Infrareligion in the abyss: on Jaime Rodriguez Matos’ Writing of the Formless: José Lezama Lima and the End of Time. By Gerardo Muñoz.

writing-of-the-formless_2017Jaime Rodriguez Matos’ Writing of the Formless: José Lezama Lima and the End of Time (Fordham U Press, 2016) is an ambitious and truly mesmerizing mediation on the Cuban poet José Lezama Lima in light of contemporary theoretical debates concerning the status of the political in the wake of Modernity’s decline into nihilism. Rodriguez Matos’ sophisticated intervention attempts to accomplish several objectives at once, and in this sense, the book does not pretend to be an exegetical or philological contribution to scholarly debates on the poet. Rather, in the book, Lezama is taken as a poet-thinker of the informe, whose main import into Western history of writing and thought is that of a ‘writing of the formless’ (Rodriguez Matos 171). In its totality, the whole book is a groundwork for such a claim, and it works through a series of tropologies, figures, and debates that extend from Lezama’s specific cultural Cuban context and its readers, to a set of wider debates pertinent to Left-Heideggerianism, political theology, or the event (although by no means, is the complex set of debates reducible to these three philosophical indexes).

If one were to describe the project in its most far-reaching ends, Writing of the Formless is important yet for another reason: by handling several topologies of Lezama Lima’s oeuvre, we are offered an in-depth analysis of the intricate conceptual wager in infrapolitics, or in infrapolitical-deconstruction, which as Rodriguez Matos suggests, is the provenance of Lezama Lima’s contribution as a critical task. The book is divided in two parts. In the first one, four chapters grid an explication of the problem of time, as well as that of the formless, revolution, and nihilism. In the second, Rodriguez Matos engages in an innovative reading of different zones in Lezama Lima that evidence the destruction of principial politics, and the opening towards an (infra)politics of the void. In this review, I can hardly do justice to a book that I truly consider a masterwork of contemporary thought. In my opinion, this monograph comes as close as it gets to being flawless in establishing conceptual premises and argumentative deployment. In what follows I will map some provocative elements of his exposition, in hope that it will be a starting point for a discussion with those critically engaging Latin America, the political, and the stakes of thought in our time.

The point of departure of Writing of the Formless is the temporal question (in Latin America, although it is not localized here as a site of privilege) of Modernity, which is registered as a Janus face machine: on one end, the linear time of Hegel’s philosophy of history; and on the other, the teleological time of the messianic redemption and reservoir to many salvific political theologies. Early in the book, Rodriguez Matos sets up to establish the conditions that guide the development of his task:

“But it now it seems that in fact modernity, and not any possible redemption or liberation from its political and economic deadlocks, is itself a mixed temporality that is constantly battling between a circular and a linear time – a linear time of alienation and a circulation teleological time of redemption. The two need to be taken together, even in the very (im)possibility of such a synthesis. And this would mean that modernity is no longer the other of the revolutionary interruption of empty chronological time; rather, these are two sides of a single coin” (Rodriguez Matos 33).

By way of this dual apparatus of time, it becomes clear that linear time represents the time of alienation, where the eternal return marks its radical detachment only to become the engine of the theological messianic interruption. The two temporalities that frame Modernity, according to Rodriguez Matos, are a policing force, as well as “a residual effect or the symptom of the emergence of order itself” (Rodriguez Matos 22). And it is this formal legislation that synthesizes a duality that veil, in a variety of effective techniques, the formless of any foundation. Throughout the book the formless has different dispositions, such as the “intemporal”, “time of the absence of time”, or Lezama’s own “muerte del tiempo”. These all play key strategic functions and deconstructive relays. It might be the case, at least implicitly, that Rodriguez Matos knows that the history of metaphysics to cover up the void is, at the same time, the narrative produced by its apparatuses. What is important, however, is that by allocating these two times, Rodriguez Matos is able to set up what was otherwise obstructed: mainly, the time of void, which falls right beneath all principial politics, always in retreat and outside legitimizing messianic and developmental policity of Western modernity that governs both the time of the One and that of the multiple. Lezama is the figure that mobilizes a drift away from these two modalities:

“…beyond the politization of politics, and beyond the image of time as synthetic operation, what remains is the possibility of thinking with the poet beyond the current apparatus of academic-imperial) knowledge and all of its returns” (Rodriguez 25).

One would not exaggerate much in concluding that Lezama Lima as a thinker of the informe becomes the necessary antidote and hospitable dispensary against the philological exercises of the traditional belleletrism, but also of decolonial and neocommunist designs that, although attempting at the surface to break-away with imperial semblances, end up carrying the guise of principial politics as the highest flagpole for self-legitimation.

The reading of the informe allows us to move beyond the temporal dichotomy between revolution and conservation, messianic originalism (such as that of catholic, later convert post-socialist official poet Cintio Vitier), and the multiplicity of historical time (such as that endorsed by Rafael Rojas, Cuba’s most sophisticated neo-republican intellectual historian). It must be noted, however, that many other intellectuals and thinkers are tested on this basis. The common ground shared by diverse thinkers such as Rafael Rojas, Ernesto Laclau, Cintio Vitier, Walter Benjamin, Bruno Bosteels, Alain Badiou, and those that subscribe to post-foundationalism becomes clear: mainly, the assumption that the crisis of nihilism of temporality can be amended by always providing an adjustment for the abyss. In this way, Rodriguez Matos offers a frontal critique of any claim instantiated in hegemonic phantasms: “Our task remains to think time in all its radical complexity – that is, to think time as something other than a solution” (Rodriguez Matos 44). Writing of the Formless stands up to this deliverance.

There are many important elements that come forth in this argumentation, one of them being that the covering of the formless, or the lack of foundation, is usually articulated through a master and masterable political theology. It is not just Rodriguez Matos who arrives at this conclusion, but also Bruno Bosteels by way of observing the inscription of Christianity in many of contemporary thinkers of the Left. In a passage cited by Rodriguez Matos from Marx and Freud in Latin America, we read: “All these thinkers [Badiou, Negri, Zizek], in fact, remain deeply entangled in the political theology of Christianity – unable to illustrate the militant subject except through the figure of the saint” (Rodriguez Matos 44). It is even more perplexing then, that Bosteels’ own solution to this problem ends up being just more political theology by way of Leon Rozitchner’s reading of Saint Augustine, and merely exchanging the category of the saint for that of the militant subject, even though this is already part of the history of alienation of Christianity [1]. But the reason for this might be, as Rodriguez Matos thematizes a few pages later, that any predicament for politization as supreme value today needs to ascertain some sort of militant subject of the event in order to guarantee a consensus on “contemporaneity”, and in this way avoids what the present is or what it actually stands for (Rodriguez Matos 109).

The chapters 2 (“Sovereignties, Poetic, and Otherwise) and three (“The Mixed Times of the Revolution”) attend to how the question of time was conceived within the Cuban Revolution. This framing, one must first note, already dislocates the grounds of the discussion centered on the sovereign or the caudillo, a fetish so dear to both revolutionary and liberal imaginations when confronting the ‘Latinamericanist object’. Hence, in chapter two, Rodriguez Matos advances a demolishing reading of the temporality of foquismo, although not on the grounds that one could have imagined. From a historiographical standpoint, it is common to agree on the fact that that both Guevara and Debray’s formulations have little substance in historical experience, since they are theoretical fictions that develop to master a non-repeatable event (the Cuban Revolution), which was far from being successful solely because of the foco guerrillero in the first place. But this is not Rodriguez Matos’ critique. The argument is set up to make the claim that the Revolution, in order to become flesh and conceive the unity and sameness with the people, theory must be first discarded (Rodriguez Matos 60). Rather mysteriously, in foquismo it is the people that ‘act’, while Guevara becomes its narratological supplement. This is the inversion of the Leninist principle that alleged that in order for a revolution to materialize it needs a good theory beforehand.

Guevara, in Rodriguez Matos, takes the role of the anti-Lenin. In fact, in a strange way, Che appears as a sort of naturalist-philosopher: “…what Guevara is after is the same time that was at issue in Marti: the idealism of the Revolution has to become a force of nature, sprouting in the wind without being cultivated…in all its originary ontological stability, phusis) and the people, without the transubstantiation of the idea into flesh yielding intimate unity, and without this force of nature forging revolutionary ideology…this passage would be nothing but the declaration of one individual from Argentina who has recently landed in a foreign land…” (Rodriguez Matos 60). Guevara is a hopeless romantic, who recaps the Romantic ideal of the fragmented temporality in the pedagogical poem, only that for him the impolitical people are in a “time out of joint”. This is why they must also become a New Man. The catastrophe of foquismo, is thus not merely at the level of a massive historical evidence, but an afterfact of a metaphysics that is already one step away from thinking the void, while formalizing it through a dialectical moment. Rodriguez Matos stages the central problem, just after having glossed Guevara’s revolutionary thought:

“For the metaphysics in question already relies heavily on the form in which it makes multiple small narratives. For the metaphysics in question already relieves heavily on the form in which it makes multiple temporalities appears together. That is, modernity is fundamentally and internally committed to the constant confrontation of disparate forms of time. Instead, I suggest taking a closer look at the time of lost time, the time of the void, and what might happen when it is not filled in but, rather, allowed to resonate in all its formlessness.” (Rodriguez Matos 61).

How should we understand this echo? The turn to Celan and Heidegger’s immersion in noise and the ontological difference validates immediately any vacillation in the answer, since what is at stake is ultimately to think not the “standstill of all time” of the messianic force, but our being in time understood as our most basic and intimate relation that we have with time (Rodriguez Matos 70). It is only this absent time of the formless that will be one of majesty, capable of undoing sovereign authority and its governability over the singular.

The third chapter moves against the belief that Lezama Lima can be grasped in interested disputes regarding his intellectual provenance, political ideology, or assumed Catholicism (origenismo). This is an arduous task, but Rodriguez Matos makes it look easy through a threefold operation. First, Lezama is moved beyond the antinomies of secularization and aesthetics, placed in the proper site of the religion of the formless (we will come back to this). Secondly, Rodriguez Matos confronts Lezama’s own interpretation of the Revolution as parusia or Second Coming, which coincides perfectly with Guevara’s own model of the “ways things are” that folds revolutionary Cuba into globalization due an ingrained total administrate apparatus over life (Rodriguez Matos 93).

This entails that revolutions, if we take the Cuban experience as metonymic of the phenomenon, are always already biopolitical experiences, even though Rodriguez Matos does not frame it in such terms. Third, by understanding the ‘mixed’ temporality of communism and revolutionary politics as convergent with the temporality of capitalism, we come to understand that the second is always on reserve in the backdrop of the state and its institutions (Rodriguez Matos 96-97). In sum, the superposition of revolutionary times with the time of capital is here shown, once again, to be two sides of the same dual narrative of modernity that turns away from the abyss at the heart of politics. This complicates many, if not all, of the assumptions that Cuban transitologists have disputed with very futile outcomes, in my opinion, in the last decade.

Finally, the fourth chapter “Nihilism: Politics as the Highest Value” rightly places the question of nihilism at the center. This is a return to the question of political theologies discussed above. Whereas many of the thinkers on both sides, republicanist and communist alike, take up the question of nihilism, the result, according to Rodriguez Matos, is that it is presented as a fight against those that think the problem of nihilism. Thus, the “banality of nihilism must be dismissed or critiqued” (Rodriguez Matos 104). The operation rests on the fact that the question of being must be avoided at all costs. And this is achieved in at least two main forms: discarding nihilism by proposing a “multiplicity of times” (Rojas), or by proposing a “living philology” (Vitier, Bosteels) that would be able to restitute a truth of a text of the past to give proper political ground (Rodriguez Matos 115). Now the tables are turned, and those that seek to cover the void, as if that were an option, appear as agents of a true nihilistic force.

The second part of the book titled “Writing the Formless,” provides a roaming through Lezama’s conceptualization of the void against politico-theological closure, arriving at the unthought sites of the ontological difference after Heidegger and deconstruction, and moving into infrapolitics. This is an exemplary section in the sense that Rodriguez Matos warns that he is in no position to offer a transhistorical formal theory of Lezama’s writing, and in this way he calmly avoids the universitarian-Master demand for a totalizing expertise of lezamianos. This operation is undertaken not for the sake of confrontation against Lezama specialists, but rather due to a more modest motive: it is not the point that drives Writing of the Formless. Anyone to counter argue on this level is rather to sidestep its most important contribution of this book. Finally, Rodriguez Matos lays out what is at stake, which is tailored as a question that by far exceeds Lezama Lima as a single corpus:

“Ultimately what is at issue whether there is a difference between those texts of the Western tradition that forget the question of being and those whose starting point is the challenge and the difficulty that the question poses, the challenge and the resistance involved in dealing with the ground that is and is not there in its absence. What is at stake is whether or not it is possible to imagine a writing and a thought that do not simply fall silent in order to guarantee the continuity of the narrative of legitimacy and sovereign authority in the poem or in politics – but the link between these two is also at issue here. That is, whether or not it is possible for posthegemonic infrapolitics to be something other than the trace of politics” (Rodriguez Matos 136).

What immediately follows is a series of closely knit constellations of the writing of the formless as absent time in Lezama, which I can only register here without much commentary: Lezama’s own critique of T.S. Eliot’s notion of the difficult, a critique of Garcia Marruz’s reading of the aposiopesis as rhetoric’s hegemonic property, Lezama’s understanding of Aristotelian metaphoricity; Lezama’s philosophy of an atopical One, and finally Rodriguez Matos’ own conceptual position of Lezama as an infrareligious and infrapolitical figure that pushes politico-theological legislation of principles to their very limit into a ‘nonsynthesizable reminder’ [sic] (Rodriguez Matos 154). Further, Lezama’s vitalist response to the Platonist pros hen, unlike the immanentist modern reversal, concludes in a Platonist affirmation instead of an overcoming of Platonism (Rodriguez Matos 139). Rodriguez Matos intelligently resolves this bizarre multiplicity vis-à-vis a parallel reading of Paul Claudel, who rejects aposteriori knowledge in exchange for the cognizant objectification of God before the sovereignty of the Poet. Although I am left thinking about the status of Neo-Platonism as it relates to the discussion of Christian Trinitarian thought [2].

But Rodriguez Matos goes further, and the Lezama that emerges from this destructive multi-level procedure is one that resists alleogrization, taking cue from Alberto Moreiras’ pioneering reading in Tercer Espacio (1999), as well as a privileged and secured position of a profane materialism over the question of form. And it is also in this very instance where Rodriguez Matos opens up to a complicated debate, which although unresolved, is the most striking and illuminating kernel of his book. In short: does ‘the roaming of the formless’ [sic] in Lezama offer something other than a trace of politics? I want to suggest, from my first reading of what is certainly a complex conversation, that this remains unresolved in Writing of the Formless. Let’s consider a key moment at the end of the book:

“For part of what I am calling attention to is the fact the staging of the formless in Lezama involves a thematization and an awareness of what should only be there as trace. This awareness goes beyond a more familiar claim regarding the self-deconstruction of discourses of their own accord – this is, after all, also what the trace is supposed to underscore. I would like to read this excess of awareness as a radicalization of deconstruction” (Rodriguez Matos 176).

This radicalization will entail leaving behind the moment of ecriture, which characterized the first wave of deconstruction in literary fixation and textual playfulness. Infrapolitics will be, programmatically speaking, post-deconstruction, or what Moreiras has recently called a second turn towards instituted deconstruction [3]. But the question remains: is infrapolitics then, a trace of politics? It is an unresolved question, but perhaps the most important one. Rodriguez Matos leaves us a clue at the very end of the book. When discussing the baroque – and let’s not lose sight of the fact of how late the question arrives, which is a merit and not a pitfall – Rodriguez Matos cites a letter of Lezama to Carlos Meneses: “I think that by now the baroque has begun to give off a stench” (Rodriguez Matos 181). The Baroque has come become an exchangeable token for the Boom, the last stage of identitarian transaction. But it is more than this: the baroque can no longer account for the informe at the heart of the image and rhythm.

Let’s probe this further. If the baroque is now exhausted, it is because all politics of the frame are insufficient to cope with the formless. The primacy of the critique of political economy today, for example, remains just one of its last formal avatars. But one could also respond to Rodriguez Matos’ final invitation, and say that while the aesthetic program of the baroque is demolished or turned into ashes, perhaps a trace of it remains in posthegemonic politics. To the extent that we understand the baroque as a political of self-affirmation against Imperium beyond hegemony, the baroque necessarily entails a republicanist politics [4].

In other words, while the infrareligious trace depends on the abyss, posthegemonic politics of republicanism sprouts from the baroque in early modernity against any imperial and counter-imperial conversions. Rodriguez Matos interchangeably speaks of infrapolitics and posthegemony throughout the book, therefore this nuance could be taken as a radicalization of the second term in line with the disclosure regarding the baroque. Post-deconstructive infrapolitics remains open. But if Lezama’s legacy is waged on having confronted the formless abyss of the absent time; perhaps, the author of Dador can also reemerge as a political thinker and existential representative not of Paradise, but of the secret Republic. This will entail a republicanism that, in each and every single time, does not longer participate in the eternal arcanum.






  1. This does not mean that St. Augustine cannot be read against the myth of political theology. Such is the task that José Luis Villacañas has accomplished in his Teología Political Imperial: una genealogía de la division de poderes (Trotta, 2016). In my view, Rozitchner’s La Cosa y la Cruz (1997) is a flagrant misreading of Augustinian anti-political-theology in exchange for a superficial materialist affective analysis. Although I do not have space to discuss this at length, I must note that Rodriguez Matos’ discussion of contemporary materialisms is also a timely warning about the easy exists that the so-called “materialisms” offer today as an effective transaction in contemporary thought. For his discussion of materialism see, pgs. 104-108.
  1. The question of Neo-Platonism is a fascinating story by itself, which speaks about the multiple in the One. Pierre Hadot studied its influenced in debates of early Trinitarian thought in his work of Marius Victorinus; recherches sur sa vie et ses œuvres (Paris: Etudes augustiniennes, 1971). Now, it seems that Lezama Lima himself was not foreign to Plotinus and Neoplatonism, which he linked it to the emergence of the modern poem. In fact, while reading Writing of the Formless, I revisited my copy of Lezama Lima’s unpublished notes in La Posibilidad Infinita: Archivo de José Lezama Lima, ed. Iván González Cruz (Verbum Editorial 2000). It was interesting to find that in “Oscura vencida”, a fragment from 1958, Lezama writes: “Si unimos a Guido Cavalcanti, March, Maurice Sceve, John Donne, en lo que puede ser motejados de oscuros, con distintos grados de densidad, precisamos que sus lectores, puede ser los más distinguidos cortesanos, o estudiantes que versifican cuando la hija del tabernero inaugura unos zarbillos…Con una apresurada lectura de la Metafísica de Aristóteles, sobre todo su genial concepto del tiempo que pasa a Hegel (sic) y a Heidegger; con cuatro diálogos platónicos, donde desde luego no faltara el Parménides. Con algunas añadiduras de Plotino sobre la sustancia y el uno…ya está el afanoso de la voluptuosos métrica en placentera potencialidad para saborear una canción medieval, un soneto del renacimiento florentino, o una ingenua aglomeración escolástica que se quiere sensibilizar, o una súmala de saber infantil, regida por un pulso que no se abandonó a la plácida oficiosa…” (252). This does not necessarily dodge Rodriguez Matos’ discussion of Claudel, but complicates it, since the trinity also merges at different points throughout the book. My question is whether any discussion of Trinitarian co-substantialism is still embedded in metaphysical structuration as potentia absoluta, or if Lezama’s informe is a Parthian attack against this influential model of absolute potentiality by turning it into a monstrous infrareligion. At stake here is also the issue of ‘reversibility’ that is obliquely exposed at the end of the book (Rodriguez Matos 189).
  1. See Alberto Moreiras, “Comentario a Glas, de Jacques Derrida”.
  1. The question of the republicanist politics, Imperium, and the baroque is studied in detailed in Ángel Octavio Álvarez Solis’ La República de la Melancolía: Politica y Subjetividad en el Barroco (La Cebra, 2015).

Abendland: on Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Banality of Heidegger. By Gerardo Muñoz.

nancy-banalityJean Luc Nancy’s The Banality of Heidegger (Fordham, 2017) is yet another contribution to the ongoing debate on Heidegger and Nazism, in the wake of the publication of the Black Notebooks in recent years. Originally delivered as a conference on Heidegger and the Jews in 2014, Nancy’s brief essay expounds on other contributions on the topic, such as those by Peter Trawny, Donatella Di Cesare, and the Heidelberg Conference of 1988 (now also available) between Georg Gadamer, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Jacques Derrida. Nancy’s intervention in the debate is important for several reasons; one of them being that the essay maps the strange career of the ‘banality of antisemitism’ into philosophical discourse. And not just any philosophical discourse, but Heidegger’s discourse, which remained ambitious, as we know, in unleashing a destruction of Western metaphysics for the recommencement of thought. Moving beyond Arendt’s own characterization of banality, Heidegger, in Nancy’s view, is not an administrator that followed the categorical imperative immunized by a bureaucratization of moral judgment. The banality of antisemitism in Heidegger is the displacement of the juridical register into the proper philosophical one (Nancy 2). This is why, for Nancy, the catastrophe of Heidegger’s philosophical antisemitism is a failure that also happened to us in thought, and that it is still very much open as a possibility for us today (Nancy 62). In a certain way, Nancy’s essay also reads as a timely warning for anyone wanting to commit to thinking at all.

Nancy’s point of departure shares Peter Trawny’s hypothesis elaborated in Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy (2015) that the Jew possesses absent historiality that does not allow for destinial movement towards soil, decision, and people (Nancy 25).  The technical term for historial, as Jeff Fort reminds us in the Preface, corresponds to weltgeschichtlich, and could also be translated as “world-historical”. This provenance explicitly thematizes the banal anti-semitic myth coming out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but also from Theodor Lessing’s “Jewish Self-Hatred” published in the 1930s. It is hard to know how Heidegger would have not known these works, although harder is to think how they arrived as such a central place in his philosophy. In fact, this is the ‘knot’ of the banality of antisemitism in philosophical thought. The Jew in Heidegger’s thinking becomes metonymic for machination and gigantism, democracy and Americanism. In fact, according to Nancy, Heidegger’s anti-jewish trope might have fallen into what he has called the principle of general equivalence, in which humanity is flattened out by generalities of particular traits that come to represent the total abendland or decline of the West. Nancy writes, rehearsing here arguments from his previous Truth of Democracy and After Fukushima:

“But the machination that gives rise to such a naturalist principle leads in the direction of a complete ‘deracialization’ of a humanity reduced to the undifferentiated equality of all, and in general of all beings. It is interesting to note that the argument is not very far removed from the one in which Marx qualifies money as a “general equivalent” in which productive humanity is alienated from its proper existence and therefore from its value or meaning…[..]. The Jewish people is the identifiable agent, property identifiable (or more properly, a bizarre notion that must no doubt be recognized), of what at the same time is a broad composition of masses and identities, America or Americanism, communism and technics, French, English, Europeans, Germans, even, and “Abendland”, evening, decline, collapse. At bottom, the “decline of the west” is a pleonasm.” (Nancy 15-18).

The consequence of such operation is clear: the principle of general equivalence entails an extreme and unprecedented form of evil. Hence, Nancy concludes, rightly so, in my opinion, that no generality can contain or exempt a true opening from its system. Then, we must assume that there is really no authentic “letting be” in Heidegger’s thought. In fact, the exclusive-inclusive status of Judaism in heideggerianism is hyperbolic to the disastrous limitations of the ‘letting be’ in his philosophy. This will also be consistent with Giorgio Agamben’s reservations in L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014) of the gelassenheit as shorthand for the logic of the political ‘ban’. The philosophical status of the Jew in Heidegger, starting in the thirties onward, is marked by the assumption that the Jew is the main figure (and its gestalt, meaning that is also giving shape) of Western decline. This formulation is only possible from the standpoint of the condition of equivalence. The kernel of equivalence in Nancy’s Banality of Heidegger is the strongest critique, as far as I am aware, directed against Heidegger’s anti-semitism. I say this for two reasons, which are connected to Nancy’s argument, but that I will try to push towards a different direction.

First, if antisemitism is integrated in the principle of equivalence, this allows for thinking the problem of democracy, not abandoning it. This implies that the principle of democracy is not surpassed by Heidegger’s own convergence of the term as identical to the event of the “masses”, “people”, “race”, or “technical development”. Nancy asks the question in light of the “Jew”, but one could also alter the term by asking for the status of “democracy” in Heidegger’s thought. In fact, Heidegger’s politics in the Black Notebooks advance a strong position for a metapolitics of the people, which Nancy does not get to discuss in such a brief essay.  This is consistent with Heideggerian emphasis on ‘original beginnings’ (in the Greek sense, which Nancy does overtly emphasize), amounting to a rhetoric of reversibility. In fact, Heidegger’s position on the Jew is equally grounded in what I would call a metapolitics of reversibility, that is, a firm belief that capitalist democracy is reversible and that there is a, or some, originary beginnings. Heidegger’s antidemocratic metapolitics points to his most extreme failure, since democracy as a practical political arrangement in the name of the singular is always fissured, evolutionary, and opened to contingent configurations in its divisions of power without reassurance for the destinial [1]. This is also why only democratic republicanism can be a politics without metapolitics and without arcana. Heidegger’s thought in the Black Notebooks and elsewhere is anti-democratic as much as it is anti-semitic, or it is anti-democratic because it is anti-semitic.

My second reason: any talk of the past presupposes a sense of history of the human. At one point in the essay, Nancy rightfully points to something not always discussed in Heidegger: “It was important to him [Christianity], therefore, above all not to retain the traces of other beginnings throughout the history of the West, and especially not at the points of its most perceptible inflections (Christianity, Renaissance, the industrial and democratic revolution). At the same time, the rejection or exclusion of the Jews by Christianity aims to reject and exclude something could complicate even disturb the strict Christian initiality” (Nancy 56). Nancy concludes that in Heidegger’s work there was never an attempt to flesh out the differences between Christian dogmatics and non-apologetics, the Church and its forms of communizations. Thus, Heidegger remained oblivious to the survival of Christian forms. In the indiscriminate package ‘Judeo-Christian onto-theology’, the equivalence surfaces as yet another form of emphasizing the course of the destinial sending of the West, while leaving aside a more complicated history proper to the human. Also, since destination was always thought as an aftereffect of errancy, Nancy suggests, following Rigal, that the Heideggerian errancy never abandoned the arcanum of an originary proper beginning and a possible recommencement. This is even stranger if we are to consider Judaism’s provenance in errancy without territory.

But this slight neglect is the place where Heidegger is closer to the doctrinal philosophy of Hitlerism. Since, as historian Timothy Snyder has shown, Hitler believed that the Jew was a vicarious agent of technology and capital, lacking territory and place, which only after its destruction could the notion of the ‘struggle of the species’ reappear in truth and proper light [2]. It does nothing to the argument to respond that Heidegger remained detached from the racial or biological assumptions of Hitlerism. It only matters that he shared the belief of the destruction of the Jewish people, and the Jew as one of the ‘oldest figures’ (sic) of self-destruction.

The essay concludes with Nancy’s two pleas to continue thinking with and through Heidegger: first, to break away with the historical mode of progress as a world conquest made by man with “exponential finalities” and second, to reject any substantial intromission into a new “ontology”, while opening errancy against any destinial metapolitics (Nancy 58). One wonders to what extent the late Heidegger came to subscribe the second position, or if the Ereignis is the continuity of thought in banality and bad faith (Nancy seems to think the latter). It is much harder to accept the rejection of the idea of progress. Although, this is the common ground that both Nancy and Heidegger share as reject sons from the project of the Enlightenment. Yet, as we remain alert to ways of questioning its irreversibility, we know that this is still today a strong antidote against common banalities.


  1. I sympathize with José Luis Villacañas’ critique of Heidegger’s return to the Greek beginning in his Teología Política Imperial: una genealogía de la división de poderes (Trotta, 2016).
  1. Timothy Snyder. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. New York: Tim Dugan Books, 2016.

Entrevista a Bruce Ackerman en CTXT. Por Gerardo Muñoz.


Esta  semana entrevisto al Prof. Bruce Ackerman (Yale University) para el medio español ctxt. Reconocido como uno de los constitucionalistas más importantes en los Estados Unidos, Ackerman es autor de dieciocho libros, entre los que destacan su serie We The People, en tres volúmenes, un trabajo monumental que reconstruye el desarrollo histórico del constitucionalismo del país, el cual propone una interpretación del ‘espíritu de vivencia’ de la Constitución norteamericana contra la exégesis originalista y el centralismo de las cortes. Recientemente en España se ha publicado el primer volumen, bajo el título We The People: Fundamentos de la Historia Constitucional Estadounidense (Traficantes de sueños, 2015). Conversamos sobre Trump, Podemos, y las posibilidades para la reinvención de una agenda progresista para el siglo veintiuno. Leer la entrevista aquí.

Imagen infrapolítica y supervivencia de las luciérnagas. Por Alberto Moreiras.

th-1Para mí la referencia es el Libro de Tobit, uno de los libros deuterocanónicos del Viejo Testamento que, en cuanto tal, no aparece en todas las Biblias. Es una historia maravillosa en la que se cuenta cómo un joven, Tobías, hijo de un hombre piadoso en el exilio que nunca sin embargo olvidó enterrar a los muertos ni ocuparse de las viudas y los huérfanos de su pueblo, arruinado por el poder político, marrano, debe ir a cobrar una deuda a algún lugar remoto. Para ello encuentra la ayuda de un compañero, el ángel Rafael, que le aconseja cómo defenderse de un pez mágico que le ataca en el río, y cómo extraer de ese pez herramientas indispensables para su vida: la forma de exorcizar el demonio que plaga la vida de Sara, su futura mujer, y la forma de curar la ceguera de su padre, causada por excrementos de golondrinas. Pero también la posibilidad de encontrar su camino en el desierto, y no perderse. Cuando Tobías retorna al lugar paterno, con mujer y fortuna, su padre pide que le pague a su compañero. El compañero revela entonces su calidad de ángel y marcha. Tobit y Tobías viven muchos más años, y uno no puede sino pensar que su vida, la vida no narrada, la vida que resta, está cruzada por el tiempo de la espera–la vida es entonces la espera por el retorno del ángel, o el tiempo que falta para tal retorno.

Esa vida en la espera, la vida del abandonado por el ángel que alguna vez lo acompañó, es la vida infrapolítica. En Supervivencia de las luciérnagas Georges Didi-Huberman invoca la figura de la luciérnaga, entendida como el fulgor de un cuerpo en la noche y en cuanto tal lugar de deseo. Esas son las luciérnagas vistas en la infancia de Pasolini, de las que Pasolini abjura, anunciando su muerte definitiva, en 1975, poco antes de su propia muerte. Son también las luciérnagas de la infancia en Giorgio Agamben–las mismas luciérnagas de las que también Agamben dirá en El reino y la gloria que han sido quemadas por la luz de una gloria entendible solo como luz cegadora de la sociedad del espectáculo o, alternativa o complementariamente, de los faros de los coches neofascistas.

Didi-Huberman rechaza la idea de la muerte de las luciérnagas. Apela al mesianismo débil de Benjamin para insistir en que la destrucción de la experiencia no es total, incluso bajo condiciones de caída, y que es en la caída misma donde todavía–y ese todavía es perpetuo–pueden encontrarse fulgores de deseo dada la indestructibilidad de lo destruible (Antelme, Blanchot). La destrucción de la experiencia nunca puede eliminar el residuo de la espera, excepto con la muerte. Pero no estamos muertos. En esa medida, sobrevivimos, y la sobrevivencia es siempre producción de fulgores en la noche. La imagen–todo fulgor en la sombra es un fulgor de imágenes–sobrevive a cualquier horizonte apocalíptico, y demuestra la ilusión de todo apocalipsis, la ilusión de todo horizonte.

Por eso para Didi-Huberman “toda manera de imaginar es una manera de hacer política.” La luciérnaga es en última instancia la supervivencia de la política, entendida paradójicamente como la supervivencia del deseo o del pensamiento. La luciérnaga es “fuerza diagonal” (Arendt) que impide el cierre de la política y promete por lo tanto todavía una redención, o una fe en la redención, que es irreduciblemente política. Desde este punto de vista, la supervivencia de las luciérnagas se marca en clave voluntarista o decisionista–también el éxodo de Bataille hacia la “experiencia interior” tendría esa clave.

Pero volver al Libro de Tobit permite hacerse la pregunta de si la espera por el retorno del ángel que no redime, sino que solo acompaña y dota de confianza nuestros días, es una espera política; si conviene adjetivar de política a esa acción sin acción que marca el ritmo de la espera en la caída de la experiencia. ¿No será más bien acción infrapolítica? ¿No son las luciérnagas, los fulgores en la noche, más bien resultado involuntario de una espera atenta en la desaparición misma de la política? Otra cosa es que el que espera pueda también esperar políticamente. Pero darle a la imagen como único horizonte el horizonte político es también una forma de sustituir horizonte por imagen, y de subordinar la imagen a su siempre improbable politicidad primaria. Imagen infrapolítica–ese es el fulgor en la noche, que es un fulgor sin horizonte.

En la historia de Tobías la espera no es redentora, y el angel no retorna. En realidad, la espera refiere a una natalidad diferida, es repetición de la natalidad–repetición de la euforia de un despertar que lleva dentro el dolor de la separación, y que aún así es bienvenida. Los fulgores en la noche son, en cada vida, lo que se adapta a esa tensión temporal, lo que aparece, si aparece,  y entonces  colma,  parcialmente, en separación, un deseo que admite muchas modulaciones (puede ser una modulación serena, un dejamiento en el tiempo, o puede ser una modulación desesperada, la del adicto, por ejemplo). La luz es luz oscura, porque viene de lo oscuro–pero es una oscuridad que destella. No es la mera ausencia de luz, no es la nada. El tiempo es el tiempo que viene en cada caso, el tiempo existencial. En cierto sentido se podría decir que esa espera es el pensar–en el sentido preciso en el que pensar es habitar. Uno puede habitar políticamente o uno puede habitar en el fútbol, pero esas son opciones derivadas: habitar es en cada caso esperar el retorno del ángel, que no redime y no llega, etc. Llegan, o no llegan, los fulgores porque la espera los prepara, hay preparación, no redención. No para Tobías, que muere como todos, prematuramente, a los 117 años, después de una vida suficientemente piadosa.

Republicanismo arcaico. Por Alberto Moreiras


Inigo Errejón no es un reformista contra el revolucionarismo de Pablo Iglesias–ese es uno de los malentendidos que han circulado estas semanas, impulsados por el entorno de Iglesias, aunque sin duda también por otros agentes. Errejón simplemente no acepta esa división del mundo tan querida de la vieja izquierda, y que siempre fue ramplona y excluyente, entre reformistas y revolucionarios. Eso es parte de lo que Errejón rechaza, desde un entendimiento de lo político, y desde luego también de su contextualización en Europa, que pide otras categorías de formalización. A Errejón le resulta ingenuo–por buenas razones–sostener que en este mundo traidor uno no puede fiarse más que de los camaradas, y tiene que convertir a todos los demás en enemigos, y a partir de ahí tramar una gloriosa revolución. La no-división del mundo entre amigos y enemigos, que es un rechazo del schmittianismo, está acompañada por una teoría del antagonismo que difiere considerablemente de la de Iglesias, de la de Monedero, Monereo, Anguita y toda la fila de ellos, pero que es semejante a la de Chantal Mouffe. El populismo duro de Iglesias, basado en una concepción sustancialista del enemigo, ha derrotado en Vistalegre 2 a un populismo menos verticalista, en el que no hay en primera instancia enemigos sino antagonistas con los que se puede negociar. Se trata de una concepción del espacio social muy diferente de la de Iglesias y de la vieja izquierda, pero que todavía no ha sido clarificada suficientemente, desde luego no por Errejón, todavía atrapado en esquemas que se le hacen estrechos desde el punto de vista de su propia praxis política.

Siempre ha habido incompatibilidad entre referentes teóricos supuestamente nuevos, como los negrianos, pero que no lo fueron nunca en política, y los referentes teóricos laclauianos. El error de los últimos años ha sido pensar que el denominador común estaba en Gramsci, y que se podían conciliar todos. Pero Vistalegre2 ha arrojado una llave de tuerca a la tripa de la máquina teórica convencional, y ahora hay que volver a empezar. Esto no es en el fondo malo–si sirve para reformular la teoría del populismo como una dimensión de la política que tiene que trascenderse desde dentro para encontrar funcionalidad a largo plazo.  Esa es una tarea pendiente para Errejón y la gente que simpatiza con sus posiciones políticas.

En The Young Pope, de Paolo Sorrentino, que el otro día me recomendaba German Cano en el contexto de una discusión recogida más abajo en este blog,  Pio XIII dice que ya está bien de tanta tontería ecuménica, de tolerancia, de evangelización suave, de amor al prójimo, y de comunicación mediática y de rostro humano, y que hay que volver a las esencias radicales de la relación siempre tortuosa, difícil, y heroica con lo divino. Contra toda “corrección política.” Uno puede pensar que Iglesias es el representante en la tierra de ese Pio XIII que en inglés sería llamado “hardass.” Lo que hay que hacer es darle la vuelta a esa metonimia, y decir que es la teoría del republicanismo la que es hardass, contra la mendacidad demagógica e improductiva, en última instancia ilusa, de los mecanismos hegemónicos de la izquierda contemporánea. O la izquierda entiende su propia obsolescencia teórica o vamos aviados.  La tentación es entonces, como dice José Luis Villacañas, la regresión arcaica.  Ya no Gramsci, sino Lenin.  La derecha, por supuesto, no tiene ese problema.

Convirtamos el republicanismo duro en el objeto de la regresión arcaica, en lugar de seguir pasmados con la idea de que es el leninismo lo que debe recabar una nueva gloria, porque por ahí no vamos a ninguna parte a la que merezca la pena ir.

¿Qué significa la unidad post-Vistalegre II? Por Luis Villacañas de Castro.

No es lo mismo perder que quedar sentenciado. Si bien era previsible que el errejonismo perdiese en Vistalegre II, no era necesario que quedase sentenciado. A mi entender, esto último sucedió a partir del momento en que la palabra coreada por los asistentes (la que acabó cifrando el mensaje oficial del congreso) fue “unidad” y no “diversidad”. Creo que la diversidad sería lo propio de quienes se tratan, a pesar de todo, como aliados. De haber reclamado diversidad, los asistentes a Vistalegre II hubiesen lanzado un mandato al ganador para que integrase al aliado que quedaba por debajo. Porque la diversidad se organiza, forzosamente, en torno al que pierde, o de lo contrario no habría posiciones diversas que conservar. La unidad, en cambio, sólo puede tener como eje al ganador (sería un contra-sentido crear unidad alrededor del perdedor). Al corearla, el pabellón de Vistalegre II no sólo aclamaba ya al Secretario General, sino que enviaba un claro mensaje a aquéllos que habían acabado siendo su alternativa: dimitid o sumaos a la corriente ganadora, pero no cuestionéis su proyecto. Sólo así podrían evitar ser enemigos internos.

Ahora queda entender en qué va a consistir esta unidad. Permitid que me acerque al tema de una manera indirecta.

Creo que alguien ya lo dijo alguna vez: cuando miramos las fotografías trucadas del estalinismo, sin duda ocurre algo raro. Las más frecuentes son aquéllas en las que Stalin se va quedando solo a medida en que antiguos dirigentes y compañeros de fatigas van desapareciendo de su lado. Donde antes había un grupo (por lo general, retratado en blanco y negro) al final sólo existe Stalin (en ocasiones, a todo color). Pero el raro fenómeno al que me estoy refiriendo no es éste, sino el siguiente: cuando uno mira estas imágenes con atención, no puede sino percibir que los rasgos de los desaparecidos permanecen, de alguna manera, en la cara del Stalin que queda. No sé si se trata de una modificación real, de un efecto simbólico o de un mero automatismo del recuerdo, pero es imposible ignorar esta sensación. Por medio de un proceso que Zizek a buen seguro asociaría con la dialéctica de Hegel, Stalin parece incorporar de forma vampírica al menos un rasgo físico de cada uno de los individuos que fue borrando de su lado, sobre la foto y en la realidad.

Así, la desaparición de un hombre con bigote se traduce, en la figura de Stalin, en un renovado vigor de su mostacho. Y cuando desaparece un dirigente más joven, es Stalin quien entonces aparece más lozano y, además, copiando su peinado. En la última foto de una famosa serie, el gran líder ya aparece solo, tras haber convertido a tres camaradas en fantasmas, y se muestra a pleno color y plenamente humanizado. Parece una oruga que, tras una ardua metamorfosis, se hubiese convertido en mariposa. Sin duda, se trata de una experiencia singular.

La función política y propagandística de todo ello era obvia: promover la visión de que el gran líder lo hizo todo y, además, sin ayuda. Ni siquiera en los buenos tiempos hubo diversidad, y precisamente por eso el discurso oficial podía decir que tampoco hubo enemigos internos. Como lo prueban las fotos, Stalin siempre estuvo solo. Lo verdaderamente interesante, sin embargo, es que, al adoptar los rasgos de aquéllos que va derrotando, Stalin no sólo rescribía el pasado sino que lograba lo más difícil: que el ojo de quien miraba no echase de menos el cambio. Pues parte de los rostros que el observador busca al aproximarse a la foto los encuentra, de alguna forma, incorporados e integrados en el rostro de Stalin. Aunque sabe que ocurre algo raro, el observador ve sus expectativas parcialmente satisfechas y se convence a sí mismo de que aquello que falta jamás estuvo verdaderamente ahí. Así que debió ser verdad: Stalin lo hizo todo y, demás, sin ayuda. Así se reparaba la unidad simbólica que había quedado dañada al acabar con los aliados del pasado.

No traigo a colación esta práctica propagandística para hablar sobre purgas. Esto sería de mal gusto e improcedente. Lo único que pretendo es sugerir por dónde creo que va a ir la futura unidad de Podemos, ahora que la diversidad ha sido derrotada. Pues, si Iglesias es el líder maquiavélico que quiere ser, entonces, a partir del lunes, hará exactamente lo que decía Errejón que había que hacer, pero sin Errejón ni el errejonismo. Lo de menos es que estos últimos se queden o se marchen, se suman o dimitan. Porque el equipo de Iglesias va a vampirizar su discurso para que el errejonismo pierda su razón de ser, presente, pasada y futura. No sólo se les va a derrotar sino que les va a expropiar el suelo que los mantenía en pie. Los mismos que ayer gritaban convocando a la lucha en las calles de la clase obrera no van a tardar ni dos días en abrazar la moderación discursiva y la transversalidad. De pronto, va a haber unidad hasta en el pasado, cuando Iglesias recuerde que él desde siempre fue transversal (y es cierto que en algún momento lo fue; como cierto es que de pronto dejó de serlo, ahora sabemos con qué cálculo).

Lo más paradójico de todo es que este viraje hacia un errejonismo sin errejonistas se habrá hecho gracias al apoyo interno de la militancia más pablista, la cual, empachada de victoria, tardará algún tiempo en entender lo que está pasando. A saber: que Iglesias se ha apoyado en ellos para sentenciar aquello a lo que, a partir de ahora, se acabará pareciendo. Tras sentenciar la Transversalidad como alternativa (tras proteger su flanco derecho), asumirá su discurso para crear su propia unidad simbólica.

Hasta ahora el argumento ha sido paradójico. Pero me temo que será trágico a partir de ahora, cuando se descubra que todo este proceso ha sido catastrófico desde el punto de vista electoral.

Defective Institutions. By Jacques Lezra.

Friends–this is the text of the talk I gave last Friday at TAMU, to which Alberto referred in his post.  I’d be very glad of your comments and thoughts.  It’s a draft, so please, entre nous only.

Un abrazo,


“Defective Institutions”

Jacques Lezra


It’s a great pleasure to be here in College Station. I’d like to thank Belén and Guillermo, the organizers of the Graduate Workshop in Hispanic Studies and the sponsors of this talk, for honoring me with the invitation to lead yesterday’s workshop on the problem of untranslatability, and to address you this afternoon.

My talk today is on “Defective Institutions.” It’s the subject of a book I’m just beginning.

My purpose is to formalize the concept of “Defective Institutions” and to offer it to you as a model for small-r republican governance. The ultimate claim is that republicanism in its most radical form, in its wildest shape, is the intractable governance of defective institutions. (I’m aware that worlds are at stake in the ambiguous grammar of that sentence, the subjective-objective genitive expression “The intractable governance of defective institutions.” Coming up with a conception of sovereignty, that is, of governance, that retains and radicalizes this ambiguity—that’s probably also the task of this wild republicanism.) Minimally, the task of political philosophy today is not the critique of actually-existing institutions or political concepts, with a view to strengthening the former and clarifying the latter, or to producing new and stronger institutions or new and stronger, more coherent political concepts. Our task is to produce defective political concepts and defective institutions.   A fully and radically differentiated democratic society stands on the defectiveness of its institutions. The sovereignty of such institutions is always divisible; the time and conditions of their emergence is never given in the axioms of other institutions. Defective institutions persist and decline according to discontinuous logics and times. They entail regimes of representation, police forces, pedagogies, rhetorics and lexicons that do ephemeral work, with often reversible results, transparently. They are an-organic without being, exactly, machinic.

My example today will be the University-institution: the possible University-institution.

Well, then, “Defective Institutions.”   First off, a remark and some definitions. My title, “Defective Institutions,” is manifestly intended to excite the imagination in the mode of what’s called in psychological literature the “White bear” or the “polar bear” problem. “Try to pose for yourself this task,” wrote Dostoevsky in 1863, in a little travelogue called “Winter Notes on Summer,” “[try] not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.” Hence the “white bear” problem. Pose for yourself this task: try not to think of a “defective institution,” and the cursed thing will perhaps come to mind—a raft of them, every institution you’ve had the chance or the mishap to encounter. Electoral colleges, judiciaries, families, universities. Today, especially today, especially in the context of the last presidential election in the United States, of the Senate confirmation hearings that have followed Donald Trump’s inauguration; in the context of Brexit, of the crisis of the project of the European Union; in the context of a University-institution in crisis also: today the “curse” of institutional defectivity is glaringly with us. Indeed it’s hard to think of an “institution” that is not gravely defective, or weak, or misformed. The inverse exercise—offering for you, say, the provocation of the title or the concept “Effective institutions,” or “Strong institutions,” or “Working institutions” or even “charismatic institutions”—is likely to produce few such—few will “come to mind,” to use Dostoevski’s phrase. Whether in fact what we generally call “institutions” are more subject to defect today than they were (for instance) twenty years ago; or more subject to defect here, more defective here, for instance in the United States, than elsewhere, for example in France or the Netherlands—we’ll agree, maybe, that today institutions are represented as being more defective than at many other times and places. Take this remarkable proposal by the political theorist Corey Robin, recently published in the journals Jacobin and the Guardian: “[T]he worst, most terrible things that the United States has done have almost never happened through an assault on American institutions; they’ve always happened through American institutions and practices. These are the elements of the American polity that have offered especially potent tools and instruments of intimidation and coercion: federalism, the separation of powers, social pluralism and the rule of law.” Thus Corey Robin. He does not say so but we may infer that a commitment to the converse of this proposition has enabled “the worst, most terrible things that the United States has done” historically, and that this commitment will enable the United States to do further terrible thing in the next years. The strong “American institutions” serving to make concrete political concepts like federalism or the separation of powers will always and as a matter of course resist the assault of skewed, partial or totalitarian agendas or personalities because of their strength—a commitment to this notion has enabled, and will enable, the worst. Because institutions are believed to be strong, because these institutions suffer only minor defects of execution rather than disabling defects of structure, they have historically “offered especially potent tools and instruments of intimidation.”

What counts as a “defective” institution? We make judgments regarding the value, coherence, strength and utility of devices and institutions in different ways historically—ways conditioned by what “making judgements” means socially, for whom, and under what conditions. Today, for instance, I buy a car or a blender. I have in mind something I want it for—I want my car for getting to work, my blender for making soup. If one or the other doesn’t work to that end I’ll say it’s “defective,” a lemon, broken. I trade it in for another that’ll do the trick. An intentional structure is presumed: I have in mind this end for that device. We can be more or less loose with this conception, but its structure seems irreducible. Let’s say, to be a little looser in my “making judgments,” let’s say I buy a car and I have in mind more than one end—the car gets me to work, but alas it doesn’t serve the other end I intended, openly or perhaps even secretly, secretly even for myself—I wanted a car that would help me do what the advertising campain for this car also promises, find a glamorous partner and breeze down coastal highways romantically. My Volkswagen Jetta is perfectly good at one thing, but perfectly useless at the other. I won’t say it’s “defective,” since it gets me to work; I’ll say it’s disappointing, since it doesn’t also get me a glamorous romantic partner. And now let’s say that my therapist gets me, hours into expensive analysis, to disclose to myself why it is that my car, while not defective, still disappoints me. I had another unacknowledged end in mind for the device, and it’s not working to that end. An intentional structure, even if my intention is or has been secret, still shapes my judgment. Our judgments about cars and blenders are, to use Kant’s lexicon, teleological.

Are institutions to be understood in that way today? For not all judgments are of this sort, and not all objects of judgment are like blenders or cars: some, for instance, are like polar bears or white bears, or the color yellow, or a sunset. But institutions, today, are much more like blenders or cars than they are like bears or sunsets or poems. They have ends and they have use-values.  For Corey Robin, political institutions in the United States have two sorts of ends and use-values. Political institutions serve to give shape to the political concepts or fantasies at the heart of the modern secular state– federalism, the separation of powers, social pluralism and the rule of law. They also, as he says, “offer[] especially potent tools and instruments of intimidation and coercion.” This latter may not be an explicit end of these institutions, any more than my desire for hooking a romantic partner is when I buy a useful car, but for some it can become so, and in any event when the astute therapist or philosophical diagnostician of current political disappointments reveals the secret, my secret, the institutions’ secret, then political institutions can be held to the implicit end of producing coercion and intimidation, and found to be disappointingly wanting or excitingly effective. We might say that institutions today are the political form of use-value, and our judgments regarding the effectiveness, strength, utility and so on of institutions are not just teleological and technical, they are nakedly expressed in the language of political economy, of efficiencies, of excellences, of outcomes, customer-relations, and so on.

Is there an alternative? Are there ways of conceiving institutions that do not subject their concept, and judgments about their structure, value, effectiveness, etc., to the logics of the intentional structure, the teleological judgment, or the technical a priori? For Kant one answer lies in aesthetic judgments—judgments that are purposive without having purposes, and which we form with regard to natural objects (a towering cliff, a beautiful sunset, a polar bear) and (slightly differently) with regard to manufactured objects that we agree to call aesthetic because they have no technical function—works of art, the dome of St. Peter’s (which has a function, of course, but which we do not admire for its function), or even something like a mathematical proof. That’s not the direction I’m going to take, though my alternative does bear comparison to moments in Kant’s Third Critique. I want instead to make an argument for conceiving institutions as modal objects—possible, necessary, contingent; and for making judgments about them in those terms.[1]

I’ll turn now to my example: the University-institution.

I start from the observation that the pastoral conception of the modern University-institution, as a conforming, converting, and translating machine, has exhausted its analytic interest and its political possibilities. In the age of its global reproducibility, the University-institution is a machine intended to re-produce the unity of capitalist relations. Or to put it differently. In the age of its global reproducibility, in the age in which the conception of “universality” tied to the ancient notion of the “University-institution” has become expressible primarily in the lexicon of economic and technological “globality,” the University-institution devolves into a conforming, converting, and translating machine. It fulfills its old destiny as the institution devoted to the production and reproduction of the one: its absolutization, to use a word from the French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux. One market of markets; one global economic value-system; one language, tendentially.[i]

I offer two diagnostic propositions, with a view not to mourning the passing of the University-institution-form that we have known since Kant, but to imagining its possible successor. First: the intellectual project of the possible University-institution, of the University-institution as a modal object, is the absolutization of what is not-one, and such absolutization is the technical means that the possible University-institution should aspire to develop and employ in its pedagogy and in its institutional structure. “Disciplines” in the possible University-institution will be absolutist machines: techniques for the identification, the description, the abstraction and the production of the not-one. But second, and now stressing the modifying term, the term “possible.” The project and the means of the possible University-institution is the modalization of the one. To say this is to acknowledge the persistence of unitary thought, which is to say, the irreducibility in thought of the principle of identity: this is this, a University-institution is a University-institution, violence is violence, God is God. I’ll have more to say about these tautological expressions in a moment, but for now let’s draw attention to their fundamentally rhythmic structure. Tautology is the first rhyme, inasmuch as tautological propositions, which is to say propositions constitutive of any disciplinary knowledge, take as subject and predicate the same entity. The modalization of this sort of propositional rhythm is, minimally, what the Algerian-French philosopher Jacques Derrida designates by the term espacement: the acknowledgment of the difference-différance that structures the irreducible rhythm of the presentation of the one.

I hang the future of the possible University-institution, then, on two distinct pegs, and on the procedures, techniques, and lexicons that we can develop for maintaining a commitment to both: on one hand, a procedure or a technique of absolutization, of abstraction and conceptualization, though our goal is not the absolutization of the identical, but of the not-one or the non-identical; and on the other hand a procedure or a technique of modalization, that is, a procedure or a technique of re-translating the grammar of propositions into their modal components, decomposing them into rhythms, and into the different orders of necessity, contingency and possibility that affect the structure of our affirmations regarding our objects of interest, study and valuation. None of these classic terms is itself one or simple. The necessities of force and coercion are not of the same order as the necessities we associate with logical or propositional form; the vectors of contingency are formal as well as historical and aleatory. (The distinction I am drawing is in this way at least different from the old distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions.) Possibility is potentia, and thus always in principle actualizable—a possible University-institution will always be one that may be wrought or produced. But a radically modal University-institution will never be an entelechy: the very possibility of this or that sort of University-institution excludes in this sense its coming into actuality, as an institution at a time and with a purpose. A proposition like “In the age of its global reproducibility, the University-institution re-produces the unity of capitalist relations” is subject, under this regime, to modalization: its necessities are made manifest; its contingencies; and its possibilities as well.

If we are devoted to imagining and constituting a University-institution that hangs between these two requirements, the requirement of the absolutization of the not-one and of the not-identical, and the requirement of the modalization of its forms of knowing and expression, we must negotiate two positions. On one hand, the critique of principial institutional politics, of any institutional politics that sits on principles. On the other hand, the intuition that institutions are the place in which animal singularities encounter one another and notions of the common are made available to these animal singularities, whether in the form of thought or in the form of experience. The repetition, the repeated performance, of the primal violence of the University-institution’s foundation works, or can work, like or as a non-principial “principle” to give shape and rhythm, that is, to give the minimal identity that is signaled by the abstract notion of repetition, to the institution we call the University-institution. To the degree that the University-institution produces, in the “proper sphere of ‘understanding,’ language” (these are Walter Benjamin’s words, in the essay on “Critique of Violence”), violent thought concerning the violence of its institution, it can or may become the institutional frame for the production of commonalities, as thought or as experience. “Violent thought” is thought committed to, that is, committed to performing rhythmically, in the “proper sphere of ‘understanding,’ language,” the exercises and recursive iterations of the twin forms of absolutization and modalization. I offer you today, very briefly, two names for this “violent thought,” this violent performance: “relation” and “translation.” It is the possible University-institution’s first obligation to think and to perform, that is, to remember, guard, and reproduce in its non-limiting condition, this enduring, repeatable violence: inasmuch as it can be made and shown to inhabit the “proper sphere of ‘understanding,’ language.”

This is fine. Let me tether this fairly abstract polemic to a text, Derrida’s essay “Unconditionality or sovereignty: The University at the Frontiers of Europe.” “Unconditionality or sovereignty” was read at Derrida’s investiture with the degree of doctor honoris causa by Pantion University in Athens, on June 3, 1999. Both the date and the location are important, for a number of reasons—both as the particular frame for Derrida’s comments, and as the mark of a sort of tense, even polemical push and pull between an unconditional claim or the claim of unconditionality that will characterize what the University-institution symbolizes or “what the University-institution represents,” and the conditions of the enunciation of that claim. Derrida’s lecture takes place during NATO’s air campaign against forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, during the Kosovo war. The war witnessed and experienced from the perspective of the country at the frontier of Europe or of the European Union, a war within the frontiers of Europe, another European war which is also, Derrida says, an unrecognized or unacknowledged world war, inasmuch as NATO imagines itself to be a global organization. Derrida’s lecture takes place at a time when Greece’s neighbor and old foe Turkey has made application for accession to the European Union—and when that application is in debate, determined and overdetermined by the —the vote to recognize Turkey as a candidate for full membership coming later that year, in December 1999. Finally, it takes place in, and takes as its topic, the University-institution, “l’université aux frontieres de l’Europe,” a tag that could serve to designate the conditioning location and circumstances of the address, at Pantion University in Athens, this particular University-institution on Europe’s Southeastern frontier on a day in June of a certain year, and also an implicit assertion: the University-institution, that concept or collection of concepts, whatever it is now or can be in the future, the University-institution is to be found where “Europe,” whatever it represents, faces and touches upon what is foreign, strange, alien, Xenon, to it.

The essay’s cluster of topics—the frontier, the University-institution, Europe, sovereignty, unconditionality, what constitutes “thinking,” what constitutes “dissidence”—is unusually tightly knit, and in some ways unremarkable. Derrida proceeds in three great steps.   He opens aligning the concept of the frontier with that of the front, forehead, or face—and ties the latter to what will become a conception of politics tied to place, to location. Can we, the essay then asks, prevent the frontier from becoming such a front—that is, can difference (national, ethnic, religious, generic difference) be kept from becoming a face-to-face grounded in a conception of autonomous national sovereignty rooted in the earth and in the face, in particular in my own face, in my own singular and self-identical face, with which I face and answer to the other who speaks to me in a voice I lent him, as Socrates speaks to the laws in the prosopopoeia of the Crito to which Derrida returns throughout the essay?

In the University-institution the conversion or translation of frontier into “face” or into a face-to-face can happen (it is not guaranteed to happen; it will never happen necessarily), on the condition that we understand what it is to think in the University-institution—what the structure of thought as well as the proper object of thought is in the University-institution.

Derrida devotes the second part of the essay to sketching out what thinking might mean in this context, in the University-institution.   His approach is lateral, and concerns the relation between unconditionality and sovereignty. In some ways this is the least controversial section of the essay: in each of its two principal subsections, the definition of unconditioned thought in the University-institution and the description and genealogy of sovereignty, Derrida is on rather familiar ground. It is only when he sets out, as he puts it, to “contest” the “troubling, seductive but deceptive analogy” between the one and the other, between the exercise of the unconditional right to question, and the classic, theologico-political sovereign right of autonomous decision, that this section of “Unconditionality or Sovereignty” becomes truly strange. As to the first, the description of the place of unconditioned thought in the University-institution: Derrida describes the place occupied by the University-institution in the European imaginary and history—a place where unconditioned inquiry should flourish, the capacity to question everything, including the question—with a view to its public expression, experiencing, and testing—terms covered by the French experience, which I’ll return to in a moment. The University-institution supposes an unconditional right to the truth, or rather the unconditional right to pose necessary questions in regard to the history and the value of truth (the value of a truth-statement), of value, of what is human. One imagines at this stage the frontiers of the University-institution to be identical with the frontiers of a certain degree of liberty, frontiers or walls, ivory towers, within which speech is exercised feely, to the irritation or entire disinterest of a surrounding, immunized society. The protected place, its lexicon, the set of injunctions and liberties gathered in the concept of the University-institution, Derrida says, all come, or almost all, from Greece, from the Greek city, the polis—and thus, he says, it is fitting that he should be returning to Greece, to the Greek city, speaking back to Greece, words he learns from Greece, concepts derived from the Greek, just as Socrates speaks back, acquiescently, to the Laws that address him in the voice that he gives them, in the Crito. The University-institution conceived in these terms turns out to be protected by the walls of the city-state; its politics is local, autochthonous, civic; the stranger, to xenos, enters the city as such, identified by the city’s laws, given the voice of the stranger that the city proper decides for him. Socrates’ acquiescence to the address and injunctions of the laws to which he himself has given speech is an emphatic allegory of the protected narcissism to which this concept of the University-institution, the merely auto-political lexicon of the enclosed unconditionality of University-institution speech, seems destined. My commitment to truth is unconditional because it is sheltered behind the walls of an established state of affairs: it is an unconditionality on the condition that what counts as strange, alien, xenos speak in my language, in my tongue.

It is on this view of unconditionality that the analogy to classical sovereignty hangs. To exercise the freedom to question under these circumstances looks a lot like the exercise of autonomous decision by the sovereign subject, who is able to act freely either because the consequences of the act stand before him to be calculated or reckoned imaginatively, or because he can propose for himself rules to be followed categorically and in the absence of any calculation of consequences. Both forms of autonomy—consequentialist and deontological—flow from the same theologico-political stream as modern, apparently secularized state-sovereignty—including, Derrida quite polemically argues, the apparently distributed, secular sovereignty of the Rousseaunian general will, which seems to underlie the modern democratic state form. Bodinian, indivisible sovereignty haunts even meta-national sovereign institutions and claims to meta-national sovereignty, Europe being one, NATO another. Concepts like the “rights of man” or “universal human rights,” and meta-national institutions such as the “international tribunal” at The Hague are haunted and partly enabled by this same auto-affective conception of sovereign subjectivity.   The unconditionality of the University-institution is sovereign in and for the domain of the University-institution; sovereignty of this sort is unconditioned inasmuch as nothing lies outside of its walls, so long as here is nothing beyond the purchase, lexicon, the prosopopoeia of the subject or of the state.

            All this lexicon, all these injunctions flow from Greece, Derrida says—or not all, not quite; or rather, all that flows from Greece and something else as well: a parasite, foreign but intimate, attached to the lexicon of philosophy, a surplus or a deficit that isn’t calculable in quite way that the facing symmetries of the unconditional University-institution and the sovereign subject-state are. And it is to this, Derrida says, that the unconditionality of the University-institution must turn its thought, if frontier is to be kept from becoming face-to-face. This something else, this almost nothing, marks the difference in the narcissistic circuit binding the contemporary speaker to the genealogical source on which he casts his voice, only to answer it. Presque rien: almost nothing marks the difference and adds a frontier between Derrida’s speech and the Greek, between the conditions of the present enunciation and the ideal of the University-institution, between nomos and physis one might say. Derrida is very clear about what this almost nothing is, and about the conditions in which it is to be accomplished. Here the words are “tenter,” “experience,” “debattre,” “patience,” “rigeur inflexible.”   What is attempted in the University-institution, as a form of debate, patiently, with inflexible rigor, is indeed a sort of thought, it is a sort of thought that questions the genealogy, history and the concept of sovereignty, but what sort of thought exactly is not yet clear. Here Peggy Kamuf’s excellent translation seems to me to go symptomatically off track. Derrida has been talking about thought within the University-institution (he has not yet set up or dismantled the analogy to sovereign decision) and he provides a definition of thought that has in it, dare I say, a foreign element that English has trouble recognizing as foreign. Here is the French: “Et justement ce que j’appelle ainsi ‘pensée’, c’est ce qui correspond à cette exigence inconditionnelle. La pensée n’est rien d’autre, me semble t-il, que cette expérience de l’inconditionnalité, elle n’est rien sans l’affirmation de cette exigence: questionner sur tout, y compris sur la valeur de la question.” The tricky concept here is what Derrida calls l’expérience de l’inconditionnalité, and which Kamuf translates, almost necessarily, as the “experience of inconditionality.” “Thought” is just that—the subject’s experience or experiencing of unconditionality, and we understand “experience” in all its quasi-mystical overtones. Yes, “thought” is an “experience,” there is a phenomenology of thought, and since any phenomenology is in every way conditioned, then we can come to understand thought, taken as the experience of unconditionality, in and as the contradiction between the conditioned experience and the object we experience, the unconditional: think of the aesthetic experience; this is something like the sublime exposure of a naked thought thought nakedly, a green thought in a green shade. We experience unconditionality.

But Derrida’s French offers also something more: expérience is also a bit more active. We don’t just experience: we experiment. In its immediate, secondary senses, the word expérience means, as Littré’s dictionary tells us, “Tentative pour reconnaître comment une chose se passe,” the effort or the trial, the assay, made to recognize how something works or happens: an experiment, in physics, chemistry, or in physiology, Littré says. “Expérience” is, in fact, synonymous at times with “experimental method”: “Expérience, se dit quelquefois absolument pour méthode expérimentale, connaissance à posteriori par l’observation des faits.” We don’t just experience “unconditionality” in our thought-exposure: we put unconditionality to the test in the University-institution, we experiment it and with it.   Thinking this way means seeing what unconditionality will do, under certain conditions and to certain ends. Thought as the experience of unconditionality in this special, additional and rather foreign sense means not only remarking the sublime experience of the naked University-institution without conditions, but also bringing the unconditional out of the sublime condition of the city and into contact with what is foreign to the city, to the University-institution—or allowing, inviting, what is truly foreign, what is on its face untranslatable, to xenon, into the city.

Here we rejoin Derrida’s strong, extraordinary claim that we now live in an era where the political, le politique, “no longer has a place… it no longer has a stable and essential topos.” This u-topic politics is the politics beyond the closure of the University-institution made possible by the sort of thought that we undertake when we experience and experiment with and upon, when we put to the test of the extra-mural, when we put to the test of the ultramontane or of the frontier, the unconditionality of thought. But what does this mean, and how do we take it on?

Here we enter into the last, and to my mind the least satisfactory aspect of Derrida’s essay—though I’ll have a bit to say, in conclusion, about an additional dimension of the essay as a whole that seems to me to provide a performative enactment of this concluding section, in a perhaps more satisfactory way. The solution Derrida seems to offer flows from a distinction between what is proper to both the sovereign (the state, the individual) and the enclosed and autopoetic University-institution imagined in its shape: power, pouvoir; and on the other side, on the side of that “experience de l’inconditionnalité,” what Derrida calls force, a word only slightly different after all from “pouvoir,” a presque rien of difference that makes all the difference. The dissidence of thought in the University-institution, thought conceived as the “experience of the unconditional” in the specific sense I’ve suggested, this dissidence amounts to an “affirmation without power but without weakness. Without power but not without force.” The lexicon is familiar: patience, rigor, attempts, inflexibility, hospitality, the multiplication of frontiers.   We might as well, almost but not quite, be back in the preserve of what Lacan called “l’universitas litterarum de toujours,” the same-old, same-old injunction to academics to pursue truth on their own time.

This is likely to seem an inadequate response to war and catastrophe, to the urgent conditions under which Derrida is uttering his address on “Unconditionality or sovereignty” at Pantion University in 1999. There’s something more going here, though. In conclusion, let’s look briefly at a way in which Derrida enacts, in the course of “Unconditionality or sovereignty,” the violent “experience” of unconditionality in both of the dominant senses of the term I’ve been outlining. I want to draw your attention in closing to a series of gestures, as it were counter-prosopopoeias, in which Derrida solicits the voices of strangers, where he seeks, as he says, “to let other speak, living or dead, and other laws.” Yes, he’s been making Socrates say what Socrates manifestly does not say, out of an act of faith in him—smuggling the parasite of indocility and dissidence into Socrates’ relation to the voice of the laws. And yes, Derrida has brought the voices, conditions, the facts of the living and the dead in Kosovo before his audience. But he also returns a number of times to this formulation, which we find first at the essay’s opening, in the captatio benevolentia in which he says to his distinguished audience that if he were to treat the receipt of the degree offered him as a mere formality he would be injuring the gravity of the present moment, “as well as those who, not far from us, are suffering from them sometimes to point of death,” je ferais injure a la gravité des temps présents, comme à ceux et à celles qui, non loin de nous, en souffrent parfois à mort.” Non loin de nous: not far from us, but just where? How do we calculate this distance? Who peoples it, what spaces, what frontiers are crossed in bringing these men and women before us? The trope recurs: “Il y a encore, non loin de l’Europe, et autour du basin Mediterranéen, tout pres d’ici, tant de peuples, opprimés et reprimés…” and “Ladite purification,” this ethnic cleansing, “se poursuit non loin d’ici, vous le savez bien, selon d’autres voies et d’autres rhythmes.”   These are not just the marks of a decorous or prudish discipline, the polite disinclination to upset the hosts by speaking out of turn about matters too delicate for public discourse. Derrida’s preteritions call up the absent, but without giving them a name or a face: they are counter-prosopopoeias, inasmuch as they solicit the dead and the absent without determining their contours or giving them proper names, proper voices cast upon them for us to recognize ourselves in: for each of us, for each of the “nous” assembled as and at the conditioning audience, “vous le savez bien,” for those who know and those who, not knowing, are reminded that they too should already know, they are brought across the frontier, without faces. Palestine, the Kurdish population in Turkey, Cyprus, Macedonia, each subject’s peculiar ghosts as well as those great national ones, brought before Derrida’s discourse as the pronouns “nous” and “vous” assemble his audience and accuse it, without giving it a face. “Try not to think of a polar bear,” try not to think of what is happening “tout pres d’ici, tant de peuples, opprimés et reprimés…”, try not to think of what’s happening across the wall, the border: “you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.” This, it seems to me, is how Derrida stages for us, without quite defining it, almost defining it but not quite, the thought proper to the University-institution—thought committed to a revised principle of identity and a strong, practical, even empirical, even empiricist project of modalization—of possibilities become necessities, of necessities become contingent, of contingency become possible. Derrida engages to force dissidence upon his listeners—as every University-institution not exhausted today must also do; he engages to force the marking and crossing of the University-institution’s frontiers: Derrida requires his audience, and us, to experience, to test out, the inconditionality of thought upon and in the claims made upon sovereign subjectivity by the conditioning specters he evokes on the frontiers of Europe.

Let’s approach the matter in hand with the work of the Jesuit philosopher and theologian Stanislas Breton, a thinker a generation younger than Walter Benjamin. Breton’s extraordinarily rich essay, “Dieu est Dieu: Sur la violence des propositions tautologiques,” of 1989, shows how the form of the proposition “Dieu est Dieu” on which monotheism stands is indeed inhabited by violence (as are, Breton marvelously suggests, three of the great principles of Western logic, thought broadly as the primary mode of articulation of reason, logos, or speech/thought, that Benjaminian “proper sphere of ‘understanding,’ language”: the principles of identity; of non-contradiction; and of sufficient reason). The form of the proposition “Dieu est Dieu” on which monotheism stands is inhabited by violence, then, but so, in a general sense, would any tautological propositions be inhabited by violence, including the propositions “violence is violence” and “The University-institution is the University-institution,” which you heard me offer a bit ago, or the proposition, “It is what it is.”

The claim can be made a little less broadly. Academic disciplines (though in principle we could show this proposition to be true for any corporate entity and of any coherent set of protocols, that is, any discipline, destined to produce an object, of any sort, from which it takes its value)—academic disciplines rest, tendentially, on just such tautological propositions. The rhythm of their identity is measured out in reference to these propositions. The techniques and the subject-matter we teach, what our students learn, the things we and they handle and the objects of knowledge we and they produce—inasmuch as these things and objects are identifiably the effects of our discipline, they also affirm our discipline’s identity, and its value as a mechanism for producing such things and objects. Philosophy is philosophy, our tautological disciplinary proposition runs, inasmuch as it produces for inspection objects that are deemed to be, and can be consumed as, examples of a philosophical formation. In the academy we thus remark an uneasy reciprocity between the circulation and the processes of valuation and relating of academic things (of things, object, and matter in the academic context), and what the British researchers Roger Brown and Helen Carasso recently called “the Marketisation” of higher education. The thing-as-datum not only marks the finitude of the human animal, it provides homo academicus and his brethren with value tradable across markets and languages, and it transforms the University-institution into a cloistered factory for the production of globally-tradable, translatable information-commodities. Brown and Carasso’s study focuses on the UK; the comparable work reflecting on the development of the modern University-institution in the United States (and globally) is Bill Readings’ The University in Ruins. Readings tracks the effects of the use of the vacuous criterion of “excellence” in assessing research and teaching outcomes. Here is how he describes the state of affairs: “[E]xcellence serves as the unit of currency within a closed field… a purely internal unit of value that effectively brackets all questions of reference or function, thus creating an internal market. Henceforth,” Readings concludes, “the question of the University-institution is only a question of relative value-for-money, the question posed to a student who is situated entirely as a consumer, rather than as someone who wants to think.”16 “As an integrating principle,” he maintains, “excellence has the singular advantage of being entirely meaningless, or to put it more precisely, non-referential” (22). Disciplines, especially those that took shape in funding regimes inspired in one version of the Cold War (Title VI programs, comparativist disciplines imagined as attending to cosmopolitan rather than narrowly national concerns, the modern humanities), find their standing in the University-institution in question when they appear to fail the test of non-referentiality. This failure might take one of two shapes, and each would be violent in its way. A discipline might fail to satisfy the conditions of “excellence” by seeking to link the free-floating commodity-form of the University-institution to some object or state of affairs outside of it (that is, by producing an object of knowledge that “refers” to an actually-existing object or state of affairs outside the closure of the discipline). Let’s call this the transcendent failure of the University-institution. The value of the “discipline” is then dependent on something it does not produce; the closure of the University-institution is threatened, but only to the degree that this “outside” cannot be reincorporate within the closure of the University-institution—cannot become the object-of-study for a future, notional discipline. And this inflation of disciplines is just what we see occurring, around the globe. The University-institution is a capturing device, a translating device, I said—so a transcendent failure, based in the critique of the reflexive University-institution value-form, will not do the trick.

But a discipline might fail the test of non-referentiality in a second way. A discipline might produce, within the strangely self-referential value system that Readings imagines the University-institution to have become, excesses or lacks of reference—spots where the closure of the University-institution discourse is threatened from within. (In this case, we would say that the discipline produces “objects” which cannot, and could not, be valued in the terms given by other disciplines—it is an object analytically excessive or defective with respect to them, or both). We’ll call this a sort of immanent failure of the disciplinary machine

Let’s try to understand a little more clearly what it might take to produce this double failure, immanent as well as transcendent, within the University-institution, by submitting disciplines built on tautological bases to “translation” and “relation’s” absolutization of the not-one; to the modalization of foundational propositions regarding the University-institution. A University-institution is a University-institution, except that the objects of study the University-institution produces, its most intimate result and the condition of its self-intelligibility and of its market value, no longer fall either within the scope of the University-institution, nor without it. They are, in sum, tautological propositions in a sense unlike the sort to which we are accustomed—the sort that underlie the principles of identity; of non-contradiction; and of sufficient reason. “Dieu est Dieu” offers Breton another gloss on tautology, as this new version that I am offering, “The University-institution is the University-institution,” offers us another, im- pastoral gloss that leads to what Breton calls “a new imperative: ‘Stop nowhere!’, for He gives you movement in order ‘always to go beyond.’” “’God is God,’” Breton writes.

The essential thing here is not to condemn images: rather, to multiply them to infinity, so none of them, fascinating us, succeeds in seducing us. The person of faith resembles a sort of Don Juan, on the search for the eternal feminine. Searching for the eternal divine, he reads in this tautology a new imperative: ‘Stop nowhere!’, for He gives you movement in order ‘always to go beyond.’ ‘One has to stop somewhere,’ we often say: this is, though, an axiom of laziness, as every cliché [évidence] is.” (139)

This imperative, Breton says, describes the form of thinking that he would like to choose—never to allow one function of the tautology of propositions to seduce him, thus allowing him to choose mercy over violence, Pauline humanism over the fundamentalism of the Unique Law. This, he says, is what he would like—and this would be the story of the Enlightened University-institution, which passes from the theologico-political violence of tautological propositions to the softer violence of instrumental or ancillary pedagogy, always leading-beyond itself, as the Augustinian sign always leads beyond itself toward an ultimate, grounding and transcendent sign. But Breton is too careful and too radical a philosopher and a theologian to accept this pedagogical, pastoral alternative, and the defective University-institution I imagine, and the disciplines that I imagine in and for it, should be no less radical. Breton closes the essay saying that he has no way of choosing between formally identical tautologies—which is a way of saying that he’s located in thought, in Logos, the violence of the choice between tautologies: there is no sphere of thought untouched by violence. Thought, the thought that Breton discloses for us, the thought of the language of the defective University-institution, the thought that the defective institution turns on in order to “understand,” to express, to translate, and also to guard the violence of its theologico-political foundation: this thought is violence, and, much more troublingly, this violence is thought.


[1] very much imagined as we would imagine judging the blender or the car. To make institutions “effective” again, or “strong” again, or “working,” again, is to

Formalize notion of defective institution.

Negation. Use/mention. I can say, When I go to the zoo I’m particularly scared by the polar bears, and in all probability white bears will not come to mind—just the sense that I’m a bit of a coward, or a proper indignation that I’m a fan of zoos, or some such. Defect in the concept of concept.

Difference between “a polar bear” and “a defective institution.” Representatio communis of the first, but of the second?

[i] As a preliminary to recovering the unconverted violence of the University-institution’s foundational moments, without falling into the romantic-heroic notion that this violence cannot be converted into a pedagogical object, for consumption and global reproduction, we should be clear what it is that we are rejecting—what the pastoral, ancillary University-institution was.

Moral Outrage. By Alejandro Moreiras.

Someone recently posted a meme of Hitler with the words “What Hitler Got Right” big and bold at the top, and below a quote attributed (falsely?) to Mein Kampf that basically states that American Jews are and have been the main exploiters of black Americans.

This facebook page saw hundreds of comments, several of them mine, in a matter of hours (certainly not viral, but in the echo chamber of my small circle of acquaintances, that number counted as something of note). People appalled or applauding had a surprising range of emotional relationships to the meme, both in support and opposition; tacit, indirect, and outright; from pride to shock, disappointment to disbelief; from ‘how could this be posted?’ to ‘how can you not understand why this is posted?’

There are many conversations to be had about these memes designed to spark moral outrage and the dialogues that ensue. Trolling loosely defined is now as benign as responding, and the concept of social media is lost. Our use of twitter and facebook, etc, transcended the social years ago and we currently find ourselves rooted in the entirety of media—in the umbrella sense of the term; one that includes everything, or at least includes the middle of everything and points to a new prime mover of the American body politic.

From alternate facts to alternate rights, republicults and deplorables, arise familiar vocabularies of the new middle media, words that act as ambassadors to every day feeds, signifiers of a much more personalized, polarized, and partisan cyberspace.

But its effects are also felt on land; there are physical and physiological interactions with this media; the news in the middle of everything, perpetually humming in our pockets and beeping on our screens. Sharing is taking the place of speaking, a phenomenon that challenges writing, and transforms reading into an externalized act. There is a paradigm shift of sorts going on, and no one has a handle on it.

These conversations are important. For example, in the anecdote above, the meme where Hitler is used as an expert to make an unabashedly antisemitic point, there is nevertheless a nod to an understudied side of American history. As James Baldwin wrote: “Negroes are anti-Semitic because they are anti-white.” The implication being that there are cases, many even, of Jews, as assimilated whites, exploiting a black underclass.

There certainly are these histories; one can easily point to figures in the early modern trans-Atlantic slave trade, to the modern entertainment industry, and to anywhere else one cares to look, that would fit the bill of being Jewish and exploiter. This meme, interpreting it as liberally as possible is meant as a boisterous rebellion against a perceived hegemonic history and culture that has included American Jews as whites but has excluded black Americans.

But it fails to consider that it reduces black suffering by explaining it through antisemitism, a form of scapegoating almost as old as history; fails to consider the strong Jewish representation in the civil rights era of the mid-twentieth century; fails to consider that Jews were relegated to the merchant and entertainment industries as a result of being frozen out of nearly everything else;  fails to consider that the majority of the world’s Jews are brown-skinned and poor, and many are black, too, and most white Jews do not enjoy upper or even middle-class status, etc.

The meme is deeply divisive, polarizing, manifestly antisemitic—and, perhaps more to the point does not lead to any kind of productive dialogue between what quickly metastasizes into two opposing camps (those opposed and those in favor). It is designed for reaction and reactionaries.

Another underexplored point to make here is that there is a long history of the American countercultural left appropriating fascist and Nazi images and postures. One need only turn to Kerouac’s antisemitism; beatnik and hippie affinity for future, leather and motorcycles; the Surfer’s Cross; Malcolm X’s speech to American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell in 1961, at the end of which Rockwell donated financially to the NOI; David Bowie’s love affair with fascism and strong man nationalism in the 1970s; and on and on. Indeed, there are many examples of leftwing affinity for elements of fascism and National Socialism, both aesthetically and ideologically; and I’d even argue that until the recent Trump/Bannon phenomenon and the upending of an American political tradition stretching back to the beginning of the postwar era, were largely confined to left-wing and libertarian circles, and to cultures outside of the conservative norm.

These could be enlightening conversations. But the memed conversations of late are worrisome. Details are lost, generalizations are broad, and thought is reduced to emotion.

Moral outrage is a paved road to hell.

Chesterton y Podemos. Por Gerardo Muñoz.


En estos días he recordado un artículo de G. K. Chesterton sobre Lenin, donde este dice que podemos entender la justificación del leninismo de ser antidemocrático ante la ignorancia del campesinado ruso, pero lo que no podemos aceptar es una idea que es en sí irracional [1]. Algo parecido se puede decir sobre Pablo Iglesias en la segunda asamblea en Vistalegre. Esto es, podemos escuchar su arenga sobre la unidad y el enemigo, pero más difícil es razonar cómo eso se ajusta a las ideas errejonistas de transversalidad y pluralismo.

La brecha entre el primer postulado y el segundo que han salido a flote al final de Vistalegre 2, encajan con lo que Chesterton llamó ‘ilogicidad’. Ese déficit de razón solo se entiende con el significante vacío y la teoría que la sostiene. Pero sabemos que todo político que se considere digno de esa vocación, tiene que cuidar, a distancia, la diferencia irreducible de su par. Es esto lo que va al traste con el brochazo que ha dado Iglesias en su discurso de clausura [2]. Ahora el balón está del lado de los errejonistas, y tendremos que esperar para ver si hay posibilidad de recomposición de su parte. Pero lo cierto es que al imponerse el significante vacío se arriesga el destape de una violencia aún mayor siempre depositada en el oppositorum cesarista.

En un provechoso encuentro con algunos miembros de Podemos en estos días, la pregunta caliente fue qué hacer después de Vistalegre 2. Esta pregunta ya de por sí visibiliza las grietas y visiones encontradas, los desaires y las traiciones. Todo es resumible con lo que hemos llamado antes “falta de legitimidad”. Una solución entre optimista y reparadora, se afinca en buscar exceder a Podemos como partido-institución-líder. Esto es, volver a cierto ‘originalismo’ del 15M bajo la idea de la comunidad. Sin embargo, la comunidad no puede ser principio último de la razón política, como tampoco puede ser una alternativa contra-hegemónica ante el belicismo hegemónico. El comunitarismo como propuesta es siempre insuficiente.

Hay que tomar distancia del comunitarismo reparador y redentor. La tarea de hoy recae solo en una formulación de contracomunidad, capaz de disociarse del ascenso de particularismos radicales que conducen inevitablemente al fin de la política (que por cierto, lo decía el propio Ernesto Laclau, como lo ha recordado en estos días Alberto Moreiras). Tampoco se puede rebobinar la historia ni echar para adelante hacia una dirección que solo llevaría al PP, y a un mayor deterioro del espacio europeo. La comunidad desvinculante solo conduce al arrinconamiento nocivo de unas cuantas voces altisonantes y fuera de lugar. Frente a eso me sigue pareciendo que la opción de un «republicanismo poshegemónico» está a la altura de los tiempos. Este republicanismo atiende a dos principios fundamentales, aunque tampoco se limitan a estos: 1. trabajar con coherencia sobre lo que está dado en la facticidad y en el sentido común en curso, y 2. sostener la división de poderes a cambio de un contrapeso que reduce la dominación sobre la vida del singular.

Por ahora, la gran incógnita es si Errejón y los errejonistas estarán en condiciones de armar un plan más o menos simultáneo con estos principios, o si se plegaran a la ilogicidad de Iglesias. Esto también convoca a preguntarse cómo quedarán los territorios. ¿Habilitará la nueva matriz organizativa espacios para disensos territoriales, o se solidificará el verticalismo desde arriba? Sin lo primero ese deseo de unidad oppositorum del pablismo será solo pulsión de muerte. Pero un paso del errejonismo no sería un paso de quiebre, sino que marcaría otro ritmo del ‘hacer’ en los territorios. A largo plazo esto podría tomar la forma de un nuevo federalismo.

Esta sería una hipótesis optimista. Es decir, quizás la humillante propuesta de Iglesias de ofrecerle a Errejón el Ayuntamiento de Madrid, tuvo un filo errejonista y llegaría a producir efectos que ni la camarilla de pablistas prevén. A la larga esto pudiera demostrar una vez más que para eso de ‘tomar el cielo por asalto’ no hay soga que sea tan larga. La ilogicidad que veía Chesterton en Lenin también implica eso: al final, esa soga siempre tiende a vencerse por uno de sus cabos.




*Imagen: Malagón Humor, Febrero 2017.

1.G. K. Chesterton. “The logic of Lenin”. The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (XXXI). Ignatius Press, 1989. 275-79.




Una pregunta sobre Vistalegre desde el republicanismo salvaje de Jacques Lezra. Por Alberto Moreiras.


Desde la perspectiva que trato de exponer y que, si la entendí bien, es la de Jacques Lezra (pero no quiero adjudicarle a él lo que puede contener errores de interpretación míos), ¿queremos unidad o queremos, precisamente, escisión en Podemos? Es decir, ¿no es la diferencia entre Errejón e Iglesias una versión de la diferencia entre aquellos que buscan una relación traductiva con lo intratable (Errejón) y los que quieren eludirla a través de una específica demonización del enemigo (Iglesias)? ¿No son incompatibles?

Jacques, gracias por tu visita, y gracias por tu seminario sobre intraducibilidad y por tu conferencia sobre instituciones defectivas (Texas A&M, 9 y 10 de febrero, 2017).   Lo que tú planteaste, en el contexto de lo que has llamado “republicanismo salvaje,” tiene ahora que discutirse entre nosotros. Me gustaría avanzar un resumen, posiblemente inadecuado o inexacto, de lo que dijiste, así que lo planteo como resumen abierto, para que corrijas todo lo que creas necesario.

Esto es lo que yo te oí decir: La incondicionalidad debe ponerse a prueba, pues mucho de lo que es incondicional lo es desde presupuestos de soberanía que son etnocéntricos, es decir, eurocéntricos o simplemente dependientes de ideologías sociales de larga duración. Poniéndola a prueba, poniendo a prueba, por ejemplo, la incondicionalidad de la institución, amenazándola o sometiéndola a su propia facticidad, uno trasciende esa institución, digamos, la universidad, o la democracia liberal efectivamente constituida, y se encuentra en su límite, quizás no completamente extra muros, pero todavía en el lugar de la destrucción inmanente que abre el agujero en su centro, su defecto constitutivo. Tal defecto es un espacio liminal ni extra muros ni intra muros. Este limen extraordinario, una forma de otredad, una forma de relación traductiva con la otredad, es la catástrofe de lo que podríamos llamar el primer giro de la deconstrucción política, o la politicidad del primer giro de la deconstrucción. No podemos simplemente terminar en la otredad, en la experiencia de la otredad. Dices que, ante tal catástrofe, el juego no puede ser un juego de reconocimiento, sino más bien de no-reconocimiento, en su intratabilidad, en la intratabilidad de lo que aparece en el defecto de la institución. El republicanismo salvaje es una relación (in)traductiva con lo intratable. Mi pregunta, en la sesión de preguntas, fue: ¿no es ese todavía un republicanismo del despertar traumático ante el rostro de la otredad, aunque lo otro sea ahora monstruoso, ya no solo “las viudas y los huérfanos,” lo subalterno, ya no solo el vecino, el prójimo, ahora concebido como horror?

Si el republicanismo salvaje es una relación (in)traductiva con lo intratable, esto es, una relación con el monstruo (la casta, por ejemplo, el sistema, la administración, etc.), solo el monstruo puede orientar y organizar el conflicto democrático. Si la política, en su variedad republicanista-salvaje, acepta la intratabilidad como punto de partida, entonces la política es el lugar de una huida sin fin—la huida o el evitamiento serían la forma democrática del conflicto. Sí, esto complica y desfigura el entendimiento schmittiano. Ya no amigo-enemigo, ya no la relación de enemistad, sino más bien la relación entre amigo y no-amigo constituye el lugar primario de la praxis política, y los amigos son los que evitan y huyen de la no-amistad del otro. Se trata de una extraña figura de lo político, lo cual la hace por supuesto muy interesante. Espero no haberme equivocado mucho, pero en cualquier caso permite o fuerza a pensar la pregunta de arriba.

Errejón apostaría, a pesar de todo, por una relación (in)traductiva con lo intratable, buscaría relación con lo intratable, haría de la relación con lo intratable el eje mismo de su propuesta política-desde el antagonismo inclusivo que define amigos y no-amigos.  Iglesias apostaría-aquí no hay “a pesar de todo,” es una apuesta explícita-por no reconocer lo intratable como tal, sino más bien por someterlo a su posición de enemigo.