“Only a wrenching of thinking allows one to pass from the “time” that is concerned with epochal thinking to originary time, which is Ereignis—to agonistic, polemical freeings. So, it is not as an a priori that temporal discordance fissures the referential positings around which epochs have built their hegemonic concordances” (Schürmann, Broken Hegemonies 598)
Preliminary Remarks for “No Peace Beyond the Line. On Infrapolitical An-archy: The Work of Reiner Schürmann.” A Workshop. January 11-12 2016, Texas A&M.
For a little less than two years now we have been pursuing or unfolding or developing or whatever it is one does with these things a research or thinking project based on our professional histories and orientations as mostly Latinamericanist or Hispanist literary and cultural scholars but not limited to them. The project revolves for the moment around two master terms, namely, “infrapolitics” and “posthegemony.” Those are terms that come from a reflection dating back to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s in our professional field, but which were neglected after 2003 or so for reasons that there would be no need to explain at the moment but that have to do with a certain collapse of the spirit for collective work, which became pervasive at least in the sector of the professional field interested in theoretical work beyond merely so-called political commitment.
We named the project in its new instantiation Infrapolitical Deconstruction, where by “deconstruction” we ought to understand not just Derrideanism but also the Heideggerian deconstruction (Abbau) of the history of thought in the West, whose practice and continuation have come to characterize the so-called Heideggerian left. Infrapolitics names a space of thought and existence that subtends political life while not being alien to it, or, if you want, subtends social life while not being reducible to it. Posthegemony, the absent third term, refers—politically, insofar as it is an explicitly political term—to the Machiavellian dictum according to which “the rich like to dominate, the poor do not like to be dominated,” and takes a position against both sides of the Machiavellian phrase (posthegemony is not only a refusal of domination—it is also a recognition that domination happens in myriad ways and that political conflict is primary and unavoidable.)
We named the resulting group the Infrapolitical Deconstruction Collective. We conduct most of our activity through the web, in social networks, with occasional meetings such as this one, sometimes taking advantage of large professional gatherings such as LASA or ACLA, sometimes simply using whatever resources are available to us in the diminished scenario of the contemporary university. The group also meets with others, for instance through the Seminario Crítico Político Transnacional summer meetings in Spain. We were initially small, about fifteen people or so. Over the last year and a half, a little more, the group grew to a membership of about ninety, but the core of it is still small and will conceivably continue to remain small. Some of the core members are here today, and I greatly appreciate that and thank them for it. This is an important event in the little history of our group, and let me take this moment as an opportunity to thank all the participants and also the Hispanic Studies Department at Texas A&M and the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research for sponsoring the meeting.
Reiner Schürmann was a German Dominican priest born in 1941 in Amsterdam, during the occupation, who decided to hang his monkish attire and think and teach philosophy in the US (most of the time at the New School for Social Research in New York) until he died, prematurely and all too early, of AIDS, in 1993, at fifty two years of age. During his lifetime he published, in addition to a number of essays in journals, two important books, translated into English as Wandering Joy. Meister Eckhart’s Mystical Philosophy (1972, translation 2001), and Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy (1982, translation 1987). Although those books were certainly discussed through the 1980’s (my own dissertation, written in 1986-87, deals with Schürmann’s book on Heidegger), it is probably fair to say that Schürmann’s greatness as a thinker was definitively established with the posthumous publication of Broken Hegemonies (1996, translation 2003), although it took a few years for this very difficult masterwork to make it into relative public awareness—one can conceivably say the issue is still in progress, so this workshop is also a contribution to it. Schürmann’s work is, generally speaking, an “Auseinanderdersetzung” with Heidegger, whom Schürmann considered to be the most decisive thinker of the 20th century. He combines his own brand of Heideggerian deconstruction of the history of Western thought and a certain sustained take on politics and political life after the exhaustion of the political categories of modernity, where Schürmann joins from his own original perspective other thinkers that are also of interest to us, such as Simone Weil and Hannah Arendt, María Zambrano, Derrida, Luce Irigaray, Jean-Luc Nancy, Massimo Cacciari, Giorgio Agamben, Carlo Galli, and Roberto Esposito among others. We thought that thematizing his work, forcing us all to establish a direct relationship with it, would help us establish bridges between the German, French, Italian, and North American moments of reflection and proceed on our own course, connected of course to the Spanish archive, through a sustained critical meditation on historical metaphysics, which we hold essential for our own endeavors regarding both infrapolitics and posthegemony. But, since Schürmann’s “retrospective” Heideggerianism bridges Continental traditions of thought and North American reflection at the height of the theory moment in the US universities in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I suppose the question is fair as to what it is that should take a group of mostly Latinamericanist literary scholars by academic adscription to have chosen to focus on Schürmann’s work. The reason of course is honorable: some of us think he can help us think through both what is instituting and new and also what is ancient and continuous in both posthegemony and infrapolitics. We are under no illusions that we are saying or would like to say the same things Schürmann did say, but we think it is imperative for us to take his thought on board. In that sense, Schürmann is one more powerful element of our archive, and we learn from him.
There is of course by now a solid tradition of both Heideggerianism and Derrideanism in the United States going back in the first case perhaps to William J. Richardson’s classic work, Heidegger: From Phenomenology to Thought (1974), and in the second case to the aftermath of the 1966 Johns Hopkins Conference where Derrida presented his essay on “The Ends of Man.” I think it is safe and proper to say that most of us are friendly towards but at the same time quite alien to those communities of thought, whose fundamental questions are not necessarily ours, and which have offered us no interlocution so far. We are celebrating this workshop in English, to a certain extent against our better instincts, and aim to publish results in English as well, as a way of intervening in those discussions, no matter how modestly. That is not because we aim to intervene in some other discussions, so that we cannot be bothered with the North American one. Actually, what is at stake here is something else, probably a bit unusual, a bit weird perhaps, looking at it from the outside and from a perspective that ignores the real dynamics of life in the US university, perhaps even unclassifiable: we want to wake up from our own dogmatic slumber and to push thought to whatever extremes we can muster given our resources, in all modesty but also with a certain confidence and a certain resoluteness which we will no longer give up. We aim to be as free and uncompromising in our attempt at reflection as possible, and we will not allow the professional field, the pressures, said and unsaid, from the civil servants of the institution, the endemic hostility to unpredetermined thought that structurally pervades the disciplinary and unequal configuration of the contemporary university, to circumscribe our thinking and make it conform to ready-made boxes. I can say, speaking for myself now, that I did not start my career thinking those thoughts, but I do now. In one of his essays Schürmann analyses, in a fairly devastating manner, the US philosophical establishment up to the 1980’s. We could do a similar analysis, which would have to be equally devastating, concerning the fields of theoretical reflection in the humanities in the 2000’s and the 2010’s. The object of such an analysis would necessarily be, not to prepare an exodus, rather to determine its deeper necessity for the sake of institutionally-unrestrained thought. Thinking is hard enough from internal obstacles even to whatever can be attained in terms of personal freedom. This is the time to give up, to the extent we can, on external obstacles as well. To that precise measure we claim that the university also belongs to us.
If infrapolitical deconstruction can be wagered upon as a project with properly instituting potential—something that will require a few years to unfold and establish, if we are persistent enough–, our intention is not to do the instituting within the framework of the current disciplinary distribution of knowledge in the university. Schürmann joked that in the philosophical field of the 1980’s one could only say whatever one’s colleagues would allow him or her to say. Well, as already stated, we are not interested in letting ourselves be constrained by the good will of our well-intentioned field colleagues (“oh, whatever you write is just too difficult,” “oh, whatever you write is just so presumptuous,” “oh, whatever you write has nothing to do with our field,” “oh, whatever you write is an imitation,” “oh, whatever you write should be illegal”) in their roles, not necessarily secundary, as discourse police and upholders of the laws of language. Even if, as a result of that fateful positioning, against the grain, we end up saying nothing and falling into silence, as many of us have already done at several points in our careers, that decision—which is not supplementary, it is not an add-on, but is rather essential to the posthegemonic and infrapolitical aspects of the project, one must do what one thinks—is both founding and irreducible, as well as the direct consequence of a state of affairs which we know is not directly challengeable, or not directly challengeable by us. So we go along to get along, but we claim an exception, and it is called Infrapolitical Deconstruction. As a wager for and an attempt at free thinking, free from as many constraints as possible, it simply claims its own space, nothing else. It wishes to infringe upon no one’s terrritory, as if it were theirs, and it makes no claims on anybody else’s desire, as if it were not always already the other’s desire. This is not necessarily easy, as we all know or must learn. There is a certain risk, there is a certain adventurous danger attached to this journey that we will not deny all the while preferring to avoid its disagreable character and consequences. We will see, as we are not blind. But we are not in the business of properly disciplined work in the conventional sense. Which makes us all, structurally, in the university, our home, marrano thinkers: our procedure is marrano, our reception is that accorded to marranos, our thematics are marrano thematics as well. It is no wonder, then, that projects on the marrano difference and a multi-volume collection of essays on literary marranismo in the Hispanic archive are on our immediate agenda for the next few years.
What we are doing now is still preparatory, inchoate, a beginning. We are patiently establishing an archive of theoretical references, and we thought Schürmann’s work deserves to be one of them. Hence the importance of this meeting for us, perhaps a merely private or semisecret importance, a marrano importance, which at the same time takes advantage of and attempts to cover over an institutional void, a hole at the center of the contemporary university, of humanities discourse in the university, the experience of which may have become our generational (this time, it does not matter that there are several generations of scholars in the group: the time for reflection is now, not tomorrow, not yesterday) destiny as Latinamericanist thinkers working in the United States outside mainstream parameters—which today means, on the positive side, political parameters very narrowly conceived, and on the negative side not even that.
We have planned this meeting not as a final discussion of Schürmann’s work, rather as a first discussion. All of us have been reading his work in the past few weeks or months, and I can tell you, speaking for myself, I am already missing a second reading of Broken Hegemonies, which seems to me an inexhaustible book that immediately calls for a rereading of all of its texts under study. We will present position papers meant to propose some ideas for discussion, and it on the basis of the discussion, I imagine, that we will then go back home and start writing in earnest. We will also take this opportunity to make a series of short interviews on infrapolitics with our outside guests, since we have them here.
Since I have counted myself out of reading my own position paper, as I did not want to take up too much time, let me finish these preliminary remarks by suggesting, through a quick succession of bullet points, what it is that Schürmann provokes and challenges us to continue to think in connection with infrapolitics and posthegemony.
- The notion of hegemonic fantasm, to which he opposes, in the last pages of Broken Hegemonies, the notion of “posthegemonic ultimates.”
- The notion of anarchy as a political position at the end of principial politics, which would for me stand in need of reformulation as infrapolitical anarchy.
- The general schematics of his understanding of the relation between time and history, event and clearing. Schürmann seems at times to move forward to the claim of a certain extrahistoricality of being, in order to avoid the accusation or the categorization of his thought as “historicist.” But I think we should re-evaluate that, through the renunciation of the radical transcendentality of what gives. To that extent, I would argue that infrapolitics, as infrapolitics, holds on to the priority of the existential analytic, expanded and revised, reformulated vis-à-vis the relevant sections of Heidegger’s Being and Time, but still a thought anchored in singular existence, not on the priority of radical heteronomy.
- In his book on Eckhart, and throughout the rest of his work, Schürmann upholds the notion of an “imperative mode of thinking,” as opposed to an “indicative mode.” What commands in thought is not a principle, rather the very need for singularization, which cannot be thought outside the parallel instance of “natality.” The conjunction of natality and mortality cannot however avoid a certain priority of the “singularization to come,” similar to the sway of the Heideggrian No (and against the double Derridean Yes). If infrapolitics accepts its own status as a thought of the singularization to come, and if it is true that infrapolitics results “from the dissociation from any figure of the commons” and commits us to the acceptance of the “tragic condition,” “the fateful fissuring of being,” then infrapolitics must search for a tonality of inscription of life in thought and thought in life. Infrapolitics is the search for an imperative style that commands no one but submits to its own command, which is the heterononous command of freedom.
I invite discussion. As always, I do not presume I speak in anybody’s name but mine, if that.