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)

Precisión sobre “Posthegemonía.”

En su introducción a Pasado y presente.  Cuadernos de la cárcel, por Antonio Gramsci (Barcelona: Gedisa, 2018), mi amigo José Luis Villacañas dice:

“Ese es el destino de una introducción, convertirse en una invitación.  El motivo no puede ser otro que extraer de él materiales para una genuina política republicana capaz de estar a la altura de los tiempos y de ofrecer un programa democrático emancipador.  Que eso pueda presentarse como una teoría de la hegemonía es una cuestión abierta, pero no por las objeciones que puedan surgir procedentes de la tesis de haber entrado en una época decididamente poshegemónica” (24).

Me permito usar este blog para expresar mi objeción a esas últimas líneas, que parecen una descalificación demasiado directa de nuestro trabajo y en ese sentido desde luego una invitación al debate, que recojo aquí.  No es posible saber qué alcance exacto le da Villacañas a eso de “haber entrado en una época decididamente poshegemónica,” pero si atendemos a otros momentos del prefacio, en los que dice que “la hegemonía, como sabe cualquiera [!!], implica disponer de un nuevo principio civilizatorio” (16), y además que es “la lucha por ofrecer un contenido ético al Estado” (19), y además que es la “lucha por la definición de la realidad” (23), entonces se comprende el disgusto de Villacañas: el “poshegemónico,” en paródica versión, es alguien que afirma no disponer de ningún principio civilizatorio, y menos uno nuevo, que duda de su capacidad de ofrecerle una ética al Estado (o que piensa que tal proyecto es ya históricamente obsoleto), y que también está algo perdido en cuanto a una definición de la realidad políticamente imponible.  No sé si otros partidarios de la hegemonía harían suyo ese programa un tanto maximalista, en el que retornan viejos temas de la filosofía de la historia.  En cualquier caso es verdad que alguien interesado en la poshegemonía lo está en la medida en que cuestione, o rechace, la posibilidad misma, o el interés, de tales pretensiones.

Pero Villacañas ahonda en la parodia, o la desautoriza como tal, para decir, con toda seriedad, que el poshegemónico vive, además o por lo tanto, en “ceguera voluntaria” (24), es decir, que es una especie de tonto intencionado.   Y eso ya no parece correcto desde ningún punto de vista.    No hay más ceguera voluntaria en el intento de pensar lo que hemos venido llamando “poshegemonía” de la que hay en el intento de rescatar la “hegemonía” como palabra para el presente desde su acotación y reinvención semántica, apelando a Gramsci o a cualquier otro autor del pasado.  En realidad, no son ejemplos de “cegueras voluntarias,” sino de opciones y estilos de pensamiento, y es claro que el pensamiento de la poshegemonía está en otro lado con respecto de cualquier intento de rescate unilateral del concepto de hegemonía.

El asunto se hace más confuso, quizás, cuando Villacañas repite que no está claro para él cómo debe uno pensar “la hegemonía apropiada para el republicanismo del presente” (24).  Lo único claro, parece, es que hay que pensar necesariamente “la hegemonía,” y que no conviene cuestionar la relevancia de tal concepto.  Y que para eso hay que leer a Gramsci.  Está bien.  Sin duda hay que leer a Gramsci.  Pero no como condición de pensamiento.

A mí me toca, por supuesto, como Villacañas sin duda imaginó, cuestionar no solo el concepto de “hegemonía” en su posición de concepto-fetiche para la izquierda contemporánea (eso está hecho muchas veces ya en los textos de este blog y en otros que seguirán), sino también su afirmación descalificadora de la poshegemonía como ceguera voluntaria o estupidez terminal.  No es que interese mayormente la precisión de la interpretación de Gramsci.  Diga lo que diga Gramsci, que al fin y al cabo no posee la palabra, lo que los “poshegemónicos” dicen de la hegemonía es obviamente algo otro, incluyendo desde luego una visión alternativa de lo que significa y ha significado históricamente la palabra “hegemonía.”   En cualquier caso conviene recordar lo que decía Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio de las palabras sagradas: “la palabra sagrada apaga toda virtualidad significante para adquirir poder performativo: no busca ser entendida, sino obedecida . . . no hace falta entender, basta acatar” (Campo de retamas).

Terminan estos días unas jornadas en la Universidad Complutense dedicadas a la obra de Chantal Mouffe y organizadas por Villacañas y su equipo.   Tengo entendido que se logró un alto grado de consenso y acuerdo en torno a “hegemonía.”  Es admirable, sin duda.   Por este blog no tenemos más remedio, sin embargo, que seguir exhibiendo nuestros reparos.  Sin ahogarnos en ellos ni permitir que llegue la sangre al río.   Y en plena admiración por la obra de Chantal Mouffe y de Ernesto Laclau y de Antonio Gramsci.  Pero lo cortés no quita lo valiente.

A veces parece que la hegemonía gramsciana, para algunos intérpretes, no es más que una idea consumada del estado civil hobbesiano: es decir, el imperio no ya de la ley, sino de la ley que ni siquiera es ley, solo sentido común; la ley justamente que queda vencida en el texto paulino, sublimada y superada en el amor cristiano tal como el comunismo puede lograr hacer con la ley burguesa.  Villacañas habla de un “nuevo principio civilizatorio” encomendado a la persuasión sin coacción ni dominación de la parte activa del pueblo, de la voluntad popular más genuina.  Ante eso, también es legítimo–igualmente legítimo al menos, pienso, sin “ceguera voluntaria” de ninguna clase–opinar que la hegemonía, en cuanto expresión final de una posición de poder, siempre incluye un elemento de despotismo. La hegemonía, en otras palabras, convierte a los ciudadanos en lo que dice Tácito en el libro I de su Historia que le dijo Galba a Pisón después de la muerte de Nerón: “imperaturus es hominibus qui nec totam servitutem pati possunt nec totam libertatem.” Todo el que va a imperar va a imperar siempre sobre alguien que ni es totalmente esclavo ni puede ser totalmente libre.  Para mí, es verdad que la libertad no se asocia al estado de naturaleza–pero tampoco al sometimiento hegemónico, por bueno que sea y por muy encomendado que haya quedado al buen pueblo elaborador de nuevos principios civilizatorios.   El republicanismo debe reducir el imperio, no amarlo, aunque sea del pueblo (que nunca lo es, por otro lado).

No sé por qué resulta tan hiriente para otros la noción de que sea importante para un republicanismo del presente y del futuro pensar “poshegemónicamente;” es decir, pensar más allá de la noción de que hay una hegemonía histórica por construir en la que una parte acabará imponiendo su visión sobre el todo.  Y de que más vale que esa parte sea la buena, claro.

Pero pensar más allá de tal noción es lo que la “posthegemonía,” con la te, qué diablos, busca.  Sin complejos ni disculpas. En cualquier caso, valga decir que, en mi opinión, un republicanismo del futuro habrá de ser un republicanismo poshegemónico, o no será.

A Thesis on Culture/Politics. By Alberto Moreiras.

It is no doubt not only arrogant but also silly to state that culture does not exist, or that politics are useless, even if or particularly if we provide a suitable and encompassing definition of what it is we want to do without, which is not easy of course.  Culture and politics are master concepts, whether we like it or not, and one cannot leave them behind without giving up on language and history both.  However, I have insisted and will continue to insist on the fact that without a critical destruction (a destructive critique?) of both concepts, after which we’ll have to see what might be left over, the project of infrapolitics, or even of its associated term, posthegemony, will not take off, will be hampered at the very basic level of articulation.   A few years ago I called this predicament the “cultural-political closure”–as the horizon of thought, which is as ideological as any other horizon of thought, and there is nothing natural about it.  No doubt my thinking was as insufficient and incoherent then as it is today.  But I’d like, nevertheless, in a tentative and risky way, to put forth the idea that the cultural-political closure is as pernicious yet constitutive for our world as political theology was for the 19th century.