As Agamben writes at the closing of Pulcinella: “Il segreto di Pulcinella è che, nella commedia della vita, non vi è un segreto, ma solo, in ogni istante, una via d’uscita” [12]. One can imagine him being a truly unforgettable anti-Sisyphus.




1. Giorgio Agamben. Idea della prosa (Quodlibet, 2002), 93.

2. Giorgio Agamben. Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (Nottetempo, 2015), 4

3. Ibild., 35

4. Søren Kierkegaard. Fear and Trembling (Penguin Classics, 1985), 79.

5. Giorgio Agamben. Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (Nottetempo, 2015), 65.

6. Gerardo Muñoz. “La existencia pícara. Sobre Pinocchio: Le avventure di un burattino (2021) de Giorgio Agamben“, Infrapolitical Reflections, 2022: 

7. Giorgio Agamben. Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (Nottetempo, 2015), 105.

8. Ibid., 47.

9. Ibid., 122-123.

10. Giorgio Agamben. “Decadenza” (Futuro, 1964). I thank Philippe Theophanidis for bringing to my attention this early text. 

11. Giorgio Agamben. Filosofia prima filosofia ultima: Il sapere dell’Occidente fra metafisica e scienze (Einaudi editore, 2023), 103.

12. Giorgio Agamben. Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (Nottetempo, 2015), 130.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

2. Ibid., 50.

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

4. Lundi Matin. “Éléments de descivilisation. Partie 4”, Lundi Matin, 2019:

Sobre el Nomos Mousikos. por Gerardo Muñoz

En lo que sigue quiero organizar algunos apuntes de lectura sobre la noción griega de nomos mousikos, y para hacerlo quiero glosar algunos movimientos del último capítulo de The Birth of the Nomos (2019) del estudioso Thanos Zartaloudis, quien ha elaborado la contribución filológica y conceptual más importante del concepto hasta el momento. La noción de nomos mousikos pudiera orientar de manera decisiva la prehistoria de una institucionalidad no necesariamente jurídica, previa a la captura del derecho, y en tanto tal capaz de iluminar la relación entre derecho y forma de vida (ethos). En efecto, Thanos Zartaloudis comienza por recordarnos que en el Fedro Sócrates refería a la filosofía como la “más alta mousikē”, y que, en este sentido, la mousikē era una forma de vida, un ethos cuya exploración experiencial se daba mediante la mousikē [1]. Pero la mousikē tiene una prehistoria o una protohistoria antes del momento platónico, que en realidad es su último momento.

En sus inicios la mousikē constaba de una dimensión experiencial mayor que la technē, pues prepara las condiciones para la realización más educada del carácter (ethos) (341). Y, por lo tanto, se entendía que antes que la polis estaba mousikē, y que no habría vida en la polis sin la necesaria condición de la mousikē. Zartaloudis no llega a relacionar la mousikē con el ideal de la ciudad bella (kalapolis), pero sí nos dice que esa “experiencia” de la mousikē garantizaba un orden; una noción de orden acústico, más ligada a la voz y a la memoria que a una sustancia medible de la vida en la polis.

La mousikē, por lo tanto, apelaba directamente a las Musas, y, por extensión, a una función de la transmisión social de la memoria. Según Zartaloudis se trataba de: “una iniciación con la divinidad, que era saber común, y también poder de la música para instituir un saber común o una comunidad mediante la mimesis” (348). La mousikē constituía una forma institucional mínima, invisible, que tampoco era reducible a la especificidad de la música, sino a la asociación con las Musas. Y con las Musas se hacía posible guardar el silencio de la palabra, que entonces se entendía como un ejercicio fundamental de la paideia del ethos.

Aquí la mousikē asume su condición protofilosófica y especulativa más importante: la mousikē es el nombre que se le da al evento originario de la experiencia lingüística de lo no-lingüístico. Zartaloudis nos dice que la memoria que transfiere la mousikē es siempre de antemano trágica; y es trágica porque en ella se registra, o se intenta registrar, la pérdida de la voz como apertura del logos en la phonē. De manera que la “Musa es, el nombre de un acontecimiento que intenta ser recordado como advenimiento de la palabra, como cosmopoesis musical” (355). La Musa es, entonces, no solo ritimicidad de la mousikē, sino la memoria de la pérdida de toda divinidad que, en última instancia, dispensa la inmortalidad mediante el recogimiento de lo mortal, como sugiere Zartaloudis glosando a Jean-Pierre Vernant.

Las Musas ejemplifican una relación entre la voz y el orden social mediante la dimensión del ritual que Zartaloudis refiere de manera directa al problema de la armonía. Y es mediante este problema que la mousikē se convierte en un tema abiertamente político, o de interés político puesto que: “Armonía no era una cuestión de darle forma al caos, en el sentido de lo medible y lo cuantificable, sino de escuchar el chaosmos y ser capaz de anunciarlo” (362). Por eso ahora se puede entender porqué mousikē eventualmente pasó a ser una forma educativa política del ethos, así como un episteme técnico de las matemáticas y de la filosofía. De manera que mousikē era la forma mediante la cual se podía activar una regeneración del kosmos desde la experiencia de la phonē en el decir. La organización de la mousikē para los griegos poseía un poder cosmopoetico. Y Zartaloudis indica que el fenómeno del kosmos no era otro que el de aletheia en la canción. Se trataría, entonces, de un ritual de la mimesis del orden de lo melódico.

Es probable entonces que el nomos mousikos haya sido el sobrevenido técnico de transponer este problema de la voz como acontecimiento a formas genéricas de la melodía y de la tonalidad (382). Y posteriormente en Platón la mousikē obtiene un carácter jurídico y social, por el cual el acontecimiento queda plasmado en el orden de la legislación estatuaria. O sea, nos encontramos ante una forma temprana de la invención del “costum” como norma escrita. He aquí uno de los misterios que Zartaloudis registra, pero que tampoco logra desentrañar del todo de manera explicita: ¿cómo entender el tránsito del orden musical previo a su dimensión estamental del derecho, y luego su confección en la sutura del nomos mousikos? Zartaloudis cita al estudioso Mittica quien argumenta que dicha transformación es de orden de la analogía, y necesariamente de un desarrollo temporal, cuya ambigüedad permaneció por mucho tiempo en la antigua Grecia.

Pero será en Las Leyes de Platón donde la analogía encuentre su mayor grado de sofisticación y perfección, puesto que las reglas mousike serán transpuestas al ordenamiento (taxin) de la polis. Y ahora el poeta aparece ‘ordenado’ para la finalidad de un ‘bien común’ de la polis, ya que el poeta compondrá en la medida en que parmanezca dentro de la ley (nomina), apele a lo bello (kala), y contribuya al bien (agatha) de la ciudad. La dimensión del kosmos-mousikos, nos dice Zartaloudis, ahora aparecía albergarse en el artificio de la palabra. Y solo de lejos era posible escuchar “el pensamiento acústico” de Heráclito. Pero entre sonoridad (nómos) y ley (nomós) algo irremediablemente se perdía: el ritmo incongruente a la forma – el orden melódico, ahora devenía un molde para el orden social. Así se edificaba el nomos mousikos como actividad cívica. Y era el filósofo quien portaría la divisa de la “más alta mousike”, cuyo mysterium era residual a la apariencia de la idea. Por lo tanto, la mousikē era una instancia profética de toda filosofía, como en su momento pensó Gianni Carchia.



1. Thanos Zartaloudis. The Birth of the Nomos (Edinburgh University Press, 2019).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



1. Gerardo Muñoz. “Dix thèses sur Lazzaro felice” en tant que forme de vie”, Lundi Matin, May 2019:

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

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

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

5. “Éléments de descivilisation” (part 2), Lundi Matin, april 2019:

6. Jerónimo Aterhortúa Arteaga. “Creer en las imágenes: entrevista a Alice Rohrwacher.”, Correspondencias, May 2021:

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

An epoch unmoved (V). by Gerardo Muñoz

The intrusion of appearance in the world posits the question of the unlived in every life. This taking place that appears in the world descends temporal finitude; and, more fundamentally, it posits the caducity of its unlived possibilities. In a recent book on the history of citrus in Italy, the author says in passing that blood oranges, being from the lowlands near the Etna, mixes a variation of flavors that ultimately make this particular orange expire sooner than others of its kind. Heterogeneity is a marker of caducity. The shimmering crust of this orange reveals that something like the mystery of what has not happened yet (and perhaps never will) comes to us in the sensorium, in the open of the ambient, and in the time of decay: “It gave us pause for thought. How long does it take for a lemon to completely rot?” [1]. This sense of the unlived in life was thematized by Hölderlin in his late drama The Death of Empedocles, a figure intimate to the Etna volcanic topoi“In holy union each beloved clings to love, a love One thought was dead…To they are this! The ones we so long did without, the living; The goodly gods, declining with the star of life! Farewell!” [2]. We have yet to develop a theory of the encounter that opens the epoch. But the solicitation for an experience entails the seeking of an outside to reality, in which the unlived facilitates nearness to an escape route. As we know, Hölderlin thought of the fissure of unity as excess between outside and reality, in which the relation between object and subject, thinking and action, imagination and things come to a tragic diremption.  

In this light, the actualization of the unlived is the vortex against the immobility of the epoch in which life is rendered actual in its becoming. But this requires specification; or at least a certain amendment of the pure aorgic immanence. We know that centuries before Hölderlin, Angelus Silesius provided a point of entry: “The Sun gives movement unto all, and makes the stars dance in the sky: if I still stand immovable, no part in the great whole have I” [3]. The mystical kenosis is ground cero to attunement of life. However, Silesius also seems to be suggesting that even under the dress of nature, movement is the condition for any instantiation with the abode. If glimpsed from the interior of the site of the natural world, pure immanence appears as the interrupted image without partition; but if described from the exteriority of the unlived, then world and life now meet in a kinetic extraneous divergence. 

But what is the limit of an intensity? There are two ways of coming to terms with this problem: every process of intensification reaches its caducity whenever its violence is overcome by the seduction of possession in submitting to the absolutism of reality. On the other hand, every intensity is perturbed when it finds an obstruction in the formal orientation of the concept. Therefore, when the co-existence between the exogenic and ecstatic limits meet, the free playing of forms becomes flow (plynein).  In other words, we cease to become immobile to deviate from the obstruction of the suspended wreck of every encounter.

Untimely, this invites that we reconsider the status of happiness. As a contemporary philosopher that I admire has insinuated it: perhaps happiness is the unthought notion in our tradition. In a certain way, the unthought and the unlived depart from the caesura of their own evasion. There is perhaps no need to reconstruct how “happiness” has been subordinated to designs proper to politics or commerce; or, as in the more classical tradition, the moral virtue for self-regulation and privation. Everything changes if we locate happiness in the site of the unlived, insofar as now the violence that is constituted of the separation between form and event in the texture of life. The immediacy of happiness is not being able to conquer something like a state of “blessed life” but being able to release the unlived in every succession of deaths that traverse a life [4]. 

But the unlived exits not only to de-constitute the vital determination, but also, and more fundamentally, to escape the seduction of the negative that assumes that loss and tragicity are irreparable limits. Rather, because there is something like an unlived there is happiness in the way that we constantly move within the available set of unlimited possibilities. The unlived initiates a physics that cuts absolute immanence in virtue of the genesis of style, since it is only in style where the overcoming of the unlived shelters the soul in the face of caducity. Indeed, it is in this invisible texture where the color of our mobility approaches asymptotic twirl between divinity and the world.




1. Ciaran Carson. Still Life. Winston: Wake Forest University Press, 2020. 16.

2. Friedrich Hölderlin. The Death of Empedocles. Trad. Farrell Krell. Albany: SUNY, 2008. 93.

3. Angelus Silesius. El peregrino querúbico. Madrid: Ediciones Siruela, 2005. 

4. Pacôme Thiellement. “Le Bonheur est un twist”, 25 june 2017: : “l y a deux lumières: il y a la lumière d’avant la nuit et il y a la lumière d’après. Il y a celle qui était là au début, l’aube radieuse du jour d’avant, et puis il y a celle qui a lutté contre les ténèbres, la lumière qui naît de cette lutte : l’aube scintillante du jour d’après. Il n’y a pas seulement deux lumières, il y a aussi deux joies : il y a la joie d’avant la peine et il y a celle d’après. La joie originelle, la joie innocente, primitive, cette joie est sublime, mais c’est juste un cadeau de la vie, du ciel, du soleil… La joie qui vient après la peine, c’est le cadeau que tu te fais à toi-même : c’est la façon dont tu transformes ta peine en joie, l’innocence que tu réussis à faire renaître des jours d’amertume et des nuits de bile noire. C’est le moment où tu commences à vivre, mais vivre vraiment, parce que tu commences à renaître de toutes tes morts successives. C’est le moment où tu t’approches de la divinité ou du monde”.

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.




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

At 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].




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). 

Contra la mala substancialidad: cuatro apuntes para una conversación con Diego Valeriano. por Gerardo Muñoz

No queremos decir mucho sobre Diego Valeriano, puesto que siempre se pudiera decir más. El estilo Valeriano tiene el peso de lo necesario: donde no falta nada, todo es posible, todo es apertura, todo resta. Y, a su vez, todo está aún por experimentarse. Valeriano es estilo sin estilo. De ahí que en ocasiones – incluso en algunas conversaciones por mail o WhatsApp – ha descrito su escritura como el deseo de querer ser canto. La escritura abandona su primacía ficcional que inviste a la autoría. Imposible reproducir la mimesis del canto de un pájaro, ya que el mundo de la expresión es incapturable (Von Keyserling). Para dar lugar a la conversación, me gustaría dibujar esta pequeña geometría que convoca a lo que pudiéramos llamar un nuevo realismo destituyente.

La hipótesis archi-antropológica. En el momento más álgido de exaltación kirchnerista, Valeriano puso a circular una tesis que podemos calificar de “archi-antropológica”. Contra el moralismo de un liberalismo biempensante y los llamados al cierre de filas de una cultura hegemónica, Valeriano colocó el acento en el vector de la intensidad: “el consumo libera”. Era una tesis radicalmente intuitiva. Sonaba bien. En efecto, era una tesis capaz de ser apropiada por todos, de ahí su fuerza. Pero cuando un liberal la pronuncia su objetivo está claro: el consumo nos libera de la conflictividad política, nos garantiza libertad económica, y nos incluye en la civilización de la producción. En Valeriano, sin embargo, el tenor sacudía un gesto archi-antropológico: cuando nos rozamos con las llamaradas del consumo, disolvemos el reino de la antropomorfización del capital desde adentro. La tesis desplegada era maravillosa. O sea, puesto que la equivalencia es siempre una fantasía de encierra toda economía libidinal, las armas del consumo también son aquellas que liberan la vida de su concreción substancial. Era allí donde emerge toda forma de vida, todo ethos. El consumo en manos del runflerío disuelve nuestro lugar en la objetivación. Devenimos ahora un cualsea. Los condimentos están siempre en cualquier lugar. Ahora se trataba de entrar en la cocina de las prácticas: la magia de una fiesta, un saqueo, un viaje en bondi por la ciudad, una celebración, una junta nocturna, o con-vivir en la escuela. No hay jerarquías. Siempre se ha tratado de lo mismo: retomemos lo invisible que desborda nuestra vida y situemos el problema en la cesura irreductible entre el acontecimiento y las formas que les son posibles.

Localización del poder. Nada aterra más al cosmos intelectual progresista que discutir la localización del poder. Alzar la pregunta por la extensión de sus aparatos es una herejía para los traficantes ideológicos de “teorías” fatuas. De ahí la importancia de la metrópoli, la cual debe ser entendida no como una forma contemporánea de la polis caída a la técnica, sino como la espacialización misma de la totalidad de los ensamblajes cibernéticos. La metrópoli es lo que encuadra al mundo en virtud de una objetivación de su afuera. Esta es una condición intuitiva en la escritura de Valeriano: no hay poder, hay forma de sedimentación metropolitana. La operación metropolitana es todo aquello que busca detener el recorrido cinético de mi experiencia con el mundo desde la identificación y el intercambio. Pero Valeriano va más allá: no hay un “afuera de la metrópoli”, puesto que ya sabemos que el campo es la dispensación negativa y última celda del castillo. Un gesto contrametropolitano, por el contrario, aparece allí cuando ejercemos un viaje que desnarra la intencionalidad y justificación de sus formas. Aquí instalamos un nuevo principio de discriminación: metrópoli es el partido de la reducción y la identificación; el gesto contrametropolitano es, por el contrario, lo que dispensa el campo de experimentación, de encuentros, y de goce. Un goce que no puede servir a la domesticación de los pequeños placeres del intercambio, sino el que sabe que se juega siempre con la propia finitud. El gesto contrametropolitano es lo que crea destino porque ha abandonado la ficcionalización de las orientaciones. 

Existencia hacia el final del mundo. Toda la fuerza de estilo de Valeriano se ubica hacia el fin del mundo. En realidad, es una amistosa invitación a habitar en él sin caer en la “mala substancialidad” que remite a las identificaciones compensatorias del reino del “Yo” (Tiqqun, Teoría del Bloom). Contra las malas substancialidades que sostienen la fragilidad del vacío experiencial de la metrópoli, Valeriano ofrece la aventura de una vida extática. Los zombis es la figura mitopoética de esa “mala substancialidad” que hace del apocalipsis una cárcel de la subjetivación humana. Pero siempre ha existido una salida: lo inhumano. Y es que no hay una “inhumanidad”, sino una composición disyuntiva de los fragmentos que escapan a la fijeza de la realidad: “no es un sistema, no hay reglas. Es un momento aun muy enigmático, repleto de agujeros, quiebres, saltos, tonos. Es intemperie absoluta y refugio vital” (Valeriano, Eduqué a mi hija, 40). El apocalipsis que tonifica la época abre un nuevo antagonismo infrapolítico, cuya posicionalidad se da entre aquellos que busca la fuera de la producción, y aquellos que susbstancializan el mundo bajo la multiplicación de las órdenes. Pero en un mundo carente de legitimidad, una orden es siempre dispositivo de hegemonía y subordinación. Del otro lado de la dominación, aparece el fin del reino de los disfraces: ya no lo que “soy” o lo que “debo ser”, sino “cómo soy” ante aquello que he encontrado y que me acompaña en la práctica de deserción del mundo.

Una vida que no es política. Finalmente, después de dos siglos, aparece una mirada que insiste en la separación entre vida y política, tomando partido por la primera. Una politicidad sin legitimidad incrementa la hegemonía como reino de las ordenes y reparto de las demandas. En este sentido, la vida no es una excepción a la política como orden público, sino una fuga de la topología de la depredación civil. Allí donde hay hegemonía hay sometiendo del tiempo de la vida e interrupción de lo invisible. Por eso indicaba Jacques Camatte recientemente que el poder odia a la juventud, puesto que los jóvenes se inscriben en una zona existencial previa a la domesticación. La forma de vida de la juventud – acaso la figura central de la escritura canto de Valeriano – muestra que ningún poder es absoluto sobre la vida, porque la existencia escapa el dominio de toda hegemonía. Y, desde luego, la juventud no es una etapa en el desarrollo de la vida del hombre, sino el ángel que lo acompaña a lo largo de su recorrido terrenal. El Ángel vela por el destino: guarda la distancia entre mis formas y el afuera. 

Por eso la forma de vida runfla es fundamentalmente un problema especular: contra la representación, se inclina hacia la expresión; contra la domesticación subjetiva, enaltece la vida extática; contra la sutura entre vida y política, insiste en la diferencia absoluta e irreductible de los encuentros. No hay formas absolutas, sino declinaciones con lo que encontramos. El actual apocalipsis nos arroja a un campo experiencial del cual cada vez tenemos más y más noticias. Disuelve la realidad. Esa factura del “tiempo desquiciado” nos convoca a ser quienes ya somos. Un ejemplo inclasificable de ese gesto de deserción está en los pibes que rechazan los aguinaldos de la mala substancialidad. Y ellos siempre están de vuelta.



*Apuntes para el encuentro “Experiencia y metrópoli” que tendrá lugar el 4 de septiembre junto a Diego Valeriano, organizado en la serie “Conversaciones de Ficción” de la revista Ficcion de la razón.