A Note on Calila e Dimna, Part Two.

The second part of Calila e Dimna no longer stages the dialogue between the two jackals.  It is probably an addition to the original text. And it is interesting that, always within the conventions of the mirror of princes genre, where a philosopher advises the king on how to act, the first chapter of the second part focuses on politics, at least apparently, where the rest of the chapters are clearly infrapolitical in intent: they propose no ethics, they offer nothing about political action, they dismiss rhetoric, but they concentrate on practical life and how best to live it. 

That first chapter of the second part refers to a war between crows and owls after the crows have been defeated.  The crows must deliberate on how to deal with the winning enemy.  They determine five possible positions:  fleeing, continuing the fight, negotiating, partially submitting, or pretending to submit while setting up a devious and fundamental trap that would enable them to destroy the owls.  The last and cleverest one of the murder of crows advising the king of crows suggests the latter option, and then becomes a sort of undercover agent in the realm of the owls until he succeeds in having them all killed.  Good for the last crow. 

But I came to understand that I myself am not interested in any of the last three options: negotiating with the winning enemy, partially submitting to them, or pretending to submit for the sake of a secret plan to be enacted.  All of it is boring, time consuming, and uncertain.   So for me, fighting and then, upon losing, fleeing, in the sense of leaving, abandoning the fight, are the only real options.   And then I thought that the first two options are the properly nonpolitical options.

One fights in order to keep doing what one wants to do, or one escapes in order to salvage whatever may be salvaged.  The infrapolitical interest here is not an interest in power, even in the diluted form that comes from participating, whether through negotiation, partial submission, or even secret subversion, in a hegemonic regime. 

So my thesis here is that anarchy, that is, the an-archic dimension of action, is totally contained within the first two options.  Refusal or passive resistance are forms of fleeing.  Continuing to do what one wants to do is a form of fighting.  The rest is politics, which is a diversion posited on an archic drive. 

The crows succeed–they annihilate the owls.  Deprived of an enemy, they will have to look for an alternative enemy to sustain their archic drive.  I doubt they would find an enabling peace.  The notion of coming to terms with one’s ventura, presented as the sovereign wisdom in the chapter before last, cannot be realized under those conditions. 

Ventura–is there a better term for the translation of the Heideggerian Ereignis?–can only be released into its own in the ad-venture of fighting and fleeing. 

Two Questions on Necroviolence

In Jason De León’s The Land of Open Graves (U of California P, 2015) one finds the argument that, say, a rattlesnake in the Sonora Desert is a political, although nonhuman, actant in an enterprise of necroviolence organized and structured by US state policies (such as the Border Patrol’s Prevention Through Deterrence program, which funnels border crossers into areas where death and disappearance are likely to happen).  So, two questions that seem important to me, and that I want to consider in the context of establishing some foundation for Latinx thought in the US:  first, are a rattlesnake, a black scorpion, the heat of the desert, dehydration, or even the assassin mofos who just shoot migrants when they think they can get away with it properly political actants?  And the second question: what happens in the border deserts’s zones of confinement, zones of exception, is it political violence or is it better understood as infrapolitical violence? 

It seems to me that the questions are significant because, if everything is political, including desert rattlesnakes, then we lose the possibility of establishing distinctions that might prove useful not just in the register of understanding what happens but also in the register of political action as such.  In other words, one could imagine political action meant to curb infrapolitical necroviolence much more effectively than through thinking that the confrontation between different actants in a zone of exception is straightforwardly political.  Antigone comes to mind here.  Creon did not forbid Antigone’s political actions, rather her infrapolitical actions, which were, as such, more threatening and dangerous to him.  In other words, Creon’s pretense that he was in a merely political confrontation with Antigone will always give Creon the advantage, even if it is a fallen, spiritually mediocre one.  We could reverse that.  Say, Texas Republican policies concerning the border are not a matter of politics, they are rather a matter of infrapolitics.  To that extent, they are not even policies, or whatever policies they develop are founded on a previous infrapolitical determination. The Texas Republicans are not engaging in a heroic political defense of the integrity of US sovereignty; they are rather engaged in craven infrapolitical necroviolence that they have long disguised as politics. 

The paradox is that infrapolitics restitutes a dignity to political practice that the denial or disavowal of infrapolitics undermines. Caging children, for instance, or letting border crossers under surveillance go deeper into the desert until they face likely death, should not be dignified by calling them political practices.

Encounters Under Erasure

Today we were supposed to have a zoom meeting on Lundi Matin’s Elementos de descivilización, but only Gerardo and I showed up.  Which of course did not keep us from a conversation.  We ended up talking about the encounter or the notion of the encounter as it is displayed in some texts by Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee–and later in the evening I ran across the word in a particularly important chapter in Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, which is where Zeitblom tells us how Leverkühn went in search of Esmeralda, who tells him she has syphilis.  Leverkühn accepts his fate and they make love.  My claim is that it is a false encounter, which makes it real: real because false, and it could not be otherwise.  I would make the same claim about Tiqqun’s encounter, and I would make the same case, say, about whatever is meant by the notion of general mass intellectuality “in the hold” in Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons. 

We were talking about encounter since there is so much mysticism about communitarianism, which is to my mind a particularly pernicious way of talking about the common.  For some, the encounter leads to community, and community is the site of encounter. So, I will elaborate a bit: there is no political encounter unless we place encounter under erasure.  For there to be a political encounter one must give up every notion of an encounter.  And that is all we get. This is a direct consequence of Lacanian teaching: il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel.  We could say: il n’y a pas de rapport politique, unless politics is already understood as always expressive of a lack of rapport, a lack of relation, a separation.  By the same token there is no political dialogue–politics is always essentially monologic, which is why it is always confrontational, polemic, and the more so when it attempts to cover itself up–when political depredation becomes a form of intended superdepredation.  To those who think that this makes democracy impossible–that community is a condition of democracy–we could respond that, on the contrary, separation is the hyperbolic condition of democracy.  I think it is simply untenable to think that an equivalential chain of demands in hegemony theory organizes a political encounter that justifies the hegemonic articulation in view of a fundamental antagonism.  There is no encounter in the antagonism, and there is no encounter in whatever equivalential relation allows for the formation of an empty signifier.  In fact, the equivalential relation and the empty signifier are only to be posited in the absence of every possibility of an encounter.  If then, community already fails in hegemonic democracy (hegemony theory is itself based on the absence of community), the fact is a fortiori true for posthegemonic democracy. In posthegemonic democracy there is only one (political) community: the community of those who have no community.

If the case were to be made that community is precisely not politics, but the absolute end of politics–well, then, perhaps the conversation would become more interesting.  Lenin says something similar in State and Revolution.  But–and this seems to me not to be dismissed: Lenin is not talking about community, he is only talking about communism. 

Seminar Notes on Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons.

“To move towards the mode of living that we like” (119) means to dismantle the general structure of contemporary oppression, to get beyond it, in order to reach a place where one always already is: what does it take?  In the first place, a refusal, even if in the name of a preservation.  A refusal of the choices that are offered, which are, as such, the very organization of the structure of oppression.  We choose a general antagonism, which is, from the understanding of the commitment to war, which causes oppression, also a commitment against the commitment to war. 

To think about the refusal we need study, over against institutional thought, and fugitivity, over against the actions of the settler. 

This would lead to a revolution without politics.  Politics are delusion, also part of the structure of oppression.  We must, therefore, also cultivate a general antagonism to politics.

There is an outcast mass intellectuality of the undercommons, a general intellect that is always already fugitive.  The structure of oppression (the ideological state apparatus, not just prisons, hospital, asylums, also universities, churches, NGOs) means to turn outcast intellectuality into deputized state agents. 

In the university, for instance, there is a (fugitive or) subversive intellectual opposing the critical (or institutional) intellectual.  The fugitive intellectual cultivates, through study, a prophetic organization.  The critical intellectual is a policy maker.  An oppressor. 

The fugitive intellectual accepts a radical passion and passivity, which makes him or her unfit for subjection.  The critical intellectual seeks subjection through policy.  And agency.

The fugitive intellectual (but this is the intellectual of mass intellectuality, that is, everyone) remains in an exteriority, which is the non-place of the undercommons.  That is his or her fugitivity.  It is the infrapolitical field, where “wayward labor, surplus, waste” obtain. 

The political field is the field of sequestration.  It can only countenance what is sequestered and what is to be sequestered, ceaselessly so.  By governance and policy, by deputized policy agents, which form the other “everyone.”   Subtraction from sequestration is the attempt to dwell in the ontological difference. 

Hence, fugitivity is a dwelling in the exception to the general equivalent.  It is a break in/out of capitalist discourse.

Black study is a persistence in the refusal of sequestration.  It seeks the prophetic organization of life against all manner of policy commands, against the night riders of the state of the situation.  Hence against the imposition of consensus, the imposition not on selves but of selves.  From the general antagonism of the social, which is the site of the ontological difference. 

Fugitivity, explored and channeled through study and planning, is not only a refusal to be governed, it is also a refusal to govern.  It stands against any imperative of submission, and against any command for participation (since “the participant is the deputy’s mirror image”). 

One must choose:  will you be the police or would you find an alternative relation to world?  Provided you would want “to move towards the mode of living that [you] like.”

If “to work [to live] is to be asked, more and more, to do without thinking, to feel without emotion, to move without friction, to adapt without question, to translate without pause, to desire without purpose, to connect without interruption” (87), that is, if today’s choice is: “Logistical populations will be created to do without thinking, to feel without emotion, to move without friction, to adapt without question, to translate without pause, to connect without interruption, or they will be dismantled and disabled as bodies in the same way they are assembled, by what Patricia Clough calls population racism” (91), the imperative is:

1) to submit to the contemporary structure of oppression under those determinations.

2) to opt for prophetic, that is, infrapolitical life: “the prophet is the one who tells the brutal truth, who has the capacity to see the absolute brutality of the already existing and to point it out and to tell that truth, but also to see the other way, to see what it could be.” 

A Conversation on Race

A few months ago either a journalist from The Guardian or somebody posing as one sent me a questionnaire saying that my responses would be published as part of some special issue or Sunday story on race in the US. I was surprised because I have not published anything of any substance thematizing race, other than a few blog entries, although most of them are in a blog accessible only to working group members. It was also a bit strange, I thought, that the journalist contacted me from a personal, not an institutional email address. In any case, I replied, and nothing happened. I recently wrote to ask whether I was free to publish my responses in this blog, since I want to use them for a course I am teaching this semester. I learned that the email address had been terminated. So I can no longer be sure the questionnaire was genuine and not some kind of weird-shit trap meant to trick me into some hit list. Whatever the case may be, here are my responses. I claim no particular excellence for them: i just want to use them for my class.

Interview with Mr. X, allegedly from The Guardian UK 

What inspired you or generated your interest in African American Literature?

Since your question seems to be historical, about the origins of my interest, I suppose I should mention Chester Himes and his Harlem novels, which I read as a teenager.  They fascinated me.  That was probably my first contact with African American literature.  I have of course read many African American authors over the years.  More recently, and more specifically, my interest has to do with understanding the differences and the potential similiarities between the African American experience and the Latinx experience in the US 20th century.  I do not mean to say I approach African American literature nowadays from any kind of anthropological interest.  My interest is theoretical and it has to do with figuring out how to live, how to lead your own existence, in conditions of social subalternity or subalternization.  In general, of course, but also specifically: how to do that in a country I know well, since I have lived in it most of my life. 

Can we apply postcolonial theory (say, Frantz Fanon’s and Du Bois’s postcolonial concepts) to African American literature about discrimination and racism? 

It is not that we can or could, it is that we must and should.  Du Bois and Fanon are crucial theorists of Black experience, and their writings are still fundamentally productive today.  Take Du Bois’ statements about the color line as the problem of the 20thcentury.  For decades that idea flew in the face of the left’s insistence on the absolute priority of class and economic interests.  Fanon took it up again in the 1950s, still against the grain.  But I think the historical process has made it clear by now that class and economic interests will not drown the problem of the color line.  Racism, even in ostensibly attenuated and more or less secret form, will not be solved by changes in the economic structure.  The contemporary insistence on systemic racism must be understood in that context: equality is not just a matter of economic development in the form of trickle-down economics.  Systemic racism is a reality that must be confronted directly and politically, not just economically.  I think Du Bois and Fanon were lucid enough not just to say it, but also to make that insight the very foundation of their work.  That is why they are influential today, perhaps, in a sense, more than ever. 

According to Du Bois, how does segregation produce double-consciousness?

The point of double consciousness in Du Bois’ theorization does not indicate, to my mind, any Black particularism.  It is an experience common to anybody who is seen by hegemonic society in terms that are incompatible with that person’s own self-understanding as a worthy person.  Say, you are a perfectly respectable member of the professional class in 16th century Spain, and you are accused of being a Judaizer and a marrano out of the blue, because your grandfather was Jewish and your wife still has the house cleaned and the sheets changed every Friday as opposed to some other day.  You will go to your grave as a marrano regardless of whether you are a Judaizer or not.  Once you are identified as a marrano, you are in trouble for keeps.  Society sees you not just as inferior but as an undesirable, somebody who is not deserving of honor and must be kept at a distance if not thrown into a dungeon somewhere.  But you yourself are the same person you have always been, except that now you also have to see yourself through the eyes of your so-called community to make sense of what is happening to you and to keep from going mad.  Du Bois identified that structure, named it, and we should all be grateful to him for that.  The structure, such is the contention, is particularly present in Black life, because the color line means that Blacks do not even have to be accused of some imaginary crime: they are the “crime” themselves for hegemonic society.    Obviously the only sane way of living with it, far from the internalization of social bias, is to place yourself as an outsider to hegemony and to find ways to deal with it.  Not always easy.  In the meantime, segregation, in one form or another, and there are of course many forms, is your destiny. 

How can we combat racism to ensure that all members of American society experience equal representation and access to fundamental rights?

I believe we can, but we have to work hard first.  To my mind, it is not simply a matter of denouncing racism in any form.  We also have to produce a different conceptualization of the social, and of democratic life.  The 20th century produced solutions that are today insufficient—they probably were false solutions to start with.  I think the most important thing to say is that a hegemonic articulation of the social always and in every case will produce its own subalternity.  Subalternity, in this case racial, perhaps also cultural, will not be eliminated through any hegemonic articulation of the social: it will simply produce different forms of it, according to whatever ideology becomes dominant.  The dominant ideology of the last, say, forty years is multiculturalism in one form or another, which amounts to the pretension that everybody has a place in democratic society under good democratic rule—we can move towards an inclusionist paradigm, where every group will have proper representation and will establish alliances with all the other groups and so forth.  The flaw here, and it has proven to be fatal, is that subaltern representation within hegemonic society, although surely better than no representation at all, is still and can only be subaltern representation, and it will reproduce endemic conditions, perhaps in altered form, rather than solve them.    We need to think of democracy beyond the constraints of multiculturalism and beyond any merely inclusionist model.  Inclusion into hegemonic space is a bit like the foxes allowing the chicken into their corral—pardon me for a no doubt excessive analogy.  It won’t do.  We need to do away with the idea of the corral.  In Spanish we say, sometimes, “nadie es más que nadie.”  This means, first of all, that in democracy no group has any special legitimacy.  Only on the basis of a radical conceptualization of posthegemonic democracy, to my mind, could we find the ways to move towards a tendentially exhaustive elimination of racial subalternity.   Yes, it is easier said than done.  Education becomes fundamentally important here.  We need to retain the elements of social justice we have elaborated over generations and substitute better ones for the ones that have proved ineffective.  This is a condition of the democracy of the future.  If, that is, we seek true egalitarian symbolization.  

 What makes African American writers (say, Mildred Taylor) focus on children in their stories and making them resist the racism they are exposed to? 

I think the tradition of story-telling, such as it has come down to us from oral history, from mothers to children, from grandfathers to children, can be reproduced, to a certain extent, in books for children better than they can in the contemporary novel.   Taylor is of course important in that sense—although as you may know I am no expert.  But there is a sense of history in traditional story telling that those who are not exposed to it may never understand or experience.  Story-telling, in the traditional way, tells us about an immemorial past where, perhaps paradoxically, true memory resides.  And true memory is always the memory of uprightness, and integrity, and decency, even if the drift of any particular story might seem to be the opposite and concentrate on the outcasts or the losers or the vanquished.  At the end, however, goodness prevails.  I suppose we still want our children to learn that, at the very least to be exposed to that thought.

Applying Fanon’s postcolonial theory will help in dismantling the mainstream’s culture of domination, injustice and racial discrimination (say African American). Please explain

Fanon was of course a complex thinker and a study of his life can provide many insights on the cosmopolitan experience of a Black politically-committed intellectual in the mid 20th century.  But I would think the main lesson of Fanon’s life for today is his experience of how race and racial injustice, which involves discrimination also at the everyday level, informs the political struggle for justice of those who are this side of the color line.  It is a political struggle whose motivation lies in experientally- and existentially-felt discrimination, which he was able to distinguish from any whimsical or potentially paranoid notions of personal victimization and from any sense of willed personal entitlement and to put in the light of world structures that needed to be altered.   There was no room in Fanon for what we could call petit-bourgeois narcissism. This is what is crucial about Fanon—his life was not only informed by an anti-colonial commitment but his anti-colonial commitment was itself a direct result of his lucid working out of personal and singular experiences as a black man living and working in non-black hegemonic spaces.  In other words, his struggle was not only political but also existential, and his existential struggle was not focused on personal, individual desire for progress, but on deeply felt notions of justice and fairness.  I think a return to serious reflection on existential predicaments is a condition of political life in our present.  We could invert the old 1968 maxim “the personal is political” into the notion that the political is always and should always be personal, singular, specific, and lived, beyond or before any commitments to collective life and as their very condition.  It is a matter of coming down from the politically abstract, which always leaves ample room for catastrophe, to the concrete determinations of your own life, which then need to be projected into the collective as a condition of universal equality.  This is the way democracy becomes a democracy of every one, a democracy of the last human.     

What does Spivak mean by racial subalternity’ and subaltern identity?

Gayatri Spivak’s early notion of subalternity, which could be summed up in a famous sentence I have never stopped thinking about, namely, that the subaltern is the absolute limit of the place where history is narrativized into logic, something like that, has proved to be not simply better than most definitions but absolutely crucial for the future.  It is a bottomless sentence that could be connected to many of the most important developments in modern political thought, and always in a radicalizing and revisionist manner.  It means, first of all, that the subaltern is the constitutive outside of any hegemonic articulation.  A consequence is that any aspect of subaltern life that lets itself be caught in hegemony will only reproduce its own subalternity.   History is narrativized into logic, that is, it becomes historiography, always at the cost of a certain expropriation.   And we need to break away, always and in every case, from any hegemonic notion of subalternity, always expropriating, in order to release subalternity into its own, without which there is no real hope of redress, no hope for equality and justice.   Subalternity should not be instrumentalized in the name of a “good enough” liberal historiography.  It should be the focus of any thinking committed to true egalitarian symbolization.  This is why I started responding to your questions rejecting an anthropological approach and appealing to what we could call a “theory” of singular existence.   Let me finish by saying that Spivak’s definition very much includes the color line in its scope, but is not directly about the color line or indeed about the social death caused by slavery and post-slavery through history.  This is the reason why a struggle against systemic racism has many dimensions and should not be exclusively focused on Black experience.  Black study is essential to understand and determine, but differentially, and never in order to homogenize, which is another word for hegemonize, the structures of subaltern life—they include Latinx life in the US, immigrant life, Native American life, and so many other life experiences—that doom our liberal democracies to be always insufficiently democratic.   As I have said before, there is a lot of work to do, for everyone concerned with equality.  

What are the differences between structural, institutional and systemic racism?

To your list of terms we could add “societal racism,” which is a phrase one also hears now and again.  I think that, while there may be technical precisions to be made and there is of course a philological history of the invention and use of those phrases, and I do not mean to minimize their importance, they all come down to the same claim in my opinion.  The claim is that racism is not just a matter of individual behavior but that it extends to the wider society—to its institutions, hence to its structure–through hegemonic ideology or even through hegemonic practices.  It is a feature of hegemony that it projects—successfully, since otherwise hegemony would not be hegemony–both its positions and its presuppositions to the general field of engagement.   It could be argued that hegemonic positions in contemporary liberal societies are not racist, but the contested area is that of presuppositions, that is, of largely unconscious practices.   The claim that contemporary hegemony in the US, for instance, has elements of structural racism can be radicalized into the claim that contemporary hegemony is purely and simply racist; hence that the issue of police violence against blacks or Latinxs, when it happens, for instance, is not just a function of individual police officers but rather a symptom of a general state of affairs.  This debate is a matter of politics, but politics with a bite, since the negotiation between different claims must refer to the real: is there or is there not systemic, structural, institutional, societal racism in reality itself, whatever the institutional or systemic rhetoric may be, whatever individual intentions may be?   The dispute of course does not refer to the register of law and regulations but of everyday life wherever it takes place, but in all areas of it. 

Final Notes on Gareth Williams’ Infrapolitical Passages. On “Passage II: Narco-Accumulation. Of Contemporary Force and Facticity.”

The Endnotes to Infrapolitical Passages could by themselves be another book or lead to several.  As getting into them would make this review too long, let me just signal their importance by prefacing the following comments with two of them, corresponding to the book’s Introduction.   In the first one Williams quotes Jacques Derrida: “a passage, to be sure, and thus by definition a transitory moment, but whose transition comes, if one can say that, from the future.  It has its provenance in what, by essence, has not yet come-from (provenu), still less come about, and which therefore remains to come.  The passage of this time of the present comes from the future to go toward the past, toward the going of the gone.”  And, Williams adds, “The name of the to-come is the infrapolitical” (Williams 195). In the second, Williams says: “we are now situated not in the age of the experience of consciousness but in the civilizational expiration of each and every arché.  This is the epoch of the closure of metaphysics” (195).   

No interregnum means that the interval leads to no new principle of rule, no new nomic structuration of the earth.  The time of posthegemony, the time of postkatechontic decontainment, provides for no future regnum.  If metaphysics constitutes in its several epochs the proper hegemony in the West and of the West, the closure of metaphysics inaugurates a principial void.  If there is a promise to be extracted from it—but there is none–, it is only the promise of a time to come, in-different, unqualified.  Williams calls it the time of infrapolitics, the infrapolitical time: a time when politics has yielded to violent turmoil.  We can deny it and insist upon propping up the ruins of the past, as if nothing had happened that a few screwdrivers and a proper coat of paint could not fix.  We could say, for instance, that a new national hegemony, or a thousand new national hegemonies, can be reconstituted by and for the people.  Or we can assume it and take our chances in the resolute acceptance of an-archic time.  What would the latter mean?

Passage II attempts a response through what is still an analysis in the register of diagnosis.  It focuses on narco-accumulation, understood as a radical enactment and deployment of the ontology of the commodity form.  “On one level, narco-accumulation is just one more name for the contemporary will to power of capitalism in which capital projects itself, as always, in two directions simultaneously: 1) towards the absolutization of commodity and surplus value and, 2), toward the minimization, within the passage toward value, of the value of labor” (111).  As a pattern of force, in consequence, narco-accumulation overwhelms and destroys, and condemns the lifeworld of those touched by it to an active perishing:  “of dialectical consciousness, of the hegemonic apparatus, and of a teleology of progress capable of neutralizing violence and of converting it into a social reason, or power, other than that of the nihilist immanence and forceful extension of global techno-capital” (119).  This is the way in which the closure of metaphysics abandons its site in the philosophical text in order to become a biting, ruinous loss at the level of social and political experience: “This loss is the definitive consummation of onto-theology that haunts and traverses everything in the epoch of the end of epochality” (121). 

The analyses that follow pursue a critical understanding of the political economy of narco-accumulation through the reading of some of the major texts that have grappled with it, from Dawn Paley’s Drug War Capitalism to Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera’s Los Zetas Inc.:  Criminal Corporations, Energy, and Civil War in Mexico, but with close attention devoted to the arguments made by Rosanna Reguillo, Rita Segato, Sergio González Rodríguez, and Ioan Grillo among others.  The fundamental question here is whether the paradigm of civil war, which all of these authors elicit in various ways, is minimally adequate.  Civil war seems to be the extreme categorial limit of critical reflection, but the answer Williams offers is that it falls radically short.  Once again, even if civil war, in its liminal relation with war as such, configures a fundamental political paradigm in the history of the West, from early Greece to the present, it is a paradigm that becomes obsolescent and unproductive in narco-accumulation.  Williams references Nicole Loraux, for whom “what we understand as stasis, or civil war, in contrast to adversarial unification (polemos), is actually a Platonic misnomer for diastasis, that is, for mere separation, or perhaps for the pathological split that is prior to and underlies the formation of the common and therefore of the political community itself” (140).  Williams latches on to diastasis by defining it as “an originary, infrapolitical separating movement or momentary lapsus prior to and beneath all force” (141). 

We are approaching perhaps the core, the very vortex of what the book proposes.  That our epoch is diastatic is another way of saying that the modern concept of the political is ruined and will no longer do.  “Herein lies a terrible conundrum and an opportunity for thinking.  This double loss we refer to here as decontainment, a term that certainly carries the splits and divisions of stasis along with it but does so in the context of global post-katechontic, or post-territorial, endemic war, discloses the originary, infrapolitical separation that underlies the diastasis-polemos/stasis relation and the force it generates” (142).  And it is this situation that, finally, offers the opportunity for “addressing the very possibility of a register for thinking other than that of a dialectical or legislative political consciousness” (128). 

A naïve or blind reading of infrapolitics has tended to place it as some kind of abandonment of the political terrain, a flight into a netherworld of personal, idiotic existence.  Infrapolitics is, however, not a craven or immature resistance to politics, as if politics were somehow the natural space of real men and women.  Rather, for infrapolitics, politics is today the site of an empty and ineffectual gesticulation, at a remove, abstract and vacuous.  Politics is to be thought, then, as we can see everywhere, as the space of a paradoxical resistance to politics, massive, thoroughly ideological, and ultimately deluded: nothing, or little else but, the field of superstructural expression for the ontology of the commodity form.  So no macho assertions of politics as the real thing, no facile dismissals of infrapolitics as a weak refuge from the storm: infrapolitics is, rather, politics times two, the very politicization of the ruin of politics, which our times inherit under the sign of an urgent, if necessarily untimely, demand for thinking.  This demand for thinking—hyperpolitical and at the same time other than political, but other than political through its hyperpoliticity—comes to be specified through the close reading of three texts whose political status in the conventional sense nobody would ostensibly contest.  But Williams shows how that conventional reading must open itself to the infrapolitical dimensions of the texts lest it remains bumbling and ineffectual.  The best purpose of a review is naturally not the presentation of an argumentative summary, so I will limit myself to mentioning those texts.  They are: Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay for the film The Counselor, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 novel, and Diego Quemada Díez’ film La jaula de oro.  Through them, Williams says, it makes itself possible to read the fundamental displacement of politics towards a thinking of existence, not for the sake of a flight away from politics, but, on the contrary, for the sake of the exposure of politics to its constitutive underside, which allows—only it allows—for a deconstruction of the ontology of the commodity form that rules over politics at the time of its metaphysical ruination. 

I will conclude with a passage that makes it clear enough for those who want to read.  It is the passage that introduces the last section of the book, “The Migrant’s Hand, or the Infrapolitical Turn to Existence,” devoted to a forceful analysis of La jaula de oro:

While it is true that coercion and subjectivist force found, protect, and expand political space, it is also true that political space is never fully saturated by or fully reducible to the actions of coercion and subjectivist force.  It is in this subtle yet fundamental threshold at the heart of the permanently violent splitting that is the market-state duopoly and its nonpolitical extension of endemic conflict, or post-katechontic diastasis, that the infrapolitical can beseen to operate and to leave its indelible existential mark.  It is finally toward this existential mark that we can now turn, as the final move in the passage toward the infrapolitical.  (167)

Subtle yet fundamental, indeed.  Inconspicuous and tremendous. 

The War for the Earth

Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future has a liberating audacity.  Taking its departure from the notion that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism, it proceeds to describe how the end of capitalism, hence the beginning of a postcapitalist epoch, could be imagined.  And the end of the world avoided.  It is a long process, made possible only by a militant commitment, a clear taking sides in a War for the Earth against the myriad interests intent on stripmining the biosphere, including whatever is human in it, for the sake of capitalization.  But it is only stupid, arrogant, self-deluded, destructive capitalization with no merit other than the further enrichment of the already rich. 

Perhaps at some point in the near future—because, unless a new world system is imagined and implemented, there will be no other future, not for us—the world will realize up to what point neoliberal capitalism was indeed a stupid state of affairs.  Imagined, produced, and developed by and through a North American hegemony that the Trump years revealed for what it always was: cruel, clueless, ignorant, lying.  Unfortunately the political class that has been fostering the catastrophe—they certainly have not contained it, had no visible interest in it, bought and sold as they were by financial agencies that we must now name as enemies of humanity—will pay no price.  They are more than complicit in the production and sustainment, with minimal resistance, of a mental structure whose goal was never how to make the system work in a democratic republic, but rather how to make the system create more money for themselves and their owners.  The institutions under their boots have been only too happy to go along.  That shame should never be whitewashed, should never go away, if historical memory has any purpose.

Be that as it may, it is important to read Robinson’s book, at least to understand how the monumental failure of political imagination of the last fifty years can start to be corrected.  Against a political right interested only in continuing and augmenting predatory behavior at whatever cost to others, but also against a political left unable to understand that no universal moralization in the name of a new cultural hegemony contained by the same economic and political-economic structures is bound to have any real effects, The Ministry for the Future says that real politics can only be a function of structural intervention.  Moralizing the superstructure through education of the masses in antiracist or antisexist ways—and has the left really proposed anything else recently?—plays directly into the hands of extractive, surveillant, predatory procedures.  Did the Obama years not settle that issue already? 

Interventions in the economic structure sustained in binding legislation—it is only them that may have a chance to correct the course of history, to change our planetary Gestell, and to open a transition to another historical epoch without which history itself may come to be extinguished.   It might be better not to wait for any pious new hegemony before proceeding.  It is time to change the political game. 

Will Joseph Biden’s presidency even understand the stakes?  Or are we doomed to the endless rhetorical parading of a patriotic empathy and a pretense for unity whose direct beneficiaries will continue to be the predators, the actual enemies of humanity?   Will Biden initiate the structural interventions that are as necessary as they are urgent in the War for the Earth? 

Comments to Maddalena Cerrato’s “A Place for Danger and Salvation” and Jaime Rodríguez Mato’s “On the Age of the Poets: Towards a Different Relation with the Sacred.” MLA Conference, January 2021.

Karl Marx famously said at some point in the Grundrisse that “all economy is an economy of time.”  I think that is intuitively graspable and finally quite accurate.  But I do not think we have come to terms with the ensuing possibility that, therefore, all politics are and must finally be a politics of time.  It is hard to think about it, in other words, it is not simple to unpack the thought, to pursue it and open it up, but it may be the most important political or metapolitical condition for any political practice geared to emancipation.  

I thought of starting my comments with that proposal because, while my aim is not at all to end them with some renewed call for another politics, for a new form of politics, for an “other” politics as the true suture of philosophy, I remain sensitive to Badiou’s understanding of politics as one of the conditions of philosophy, and not just today, but in its history.  So politics are not to be dismissed.  Which does not mean they must be given a unique status as the very vortex of thinking, the dead center of what is to be thought, etc.   I think this issue—we could call it, the issue of the proper or necessarily unstable status of politics in the task of thought—is central to Badiou’s ideas concerning both Antiphilosophy and the Age of the Poets. 

So, let me quote for you two passages from the end of Ernesto Laclau’s Emancipation(s) , the first of which is as close to the contemporary justification of the political suture of thought as any we might find elsewhere.  Here is the first quote: 

The metaphysical discourse of the West is coming to an end, and philosophy in its twilight has performed, through the great names of the century, a last service for us: the deconstruction of its own terrain and the creation of the conditions for its own impossibility.  Let us think, for instance, of Derrida’s undecidables.  Once undecidability has reached the ground itself, once the organization of a certain camp is governed by a hegemonic decision—hegemonic because it is not objectively determined, because different decisions were also possible—the realm of philosophy comes to an end and the realm of politics begins.  (123)

Well, we could say these words of Laclau are not so much a suture of philosophy to politics as they are a liquidation of philosophy, but things are not so simple.  The task of thought at the end of philosophy is still the task of thought, and it is not the task of politics.  What Laclau is actually saying is that thought is only viable today as political thought—and this is the fundamental suture.  Shared by so many figures in the contemporary public sphere. 

But the second quote introduces, within that context, an even more disquieting possibility: 

Someone who is confronted with Auschwitz and has the moral courage to admit the contingency of her own beliefs, instead of seeking refuge in religious or rationalistic myths is, I think, a profoundly heroic and tragic figure.  This will be a hero of a new type who has still not been entirely created by our culture, but one whose creation is absolutely necessary if our time is going to live up to its most radical and exhilarating possibilities.  (123)

Those are the last words of the book, which means that they are all we get.  And yet there is so much to unpack in them.  First, the reference to Auschwitz might carry within of course a reference to Theodor Adorno’s question about poetry after Auschwitz and it might also carry the totality of Paul Celan’s work.  And it might indeed carry a hidden connection to Badiou’s notion of the Age of the Poets.  Certainly in an antiphilosophical context, which is the one indicated by the first quote.   So—what is Laclau saying?  He is calling for the creation of a new type of hero, which would be a tragical hero.  The development of this ideal type, the new tragic hero, is “necessary” for our time to “live up to its most radical and exhilarating possibilities.”  This new tragic hero does not succumb to any kind of “religious or rationalistic” myths, but understands the radical contingency of “her own beliefs” in the face of the destruction of metaphysics, if that is ultimately what Auschwitz stands for.   I would say, then, that Laclau is actually calling for a poetic hero, a new poetic and antiphilosophical hero for whom politics is a field of display, a field of engagement, in a contingent, unstable, and therefore radically free, hence tragic, way.  This is a curious appeal to an existential positioning that is not frequently found in Laclau’s work. 

What would Badiou have to say about this new tragic hero whose ideal type we can only postulate in a yet undetermined way?   Let me now turn to Maddalena Cerrato and Jaime Rodríguez Matos’s papers. 

Jaime’s overall concern is ciphered in the last lines of Agamben’s words in the epigraph, namely, “metaphysics has not been surpassed, but reigns in its most absolute form.”  I take it that Jaime is not accusing either Badiou or indeed Laclau of having unwittingly fallen into that dark pit, but I also take it that Jaime wishes to raise that very question:  how is it that Badiou, or Laclau, may avoid falling into that pit?  Particularly as, Jaime says, “the return of philosophy . . . has only given way to the return of the political suture of philosophy under the guise of a heightened consciousness of historicity” (“On the Age of the Poets” 3). 

Jaime displays the conflict internal to Badiou’s work as a conflict between what he calls the need to maintain “the category of the subject” over against the “vain nostalgia for the sacred.”   Badiou “the evildoer” attacks both Heideggerianism, in the form of Jean-Luc Nancy’s work concerning the thought of the future, but also a fortiori Laclau’s notion of the new type of hero that we have not yet been able to create.  Indeed, it would seem as if “the vain nostalgia for the sacred” inspires those two options for tragic thought. 

Jaime’s move is to confront Badiou with his own limit, which is his refusal to take on the thought of the ontico-ontological difference.   For Jaime, Badiou’s affirmation of the end of the Age of the Poets, in the name of a re-affirmation of the subject of philosophy, is premised on a disavowal of the ontico-ontological difference.  But we could say that the very disavowal is then disavowed through Badiou’s notion of the “unnameable.”  It is not then Badiou but rather the Badiouans who would proceed to a third version of the disavowal, by denouncing the inconsistency of the notion of the “unnameable” in terms of a final political affirmation in fidelity to the event, which is first and last an affirmation of the subject to truth. 

Jaime brings up Heidegger’s essay from the 1950s, “The Principle of Identity,” in order to critique the too facile dismissal of a thought reduced to “a vain nostalgia for the sacred.”  Jaime of course leaves it there, suggesting that a non-metaphysical reinterpretation of Parmenides’  identification of thinking and being, their mutual co-belonging, cannot be dismissed as a mere postponement of thought.  Indeed, that the danger is on the other side of the equation: on the positing of the new subject to truth as merely the other side of the God of philosophy. 

Maddalena’s paper starts right there, by stating that both “the age of the poets” and “antiphilosophy” are conceptual operators whose mission, accomplished through a form of self-dismantiling, is helping to “organize philosophy in an ordered, that is to say, onto-theological way, as a locus of thinking or a space of thought where truths are stated” (“A Place for Danger” 1).  The conceptual operators, in Badiou’s hands, reach “significant analytical value” but only to be ultimately compromised by the overarching search for philosophical “mastery” (1). 

The context for the claim to mastery is, paradoxically, a freeing of philosophy from its conditions, which requires a fundamental de-suturing.   This call for liberation, for the liberation of philosophy, not from its conditions, but from any unilateral suturing to its conditions, is the key issue.  The question is then whether it can be done without any phantom re-suturing of the kind Jaime warns against.   Since the suture to poetry is still said to be alive in the post-Heideggerian philosophical configuration—naturally, Derrida, Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, and Heidegger through them if not the other way around–, then the suture to poetry must be explicitly dismantled.  The goal, as Maddalena says, is not the destruction of the poem, but the liberation of philosophy, which would then generate a new possibility for the encounter of the poet and the thinker. 

Those goals would seem unobjectionable to me.  We have had too many poets of the gato por liebre variety as we have had too many philosophers of the same brand.  Destroying that sinister equation would seem a precondition for the development of the new type of the tragic hero Laclau calls for.   The question here, however, is whether philosophy can survive the de-suturing without an immediate plunge into the suturing political condition of the kind Laclau invokes, or more than invokes. 

Maddalena’s critical move consists in showing the unavowed second-order Heideggerianism implicit in both the postulate of the Age of the Poets and the thought of antiphilosophy.  Taking her basis on Hölderlin’s verses from the Patmos Elegy, “where the danger is, there grows the power of salvation,” she shows how the reestablishment of philosophy’s mastery, which is its liberation from the suture to its conditions, is predicated on the surpassing of the Age of the Poets and the final abandonment of antiphilosophy from out of the Age of the Poets and from antiphilosophy itself.  In both cases the appeal to a subject of truth is the salvation, but in complex ways that probably remain undetermined, or under-determined, in Badiou’s own thought.  This is why, for instance, Badiou would say, as Maddalena quotes, that “the anti-philosopher Lacan is a condition of the renaissance of philosophy.  A philosophy is possible today, only if it is compossible with Lacan,” who is not just the latest and greatest anti-philosopher for Badiou, where Nietzsche was only its “poor prince,” but also “the anti-philosopher that would bring anti-philosophy to a closure.” 

To return to my own beginning: is the post-antiphilosophical philosophy, then, the place where a new philosophical hero (Badiou´s subject to truth), tragic and poetic, is to be born?   Can this be done without recourse to the final suturing of philosophy to politics Laclau asserted as the epochal condition of our time?

It seems to me these two questions are still open in Badiou, which of course accounts for his greatness.  It also seems to me that the provisional response to those questions must be found in an exploration of the possibility that all politics are ultimately a politics of time.   But this, for me the political question of our time—can it be answered from philosophy or is an answer to it possible only from the kind of antiphilosophy that assumes the risk and the challenge of its own time, of its own epochality, which first of all means that it needs to be conceived as an existential act, and an entrance into autographic inscription, into a decision of singular existence? 

I would have liked to finish my comments by bringing in Vincenzo Vitiello’s Oblio e memoria del Sacro, but, alas, there is no time.  I will do it soon as a note in this blog. 

Irse de Facebook

En los próximos días cancelaré, espero que definitivamente, mi cuenta de Facebook.  El asunto es trivial, sin duda lo es desde cualquier perspectiva no solipsista.  Pero toda experiencia es en cierta medida solipsista, y por ello quizá merezca algo de reflexión.  Además, el solipsismo—solus + ipse, solo y el mismo—es una parte crucial, lo que está mayormente en juego, aunque en parte denegado, en Facebook mismo. 

No lo recuerdo con precisión, supongo que podría mirarlo, pero no me apetece: creo que abrí mi cuenta después de dos miserables años como jefe de departamento en mi universidad, sabiendo o intuyendo que se abría para mí un período de alienación institucional (bienvenido en las circunstancias, ciertamente) y de relativo aislamiento.  Mi lugar de residencia era y todavía es un desierto simbólico, sin apenas lazos sociales.  No sé de otros, pero en mi experiencia personal, cruzada por haber venido a Estados Unidos, expatriándome, por razones exclusivamente profesionales, y cruzada también por experiencias directamente traumáticas de hostilidad y hostigamiento, y de desoladora traición personal, durante mis últimos años en la universidad de Duke, las relaciones sociales profesionales son crucialmente importantes, o al menos lo han sido siempre hasta ahora.  Y yo sabía desde mi dimisión—lo cual no nubla mi convicción de que esa fue una de las mejores decisiones de mi vida—que esas relaciones sociales estaban en peligro o iban a desaparecer.  Ya no podía contar con una colectividad académica amplia, vibrante y activa como la de Duke, en donde los medios eran suficientemente abundantes como para permitir contactos renovados casi diariamente en la asistencia asidua a conferencias y talleres, en las visitas tan frecuentes de interlocutores invitados, en los viajes facilitados por cuentas de investigación y estipendios varios y generosos.  Todo eso había cambiado, pues los escasos recursos financieros a mi disposición como jefe de departamento habían desaparecido, y no tendría ya dinero para invitaciones ni para otros usos académicos: solo mi sueldo.  Quizá sea así para casi todo el mundo, pero yo venía de veinte años de otra historia, privilegiada en ese sentido, con medios sobrados tanto en Duke como en la universidad escocesa en la que pasé cuatro años. 

Así que me esperaba una cierta soledad, desconcertante por ser nueva y desacostumbrada.  Mis amigos no estaban en Texas, estaban lejos, y visitarlos no era tan fácil ni podría sostener mi cotidianeidad.  Traté de encontrar otros lugares, de irme, con poca convicción—a mis cincuenta y tantos años no me apetecía ya volver a comprometerme con un campo institucional para mí ya para siempre teñido de siniestro, que me había desilusionado y aburrido hasta la médula, y en el que por lo tanto había dejado de creer.  Y la historia de Duke me perseguía, en al menos tres casos con interferencia recalcitrante y maldad notoria, puedo decirlo porque no tengo ni nunca he tenido nada que ocultar (pero otros sí), aunque me gusten los secretos.  El caso es que se abría para mí un período de interlocución incierta y difícil, complicado además por el hecho de que mi escritura había quedado sacudida por la pesadilla de Duke, por mis malencaminados esfuerzos de renovación intelectual en Escocia, y por los dos años de burocracia nihilista y letal en Texas.  Mi carrera misma estaba amenazada de extinción, no desde fuera, sino internamente.  Si algún amigo millonario me hubiera ofrecido un trabajo en alguna otra rama de la industria, lo hubiera aceptado con placer y entusiasmo y sacudiéndome el polvo pedagógico de los zapatos.  Pero no ocurrió.  Estaba aviado.

Hice un intento de crear una red profesional con todos los departamentos de estudios latinoamericanos e hispánicos en Texas, pero no llevó a nada.  La gente decía que sí, y luego no respondía, insólitamente, a mi juicio, puesto que en cada caso su situación de aislamiento intelectual era igual o peor que la mía, no sé si había alguna excepción a eso.  Quizá estaban ya acostumbrados a ello y no podían contemplar alternativas.  Fue entonces cuando apareció Facebook—para mí, digo.  A pesar de mis recelos, pues siempre supe que en Facebook uno nunca les hablaría a sus amigos, sino que le hablaría a Facebook a través de los amigos, era fácil ver que Facebook se estaba ya llevando de calle la poca interlocución que todavía subsistía en grupos de email, y no iba a haber más remedio que dejarse enredar.   No tardé mucho en acumular varios centenares de “amigos,” en su gran mayoría del campo profesional, y decidí crear un grupo llamado Crítica y Teoría dedicado a cuestiones latinoamericanistas e hispanistas en general, pero con cierta voluntad teórica.  Funcionó bien durante unos meses, llegó a tener alrededor de mil miembros, quizá mil cien, recuerdo, antes de que ciertas dinámicas internas se impusieran hasta tal punto que se hizo desaconsejado no apartarse de allí y dejar que siguiera su propio rumbo libre.  Mientras tanto fueron creciendo otros grupos, como Capital y Equivalencia o Infrapolitical Deconstruction, más limitados, más restringidos, allí no entraba todo el mundo, sólo gente con determinados intereses, pero todavía con una buena cantidad de miembros.  Y funcionaron bien, incluso muy bien, durante muchos meses, quizá incluso más de un año, hasta que, de nuevo, las dinámicas internas de esos grupos los llevaron a su abandono o disolución.  En estos últimos casos los problemas no fueron de antagonismo intelectual o incómodos enfados y rabietas varias, como en Crítica y Teoría, sino que tuvieron más que ver con otra dinámica que empezó a hacerse demasiado patente.  Había miembros activos, pero nunca pasaban de una docena, mientras que tantos otros fueron asumiendo actitudes tan pasivas que acabaron por hacerse alarmantes, en la medida en que a nadie le gusta acabar sintiéndose como el que habla en el escaparate para una audiencia muda.  ¿Para qué regalar ideas y exponerse ante quienes no querían mojar su lindo trasero hablando a su vez?   Así que todo ello llegó a su fin, frustrantemente en realidad, porque lo que dejó en su estela fue silencio y más silencio, pero esta vez un silencio sin promesa.  Los caballos muertos nunca vuelven a correr.  Y eso da tanta más pena cuando uno recuerda las brillantes carreras del caballo.  Lo pasamos muy bien en algunas de esas discusiones, que fueron muy relevantes para mí personal e intelectualmente.    

Lo intentamos.  Buscamos y busqué otras plataformas y otras ideas, otros proyectos, pero uno tras otro todos fueron cayendo en la misma rutina de silencio incomprensible, o tan comprensible: mucho trabajo, mucha ocupación, te leo con afición pero prefiero no decir si el otro no dice, estoy muy ocupado ahora, pero seguid vosotros, y demás.  Hasta cierto punto, en realidad, se fue imponiendo un curioso imperativo categórico, del que uno oía pruebas de vez en cuando, no de los amigos más íntimos, los que todavía creían y buscaban interlocución intelectual adecuada, sino de los otros, por otra parte tan necesarios en redes sociales, pues sin ellos no hay red social.  El otro día lo leí en un assassination thriller de Barry Eisler: “Act as if a passel of nameless badasses is looking to punch your ticket even if you can’t imagine a single thing you’ve done to deserve it.”   Esa tenue paranoia se hizo consustancial al final de la primera época de Facebook, cuando en Facebook todavía se podía plantear una discusión seria esperando que otros hablaran.  Y creo que llevó el experimento a su fin. Todo tiene su tiempo.  Ahora ya no. Los nameless badasses están en las esquinas y no se sabe cuándo saltarán. Así que mejor no decir nada, no meterse en nada, no arriesgar nada, o hacerlo solo para cagarse al otro, que siempre gusta. Después de eso quedaba, eso sí, la oportunidad de colgar artículos de periódicos y hablar de Trump, o hacer concursitos sobre quién sabe más de rock de los 70, o felicitarse efusivamente unos a otros por el cumpleaños.  Mientras tanto empezaban a dispararse los likes a las celebridades internas de Facebook, que siempre las hay, o a las celebridades que condescendían en su celebridad a entrar en Facebook, que también las hay, y que llegaban en un periquete a 586 likes y 64 shares sin que su entrada lo justificara de ninguna manera.  Era la cosa.  Eso era Facebook: eso, y el gato, y el taco del restaurante Viva la familia que uno se había encontrado yendo a poner gasolina, y las fotos de vacaciones y encuentros varios.  Todo muy divertido, pero no era la cosa.  No para mí.  Yo precisaba de más.

Y así se me fue planteando—no presumo de esto, es un hecho, por eso lo escribo—un problema.  A estas alturas Facebook ya era parte de mis hábitos, en casa y en la calle, al levantarme y al acostarme y a todas horas, siempre mirando el teléfono si el ordenador no estaba a mano, siempre contando la falta de respuesta de otros a cualquier cosa que para mí fuera urgente o importante, mis noticias, mis intereses, mis entradas de blogs, mis fotos.  Claro, había respuestas, pero siempre insuficientes, yo quería más, buscaba más.  Era una estructura clásica de adicción tardía, cuando el siguiente cigarrillo o la siguiente copa ya no producen placer sino que solo evitan parcialmente el displacer.  Fue en esta época cuando empecé a leer libros sobre la implicación de Facebook en el capitalismo de vigilancia extractiva.   Todo empezó a colorearse de verde, digamos.  A partir de ese momento se trataba solo ya de encontrar la energía suficiente para romper la adicción, otra adicción más, no fácil para mí.  Pero creo que ha llegado la hora, y este texto ayuda y la sanciona.

Y, cada vez más, la impresión era la de no hablar con los amigos, sino de hablar con Facebook a través de unos amigos que no comparecían ya, o apenas lo hacían, no como antes.  Prefiero conservar esa primera memoria antes de que se desvanezca.  No me voy de Facebook para dejar atrás a mis amigos—no hablo de los 1200 nominales, sino de la veintena de ellos que cuentan, y con los que yo he contado para sobrevivir en esa jungla especial.   A ellos se dirigen estas palabras, que ya no colgaré en Facebook, así que es más que posible que no las lean nunca.   Pero hay otras formas de comunicarse, sin el monstruo por el medio, y espero que podamos renovarlas y dedicarnos a ellas.  No hay ya mucho que perder en ese cambio.  De otra manera crecerá la soledad, pues no hay retorno ya a los grupos de email de los noventa ni lo habrá a la fácil interlocución de las conferencias y los talleres y las reuniones profesionales. Ese mundo ha quedado suspendido de momento sine die.

Aunque la soledad también puede ser productiva, cuando uno se ha librado del mono.   

Notes on “Passage I: Contemporary Turmoil. Posthegemonic Epochality, or Why Bother with the Infrapolitical?,” in Gareth Williams’ Infrapolitical Passages.

(The following notes continue a previous blog entry on Infrapolitical Passages.)

The notion of an “intervallic period,” which for Badiou refers to the accomplishment of “true life” through the mediation of an Idea, is taken up again towards the end of this first passage in Antonio Gramci’s notion of the interregnum.  There is a sentence by Gramsci that has been quoted ad infinitum, everybody knows it by now, and everybody holds on to it in ways that resemble how one would hold a talisman or a personal fetish.  The sentence is, of course: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” (quoted by Gareth, 100).  The notion that we are in an interregnum is at once hopeful and appeasing.  Well, it does not much matter how badly things are going, it seems to say, because, at the end, we will witness a new dawn, there is promise, there is a light that we have not reached yet.   And that may very well be—we do not know the future.  But that is precisely the point: we do not know the future, and there is, therefore, no basis for prophecy.  Calling the present moment an interregnum is mere prophecy.  What if we give up on prophesying power?  We would then come to recognize that we have no idea what awaits us, to such an extent that it is already an illegitimate idealization to call whatever morbidities there appear in our present a symptom if what we mean is that there are symptoms of a disease that will be overcome.

Gareth sticks to the perishing: yes, we are in a time, the time of modernity, the time of the second modernity, the time of the political katechon, the time of containment, that is dying.  What we have around us is a perishing, Gareth prefers to say,that involves the main categories of the architectonics of political modernity.  It is a long perishing, protracted in time: “The perishing of that time is extending its force everywhere in the form of a generalized turmoil and perplexity while also inaugurating the demand for a different nomenclature indicating something so post-epochal and so post-sovereign in nature” that it would seem to consist of an “infinite ruination” (100).  Gareth names this, which is the deep political structure of our time, “post-sovereign decontainment” (101).  Our time is a time where capitalist discourse has intensified in ways that have overflown every possibility of a katechontic restraint in political and economic life.  Globalization does not promise, and it is therefore simple delusion for us to prophesy, “a new destiny, a new epoch of representation” (101).  Nothing guarantees it.  On the contrary, “it is capital’s gigantic quest for the ultimate spoils of [planetary] self-destruction that allows us to glimpse the unrestrained world of an absolutely decontained civil war (of stasis fully unleashed on a planetary scale), which is nothing more than the ongoing perishing, the very form of ending, of modern political space itself without an alternative sovereign order or topographical arrangement in sight, and, hence, with no enduring location from which to anchor negation, transgression, or transcendence” (98). 

Lest you jump to the conclusion that, therefore, this is a pessimist book, a book about sad and hopeless endings, read this: “to reduce our nihilist subjectivist legacies to rubble, to a point of suspension or inoperativity, is to think and write in preparation for a clearing, a renovation and potential turn in our thinking that might be capable of clearing away the subordination of freedom to the ontology of subjectivity and to the modern history of its katechontic and biopolitical deployments” (96).  The relationship of thinking and acting cannot and should not be mediated by ruined legacies, which means something else is needed.  The thematics of the closure of metaphysics, of the exhaustion of onto-theology and its categories, among which the category of the sovereign subject is or has been politically crucial, opens onto something else, an alternative quest.  This other quest is what previous sections of the book announced as both inconspicuous and tremendous, “where there might be absolutely everything at stake” (32).    

Passage I describes “a potential terminus that can take us immediately and without any apparent mediation of any kind from what Badiou calls ‘the end of the old world of castes’ . . . into the stark realities of potentially catastrophic upheaval, turmoil, and violence” (36).  It is a terminus because, rather than constituting a crisis that will pass, prompting for an adjustment in tactics and strategy, prompting for a reconstitution that will surely work and accomplish yet another moment in the linear story of progress towards a properly just and human future, this time we seem to have lost the tools, the tools are rusty and inefficient and no longer work, or they have been turned into magical tools that do the job they are not supposed to do and hammer us ever deeper into upheaval, turmoil, and violence.  This clearly involves a critique of the left in the face of “the possibility that what might be at stake now is the uncovering of a thinking of existence and world that has remained for the most part concealed within the dominant tradition of political thinking from the late 1960s onward” (37).  Why has it remained concealed?  Partly because Marxism has not been able to move from the analysis of the ontology of the commodity form and the principle of general equivalence reigns supreme even within leftist procedures and presuppositions.  “Contemporary turmoil is essentially the actuality of ongoing unconcealed and bottomless political-theological perishing experienced as the perplexity caused by the continuation of the closure of metaphysics and of the globalization of the ontology of the commodity” (42). 

Old leftist pieties have fallen because they have been sustained on an inversion and secularization of ontotheology.  The analysis of Percy Bisshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound shows how political emancipation in the second modernity was “fully consonant with the emergence of Man as the nomos of a new epoch-making empire of humanity grounded in tyrannicide and perennial conflict over the mastery of the world” (47), in which “the hegemony of the Good, of the virtuous, is the impossible humanist transvaluation of God, now with Man as the highest value predicated on the metaphysical maximization of a shared moral value, or world picture” (48).   This will no longer do.  The modern assertion of politics as emancipatory has never been able to transcend, has in fact been part and parcel of, “the actualization of a modern nihilism—an eternal recurrence of the self-willing of the subjectum” (48).   The secularization of onto-theology is still onto-theologic, and no amount of voluntarism will surmount a self-created impasse.  When it comes to voluntarism, capitalist discourse wins every time, since it embodies it.  The political demand to counter the force of capitalist discourse remains embedded within capitalist discourse and is ceaselessly engulfed by it. 

Analyzing Massimo Cacciari’s position in The Withholding Power Gareth acknowledges Cacciari’s adequate and fundamental diagnosis: “Cacciari points . . . to the fact that the contemporary order of permanent crises that we refer to as globalization is no longer the consequence of hegemony.  On the contrary, it is the thematization of the exhaustion of hegemony and of the seemingly infinite indetermination and turmoil that extends as a consequence.  It is the basis of posthegemony in action” (50).  But Cacciari can only at the end lament the passing away of modern procedures of political enablement, can only mourn them, in an impossible and implausible bid to breathe new life into them.  This is actually the tragic predicament of the contemporary left in its dominant or conventional variants.  They know the problem, they acknowledge the problem, and they believe their good will will make the problem go away, will vanquish it.  But a dead horse never runs again. 

Gareth’s intent is therefore, not to move in the direction of an alternative political position that  will simply replicate conditions.  “It is already too late,” he says (65), because the metaphysics inspiring the Promethean task of humanism has been destroyed, not by Gareth himself, but by the movement of capital in its relentless quest for absolute surplus value: “post-katechontic decontainment is the uncovering, and in the uncovering the denaturalization, of the modern metaphorical functioning of the history of Christian metaphysics, its political theology, and its modern Promethean will to power” (65).  In the face of it, political containment against the decontainment of capital is impotent: “The ideological battle between Left and Right is now staged as a human destinal battle between the will to power of subjectivity versus the will to power of subjectivity . . . On both sides it is a battle to the death for the endurance of the subjectivism of the I of the I endure.  But the perishing that underlies all duration is manically—and unsuccessfully—concealed” (66). 

The analyses that show all this are too rich to be reproduced, even to be summarized: they can be read in the book.  They include a presentation of the idea of the katechon in Paul’s letters, and a sustained deconstruction of first Gramsci and then Ernesto Laclau’s notion of hegemony.   The idea is to move, through them, “to the possibility of an alternative place from which to think the limits of the political and the possibility of a turn away from the ontology of the subject” (52).  Imagine, then, that you are some version of Hercules at the crossroads, and a little Eros figure asks you to choose between the two Venuses, the one on the right, and the one on the left.   Imagine, even, that you have already given up on the notion of moving toward any kind of embrace of the rightist Venus, that the Venus on the right knows it, and that what she suggests to you is seducingly different.  Would you then choose the left Venus, and with it the path of the political demand that will take you into the endless rehearsing of an impossible hegemonic fight along voluntaristic lines, or would you rather choose the right Venus, who has disguised herself in sacred robes and promises, rather, total contemplation, total singularity, total privatization of existence.   But would it not be better to refuse the choice, to tell Eros to go jump in the lake, to call the two Venuses ugly, and to proceed to a step back and an interrogation of what the very alternative Eros proposed to you, already contaminated by its own disaster, conceals?  This alternative place of thought, and of action, is not the easiest.  It is uncertain at best, it is a leap.  But it is a leap worth taking: not a leap into the Hegelian rose of the world, which is a trap, the rose is populated by worms, but into an abyss—the unthought, the unseen—that brokers no presentation. 

But it is better to let Gareth speak for himself:

The task . . . is no longer to remetaphorize the katechon and therefore metaphysics, but to learn to become attuned to where the perishing of the modern katechon leaves us; to think not counter to the space of permanent crisis without respite or amnesty, but in light of it.  The task is not to rile against the shattering of the bond between God and man in the name of law and order.  It is to accept the death of God and of the Promethean humanism that has only ever been God’s enlightened cultural sojourn on earth.  This allows us to understand the closure of metaphysics as the unleashing of limitless turmoil at the level of the signifier and obliges us to take that destructive/creative energy seriously in order to think from within it, as opposed to thinking in denial of it, or in spite of it, in the utopian hope of its pacification or in the neo-fascist turn against it, which is actually its glorification. (73)