An epoch unmoved (V). by Gerardo Muñoz

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes

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

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

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

4. Pacôme Thiellement. “Le Bonheur est un twist”, 25 june 2017: www.pacomethiellement.com/corpus_texte.php?id=326 : “l y a deux lumières: il y a la lumière d’avant la nuit et il y a la lumière d’après. Il y a celle qui était là au début, l’aube radieuse du jour d’avant, et puis il y a celle qui a lutté contre les ténèbres, la lumière qui naît de cette lutte : l’aube scintillante du jour d’après. Il n’y a pas seulement deux lumières, il y a aussi deux joies : il y a la joie d’avant la peine et il y a celle d’après. La joie originelle, la joie innocente, primitive, cette joie est sublime, mais c’est juste un cadeau de la vie, du ciel, du soleil… La joie qui vient après la peine, c’est le cadeau que tu te fais à toi-même : c’est la façon dont tu transformes ta peine en joie, l’innocence que tu réussis à faire renaître des jours d’amertume et des nuits de bile noire. C’est le moment où tu commences à vivre, mais vivre vraiment, parce que tu commences à renaître de toutes tes morts successives. C’est le moment où tu t’approches de la divinité ou du monde”.

*Image from my personal archive: Etna as seen from Palermo, summer of 2016.

Three ideas for a discussion on «Éléments de décivilisation» by Gerardo Muñoz.

[These are some preliminary notes for an ongoing discussion on Lundi Matin’sÉléments de décivilisation’’, a text that condenses a series of problems dealing with, although by no means, limited to infrapolitical reflection, the event, world, and the question of civilization in the wake of the ruin of hegemonic principles. This particular essay, more than content, raises the question of the status of the style of thought; and, in broad terms, I tend to link the notion of style to the constitution of an ethos. But let me offer three theses to open the discussion in very broad terms. What follows is the reconstruction of three brief points in a recent group meeting about this text.] 

i. The priority of the event. For me at least it is very important to consider that Éléments de décivilisation’’ moves away from at least two important precedents of a common intellectual orbit: messianism and the political theory of modern sovereignty. Of course, this is important for many reasons, but most it speaks to what I would call a strong opposition between thought and philosophy (favoring the first over the second). These two registers open important distinctions, such as, for instance, a displacement between historical temporality (messianism) to a notion of the taking place (the event or encounter) as exteriority. Whereas we were told that the “event is the enemy within Empire” (Gloss in Thesis 60 of Introduction à la guerre civile) , now we have a more through sketch about the way in which the form-of-life is not a category reducible to vitalism or the problem of the subject, but rather about the play between form and event. Here I think that Carlo Diano’s Forma ed evento (1952) is crucial as a backdrop that is not just philosophically (Aristotelian formalization against Stoic predication), but rather a sound position of thinking in relation to what has been passed down as “civilization”. 

ii. Civilization as a principle. Now, the question of civilization raises to a problem of thought insofar as is neither an ontological problem nor an operative idea in the history of intellectual concepts. Civilization becomes the apparatus by which the total regimen of production in any given epoch is structured to establish an order. And here order is both authority and police. To put it in juridical terms: the first secures legitimacy while the second posits the flexible energy of legality and execution. This is the same problem in the relation to the world. In other words, civilization means enclosing, domesticating, and producing. By the same token, civilization is the operative domain by which nomōs, history and the subject come together in virtue of their separation. Is not this the very issue in the Greek polis in the wake of the discovery of measurement, isonomy, and the distribution of the goods in which hegemony replaces the basileus (Vernant)? It is one of the merits of the text not having understood this problem at the level of an “archeology of Western political thought” (Agamben), but rather as an evolving transhistorical process that binds the axis of domination and power to the axis of anthropology and domestication. Civilization, then, would name the total apparatus of hegemony under which politics falls as a problem of metaphysical structure (I have tried this problem in recent positions here). Whether there is an assumed anthropological anarchy at the level of substance, capable of “inversion” (Camatte), is something that must be explored in further detail. 

iii. Happiness cuts absolute immanence. My last point. I would like to insist on something that Rodrigo Karmy mentioned recently: “Happiness is the unthought of the Weestern tradition”. I agree with Karmy not on the basis that there has not been any reflection of “happiness” in the tradition, but rather that this reflection has either been a) subordinated to politics or economics (Jeffersonian “happiness” conditioned by commerce); or, as a moral virtue of self-regulation and privation. But it seems to me that “Elements” wants to offer something else in a very novel way. It is here where the question of violence must be inscribed. A curious displacement since violence has been thought in relation to beauty, but not happiness. The violence at the level of forms puts us in proximity with the event at the end of life itself. In this sense, the Pacôme Thiellement footnote is important:

“l y a deux lumières: il y a la lumière d’avant la nuit et il y a la lumière d’après. Il y a celle qui était là au début, l’aube radieuse du jour d’avant, et puis il y a celle qui a lutté contre les ténèbres, la lumière qui naît de cette lutte : l’aube scintillante du jour d’après. Il n’y a pas seulement deux lumières, il y a aussi deux joies : il y a la joie d’avant la peine et il y a celle d’après. La joie originelle, la joie innocente, primitive, cette joie est sublime, mais c’est juste un cadeau de la vie, du ciel, du soleil… La joie qui vient après la peine, c’est le cadeau que tu te fais à toi-même : c’est la façon dont tu transformes ta peine en joie, l’innocence que tu réussis à faire renaître des jours d’amertume et des nuits de bile noire. C’est le moment où tu commences à vivre, mais vivre vraiment, parce que tu commences à renaître de toutes tes morts successives. C’est le moment où tu t’approches de la divinité ou du monde”. This position  – which I think it is prevalent throughout the text – allows the opening of a series of articulations:

a) it is no longer happiness an effect on the subject, which has only grown in the Spectacle or consumption; that is happiness as an exception to life.

b) it is not that happiness is a theological state of ‘blessed life’, which would presuppose the transmutation of sin and thus overcoming of the non-subject. This position depends on conditions of mythic-history and theology.

c) It is rather that happiness is the way in which the singular gathers his possibilities in use without enclosing the other possibles. To live a life among the fragmentation of the use of our disposed potentialities is a way to violently cut the seduction of absolute immanence in which style is diluted. Play could name the variations of use. But there is a second order risk in what constitutes “play”: a transfiguration of politic as civil war. The problem becomes how to think of ‘play’ (i. messianic abandonment, ii. political intensification – insurrection, or the separation between rhythm and voice, a poesis). I am interested in pushing for the third figure of play; a third figure in which the event and happiness impose a new division of souls, moving away from the separation from life. 

An epoch unmoved (IV). by Gerardo Muñoz

When I cut through things it means that I encounter a relief in the world. Now, a relief is something that takes us by surprise, although it is not hidden, as it is always there in the open. It is pure exteriority. Picture the cross-bedding tabular-planar layers on a bedding plane of a mountain. Thus, a relief is not a void nor is something that one accomplishes. On the contrary, it appears, and it transforms the world into a fragmentation of things. I would not be able to visualize a relief without first having an encounter. Hence the relief is a world that is freed from cartography: in this sense, it is a sub-world or ultra-world in its appearance. The relief takes place at ground level, but it is not grounded; it an event of the surface, but its ultimate determination is the sky or the landscape. I think that here the maximum distance with the metropolis becomes clear.

What is a metropolis at the end of the day? A possible definition: it is a total surface without reliefs. The prohibition of reliefs (an old monothetic superstition) confirms the aura of the epoch without movement. When all we have are extended surfaces, then anyone could be at anyplace any given time. The encounter with an irreducible thing is fulfilled by the relation with any object. An object that is really not an object but an icon. The consequence of this transformation of experiencing the world is immense; it entails nothing more than the destruction of the time of life compensated with relations with the surface.

How does a relief come to being? How does it appear in the open? Thinking about this in the past couple of days, it occurred to me that a moment in Pindar’s “Isthmian 4” ode offered an image of relief; an imagen that I have not been able to escape from since I first read it a few years ago. Pindar says:

“during the struggle, but in cunning (mētis) he is a fox

whirling onto its back (anapitanmena) to check the eagle’s swoop.

One must do everything to weaken the enemy” (Nem. 4.45-48).

The fox becomes a relief on the surface, and in doing so, it produces an exit from enmity. Unlike the wolf, the fox does not run away from the territory; it finds the “escape route” within the apparent. The term anapitanmena means ‘stretching” across the surface. Its character as kerdō (“the wily one”) guarantees its cunning movement from within its body. Indeed, according to Detienne & Vernant in their Cunning intelligence in Greek Culture and Society (1978), the “escape” – which Pindar’s Greek used “olisthanein” – stages the image of the wrester’s oiled body coming unloose from the opponent’s grip. The fox’s “via du uscita” takes place as relief that unstraps the reduction of a surface. Similarly, in Oppian’s Treatise on hunting (211), the fox’s wily character (dōlos) dwells in the threshold between dead and alive, becoming even “more alive than the living” (Detienne & Vernant, 35). However, it is not just a wrestling metaphor of physical force, as Detienne and Vernant beautifully explain, the fox’s intelligence occurs thanks to the flexibility that dissolves the inside and the outside:

“Thanks to its energy and flexibility (hugrotēta) it is able to change its body (metaballein tò sōma) and turn it inside out (strephein) so that the interior becomes the exterior: the hook falls out. Aelian provides full confirmation on the subject of this maneuver: ‘it unfolds its internal organs and turns them inside out, divesting itself of its body as if it were a shirt…The fox, being the embodiment of cunning can only behave as befits the nature of an intelligence full of wiles. If it turns back on itself it is because it is, itself, as it were, mētis, the power of reversal” (Detienne & Vernant, 37).

Not in the body but in the shirt, that is, in the garment. The fox embodies the relief that externalizes the surface with the kinetic energy of the inappropriable. Whoever has encountered a fox knows this from experience. The fox blends with the landscape, but it does not become one with it. This minimal apparent distance is the creation of the relief. Only now, after some years in Pennsylvania, I am able to make sense of an encounter with a wild fox in the backyard. There was no confrontation or desperate seeking out, but a moment of detention that seemed to cut against everything else happening around it lending itself to the encounter. The fox always waits for you even before you are near the encounter. What is this lapsus-time within time? Here again, perhaps a poet can give us a hand. In a poem surprisingly called “Metropoli” (1958) by Vittorio Sereni, we encounter a modern fox, or rather a fox in a modern setting. It is a more familiar fox than Pindar’s wily creature, since we in no condition today to be able to understand the epic of Greek wrestling, or the practice of hunting, or the life of the polis. Sereni makes a more manageable sense of the figure possible. The important verses from the second stanza are:

« […] vecchia volpe

abbagliata di città, come muove al massacro:

la sua eleganza, qualità̀

prettamente animale tra le poche che l’uomo

può̀ prestare alle cose» (Sereni 2006, 190)

Like Pindar’s fox, this old fox is dazzled because it “moves” towards the apparent. This mode of violence – “a massacro”, for Sereni – is not necessarily depredatory. What follows is an explicit thematization of style: an elegance that has a quality that is scarce among humans. This elegance is not an abstract characterization of being a fox, but rather how the apparent, in the clothing, invests the animal in one life. But it seems to me that the enjambment for Sereni falls on the last verse: “può prestare alle cose”. “It lends to things” – in other words, it finds itself at home with the things he finds.

Again, like in Pindar, he becomes a relief among things, because now things are separated and not just “ordered”. The stylization of the fox in the modern voice of Sereni is the passage from the extreme physicality of the olisthanein to the “eleganza” granted by the dressing with the surface. There is no vanitas in this dressing-up; it is rather a contact of appearances that, in suspending the unlimited contours, it exposes the glitter of the relief. The relief turns out to be a garment.

 

 

*Imagen: The visit of a fox in the backyard, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 2018. From my personal archive.