“the least that one can say is that the present forms of wealth make a shambles and a human mockery of those who think they own it. In this respect, present-day society is a huge counterfeit, where this truth of wealth has underhandedly slipped into extreme poverty. The true luxury and the real potlatch of our times falls to the poverty-stricken, that is, to the individual who lies down and scoffs. A genuine luxury requires the complete contempt for riches, the somber indifference of the individual who refuses work and makes his life on the one hand an infinitely ruined splendor, and on the other, a silent insult to the laborious life of the rich. Beyond a military exploitation, a religious mystification and a capitalist misappropriation, henceforth no one can rediscover the meaning of wealth, the explosiveness that it heralds, unless it is in the splendor of rags and the somber challenge of indifference. One might say, finally, that the lie destines life’s exuberance to revolt.” (Robert Hurley transl., Zone Books, 76-77).
From many disciplines we hear, although not unequivocally, about the collapse of the modern university, its consummation, its end. This prediction about the exhaustion of the university equally applies to politics. The collapse of the modern university and modern politics are inseparable so long as the modern categorial architecture of the university coincides with that of politics. The collapse of the national modern university, the state, and ideology are inseparable. (Thayer 77).
The first edition of this book in Spanish was indeed an event–it was a thoroughly unusual book that made us all discover a new territory for thought. It is only upon reading this second edition, in Brett Leraul’s excellent translation (not yet published, but hopefully forthcoming; his Introduction is also excellent, as it places the book contextually in efficient and informative ways), and so many years later, that I have come to understand the extent of its influence on me, on my own personal development. But this is neither here nor there–a private matter. It has become if not a commonplace at least rather customary today to critique the university–there is an entire new field out there called Critical University Studies, with massive reading lists one can consult, for instance, in a Northwestern University or a Duke University Press website. And this Critical University Studies development is an excellent example of the university crisis that Thayer endeavored to name and investigate in the 1990s–not because it reflects on the crisis, but because it is itself directly (in general: I do not mean to be unkind to the best writers on it) a second-order example of the crisis, a catastrophic monster without substance, mostly a proliferation of symptoms without a body. Contemporary Critical University Studies is a manifestation of university malaise plagued with contradictions and inanity–as indeed one could have predicted in 1996 had one been enough of a visionary then, on the basis of a reading of Thayer’s book. But he was the visionary, not his readers. His book already foresees the structural impossibilities of pontificating “universitarily,” as the translator has it, on the limits of the university.
The point is that in 1996 a number of people were beginning to sound the alarm–look at Bill Readings’s famous book on the damage wrought by the criterion of excellence on neoliberal grounds or at Jacques Derrida´s lengthy troubled disquisitions on the university, which in retrospect can be seen to be excessively complacent–, but it was Willy Thayer who articulated an argument that went beyond alarmism and right into signifying an epochal end for the institution. I think events have proven him right. There is no possible recovery of the ideals and expectations of the Humboldtian university. What we have now is for the most part a wasteland populated by desert nomads and bedouins at best, when it has not been given over to mere ressentiment in the Nietzschean sense. Perhaps the Chilean neoliberal laboratory was only an early manifestation of an implacable logic that would consummate the epochal ending and subsume the planet as a whole. What is interesting is that, in the 1996 edition, in the context of the hopes and hidden promises of an end to the Pinochet dictatorship and the Chilean escena de avanzada, Thayer’s book could still be read as the indictment of a state of affairs that was temporally marked and would give rise to better, in the sense of more democratic, times. The traces of that possibility are still legible in the second edition, but now something has been superimposed on them: the ravages of time have continued their labor of annihilation and nothing has come to offer itself as the possibility of some dialectical leap into a brighter future.
Not that the publication of Thayer’s second edition in translation will mitigate the state of affairs, but at least it might give some pause to the self-appointed reformers and well-wishers. Indeed it might be that Thayer’s book will come to be recognized as the little Tasmanian devil in the flourishing (but paradoxically also at the same time withering) field of university discourse today. I could put it this way: every writer in the field of Critical University Studies, and a fortiori every professional academic, needs to come to terms with the challenges Thayer’s book produces even if they are to flounder on the attempt. The Tasmanian devil will not be quietly shooed out of the living room, not without some disruption in the furniture (and perhaps the loss of one or two toes).
The central realization (hence, much more than an intuition) of the book is that the modern university, understood in a very precise sense as the Kantian university, is dead. If Kant was able to question the limits of sovereignty through the production of a critical apparatus that would create a margin for contestation, a margin for distance, a margin for critique, by reinstituting the labor of the so-called Faculty of Philosophy over the merely programmatic faculties (Law, Theology, Medicine, and so forth), that critical possibility of university discourse founded modernity as such even as it was itself a reflection of it. The modern university thus becomes the very impugnation of the saturation of the field of the real by technical knowledges. Thayer’s writing deploys experimentally in order to continue an agonizing Kantian strategy: it is dazzling in its adventurousness, starting with Thayer’s refusal to follow conventional chronologies or linear narratives. The impressionistic accumulation of experiential observation on today’s university discourse against the background of the monetarization of knowledge–which today is no longer “knowledge” in the classic sense but merely market-legitimizing technical skills, even at the level of basic research–sets the ground for an analysis that will not conceal its ultimately despairing horizon. The so-called “non-modern crisis” refers to the fact that modernity comes to its epochal end in and through the very exhaustion of the Kantian critical project. “We are not dealing with a conceptual crisis faced with the eruption of a new, substitute university categorization, the emergence and repositioning of one discourse upon the demise of another. Instead, we are dealing with the crisis of discourse, with the categorial full stop. For the same reason, it is a crisis of philosophy that cannot be controlled or regulated by discourse, at least not by a philosophical discourse that would be able to speak about the university. We lack the categories for analyzing the event of the crisis of the categories, including the category of ‘crisis’ that runs throughout this text” (67).
In a sense it is possible to say that Thayer’s book turns the Kantian project against itself. There was a hidden flaw, a fissure in the foundations of the Kantian edifice. Two hundred years later the fissure has itself become the edifice. No wonder then that the idea of a “non-modern university” that might itself be the precipitate of the critique of the critical project collapses as soon as it is articulated: “Our intention to theorize the current state of the university, in the sense of visualizing its invisible conditions of possibility, is characterized by our linguistic-categorial impotence” (68). Not a non-modern university, then, but rather an inchoate effort for an impossible step back that would enable the possibility of a discourse on university discourse that would not itself be consumed in advance by university rhetoric: there can be no theoretical autonomy from the university when speaking, or writing, about the university. The university has saturated the field of the real–hence its abysmal fissure. If in Kantian times a promise could be produced (“This inactuality, this misalignment between sovereign actuality and the Faculty of Philosophy’s temporality or untimeliness is the essential, evental conflict of the modern university as critical university” ), there is no longer an extant promise that does not exhaust itself into oblivion (“Into oblivion the questioning of the conditions of the present. Into oblivion the question of being” ).
The Kantian work that would inspire the creation of the University of Berlin in 1810 is anchored, as Thayer shows, in the Cartesian revolution. It is an updating and upgrading of the Cartesian universal subject of knowledge on the ruins of traditional, Christian metaphysics. At the same time, Descartes’ vanquishing of traditional metaphysics does not vanquish metaphysics. It is a substitution–one metaphysics for another, a fold in the fold. And the Kantian fold will inevitably reproduce the gesture. Through diverse historical and political mediations “German philosophical thought about the university surrounding the creation of the University of Berlin opposes the Cartesian tendency of knowledge toward its instrumental application; it confronts the operation of truth that functions practically and technically as the fruit of the ‘highest level of knowledge;’ it distances itself from the will to subordinate the speculative moment to practical and technical interests; it rejects subordinating the speculative principle to the knowledge and interests of the state” (113). From then on, and this is its properly “modern” or critical moment, “the state’s interest in truth must become an object of university’s analysis and not its commanding subject. The speculative essence of the German philosophical university is revealed in the strict obligation to reflect on instituted truth as the executive power of the state” (115). The preeminence of university discourse is claimed against any kind of master (or state) discourse. But, at the same time, and in a hidden way which might ultimately constitute the very fissure in the edifice, its unacknowledged metaphysical drift, the preeminence of university discourse becomes a state’s strategy. In other words, it is not that the modern university sets itself up as the antagonist of the sovereign master; it is rather that the sovereign master enables an antagonism it will never cease to control, as the originating “anecdote” in Kant´s The Conflict of the Faculties already reveals. This is modernity, and the essence of the modern university, which has now entered its period of epochal crisis through the terminal deployment of its hidden logic, not through its interruption.
Nietzsche’s prophecy regarding “a future . . . in which language will be unhinged from its university frame” (132) inaugurates an “exilic” intellectual condition and a first glimpse of a “non-university” to be set up against the “enlightened university” (140): a “genealogical Nietzschean university” to be opposed to the “critical reflective Kantian university” (144) is a first crack in the edifice of modern Enlightenment. It is in fact the crack that hosts the bedouins and nomads of the contemporary wasteland, but now without recourse to anything like the production of a Zarathustra, not to mention the idea of those who would follow Zarathustra as a transitional figure at the end of metaphysics. “For us,” Thayer says, the word “transition” “suggests . . . the weariness caused by asymptomatic illnesses that worsen over time, and that by the time we notice them have weakened as such that we lack the fortitude to treat them” (147). “If the ‘conflict’ or ‘class struggle’ between ‘physical-technical labor’ (physis) and ‘intellectual-critical labor’ (meta-physis) constituted the antagonistic axis of modern history, modern politics, and the modern university, then the end of that history-politics-university will come when that conflict is extinguished. In the Transition . . . this difference will be exhausted in the real subsumption of every conflict to finance capital. In the transition understood as the end of history, as the end of the social division of labor, capitalism will remain and difference, the unequal, will vanish” (152).
The book concludes with reflections on the contemporary Chilean moment and its projection on university discourse. It would be redundant for me to summarize it, as it is an involved narrative that must be read for itself. It is of course fitting for a book that has taken a long historical view to land in the concreteness of the present, which necessarily means a present bound to place. But the Chilean place is presented in the book as itself an atopic laboratory. The end of the university in “transitional” times is linked to a specific end of politics tied to the triumph of financial capitalism, itself the producer and consumer of the financial university, which in the US has been called and continues to call itself the university of excellence.
Against that excellence and its internal putrefaction Thayer’s book will serve as a revulsion, or as an operator of a necessary revulsion. Perhaps only for the sake of a new generation of exilic intellectuality that might hide the secret of the world, or not.
These are preliminary reflections meant as an invitation to further discussion—I have not reread the papers and only have my own impressions, faulty as they may be in terms of my own memory of the event, etc. But I think, given the fact that we did not have a final session that would have helped us make sense of what we did, that a proposal for further discussion is warranted. It does not have to happen here, in this blog—but we need to prepare the publication of the papers as well as we can. My sense is that something like a fundamental discussion—a discussion on foundations, a discussion on fundamental issues–almost took place, but not quite. Perhaps we can push it. I only want to offer a presentation of some of the problems that surfaced—I will be by no means exhaustive.
The invitation said the following: “The question of praxis has become a vexed one, and not just in its relationship to theory. Is transforming the world simply a matter of political engagement? Is it a matter of socio-economic production or a more fundamental engagement with what Marx called the capitalist social form? Or does it call for a reconsideration of human activity as a whole? Following Moishe Postone’s influential argument, the traditional Marxian notion of praxis clearly remained subject to a productivist ontology. In the wake of Postone’s critique, however, subsequent value-form readings of Capital as a monetary labour theory of value have arguably turned away from the problem of praxis to address the exegesis of Marx’s categorial critique of capitalism. Can the notion of praxis be revised in the context of planetary climate change and the persistence of late capitalism? Can Marx’s thought, and a fortiori traditional Marxism, withstand a challenge to a deeply embedded notion of productionist praxis? Is there an alternative that might still remain faithful to the Marxian oeuvre, or to its spirit?”
In other words, if I may drastically summarize, the question was whether Marxism is prepared to offer itself as an adequate tool to think the possibility of a politics (and, more ambitiously, a possible ontology) for the Anthropocene. Or whether the time of Marxism is past—just a part of history, just a part of modern metaphysics which is therefore itself part of the problem and not of the solution. There were, to start with, different positions regarding the Anthropocene. Some of us thought that its peculiarity consists in turning the notion of “being towards death” from a notion that has primary relevance regarding singular existence into a notion that concerns the potential extinction of humanity in general, humanity as we know it. Some of us thought that the situation is far from being so dire, and some of us thought that the Anthropocene is simply another instance of woke culture. There was no agreement to start with, therefore, which made the question of the “epistemological commons” a particularly perplexing one.
Transversally in regards to the question of the true import of the Anthropocene was the issue of left-Heideggerianism. Can Heidegger’s thought offer the possibility of a supplement to Marxism, if we take “supplement” in the full Derridean sense: not just a complement but also a substitution, not just a substitution but also a complement? A subsidiary and nevertheless all-important aspect of this question was whether Marx’s thought counts today primarily as an analysis of the law of value in capitalism and therefore of capitalism as the law of value or whether it still holds as a philosophy of history, namely, as what has been called historical materialism or, even more heavily, dialectical materialism. Some of us thought that the contemporary relevance of Marxism has to do specifically with the great synthesis Marx obtained in Das Kapital: Capitalism as the monumental display of the principle of general equivalence understood as accomplished nihilism. Some of us still found relevance in historical materialism, and materialism tout court, as a way of relating to the world in a total manner, i. e., as a totally integrated understanding of historical process culminating in a formally necessary push for communism as the goal of philosophy of praxis, that is, as the goal of any conceivable philosophy of praxis. At this point it was a matter of a confrontation between what we can call, only half-jokingly, the “true believers” versus the already disenchanted ones, the skeptics and doubters: Marxism as the true and right Golgotha of spirit or Marxism as a mere path to more crucifixion.
The possibility of common ground perhaps rose with the idea that Heidegger’s notion of Ge-stell, variously rendered as “enframing” or “positionality,” could be linked to the Marxian idea of general equivalence as universal value. This would be crucial. The destruction of the history of metaphysics as ultimately a history of nihilism goes through the destruction of the principle of general equivalence, which is also the possibility of finding an alternative beginning for thinking the world beyond positionality. The question came up as to whether cybercapitalism, understood as the new mode of production already dominant and becoming ever more dominant, is to be understood as the “precipitous fall” Heidegger had pointed out in “The Question of Technology” of the time of Ge-stell, which is the time of Capital: the moment when the human subject, up to then committed to the domination of nature as object, takes itself as the object, and the human itself is equally reduced to quantity and data production, distribution, circulation, and consumption. The Anthropocene is to be seen, then, against the background of nihilism as the total quantification, not just of nature, understood in modern terms, but also of existence, resulting ultimately in the annihilation of both nature and existence themselves. A passage beyond the nature-culture divide becomes imperative at this point.
If Marxist epistemology, in spite of everything, was always based on the idea, explicitly asserted by Stalin, that the “deep structure of thought is a reflection of the deep structure of reality itself,” with Marxism occupying, naturally, the place of discovery of the “deep structure of thought,” then it becomes tautological to claim that the function of human knowledge is simply mapping the territory, in other words, charting the real to the point of total coincidence of thinking and being—absolute knowledge, full accomplishment of full subjectivity, total transparency of the world to itself (thanks to the Marxists).
But there might be a different understanding of the Parmenidean word that opens philosophical reflection for the West: “being” and “thinking” may be the “same” not as full coincidence of subject and object of reflection but according to a very different and radically alternative determination of sameness.
This other “sameness,” perhaps heretofore unthought, for which the figure pf Empedocles was suggested as a possible precursor—is it the very possibility of a new praxis, against the poietic understanding of praxis in Marxism?
Can Marxism persist as a historical presence in the strong sense, can it foster an other beginning for thought in the epoch of the Anthropocene? Is emancipation still the goal of political praxis?
The “real movement” of things may be far from presaging communism—the age of total subsumption, the age of data as a deepening of the Gemeinwesen that Marx still thought was the money form, may call for a different praxis of thought, which is a different praxis of existence.
I thank Ana Baginski for her invitation to be the discussant for this session, and to Willie Chase of course for his paper. It is a pleasure to have Ana with us here as a Glasscock Fellow and it is a pleasure to have Willie here as her guest. I will try to honor Willie’s presentation in what follows.
How do you go from empire to republic? And, once you do it, how do you stay there, how can you restrain yourself from reverting to empire? I will not provide you with an answer to the question. I will limit myself to stating what is probably already obvious to most of you: historical attempts to do so have failed in absolute terms, and we can only congratulate humans for partial and often deficient successes. Let us take the various Latin American cases as an example. Or even better: let us take Spanish America as a whole as an example. After Independence, roughly between 1810 and 1825, with some exceptions, the Latin American criollo class, which means, not just the so-called whites, as in many countries many criollos were the offspring of mixed races and were themselves mestizos or mulattoes or any of the other many hierarchical racial divisions invented by the colonial casta system, the criollo class, I was saying, as the dominant class, a class directly produced by the imperial system, took over and engaged in a process of so-called nation-building that produced a neo-colonial state form: things had indeed changed, Indians were declared citizens in many countries, slavery was by and large abolished within ten or twenty years of Independence, but the dominant class, now split between conservatives and liberals, sought not equality but domination. We may call it hegemony, since that is indeed what it was. Which should warn us about making hegemony a key term for leftist practices today. Republican hegemony in most Latin American countries–I actually cannot think of any exception, except of course for Cuba and Puerto Rico–was the new regime of domination, and it was brutal enough. For the subaltern population, Republican hegemony, even when it did not degenerate into civil wars and commisarial dictatorships, as often happened, was pretty much still an imperial regime, albeit different from the Spanish imperial one, and, from the perspective of the subaltern, not necessarily much better (for instance, many liberal and conservative republican governments engaged in a policy of land and capital accumulation that reenslaved in everything but name large segments of the Indigenous and Black population).
So we have republican hegemony, and it is the hegemony of the criollo class. Such hegemony needed to be conceptualized, articulated, indeed named through the 19th century. What old Angel Rama called the “lettered city” came to fulfill that function: there was a big momentum for the articulation of a nation-building ideology, which had specific local differences (different in Argentina and Uruguay and Mexico or Bolivia or Venezuela or Nicaragua). Intellectuals were servants of their criollo masters, their organic ideologues. And this happened at a very massive level, to the extent that exceptions were hardly ever tolerated–we know of few of them. We must assume that indigenous life was still resistant, we must assume that disenfranchised segments of the population, such as former slaves, were resistant, we must assume, perhaps, that women were resistant, but we have inherited few and far-between articulations of that resistance, or of those resistances: they emerge in counterinsurgency prose and literature, for instance in gaucho literature, or in crime ballads. Certainly in juridical archives. But they never coalesce into any sort of counterhegemonic bloc. Not even at the time of, say, the Mexican revolution. And they have not come easily to us through the historical archive.
I would claim this forms the background of the extraordinarily difficult problem Willie brings up in his paper. Let me propose two theses for its interpretation: the first thesis is, Willie is trying to uncover the possibility of a non-hegemonic articulation of republican politics in the Latin American 19th century, and he must do so by working spectrally, with ghosts, through ghosts, since that is all the archives can offer him. And my second thesis is: his motivation, at perhaps some deeper-than-consciousness level, is primarily not historical but rather motivated on the misery of university discourse in the present. I present these two theses not in order to establish them as true theses, of course, rather in order to give Willie a chance to respond to them. Since that is my function as discussant. So let me elaborate a bit, just to be fair, just to offer Willie some more solid grounds for his response. So that he does not have to guess at my intentions.
But let me frame that first. Willie’s paper is, for me, the first occasion when I encounter in the critical literature of Latin Americanism a serious engagement with the tradition of Black Study. This is monumental. Black Study is today one of the very few developments where something other than the misery of university discourse is pursued and attempted. We can leave aside for the moment the deep irony of the fact that Black Study is a form of university discourse that has no choice but to present itself as post-university, or ex-university. There are deep reasons for it. At some point in his paper Willie refers to the notion of fugitivity developed by Fred Moten, and then Moten and Stefano Harney. Black Study is fugitive discourse. I will say that Willie’s paper is a Latin Americanist instantiation of fugitivity. It is what we could call an exodic paper, a marrano paper, we could say, adapting to generally Hispanic conditions Afropessimist or Black-Ops postulates or conditions of enunciation. Which may explain, at least for Willie’s ears, why my second thesis proposes that his, that is, Willie’s, interest is primarily motivated on the misery of university discourse in the present. The misery prompts fugitivity. The misery prompts exodus when not abandonment. I welcome this. It is a necessary fugitivity.
Regarding my first thesis, namely, that Willie’s paper wants to uncover a spectral or ghostly non-hegemonic articulation of republican politics: what I mean by this is that he must proceed on the basis of a radical absence in the archives. Our common friend Nahum Chandler is among those who have established the deep and extraordinary pertinence of the work of W. E. B. Du Bois for Black Study, an indispensable reference. Latin American Study lacks such reference or anything remotely similar to it. Du Bois offers a path, or many paths, to what we might name, following Chandler, the question of exorbitance. It is through exorbitance, through its elaboration, historically and theoretically, and politically, that Black Study has managed to break away from hegemonic configurations of the political and from hegemony itself as the only available political configuration. We must also situate Willie’s fugitivity at the point of such a break. As I confess I have not read Lastarria myself, I will not question Willie’s reading. What is important in it is the interrogation he brings to bear, not his possible conclusions, which in fact only figure the very inconclusiveness of Lastarria’s take at the point of Willie’s interrogation. At the time of nation-building Lastarria was lucid enough to understand that a mere hegemonic incorporation, an incorporation into hegemony, of Indian heroes, of figures from the Indian past, would quickly break down. Which leaves Willie in the difficult predicament of having to follow his own path spectrally, precisely through the detection of discursive breakdowns, of absences and hesitations, through the tremor of the archives when they are finally seen as possessed by inarticulate ghosts.
This is extraordinary and path-breaking work, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of his dissertation, from which I understand this paper has derived. And I congratulate Willie for his courage and determination–but I must also warn him that they will not come without exacting a price. For which he must be ready, fugitively.
Before turning the word back to him, or to all of you, let me add something else that I believe is necessary. What I called earlier the Neocolonial State Form was historically followed by and large by what we could call the National Popular State Form. I think we need to understand the National Popular State Form as a continuation of the Neocolonial one–its discursive expression was still an articulation of hegemony, now through discourses of transculturation. Transculturation was the dominant discursive state form through most of the 20th century, until the gradual consolidation of the Neoliberal State Form, itself still to be understood, not as a break, but a continuation of the previous forms (hybridity discourse, identity politics proper, and decoloniality are its results). Thought–the production of the lettered cities–was organic to those state formations. In Latin America such thought manifested itself in the form of identity thinking. Identitarianism has been the single thought or the single umbrella for thought that has survived through the various metamorphoses of the state throughout Latin American history. The way I understand Willie’s position is that Willie is actually proposing a break away from all identitarianism–that is what a non-hegemonic republicanism might some day accomplish. Like in Black Study, Willie’s break from identitarianism is first of all a refusal for thought to be the servant of the current state formation in any of its guises and disguises. It announces stateless thinking, a thinking beyond the state.
It is difficult to imagine any properly post-identitarian configuration of Latin American thought. What we have available is not moving in that direction. I do not want to become too polemical so I will spare you my explanation for that sentence. And yet perhaps there is nothing more important. Willie’s focus on the absences and breakdowns of criollo discourse, on what he calls the vagary of its articulation,is subversive and dissident when it refers to the 19th century and to the cherished and normalized discourses for mainstream historical self-understanding. To the extent Willie’s discourse refers not just to history but primarily to our present, I find it equally subversive and dissident, or fugitive, regarding the current accommodations of identity thinking in Latin Americanist university work. And there is little else. And the problem is, there is precisely little else at a historical moment when the thorough collapse of hegemonic discourse makes it imperative that we develop new inventions of thought that might become commensurate to current challenges, such as climate breakdown.
A couple of days ago I finished reading Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s The Ends of the World. They make a fine point: they say that the end of the world has always already happened for Indigenous and Blacks in Latin America. And that perhaps only they may therefore teach the late criollos, which means all of us, or most of us, what it takes to survive it. It is a strange fugitivity that we have inherited, but it is a fugitivity we must take up.
We were eating breakfast at the Zeitman’s Deli in downtown Bryan, just after doing some shopping at the farmers’ market, when the question came: “So, doctor, I hope you don´t mind my asking. What happened at Duke?” The question came from a Mexican student who is spending some time with us in Texas. Teresa and I looked at each other before responding “We do not know what happened at Duke. They made our lives impossible. You should ask them. Why do you ask?” “Oh, it is because I heard some rumors that do not seem to match . . . ” “What rumors?” “Oh, essentially that you are a very difficult person, conflictive . . . ” “And you heard this in Mexico?” “Yes, from my professors there.”
So, that is how it goes. Were they warning her not to come? We left Duke in 2006, which means sixteen years ago. That is, two years more than we actually spent at Duke as professors. And the rumors persist. They are international now. I suppose I ought to be grateful to my colleagues of those years that they did not spread worse (and falser) rumors, since we all know there are worse (false) rumors to be spread about those you wish to cancel. And there was plenty of malice to go around. So I am grateful. A bit. They say I am a difficult person. Conflictive. Compared to some of the people I have had to share my life with, some of the very people that made us move towards leaving Duke, I do not think I am particularly difficult. Or conflictive. I may be a bit arrogant, sure, which is why I thought back then there were things I should not let pass without responding. After all, I was a distinguished professor at the time (the Anne and Robert Bass Distinguished Professor of Romance Studies and Literature), was directing more dissertations than anybody else in those units, and was coordinating more working groups and organizing more workshops and more conferences than anybody else around. I had given my life to the university, after all. At some cost to my family and to my writing. When things became bad enough, and we were certain that they were after me–banal mobbing, perhaps, but extensive, and it hurt–, we decided to apply for jobs elsewhere, not even thinking, at first, that we were going to leave Duke. We thought that telling them we had offers and we might leave would be enough for them–well, for the administration at least–to tell us they did not want us to do that, that they would support us, protect us. But it did not happen. Yes, the dean was new and knew nothing–only what he heard. He said there was not enough support in the department for him to make a counteroffer. So we left. It just so happened the place we went to did not work out for us, so we ended up regretting it.
We were lucky to receive offers of employment from Texas A&M in 2010, in the middle of the post-2008 hiring crisis. We did not know then that those offers would save our careers. Other options became closed to us, which would have been par for the course, had I not heard several times in later years that there was nothing casual about the rejections or the non-consideration. Everybody had heard rumors, but they would not say what rumors. Duke rumors, rumors of conflict. We were too hot, possibly even dangerous. Things came to a head when the Chancellor at University of California Irvine told me I would be receiving an offer to become Dean of the Humanities at Irvine and the offer never came. A few months later somebody told me the Chancellor’s Office had received an unrequested letter about me and he got cold feet. Never called me. Never told me. I wrote the lawyers at the university and they told me that, yes, there was a letter, but they could not or would not share it with me. I let it go. A few months later something similar happened at University of Southern California, when the dean made me an offer he knew I would not be able to accept. He told me, hard to forget, “you are already making too much money for a Spanish professor.” Later, I heard he wanted me to decline because, yes, there had been some kind of interference from third parties. I never did find out anything else.
So we gave up. Texas was to be our place, and we would eventually retire here. No problem. We are happy enough, we have plenty of time, we have a good life. But those rumors persist, and they are still interfering. I do not know what my professional life would have been like without those rumors, those interferences: perhaps quite different. I no longer care, frankly. I read and I write and I go east in the summer. And I never think of Duke or my old colleagues, why should I? They no longer matter. Yes, the absence of remaining love is disturbing: I thought I had made many friends over those fourteen years, but no, it was a mistake, a delusion.
I no longer have nightmares. I no longer obsess trying to understand what happened or what my own responsibility might have been. I have new friends now, and I continue to have students. Which is what, perhaps mistakenly, perhaps wrongly, makes me write this. There is after all something sinister about the whole thing. Is it hurting my students? My prospective students? Perhaps it is. Who is to say? Only those who know. But I do not know. All I know is that I have always behaved properly, always behaved ethically, have always tried to help others, and I have never engaged in conflict except as a response to attacks by others. Is that not enough? Well, it should be. There is something sinister going around. Still. After sixteen years. Is that part of what one should expect as a university professor? Perhaps, if you think so, you would care to explain why. In any case, perhaps there is something to be learned here by others.
It is very difficult to summarize what Felipe Martínez Marzoa tells us–his writing is very involved, complex, and premised on everything else he ever wrote, making reading him something like a cult activity: difficult to just take a part and try to make sense of it. Having said that, perhaps the essay “The State and the Polis,” from 1999, is the clearest summation of what he meant to convey on the subject, but take “clearest” with a grain of salt.
His overall project has to do with taking the equation of modernity and nihilism (“nihility,” he says) seriously. And with it the notion that modern civil society and the modern State are already accomplishments of nihilism. Keep in mind he was a Marxist for many years and that one of his most important books is A Reading of Das Kapital. But he did take Nietzsche, and then Heidegger, seriously.
Metaphysics is for him the establishment of an “unlimited continuum,” Being as “unlimited continuum,” where every cut and every distance, every distribution and qualification, are merely contingent and arbitrary. This of course culminates on universal equivalence, universal exchange value as only value. Within the unlimited continuum, within universal time-space, exchange value reigns supreme, and civil society and the State, and the entire system of rights, are simply ways of codifying that state of affairs. Needless to say, universal equivalence is the underlying principle of technology and the condition of possibility for the total objectification of the world as standing reserve. Climate change and planetary destruction are mere consequences.
So, he says, how can we determine that? What is the point of comparison that may give us the minimum distance to understand the state of affairs as the state of affairs, to thematize it and bring it out of self-concealment?
Well, archaic Greece, of which we only know by inference for the most part. We mostly know what is knowable by projecting backwards from a few extraordinary decades that were at the same time the culmination and the implosion of the Greek polis.
Take what Herodotus says Cyrus said: “I have no fear of men whose character is defined by the fact that the center of their cities is an empty space in which they gather to deceive each other under oath.” Martínez Marzoa thinks Herodotus is unconcealing what the Barbarians understood of the Greek community: a strange community that already regulated exchange internally in the agora. At the time, presumably, the exchange was yet an exchange of things, not of commodities. Community was still central. But the agora, by signifying a particular modulation of community, and a successful one, based not on demokratía (a later concept) but on isonomía, and by leading men to reflect on it, through thematizing it, through making it explicit, at the very same time it constitutes the polis as such, also explodes it.
The empty space, the hole at the center, destroys the opacity of community. If the community is totally opaque to itself, then it could be said there isn´t one. So it is only when the community unconceals itself as community that communitarian links become relevant. This becoming relevant of communitarian links is the polis as such. It is also the end of the polis. The gathering place, the agora, is also the place of separation. When the game one plays becomes explicit as a game, when the game moves towards its own self-understanding as a game, the game breaks down. It stops as game. We can only understand community through the implosion of community.
Communitarian links decay and vanish. If the “empty space at the center” was the very opposite of the unlimited continuum, its very success moves it towards becoming the unlimited and uniform space of the continuum. In a sense isonomía becomes demokratía, the Socratic disaster happens, and the polis implodes as such. It is the beginning of politics.
There are of course centuries of decline, mediated partly by an idea of faith, towards the construction of a new legitimacy, which ends up being the bogus, nihilistic legitimacy of the modern State where equality, as Hobbes put it, only means that everyone has the power to kill the other, etc. The only legitimacy has to do with the fact that there is no legitimacy.
The polis, in the inceptual Greek moment, is a vanishing act, like being itself. When it finally appears, when it shows itself, that is the very moment of its disappearance.
A corollary: if politics becomes or is a consequence of the very thematizing of communitarian links, in other words, if politics is the attempt to distribute what is undistributable, then politics is the catastrophe, it happens as catastrophe. The demos has always already been the very condition of politics but it is a poisoned condition, because when the condition is unconcealed as such, then community vanishes. At that point the demos needs to be imperialized, hegemonized. Politics becomes the exercise of command in precisely the way Heidegger’s 1942 Parmenides lectures describe as a Roman practice, always already a translation of Greek practices (although he never put it in those terms, those lectures indicate a theory of hegemony as political command. But–is hegemony something other than political command?). The imperium marks the politics of the West to the point that Heidegger could still say in 1942 that we only understand politics “imperially, like the Romans.”
If you harass a fellow worker, is that politics? If you publish intimate pictures of your sexual partner, or of your former sexual partner, is that politics? I suppose one could argue that you only harass, you only give yourself over to harassment, for political gain. One could even argue that all political gain is the result of harassment. But that is a slippery slope from which one can only take some distance by claiming what seems to so many a dubious distinction: there is politics, whatever measure of dignity you may want to accord to it, and then there is infrapolitics. Infrapolitics precedes and determines politics in every case. Any form of political gain that comes from your harassing practices is probably despicable as a matter of taste, and yet it is the most common one in everyday places such as your workplace; or the US Senate. And harassing practices come in many forms, they are pollakhos, like being itself. But if we accept some forms of harassment and not others we are simply hypocrites. Do not worry: you would not be the only hypocrite, they–you–are legion. Infrapolitics–the very thought–enables the distinction, makes it possible for anyone to say that your political gain out of bad infrapolitics is disgusting and should be taken away from you. In a democratic society if there were any. This is not a call for some buenismo but the very opposite: it is a denunciation of the fact that political moralism in the Kantian sense has today taken over politics totally and absolutely and that a militant return to a moral politics–politics based on the rule of democratic law–is essential, even a reason for war.
Granted that you only harass someone when you think you can get away with it, when you think you will pay no price: that is, when you occupy, or at least think you occupy, some miserable space of your own within hegemony. Or within so-called counterhegemony when it is legitimized as such (having become therefore a part of the hegemonic apparatus). But what if someone were to tell you that there is an alternative, and that alternative is definitely a threat to you.
The Spanish tv series Intimidad, Intimacy, in Netflix, is a curious mixture of thriller and militant position-taking. Yes, I think it is true that only recent changes in hegemony as it is normally understood make it possible: the relative naturalization of feminist discourse, for instance. So one could consider Intimidad feminist militancy. But I think that is a limiting perspective. I prefer to see it as posthegemonic militancy against masculinist and patriarchal aggression. I prefer to see it as an awakening to infrapolitics.
You should see it, it is easy enough. It features the double case of a politician and a factory worker in the city of Bilbao. The point the series makes is that harassment occupies a social space that antecedes the political space and conditions it drastically. Such a simple lesson no one wants to assume. Why?
The crucial issue of presenting harassment–acoso laboral, acoso sexual, acoso intelectual, acoso pure and simple–as social murder is significant. The series includes mention of the English term “mobbing,” mispronounced as “moo-bing.” Infrapolitical jurisprudence is moving in that direction, but certainly not yet in the United States. Mobbing = mortification = consignment to (social) death = social murder. Which sometimes becomes murder pure and simple.
In the 1956 text “Was ist das–die Philosophie?” Heidegger uses the German word Abbauen, which literally rendered might be “deconstruction,” to talk about the “destruction” of the history of philosophy he had already recommended in Being and Time. The paragraph says in the available English translation:
This path to the answer to our question is not a break with history, no repudiation of history, but is an adoption and transformation of what has been handed down to us. Such an adoption of history is what is meant by the word “destruction.” . . . Destruction does not mean destroying but dismantling [Abbauen], liquidating, putting to one side the merely historical [that is, historiographical] assertions about the history of philosophy. Destruction means–to open our ears, to make ourselves free for what speaks to us in tradition as the Being of being. By listening to this interpellation we attain the correspondence [to that towards which philosophy is on the way, necessary for an adequate answer to the question What is philosophy?] (What is Philosophy?, Rowan & Littlefield, 2003, 71-73)
Heidegger presents his notion of destruction as part of a Stimmung, an attunement, a specific mode of pathos that our historical epoch prompts in us and that grounds the possible correspondence. Thaumadsein is the classical name for that attunement. Heidegger claims that thaumadsein was not left behind, which for us, after Cartesian doubt, includes anew a step back and a restraint: “Im Erstaunen halten wir an uns . . . Wir treten gleichsam zurück vor dem Seiendem” (84). And yet, Heidegger says, our “fundamental tuning” “is still hidden from us” (89): “What we come across is only this–various tunings of thinking. Doubt and despair, on the one hand, blind obsession by untested principles, on the other, conflict with one another. Fear and anxiety are mixed with hope and confidence” (91). It is here, following those considerations, to which Heidegger offers no particular answer, that Heidegger makes the claim that such an attunement might best be explored through poetic language: “our discussion, which follows philosophy’s thinking, necessarily leads to a discussion of the relationship between thinking and poetic creation. Between these two there exists a secret kinship because in the service of language both intercede on behalf of language and give lavishly of themselves. Between both there is, however, at the same time an abyss for they ‘dwell on the most widely separated mountains'” (95). To my knowledge, Alain Badiou, the great critic of the “suture” of philosophy to poetry in Heidegger, never referenced the fact that Heidegger places the closest proximity between the two at the level of a fundamental attunement–away from any psychology and certainly away from the identification of philosophy with poetry, but certainly on the way to the possible naming of an epochal pathos that could restitute an orientation on the path of thinking. At stake is the correspondence with the epochal logos, which remains hidden from us.
In the first part of the essay, which is really a lecture explicitly framed as an introduction to a conversation with his listeners, Heidegger had introduced André Gide’s dictum, in his book on Dostoyevski, that “with fine sentiments bad literature is made” (23). In retrospect we read that the search not for fine but for the proper “sentiment” is crucial for a good answer to the question of philosophy. And yet the answer as to the sentiment is not given–hence there is no corresponding answer as to the question of philosophy. Only the two questions subsist. Heidegger has indeed risked that the question of philosophy has to do with establishing a correspondence with the sending of Being and also that the possibility of attaining it would include not just thaumadsein but also restraint and a step-back from an exclusive concern with das Seiende or present presence. But that is all he risks. Except that he does tell us that the notion of philosophy is historically situated as well:
for Heraclitus philosophia did not yet exist. An aner philosophos is not a “philosophical” man. The Greek adjective philosophos expresses something completely different from the adjective philosophical. An aner philosophos is hos philei to sophon, he who loves the sophon. . . . What this word means for Heraclitus is hard to translate. But we can explain it according to Heraclitus’ own interpretation. According to this the sophon means, Hen Panta, One (is) All. All means here, all things that exist, the whole, the totality of being. Hen, one, means, the one, the unique, the all-uniting. But all being is united in Being. The sophon says–all being is in Being [Alles Seiende ist im Sein]. To put it more pointedly–being is Being . . . Being is the gathering together [Das Sein ist die Versammlung]–Logos. (47-49)
The Sophists attacked this conception, Heidegger says, and they caused the birth of philosophy by doing so. The sophos–Anaximander, Parmenides, Heraclitus–lost his harmony, his homologein, the Sophists made sure of it. From then on, only a striving was possible. “Because the loving is no longer an original harmony with the sophon but is a particular striving towards the sophon, the loving of the sophon become philosophia” (51). “The step into philosophy, prepared for by Sophism, was first accomplished by Socrates and Plato” (53).
If so, it is legitimate to ask whether thaumadsein was already a derived and secondary attunement–in fact, the attunement proper to metaphysics, which Heidegger also calls, although not in this text, ontotheology. The sophoi would have corresponded through a different attunement. What was it? And: was Sophism a historical disruption also in the sense of bringing forth a different attunement? Was that precisely its fateful accomplishment? Can we take Sophism to be an actualization or institutionalization of the Parmenidean third way? Let me put it this way: Sophism interrupted the sophon, the hen panta, the immersion of Seiende im Sein which was still the thought-character of Anaximander, Parmenides, Heraclitus, presumably Pindar and Aeschylus and even Sophocles. Sophism was powerful enough to displace the aner philosophos toward a miswandering into a common sense no longer attuned to logos: attuned to doxa, to the marketplace of ideas, to the back and forth of the polis (which brought the polis to its doom at the same time it made it flourish). That would be the claim. It is fateful because the reaction to it–Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the ti question–forced the move into metaphysics and the forgetting of the ontological difference and it opened Western history as such.
When Heidegger says in “On the Essence of Truth” that Kant opens up the last stage of metaphysics he must be talking about the stage where another disruption happened, this time the one that brings metaphysics to its culmination and its end: the stage of the death of God, announced by Kant and expressly formulated by Hegel and then taken up by Nietzsche and reformulated by Heidegger as the stage of the flight of the gods and the wait for the “last god.” It is dubious that the reaction to such a stage could lead in the direction of a reestablishment, a restoration of the Hen Panta. That is perhaps what the Heideggerian “other beginning” says: that the other beginning would be different from the “first beginning.” But will there be an “other beginnning”? If so, it could only be through some confidence in the possibility that somehow that “other beginning” will start to take place as a new fateful instantiation of Western (perhaps by now already global) history. I lack that confidence myself, which may make me a pessimist. We do not have a name, or any awareness, of the fundamental attunement of the last stage of metaphysics opened by Kant–no longer Aristotelian thaumadsein, not really, no longer Cartesian doubt. Could it be Nietzsche’s probity? Perhaps. But restraint, or restraint in probity, still tells us nothing about the fundamental attunement needed to move to a different epoch of thought.
Unless it is the terror that Rilke mentioned in his Duino Elegies, which crosses in many ways the essential poetry of the century, from Mandelstam and Pessoa to Celan and Claudio Rodríguez and José Angel Valente. A thinking attuned by terror to the terror of planetary disruption through climate change, a new if long announced word of Being–hardly enough to accomplish a new beginning.
(El trato es hablar solo entre 10 y 15 minutos, lo cual implica tener que dejar de lado tantas observaciones sobre este intenso y por muchas razones perturbador libro de Miguel Morey. Al menos hasta la conversación que siga a nuestros comentarios preliminares. Me limito entonces a mencionar algunas cuestiones que me motivan particularmente.)
Me pregunto en qué registro discursivo colocaría Jacques Lacan la obra de María Zambrano, ella misma relativa enemiga de la razón discursiva. El pensamiento de Zambrano no sigue ni responde al discurso del amo, ni al discurso universitario, ni al discurso histérico, ni al discurso del analista. Tampoco al discurso capitalista. Es quizá discurso del saber, o del sentir, pero de la misma manera que podría decirse, sostenidas todas las diferencias, del discurso de Friedrich Nietzsche o del discurso de Georges Bataille o incluso de gran parte del discurso de Martin Heidegger. En Zambrano todavía está más acentuada que en los pensadores mencionados la diferencia con el discurso universitario–para no hablar de los restantes. Morey, en su libro, habla con cierta insistencia de la dificultad extrema no ya de entender propiamente a Zambrano sino sobre todo de escribir o de establecer una relación crítica con su texto–el texto zambraniano desborda y delira el discurso universitario también en ese sentido, más marcadamente que tantos otros discursos de pensamiento en el siglo xx. Es interesante esa renuencia y creo que no es posible atribuirla sin más al tipo particular de idiotez que el discurso universitario ha ido labrando para sí mismo de manera creciente y ya abrumadora. En cualquier caso desde sus primeras páginas Morey renuncia a hablar sobre María Zambrano y opta por hablar desde ella o en relación con ella.
En el capítulo 10, un capítulo relativamente tardío en el libro de Morey, nueve lo preceden, nueve de once, al margen de los Apartes, Morey repite que “los alcances precisos” del pensamiento de Zambrano “se nos escapan” (223). Y continúa:
Hace ya mucho tiempo que nos movemos en su atmósfera, pero estamos lejos de haber podido tomar realmente tierra. Y tal vez siga siendo así aún durante un tiempo. Sin duda llegará la hora en la que su propuesta de una razón poética podrá comenzar a ser aquilatada en toda su complejidad, y cuando así se haga es seguro que no dejará de constatarse su asombrosa proximidad con muchas de las más nobles, por culturalmente nutricias, experiencias de pensamiento que por los mismos años se estaban llevando adelante en las cuatro esquinas del mundo occidental. (223)
Morey dice que el denominador común a esas experiencias de pensamiento es la “crítica de la razón discursiva” (224). Algo hay en el siglo xx, como período de la historia del ser, que lleva al pensamiento a intentar formularse como crítica de la razón discursiva en algunas de sus obras esenciales. Morey menciona a Heidegger y a Bataille, pero también a Maurice Blanchot, a Emile Cioran, a René Char, que son más o menos coetáneos de Zambrano. La pregunta de Morey en ese capítulo, para la que él esboza una respuesta preliminar y tentativa respecto de Blanchot, es, no si hay influencias o si puede establecerse una relación directa entre los textos, al modo universitario habitual, sino si hay paralelismos y concordancias que convendría establecer incluso a pesar del desconocimiento mutuo. Es por lo tanto una pregunta que atañe a cierto secreto del pensamiento, y que tiene que ver no tanto con el “espíritu de época” sino más bien con esas “hegemonías rotas” de la historia del ser de las que hablaba Reiner Schürmann. Si en la historia del ser hay principios epocales que acaban por sintonizar pensamientos de época incluso desde sus diferencias mismas, precisamente porque se postula que esos principios configuran una hegemonía histórica que condiciona, el siglo xx sería el comienzo de una época aprincipial, una época posthegemónica o an-árquica donde el pensamiento prescinde de toda sumisión epocal. Es algo paradójica la noción: habría pensadores, Zambrano entre ellos, también Morey, cuya pertenencia epocal puede medirse en relación con su capacidad de ruptura de toda pertenencia epocal–su capacidad posthegemónica en relación con una razón discursiva general que marcaría o seguiría marcando una tendencia dominante o abrumadoramente dominante. Pero hay algunos y algunas que no están en ello, siempre, dice Morey, “en soledad” (223).
La pregunta para nosotros, en la precisa medida en que ha dejado de interesarnos el discurso universitario o discurso dominante del saber, en la precisa medida en que nuestra curiosidad o nuestra querencia atiende genealógicamente a esos pensadores oscuros, relativamente impresentables, tan despreciados por la academia elegante, tan fuera de moda, tan incapaces de responder a esa noción caída de sentido común o de sentido común político que arrasa el campo contemporáneo de la producción académica, no es sin embargo si debe haber o no una “constatación,” como dice Morey, de sus paralelismos o concordancias diferenciales. Esa sería en cierta medida una mirada todavía filológica, todavía pendiente de recursos archiacadémicos tales como el de reducir el pensamiento a su historia. Yo pienso que nuestra pregunta es en qué medida esos pensadores an-árquicos o posthegemónicos del siglo xx pueden ser semilla o condición de pensamiento real en el presente y en el futuro. Está claro que esa pregunta no busca acumulación de saber y mucho menos bajo la fórmula marxiana de “acumulación primitiva,” que para Marx era el “pecado original” del capitalismo. No interesa encontrar una constelación de pensamientos que acabe por configurar, a fin de cuentas, una constelación de pensamiento en cuanto tal susceptible de configurar una nueva hegemonía–sería no solo un pecado sino también un error y una inconsistencia. Interesa más bien encontrar en esos textos de un pasado tanto más acuciante cuanto que es relativamente reciente acicate y modelo para seguir la obra o la desobra que empieza a ser ya condición literal de respiración en nuestro tiempo.
Hacia el final de Le coupable Bataille dice: “Tu asunto en este mundo no es ni asegurar la salud de un alma sedienta de paz ni procurar para tu cuerpo las ventajas del dinero. Tu asunto es la búsqueda de un destino inconocible” (416). Perseverar en esa búsqueda es una posibilidad para cualquiera pero no para todos. Sus resultados son en todo caso impredecibles y pueden resultar duros: “No te equivoques: esta moral que escuchas, que yo enseño, es la más difícil, no deja esperar sueño ni satisfacción. Te demando la pureza del infierno–o, si prefieres, de un niño: no habrá promesa alguna a cambio y no quedarás ligado a ninguna obligación. Oirás–viniendo de ti mismo–una voz que lleva a tu destino: la voz del deseo y no la voz de seres deseables” (416). Creo que no sería falso decir que Morey escribe su libro desde Zambrano de forma claramente comprometida con ese mandato batailleano, a su vez plenamente compartido por Zambrano misma.
Empieza a hacerlo desde la referencia a un “tercer camino” que buscaría eludir la muy antigua división del campo de pensamiento entre poesía y filosofía. El tercer camino zambraniano, meditativo antes que discursivo o contemplativo, trataría de eludir la doble trampa de la técnica y del misterio, es un camino más allá de la técnica pero también ajeno al misterio. Vocación y destino, dice Morey, añadiendo una serie de precisiones sobre la recuperación o el recuerdo de un “sentir originario” del que dependería la posibilidad misma–yo la llamaría antifilosófica–del aprendizaje del secum morari senequiano. Morey dice de ella, con Zambrano, que es un pensamiento del fondo oscuro, un pensamiento infernal o pensamiento de catacumbas que deriva o delira en “otra especie de verdad” respecto de las verdades que la filosofía o la poesía pueden producir.
Me atengo, pues, a eso en mi comentario. Quiero pensar ese tercer camino al morar consigo, camino del morar consigo, que promete, en la recuperación del sentir originario, una aventura de pensamiento destinal en la experiencia de “otra especie de verdad:” verdad poética, o racional-poética, diría Zambrano, o demónica, preferiría decir yo si se me permite. En todo caso, verdad todavía radicalmente intempestiva e inaceptable para tantos catedráticos del pensamiento contemporáneo y para sus numerosos acólitos. Pero de la que depende, no solo una respiración posible, sino la existencia misma de un futuro.
Muchas gracias por la invitación a participar en esta conversación. Es un honor. Cuando me contactó Benjamín Mayer al respecto yo pensé que mi única función en ella sería precisamente la de ser un conversante más, no tenía idea de que se esperaría de mí esta pequeña intervención especial, para la que no me encuentro especialmente preparado. Así que, con mis disculpas, y sin más pretensiones que la de ayudar en la conversación, voy a centrar mis comentarios en el capítulo 5 sobre “la criminalización del pecado” y en su contrapartida en la segunda parte de Los ríos al norte del futuro, que es el capítulo 16, la conversación sobre “conciencia.”
El contexto es por supuesto la gran temática de cristianismo y secularización que cruza todo el volumen. Para Ivan Illich, como sabemos, la secularización es consecuencia de la “corrupción” del cristianismo, ella misma consecuencia quizá inevitable de la formación original de un “cristianismo histórico” en la creación de la Iglesia como poder secular. La cuestión fundamental atraviesa por lo tanto la misión o la función de Pablo e indirectamente de Agustín de Hipona. Dado que hablamos de corrupción, es lógico suponer que habría en Illich un gesto o una voluntad contra la corrupción, definitorio de su posición, y que tal gesto consiste en un retorno a la pureza de la revelación original, del acontecimiento de Cristo como revelación. A lo largo de todo el libro Illich insiste en la parábola del Samaritano como momento clave o cifra de esa revelación. Si el pecado es, desde el punto de vista de esa revelación original, simplemente la traición del amigo, que es también traición al dios encarnado, Illich insiste en que la criminalización de tal traición, que equivale a la conversión del pecado en crimen, tiene consecuencias incalculables en el proceso de corrupción secularizante constitutivo de la civilización cristiana y europea.
Todo se retrotrae al siglo XII, para Illich un momento histórico en el que se produce una extraña conjunción histórica, que es la conjunción de una serie de cambios de formas de vida y de mentalidad y de prácticas eclesiásticas cuyo interés principal era el control de tales cambios. Por eso podemos entender esa extraña conjunción histórica como un momento señalado en el itinerario que va de la conspiratio original a la conjuratio ya siempre necesariamente corrupta porque vela y oculta el flujo original del espíritu al darle concreción institucional y política, político-institucional. “Cristo vino a liberarnos de la ley, pero la cristiandad permitió que la mentalidad legal fuera inserta en el corazón mismo del amor” (87), dice Illich refiriéndose a la institucionalización del matrimonio como contrato entre personas en el Cuarto Concilio de Letrán (1215).
Son las disputas de investidura, sin embargo, las que terminan por originar la criminalización del pecado. La Iglesia quiso asegurar sus derechos de control y dominación sobre los fieles contra los derechos del imperio sobre sus súbditos. E intentó hacerlo mediante la reivindicación de autonomía en su autoridad espiritual. La institución del sacramento de la Confesión, que obliga al fiel a declarar sus pecados a un sacerdote un mínimo de una vez por año, es entendida por Illich como un paso esencial en la criminalización del pecado, es decir, en la idea de que una falta espiritual habría de tener consecuencias seculares en el terreno del castigo. Así nace el forum internum por oposición al forum civile, según el cual el fiel debe acusarse a sí mismo ante Dios y su representante sacerdotal por faltas a la ley divina. Illich piensa que tal creación sacerdotal o eclesiástica implica ni más ni menos que el nacimiento de la conciencia. Dice Illich: “la implicación primaria de la idea de forum internum es que la ley ahora gobierna lo que es bueno y lo que es malo, no lo que es legal e ilegal. La ley eclesiástica se convirtió en norma cuya violación llevaba a la condena al infierno–un logro fantástico y . . . una de las formas más interesantes de perversión del acto de liberación de la ley consagrado en el Evangelio” (90).
El Concilio de Trento es un paso más, notorio, en la medida en que en él la Iglesia, que ya no es identificable con la Cristiandad sin más, entroniza la noción de que su autoridad ha abolido ya la diferencia entre lo que es bueno y verdadero y lo que es mandado, impuesto por la Iglesia misma. No es que esto consume una colonización de la conciencia, sino que, para Illich, constituye la conciencia misma como interiorización, no ya del evento de revelación cristiana, sino de la autoridad eclesiástica. Para Illich, siguiendo a Paolo Prodi, esta “criminalización del pecado” “guarda la llave para entender los conceptos políticos de Occidente de los próximos 500 años” (89)–por ejemplo, sienta las bases para entender el concepto de ciudadanía, y de ciudadanía democrática o tendencialmente democrática, como algo obligado por la conciencia.
El capítulo 16, que empieza con la demanda de David Cayley a Illich de elaborar la noción de fuero interno, por un lado aclara la noción del nacimiento de la conciencia en la criminalización del pecado y sus repercusiones políticas, y por otro, en mi opinión, revela su posible problematicidad. No tengo más remedio aquí que citar con cierta amplitud, también porque no es seguro que ustedes hayan vuelto a ese capítulo en la medida en que la conversación de hoy tenía que centrarse en los capítulos 5 a 9. La primera cita que quiero traer a su consideración es la siguiente:
La criminalización del pecado hace posible hablar de conciencia. Olvidamos con demasiada frecuencia que la conciencia, en el sentido en el que hablamos de dolores de conciencia y de que debemos actuar según nuestra conciencia, o, a la manera kantiana, derivar normas de la conciencia, porque lo que no quiero que se me haga a mí no debería yo hacérselo a otros, la conciencia en ese sentido es producto de la criminalización del pecado, y esa criminalización del pecado puede atarse plausiblemente al siglo doce, y particularmente al intento del Papa de expandir la victoria ganada en la lucha de investiduras. (190)
Y la segunda: “Mi hipótesis es que las certezas de hoy son . . . el resultado de los intentos occidentales de institucionalizar la idea cristiana fundamental de que la fe, la caridad y la esperanza no están vinculadas a una norma sino que son interpersonales. . . . Las ideas occidentales sobre la democracia son un intento de institucionalizar un ‘deber’ que por su propia naturaleza es una vocación personal, íntima e individual” (191). Y la tercera: “parece extraordinariamente difícil . . . concebir la conciencia excepto como apelación a una norma . . . El Samaritano no actuó desde su conciencia. ¿Cómo debemos entender desde qué actuó? Pablo habla de amor, fe y esperanza” (192). El capítulo termina con ciertas reflexiones sobre la angustia desde luego nada casuales pero que debo dejar al margen por el momento.
Cabe entonces resaltar dos cosas, y con esto concluiré. En primer lugar, la confesión y la obligación de confesión son cruciales en este proceso, pues es la confesión la que inscribe en el cuerpo del fiel la noción de que más allá del bien y del mal está lo que es correcto o incorrecto legalmente, esto es, atendiendo a las normas de la Iglesia. Y por otro lado, la conciencia es entendida por Illich como sometimiento a la norma, o bien exógena o bien, a la manera kantiana, ya internalizada como mandato interior.
Me gustaría invocar las reflexiones de Hegel sobre la conciencia desdichada en el capítulo cuarto de su Fenomenología del espíritu. La subjetividad está para Hegel, en ese período de la historia del espíritu subsiguiente a la dialéctica del amo y del esclavo, escindida, alienada radicalmente. El llamado sujeto se encuentra autónomo o abandonado y al mismo tiempo soberano, en el sentido de que todo lo que existe existe para él. Pero el sujeto también entiende que su particularidad y su finitud burlan su pretensión de soberanía universal. Soy capaz de incorporar la totalidad del mundo a mi conciencia pero el mundo al mismo tiempo me rechaza como ejemplo o instancia particular de finitud ridícula, como egoísta patético. Desde el punto de vista del otro, es decir, para el mundo, soy solo otra cosa, un cuerpo, un donnadie. El conflicto entre mi autoentendimiento interno y mi autoentendimiento como resultado de una perspectiva externa me liquida, me hace miserable. La Iglesia, para Hegel, presentó una solución histórica a ese problema de la conciencia desdichada mediante el sacramento de la Confesión. La Confesión es el mecanismo mediante el que excedo mi propia finitud. En ella me reconcilio conmigo mismo, pero a un coste, a un precio. Es el precio del autosacrificio. La confesión, mi confesión, es la realización del hecho de que hay un tercero, y de que necesito un tercero, un mediador. Ese tercero, el espacio de la comunidad, es el espacio en el que me alieno absolutamente para recuperarme a mí mismo, excepto que ahora mi verdad ya no es la mía sino que es siempre ya la verdad del otro. En el retorno a mí me he sacrificado a mí mismo. Encontré un nosotros, y ese nosotros me hará inmortal, me dará vida eterna. Por fin hay un sentido en el mundo.
La figura de la conciencia desdichada es la figura que media entre la vieja relación con lo divino, anterior a la “muerte de Dios,” es decir, entre la epifanía de la revelación en el sentido de Illich, una revelación siempre olvidada en el pecado, y por lo tanto también siempre recordada en él, y la versión moderna y secularizada que es la relación con “el pueblo,” la nación, la comunidad identitaria, en otras palabras, la política. Podríamos incluso entender a partir de estas reflexiones de Illich sobre el siglo XII que la muerte de Dios no es un fenómeno de los siglos XVIII y XIX, vinculado a los nombres de Kant, Hegel, Marx y Nietzsche, sino que es ya parte de la reforma gregoriana, como momento en que la mediación eclesiástica reemplaza la mediación divina y hace al dios redundante. Después de eso, ya todo es política. Hasta que aparezca otra posibilidad.
Pienso que todo esto es consistente con, y al mismo tiempo va más allá de las reflexiones de Illich. Illich no habla de conciencia desdichada como aquello que el cristianismo histórico, en su corrupción o perversión institucionalizante, supera. Mi idea es que no lo hace porque Illich es incapaz de asumir la necesidad de cancelar el sacrificio–su posición es sacrificial, abiertamente sacrificial, como la hegeliana. En él el cristiano de la revelación debe aceptar su sacrificio en la marcha de la historia, y el cristiano histórico debe también en el límite aceptar su sacrificio en cuanto al dios de la revelación. La desecularización en Illich todavía es práctica sacrificial, como lo es la secularización.
En cuanto a la conciencia, ¿estamos seguros de que la noción de conciencia se agota en la conciencia moral que propone Illich? Tenemos por supuesto un modelo alternativo, que es el heideggeriano. Para Heidegger, desde la analítica existencial de Ser y tiempo, la conciencia no responde a la interiorización de la norma y no es por lo tanto primariamente conciencia moral. Más bien todo lo contrario. Por lo tanto cabría decir que Heidegger establece las condiciones para un abandono de la estructura sacrificial de la historia en los términos de Illich, que son los términos de toda contraposición entre cristianismo y secularización, incluyendo la hegeliana pero también a otros pensadores de nuestra contemporaneidad como René Girard, Vincenzo Vitiello o Gianni Vattimo. La conciencia heideggeriana no lleva a la construcción o consolidación de ningún “nosotros” comunitario o político o político-comunitario que sea a la vez la apoteosis y la negación de la comunidad de fieles, sino que atiende más bien a un abandono y desplazamiento radical con respecto de los términos de la conciencia desdichada solo resolvibles en el sacrificio. No hay por supuesto tiempo de entrar con detalle en el análisis heideggeriano, así que debo limitarme a proporcionar dos breves citas que podemos discutir, y con ellas termino mi exposición: “La llamada de retorno a través de la cual la conciencia llama hacia delante da a entender al Da-sein que el Da-sein mismo–como fundamento nulo de su proyecto nulo, en pie en la posibilidad de su ser–debe sustraerse y retrotraerse de su perdición en el ‘se,’ y esto significa que es culpable” (Sein und Zeit 287). “Cuando el Da-sein se deja ser convocado a esta posibilidad, ello incluye hacerse libre a la llamada: su disposición para la potencialidad-de-ser a la que se le convoca. Entendiendo la llamada, el Da-sein escucha a su posibilidad más propia de existencia. Se ha escogido a sí mismo” (287).
Ese entendimiento de la conciencia no pasa por la criminalización del pecado ni por la sublimación político-comunitaria de la muerte de Dios–tampoco por la ley moral kantiana. Busca, sobre todo, eludir el sacrificio en el retorno a una concepción trágica de la existencia opuesta al drama histórico cristiano que Illich tan brillantemente propone. Saber si la analítica existencial en Ser y tiempo es en última instancia compatible con la posición existencial de Illich, y cómo,es algo que no excluyo de antemano, pero que nos llevaría lejos de estos capítulos que debemos comentar hoy.