Revolutionary becoming and infrapolitical distance: on Marcello Tarì’s There is no unhappy revolution: the communism of destitution (2021) by Gerardo Muñoz

Marcello Tarì’s book There is no unhappy revolution: the communism of destitution (Common Notions, 2021), finally translated into English, is an important contribution in the ongoing discussions about politics and existence. It is also an exercise that pushes against the limits of contemporary political thought in the wake of the ruin of the grammars and vocabularies of the modern politics and the rise of the techno-biopolitics of governmentality. More importantly, the operation of Tarì’s book escapes the frame of “critique”, abandoning any false exits to regain the legacy of the Enlightenment and of “judgement” in hopes to reinstate the principles of thought and action in the genesis of the legitimation of the modern social contract. But the radicality of the horizon of destitution – which we have come to understand vis-à-vis the work of Giorgio Agamben, and the Invisible Committee – is first and foremost a thematization of the proximity between thinking and politics against the historical stagnation of a historical subsumed by the total technification of value (the principle of general equivalence). Since Tarì’s book is composed of a series of very heterogenous folds and intersections (literally a toolbox in the best sense of the term), in what follows I would like to sketch out a minor cartography to push the conditions forward that the book so elegantly proposes in three registers: the question of “revolutionary becoming” (the kernel of Tarì’s destituent gesture), the hermeneutics of contemporary domination, and the limits of political militancy.

Revolutionary becoming. Marcello Tarì correctly identifies the problem the epoch as fundamentally being about the problem of revolution. However, the notion of revolution must be understood outside the continuation of the modern horizon of the Leninist technique of the revolutionary vanguard nor party, the “revolution within the revolution”, and any appropriation of the “General Intellectual”. At the end of the day, these were all forms of scaling the desire as cathexis for the matrix of production. On the contrary, the problem of revolution is now understood in the true Copernican sense; mainly, how to inscribe an excentric apositionality within any field of totalization. When this is done, we no longer participate in History, but rather we are “freeing a line that will ultimately go down in History, but never coming from it”. Tarì argues that the field of confrontation today is no longer between different principles of organizing revolutionary strategies and even less about ideological critique; nor is communism an “Idea” (as it was thought just a decade ago in discussion that were philological rather than about thinking communism and life); the new epochal exigency is how to put “an end to the poverty of existence” (3). The potentiality of this transformation at the level of factical life, is what Tarì situates under the invariant of “communism”: “…not as an idea of the world, but the unraveling of a praxis within the world” (35). This communism requires a breakthrough in both temporal and spatial determinations, which prepares a dwelling in absolute relation with the outside (49). This revolutionary tonality is one closer to messianic interruption of historical time capable of destituting “actual state of things” governed the metaphysical apparatus of production and objetivation of the world, which depends on the production of the political subject. In an important moment of the book, Tarì writes: “…. only the revolutionary proletarian dimension can grasp the political as such, the true break from the current state of things. The real alternative to modern politics is thus not to be ground in what we usual can an “anti-politics”, which is merely a variation of the same there, but instead in a revolutionary becoming” (50).

The revolutionary becoming is a transformative intensity of singularization, which ceases to become a subject in virtue of becoming a “non-subject” of the political (67), which about a decade ago Alberto Moreiras announced to escape the dead end of the hegemony-subalternity controversy (one should note here that the fact that the Left today has fully subscribed the horizon of hegemony is something that I think it explains many of the deficits of the different experiments in a realization of a progressive political strategy). And this becoming revolutionary, in virtue of ceasing to be a subject (person, vanguard, multitude, worker) entails a new shift from action to use, and from technico-rationality to an opening of the sensible and singular means (metaxy). Again, Tarì’s continues as follows: “Becoming revolutionary…. means utilizing fantasy, freeing the imagination, and living all of this with the enthusiasm of a child” (75). The notion of “happiness” at stake in the book it is played out against the determination of the subject and the processes of incarnations (Karmy) that have haunted the modern revolutionary paradigm as always-already integrated into the metaphysics of the philosophy of history. 

 Metropolitan domination. Secondly, Tarì’s book locates the metastasis of domination at the level of a new spatial organization of the world in the apparatus of the metropolis. As we know the metropolis is not just an urban transformation of the Western form of the urbs and the polis, but rather the force of appropriation of the world into interconnectivity and surface in order to optimize, administer, and reproduce flows of the total fictionalization of life. The gesture towards the outside that crosses over Tarì’s book entails an exodus from the metropolitan structure that makes uninhabitable experience. This takes place by a process of domesticating its possibilities into the order of sameness (crisis of appearance) and translating our proximity with things into the regime of objects. What is stake in the metropolis – if we think of the most recent revolts in Santiago de Chile, Paris with the to the hinterlands of United States and Italy – if not precisely a response against the metropolitan machination “aiming at the destruction of every possibility of having any experience of the world and existence itself” (84). This why the intensity of any contemporary revolt today is proportional to the experiential texture of its composition and modes of evasion. Of course, Tarì correctly identifies the metropolis as an expanded field of cybernetic inter-connectivity, which, as I would argue is not merely the production of “bad substance” (to use Tiqqun’s Bloomian lexicon), but also a recursive dominion over the medium (metaxy) in which experience and the singular autopoiesis labors for the optimization and hylomorphic regimes that administer civil war. In this sense, destitution names an exodus from the metropolitan technical order and the sensible reproduction of the medium. It is in the outside the metropolis that the ongoing process of communization can free an infinite process of communization and forms of life.

Residual militancy and infrapolitics. But does not the exodus or the destitution of the metropolis – opening to singular experience, love, friendship, and the use of one’s disposable means and inclination – presuppose also a step back from a political determination, in other words, a fundamental separation from coterminous between existence and politics? At the end of the book, Tarì claims that “whenever anything reaches a certain level of intensity it becomes political” (117). But is the intensification of thinking or love or friendship always necessarily political? Tarì writes a few pages later that: “love is continually traversed by a line of extreme intensify, which makes it an exquisitely political affect” (126). But does not the politization of love depends on a certain commitment (a “faith”) to a residual militancy, even if it is a militancy posited as the principle of anarchy? But perhaps this is the difficulty at stake: since anarchy is only entails the “anarchy of phenomena” in reality, postulating a political principle as counter-exposition, however tenuous, might not be enough. For this reason, the crisis of appearance today needs a step back from the heliopoliticity of exposition. In an essay written a couple of years ago, Alberto Moreiras thematized this difficulty vis-à-vis Scürmann’s principle of anarchy, which I think is worth quoting: “The Schürmannian principle of anarchy could then be thought to be still the subjective reaction to the epochal dismantling of ontology (as metaphysics). But, if so, the principle of anarchy emerges, plainly, as principle, and principle of consciousness. Anarchy runs the risk of becoming yet another form of mastery, or rather: anarchy, as principle, is the last form of mastery.  At the transitional time, posited as such by the hypothesis of metaphysical closure, metaphysics still runs the show as consolation and consolidation” [1]. 

If politics remains the central condition of existence, then it follows that it depends on a second-degree militancy that can govern over the dispersion of the events and this ultimately transfers the force of steering (kubernates) to mitigate the crisis of thought and action in the sea of “absolute immanence”. But immense is also a contemporary fundamental fantasy [2]. Against all “faith” in absolute immanence we need to cut through in its letting be (poein kata phusin) of the abyssal relation between existence and politics. This originary separation is an infrapolitical step back that solicits a distance an irreducible distance between life, events, and community form. The commune would be a secondary condition of political organization, but the existential breakthrough never coincides with community, except as a “common solitude”. Secondly, the infrapolitical irreducibility between politics and existence wants to reject any compensatory temporal politico-theological substitution, which also includes the messianic as a paradigm still constitutive of the age of Christian community of salvation and the efficacy of deificatio. The existential time of attunement of appropriation with the improper escapes the doble-pole paradigm of political theology, which has been at the arcana of both philosophy of history as well as the messianic inversion. A communism of thought needs to produce a leap outside the politico-theological machine which has fueled History as narrativization and waged against happiness [3]. Attuning oneself to the encounter or the event against the closure of the principle of reality might be a way out from the “hegemonic phantasm” of the political, which sacrifices our infinite possibilities to the logistics of a central conflict. If civil war is the side of the repressed in Western politics, then in the epoch of the ruin of authority it opens an opportunity to undue the measurement (meson) proper to the “Social”, which is now broken at the fault lines as Idris Robinson has put it [4]. It is only in this way that we can move outside and beyond the originary positionality of the polis whose “essence never coincides with politics” [5]. The saving of this irreducible and invisible distance prepares a new absolute proximity between use and the world. 

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Notes 

1. Alberto Moreiras. “A Negation of the Anarchy Principle, Política Comun, Vol. 2017: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/pc/12322227.0011.003?view=text;rgn=main

2. Lundi Matin. “Éléments de decivilisation” (3): “It is also about the creed of the dominant religion: absolute immanence. Doing itself, designed to obey the modes of proceeding from production, is in advance conforming and consecrated. On this sense, no matter what you do, you bend the spine in front of the cult dominant. If all things count, none has a price, and everything is sacrificeable.”. https://lundi.am/Elements-de-decivilisation-Partie-3

3. This is why Hegel claims in his lectures on the Philosophy of History that: “History is not the soil in which happiness grows. The periods of happiness in it are the blank pages of history”. The revolutionary overflow of happiness is only possible as an exodus from the theological political structure of historical production. Here the question of style is emerges as our defining element. 

4. Gerardo Muñoz. “The revolt eclipses whatever the world has to offer”: a conversation with Idris Robinson”, Tillfällighetsskrivande, May 2021: https://www.tillfallighet.org/tillfallighetsskrivande/the-revolt-eclipses-whatever-the-world-has-to-offernbsp-idris-robinson

5. Gerardo Muñoz. “Some Notes Regarding Hölderlin’s “Search for the Free Use of One’s Own”, January 2019: https://infrapoliticalreflections.org/2019/01/14/some-notes-regarding-holderlins-search-for-the-free-use-of-ones-own-by-gerardo-munoz/

Going nowhere: on Jason E. Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work (2020). by Gerardo Muñoz

Jason Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work (Reaktion Books, 2020) provides us with a renewed cartography of the labor transformations in the wake of automation and the cybernetic revolution, which has ultimately created a “vast service sector” (9). Although at first sight Smith’s book seems to be preoccupied with questions of technology innovation in the post-fordist epoch, the central vortex of the book sheds light on the notion of “servant economy” that has become the fast-evolving segment of today’s job-market. Smith notes that the expansion of the servant economy propelled by automation “poses special obstacles to organization and action in a fragmented workforce. The rise of the “servant economy”, increasingly forces workers into smaller, spatially dispersed workplaces, where they carry out labor-intensified production processes…. deemed low-skill occupations and therefore poorly paid” (14). The new region of the service economy is an effect of the exceptionality of capital form self-abdication where unemployment becomes an existential problem for the social fabric. 

The nuanced analysis undertaken by Smith shows how the fragmented spatialization of labor has become the byproduct of the automation in which control, optimization, and feedback ensemble a new regime of total calculation. Already in 1956, Friedrich Pollock warned of a potential “totalitarian government” that could lead to mass unemployment. Pollock’s Cold War predicament was not off target: the fear of totalitarian unemployment (Habermas would call it crisis of legitimation) was answered with a total (service) economy that compensated for the paradox of stagnation of profit growth. The encompassing force of real subsumption through compartmentalization of services rendered effective James Boggs’ “nowhere to go” in the final dispensation of historical capitalism.

The phase of stagnation announces the “productivity paradox”. Smith writes glossing Mason: “If ours is an age defined by monopolies, cheap credit, rent-seeking and asset bubbles, it is not due to the concerted efforts of elites keen to forestall or smother in the cradle a new, sustained period of productivity gains….despite claims to the contrary, the weather of stagnation and drift that has settle over the advanced capitalist economies since the 1970s, and special since the turn of the century is attributable in no small part technological inertia” (41). The boom of “diversionary gadgets” are on the side of unproductiveness; and, as Ure argues, “do nothing towards the supply of the physical necessities of society” (43). But perhaps diversion usage accounts for the mobilization of the medium of the new phase of automated capitalism. In other words, precisely because traditional form of political legitimacy has crumbled, zero value technology becomes the compensatory psychic equilibrium within the process of abstraction of profit. The subjective dimension of the “medium” in the new phase of automation operates to drive dynamism in the “historic low” of labor productivity growth and the disjointed structural relation between economic growth and rise in wages (64, 69).

One of the conclusions that one can derive from Smith’s rich political economy empirical analysis is that the expansion of the service economy is fundamentally an anti-institutional phenomenon, both at the level of social forms (unions, movements, legal grounds for disputes) as well as in terms of mediations of exchange (intellectual labor, shadow-work, spatial relations to urban centers, etc.). In this sense, the absolutization of the regional “service economy” is the reallocation of reduced labor. In the same way that all ‘originary accumulation’ is an ‘onging accumulation’; the “crisis” of the economy is always already the recurrent stagnation of growth. But Smith notes with precision: “services therefore appear to obscure more than it clarifies” (80). This new process of rationalization mobilizes the valorization of the outside, that is, of every non-market sphere. This process draws a specific ordo rationality: “The true “advances” such as they are, have been in the domination of the labor process by employers: their ability to coerce more labor out of a given hour by means of refinement in supervision, oversight, and workplace discipline” (112). 

Mirroring the optimal logistics of cybernetic and automation processes, one could claim that the expansion of the service economy initiates a regime of governmentality that allows for the attenuation and cost-benefit management of flows. Now I think one can clearly see that “service” is not just an avatar to formal processes of value, but also, as Ivan Illich showed, a secularized theological concept of the Christian notion of hospitality. According to Illich, hospitality was transformed into a use of power and money to provide services and needs [1]. For the ex-Catholic priest, this meant nothing less than the corruption of human freedom, which became tied to the logistics of equivalence. This is why, more than an economic theory, neoliberalism needs to defend an ever-expanding freedom of the subject. In the context of deep social atomization, the service economy self-legitimizes itself as absolute freedom in the social (141). 

At the end of the book, Smith notes that in the wake of automation the relation between political struggles and the new economic composition begin to diverge. There is on one side the model of the teachers and that of the expendables (146-147). In a sense, the “nowhere land” registered by Boggs in the 60s has only intensified, as modern politics forms no longer seem up to the task in the face of total extraction and exclusion. If we think of arguably the most successful leftist political strategy in the last decade or so (the strongest cases have been in Latin America and Spain), the left populism rooted in the theory of hegemony; it becomes clear that after the empirical analysis of Smart Machines, any set of ‘equivalential demands’ is already a demand for exploitation within the regime of the service economy. During this months of pandemic the right has been calling for the immediate reintegration into the economy, bring to bear the internal production at the heart of the project of hegemony. Rather than thinking about a new multitude or unified subject of class, the expendables that Smith situates at the outskirts of the metropolis (the ‘hinterland’), constitute perhaps a new experiential texture of life that is no longer moved by representation but rather expression; it is no longer defined by class, but consumption; it is not interested in negation, but rather in “discovery” (148). Indeed, the new marginalized surplus population does not constitute a new “subject”, but an energy that seeks an exodus from the ruins of the political given the collapse of the whole framework of leftist hegemony [2]. It seem reasonable to think that it is precisely in the threshold of Boggs’ call for a “discovery” (a movement of anabasis), devoid of place and time, where the unfathomable stagnation of our epoch is defied.

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Notes

1. Ivan Illich. The Rivers North of the Future (Anansis, 2005). 

2. “Onwards Barbarians”, Endnotes, December 2020: https://endnotes.org.uk/other_texts/en/endnotes-onward-barbarians

Some Notes Regarding Hölderlin’s “Search for the Free Use of One’s Own”. By Gerardo Muñoz.

In what follows, I want to comment on Martin Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin’s well-known dictum from his 1801 letter to his friend Casimir Bohlendorff, “the free use of the proper is the most difficult thing”. Heidegger devotes a whole section to this enigmatic phrase in the recently translated 1941-42 Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance” (2018) seminar, which dates to the years in which he was confronting Nietzsche’s work, and also more explicitly and for obvious reasons, the issue of German nationalism [1]. In the wake of recent conversations about nationalism and patriotism in political rhetoric, it seems like a fitting time to return to Heidegger’s comments on Hölderlin’s work. This also marks a turn in Heidegger’s thinking of the poetic in the strong sense of the term, which has been analyzed widely in the literature.

Heidegger begins by claiming that the “free use of one’s ownmost” requires a direct confrontation with “the foreign” but that at the same time, it is the easiest thing to miss (Heidegger 105). What is difficult is that which is already one’s own and nearest, and because it is intuitive, it is easy to overlook it. What is difficult is not due to some kind of epistemological overcapacity that today we would associate with the complexity of technical density, but rather, it is an immediate inhabitation, a mood of our belonging that is grasped beyond consciousness and propriety. Hence, it is easy to discard it in a gesture of dismissal due to its familiarity. It happened even to the Greeks.

Heidegger quotes Hölderlin’s verses referencing the loss of the ‘fatherland’: “Of the fatherland and pitifully did / Greece, the most beautiful, perish” (Heidegger 105). Following an obscure Pindar fragment on the “shadow’s dream”, Heidegger shows that the absence is the most important element to illuminate the unreal as it transitions to the real. And this is what the poet does. Indeed, the poet can establish a “footbridge”, or rather it came bring it forth, to initiate a transition towards “what is historically one’s own” (Heidegger 109). If anything, what Greece and Germania point to in Hölderlin’s poetry is this otherwise of historical presencing, which Heidegger admits has nothing to do with historiographical accumulation or cultural metaphorcity (Heidegger 109). At times it is all too easy to dismiss what is at stake here. In the beginning of the twentieth century, for instance, E.M. Butler wrote a book titled The Tyranny of Greece over Germany (1935), which studied the “classical influence” of all things Greek since Winckelmann and German Idealism. Many do not cease to repeat the cliché that Heidegger’s thinking – even Schmitt in Glossarium laments the fascination with Hölderlin over Daubler, which is also the controversy between the critique of logos and a Christological conception of History – is a flight back to Greek ruminations for a new German beginning.

Obviously, this is not Heidegger’s interest in reading the holderlinian use of one’s own. There is no cultural equivalence between the German and the Greek sense of belonging; rather it seems that what Heidegger is after is another way of thinking the historicity of the people, which is fundamentally a problem with the relation with time: “A humankind’s freedom in relation to itself consists in funding, appropriating, and being able to use of what is one’s own. It is in this that the historicality of a people resides” (Heidegger 111). The poet is the figure that, by asking the question about the most difficult thing (one’s use of the proper), can discover this task. Only he can take over the business of founding it (Heidegger 112). The task of the poet is always this “seeking”, which is already in Hölderlin’s first fragment in his novel Hyperion: “We are nothing: what we seek is everything” (Heidegger 113). The task of seeking opens itself to what is the highest and the most holy, which for Hölderlin is the “fatherland’. It is “holy” precisely because it is forbidden and the most difficult to retain.

We are far away here from the sacrificial structure of Hölderlin’s “Der Tod Furs Vaterland” (“To Die for the Homeland”), which Helena Cortés Gabaudan has read in light of the archaic Horacian trope of ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’; a staging of the heroic ethos against the backdrop of the aporetic conceit between thinking and action, the sword and the pen, the poet and the warrior in the early stages of the artist fallen into the age of revolutions [2]. Something else is going on in “Remembrance” use of one’s own at the level of the very transformative nature of historical time, in so much as that which is most holy is nothing that resembles a past principle (a work of art stored in a museum, or the poem as an artistic medium), but rather an atheology, which is never negation or lack; it is always nearness to one’s own as the encounter with what’s “holy” (Heidegger 117).

This atheology suspends any given theistic structure in the act of poetizing. (Is it even correct to refer it as an “act”?). And this poetizing is the task as passage is the inscription of the impossible relation with one’s use here and now. But where does the “political” fit in this picture, one could ask? Is Hölderlin’s turn towards the “use of the national” (Vaterland) entirely a question driven by a political vocation of some sort? This is a poet, one must remember, frustrated by the belated condition of nationhood that sealed Germany’s destiny in the wake of the French Revolution. Hölderlin is first and foremost a poet of political disenchantment and a witness to how politics cannot escape this tragic fate. Indeed, only the poet can actually look straight at this predicament, unlike the political thinker who fantasies with a programmed “assault on the heavens”. In an important moment of the analysis, Heidegger touches this problem:

“What is more obvious than to interpret the turn to the fatherland along the lines of a turn to the “political”? However, what Hölderlin names the fatherland is not enchanted by the political, no matter how broadly one may conceive the latter…The turn to the fatherland is not the turn to the political either, however“. (Heidegger 120).

Undoubtedly, this is a Parthian arrow directed at the political essence of the national understood as a gigantism of state, culture, and history as it was conjuring up in the European interwar period. It is also takes a distance from any given “standpoint” of the national becoming. In this sense, I am in agreement with poet Andrés Ajens’ suggestion that, against the dialectics of locational “alternative histories”, the problem of the national is that of an infinite task of the “desnacional” (this is Ajens’s own term) under erasure, in relation to the “foreign”, in preparation for the “passage of learning to appreciate one’s own” (Heidegger 120) [3]. What we cannot grasp in the national is precisely what bears the trace of the task of ‘denationalization’ as the homecoming of “the clarity of presentation” in its discrete singularity (Heidegger 122). This last line is also from the letter to Bohlendorff.

It is interesting that every time that the form of denationalization has been referred to in strictly political terms, it entails the overcoming of politics by an exogenous force that liquidates the capacities for its own limits. This is, indeed, the realm of the political in the strong sense of the term, in line with the emergence of sovereignty that Hölderlin’s poetic thought wants to curve toward an otherwise of the national. This use of the national wouldn’t let itself be incubated by the supremacy of the political. Let us call this an infrapolitical kernel of patriotism.

This is why at the very end of this session Heidegger mentions that Hölderlin, unlike Nietzsche, must be understood as a “harbinger of the overcoming of all metaphysics” (Heidegger 122). We wonder whether the emphasis on the “People”, however fractured or originary, does not carry a residue of metaphysical rouse. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that Hölderlin aims at something higher. Perhaps he aims at an “inebriation that is different from the “intoxication of enthusiasm” (Heidegger 125); that is, a distance from Kant who elevated the perception of the French Revolution as an anthropological affection.

The step back of the singularity is driven by the “soul” – which Heidegger connects to the polysemic usage of the word Gemüt (at times translated as disposition or gathering) – as other than politics, since it sees through the offering of the dark light and keeps thinking in the human. Transposing it to our discussion, we can say that a politics is irreducible to Gemüt, and that only Gemüt is the excess in every politics. The use of one’s own, vis-a-vis the national (or the process of denationalization), is a resource to attune oneself with this “disposition”. No human can bear to be human without it. Hölderlin seeks to reserve this poverty as the primary task of the poet as a radical neutralization of all techno-political missteps. Or, in the last words in the session: “…it is the while of the equalization of destiny” (Heidegger 131).

 

 

 

Notes

  1. Martin Heidegger. Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance”. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018.
  2. Friedrich Hölderlin. Poesía esencial, ed. Helena Cortés Gabaudan. Madrid: Oficina de Arte y Ediciones, 2018.
  3. From a personal exchange with Andrés Ajens.

Katargein: notes on Giorgio Agamben’s L’uso dei corpi. By Gerardo Muñoz

Luso dei corpi 2015

1. L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014) is the culmination of Agamben’s Homo Sacer project after a little more than a decade. The thinker has warned that the volume should not be taken as the end of the project, but as the last installment before its abandonment. To this effect, it is for future thinkers and scholars to continue carrying forth an investigation that polemically proposes an archeological destruction of politics in the West. L’uso is a book written with a backward gaze on what has been elaborated in other volumes, while thematizing instances of the unsaid in them. A novelty in L’uso dei corpi is the constant iteration of anecdotal impressions that enact as emblems of the indeterminate threshold between thought and life.

None of these details are meant to add flare to the content. Rather, they allude to one’s impossible strategy of sketching or bearing witness to life. It is precisely that alocation which already introduces the idea of form of life. It is worthwhile to note that in this bravado, there is little meditation on Agamben’s own life, which remains silently opaque and perhaps on the side of “ette clandestinité de la vie privée sur laquelle on ne possède jamais que des documents dérisoires”. The writing of a life is only potential or a habitual relation of the singular with itself, foreign to conventional literary genres or works of memory and identity. The form of life coincides here with a writing that never anticipates its own becoming; it seeks for an inclination or a “gusto” (as opposed to an ‘aesthetic’ form) [1]. Hence, if according to Benjamin Heidegger’s thinking is angular; one is tempted to say that Agamben’s style is scaly as in the skin of a fish, only visible when exposed to light, generating multiple intensities and shifting canopies.

2. As the culmination of Homo Sacer, L’uso dei corpi is in equal measure the writing of the end of the ontological metaphysical tradition and the opening of the question of life or existence. This is not accomplished, like in Heidegger or Schürmann, solely as an extraction of the history of metaphysics given primacy to philosophical discourse. Rather the methodological wager here is archeology, which allows not for a process of “destruction” (although in a certain sense it is consistent with a deconstructive practice), but for one of rendering inoperative the machine(s) that capture negativity into life and politics, or the political as always an impolitical foundation or archē of life:

L’identificazione della nuda vita come referente primo e pota in gioco della politica e stato perciò il primo atto della ricerca. La struttura originario della politica occidentale consiste in una ex-ceptio, in una esclusione inclusive della vita umana nella forma della nuda vita. Si rifletta sulla particolarità di questa operazione: la vita non e in se stessa politica – per questo essa deve essere esclusa dalla citta – e, tuttavia, e propio l’exceptio, l’esclusione-inclusione di questo Impolitico che fonda lo spazio della politica” (Agamben 333).

[“The identification of bare life as the prime referent and ultimate stakes of politics was therefore the first act of the study. The originary structure of Western politics consists in an ex-ceptio, in an inclusive exclusion of human life in the form of bare life. Let us reflect on the peculiarity of this operation: life is not in itself political – for this reason it must be excluded from the city – and yet it is precisely this exceptio, the exclusion-inclusion of this Impolitical, that founds the space of politics” (Agamben 263)].

This position allows Agamben to simultaneously bring the relation between biopolitics and sovereignty to a maximum proximity, while taking critical distance from the so-called Italian Theory, in the variants of Cacciari, Esposito, or Tronti. Like these three, politics cannot be rethought without the wrench of the theological register, but unlike them, Agamben is not interested in take part in the construction of a nomic difference posited as an exclusive modality of “Italian difference”.

His critique is situated against the political as a transversal in Western rationality and ontology vis-a-vis the unfolding of paradigms. In Agamben’s view there is no need for epochal structuration, and not even for a history of metaphysics proper. Rather, the ‘history of metaphysics’ is the history of its apparatuses; and that is why the critique of these apparatuses is not fulfilled at the domain of epochal presencing, but rather within an array of fields of tension and relays – from metaphysics proper to the classics, from theology to modern literature, from philology to jurisprudence and political philosophy – in which power articulates and divides the constitution of life.

In this way, Agamben is neither a philosopher nor a critical theorist (in the Foucaltian or Kantian sense), since for him the history of Western philosophical tradition cannot consecrate itself in two or more moment, since the narrative of the history of philosophy is far from being the place where the question of “life” is waged. (As opposed to Foucault’s position in Lectures at Dartmouth College would could still argue: “Maybe also we can say that there are two great philosophical moments: the pre-Socratic moments and the Aufklärung”). Archeology and the paradigm are not historical moments or epochs, but singular signaturas in which the amphibology between potentiality and actuality, the political and its impolitical are dispensed as ensembles of legibility.

3. Unlike conventional philosophical histories or historico-intellectual reconstruction of ideas, the archeology of paradigms has no intention of restituting something like an uncontaminated or esoteric tradition. Averroism, just to take one example, has been casted erroneously in such a light. There is no such thing as an alternative non-metaphysical history of Western metaphysics and ontology, and the form of life as the part construens does not amount to an alternative history, but rather to the unthought of metaphysics, secluded between the public and the private (in the sphere of life), the norm and the exception. What is then given is not a second history, but something like the history of intimacy of thought at the instance of contact, a region that dwells in an improper de-relation (itself-with-itself). How Agamben reads the notion of “intimacy” could also be displaced to his rewriting of the philosophical and political stakes of his work:

אSolo a solo” e un’espressione dell’intimità. Siamo insieme e vicinissime, ma non c’è fra noi un’articolazione o una relazione che ci unisca, siamo uniti l’uno all’altro nella forma del nostro essere soli. Ciò che di solito costruisse la sfera della privatezza diventa qui pubblico e comune. Pero questo gli amanti si mostrano nudi l’uno all’altro: io mi mostro a te come quando sono solo con me stesso, ciò che condividiamo non e che il nostro esoterismo, la nostra inappropriabile zona di non-conoscenza. Questo Inappropriabile e l’impensabile, che la nostra cultura deve ogni volta escludere e presupporre, per farne il fondamene negative della politica” (Agamben 302).

[“א Alone by oneself” is an expression of intimacy. We are together and very close, but between us there is not an articulation or a relation or a relation that unites us. We are united to one another in the form of our being alone. What customarily constitutes the sphere of privacy here becomes public and common. For this reason, lovers show themselves nude to one another: I show myself to you as when I am alone with myself; what we share is only our esoterism, our inappropriable zone of non-knowledge. This Inappropriable is the unthinkable; it is what our culture must always exclude and presuppose in order to make in the negative foundation of politics” (Agamben 237-238)]

The critique raised against negativity as a disjointed form stages the necessary condition for division and distribution of ontology as political. It would not be too grandiloquent to say that negativity for Agamben is always machination and positionality. The life of intimacy or the intimate life is consistent with an infrapolitical region that is at once “superpolitical and apolitical” (hypsipolis apolis): separated in the ban from the city, it nevertheless becomes intimate and inseparable from itself, in a non-relation that has the form of an “exile of one alone to one alone” (Agamben 236). An affirmation of the regime of exodus inscribes the life of beatitude that always dwells in an absolute politicity (to the extent that the exception is de-captured and suspended), opening to a new politics of exile. It is a unity, not separation, from the political. But calling for the politization of the absolute state of exodus is already recasting the political as something other than what it has been in the Western tradition, as tied to the duopoly of polis-oikos, of inclusion-exclusion, or one of doxology and sovereignty.

Agamben moves on to argue that there have signatures in the history of thought where this politics of exile could be recasted: first, Neo-Platonism vis-à-vis Plotinus and Marius Victorinus; and secondly, in Averroism as the signature of the noetic common intellect that evades the figure of the person. But these two traditions do not exhaust the form of life (eidos zoes) that Agamben wants to pursue. The task of the coming philosophy is to imagine and provide for such thought through traditions that function as paradigms for the potentialities of thought against the historical unfolding proper of metaphysics.

4. The project does not limit itself to an archive of philosophers, but necessarily poses problems for theology. This is the case, for instance, of the early Christian rhetor Marius Victorinus. Victorinus’ apothegm from his treatise on the Trinitarian polemic (Adversus Arium) functions as a sort of chant of the form of life: “quasi quaedma forma vel status viviendo progenitus” [“life is a habit of living, and a kind of form generated by living”] (Agamben 221). Victorinus displaces and renders inoperative the ontological ground of the post-Aristotelian Hellenistic School to a co-substantialism between Father and Son, existence and essence that already prefigures the modal ontology of the late Leibniz-Des Bosses epistolary exchange, but also the Spinozian singular substance of Nature. This is symmetrical to the Averroist intellect, since ‘life’ does not take the character of a declination between attributes, properties, and differences, but is a mode instantiated by its living. The way of living becomes the threshold of indistinction, and as such, an incalculable life that is always already singular and, by the same token, a common life. But what is not clear in Agamben’s glossing of Victorinus is his place within the debate of Trinitarian thought. In Regno e Gloria, the Trinitarian machine functioned as a dual-power that was able to divide sovereign power from administrative or oikonomical power, a regime of attribute causation to one of collateral effects, one of necessity into the site where the instrumentalization of contingency takes place [2].

The Trinitarian machine allowed for the emergence of governance and administration beyond the facticity of sovereignty in a perpetual form of the stasis of humanity. By placing Victorinus as a thinker of the eidos zoes (form of life) is a risky one, Agamben might be suggesting that another turn within the theological machine is potentiality within the Trinitarian machine [3]. And this would solidify Malabou and Esposito’s recent positions, against Agamben, that political theology cannot be deconstructed. But if stasis is always a conflict in representation of the political, what Marius Victorinus posits for thought is a reconsideration of conflict that cannot assume the form of a stasis against democracy. Perhaps at stake is a democracy that never one with the People or predicated upon legitimacy. Rather, a democracy without kratos that is generated in its living body that cannot take the shape of a bare body of life or the mystical body of the political already positioned for a governance in spite of the absent People, such as in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.

5. Agamben’s exodus is not from the political, but rather a return to an absolute politicity. But what is the proper sphere of policity here? Are all aspects of Life subordinated to the political? What is the political for Agamben? Here the recoil is to Plotinus for whom the political is the happy life is the coincidental principle of “living well” (eu zen). Agamben condemns the Heideggerian “letting-be” (galassenheit), as yet another gesture already determinate to produce necessary exception (a ban) to the political [4]. This is why happy life is always extreme and minimal politicity that incorporates life in its form as always already taking place and as a form of beatitude. In the section “A life inseparable from its form”, Agamben writes:

Il mistero dell’uomo non e quello, metafisica, della congiunzione fra il vivente e il linguaggio (o la ragione, o l’anima (, ma quello, pratico e politico, della loro separazione. Se il pensiero, le arti, la poesia e, in generale, le prassi umane hanno qualche interesse, ciò e perché essi fanno girare archeologicamente a vuoto la macchina e le opera della vita, della lingua, dell’economia e della società per riportarle all’evento antropogenico, perché in esse il diventar umano, non cessi mai di avvenire. La politico nomina il luogo di questo evento, in qualunque ambito esso si produca” (Agamben 265-66).

[“The mystery of the human being is not the metaphysical one of the conjunction between the living being and language (or reason or the soul) but the practical and political one their separation. If thought, the arts, poetry, and human practices generally have any interests, it’s because they bring about an archeological idling of the machine and the works of life, language, economy, and society, in order to carry them back to the anthropogenetic event, I order that in them the becoming human of the human being will never be achieved once and for all, will never cease to happen. Politics names the place of this event, in whatever sphere it is produced” (Agamben 208)].

Politics here coincides fully with inoperativity, its katargein (the suspension and accomplishment of Law according his reading of Paul in The Times that Remains), a singular strategy of profanation that turns each action into its improper destitution. This is what constitutes use (chresis) in Agamben’s early part of the book, and it is also a general methodology for thought that coincides with politics. Since politics is not a sphere of life, or of an administrative partition of what life is (ontology), politics is a general strategy that renders life into an event for whatever (qualunque) use [5]. Strategic politics does not posit a principle of action; it is rather what does not solicit calculation, submersing into thought and distance of the non-relation. A handy example comes by way of chess, as explicitly thematized in the drift on Wittgenstein’s form of life in language, since gaming itself results in strategy in which rules are co-substantial and infinite in the state of things (the game). Hence, in every sphere of human activity, thought exceeds the productionism of calculation normatively captured.

But the qualunque – as we also learned from Agamben’s The Coming Community – is what reimagines another possibility of a community of singulars and homonyms vis-à-vis praxis and use as the kernel of pure means. This ‘politics’ de-appropriates the form in life that has remained caught in the schism of every biopolitics. Here Agamben differentiates himself from understanding the political as a public presencing in Schürmann’s anarchistic destruction of principal thought [6]. Figures such as the landscape, the intimate exposition, style, or the inclination to animality, are metonymic tropes for a politics of use and of the contemplative region of a life that is co-substantial with its form. On the other end, whatever divides and administers singularity is always production of bare life, which is why evil is first and foremost a consequence of biopolitical machination.

6. The major volumes of Homo Sacer always revolved around a series of polemical signatures: Carl Schmitt in State of Exception, Erik Peterson in Kingdom and the Glory, Kojeve in The Open, or Kant in Opus Dei. It is fair to say that in L’uso dei Corpi we are confronted with two names: Michel Foucault and Martin Heidegger. Unlike Schmitt and Peterson, these two names are not presented as archenemies, but rather as the thresholds where the possibility of new thought is contested and waged. Whereas Foucault’s limit is the hidden question of pleasure as use (chresis) still co-related with a care of the subject; Heidegger appears as the highest aporia of Western thought in thinking the ontological difference in the limit of the animal. It is fair to say that Agamben situates his thought at the crossroads of the existential analytic on one side, and the intimacy constitutive of the “care of oneself” as a work of art on the other [7].

If Heidegger lays down a destruction of ontology in Western metaphysics, Foucault’s genealogy of contemporary subjection, avoids precisely that problematization. The confrontation is not longer given between negativity and existence, but rather on the question of life and the strategies (aporetic, which for Agamben entail entrapment in the theological machine) of making thinkable an inoperative zone of the form of life. There is a third figure, Guy Debord, who accomplishes perhaps two interrelated strategies in the vortex of the book: first, it plugs thought to strategy (Debord invited a game of war, a sort of alteration of chess); and second, out points to the impossibility of narrativizing life. Debord’s Panegyric is form of life precisely because it fails to assume an autobiographical testamentary form as documentation. Of course, Agamben appears here not a thinker of semiology and traces, but of gestures and signatures. The coming philosophy of the form of life is precisely that mobility of signatures inclined towards a region that coincides with the event of thought.

7. L’uso dei corpi is also an attempt to thematize the place of singularity. ‘Singularity’ is a term that is never mentioned as such, but instead it takes the name of the form-of-life, the Ungovernable, or the Inappropriable. Similarly, there are three places where the singular is investigated at different moments of the book: a first ontological exegesis of the Aristotelian ti en einai, vis-à-vis Curt Arpe’s work on the Aristotelian grammar in a 1937 essay (Das Ti en einai bei Aristoteles). Secondly, a recast of Leibniz’s correspondence with theologian Des Bosses on the “substantial vinculum” as to inform the question of hexis. Thirdly, the figure of the form of life as happy life in the Neo-Platonic tradition, departing from Plotinus, and making its way to Marius Victorinus and Averroes. Spinoza comes to the forefront as the thinker of the passive immanent cause, only insofar as he accompanies other strategies, such as Guillaume’s operational time or Arpe’s grammatological exegesis in Aristotelian writings. The singularity is the life of thought as occurring, which opens itself to a conceptualization of the inoperativity of man: “We call thought the connection that constitutes forms of life into an inseparable context, into form of life…Thought is, in this sense, always use of oneself, always entails the affection that one received insofar as one is in contact wit a determinate body” (Agamben 210).

8. L’uso dei corpi picks up where Altisima Poverta left off; that is, on the question of the relation between life and law (regula), which for the Franciscans overdetermined the thinking through a relation instantiated in propriety. Against the nexus of the proper and rule of law, Agamben radicalizes the archeology of form of life with the notion of use (chresis) against biopolitical subsumption of life that attempts at making form of life of divisible and instrumentalized in ontology. The passage towards a form of life that is always already in use, seeks to inaugurate, on one hand, an ethics that is no longer predicated on subjective metaphysics concepts of will and duty, and that on the other, free the anthropogenic event of the human vis-à-vis its inoperativity [8]. In political terms this is not entirely solved in Agamben, and at the very end of the book, the gesture for a translation of praxis seems to retort, against all ‘negrism’ and counter-hegemonic rehearsals, as a process of institutionalizing the deposition maneuver of the destituent potential.

What is central is to think the anthropogenic form of life coincide with a new institutionalization of every singularity beyond a procedure of administration (oikonomia), but also the fiction of sovereignty (exceptio). Contra-Schürmann, Agamben admits that staging another principle of an-archy is a false exit, since power is always anarchic, but more importantly because economy remains on the shadowy side of the political. As Agamben argued in Regno e Gloria, oikonomia is the apparatus in which the West has organized the contingency and inoperativity of the anthropogenic event. Thus, the procedure of destituent power is fundamentally anti-an-archic, if the latter is to be understood as principally tangled as an ‘economy’.

What emerges for the allowance of the form of life is a strategy of the Pauline ‘as if not’ (hos me). Agamben understands this modality as a turning of the state of things without voluntarism, and beyond the creation of a ‘new identity’. In tune with Simone Weil’s decreation, the hos me does not instantiate a messianic escathon, sacrificially putting life before the transcendental or in the community (as in Taubes). Rather, the messianic hos me detonate a klesis in life that is no longer grounded in action or in communitarian terms. The Pauline ‘katargein’ deactivates the apparatus of criminalization of sin (which for Illich represents the machine of modern subjection), as well as the historical horizon of the philosophy of History as accomplishment of the law [9]. What Agamben is after, and still remains unresolved in the case of Paul, is a new de-relation with law in which the singular could face law without passing thorough property (Franciscanism) or the rule of law (anomie).

The coming politics is a politics of impotential actions, which is necessarily post-hegemonic politics, to the extent that it displaces the centrality of active domination in the polis to another region that takes ‘distance’ with politics [10]. The Pauline hos me becomes the true state of exception. In this sense, it is not an impersonal power immanent in every articulation of law, and which is why the inoperativity of law also takes distance from Esposito’s deconstruction of the politico-theological machine. Whereas law is always necessarily impersonal, the katargein is not on the reverse side of the person contained in generic equivalence of jurisdiction, but the deposition of every law in the irreducible life of the singular.

Albeit the critique of folding duality of the principial One into the person-subject, Esposito’s impersonal remains bounded to the limit of law that haunts the coming of modern biopolitics. Thus, the destitution of political theology has less to do with the deployment of certain terms whose provenance is the theological sphere, than the necessity of facing the question of law beyond the community and anthropologic productiveness of the subject. The Pauline ‘as if not’ is an effort to render thinkable a form of law no longer effective (‘actual’), but studied (impotential). Far from constituting a telic historical time, the messianic points to the potentiality of freeing the ethics immanent in every form of life, that is, decapturing the beatitude of humanity, which is the promise of Justice [11].

But how could a law of pure mediality be institutionalized? How can one open the way for law in line with the form of life not as constituting an impersonal relation, but an anarchical regulated game like the one that all infants play? After all, playing, like studying, is what denotes the force of Justice in the time of the living.

 

Notes

*Giorgio Agamben. L’uso dei corpi. Rome: Neri Pozza, 2014.

*Giorgio Agamben. Use Of Bodies. (Trans. Adam Kotsko). Stanford University Press, 2016.

  1. This has been recently published in another essay, Gusto (Quidlobet, 2015), although originally written in the 1970s.
  1. Agamben makes this distinction between sovereignty and the machine of oikonomia dominated by contingency in The Kingdom and The Glory: “In other words, two different concepts of the government of men confront each other: the first is still dominated by the old model off territorial sovereignty, which reduces the double articulation of the governmental machine to a purely formal moment; the second is closer to the new economico-providential paradigm, in which the two elements maintain their identity, in spite of their correlation and the contingency of the acts of government corresponds to the freed of the sovereign decision” (108).
  1. Marius Victorinus conception of absolute substantialization of the Trinity in his Treatise reads as follows in a crucial moment when introducing the ‘living life’: “Indeed, life is a habit of living, and it is a kind of form or state be- gotten by living, containing in itself “to live” itself and that “to be” which is life, so that both are one substance. For they are not truly one in the other, but they are one redoubled in its own simplicity, one, in itself because it is from itself, and one that is from itself because the first simplicity has a certain act within itself. For repose begets nothing; but movement and the exercise of acting forms for itself from itself that which it is or rather that it is of a certain mode. For “to live” is “to be”; but to be life is a certain modes of being, that is, the form of the living produced by the very one for which it is form. But the producer, “to live,” never having a beginning-for that which lives from itself has no beginning since it lives always-it follows that life also has no beginning. Indeed as long as the producer has no beginning, that which is produced has not a beginning. As both are together, they are also consubstantial. […] Therefore, from life comes understanding, and life itself comes from living, that is, from the Father comes the Son, and from the Son, the Holy Spirit. For he added this: “All things that the Father has are mine”; “I said that all that the Father has is mine, because all the Father has is the Son’s, “to be,” “to live,” “to understand.” These same realities the Holy Spirit possesses. All are therefore homoousia (consubstantial). [“Against Arius IV”, 277, from Theological Treatises on the Trinity, 1978.
  2.  Agamben writes: “And if being is only the being “under the ban” – which is to say, abandoned to itself – of beings, then categories like “letting-be”, by which Heidegger sough to escape from the ontological difference, also remain within the relation of the ban” (Agamben 268).
  1. Agamben retells this anecdote on his essay “Metropolis”: “Many years ago I was having a conversation with Guy (Debord) which I believed to be about political philosophy, until at some point Guy interrupted me and said: ‘Look, I am not a philosopher, I am a strategist’. This statement struck me because I used to see him as a philosopher as I saw myself as one, but I think that what he meant to say was that every thought, however ‘pure’, general or abstract it tries to be, is always marked by historical and temporal signs and thus captured and somehow engaged in a strategy and urgency. I say this because my reflections will clearly be general and I won’t enter into the specific theme of conflicts but I hope that they will bear the marks of a strategy”.
  1. Agamben’s moment of maximum proximity to Schürmann is also the one of his greatest remoteness. At the end of the last part of L’uso dei corpi he writes: “The limit of Schürmann’s interpretation clearly appears in the very (willfully paradoxical) syntagma that furnishes the book’s title: the “principle of anarchy”. It is not sufficient to separate origin and command, principium and princeps: as we have shown in The Kingdom and the Glory, a kind who rules does not govern is only one of the two poles of the governmental apparatus and playing off one pole against he other is not sufficient to halt their functioning” (Agamben 276).
  1. At the end of the Intermezzo on Foucault, Agamben takes this aporia of the subject to the end: “Certainly the subject, the self of which eh speaks, cannot be inscribed into the tradition of the Aristotelian hypokeimenon and yet Foucault – likely for good reasons – constantly avoided the direct confrontation with the history of ontology that Heidegger had laid out as a preliminary task. What Foucault does not seem to see, despite the fact that antiquity would seem to offer an example in some way, is the possibility of a relation with thyself and of a form of life that never assumes the figure of a free subject – which is to say, a if power relations necessarily refer to a subject, of a zone of ethics entirely substrate form strategic relation of an Ungovernable that is situated beyond states of domination and power relations.” (108).
  1. Andrea Cavalletti. “http://ilmanifesto.info/agamben-la-vita-e-forma-e-si-genera-vivendo/
  1. Agamben literally repeats the elaboration of inoperativity of the Law from the book on St. Paul: “An example of a destituent strategy that is neither destructive nor constituent is that of Paul in the face of the law. Paul expresses the relationship between the messiah and the law with the verb katargein, which means, “render inoperative” (argos), “deactivate”. Thus, Paul can write that the messiah “will render inoperative (katargese) every power, every authority, and every potential (Cor 15:26) and at the same time that the messiah is the telos of the law” (Romans 10:4): here inoperativity and fulfillment perfectly coincide”. (Agamben 273).
  1. The notion of ‘distance’ as a region of relation in the polis that precedes the equivalence grounded in administrative politics is thematized by Spanish philosopher Felipe Martinez Marzoa in his El concepto de lo civil (Ediciones Metales Pesados, 2008). Alberto Moreiras has recently treated this cuasi-concept as an infra-political register in his “Nearness against Community”: https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/nearness-against-community-the-eye-too-many-by-alberto-moreiras/
  1. Carlo Salzani has listed a typology of “messianic figures” (the messianic that in Agamben has little to do with a philosophy of History). These are also figures of the hos me such as dancing, the party, gesture, play, poetry, landscape, or thought. Introduzione a Giorgio Agamben (Il Melangolo, 2013). But at stake here is also the question of Justice. In the chapter “The Inappropriable”, Agamben recalls a fragment written by W. Benjamin entitled “notes towards a Wok on the Category of Justice” (1916): “no order of possession, however articulated, can therefore lad to justice. Rather, this lines in the condition of a good that cannot be a possession. This alone is the good through which goods becomes possessions…Virtue can be demanded [exigency]; justice in the final analysis can only be as a state of the world or as a state of God” (81). It is a strange fragment mainly because exigency of virtue (arête) is isolated from a notion of “Justice” as a state of the World. But was not exigency as demand what happens without ever being demanded? On the opposite side, the ‘state of the world’ should not be equipped with the Heideggerian notion of ‘letting be’, but rather as a politics of exile of the singular or as Agamben says “to experience is absolutely inappropriable” (81). This is connected also with a later essay that Benjamin writes on the tenth anniversary of Kafka, in which he famously writes: “…legal scholar Bucephalus remains true to his origins, except that he does not seem to be practicing law – and this is probably something new, in Kafka’s sense, for both Bucephalus and the bar. The law, which is studied and not practiced any longer, is the gate to justice. The gate to justice is learning”. Benjamin quickly notes that there is a distinction between learning and studying; the first case being on the side of that which can be mastered. Playing or studying the law is in every case the praxis of Justice and nothing more.