Comments to Maddalena Cerrato’s “A Place for Danger and Salvation” and Jaime Rodríguez Mato’s “On the Age of the Poets: Towards a Different Relation with the Sacred.” MLA Conference, January 2021.

Karl Marx famously said at some point in the Grundrisse that “all economy is an economy of time.”  I think that is intuitively graspable and finally quite accurate.  But I do not think we have come to terms with the ensuing possibility that, therefore, all politics are and must finally be a politics of time.  It is hard to think about it, in other words, it is not simple to unpack the thought, to pursue it and open it up, but it may be the most important political or metapolitical condition for any political practice geared to emancipation.  

I thought of starting my comments with that proposal because, while my aim is not at all to end them with some renewed call for another politics, for a new form of politics, for an “other” politics as the true suture of philosophy, I remain sensitive to Badiou’s understanding of politics as one of the conditions of philosophy, and not just today, but in its history.  So politics are not to be dismissed.  Which does not mean they must be given a unique status as the very vortex of thinking, the dead center of what is to be thought, etc.   I think this issue—we could call it, the issue of the proper or necessarily unstable status of politics in the task of thought—is central to Badiou’s ideas concerning both Antiphilosophy and the Age of the Poets. 

So, let me quote for you two passages from the end of Ernesto Laclau’s Emancipation(s) , the first of which is as close to the contemporary justification of the political suture of thought as any we might find elsewhere.  Here is the first quote: 

The metaphysical discourse of the West is coming to an end, and philosophy in its twilight has performed, through the great names of the century, a last service for us: the deconstruction of its own terrain and the creation of the conditions for its own impossibility.  Let us think, for instance, of Derrida’s undecidables.  Once undecidability has reached the ground itself, once the organization of a certain camp is governed by a hegemonic decision—hegemonic because it is not objectively determined, because different decisions were also possible—the realm of philosophy comes to an end and the realm of politics begins.  (123)

Well, we could say these words of Laclau are not so much a suture of philosophy to politics as they are a liquidation of philosophy, but things are not so simple.  The task of thought at the end of philosophy is still the task of thought, and it is not the task of politics.  What Laclau is actually saying is that thought is only viable today as political thought—and this is the fundamental suture.  Shared by so many figures in the contemporary public sphere. 

But the second quote introduces, within that context, an even more disquieting possibility: 

Someone who is confronted with Auschwitz and has the moral courage to admit the contingency of her own beliefs, instead of seeking refuge in religious or rationalistic myths is, I think, a profoundly heroic and tragic figure.  This will be a hero of a new type who has still not been entirely created by our culture, but one whose creation is absolutely necessary if our time is going to live up to its most radical and exhilarating possibilities.  (123)

Those are the last words of the book, which means that they are all we get.  And yet there is so much to unpack in them.  First, the reference to Auschwitz might carry within of course a reference to Theodor Adorno’s question about poetry after Auschwitz and it might also carry the totality of Paul Celan’s work.  And it might indeed carry a hidden connection to Badiou’s notion of the Age of the Poets.  Certainly in an antiphilosophical context, which is the one indicated by the first quote.   So—what is Laclau saying?  He is calling for the creation of a new type of hero, which would be a tragical hero.  The development of this ideal type, the new tragic hero, is “necessary” for our time to “live up to its most radical and exhilarating possibilities.”  This new tragic hero does not succumb to any kind of “religious or rationalistic” myths, but understands the radical contingency of “her own beliefs” in the face of the destruction of metaphysics, if that is ultimately what Auschwitz stands for.   I would say, then, that Laclau is actually calling for a poetic hero, a new poetic and antiphilosophical hero for whom politics is a field of display, a field of engagement, in a contingent, unstable, and therefore radically free, hence tragic, way.  This is a curious appeal to an existential positioning that is not frequently found in Laclau’s work. 

What would Badiou have to say about this new tragic hero whose ideal type we can only postulate in a yet undetermined way?   Let me now turn to Maddalena Cerrato and Jaime Rodríguez Matos’s papers. 

Jaime’s overall concern is ciphered in the last lines of Agamben’s words in the epigraph, namely, “metaphysics has not been surpassed, but reigns in its most absolute form.”  I take it that Jaime is not accusing either Badiou or indeed Laclau of having unwittingly fallen into that dark pit, but I also take it that Jaime wishes to raise that very question:  how is it that Badiou, or Laclau, may avoid falling into that pit?  Particularly as, Jaime says, “the return of philosophy . . . has only given way to the return of the political suture of philosophy under the guise of a heightened consciousness of historicity” (“On the Age of the Poets” 3). 

Jaime displays the conflict internal to Badiou’s work as a conflict between what he calls the need to maintain “the category of the subject” over against the “vain nostalgia for the sacred.”   Badiou “the evildoer” attacks both Heideggerianism, in the form of Jean-Luc Nancy’s work concerning the thought of the future, but also a fortiori Laclau’s notion of the new type of hero that we have not yet been able to create.  Indeed, it would seem as if “the vain nostalgia for the sacred” inspires those two options for tragic thought. 

Jaime’s move is to confront Badiou with his own limit, which is his refusal to take on the thought of the ontico-ontological difference.   For Jaime, Badiou’s affirmation of the end of the Age of the Poets, in the name of a re-affirmation of the subject of philosophy, is premised on a disavowal of the ontico-ontological difference.  But we could say that the very disavowal is then disavowed through Badiou’s notion of the “unnameable.”  It is not then Badiou but rather the Badiouans who would proceed to a third version of the disavowal, by denouncing the inconsistency of the notion of the “unnameable” in terms of a final political affirmation in fidelity to the event, which is first and last an affirmation of the subject to truth. 

Jaime brings up Heidegger’s essay from the 1950s, “The Principle of Identity,” in order to critique the too facile dismissal of a thought reduced to “a vain nostalgia for the sacred.”  Jaime of course leaves it there, suggesting that a non-metaphysical reinterpretation of Parmenides’  identification of thinking and being, their mutual co-belonging, cannot be dismissed as a mere postponement of thought.  Indeed, that the danger is on the other side of the equation: on the positing of the new subject to truth as merely the other side of the God of philosophy. 

Maddalena’s paper starts right there, by stating that both “the age of the poets” and “antiphilosophy” are conceptual operators whose mission, accomplished through a form of self-dismantiling, is helping to “organize philosophy in an ordered, that is to say, onto-theological way, as a locus of thinking or a space of thought where truths are stated” (“A Place for Danger” 1).  The conceptual operators, in Badiou’s hands, reach “significant analytical value” but only to be ultimately compromised by the overarching search for philosophical “mastery” (1). 

The context for the claim to mastery is, paradoxically, a freeing of philosophy from its conditions, which requires a fundamental de-suturing.   This call for liberation, for the liberation of philosophy, not from its conditions, but from any unilateral suturing to its conditions, is the key issue.  The question is then whether it can be done without any phantom re-suturing of the kind Jaime warns against.   Since the suture to poetry is still said to be alive in the post-Heideggerian philosophical configuration—naturally, Derrida, Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, and Heidegger through them if not the other way around–, then the suture to poetry must be explicitly dismantled.  The goal, as Maddalena says, is not the destruction of the poem, but the liberation of philosophy, which would then generate a new possibility for the encounter of the poet and the thinker. 

Those goals would seem unobjectionable to me.  We have had too many poets of the gato por liebre variety as we have had too many philosophers of the same brand.  Destroying that sinister equation would seem a precondition for the development of the new type of the tragic hero Laclau calls for.   The question here, however, is whether philosophy can survive the de-suturing without an immediate plunge into the suturing political condition of the kind Laclau invokes, or more than invokes. 

Maddalena’s critical move consists in showing the unavowed second-order Heideggerianism implicit in both the postulate of the Age of the Poets and the thought of antiphilosophy.  Taking her basis on Hölderlin’s verses from the Patmos Elegy, “where the danger is, there grows the power of salvation,” she shows how the reestablishment of philosophy’s mastery, which is its liberation from the suture to its conditions, is predicated on the surpassing of the Age of the Poets and the final abandonment of antiphilosophy from out of the Age of the Poets and from antiphilosophy itself.  In both cases the appeal to a subject of truth is the salvation, but in complex ways that probably remain undetermined, or under-determined, in Badiou’s own thought.  This is why, for instance, Badiou would say, as Maddalena quotes, that “the anti-philosopher Lacan is a condition of the renaissance of philosophy.  A philosophy is possible today, only if it is compossible with Lacan,” who is not just the latest and greatest anti-philosopher for Badiou, where Nietzsche was only its “poor prince,” but also “the anti-philosopher that would bring anti-philosophy to a closure.” 

To return to my own beginning: is the post-antiphilosophical philosophy, then, the place where a new philosophical hero (Badiou´s subject to truth), tragic and poetic, is to be born?   Can this be done without recourse to the final suturing of philosophy to politics Laclau asserted as the epochal condition of our time?

It seems to me these two questions are still open in Badiou, which of course accounts for his greatness.  It also seems to me that the provisional response to those questions must be found in an exploration of the possibility that all politics are ultimately a politics of time.   But this, for me the political question of our time—can it be answered from philosophy or is an answer to it possible only from the kind of antiphilosophy that assumes the risk and the challenge of its own time, of its own epochality, which first of all means that it needs to be conceived as an existential act, and an entrance into autographic inscription, into a decision of singular existence? 

I would like to finish my comments by bringing in Vincenzo Vitiello’s Oblio e memoria del Sacro, but, alas, there is no time.  I will do it soon as a note in this blog. 

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