The Aitch of Infrapolitics. By Alberto Moreiras.

Deconstruction may perhaps be said to have had no discernible, no palpable, or touchable or visible or clear, political effects.   It may be said to be a thinking of ambiguity, a non-militant thinking, unavailable to politics except in the fallen and derivative sense of being a set of tools for critical destruction of the other, of the antagonist, ineffectual at that, merely abstruse, speculative, merely critical, perhaps.   Not politically efficient the way that Marxism can be argued to have been, or still to be, politically efficient. Or, say, Ernesto Laclau´s hegemony theory, or Alain Badiou`s commitment to fidelity to a political event of truth through ongoing subjectivation.   One could even say that, of all the theoretical paradigms of the last forty years, deconstruction is the least political of then, the least politically efficient, as it can be said to be considerably less politically efficient than identity thinking, or gender-based thinking, or cultural studies, or even good old-fashioned hermeneutics in the traditional sense, since at least hermeneutics in every case updated and explicitated the hidden content of the tradition.   And what has deconstruction ever done, politically speaking? Nothing. Which, naturally enough, raises the suspicion in a lot of good, well-intentioned folks that any claim to use deconstruction for political analysis can only be secretly or not so secretly reactionary and even nihilistic. It does not get any better when some of us say, as tentatively as possible, that we intend to use deconstruction, if we ever learn how to do so, to do not directly political but infrapolitical analysis. Because what can conceivably be the use of infrapolitical analysis if it is not ultimately a political use? And, if so, then even infrapolitical analysis would be reactionary, nihilistic. In principle. Before it happens. And, they say, they probably won´t make it happen anyway: too absurd.

So it is at least interesting to see Jacques Derrida himself say, in an article entitled “Abraham, the Other,” published in 2003, that from his early infancy, in fact, from the time he was ten years old, he felt “a kind of political philosophy beginning to elaborate itself wildly in [him]” (144). And that such “political philosophy” had everything to do with his experience of antisemitism in French Algeria: “and sometimes I wonder whether the deciphering of the antisemitic symptom and of the full connotation system that accompanies it indissociably was not the first corpus I learned to interpret, as if I hadn’t known how to read, or other would say “deconstruct,” except in order to have to learn to read, even to deconstruct, antisemitism in the first place” (144).

Of course the question that opens up here is how can the detection of antisemitism constitute a politics: does it?   And part of the answer has to do with that in antisemitism that concerns itself with the destruction of the other, of the neighbor.   It does so through an interpellation that instills fear, through an act of subjection that always already inscribes itself in that obscure element in the human that feels itself hostage to a debt, immemorial and unassignable: a debt of desire, or a debt in desire. But, if, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, “the Jew is a Jew because others hold him to be a Jew” (quoted, 148), then anybody can be a Jew.   A wild political philosophy beginning here, in this experience of fear, is necessarily resistant to any attempt at distilling in others an experience of subjection, the negative subjectivation that is born when the subject “learns the truth” about himself or herself, that is, the truth of her unworthiness, the truth of his damnation.

In his review of Martin Heidegger’s Black Notebooks Richard Wolin refers to the use of the letter H in the context of Heidegger’s antisemitic lunacy: “He attributes numinous powers to names that begin with the letter H: Heraclitus, Hölderlin, and Hegel. But Hitler would also seem to belong to the list, as would, of course, Heidegger” (Woling, 5).   The theme of election by Being or Destiny, by History, the theme that made a particular group of human beings think they were ordained to rule the world through the subjection or destruction of others, shows up in the uncanny H to which we could oppose the alternative H (or is it the same H?) of the election Derrida mentions at the end of his essay, commenting on Kafka´s story about Abraham: “There would be, perhaps, another Abraham, not just he who receives another name in his old age and, when he is 99, at the moment of his circumcision, experiments, d´un coup de lettre, the letter h, not just he who . . . on Mount Moriah, is called by the angel two times twice, first ´Abraham, Abraham,´ and then once again, from the heights of heaven . . . There would be no just Abram, and Abraham, Abraham . . . There would be another Abraham” (167).

This fourth Abraham, the Abraham of the more-than-one, the Kafkian Abraham, is the Abraham who can never be sure that he has been elected to anything, the one who might be ready for a call, but hears poorly, or can´t believe what he hears, and fears there must be a mistake, another guy may have been called, not him. Or it might even be worse. “It is as if, at the end of the year, when the best student was solemnly about to receive a prize, the worst student rose in the expectant stillness and came forward from his dirty desk in the last row because he had made a mistake of hearing, and the whole class burst out laughing. And perhaps he had made no mistake at all, his name really was called, it having been the teacher’s intention to make the rewarding of the best student at the same time a punishment for the worst one” (Kafka, 2).

The theme of election, of subjectivation through election, is perhaps constitutive of politics, of every militant subject of the political.   So perhaps the wild political philosophy of the suspension of election is, in every case, an infrapolitics: a suspension of politics.

Eyal Weizman – Forensis (a counter-point to Alberto Moreiras’ recent example). By Pablo Domínguez Galbraith.

Following recent discussions on arts, politics and violence, I wanted to share my notes on yesterday’s lecture given by Eyal Weizman at Princeton, to hopefully continue this productive exchanges.


Eyal Weizman presented his “Forensic Architecture Project” yesterday at Princeton. This is a major endeavor involving architects, artists, filmmakers, theorists and activists collaborating in transforming spatial analysis into potential evidence for prosecuting human rights crimes, and providing research on the exact way drones, bombings and invasions operate today. This project collaborates with many organizations around the world. His talk today explored the concept of “Threshold of detectability”: He mentioned how today’s missiles being used in conflicts such as Gaza leave a hole in the walls and ceilings of the buildings attacked of about 30 cm in diameter, just a little smaller than what satellite images can capture (because satellite images are limited to a pixel size of 50 cm square, so that when you zoom into the image of a damaged building you cannot see these holes, blurred in the monochromatic color of the pixel). Weapons today operate below this threshold of detectability and thus their devastation does not leave traces or records that can be used in prosecution. This is made on purpose, taking advantage of satellite regulations. Such practices around the “threshold of detectability” are adopted by modern warfare, but can also be re-appropriated by militant practices (or militant investigation as Colectivo Situaciones has suggested for other contexts).

Forensic Architecture is used to reconstruct the exact way missiles impact these buildings and the kind of devastation and killing they do. It is also used to help victims remember violent events that are erased and repressed by trauma, by rendering 3D models of places and objects where the traumatic event ocurred with the input of the victim, who then start filling her own gaps. Bio-architecture approaches can also help locate villages and communities that were massacred and destroyed and are now effaced because of forest or jungle growth, or can trace the path taken by tanks invading Gaza (by locating stomped grass and trees in that same path), and how far into the territory they went. It can also detect clandestine mass grave by studying densities and disturbances in the soil (something they have used for Guatemala to locate mass graves from the 80’s).

Eyal Weizman views architecture as a forensic sensorium, a media that bears the traces of crimes and destruction. This devastation and these events taken place in space can be disclose and made visible with the right approach and procedure. Aesthetics is a key feature in all this enterprise. It is because of the aesthetic approach that this kind of analysis can be made, and this kind of evidence be produced (although by the same token the evidence produced this way is sometimes dismissed in trials for not being sufficiently scientific).

The late Harum Farocki came to Princeton in June and presented a documentary on a virtual reality setting that was being used in the military to recreate traumatic experiences of soldiers that could not remember what happened exactly in a certain mission that went wrong. This reconstructions involved placing the soldier in a virtual environment resembling the traumatic scene, and following his steps in the event by questioning him and possibly incriminating him at the end. The reconstructions made by the Forensic Architecture Project are exactly the opposite, they deal with the memory of the civilians and victims, a memory that emerges both from the subject excavating the unconscious, and the 3D model re-creating the scene, based on material facts as well as imagination and memory.

Eyal Weizman made explicit that for him, for truth to be produced and for truth to produce any effects, one has to lie, to invent, to imagine, to take a position (there is no objective truth when following this practice) and to do a theatrical display involving technology and all other kinds of resources. Producing truth is very costly, it is a major production.

In the picture below we can see both the satellite image pixelated in max zoom (left), and the reconstructed image of the hole left by the missile impact (right), which is non-detectable by satellites as it is below the “threshold of detectability” (the pixel has not enough resolution to show the hole). The image on the left is reconstructed through cell phone footage and other resources to render it as evidence through forensic architecture.

photo (3)

Recently there was a discussion in CyT and in our blog involving politics and culture. I thought this project speaks a lot of what constitutes today the stakes for a “political use of aesthetic procedures”, and of the ways these procedures are being repurposed to respond to global crisis and the the securitization and global war paradigms. Can this project be considered something else than just a theatrical display of activism? Can we consider such projects as pushing things beyond the confined space of culture and the de-politized aesthetics of today? ¿Is there an infra politics involved in establishing the conditions of invisibility and impunity of the politics of war, and in mobilizing militant investigation to disclose the logic of it? Alberto just mentioned Jean Franco’s Cruel Modernity as an example of infra politics (an excess of violence that mocks politics). Eyal Weizman has a completely different approach, but I thought this example could be a counter-point to recent discussions here. The “destruction of the human” deserves a new approach towards Forensis – a practice that can disclose infra political violence by conceptualizing problems involving the threshold of vision and law, detecting the political force-fields and responding to them.

An Example of Infrapolitics. By Alberto Moreiras.

The question comes up repeatedly, the demand, to provide a clear example of infrapolitics in the sense we are developing through collective discussion that would make it an alternative to the on the other hand very interesting James C. Scott’s take on it.  It has seemed important not to rush into examples all too quickly, because examples have, sometimes, too much force, and might get in the way of an adequate approach: in other words, examples might orient the discussion towards an all-too-reductive understanding.   But it might be time to offer one, for discussion.  Take Jean Franco’s recent book, Cruel Modernity (Duke UP, 2013).  Franco reviews atrocious stories of violence in recent Latin American history, and she does it to such an extent that, towards the end of the book, one hesitates to continue to conceptualize them in terms of stories, as cumulatively they become something else.  Take the last chapter, for instance, on narco violence, the cult of Santa Muerte, religion gone over to the dark side, or the reference to Bolaño’s (and Baudelaire’s) “an oasis of horror in a desert of boredom.”  Could we not make the claim that the uncanny surplus of violence in all the histories reviewed by Franco constitutes, precisely, infrapolitical violence?  We know that violence is constitutive of politics.  But how do you still retain a political dimension in the very excess of violence?  There is no political valence to that excess, in fact, it makes a mockery of politics, whatever the latter is.  So this is the example:  the excessive, post-katechontic violence deployed endemically in Latin American contemporary life, from Guatemala to the US-Mexico border, from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the Atacama desert, and from  the Colombian jungles to the Devil’s Mouth is infrapolitical violence.  Which does not mean that infrapolitics refers only to violence.

Against Cultural-Political Closure. By Alberto Moreiras.

In 2005 my worries were not what they are now. But this is the essay mentioned in the previous post where I used the expression “cultural-political closure” to refer to the oppressive effects of any repetition of culture in the political arena. Apologies for the self-promotion, but I have had several messages asking me to make this material available.

cultural political closure

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.

Harassed Unrest. By Alberto Moreiras.

Regarding the discussion on reading Heidegger today, I was asked during it whether I could provide specific personal reasons why it would be important to keep doing it, beyond, say, merely historic-philosophical reasons or a sense of responsibility to the archive.  The context was framed by the notion that “les non-dupes errent,” that is, that reading Heidegger might also be a particular kind of (more or less) intelligent stupidity.  I thought of posting this paper I wrote once, presented somewhere, and never published, perhaps because I thought it was too personal.

Harassed Unrest. Notes on Heidegger’s “Building Dwelling Thinking”

At some point in his 1951 lecture “Building Dwelling Thinking” Martin Heidegger mentions the notion of “harassed unrest,” attributing it to the life that should not be lived and will not be lived if a proper relationship to dwelling were to be accomplished. He says: “Mortals dwell in that they receive the sky as sky. They leave to the sun and the moon their journey, to the stars their courses, to the seasons their blessing and their inclemency; they do not turn night into day nor day into a harassed unrest” (328). So I would like to start by asking you to reflect for a moment: is your life adequately qualified under the notion of “harassed unrest”?   Are you living a life of “harassed unrest”? Have you by now come to consider that state of affairs chronic and unavoidable? Have you in fact already given up on any hopes of redress?

The opposite of “harassed unrest” is not “unharassed rest.” It is not a matter of resting without the strain of harassment—perhaps that is what you do by night, when you sleep, but it is not an alternative for day dwelling. Dwelling, dwelling by day, and we will not silence the fact that dwelling is being human, that humans are by dwelling, is not resting without harassment. In fact, resting unharassed, which is what, say, the turtle does after the race with the damned hare is finally over, could be said to be a temporal condition: a point of temporal stasis, the complement to the spatial structuration of the fourfold, since the fourfold encompasses the day/night divide, the seasonal succession, the yearly cycle. But harassed unrest is, for Heidegger, a kind of space trouble. Let me suggest that it may not be simply a kind, any kind, of space trouble, but rather the defining space trouble of our time. We live lives of harassed unrest, and that is the spatial condition that characterizes what Heidegger in another essay of roughly the same years, the same period, calls the age of technology.   We’ll talk about it later.

If harassed unrest is improper dwelling, if it defines a bad way of being human, it is because harassed unrest is the condition one suffers when one is in a position of dislocated location, or if you will allow me, a dis/position. Since we want to talk about space, let’s retain three determinations of space: what Heidegger calls the abstract determination, about which more later, and then either proper location, which is determined by an appropriate relation to the fourfold (sky and earth, mortals and divinities), or improper location, which is a bad relationship to the fourfold. Dwelling is dwelling in view of the fourfold. Undwelling is fourfold trouble—a certain incapacity to letting be, to letting the sky be sky, the bridge be a bridge, death be death, or thought be thought. Your location cannot reach dwelling, you do not dwell, you undwell, rather, and in that undwelling you are deprived of proper location, of good space, you are even deprived of air: you choke, you cannot breathe, and you live a breathless life.   Dis/posed into breathless life, radically disoriented, your state of unrest comes to you not like the opposite of rest, but as a more primal condition that no rest will quench or satisfy. Is it not true that rest today is, for most of us, nothing but the attempt to suppress or put harassed unrest to sleep? If rest is for us today nothing but a distraction, hence also a dislocation, a dis/position, of harassed unrest, then unrest is not properly the negative condition of rest. On the contrary, unrest takes on an ominous positivity, and it is rest that can only be experienced as the negation of unrest, as mere displacement, as escape.

If rest defines a temporal point in our private negotiation with the deprived space of our lives, the interruption of a spatial flux, the desperate reach for the oxygen of the night, then we could say that time is today nothing but the stasis of unrest. In dislocation, in disposition, we are disposed temporally into the avoidance of harassed unrest, and the avoidance of harassed unrest is the final disposition of our lives. We are all, as it were, turtles dreaming of the end of the race, wishing for the night, for final torpor.   The Roman historian Tacitus said of his compatriots once: “they created a wasteland. They called it peace.” We could say of our ourselves: “we dream of resting. We call it a life.” This is what happens, for instance, when the vacation industry orders us to the beach for a week in the summer. Or when the entertainment industry commands us to the couch for some football watching on a Sunday afternoon. Or when the life industry prescribes fifty minutes of physical exercise three to four days a week. The interruption of harassed unrest is for us our self-disposition into a prepackaged box. Our stays in the box mark our private time, and everything else is dislocation. Private time, which also means, deprived time, lacking time, is the unavoidable consequence of harassed unrest as the defining spatial trouble of our lives.

This breathless, timeless, dislocated life we are disposed into in the age of technology, will it also be a thoughtless life? It is a life where building happens, as humans can only dwell, even in undwelling, by building, and building is also, in one of its early meanings, as Heidegger says, producing culture or even thinking about culture, as you guys do in this working group. But the fact that, under harassed unrest, building goes on, even if we only build mad castles with playing cards, and that dwelling goes on, even if only in the mode of undwelling, does not automatically mean that thinking happens. Heidegger reserves thinking for something else: it is an exception. Thinking is an event that does not have the inevitability of dwelling and building, indeed, of being, as we can be thoughtless (and more about this later), and thus build or undwell thoughtlessly. We can find the register of thinking as decisive event at the end of the essay, from which I quote:

The real [plight of dwelling] lies in this, that mortals ever search anew for the essence of dwelling, that they must ever learn to dwell. What if man’s homelessness consisted in this, that man does not even think of the real plight of dwelling as the plight? Yet as soon as man gives thought to this homelessness, it is a misery no longer. Rightly considered and kept well in mind, it is the sole summons that calls mortals into their dwelling. But how else can mortals answer this summons than by trying on their part, on their own, to bring dwelling to the fullness of their essence? This they accomplish when they build out of dwelling, and think for the sake of dwelling. (339)

Man’s homelessness: perhaps that is what Heidegger has meant all along by “harassed unrest.” It is not harassed unrest that defines our plight, our basic disposition, and it is not harassed unrest that is the fundamental plight of dwelling, the plight, Heidegger says. Rather, our plight is that we do not think of it. This is curious: our fundamental plight is that we do not think of our plight as the fundamental plight, the plight. We have forgotten to think of it. We have forgotten that we have to learn to dwell. We live in the box, and we forget things. But Heidegger announces that giving thought to our plight might save us from our plight, provided giving thought also means to prepare ourselves for the right relation to dwelling, that is, for an abandonment of harassed unrest as the thoughtless plight of our lives.

This is a delicate point, and I want to make sure we all understand it. It has to do with the function of thinking. Thinking in this essay emerges as a relationship to dwelling, hence to building. Thinking might in fact be only this relationship to dwelling: thinking is simply remembering that dwelling is the fundamental task of the human. We forget, and forgetting is our plight, our true disposition, our true dislocation. Space trouble comes not essentially from the harassed unrest of undwelling in the age of technology, but rather from forgetting that undwelling in harassed unrest is simply a bad relationship to dwelling, a bad relationship to our own human being, to our being as human. Thinking the plight of dwelling as the plight of the human is therefore being under way to proper dwelling. And being under way towards our dwelling is no longer to live in homelessness: it is “a misery no longer,” that is, it is the end of harassed unrest.

Let me now attempt two things: I would like to set this essay briefly and, I am sure, less than adequately, into a relationship with two other texts. The first is the lecture course that Heidegger offered in 1942 on Friedrich Holderlin’s Hymn “The Ister.” The second will be the lecture entitled “The Question Concerning Technology,” which Heidegger prepared in 1949 and revised in 1953. The 1942 lecture will enable us to understand just exactly what is at stake in the presentation of dwelling as the fundamental dimension of thinking. And the 1949/1953 lecture will perhaps offer us a hint in terms of understanding undwelling in harassed unrest as the radical facticity of men and women in the contemporary age.

In 1942 (and it is not any year, certainly not in Germany) Heidegger says: “Between the spatio-temporal grasping that extends toward world domination and the movement of settlement subservient to such domination on the one side, and human beings coming to be at home via journeying and locality on the other, there presumably prevails a covert relation whose historical essence we do not know” (49). Presumably, the spatio-temporal grasping of domination is a modality of what will become harassed unrest in 1951. Homecoming via journeying and locality is proper dwelling, or at least the orientation towards a proper dwelling, which is also the proper way of being human. I want to insist on the fact that the emphasis on the 1942 lectures on journeying, on being under way, which Heidegger links to the essence of the river in Holderlin’s poem, since the river is in the poem “the journeying of the human beings as historical in their coming to be at home upon this earth” (33), makes of dwelling not simply a spatial structure, but also radically historical. Dwelling is not simply location but historicality too, through the movement of the journey. Indeed Heidegger’s question, in 1942, “how to think the connection between the rivers and the path of the people” (31), is a question about history and about politics, which now appear as instances of dwelling. However, Heidegger says, the “covert relation” between an understanding of history and the political as domination over the world and the understanding of history and the political as the journeying toward proper dwelling remains hidden from us. Indeed, according to Heidegger, in order to understand this, we would need “an essential transformation in our essence” (34). What is that transformation supposed to accomplish? The end of harassed unrest, a proper relationship to the homely, the interruption of radical dis/position. Heidegger says:

This coming to be at home in one’s own in itself entails that human beings are initially, and for a long time, and sometimes forever, not at home. And this in turn entails that human beings fail to recognize, that they deny, and perhaps even have to deny and flee what belongs to the home. Coming to be at home is thus a passage through the foreign. And if the becoming homely of a particular humankind sustains the historicality of its history, then the law of the encounter (Auseinandersetzung) between the foreign and one’s own is the fundamental truth of history, a truth from out of which the essence of history must unveil itself. (49)

Unhomely lives, undwelling, lives of harassed unrest: they might be necessary, might have been ordained by a history whose essence remains hidden from us. The unveiling of this historical essence is of course what thinking must prepare for. The indication in the 1951 lecture is clear: thinking the plight of dwelling as the plight of the human already sets us under way. In 1942, in the middle of a war where German fortunes are changing, Heidegger strikes a hopeful note in the same direction:

The representations of space and time that have held reign for almost two and a half thousand years are of the metaphysical kind . . . Our thinking remains everywhere metaphysical, and this is not only because remnants of the Christian worldview remain operative everywhere, if only in terms of a reversal and secularization, but rather because metaphysics first begins to achieve its supreme and utter triumph in our century as modern machine technology. . . . Modern machine technology is spirit, and as such is a decision concerning the actuality of everything actual. . . . Nothing of the historical world hitherto will return. . . . All that remains is to unconditionally actualize this spirit so that we simultaneously come to know the essence of its truth.   When we say “all that remains” then that sounds like “fatalism,” like merely a tired surrendering to the course of things. Yet in truth this “all that remains” is . . . the first historical path into the commencements of Western historicality, a path that has not at all been ventured hitherto. (53-54)

But the return to the commencements of Western historicality, if it is true that “nothing of the historical world will return,” can only be a return towards the ground that grounds the essence of Western humanity. For Heidegger, this is the fourfold: “The essence of Western humankind, the relation to the world, to the earth, to gods and to alternative gods and false gods. This is to be human. The essence of the river relates to this” (43). We must “unconditionally actualize [the] spirit [of modern machine technology]” so that we may come to know “the essence of its truth.”   Is this what Heidegger calls following the law of the encounter, of the Auseinandersetzung, between what is foreign and one’s own? We cannot avoid to hear in this passage the sinister overtones of an ultimate justification of war. It is indeed, Heidegger seems to say in 1942, through the massive conflagration under way that the essence of history will unveil itself, and Germany and the West might find a path, their path, toward the river. What is foreign, however?   The foreign is the unhomely. It is what keeps us from homecoming, but it is also ultimately that through which homecoming becomes possible. Homecoming is of course the accomplishment of location, the accomplishment of a proper relation to the fourfold, that is, to the essence of the human. Homecoming is the end and the abandonment of the harassed unrest of our lives.

The notions of Ge-stell and Bestand, standardly translated as “Enframing” and “standing reserve” respectively, are given in the 1949/1953 text “The Question Concerning Technology” as a further clarification of unhomeliness, a further clarification of the pervading harassed unrest that marks our lives in the age of modern machine technology.   We need to realize that the question concerning technology is not simply a question about technology, but it is a question about the undwelling of our age. Our age is defined by technology to the extent that technology, as the latest and most extreme manifestation of the metaphysical arrangement of things, defines our lives. And it defines them as lives under Ge-stell, that is, as enframed lives. Enframing is the essence of technology and, as such, it is, not the essence of the human, but rather an essential determination of human lives in the age of technology. It is the determination that throws our lives into a radical dis/position, and that makes us conceive of our own spatio-temporal determination as, precisely, “a grasping toward world domination and the movement of settlement subservient to such domination.”   Through the push for world domination the world becomes Bestand, that is, standing reserve: “Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering. Whatever is ordered in this way has its own standing. We call it the standing reserve” (17).

But dwelling or undwelling in the world as standing reserve is still a form of dwelling. There is a covert relation, unclarified, between the grasping for world domination, the enframing of the world as standing reserve, and the poetic enterprise of dwelling in a proper relation to the fourfold.   Heidegger quotes the Holderlin verse: “poetically dwells man upon this earth” (34). There are simply different historical forms of poetic dwelling. Heidegger uses the German word Her-vor-bringen for the general form, that is, to bring forth hither, of which he says: “Bringing-forth-hither brings hither out of concealment, forth into unconcealment. Bringing-forth comes to pass only insofar as something concealed comes into unconcealmente. This coming rests and moves freely within what we call revealing (Entbergen)” (11). There is an echo of this in “Building Dwelling Thinking:” “The Greek word for “to bring forth or to produce” is tikto. The word techne, technique, belongs to the verb’s root, tec. To the Greeks techne means neither art not handicraft but, rather, to make something appear, within what is present, as this or that, in this way or that way.   The Greeks conceive of techne, producing, in terms of letting appear. Techne thus conceived has been concealed in the tectonics of architecture since ancient times. Of late still remains concealed, and more resolutely, in the technology of power machinery” (337).   Poetics, technics, are forms of dwelling. “The essence of building is letting dwell. Building accomplishes its essential nature in the raising of locations by the joining of their spaces. Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build” (338).

So what is the difficulty of building, of dwelling, in the age of modern machine technology? Heidegger says that poetic revealing, that is, the relationship of man to unconcealment, to truth, “does not unfold into a bringing-forth in the sense of poiesis” in modern technology (14). “The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging (Herausfordern),” a “setting upon,” a “challenging forth” (16). The world, under the sway of the impulse for human domination, becomes a standing reserve. Nature, and with it, life “reports itself in some way or other that is identifiable through calculation and it remains orderable as a system of information” (23). And let me quote for you what I believe is the key passage in Heidegger’s text, the passage perhaps where all the threads of this presentation will find each other:

As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but does so, rather, exclusively as standing reserve, and man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing reserve. Meanwhile, man, precisely as the one so threatened, exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. In this way the impression comes to prevail that everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct. This illusion gives rise in turn to one final delusion: it seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself . . . In truth, however, precisely nowhere does man today any longer encounter himself, i.e., his essence. Man stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging-forth of Enframing that he does not apprehend Enframing as a claim, that he fails to see himself as the one spoken to, and hence also fails in every way to hear in what respect he ek-sists, from out of his essence, in the realm of an exhortation or address, and thus can never encounter only only himself. (27)

There is then, perhaps unsurprisingly, something else, a spatial state that is worse even than the dislocation of harassed unrest. That would be what comes after the fall into the condition of absolute illocation, the condition that I will call of biopolitical life—when man has become identified with a nature, or a life, beyond objectlessness, of mere calculability and orderability, a life which is as abstract as the abstract space that Heidegger counterposes throughout “Building Dwelling Thinking” to the space of dwelling. The passage of man into standing reserve, a precipitous fall, is the passage into a generalized biopolitics—man is from then on only to be distinguished from nature as life, but to the very extent that the general procedures of human domination of the earth will now be applied to him. In biopolitical life we are ourselves standing reserve, we are the orderable and the extractable and the storable. Enframed, we are at the same time but no longer primarily the enframers, as the minimal distance that gave the human still the possibility of addressing his own undwelling as plight is now lost. Because there is no longer plight, because the plight is now terminal as mere absence of plight, biopolitical life can resolutely proceed to the final arrangement of world domination, in total subservience to it. Man now dominates himself, but no longer as man—only as standing reserve, as a pool of genes or labor force, as human resource or consuming power, as the orderable and calculable or, inversely, as undesirable dis/ponibility marked for disappearance or extermination. It is then that man encounters only himself or herself, in the mirror of natural life, believing that only his or her constructs exist.   There is no longer an outside—only a generalized field of identity, but it is an identity that has managed to surpass the condition of harassed unrest into the unharassed rest of biopolitical fixity, of biopolitical infinity.

Is this the necessary result of the age of modern machine technology, of Enframing as its essence? Heidegger only thinks of it as a danger, the “supreme danger” (26). This supreme danger is the final loss—the loss that has forgotten what it is to lose—of location, the abandonment of dwelling also in the plightful sense of undwelling. But there is another possibility, which “Building Dwelling Thinking” associates with the old notion of freedom:

Let us listen once more to what language says to us. The Old Saxon wuon, the Gothic wunian, like the old word bauen, mean to remain, to stay in place. But the Gothic wunian says more distinctly how this remaining is experienced. Wunian means to be at peace, to be brought to peace, to remain in peace. The word for peace, Friede, means the free, das Frye; and fry means preserved from harm and danger, preserved from something, safeguarded. To free actually means to spare. The sparing itself consists not only in the fact that we do not harm the one whom we spare. Real sparing is something positive and takes place when we leave something beforehand in its own essence, when we return it specifically to its essential being, when we “free” it in the proper sense of the word into a preserve of peace. To dwell, to be set at peace, means to remain at peace within the free, the preserve, the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its presence. The fundamental character of dwelling is this sparing. (327)

And sparing is letting be. From the core of the fourfold there comes a thinking that is dwelling and that, through dwelling, lets things come into their peace, into their dwelling. It is a thinking that is only that—a free relationship to space and to spacing as such, against biopolitical rapture, against the abstract, boundless, and, hence, roomless and breathless space of technopolitics.

Alberto Moreiras

September 2008

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. “Building Dwelling Thinking.” In Basic Writings. David Farrell

Krell editor and translator. New York: Harper & Row, 1977. 319-339.

—. Holderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”. William McNeill and Julia David translators.

Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1996.

—. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In The Question Concerning Technology

and Other Essays. William Lovitt editor and translator. New York: Harper &

Row, 1977. 3-35.

More thoughts on Posthegemony and Infrapolitics


Further to my recent comments on “Posthegemony, Deconstruction, Infrapolitics”, in which I ask about “the varieties of infrapolitics and the extent to which posthegemony can inform (as well as be informed by) our notion of the infrapolitical”… Elsewhere, Alberto Moreiras has already responded that “as thrown into facticity, infrapolitics is the domain of deconstruction and deconstruction is the domain of infrapolitics.” Which I have to confess, I don’t really understand. But I was thinking further about Gareth Williams’s capsule summary of Posthegemony as a “critical discussion of the relation between the concept of the multitude and the underpinnings of the political.” Which may offer at least one way of thinking about the relationship between posthegemony (at least as I envisage it) and infrapolitics.

I tend to resist the notion that Posthegemony is only about the multitude, not least because thereby the equally important concepts of affect and (perhaps especially) habit get lost in a hasty conflation of posthegemony with Hardt and Negri’s rather different project. On the other hand, in that I also see the three concepts as very much bound together, and the multitude as the incarnation in specific moments of the interplay between affect and habit, I have to admit that multitude is in some sense the key concept that links and shows what’s at play in the other two.

And the multitude is, in my conception, a subject. Not the most conventional of subjects, but a subject none the less. This stress on the subject would seem to mark the most obvious difference between Alberto’s version of deconstruction, at least, and his elaboration of the notion of a “non-subject of the political.” Indeed, if a “discussion of the relation between the concept of the multitude and the underpinnings of the political” is also (as I am suggesting) a focus on the relation between the multitude and infrapolitics, then posthegemonic infrapolitics emerges as perhaps the obverse, if not the reverse, of deconstructive infrapolitics.

In short: if deconstructive infrapolitics is a concern with the non-subject of the political, is posthegemonic infrapolitics a concern with the subject of the non-political? With a subject that precedes politics, makes it possible, is perhaps what is at stake in every gesture of the political, but is somehow itself never fully political.

The question then is of the relation between these two takes on infrapolitics. Are they opposed or (merely?) complementary, perhaps even mutually dependent; bedmates, if you like. And to some extent I’m not particularly interested in attempting to resolve that question, at least not now, while the projects of infrapolitics and posthegemony remain at a rather initial stage. But I propose that it might (for strategic reasons if none other) be worth acting at least as if these two approaches complemented rather than contradicted each other.

A Note on Bram Acosta’s take on posthegemony/postsubalternism. By Alberto Moreiras.

In the Introduction to Thresholds of Illiteracy Bram Acosta sets his own book against the two books published in 2010, John Beverley’s Latinamericanism After 9/11, and Jon Beasley-Murray’s Posthegemony, that, he affirms, will “establish the terms and grounds of cultural debate in Latin America for the next several years.”    I have already written on Beverley’s book, and in favor of the notion of posthegemony, albeit not in a sense that fully endorses Beasley-Murray’s theoretical positions, so I won’t repeat myself.   What I find interesting and useful in Bram’s view is that he reminds us that both master concepts advanced by those two books, namely, posthegemony and postsubalternism, have two apparent intellectual enemies, namely, deconstruction and subalternism, or perhaps it is just really one enemy, deconstructive subalternism or subalternist deconstruction.   Or perhaps the latter is not really the enemy, only the specter they must fight in order to establish their own legitimacy.  “Both Beverley and Beasley-Murray explicitly name deconstruction and subaltern studies as modes of analysis that are no longer adequate for contemporary reflection and from which one must now move away.  While both name deconstruction as the larger underlying problem for political reflection today, neither, it could safely be said, offers any serious critical engagement with it at all; in each case, they appear as offhand, casual dismissals” (Thresholds 21).    Beasley-Murray would say that deconstruction is too negative, and Beverley would say that deconstruction yields “diminishing and politically ambiguous results.”

It occurs to me that it is this couple of unwarranted attacks on deconstruction that has actually fueled our project through some mediations that it would be easy to reconstruct.  So they need to be welcomed.   And we need to reflect a bit on their substance:  merely negative?  politically ambiguous results?  What is being demanded, or rather, offered, as a result of the combined critiques (but Acosta makes it very clear those critiques are dramatically at odds with each other as well) is therefore some positive presentation of the state of affairs through politically unambiguous and suitably powerful means.

Beasley-Murray and Beverley of course play to a choir of bedmates, if I may mix metaphors for a moment, that they may actually not want in their beds, but so is life, and they will have to keep them at arm’s length themselves.  Yes, there is little short of a universal uproar about the pathetically negative ambiguity of deconstruction from people who apparently enjoy calling a spade a spade and seeing a spade as a spade.   But the uproar is misguided and it originates in a misdiagnosis–it ain’t deconstruction that is ambiguous, but the political process, and it ain’t deconstruction that is negative, rather the way it irrupts into hostile consciousness.

In any case, I think we should make it clear that whatever infrapolitical deconstruction means, it does not mean at all to establish the terms and grounds for cultural debate in Latin America or anywhere else.   I think it has already abandoned any intentions, or pretensions, to speak in Latinamericanist terms about Latin American culture.   So they can have that ground to themselves, and go on calling a spade a spade in fully positive terms, don’t you think?   We need to make exodus from a field of engagement whose presuppositions are vaguely lethal for us, just about at every level.

That, regardless of the fact that we may very well want to endorse posthegemony, and manifest our political sympathies on the general side of the Latin Americanist left.   And also regardless of the fact that people change their positions, and Beasley-Murray and Beverley may not be now quite where they were a few years ago.  As to the bedmates, well, that is a different issue!

A Discussion on Crossing the Line between Pablo Domínguez Galbraith, Jaime Rodríguez Matos and Alberto Moreiras.

  • (This discussion, which took place in the Critica y Teoria Facebook group, continues a thread that begins in the Comment to Note on Recordings, then continues in the Comment to Breve nota acerca de la posición de Martínez Marzoa respecto del nihilismo.  This is the third installment, therefore.)
    Pablo Domínguez Galbraith Sorry for intervening this late in the conversation. I have always viewed deconstruction as signaling the internal breaks within Western Metaphysics, not as destroying -in the sense of Benjamin’s destructive character, a joyous destruction, a making space, finding openings and straight lines)- through a big break, nor making philosophy in the nietzschean sense of “killing fllies with cannonballs” (matar moscas a cañonazos) or writing with a philosophical hammer capable of breaking everything with fundamental blows. For me deconstruction means more an awareness of the impossibilities of being faithful without being unfaithful, thinking otherwise without repeating the same logic that one is trying to escape, of freeing from any logo/phono/falo-centrism without being captured again by the same structure one is trying to implement. Derrida wanted to use Heideggerian thought and articulations against Heidegger himself: he saw that the only way to go beyond Heidegger was to be very precise and conscious of Heidegger’s own internal breaks, the moments where he was betraying himself by being most faithful to his most intimate desire of breaking with metaphysics (the same with Rousseau, Mallarmé, Kant, Hegel, etc.). In a sense, the breaking of metaphysics Heidegger was trying to achieve would ultimately mean breaking with himself and his own work. I am very thankful of reading the conversation you all are having here, it has made me read today Heidegger’s letter to Jünger, where I found this fundamental quote that I think may be (or may not be) Alberto’s position in this matter. It would be great if Alberto would let me (us) know if he feels close or not to what Heidegger is trying to say to Jünger here:
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  • Pablo Domínguez Galbraith “In which language does the basic outline of thinking speak which indicates a crossing of the line? Is the language of the metaphysics of the will to power, of Gesalt, and of values to be rescued across the critical line? What if even the language of metaphysics and metaphysics itself, whether it be that of the living or of the dead God, as metaphysics, formed that barrier which forbids a crossing over the line, that is, overcoming of nihilism? If that were the case, would not then the crossing of the line necessarily become a transformation of language and demand a transformed relationship to the essence of language? And is not your own relation to language of a kind that it demands from you a different characterization of the concept-language of the sciences? If this language is often represented as nominalism, then we are still entangled in the logical-grammatical conception of the nature of language.”

    – Heidegger, “On The Line”, a letter to Jünger.

  • Alberto Moreiras Pablo, may I also ask you to put this comment of yours, and the quote, in the blog? Thanks a lot for it. I think we are in agreement, if we can agree, as I think we can, on this: when you say “thinking otherwise without repeating the same logic that one is trying to escape, of freeing from any logo/phono/falo-centrism without being captured again by the same structure one is trying to implement,” is that not precisely the figure of the most fundamental break, the one that cannot be contained precisely because it is not a mere inversion of the prior position? Inventing an other language, moving toward an “other beginning:” we know how difficult that is, how impossible, even. But this is what Heidegger called to be unterwegs, in order to point out that there was nothing yet accomplished in that order. Also De Man, in his essay on Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator,” when he says that we can only ever prepare. These are cautious people that do not want to go out on a limb and risk a faux pas (like the ones Heidegger detects in Jünger) but yes, their intent has never been less than revolutionary. Regarding the quote, yes, that is what Heidegger actually said many times, in one form or another, but that is one of the classic passages. I am in agreement, which means, I understand that “the inversion of a metaphysical statement is still a metaphysical statement,” which means the only path outside the tradition, for an other beginning outside what Heidegger thought in the wake of Hegel and Nietzsche was a terminal exhaustion of Western historical thought, is to reach “a transformed relationship to the essence of language.” What does that mean? Well, is the infrapolitical project something other than the attempt to reach a transformed relationship to political language? Doesn’t mean it will happen, but we can only try, with all kinds of caution and care. This brings up another topic for discussion which has been lurking for many years but there has been no decisive thought on it: is “language” really prior, the prior? When we talk about transforming the relationship to language, do we essentially think of and about language? Or is language, here, against the current of the last sixty years, code for something that is not language, but that feeds and nurtures language? It was Marx who said first “not language, but economy,” and it is easy for us to say that was a bit crude. A century plus later, is it still so easy for us to say “language, that’s all”?
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  • Alberto Moreiras Incidentally, the way I see it, infrapolitics is precisely that attempt at modestly initiating the path along something that may not exhaust itself in language alone.
  • Jaime Rodríguez Matos I don’t think there was a disagreement at all about the idea of the break. The point I think was that this would still be the case even if we were “back” at the height of Althusser or Sartre, or Badiou, or Marx, or even Descartes. Back at the point where all of these systems did not yet seem to be exhausted. So that the point becomes how to get away from the idea that the break is somehow tied to their exhaustion or whatever we want to call it. This is why for Heidegger it was so important to not simply refute or dismiss previous ontologies–because that was the history of our stumbling regarding that which does not exhaust itself in language (or in the form of the object or the thing, and so on).
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  • Alberto Moreiras Jaime, ok, let’s accept there is no disagreement on the notion of the break, let’s move on to exhaustion. Not refuting means, in Heidegger, “destruktion of the history of ontology” in 1927, which by the time of “Nietzsche’s Word” (1943) will have become “destruktion of ontology” plain and simple. And take Nietzsche. Heidegger will look, for instance, at his History of an error, in Twilight of the Idols, and will say that Nietzsche was led into a positive affirmation of nihilism because of his inability to progress beyond metaphysical inversions (“from the real world to the apparent world, but then, with the destruction of the real world, have we not also destroyed the apparent one?, etc.”). You may say that is not a refutation in the traditional way, but how is it not an affirmation of the historical exhaustion of Nietzschean thought? Even though at the same time Heidegger said that we needed to devote 10 to 15 years to reading Nietzsche before we thought of doing anything else . . . In other words, “exhaustion” does not mean we stop reading these people and stop learning from them even in a most productive way. It means something else, that has to do with radical historiality. It is not, for instance, that we should read Sophocles only because Sophocles may still be close enough to “the beginning,” no, we should read Sophocles because we need to understand what Sophocles was trying to share with his public, which pertains to history. At the end of the day, history is being, and being is history.
  • Pablo Domínguez Galbraith Thank you very much for your answer Alberto. I will gladly put this comments on the blog, but I do not see a thread with all this discussion already posted. I think we should try to post everything together, as it has been a continuous discussion (and my comments emerged from reading yours and the others). Regarding the second part of your long last answer, on prioritizing language, I just wanted to supplement Heidegger’s quote with something he writes later in the same text, something he says to Jünger around the question of crossing the line. Jünger says that crossing the line brings a new direction of Being and “with it there begins to shimmer what is real.” Then Heidegger reverses the question saying rather that it is the new direction of Being which first bring the moment for the crossing of the line. But what does “Being” means? For Heidegger, Being means the turn itself, the turning-toward man, or the turning away. Man is always turning toward or away from Being, there is always a movement and there is always an asymptote that cannot be crossed (an infinite/infinitesimal line of existence unbearable and un-inhabitable?). Elsewhere in the text Heidegger mentions the spiral again, a figure you touched on in the first seminar. Isn’t the spiral the figure for this distancing and approaching (always closer or farther away) from the impossible contact, the impossible break? At times I hear Heidegger (and Derrida) insisting on this fundamental impossibility, the impossibility of crossing the line, the spiral you will always fall into by pretending (trying, believing) to have crossed it. But the again, as Jamie and yourself just mentioned, there is something that does not exhaust itself in language alone, something that could approach Being without falling in the grammatical/nomination pitfall, that may be worth pursuing.
  • Jaime Rodríguez Matos (I see that you erased the previous comment, but I’ll leave this one here anyway.) Of course. That is the key. Exhaustion means something different. Just as event or break mean something different. What is the best way to convey that change so that it becomes a central aspect of how we write and think, particularly within an academic environment that is constantly turning toward the exhaustion of previous models or methods of research in order justify itself? I don’t have the answer to this question.
  • Alberto Moreiras The thread started being copied as a comment to On Recording, and then moved on to Guillermo`s posting. You can continue posting as a comment to Guillermo, which will pick up on the previous set of comments. Or you can start a new thread. I think breaking long discussions into threads is a good thing, particularly because they become a lot more visible (the system does not give good notification regarding comments, only regarding posts.) We can add editorial inserts (I can do that), telling people where to start if they want to go back to the beginning.
  • Alberto Moreiras Jaime, I very well understand what you mean and are saying. And it is also politically important to avoid obvious pitfalls. Ultimately, however, gross misunderstandings of the kind we know are unavoidable, so I think, after all is said and done, all attempted and failed, the best thing to do, actually, is to ignore the pitfalls altogether and to move on as rigorously and thoughtfully as we can. And, as the immortal Amarillo Slim said (was it Amarillo Slim?), “let the chips fall where they may.”
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  • Alberto Moreiras Pablo, by the time of the Jünger letter Heidegger was keenly aware that it was not a matter of a decision, that it was not for us to decide to cross the line or indeed to develop a transformed relation to language or to anything else. That we could only be attuned, hope to be attuned, aim to be attuned, to a situation (in history) that totally escaped our control always and everywhere. That is why he would say that being is the turning, that is, being is historical attunement. Although, for the most part, it is also historical non-attunement, withdrawal, and abandonment. One doesn`t cross the line by being very earnest about it, which was Jünger`s naive and decisionistic position. It is only the new historical dispensation that can or may do it for us. Hence the importance of understanding, in the sense of the hermeneutics Guillermo was discussing earlier. But that is, of course, an “understanding” that is more than an understanding in the traditional sense.
  • Alberto Moreiras And yet there is nothing mystical about this. Our tools for this attunement are only two: mood and study. But the two are necessary, and one does not come without the other.
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  • Alberto Moreiras The reason why I insist on additional blog posting is that I don`t want these discussions to be lost, or left to mere memory. And they will, if we leave them only on facebook, where they are too difficult to find after a few weeks.
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