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. 

Bonnard (1910): painting and dissonance. by Gerardo Muñoz

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” [1]. 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.” [2].

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.

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.

A new science of experience. by Gerardo Muñoz

This is merely a footnote to an exchange in light of the short talk “Immanence and Institution” that I delivered yesterday in Mexico City under the generous auspices of Professors Benjamin Mayer Foulkes and Andrés Gordillo (the recording should be available soon in the audio archive). In the rich discussion that followed the hypothesis regarding the triumph of the dominance of the civil concept today, Andrés Gordillo noted that a practice of “discernment” was required to confront the ongoing condition of planetary catastrophe that has only intensified in the wake of AI automation processes that orient the optimizing and unifying the totality of world-events. Alluding to his historiographical research on early modern epoch, Gordilo alluded to the mysticism of the seventeenth century’s “science of experience” (following Michel De Certau’s The Mystic Fable but not only this work) as an existential practice to retreat from the dominium of confession, but also to refuse the Protestant unification driven by the ends of predestination and grace. And unlike the early Christian mystics of the void and releasement, the proponents of a science of experience favored a discernment with God that was vested in every creation of possibilities and modalities exterior to life.

The mystical defense of a science of experiences, then, refuses the concretion of the social subject: being a subject of sin through the postlapsarian condition, but also reflecting the Protestant subject of election that will give birth to the secularization of consciousness and will. The science of experience is the exposure of the soul to the possible transformation with the exteriority as prefigured in transcendental exteriority. A transfiguration of the foundational unity of theological revelation. I find it fascinating that these mystics of the seventeenth century (some of them marranos or facing the problem of conversion) were already aware that an epoch of total dominium and absolute collapse against life requires a transformative nexus with the temporality of experience. 

When Erich Unger in 1921 contemplates the rise of a catastrophic politics in his Politics and Metaphysics, he retorts to a politics of exodus that, precisely, affirms the experiential dimension of existence and communication through what he would call the elevation of the imaginative capacities. In the face of a subsumption of politics into catastrophe, for Unger the immediate task was to elaborate the praxis of experience from the psychic imbalance of the corrosive effects of the subject. In other words, the science of experience names an interior exodus against every instance of rhetorical and mimetical fabrication that seeks to hold the plan discernment of life into a regime of administration and accumulation of plain historical time.

I agree with Gordillo that perhaps the diverse experiments of the “science of experience” could very well be understood as experiments in transitional thought against historiographical closures. The notion of experiment could be extrapolated from Saidiya Hartman’s usage, in a minimalist sense: ways of living on the other side of the rhetorical assignment of the fictitious life of the subject. But perhaps the very term “science of experience” today is a misnomer, in the same way that the proto-concept of “experiential politics” deployed by Michalis Lianos during the cycle of the Yellow Vests runs into an aporetic threshold to name the crisis of the soul’s attunement in the face of the conflagration of the world. Precisely the errancy of experience (and its non-sacrificial relation to pain) is what cannot be subsumed – and for this reason the invisible fleeting gradation – neither to a science nor to a politics.

On the community of friendship. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is no surprise that the growth of social fragmentation runs parallel to appeals to community and communitarian affirmations. For anyone today in the university (at least in the United States, but I am told that the trend is similar across parts of Europe and elsewhere) it is easy to see that all initiatives and justifications for actions (an art curatorial project, a library event, you name it) is almost always done in the name of the community. The communitarian affirmation emerges to help cure the otherwise too crude and unbearable wounds of the social bond and the community of the species (Gemeinwesen). A friend was on point recently in defining these communities of obligation, participation, and self-valorization as a minima societas; a mini society that helps to create the illusion that “Society”, somehow, is still here.

As we know, this is not far off from Edmund Burke’s famous theory of “little platoons” meant to orient humanity towards the virtues of public affections. The collapse of civil-society and state mediations realized the Burkean predicament to its integral idealization, which is why today radical Marxist, academic bureaucrats, postliberal nationalists, experts in mental health and psychiatric treatments, contemporary art curators and even special units of the police can all agree that community is the highest value that must protected and sustained. In this framework, there is no outside to the community, and every outside becomes integrated into the community as a value.

The community lodges the artificial allure to retract from catastrophe, but it does so by reproducing the catastrophic it seeks to avoid: that is, by negating the possibility of exteriority of every community sustained by the affective transmission of vanity and recognition. This is why to speak of community of friendship is a misnomer at best, which introduces a great amount of confusion between these two forms of contact. In a fabulous moment in his Il dialogo della salute, Carlo Michelstaedter goes as far as to write that: “In the communities of friendship that are born from a common vanity, every life off the death of those who are already outside the community. Everyone in its own solitude swallows with an empty stomach the sour implications of these lethal conversations. But these are the companies that please men”.

It is a remarkable passage that exposes the irredeemable position of a community of friendship, which ultimately subsumes the friend into the logistics of debt, obligation, and recognition and satisfaction. As in Mary McCarthy’s novel The Oasis (1949) about a group of disaffected antinuclear intellectuals who form a community in the mountains of New England, every community of friendship is destined to the worst catastrophe imaginable sacrificing both friendship and the world through the circulation of value.

Precisely, if friendship means anything, is that it is on the other side of valorization that permanently conflates language and directives of action. What happens in McCarthy’s The Oasis is precisely that language becomes a medium for directives and exchange, and friendship a hellish reality of ‘those who belong’ but now have nowhere to go.

The impossibility of separating community and friendship will only perpetuate the politics of catastrophe that has colored the entire course of Western political modernity. The Spanish political leader Pablo Iglesias recently captured the bad faith of our times: “Puede que la manifestación no tenga un impacto político inmediato pero del mismo que los católicos se encuentran en misa nosotros nos encontramos, nos abrazamos en las movilizaciones. Somos parte fundamental de una comunidad.”

For sure, a magnetic secularized religious liturgy lives on Iglesias’ candid heart. But we know that the partition of friendship is neither an offshoot nor a declension of a substantive community; it is what takes place on the other side of pathetic valorization.

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.

Glosses on Idris Robinson on Enzo Melandri’s logic of analogy. by Gerardo Muñoz

This is the final entry on the mini-series of interventions within the framework of the course that I am teaching at 17 instituto on contemporary Italian political thought. In this last fourth installment we had a very rich and productive conversation with Idris Robinson (University of New Mexico) on the philosophy of work of logic developed by the Italian thinker Enzo Melandri. Melandri’s work remains largely unknown, aside from the recent new editions of his major works at Quodlibet, and the recent monograph Le Forme Dell’Analogia: Studi Sulla Filosofia Di Enzo Melandri (2014) by Angelo Bonfanti. Idris’ doctoral dissertation (hopefully a book in the near future) will be a major contribution in a rising interest on Melandri’s work on logic, politics, and history, and its dialogues with the work of Wittgenstein, Foucault, and Agamben. As Idris Robinson recalled, the work of Melandri would have been entirely unknown if it weren’t for Agamben’s book on method, Signatura rerum, which uses Melandri’s work on analogy and paradigms as conditions for his own archeological method. This whole terrain remains to be explored, as Philippe Theophanidis suggested, given that it has been for the most part ignored in all the main works on the Agamben’s thought (including Villacañas’ otherwise excellent essay on method, history, and archaeology in the recent collective volume that I edited). But to the extent that Enzo Melandri’s work remains to be translated into English, Idris’ lecture serves as an important introduction to some of the key elements of his work, even if there is a lot to fill in and discuss from now on. All of the questions regarding Agamben’s method should emerge from this terrain, rather than the exhausted and ambiguous mantra of “critical theory”.

1. First, Idris Robinson suggested that Melandri’s central contribution departed from the distinction of two major path of Western logic: linear logic, which comes full circle in symbolic logic and formalization at the turn of the twentieth century (Russell, Frege, Wittgenstein); and analogical logic, which remains suppressed, but subterranean latency for problems of bivalence and the excluded middle against all preconditions of the identity-difference polarity. Like Agamben would later do with his rereading of energeia/dunamis opposition in Aristotle, Melandri was also a strong reader of Aristotle’s logic and the categories in order to advance a series of logical alternatives (not by any means the only ones, and not necessarily distributed equally): a) a different conception of the principle of identity (p / -p), b) gradations of contradictions (p / -p), c) inclusion of a middle or third as failure of bivalence, d) continuity and gradation, and e) the equivocity of meaning. All of these should not be taken at face value or even as complete abandonment of linear logic. Needless to say, these elements supply analogic logic an exit from linear reductions of formal logic and its presuppositions on the grounds of identity and negation to secure general ends and goods. By working within the paradigm of analogy, Melandri is said to account for indetermination and modality, which do not divide form and matter as opposites as in the linear model of the Aristotelian canons of medieval philosophy (Aquinas as its foremost representative) to the more analytical models of twentieth century logic.

2. The work of analogical logic allows Idris Robison to take up the question of form (he referred to it as morphology) as a problem of experience and specular observation of the world. Essentially this is the difference between Goethe and Newton in their explorations of colors, whereas the paradigmatic assumptions of Goethe aligned him with the logic of analogy by favoring deviations, gradation, and middle terms when thinking about the sensible problem of colors as an immanent series in nature (a method continued in Benjamin’s constellation images in his study of nineteenth century, but one could also think of Aby Warburg’s pathosformel as index of Western Art). Whereas Newton made an experiment and deduced the range of colors from a prism; Goethe was able to engage in observation (Idris alluded to his descriptions in his Italian diaries entries) in changing phenomena and organize it as such.

3. As a methodological question, what is important is how the paradigm becomes the unity for regulating (perhaps not the happiest of words) and constructing the indeterminate zone between thinking and the world, and in this way avoiding the abyss of pure relativism (or the arbitrary, I would also add). In this sense, the Goethe example stands for the problem of paradigm, but it does not necessarily entail – at least in my view – that his work is in itself free-standing for analogical transformation of life and thought. At the end of the day, Goethe is also famous for claiming that “All theory is gray, forever green is the tree of life”, which could explain why Giorgio Agamben in his most recent book on Holderlin’s final year juxtaposes the chronicle of Hölderlin modal and dwelling life (the parataxis is analogic poetics with respect to language) with the diplomatic and successful life of Goethe (the linear logic here could also be transposed with the ideal of destiny becoming ‘political’, as it is appears in his meeting with Napoleon). In any case, the logic of analogy and the reduction of paradigms becomes crucial to account for two distinct problems (at least this is my first reading, and I am in no way speaking on behalf of Idris Robinson’s thesis): to hold on to a stratification of history (open to configuration of mediums – images); and, on the other, a ground for logic, but only insofar as they are neither at the level of historical necessity and negation (philosophy of history), nor about linear logic that dispenses moral ends according to some “natural law”. From this premises, it should be interesting to explore Agamben’s archeology and ethics as a third path that diverges from both rationalization and the moral standing of understanding the just or the good.

4. Finally, I think two major problems emerge from a first preliminary confrontation with Melandri’s work, which we are only beginning to see how they “operate” in Agamben work, although at some point one should also confront the work on its own merits: on the one hand, the logic of analogy provides us with a truly historical method that is sensible to forms and stratification of the imagination that does not depend on conceptual history (in the manner of R. Koselleck), and even less on teleological historical progression. At the level of content, the analogical paradigm is consistent with trumping (suggested by Philippe Theophanidis) the hylomorphic conjunction of Western metaphysics, and thus contributing to a logical infrastructure for the form of life that abandons the primacy of ends and realization. What could this design entail for the transformation of our political categories? Does this necessarily imply that analogical legislating is always about political ontology! Does it require interpretation or a qualification of truth-validity? Or rather, does analogy favors the event instead of formal principles that have subsumed the grammar of politics and its negations (yes, also revolutionary politics, a problem also present in Della Sala’s paper)? Sure, extrapolating these questions to the field of politics is perhaps too hasty to fully repeal deontological concerns. Perhaps analogical analysis requires, precisely, a distance from the subsumption of political ontology at the center of thought. But to be able to answer these questions we need to further explore the work of Melandri. Idris Robinson’s lecture has provided us an excellent starting point§.



§ Idris Robinson’s intervention on Melandri and the discussion should be available in the next days at the 17/instituto YouTube channel.

Glosses on Federico Della Sala on tragedy, comedy, and revolution. by Gerardo Muñoz

These are further notes on the mini-series of interventions within the framework of the course that I am teaching at 17 instituto on contemporary Italian political thought. In this third installment we engaged with Francesco Guercio and Federico Della Sala around the notions of comedy and tragedy in Italian theory, and the development of political reflection in Italy from the sixties onwards. Della Sala facilitated an excellent paper entitled “Tragedy and Comedy in Italian Theory: Notes on the intersection between literature and politics” (for the moment unpublished), which was extremely suggestive, elegant, and comprehensive in terms of its critical take on the horizon of Italian theory. These notes are by no means representative of the richness of Della’s text: rather, it just wants to highlight a few checkpoints to further the discussion of the seminar. Francesco Guercio participated in the conversation as a commentator who provided important insights on several of the essay’s critical movements.

1. In his paper, Della Sala offers one of the strongest critiques of Italian theory that I have read in recent times (perhaps the strongest), and it does so by engaging its own premises on alterity and historical restitution, which he defines as working within the paradigm of political modernity. As it emerges in the projects of Massimo Cacciari, Roberto Esposito, Antonio Negri, but also in the commentaries of the so-called Italian difference paradigm by academics such as Dario Gentili, the common terrain is to sustain a paradigm of alternative modernization rooted in difference and conflict. In a way – and I understand I risk of simplifying Della Sala’s layered argument a bit – Italian theory amounts to offering a paradigm that remains within the metaphysics of power and governmental optimization, even when it speaks the language of contingency, errancy, or the outside. Here Della Sala’s critique of Italian theory differs quite substantially from the normativist accounts raised against Italian theory, such as that of P. P. Portinaro, whose discomfort is really against political excess and its allegedly revolutionary principles. For Della Sala, on the contrary, Italian theory is a betrayal of thinking the transformative politics at the threshold of the ruins of modern principles of authority and legitimacy. Indeed, Massimo Caccari’s return to renaissance humanism in his Mente Inquieta: saggio sull’Umanesimo (2019), or Esposito’s Pensiero istituente (2021) that ends up defending human rights and anthropology of rights, ironically self-serve Portinaro’s critique of the “radical excess” as if inadvertently admitting the irreversibility of political modernity. Of course, this doesn’t get out anywhere. In fact, it is regressive, instead of moving thinking forward.

2. Della Sala credits Italian theory – specially from the 1960s onwards, perhaps from the work of Mario Tronti and autonomia more generally – with bringing the question of politics to the center debate, showing the limitations of political economy in Marxist thought and the insufficiency of the negative. But, at the same time, it has done so by remaining within a paradigm of crisis in which the ideal of struggle defines the meditation between politics and life. And this can only exacerbate the administration of a catastrophic of politics. It is through the “krisis” of negative thought (Cacciari, Vattimo, and Esposito) that something like a literature of Italian theory becomes tragic, amounting to a sort of reverse nihilism. Della Sala does not it claim it explicitly – and I wonder if he would agree with my own personal translation – but this tragicity results to a compensatory wager to the sacrificial horizon of the philosophy of history opened by Hegelian dialectics or the imperial romanitas conception of politics. So the sense of the tragic in modernity can live comfortably within the paradigm of the sacrifice of modernity, and it does not get us very far.

3. As Francesco Guercio also suggested it, the abyssal ground of modernity becomes tragic when it places life in the site of death, which entails that existence can only be understood as something to be administered and protected. It goes without saying that this is the overall project of positive biopolitics and immunity in the horizon of democratic legitimacy, whose final utopia, according to Della Sala, is to live at least one day like a King. This rings true given the operative function of King and “archē” (principle) that are needed to legislate the creation between politics and life, history and the anthropological sense of reality. Under this paradigm there is no space – or it is always parasitic, always subjected to the enmity of the species– to the question of existence, which becomes a generic aggregate of civil community. But can one subtract oneself from the seduction of a demonic politics and its negative relation to the tragic politics in the face of nihilism? The strong thesis in Dalla Sala’s paper is that Italian theory has not been successful to the task and that we must begin from scratch putting aside, once and for all, the mythical paradigm of crisis.

4. It is here where comedy enters. And it enters obliquely, although in resonance with Giorgio Agamben’s most recent argument in his book on Hölderlin, where the comic is understood as a retreat from the conversion of the tragic into the sacrificial suture of modernity. And for Della Sala, but also for Agamben, comedy has little done with the anthropology of laughter or the psychic drive of the Freudian slip. Rather comedy becomes the possibility of imagining a life that refuses the promise of living like a future king. On the contrary, the motto of the comic can be the early Hispanic (it was mentioned by Francesco Guercio in the conversation) “vivir desviviéndose” of the pícaro existence that allows for the mystery of life without political subsumption. Della Sala concludes his paper with a provocative assertion: “after all there has never existed nor will exist a tragic or unhappy revolution”. But would a “happy life” be consternated about revolution, or should it forfeit revolution to the trash bin of the modern political concepts? Isn’t comedy the abdication of revolution, either as the return to the same (think of Saint-Just naturalism) or the overcoming of the temporal order of the day after tomorrow? Perhaps comedy as the texture of life is a thorough abandonment not only of the tragic, but also of the efficacy of revolution as a residual messianism. And it is against the closure of revolution (because revolution depends on a principle of authority the exact moment that it triumphs) where the ongoing stasiological present should be thought.

Second thoughts on Giorgio Agamben and civil war. by Gerardo Muñoz

In a recent entry in his Quodlibet roster entitled “Sul diritto di resistenza“, Giorgio Agamben takes up once more time the question of civil war, but this time tested against the “right to resistance” (diritto di resistenza) as included in many Western constitutions. What is interesting in this note is that the for the first time – as far as I know, although it complements superbly an old intervention a propos of the publication of Tiqqun, along with Fulvia Carnevale and Eric Hazan – Agamben lays out quite explicitly how the “planetary civil war” tips the enumerated constitutional right of resistance on its head, making it indistinguishable from the management of civil war and the blurring of the category of formal enemy and that of the terrorist.

Indeed, the very notion of “planetary civil war” in an unified society without a strong discriminatory principle of enmity turns politics, as Carl Schmitt noted in his prologue to the 1971 Italian edition of The Concept of the Political, into something like a world police [1]. And the historical present has given Schmitt his due. Following Schmitt’s sound diagnosis, Agamben says nothing different, although this is the thesis that marks the limit of Schmitt’s modern categorical delimitations as well. In other words, if the unity of friend-enemy collapses, and now there is only the stratified value of association based on moral justifications, how can one speak of the “political” in this scenario (it is no longer about war, as we commented in a previous occasion). Is there even one?

And, if the political collapses so do the total sum of actions oriented as political resistance, and even resistance to the collapse of the political. For Schmitt it is very clear that it is even the internal exhaustion of the juridical order (ius publicum europeum) insofar as positivism is concerned, leading the way to the rise of what he called a world legal revolution consistent with what Karl Loewenstein already in the 1930s had termed “militant democracy” (1937). Once the modern state loses its monopoly on the legitimacy of authority, then anyone can establish an authoritative force; while, in turn, every enmity becomes a potential absolute enmity (even more so in legality, as we clearly see in the American context). In this sense, it is a misnomer to call a state “the state” if its function becomes a full equipped instrument of the optimization of civil war that rests on a sort of dual structure: on the one hand there is civil war at the limit of the collapse of legitimacy, but also the total domination that incorporates stasis as a functioning vector of its regulatory order.

In this sense, the advent of civil war after the collapse of the state is not a return to the confessional civil wars of early modern Europe, but rather the total unification of state and society without residue. So, if “right to resistance” presupposes not just the formal limitation of enmity but also the separation of society and state, it only makes sense that this category becomes defunct once the social emerges as proper site of the total administration: “the reunification gave us a new tyrant: the social” [2]. This entails that proper civil resistance is already subsumed in the process of civil war in the threshold of the political. In the context of civil war, resistances can mean both administration of the stasis, and the embedded position of a sacrificial subject, which has been costly (and it remains so) for the any calls for contestation, striking, or insubordination. Resistance here could only amount as a shadow apocalypticism. And sacrifice insofar as it is the fuel of any philosophy of history, merely relocates the energy of hostilities as measured by the factors of optimization.

It is only implicitly that Agamben concludes by suggesting that any “true resistance” must be imagined as a form of life in retreat from the social and its sacrificial idiolatry, from which one must draw its consequences or effects. This is the grounds of an ethical life, but also the way of reimagining another possibility of freedom, which in the brilliant definition of Carlo Levi, it means to live in freedom within our passions instead of being free of passions (precisely, because no principle can determine the true object of our passions, this demands a total reworking of modern notions of liberal and republican determinations of liberty) [3]. The time of the civil war, then, is best understood as a time of the affirmation of the conatus essendi, which rediscovers freedom through the sense of the event insofar as we are capable of attuning to the separability from any principle of socialization.



1.  Carl Schmitt. “Premessa all’edizione italiana”, Le categorie del politico (ll Mulino 1972), 34.

2. Tiqqun. Introduction to Civil War (Semiotext, 2010), 61.

2. Carlo Levi. Paura della libertà (Neri Pozza, 2018), 45.

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

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

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

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

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

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