Respondant Comments on UC-Davis symposium on “Academic Brands: Globalizing, Privatizing, and Quantifying the University.” March 22-23 2019.


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.

From Leigh Johnson on State of Extraction and Secrecy.

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.

The End of the Constitution of the Earth. A review of Samuel Zeitlin’s edition of Tyranny of Values & Other Texts (Telos 2018), by Carl Schmitt. By Gerardo Muñoz.

Samuel Zeitlin’s edition of Tyranny of Values and Other Texts (Telos Press, 2018) fills an important gap in the English publication of Carl Schmitt’s work, in particular, as it relates to his lesser known essays written during the interwar period. This edition is still meant as an introduction to Schmitt’s political thought and it does not pretend to exhaust all the topics that preoccupied the Catholic jurist, such as the geopolitical transformations of the European legal order, the rise of economicism at a planetary scale, or the ruminations over the early modern theories of sovereignty and its defenders. Indeed, these essays sheds light on the complexity of a thinker as he was coming to terms with the weakening of the ius publicum europeum as the framework of European legality and legitimacy, and of which Schmitt understood himself to be the last concrete representative, as he repeatedly claims in Ex captivate salus.

As David Pan correctly observes in the Preface, the Schmitt that we encounter here is one that is confronting the transformations of political enmity in light of a gloomy and dangerous takeover of a global civil war. In fact, one could most definitely argue that the Schmitt thinking within the Cold War epochality is one that is painstakingly searching for a “Katechon”, that restraining force inherited from Christian theology in order to give form to the ruination of modern legal and political order. The global civil war, cloaked under a sense of acknowledged Humanism, now aimed at the destruction of the enemy social’s order and form of life. This thematizes the existential dilemma of a jurist who was consciousness of the dark shadow floating over the efficacy of Western jurisprudence. In other words, the post-war Schmitt is one marked by a profound hamletian condition in the face of the technical neutralization of every effective political theology. This condition puts Schmitt on the defensive, rather than on the offensive, as his later replies to Erik Peterson, Hans Blumenberg, or Jacob Taubes render visible.

The essays in the collection can be divided in three different categories: those on particular political thinkers, some that reflect on political enmity and the concept of war, and two major pieces that deal directly with the crisis of nihilism in the wake of the Cold War (those two essays are “The Tyranny of Values” and “The Order of the World after the Second World War”). Zeitlin includes an early essay on Machiavelli (1927), a brief piece on Hobbes’ three hundred years anniversary (1951), a reflection on his own book Hamlet and Hecuba (1957), and a succinct note on J.J. Rousseau (1962). These are all not necessarily celebratory of each of these figures. Indeed, while in the piece on Hobbes Schmitt celebrates the author of Leviathan as a true political analyst of the English Civil War against Lockean contractualism; the piece on Machiavelli is a clear exposition of his loathe for the Florentine statesman. In fact, to the contemporary student of intellectual history these words might sound unjust: “[Machiavelli] was neither a great statesman nor a great theorist” (Schmitt 46). If politics is understood as the art of reserving an arcanum, as mystery of power against all forces of moral relativism and technical procedures, then, machiavellism’s endgame amounts to a mystified anti-machiavellinism that favors individual pathos over political decisionism. Machiavelli might have said “too much” about politics; and for Schmitt, this excess, points to the flawed human anthropology at the heart of his incapacity for thinking political unity (Schmitt 50).

If juxtaposed with the essay on Hobbes, it becomes clear that Schmitt’s anxiety against Machiavelli is also the result of the impossibility of extracting a Christian philosophy of history, which only the Leviathan was able to guarantee in the wake of a post-confessional world. Whereas Hobbes provided a political theology based on auctoritas, non veritas, facit legem, Machiavellism stood for an impolitical structure devoid of a concrete political kernel. In such light, the essay on Rousseau is astonishingly curious. For one thing, Schmitt paints a portrait of Rousseau that does not adequately fits the contours of a political theologian of Jacobinism. On the reverse side of this, Schmitt also avoids making the case for The Social Contract as a precursor of totalitarianism. Rather, following Julien Freund, Schmitt polishes a Rousseau that stands for limited freedom and equality; a sort of intra-katechon within Liberalism, and in this sense a mirror image of every potential Hegelianism for the unfolding of world history (Schmitt 173). Finally, the piece “What Have I done?”, a response to a critic of his Hamlet and Hecuba, is aimed not so much at the making of a “political Shakespeare”, but rather at shaking up both the “monopoly of dialectical materialist history of art” as well as the “well-rehearsed division of labor” of the university” (Schmitt 139-41). This is critique has not lost any of its relevance in our present.

Whereas the pieces on political thinkers is an exercise in reactroactive gazing on the tradition, the essays on political enmity and war are direct confrontations on the erosion of the European ius publicum europeum in the wake of the Cold War, dominated by the rise of international political entities (NATO, UN), and anticolonial movements of a new global order. It is in this context that Schmitt’s interest in the figure of the partisan begins to take shape as a way to come to terms with the new forms of mobility, irregularity, and changes in its territorial placement of the enemy. In “Dialogue on the Partisan”, Schmitt revises some of his major claims in Theory of the Partisan, while reminding that “the great error of the pacifists…was to claim that one need simply abolish warfare, then there would be peace” (Schmitt 182).The destitution of the ius publicum europeum, that oriented war making vis-a-vis the recognition of political enmity has, in fact, opened up for a de-contained partisanship in which the destiny of populations now was at the center. This new stage of political conflict intensifies the nihilism where potentially anyone is an enemy to be destroyed (Schmitt 194).

As Schmitt claims in the short piece “On the TV-Democracy”, the question becomes who will hold political power and to what extent, as techno-economical machination becomes the force that directly expresses the Goethean myth of nemo eontra deum nisi dens ipse. With the only difference that the mythic in the essence of technology has no political force, but mere force of mobilization of abstract identities and what Heidegger called “standing reserve”. In this new epoch, the human ceases to have a place on earth, not merely because his political persona cannot be defined, but rather because he can no longer identify himself as human (Schmitt 205). Schmitt’s sibylline maxim from poet Theodor Daubler, “The enemy is our question as Gestalt”, thus loses its capacity for orientation. Already in the 1940s, Schmitt is contemplating a crisis that he does not entirely resolve.

This is one way in which the important essay “The Forming of the French Spirit via the Legists”, from 1941, must be understood. This text on the one hand it is a remarkable sketch of French jurisprudence, grounded on “mesura”, “order”, “rationalism”, and sovereignty. It is no doubt an essay directed against royalist French intellectuals (Henri Massis and Charles Maurras are implicitly alluded to); but also at the concept of state sovereignty. Indeed, the most productive way to read this essay is next to The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes (1938) written a couple of years prior. The impossibility of crafting a theory of the political in the wake of the exhaustion of the sovereign state form will eminently leave the doors wide open for a global civil war, as he argues in the post-war essay “Amnesty or the Force of Forgetting”. Schmitt’s defense of the a formation of the Reich in the 1940s will be translated in his general theory of a ‘new nomos of the earth’ immediately after the war.

The two most important pieces included in The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts (2018) are “The Tyranny of Values” (1960), and “The Order of the World after the Second World War”. The “actuality” of Schmitt’s political thought has a felicitous grounds on these essays, although by no account should we claim that they adjust themselves to the intensification of nihilism in our current moment. There is much to be said about the weight that Schmitt puts on the “economic question”, a certain pull that comes from the emphasis of the much debated question then concerning “development-underdevelopment”, which does not really capture the metastasis of value in the global form of the general principle of equivalence today. Schmitt also deserves credit in having captured in “The Tyranny of Values”, the ascent of the supremacy of “value” in relation to the philosophies of life (Schmitt 12). Schmitt quotes Heidegger’s analysis, for whom “value and the valuable become the positivistic ersatz for the metaphysical” (Schmitt 29), which we can have only intensified in the twenty-first century. Perhaps with the only difference that “value” is no longer articulated explicitly. But who can deny that identitarian discourse is a mere transposition of the tyranny of values? Who can negate that the cost-benefit analysis, “silent revolution of our times” as one of the most important constitutionalists has called it, now stands as the hegemonic form of contemporary technical rationality? [2].

At one point in the “Tyranny” essay, while commenting on Scheler’s philosophy, Schmitt says something that it has clearly not lost any of its legibility in our times: “Max Scheler, the great master of objective value theory has: the negation of a negation value is a positive value. That is mathematically clear, as a negative times a negative yields a positive. One can see from this that the binding of the thinking of value to its old value-free opposition is not so lightly to be dissolved. This sentence of Max Scheler’s allows evil to be requited with evil and in this way, to transform our earth into a hell, the hell however to be transform into a paradise of values” (Schmitt 38). It is a remarkable conclusion, and one in which the “mystery of evil” (the Pauline mysterium iniquitatis) becomes the primary function of the art of government in our times. It is here where we most clearly see the essence of the techno-political as the last reserve of legal liberalism. Schmitt would have been surprised (or perhaps not) to see that the disappearance of the rhetoric of values also coincides with a new regulation of disorder, whether it takes the name of “security”, “cost and benefits”, or “identity and diversification”. Indeed, now politics even has its own place in the consummation of the race for the “highest values”, since anything can be masked a “political” at the request of the latest demand.

In his 1962 conference “The Order of the World after the Second World War”, delivered in Madrid by invitation of his friend Manuel Fraga, Schmitt still is convinced that he can see through the interregnum. Let me quote him one last time: “I used the word nomos as a character denomination for the concrete division and distribution of the earth. If you now ask me, in this sense of the term nomos, what is today, the nomos of the earth, I can answer clearly : it is the division of the earth industrially developed regions or less developed regions, joined with the immediate question of who accepts development from whom…This distribution is today the true constitution of the earth” (Schmitt 163). It is a sweeping claim, one that seeks to illuminate a specific opaque moment in history.

But I am not convinced that we can say the same thing today. Here I am in agreement with Galli and Williams, who have noted that the disappearance of a Zentralgebiet no longer solicits the force of the Katechon [3]. And it is the Katechon that guarantees an effective philosophy of history for the Christian eon. The Katechon provides for a juridical sense of order against a mere transposition of the theological. Indeed, it is never a matter of theological reduction, which is why Schmitt had to evoke Gentilis’ outcry: Silenti theologi, in munere alieno!  I guess the question really amounts to the following: can a constitution of the earth, even if holding potestas spiritualis, regulate the triumph of anomia and the unlimited? Do the bureaucrat and the technician have the last world over the legitimacy of the world? Here the gaze of the jurist turns blank and emits no answer. One only wonders where Schmitt would have looked for new strengths in seeking the revival of a constitution of the earth; or if this entails, once and for all, the closure of the political as we know it.




  1. Carl Schmitt. The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts, Translated by Samuel Garrett Zeitlit. New York: Telos Publishing Press, 2018.
  2. Cass Sunstein. The Cost Benefit Revolution. Massachusetts: MIT Press 2018.
  3. See Carlo Galli, “Schmitt and the Global Era”, in Janus’s Gaze: Essays on Carl Schmitt. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015, p.129. Also, Gareth Williams, “Decontainment: The Collapse of the Katechon and the End of Hegemony”, in The Anomie of the Earth (Duke University Press 2015), p.159-173.

Some Notes Regarding Hölderlin’s “Search for the Free Use of One’s Own”. By Gerardo Muñoz.

In what follows, I want to comment on Martin Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin’s well-known dictum from his 1801 letter to his friend Casimir Bohlendorff, “the free use of the proper is the most difficult thing”. Heidegger devotes a whole section to this enigmatic phrase in the recently translated 1941-42 Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance” (2018) seminar, which dates to the years in which he was confronting Nietzsche’s work, and also more explicitly and for obvious reasons, the issue of German nationalism [1]. In the wake of recent conversations about nationalism and patriotism in political rhetoric, it seems like a fitting time to return to Heidegger’s comments on Hölderlin’s work. This also marks a turn in Heidegger’s thinking of the poetic in the strong sense of the term, which has been analyzed widely in the literature.

Heidegger begins by claiming that the “free use of one’s ownmost” requires a direct confrontation with “the foreign” but that at the same time, it is the easiest thing to miss (Heidegger 105). What is difficult is that which is already one’s own and nearest, and because it is intuitive, it is easy to overlook it. What is difficult is not due to some kind of epistemological overcapacity that today we would associate with the complexity of technical density, but rather, it is an immediate inhabitation, a mood of our belonging that is grasped beyond consciousness and propriety. Hence, it is easy to discard it in a gesture of dismissal due to its familiarity. It happened even to the Greeks.

Heidegger quotes Hölderlin’s verses referencing the loss of the ‘fatherland’: “Of the fatherland and pitifully did / Greece, the most beautiful, perish” (Heidegger 105). Following an obscure Pindar fragment on the “shadow’s dream”, Heidegger shows that the absence is the most important element to illuminate the unreal as it transitions to the real. And this is what the poet does. Indeed, the poet can establish a “footbridge”, or rather it came bring it forth, to initiate a transition towards “what is historically one’s own” (Heidegger 109). If anything, what Greece and Germania point to in Hölderlin’s poetry is this otherwise of historical presencing, which Heidegger admits has nothing to do with historiographical accumulation or cultural metaphorcity (Heidegger 109). At times it is all too easy to dismiss what is at stake here. In the beginning of the twentieth century, for instance, E.M. Butler wrote a book titled The Tyranny of Greece over Germany (1935), which studied the “classical influence” of all things Greek since Winckelmann and German Idealism. Many do not cease to repeat the cliché that Heidegger’s thinking – even Schmitt in Glossarium laments the fascination with Hölderlin over Daubler, which is also the controversy between the critique of logos and a Christological conception of History – is a flight back to Greek ruminations for a new German beginning.

Obviously, this is not Heidegger’s interest in reading the holderlinian use of one’s own. There is no cultural equivalence between the German and the Greek sense of belonging; rather it seems that what Heidegger is after is another way of thinking the historicity of the people, which is fundamentally a problem with the relation with time: “A humankind’s freedom in relation to itself consists in funding, appropriating, and being able to use of what is one’s own. It is in this that the historicality of a people resides” (Heidegger 111). The poet is the figure that, by asking the question about the most difficult thing (one’s use of the proper), can discover this task. Only he can take over the business of founding it (Heidegger 112). The task of the poet is always this “seeking”, which is already in Hölderlin’s first fragment in his novel Hyperion: “We are nothing: what we seek is everything” (Heidegger 113). The task of seeking opens itself to what is the highest and the most holy, which for Hölderlin is the “fatherland’. It is “holy” precisely because it is forbidden and the most difficult to retain.

We are far away here from the sacrificial structure of Hölderlin’s “Der Tod Furs Vaterland” (“To Die for the Homeland”), which Helena Cortés Gabaudan has read in light of the archaic Horacian trope of ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’; a staging of the heroic ethos against the backdrop of the aporetic conceit between thinking and action, the sword and the pen, the poet and the warrior in the early stages of the artist fallen into the age of revolutions [2]. Something else is going on in “Remembrance” use of one’s own at the level of the very transformative nature of historical time, in so much as that which is most holy is nothing that resembles a past principle (a work of art stored in a museum, or the poem as an artistic medium), but rather an atheology, which is never negation or lack; it is always nearness to one’s own as the encounter with what’s “holy” (Heidegger 117).

This atheology suspends any given theistic structure in the act of poetizing. (Is it even correct to refer it as an “act”?). And this poetizing is the task as passage is the inscription of the impossible relation with one’s use here and now. But where does the “political” fit in this picture, one could ask? Is Hölderlin’s turn towards the “use of the national” (Vaterland) entirely a question driven by a political vocation of some sort? This is a poet, one must remember, frustrated by the belated condition of nationhood that sealed Germany’s destiny in the wake of the French Revolution. Hölderlin is first and foremost a poet of political disenchantment and a witness to how politics cannot escape this tragic fate. Indeed, only the poet can actually look straight at this predicament, unlike the political thinker who fantasies with a programmed “assault on the heavens”. In an important moment of the analysis, Heidegger touches this problem:

“What is more obvious than to interpret the turn to the fatherland along the lines of a turn to the “political”? However, what Hölderlin names the fatherland is not enchanted by the political, no matter how broadly one may conceive the latter…The turn to the fatherland is not the turn to the political either, however“. (Heidegger 120).

Undoubtedly, this is a Parthian arrow directed at the political essence of the national understood as a gigantism of state, culture, and history as it was conjuring up in the European interwar period. It is also takes a distance from any given “standpoint” of the national becoming. In this sense, I am in agreement with poet Andrés Ajens’ suggestion that, against the dialectics of locational “alternative histories”, the problem of the national is that of an infinite task of the “desnacional” (this is Ajens’s own term) under erasure, in relation to the “foreign”, in preparation for the “passage of learning to appreciate one’s own” (Heidegger 120) [3]. What we cannot grasp in the national is precisely what bears the trace of the task of ‘denationalization’ as the homecoming of “the clarity of presentation” in its discrete singularity (Heidegger 122). This last line is also from the letter to Bohlendorff.

It is interesting that every time that the form of denationalization has been referred to in strictly political terms, it entails the overcoming of politics by an exogenous force that liquidates the capacities for its own limits. This is, indeed, the realm of the political in the strong sense of the term, in line with the emergence of sovereignty that Hölderlin’s poetic thought wants to curve toward an otherwise of the national. This use of the national wouldn’t let itself be incubated by the supremacy of the political. Let us call this an infrapolitical kernel of patriotism.

This is why at the very end of this session Heidegger mentions that Hölderlin, unlike Nietzsche, must be understood as a “harbinger of the overcoming of all metaphysics” (Heidegger 122). We wonder whether the emphasis on the “People”, however fractured or originary, does not carry a residue of metaphysical rouse. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that Hölderlin aims at something higher. Perhaps he aims at an “inebriation that is different from the “intoxication of enthusiasm” (Heidegger 125); that is, a distance from Kant who elevated the perception of the French Revolution as an anthropological affection.

The step back of the singularity is driven by the “soul” – which Heidegger connects to the polysemic usage of the word Gemüt (at times translated as disposition or gathering) – as other than politics, since it sees through the offering of the dark light and keeps thinking in the human. Transposing it to our discussion, we can say that a politics is irreducible to Gemüt, and that only Gemüt is the excess in every politics. The use of one’s own, vis-a-vis the national (or the process of denationalization), is a resource to attune oneself with this “disposition”. No human can bear to be human without it. Hölderlin seeks to reserve this poverty as the primary task of the poet as a radical neutralization of all techno-political missteps. Or, in the last words in the session: “…it is the while of the equalization of destiny” (Heidegger 131).





  1. Martin Heidegger. Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance”. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018.
  2. Friedrich Hölderlin. Poesía esencial, ed. Helena Cortés Gabaudan. Madrid: Oficina de Arte y Ediciones, 2018.
  3. From a personal exchange with Andrés Ajens.

Comentario a la entrevista de Jorge Alemán a Iñigo Errejón en Punto de emancipación (Jorge Alemán, “Conversación con Iñigo Errejón,” Punto de emancipación, 25 de diciembre 2018:


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.


Razón militante y absoluto. 

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.

A (Dubious?) Exam for a Class on Narco.

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.) .

Final Examination

HISP 363.500

Fall 2018

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.

Prologue for the new edition of Alberto Moreiras’ Tercer espacio: Literatura y duelo en América Latina. (Nottingham, UK, 2018). By Gareth Williams

Con pies de paloma y corazón de serpiente: Tercer espacio: Literatura y duelo en América Latina

In the work of mourning, it is not grief that works: grief keeps watch.

Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster.

Thought abandons itself to its own opening and thus reaches its decision, when it does justice to this singularity that exceeds it, exceeding it even in itself, even in its own existence and decision of thought. It is also in this way that it does justice to the community of existents. This means that thought has no practical, ethical, or political action to dictate. If it claims to do so, it forgets the very essence of the decision, and it forgets the essence of its own thinking decision. This does not mean that thought turns away from action and is hostile or indifferent toward it. On the contrary, it means that thought carries itself in advance of action’s own-most possibility.

Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Decision of Existence”.


Grief lies heavily at the heart of the decision for thinking. If grief uncovers the singularly passive and inoperative experience of staring death in the face, of keeping silent watch over that which nothing can be said, and therefore over that which is forever prior to and in excess of thinking’s abandonment to its own opening and decision, then grief is the originary and unspeakable other of language that carries itself, in its vigilance, not only in advance of thinking’s own-most opening and possibility as mourning, as the toil for a certain understanding, but also in advance of every action’s possibility. Grief is the originary other of language, the affective passivity that carries itself in advance of every responsible act of thinking and writing. As such, it is the infra-structural foundation of thinking and writing. But grief per se can never be political. Rather, it is only ever an infrapolitical caring for the depths of the abyss of being-towards-death, or for the painful assumption of a certain responsibility towards the limit and possibility of existence. For this reason the work of mourning, the laborious pursuit of an assignable place for death, or for the death of the other, traverses the pre-political passage from grief to an attunement in thinking and writing that strives to account for the possibility of freedom and existence. As Jacques Derrida put it in The Gift of Death: “Concern for death, this awakening that keeps vigil over death, this conscience that looks death in the face is another name for freedom” (15).

“Loss”, Maurice Blanchot observes, “goes with writing” (84). But a loss, he continues, “without any gift (a gift, that is, without reciprocation) is always liable to be a tranquilizing loss bringing security” (84). Alberto Moreiras’s Tercer espacio: Literatura y duelo en América Latina (1999)—a book that is dedicated to the memory and image of a dead mother and to a surviving father (that is, to the Nietzschean double inheritance), yet a book that is also a conscious meditation not on (for this is not a work of representation) but through the auto-graphic loss and memory of the ‘raya’ dividing Portugal and Galicia; of the Barcelona movida in the wake of the death of the dictator Franco; of an originary language lost and transformed by the experience of wandering and of academic re-institutionalization in the United States; of the identitarian drives of the Latin Americanist Left before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and all of this in the wake of the decision for thinking from within the closure of metaphysics announced persistently by Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida and others—is anything but the writing of a tranquilizing loss bringing security.

Tercer espacio was conceived and written at the intersection of three simultaneous registers of mourning: “El registro de la literatura latinoamericana a ser estudiada, el registro teórico propiamente dicho, y el otro registro, más difícil de verbalizar o representar, registro afectivo del que depende al tiempo la singularidad de la inscripción autográfica y su forma específica de articulación trans-autográfica, es decir, su forma política” (14). In a disquieting gesture toward the reader located a hundred pages prior to the book’s end, Moreiras presents the variability and instability of the names of mourning through a kind of orgiastic over-abundance of designations striving to lend some form of consistency to the un-nameable and incommensurable language that no one speaks, that is, to the eternal recurrence of the non-occurrence of grief and the restless experience of loss that writing simultaneously uncovers and occludes: “La escritura del duelo va hasta aquí acumulando nombres: escritura del tercer espacio, escritura de la ruptura entre promesa y silencio, escritura lapsaria, escritura que repite lo indiferente, escritura de la anormalidad ontológica. Todos estos términos mentan un mismo fenómeno, cuyo carácter fundamental es el intento de sobrevivir a una experiencia radical de pérdida de objeto” (291-2). In addition to these attempts at survival in writing, the reader can also reference the question of ‘critical regionalism’, of the ‘punctum’, or the subalternist critique of postcolonialism, to name just a few more that come to mind in a reading of this work twenty years after its initial publication.

Tercer espacio’s consistent gesture toward a future reciprocation—toward the possible activation of a responsibility, of a decision, and therefore of an answer to the other in the face of the impossible—is repeated in the book’s final lines with a fitting farewell in reference to Tununa Mercado’s novel En estado de memoria. Here we encounter an invitation for the reader to stand vigil in the face of a destitution that is the only possibility for a future responsible act. Moreiras observes in the end that the “sorda demanda de restitución desde la destitución . . . es . . . el resto abierto de este libro expuesto a la demanda literaria que ahora llega a su fin” (397). An invitation and double demand for an intellectual conduct or future conceptual comportment, for a response, in the wake of literary destitution—of the emergent and on-going abandonment of literature as compensatory national allegory—that Tercer espacio itself has consummated and brought to completion.

Now what is to be done? Moreiras asks. While grief is the originary and singular gift that no one can receive as such, Tercer espacio is the solitary yet also trans-autographic exploration of the contours of mourning, and therefore the quest for a possible reciprocation, for a collective wake without which there can be no common politics fully attuned to the closure of metaphysics and the expiration of the historically assigned value of ‘the literary’.

Twenty years after its original publication in Santiago de Chile in perhaps the only publishing venue in the Spanish-speaking world at that time (Arcis/LOM Editores) that could lend a hospitable ear to such a work (but also a venue that sealed the book’s limited distribution), it is now clear that in the face of such a singular work the almost complete non-reciprocation of the field of Latin American literary and cultural studies both in the U.S. and Latin America confirmed a constitutive preference for the tranquilizing security of identity and difference, over and above any unsettling petition for thinking from a position other than that of the metaphysics of the subject (for the object of bereavement is ultimately that of metaphysics itself).

If Tercer espacio was an invitation in the late 1990s to a collective wake in light of the closure of metaphysics and the concomitant demise of literary Eurocentrism—indeed, in light of the exhaustion of the literary itself—the field has responded over the last two decades with a vociferous demand for more and more humanist metaphysics in the name of the “decolonial option” advanced by Walter Mignolo, Enrique Dussel, Anibal Quijano and their innumerable acolytes, for the populist politics of solidarity with the Global South, for subjectivist militancy, and for the descriptivism of the myriad forms of historicism, cultural anthropology and sociology that have sequestered cultural studies in the name of institutional interdisciplinarity.

Rather than approaching the complex apostasy that this heretical, demonic book offered, the field embraced the vociferous veneration of the Creole cultural and political tradition along with the common sense protocols of its authority, orthodoxy, rule and doctrine. Postcolonial papalism (with all the faith in subjective conversion, redemption and sacrifice that this implies) actively displaced a mode of thinking that proposed the gift of death, a creative self-sacrifice or destitution, to the nihilist identitarian ground of the entire Creole inheritance and the tranquilizing security of its university knowledge. In that shallow success the possibility for a re-commencement of the ethico-political became increasingly obscured, and remains so.

Tercer espacio was a work of heresy that fell almost entirely on deaf ears in the years after its publication. There had been no prior clearing in the field of Latin Americanism for the existence of a book such as this, and when it was published in 1999 there was still no space for it. It is, in this sense, a singular work of destructive freedom, a welcomingly irresponsible call in the dark for an other intellectual responsibility.

In the late 1980s and 1990s the field of Latin American literary and cultural studies was still very much dominated by the formation and protocols of its national literary traditions; by the national allegories of Latin American literary modernism (the ‘Boom’) and all the other national allegories that came after it (the so-called ‘post-Boom’). But it was also characterized by occasional sociological discussions of the exclusions upon which such nomenclatures and aesthetic systems were forged, and by the techniques of narrative transculturation and ‘the Lettered City’ that had been mapped out by Ángel Rama in the 1980s. Latin Americanist Hispanism in the United States existed with its back firmly turned away from the theoretical renovations that had been occurring throughout the 1980s in the fields of Comparative Literature, English, Film Studies, Geography, French, etc. Anything that smacked of philosophy, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, postcolonialism or post-Marxism was considered a mere importation and was treated with the suspicion of inauthenticity (“Why read Foucault when we have Rama?” etc). Talk of postmodernity was reduced to less than a handful of young and particularly perceptive readers in the early to mid 1990s, but globalization was for the most part dismissed because, it was said, the nation-state still provided the historical impetus to national culture, despite the growing evidence to the contrary. There was almost no mention of neoliberalism in cultural circles and absolutely no talk of the financialization of capital. In the early 1990s Beatriz Sarlo strived to account for the shifting scenes of postmodernity but essentially lamented the end of metanarratives tout court. In the wake of the Central American wars of the 1980s the Latin Americanist Left in the United States embraced the genre of the testimonio as a supposedly “real-life” political counterweight to “elite” cultural forms such as Boom and post-Boom literature. Minor gestures toward deconstruction in the field emerged for the first time in the early 1990s as a small number of Yale trained Latin Americanists began to acknowledge the literary technique of the supplement, for example. But as long as the closure of the metaphysics of subjectivity itself remained firmly off limits, the archive of Creole humanism and its regional ontologies could persist unharmed in such a way that deconstruction could just be labeled an ivory tower for the vacuous exercise of elite word games and political undecidability, which is where both the Left and the Right of the field achieved consensus. In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group pursued a populist politics of solidarity from the North, publishing its 1993 “Manifesto” in part as an intended corrective to the fact that the debates on postcoloniality in the English-speaking academy had ignored Latin America entirely. Meanwhile, after the 1992 Quincentenary of the Spanish colonization of the Indies a de-colonizing “darker side of the Renaissance” was detected, largely overlooking the fact, however, that the so-called darker side of the colonial history of Eurocentric territorial expansion was in fact the historical and conceptual accomplishment, the very anchor and metaphysical guarantee, of logos itself. It is from within this constitutive conceptual and political impasse first announced in the mid 1990s that the “decolonial option” reveals its central and still unresolved quandary; namely, that no critical discourse in the historical development of the field turns around, enjoys, and markets its structural dependency upon the perpetuation of Eurocentric metaphysics (identity and difference) quite like the “decolonial option”, which is the logocentrism of “Occidentalism” in action. To this day, such is the state of the field of postcolonialism in its Latin Americanist vein.

And then, with resonances of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (“con pies de paloma y corazón de serpiente”), came Tercer espacio: Literatura y duelo en América Latina, a book that coincides in its publication with the development and finalization of Moreiras’ The Exhaustion of Difference (2001), and in which the kernel of the later works Línea de sombra (2008) and Marranismo e inscripción (2016) can be clearly discerned.

As already suggested, no other book dealing with Latin America prior to Tercer espacio had as its point of departure the closure of metaphysics, thereby indicating that no other book had adopted finitude as the essential un-ground from which thinking can only ever be an infrapolitical labor of mourning, rather than a dialectical quest for the revelation of Spirit. No other book had displayed a sensitivity to the shifting grounds of its times in such a way as to position itself on the cusp of a globalized financial capital that now reigns supreme. No other book had grappled with the Cuban legacy not from the orthodox identitarian languages of Bolivarian anti-imperialism but from within the labyrinthine unorthodoxies of Lezama Lima, Sarduy and Piñera, thereby assuming the responsibility of destitution not only as a goal in itself but as a singular modus operandi for dismantling the conformist politics of the given. No other book had seen through and invalidated the conceptual and political foibles of the so-called “decolonial option” even before they rose to become the common sense of the field. No other book positioned itself so clearly at the beginning of the demise of the avant-gardes and of the on-going insolvency of the category and institutional destiny of “Literature” as both national Boom and post-Boom allegories, doing so, nevertheless, by opening up literature to new contours for the conceptual labor of mourning from within the closure of metaphysics itself (in this sense, the readings of Borges presented in Tercer espacio remain unsurpassed to this day). No other book had questioned so effectively the facile formulations of the Latin Americanist politics of solidarity that emerged in the wake of the Central American civil wars of the 1980s (in this sense, the reading of the Hegelian dialectic or of Cortázar’s involvement in Nicaragua presented herein remain unsurpassed). No other book in the field of the Latin Americanist humanities had shown the slightest interest in the question of virtual reality, techne and cyber-punk dystopia, and unfortunately nothing much has changed in that regard in the last twenty years. Finally, amid so much Latin Americanist talk of transculturation and cultural hybridity, no other book had amalgamated so creatively the field of Latin American literary and cultural studies with the fundamental theoretical renovations that had occurred during the 1980s and 1990s in the U.S. university. This meant that through Moreiras’ bibliographical de-territorialization of the field at that time, Finnegans Wake, Duchamp, Blanchot, Bataille, Kojève, or Allucquére Rosanne Stone (who is now widely recognized as one of the founders of transgender studies) could have as much room in the field as any sociologist or literary critic hailing from Arequipa, Montevideo, or Córdoba. Such things were unheard of . . . and for the most part still are.

“Ya todo es póstumo” Severo Sarduy had noted prior to his death (quoted in Moreiras, 311). In the wake of this welcome initiative to re-issue almost two decades after its publication the truly singular work titled Tercer espacio, hopefully the posthumousness that the book stands vigil over throughout——its care for letting being-towards-death come to the fore in the language of tradition—will no longer be greeted with the tranquilizing and immunizing silence of the metaphysics of oblivion, but with the sustained reciprocation that a work of this distinctiveness solicits and deserves. However, you might prefer to not hold your breath . . .

Works Cited

Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of the Disaster. Translated by Ann Smock. Lincoln, U of Nebraska U, 1995.

Derrida, Jacques. The Gift of Death. Translated by David Wills. Chicago, U of Chicago Press, 1995.

Moreiras, Alberto. Tercer espacio: Literatura y duelo en América Latina. Santiago de Chile, LOM Editores, 1999.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Decision of Existence”. In Birth to Presence. Palo Alto, Stanford UP, 1993: pp. 82-109.

A Note on Savage Moralism

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.