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.