You know how it is with social-network groups–they are frustrating more often than not, and many of them have to be dismantled after a while for lack of participation and related issues. Not so many people are generous enough with their time and ideas to want to participate in working groups that might expose them to real conversation, and we need to take that into account and keep it in mind. Still, provided I know you (I do want to keep trolls and spam away from this), I am inviting you to join one or the other of them, or both.
Those two groups are important to me for the following reasons: it seems to me the future of critical theory at least in the US is at stake. Things are looking bad, from where I am, and that includes several dimensions of the problem: the lack of ideas and the thorough routinization of the contemporary theoretical field, the lack of investment in the humanities by institutions that ought to know better, and the complicity of so many professionals (our own colleagues, ourselves) with the dire state of affairs. And I believe, looking at things, that there will be no salvation coming from biopolitical thought, no salvation coming from robotics or a.i. and singularity studies, no salvation coming from political philosophy or Marxism or neo-Marxism, no salvation coming from any kind of identity-powered studies, or from science studies or new media studies, etc., etc., and even if we are not looking for salvation—I am not–we can at least look forward to having some fun and some interesting moments in coming years. It seems to me either we create them for ourselves or they won’t come into existence. In any case, there is a conversation to be had. I am inviting you to it.
I think we are at the verge of what we could call the resurgence of an existential turn (certainly beyond conventional subjectivism, I am not talking about repeating the previous one)—partially as a result of the ruin and loss of momentum of everything else. It seems to me there are two main references from the tradition that stand in need of attention and care when it comes to an existential turn: Lacanian analysis and late Heideggerianism. I do not want to dismiss other very important aspects of contemporary thought, i. e., certain developments in Marxism, the ongoing publication of Derrida’s seminars or, indeed, theoretical developments in the African American field, but I think the Lacanian text and the late Heideggerian text are essential for a new and exciting theoretical avatar—if, indeed, we can have it (not at all clear to me at this point.) You may have of course the impression that other things could be cited here, that I am reducing too drastically the field of productive discourse. You may be right, but all I am proposing is that those two fields of engagement–late Heideggerianism and Lacanian theory–need attention.
One more thing: I am inviting you to working groups. They will not be particularly work intensive, if only because we all understand that all of us have, if not excessive, at least demanding work constraints, and we do not totally dispose of our own time (although I do try to dispose of as much of it as I can for free intellectual engagement.) But, to the extent this is an invitation to working groups, of course a minimal investment in work is expected from every member. Otherwise, frankly, you should not be a member, you should not join.
This is not at all whimsical. Those of us who have experience in virtual conversation know very well that the presence of more than a few silent or inactive members in any given group has a paralyzing effect on the active members—I do not know the technical reason for it, but it is intuitive enough: if I expose myself and share my ideas with you, I expect at least minimal reciprocity and recognition. If you do not provide it, I start feeling like I am in some Amsterdam shop window acting up and you are looking at me from the street. It is no good. Even the Amsterdam mayor recently forbade the practice. It is ok if there are, say, twenty members, and four or five fall silent for a while because of whatever reason, provided the other 15 are reasonably active. But if we were to have four or five active members and fifteen inactive ones, the group would collapse in a matter of weeks. So we want to avoid it.
Looking forward to hearing from you if you are truly interested. I do not expect many, and membership of course will not be limited to people who read this blog. If you are interested, please let me know through private channel (email, etc.), and I will send you a registration link. The groups are #The EreignisTexts and #LacanianTheory.
Everything is now strictly bound in planning and control and in the exactitude of a sure course of action and a domination ‘without remainder.’ Nonbeings, under the semblance of beings, are brought by machination into the haven of beings, and human desolation, which is ineluctably compelled thereby, finds its compensation in ‘lived experience.’ (Martin Heidegger, Contributions322)
The future ones stand in sovereign knowledge as genuine knowledge. Whoever attains this knowledge cannot be subjected to calculation or compulsion. Furthermore, this knowledge is useless and has no ‘value;’ it does not matter and cannot be taken as an immediate condition for a currently ongoing business. (Martin Heidegger, Contributions314)
On Presentiment. The Anticipation of an Other Beginning. Ankhibasie. Draft Paper for BeiträgeWorkshop, Indiana University, April 12, 2019. By Alberto Moreiras.
In Conversations on a Country Path Martin Heidegger talks about devastated life as, among other things, life deprived of what is unnecessary for it. He refers to some Chinese dialogue about the necessary and the unnecessary. The Chinese sage says that the only necessary thing is a square foot of earth where one can plant himself and stand up. But if someone were to come and remove all the unnecessary dirt that surrounds the necessary square foot, then one could no longer ever take a step without falling into a fairly radical Abgrund. I am sure everyone of us will have their own opinion as to whether the world in general is increasingly moving in the direction of devastated life, that is, of bare life for the human in general (and of no life for many species, as we know). But we can narrow it down a bit, to make it manageable: Is the Chinese parable not a good parable of the contemporary public university, both for teachers and for students? It could be the case that the ongoing reduction of the unnecessary, particularly in the humanities, in the name of good business practice, is threatening the necessary. We will always find out too late. Once we do, we may become vigilant as to whether the tendencies toward devastation to which our administrations happily subscribe (with the passive complicity of the faculty, obviously) reach absolute success or whether a reaction against them may thwart them. But then of course we need to ponder the reach of the possible reaction, and whether the reaction is and can be anything other than devastating itself. At this point there are no ideas, there is no program, whether in the left or in the right, to salvage the situation. Ongoing devastation seems to be what everybody wants. To that extent and for that purpose we can certainly trust our university leaders.
Let me state that the structural site of thought today, such as it is, is the university. If the university, as structural site of thought, is moving towards the elimination of everything unnecessary, perhaps in the name of business (or is business the name for something else yet unnamed and unnameable?), then it may be time to ponder the unnecessary as the toposfor a breakaway, at the unstructured center of the structure: can we see there, in the inconspicuous unnecessary, the “clearing of a self-concealing,” as Heidegger would put it? The clearing of the university, following the logic of the parable, must then be a clearing from the university, a move away from the university, ex universitate. Let me accept beforehand that such a move will be politically useless, and entirely without value. No business will be done.
I have been reading Heidegger all my life, more or less, on and off, yes, but not professionally. For me that means I was not reading him to quote him, not reading him in order to write about him. Until recently. He was a private pleasure, formative, yes, but in pretty much the same way my favorite thriller authors, also a reading passion of mine, were formative: they offered me an intriguing show of style, thoughts to lose myself into, and even, secretly, perhaps a way to model myself, a prop for my own path, the idea of a master to follow, something not to share, something others would have to find on their own. Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, and a few others, at different times, were also that for me. For god’s sake, I was in Spanish, not even a literary critic, not even a cultural studies fellow, not even a historian of ideas, somewhere in between, as I tried to accumulate, through the rest of my writings, a necessary knowledge, or experience, or guts, or permission, to write about the unnecessary authors within my academic field that were really important to me: Valente, Benet, Goytisolo. Which I have not done yet. This is not a disclaimer, just an explicitation of what is the case, of facticity. And I thought that my contribution to this workshop on Heidegger’s Beiträge, a fairly inexhaustible “unwork,” in my opinion, could come directly from that facticity, from that modality of Weg-sein, of being thrown into what is the case, of being-away, which happens to be mine. I have no pretensions to expertise, therefore, but let me tell you something: I do not believe in expertise any more, not in the humanities, I no longer seek it. The only game for me is to manage to say something to you, here and now, that might prompt a conversation, in this case in relation to Heidegger’s Beiträge. Oh, this has nothing to do with modesty. I do not claim modesty. I will claim, I do claim, that I am following an imperative of thought that Beiträgeitself seems to suggest to me, co-suggest, prompt me into. Let me call it, for short, the transport into an existential clearing. And I will offer my own context for it. The last thing I feel I can do is to utter an exegetic or paraphrastic account of Heidegger’s own attempt at transitional thought. I will try to say something about my own transitional thought, indebted to Heidegger, if you want radically indebted to Heidegger, and grateful to him. But I do not particularly want to speak as a Heideggerian (this sentence may become meaningful only at the end of my paper, through the mention of the death drive.)
What moves the transition? What moves movement? This is of course an old question. Thomas Sheehan has linked the Heideggerian conception of ex-sistence to Aristotle’s notion of kinesis, movement, as energeia atelés. Through kinesisa thing achieves itself, completes itself, or at least does so when its dynamisdisplays. According to Sheehan, Heidegger’s notion of Eignungtranslates dynamis, which would be the thing’s (force of) appropriation to the thing’s own telos. In terms of the human being, Ereignisbecomes for ex-istence what Eignungis for things: existential kinesis, move toward self-appropriation, which in Beiträgewill several times be named “selfhood” in a non-subjectivist sense, i.e., the “selfhood” of Da-sein, Da-sein’s appropriation into the “there.” Sheehan reserves the word that Heidegger used in what was perhaps a slightly different context, ankhibasie, an extant word from Heraclitus meaning “ever approaching” (to Logosin the Heraclitean sense, to the Da of Seyn in the Heideggerian one), to name this “asymptotic condition of ex-istence” (Sheehan 1), that is, a condition of ex-sistence according to which ex-sistence can never fulfill itself but can come closer and closer to such a fulfilment. Ankhibasieis therefore an existential practice of radical transition into a “there” that receives several names in Beiträge: “the other beginning,” “the clearing self-concealing,” “the essence of truth,” “the sheltering,” even “the last god” among others. What interests me at this point is the imperative dimension of ankhibasie, not present in the Heraclitus fragment: that fact that, in the Heideggerian-Sheehanian way, it names a drive that is a drive for Da-sein, an existential drive somehow explicitly situated beyond the drives of animal rationale. If the animal rationalemeans to be left behind, and with it the “sheer, insatiable riot of blind drives” that Heidegger refers to at one point in his text (196), it is not as if Da-sein were to be deprived of dynamic movement. In fact, we could probably, and impossibly, sum up Beiträgeby saying that it marks the attempt to establish a blueprint for a transformation or transfiguration of animal rationaleinto Da-sein. What does this mean? It means that there is no “closeness to life” that may rescue us, that an intensification of life, a recuperation of life, a redemption of life is not what Da-sein seeks. But, if the inversion of animality is spirituality (rationalehas meant “spirit” all along the history of metaphysics), then no spiritual transformation is being invoked here: neither spiritual transformation nor life’s redemption. Da-sein’s drive is a drive of desire otherwise, an ex-istential desire, a form of jouissancefor which I am happy to accept Sheehan’s suggestion and call it ankhibasie. Ankhibasienames Da-sein’s dynamic movement forward.
In the section of Beiträgeentitled “The Future Ones” the connection between the seeking of transitional thought and what Conversations on a Country Pathwould name ankhibasiebecomes almost explicit: “Seeking is intrinsically futural and is a coming into the nearness of being. Seeking brings the seekers to themselves for the first time, i.e., brings them into the selfhood of Da-sein, wherein the clearing and concealment of beings occur” (Contributions315). It is also important to point out that, in that section, Heidegger marks a difference between those he calls “the future ones,” of whom he will say that “there are already a few” without further precisions (317), and those of us who live in our own hour: “Our own hour is the era of downgoing” (314), which is “the path to the reticent preparation for what is to come, i.e., for the movement in which and the site in which the advent and the remaining absent of the gods will be decided. The downgoing is the utterly first beginning” (314). In another section, Da-sein is defined as “the crisis between the first and the other beginning” (233). The first beginning is our history, which our downgoing consummates. There is a way in which Da-sein, that is, not the human being, certainly not the animal rationale, but the human being that has leaped into Ereignis, that is, the human being who has accepted the need for a transitional thought into his or her own asymptotic condition of ex-sistence, is opposed to what Heidegger calls Wegsein, being-away. In its first mention Being-away presents itself as a rewriting of the notion of inauthenticity in Being and Time(cf. Contributions238). It is a “denial of the exposure to the truth of beying” (239), and it is as such “the ordinary way of being human” (256): a way of living, in history, away from history, distracted from it. If so, then there is a way in which Being-away also grounds Da-sein: “To the ‘there’ belongs, at its extremity, this concealment in its most proper open realm, i.e., the ‘away’ as the constant possibility of being away; the human being is acquainted with the ‘away’ in the various forms of death” (256). Hence, Da-sein must incorporate the concealedness of the ‘there’ into the steadfastness of enduring the truth” (257). Such incorporation, the accomplishment of what Being and Timecalled “Being toward death,” is the passage into Da-sein, and the leap toward the other beginning. Which consummates our history in an alternative sense, precisely by opening it up again. Ankhibasieis Da-sein’s dynamic movement toward another history, which is history itself.
What would I want you to retain from all of this? We are living in our own hour, in our own time, a time of downgoing that can solve itself into a time of permanent blockage, a time of devastation and of the deprivation of everything unnecessary for life, paradoxical as that may sound, or a time that can find in that very devastation an intimation and a presentiment of what Heidegger calls “the most intrinsic finitude of beyng,” “the last god” (325), understood as “the danger of something strange and incalculable” (322), simply the most extreme decision regarding that danger, and death as “the most extreme possibility of the ‘there’” (257). There is a choice here, or rather than a choice, a decision, a decision for history, a decision for time, but it is unclear who decides, and even whether a “who” decides. In any case, ankhibasieis the name for the exposure to the ceaseless imperative of the there, which means exposure to the decision of the last god, exposure to our own ongoing death as completion and Ereignisof our finite existence, and exposure to the “utterly first beginning,” to the end of the first beginning as abandonment of beying and overcoming of the metaphysical path: a decision for history, a historical decision. They all may be the same. This is the crisisof Da-sein as Heidegger presents it. It is a crisis precisely as the site of a decision in favor of the asymptotic condition of ex-sistence that alone may enable us to understand the radical negativity of the abandonment by beying in the constellation of death and the advent or remaining absent of the most extreme god that may open up history again.
The decision, between the Wegseinof the first beginning and the Da-sein of the other beginning, hinges on an intimation, a Wink(also called an Ahnung, a foreboding, a presentiment). Who is receptive to it? Or even: can there be receptivity? In the first section of Beiträge, entitled “Prospect,” Heidegger speaks about the “long future” of transitional time (19) and mentions the need for a “basic disposition” that would attune the human being to it. Heidegger calls it “presentiment,” Er-Ahnenor Ahnung, and says of it that it encompasses shock, and restraint, and diffidence (14), and that the presentiment is the “decisiveness” itself (20). This decisiveness is ankhibasie, Da-sein’s drive. The decision for the other beginning, that is, for the not-yet, is grounded in a leap away from the first beginning, that is, the no-longer. It is a decision that stems from a basic disposition, a Grundstimmungthat not everybody has—only “the transitional thinkers,” named such in the text. Who are they? Again, let us narrow the question down in order to make it manageable.
Who are they? Certainly not everybody in the university. In fact, Beiträgeincludes a ferocious indictment of the German university in the late 1930’s. We have become so familiar with Heidegger’s dubious exaltation of the institution during his rectorate in the early 1930’s that it is possibly worthwhile to quote him at length, since by the time of Beiträgehe had abandoned all illusion:
the universities, as “sites of scientific research and teaching,” . . . are becoming sheer business establishment. In these establishments, which are ever “closer to reality,” nothing is decided. They will retain the last vestiges of a cultural decorationonly as long as they must also and for a while still remain a means for “cultural-political” propaganda. Nothing resembling the essence of universitaswill be able to unfold out of them any longer: on the one hand, because the commandeering of everything into political-ethnic service makes such an unfolding otiose, and also because science itself as a business can hold its course more securely and easily withoutwhat is “proper to a university, i. e., without the will to meditation. Philosophy, understood here exclusively as thoughtful meditation on truth, i. e., on the question-worthiness of beyng, and not as a historiological and “system”-building erudition, does not have a place in “universities” and certainly not in the business establishments they will become. For nowhere at all does philosophy “have” a place, unless it is the place it itself founds, to which indeed no path could lead immediately, starting from an established institution. (121-22)
We can no doubt split a few hairs and claim that our university of today, in the United States, for instance, does not do cultural-political or political-ethnic propaganda, which in Heidegger’s terms would mean that universities have lost their last vestige of “cultural decoration” value, that is, their last claim to symbolic prestige. It is not quite so, as we all know, thanks in part to branding and propaganda techniques and to the residual prestige of social hierarchy, which means that a degree from Texas A&M University in the main campus of College Station is worth more than a degree from, say, Texas A&M Prairie View, or Stanford is worth more than California State at Fresno. But that only means that even the residual value of cultural decoration has been reduced to business–money rules the day in the university, and there is no longer even a pretense to anything other than the increasingly radical application of the principle of general equivalence, on which branding itself is based. For university administrations, increasingly, at least in the public area, the university is an institution that should be handled according to the logic of so-called Customer Relationship Management–really, no longer an institution, only a corporate business where meditation, Besinnnung, what Heidegger calls philosophy or thought according to the imperative of ankhibasiefinds no place, no site, no mercy. The logic of today’s university of excellence is exclusively the logic of machination, of which Heidegger said: “The hex cast by technology and its constantly self-surpassing progress is only onesign of this bewitchery that directs everything toward calculation, utility, breeding, management, and regulation. . . . The average becomes better and better, and thanks to this betterment the average secures its dominance ever more irresistibly and unobtrusively” (98). The principle of general equivalence can only fight himself–a generalized leveling of all ranks promotes of course the most extreme hierarchization. “The constant raising of the average level and the concurrent widening and wide application of this level, until it becomes the platformfor all activity, constitute the most uncanny sign of the vanishing of the decisive places: it is a sign of the abandonment by being” (99).
What is to be done? Does Heidegger advocate for an institutional change? Does he ask for university reform? For something in the nature of an academic countermovement? For a leftist correction to the hegemony of the right, or for a rightist correction to the hegemony of the left? No. In fact, he says: “Not a counter-movement, for all counter-movements and counter-forces are essentially codetermined by that which they are counter to, although in the form of an inversion” (146). The possibility of what Heidegger calls “opening up the truth of beying,” that is, of a transitional thinking orientated toward the other beginning, “will not be made in previous domains (‘culture’ — ‘worldview’), ones still upheld by counter-movements” (147). Thought is only possible today ex universitate.
What could we then say of university politics? Politics is overrated, I think, it has become another form of chatter. Politics, either for business or as a counter-movement to business, that is, for more business, will not guarantee, will in fact cover over the very possibility of finding an existential clearing in the university. I take my authorization from Beiträge. At several early points in the text Heidegger repeats the notion that he would like to have nothing to do with Existenz, as he does not want his project to be confused with Existenzphilosophie. But in #179, admittedly a paragraph that stands alone and has no precedent or continuity, Heidegger will nevertheless say in black and white that “being-historical Ex-istence” is “steadfast transport into the there” (239). There is therefore a clear reason, from Beiträge, to speak of the need for the return to a thinking and a practice of existence, to a meditation on existence that I will simply name infrapolitical.
Daniela Vallega-Neu has often called the reader’s attention to the passages in Mindfulnesswhere Heidegger discusses the three possibilities of the so-called “decision.” According to the first possibility (but Heidegger says that “the order in which these possibilities are named here is not important” [Mindfulness204; I am using Parvis Emad and Thomas Kalary’s translation, and it will sound very different from the English terminology used so far, I apologize]), “whether in poets and thinkers ‘the thinking-ahead-remembering’ of the truth of be-ing enowns itself, that is, in those who have a burden to lift, whose weight escapes any and all numerical calculation” (204). That is, the truth of beyng will come out of unconcealment in the word of the poets and thinkers, always the spokesmen for the essence of their people. According to the second possibility,
whether beings hold on to the claims and conventionalities of the hitherto historically mixed up and inextricable beingness and compel to a total lack of decision; whether within the sphere of this lack beings then pile upon beings in ever-newer arrangements and ever-faster controllability; whether under the guise of an intensified “living” a being chases another being, takes its place, and settles the haze of an amusement over all beings . . . until the end of this mastery of beings (of “actuality that is close to life”) has become endless. (204)
It is clear that, of the two possibilities, Heidegger favors the former and not the latter, and his wager seems to be for the former as the many paragraphs in Beiträgethat speak about “the essence of a people” and as the very fascination with Hölderlin, understood as the poet of the German fatherland, as one of “the future ones” would seem to indicate. For us, indeed, eighty years later, and in spite of the hopelessly counterfeited resurgence of contemporary nationalisms everywhere, it seems as if that first option is already gone from the books, and the poets and the thinkers will never accomplish the feat of carrying the burden of their people and saving them all beyond, precisely, calculation, even if we make it merely political calculation. At the same time, I assume we reject the second possibility as desirable–even if we cannot reject it in its sheer facticity. What about the third possibility, then? Heidegger writes: “whether the first possibility stays away, and though the second one does assert itself, and given their admitted appearance, beings dominate all being but still something else happens: whether the history of be-ing (the grounding of its truth) begins in the unknowable hiddenness-shelteredness within the course of the struggle of the ‘alone ones’ and whether be-ing enters its ownmost and strangest history whose jubilation and sorrow, triumphs and defeats beat only in the sphere of the heart of the most rare ones” (204-05). Surely the rhetoric is old, perhaps even distasteful. Those lonely ones, the rare, the rarest, would have it on themselves to follow ankhibasie, to expose themselves to the end of calculation, to sound out the absent gods. If so, something would be kept, and could be transmitted.
It seems to me, such is my own transitional thinking, that the keeping of the unnecessary, to go back to the Chinese tale, as we let all machination pass us by without resistance (no counter-movement, no counter-politics: let them come to their own end), is the only possible promise of an existential clearing ex universitate. It is not much, and it may be nothing. We still have students, and we may owe them our presentiment, which is all we really have. But let me not moralize, let me not end in a note of moralism: perhaps beyond students, what I am arguing for is the need to let ankhibasieflourish, to let it proceed to where it may lead, no spiritual transformation, no individual redemption, just a liberation of a certain drive, which could indeed prove to be a form of the death drive: Da-sein’s death drive, to be distinguished from the biologistic death drive of animal rationale. How are we to think about it?
Texas A&M University
(Notes missing on Vallega-Neu, Polt, Ziarek, Dastur, Sheehan, Schürmann, on Country Path, etc. . . . Note on the death drive in Freud, Lacan?)
Dastur, Françoise. …
Heidegger, Martin. Contributions to Philosophy. (Of the Event). Richard Rojcewicz and Daniela Vallega-Neu translators. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2012.
—. Conversations on a Country Path. …
—. Mindfulness. Parvis Emad and Thomas Kalary translators. London: Continuum, 2006.
Osborn, James. “The Overturning of Heidegger’s Fundamental Ontology.” Journal of Philosophical Research41 (2016): 559-600.
Polt, Richard. The Emergency of Being. On Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2006.
Sheehan, Thomas. Making Sense of Heidegger. A Paradigm Shift. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Vallega-Neu, Daniela. Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003.
—. Heidegger’s Poietic Writings. From Contributions to Philosophy to The Event. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2018.
—. “Heidegger’s Reticence: From Contributionsto Das Ereignisand toward Gelassenheit.” Research in Phenomenology45 (2015): 1-32.
Schürmann, Reiner. Wandering Joy. Meister Eckhart’s Mystical Philosophy. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne, 2001.
Ziarek, Krzysztof. “The Modern Privilege of Life.” Research in Phenomenology44 (2014): 28-49.
—. “Image-less Thinking: The Time-Space for Imagination in Heidegger.” International Yearbook for Hermeneutics. . .
This has been a wonderful conference, and I have learned a lot. I found myself fascinated by many of the arguments that have been presented and really with few criticisms to make. I am not sure there is a matter of agreement or disagreement here, everybody has presented things as they see them from their position and experience. And for me in this brief response it cannot be a matter of asking questions from the paper presenters either. I do have one question for whoever wants to pick it up: why did the state decide to de-fund public education institutions, did they have real or merely political, phony reasons to do so, and can that trend be reversed, and what would it take?
Other than that, I will try to make a general comment–on the somber side, I suppose, because I am actually very worried about the future of the university. And I can assure you there was no one more committed to institutional development, no one who loved the university more than I did in earlier years. No more–it is a fact. But I will not say I am sorry about my own change of position. I think looking at things as they are is still where the peculiar satisfaction academics can aspire to lies. One can of course be mistaken–you can judge that.
It is one thing to try to present yourself, as an academic institution, in the best possible light in order to attract students. I think institutions have a clear right to do that, and I certainly have no objections. But I really do not think that is what we have come to call branding. Of course fund raising is a legitimate activity, and so is merchandising, I have no particular objections to business in general, but I think branding, to the extent that it promotes the quality of a product by identifying it with a particular name, is about fake news, it is about fooling the potential constituency, it is about planting ideological mystification, and it is, finally, what I would call a practice of straight cold-blooded sentimentality meant to sell a product as a product, whatever it takes and regardless of what the customer needs. The problem is that branding really has little to do with truth, or nothing to do with truth. Truth is only at best instrumentalized at the service of branding, never the other way around. Yes, you can tell me that branding is not a lie, since no reasonable person would ever believe its claims–it is a theoretical fiction, like all advertising. But let us try to see through what this means when it is applied to the university. Although Mario has already given us a clear example.
Branding has to do with products; education, like existential experience in general, is not and cannot ever be a product. When you attempt to brand an intangible you first have to destroy the intangible as intangible and turn it into a commodity. Branding the university–of course the university can sell t-shirts and props of all kinds, I do not care, and that is not what we are really talking about–branding the university as such is literally branding the students with a hot iron, turning them into submissive and subservient subjects, which they do accept for a reason of course, and it is a mercenary one, as they think it gives them symbolic compensation, symbolic power. They do not realize what is stolen from them is much more valuable than the miserable gift that comes to them in the form of a fallen fetish, an opaque glimmer, an ultimately shameful distinction having to do with claiming superiority. Let me offer a thesis, see if you have a problem or many problems with it: branding the university–associating education with the consumption of a product that fills your gut with symbolic exchange value– is a direct attack on whatever in life exceeds calculability, whatever in life exceeds labor time; it is in fact an attempt to turn free expenditure into labor time; it is an attempt to commodify and instrumentalize what should be impersonal and holy for every human life. Of course nobody has to fall for it (although most people do)–the system does not need for everybody to fall for it. Just for the system generally to work in that direction. As usual.
The university has been understood since the Enlightenment as a shelter against general equivalence, a shelter from (if not necessarily against) the commodification of the time of existence as living labor. If the modern university is consistent with the rise of capitalism, it was also taken from the beginning to be an exception to capitalism, in fact a compensation for capitalism, a place protected from its ravages in the name of freedom. It was, explicitly since the founding of the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1816, ideally a place for the free use of time in favor of non-instrumental activities, a place of Bildung, opposite to the biopolitical instrumentalization of the time of labor as commodified time, fetishized time, the time of reification, reified time. There has always been, in modernity, a deep connection between university–the principle of the university, university reason, the time of the university–and freedom. We can sum it up by saying that the time of the university has never been the time of labor.
Today all of that is under attack as we know very well. We are in the middle of an epochal change, and of course the danger is that it will become irreversible. The present generation of academics is witnessing the abandonment of the modern university in favor of a new organism, at this point still hybrid, that seeks to organize itself on the basis of what I will call the principle of general equivalence, which is based, already in the Karl Marx of the Grundrisse, on what he called the Gemeinwesen, the common substance, money. We are witnessing the taylor-fordization of the university, the transformation of the time of knowledge into labor time, a radical biopolitization of the university, which of course hinges on the biopolitization of its denizens, students, faculty, administrators, alumni. University life is today biopolitical life, a life increasingly under the claim of biopolitical rule. General equivalence of course also means general hierarchization, general placement into the place where you belong: you have some chips, you have more chips if you are a UCLA graduate than if you are a Cal State Fresno graduate, more chips if you are a dentist than if you are a plummer, branding gives you some of the chips, but everything is about chips, you cash them, see where that puts you, you live your life. You try not to run out of chips. If you do, where would you go?
The principle of general equivalence is also the principle of general calculability. Life must be reduced to calculation, life must be calculated, and whatever in life remains outside the possibility of calculation is merely either disposable life or, more likely, life that has not yet come under the principle of general, which means total, calculation.
Let me suggest, then, that branding is an effort, one among others, branding is only part of a strategy, not its totality, to maximize calculability outcomes. It is a partial strategy of capture that must be understood contextually. It is part of a monumental, massive or gigantic endeavor or enterprise of submission, hence of domination, that we call biopolitical social engineering. The goal of branding, consistent with the goal of biopolitical engineering, is totalitarian closure into an exhaustive, and exhausting, network of hierarchies that will dictate the conditions of existence for everyone in the future. Think of it, to use Celia’s words, as a gigantic conversion of the time of existence into Customer Relationship Management.
In the light of what we have heard over the last couple of days, the question for us is, how do we inhabit the university today? You may tell me it is a Romantic question–as if we had a choice. But we do have a choice. Please bear with me and consider the possibility–that I will not have the time to explain–that the corporatization of the university we have all heard so much about over the last two days is part and parcel of a generalized state-form that we could call a state of extraction–we are information, our information is exchange value, and our information needs to be extracted at the service of the production of surplus value and in the name of the principle of general equivalence. Branding, trademark bullying, faking coauthors, negotiating cognitive dissonances–they are all forms of extraction for the production of money, which is the overall goal, and in fact the only goal (I will not mince words here–I think old university goals as represented by the Humboldt University are gone, are history, and that today’s university in the United States and in a few other countries such as the UK is interested only in money, in the general equivalent, to which all members of the institution must submit.)
Resisting the state of extraction–for instance, as embodied in the contemporary university–is to step back, from the university, against the university. Ex universitate salus. This is just an example. I am not claiming you should not cash the check you get at the end of the month or that you should not teach your students. You should do both things–as needed. But there are political and infrapolitical ways of living in the university, of living the university, just like there are political and infrapolitical ways of existing. Politics is overrated, I think, particularly for us, here and now. It has become another form of chatter, in a deep way. Infrapolitics may prepare a new political avatar–but of that, at this point, we are not prepared to talk. I am not prepared to talk.
I think my claim–try not to be an informant, try not to let them abuse you, try to resist the state of extraction, practice living in the secret, do not let yourself be coopted–means to prepare an existential clearing. In the name of survival. Infrapolitical survival is premised on a step back from the state of extraction, which is also, today, a step back from politics as chatter, from social-network politics, from institutional politics, from hegemony politics, from the farce all of it has become for the most part. We could also appeal to the more hard-nosed Marxist positions of Fredric Jameson, when he claims that politics is really of little import, since political economy determines everything, not the will of the people, much less the will of bourgeois intellectuals. In a situation like the one he describes, and I think he is more right for today than for any other time in history, infrapolitics is all we can (and should) focus on.
The comment I wanted to add has to do with an article I read a couple of weeks ago in El Confidencial, actually an interview with Israeli cybersecurity expert Nimrod Kozlovski. It is an interesting and frightening interview, both, telling everybody what experts already know, which is, how corporate practices are moving in the direction of a complete colonization of life, of existence, of which Academic branding is very obviously part and parcel, and in it some unnamed Yale professor is quoted as telling Kozlovski something like “you could get a doctorate critiquing things and speaking for privacy, against data mining, against corporate and technological intrusion in your deepest dreams, and all that shit. But you could also get on with the program, and you should, because it will be better for you.” The whole point has now become to embrace all kinds of corporate transgressions, we need to love the university not in spite of what it now does, but because it does it, and we need to accept that we all have a more or less secret corporate score, which has to do directly with our relationship to branding, and that we must live our lives simply trying to improve on our corporate score–after all, they, that is, the system, the capitalist system that runs our lives, they do know much better than we do. We need to submit completely. The Chinese have made it explicit, and everybody else is working implicitly at it.
But I do think, I believe from the bottom of my heart, that the Yale professor who told the Israeli cybersecurity expert to get on with it, to give up on any resistance, any objection, any reluctance, should be given a low score and released into, I don’t know, a job as assistant manager at a NAPA auto parts store. To be kind. Give him some proper branding to do. See how he fares.
Leigh, thank you so much for your comments. I have already posted part of this in your blog, but I add one reflection at the bottom. I think there might be an only too logical misunderstanding in your critique, namely, having to do with my notion of infrapolitics, which of course there is no reason why you should be familiar with. But for me my argument rests entirely on infrapolitics (not on protopolitics–protopolitics is all well and good, so is politics, etc.: but my argument is on infrapolitics–neither on protopolitics nor on politics.) And infrapolitics is not a form or politics nor does it want to be. In fact, it is a step back from the political horizon, for the sake of something other, of a certain unnameable “nothing” that precedes politics and without which no politics would ever be possible. And it is a step back inspired by a deep suspicion of politics as such. I think, in the current predicament (let the notion of State of Extraction sum it up), politics has always already failed, and it is in fact complicitous with it–right or left politics, I am talking about politics as we know it at this point in history, and you should know I consider most if not all conceptions of politics in the left exhausted and obsolete.
So, my claim was not about the “right to remain silent.” It was really about the claiming of a radically infrapolitical space that drastically includes the practice of the secret. Having a secret is not automatically to be an informant, by the way, we may disagree there. Resisting the state of extraction–for instance, as embodied in the contemporary university–is to step back, from the university, against the university. Ex universitate salus. This is just an example. I am not claiming you should not cash the check you get at the end of the month or you should not teach your students. You should do both things–as needed. But there are political and infrapolitical ways of living in the university, of living the university, just like there are political and infrapolitical ways of existing. Politics is overrated, I think, particularly for us, here and now. It has become another form of chatter, in a deep way. Infrapolitics may prepare a new political avatar–but of that, at this point, we are not prepared to talk. I am not prepared to talk.
I think my claim–try not to be an informant, try to resist the state of extraction, practice living in the secret, do not let yourself be coopted–means to prepare an existential clearing. You mention Derrida in your entry: “learning to live” as living-on, as sur-viving. Infrapolitical survival is premised on a step back from the state of extraction, which is also, today, a step back from politics as chatter, from social-network politics, from institutional politics, from hegemony politics, from the farce all of it has become for the most part. We could also appeal to the more hard-nosed Marxist positions of Fredric Jameson, when he claims that politics is really of little import, since political economy determines it, not the will of the people, much less the will of bourgeois intellectuals. In a situation like the one he describes, and I think he is more right for today than for any other time in history, infrapolitics is all we can (and should) focus on.
The comment I wanted to add has to do with an article I read this morning in El Confidencial, actually an interview with Israeli cybersecurity expert Nimrod Kozlovski. It is an interesting and frightening interview, both, and in it some unnamed Yale professor is quoted as telling Kozlovski something like “you could get a doctorate critiquing things and speaking for privacy and all that shit. But you could also get on with the program, it will be better for you.” The whole point has become to embrace all kinds of transgressions, accept that we all have a more or less secret corporate score, and live our lives simply trying to improve on our corporate score–they do know much better than we do. The Chinese have made it explicit, everybody else is working implicitly at it.
I think the Yale professor should be given a low score and released into, I don’t know, a job as assistant manager at a NAPA auto parts store. To be kind.
Aunque entrevistador y entrevistado están de acuerdo de modo general en que la coyuntura contemporánea configura un “momento populista,” es decir, que la política hoy no puede eludir la lógica populista, hay una tenue alusión a un desacuerdo puntual en el asunto: para Jorge Alemán, el populismo es siempre de antemano de izquierdas, y no es posible concebir una política populista real desde reivindicaciones que postulan meros retornos identitarios y securitarios a fantasías de comunidad sustancial. Esto es importante en la medida en que indica que, para Alemán, la política–el populismo que él abraza–solo tiene sentido como instrumento de emancipación, y nunca como instrumento de dominación. Volveré a esto.
Para Errejón, sin embargo, hay populismo de derechas, pero acaba siendo en cada caso inviable–y justo en la medida en que el populismo de derechas lo es porque configura una formación ideológica excluyente. La voluntad de exclusión, apoyada en una apelación al miedo del más débil, trama una política populista de derechas que podrá, dice Errejón, causar fuertes turbulencias, pero que a la larga no triunfará. Por eso, para él, la apuesta fuerte por lo que Alemán llama “la emancipación” es desde luego plausible y necesaria. Frente a la erosión generalizada de significación en los procesos sociales y en las vidas individuales causada por cuarenta años de neoliberalismo triunfante cabe todavía la apuesta por un proyecto de “renovación nacional” que se haga cargo de aspiraciones colectivas a justicia social. Y ese proyecto, en España, no tiene hoy otro agente que Podemos si Podemos se olvida de proceder desde la “doctrina” y vuelve a su ímpetu inicial de atender al sentido común del país. Y atenderlo es escucharlo y hacerse cargo de él.
Errejón, ya en campaña para obtener la presidencia de la Comunidad de Madrid, no está interesado en sembrar polémica entre sus filas, pero no puede dejar de observar hacia al final de la entrevista que el proyecto de Podemos fue inicialmente un proyecto disruptivo que contravenía todas las piedades petrificadas de los manuales de izquierda, y que fue precisamente eso lo que funcionó en un primer momento: “cuando las izquierdas empiezan a darnos la razón,” dice,” es cuando empieza a “quitárnosla nuestro pueblo.” No podría ser más clara la defensa de una transversalidad esencial en el proyecto nacional que pase por hacer cortes tajantes entre sentido común y reificaciones metafóricas y doctrinarias–las últimas con frecuencia disfrazadas de inamovibles “principios y valores.” La “renovación nacional” de la que habla Errejón pasaría por lo tanto también por una renovación de Podemos, y confiamos en que no sea demasiado tarde para ello.
La entrevista funciona en la medida en que trata con inteligencia y franqueza temas obviamente difíciles. Empieza, por ejemplo, hablando de la dificultad de conciliación del trabajo teórico y la política práctica y concreta para trasladar ese asunto al viejo mantra weberiano, ya muy pasado de rosca, sobre las encrucijadas en las que se encuentran obligaciones de “responsabilidad” contra obligaciones de “convicción.” Errejón acaba expresando cierta impaciencia con el asunto, sabiendo como sabe que un político ha resuelto ya de entrada ese asunto o no es político ni lo habrá sido nunca. La política real es, dice Errejón, una forma de “negociar la insatisfacción” buscando en cada caso cambios puntuales en la correlación de fuerzas, tanto más difíciles cuanto más equilibrio haya en la alineación de fuerzas en conflicto. La dificultad del político tiende por lo tanto a estar más del lado del análisis correcto de la correlación de fuerzas que de las tensiones más bien eclesiásticas entre responsabilidad y convicciones. Y lo decisivo en política es por lo tanto proceder a una construcción mayoritaria o “hegemónica” del sentido común que permita vehicular reivindicaciones democráticas–que siempre tienen que ver con los conceptos irrenunciables de libertad y de igualdad–contra su secuestro por poderes fácticamente excluyentes. Por el camino se tocan temas de significación candente, tales como la noción de patria plurinacional, la formación de deseos securitarios y de pertenencia en la estela de la destrucción neoliberal, y la ausencia radical de elites políticas capaces de reconducir la situación a cauces democráticamente satisfactorios.
Yo me alegro de estar de acuerdo con casi todos los análisis de la entrevista, pero mi interés aquí es plantear, no un desacuerdo, sino más bien una dificultad para mí causada por lo que entiendo mal, o insuficientemente. A menos que se trate de una contradicción no resuelta de hecho en los planteamientos respectivos de Alemán o Errejón. Voy a ello.
Alemán interrumpe o parece interrumpir el hilo discursivo de Errejón para afirmar de manera algo sorprendente (para mí) que “la verdad” es “el combustible ético” de la operación política emancipatoria, y que no es solo por lo tanto cuestión de “hegemonía,” no solo cuestión de “construcción hegemónica.” Ni Alemán ni Errejón aceptarían que haya valores objetivos que le den pauta a línea política alguna, no hay “metalenguaje” político como tampoco lo hay en el psicoanálisis, el compromiso político es últimamente “indecidible,” y la verdad política es en cada caso construcción colectiva de sentido, siempre precaria y contingente. Y sin embargo . . . tanto Alemán como Errejón afirman que el par conceptual libertad-igualdad “permanece como núcleo del sentido.”
¿No hay una tensión aquí? ¿Son entonces libertad e igualdad no solo ya “principios y valores” sino también “verdades” que no hay que confundir con las metáforas que las expresan (ni la bandera roja, ni el himno, ni la estampita bendita con la cara del líder) pero que aun así funcionan como referencia ineludible, es más, como referencia incondicional?
No quiero elaborar demasiado este asunto porque no estoy seguro de haber entendido bien, es decir, con exactitud, la posición de Alemán o Errejón, y no quiero pasarme en atribución errónea. Pero me gustaría decir que creo que hay, efectivamente, una contradicción entre postular que no hay verdad en política, que la verdad es solo precipitado de un sentido colectivo, que se construye en la realidad temporal específica, en otras palabras, que la verdad es siempre en cada caso verdad hegemónica, por más que, por lo mismo, solo sea y solo pueda ser precaria y contingente verdad, y postular simultáneamente que esa construcción de realidad temporal específica debe hacerse desde las ideas o los valores o los principios o las verdades asociadas con la libertad y la igualdad, sin las cuales no cabe hablar de democracia.
En esa tesitura yo pienso que, efectivamente, hay verdades, aunque para mí tengan el matiz particular de que son verdades solo porque no hay o no es posible reconocer otra verdad: en la ausencia de legitimidad de ninguna forma de dominación, y en la ausencia de derecho efectivo de cualquier privilegio de opresión, solo la libertad y la igualdad adquieren carta de naturaleza. Se trata para mí de una consecuencia lógica y universal. No es que haya verdades que algunos individuos pueden alcanzar, o que todos los individuos pueden alcanzar: hay esas verdades porque su presencia es consecuencia directa de la ilegitimidad de cualquier otra afirmación de verdad. Por ende, su corolario es que la verdad de la libertad y la igualdad como elementos fundamentales e irrenunciables de la democracia es incompatible con la reducción de la política a procesos de configuración hegemónica del sentido común social. Por eso yo prefiero hablar en cada caso de democracia posthegemónica, como Jorge Alemán ya sabe, y perdón, Jorge, por ponerme una vez más en el papel de mosca cojonera en este asunto, entendiéndola como un proceso que atiende a su lógica interna y no a su configuración en correlación de poderes. Hay hegemonía, y la hegemonía construye política, pero la democracia busca en cada caso el fin de toda dominación hegemónica. Hegemonía y democracia son contradicciones in terminis mucho más que conceptos mutuamente complementarios. En todo caso, son conceptos suplementarios, en la medida en que se suplen mutuamente.
Qué aburrido se hace todo cuando la razón militante se sale de sí y profesa que ninguna otra razón existe, solo se puede ser una cosa, solo se puede pensar una cosa, solo se puede hacer una cosa, y los demás–todos esos que, a su vez, se salen de la cosa, como la lamella se sale del cuerpo lacaniano–son “heideggerianos municipales” o alguna otra estupidez semejante. De la cosa solo se puede salir la razón militante–en sí la cosa, la única cosa, y la única cosa que se sale para que nada más salga–para impedir que nadie permanezca con vida fuera de la cosa, solo en vidamuerte, en vida prostituida, en vida vendida, dice la razón militante. Y se queda oronda, satisfecha, heroica, contenta de haber podido decir su cosa sin que nadie proteste, pues nadie quiere exponerse–da miedo, serían enviados al infierno–a refutar algo tan elemental–es necesario que la razón sea militante, somos todos soldados de la razón, todos debemos militar en la causa, pues no hay más cosa que la causa, y la causa es fácticamente la cosa. No hay vida sin cosa, aunque la función de la cosa sea solo atrapar la vida, orientarla, ordenarla, darle una misión. Sin orden no hay milicia. Sin milicia no hay orden. Viva la militancia. Viva la causa. Qué coñazo.
Lo ético es lo universal, como decía Kierkegaard, y estos de la razón militante son siempre soldados heroicos de lo universal. Su referencia es lo universal, su verdad es lo universal, incluso su mentira es lo universal, pues lo universal constituye su único horizonte de referencia. Están llenos de lo universal, a lo que llaman política. Son héroes, o poetas del héroe–preferirían ser héroes, pero a veces se agotan en twits apayasados o en pomposos comentarios en facebook que, al menos, glosan al héroe, hablan de cómo conviene ser, y de cómo fuera de ese orden no hay salvación, solo perdición, la perdición del crápula, del fascista (todos son fascistas excepto los que aceptan o callan las premisas de la razón militante). Y así abundan más los poetas de lo universal en twitter y facebook que los héroes propiamente dichos, que aparecen solo de vez en cuando por televisión.
Lo ético es lo universal, ¿quién lo negaría? Dejémosles que sean éticos, dejémosles que le dediquen a lo universal–la nación, la clase, la raza, el pueblo, la ley moral–todo aquello que conviene a lo universal. Nunca entenderán que el mundo no acaba ahí, y que hay otra cosa, más cosa, a la que ellos no reconocerán el acceso. Kierkegaard lo decía bien claramente para el que tenga oídos (pero ¿quién tiene oídos hoy?): hay una relación del individuo a lo universal, mediada, y esa es la ética, y hay una relación del individuo al absoluto, y esa no admite mediación. Y como no admite mediación no admite tampoco compromiso, ni siquiera articulación: se hace, o no se hace. Se da, o no se da. Todos son capaces de ella, pero muy pocos se dan cuenta, todavía menos la buscan: casi todos la traicionan. Esa relación singular al absoluto–sin ella no hay pasión, solo simulacro de pasión. Lo que no entienden los militantes que, al haber renunciado a un absoluto que siempre de antemano trasciende su militancia, absolutizan su propia patética solución al enigma del mundo es que, al hacerlo, sacrifican lo único que merece la pena mantener al margen de todo sacrificio, puesto que sin ello no hay sacrificio alguno, solo trampa. Y sin ello no hay política, solo postureo. Son militantes cuya causa está vacía–por eso buscan llenarla de gritos militantes. Ojalá les funcione, siempre que dejen espacio para que otros puedan respirar sin tener que negociarlo con ellos.
I hope I am not breaking any regulations here. In any case, exam period is over. I gave my students this exam after a class on narco in which we covered a number of films and read a number of nonfiction and fiction books. Most of all, we concentrated on the stories that the narco world provides. But then the question came up–from a colleague: is it fair to put the students in the situation of having to internalize, even if punctually, for an exam, a world that is alien to them (and that we hope will remain alien)? Or, the companion question: is it not the case that, in the humanities, every course, every proposed course of reflection, should lead participants precisely to that point of singularization where existential decisions, actual or potential, become marked for them? Is that exam (I am perfectly willing to take drastic criticism) too political an exam, too moralistic an exam, too unscholarly an exam? Too ridiculous an exam? Or it is still insufficient to the extent it gives the students, through offering a parodic escape, an easy way out of really taking on board the terrible they have been exposed to? (Please forgive the obvious pedagogic moves in what follows, it is an exam after all: it is the questions above that interest me, for future courses.) .
Prof. Alberto Moreiras
As you know, our interest in the narco world this semester has been on the stories it produces more than on its political or sociological or historical implications. This exam will ask you to engage in some storytelling of your own. You can and probably should base your responses on the books and films we have covered. Please respond to four (4) of the following six (6) questions. (200 words each; 25 x 4 = 100)
A. (On the model of El Sicario.) Choose a role for yourself in the narco world—the role you find most congenial, perhaps, or the role you find most repulsive, or anything in between—and write a short confession of why you think you did not do great in it, and elaborate on what constrained you and limited you.
B. (You might keep The Counselor in mind.) Imagine that you are someone with a good amount of greed in you that hears of a deal that will bring you into the business world of a big jefe de jefes notorious for his cruelty with those who screw up around him. The deal could provide you with $5 mil, tax-free, but it involves a complicated negotiation with some corrupt police officers from Del Rio. Texas. Evaluate the situation and tell me what you would do, how you would screw up and why, and how you would face your final moments.
C. (I think there are aspects of Miss Bala) You need to cross the border into Nuevo Laredo and you are accosted by three guys who tell you if you drive a truck loaded with AK-47 automatic guns, C4 explosives, and 400 hand grenades across the bridge they will not make mincemeat of your mother and your little sister. Only one problem: in order to cross the bridge, you would have to shoot two border patrol agents that cannot be left behind as witnesses of your crossing. Would you accept the deal? If you do, and you accomplish your mission, would you turn yourself over to the authorities once you know your mother and little sister are safe in Northwestern Alaska?
D. We have read some of you commenting on the “three types” of connections women may have to the narco world, but there has not been much on men’s connections. Are there also three types, or are there more? How would you categorize the type that becomes fascinated by the stories, wants to know them, wants to develop an understanding, wants to figure out all possible types of responses, but prefers to abstain from the action itself? Would this latter type be male- or female-marked, or would it be gender-free?
F. Whiteout is a powerful journalistic account of historical events where the US government had no compunctions in terms of engaging in illegal behavior for profit. But what is so wrong about the government doing what it can do, just because it can, with absolute impunity? Is that not the glory of power? If you could choose between becoming the investigator blowing the whistle of illegality or the government agent in charge of a massive strategic maneuver, illegal, but that would provide espionage agencies with a splendid budget for targeted assassinations and the like, what role would you assume? Do you believe in the rule of law absolutely or only relatively? Or do you not believe in it at all?
E. In The Cartel Don Winslow presents us with an extremely complicated narrative where he attempts to foreshorten several decades of narco wars in Mexico through the eyes (and hands) of a relatively small set of characters. One of those characters is Art Keller, who has to confront a number of moral quandaries. Put yourself in Art Keller’s position at the time of having to engage with the (illegal, but you will get away with it) assassination of many minor soldiers of the drug wars just to favor Adán Barrera’s dominance of the narco trade. Keep in mind that Barrera is Keller’s archenemy.
Infrapolitics is, before everything else, and insofar as it moves beyond its sheer facticity into a form of thought or a form of life, a step back into a meditative thinking focused on existence which is always in every case mine–my existence, even if I do not own it. It is a meditation that may not have a purpose other than itself, other than just happening–but, if infrapolitics is then the letting-happen of existential meditation, it is not without effects. A trans-figuration always occurs, in the precise sense of a displacement of the figure of existence: de-metaphorization, and an eventual re-metaphorization on alternative grounds, or on no ground at all. The question is whether the trans-figure can be adequately described through the notion of savage moralism.
The step back, as it affects and displaces forms of life, ways to affirm existence, indeed ways of dwelling in time and space that are in every case yours (and not someone else’s: and they are yours not because you own them as you would own an umbrella, but because you can´t mortgage or transfer them: you are stuck with them, for the duration, however long they last)–this step back is not a step back into a region of principles, or norms, or rules. It is a region alright, but it is not a grid. The step back is not a step back into ethics or politics insofar as we understand ethics or politics as concerned with calculations on the general good.
Does this mean that infrapolitics is not concerned with the general good? That it dismisses ethical or political issues as merely ontic, fallen into everyday calculations, not worthy of infrapolitical meditation, indeed not “existential” enough? Not at all. And this is not trivial. Infrapolitics is not a form of ethics, and it is not a form of politics, which does not make it ethically or politically vacuous.
Savage moralism is a concern with the general good or the good in general that derives, not from norms, not from rules, not from the moral law, not from divine commandments, not from any previously assigned or assumed legitimacy. It merely derives from the consideration that existence–the region of meditative infrapolitics, the region of eventually trans-figured infrapolitics–may be always and in every case always already yours, even if you do not own it, but it is yours only to start with (and definitely also to end with). It is immediately also a common existence, an existence you share with others who share with you, always and in every case, the equiprimordiality of their own existence–their existence, which they do not own, which does not mean you do. You own nothing beyond a few things, an umbrella maybe.
If you want them to let your existence be–and you would rarely want anything else from them–, you must logically reciprocate. A concern with the good is a concern with letting things be the things they are as a condition of their reciprocity to you. They must oblige by letting you be. Your infinite obligation is also their obligation. This is what is common. Savage moralism is based on self-defense as a matter of existential survival, which includes the fact that you defend your mortality by defending the mortality of the other. You defend the mortality of the other through defending your own mortality, and your right to it. Since death is the enigma that makes your existence always and in every case only yours, not mortgageable or transferable, not someone else’s, it also makes it never interchangeable, never equivalent. Which means their existence is never interchangeable, never equivalent, never indifferent. Savage moralism is what it takes.
Savage moralism is a savage demand, beyond any rules, or else an indefinite, chaotic number of demands following an indefinite, chaotic number of rules. But it has never abandoned the general good–it can’t, as it is its condition of trans-figuration. Or one of them.