A Subtractive Critique of Politics

It is sometimes said that infrapolitics is subtractive, and it is said as a critique–in other words, to be subtractive would be bad in the context of the necessary commitment to the onward march of history, the need to push forward in the name of the people, the vanguard representation of subaltern interests against their hijacking by capitalism, and so forth. But recent movements, still not particularly self-aware, still inchoate, such as what the New York Times recently called the “lying flat movement,” that is, a particular kind of work refusal connected to the experience of the COVID pandemic in the US, brings up the question “what if the people chose subtraction?” It is a simple question. I am not sure the contemporary conventional left is prepared even to hear it.

A recent book by Ian Moore, Eckhart, Heidegger, and the Imperative of Releasement (Albany: SUNY Press, 2019) brings the question home. The theme is Gelassenheit, that is, releasement, or in Spanish, dexamiento, which is the word chosen by the 16th century Spanish alumbrados to describe their practice. Dexamiento would be a fancy word to refer to the goals of the lying flat movement but, in my opinion, not an inadequate one. Dexamiento is very much a form of refusal, and it certainly is a subtractive critique of contemporary politics, including the participatory and representational politics of the left.

This note does not intend to be a review of Moore’s book. Only to notice that it exists, and that it is a great read. So I will limit myself to a very partial comment on a particular issue.

At the very end of the book, that is, before the three appendices, Moore makes the connection between Gelassenheit and death: “a matter of life and death,” he says (143). But, if the thought of releasement is a thought of death, and of life, it is so because it is connected to temporality, that is, to history as it conditions every one of us. Moore uses in this context the word “infra-historical.” He says that Heidegger, when engaged in Eckhartian thought, “tends toward a non-epochal or infra-historical sense of being” (141). I am not sure that is the case. This is the way I think about it:

It is politics, that is, the particular configuration of any given time, that determines, in every case and for whomever, their relation to history, not history that determines the relation to politics. Infrapolitics would then be the critical subtraction from the historical relations that impose a specific political framework. As a subtraction from historical relations (releasement is releasement from history and to an alternative form of life, to be found in the practice of releasement itself) infrapolitics is eminently historical, even if in the negative form of refusal.

If Gelassenheit, releasement, is a practical apriori, that is, an imperative dimension of thinking connected to a certain experience of death, linked to the ontological difference also because it refuses to think of death as a mere termination of productivity in the ontotheological sense, infrapolitics emerges as a necessary subtractive critique of politics not even in the name of justice, not even in the name of equality, rather in the name of what calls for thinking for any given epoch. What calls for thinking is historical, could never be otherwise than historical, but the response to it, rather than infrahistorical, would be infrapolitical.

The lying flat movement, the reference to slow time, the refusal of work and productivity under contemporary conditions, is a subtractive critique of politics absolutely conditioned by historical determinations. It is, as such, a thoroughly political, that is, a hyperpolitical movement. But of course one must have ears for it.

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