Clandestine life in the open. by Gerardo Muñoz

In the very last article that Maurice Blanchot wrote for the collective publication Comité in the wake of May 68, he draws a scenario that is still very much with us in the present. The “realism” is almost outstanding when Blanchot writes the following: “…from now on I will hold onto an exigency: to become fully conscious that we at the end of history, so that most of our inherited notions, beginning with the from the revolutionary tradition, must be reexamined and, as such, refuted. Let us put everything into question, including your own certainties and verbal hopes. The revolution is behind us: it is already an object of consumption, and occasionally, of enjoyment.” [1]. There was no question that the crisis of the very foundation of modern political thought has collapsed, including, as it couldn’t be otherwise, the generative principle of revolution. Blanchot did not even attempt to convince himself that the revolution could be brought back in an astronomical sense to revitalize a naturalism previous to Rousseau’s social contract.

So, for Blanchot the revolution was over, and yet, whatever it was that followed had no name. What was left, then? In order to avoid paralysis, Blanchot toyed during those months at the Comité (September-December 1968) with two possible maneuvers. The first position resided in what he called the “movement of possible speech” in order to establish an ardent and rigorous relation between the sequence of the French May and the Czech May, Soviet domination and Gaullian State. Blanchot called for (in the spirit of Bataille) a “transgressive speech”: “the impetus of outrageous, ways speaking beyond, spilling over, and thus threatening everything that contains and has limits” [2]. But we know that transgression is still within the logistics of the administration of order and temporal containment of the regulated exception. This was, in fact, the very rupture of the revolutionary break that was in crisis.

But Blanchot was up to something along with his friend Dionys Mascolo in thinking through language and communication as a path towards the outside. Hence the second option, which is really a third option (after the sleepwalking of ideological revolutionary ‘racketing’ of voluntarism); mainly, what he calls, although does not get to tease it out, the “clandestine resistance in the open”. Blanchot only tells us what he is thinking about through a recent example: some members of the Czech resistance when law was suspended had to confront the raw enemy military power, but they also experienced a freedom “through words and through writing than ever before”, tells us Blanchot. But this still does not explain much, given that if there is a naked military power threatening us, how could something like a clandestine form of life take place in the open? And at what risk?

I think one way to read this incorrectly or insufficiently would be to think of Blanchot’s suggestions as a sort of martyrdom or self-immolation. But it is no less true that Blanchot wanted to avoid a sort of Batallian “inner experience” or monastic xeniteia. Thus, he “refused” the fiction of self-clandestine life as sponsored by the Situationists; while, at the same time, also rejecting subjective revolutionary militancy. A third way emerges: the clandestine life into presence by way of friendship. A new “estilo de vida”, which I think could be read in the way that cryptojews and averroists lived in early Modern Spain: “a modo de sociedades secretas o semi-clandestinas, deben haber concebido la filosofía como un estilo de vida para sus iniciados…” [3]. Unlike the bogus image of the secret society as an alienated community of knuckleheads, I think what emerges in the clandestine open region is a form of shared friendship that does not retreat from the world, but rather that is capable of living in it. This was most definitely the transformative practice that during these years, Dionys Mascolo, dared to call the communism of thought that for him belonged to Hölderlin rather than to Marx. If open conspiracy is an act of the sharing and participating in language without meaning or command dependence, then this is already a poetic practice. After all, for Hölderlin the poets reveal an originary loss from nature. It is no surprise that Hölderlin favors a world opening even after the destruction of the leader-figure of the poet (Empedocles).

So, there is only clandestine life in the open when the sharing of language among friends take place (an event). This use of language is always harboring on the threshold of the last word to come. In short, the clandestine form of life has nothing oblique with respect to the world – it is not necessarily the space of an infinite night of contemplation, and it is also indifferent about fugitivity – it demands a return to appearance by way of experience. This might explain what Gilles Deleuze tells Dionys Mascolo at the end of their correspondence about friendship and thought: “it is a question of what we call and experience as philosophy” [4]. This form of experiential thought against the dissatisfaction of political domestication points a way out. For Blanchot this was a “fragmentary, lengthy, and instantaneous” path; a conspiratio unlocked by philia.




1. Maurice Blanchot. “On the Movement”, in Political Writings 1953-1993 (Fordham University Press, 2010), 106.

2. Maurice Blanchot. “Clandestine resistance in the open”, in Political Writings 1953-1993 (Fordham University Press, 2010), 106.

3. Francisco Márquez Villanueva. “El caso del averroísmo popular español”, in Cinco Siglos de La Celestina: aportaciones interpretativas (1997), 121-134.

4. Gilles Deleuze. “Correspondence with Dionys Mascolo”, in Two Regimes of Madness (Semiotexte, 2007), 332-338.