Archive for January, 2016

Oliver P. Richmond “Security Cosmpolitanism or ‘Securitopia'”

January 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Richmond, Oliver P. 2015. Security Cosmopolitanism or ’Securitopia’: An ontological trap and a half-hearted response to structural war? Critical Studies on Security 3(2): 182-189. doi: 10.1080/21624887.2015.1065119

Increasing war, conflict, and political violence are being replaced with structural war, which is hybrid in strategy and designed to maintain ‘naturalised’ and structural, comparative inequalities in the lives of peoples across the world, often whilst simultaneously speaking of progress. In modernity, power prefers this version of progress to pluralism, equity, and justice across time and space. (182)

Though cosmopolitan thought often conjures up an image of global polycentricity, and confederal forms of global governance, in practice it is often centred on the historical emergence of Western power, the relationship between liberal subjects, legitimate governance at state and international levels, and global capital: it is grounded in a shaky liberal international order, in other words. (183)

Power–even a variant of liberal power–justifies its reluctance to concede on the grounds of divine right translated in modern stratification, leadership, economy, and management based upon epistemic superiority, and ultimately as the guardians of the security of the less capable. (184)

Even where freedom and liberty is the goal, the growth of security is ontologically predicated on a growing awareness of insecurity for an existing or ideal order and concurrent hierarchy intent on balancing present with future, and power with norms. Insecurity is ever expanding, refined, mixed with ideals (often for others) and embedded into the existing political order in order to maintain its‘progressive’, interventionary power structures and the exceptions that enable its vanguardism. (184)

Burke’s argument seems be based upon the idea that security can be reconciled with insecurity and that there is at least an interim way around such deep-rooted structures. It is based on a pluralist and equitable ontology, which only needs to be realised after the scales have been removed from the eyes of power (Burke 2013, 21). (184)

[…] security cosmopolitanism risks handing the epistemological site of securitisation the legitimacy that accompanies the norms and ethics of cosmopolitanism in a complex process not of de-securitisation, but of co-optation. Securitisation, covering human rights, markets to the territorial state, transport, the environment, and humanitarianism and medicine, has long been used to maintain and enhance hierarchies, whilst persuading the losers (the conflict-affected subject or the global poor) to become resilient in the face of their iniquitous situation. If this is a covert structural war then it may mean that structural change is necessary, meaning the end of ‘security’. (187)

Security cannot be secured: security provides a platform for‘threat assessments’ (a mendacious phrasing of governmentality if ever there was one) to forever expand the field of security whilst promising securitopia. For security to be meaningful, it has to be unpacked into its intersubjective and multiple fields, to encounter ungovernmentality with the objective of structural progress. When one unpacks security and then reframes it in view of the subject, one ends up with perspectives of peace. Peace emancipates, by cementing layers of social, economic, political, cultural, frameworks, which lock in order and provide platforms for its further advancement. It does so by offering a contemporary positionality in which violence retreats, and a future probability that structural violence will be redressed, across time and space. Therefore, what if peace, with its implications of empathy, emancipation, care, and progressiveness, was the central focus on cosmopolitanism, and security was its procedural component, but not its objective focus (even in liberal-internationalist, global governmentality guise?). (187)

Security is probably too tainted to be the enabling epistemology through which to see this world coming into being, though of course it is a necessary part of it. If in/security is the by-product of power-relations, and the aims of peace praxis are to promote pluralism, equa-liberty, hybridity, reconciliation, through law, institutions, and practices which effectively dismantles power, then making security the centre of praxis is a securitisation process in itself. (188)

Anthony Burke “Security Cosmopolitanism”

January 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Burke, Anthony 2013. Security Cosmopolitanism. Critical Studies on Security 1(1): 13-28.

[…] the argument put in this article is threefold. First, the globalization of insecurity in such complex interconnected forms must be acknowledged and better understood, and requires both a change in state approaches and commitments, and serious efforts to extend and improve global security governance. Second, understanding and addressing the globalization of insecurity must involve a normative agenda that reflects the central tenets of the cosmopolitan worldview, albeit critically. Third, such a cosmopolitan approach to global security will involve a profound transformation of the framing narratives and ontologies of national and international security. (14)

As a potential policy agenda, security cosmopolitanism will attempt to bridge three important spaces of governance and activity: global security governance through treatymaking, transnational institutions, international law, and collective action; state security policy through diplomacy, aid and military action; and civil society and community activity, whether this takes the forms of self-government, participation in national and transnational governance, or forms of popular resistance. (15)

In his argument for a world security built‘on a platform of growing world community…a community of emancipatory communities’, Ken Booth metaphysically grounds his theory in a collective human power to imperil the biosphere and its own life process. Never before, he argues, have‘we,the collective of global human society, been able to inflict as much decisive damage on each other and on the natural world on which we utterly depend’(Booth 2007, 1). He thus argues that world security will need to be cosmopolitan, relying upon‘emancipatory global governance’and ‘cosmopolitan states’: ‘institutional nodal points [that] will be bound by commitments to promoting equality, humanizing power, and embedding human rights without presuming particular collective institutional forms’ (Booth 2007, 141–148). (16)

Globalized human existence is understood not as relations between bounded subjects (be they individuals or nations) in an anarchic system of cooperation and alienation, but as a networked set of interdependencies and obligations beyond all borders. It reflects a view that human existence is fundamentally one of being in relation with others, a view which draws upon a range of continental philosophers and political theorists (Levinas 1985; Esposito 2009; Connolly 2002; Butler 2004) and is reflected in important feminist revisions of security (Robinson 2011). When states draw on the same water sources, experience a common climate, depend on global prices and currency values, transmit conflict and weapons beyond their borders, and threaten and affect the lives of others far away, enclosed or circular models of moral community –however generous–fail to reflect an urgent reality. It is no longer a matter of deciding whether national interests and global goods must clash, but of honoring the common space of life and death that we have created. (17)

When multiple and often anonymous human actions collectively produce such profound changes to the biosphere and climate that many now term ours a new geological era–the ‘Anthropocene’–national borders lose their claim to define and enclose human existence, and humanity must be thought in non-anthropocentric terms (Ganguly and Jenkins 2011; Alberts 2011). Through interlocking historical, social, and systemic processes–imperialism, world war, decolonization, capitalism, cold war, globalization, migration, terrorism, nuclear strategy, intervention, and environmental degradation – human beings have effectively unified their life and death process on a planetary scale and extended it to other species and life forms. (17)

[…] as international relations grow in complexity and danger, and an international law based on the sovereign equality of peoples organized into states becomes normatively dominant with the establishment of the United Nations and the emergence of the post-World War II national security state, the Hobbesian imaginary mutates: the nation-state comes to be thought of as a contained and vital body that must be immunized, or secured, against threats that come from without as well from within. This national body has integrity, sovereignty, borders–and international society, as Hedley Bull explained, comprises such ontologically separate body-politics linked together by a spiderweb of international law, strategic balances, and mutual interests. There is no common humanity, merely an anarchical society of states regulated by a minimal set of agreed rules (Bull 2002, 82). National enclosure becomes paired with anarchic balancing, strategic cooperation, and Realpolitik: this is the ontology that structures and animates dominant state approaches to both national and collective security, across the entirety of the security agenda. (18)

First, the very constitution of the state and the national body can be a source of threat–to ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities, dissidents, indigenous peoples, the poor, and women – who become targets of exclusion, marginalization, discipline, violence, and repression. Masculinist and totalizing metaphors of state and communityas bodythen mobilize their own violence, seeking to homogenizeandexclude those designated as the other –the virus or cancer –of the state. (18)

Second, dominant patterns of insecurity and threat–whether one thinks in terms of their causes, scope, or effects –develop within and across borders in ways that render containment models of national security inadequate, and are in fact exacerbated by the perseverance of such models. (18)

The antagonistic structure and ontology of international society here presents a profound obstacle to cosmopolitan ends: the result is what writers such as Esposito and Jacques Derrida have called‘autoimmunization’, an immune response that threatens to destroy the social body rather than protect it (Esposito 2008, xiii–xix, 2011; Derrida 2005; Borradori 2003, 100–102). (19)

Hence in security cosmopolitanism the founding narrative of security changes: insecurity does not arise before or external to a state that (in the classical narrative) acts as a double guarantee of both security and modernity, butarises out of that very modernityas a function of its histories, choices, powers, relations, and systems. It is not the enemy in possession of nuclear or conventional weapons that is the fundamental source of insecurity, but the weapons system itself; not the forced migrant or the massive storm creating insecurity for the nation-state, but the human interaction with the climate system; not the terrorist en route to an attack, but an historical system of injustice, geopolitics, and ideology around violence that enables terrorism as a normative choice and a social phenomenon. (19)

[…] the potential of insecurity is immanent to political power, social organization, and cultural, industrial, and military activity under the conditions of modernity on this earth, not external to them. (19-20)

[…] we cannot place our trust in such a cosmopolitan dialectic of history. Security cosmopolitanism is not going to arrive; it must beimagined andcreatedwith a combination of creativity, agency, and moral and strategic caution. We could thus turn Beck’s [in Cosmopolitan Vision] schema on its head: rather than risk-awareness ineluctably creating cosmopolitanism, security cosmopolitanism is in fact needed to regulate the conceptualization and securitization of global risks to ensure that they are addressed in ways that promote, rather than undermine, enduring security for all human beings. (20)

Ethics of security cosmopolitanism:
First, the responsibility of all states and security actors is to create deep and enduring security for all human beings in a form that harmonises human social, economic, cultural and political activity with the integrity of global ecosystems. (21)

Second, all states and security actors have fundamental responsibilities to future generations and the long-term survival of global ecosystems: to consider the impact of their decisions, choices and commitments through time. (22)

Just as the insecurities we face today are the complex product of myriad choices and interactions dating back decades and sometimes centuries, our collective choices shape the potential of security for future generations: nuclear weapons and climate change are just two examples of such futuristic temporal reverberations. In such cases the potential for security and insecurity endures throughindefinite time, if we consider the almost geological‘half-lives’of high-level radioactive waste, which extend from hundreds to millions of years, or the scientific projection of anthropogenic climate change though hundreds of years (IPCC 2007, 46), leaving an enduring legacy of past decisions that future generations must cope with. (22)

The global categorical imperative would thus state:act as if both the principles and consequences of your action will become global, across space and through time, and act only in ways that will bring a more secure life for all human beings closer. (23)

January 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Finlayson, James Gordon 2010. „Bare Life“ and Politics in Agamben’s Reading of Aristotle. The Review of politics 72: 97-126. doi:10.1017/S0034670509990982

[…] Arendt originated the thesis that the economic, biological, and instinctual bases of human association—because they are based in our physical and animal existence—areopposed to and excluded from political life, and the idea that what the Greeks called zoe is opposed to and excluded from bios. Arendt is also the person who first offers Aristotle’s Politics as evidence for this view. Persuaded by her account of ancient politics, Agamben complains that Arendt unfortunately failed to connect it with “the penetrating analysis she had previously devoted to totalitarian power.” By means of his thesis on the destiny of Western politics, Agamben accordingly takes up her ideas, increases their significance, and presses them into the service of a diagnosis of totalitarian power. (103)

Each of these three ingredients is, viewed from a source-critical point of view, controversial and open to objection. First, there is Agamben’s anachronistic and ahistorical reworking of Foucault’s notion of biopolitics mentioned above; second, his application of Arendt’s reading of Aristotle and her critique of the rise of the social to the phenomenon of twentieth-century totalitarianism; and third, his use of the idea of the state of exception to explain the suspension of aspects of international law, as well as the recent erosion of civil and human rights by executive and autocratic governance. That said, I shall leave these lines of objection to be pursued by scholars of Foucault, Arendt, Benjamin, and Schmitt respectively. (104, footnote 32)

Aristotle: „When several villages are united in a single complete community large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the polis comes into existence, originating in life itself [ginomene¯men tou ze¯n heneken] and existing essentially for the sake of the good life [ousa de tou eu ze¯n].“ (106)

First, Agamben reads Aristotle’s contrast in the passage between life (ze¯n) and the good life (eu ze¯n) as the original instance of the opposition between bare life and politics. Second, he claims that the contrast Aristotle makes is captured by the semantic distinction between two different Greek words for “life,” namely, “zo¯e¯” and “bios.” Third, he takes this sentence as evidence that Aristotle conceives these two distinct kinds of life—“bare life” and “political life”—to be exclusive and mutually opposed and, hence, to exemplify the logic of exception. Fourth, Agamben claims that the distinction between zoe¯ and bios was pandemic in the ancient Greek language. Fifth, he claims that actual politics in the ancient world was marked by this same relation. Finally, Agamben claims both that this passage is “canonical for the political tradition of the West” and that the opposition it contains defines the end of the political community. (106)

Although it is true that for Aristotle only human beings (among mortals) are capable of living the life of contemplation and practical virtue, it is not the case that only human beings have “ways of life,” and Aristotle does not reserve the term biosexclusively for humans. Throughout his biological writings (and Aristotle was as much a biologist as a philosopher), he refers to the different “ways of life” (and the different characters or dispositions) of various species of animal. (108)

The noun zoon, by contrast, literally means an ensouled, and in this sense living oranimated, being. It is more an ontological than an ethological noun. Its primary sense in fourth-century Greek is not “animal,” although many people including Heidegger have claimed that it is. Agamben, to give him credit, notes that the term is applied equally to “animals, men or gods.” The closely cognate noun zoe is more abstract and means life, or living, or (just like bios) way of living. For Aristotle, zoe and zoon do not carry the pejorative connotation they came to have when, much later, they came to denote the life of beings with a value below that of humans, that is, beings that lacked a Christian soul or human dignity, “animals.” (108-109)

For Aristotle, zoe and bios are not a conceptual pair like dynamis and energeia, nor are they systematically linked in Greek philosophy and political culture, as, for example, physis and nomos. They are just two ordinary polysemous Greek nouns with a slightly different, partially overlapping range of meanings. (109)

Aristotle’s argument is that, if all the constituent parts of a whole exist by nature, then a fortiori the whole exists by nature; that the polis (the whole) comprises the household and the village (its parts), and that, therefore, the household and the village exist by nature. This is clear enough from the sentence directly following the one on which Agamben bases his interpretation: „And therefore if the earlier forms of association are natural so is the polis, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end.“ (110)

Aristotle only denies that these biological, instinctual, and material bases of association are sufficient conditions of political life. A properly political order has to have, in addition to this material, economic, and instinctual basis, a deeper (and more worthy) basis in citizenship, civic friendship, and justice. The political order proper is something that is inscribed in the constitution, laws, practices, institutions, and the collective life of the polis and instilled in the ethos or character of its individual citizens through education and upbringing. (111)

[…] far from conceiving the relation between mere life and the good life to be one of exclusion or opposition, Aristotle thinks of them as two internally related and continuous, albeit qualitatively distinct, layers of life. (112)

Mere life and the good life, in fact, relate to one another in much the same way that material, moving, formal, and final causes relate to one another in Aristotle’sPhysicsand Metaphysics: they cooperate in directing a being toward its essence and inner perfection. Broadly, Aristotle views i– iv above—”life,” “mere life,” or “life itself”—as the efficient cause of the polis; its citizens, territory, walls, and so forth as its material cause; the constitution, laws, and so on as its formal cause; and eudaimonia or the happiness of its citizens and the polis as a whole as its final cause. (112)

The property of beingpolitikoncannot be the specific difference that determines the genus zoon, for the simple reason that the attributepolitical, as Aristotle understands it, is not specific to human beings. In his biological writings, Aristotle maintains that there are several different kinds of “political animal.” For example in theHistory of Animals, he distinguishes between gregarious animals and solitary animals. Some gregarious animals, he notes (not those that merely herd or flock together or swim together in shoals), are political animals. (113)

„Animals that live politically are those that have any kind of activity in common, which is not true of all gregarious animals. Of this sort are: man, bee, wasp and crane.“ (Aristotle, 114)

The shared collective endeavor that marks human beings as political animals is organized on the basis of practical reason, which is peculiar to humans and makes them the most political among animals. Thus, man’s political nature has a biological, instinctual, and material basis, but also a deeper and more specifically human essence. If there is a definition here, it is that man is an animal with speech and reason, a capacity for ordering his political existence on the rational basis of mutual advantage and justice. (114)

Agamben follows Arendt’s view of the Greek household as a private realm of human labor and reproduction, which is opposed to and excluded from the public realm of speech and action, the bios politikos. However, Agamben’s analysis is vitiated by the insistence that the public/private distinction sits flush with, and indeed stems from, the alleged bios/zoe distinction. (122)

Francois Hartog “Regimes of Historicity”

January 21, 2016 Leave a comment

Hartog, Francois 2015. Regimes of Historicity. Presentism and Experiences of Time. New York: Columbia University Press.

Presentism – stop gap or new state
[…] “presentism”: the sense that only the present exists, a present characterized at once by the tyranny of the instant and by the treadmill of an unending now.

As for why I have opted for (regimes of) “historicity” rather than of “temporality,” the latter has the disadvantage of referring to an external standard of time, such as can still be found in Braudel, where the different durées are all measured against an “exogenous,” mathematical, or astronomical time (which Braudel himself calls the “imperious time of the world”).

A regime of historicity is, rather, an artificial construct whose value lies in its heuristic potential. And it should be classed alongside Weber’s ideal type, as a formal category. Depending on whether the category of the past, the future, or the present is dominant, the order of time derived from it will obviously not be the same.

Today’s presentism can thus be experienced as emancipation or enclosure: ever greater speed and mobility or living from hand to mouth in a stagnating present. Not to forget a further aspect of our present: that the future is perceived as a threat not a promise. The future is a time of disasters, and ones we have, moreover, brought upon ourselves.

Introduction – orders of time and regimes of history
[…] in a lecture from 1935, Valéry drew an even sharper picture of this experience of broken continuity, where “each person” feels he belongs to “two eras.” “On the one hand,” he continued, “there is the past that can neither be abolished nor forgotten, but from which we can derive almost nothing that will orient us in the present or help us to imagine the future. On the other hand, there is the future without the least shape.”

In 1968 the Western and Westernized world was convulsed by a movement of contestation targeting, among other things, capitalist progress. It gave expression to a loss of faith in time itself as progress, that is, as an agent moving to overturn the present.

At the time, I defined “regime of historicity” in two ways: in a restricted sense, as the way in which a given society approaches its past and reflects upon it; and in a broader sense, as “the modalities of self-consciousness that each and every society adopts in its constructions of time and its perceptions.”

[…] how, depending on the way relations between the past, the present, and the future are configured, certain types of history are possible and others are not.

For Koselleck, the temporal structure of the modern period is characterized by an asymmetry between experience and expectation that is produced by the idea of progress and the opening of time onto a future. This asymmetry grew ever more extreme from the end of the eighteenth century, as time speeded up. The history of modernity could thus be summarized in the words “The lesser the experience, the greater the expectation.” In 1975, Koselleck tried to formulate what an “end” or “exit” from modern times might look like. Maybe, he suggested, it could be captured in a formula such as “The greater the experience, the more cautious one is, but also the more open is the future.”

Has a somewhat different configuration not taken over since then, in which the distance between the space of experience and the horizon of expectation has been stretched to its limit, to breaking point? With the result that the production of historical time seems to be suspended. Perhaps this is what generates today’s sense of a permanent, elusive, and almost immobile present, which nevertheless attempts to create its own historical time.

2 – from odysseus’s tears to augustine’s meditations
„Suppose I am about to repeat a psalm which I know. Before I begin, my expectation is directed towards the whole. But when I have begun, the verses from it which I take into the past become the object of my memory. The life of this act of mine is stretched two ways, into my memory because of the words I have already said and into my expectation because of those which I am about to say. But my attention is on what is present: by that the future is transferred to become the past. As the action advances further and further, the shorter the expectation and the longer the memory, until all expectation is consumed, the entire action is finished, and it has passed into the memory. What occurs in the psalm as a whole occurs in its particular pieces and individual syllables. The same is true of a longer action in which perhaps that psalm is a part. It is also valid of the entire life of an individual person, where all actions are parts of a whole, and of the total history of “the sons of men” (Ps. 30:20) where all human lives are but parts.“ (augustine)

Now Odysseus is unable to organize the events of his life according to this model, shuttling between memory and expectation. One could say that he has distensio but not attentio. As Auerbach noted, the Homeric hero, unlike biblical figures, lives each day as though it were his first. I have already mentioned that Achilles can exist only in the present, and he knows no past or future. But even he is obliged to “let [these things] be as past and done,” to put behind him the outrage of Agamemnon’s insult, to get beyond it: in other words, to consign it to the past, without which he must cease in a certain way to be Achilles. His heroism must include overcoming his thumos, so that the action can start up again and he can be wholly himself, Achilles, the “bane of the Trojans,” living to the full his brief life in the present.

Odysseus has not read Augustine in yet another sense. Augustine’s phenomenology of human time is embedded within the structure of an eternal God who has created all times, such that “distension” must additionally be understood as integral to the human condition. Man’s lot is dispersion: “I am scattered [dissilui] in times whose order I do not understand [ordinem nescio]. The storms of incoherent events tear to pieces my thoughts.”

The Christian order of time to which the believer may aspire thus involves the passage from the mutability of the many to the immutability of God’s eternity. The path leads from dispersion to tension, reaching out by means of an effort of intention (and not simply of attention) toward those things that lie before (ante) (and not simply toward the future). Augustine is here simply following Saint Paul in his Letter to the Philippians: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The image is that of a runner in the stadium. A similar order is suggested at the beginning of The City of God, in which the Christian “in this fleeting course of time [in hoc temporum cursu]” walks “in the midst of the ungodly [inter impios peregrinatur]” and “waits for [expectat] the fixed stability of [the City of God’s] eternal seat.” And Saint Paul once again: “whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing…for our conversation is in heaven.”

It was not Christianity, however, that conceived and experienced time as an expectant tension or an opening of anticipation. This relation to time was already present in Yahweh’s promise to Abraham: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great.”

As regards relations to time, Christianity’s specific contribution was the decisive event of the Incarnation—the birth, death, and resurrection of the Son of God made man—which broke time in two. A new time started, which was to end with a second and last event, the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment. The in-between time was a time of anticipation: a present inhabited by the promise of the end. Jesus himself announced this: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.…But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.…Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.…Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Vigilance is, quite literally, what is required: “Banish slumber,” says Saint Luke’s gospel.

Besides this eschatological present, what is really new in the New Testament is “the tension between the decisive ‘already fulfilled’ and the ‘not yet completed,’ between present and future.”69 On this founding tension is constructed a properly Christian order of time, and history as the history of salvation. But the already does not balance out the not-yet like the two sides of a set of scales: the already carries more weight, since that “decisive point” has irreversibly changed the course of history.70 The world has already been saved. The present ushered in by this “already” is consequently a privileged time.

All in all, the Christian order of time retained a certain malleability, which allowed present, past, and future to be articulated against a backdrop of eternity. It was not a single regime of historicity, nor can it be reduced to one, not even to its predominant regime of historia magistra.

3 – chateaubriand, between old and new regimes of historicity
Western civilization’s relation to time was profoundly and lastingly structured by the couple “the ancients” and “the moderns.” The many quarrels punctuating its history each time expressed the tension inherent in the pair.9 The notion of “the savage,” which figured already in the first travel writings from the New World, introduced a new term. Arguments no longer hinged on two elements but on three and, most often, on one-plus-two, that is, the moderns versus the ancients/savages.

For Rousseau, the movement thus went from the past to the future, or rather toward a future yet to be brought into being, as a goal on which to set one’s sights. But even if, in the Social Contract, society had something of an ideal Greek polis about it, every society (including ancient society) was nonetheless a mutilation compared to the state of nature. Hence the figure of the savage, which the young Chateaubriand invoked and brought to life: “Oh man of nature, you alone make me proud to be a man! Your heart knows no dependence.”11 For Chateaubriand, far from unrest and revolution, the savage resembled an island on which the shipwrecked traveler could find refuge;12 Rousseau had been left far behind.

Koselleck’s by-now classic analyses have shown how the development in Germany of the modern concept of history (die Geschichte) around 1760–1780 gradually devitalized its understanding in terms of exemplarity and repetition.32 History in the singular (die Geschichte), understood as a process and conceived as history in itself, with its own proper temporality, abandoned the exemplum and redefined itself around the uniqueness of the event. A gap and a tension opened up between individuals’ space of experience and their horizon of expectation.33 The modern concept of history enabled the production of this gap to be understood and explained, and it could even illuminate historical progress in general. Although these theories from the German historical school were already in circulation earlier in the century, they were really put to the test by the French Revolution, which many experienced as a time of acceleration forcing apart, to breaking point, the space of experience from the horizon of expectation.

How do space and time interact here, or, more precisely, what effect does movement in space have upon Chateaubriand’s relation to time when, having returned from America and left the Army of the Princes, he begins writing the Historical Essay? Time is above all the time of getting older: “When I left France I was young; four years of misfortune have put years on me.”65 Time’s ravages are such that, as we have seen, this travel diary of a self in search of himself is presented, via Tacitus, as the writings of a dying man, or even as writings from beyond the grave.

Time flies, swifter than the pen, and the craft caught in the storm is swept past an unrecognizable or unknown coastline, which races along. These remarks, from the 1826 preface, are crucial. They demonstrate what contemporaries were most struck by, namely, time’s acceleration and their resultant loss of bearings (the boat is swept away and the coastline races past). The present is ungraspable, the future is unforeseeable, and the past itself has become incomprehensible.

Besides, who can take an interest in the “collapse of the old world” when one is living the “collapse of the new”? Be that as it may, whether Chateaubriand was writing a history of France’s present (as in the Historical Essay), or its past (as in the Historical Studies), he seemed always to miss the moment, to be out of step: always, ineluctably, too late. So what other option was there but to go on writing nonetheless, to exploit this gap as the mainspring or even the motive of his writing? When he began writing the Historical Essay he was not yet at that stage; he had simply experienced the impossibility of escaping the maelstrom of time. And, having crossed the Atlantic again, from West to East this time, the New World’s island-in-the-storm and its untouched forests reverted to nothing more than utopias, which could be visited only in memory or in writing.

So the America of Chateaubriand’s travels no longer exists, and the dreams of his youth have evaporated. He did not discover the Northwest Passage, French influence was eclipsed, and the savage is dying a slow death. Yet suddenly, at the end of this requiem for a dead America, the reader is presented with “a wonderful spectacle,” painted in the glowing colors of modern freedom.87 The Historical Essay ended on a hymn to the freedom (or independence) of the savage, as the only authentic freedom (in relation to which all others, including the freedom of the ancients, appear false). The Travels ends on the recognition and celebration of modern freedom: the United States’ discovery of a representative republic is “one of the greatest political events that ever occurred.” From this assertion Chateaubriand is led back to the familiar pair, ancient and modern freedom. The case of the United States has proved that there are
„two practicable types of liberty; the one belonging to the infancy of nations, the offspring of manners [fille des moeurs] and of virtue, the liberty of the first Greeks and the first Romans, and the liberty of the Savages of America; the other born in the old age of nations, the offspring of knowledge [fille des lumières] and reason, the liberty of the United States, which has superseded the liberty of the Savage. Happy country, which in less than three centuries has passed from one liberty to the other, almost without effort, and by means of a contest which lasted only eight years!“

Unlike in the Historical Essay, Chateaubriand here historicizes the freedom of the savages, and also that of the ancients, which is thereby rehabilitated. The native Americans, the first Greeks, and the first Romans all belong to the same moment of freedom. That is the deeper meaning—and the miracle—of American history (which is the product of an acceleration of time).

The principle of historicization he introduces (freedom as “offspring of manners” leading to freedom as “offspring of knowledge”) situates the United States not only as the birthplace of a new sort of freedom, but also as the place where “almost without effort,” and at great speed, the former gave way to the latter.91 The Scythians had embodied an “abridged, but complete” history of the three ages of humanity. Here, the United States achieve a similar synthesis, but of their own past with their own present: they embody a historical development.

Above all, the American discovery of modern freedom ruins the whole system of parallels on which the Historical Essay has been constructed. In the 1826 preface, Chateaubriand writes: “I have always based my reasoning in the Essay on the Ancients’ republican system of liberty, liberty the offspring of manners; I had not sufficiently reflected upon that other sort of liberty, liberty offspring of knowledge and a perfected civilization: my discovery of a representative republic has changed the whole matter.”

In short, Tocqueville preserves the model of historia magistra, but inverts it; the lesson to be learned comes from the future, not the past. He himself explicitly recognizes this, toward the end of his work: “Although the ongoing revolution in man’s social state, laws, ideas, and sentiments is still far from over, it is already clear that its works cannot be compared with anything the world has ever seen before. Looking back century by century to remotest Antiquity, I see nothing that resembles what I see before me. When the past is no longer capable of shedding light on the future, the mind can only proceed in darkness.”129 One can no longer, as Chateaubriand still thought possible in 1794, “with the torch of past revolutions in our hand,…boldly enter into the darkness of future ones.” The previous regime of historicity, in which the past precisely illuminated the future, was over for good. A world which is “totally new” requires a “new political science.” This was precisely what Tocqueville set out to develop from his vanguard position, perched in his lookout to scrutinize the future.130

4 – memory, history and the present
Returning to the schematic parallel I made between Chateaubriand and Nora above, what is immediately striking are their different relations to time. The “new plan” required by the “progress” of reason implied a vision of time as a process of improvement and progress, which ushered in freedom “offspring of manners,” as discovered in America. The Historical Essay’s many revisions show this clearly. Yet Chateaubriand could not ignore that the way liberal historians worked, taking this new world as “a revised scale by which to measure the old one,” was poles apart from his own way of writing, constantly crisscrossing, and crossing out, from one world to the other.6 By contrast, when Nora set out on what was to become the Lieux de mémoire, not only was there no question of a progressive time, but he remained entirely within the circle of the present. He aimed at a kind of inventory prior to a death foretold: “The rapid disappearance of our national memory seemed to me to call for an inventory of the sites where it had chosen to manifest itself.”7

There are cogent arguments for situating the modern regime of historicity between the two symbolic dates of 1789 and 1989. I would suggest, at least provisionally, that the two dates mark the entrance and the exit of this regime on the stage of History. At the very least, one can suggest that they constitute two caesuras, or breaks, in the order of time.10 11 September 2001 poses no serious challenge to this outline, unless the American government has decided to make it into a new beginning of world history, a new present and one alone, that of the war on terror. That said, with 9/11 the contemporary event reached its logical limit. Under the glare of the TV cameras, the event exhibited itself in the making, undergoing a real-time transformation into history that was simultaneously, and already, a (self-) commemoration.11 In this sense, the structure of the event had become absolutely presentist.

Koselleck’s by-now classic analyses, which we mentioned earlier, summarize the modern regime as the passage from the German plural die Geschichten to the singular die Geschichte, History. “Beyond histories,” he says, “there is History,” History in itself. In Droysen’s words, as cited by Koselleck, History must become “knowledge of itself.”13 More importantly, it is conceived as a process, with the idea that events do not simply occur in time but also through time, with time itself as an agent, and even the agent. Since, today, the past no longer makes the future comprehensible, history’s lessons have become obsolete, and what is required are, rather, predictions. Historians are no longer in search of the exemplary, but of the unique. The topics of historia magistra had allowed the past to connect with the future through the exemplary model to be imitated: in looking back at famous men, I could also find them in front or ahead of me.

The modern regime replaced the exemplary with the nonrepeatable. The past was, a priori or due to its position (which amounts to the same), outdated.

The future illuminating the past and giving it meaning constituted a telos or vantage point called, by turns, “the Nation,” “the People,” “the Republic,” “Society,” or “the Proletariat,” each time dressed in the garb of science. If history still dispensed a lesson, it came from the future, not the past.

The twentieth century, in retrospect, combined futurism and presentism. It started out more futurist than presentist, and ended up more presentist than futurist. It was passionately futurist, blindly so, and, as we know, embraced the worst. In futurism, the imperative dimension of the order of time decrees that the viewpoint of the future shall prevail. It is an order that presents itself as constantly accelerating. History is made in the name of the future, and it must be written in the same way.

But the Futurist Manifesto also showed how one could move from futurism to presentism, or how futurism was also (already) a presentism. When Marinetti declared: “Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in a world of the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed,” the present became “futurized,” or, equally, there was already nothing but the present. Speed transformed the present into eternity and Marinetti, at the wheel of his racing car, could imagine himself to be God.

The linguist Émile Benveniste noted that the etymology of praesens is “what is ahead of me,” hence something which is “imminent, urgent,” and “will not permit delay,” in the sense of the Latin preposition prae.23 The present is imminent: it is the runner’s body tensed forward at the very moment he or she leaves the starting blocks.

“The present is never our aim, and while it and the past are our means, the future alone is our end. Thus we never live, but are always hoping to live, and, constantly preparing ourselves to be happy, it is beyond doubt that we never shall be happy.” – pascal

Perhaps the clearest sign of the radical exclusion of anything but the present in the Swinging Sixties was the slogan “forget the future.” Revolutionary utopias were nothing if not progressivist and futurist, even if they were also backward-looking and retrospective (the revolutionary barricades and the Resistance). But henceforth they had to adapt to the narrow circle of the present. The slogans covering the walls of Paris in May 1968 were “Sous les pavés, la plage” (“Beneath the pavings, the beach”) or “Tout, tout de suite” (“All, all at once, now”). But they were followed shortly by “No future,” in other words, no revolutionary present.

the present’s expansionism increasingly eclipses death, as the poet T.S. Eliot noted already in the 1940s: “In our age…there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism which perhaps deserves a new name. It is a provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which…the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares.”44 The dead no longer have a place, or even, as Philippe Ariès declared in his historical study of the phenomenon, “In towns, everything goes on as if nobody died anymore.”

Would it not be true to say that any self-respecting person today owes it to him- or herself to have no time for anything?

additionally the present, in the very moment of its occurrence, seeks to view itself as already history, already past. In a sense, it turns back on itself in order to anticipate how it will be regarded when it is completely past, as though it wanted to “foresee” the past, to turn itself into a past before it has even fully emerged as present.

To ensure that one is the first to cover the news, what better solution than to announce that something has already taken place when it is yet to come!

[Halbwachs]: Collective memory is “a current of continuous thought” (it retains from the past only what is still living), whereas the historian “can truly achieve his task only by deliberately placing himself outside the time lived by those groups that participated in the events concerned, which have more or less direct contact with these events and can recall them.”66 History, which “extracts changes from duration,” forges “an artificial duration having no reality for the groups from which these events are borrowed.”67 The bird of history can thus spread its wings only when night has fallen entirely, that is, when the present is absolutely dead.

However, if the historian who is thus excluded from the field of memory does not recognize himself in this portrait, then the rigid opposition between history and memory ceases to hold, whereupon the historian’s “hunting ground” may include collective memory or, better still, collective memory may feed into contemporary history. Nora always rejected the idea of a break between the past and the present, which he considered artificial and illusory. Unlike the authors of the report to the minister, Nora argued that it is for “the historian of the present” to make “the past consciously emerge into the present (instead of making the present unconsciously emerge in the past).” Nora’s reflections on the event additionally suggest a relation between the new status of the event in a consumer society and the perception of time: “Does our treatment of the event not transform time itself into something to be consumed, in which we invest analogous affects?”69 This idea points to another aspect of presentism: time itself, Nora suggests, is trapped in the time of consumption, and itself becomes a consumer product.

[Nora] For “our form of memory” is “nothing but history, a matter of sifting and sorting.” We have become obsessive archivists, transforming everything into memory, in furtherance of the present’s immediate self-historicization, which we mentioned above. Memory has become a private affair, entirely psychologized, introducing a new economy of the “self’s identity.” “An order is given to remember, but the responsibility is mine and it is I who must remember.” Hence “to be Jewish is to remember that one is such; but once this incontestable memory has been interiorized, it eventually demands full recognition. What is being remembered? In a sense, it is memory itself.” Lastly, “our” memory is based on a relation to the past in which discontinuity predominates. The past is no longer “solid and steady.” Hence we have moved “from a history sought in the continuity of memory to a memory cast in the discontinuity of history.” Today’s form of memory “is no longer what must be retrieved from the past in order to prepare the future one wants; it is what makes the present present to itself.”74 It is an instrument of presentism.

Given that “the Nation” and “Progress” had been so powerfully welded together in the nineteenth century, how could the idea of the Nation return when that of Progress was no longer sustainable? What was left of the Nation? It was often figured as a Nation without prospect(s), a retrospective and nostalgic entity, basically a refuge, linked to a form of history enthralled once again to the charms of historia magistra.

So we commemorate “Bastille Day,” in which 1880, 1789, and 1790 prefigure and echo each other.113 Péguy, in his Clio, had striking terms for this: “The storming of the Bastille was a genuine feast-day, it was the first celebration, the first commemoration and in a sense the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.…The Fête de la Fédération, the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, was not its first commemoration. It was the storming of the Bastille itself which was the first Fête de la Fédération, a Federation avant la lettre.”114 Today, this phenomenon has become the norm, with every event already incorporating its own commemoration. This was the case in May 1968, and it was true again, in extreme form, for 11 September 2001, with all the television cameras trying to catch on film the moment when the second plane would crash into the World Trade Center’s second tower.

… the present’s tendency to transform itself instantly into history.

The end of the tyranny of the future also had the effect of making the past inscrutable again, and at least partly unpredictable too. This was not simply linked to the issue of contingency, which Raymond Aron highlighted in his critique of causality in Simiand.122 The past waiting to be rediscovered was neither linear nor unambiguous, and it was construed as a field crisscrossed by pasts that had for a time been possible futures, including those which had begun to exist and which had been prevented from doing so.

Our doubly indebted present: the reign of presentism
According to François Ewald, responses to uncertainty have taken three forms: foresight, prevention, and, today, precaution.23 The paradigm of responsibility (linked to the advent of liberalism) can be associated with foresight, that of solidarity (represented by the Welfare State) can be associated with prevention, and perhaps a new paradigm, for which a name has yet to be found, will come to be associated with precaution. Ewald proposes the paradigm of “security” and the concomitant emergence of a “Precautionary State.”24 “Foresight” implies not overlooking the ups and downs of life, “prevention” means evaluating risks on the basis of scientific knowledge, and “precaution” acknowledges that even science is not infallible. With it, a new relation to harm and to time is introduced: “there exist the irreparable, the irremediable, the unpardonable, the harm which is beyond compensation and the crime whose prosecution is beyond time restrictions [imprescriptible].”25 Irreversibility and sustainable development are concepts whose temporalities carry with them the idea of time as continuous and seamless, from us to future generations or from future generations back to us. Of course we look toward the future, but on the basis of an extended present, without interruption or revolution.

[…] Ewald has drawn our attention to an “extreme form of the figure of precaution,” according to which development itself would constitute a risk. Let us imagine a product with “an undetectable and unforeseeable defect, which only becomes apparent after a certain length of time. Moreover, the responsibility for the defect can be imputed to the product or producer only due to a scientific context different from the one existing when the product was first put into circulation, used and consumed.”26 How determine civil or criminal liability in such a case? How can someone be held responsible after the fact for something he or she could not possibly have known at the time?

Yet with development risk, when a danger is discovered at some future date, the past (in which the danger was unknown) is still considered to be part of the present of the risk’s discovery. This means that we never leave the present (or at least a legal present). The as yet unsuspected risk is (already) present, and once it has been proven, after the fact, it will continue to belong to that present; it will not be considered as past.

The lifting of statutory limitations here means that the criminal in crimes against humanity remains contemporary with his crime until his death, but by the same token we too are contemporary with the facts to be judged.

The present has thus extended both into the future and into the past. Into the future, through the notions of precaution and responsibility, through the acknowledgment of the irreparable and the irreversible, and through the notions of heritage and debt, the latter being the concept which cements and gives sense to the whole. And into the past, borne by similar concepts such as responsibility and the duty to remember, the drive to make every-thing into heritage, the lifting of time limitations, and last but not least the notion of “debt.” This double indebtedness, toward the past and the future, but derived from our present and weighing upon it, is another hallmark of our contemporary experience. The figure of debt is what transports us from the genocide of the Jews to the risks threatening the entire human species, from the obligation not to forget to the imperative of responsibility:29 in order that future generations may still have the life of human beings and never forget man’s inhumanity to man.

We “start out from” the present, but never really “leave” it? It is the source of all enlightenment. And in a sense there is nothing but the present, not as infinite, but as indefinite. The managerial response to uncertainty is called “flexibility,” where the idea is not so much to anticipate change as to be as flexible as possible at every moment, that is, to be able to be immediately present (“on the case”). It is worth noting that the centrality of uncertainty and of the present applies not only in relation to the future, but also in our approach to the past

[…] however eternal this present might appear, it also avidly or anxiously sought to historicize itself, as though it were forced to project itself ahead, in order to turn back and see itself as already past, forgotten.

John T. Hamilton “Security”

January 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Hamilton, John T. 2013. Security: Politics, Humanity, and the Philology of Care. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Part 1 – Preliminary Concerns
Whereas securitas advantageours if it extirpates a troubling cura like fear, anger, or pain, it counts as a decided disadvantage when it abolishes the cura that motivates vigilance or dedicated engagement. Thus, securitas can name a good like assurance, safety, or prevention; or it can designate an evil like apathy complacency, or recklessness. Again, by eradicating care, security leaves us either carefree or careless. (11-12)

Instead of positing a prior, stable subject to be guarded, critical theory claims that the subject comes into being only through security measures. The subject is originally formed by security initiatives rather than being already in place, awaiting subsequent protection. (16)

Hence: security as knowledge (certainty); security’s reliance upon knowledge (surveillance); security’s astonishing prodaction of knowledge in response to its will to know (calculability); and the claim of knowledge which gives security its license to render all aspects of life transparent (totality). All these constitutive elements of our contemporary manifold politics of security excited my suspicion because they comprise a monumental enterprise of power-knowledge whose insatiable maw threatens to consume not only all thought, and not only that relating to the question of the political, but of what it is like to be human. (17 – Michael Dillon, Politics of security, p. 17)

A philological disposition halts the ready slide into all manners of acquiescence. It prevents the headlong rush into those established conventions of truth that are presented as beyond debate and instead raises problems and questions of meaning at the very moment of meaning formation, that is, beefore meaning has become ossified and proffered as second nature. (21)

The desire for maximum security demands that he renounce total security. The prudent concern to save his life necessarily puts his life in danger. Were he to forget his vulnerability, he would run the greater risk of having his security slip into laxity. […] in Kafka’s Burrow, the creature’s chance for survival stands in direct proportion to his „worry“ or „anxiety“ – two good translations for the cura that securitas aimst to dispatch. The removal of all concern may leace the creature untroubled, but it would also make him foolish. In Benjamin’s German, the two (zwei) options – the lack of disturbance and the absence of caution – produce the ambiguity (Zweideutigkeit) that characterizes despair (Verzweiflung); and it is this despair, in turn, that serves as the prerequisite for hope. It responds to a gap in the system that destroys the system’s totality but also maintains its futurity. […] Thus, the animal is secure only as long as he remains insecure. It is the burrow’s lack of complete protection that ensures the inhabitant’s capacity for self-defence. His mortality saves his life. (27-28)

This is the secret of security, like a steak under cellophane: to surround you with a sarcophagus in order to prevent you from dying. (29 – Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, 177)

[…] because of this fundamental solitude, humane care consists not only in the will to protect oneself and others but also in acknowledging one’s stark instability to do so absolutely. (32)

[Carol] Gilligan’s distinction between a „universal morality“ based roughly on Kantian notions of abstract, formal principles and a „contextual morality“ grounded in interdependence and mutual responsibility usefully separates state-sponsored policies of removing care from an individual’s recognition that true security is necessariliy provisional. If state security aims to render citizens carefree, individual security recognizes the perils of surrendering care to an impersonal system. (32-33)

Terrorism is efficacious only when it aims at that for which we care as thinking, feeling subjects. To a certain degree, therefore, both the potential assailant and the potential victim author the dangerous scenario. (33)

Security requires a demonization of the other: the integrity of the inside is rendered coherent by means of violence directed to the menacing outside. (37-38)

This autoimmunity menace, which feeds on a simple but nonetheless confounding logic, need not be restricted to national affairs. On a related, more personal level, there are the paralyzing consequences of constant worry, fear, and anxiety. Both the public preponderance of security warnings and the individual obsession with prevention can be stifling, something that intimidates movement in a world now regarded as frighteningly dangerous. Here, too, security triggers a kind of autoimmune debility, insofar as safety is achieved through a curtailment of activity, which may impede growth, improvement, and general profit, foreclosing opportunities and stifling life. In short, such measures preserve existence at the cost of existence itself. (39)

One must be wary of a state that preserves life by taking life away. In promising deathlessness, total security produces but a stillborn citizenry. (41)

Whereas sovereignty executes its power upon a territory and a discipline exerts power on individual bodies, „security is exercised over a whole population.“ (41)

For Foucault, in contradistinction to the right of the sovereign, security measures do not exercise the power to take away life but rather the power to make life live, which is the general characteristic of biopower. (42)

[….] whereas a model of insurance may mutualize episodic danger across the entire population, secuirty against a total threat cannot be so readily disbursed. As Didier Bigo concisely notes, „Insurance can cope with catastrophe but not with Armageddon.“ (43)

In associating an idea of securing with a notion of self-caring, Foucault essentially overlaps the „elimination of care“ (securare) and the „cultivation of self-care“ (se curare). (43)

The operative premise of all biopolitical paradigms is that the state is a vast organism that requires physiological research, pathological diagnoses, and medicinal, curative prescriptions. Hence, the biologization of the political fades into the politicization of the biological. (45)

The removal of care implicit in such security measures may eradicate concern, but it does not erase the violence of removal itself – a violence that is merely transferred and perpetually enacted. State measures are therefore pharmacological in every sense: both cure and poison. Immunity invariably dovetails into autoimmunity. (45)

Part 2 – Etymologies and Figures
In iconic fashion, the word securitas reflects Cicero’s movement away from the city. […] Cicero’s acceptation of „security“ clearly turns on this sense of elimination. The term further collates ideals familiar from Hellenistic moral philosophy, encompassing Epicurean ataraxia (freedom from disturbances) and Stoic apatheia (freedom from passions). These major terms, constructed with the Greek alpha privative, similarly denote the process of removal lexically marked by the prefix se- and aim toward the realization of the good, happy life or what the Romans would call the „blessed life“ (beata vita). (52-53).

[of Seneca] Perhaps more emphatically than with Cicero, securitas here constitutes an accomplishment. Groundd in a transcendent position above all contingency, the philosopher reaches security and thus touches on the divine sphere, where he is no longer ruffled by disturbances. (53)

The construction of an inviolable self literally depends on proper instruction, on building a subject that can weather all kinds of trouble, foreseeable or not. […] In order to stabilize the self, one must devote vigilance and diligence to internal representations. To secure the self, one must care for the self. That is to say, one can be „free from care“ only if one conscientiously practices philosophy „with care“ (cum cura). (54)

For Cicero and Seneca, therefore, security is not attained simply through withdrawal from the tumult of political life but rather through the careful practice of cultivating a self that continues to be embedded in and constituted by a community. Thus secured, the philosopher – like the enlightened exile from Plato’s cave – may return to the dark and delusional realm of politics. Self-directed stability, achieved through reflection, ultimately prepares one to reenter the fray. […] Self-government prepares one for political governance. (55)

Fully in line with a Stoic tradition, Cicero strives toward a securitas that would quell the impulsiveness of the passions. As later in Seneca, the „care of the self“ is the method by which the emotions are educated, trained to serve the sovereignty of reason. (56)

The self-curatorial struggle is barely concealed by reason’s power. As the middle, third term, the well-balanced thymos of euthymia becomes the earmark of a secure order that strives to maks the simple domination of logos over the body. Violent dualities are quelled by stabilizing triads. (57)

Whereas with Cicero the notion of securitas tends to adhere to the private realm, with the collapse of the Roman Republic the term begins to be employed in a decidedly public fashion. Throughout the imperial period the term came to denote an idea of military or governmental protection – not a condition to be achieved privately, away from the urban center, but rather within the city’s sheltering walls. […] Rather every citizen is worry free thanks to the efforts and success of the governing power. (58)

Self-therapy produced securitas; state therapy engendered salus. A temple to the goddess Salus, high upon one of the summits of the Quirinal, overlooked the city; and the „safety or the security of the people“ – the salus populi – was perceived as a fundamental good among the citizenry. As Cicero famously expressed it: Salus populi suprema les esto („Let the safety of the people be the supreme law,“ De legibus 3.3.8). (59)

A major split, then, in the word’s history is between an inner, psychological sense of composure and an external, physical sense of administered safety. This latter, public meaning should no longer be understood as a translation of Hellenistic ataraxia or apatheia but rahter as an extension of another privative term in Greek, asphaleia, „steadfastness, stability,“ literally: „prevention [a-] from stumbling [sphallein]“. (59)

With the Christianization of the empire, positive connotations of securitas more or less vanished from political and religious usage, save for some formulaic vestiges heard in ealry liturgy. Otherwise, it was mostly in legal contexts where securitas served prominently as an ideal of guarantee in oaths, pledges, and contracts. The later link between securitization and mercantile insurance has its roots in this usage. (64)

The noun „procuration“ – which corresponds to the verb procurare (to take care of, attend to, look after) in the Latin version of Leviathan – makes clear how this office has assumed the curae that are thereby removed from the citizens’ thoughts. The sovereign, therefore, is specifically a procurator, that is, the one who manages concerns on behalf of another. The citizen is securus because the ruler works cum cura. (65)

The greater irony, then, is that precisely by instilling insecurity among the populace, by depriving its subjects of the privation of concern, agencies like the Soviet KGB and the East German Stasi also allow their human subjects to continue to care and therefore to remain human. (67)

Only history, beyond the limits of resemblance and representation, can provide the categories of meaning, a meaning that cannot shed its temporality and therefore its provisionality. It is this Promothean commitment to time that prevents or disrupts any definitive, fixed meaning. Cura, posing as the wily Titan, can secure her creature only in insecurity. (72)

Consigned, then, to time, mankind’s relation to Care becomes clearer. The man possessed by care – homo curans – worries about that which can change, transform, or vanish, including, above all, himself. Again, care is an expression of mankind’s mortality. In his last epistle, Seneca accordingly distinguishes human from divine being: both god and man are endowed with the power of reason, which alone accomplishes the Good; yet, in the case of the immortal god, „nature perfects the Good,“ whereas in the case of mortal man, it is „cura“ that works toward this achievement (ep. 124-14). (72)

In assuming all care, God, the shepherd of men, deprives the human couple of care. Overprotected and fully secure, these beneficiaries of divine gifts lack the lack that drives human endeavor, commitment, and responsibility. This lack of every lack has serious consequences: their security has left them defenseless against the serpent’s alluring speech. It is precisely their carelessness that causes them to fall out of paradise and fall into a life of concern. (74)

To care for others and for oneself represents a responsibility that many would claim to be a fundamental trait of huanity. It is the responsibility that accompanies concrete being in the world: attending to a singular need and formulating how that need should be addressed under the particular circumstances at hand. It exhibits commitment, devotion, and mutual recognition, all of which reveal that care is grounded in temporality, contingency, and the possibility of loss. What burns the heart is a desire to hold on to something that at any moment may be lost. As indicated above, care is generally reserved for that which may one day disappear, including one’s own life: if an object or a person were not subject to time, there would be nothing to care for. We care because we are mortal. (77-78)

The formula (omnes et singulatim) that Foucault recognizes as operative in the concern for security may provide the benefits of subjectivity, but at too great – too fatal – a cost. The concern for removing all concern is here regarded as a death trap. Security grants identity but seals this achievement with a gravestone. Proponents of a human care that does not seek resolution in care’s removal recognize that the subject is sacrificed to the very institutions that make the subject a subject. Their resistance finds expression in constant striving, in remaining at sea, in restlessness, anxiety, and concern. This insistence on a mode of infinite caring does not deny the individual’s mortality. Rather, it is precisely holding on to the singularizing force of one’s own death that saves the individual from a totalizing mortification. Care, no less than security, is a gift. However, whereas the gift of security fills a lack – a lack of identity, subjectivity, being – the gift of care grants the lack itself. (81)

In setting Odysseus on a final journey of wandering, fate demonstrates that the land as well may become a kind of sea. Humans may expect security, but they can only believe in the probability of this expectation and never know it for certain. The land-sea dichotomy, therefore, is but one attempt to secure security, an addempt moreover that may or may not be efficacious. (113)

„There must be freedom from every disturbance of the mind, not only from desire and fear, but also from distress, from both the mind’s pleasure and anger, so that there may be present the tranquility and security of the mind, which bring not only constancy but also dignity.“ The list of disturbing passions is presented as what must be vacated (vacandum est), a privative gesture that underscores the removal expressed by the prefix se-. Cicero is very specific: „Desire and fear, distress and pleasure, and anger“ need to be shunted to the side, if the soul is to enjoy a carefree life. Cicero therefore provides a genealogy of securitas, a brief account, entirely indebted to the Stoics, of how security is accomplished: destructive passions must be identified and summarily pushed away from the soul. (121)

We could provisionally conclude that, for Cicero at Tusculum, the concepts of securitas and its close synonym tranquilitas have less to do with the messy realm of the human, where every opinion remains subject to modification, and relate more to the quasi-divine sphere of the „blessed life“, the beata vita. Here, in this transcendent domain, rigid adherence to philosophical terminology is entirely in order. In the purely theoretical reflections that constitute the Tusculan Disputations, Cicero remarks: „But how can anyone possess that greatly desirable and coveted security – for I now call freedom from distress the security on which the blessed life is based – anyone for whom there is present or can be present a multitude of evils?“ (123-124)

Although anger is an evil pathos or perturbatio, which threatens the individual’s rationality and therefore must be eliminated (vacandum est), it can be domesticated in euthymia, that is, made to negotiate with ration, and thereby safeguard the mind from all pathic disturbancs. Anger thus becomes a cura that assists in the removal of cura, just as the guardians’ violence is trained to quell violence. Police science (Polizeiwissenschaft) as it would develop in the eighteenth century is indeed but a footnote to these proceedings. (127)

Part III – Occupying Security
Fortitude is thus caught in the double bind that will come to characterize the practice of security. As for Aristotle, he attempts to extricate his argument from this potential aporia by revertin to reason or logos. Courage is „the pursuit of logos“; and logos, it would appear, is capable of producing fortitude, not despite but because of the double bind. Virtue (arete) is an achievement precisely because of its difficulty. It is better, then, to understand the Aristotelian mean less as „moderation“ or „mediocrity“, and more as a dynamic tension that negotiates two bad excesses. Provocatively expressed, the surest way to be courageous is to be fearless while being afraid. (148)

As Aristotle continues, courage is grounded in civil recognition. Presumably, a death at sea or a death in illness would fail to be acknowledged, because both fall beyond the limit of civil recognition. It appears that to succumb to sickness would be to suffer reduction to bare animal life, to move from bios to zoe, whereas to perish at sea would be to pass away far from the shores of sommunal existence. One may or may not fear shipwreck or illness, but in either case one has no opportunity to exhibit fortitude, for virtue cannot subsist without one’s humanity or without one’s society. Virtue is virtue recognized. The two major definitions of mankind that Aristotle ha bequeathed to posterity – that man is both a „political animal“ and an „animal possessing logos“ – propels the societal exile as well as the bearer of bare life beyond the realms where recognition of fortitude may be gained. (149)

To understand peace as the mere absence of belligerence is to regard war as an accident. From this perspective, mankind is essentially sociable and benign, and peace is but a return to this original harmony. This line of thought would be Aquinas’s operative premise. In contrast, to interpret peace as a victory over enmity is to recognize mankind as originally savage, ready to do violence unless prevented. This position is commonly associated with Cicero. In the De inventione, for example, Cicero alludes to a primal era „when men used to roam randomly in the fields in the manner of beasts,“ a time of utter lawlessness ruled only by individual cupidity and brute strength, until a „great and wise man“ (magnus … vir et sapiens) eloquently introduced a system of education, with which he could render his fellow man „gentle and civilized“ (mites et mansuetos). (158)

Thus, Security balances the gallows in clear view. Peace may rest upon the armor beneath her pillow once order has been achieved, but she cannot discard it. Likewise, Security must remain tirelessly ready to execute the established laws. More abstractly, when related to both triumphant peace and concord, Security reveals the indispensability of opposition. (158)

No security project can allow itself to be decimated by fear; however, being altogether blind to potential menace would result in sheer recklessness. Lorenzetti’s composed maiden, who stares out at the sinister scene, is the figure of an idea of security as vigilance – as the fearless confrontation with recognized fear, as a disposition that is unafraid precisely by being afraid. (159)

For Fromm, then, the crucial theological shift, motivated by unconscious responses to sociohistorical circumstances, is an abandonment of the „adoptionist doctrine“ (Jesus the man elevated to divinity) and the establishment of the „doctrine of consubstantiality“ (God descended to humanity). In the former case Jesus was portrayed as a violent usurper, whereas in the latter he was characterized by forgiving care. Psychoanalytically, any remaining aggression toward the father could now be directed inward: an individual’s sins, and not the power of the sovereign, were to blame for suffering in this world. The internalization only further reinforced social stability. (166)

This negative view [of Agamben] is certainly valid, yet it does not exclude the converse. Although the exception may thus be used as a nefarious technique for encompassing bare life, it may just as well supply the gap in legalism through which the law can be reanimated, perhaps enabling a transition from „biopower“ to what Roberto Esposito ordains as „biopotentiality“ (biopotenze, as opposed to biopotere) – „a biopolitics that is finally affirmative. No longer over life but of life, on that doesn’t superimpose already constituted (and by now destitute) categories of modern politics on life, but rather inscribes the innovative power of life rethought in all its complexity and articulation in the same politics. The law’s porosity may be the only means for preventing it from stiffening into cold mechanicity. (177)

Descartes’s philosophical quest to secure epistemology with provisional certainty, to excatavate and build a fundamentum inconcussum upon solid ground, however slight, should be understood within the same political context. Starkly expressed, the presupposition – often quite explicit – of the emerging international system of sovereign states, where each should enjoy authority within its territorial limits, is that the state be regarded as a rational subject, as a res cogitans, as a unitary figure set upon the edge of turbulent waters. Upon land, this single entity – be it the individual subject or the sovereign nation – could rest somewhat assured in the face of the conflicts that raged beyond the shored-in limits, where opposing religious doctrines or other, aggressive states were poised to crash in and potentially flood the ground. The „antient Security,“ which in some remote past had presumably been maintained by hierarchical structures of church and empire, would now, following the Great Schism, the fragmentation of principalities, and decades of devastating war, seem achievable only if the sovereign bordrs retained their definition in a more lateral relationship, if unity held out before roaring plurality. The history of every contemporary walled state, the plotting of every fortified barrier, from Israel to Arizona, is traceable to Westphalia, invariably linked to this threat to sovereign unity. (200)

That God may not be merely inscrutable but in fact careless invariably jeapordized any prolonged sense of security, for how could care be removed if there was no ultimate agent to remove it? Voltaire’s Candide (1759) speaks directly to these concerns, both by means of a satirical critique of Leibnizian theory – of „sufficient reason“, of „monads“, and, not least, of „the best of all possible worlds“ – and by elevating each individual to the status of caretaker. The text’s famous conclusion – „il faut cultiver notre jardin“ (we must cultivate our garden) – redefines human security as the condition of being without as well as with care. (207-208)

In maintaining the security (Sicherheit) of bare life, the state is regarded as a biopolitical machine – a cold mechanism or clockwork no longer in need of God. In the place of the mechanical state, Fichte posits the nation, whose purpose exceeds security as safety and protection by allowing transindividual freedom to serve as security (Pfand) through adversity for the reward of posterity. For this reason, the antistatist nature of Fichte’s bold nationalism is no contraditction. All the same, the nation, too, so portrayed, engages in a biopolitical theory, not as a mechanical regime over life but as a living organism in its own right. Fichte’s now notorious promotion of Germanness – the originality and uniqueness of its language and culture, blood and soil – readily assumes the horrific shape of racism, but only with the gradual conflation of state and nation, a conflation that Fichte’s addresses certainly do not discourage. It is at this point, that the state’s promise of security becomes coupled with the ultimately thanatopolitical drive of a nation pathologically intent on preserving its dangerously well-constructed sense of purity. Around 1800, the dfeat at the hands of the Revolutionary Army may be reconfigured as an opportunity, yet this oppostunity, like any chance, cannot master its eventual effects. (237)

Michelet’s inaugurating, fear-provoking view from the shore (La mer vue du rivage) stresses the division into “two worlds”: the one where human life can be sustained and the other where itc annot. To face the sea is to contemplate demise, including one’s own possible absorption into the infinitude of breathlessness. (240)

As a prehistorical zone, the sea is also an origin or maternal source of history—la mer est la mère. The prehistorical is the condition of possibility of the historical. Its formidable power is inescapable. Lionel Gossman’s reflections on Michelet’s naturalist endeavors are particularly evocative in this regard: “History, for Michelet, is … nothing less than the never-ending struggle against the ancien régime of nature, the process by which nature, woman, and the past in their confusing multitude of unstable, constantly varying forms, are progressively transformed from capricious mistresses of human destiny into trained assistants in the creation of a specifically human order.” (241)

Whereas Michelet lamented the dreadful boundlessness of the sea and struggled in vain to secure his and his nation’s identity, Friedrich Nietzsche celebrated beside the watery abyss, gaily dancing at God’s funeral and at the Self’s wake. Although Nietzsche would concede the existence of some instinct of self-preservation, he would view it as one of any number of consequences to a more profound instinct: the notorious “will to power.” This will lies deeper than the individual self and is an expression of life itself: namely, life’s will to expand, to explode any and all determinations, any and all fixed forms, even or especially when life destroys itself in the process. “The wish to preserve oneself is the symptom of a condition of distress, of a limitation of the really fundamental instinct of life, which aims at the expansion of power, and wishing for that [in diesem Willen], frequently risks and even sacrifices self-preservation.” (244-245)

For Nietzsche, the thesis of self-overcoming entails that any measure of self-preservation must be provisional, lest it become a means of devitalizing self-paralysis. The provisionality of preservation wards off complacency, lethargy, and therefore vulnerability. Life is the perpetual striving to avoid being no longer. One may relate this tendency to the capacity for immanent transcendence, to the human potential to detach from the experiential world to which mankind nevertheless belongs. This freedom from natural restrictions is what Max Scheler defined as man’s “world-openness” (Weltoffenheit), a capacity for emancipation from instinctual drives and environmental circumstances. For Scheler, this fundamentally human condition is at once a source of transcendent possibility and pure anxiety. In Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos (Man’s Place in Nature, 1928), Scheler unfolds a “philosophical anthropology” that considers the various travails of modernity—isolation, mechanization, social disintegration, and so forth—as a fundamental lack of orientation, of man not knowing his “position in the cosmos.”35 Yet this problem of localization becomes the source for human ingenuity, the very precondition for human creativity. (255)

Constituted by Being, the essence of technology names yet another challenge by means of which human being becomes a challenge to itself. By pursuing the question concerning tehcnology, thinking expedites Being’s disclosure, a „bringing-forth“ (Hervor-bringen) out of concealment into unconcealment. In the Technology essay, Heidegger focuses on the term Entbergen, a word that literally means „to dig up“, conjuring quasi-romantic scenes of mining. The verb bergen means „to rescue“, „to harbor“, and therefore also „to secure in hiding“. Thus, the „unconcealment“ that is truth (aletheia) is a kind of „de-securing“ (Ent-bergen): letting something burst forth from its fixed or secured hiding into revelation. (263)

While Heidegger views security as impeding thought’s piety, it is elsewhere clear that some idea of security may contribute to authentic concern. In other words, Heidegger appears to inherit the dynamic ambivalence associated with the word’s complex semantic career. On the one hand, there is the cold distance of Lucretian security, which describes the theoretical position that objectifies all experience in a resolutely scientific, calculating, and ultimately nonphilosophical (unthinking) manner. For Heidegger, this metaphysical standpoint dubiously consigns the subject to a position out of the world to which he nonetheless belongs. On the other hand, the „paths of thinking“ (Denkwege) seem to be lined with the courageous asphalt that paves the way and prevents a fall into inauthenticity. (263)

[…] Heidegger is able to apply Augustine’s series of reflections to construct an entire theory of care that will subsequently ground his reshaping of phenomenological inquiry. In brief, cura names for Heidegger the motivating force that compels human life in one of two directions: either toward the „delight“ (delectatio) that defines self-possession in God; or toward the „temptation“ (tentatio) that works against this goal by submerging the self back into the world. If cura leads to delight, the result is „continence“ (continentia), a coming to rest in the One that is God; but if cura leads to temptation, the result is „dispersal“ (defluxus) into the multiplicity of worldly experience. […] The primary philosophical problem with this kind of evaluation is that it gives priority to a condition of security, insofar as Augustine himself explicitly defines delight as „the end of concern“ (finis curae). For Heidegger, security of this nature presupposes a path that inauthentically circumvents the difficulties and troubless of life. (265-266)

The careful attendance to the facticity of existence prevents thinking from evading the conditions of „this very life“, ista vita. In Heidegger’s fundamental reversal, cura counters everything that would have us fall away from our fallenness. Throughout Being and Time, the attraction of tranquility is tantamount to inauthenticity, insofar as it causes us to neglect the fallen condition of our existence. As Heidegger explains, this Verfallenheit is decidedly not a „’fall’ from a purer and higher ’primal state’ [Urstand]“ but rather the state of the only life we have. His critique of security, therefore, is always specifically a critique of securitas as the „removal of care“, which he implicitly distinguishes from asphaleia as the „prevention of falling“ or, more specifically, as the „prevention of falling from our fallenness.“ Evading our constitution in time begins with the translation from Greek to Latin. (267-268)

For Heidegger, Saturn’s judgment is therefore truly an Urteil, a decision that maintains and exacerbates what Friedrich Hölderlin called the „primal split“ or Urtheilung: the converged divergence of corporeal sensibility and spiritual rationality that orients how human existence comes to take place. Care alone holds the polarities together, like a bridge that crosses an otherwies uncrossable river. As a result, any substantial, permanent, transcendent subject – like the one Descartes dreamed of against radical doubt – is shown not to rest on an „unshakeable foundation“ (the fundamentum inconcussum of the Meditations) but rather upon the soft humus into which it inevitably sinks. (269)

Despite the vast, unbridgeable distances between their ideological commitments and philosophical premises, every time one of these thinkers, Schmitt included, betrays to greater or lesser degree an adherence to a certain vitalist, Nietzschean tradition as articulated by Weber, one that protests the gross quantification of human life and the bureaucratization of human relations, in brief, one that restists the reduction of experience to technological calculability. With slight modification, they would all agree with Weber’s assessment of the times as being enslaved to the „might cosmos of the modern economic order,“ which is a mechanism of its own making. (279)

WITHOUT CARE NO ONE can be secure. This is true for security as well as for safety. Yet, the requirement of care does not mean that the concern must fall solely to the one to be secured. Because threats—particlarly those that jeopardize life itself—can often overwhelm the wherewithal of a single subject, it is common to appeal to institutions and agencies that are better equipped and therefore in a more advantageous position to take care of individuals. The secured subject relinquishes the responsibility of care by submitting to a higher authority, by obeying the will of a collective, or simply by trusting technology. A sovereign state, which occupies a privileged place above the populace, can arguably foresee and identify threats better than others. The structure that defines this relation between the one securing and the one secured differs little from that which allows gadgets, devices, and sensors to catch what human senses might miss. In both cases, individual care is relegated to persons or machines that are designed, technologically or ideologically, for accuracy. The provision of security, then, is not only an act of care but also an expression of power. (284)

The state that cares only for itself can never provide security for anyone or for anything other than itself. Its security program exclusively removes the concerns that threaten its own legitimacy and power. Its effects, therefore, are to spread insecurity among the populace. (287)

To be secure requires the capacity to envision as many specific threats as possible. One’s imaginative faculty—the Einbildungskraft—must be fully engaged; it must be capable of picturing what could happen, of internally producing an image (Bild), regardless of likelihood. In order to be safe, one must have recourse to the imagination, one must be able to foresee all potential (not yet actual) events—a delusional enterprise, since the event qua event is unforeseeable. It is precisely this reasoning that motivated the now famous judgment proclaimed by the United States’ 9/11 Commission Report, namely that the governmental intelligence agencies in charge of predicting attacks were to blame for a “failure of the imagination.” (295-296)

A situation of heightened security, in whatever form, stands to be unnerving insofar as it calls to mind the lurking dangers and the potential losses that continue to pose a threat. It serves as a reminder that there are significant risks that may at any point impinge upon our existence or upset our calculations. This disquieting consequence for the subject of security is unavoidable. Modes of protection invariably conjure what is being warded off. (296)

By issuing endless warnings, the state apparatus perpetuates the Hobbesian contract that purchases security with individual freedom. (297)

However, not every warning that Eldagsen cites promotes complacency or immobility. At times, albeit rarely, the “nanny state” (as Eldagsen’s Australian friends characterize their country) expects you to unbuckle yourself and leap into live action. In these special cases, the general advice to avoid or ward off danger is replaced by proactive instructions. To return to the coast off Sydney, we follow other references suggesting that, for the observer, staying on the shore would hardly offer relief. (297)

Jacques Rancière “Figures of History”

January 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Rancière, Jacques 2014. Figures of History. Cambridge; Malden: Polity Press.

Part 2 – Senses and figures of history
History is first an anthology of what is worthy of being memorialized. Not necessarily what was, and what witnesses testify to, but what deserves to be focused on, meditated upon, imitated, because of its greatness. Legends offer such a brand of history as much as chronicles do, and Homer more than Thucydides. No matter what has been claimed, it is not events that lie at the heart of this kind of history, but examples. (61)

Examples of fortune and misfortune, of virtue and vice. Not that far removed, in a sense, from the concern of the new history with moments and gestures that signal a way of occupying a world. Only, memorial-history doesn’t propose reading the sense of a world through that world’s signs. It proposes examples to imitate. This supposes a continuity between the scene that is worthy of being imitated and the act of imitating in its double sense: the work of the painter and the lesson drawn by the involved spectator. (62)

History secondly means a story. In a painting, a specific moment, significant for the action, commands attention. The movements of the characters converge on this central point or reflect its effect right to the outer edges of the scene. Eyes stare at it, outstretched arms direct us to it, faces broadcast its emotion, mimed conversations comment on its significance. In short, the painting itself is a story – that is, an arrangement of actions, a meaningful fable endowed with appropriate means of expression. (63)

In the meantime, a third type of history was to secure its dominion by destroying the harmony between the expressive disposition of bodies over a canvas and the effect of an exemplary grandeur communicated by the scene. This is History as an ontological power in which any ‘story’ – any represented example and any linked action – finds itself included. History as a specific mode of time, a way in which time itself is made the principle behind sequences of events and their significance. History as movement directed towards achievement of some kind, defining conditions and tasks of the moment and promises of the future, but also threats for anyone who gets the sequence of conditions and promises wrong; like the common destiny that men make for themselves but that they only make to a certain extent, since it constantly eludes them and its promises are constantly reversed as catastrophes. (66)

[…] as a matter of principle, no action or figure can ever be adequate to the sense of its movement. The distinctive feature of this form of History is that none of its scenes or figures is ever equal to it. (67)

History with a capital H is not just the power of sense to exceed action which is turned upside-down as a demonstration of non-sense, referring form to the material from which it emerges and to the gesture that pulls it from that material. History is not just the saturnine power that devours all individuality. It is also the new fabric in which each and every person’s perceptions and sensations are captured. Historical time is not just the time of great collective destinies. It is the time where anyone and anything at all make history and bear witness to history. (68-69)

Anthology of examples; arrangement of fables; historial power of necessary, common destiny; historicized fabric of the sensible. Four different types of ‘history’, at least, come together or come apart, contrast or interlace, variously reshaping the relationships between pictorial genres and the powers of figuration. (71)

But the opposite of the representational system is not the unrepresentable. The system is not, in fact, based on the sole imperative to imitate and make the image like the model. It is based on two fundamental propositions. One defines the relationships between what is represented and the forms its representation takes; the other defines the relationship between those forms and the material in which they are executed. The first rule is one of differentiation: a specific style and form are suited to a given subject – the noble style of tragedy, the epic or history painting for kings, the familiar colour of comedy or of genre painting for the little people. The second rule, on the contrary, is one of in-difference: the general laws of epresentation apply equally no matter what the material medium used in the representation, whether it be language, painted canvas or sculpted stone. (73)

The first poetics, which we might call abstract symbolist, deals the most radically with the collapse of the representational world as a whole and settles on art the historic task of replacing that world with an equivalent order: an order that produces a system of actions equivalent to the old order of mimesisand plays a role in the community equivalent to the banished vanities of representation. It contrasts the imitation of things or beings with the exact expression of the relationships that link them, and with the outline of the ‘rhythms of the idea’ that are able to serve as a foundation for a new ritual, sealing the duty that links the ‘multiple action’ of men. (75-76)

The second poetics is quite specifically dedicated to revoking the principle of the indifference of matter. It identifies the power of the work of art and of history as a bringing to light of the capacity for form and idea immanent in all matter. This poetics of nature, as ‘unconscious poem’ (Schelling), locates the work of art within the continuous movement by which matter already takes form, sketches its own idea in the folds of the mineral or the prints of the fossil and rises to ever higher forms of selfexpression and self-symbolization. Let’s agree to call this poetics, whose features are set out in the theoretical texts of Auguste Schlegel and the ‘naturalist’ works of Michelet, expressionist symbolist. (76)

[…] this poetics establishes one of the main processes by means of which the art of the twentieth century was to ‘catch up with history’ – namely, the play of metamorphoses through which what is represented, matter and form, change places and exchange their powers. (77)

The third poetics emphasizes the destruction of the relationship between form and subject. It not only plays on the equality of all those represented but, more broadly, on the multiple forms that the de-subordination of figures to the hierarchy of subjects and dispositions may take. (77)

Let’s agree to call this poetics (sur)realist to indicate the following: ‘realism’ is not a return to the triviality of real things as opposed to the conventions of representation. It is the total system of possible variations of the indicators and values of reality, of forms of connecting and disconnecting figures and stories that their destruction makes possible. (78)

The age of History, then, is not the age of a kind of painting that is driven by world catastrophe, and by its own movement, towards rarefaction and aphasia. It is rather the age of the proliferation of senses of history and the metamorphoses that allow the interplay of these to be staged. (79)

If every object immediately has the potential to become subject, form or material, this is not only, as has sometimes been suggested a bit too hastily in the age of Pop, because of its ‘documentary’ value, which turns it into a vehicle of a critical function. It is because, in the age of history, every object leads a double life, holds a potential for historicity that is at the very heart of its nature as an ordinary perceptual object. History as the sensible fabric of things is doubled by history as fate-dealing power. Freeing historyas-example and (hi)story-as-composition from their subjection to representation, it multiplies the figurative possibilities which all forms of defiguration then enjoy. And this multiplication supports the various forms of historicization of art, making compossible, or co-existent, two ‘fates for art’: the constructivist-unanimist project of ‘transforming the whole world into one gigantic work of art’ (Schwitters), but also its apparent opposite – the critical project of an art that eliminates its own lie in order to speak truthfully about the lie and the violence of the society that produces it. (80-81)

The completion and selfelimination of art go together, because it is the very particularity of history as a fate-dealing power that, in it, any existing form aims for a completion that is identical to its own elimination. And the age of History also confers upon all formless matter, just as it does on all established writing, the possibility of being turned into an element in the play of forms. The age of the anti-representation is not the age of the unrepresentable. It is the age of high realism. (81)