On Taming and Domestication: Notes on Gramsci pre-prison writings pp.3-100 (By Maddalena Cerrato)

IMG_0466Just a few notes around three main interconnected points:

  • THE HISTORICAL CONJUNCTURE: WWI and Russian Revolution (1914-1919).

These pages are unquestionably marked by the particular historical conjecture to which they belong. Each article presents itself as a piece responding to a particular occasion, and pays its special tribute to its kairos. Yet, each time it seems as though Gramsci’s most urgent concern is taming the historical juncture in order to bring it back (in the form of exception) within the necessary movement of the supreme reason governing History. What called my attention is the fact the both the two main events that constitute the overarching kairos for many of (if not all) the interventions, that is, WWI and The Russian Revolution, appear in these pages mostly as (related )exceptions to that historical rationality of which the Italian proletariat should become aware in order to be able to accomplish its destiny of establishing a new order.

War is the origin of the chaos as is disrupts the “long process of intense critical activity, of new cultural insight and the spread of ideas”(10) that should proceed every revolution. War is what disrupts “the normal course of events,” i.e. “when events are repeated with a certain rhythm. When history is developing through a series of moments, each more complex than the last and richer in meaning and value, but nonetheless similar”(41). “War has modified the conditions of the normal environment for historical action, giving an importance to men’s collective will which it would not have under normal conditions” (45). Under these new conditions that the war brought about – which changed the face of the system of production-, the Russian Revolution is a necessary and welcomed historical anomaly. The Russian Revolution is a revolution against Karl Marx’s Capital (39), but “the revolutionaries will themselves create the conditions needed to realize their ideal fully and completely… in far less time than it would have taken a capitalist system” (42).


Gramsci’s uneasiness with the anomaly of the war (so in a sense also with the Russian Revolution) seems to have to do with Gramsci’s “cultural” and educational concerns that frame his account for the collective revolutionary will. If on the one hand, the occurrences that exceed the normal course of events give an importance to men’s collective will which it would not have under normal conditions, need to be understood as exception to the order of things – which means that they also confirm the historical necessity and rationality of the normal course of events. On the other hand, in the normal course of events, men’s collective will needs to be raised and domesticated into a consensus to serve such an historical necessity.  Here, it’s where Gramsci’s particular understanding culture emerges as inherently entangled with discipline, propaganda, organization, and voluntary submission.

“Culture is quite different. It is the organization, the disciplining of one’s inner self; the mastery of one’s personality; the attainment of a higher awareness, through which we can come to understand our value and place within history,  our proper function in life, our rights and duties.”(9)

Culture so understood makes sure that the universal idea (Socialism) becomes the programmatic ideal around which a new social organism can unite and emerge as a well-developed self-aware historical subject. The socialist ideal (concrete universal) is the unifying factor that enables the establishment of those affective ties that constitute the collective will of the nation and enables it to become a fully developed historical subject acting through the consciousness of its universal aim. The creation and transformation of the multiplicity of individuals into a social organism that will be the agent of the new order implies “a long term task of educating and mentally priming its members” (37) to “guarantee the kind of immediate, effective, deep-rooted consensus which provide a solid foundations for action”(37). Only through this process of grass-root education:

“Man is coming to know himself, to know how much his individual will can be worth and how powerful it can become, if by bowing to necessity, by disciplining himself to obey necessity, it can come to dominate necessity itself, by identifying necessity with its own ends. Who is it who really know himself? Not man in. general, but the man the submits to the yoke of necessity.” (56)

“Will in a Marxist sense, means consciousness of ends”(57).


Finally, in these pages, Gramsci comes across as having settled the problematic National Question that dominated the Marxist debate at the beginning of the century.  The Historical dialectical necessity aims to the establishment of a higher order, that is the concrete universal of socialism. And such an order emerges as depending on the suture Nation-Class-State enacted through the party which is “a State in potential, which is gradually maturing.” The party “depends on the international only for its ultimate aim, and for the essential nature of its struggle, as struggle between classes” (4), but its immediate task is rather national. The party’s specific function and responsibility is to lead the nation to the its self-awareness… so to bring the “millions of individuals scattered throughout Italian territory, each leading his own life, each rooted in his own soil, knowing nothing of Italy…”(28) to form a social and political unity.

The constitution of the nation as collective will around the idea and the program of socialism is the task and the fulfillment of the party universal potential to become the State organizing the superior order that overcomes the chaos of capitalism and bourgeois competition.

Preliminary Reflections on Antonio Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings (p. 0-100) – Michael Portal

Preliminary Reflections on Antonio Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings (p. 0-100) – Michael Portal

Here are my preliminary thoughts and notes on the first 100 pages of Antonio Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings. My ignorance (in general, and of Gramsci in particular) means that I have, at the moment, little to contribute to our discussions. Still, I found the reading interesting and exciting – and I eagerly look forward to reading the reflections of others and learning from everyone in the coming days and months.

In my reading, I was struck by how Gramsci addressed the historical. Humanity, Gramsci suggests, is nothing but its history: “Man is primarily a creature of spirit – that is, a creation of history, rather than nature” (10). Elsewhere: “But society, like man himself, always remains an irreducible historical and ideal entity, which develops by continually contradicting itself and surpassing itself” (48). History exists to illuminate the world (we learn who we are as historical beings through our projects within history), but history does not predetermine our world: it is “a past which illuminates and does not overshadow us” (14).

Potentially in tension with this line, however, is Gramsci’s observation that we are intimately involved in crafting history (“History is a product of humanity”) and that history “is not a question of evolution, but of substitution of one thing for another: something which can only be done by a self-conscious and disciplined use of force” (78). For this, the Russian Revolution is exemplary: Russia is “where history is” because, in part, “the Russian Revolution had paid its dues to History” (95).

In the Italian context, as Gramsci hopes to demonstrate, history (or History?) means something particular. “Italian history,” he writes, is clearly distinct from “the history written in the history books” (30). Instead, “the greater, the richer history” remains unwritten and is present as a special “bond of solidarity” between the Italian people. Are these bonds contingent or eternal? Are they a “concrete universal”? (25)

What is interesting (or important) about these thoughts on history is how they allow us to rethink utopias and utopianism. For Gramsci, utopias are not ‘unreal’ in the traditional sense. Instead, they lack a history (they have “no foundation”) because they are founded “on an infinity of details, rather than a single moral principle” (20). History “in the true sense of the word” evades writing, of being restricted to some endless list of details (55). Merely recording information, producing encyclopedias, is not sufficient: “one will not be writing history” (56). Instead, we can (and must?) think of history as an event “entirely composed of practical activity (economic and moral).”

The turn towards practical activity might shed light on the supposed tension I isolated above – between our being both the products and producers of history. Practical activity, living daily life, sits bizarrely in historical writing. It does not contain high drama; it won’t sell books. But it is all that we have and are. Political mobility should, accordingly, be based on this (and our) reality.

Notas de seminario sobre el pensamiento de Emanuele Coccia (V). por Gerardo Muñoz

Seguimos con la cosmología de Coccia (entradas anteriores aquí: I, II, III, IV). Rodrigo lee un fragmento donde el filósofo dice que “lo más profundo son los astros”. Esta excentricidad complejiza el problema del sol. En efecto, ya no podemos hablar de “heliocentrismo”, sino de otro tipo de irradiación. Lo importante es que la mirada hacia los astros hace que el estar en la tierra sea siempre ex terram. Aquí hay una clara distancia con respeto al horizonte schmittiano. Le recuerdo al curso que el primer texto de Carl Schmitt fue un ensayo sobre la Aurora boreal de Theodor Däubler, el poeta expresionista católico tan caro para el arcano del jurista. Allí Schmitt le dará divisa poética al nomos de la tierra, tal y como luego haría con Konrad Weiß con el sentido escatológico de la historia. Hablar de un sentido telúrico, por lo tanto, se vincula a una reducción del sentido de mundo a la matriz del territorio. Aquí podemos tener una interesante discusión con el pensador político Hugo Herrera, quien ha desarrollado una interpretación sobre la crisis chilena como problema del territorio y del paisaje. La mirada excéntrica de la planta se ubica en a la atopia entre tierra y cielo.

Gonzalo Díaz Letelier hace una vinculación importante entre heliotropismo ex terram y la concepción de un universo sin centro. Aquí es reaparece Blanqui con La eternidad a través de los astros (1872). Para Blanqui la luz de los cuerpos cósmicos (estrellas, cometas, lunas, planetas) es una luz manchada. Por ejemplo, dice Blanqui: “…contemplar el teatro de sus grandes revoluciones, bajo el aspecto de una luz pálida, mezclada con puntos más luminosos. La luz es solo una mancha, por eso esta mancha es un pueblo de globos que resucitan…la materia no llegaría a disminuir ni a crecer ni en un átomo. Las estrellas solo son antorchas efímeras. Entonces, una vez apagadas, sino se vuelve a alumbrar, la noche y la muerte, en un tiempo dado, se hacen cargo del universo” (28-29). Si alguna vez se ha hablado dos herencias agambeneanas – una de derechas y otra de izquierdas – podemos decir que el blanquismo cosmológico es su zona de indeterminación.

Pero Blanqui afirma abiertamente el problema de la muerte astral. El universo está siempre lleno de “antorchas efímeras” porque para los astros “la noche es larga en la tumba” (28). En realidad, Coccia habla muy poco o casi nada de la muerte. Esto va al centro de su apuesta panteísta. Si todo es “vida”, entonces olvidamos la sombra que acecha como “afuera de la vida en la vida”, tal y como sugiere el pensador Mårten Björk. Si todo es “vida” entonces la maquinación biopolítica es fuerza absoluta de esa energía. Desde luego, el “todo es vida” de Coccia no es un vitalismo integrado a la comunidad humana. Por eso Coccia se distancia de la tradición de pensadores de la inmanencia como Gilles Deleuze o Michel Henry. Y, sin embargo, lo que sí podemos decir es que no hay cabida para una teogonía trágica en el mundo sensible de los medios. Como remarcó Gonzalo: no hay una retirada a lo Empédocles.

Como sabia Hölderlin, Empédocles era el representante de lo sacrificial de la irreductibilidad aórgica; mientras que para Coccia es trazado no es nunca trágico, sino más bien próximo al paradigma espinosista de la felicidad. El problema sigue siendo si, esa felicidad, después de la génesis moderna, mantiene o no un trazo de sombra negra que es ser-para-la-muerte. Incluso, con Blanqui podemos decir que la muerte no es un “acontecimiento” terrenal, sino también cósmico. Pensemos en el momento actual de nuestra civilización: ¿no es la muerte lo que se busca escamotear bajos diversos dispositivos de encantamiento? El encantamiento del afuera es el lujo. Pero ese lujo puede ser cegador si no encuentra una zona de sombras.

Aquí hay que ir muy lentamente. El encantamiento ex terram no puede ser “absoluto”, sino refractario. Pero en lo refractario afirmo “mis condiciones de verdad”, y es desde ahí que se produce un encuentro con las cosas del mundo. Hay que ver con mil ojos, decía Stevens. Pero solo para no ver mil cosas. Pero tengo para mi que lo importante se trata de establecer un corte entre el paisaje y mi experiencia. Incluso una deriva con lo no-vivido de la experiencia que es la muerte. Y no cualquier muerte: un pajarito muere, muere una flor y una planta, pero en el momento en que la muerte se singulariza como algo irreductible, entonces ya podemos hablar de un archê del entierro como trazo invertido del ser. De la misma manera que amamos aquellas cosas que hemos atravesado, no podemos decir que amamos a todo lo que muere. El amor depende del fantasma y no de la energía solar.

José Miguel Burgos Mazas abrió un punto de inflexión importante cuando dijo que justo aquí reaparece la teología. ¡Finalmente me concede algo! Claro, cierto tipo de teología – no la teología oficial de la Iglesia y de los curas y los sacerdotes – vinculada al afuera de la metafísica del sacrificio y del pastoreo de la persona. Hölderlin le llamó a esto la posibilidad de una “Iglesia invisible”, que era ya extra ecclasiam. El paso de Empédocles a los himnos pindáricos indica esta salida a lo abierto del paisaje como teología transfigurada y transfigurante. O sea, ya no hay dependencia de la “genealidad” del poeta como líder. En este sentido, el paso de la edad de los poetas a la poesis del mundo sigue siendo una transición inter-epocal importante. La poesis nos abre a naturaleza de la caducidad de las cosas.

Es cierto que, como sugirió Rodrigo Karmy, el problema de la biopolítica moderna es que instala el paradigma sacrificial del régimen de vida al punto de dejar fuera a la muerte como ‘accidente’. Que una época como la nuestra la muerte sean estadísticas o acumulación de cuerpos en un frigorífico da la medida de que la biopolítica, incluso en su mejor versión “positiva”, es siempre tanatopolítica. Una biopolítica de la muerte que es, en cada caso, expropiación de la muerte y nunca celebración. Como sabía el teólogo Iván Illich, esta distancia entre vida y muerte es lo que se viene abajo con la administración de mysterium iniquitatis de la Iglesia como control impositivo sobre las almas y la caridad. Rodrigo dice: la ausencia de “almas personales” es lo que el tomismo nunca le perdonará al averroísmo. La muerte se organiza como una oikonomia orientada a preservar una comunidad de salvación encarnada.

Quedaría pensar, con y más allá de Coccia, lo que en otro lugar el mismo Rodrigo ha llamado una apertura de “excarnación”, que para mi ya no sería “política”, sino del otro lado de la política, más allá de la vida y de la economía: la existencia en el mundo. Este pudiera ser un buen momento para un “paso atrás” y reconsiderar, contra toda reducción biopolítica, el bios orphikos, que antecede a la polis. El bios orphikos: el viaje como encuentro entre los vivos y los muertos; la posibilidad de una teología transfigurada desde el afuera de la civilización. Un afuera al que ya no hay que imaginar como un submundo, sino que está entre nosotros, en un zaguán o en una fiesta, o como en la bruma de Santa Mónica, en el umbral entre el paisaje y la piel.



*Imagen: Paisaje en Route 1, California, abril de 2018. Fotografía de mi colección personal. 

An epoch unmoved. by Gerardo Muñoz

We live in an epoch of odd reversals: that is, we live in an epoch of war, but there have not been as many pacifists as other times in history; we live in an epoch of “excellence”, but there has not been so much reproduction of the same; we live in an epoch of unbound expressionism and commotion, but only with the caveat that all the lines of sensation are contained within the prism of “my security”. Finally, we live in an epoch of “movements” (from the Tea Party to the Yellow Vests), however, everyone is more or less unmoved. The extensiveness of the movement of all things guards an originary “unmoved mover”.

In a 1953 essay “Il tempo della malafede”, Nicola Chiaromonte diagnosed our epoch not as one of disbelief, but rather as one of bad faith. According Chiaromonte: “Nihilism permeated not only intellectual groups but all of European society. This means that men began to feel that no believe was strong enough to withstand the pressure of faits accomplis. It is a very small step from this mood of doubt and distress to the grim conclusion that believes do not matter at all, and that in politics as in art, in art as in personal behavior, the only thing that counts is the will to act. With or without conviction he who acts is right. This is step point at which bad faith beings to set in and a preestablished ideology takes the place a freely formed conviction. The ersatz replaces the genuine.”

The destruction of the genuine or the conditions of the pursuit of our “truths” is what maximizes the regime of compensatory actions. And this is where we are today in the world. Back in the heyday of the Cold War, Chiaromonte had a solution to find an “exit route”. He writes at the end of his essay where he outlines the ingredients that we might consider: “A return to reality after mind and soul have been beclouded can only take place through disillusion and despair. Yet this suffering will remain sterile and the recovery of reason impossible unless a true conversion takes place. Conversion to what? First of all, to the immediacy of nature and experience, to contact with things one by one, and their primal disorder…”

The question for us (and for the species) is whether such a conversion can take place given the “unmoved” tone of the epoch. It seems obvious that this conversion can no longer happen at the level of language, ideas, rhetoric, justification, narratives, and even less political fides. The conversion is, each and every time, an opening of experience in which the things (not all Things, and most definitely not “every-thing”) attunes itself in a different way. Of course, most of the reactive and aggressive outbursts today are ways to block this process of “immediacy” in favor of the “security” of the unmoved position.

This is why the meeting of Wendy Rhoades and Rebecca Cantu in a recreational construction site is so moving (Billions, Season 4, episode 12). But it is moving not because it elicits some sort of aesthetic impulse on the viewers, but because of what Rebecca says to Wendy: “It is not a metaphor…it is going to feel absurd for a minute. I need you to fight that off and own the fact that you’re moving the earth”.

This is the sort of ecstatic movement that is needed today against the unmoved avowals of bad faith. Only this movement can open the “genuine”.



*Image: Wendy Rhoades and Rebecca Cantu at the construction site in upstate New York.  Billions, Season 4, episode 12, 2019.

A New Priest: Notes on Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings. by Gerardo Muñoz

While reading the articles of the young Antonio Gramsci (penned from 1914 to 1920) it becomes evident that he was a keen observer of the historical and geopolitical reality of his time. Gramsci was a realist thinker but of a strange kind. The emphasis on “faith”, for instance, runs through the articles conforming a providential design of history. There are many “entities” that incarnate this providentialism: the Party, the transitional state, the proletarian culture, the organizational discipline, and the productionism of the working class. In fact, all of these subjects are vicarious and obedient to historical developmentalism. In a way, Gramsci appears as a “new Priest” (humanist, Hegelian, and providential) rather than a “new Prince” (Machiavellian, contigent, desicionist), which has become the gentle image through which he is remembered today. The 1914-1920 newspaper articles are filled with theological deposits, but I will limit these notes to three subdivisions, which do not exhaust other possible combinations.

  • The Party. The conception of the “Party” is understood by Gramsci in the same way that official authorities of the Church understood the providential mission; that is, as “the structure and platform” for salvation. But it is also a subjunctivizing apparatus that demands submission and supreme cohesion under a party-culture. For instance, in “Socialism and Culture” (1916) he writes: “Culture is something quite different. It is the organization, the discipling of one’s inner self; the mastery of one’s personality, the attainment of a higher awareness, through which come to understand our value and plea within history, our proper function in life, our rights and duties” (9-10). So, for Gramsci, it is through the energic investment with the Party that one “becomes master of oneself, assert one’s own identity, to enter from choke and become an agent of order, but of one’s own order, one’s own disciplined dedication to an ideal” (11). In the same way that official Church administered the “soul” through a regulatory exercise of “sin”; Gramsci’s conception of the Party is limited to an administration of “revolutionary energy” vis-à-vis discipline and sacrifice in the name of an objective ideal of “philosophy of history”.


  • Faith. The notion of faith in Gramsci is intimately intertwined with History. To have faith is to “transcend” the otherwise empty void of History. In this well-known theological conception, faith is the force to have true “objects of History”. The object here means two things: both the intention and “end” to carry forth the revolutionary process. But faith here is nothing like the “knight of faith” who stands beyond the ethical and universalist positions. On the contrary, faith is always a communal faith of believers, whose are the resilient militants of the communist idea. As Gramsci says clearly in “The Conquest of the State” (1919): “And it must be ensured that the men who are active in them are communist, aware of the revolutionary mission that their institution must fulfill. Otherwise all our enthusiasm and faith of the working classes will not be enough to prevent the revolution from degenerating wretchedly…” (114). Or as confirmed in “History” (1916): “Our religion becomes, once again, history. Our father becomes; one again, man’s will and his capacity for action” (14). We see the double movement produced by the apparatus of “faith”: it unifies under a command (the Party), but it also instantiates an objectification to cover the void of History. Indeed, “life without an end’ is a ‘life not worth living”, says Gramsci. This particular instrumentalization of faith legitimizes the struggle against the bourgeois cosmos.


  • Order. Throughout these articles the defense of order is quite explicit. It is in this point where Gramsci comes closer to upholding a political theology that transposes the principles of liberalism unto “socialism”. He writes in “Three Principles and Three Kinds of Political order” (1917): “And the socialist program is a concrete universal; it can be realized by the will. It is a principle of order, of socialist order” (25). There is never a substantive idea of “order”, in the same way that there is no clear “transformation” of the state once the state has been occupied and functional to “administrating”, “managerial”, “productive systematization”, “vertical planning’, and “coordinating functions” (“The Conquest of the State”, 113). Gramsci goes as far as to say that “the proletarian state is a process of development…a process of organization and propaganda” (114). And although he claims that it is not, the occupation of the state is a pure “thaumaturgic” act pushed by the community of believers. Isn’t someone like Álvaro García Linera today a faithful follower of this strategy?

So, in this early Gramsci I find a priest rather than a modern prince. A priest driven by a substantive and coordinated theological effort to establish a voluntarist and teleological dogma for historical change, which really does not differ much from the principles of modern Liberalism and its potestas indirecta. It is interesting that in the last issue (1977) of the mythical Italian journal L’erba Voglio, there is a small satirical portrait of Gramsci dressed as a bishop with pen in hand, which speaks to the theological garments of Gramscianism well into our days. But the problem is not theology; it is rather that it is a theology of submission organized around order, reproduction, and history as idols in the name of consented domination.

Finally, I could very well imagine that some could rebuttal these theological imprints by claiming that this is only early Gramsci, and that things change later on. I am not too sure about this. It seems that this heuristic claim is analogous to Kafka’s “Leopards in the Temple” parable. In other words, isolating an “early” from a “late” Gramsci becomes a general ceremony to save the philosopher in spite of himself. But this is a self-defeating maneuvering from the very start.



*Image source: from the magazine L’erba Voglio, N.30, 1977.

Rough Notes on Antonio Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings. by Gareth Williams

  1. What Gramsci is, or appears to be:
  2. “Gramscianism” (here between October 1914 and June 1919) is an orthodox humanist Hegelianism.

Gramsci’s geopolitical world comprises Turin, Italy (as object of political commentary and an under-developed ethical state-form), Germany (as ethical state-form), England (as ethical state-form), France (as ethical state-form), and Russia (as revolutionary process and challenge to the previous ethical state-forms).

  1. The overall dispositive of writing in these pages is comprised of three essential historical determinations:
  • World War I:  shifts in the extension, dimension, and form of the capitalist mode of production.
  • The Russian Revolution, as apparently the least suitable (“Anti-Capital”) of environments for revolution. And yet . . .
  • The understanding of “socialist history” in relation to organization, consciousness, and the regional/national conditions of the capitalist mode of production, the coming revolution etc.
  1. The last of these three (c) is perhaps the most important for reading pre-prison Gramsci, since it leads to the question of how, and whether, Gramsci comprehends historicity in general, and the historicity of capitalism in particular. At this point there are a number of questions and problems herein, which Gramsci himself extends, naturalizes, and does not resolve.
  2. Why? Because he is a card-carrying orthodox Hegelian who puts the cart of Absolute Spirit (that is, his conclusions; the coming into being of the revolutionary dialectic of consciousness) before the horse (of historicity, or of analytic method etc). He does this in the name of objective commentary, knowledge, and therefore science. Socialist history remains internal to the dialectical relation between knowledge and Spirit; it is this enclosure and presupposition that establishes the “actuality” of the ground of his thinking, and also the idea that socialism, or communism, raise political thinking to the level of science. Absolute Spirit is the presupposition and structuring principle of Gramsci’s understanding of the entirety of Enlightenment history and of the coming politics. But does this not mean that Gramsci’s understanding of history is in fact groundless, or at the very least, myopic? Gramsci, like Hegel before him, and, indeed, like Marx to an extent, had already decided in what direction history was flowing and why.  “Spirit” is the moving forward of the new shape of the new era.  It is this glaring contradiction alone—between the claim to method and having decided on a prior conclusion regarding finality, or Absolute Spirit—that informs Gramsci’s understanding of a socialist epochality. While the proletariat is the determined negation of the bourgeoisie, the dialectical passage by which the proletariat ceases to be merely a negation of the bourgeoisie and becomes entirely Other is never really elucidated, other than by claiming the absolute reconciliation of the State-society relation at some point in the proletarian overtaking of the State and the full achievement of consciousness; the entirety of humanity coming into its own (humanity achieving its destinal completion). The signifier “Russia” is almost itself a stand-in for this constitutive lack, or absence.  As a result, the proletariat as the determined negation of the bourgeoisie is the positive content of (bourgeois-socialist-communist) progress in the direction of Spirit. The proletariat in the unfolding of its consciousness is the “not that” of the bourgeoisie; it is the bourgeoisie’s inverted positive, which, in Hegelian terms, could only ever be recognized as such from within the bourgeois dialectic of recognition, the dialectic of Lord and Bondsman in which both are recognized by the other, in their self-consciousness.

This is the heart of both Hegel and Gramsci’s essentially topological imagination (topos of recognition, the proximity of the common, friend-enemy relation etc; question: how could planetary revolution be imagined from within such a topological imagination?). One is left wondering, moreover, how a “true” revolution can be created by the dialectic of an inverted positive alone (again, the mere signifier “Russia” might appear to stand in as the resolution for that problem [?]). This might be why “true” revolution appears to be akin to the collapse of all mediation itself, in the name of “reconciliation”, or “Spirit” as the unity of all the different independent self-consciousnesses which, in their unification, enjoy perfect freedom and independence via the I that is we and the we that is every I (however, a world in which both I and Other disappear, it might be said, is no world; the world of absolute spirit can only be no world, because it has no movement). “True revolution” is the vanishing of mediation itself that has come about, somewhat mysteriously, via the (disciplined, disciplinary, moral) desire for absolute mastery. Is this a desire for an objectless world? To be master in the absence of the object—of the Other—? Can such a thing be possible? Obviously not. No language is given to the status of the object within the epoch of the collapse of all mediation, which is also referred to as “perfection”. From with the advent of “true revolution”, how could anything be grasped, dialecticized, actualized? Can there be a world in which the object—the Other—has no status? And yet Gramsci says that this arrival is inevitable, underway, realistic, already in the process of coming into being in consciousness.

  1. What Gramsci is not (or at least, not yet):
  • He is not a thinker of value, of surplus value, of commodity fetishism per se. He is a thinker of exploitation of the masses by the capitalists, and the place/role of these groupings in the overall terrain of national politics. Capital Volume I does not appear to be here in any specific way, though the Manifesto clearly is (perhaps excessively so).
  • He is not a thinker of anything that might be behind, beneath or beyond consciousness. He maintains no critical, or even agnostic, relation to the cogito. The proletariat exists internally to the epochality of the bourgeois cogito, as its negation. By definition, the proletariat does not think for itself (yet). Gramsci is a thinker of the proletarian amelioration of the cogito, but the cogito itself remains untouched. His thinking appears to be profoundly Cartesian (I think, I am).
  • He is not a thinker of language, of the signifier, metaphor, or of metaphor’s limits or decomposition(s)
  • He is not a thinker of the drives. Rather, he is a moralist. A thinker of the law, of mastery.
  • He is not a critic of “police thought”; on the contrary, “emancipation” is a variant manifestation of the police (discipline, order, morality, confession, self-other improvement, single-mindedness, organization of the army of the masses etc)
  • He is not a thinker of the decision
  • He is not a thinker of the relation between capital and the body; of gender; sexual difference (there is no reason to expect him to be so either).
  • He is not a thinker of the economy.
  1. Up to now, is there anything here to be salvaged for 2020, a “Gramsci for our times”?

Reality, or the social, is exactly the same at Gramsci’s point of departure in any given writing as it is at the point at which his thinking lands again at the end of any given writing. The real itself remains unquestioned. Perception remains unquestioned (faith in the cogito). In this sense, he is a 19th century realist thinker of the political, or, rather, he would be, if it were not for his faith in the Hegelian dialectic of Spirit. He is an astute commentator of the political conditions of his place and time.  But I cannot yet see anything for our times, since, as said at the beginning of these notes, Gramsci is an orthodox humanist Hegelian, a thinker of humanity’s movement in the historical direction of Absolute Spirit.  What we now comprehend as the modern historicity of capitalism itself circumvents Gramsci’s understanding; his secular faith in modern history—in temporality itself—as the bourgeois-socialist-communist teleology of human progress and development is unconvincing, though it remains the structural principle of his reading, and understanding, of both history and capital before, during, and in the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution.

La fábula de la experiencia: sobre Eduqué a mi hija para una invasión zombie (2019), de Diego Valeriano. por Gerardo Muñoz

Desde hace mucho tiempo que nos sentimos cercanos a la escritura de Diego Valeriano. Cuando decimos escritura buscamos el énfasis: Valeriano no escribe libros o ensayos, poéticas o conceptos, ficciones o relatos en búsqueda de simpatías. Esta escritura es siempre la intensidad de un recorrido ante lo irreductible del mundo. Este mundo es el desdoblamiento de las vidas en el conurbano, pero a la distancia es también el lazzo de otras posibilidades. En realidad, es una invitación para que sus amigos persigan sus verdades. Valeriano no le escribe a un público lector, sino al reino de lo que llamamos “amistad”. En su Eduqué a mi hija para una invasión zombie (rededitorial, 2019) se persigue este vector: la desficcionalización deviene una fábula contra el apocalipsis [1]. Dice Valeriano: “En este apocalipsis no hay proyectos, sino momentos; no hay expectativas sino cuidados y segundeos; no hay jerarquía, salvo la que genera los cuerpos bien plantados” (3). Fabular es entrar en relación con la ingobernabilidad de lo que amamos: una fiesta, un paisaje, unos libros, una conversación, una hija. ¿Cómo fabular con una hija en tiempos de guerra? Una guerra sui generis, pues no somos nosotros los partícipes, sino más bien quienes hemos sido arrojados. “Ser piba hoy es estar en guerra, es cruzar territorio enemigo…” (4). Dice Valeriano. Y así, la escritura va tomando espesor, la fábula va abriéndose sobre la cartografía de lo real.

Aclaremos esto. La fábula es un problema de visibilidad. Esto es, desde la “fábula” podemos ver mejor las cosas. No todas “las cosas” que se mezclan en la abstracción de “todo con todo” del monismo, y que hoy coincide con la estructuración de la cibernética del mundo. La fábula, como sabía un romántico hereje como Lessing, es lo que le da sentido a los posibles [2]. Mientras la realidad no admite sombras, la fábula desrealiza su superficie en condicionales e incondiciales. Un incondicional: amar a una hija. Un condicional: saber que el amor no es el exclusivo que orienta mis percepciones del mundo. ¿Cuál es la inserción de esta guerra del mundo, pudiera preguntarse el lector? En realidad, no se trata de los oropeles de los viejos campos de batalla y sus muertos como en La Guerra y la Paz, sino de la especialización misma de la metrópoli y sus topoi: shopping mall, escuela, fiesta, calle, bondi, parque, tránsito. La metrópoli fomenta la guerra en nombre de una “guerra ortiba” (7); esto es, excluye el acontecimiento de una experiencia de vida. Pero para Valeriano la estrategia que no es la irse al campo, o hacer una comuna en los matorrales, o hacer compañía en el desierto; toda una serie de estrategias que sospechosamente comparten un olor de lo mismo: una nueva fundación de la polis. Al contrario, se trata de liberar el encuentro del afuera estando dentro. Incluso en lo más inaparente: “Esto es un campo de batalla construido a partir de la necesidad de revelarse. Pero un campo de batalla sutil, casi imperceptible. Deserción, huida, quedarse en la plaza gederla. Chamuyar es una disponibilidad inquieta que mata hasta perder la forma humana” (9). Se trata de una “decodificación” de toda la previsibilidad que produce la metrópoli como mirada oblicua en la noche. Esto puede forjar, nos dice Valeriano: “una acción política destituyente, resistente y arbitraria con solo viajar” (12).

Obviamente, política aquí ya no significa organización de las cosas, orientación, movimiento, liderazgos, y todas las cáscaras metafísicas que supuso la vieja política leninista de los fines. La estrategia de la deserción es también la huida de uno mismo hacia los posibles del mundo. En otras palabras, destituir las formas depredatorias con las que lidiamos con el mundo y sus cosas: “vagar siempre fue nuestro mejor encuentro” (22). Pero el vago no es quien ha devenido en un estado de planta, sino el posible de estar-ahí en el mundo con lo que amamos. En el caso de Valeriano se trata de las intuiciones y los silencios con su hija mientras que atraviesan todas las incertidumbres del presente para las que no hay formulas ni marcos compensatorios. La fabulación nos mantiene en el umbral donde lo esencial es más que el entramado ficcional de vida y política. Es el lugar del pensamiento: “El gesto de decir no, de atacar esto que les pasa, el rechazo posta de esta realidad cree un pensamiento. El no es posibilidad de pensamiento de pensar la propia vida” (26).

El no establece un “corte”. El corte reúne las cosas que me son propias en mi expropiación ante el mundo. Ya nada puede ser igual, pues el corte me dota de una separación que es anterior a la alienación de la especie. El arrojamiento es siempre violencia de una experiencia. ¿No es el acontecimiento de una verdad justo lo que aparece cuando atravesamos ese corte experiencial? ¿Pero quien está hoy dispuesto a tomar este camino? Haríamos mal en hablar de una paideia de Valeriano.

Es mejor hablar de una tonalidad de verdad, y que es acaso esta: “lo real cobra una dimensión única, contundente, fabulante…el apocalipsis como momento en que se pueden imprimir otras realidades al mundo. Como campo genuino de experimentación, fabulación y goce” (40). Pero esa posibilidad de pensamiento es también posibilidad que se abre como lo “impensable” (41). El enigma inasible es como hacerlo sin degradar la génesis de nuestra presencia.

De ahí que libro (la escritura, sus recorridos, su fuerza física) de Valeriano se abra a lo que quizás sea la pregunta central de nuestro tiempo: ¿tiene el eros una chance en tanto que posibilidad de corte? ¿O es ya el eros mismo un corte suspendido que, en el momento de cisura se “metamorfosea” en una dádiva para la autoprotección antropológica? En otras palabras, lo impensable es que puede haber un corte fuera de la vida, que es trazo de la vía órfica, y cuya tropología transfigurada puede más que la compresión del vitalista del “amor” (siempre sospechosa de la ausencia de los nombres). Creo que esta es a la pregunta a la que nos arroja Valeriano. Y solo podemos responder a ella estando solos y mirando un mar azul que es huella de lo invivido en cada existencia (45). En este punto la fábula vuelve a comenzar.







  1. Ya en los años setenta el pensador italiano Giorgio Cesarano, también autor de un libro sobre el tenor apocalíptico de la época, decía que la tarea del pensamiento radicaba en la destrucción de las ficciones: “Lo completamente ficcional paga más caro su fuerza, cuando más allá de su pantalla se transparente el brillo de lo real posible. No hay duda de que en la actualidad la dominación de lo ficcional se ha hecho totalitaria. Pero este es justamente su límite dialéctico y “natural”. O bien en la última hoguera desaparece hasta el deseo…la corporeidad en devenir de la Gemeinwesen latente, o bien todo simulacro es disipado: la lucha extrema de la especie se desencadena contra los gestores de la alienación…”, Manuale di sopravvivenza (1974), 81. La traducción del italiano es mía.
  2. G.E. Lessing escribe en “Tratados sobre la fábula” (1825): “La diferencia fundamental entre la fábula y la parábola (o el ejemplo) en general es que la realidad para el segundo se descarga como posibilidad. En la fábula, la realidad solo tiene sentido como una entre muchas posibilidades. Y en cuanto al a realidad, la fábula no admite modificaciones, sino solo funciones condicionales o incondicionales.”

Infrapolítica: ¿un nuevo existencialismo? por Gerardo Muñoz

No hace mucho una vieja amiga me dijo en whatsapp en tono sardónico pero amistoso: “ustedes hablan de existencia…pero yo hace décadas, desde la secundaria, no leo a los viejos existencialistas”. Me sorprendió más que me equiparara con un viejo a que me metiera al saco de presuntos “existencialistas”. Pero en ese comentario se recogía algo importante: si infrapolítica es, en efecto, una apuesta abiertamente existencial, ¿qué es lo trae de nuevo? La pregunta puede ser tan compleja como sencilla, así que voy a asumir un termino medio y aprovechar el ensayo Infrapolítica (Palinodia, 2019) de Alberto Moreiras para despejar algunas cuestiones relativas a la cuestión de la existencia. Intentaré ser breve para abrir el diálogo, así que voy a limitarme a tres puntos distintos, aunque tampoco desconectados entre sí.

1. La infrapolítica es una apuesta existencial por fuera del humanismo y de la técnica. Quizás esta sea la mayor diferencia con los conocidos representantes del “existencialismo francés”. No es muy exagerando decir que aquellos buscaban fundar un “movimiento existencialista”, la infrapolítica no se reconoce en ningún movimiento o escuela. El existencialismo francés buscaba una inscripción en la filosofía; la infrapolítica busca un lugar en la anti-filosofia. El existencialismo clásico apostaba por un “Humanismo” (Sartre); la infrapolítica apuesta por la “inhumanidad” de cada destino. Finalmente, el existencialismo tenía pretensiones claramente políticas (PCF y descolonización mediante…hoy no hay ni PC ni descolonización salvo como retórica vacía y pretensiosa); la infrapolítica no le interesan los partidos, o la universidad, o las comunidades de exportación. La infrapolítica busca una tercera figura entre “La carta al humanismo” y “Sobre la línea”, donde Heidegger impuso límites a las instrumentalizaciones de Jean-Paul Sartre y Ernst Jünger. El primero en su desborde “universalista” y dialéctico; el segundo en su deriva mítica y gnóstica. La infrapolítica busca una salida de la técnica como aparato general de la reproducción general de lo Social. Infrapolítica mora allí donde aparece otra relación con el mundo.

2. Esa relación con el mundo no es un “paso atrás” hacia un resguardo interior. En este sentido no se trata de generar una nueva “ascesis” de la vida, al estilo Hadot o los Padres del desierto. El “afuera” de la infrapolítica es el “recorrido” entre dentro y afuera. En un momento importante de Infrapolítica (2019) Alberto Moreiras vincula la atopía infrapolítica con una “fenomenología de la inapariencia” del último Heidegger del seminario de Zähringer, contra toda reducción antropológica del mundo. En lo inaparente encontramos el problema del paisaje; en particular, del paisaje como apertura a una experiencia transformadora.  Y esa “inapariencia” fenoménica pone en abierto que en infrapolítica no hay ningún secreto, sino lo que en otra parte he llamado el “reino de las apariencias”. Hay una cuestión de visibilidad importante que no es mera “transparencia”.

3. La infrapolítica emerge como desconcierto ante la crisis de las formas modernas de la política (consenso, contrato social, legitimidad, ciudadano, sociedad civil, economía, hegemonía, etc.), y rechaza la liturgia contemporánea del Liberalismo. Esta liturgia se puede caracterizar como la concreción de una potestas indirecta que organiza una  jerarquización arbitraria de valores en perpetuo ritual subjetivista y moralizante. Obviamente que hay resistencia al Liberalismo desde varios lados. Estos tres registros podrían subdividirse en tres “salidas falsas”:

a) “consenso unitario”: contra la jerarquización identitaria, se apela a un consenso en nombre de una “unidad nacional”. Esta es más o menos la posición oficial del New York Times como “órgano intelectual” del tardo-liberalismo.

b) “integración comunitaria”: tanto en la derecha como en la izquierda hay apuestas por encontrar guarida en la comunidad (muchas comunidades). Pero siempre y cuando la estructura tética de la comunidad quede intacta. Aquí comunidad es también otro nombre para el consenso dirigido y administrado, que vive cómodamente bajo el marco general de la liturgia liberal.

c) “universalismo moral”: es la posición neo-hegeliana planetaria de una izquierda que pide principios morales (solidaridad, apoyo mutuo, hermandad), pero que en realidad termina siendo la compensación ética de la civilidad del imperio.

Contra estas tres formas insuficientes de romperle la “mano invisible” al Liberalismo, infrapolítica da un paso atrás, sabiendo que una separación de la política es tal vez la manera de transformar otra zona, no-absoluta y no-imperial, desde la cesura entre existencia y política. En las últimas semanas ha sido publicado, después de dos décadas, La hipótesis cibernética (2001) de Tiqqun. Si la eficacia del poder contemporáneo ya no pasa por una gramática política moderna sino más bien por la administración de los flujos y la producción del valor en lo Social, entonces la política misma es un avatar de la técnica. O, como bien me ha dicho Jacques Camatte en un intercambio reciente: la política es el instrumento primordial del control sobre los hombres. ¿No es ya ahora de poder producir un corte contra eso? Incluso, un paso previo a los cortes de la polis como antesala del reparto del botín. No hay garantías de nada, pero el intento es más verdadero que la parálisis actual.



*Estas notas fueron usadas en mi intervención en el curso del Prof. Ángel Octavio Álvarez Solís sobre pensamiento político contemporáneo en la Universidad Iberoamericana el 5 de mayo de 2020.


Notas de seminario sobre el pensamiento de Emanuele Coccia (IV). por Gerardo Muñoz

Cuarta sesión sobre el pensamiento Emanuele Coccia (las anteriores puede consultarse aquí: I, II, III). Rodrigo Karmy lee un fragmento de su ensayo sobre el “atravesamiento” en La vida de las plantas (2016) para indicar que las plantas han sido un “impensado” en la filosofía. La planta sería el depositario de una “comunicación medial” cuyo mundo se da mediante una “fuerza física” que atraviesa a todas las cosas. Ya desde aquí estamos ante la rehabilitación del hyle, mens, deus panteísta de David de Dinant. El atravesamiento recorre y desplaza la problemática del hombre-animal reactivando la cuestión del mundo como problema del “afuera”. En este sentido, Coccia no es un pensador civilizatorio, sino, en cada caso, de lo que se escapa de la reducción de la civilización. Y, sin embargo, las plantas son una entidad nutritiva del sol. Aquí aparece todo el tinglado de la metafórica de la luz y del proyecto copernicano que abre la pregunta por la “génesis” misma de la modernidad como “época definitiva”.

¿Hasta qué punto Coccia no es un pensador moderno? Esto es, en un sentido estricto, ¿un pensador de la modernidad o de una modernidad transfigurada? Una afirmación en esta dirección aparece explícita en el nuevo ensayo sobre Van Gogh titulado Le Semeur – De la nature contemporaine (2020) [א]. Sabemos que Hans Blumenberg puso todo el peso de la fisura del cosmos moderno en el acontecimiento copernicano. Una vez más la dicotomía mundo-cosmos reaparece en el centro de la escena. Rodrigo recuerda que en el libro El imperio científico (2017) de Fernando Beresñak, el problema de la revolución copernicana no queda aislada de la institucionalización de la Iglesia como matriz antropológica. Y, sin embargo, quedaría por ver si el “instancia copernicana” de Coccia es igual al Copérnico de la legitimidad de la “ontología matemática”, o si, más bien, se trata de un movimiento anárquico que libera energía. Cuando digo energía digo luz, y luz es fuerza física. Pero ¿esto sigue siendo filosofia? Aquí aparece Spinoza y el problema de la inmanencia. Sobre esto volveremos después.

Ángel Octavio Álvarez Solís lanzó una distinción importante: luz no es lo mismo que sol. Cuando Coccia dice que los atributos de Dios ahora están en la naturaleza (physis), de alguna manera está poniendo de cabeza la tesis de la secularización “moderna”. La energía del sol sería el cuidado de todas las cosas, y no objetivación de las cosas como entes disponibles para la producción (¿aunque sí para el cultivo?). Esta inversión le garantiza a Coccia otra entrada a la cuestión de la naturaleza y de la vida. Sin embargo, el problema de la inversión es también el de la inversión de la alienación de la especie en su forma de auto-antropomorfización destructiva que Camatte ha asociado con la interiorización del hostis. La estrategia de la inversión debería ser, en cada caso, inversión del curso de la metafísica. Pero sabemos que no es así en Coccia, donde la metafísica es el espacio tenue que despeja la “inversión”.

Aquí es importante un señalamiento de Ángel: tal vez el problema de Coccia no sea la “metafísica” en cuanto tal – y es cierto, recuerdo en una de mis conversaciones con Coccia, él no aceptaba que cosas así como “épocas fantasmáticas de la metafísica”, al estilo Schürmann, fueran necesarias para la labor del pensamiento – sino un problema cosmológico. Una cosmología sin monismo. Por eso a Coccia no le interesa hacer una crítica del capitalismo. Aquí José Miguel Burgos dio un paso provocador: el capitalismo en el pensamiento de Coccia es como una planta; o sea, puede abonarse en cualquier parte del mundo. Esto es lo que nos llevaría directamente al lujo en el sentido más estricto. O sea, no todas las prendas de vestir son “equivalentes”, pues Prada o un vestido de Valentino no son lo mismo que una factoría china. La moda es el umbral de la irradiación del sol sobre el ex-corpore del ser. Contra Heidegger: no hay pastor del ser, hay “jardineros de las especies”.

Llegamos a un punto decisivo: todo el cosmos de Coccia remite a una ordenación espacial, mas no temporal. ¿No hay aquí una abstracción velada? Obviamente que, a nivel de las clasificaciones filosóficas, estamos ante una confrontación entre David de Dinant y San Pablo. El primero como representante del hyle espacial sin corte; el segundo como el representante de la temporalidad mesiánica de salvación. Dos teologías. En ambas, sin embargo, se presupone un todo con el mundo. ¿Habría posibilidad para una “tercera figura”, una “teología transfigurada” ligada a una física del corte, ya más allá de la vida como siempre localizada en el medio vital? Pareciera que este fuera un “impensable” en Coccia, lo cual exige poner en discusión la cuestión del corte, que es, en última instancia, la pregunta por la experiencia. En este punto, Rodrigo recuerda que este fue también el reparo de Santo Tomas ante el escándalo del averroísmo: el intelecto común carece de persona. Pero, ojo, persona no es singularidad, sino sustancia en reserva para la gloria de una economía de salvación y para el pastoreo del “bien-común”.

Le recuerdo a Rodrigo que en estos días Alberto Moreiras había circulado una llamativa cita de Spinoza sobre el uso de la “razón común” [אא]. No solemos pensar a Spinoza con Aquino, ¿pero no es el mismo problema? Dicho en otras palabras: si hoy estamos ante la dominación técnica que lleva por nombre “cibernética”, ¿la tarea del pensar no radicaría ahí donde se establece un corte contra un común integrado como proceso inmanente de abstracción? Hay pruebas para pensar que esto es un impensado en Coccia más allá de los “usos” tomistas o espinosistas. Por ejemplo, Coccia escribe en el ensayo de Van Gogh que: “la relación múltiple de las especie es lo que produce una equivalencia absoluta entre las especies que hacen coincidir el árbol de tejo con la figura humana en el acto mismo de ser semillero”. Esto es lo que lleva a Coccia a decir que el museo hoy prepara la producción de un futuro activo y consciente. Si la mixtura consta de un privilegio espacial, entonces no hay corte relativo en el tiempo, por lo que no hay mediación con el afuera de la vida (y sus muertos), que es la región insondable y la via órfica.

Estoy de acuerdo con José Miguel que entonces se trataría de entender qué o cómo se hace un corte. Obviamente que “cortar” no puede ser algo así como cortar un pastel a partes iguales. Tampoco puede ser figurado como cortar las ramas de un árbol para que florezcan sus hojas. De más está decir que cortar no es una “unidad de intensificación” de lo político entre amigo-enemigo. Y por ultimo, cortar no es cortar nomos en el espacio, que es el arte de la agrimensura. Podemos decir que cortar es lo que el encuentro eruptivo en el tiempo que me aplaza en el espacio. Una “física del corte” sería el suplemento a la metafísica de la inmanencia de Coccia que, de otra manera, quedaría inscrita en el avatar cibernético contemporáneo. Por lo que cortar supone fijar una violencia allí donde algo en el paisaje me encuentra.

Pensemos en el amor (también porque es un problema central para Coccia). El amor no puede ser una inmanencia de cada cosa con todas las otras. Cuando “recorro” el amor (con una cosa, con un rostro, con un movimiento, con ella que regresa), la intensificación de esa experiencia con todo lo demás corta el mundo de manera tan radical que ya no puedo establecer una “equivalencia” con las cosas que se anidan en el infinito. Creo que la poeta italiana Patrizia Cavalli lo enuncia de una forma inmejorable: “Ti darò appuntamento sopra un ponte, in questa mezza terra di nessuno”. Esa es la violencia del corte que participa y abre una experiencia. El amor es solo uno de sus modos. Pero cada vez que hago un corte, me encuentro con lo irreductible. Y en lo irreductible aparece mi existencia sin ser propiamente algo de esta “vida”.




א Emanuele Coccia: “It is this agricultural, and hence artistic, project that we should recognize in every landscape; not just the random accumulation of desperate living individuals, but also a way of inventing a modernity of nature. Each specie is the agroecological territory of the other; each being is a gardener of other species and a garden for others in turn, and what we call “world” is ultimately only the relationship of reciprocal cultural (never purely defined by the logic of utility, nor by that of free use). In this sense, there is no wild space, because everything is cultivated and because being in the world means gardening other species, and at the same time and in the same act being the object of other’s sowing”. Le Semeur – De la nature contemporaine (2020), 15.

א א Alberto Moreiras: “Spinoza says in a famous passage:  “Acting on command, that is, from obedience, does take away liberty in some sense, but it is not acting on command in itself that makes someone a slave, but rather the reason for so acting.  If the purpose of the action is not his own advantage but that of the ruler, then the agent is indeed a slave and useless to himself.  But in a state and government where the safety of the whole people, not that of the ruler, is the supreme law, he who obeys the sovereign in all things should not be called a slave useless to himself but rather a subject.  The freest state, therefore, is that whose laws are founded on sound reason; for there each man can be free whenever he wishes, that is, he can live under the guidance of reason with his whole mind” (TTP, Chapter XVI).  So, my question: are faculty members within the “nueva universidad” slaves or free humans?  The problem is of course with the definition of reason.  In the “nueva universidad “reason is determined algorithmically or cybernetically, and there is no other reason.  The presumption of a unity of reason was probably Spinoza’s mistake, perhaps even a metaphysical mistake or a mistake of metaphysics.  So it would follow that only faculty members that submit to algorithmic reason are free, whereas the rest of us are slaves.  The faculty outlaw that refuses to comply with algorithmic reason, in addition to being subjected to the punishment of the sovereign when caught every time, has no recourse to reason. What does he have recourse to?  Some fantasy of an alternative reason?  Some natural law?  Or is it the case that algorithmic, that is, cybernetic reason makes Spinoza´s entire philosophy flounder together with the notion of reason as natural law it puts forth?”


*Imagen: Plantas del Longwood Gardens, PA, 2018. De mi colección personal.

Pre-Prison Writings I (by Jon Beasley-Murray)

Cross-posted from Posthegemony.

Antonio Gramsci’s reputation on the Left, the academic Left at least, is surprisingly solid and enduring, especially when compared to other figures within Western Marxism (Lukács? Adorno? Althusser?) who may once have been much cited but who are now marginal tastes at best. Other names that have similarly withstood the vagaries of time and the fickleness of fashion are perhaps Walter Benjamin and Raymond Williams, and what Gramsci shares with them (Benjamin in particular) is the fact that his writing was quite varied and even fragmentary, permitting a wide range of interpretations and re-readings in different circumstances and for diverse purposes. Indeed, famously this is particularly the case for Gramsci: his most important and influential work by far is the Prison Notebooks, an unfinished textual labyrinth of historical investigation and political creativity produced under the extreme conditions of incarceration and fascist censorship, that was not published until after his death and has still not been fully translated into English. From this cauldron of often ambiguous and sometimes obscure enquiry, many Gramscis or Gramscianisms have subsequently been reconstructed, informing bodies of thought and activism as diverse as the Eurocommunism of the 1970s, Anglo-American Cultural Studies in the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently a “neo-Communism” that pledges, at times more convincingly than others, to employ philological tools to be more faithful to the supposedly systematic character of Gramsci’s original thought. But it is in the nature of the form in which that thought has come down to us that there is much room for dispute and divergence.

gramsci_pre-prison-writingsSome claim, especially in reaction to the version of Gramsci popular in Cultural Studies (for which a term such as “hegemony” can come to mean both everything and nothing), or to his “post-Marxist” appropriation by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, that turning to his pre-prison writings reveals the truer, more pragmatic and political, essence of an unadulterated Gramscianism. And no doubt Gramsci was at vastly more liberty to speak and write his mind before he was arrested and imprisoned by Mussolini’s police and judicial apparatus. Moreover, for the most part these comprise texts that were published, often in venues over which Gramsci had some measure of editorial control, and that as such appeared in something like finished form. It is here that we can read Gramsci the organizer and agitator, the Leninist Gramsci who threw his support behind both the Russian Revolution and the Turin Factory Council movement that sprung up in its wake.

Yet these early texts hardly resolve the Gramscian enigma. For one thing, it is evident that Gramsci’s restless mind was continually developing, experimenting, and trying out new ideas even (perhaps especially) once it was locked up in a prison cell. We have no reason to assume that he thought the same way about things in 1929 as he did in 1919. For another, this corpus is no less fragmentary than the Prison Notebooks, consisting as it does on the whole of short pieces written to a deadline on topical debates for the socialist press. If anything, prison gave Gramsci the freedom to work more consistently and coherently on the key concepts and underlying concerns that mattered to him. Finally, it is not as though censorship and, perhaps above all, self-censorship did not shape and constrain these articles that he knew would see the light of day, by contrast to the long labour of the notebooks that had no immediate audience. After all, throughout this period from 1914 to 1926, Gramsci was quite self-consciously (and unabashedly) engaged in a project of what he himself would call propaganda.

Take for instance Gramsci’s paean to the Bolshevik state, published as “The Price of History” in June 1919. Here he tells us that “The Russian communists are a first-class ruling elite. [. . .] Lenin has revealed himself as the greatest statesman of contemporary Europe [. . .] a man whose vast brain can dominate all those social energies, throughout the world, which can be turned to the benefit of the revolution” (92). Hence “the State formed by the Soviets has become the State of the entire Russian people” thanks to “the assiduous and never-ending work of propaganda, elucidation and education carried out by the exceptional men of the Russian Communist movement, directed by the lucid and unstoppable will of the master of them, Nikolai Lenin” (93-94). In short, “Russia is where history is; Russia is where life is” (95). Yet for all that this article manifests Gramsci’s undoubtedly heartfelt belief in the priority of state-building (“A revolution is a genuine revolution [. . .] only when it is embodied in some kind of State” [92]), one does not have to be an egregiously suspicious reader to wonder whether the hyperbole understandably directed to praise of the leaders of the first successful workers’ revolution might not extend also to the subsequent affirmation that “Society can only exist in the form of a State” (93). What, after all, has happened here to the Gramsci who is famously the champion of organizations of “civil” society, relatively autonomous from or even hostile to the state apparatus?

That other Gramsci, of what we might in shorthand call “society against the state” is indeed visible in these writings. Perhaps most interestingly, he can be found for example in a piece entitled “Socialism and Italy” in which he condemns “liberals, conservatives, clerics, radicals, republicans, nationalists, reformists” (27) as being, precisely, creatures of the state but not of society, or at least not of the Italian nation. Indeed, he offers here a hint of a counter-history of Italian nation formation, not as a process driven by Cavour and the Piedmontese bourgeoisie (who established a relationship to the Italian South that still remained, Gramsci repeats several times, “colonial”), but as the product of Italian socialism: over the course of what he calls a “plebeian Renaissance,” “Italy has become a political unity, because a part of its populace has united around an idea, a single programme. And socialism, socialism alone, was able to provide this idea and this programme” (28, 29). In other words, there is society despite the state, and in the face of the state’s resolute provincialism and particularism. This is “the history of the Italian people [that] has yet to be written–its secret, its spiritual history” (28). And maybe this is the history of the Russian people (and the Russian revolution) that also has yet to be written, even by Gramsci himself.

Again, none of this is to deny the strong statist tendency within Gramsci’s thought. There is no doubt at all that he saw the political objective of the working class movement in terms of the construction of (to borrow the title of the journal he co-founded in 1919) a “new order” premised on a new state guided by the Communist Party that he would also end up co-founding. As he put it even when he was, previously, a member of the Socialist Party of Italy, “The Party is a State in potentia, which is gradually maturing: a rival to the bourgeois State, which is seeking, through its daily struggle with this enemy, and through the development of its own internal dialectic, to create the organs it needs to overcome and absorb its opponent” (4). This is what will later be cast as the struggle for hegemony.

And yet there is also a tension here evident even in the thought of this early, manifestly Leninist, Gramsci. It is a tension perhaps best characterized in terms of two concepts that he continually employs that are both perhaps dissonant to our contemporary ears: “spirit” and “discipline.” As a party man, Gramsci is a great believer in discipline, which is a function of political leadership and education. Italians above all, he tells us in the few pieces that are dedicated to what we would now recognize as “culture” (articles on sport, for instance, and drugs), are a disorderly lot. Their preference for card games, for example, full of “shouting, fists slamming on the table and often in the faces of opponents,” reveals a country that is “backward economically, politically and spiritually” (73, 74). And yet it is precisely this spiritedness that indicates an alternative (and maybe posthegemonic) history, far from the rigidity and farcicalness of the state form. For sure, in Gramsci’s view, these “disorderly and chaotic energies must be given a permanent form and discipline” (97). But without them, without spirit, Italy is nothing.