Here is a little masterpiece by Pierre Bonnard at the Phillips Collection, “Interior with boy” (1910). Its simplicity does not shy away from the fact that it is a picture struggling with the problem of sensation as the highest task of painting. Bonnard is most definitely working on the threshold of Pissarro for whom the supreme mystery of a picture at the turn of the century is the act of wrestling with sensation as the world is coming to an eclipse. Or, to put it in a straightforward manner: departing from the objectivized world. If there is anything at the outset of the first decade of the twentieth century – from the stretch of 1890s to the 1910s – is the vibrant undertone of a conscious sense of what experience has become in the world. Painting, it would seem, takes up the challenge of this seeming aspect of life among things.
For Bonnard this means disclosing what appears for the first time: “to show what one sees when one enters a room all of a sudden”. And this is what “Interior with boy”(1910) is showing us: peeking into a room with a boy sitting at a table quietly reading or going through something. The object is dissolved. We are not sure what the boy is doing. But, does it matter? The painting works around this silent vortex (although silent might not be the exact word). The figure does emphatically grows out the different color blocks of the interior (there is a solid black line that makes his body stand out). The effort of painting is achieving the seemingly weightless there-ness of the figure, blending itself to its surround, and gathering a strong sense of its appearance.
As Bonnard would tell Matisse years later: “I see things differently every day, the sky, objects, everything changes continually; you can drown in it. But that is what brings life” . For Bonnard it is not that painting gifts the events of the world with life; rather it brings the event of life away from the drowsiness of the temporal organization of its own elements. Painting is not disorganized for the sake of disorganization; it organizes life around its unmitigated appearance where form does not have the last word. Hence the insufficiency of the question “What is the boy really doing?”. The attempt to define it would ruin the experience of the painting – the subtle but well placed magenta hue connects a fragment of the back door with the boy’s downwards face, and finally to the left corner of the table. In a superficial sense the magenta is a schism of light coming through the picture, but it is also a diagonal that registers the dissonance of the painting, and thus, its ultimate mystery. Can painting integrate dissonance? The early Lúkacs seem to have thought against it. This is what he had to say in Soul and Form (1910):
“In painting there cannot be dissonance— it would destroy the form of painting, whose realm lies beyond all categories of the temporal process; in painting, dissonance has to be resolved, as it were, ante rem, it has to form an indissoluble unity with its resolution. But a true resolution— one that was truly realized— would be condemned to remain an unresolved dissonance in all eternity; it would make the work incomplete and thrust it back into vulgar life.” .
But does painting need to find a resolution to dissonance, or is it quite the contrary? Bonnard’s search for the ante rem is not the sensorial apprehension to this dilemma; it is what refuses recoiling to “vulgar life”. But the passage from Soul and Form (1910) allows me to claim that the vulgarity of life begins when things start to tip towards the end of appearance; that is, when the soul disappears and the only thing remaining is the aggregation of allocated forms for sake of ‘originality’. If anything is achieved, then, in Bonnard’s “Interior with boy” (1910) is that it folds the question of dissonance to the task of painting while acknowledging that the taking place of life is always unattainable; as invisible as the boy’s inscrutable undertaking can be.
1. Bonnard/Matisse Letters Between Friends: 1925-1946 (H.N. Abrams, 2007), 62. 2. Gyorgy Lukács. “Longing and Form”, in Soul and Form (Columbia University Press, 2010), 123.
The friend Andrés Gordillo has generously sustained an ongoing conversation in light of the talk delivered in Mexico on institution and immanence (a first reaction could be read here). In a recent note he brings many elements to the table, and his versatile writing makes it difficult – alas, this is a wish come true for any reader – to locate an univocal point of entry. This is perhaps because there is none. Andrés wants to keep us at the edge, and so he enacts the set up: there is communication, and because communication is the event of language, there is still the possibility of mystery. Many things already pop up here, but this might be doing injustice to Andrés’ elaborate draft. So, for the sake of the exchange, let me open the route by running through a moment that impacted my first reading. It is this moment: “El desencuentro que aviva la amistad de ambos personajes [Narcissus and Goldmund] es el de haber decidido resguardarse en la exterioridad de sus elecciones, ahí donde son obra del amor”.
This is a condensation of what the Hesse’s novel means to him; or, rather, how it speaks to him in light of a discussion regarding the dominance of the civil principle, and the question of an experiential dimension that we defined provokingly as a minor transcendence. I am not sure I am in the position to unpack Andrés’ thesis, if it is a thesis at all. I do remember a couple of years ago an exchange with Alberto Moreiras on the logic of the encounter and the misencounter related, precisely, to the problem of the eclipse of experience. This is the problem that keeps soliciting thought; it is the problem of thought itself.
However, I am getting ahead of myself. Andrés stages a complex framing: there is friendship as absolute difference (or in virtue of a fundamental misencounter), and then there is an exteriority of their existential decisions; that is, in the manner that they are irreductible to their being in the world. I spoke of framing purposely, since I find myself these days with Pablo Picasso’s “The Blue Room” (1901) from the early period that I encountered in Washington DC. It is a rather small picture – and to the viewer, the semi-statue like nude, a female figure it seems, comes to the forefront sliding downwards. A mysterious resonance dilates between things – and indeed, the objects in the room (the sheets, the rug, the bouquet of flowers, the paintings, the half-open window) feel like things. This is an intimate surround at the threshold of catastrophe, where things could be lost at any moment. And we know that epochally they soon were.
We are in a strange setting – and if it is strange to us it is because there is a sense to which alienation and solitude here is the fundamental harmony of dwelling. This is not yet the assumption into plain and continuous historical time that will amass things into objects. The “Blue Room” (1901) inscribes esoterically the thematics of pain – it is a work in which Picasso responds to his friend Carles Casagemas’ suicide that very same year. No metaphorical or allegorical reading will do the job to put us in “The Blue Room”. In the wake of an elliptical death, pain stands in, like the nude the water basin, as the irreductible to history and the menacing social sphere. I will bounce this to another moment of Andrés’ text: “Por ahora me siento inclinado a conversar: avanzar hacia un umbral que se desploma”. This ‘crumbling threshold’ now appears to me as a sound and prudent description of what “The Blue Room” (1901) was able to achieve. An experiential awakening against the conflagration of modern historical time: soon enough – and boy was it soon – the interior space of “The Blue Room” will multiply into infinite cells of the planetary designs in which social man will be just a potential inmate. This is why Picasso in 1901 speaks still today a strange language for us – it discloses a surround, an exteriority that we have been deprived of. It is a surround that is fully folded within.
If pictorial practice is not mere representation, but also, more fundamentally, a form of thought, then we can claim that “The Blue Room” (1901) attests to the proximity of the misencounter of friendship that outlives in the experience of the surround. And here the painter had no privileged position – he is no figure of genius, no commander of historical destiny, no magician of forms. He is also a befallen figure because he is the cipher of life. But to overcome the rhetorical surplus of socialization requires techniques in the face of the irruption of pain. Nothing less solicited Carlo Michaelsteadter when criticizing the reduction of the “man of society” to the pieties in “exchange for the tiny learned task and his submission, the security of all that human ingenuity has accumulated in society, what he would not otherwise obtain except by individual superiority, the potency of persuasion”, he wrote in Persuasione e la rettorica, another masterpiece of the 1900s. Yet, persuasion requires to be vigilant at the moment where things enter the historical penumbra and its rhetorical artifice; the reign of endless confusion amidst the most transparent and disingenuous computations.
How one becomes persuaded within a tonality, and remaining to be so – this is also a surrounding mystery of “The Blue Room” at the outset of the century. We still dwell in its dissonance.
*Image: Pablo Picasso, “The Blue Room” (1901), Philipps Collection, Washington DC. From my personal archive.
There is something insufficient and risible in the attempt to isolate notions like “revolution” or “emancipation” from the total collapse of the grammar of politics. This insufficiency speaks to a rhetorical inflation which already at the turn of the twentieth century Carlo Michaelsteader identified with the attempt at securing the social bond at all costs. The rhetoric of “saving” (the revolution, emancipation, liberation: saving the subject) at bottom, only shows the simulacra of a redemptive movement of value at the heart of social exchange. And we also know that modern political revolutions were experiments in general socialization. Whether it is Saint-Just appealing to the laws of nature against the positive social contract in the wake of the French Revolution; or Lenin and the Bolsheviks more than a century later in their efforts to stage a utopia of production and classless society, the revolutionary horizon was ultimately about the production of the social bond and little else.
The dialectization between subject and the totality of the modes of production was realized in its reverse: the passage to a new temporal domination unto all sensual activities of life. This was expected given the premise: at the center of the genesis of political organization of the West is not the state, but rather the rhetorical structures of civility. That the last theoretical project of politics hinges on the so-called “rhetorical foundations” of society now comes full circle: the development of civilization in the open.
Of course, revolutionary and emancipatory imagination, except in rare occasions, has always been oblivious to the problem of civilization. And this is why Fordism and high Stalinism were perceived as civilizational projects that mirrored and competed against each other. In this sense, the civilizational rise never escaped the duality between politics and nihilism that is proper to the anxiety over order in the genesis of modern European public powers. This is also why early in revolutionary moments of triumph the excess of barbarism was never left behind, but rather it emerged as its siamese twin of the humanist enterprise. As Merleau-Ponty hinted in his old book Humanism and Terror (1947): “Even though our political life creates a civilization we can never renounce, does it not also cointan a fundamental disease?” . This was Ponty in 1947, where the debris of the war was still in full display in major European cities. To some extent one could imagine not wanting to renounce civilization of such barbarism in the face of atomic disaster. But is this our predicament today? Obviously not, since, precisely the collapse of politics (and its main institutional forms such as positive law and political parties) also amounts to an ongoing crisis that is civilizational in nature.
It is not surprising that what emerges in front of us is a different typology than the one that Merleau-Ponty witnessed in 1947: it is no longer the piling of rubbish, but the rise of metropolitan paradises that organize the infrastructural regime of a contactless world. A decade later, written in the 1950s, Amadeo Bordiga will redefine the stakes of civilization: “…the vigorous coarseness of the barbarian peoples was less dire than the decadence of the masses in the capitalist epoch, the epoch that our enemies name as civilization – a word used well here, and in its proper sense, because it means the urban way of life, the way of life proper to the great amalgamated monsters of the bourgeois metropolises” . Bordiga’s lucidity was capable of grasping that Fordismas the triumph of the utopia of capital now meant that civilization (now reduced as the allocation of exchange and distribution) became the central figure of nihilism. Perhaps Bordiga was too imprudent to call for the shadow of the civilized – that is, the barbarian – but his problem, I take it, is still ours to reflect upon.
1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Humanism and Terror (Beacon Press, 1969), xxxviii.
2. Amadeo Bordiga, “Specie umana e crosta terrestre”, in Drammi gialli e sinistre della moderna decadenza sociale (Iskra, 1978), 95. My translation.
On the Marble Cliffs (1939), which appeared for the first time in Nazi Germany in 1939 (the new NYRB has just been published) offered a narrative of a thorough civilizational collapse of the West. I will side with many of the commentators that have reminded the readers that this novel doesn’t simply amount to an allegory of the rise of National Socialism or the reemergence of indirect powers of civil war in the European interwar years. By underlining “just”, I also mean to say that it is also very much about its epoch. Jünger was an insider of the German elite, and one of the most astute interpreters of his time as his theses on the dominion of the worker and the force of total mobilization were fully realized. It happens that On the Marble Cliffs introduces the civilizational collapse not through the allegorical reduction of the narrative procedure, but rather through a weaving, never truly resolved (much to Jünger’s own intentions), of temporalities that do not land in historical form. Circumventing the meanderings of a dreamlike stage and that of a thick and sensorial description, the novel diachronous movement resembles the stage of a vigil that retrospectively looks from page one at the advent of the disaster: “Only then do we recognize how fortunate we humans are to live from day to day in our small communities, under peaceful roofs, engaged in please conversation, and with the effective greetings morning and night. Alas, we always recognize too late that these simple things offered us a cornucopia of riches” (Jünger, 3). Granted, the vigil is an incomplete assessment of how (not so much as to why, which speaks to Jünger’s separation between his critico-politico essays and his narrative universe) the luminous community of brothers at Grand Marina entered the stage of destruction. During their peaceful time at Grand Marina, the brothers dedicate themselves to studying plants: a contemplative activity through an herbarium that becomes an exercise in clearing the mind and “draining time”. Botany has always stood as a minor activity to escape the realization of death, even if inevitable the cycle of temporal caducity.
But the ruinous time begins with the dominion of the Head Forester, an old governor of Mauretania region whose territorial ambitions are rooted in the domination of world affairs, and the willful defense of its doctrine Semper Vitrix (Jünger, 23). For those familiar with the worldview of Jünger, it is not surprising to find that domination does not begging at the original act of taking, but rather in the scheme of disposition that prepares the liquidation of the originary depth of the world’s opacity. Hence, imperii vitrix is always cartographical, and thus concerned with the the procedure of legible reduction: “For them [Mauretaninas] the world was reduced to a map like those thare engraved for amateour using little compasses and polished insutrmentions that are pleasing to hold. And so it seemed odd to come upon figures like the Head Forester in these clear, perfectly abstract realms freed of any shadows” (Jünger, 23). To dominate the world, one must first dominate over the ideals and images that unify a world. This is why Jünger, just a few years earlier in The Worker, had ended his treatise pointing at the passage from the classical social contract theories of social cohesion to the efficiency of planning of production in order to weaken any possible resistance . This is another reason why On the Marble Cliffs fails at any allegorical instantiation, since allegory hinges upon the unfulfilled stage of historical consciousness, whereas Jünger levels his narrative with the metaphysical disposition that is accomplished in modernity. One could call this the triumph of nihilism and anarchy; the never-ending triumph of ‘barbarism and religion’ of the West since at least the Roman Empire to put in the terms of historian J.G.A. Pocock. This is the “line” of modernity, but it is also the line that is breached at the collapse of modernity staged Onthe Marble Cliffs.
Anarchy and nihilism – for Jünger these are for two routes for prompting a relation with the epochal collapse. More than clearcut positions to endorse, these are unbreachable counters of the limitless epoch. Jünger distinguishes them well through the character of Braquemart: “Suffice it to say that there is a profound difference between fully formed nihilism and unchecked anarchy. The outcome of the struggle will determine whether human settlements will become wasteland or virgin forest. With regards to Braquemart, he was marked by all the traits of full-fledged nihilism. His was a cold, rootless intelligence with a penchant for utopias…On seeing him, one inevitably thought of his master’s profound saying: “The desert grows – woe to him who carries the deserts within!” (Jünger, 76-77). The nihilist suffers from a rather coldness of intelligence, and what Jünger qualifies as the ill-fated adventure of the theorist, always unmatched with that of the pragmatist (Jünger, 78). Granted, everything depends on the internal capacities to react against the growing systematic devastation. On the other side, the anarchist cloaks his accomplice condition within the corruption of the law, where nothing is sacred. This is why the anarchist transforms the forest into an enclosed land for hunting and predatory practice where “cadavers left to rot in the fields spread pestilence, wiping out the herds. The downfall of order brings good to none” (Jünger, 62). On the Marble Cliffs is at times too emphatic with the reiteration of the order in opposition to terror: ‘Terror establishes its reign behind a mask of order” (Jünger, 38). And this speaks to National Socialism antipositivist attitudes to the rule of law, which Jünger seemed to have perceived clearly.
However, it is also true that Jünger’s insistence on order is not just about conservation in the abyss, but rather about how the civilizational collapse is expressed in the puncturing of indirect powers that will ultimately unify the anarchy of domination. To insist on nihilism means to de-hegemonize the indirect powers and factional domination against the visceral hatred of the gratitude of language and the mystery of beauty that burns the inside of demonic spirits (Jünger 39). The luminosity of Jünger’s style and symbolic nakedness speaks, in turn, to an attempt at a mythologization of beauty that emerges in a language devoid of parody. In this sense, Jünger displaces Gianni Carchia’s important thesis about the narrativization of the parody of mystery into the form in the bourgeois novel. Jünger’s beauty is mysterious because it exceeds signification and conceptual closure of the novel conflict, as what language does (or seems to do) on the line of nihilism. For Jünger the revocation of anarchy implies taking a distance from the subsumption of prose into narrative order. Thus, Jünger’s order is a primary order, one of retaining the reserves of sacred and the unfathomable character in the face of barbarism and the destruction of the world.
“We take leave more easily when things are in order” (Jünger, 59). This is the primary order of a plain state of the world, which does not presuppose the obsession with organization and management; it is what allows for the flourishing of contemplative life and the possibility of retreating to the density of the forest. But we know that this is, precisely, what comes crashing down in the rise of anarchy and nihilism, both working in tandem in modernity. Attaching oneself to primary order amounts to “concrete dreaming” at best, as the narrator says early in the book. And it is at this point that On the Marble Cliffs solves this conundrum: the idea of order must not be reduced to a nomos of the world, but rather the possibility of an outside from thinking that there is a finite and finished work of the world. This is where Jünger’s genius shines with usual intensity. It is the moment, towards the end, when the narrator admits: “the beauty of this world now enveloped, I saw, in the purple mantle of destruction” (Jünger, 102). The conflagration of the world, however, only undoes a new capacity for seeing thatwhich had remained in the dense fog of consciousness and aesthetics. In other words, the total collapse brings forth the unperishable element between existence and the world. Jünger achieves the highest point of condensation in this elaboration:
“The harvest of many years of labor fell prey to the element and with the house, our work returned to dust. We cannot count on seeing our work completed here below, and happy is the man whose will is not too painfully invested in his efforts. No house is built, no plan created, in which ruin is not the cornerstone, and what lives imperishably in us does not reside in our works. We perceived this truth in the flame, and its glow was not devoid of joy” (Jünger, 108).
This is not joy or appetite for destruction, but more a joy about what remains unperishable in every destructive act that realizes itself just so that everything could be renewed more or less the same. At the narrative level the unperishable of every work is the mystery that cannot be fully captured either by the deployment of historical allegory or by the mimetic translation of the work of narrative. On the Marble Cliffs remains stubbornly an open novel, but in a very precise sense: it gestures to the divergence between life and the world is barely touched parabolically at a distance. This is why the character of On the Marble Cliffs reaches the end by stressing “the sight of it [an old oak grove] made us feel at home…”(Jünger, 113). Whereas sight is an index of landscape, of seeing beyond the abyss. This is a condition for living among the dead once again. Perhaps this is why Jünger felt the need to record in his French war diaries that Pablo Picasso had asked him if the novel was based on a real landscape .
Only a painter that had witness the crisis of modern space (beginning with the “Blue Room” of 1900) could directly engage with the trope of the ‘marble cliff’: it is here that the altar of a sacrificial history and political domination turns into the site of theoria. Now the faculty of seeing grows outside of itself, “to manifest freedom in the face of danger” (Jünger, 117). On the Marble Cliffs is an invitation to this interior unperishable landscape that removes us from idle fictions in the face of anguish if only we do not turn our back to it (in the name of science or technology or new idols). Given that the desert of nihilism can only grow, I wonder how many today could even stand on the cliff. I fear that the effort of raising the head and looking beyond is already too much to ask.
1. Ernst Jünger. The Worker: Dominion and Form (Northwestern University Press, 2017), 173-178.
2. Ernst Jünger. A German Office in Occupied Paris: The War Journal 1941-1945 (Columbia University Press, 2019), 78.
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…” . 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” . 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 . 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 . 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.” .
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” . 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).” 
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 . 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 . 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 . 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 . 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” . 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.
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 . 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)” . 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 . 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 . 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).
The core of my present intervention was prompted by a joke recently told by a friend. This friend said: “Alberto Moreiras is Spain’s most important Italian philosopher”. I felt I had to respond to it, in my own sort of way, such as this brief intervention. I will offer at least three hypotheses as why that was said. First, what is obvious: Moreiras’ analytical reflection is irreducible to the dominant Spanish philosophical or cultural reflection, however we take that to be (taking in consideration that Moreiras’ work is hardly defined solely by the Spanish archive or historical tradition). Second, that Moreiras’ reflection is somewhat close to the Italian philosophical tradition, particularly in the wake of the contemporary turn of “Italian Difference”. Thirdly, that Moreiras’ own singular thought shares a vinculum with the Italian philosophical culture as “thinking on life”, as perhaps best defined by Roberto Esposito in his Living Thought (2011). There is probably no way to find out the original “intention” of said friend in terms of the Italian signatura of Moreiras’ work, and it is not my desire defend any of three hypotheses. Rather, in what follows what I want to develop is a preliminary exploration of the way in which Línea de sombra: el no-sujeto de lo político (2006) could be very well read a horizon of thought that retreats from community vis-à-vis the non-subject that transfigures the “democratic kernel of domination” (Moreiras 94).
In this analytical development I want to ‘actualize’ Línea de sombra’s potential not very rehearsing the arguments against the so called decolonial option, the metaphysical concepts of Empire and multitude, or the critique of the humanism of the politics of the subject, all of them contested in the book. It is not that I think that those discussions are closed, but rather that I want to suggest that a different politics of thought that radicalizes and abandons those very notions – nomos, legacy, and subject – through the practice of infrapolitical reflection. Hence, I will take up two instances of this nomic sites of contemporary reflections in the so called school of “Italian Difference”; mainly, Remo Bodei’s “Italian” entry in the Dictionary of untranslatables (Princeton U Press, 2014), and Roberto Esposito’s articulation of “Italian philosophy” in his Living Thought: the origins and actuality of Italian Philosophy(Stanford U Press, 2011). I would like to anticipate a critique that could perhaps note that I am putting off Italian thought, or even antagonistically clashing two schools of thought. I am not interested in establishing what could well said to be a legislative clash between theories. I am also aware that Italian Difference is a topological heterogeneity that organizes variations of common themes among thinkers, but that it is not reducible to what singular thinkers generate in their own effective elaborations. In this way, you could say that what I am interested here is in the way in which a certain nomic grounding under the name of ‘Italian Thought’ has been articulated, grounded, and posited as a tradition between conservation and rupture. In the remaining of this intervention, I would like to offer some preliminary speculative ideas about the way in which infrapolitical reflection decisively emerging from Línea de sombra divergences from the general horizon of radical democratic politics advanced by Italian theory.
For reasons that are not just chronological, I think Remo Bodei’s entry in the Dictionary of the untranslatables is preparatory for Esposito’s own take on the territorial and exterritorial force of “Italian Philosophy” in his 2005 book. Indeed, Esposito records in a footnote Bodei’s entry, as well as other recent contribution to the topic such as Borradori’s Recording Metaphysics: New Italian Philosophy (Northwestern, 1988), Virno & Hardt’s Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics (Minnesota, 1996), and Chieza’s The Italian Difference Between Nihilism and Biopolitics (2009). An important predecessor reflecting on Italian philosophical culture – ignored by both Esposito and Bodei – is Mario Perniola’s early “Difference of the Italian Philosophical Culture” (1984), which already establishes the conditions for thinking this nomic specificity beyond the encompassing paradigm of the nation-state, and against the grain of the organization based Italian identity of the Risorgimento. For Perniola, “this is now over, and that natilistic ways, based on a comparison and vindication of identities have completely exhausted their historical function” (Perniola 105). The exhaustion of a national philosophical script is what reversely makes the case for Italian thought to be a thinking measured by civic activism, which entails that the conditions for transmission and interruption of tradition is essentially through a distance between history and language (Perniola 108-09).
sIn a profound way, Italian philosophy is what speaks without historicizing itself, or what speak the non-historiciable to put in Vico’s terms in the New Science. This amounts to an interruption of any philosophy of history, since it discloses a region of what cannot be rendered a science of history. Italian philosophic reflection opens up to the collapse of narration not as consequence of State persecution or constitutive violence, but as a function of a politics incapable of coinciding with the Italian nation-state (as we know this is the symptom of Gramsci’s formulation of the subaltern, and the North-South relations the Prison Notebooks). Perniola’s early essay is an important salient informant of Bodei’s entry, since what arouses the second’s reflection is precisely the drift towards a civil philosophy, or what is the same, a philosophy based on a civic vocation. Thus, writes Bodei:
“From a broad historical perspective and taking into account the limits imposed by its irreducible complexity the Italian language has been character by a constant and predominant civil vocation. By civil I mean a philosophy that is not immediately tied to the sphere of the state, nor to that region of interiority. In fact, ever since its humanist and Renaissance origins, its privileged interlocutors have not been specialist, clerics or students, attending university, but a wider public, a civil society one has sought to orient, to influence, to mold” (Bodei 516).
Italian language, which for Perloina was constitutive of Italian thought, here takes a civic function that exceeds the proper limits of the philosophical act. This is why Bodei’s most important symptomatic definition is Machiavelli’s ‘verità efffecttuale della cosa’, which is guided by desire at the intersection between tradition and innovation, revolution and rupture. For Bodei’s Italian vernacular language necessarily breaks away from the very containment of the philosophical nomos, spilling over an excess that is anti-philosophical or ultra-philosophical. By proxy of Leopardi’s writings, Bodei argues against the ‘German poem of reason’, defending a poetical space of thought that knows (according to Leopardi) “the true and concrete…the theory of man, of governments, and so on, that they Germans have made none”. The point being is not just that Italian philosophers are ultra or non-philosophical, but that an antiphilosophy of praxis, of what citizens already do. The difference, according to Bodei vis-à-vis Croce, only rests upon critico-practical reflection as the central determination of thinking in Italian (523).
As it is for Esposito – but we can say also for Agamben in the last volume of the Homo sacer series, L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014) – philosophy is a praxis that provide immanent validation for Aristotle’s treatment of dunamys and energeia, as well as his general typology of causation. What is at stake here is nothing less than the actualization of the question of technology (technê), which Bodei reads in Galileo’s as a contestation to the systematization of maquination (Gestell). The scientific thought of Bruno or Galileo bring to halt the machination that Heidegger understood as the end and realization of epochality through gigantism, by positing the artificiality of the apparatus (of the ‘thing’) as an extension of nature, and not as its mere opposition (Bodei 527). Although he does not explicitly thematizes it on its proper terms, one could very easily read in this argumentation the polarity that structures Italian non-philosophy: the question of civic vocation (klesīs) and the question of nihilism (the co-belonging between technique and philosophy of history).
What is rather puzzling about Bodei’s argumentation is that at no point does he account for a genealogy of what I would call the non-philosophy of life, or even the life of non-philosophy as the excess of the philosophical life in the Italian republics. In other words, Bodei leaves out the sophist, and it is the figure of the sophist what ultimately lead a positive civic contemplative life outside the constrains of philosophical schools, such as stoicism (Bonazzi & Bènatouïl 2006). Instead, what he does offer and reconstructs is the paradigm of an Italian philosophical tradition that still structures itself between tradition and interruption, thought and action, immanence and life. This is the conflictivity or differend – we could also call its krisis, which Cacciari’s studied in relation to the labor of the negative in his important book Krisis: Saggio sulla crisi del pensiero negative (1976)– that in Bodei remains unresolved at the political register, still organized around the concept of the “civil”.
Roberto Esposito’s Pensiero vivente (Giulio, 2010) shares many of the basic premises advanced by Bodie, but there is little doubt that it is the most sophisticated and sustained reflection on thinking the nature and the political consequences of “Italian Difference” in the wake of nihilism and biopolitics after Michel Foucault’s critique of governmentality. Although unlike Bodei, Esposito pushes the political consequences to its limits on the relation between philosophy and history. According to Esposito, it is on this threshold that a region beyond the impasse of the philosophical and political categories of Western modernity, would allow an actuality of thought with transformative capacities and innovative energy (Esposito 21). Departing from Deleuze & Guattari’s anarchic definition of philosophy as de-territorializing, Esposito affirms not an ultra-philosophy or a non-philosophy, but the development of an uneven grammar that is universal due to its very singularity, that is, it could travel unbounded throughout Europe with arguments, formulations, and images that everyone could make their own and share (20).
Esposito outlines three different paradigms of Italian difference: a political one that solicits conflict in every instance; a radical historicity of the non-historical; and one of life, which is to be understood as both the worldliness of the modern subject and the deconstructive gesture of the dual theological machine folded on the person. I want to limit myself to elaborate on the first and third declinations (political conflict and life). Esposito also thinks against the German or English traditions understood as State traditions – the traditions of Locke, Hegel, or Fichte – which he sees as constituting the state knowledge of the political (Esposito 21). Esposito views them as philosophies of history, whose nexus to the political is one of consensus and not of disagreement or antagonism. Instead, “Italian philosophy has shown a critical and sometimes antagonistic potential not commonly found in other contexts. Sometimes, in special situations, and under certain conditions – in the case of a drastic transition between epochs like the one we have been experiencing for some hears now – what appears to be, an is, in effect, a lack or an antimony can transform itself into advance compared to more stable, well-established situations” (21).
This ‘antagonistic potential’ defiantly avoids the nihilism of acting according to the presenting of principles of the normative order. However, so it seems to argue Esposito, the antagonistic politics feeds off crisis, is born out of transitional or inter-epocal subsumption. The question is similar to the one that one could formulate against the hegemonic principle overriding the populistic logic, which Moreiras frames it in this way in Línea de sombra: “if hegemony is the democratic horizon of domination [because it is not consensual], the search for a politics of the closure of sovereignty begs the question about the end of subalternity in a radically democratic horizon” (Moreiras 94). But the truth of democratic politics is only possible against the condition of hegemonic attainment. Esposito writes this much: “…[against] the Hegelian identification between politics and state, the world of life is cut through by pervasive struggle, in a fight to idea for hegemony: whether like it or no, we are always forced to take a position in favor of one part against the other” (Esposito 25).
I would not go as far as to say this exhaust the horizon of Esposito’s political thought, from the intricacies of the impolitical to his most recent turn to the impersonal. However, this does mark a fissure from the possible of generating a radical theory of de-theologizing the political, an operation of thought not alien to the infrapolitical horizon (132). Essentially, the problem here is not about the theory of hegemony, or the continuation of hegemonic principle of Roman politics, as what continues to divide and administer life through domination. More so, I would argue, give that we are seeing here a second order of interior domination that posits the life of infrapolitics at the expense of the political and the community (munus). This means, that if one takes seriously the articulation of infrapolitics as the possibility of action outside the subject, that it is not enough to think the politics of Italian difference as a pre-statist that is always already the promise of a democratic or post-democratic infrapower as governed by a counter-hegemony of decision (Moreiras 224). Secondly, this leads to the question of contingency that underlines the very co-belonging between history and philosophy of the Italian Difference. Stefano Franchi is right in noting that the “sporgenza” or protrusions are processes that punctuate the body and archive of Italian thought. Protrusions are also what allow for the development of epochs, constituting the excess and contingent foundation of the historical unfolding as such. Of course, the pressing question is: “and how do we know if ‘Il Pensiero vivente’ as such – not the book Esposito wrote, but though he advocates in its last sentence as a breach capable of renewing contemporary philosophy as a whole – is capable to uncover those events in unprecedented ways?” (Franchi 31). And what is more: how does one establishes a co-substantial difference from an epochal presence of living thought to Esposito’s own thought (impersonal / third person)?
My purpose here is not to resolve this aporia in Esposito’s characterization of Italian Difference, because to cross its nihilism. Infrapolitics has something to say here in regards to location. In the chapter on infrapolitics in Linea de sombra, Alberto argues: “The difference between an imperfect experience and one reducible to an aporia is also the difference between understanding the aporetic as the end of thinking, and that of understanding as a reflexive opening that is the beginning of an infrapolitical practice in the same location where the suppression against the aporia reinforces the exorbitant violence of the imperial biopolitical hegemony” (Moreiras 235). But infrapolitical dwells necessarily in a non-space or alocation, since is very excess is the falsification of life; that is, what is no longer structured around an enemy for political antagonism. Italian Difference necessitates a non-supplementary exodus that is infrapolitical life, what escapes biopolitical life of the community.
Here one must ask, what is the relation between alocationality and democracy? Is there a democracy of the impersonal or the unequal? This is a difficult question to ask at this moment, but it is pertinent if the question about civic duty (Bodei) or immanentization of social strife is constitutive Italian thought. Following the political historian of Ancient Greece, Christian Meier, Agamben concludes his recent Stasis (2015) by suggesting that the politization brought by the isonomic foundation carries the latent possibility of social strife or stasis, which is the obfuscation of the ontology of war (politics) within the polis. This runs counter to Arendt, who in On Revolution attributed non-rule to the principle of isonomy as antecedent to democracy as majority rule (Arendt 30). It also seems insufficient to end at Esposito’s determination of the community based on the logistics of binding-debt (munus), intensified today by the total unification of existence and world, in what Moreiras has called the principle of equivalence (Moreiras 2016). Is infrapolitics then, always, a shadow of civil war? If the non-subject cannot constitute isonomic citizenship; infrapolitics disjoints the mediation between the political and the differential absorption of differences. In other words, posthegemonic democracy prepares a different institutionalization for political relation that no longer covers the empty space of the One at the heart of the civil.
* A version of this text was written on the occasion of a roundtable on Alberto Moreiras’ book Línea de sombra: el no-sujeto de lo político (2006, 2021), which Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott and I organized for the ACLA 2016 at Harvard University. I am actualizing it here with minor changes in light of the first discussion on “Italian theory” in the framework of the Foro Euroamericano, at 17/instituto, which I am co-organizing along with José Luis Villacañas, Benjamin Mayer Foulkes, and José Miguel Burgos-Mazas. The first session is mow available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BjW4euQduE
Alberto Moreiras. Línea de sombra: el no-sujeto de lo político (Palinodia, 2006).
Marcello Tarì’s book There is no unhappy revolution: the communism of destitution (Common Notions, 2021), finally translated into English, is an important contribution in the ongoing discussions about politics and existence. It is also an exercise that pushes against the limits of contemporary political thought in the wake of the ruin of the grammars and vocabularies of the modern politics and the rise of the techno-biopolitics of governmentality. More importantly, the operation of Tarì’s book escapes the frame of “critique”, abandoning any false exits to regain the legacy of the Enlightenment and of “judgement” in hopes to reinstate the principles of thought and action in the genesis of the legitimation of the modern social contract. But the radicality of the horizon of destitution – which we have come to understand vis-à-vis the work of Giorgio Agamben, and the Invisible Committee – is first and foremost a thematization of the proximity between thinking and politics against the historical stagnation of a historical subsumed by the total technification of value (the principle of general equivalence). Since Tarì’s book is composed of a series of very heterogenous folds and intersections (literally a toolbox in the best sense of the term), in what follows I would like to sketch out a minor cartography to push the conditions forward that the book so elegantly proposes in three registers: the question of “revolutionary becoming” (the kernel of Tarì’s destituent gesture), the hermeneutics of contemporary domination, and the limits of political militancy.
Revolutionary becoming. Marcello Tarì correctly identifies the problem the epoch as fundamentally being about the problem of revolution. However, the notion of revolution must be understood outside the continuation of the modern horizon of the Leninist technique of the revolutionary vanguard nor party, the “revolution within the revolution”, and any appropriation of the “General Intellectual”. At the end of the day, these were all forms of scaling the desire as cathexis for the matrix of production. On the contrary, the problem of revolution is now understood in the true Copernican sense; mainly, how to inscribe an excentric apositionality within any field of totalization. When this is done, we no longer participate in History, but rather we are “freeing a line that will ultimately go down in History, but never coming from it”. Tarì argues that the field of confrontation today is no longer between different principles of organizing revolutionary strategies and even less about ideological critique; nor is communism an “Idea” (as it was thought just a decade ago in discussion that were philological rather than about thinking communism and life); the new epochal exigency is how to put “an end to the poverty of existence” (3). The potentiality of this transformation at the level of factical life, is what Tarì situates under the invariant of “communism”: “…not as an idea of the world, but the unraveling of a praxis within the world” (35). This communism requires a breakthrough in both temporal and spatial determinations, which prepares a dwelling in absolute relation with the outside (49). This revolutionary tonality is one closer to messianic interruption of historical time capable of destituting “actual state of things” governed the metaphysical apparatus of production and objetivation of the world, which depends on the production of the political subject. In an important moment of the book, Tarì writes: “…. only the revolutionary proletarian dimension can grasp the political as such, the true break from the current state of things. The real alternative to modern politics is thus not to be ground in what we usual can an “anti-politics”, which is merely a variation of the same there, but instead in a revolutionary becoming” (50).
The revolutionary becoming is a transformative intensity of singularization, which ceases to become a subject in virtue of becoming a “non-subject” of the political (67), which about a decade ago Alberto Moreiras announced to escape the dead end of the hegemony-subalternity controversy (one should note here that the fact that the Left today has fully subscribed the horizon of hegemony is something that I think it explains many of the deficits of the different experiments in a realization of a progressive political strategy). And this becoming revolutionary, in virtue of ceasing to be a subject (person, vanguard, multitude, worker) entails a new shift from action to use, and from technico-rationality to an opening of the sensible and singular means (metaxy). Again, Tarì’s continues as follows: “Becoming revolutionary…. means utilizing fantasy, freeing the imagination, and living all of this with the enthusiasm of a child” (75). The notion of “happiness” at stake in the book it is played out against the determination of the subject and the processes of incarnations (Karmy) that have haunted the modern revolutionary paradigm as always-already integrated into the metaphysics of the philosophy of history.
Metropolitan domination. Secondly, Tarì’s book locates the metastasis of domination at the level of a new spatial organization of the world in the apparatus of the metropolis. As we know the metropolis is not just an urban transformation of the Western form of the urbs and the polis, but rather the force of appropriation of the world into interconnectivity and surface in order to optimize, administer, and reproduce flows of the total fictionalization of life. The gesture towards the outside that crosses over Tarì’s book entails an exodus from the metropolitan structure that makes uninhabitable experience. This takes place by a process of domesticating its possibilities into the order of sameness (crisis of appearance) and translating our proximity with things into the regime of objects. What is stake in the metropolis – if we think of the most recent revolts in Santiago de Chile, Paris with the to the hinterlands of United States and Italy – if not precisely a response against the metropolitan machination “aiming at the destruction of every possibility of having any experience of the world and existence itself” (84). This why the intensity of any contemporary revolt today is proportional to the experiential texture of its composition and modes of evasion. Of course, Tarì correctly identifies the metropolis as an expanded field of cybernetic inter-connectivity, which, as I would argue is not merely the production of “bad substance” (to use Tiqqun’s Bloomian lexicon), but also a recursive dominion over the medium (metaxy) in which experience and the singular autopoiesis labors for the optimization and hylomorphic regimes that administer civil war. In this sense, destitution names an exodus from the metropolitan technical order and the sensible reproduction of the medium. It is in the outside the metropolis that the ongoing process of communization can free an infinite process of communization and forms of life.
Residual militancy and infrapolitics. But does not the exodus or the destitution of the metropolis – opening to singular experience, love, friendship, and the use of one’s disposable means and inclination – presuppose also a step back from a political determination, in other words, a fundamental separation from coterminous between existence and politics? At the end of the book, Tarì claims that “whenever anything reaches a certain level of intensity it becomes political” (117). But is the intensification of thinking or love or friendship always necessarily political? Tarì writes a few pages later that: “love is continually traversed by a line of extreme intensify, which makes it an exquisitely political affect” (126). But does not the politization of love depends on a certain commitment (a “faith”) to a residual militancy, even if it is a militancy posited as the principle of anarchy? But perhaps this is the difficulty at stake: since anarchy is only entails the “anarchy of phenomena” in reality, postulating a political principle as counter-exposition, however tenuous, might not be enough. For this reason, the crisis of appearance today needs a step back from the heliopoliticity of exposition. In an essay written a couple of years ago, Alberto Moreiras thematized this difficulty vis-à-vis Scürmann’s principle of anarchy, which I think is worth quoting: “The Schürmannian principle of anarchy could then be thought to be still the subjective reaction to the epochal dismantling of ontology (as metaphysics). But, if so, the principle of anarchy emerges, plainly, as principle, and principle of consciousness. Anarchy runs the risk of becoming yet another form of mastery, or rather: anarchy, as principle, is the last form of mastery. At the transitional time, posited as such by the hypothesis of metaphysical closure, metaphysics still runs the show as consolation and consolidation” .
If politics remains the central condition of existence, then it follows that it depends on a second-degree militancy that can govern over the dispersion of the events and this ultimately transfers the force of steering (kubernates) to mitigate the crisis of thought and action in the sea of “absolute immanence”. But immense is also a contemporary fundamental fantasy . Against all “faith” in absolute immanence we need to cut through in its letting be (poein kata phusin) of the abyssal relation between existence and politics. This originary separation is an infrapolitical step back that solicits a distance an irreducible distance between life, events, and community form. The commune would be a secondary condition of political organization, but the existential breakthrough never coincides with community, except as a “common solitude”. Secondly, the infrapolitical irreducibility between politics and existence wants to reject any compensatory temporal politico-theological substitution, which also includes the messianic as a paradigm still constitutive of the age of Christian community of salvation and the efficacy of deificatio. The existential time of attunement of appropriation with the improper escapes the doble-pole paradigm of political theology, which has been at the arcana of both philosophy of history as well as the messianic inversion. A communism of thought needs to produce a leap outside the politico-theological machine which has fueled History as narrativization and waged against happiness . Attuning oneself to the encounter or the event against the closure of the principle of reality might be a way out from the “hegemonic phantasm” of the political, which sacrifices our infinite possibilities to the logistics of a central conflict. If civil war is the side of the repressed in Western politics, then in the epoch of the ruin of authority it opens an opportunity to undue the measurement (meson) proper to the “Social”, which is now broken at the fault lines as Idris Robinson has put it . It is only in this way that we can move outside and beyond the originary positionality of the polis whose “essence never coincides with politics” . The saving of this irreducible and invisible distance prepares a new absolute proximity between use and the world.
2. Lundi Matin. “Éléments de decivilisation” (3): “It is also about the creed of the dominant religion: absolute immanence. Doing itself, designed to obey the modes of proceeding from production, is in advance conforming and consecrated. On this sense, no matter what you do, you bend the spine in front of the cult dominant. If all things count, none has a price, and everything is sacrificeable.”. https://lundi.am/Elements-de-decivilisation-Partie-3
3. This is why Hegel claims in his lectures on the Philosophy of History that: “History is not the soil in which happiness grows. The periods of happiness in it are the blank pages of history”. The revolutionary overflow of happiness is only possible as an exodus from the theological political structure of historical production. Here the question of style is emerges as our defining element.