Inside the Industry of the Senses: on Carlos Casanova’s Estética y Producción en Karl Marx. (Gerardo Muñoz)

casanova-marxCarlos Casanova’s short book Estética y Producción en Karl Marx (ediciones metales pesados, 2016), a condensed version of his important and much longer doctoral thesis, advances a thorough examination of Marx’s thought, and unambiguously offers new ways for thinking the author of Das Kapital and beyond. Although the title could raise false expectations of yet another volume on ‘Marxism and Aesthetics’, or, more specifically, a hermeneutical reconstruction of a lost ‘aesthetics’ in Marx, these are neither the concerns nor aims of Casanova’s book. Instead, he does not hesitate to claim that there are no aesthetics in Marx’s thought derivative from German theories of romantic idealism, conceptions of the beautiful, or the faculty of judgment in the Kantian theory of the subject and critique.

Forcefully, Casanova situates his intervention apart from two well-known strands of thought: those that have sought to extract an aesthetics in Marx (of which Rose’s classic Marx’s lost aesthetic is perhaps a paradigmatic example), and those who have wanted to produce ‘a Marxist’ social theory for art (Lukacs and Eagleton, but also De Duve or Jameson). Casanova argues that Marx’s aesthetic can be located in a modality of thinking through an anthropological conception of man and the human (although, as we will see, perhaps ‘anthropogenic event’ is more accurate, than the claim for an anthropology). The anthropogenic event in the early Marx of the Manuscripts of 1844 is closely examined in light of the concept of praxis displacing the problem to the economy of potentiality and actuality inherited from the Aristotelean tradition. According to Casanova, this informs Marx’s concept of “exteriorization” understood as the capacity of use in the human. In Casanova’s conceptualization ‘use’ refers to potentiality, and not to a compensatory measurement of ‘value’, as it appears, for instance, in Bolivar Echevarria’s culturalist reading of the status of accumulation in Marxist theory. Challenging the Althusserian structuralism, which authorized the reduction of a heterogeneous corpus into two phases relative to the epistemological break; Casanova suggests that the early Marx inhabits the threshold of thinking the potentiality of Humanism as always producing the disruption of the apparatus of property and the person. What is at stake in Marx is an ‘industry of the senses’ in the constitution of the singular. Hence, Casanova writes early in the book:

“Vale decir: lo que hay en Marx es un pensamiento del limite, no del fin del humanismo, sino de un pensamiento de lo humano que consiste en un pasaje al límite del humanismo donde este se vera menos suprimido que suspenso, desfondo en su “raíz”. Digamos que, utilizan una expresión de Esposito y de Nancy, lo que hay en el pensamiento de Marx es más bien una “división/interrupción” del mito del humanismo” (Casanova 16).

Marx’s ‘aesthetic industry’ crashes the humanist onto-theological machine, which opens the inoperativity of man’s praxis as irreducible to the concrete and abstract extraction of value and production. This displacement pushes Marx away from the humanist machine of universality or particularity as the two poles of a locational dispute of the “subject”. Further, what follows from this claim, are two ways of liberating Marx from the constraints of the Marxist principial tradition and the opposition ‘structuralism vs. the subject’ towards a new use of man’s praxis. In the first part of the book, Casanova takes up the inoperativity of Marx’s humanism (“Humanismo del hombre sin obra”), and in the second section (“Tecnologías de la producción”), the analysis shifts towards a polemical scrutiny of the question of technê against the theorizations of telecratic instrumentality, but also from the phenomenological interpretations that have understood Marx’s thought as the consummation of the epochal technological enframing. Of course, Casanova’s book, and his own reflection on Marx, is situated in the wake of a reconsideration of the technology of the sensible, that allows him to read Marx beyond the humanist onto-theology as a messianic principle that propels the Hegelian philosophy of history as stasis for mastering the logic of revolution.

Casanova’s Marx is an-archic or aprincipial in Reiner Schürmann’s sense, as it avoids the substantialization of a ‘marxist politics’ to assert a stable ground for action over thinking. The Marx endowed in Estética y Producción is also an-anarchic in yet another sense: it offers no productive horizon of philosophical knowability as a new vanguard of intelligence, a technology of critique, or even a practice of restitution. Casanova makes no concessions to epochal nihilism, and there is no attempt in crafting Marx as an archē for militant hegemony or the invariant procedure of truth. His intervention is situated at the crossroads between Agamben’s archeology of potentiality, J.L. Nancy’s deconstruction, and more esoterically, a Chilean critical constellation, which includes, although is not limited to Pablo Oyarzun’s Anestética del ready-made (2000), Miguel Valderrama’s La aparición paulatina de la desaparición del arte (2008), Federico Galende’s Modos de Producción (2011), and Willy Thayer’s Tecnologías de la crítica (2010). This list could go on, and although none of these names are directly confronted, it would be interesting to read his intervention as a radical conceptual abandonment of the “aesthetic” in this specific cultural field.

In the first section “Humanismo del hombre sin obra”, Casanova complicates the early Marx of the Manuscripts by suggesting that the notion of the “generic being” takes place in a double-bind as part of the historicity of the human’s sensible organs that are both conditions and products of a “sensible activity” of the exteriorization of abilities. If both idealism and alienation are the forgetting of the material forms of production, Casanova is quick to underline that it is not just a mere extraction and division from a point of view of ‘functional socialization’, in terms of Alfred Sohn Rethel (although this is not explicitly thematized in the book), but an activity that is the very ‘mediality’ of life as the potentiality in which man can exercise a direct and unmediated relation with nature. In a crucial passage, Casanova writes:

“Los órganos humanos son las capacidades desarrolladas, esto es, el poder ser actual de los individuos al igual que los medios o instrumentos a través de los cuales esas mismas facultades se ejercen. Al mismo tiempo, ellos son los productos, el mundo objetivo del trabajo de toda una historia pasada: son los sentidos de una actividad productiva, entendida como “la relación historia real de la naturaleza (el “mundo sensible”) con el hombre. Son, en suma, los órganos de la industria del hombre” (Casanova 31).

What capitalism stages in the figure of the proletariat, as a result, is a series of divisions that obfuscate the taking place of a praxis constitutive of the industry of man; that is, of the life of the generic without work. In this intersection, Casanova is very much dependent on the Aristotelian’s definition of man’s essence as an-argos, or without work [1]. Hence, Marx’s “real humanism” entails necessary praxis of the industry of the senses, which capitalist humanism divides and codifies in terms of exploitation, alienation, rule of law, and private property. However, and more importantly for Casanova, is the privatization of the sensible transformed into an aesthetic apparatus that governs over life (Casanova 44-45).

The modes of production are in this way already a semblance and reduction of the overflowing of the senses in the praxis of man, which necessarily posits poesis as what cannot amount to work through the unlimited process of accumulation. The labor of the proletarian, understood as the industry of the generic being, enacts an undefined potentiality, in which action and thought, singularity and commonality, sensing and reason, collapse in a heterochronic plane of immanence with no remainder.

The becoming of man corresponds to the becoming of the world beyond the principle of equivalence as the structural circuit through which global spatialization of capital replaces the possibility of ‘earth’. Marx’s humanism without work is situated against this ruinous and fallen world confined to the logic of exchange and appropriation. The proletariat stands here less than a subject for and in history, as the site where an excess to productivity and equivalence is latent as a multiplicity of singular potentialities: “Ya no hay nada que apropiar mas que lo inapropiable – el libro uso de común de las fuerzas de producción – de una apropiación no capitalizable, es decir, excesiva respecto del marco económico politico de productividad, por ende no mensurable de acuerdo a la medida del valor, es decir, no gobernable bajo el principio o ley universal de la equivalencialidad” (Casanova 53).

To appropriate the inappropriable is the stamp of Marx’s industry of the forms of life as the turn towards what is an excess to equivalence. But Casanova’s Marx as the thinker of the inappropriable cannot escape the function of appropriation in the event of a modality of work, which constitutes, perhaps to the very end, the aporia’s of Marx’s thinking [2]. The function of positive appropriation of force in Marx is still tied to “esta producción multiforme del globo entero” (Schöpfungen der Menschen)” (Casanova 52).

Casanova forces Marx to say that a relation always implies the production with its own potentiality. But is not appropriation of production haunted by the unproductivity that is deposed in every praxis? That is, only because praxis is use, there is no longer an appropriation of wealth, which remains on the side of vitalism as a productive entelechy disposable for work. However, Casanova affirms that Marx’s communism was perhaps the first (sic) in taking into account how labor and property are economic categories of policing and subjecting the organization of life. In fact, all subjectivization is already a movement capture of immanence as a regime of equivalence in both the apparatus of modern sovereignty and in the capitalist form of exchange of the commodity. Marx’s communism is thus not a movement that trends towards the transformation of the actual state of things, but a deposition of a self-relation of one’s potentiality.

The mediality exposed in humanism without work is juxtaposed and analytically enlarged in the second part of the book when thinking the question of technology as originary technê, which Casanova also calls ‘co-constitutive’ of the generic being. Challenging Kostas Axelos’ standard reading of Marx as an epochal product of the complete exposure of the age of technology, he polemically advances a production of technology that is never reduced to instrumentalization, nor to the clarity of the concept in philosophy as a secondary tier of appropriation. Following Nancy, Marx’s thought is registered as one of finitude, as it opens to the mundane and profane dimension of the material conditions of sensibility:

“Un pensamiento de las condiciones denominadas “materiales” de existe es un pensamiento que necesariamente vincula, como cuestión ineludible la deconstrucción de la metafísica de la presencia con la pregunta por la condición material, económica, y social de los hombres. Un pensamiento así es, por otra parte, un pensamiento que se piensa en “la ausencia de presencia como imposibilidad de clausura del sentido o de acabada presentación de un sentido en verdad” (Casanova, 79).
Marx’s critique of political economy appears as a translation of his critique of religion as the deconstruction of the onto-theology of capital and the subject as coterminous with the principle of general equivalence. Equivalence is what renders abstract the industry of sense, capturing every singularity in a regimen of equality in exchange value and the commodity form. As such, the technology of capital equivalence is what separates and articulates for “work” the co-constitutive modal ontology of originary technê. More importantly, the originary technê allows for the emergence of politics in Marx that Casanova does not shy away to call “politics of presence” (política de la presencia) as the force that un-works the labour apparatus of labour. But, even in its appropriative force, is not production what thrusts the ‘absolute movement’ towards non-work?

Casanova is aware of this aporia when at the very end of his book he asks: “¿Continúan siendo las fuerzas en este movimiento metamórfico, fuerzas dispuestas dentro del marco de la productividad? ¿Siguen siendo las fuerzas del hombre fuerza de trabajo, o más bien, se transforman en fuerzas humanas en cuanto tales…” (Casanova, 118)? Could the limit of Marx’s thought be inscribed in the way in which concrete industriousness in the essence of man, only dispenses what is proper and productive in the anthropogenic event? Why is the status of “force” in the becoming of the sensible of the singular?

At the very end of the seminar Heidegger: The Question of Being and History (U Chicago, 2016), Jacques Derrida posits the existential analytic as what precedes anthropogenic event based on labor and its force of the negative [3]. But this is only the Hegelian telling of the ‘story’. Casanova grapples to make Marx a thinker of the originary technê in a metamorphic movement that brings to a zone of indistinction thought and action, whose appropriation is always that of the excess of the proper. Could this entail that communism in Marx rejects the notion of “equipementality” (verlässlichkeit) for a program of emancipation in the movement of appropriation of work? If so, then the labor of stasis at the heart of the sensible industry fails at being formalized into a ‘politics of presence’.

What opens up is an infra-political relation, a necessary fissure within any articulation of the common in the event of appropriation. In repositioning Marx to the improper site of desouvrament and the ungovernable, Casanova stops short of offering a Marxist ‘politics’. But perhaps no such thing is needed: the task of freedom is to abandon any metaphoricity as a new nomos of the senses. Bresson captured this freedom in a remark on Cezanne: “Equality of all things. Cezanne painted with the same eye, a fruit dish, his son, and Mt. Sainte-Victoroire” [4]. The ‘grandeur of Marx’ resides in that the sensible machine is never ontology of art; in the same way that hegemony never constitutes a phenomenology of the political. At the heart of Marx’s industry there lays, always and necessarily, a life without “work”, something other than politics.


1. This pertains to the passage from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (1098 a7) in which the philosopher argues that the musician has a particular function that defines his work, but the human to the extent that he is human, is born without work.

2. This is what Agamben detects in Use of Bodies (Stanford University, 2016), as the insufficiency of Marx’s oeuvre in terms of the fixity to the modes of production: “One-sidedly focused on the analysis of forms of production, Marx neglected the analysis of the forms of inoperativity, and this lack is certainly at the bottom of some of the aporias of his thought, in particular as concerns the definition of human activity in the classless society. From this perspective, a phenomenology of forms of life and of inoperativity that proceeded in step with an analysis of the corresponding forms of production would be essential. In inoperativity, the classless society is already present in capitalist society, just as, according to Benjamin, shards of messianic time are present in history in possibly infamous and risible forms.” 94.

3. Jacques Derrida. Heidegger: The Question of Being & History (U Chicago, 2016), p.194-96.

4. Robert Bresson. Notes On The Cinematographer. New York: NYRB, 2016.

Politics, Trace, Ethics: Disciplinary Delirium—On Trump and Consequences

“Politics, Trace, Ethics: Disciplinary  Delirium—On Trump and Consequences”

Jaime Rodríguez Matos

CSU, Fresno

(Paper read at the conference “Latin America in Theory/Theory in Latin America” held at USC, Los Angeles, CA, Nov. 11 & 12)


The first part of my title is meant as a reference to the kind of thought that maintains that it is not possible to neatly separate politics from ethics.  The trace of the ethical in the political and the trace of the political in any radical ethics…. This is a difficult proposition, which I would like to frame today, at least on a first approach, by way of the recent election result that has given us Donald Trump as president-elect of the United States.  I currently teach at an institution where Mexican and Mexican-American students represent a large sector of the student population.  When we went back to our various classrooms on November 9th, there was a palpable sense of dread and mourning.  At least for myself, that day represents the most vivid experience of something like an exposure unto death, an exposure to nakedness, destitution, passivity, and pure vulnerability—to the face of the other as the very mortality of the other, of the absolutely other, piercing, as Levinas put it, “what merely shows itself,” piercing through “what remains the ‘individual genus’” (174 & 167).[1]  When Levinas writes of this kind of exposure in his late work the limits of language are tested at every turn.  For what is at issue here is the singular beyond equivalency, the singular before and beyond the synthetic function of consciousness and re-presentation, the singular before or beyond or not yet under the unity of transcendental apperception—a noema without noesis, an exposure to time as “the deformation of the most formal form there is—the unity of the I think” (176).  This breach of intentionality—in which there is a relationship to the other not of the sort that reduces the other to the thought of the identical as one’s own, thus reducing one’s other to the same—is ethical to the extent that it must remain prior to knowledge.  Which means that as soon as I transform this exposure into a datum that means something within the architecture of a political “what is to be done?” I am no longer dealing with a formless time, still completely historical, but before or beyond intentionality.  I would then be dealing with the presence of the present as the temporality of the graspable and its promise of something solid, material.  Now, this materiality is the only thing that seems to be of value to many of our fellow radical thinkers, who are, quite correctly, concerned with the very political question of what to do now that the entire world of many of my students at Fresno State seems to be on the border of a catastrophe wrought in the name of “making America great again.”  This political, too political, first response would forget all too quickly the fundamental experience of singularity without equivalence, which is ultimately, as Levinas, himself puts it, an experience of love, by running away with its bit of knowledge, its bit of ground on which to found its: “what needs to be done is ….!”  If I could put it in these terms, at the risk of simplifying and doing some concretizing of my own, the less political edge of the ethics of singularity without equivalence would present us with a radical complication in our current climate.  For when I walk out of the classroom where I was in the company of my frightened students I immediately come across a young man wearing cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans, and a red baseball cap which orders everyone who reads the white letters on its front to Make America Great Again.  And there it was again, piercing through what shows itself, the face of the other, an alterity without noesis, the vulnerability and nakedness of the other.

As James Hatley has observed (35-36),[2] in Otherwise Than Being (101) Levinas elaborates on a scene of persecution in which he must fear not only for the possibility of a violent act of his own against the other, but also fear for the other’s plans for violence against him.  This fear is not simply a fear for oneself.  Rather: “My very persecution by the other is revealed to be my call to responsibility for the other.  The mere fact … that I have become a victim does not save me from responsibility.”  It is here that Levinas writes of an ethical delirium:

In ethical delirium … No matter how great the other’s assault against me might be …  Not the other’s assault upon me but my vulnerability to him or her is the issue.  My ethical delirium for the other does not cancel out my attentiveness to him or her … but intensifies it beyond any possible recall. (36)

Delirium is, one again, an attempt to explode or exceed the reduction of the other to the same in conscious representation.  What would the politics of this exposure be?  I would propose that whatever politics can be derived from this experience of singularity without equivalence would only be a deformed politics, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing but in the same sense that Levinas writes of a deformed time that is no longer the vision of the presence of the present in knowledge.

Now I believe that this is not simply something that we can learn from Levinas and apply as a ready-made solution to our problems.  For Levinas, this deformed time is also the address of a commandment or an order that is the voice of god, it is the fall of god into meaning.  Again, the thrust of this formulation is to move beyond the idea of meaning as presence or its reducibility to presence.  And Levinas emphasizes this double edge when he insists that this formless temporality is, and has always been, time as the good-bye of theology, while at the same time being the to-God of theology (à-Dieu).  I find this appearance of god consistent with everything Levinas sets out.  I think this is the inescapable conclusion if we follow the path of ethics.  But this is also why I find ethics problematic.  I fear that in this god, even if it is a deformed god, remains the all-too-palpable possibility of a political translation of theology: it is the most minimal, and perhaps for this reason the most effective, safeguarding of the becoming necessary of contingent authority, and authority figures.

The problem opens a different question.  For it would be possible to claim that if we do away with this figure, then we are immediately in the realm of a politicity that remains ensnared in the all-too-political framework of tragedy, where cutting the head of the leader is the central future of that form.  The most vivid theoretical work in this regard, to my mind, is Roberto Esposito’s conclusion to Categories of the Impolitical.[3]  There, in relation to Bataille’s acephalism and the image of Numancia, he points out to what extent Bataille’s writing elides the political and the impolitical:

the impolitical, pushed to its extreme, where what is in evidence is its own acephalism, the cutting of its own head, finds once again a political configuration, it recognizes (or it imagines) a point that is originarily prior to the ‘rupture’ with politics.  This point remains rigorously unrepresentable, but that unrepresentability can itself be represented, in its radical absence from the modalities of presence, but nevertheless represented. (308)

Which results in the perhaps contradictory fact that the impolitical becomes political at the exact moment in which one recognizes that there is something that remains before or outside of the political.

Though it is not the path I want to follow as I conclude, it would be possible to track in some of the literature of the 20th century attempts to think through this problem which eschew both the tragic as horizon for politics and the absolute commandment of ethics while insisting on the singular without equivalent that Levinas has done so much to make thinkable in our time.  Celan, Lezama Lima, Alejandra Pizarnik, among others, would be important reference points.  In that configuration, the issue concerns the relationship between the words of the poem and the deformation of the Muses, who ultimately are interrupted just as intentionality is interrupted in Levinas texts, without the loss of the singularly inequivalent.  But that is not the path that interests me today, as we are gathered here in Los Angeles at a time when people are out on the streets and the sound of police helicopters hovers over our heads.

I would like to return to the situation at hand now that Trump is the president elect.  And to the question of what kind of politicity, if that is the appropriate word here, would obtain if we allow the deformed time of singularity without equivalence to be heard as we think together in this difficult time.  Furthermore, I want to ask you to allow me to shift from the praxis of the militant to our own praxis as people who think and write about what is happening in our contemporary historical situation.  A praxis that is on the same plane as the actions of any militant, for our work can no longer simply be imagined to stand somewhere outside of time.

My feeling is that some of the difficulties that arise today do not only affect and compromise words like ethics, politics, subjectivity, and so forth, but that they also unground the frameworks in which we attempt to make them intelligible.  Latin Americanism is just one of those frameworks.  And whatever politicity can emerge from these ruins must begin by reimagining not only what we understand by politics, but also the function of knowledge when it is exposed to (the) singularity without equivalence (of the other).  It will not come as a surprise for most of you here today, that it is my opinion that the kind of thought that takes it upon itself to work through these problems goes by the name of infrapolitics.  But rather than say anything more about infrapolitics per se, I want to close by turning to the notion of psychoanalytic delirium and point out to what extent the style of that thought can be illuminating in what seems like a very dark post-Trump night.  That is, its style or its way of falling into meaning might be of help not because of any doctrine of the subject or of subjectivity, which might seem to be antithetical to what I have been outlining so far by way of Levinas, but because of what it can teach us, perhaps, as academics struggling with the relationship of knowledge and the exposure to the singular without equivalence.

For Jacques-Alain Miller, whom I cite here without the slightest need to presuppose his dominion over the exegesis of psychonalaisis, the formation of the unconscious is “the signifying alienation ([in which] the signifier represents the subject for another signifier) and sometimes, when a signifier calls upon another, it is produced for the subject as a lapse, through which it appears that he himself has produced it” (12).[4]  The difficult question, or the matter for psychoanalytic debate, is how to take this point of departure into account when differentiating between the formation of the unconscious (in neurosis) and the claim regarding elementary phenomena (in psychosis), while maintaining that these elementary phenomena are not simply a form of organisism.  How to reconcile something like an elementary phenomenon while rejecting organisism?  Miller proposes that there is an elementary phenomenon, but it is not quite certain what it is, much less that it is the address of god to us.  The elementary phenomenon represents a “we don’t know what” for someone else.  Elementary phenomenon, S1, represents an unknown X for someone, for the subject.  “In the formation of the unconscious, signifier links with signifier and the subject emerges as the effect of this link.  … the subject is not aware of this procedure: the signifiers link up among themselves and the subject is a little relegated to the background, as we see in the [case of a] lapse” (12).  And delirium is nothing but the address of this elementary phenomenon or sign, which represents an X for the subject.  Something comes to be taken as addressed to me, this tells me something, it speaks to me (19).  Thus the mysterious perplexity that the intuitive phenomenon produces—an intuitive phenomenon to which we add the delirious intuition implied.  There is here a supplement: the production of meaning.

For the analyst, “it” speaks to him.  The first evidence, the elementary phenomenon, the signifier alone, no one knows what it signifies.  It is only when another signifier appears (S2) that the signification of S1 emerges (22).  My students crying on November 9th, or the Trump supporter walking around campus with his celebratory gear, remain a “sinthomic” or formless thing that is yet outside of the symbolic fabric until I begin to assign them places like oppressor and victim, and the like.  Yet, they are not only both equally deserving of our responsibility to them, but are also responsible one for the other. Only when we instrumentalize in each case their singularity, reducing them to the sameness of our representations, bringing them into the light of conscious attention, do these individuals become the elementary phenomenon that authorize us to say: see, that is the thing that allows me to claim that politics speaks through my academic mouth, that is the ground on which I find the authority to say what needs to be done.  Yet what is happening here is the mistaking of “reality” for the constitution of delirium.  What if meaning comes from delirium in every case?  Delirium as equivalent to S2.  Which is to say that delirium would have an inextricable relation to knowledge.  Knowledge as delirium (22).

I do not mean to be simplistic or dogmatic one way or the other.  Nothing against knowledge, just as there is a new valuation of delirium.  Nothing against the delirium that makes knowledge possible, even as there is no rehabilitation of knowledge as a form of certainty.  For knowledge as delirium is exactly what undoes the certainty of the political or ethical materialist, he or she who thinks that somehow everything has been made clear and neatly tied to Reality.  We are reminded by the most devoted of Lacan’s students that

Lacan invites us to be a little psychotic, a little more perplexed.  He invites us to read things without understanding them and he helps us with his style that produces perplexity.  He teaches us not to efface the moment of perplexity, not to run away with our S2, our knowledge, supported by our phantasm, in order to decipher and affirm that we have no difficulty and that we understand what is happening.  To try not to understand what is happening is a discipline. (24)

Can this be the beginning of a deformed politics, a politics that is no longer the creation of hegemony, of the all too-quick answer regarding “what is to be done”?  To reject the pose of he or she who understands without perplexity?  The risk of running away too quickly with our bit of knowledge, with our S2, with the little plot of ground on which to stand and grandstand, is that we simply could mistake our phantasm for Reality.  Let us not demand of ourselves, or of others, or of the other in us—let us not demand write and think so that I can understand without perplexity!

[1]           E. Levinas. Entre nous: On Thinking-of-the-Other. Trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, pp. 174, 167.

[2]           James Hatley. “Beyond Outrage: The Delirium of Responsibility in Levinas Scene of Persecution.” In Addressing Levinas. Eds. Eric Sean Nelson, Antje Kapust, Kent Still.  Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern UP, 2005, pp. 34-51.

[3]           Roberto Esposito. Categorías de lo impolítico. Trans. Roberto Raschella.  Buenos Aires: Katz Editores, 2006

[4]           J-A Miller. “The Invention of Delirium.” Lacanian Ink 34 (Fall 2009): pp. 6-27.

Extraña aventura. Por Alberto Moreiras.


Presentación para Department of Hispanic Studies Research Showcase. Texas A&M. 11 de noviembre 2016.

Nuestro amigo Slavoj Zizek, que hubiera debido estar hoy aquí si no se hubiera visto forzado a cancelar su visita, suele decir que la escritura, cuando es escritura real, cuando toca su propia verdad, se juega siempre en el intento de “atravesar la fantasía,” usando una expresión lacaniana. Pero entonces, el que escribe, buscando atravesar su propia fantasía, dado el carácter común de la lengua y de la ideología y de los campos ideológicos en los que nos estamos moviendo siempre de antemano, si no hay afuera, corre siempre el riesgo de atravesar la fantasía del otro, y de dejarla por lo tanto agujereada y maltrecha.

Entonces, déjenme decir de entrada dos cosas: la primera, que yo también creo que la escritura real es atravesadora de fantasías. La segunda, que habría que pensarlo mucho antes de decidir si estas apresuradas notas improvisadas pueden entenderse como escritura real. Por lo pronto no tengo intención alguna de atravesarle la fantasía a nadie, y pueden todos estar tranquilos. Lo que digo no lo digo como desafío ni como trampa ni como valoración comparativa con respecto de otras opciones en el campo profesional. Se trata de aludir sólo a la mía, a eso he sido invitado, aunque no puedo evitar hacerlo con entusiasmo.

Solo me interesa decir algunas palabras, que siempre resultarán insuficientes, sobre un proyecto en curso que es el mío, que es también el de algunos amigos, que es el que hemos elegido, o el que nos ha elegido a nosotros con suficiente comprensión por nuestra parte para pensar que es necesario e interesante que así sea, necesario e interesante, ambas palabras son útiles, más necesario y más interesante que ningún otro que nosotros conozcamos, pero más necesario e interesante para nosotros, y solo para nosotros, y ese nosotros está por supuesto abierto a todos los otros sujetos al doble imperativo de ese deseo. Al fin y al cabo, no todo lo interesante es necesario ni todo lo necesario es interesante.

Y así les pido que no escuchen en lo que sigue ningún intento ni de expresar militancia ni, mucho menos, de hacer proselitismo. No pretendo ejemplaridad alguna, y no pretendo pretender ejemplaridad. Por razones que me desbordan a mí personalmente: la infrapolítica –o la deconstrucción infrapolítica como proyecto de escritura—no busca ejemplaridad más allá del tantum quale, el ejemplo de lo que no puede ser ejemplar, no intenta convencer a nadie, porque no tiene convicción que transmitir, no milita, porque no busca la conversión. Por eso, quizás, es una extraña aventura de pensamiento. Es extraña porque no sigue ninguna convención de normalidad disciplinaria o académica. Es aventura porque está abierta al encuentro, al futuro como tiempo del otro y tiempo de lo otro, y porque no busca su mera reproducción ni la auto-producción como empresa de escritura.   Es pensamiento porque se ejerce como intento de pensar sin cualificaciones, alejado de toda técnica y de todo programa, sin expertise, sin techné, sin excelencia.

Ahora bien, todo eso no sale de la nada ni se nos impone, ni se le impone a quien se le impone, meramente como un capricho del destino. Tiene una historia, es decir, hay una historia que lleva a la aparición en un momento dado, contingente y necesario, interesante y terrible, de lo que podemos llamar el deseo de nombramiento de este proyecto de pensamiento en cuanto tal, independientemente de nuestra capacidad para llevarlo a cabo.

Eso ocurre en 2013—hace apenas tres años, incluso un poco menos. Ocurre en el contexto de discusiones profesionales llamémoslas crítico-teóricas, o crítico-teórico-políticas, con respecto de las cuales algunos de nosotros y algunas de nosotras sentimos la necesidad de distanciarnos, de dar algún paso atrás o al lado o a algún otro lugar, para escapar al agobio que nos producían. No se puede negar, por lo tanto, lo que quizá es siempre el caso, que es que el nombramiento del proyecto, quizá el nombramiento de cualquier proyecto, es siempre resultado de la constatación o de la explicitación de una cierta impaciencia, de un cierto agobio: la otra cara de lo necesario interesante.

Aunque decir que ese agobio es un agobio puntual sería ya decir demasiado. Ese agobio no se produce en 2013, sino que tiene detrás una larga historia de desacomodo, de impaciencia, de insatisfacción y desencanto, de displacer y de aburrimiento, que está vinculada en realidad no solamente a nuestra historia personal, no solamente tampoco a la historia del campo académico (latinoamericanista o hispanista o cualquier otro campo académico), sino a la historia del pensamiento en español, a la larga historia, agobiante, de su incomparecencia, de su ausencia, de su radical insuficiencia. De su impuntualidad.

Pero digamos que para nosotros, criaturas mortales casi todos, algún vampiro habrá, nuestra existencia no puede confundirse con la existencia o inexistencia de pensamiento—ese real que puede atravesar fantasías—en el archivo histórico del castellano como lengua; sino que nuestra existencia registra de forma diferenciada y concreta, en cada caso, el golpe de esa falta de aire en el campo de pensamiento y trata de compensarla o de hacer éxodo de ella, incluso de compensarla mediante el éxodo. Quizá la infrapolítica es antes que nada un éxodo.

Los éxodos concretos que marcan de forma más patente la genealogía de la infrapolítica como proyecto—y de la deconstrucción infrapolítica como proyecto de escritura—son, simplificando, éxodos respecto de:

  1. la insuficiencia de la llamada teoría literaria de los años 80 como campo de pensamiento.
  2. la insuficiencia de los llamados estudios culturales como campo de pensamiento a principios y mediados de los 90.
  3. la insuficiencia de los llamados estudios subalternos como campo de pensamiento a finales de los 90.
  4. la insuficiencia ya terminal y empobrecida drásticamente de las respuestas que el campo profesional ofrece ante la descomposición histórica del proyecto de estudios subalternos de finales de los 90.

Y esto último nos coloca ya alrededor de 2001, esto es, si pensamos en términos del viejo concepto alemán de generaciones, que se suceden cada quince años, habría habido una generación que antecede a la vuestra, que es la generación de estudiantes que hoy trata de profesionalizarse, incluso de empezar ahora su doctorado. ¿Qué le pasa a esa generación? La de 2001. ¿Qué la marca? Sin duda, 9-11.   Solo dos días antes de los ataques a las Torres Gemelas y al Pentágono terminaba el congreso de la Latin American Studies Association en Washington. En el tercero de los paneles dedicados a una especie de reflexión colectiva sobre el estado del pensamiento en el campo de estudios, Néstor García Canclini anunciaba el “fin de la alianza” entre las diversas corrientes teóricas que habían definido los previos quince años, y anunciaba por lo tanto el fin del recorrido de una generación que ahora tendría que acogerse a alguna otra cosa. Y no fue solo García Canclini el que lo dijo. Dos días más tarde, la historia contemporánea irrumpiría, en cuanto acontecimiento, para refrendar las palabras de García Canclini, que de repente hubieron de entenderse como remitidas a un fin del paradigma intelectual de estudios de área, y de estudios poscoloniales, que había regido el discurso académico norteamericano, y no sólo norteamericano, desde el fin de la Segunda Guerra Mundial.   Se produjo en realidad en 9-11 el fin de los estudios poscoloniales como aventura real de pensamiento, pero esos fines nunca son puntuales, y lo que vino después, lo que todavía colea y boquea, solo es epigónico, y fue experimentado por muchos miembros de esa generación anterior a la vuestra como los “doldrum years,” los años del desierto, de la tierra quemada, de la tierra baldía, el momento de un cierto agobio terminal, de una cierta irrespirabilidad del campo de estudios (a la que por supuesto hubo que acomodarse).

Para 2010, en el LASA de San Francisco, las cosas han ya cumplido su ciclo, incluso si pocos todavía lo ven con claridad. Las opciones decolonial y postsubalternista, residuos del crack de estudios subalternos, se manifiestan todavía en abierto delirio, pero se abre paso la obviedad de que era necesaria otra cosa.   En ese momento Bruno Bosteels propone la idea de la “posthegemonía” como posible forma de canalizar a los descontentos, de iniciar otro juego. El mismo se desmarca de ello en plazo breve, pero había ya dejado caer la idea, la había hecho explícita.

Desde nuestra pespectiva, ese éxodo, que ya tenía un primer nombre, llevó a Crítica y Teoría—una red social con unos 900 investigadores en sus días álgidos, no sé qué estará pasando allí ahora—y luego, en 2013, también desde la insuficiencia de Crítica y Teoría, a la fundación del Colectivo de deconstrucción infrapolítica. Es decir, al nombramiento específico de un nuevo proyecto de pensamiento que era también un éxodo respecto del espacio académico, un nuevo proyecto de vida, un nuevo proyecto existencial en el que el pensamiento no sería ya referido a la producción (hegeliana o seudohegeliana) del saber, sino a la propia existencia singular, desde la existencia común. Proyecto de pensamiento: no proyecto técnico para reconstruir el campo, no arquitectura de ninguna renovación, no búsqueda de nuevas formas de hablar de los problemas de siempre, y desde luego no forma de teoría para ser “aplicada” a nuestros objectos convencionales. Se trata de otra cosa.

En eso estamos.   Quizás no es mucho o quizás lo es todo, para unos o para otros. Por lo pronto es una de las razones por las que podemos decir con cierta justicia que hay una oferta de pensamiento, una novedad necesaria e interesante, que no es ninguna trivialidad, y que importa muy por fuera del campo de estudios hispánicos, sea eso hoy lo que ya sea, lo que haya venido a ser.

Todo esto lo quería decir sólo para darle entrada a palabras no mías, sino del pensador italiano Michele Cometa, que dijo en una entrevista reciente lo siguiente:

Entrevista de Michele Cometa:

En fin, para terminar y poder pasar a la discusión específica de lo que dijo Cometa, me gustaría decir que vuestra generación está posiblemente marcada ya para siempre por la elección de Donald John Trump a la presidencia de los Estados Unidos. Eso marcará vuestro destino. Mientras tanto, mi recomendación, ni militante ni proselitista, pero desde luego necesaria e interesante, aunque solo sea para mí, es: Keep Calm & Think Infrapolitics.

On Two Footnotes in Spivak’s Critique of Postcolonial Reason. By Alberto Moreiras.

(I thank Eduardo González for pushing me to comment on Spivak’s characterization of Derrida’s figure of the marrano.)

“Split self as migrant hybrid,” Spivak says about a thread in Derrida’s writing that would have begun with The Other Heading.   Aporias would have radicalized the figure “into an earlier text of hybridity,” the marrano: “if one, figuring, calls marrano anyone who remains faithful to a secret he has not chosen, in the very place where he lives” (Derrida, quoted by Spivak).   Spivak concludes: “it is possible to think that the utterly persuasive dominant discourse of Derrida’s critique of Western metaphysics contains signs (or at least signals) of a prior identity hidden by collective covenant in response to shared menace.”   A “prior identity”?   The marrano does not refer to a prior identity except delusionally: a marrano is not and never was a prior Jew any more that it is or ever was a present Catholic.   Identity thinking keeps playing its games, errantly, and in open contradiction with itself—as it cannot but be, since identity could not organize a scene of writing, only of death. Spivak continues: “Does [the marrano] make specific—and necessarily efface—. . . the general graphematic that all disclosure is also effacement?”   Again, the marrano is presented as an “other text at work,” a prior text, except that the marrano is neither prior text nor other text: it could not be, or else the marrano sign itself would be effaced, reduced to its indexical function. Spivak concludes: “’We’ are, then, the marrano as old European.”

What is the purpose of it?   Spivak’s interest is in counterpositing her pair native informant/postcolonial subject (the postcolonial subject would have overwritten the native informant, would have effaced the native informant, the native informant would still be the site of a prior text, an other text, which all disclosures would ultimately desire) to the pair marrano/hybrid migrant. Derrida, then, would have appealed to the figure of the marrano as a tropology of old Europe, to use it as a lever for a critique of the present.

All of this happens in Gayatri Spivak’s note 29, pages 17-18, of the Critique of Postcolonial Reason.   In note 126, page 279-80, she returns to the same topic, addressing a claim about Derrida “seeming aware” of ethnocentrism in the production of knowledge.   Spivak wonders about Derrida’s “speculation” on “migrancy or displacement as an origin.”   But this means, Spivak says, that Derrida “would figure the indigenous subaltern, from the perspective of the metropolitan hybrid, as a correlative of cultural conservatism, topological archaism, ontopological nostalgia.”   The critique is pointed. For Spivak, a deconstruction of deconstruction, that is, to turn deconstruction against itself, would reveal that “each time that ethnocentrism is precipitately and ostentatiously reversed, some effort silently hides behind all the spectacular effects to consolidate an inside and to draw from it some domestic benefit.” As a result, after all is said and done, Spivak would reassert her preliminary assessment, in the earlier note, that Derrida places himself in the “role” of “an honorable and well-placed Eurocentric economic-cultural migrant.”

One can respect Spivak’s project in Critique of Postcolonial Reason and accept that, to a certain extent, one must use one’s elbows to make room for oneself in a crowded room. And one cannot deny the action, precisely not, to hybrid migrants either. The problem is that in these footnotes the notion of the marrano Derrida proposes goes to hell, or is sent to hell.   But no: the Derridian marrano, that is, Derrida’s marrano tropology, cannot be confused with the tropology that informs, forms, and defines Spivak’s meditation on native informants and postcolonial subjects.   It is, precisely, otherwise, something entirely other, and we do not have to go to the superimposed (by Spivak) figure of the “absolute arrivant.”   The marrano is not the absolute arrivant because it can never be the one who was always already there in some other place.   The marrano is not a figure of identity, which is the reason Spivak ultimately cannot countenance it, one has to conclude.

Whether the marrano only comes from European history, from a particular history of concrete hegemonization and consequent exploitation, or whether, as a figure, it is strong enough to assert its independence from its historical determination, the fact remains that the marrano is irreducible to postcolonial desire.  Which is not to say marranism, as a figure of postcolonial thought, if one wanted it, could not have decisive advantage over the identitarian thinking that, to date, seems to be most all of what postcolonialism is prepared to provide on its positive instantiation.

Katargein: notes on Giorgio Agamben’s L’uso dei corpi. By Gerardo Muñoz

Luso dei corpi 2015

1. L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014) is the culmination of Agamben’s Homo Sacer project after a little more than a decade. The thinker has warned that the volume should not be taken as the end of the project, but as the last installment before its abandonment. To this effect, it is for future thinkers and scholars to continue carrying forth an investigation that polemically proposes an archeological destruction of politics in the West. L’uso is a book written with a backward gaze on what has been elaborated in other volumes, while thematizing instances of the unsaid in them. A novelty in L’uso dei corpi is the constant iteration of anecdotal impressions that enact as emblems of the indeterminate threshold between thought and life.

None of these details are meant to add flare to the content. Rather, they allude to one’s impossible strategy of sketching or bearing witness to life. It is precisely that alocation which already introduces the idea of form of life. It is worthwhile to note that in this bravado, there is little meditation on Agamben’s own life, which remains silently opaque and perhaps on the side of “ette clandestinité de la vie privée sur laquelle on ne possède jamais que des documents dérisoires”. The writing of a life is only potential or a habitual relation of the singular with itself, foreign to conventional literary genres or works of memory and identity. The form of life coincides here with a writing that never anticipates its own becoming; it seeks for an inclination or a “gusto” (as opposed to an ‘aesthetic’ form) [1]. Hence, if according to Benjamin Heidegger’s thinking is angular; one is tempted to say that Agamben’s style is scaly as in the skin of a fish, only visible when exposed to light, generating multiple intensities and shifting canopies.

2. As the culmination of Homo Sacer, L’uso dei corpi is in equal measure the writing of the end of the ontological metaphysical tradition and the opening of the question of life or existence. This is not accomplished, like in Heidegger or Schürmann, solely as an extraction of the history of metaphysics given primacy to philosophical discourse. Rather the methodological wager here is archeology, which allows not for a process of “destruction” (although in a certain sense it is consistent with a deconstructive practice), but for one of rendering inoperative the machine(s) that capture negativity into life and politics, or the political as always an impolitical foundation or archē of life:

L’identificazione della nuda vita come referente primo e pota in gioco della politica e stato perciò il primo atto della ricerca. La struttura originario della politica occidentale consiste in una ex-ceptio, in una esclusione inclusive della vita umana nella forma della nuda vita. Si rifletta sulla particolarità di questa operazione: la vita non e in se stessa politica – per questo essa deve essere esclusa dalla citta – e, tuttavia, e propio l’exceptio, l’esclusione-inclusione di questo Impolitico che fonda lo spazio della politica” (Agamben 333).

[“The identification of bare life as the prime referent and ultimate stakes of politics was therefore the first act of the study. The originary structure of Western politics consists in an ex-ceptio, in an inclusive exclusion of human life in the form of bare life. Let us reflect on the peculiarity of this operation: life is not in itself political – for this reason it must be excluded from the city – and yet it is precisely this exceptio, the exclusion-inclusion of this Impolitical, that founds the space of politics” (Agamben 263)].

This position allows Agamben to simultaneously bring the relation between biopolitics and sovereignty to a maximum proximity, while taking critical distance from the so-called Italian Theory, in the variants of Cacciari, Esposito, or Tronti. Like these three, politics cannot be rethought without the wrench of the theological register, but unlike them, Agamben is not interested in take part in the construction of a nomic difference posited as an exclusive modality of “Italian difference”.

His critique is situated against the political as a transversal in Western rationality and ontology vis-a-vis the unfolding of paradigms. In Agamben’s view there is no need for epochal structuration, and not even for a history of metaphysics proper. Rather, the ‘history of metaphysics’ is the history of its apparatuses; and that is why the critique of these apparatuses is not fulfilled at the domain of epochal presencing, but rather within an array of fields of tension and relays – from metaphysics proper to the classics, from theology to modern literature, from philology to jurisprudence and political philosophy – in which power articulates and divides the constitution of life.

In this way, Agamben is neither a philosopher nor a critical theorist (in the Foucaltian or Kantian sense), since for him the history of Western philosophical tradition cannot consecrate itself in two or more moment, since the narrative of the history of philosophy is far from being the place where the question of “life” is waged. (As opposed to Foucault’s position in Lectures at Dartmouth College would could still argue: “Maybe also we can say that there are two great philosophical moments: the pre-Socratic moments and the Aufklärung”). Archeology and the paradigm are not historical moments or epochs, but singular signaturas in which the amphibology between potentiality and actuality, the political and its impolitical are dispensed as ensembles of legibility.

3. Unlike conventional philosophical histories or historico-intellectual reconstruction of ideas, the archeology of paradigms has no intention of restituting something like an uncontaminated or esoteric tradition. Averroism, just to take one example, has been casted erroneously in such a light. There is no such thing as an alternative non-metaphysical history of Western metaphysics and ontology, and the form of life as the part construens does not amount to an alternative history, but rather to the unthought of metaphysics, secluded between the public and the private (in the sphere of life), the norm and the exception. What is then given is not a second history, but something like the history of intimacy of thought at the instance of contact, a region that dwells in an improper de-relation (itself-with-itself). How Agamben reads the notion of “intimacy” could also be displaced to his rewriting of the philosophical and political stakes of his work:

אSolo a solo” e un’espressione dell’intimità. Siamo insieme e vicinissime, ma non c’è fra noi un’articolazione o una relazione che ci unisca, siamo uniti l’uno all’altro nella forma del nostro essere soli. Ciò che di solito costruisse la sfera della privatezza diventa qui pubblico e comune. Pero questo gli amanti si mostrano nudi l’uno all’altro: io mi mostro a te come quando sono solo con me stesso, ciò che condividiamo non e che il nostro esoterismo, la nostra inappropriabile zona di non-conoscenza. Questo Inappropriabile e l’impensabile, che la nostra cultura deve ogni volta escludere e presupporre, per farne il fondamene negative della politica” (Agamben 302).

[“א Alone by oneself” is an expression of intimacy. We are together and very close, but between us there is not an articulation or a relation or a relation that unites us. We are united to one another in the form of our being alone. What customarily constitutes the sphere of privacy here becomes public and common. For this reason, lovers show themselves nude to one another: I show myself to you as when I am alone with myself; what we share is only our esoterism, our inappropriable zone of non-knowledge. This Inappropriable is the unthinkable; it is what our culture must always exclude and presuppose in order to make in the negative foundation of politics” (Agamben 237-238)]

The critique raised against negativity as a disjointed form stages the necessary condition for division and distribution of ontology as political. It would not be too grandiloquent to say that negativity for Agamben is always machination and positionality. The life of intimacy or the intimate life is consistent with an infrapolitical region that is at once “superpolitical and apolitical” (hypsipolis apolis): separated in the ban from the city, it nevertheless becomes intimate and inseparable from itself, in a non-relation that has the form of an “exile of one alone to one alone” (Agamben 236). An affirmation of the regime of exodus inscribes the life of beatitude that always dwells in an absolute politicity (to the extent that the exception is de-captured and suspended), opening to a new politics of exile. It is a unity, not separation, from the political. But calling for the politization of the absolute state of exodus is already recasting the political as something other than what it has been in the Western tradition, as tied to the duopoly of polis-oikos, of inclusion-exclusion, or one of doxology and sovereignty.

Agamben moves on to argue that there have signatures in the history of thought where this politics of exile could be recasted: first, Neo-Platonism vis-à-vis Plotinus and Marius Victorinus; and secondly, in Averroism as the signature of the noetic common intellect that evades the figure of the person. But these two traditions do not exhaust the form of life (eidos zoes) that Agamben wants to pursue. The task of the coming philosophy is to imagine and provide for such thought through traditions that function as paradigms for the potentialities of thought against the historical unfolding proper of metaphysics.

4. The project does not limit itself to an archive of philosophers, but necessarily poses problems for theology. This is the case, for instance, of the early Christian rhetor Marius Victorinus. Victorinus’ apothegm from his treatise on the Trinitarian polemic (Adversus Arium) functions as a sort of chant of the form of life: “quasi quaedma forma vel status viviendo progenitus” [“life is a habit of living, and a kind of form generated by living”] (Agamben 221). Victorinus displaces and renders inoperative the ontological ground of the post-Aristotelian Hellenistic School to a co-substantialism between Father and Son, existence and essence that already prefigures the modal ontology of the late Leibniz-Des Bosses epistolary exchange, but also the Spinozian singular substance of Nature. This is symmetrical to the Averroist intellect, since ‘life’ does not take the character of a declination between attributes, properties, and differences, but is a mode instantiated by its living. The way of living becomes the threshold of indistinction, and as such, an incalculable life that is always already singular and, by the same token, a common life. But what is not clear in Agamben’s glossing of Victorinus is his place within the debate of Trinitarian thought. In Regno e Gloria, the Trinitarian machine functioned as a dual-power that was able to divide sovereign power from administrative or oikonomical power, a regime of attribute causation to one of collateral effects, one of necessity into the site where the instrumentalization of contingency takes place [2].

The Trinitarian machine allowed for the emergence of governance and administration beyond the facticity of sovereignty in a perpetual form of the stasis of humanity. By placing Victorinus as a thinker of the eidos zoes (form of life) is a risky one, Agamben might be suggesting that another turn within the theological machine is potentiality within the Trinitarian machine [3]. And this would solidify Malabou and Esposito’s recent positions, against Agamben, that political theology cannot be deconstructed. But if stasis is always a conflict in representation of the political, what Marius Victorinus posits for thought is a reconsideration of conflict that cannot assume the form of a stasis against democracy. Perhaps at stake is a democracy that never one with the People or predicated upon legitimacy. Rather, a democracy without kratos that is generated in its living body that cannot take the shape of a bare body of life or the mystical body of the political already positioned for a governance in spite of the absent People, such as in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.

5. Agamben’s exodus is not from the political, but rather a return to an absolute politicity. But what is the proper sphere of policity here? Are all aspects of Life subordinated to the political? What is the political for Agamben? Here the recoil is to Plotinus for whom the political is the happy life is the coincidental principle of “living well” (eu zen). Agamben condemns the Heideggerian “letting-be” (galassenheit), as yet another gesture already determinate to produce necessary exception (a ban) to the political [4]. This is why happy life is always extreme and minimal politicity that incorporates life in its form as always already taking place and as a form of beatitude. In the section “A life inseparable from its form”, Agamben writes:

Il mistero dell’uomo non e quello, metafisica, della congiunzione fra il vivente e il linguaggio (o la ragione, o l’anima (, ma quello, pratico e politico, della loro separazione. Se il pensiero, le arti, la poesia e, in generale, le prassi umane hanno qualche interesse, ciò e perché essi fanno girare archeologicamente a vuoto la macchina e le opera della vita, della lingua, dell’economia e della società per riportarle all’evento antropogenico, perché in esse il diventar umano, non cessi mai di avvenire. La politico nomina il luogo di questo evento, in qualunque ambito esso si produca” (Agamben 265-66).

[“The mystery of the human being is not the metaphysical one of the conjunction between the living being and language (or reason or the soul) but the practical and political one their separation. If thought, the arts, poetry, and human practices generally have any interests, it’s because they bring about an archeological idling of the machine and the works of life, language, economy, and society, in order to carry them back to the anthropogenetic event, I order that in them the becoming human of the human being will never be achieved once and for all, will never cease to happen. Politics names the place of this event, in whatever sphere it is produced” (Agamben 208)].

Politics here coincides fully with inoperativity, its katargein (the suspension and accomplishment of Law according his reading of Paul in The Times that Remains), a singular strategy of profanation that turns each action into its improper destitution. This is what constitutes use (chresis) in Agamben’s early part of the book, and it is also a general methodology for thought that coincides with politics. Since politics is not a sphere of life, or of an administrative partition of what life is (ontology), politics is a general strategy that renders life into an event for whatever (qualunque) use [5]. Strategic politics does not posit a principle of action; it is rather what does not solicit calculation, submersing into thought and distance of the non-relation. A handy example comes by way of chess, as explicitly thematized in the drift on Wittgenstein’s form of life in language, since gaming itself results in strategy in which rules are co-substantial and infinite in the state of things (the game). Hence, in every sphere of human activity, thought exceeds the productionism of calculation normatively captured.

But the qualunque – as we also learned from Agamben’s The Coming Community – is what reimagines another possibility of a community of singulars and homonyms vis-à-vis praxis and use as the kernel of pure means. This ‘politics’ de-appropriates the form in life that has remained caught in the schism of every biopolitics. Here Agamben differentiates himself from understanding the political as a public presencing in Schürmann’s anarchistic destruction of principal thought [6]. Figures such as the landscape, the intimate exposition, style, or the inclination to animality, are metonymic tropes for a politics of use and of the contemplative region of a life that is co-substantial with its form. On the other end, whatever divides and administers singularity is always production of bare life, which is why evil is first and foremost a consequence of biopolitical machination.

6. The major volumes of Homo Sacer always revolved around a series of polemical signatures: Carl Schmitt in State of Exception, Erik Peterson in Kingdom and the Glory, Kojeve in The Open, or Kant in Opus Dei. It is fair to say that in L’uso dei Corpi we are confronted with two names: Michel Foucault and Martin Heidegger. Unlike Schmitt and Peterson, these two names are not presented as archenemies, but rather as the thresholds where the possibility of new thought is contested and waged. Whereas Foucault’s limit is the hidden question of pleasure as use (chresis) still co-related with a care of the subject; Heidegger appears as the highest aporia of Western thought in thinking the ontological difference in the limit of the animal. It is fair to say that Agamben situates his thought at the crossroads of the existential analytic on one side, and the intimacy constitutive of the “care of oneself” as a work of art on the other [7].

If Heidegger lays down a destruction of ontology in Western metaphysics, Foucault’s genealogy of contemporary subjection, avoids precisely that problematization. The confrontation is not longer given between negativity and existence, but rather on the question of life and the strategies (aporetic, which for Agamben entail entrapment in the theological machine) of making thinkable an inoperative zone of the form of life. There is a third figure, Guy Debord, who accomplishes perhaps two interrelated strategies in the vortex of the book: first, it plugs thought to strategy (Debord invited a game of war, a sort of alteration of chess); and second, out points to the impossibility of narrativizing life. Debord’s Panegyric is form of life precisely because it fails to assume an autobiographical testamentary form as documentation. Of course, Agamben appears here not a thinker of semiology and traces, but of gestures and signatures. The coming philosophy of the form of life is precisely that mobility of signatures inclined towards a region that coincides with the event of thought.

7. L’uso dei corpi is also an attempt to thematize the place of singularity. ‘Singularity’ is a term that is never mentioned as such, but instead it takes the name of the form-of-life, the Ungovernable, or the Inappropriable. Similarly, there are three places where the singular is investigated at different moments of the book: a first ontological exegesis of the Aristotelian ti en einai, vis-à-vis Curt Arpe’s work on the Aristotelian grammar in a 1937 essay (Das Ti en einai bei Aristoteles). Secondly, a recast of Leibniz’s correspondence with theologian Des Bosses on the “substantial vinculum” as to inform the question of hexis. Thirdly, the figure of the form of life as happy life in the Neo-Platonic tradition, departing from Plotinus, and making its way to Marius Victorinus and Averroes. Spinoza comes to the forefront as the thinker of the passive immanent cause, only insofar as he accompanies other strategies, such as Guillaume’s operational time or Arpe’s grammatological exegesis in Aristotelian writings. The singularity is the life of thought as occurring, which opens itself to a conceptualization of the inoperativity of man: “We call thought the connection that constitutes forms of life into an inseparable context, into form of life…Thought is, in this sense, always use of oneself, always entails the affection that one received insofar as one is in contact wit a determinate body” (Agamben 210).

8. L’uso dei corpi picks up where Altisima Poverta left off; that is, on the question of the relation between life and law (regula), which for the Franciscans overdetermined the thinking through a relation instantiated in propriety. Against the nexus of the proper and rule of law, Agamben radicalizes the archeology of form of life with the notion of use (chresis) against biopolitical subsumption of life that attempts at making form of life of divisible and instrumentalized in ontology. The passage towards a form of life that is always already in use, seeks to inaugurate, on one hand, an ethics that is no longer predicated on subjective metaphysics concepts of will and duty, and that on the other, free the anthropogenic event of the human vis-à-vis its inoperativity [8]. In political terms this is not entirely solved in Agamben, and at the very end of the book, the gesture for a translation of praxis seems to retort, against all ‘negrism’ and counter-hegemonic rehearsals, as a process of institutionalizing the deposition maneuver of the destituent potential.

What is central is to think the anthropogenic form of life coincide with a new institutionalization of every singularity beyond a procedure of administration (oikonomia), but also the fiction of sovereignty (exceptio). Contra-Schürmann, Agamben admits that staging another principle of an-archy is a false exit, since power is always anarchic, but more importantly because economy remains on the shadowy side of the political. As Agamben argued in Regno e Gloria, oikonomia is the apparatus in which the West has organized the contingency and inoperativity of the anthropogenic event. Thus, the procedure of destituent power is fundamentally anti-an-archic, if the latter is to be understood as principally tangled as an ‘economy’.

What emerges for the allowance of the form of life is a strategy of the Pauline ‘as if not’ (hos me). Agamben understands this modality as a turning of the state of things without voluntarism, and beyond the creation of a ‘new identity’. In tune with Simone Weil’s decreation, the hos me does not instantiate a messianic escathon, sacrificially putting life before the transcendental or in the community (as in Taubes). Rather, the messianic hos me detonate a klesis in life that is no longer grounded in action or in communitarian terms. The Pauline ‘katargein’ deactivates the apparatus of criminalization of sin (which for Illich represents the machine of modern subjection), as well as the historical horizon of the philosophy of History as accomplishment of the law [9]. What Agamben is after, and still remains unresolved in the case of Paul, is a new de-relation with law in which the singular could face law without passing thorough property (Franciscanism) or the rule of law (anomie).

The coming politics is a politics of impotential actions, which is necessarily post-hegemonic politics, to the extent that it displaces the centrality of active domination in the polis to another region that takes ‘distance’ with politics [10]. The Pauline hos me becomes the true state of exception. In this sense, it is not an impersonal power immanent in every articulation of law, and which is why the inoperativity of law also takes distance from Esposito’s deconstruction of the politico-theological machine. Whereas law is always necessarily impersonal, the katargein is not on the reverse side of the person contained in generic equivalence of jurisdiction, but the deposition of every law in the irreducible life of the singular.

Albeit the critique of folding duality of the principial One into the person-subject, Esposito’s impersonal remains bounded to the limit of law that haunts the coming of modern biopolitics. Thus, the destitution of political theology has less to do with the deployment of certain terms whose provenance is the theological sphere, than the necessity of facing the question of law beyond the community and anthropologic productiveness of the subject. The Pauline ‘as if not’ is an effort to render thinkable a form of law no longer effective (‘actual’), but studied (impotential). Far from constituting a telic historical time, the messianic points to the potentiality of freeing the ethics immanent in every form of life, that is, decapturing the beatitude of humanity, which is the promise of Justice [11].

But how could a law of pure mediality be institutionalized? How can one open the way for law in line with the form of life not as constituting an impersonal relation, but an anarchical regulated game like the one that all infants play? After all, playing, like studying, is what denotes the force of Justice in the time of the living.



*Giorgio Agamben. L’uso dei corpi. Rome: Neri Pozza, 2014.

*Giorgio Agamben. Use Of Bodies. (Trans. Adam Kotsko). Stanford University Press, 2016.

  1. This has been recently published in another essay, Gusto (Quidlobet, 2015), although originally written in the 1970s.
  1. Agamben makes this distinction between sovereignty and the machine of oikonomia dominated by contingency in The Kingdom and The Glory: “In other words, two different concepts of the government of men confront each other: the first is still dominated by the old model off territorial sovereignty, which reduces the double articulation of the governmental machine to a purely formal moment; the second is closer to the new economico-providential paradigm, in which the two elements maintain their identity, in spite of their correlation and the contingency of the acts of government corresponds to the freed of the sovereign decision” (108).
  1. Marius Victorinus conception of absolute substantialization of the Trinity in his Treatise reads as follows in a crucial moment when introducing the ‘living life’: “Indeed, life is a habit of living, and it is a kind of form or state be- gotten by living, containing in itself “to live” itself and that “to be” which is life, so that both are one substance. For they are not truly one in the other, but they are one redoubled in its own simplicity, one, in itself because it is from itself, and one that is from itself because the first simplicity has a certain act within itself. For repose begets nothing; but movement and the exercise of acting forms for itself from itself that which it is or rather that it is of a certain mode. For “to live” is “to be”; but to be life is a certain modes of being, that is, the form of the living produced by the very one for which it is form. But the producer, “to live,” never having a beginning-for that which lives from itself has no beginning since it lives always-it follows that life also has no beginning. Indeed as long as the producer has no beginning, that which is produced has not a beginning. As both are together, they are also consubstantial. […] Therefore, from life comes understanding, and life itself comes from living, that is, from the Father comes the Son, and from the Son, the Holy Spirit. For he added this: “All things that the Father has are mine”; “I said that all that the Father has is mine, because all the Father has is the Son’s, “to be,” “to live,” “to understand.” These same realities the Holy Spirit possesses. All are therefore homoousia (consubstantial). [“Against Arius IV”, 277, from Theological Treatises on the Trinity, 1978.
  2.  Agamben writes: “And if being is only the being “under the ban” – which is to say, abandoned to itself – of beings, then categories like “letting-be”, by which Heidegger sough to escape from the ontological difference, also remain within the relation of the ban” (Agamben 268).
  1. Agamben retells this anecdote on his essay “Metropolis”: “Many years ago I was having a conversation with Guy (Debord) which I believed to be about political philosophy, until at some point Guy interrupted me and said: ‘Look, I am not a philosopher, I am a strategist’. This statement struck me because I used to see him as a philosopher as I saw myself as one, but I think that what he meant to say was that every thought, however ‘pure’, general or abstract it tries to be, is always marked by historical and temporal signs and thus captured and somehow engaged in a strategy and urgency. I say this because my reflections will clearly be general and I won’t enter into the specific theme of conflicts but I hope that they will bear the marks of a strategy”.
  1. Agamben’s moment of maximum proximity to Schürmann is also the one of his greatest remoteness. At the end of the last part of L’uso dei corpi he writes: “The limit of Schürmann’s interpretation clearly appears in the very (willfully paradoxical) syntagma that furnishes the book’s title: the “principle of anarchy”. It is not sufficient to separate origin and command, principium and princeps: as we have shown in The Kingdom and the Glory, a kind who rules does not govern is only one of the two poles of the governmental apparatus and playing off one pole against he other is not sufficient to halt their functioning” (Agamben 276).
  1. At the end of the Intermezzo on Foucault, Agamben takes this aporia of the subject to the end: “Certainly the subject, the self of which eh speaks, cannot be inscribed into the tradition of the Aristotelian hypokeimenon and yet Foucault – likely for good reasons – constantly avoided the direct confrontation with the history of ontology that Heidegger had laid out as a preliminary task. What Foucault does not seem to see, despite the fact that antiquity would seem to offer an example in some way, is the possibility of a relation with thyself and of a form of life that never assumes the figure of a free subject – which is to say, a if power relations necessarily refer to a subject, of a zone of ethics entirely substrate form strategic relation of an Ungovernable that is situated beyond states of domination and power relations.” (108).
  1. Andrea Cavalletti. “
  1. Agamben literally repeats the elaboration of inoperativity of the Law from the book on St. Paul: “An example of a destituent strategy that is neither destructive nor constituent is that of Paul in the face of the law. Paul expresses the relationship between the messiah and the law with the verb katargein, which means, “render inoperative” (argos), “deactivate”. Thus, Paul can write that the messiah “will render inoperative (katargese) every power, every authority, and every potential (Cor 15:26) and at the same time that the messiah is the telos of the law” (Romans 10:4): here inoperativity and fulfillment perfectly coincide”. (Agamben 273).
  1. The notion of ‘distance’ as a region of relation in the polis that precedes the equivalence grounded in administrative politics is thematized by Spanish philosopher Felipe Martinez Marzoa in his El concepto de lo civil (Ediciones Metales Pesados, 2008). Alberto Moreiras has recently treated this cuasi-concept as an infra-political register in his “Nearness against Community”:
  1. Carlo Salzani has listed a typology of “messianic figures” (the messianic that in Agamben has little to do with a philosophy of History). These are also figures of the hos me such as dancing, the party, gesture, play, poetry, landscape, or thought. Introduzione a Giorgio Agamben (Il Melangolo, 2013). But at stake here is also the question of Justice. In the chapter “The Inappropriable”, Agamben recalls a fragment written by W. Benjamin entitled “notes towards a Wok on the Category of Justice” (1916): “no order of possession, however articulated, can therefore lad to justice. Rather, this lines in the condition of a good that cannot be a possession. This alone is the good through which goods becomes possessions…Virtue can be demanded [exigency]; justice in the final analysis can only be as a state of the world or as a state of God” (81). It is a strange fragment mainly because exigency of virtue (arête) is isolated from a notion of “Justice” as a state of the World. But was not exigency as demand what happens without ever being demanded? On the opposite side, the ‘state of the world’ should not be equipped with the Heideggerian notion of ‘letting be’, but rather as a politics of exile of the singular or as Agamben says “to experience is absolutely inappropriable” (81). This is connected also with a later essay that Benjamin writes on the tenth anniversary of Kafka, in which he famously writes: “…legal scholar Bucephalus remains true to his origins, except that he does not seem to be practicing law – and this is probably something new, in Kafka’s sense, for both Bucephalus and the bar. The law, which is studied and not practiced any longer, is the gate to justice. The gate to justice is learning”. Benjamin quickly notes that there is a distinction between learning and studying; the first case being on the side of that which can be mastered. Playing or studying the law is in every case the praxis of Justice and nothing more.