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.
The origin of Eliseo Diego’s mythical poetic collection En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte (1949) is so well known and recorded that it has been completely forgotten even by its most copious commentators. In his short memoralist essay “Un día ceremonial”, written decades after the publication of the poem, José Lezama Lima wrote the following: “En uno de sus ceremoniales litúrgicos, en un día de nuestro santo, nos reunimos en la iglesia de Bauta. En esa ocasión Eliseo Diego leyó su “Primer discurso” de En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte. Era un precioso y sorprendente regalo, suficientemente para llenar la tarde con aquella palabra que nace para uno de los más opulentamente sobrios destinos poéticos que hemos tenido…Cuando se publicó En la calzada de Jesús del Monte, el júbilo que me produjo fue esencialmente poético. En unos versos de circunstancia amistosa he intentado decir la alegría que me produce ese libro que traía esclarecimientos para nuestro paisaje y su acercamiento” . At the center in this confession is not only the centrality of a poetic liturgical practice that vested the friendship of the origenistas poets, but more fundamentally the efficacy of the poetic word that Lezama describes as a “júbilo poético” or poetic happiness. It is a strange remark (like almost everything written by Lezama), since En la calzada de Jesús del Monte has been largely read as the litany of a domestic space (a “gran casa de todos”) consumed by dread experienced at the turn of the mid-century failed and stagnated republic.
The intuition raised by Lezama, although not elaborated, still haunts us: in what sense is En la calzada de Jesus del Monte about poetic happiness and what could stand for? We can go astray if we claim that happiness is a particular substantive and representational content of the poetic word. Indeed, there is really no event of happiness in En la calzada de Jesus del Monte except for the taking place of the poetic word fully estranged and foreign from its own place of annunciation. This seems to confirm Diego’s poetic vortex who writes in the dedicación of the book: “A poem is nothing more than a few words told one afternoon to a group of friends” . However, this only deepens the mystery, since whoever tries to find concrete friends in En la calzada de Jesús del Monte (1949) will find none. Solitude abounds and expands throughout spaces. Lezama attempted to elevate the secret of friendship from thought to the liturgical enactment in search for transcendent meaning. Indeed, the emphasis on the mystery of liturgy is emphatic and compressed in Lezama’s programmatic memory about the almost ecclesiastical origins of the poem. I would like to suggest another path for the mysterious and inapparent force of the poem, which is no longer situated at the liturgical aesthetic experience, but rather in the mystery of a felicitous life at the threshold of history. If anything is disclosed throughout the pages of En la calzada de Jesús del Monte this is, precisely, that things appear to dwell in their place, even if no one is around and no community could stand for its reverence. Indeed, the poetic event dwells in an existential solitude before a changing world now fallen into pure disenchantment.
The happiness that falls from the poem, then, is not merely about the execution of the word or the unity of form, but it consists of something previous, altogether different: a mysterious shadow of the enchanted myth. In En la calzada de Jesús del Monte (1949) we are exposed to a poetic language that gathers in a desecularized dimension that suspends what Gianni Carchia identified as the postmythical form of mystery that seems to anticipate the semblance of historical order . But Diego’s En la calzada de Jesús del Monte transfigures mystery to the point of disclosing the limit where life and redemption from the material world take place; namely, in the Sunday of life. But, unlike for Carchia, this poetic transfiguration takes place within the grammar of Christian theology and not the Greek classical past. Here Diego’s poetic mysterium differs fundamentally from the liturgical mystery, which presupposes a “fundamental sacrifice” that allows the temporal sequence of the end of time as the motor for universal religious redemption . By contrast, Diego’s idea of a poetic mystery (which is also the mystery of the poem, which he never ceased to reflect upon through his life) is spatially dispersed, redeeming eternal life from the visibility of worldly phenomena. As Diego writes in an essay defining his conception of the theological mystery: “Primero les haré una confesión…no veo por la sala ningún hábito de Santo Domingo. Uno no debe jugar con los Misterios Mayores, y ninguno es mayor que el Misterio de los Tres que son Uno. Pero, ¿acaso no hizo Él a las ballenas y a los colibríes? ¿Acaso él no sonríe con la infinitud de sus peces y sus insectos? No creo que me tome a mal esta broma que hago como un niño pequeño que pretende jugar con su padre” .
By separating the “mayor mystery” of the Trinity from the minor mysteries of imaginative creations of the world (fables, poetry, child’s play), Diego was able to displace the grandiose stage of the liturgical mystery emphasizing the role that humor plays in the affective realization of the kingdom. In other words, it is most definitely the case that the mystery and the poetic musicality compose the parabolic nature of a transfigured kingdom that accompanies the inner existence of each and every human being . Furthermore, this is why the Calzada is a defined in “Primer Discurso” as a pantheistic kingdom: “mi reino, en esta isla pequeña rodeada de Dios por todas partes / en ti ciego mis descanso” . The happiness of the poetic effect in En la calzada de Jesús del Monte is the consummation of an eternal life that, by withdrawing itself from the representation of historical time, can outlive both dread and death. However, in its call for “eternity”, it is language itself that becomes a mode within a series of uncountable events: “sigo pensando, aquí, mi amigo, sucediéndome. / Luego de la primera muerte, señores, las imágenes … .Porque soy reciente, de ayer mismo” . The “sigo sucediéndome”, a modal attempt at transforming life through event diffuses life and death like “Abel y Cain reunidos en Adán, como la muerte” . The transfiguration of liturgical mystery does not evoke a christological arcana, but the overcoming of the civilizational myth of fratricide only to find “unity” in the eternal paradise evoked through Adam. As Diego will also write in an essay about the work of British novelist Jean Rhys: “…el sentido de orar para convertirse en símbolo del misterio de vivir: nuestro jardín era grande y hermoso como aquel jardín de la Biblia – el árbol de la vida crecía allí, nos dice, en medio del terror de una violencia que no entiende” . The reemergence of the myth of an enchanted Edenic garden through the poem?
The fact that Diego chose to write En la calzada de Jesús del Monte as a series of poems and not a novel speaks to his resistance to metaphorize the Garden of Eden outside of the world, overly compensated through a figural postmythical semblance that could have only been taken as a form of parody. On the contrary, En la calzada de Jesús del Monte evokes the original paradise as a recurring and parabolic Sunday of life. A life of nothingness: “si la nada / es también el dormir, pesadamente / la caída sin voz entre la sombra… el Paraíso / realizado en la tierra, como un nombre!” . What cuts through between the forms of the world is the poetic parabola that put us in nearness to the limit of the mystery and the unspeakable. This is what poet Fina García Marruz beautifully captured in one of the most outstanding essays on En la calzada de Jesus del Monte where the weight of the question is meshed with the eros of the poem’s parabola: “Todo arte es, o debería ser, arte de amor, qué es arte de re respeto, la estrategia de una amorosa retirada. Donde el yo se manifiesta en exceso, invade los otros límites, incendia el mundo, pero el verdadero sol del centro, como en Heráclito, no rebasa sus medidas” .
García Marruz will even allude to a “magical distance” to elucidate Diego’s poetic measureless opening to proximity: “para el dulce tamaño de la vida que miden estas distancias” . The distances modulate situated existence against the reduction of ordered historical time: “El sitio donde gustamos las costumbres / aquí no pasa nada, no es más que la vida” . As an authentic habitante Diego’s parabola solves the problem of the eclipse of historical time (the ruins of the first morning of historical development) through a descension to spatial detachment where the rest of Sunday is achieved amidst the dust of the world (“como el polvo del mundo”). And from the vantage point of every concrete experience and every limit, life emerges from the dead before a ruinous world marked by the failed Republic. This was a Republic that could not be named (“Yo no sé decirlo: la República”) in a paradoxical display of expository nominalism. As Diego writes in “El sitio en el que tan bien se está”: “en la penumbra como deshabitado sueño” . At the height of 1949, En la calzada de Jesús del Monte was the most rigorous attempt to retreat from this penumbra of historical political life and its daydreaming.
This is the open secret of the actual city street, La Calzada de Jesús del Monte (Havana), during the first decades of the twentieth century, which according to historian Emilio Roig de Lauschering was the only route of communication between the hinterland and the new urban community: “La Calzada de Jesús del Monte que después se llamó después Calzada de Jesús del Monte por haber construido una ermita en la pequeña eminencia donde se encuentra la iglesia parroquial de Jesús del Monte…[…] Pero la Calzada de Jesús del Monte fue desde remotos tiempos hasta no hace mucho la vía principal de entrada y salida entre la población y el campo” . In the late 1940s, la Calzada de Jesús del Monte was already a ‘deshabitado sueño’ as symbolized by dust, debris, oblivion, and death announced by the abstract time of modernization. En la calzada de Jesús del Monte, however, does not cross the path nor seeks a communication between the limits, but rather it opts to dwells on it.
This might be, indeed, Diego’s most important and subtle difference with Lezama’s defense of a liturgical surplus (even ex ecclesia cult of friendship, Freundschaftsdichtung, as a surrogate for national salvation) as if he had found a refuge in the mysterious parish of the Calzada Jesus del Monte or Bauta . Diego’s transfiguration of history placed him at Sabbath in possession of “poderosas versiones de su vida” (“strong modes of his own life”) . But the Sabbath is not a mere memory of a defeated religious community, but as Hermann Cohen argued, a spatial and institutional habit of a people coinciding with the cycles of a bright moonlight . This is why imagination in En la calzada de Jesus del Monte is not enough, and the poet laments: “de tanto imaginarla mi corazón iba callando”. The eternal life of Sundays finds a retreat in the sabbatical experience against the historical time of normality and its revolutionary cycles that demystifies the thingly destruction in which civilization had declined at the end of times. Diego’s La Calzada de Jesús del Monte enshrined the only access to the transfiguration of the mystery: a sabbatical rest disambiguated from the monotone idleness posed by postmythical romanticism . It was in the threshold of parabolic dwelling where En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte remained faithful neither to religious idolatry nor to a free-standing mysterium, but only to the feast of a sabbatical life “como un asno, en perpetuo domingo” (like a donkey, in a perpetual sunday) . The donkey is the transfiguration that must carry this weight. And withdrawing from Juan Vives’ known fable about the peasant who sacrificed a donkey when realizing that he was drinking the moon reflected on a bucket of water, En la calzada de Jesus del Monte stubbornly trumpets not the entry to a “poetic enlightenment”, but the dwelling into the eternal Sunday where poetry is not a resource of radiant sacrifice of beauty, but the prophecy for both silence and sound .
1. José Lezama Lima. “Un día ceremonial”, in Imagen y Posibilidad (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1992), 48-50.
2. Eliseo Diego. En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte (Editorial Pre-Textos, 2020), 103.
3. Gianni Carchia. Dall’Apparenza al Mistero, in Immagine e verità: Studi sulla tradizione classica, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Roma, 2003.
4. Odo Casel. Misterio del culto en el cristianismo (Cuadernos Phase, 2006), 82.
5. Eliseo Diego. “Viaje al centro de la tierra”, in Flechas en vuelo: ensayos selectos (Editorial Verbum, 2014), 162.
6. Giorgio Agamben. “Parabola e Regno”, in Il fuoco e il racconto (nottetempo, 2014), 25-37.
7. Eliseo Diego, En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte (Editorial Pre-Textos, 2020).
8. Ibid., 115.
9. Ibid., 117.
10. Eliseo Diego. “Una Iglesia no muy británica: Jean Rhys y su ancho mar”, in Flechas en vuelo: ensayos selectos (Editorial Verbum, 2014), 124.
11. E. Diego, 119.
12. Fina García Marruz. “Ese breve domingo de la forma”, in Hablar de la poesía (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1986), 398.
13. E. Diego, 131.
14. Ibid., 177.
15. Ibid., 184.
16. Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring. La Habana: Apuntes Históricos (Editora del Consejo Nacional de Cultura, 1963), 111.
17. Wolfdietrich Rasch. Freundschaftskult und Freundschaftsdichtung im Deutschen Schrifttum des 18. Jahrhunderts (Halle-Saale, 1936).
18. Ibid., 157.
19. Hermann Cohen. “The Sabbath in its Cultural-Historical Significance”, The Reform Advocate, February 10, 1917, 5-6.
20. José Lezama Lima claims in “Pascal y la poesía”: “En la tradición de Pitágoras, que creía que sólo el símbolo daba el signo y que la escritura, tesis incomprehensible para el contemporáneo romanticismo antisignario, nace de un misterio, no de la horticultura de la pereza”, in Algunos tratados en La Habana (Anagrama, 1971), 166.
21. E. Diego, 147.
22. The fable is told by Hans Blumenberg: “The Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives recorded the fable of a peasant who killed a donkey because it swallowed the moon while drinking from a bucket, and because the world could sooner do without a donkey than without heaven’s lamp”, in “Glosses on Three Fables” (1984), History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader (Cornell University Press, 2020), 604.
The collapse of the categorial and formal mediations proper to the foundations of modern politics open up a regime of adaptation as optimized administration. In a concrete sense the well-known Böckenförde formula comes to a closure as it is realized: the liberal secularized state draws its life from preconditions it can no longer guarantee. The fulfillment of secularization entails, paradoxically, a re-theologization of the separation between the species and the experience of the world already leaving behind the temporality of the saeculum. It is no coincidence that three excellent new books recently published and discussed – Conspiracionist Manifiesto (2022), The Politics of Immortality (2022) by Marten Björk, and Adapt! A New Political Imperative (2022) by Barbara Stiegler – share a common thread: the emergence of the regulatory system of adaptation in the wake of the end of political liberalism.
In other words, the marginalization of the logic of representation, the erasure of institutional mediations, and the depolitization of life (which also entails that everything becomes measurable to the value of the political) entails the intensification of a process of abstraction that is deployed on the surround of the human species itself, increasingly optimized given the contingent transformations and irruptions. The Conspiracionist Manifiesto goes as far as to claim that the current articulation of domination should be understood as a full restitution of the nineteenth century project of positivism as the integration of science and life. Comte and his followers, in fact, thought of positivism as a world religion concerning the reproduction of life whose aim was the general crafting of society as an plastic integral organism.
The acceleration of adaptation presupposes the triumph of immanence that was already exerting its force as an indirect power in the nineteenth century drift by romantic subjectivism and expansion of conditions for action in civil society. In the regime of adaptation, the realization of action, devoid of institutional justified reasons, becomes allocated in the processes of production fitted to the incessant demand for adaptation. It is obvious that the acceleration of immanence – first expressed in the subject’s will to power and now folded into the willing slave of adaptation – has intensified in the last years or so, coinciding with the pandemic event and the generic systematization of health understood as a set of coping techniques of behavior.
Already in the 1990s, in an unpublished lecture in Hannover, Ivan Illich described adaptation as an systematization of health: “Adaptation to the misanthropic genetic, climatic, chemical and cultural consequences of growth is now described as health. Neither the Galenic-Hippocratic representations of a humoral balance, nor the Enlightenment utopia of a right to “health and happiness”, nor any Vedic or Chinese concepts of well-being have anything to do with survival in a technical system” .
Insofar as it is concerned with the captive reproduction of life, the regime of adaptation puts to rest any believe in positive biopolitics or the community as exception to the social. Yes, this includes even the “community of friends” that Carlo Michelsteader, in his Il dialogo della salute thought as too much of a rhetorical illusion predicated on the exclusion of suffering and death: “In the friendly communities that emerge in light of common vanity, every one lives thanks to the death of those outside the community” . In short, the regime of adaptation solicits nothing else than the task of coming to terms with the principle of the civil (truly the condition of state’s authority), which in even as far as in Roman law made possible the extraneous movement of the subjectum iuris as total equivalence. The predicament of the regime of adaptation – and its irreversible apparatus of administrative law – obliges us to imagine something other than civility (the principle from the Roman Empire to the modern to put it in Cooper Francis’ terms) but without sidestepping into the barbarism of ergonomic processes that are now at the center of what is understood as life. Barbarism and civility’s straight line now bends towards adaptation.
1. Ivan Illich. “Health as one’s own responsibility. No, thank you!”, Speech given in Hannover, Germany, September, 1990.
2. Carlo Michelstaedter. Il dialogo della salute e altri dialoghi (Adelphi, 1988).
Monica Ferrando’s short but dense book L’elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradico (Neri Pozza, 2022) refines our understanding of the secularization debate in the wake of the epochal crisis of modernity and planetary domination. For Ferrando this current domination is rooted in a specific retheologization that must be grasped at face value, no abstractions allowed. The force of theological domination, which has become a proper religious imperialism, expresses itself as a true corruptio optimi pessima, which Ferrando locates in a very precise intersection: the passage from the suppression of dilectio to an instrumental manifestation of electio that will culminate in the unleashed power to dominate not only the relation with the world, but the very existence of the species. If the Ancient covenant of early Judaism was a prophetic covenant with God, the force of predestination will suppress the mysterious relationship of blessed life to render a “selective process” of theological election . It is only with the rise Protestantism, and Luther’s specific hermeneutical efforts to neutralize the messianic message of Paul’s Letters to Romans that election becomes the paradigm of a new government of the soul in this world, which will ultimately find its material legitimacy with the advent of the reproductive logic of capital. Implicitly building on the thesis of economic theology, for Ferrando the advent of the machine of election materializes in the theological reform that translates the universal salvation of the prophecy into a never before seen economy of the dispensing grace through wealth retribution for human labor .
The reformation based on dispensation (oikonomia) differed fundamentally from the Church’s idea of change rooted in the ius reformandi. As Gerhart Ladner shows, if the “idea of reform” up until modernity presupposed periods of spiritual reform through monastic experience in relation to wordly profane time, the apparatus of dispensation of election was oriented at securing an integral government rationality combining law, economy and subjective production without reminder . In this light, the operation of the dispensation paradigm is twofold: on the one hand, it promotes an anti-Judaic operation of reducing Jews to a people of this world that will ultimately will be identified with political Zionism; and, on the other, it dismisses the coming of Christ as worthless, and in the best case as merely postponed . For a reformed theologian like Karl Barth – at odds with the economic evangelism that ultimately triumphed in the United States and that now it extends across the global – there was only a ‘great dispensation’ putting end to the abstraction of value and the homogeneity of the time of production . But more importantly for Ferrando, the triumph of the dispensatory paradigm entails a new fundamentalism of judgement based on “election” (in the broadest sense of value equity and competition) will appear as the only immanent force capable of considering every other religion and confession exterior to itself as “merely pagan and idolatrous” . It would amount to the triumph of the self-made ‘gentleman’ over the outward message of Paul.
The dominance of dispensation meant a full convergence between salvation and profane economic life that will bring exteriority into a crisis in the deepest sense. This is why for the reformist mentality, its own modern image initiates the epoch of irreversibility; that is, the pure historical progress guided by the will of election and the work of grace as an exception to universal salvation. If the modern reform has been at times understood as the new regime of social pluralism and system of indirect separations (between Church and State, civil society and religion, the public and the private, etc) for Ferrando it is on the side of the theological presupposition where its most terrifying arcanum must be found: a dispensational theology whose main unity is the recurrent intrusion, training, modification, and discipline of the forum internum, that is, the administration of the consciousness of man. Whereas the felix culpa allowed for the mystery of repentance and universal salvation; the political meditation of election through accumulation and economic benefits will legitimize the new discourse on toleration, “liberty”, and even democracy as the distribution of surplus value. In this sense, Liberalism (with Locke and other thinkers of the English and Scottish Enlightenments) was born, as later understood by Carl Schmitt, with the structural weakness of “individual freedom” and maximized autonomy that will require the expanding checks of police and governmental penalties to cope with the production of effects. Of course, every deviation or movement that could put a halt to the fiction of election will find itself on the side of illegality, or turned into a remnant of a surreptitious past that must be overcome at all costs. This implied, as Ferrando reminds us, nothing less than a novel modification of the anthropogenesis of the human species.
It is one of Ferrando’s most daring and surprising tasks to show how the machine of election does not merely occupy the economic-political sphere, but that it will eventually also imply an aesthetic imperative in Northern European culture; specifically with the rise of German romantic response to the crisis of the Enlightenment and the question of “classicism” of the classical Greece. If according to Gianni Carchia the aesthetic dimension of modernity should be read as a compensatory answer to the futility of the romantic revolution in subjectivity; Ferrando’s complementation to the thesis brilliantly shows how this attempt was meant to fail at its original ground due to the mimetic appropriation and metaphorization of the Greek historical past in the aesthetics program of Winckleman and German Idealism (with the exception of Hölderlin’s fugitive position) . The mimetic “hellenization” of German romanticism and its posterior afterlives (one thinks of the Stefan George Circle, and Max Kommerell’s Der Dichter als Führer) gave birth to a notion of “culture” that hinged upon the separation of the aesthetic and the religious spheres that had to sacrifice the appearance of beauty in order to attest for the dialectics of objective and subjective forms of the “Spirit”, and thus leading to the triumph of the grotesque and the aesthetic imperative of uniformity and museification. For Ferrando the German spirit of genialismus had as a mission the overcoming Latin, Mediterranean and Mesopotamian forms of life where the distinction between beauty and life never understood itself as a “culture” or objective project of enlightened intellectuals and artists on the mission to transform the contingency of poesis into the realization of the Idea .
Displacing this aesthetic dimension to the present, for Ferrando the intrinsic disconnect between appearance and substance of art’s truth emerges today in the predominant social morality of today’s global bourgeoisie: hypocrisy. It is in hypocrisy where today one can see the inflationary hegemony of discourse over the true organization of life that is proper to the dominant metropolitan class of the West, and its maddening obsession with identity politics or “race” oriented discourse as a moral inquisitorial abstraction (it is in this process that the notion of election appears in the least expected of places: sky color, language use, demands for inclusivity, and hyperconscious towards an invented past). The work of hypocrisy, in fact, appears as a secularized form of the dispensation paradigm that aims to normalize and domesticate every form of life that challenges its specular regime. This is why according to Ferrando – and I do not think she is incorrect in saying so – the possibility of art (especially that of “painting”), as the undisclosed of truth will disappear from human experience, as it has no place in the moral functionalism of ‘contemporary art’ nor in the discursive struggle over global communication and opinion battles (the so-called ‘cultural wars’) . The aesthetic museification of the world liquidates the possibility of art’s truth. Paradoxically, in this new scenario everyone must declare himself “an artist” of their own emptiness: the nowhere men that stroll in the works of Robert Walser or Franz Kafka – who never declared themselves to be anything – in our present are flipped on their heads becoming informers of the regime of a universal politics of recognition and moral judgement . These ‘bloomesque figures’ confirms in the last epochal dispensation of the Reformist revolution that the premises of subjective freedom, economic gain, and autonomy of value have culminated in a new aesthetic imperialism that is anthropological and rooted in the triumphant religion of immanence and the sacralization of ultimate values. The endgame has been dispensed in the creation of a “new man” through the sacrifice of every exteriority in man, that is, of the invisibility outside the fiction of his personality.
The paradigm that Ferrando is describing vis-a-vis the operative force of “election” is also one of profound irony, since the mechanism of predestination and election, by betraying prophetic dilectio (love), the “free election” of the moderns entails that everything can be elected at the expense of losing dilectio: the only path towards the mystery of life. This is what the epoch of irreversibility and the arrogance of historical progress has foreclosed and it is incapable of considering. But for Ferrando life remains an ethics, which she links to Eros, whose appeal to the law of the heart is neither religious nor political, but rather an instance to the disclosure of truth. As she beautifully writes towards the end of L’ elezione e la sua ombra (2022): “Occorre osservare che qui si tocca una sorta di grado zero teologico, che scivola nel mero «biologico» solo a patto di esautorare la sapienza della madre o, detto altrimenti, la sapienza come madre, custode di una legge non scritta, di un nomos del cuore, che non necessita di alcun mandato esterno per esercitare la conoscenza che gli è propria. Si apre insomma quello spazio, costantemente e variamente negato, ma imperturbabile, di cui solo la madre, in virtú di una sapienza propria della natura umana, può custodire la legge.” .
The foreclosure of the acoustic relation to prophecy documents the recurrent political interest in the subordination of music to the moral captivity of the reproduction of humanity . On its reverse, the law of eros, prior to the moral domain of natural law and the authoritative domain of positive law, is the protection of the indestructible region of the human soul where no political, moral, or economic dispensation can exert its force. This is confirmed today by the monstrous techno-scientific interventions and dysphoric alterations in the life of children as the last utopia in the long dispensation of the anthropomorphism of capital legitimized by rhetorical force of an unending sermo homilis . In this sense, what Ferrando accomplishes in this wonderful essay is to remind us that the event of theology remains outside the dominion of priests and bureaucrats and situated in the prophetic dimension of Eros (love) that guards the inclination towards beauty and the disposition to attune oneself to the prophecy of the world’s fulfillment . Hence, it is not in the community or in an integralist Christian traditional family order where the sacred dimension of humanity can be retrieved; rather, for Ferrando it is in the non-knowledge reserved by the eros of the mother who never decides nor choses before law, whose nonverbal “tacit authenticity” (“tacita autenticità del legame materno”) unconceals a true experiential depth away from the the delirious cacophony of our world.
1. Monica Ferrando’s L’ elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradico (Neri Pozza, 2022), 8-9.
2. Ibid., 22.
3. Gerhart B. Ladner. The Idea of Reform: Its Impact on Christian Thought and Action in the Age of the Fathers (Harvard University Press, 1959).
4. Monica Ferrando. L’ elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradico (2022), 24.
5. Karl Barth. “The Great Dispensation”, Interpretation, V.14, July 1960, 311.
6. Monica Ferrando L’ elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradico (2022), 30.
7. Gianni Carchia. “Modernità anti-romantica”, in Il mito trasfigurato (Ernani Stamptore, 1984).
8. Monica Ferrando. L’ elezione e la sua ombra: Il cantico tradico (2022), 60.
9. Ibid., 91-92.
10. Ibid., 94.
11. Ibid., 106.
12. On the controversy of music as a tool to tame human’s passions, see John Finnis’ “Truth and Complexity: Notes on Music and Liberalism”, American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 62, 2017, 119-124.
13. Gianni Carchia. “Eros y Logos: Peitho arcaica y retórica antigua”, in Retórica de lo sublime (Tecnos, 1990), 29.
14. Gianni Carchia. “Dialettica dell’immagine: note sull’estetica biblica e cristiana”, in Legittimazione dell’arte (Guida Editores, 1982), 21.
In his chapter on the radical theology of abundance and ethics of Karl Barth, Mårten Björk discloses a central concept to the reformist theologian: the suum cuique, a term that prima facie could be rendered in natural law definition of legal justice, inherited from Roman lawyer Ulpian, as “may all get their due”. In the thomist tradition the legal notion of epikeia promptly became equity as the moral supervision of law’s principle (ius) understood as the application of the fair and the objective good. The justification of the balancing of aequum became a regulatory mediation on the grounds of a fictive principle of nature as moral reasoning, which has been well documented by Stephen Humphreys . What makes Barth’s drawing on the notion of suum cuique in his interwar pamphlet Church and State (originally entitled Justification and Law, 1938), on the contrary, is precisely that it is not reducible to equity, but rather as Björk explains it: “the limit to our life, a limit brought forth by death itself, is in the end the vast chams that posits the creature as create of God…and this has ethical and political consequences” . This is telling, and my aim here is to supplement the discussion in “Abundance and Scarcity” by showing its radical asymmetry with the reasonableness of the natural law. Barth’s anti-activist Church (although not neutral in the wake of the total state of the 30s) and apathy towards morality, stands as a sui generis bearing.
First, in the moral natural law tradition of equity (epikeia) “giving each one their due” becomes a strict legal-authoritative command principle on the reasonableness of nature centered on the ontology of the person. It is quite the opposite for Barth who does not favor a constant moral adjudication, since the separation between Church and State presupposes a previous divine justification that belongs exclusively to the Church, but not to the state. In fact, law practiced on the condition of natural principles will undermine the authority of the liberal positivist state, which Barth defends vehemently, making the case for its coherence with the teachings of the New Testament: “The democratic conception of the state is justifiable expansion of the of the New Testament…Christians must not only endure the earthly state but they must will it as a just state, not as a “Pilate” state” . It is not surprising, then, that Barth wrote this tract openly defending the authority of the modern positivist state, contrasting it to the anti-statist unjust pretarian judgement of the trial of Jesus. This makes sense given that the pretorian ius honorarium could be understood, at least in part, as belonging to the tradition of the moral balancing of equity between morality and norms (just as the two irreducible kingdoms) . Barth’s defense of the positivist state is even contrasted to natural law, which for Barth is incommensurable with the word of God: “We cannot measure what law is [in the State] by any idea of natural law…” .
Accepting the primacy of the equity of a substantive bonum will not only serve to override the authority of the state, but also, and more importantly, to flatten out theology’s monopoly over divine justification. At this point Barth is quite explicitly in saying that this is what took place – and I think he is correct, specially if we take into account that the degenerate legality in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia was not an abuse of positivism, but a consequence of the open-ended common and natural law principles to the point of distortion – in the wake of fascism and Bolshevism in the interwar years of Europe. Barth writes with this in mind against artificial heavens on earth, as part of a hyperbolic “politicizing from above”:
“Fascism and Bolshevism alike will be dethroned and the true order of human affairs will arise. Not as heaven (not even a miniature heaven) on earth! No, this “true order” will be able to arise only upon this earth and within the present age, but this will take the place really and truly, already upon this earth, and this present age, in this world of sin and sinners…this is what the Church has to offer to the state…” .
The political domination of the total state amounted to a conflation between the lapsarian condition of man and the theology of eternal life. The passage or mediation between the two dimensions, which he also described as a “tailor made garment” was the suum cuique, understood as a limit to life and death beyond morality and biological reductions. Barth insisted on the principle of separation in face of every temptation of technico-rational closures. Thus, by externalizing divine justification to the sphere of theological eternity, Barth’s conception of “giving one’s due” was radically disambiguated from the Nazi motto “Jedem das Seine” (to each his own) in the concentration camp of Buchenwald in 1937, made possible by the opened force of common law adjudication against the state positivist authority (understood by Nazi legal scholars as “too Jewish”). This was the barbaric dereliction of duty of the state becoming what Barth called a “clerical state” . Barth’s ethical limit on finite and eternal life, so well reconstructed in Björk’s brilliant monograph, can only be a witness to a ‘world passeth away’ to which no priestly jurists have the last word unless catastrophic consequences are expected. The ethical response to the lapsarian condition was a radical drift from the dangers of natural absolute rationalism that was directly implicated in the arousal of immanent powers and the reduction of the population as mere administration of doctrine of last things through consciousness and not grace. The suum cuique introduced a radical exteriority in which all men became “strangers” (to the Church, national identity, the community, to the social) whose proper involvement pertained to the eternal mystery of life and death.
1. Stephen Humphreys. “Equity before ‘Equity’”, Modern Law Review, 2022, 1-37.
2. Mårten Björk. The politics of immortality in Rosenzweig, Barth, and Goldberg: Theology and Resistance Between 1914-1945 (Bloomsbury, 2022), 115.
3. Karl Barth. “Church and State”, in Community, State, and Church (Anchor Books, 1960), 146.
A rebuttal against the notion of enemy frequently hinges on conflating the enemy with total enmity. It usually takes the form of a hypothetical: once an enemy is declared as such, is there anything that can deter the escalation into total enmity? The historical record provides analytical reassurance to the hypothetical, but it does not eliminate its generality, since its ultimate probe is conditioned by an ideal of conceptual purity. Not every hypothetical is idealistic, but every hypothetical exerted from purity is. This concerns any understanding of politics, given that the notion of the enemy presupposes an impure origin of conflict, threats, disorder, or unjustified propensity towards evil. If the enemy is best understood as an operative principle between repression and totalization of enmity, it also entails a rejection of purity as sacralization of the political.
The argument from purity has been deployed with equal force by both Liberalism and Marxism, although they are not the only two contenders. Whereas the first suppresses the enemy from civility and economic utility; for the second, there are no necessary enemies given that politics is a process that will culminate in moral emancipation. For both Liberalism and Marxism, the problem of separation is fixed in two opposite poles: for Liberalism the separation is originary and consubstantial to the genesis of modernity as the separation of Church and State; for Marxism, the separation comes to end in the future collapse of the alienation of ideal and manual labor, and state and civil society. The argument from purity liquidates the enemy as the operative function because it doesn’t consider conflict intra muros on its merits. It is always surpassed or to come.
From the argument of impurity, the notion of the enemy demands that the political be understood as here and now (more than temporal it is topological: externality). Let us consider Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is a tragedy that stages the friction between the suppression of the political enemy in medieval society and the not-yet autonomy of the political of the moderns. In an old essay Leo Lowenstein noted that Hamlet is an existential limbo as to whether to judge and execute his father’s murderer, or to desist in his decision of revenge and become paranoid crossing the line into madness . The world of Hamlet’s indecision is no longer that of imperium theologiae where the enemy is an entity to be deposed of; but rather it vacillates because it knows the fracture between wrongdoing and action, legality and legitimacy. The malaise of Hamlet condition is the impossibility of enemy mediation: “Shakespeare’s theatre, in general, and his Hamlet, in particular, are no longer ecclesiastical, in the medieval sense. On the other hand, they are not yet a political state theatre, in the concrete sense state and politics acquired on the Continent as a result of the development of state sovereignty.” . The intrusion of historical time reminds us that original separation will not be enough in the face of a concrete conflict.
The tragic dimension in Hamlet is given negatively: the paralysis of not being able to establish the proper mediation to deal with political enmity. This paralysis – or the inconceivable regicide of naturalist theologians – can only amount to madness. Indeed, one becomes one’s enemy, because the enemy (the usurper King) lacks the mediation with its exteriority: “Hamlet is of the faction that is wronged / His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy…That I have shot my arrow o’er the house / And hurt my brother” . What does it mean to be one’s own enemy, and who could decide here? The incapability of generating an external hostis will prompt bad consciousness and perpetual resentment.
From the side of impurity, the enemy as “one’s own form” means a depersonalization of the political and the neutralization of the stasiological force that places reasons, justifications, and actions as primary ends. But a civil war waged on internal reasons do not imply mediation. From the argument of purity the dismissal of the enemy is no longer Hamlet’s negativity; it turns itself into subjectivism and unfettered self-autonomy that will require not the judge but the priest, and not political form but the police.
1. Leo Lowenstein. “Terror’s Atomization of Man”, Commentary, 1946, 7.
2. Carl Schmitt. Hamlet or Hecuba: The Intrusion of the Time into the Play (Telos Press, 2009), 51.
3. William Shakespeare. The Tragedy of Hamlet (Signet Classics, 1987), 168.
There is no question that Alice Rohrwacher’s Lazzaro felice (2018) is a marvelous cinematic work insofar as it measures up against the epoch by radically questioning the principles that have upheld what we know as civilization. This slight adjustment is critical given that ideology, political economy, or subject oriented frameworks of analysis have become insufficient to deal with the crisis of civilization. As a matter of fact, they have become functional (mere deployments of technique, to put it in Willy Thayer’s vocabulary) to the infrastructure, and its specific philosophy of History that promotes the maintenance of Order after the liquidation of its legitimacy. I would like to clarify that I am understanding civilization in a twofold register: as a genetic process of human anthropology based on the matrix of “appropriation, distribution, and production” of the world (a techno-political grid popularized by Carl Schmitt); but also as the total realization of an economic or political theology, which we can directly link to the function of “credit” (and the process of abstract dialectic between credit and debt, as a ground of a new “faith”) that is deployed as the medium of the total sum of social relations that commands beings in the world. Civilization is the general matrix of a process of optimal rationalization of the events that take place in the world, making us potential reactionary agents of the time of its phenomenality.
Aside from all the Christian and religious imaginary, Lazzaro felice is a theological film, but only insofar as it takes the irruption of the mythical remnant very seriously. There is something to be said here – and I think the film stresses this in several parts of the story – between religion and theology, dogma and the spiritual (anima), and the sacred and the commandment solicited by faith (pistis). In other words, Lazzaro felice enacts a destruction of a political theology by insisting on the civilizatory decline towards reproduction of as mere life of survival; a life that is delegated to the abstract faith of credit. In this sense, it is no mistake that Lazzaro’s homicide takes place in a bank and executed by the community of believers (capital, in the end, has already been incarnated; it is the Subject). The laboratory where this takes place is the metropolis, which as I have argued elsewhere is the site of devastation and optimization life in our epoch, which unifies world and life putting distance into crisis, in a suspense of the experiential . The consumption of the new political theology of unreserved equivalence between humans and objects is what Rohrwacher interrupts through the fable of the beatitude of Lazzaro as a life to come in the threshold of the highest phase of the metropolitan stagnation. I will limit my commentary here to three nodes that allow the Lazzaro felice to expand this critique of civilization and the principle of the “civil society”, a notion that we will return to.
First, there is the fable, a capsule of an ancient gnostic wisdom. The fable is what can radically alter evil by tipping its objective realism into a real of the imagination against the grammar of order. Avoiding the order of narration based to account for the history of progress and developmentalism from the rural to the civilization of the metropolis, Rohrwacher’s strategy resorts to the ancient craft of the fable. This is fundamental for a number of reasons. First of all, because the fable allows to withdrawal from pure counter-narrative of historical development and its justifications that allow for the interruption of the time of development, while offering a possibility of an otherwise transformation of the world. This is the gnostic texture of the fable that Hans Blumenberg identified in this form, since obscuring of the distinction between humans and animals relaxes the burden of proof of the absolutism of reality as predicated in the matter of facts . It through fables that something escapes, because there is always an image that escapes the narration of the events of this world. But the fable also offered something else: the beginning of myth as the site of legitimation for foundations of social relations. This is why, as T.J. Clark has reminded recently, Hegel associated the fable with the origin of master and slave dialectic, as a new form of domination of world once the world’s enchantment and mystery was dissolved: “In the slave, prose begins” .
The end of a paractical poetics? Perhaps. This means that the price to be paid to enter into the prose of “civilization” is to assimilate the unfathomable and invisible contours of the world into the polemos of storytelling; to be a subject of a story, and as a result, of historical transition. This is what civilization mobilizes through the fable as its posited legitimacy. It is in the fable where the abyss that separates us from the world becomes animated, ordered, and narrated in order for the apparatus of production to commence. It seems to me that Alice Rohrwacher goes to arcanum of civilization when she treats the fable of the wolf, which has functioned to legitimize the passage from the state of nature to the modern concept of the civil in Hobbes’s theory of the state. We should remember the brief fable in Lazzaro felice:
“Let me tell you the story of the wolf. A very old wolf had become decrepit, he could hunt wild animals anymore. So, he was excluded from the pack…and the old wolf went to houses, to steal animals, checks and sheep. He was hungry. The villagers tried to kill him in every way possible, but they didn’t succeed…as if he were invisible.”
It is a remarkable fable that inverts the political fiction of the wolf in Hobbes; mainly: a man is an arrant wolf to another man (homo homini lupus), which justifies the exodus from the state of nature as the “miserable condition of civil war” between men. The stakes are clear: by repressing civil war (stasis), civil society emerges as a divided but unified body under a sovereign principle of authority . The wolf is first established as creature of fear and depredation in order to allow for the principle of civilization to emergence as uncontested and necessary. The fable of the wolf is the protofigure that guards the history of perimeters of civilization as a way to pacify and repress the latency of civil war. Rohrwacher, against the Hobbes political fable, gives us a fable of the wolf that not only is uncapable of waging life as war, but that it enacts full refusal and desertion to be hunted; that is, to be invisible, which ultimately entails a life not outside of a politics of hunting and the secondary pacification by which the end of hunting mutates to the enclosure of domestication .
If the wolf stands for the invisible it is because it occupies the excess of total legibility of a new civil order, that is, of a world administered by technique of order. The wolf is a prefiguration of the invisible that is improper to every life (and thus to all biopolitical domestication proper to civilization) in the passage from the organic community of the living to the civilizatory topos of the metropolis. The wolf condenses the instructive character in every life; that is, what cannot be reduced to the fiction or the depredatory total war of the civilization nor the fiction of the community lacking an open relation to the world. This fable, then, is not just what unveils the fictional grounds of the legitimacy of civilization (its “black magic” under the light of rationality and control) but also what reprepares another community. A community in which what we have in common is not an attribute, a substance, or an identity, but an irreducible ethical relation in which civil war cannot equate total hostility and what establishes an absolute difference between life and the “principle of the civil” that formalized the aspiration of isonomic equality:
“The immemorial bad reputation of the wolf (wolf bashing) informs us about one of the oldest tricks of civilization. This consists of bearing the weight of predation on what is heterogeneous to it. To be able to say that man is a wolf of man, the wolf must first have been disguised as a “predator.” We do not mean that the wolf is gardener of daisy flowers, we mean that he behaves neither as a tyrant nor as a bloodthirsty animal, and even less as an individualist (the famous “lone wolf”). In fact, the wolf may have taught communism to humans. The cub that opens its eyes among humans recognizes them as part of its clan. Two lessons: 1) friendship ignores categories; 2) the common is the place where we open our eyes to the world. What the human, for his part, has “taught” to the wolf – like an angry father yelling at his son “I’ll teach you!” – is the servility of the good puppy and the good cop”. .
The end of the film comes full circle with the only condition of finding a way out, producing a break in the infrastructure of the domestication, opening a path within and against the metropolis. It is almost as if the film, like in life, was a preparation for the moment of exodus and retreat. In fact, the wolf deserts the metropolis passing through and beyond the highway in plain rush hour. According to Alice Rohrwacher, the wolf leaving the city and not being seen was a reinforcement of the invisible ethical dimension that is proper to every life (an ethos, which in the old Pindaric sense that refers not only our character, but also, and more fundamentally to our abode and habits that are world-forming), and that is devastated by the anthropological crisis of the species in the wake of the process of civilization . However, the wolf exit from the metropolis is not an abandonment of the world in the manner of a monastic communitarian retreat; but rather the pursuit of liberating an encounter with the events of the world foreclosed by topological circulation of credit that amounts to borrowed life without destiny.
Now to the question that signals an instance of construens in what follows the desertion: what about happiness? It is here, it seems to me, where the beatitude of Lazzaro could be thought as an ethical form of life – as preparation to learn to how live a life against the abstract processes of domestication – that exceeds the two hegemonic paradigms of happiness offered by Western civilization: on the one hand, happiness understood as an equilibrium operative to virtue (aretē); or, on the other, the community of salvation as a compensatory effect for the structural gap of the fallen subject, original sin (felix culpa). One could clearly see that politics at the level of civilization could now be defined as the instrument that manages the production of happiness as a temporal exception in life, but never a defining form of our character.
The wolf that is Lazzaro’s form of life – at a posthistorical threshold that dissolves the anthropological divide man and animal – offers us a third possibility: happiness understood as the refusal to partake in the promises of civilization in order to attune oneself to an errancy of life that allows itself to be hunted by an experiential imbuing of the world. Happy Lazzaro? Yes, but never a Sisyphus who is incapable of experiencing the vanishing horizon between earth and sky in infinite divisibility of the world. The wolf unleashed traverses a geography against domestication, revoking the phantasy of home (the oikos). I will let the last words be made by some fellow-travelers contemporary American thinkers: “Civilisation, or more precisely civil society, with all its transformative hostility was mobilized in the service of extinction, of disappearance. Fuck a home in this world, if you think you have one.” .
In an important moment of Notebook 7, Antonio Gramsci writes that production in the age of industrialization amounts to a “new religion of the common man”. This thesis conditions many aspects of Gramsci’s thought and fully exposes his thinking as determined by the epoch of industrialization. If so, this means that his thinking is fundamentally insufficient for our historical present as defined by stagnation and the end of growth. First of all, the condition of industrialization allows for the famous “war of position”, which is exerted as a moralization of politics (hegemony). It is important to note that the concept of hegemony is introduced only “after” the historical reduction to industrial productivity is rendered as the unity of all historical time. In an explicit Hegelian fashion, Gramsci argues that: “The process of historical development is a unity in time, which is why the present contains the whole of the past and what is “essential” of the past realizes itself in the present, without any “unknowable” residue that would constitute its real “essence”. Whatever is lost….it pertained to chronicle not History, a superficial episode and, in the final analysis, negligible” (175). This is at the core of Gramsci’s thinking, not at the margins.
So, the Hegelian absolute movement of the philosophy of history as coterminous with the flattening of the “rational is the real” is the metaphysical ground in which Gramsci not only operates but the venue through which he offers us a “new religion of the common man”. A few sections later (§. 35), Gramsci confesses that “hegemony was also a great “metaphysical event”. Of course, one could suppose that Gramsci was delivering a new God within the gigantomachy of the age of production. The irony is, of course, that this strict “political theology” is only justified by the industrial regime that it seeks to overturn. Therefore, the question that the so-called contemporary Gramscians (or anyone taking up Gramsci today, say from the 1970s to the present) should respond is: how can the analytical conditions of Gramsci’s thought illuminate post-Fordism in the wake of the exhaustion of growth?
If according to Jason E. Smith’s important new book Smart Machines and Service Work (2020) since the 1980s we are witnessing an ever-expanding service sector (in the US and the UK drifting well above the 80% of the GDP) as a compensatory for growth stagnation in the age of technological innovation, how could the Gramscian “new religion” on industry mobilize a horizon of emancipation, or even minimal transformation from said regime of exploitation? On the contrary, it seems (as I tried to argue recently here) that if we take Gramsci’s insight about the material conditions of “production” in any given epoch, the work of hegemony today can only open to a demand for exploitation as subjected to servant domination in the stagnant regime. In other words, if we accept Gramsci’s own analytical conditions (industrial production), this necessarily entails that we must move beyond hegemonic domination. To think otherwise – say, believing that a “temporal form of dictatorship” or “populist takeover”, now in ruins – amounts to a solution oblivious to the historical conditions, which can only blindly accept the “command” of a hegemonic principle. It is not a surprise that only the new nationalist right in the United States today can be properly labeled “Gramscian”, since they want to recoil political form to industrialization, organic community flourishing, and national “delinking” from globalization decomposition of the regime of total equivalence. But this is only a “storytelling” (a bad one, indeed) in times of stagnation.
More broadly, this speaks to the divergence between Gramsci’s faith in industrialization and Protestantism, as he defends it in section 47 of the Notebook. While glossing Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic, Gramsci notes that only the “spirt of the Reform” can produce reciprocal positions vis-à-vis grace and “good works”; whereas in Catholicism, activity and human action is not bounded by labor form, but by corporativism. On the surface this links Gramsci’s thesis with that of Max Weber’s; however, given the conditions explained above, it also shows that Gramsci’s thinking is really at odds with a commitment to thinking reform within the concrete conditions of a historical epoch. In other words, the political categories of Gramscianism (war of position, hegemony, production) are undeniably more on the side of reaction rather than in the production of new reforms. Of course, his position is not even a Catholic reaction; since, as Carl Schmitt observed in Roman Catholicism and Political Form (1923), at least the Church offered formal institutionality as a response to the total electrification of the world, whether in the hands of the Soviets or the American financial elite. But, as we know, the theory of hegemony is also oblivious to the problem of institution and the concrete order.
While reading the articles of the young Antonio Gramsci (penned from 1914 to 1920) it becomes evident that he was a keen observer of the historical and geopolitical reality of his time. Gramsci was a realist thinker but of a strange kind. The emphasis on “faith”, for instance, runs through the articles conforming a providential design of history. There are many “entities” that incarnate this providentialism: the Party, the transitional state, the proletarian culture, the organizational discipline, and the productionism of the working class. In fact, all of these subjects are vicarious and obedient to historical developmentalism. In a way, Gramsci appears as a “new Priest” (humanist, Hegelian, and providential) rather than a “new Prince” (Machiavellian, contigent, desicionist), which has become the gentle image through which he is remembered today. The 1914-1920 newspaper articles are filled with theological deposits, but I will limit these notes to three subdivisions, which do not exhaust other possible combinations.
The Party. The conception of the “Party” is understood by Gramsci in the same way that official authorities of the Church understood the providential mission; that is, as “the structure and platform” for salvation. But it is also a subjunctivizing apparatus that demands submission and supreme cohesion under a party-culture. For instance, in “Socialism and Culture” (1916) he writes: “Culture is something quite different. It is the organization, the discipling of one’s inner self; the mastery of one’s personality, the attainment of a higher awareness, through which come to understand our value and plea within history, our proper function in life, our rights and duties” (9-10). So, for Gramsci, it is through the energic investment with the Party that one “becomes master of oneself, assert one’s own identity, to enter from choke and become an agent of order, but of one’s own order, one’s own disciplined dedication to an ideal” (11). In the same way that official Church administered the “soul” through a regulatory exercise of “sin”; Gramsci’s conception of the Party is limited to an administration of “revolutionary energy” vis-à-vis discipline and sacrifice in the name of an objective ideal of “philosophy of history”.
Faith. The notion of faith in Gramsci is intimately intertwined with History. To have faith is to “transcend” the otherwise empty void of History. In this well-known theological conception, faith is the force to have true “objects of History”. The object here means two things: both the intention and “end” to carry forth the revolutionary process. But faith here is nothing like the “knight of faith” who stands beyond the ethical and universalist positions. On the contrary, faith is always a communal faith of believers, whose are the resilient militants of the communist idea. As Gramsci says clearly in “The Conquest of the State” (1919): “And it must be ensured that the men who are active in them are communist, aware of the revolutionary mission that their institution must fulfill. Otherwise all our enthusiasm and faith of the working classes will not be enough to prevent the revolution from degenerating wretchedly…” (114). Or as confirmed in “History” (1916): “Our religion becomes, once again, history. Our father becomes; one again, man’s will and his capacity for action” (14). We see the double movement produced by the apparatus of “faith”: it unifies under a command (the Party), but it also instantiates an objectification to cover the void of History. Indeed, “life without an end’ is a ‘life not worth living”, says Gramsci. This particular instrumentalization of faith legitimizes the struggle against the bourgeois cosmos.
Order. Throughout these articles the defense of order is quite explicit. It is in this point where Gramsci comes closer to upholding a political theology that transposes the principles of liberalism unto “socialism”. He writes in “Three Principles and Three Kinds of Political order” (1917): “And the socialist program is a concrete universal; it can be realized by the will. It is a principle of order, of socialist order” (25). There is never a substantive idea of “order”, in the same way that there is no clear “transformation” of the state once the state has been occupied and functional to “administrating”, “managerial”, “productive systematization”, “vertical planning’, and “coordinating functions” (“The Conquest of the State”, 113). Gramsci goes as far as to say that “the proletarian state is a process of development…a process of organization and propaganda” (114). And although he claims that it is not, the occupation of the state is a pure “thaumaturgic” act pushed by the community of believers. Isn’t someone like Álvaro García Linera today a faithful follower of this strategy?
So, in this early Gramsci I find a priest rather than a modern prince. A priest driven by a substantive and coordinated theological effort to establish a voluntarist and teleological dogma for historical change, which really does not differ much from the principles of modern Liberalism and its potestas indirecta. It is interesting that in the last issue (1977) of the mythical Italian journal L’erba Voglio, there is a small satirical portrait of Gramsci dressed as a bishop with pen in hand, which speaks to the theological garments of Gramscianism well into our days. But the problem is not theology; it is rather that it is a theology of submission organized around order, reproduction, and history as idols in the name of consented domination.
Finally, I could very well imagine that some could rebuttal these theological imprints by claiming that this is only early Gramsci, and that things change later on. I am not too sure about this. It seems that this heuristic claim is analogous to Kafka’s “Leopards in the Temple” parable. In other words, isolating an “early” from a “late” Gramsci becomes a general ceremony to save the philosopher in spite of himself. But this is a self-defeating maneuvering from the very start.
*Image source: from the magazine L’erba Voglio, N.30, 1977.
No quiero repetir aquí todos los hilos de la rica conversación que tuvimos ayer en la tarde con Ángel Octavio Álvarez Solís, Joseba Buj, Aldabi Olvera, y José Miguel Burgos Mazas en el programa “Dublineses” que se emite desde Radio Ibero (se podrá escuchar aquí el jueves a las 11pm ET). Tan solo quiero dejar un addendum sobre el tema de la teología, el cual surgió al final de la conversación y que puede generar algunas ambigüedades. Estas aclaraciones son solo mías, pero me interesará saber lo que piensen los otros amigos. Me refiero en particular a un momento en el que José Miguel dijo que pensar la crisis de la pandemia hoy requiere dejar atrás toda teología, y por lo tanto toda teología cristiana o católica, e imagino que judaica también. Yo anteriormente había dicho que en un momento de fragmentación del mundo y de creciente transformación en el orden mundial, crecen los arcanos y regresan los mitos fuertes.
En efecto, es lo que vemos en lo mejor del constitucionalismo norteamericano, así como en ciertos países del Europa. No hay dudas de que hay un timbre del viejo catolicismo romano que llega a nuestros oídos: ahí donde la maquinación ha adquirido una totalización extrema, reaparece la teología como orden concreto. Para Schmitt esto suponía el regreso político institucional de la Iglesia, por supuesto. Ángel no se equivocó en extrapolar esta dimensión a un problema antropológico de las instituciones, puesto que tanto neoliberalismo como el discurso moral de una “izquierda verde” carecen de una institucionalidad para el mundo de la vida.
Y, sin embargo, no es menos cierto que ya la Iglesia como “gran actor” contemporáneo en el tablero mundial no tiene un peso significativo. Su misión se limita a un débil pasteo moral ahora vestido de franciscanismo “mundializado” (la expresión es de Massimo Faggioli). Pero conviene preguntar: ¿se agota la teología en la estructura eclesiástica? Yo diría que no, al contrario. Quizás estemos ante una impronta teológica fuerte que nos permite pensar la morada del mundo desde el afuera del dogma, pero también más allá del pastoreo, de las descargas del pecado, y de la oikonomia. Esto es, una teología del jardín contra toda posibilidad de una nueva administración del rebaño por viejos teólogos y nuevos sacerdotes políticos.
En su Autorretrato en el estudio (2016), Agamben reescribe una conversación con el poeta español José Bergamín, quien en una ocasión le dijo: “Dios no es monopolio de los sacerdotes y que, como la salvación, es extra Ecclesiam…no es posible hallar la verdad si primero no se sale de la situación – o de la institución – que nos impide el acceso. El filósofo debe convertirse en extranjero respecto de su ciudad. Extra es el lugar del pensamiento” (1). Si la teología facilita la búsqueda de ese afuera – y de ese “afuera” con respeto al mundo (y contra la metrópoli), del que hemos estado hablando – pues bienvenida sea. Es obvio que esta teología ya no es compensatoria de un espíritu comunitarista ni arcanum de la conflictividad humana, sino solo sombra contemplativa y melodía serena. Por eso su figura no es el Reino ni el Imperio, sino el belén. Esta es mi tesis.
Esta marca teológica ya no es providencialista en su temporalidad, sino que es más bien una transfiguración en el espacio. Me parece que Hölderlin – que probablemente haya sido quien más profundamente experimentó esa “fuga de los dioses” de lo profano – lo condensa en un momento de sus “Notas sobre Antígona”: “Padre del tiempo, o: padre de la tierra, porque su carácter es, contra la eterna tendencia, volver el aspirar, partiendo de este mundo, al otro en un aspirar, a partir de otro mundo, a éste” (2). Esta sustancia “aórgica” le devuelve al hombre el sentido telúrico y el recuerdo inmoral del suave vivir de los paganos (lo confirma la ecfrástica de un pequeño San José pensativo que vi el año pasado en la entrada de la Iglesia de Santo Domingo, en Soria). En efecto, si queremos evitar nuevos titanismos desaforados, no debemos denegar a la teología. Ahora es importante transfigurarla.
1. Giorgio Agamben. Autorretrato en el estudio (Adriana Hidalgo editora, 2018). 46.
2. Friedrich Hölderlin. “Notas sobre Antígona”, en Ensayos (Libros Hiperión, 1980). 147.