revista fevereiro - "política, teoria, cultura"

   POLÍTICATEORIACULTURA                                                                                                    ISSN 2236-2037


Alexandre de Oliveira Torres Carrasco 1

The limits of politics: Merleau-Ponty and Lefort. On the rights of men and European pax: notes and drafts



I fly where no one else can - I live in minimum


I can hear the slightest gasp – I sniff the


and capture
the prey
in the dark.

“Own”, Orides Fontela


When we think of the obvious relationship between Merleau-Ponty and Claude Lefort, it becomes possible to imagine a passageway, a frontier that gives us an overview of the changes regarding the political thinking that have taken place in Europe - as well as the rest of the world - over the last two and a half centuries, by connecting a more general problem to an apparently objective obstacle. Thus, initially, what we might call Merleau-Ponty’s anticipation of the end of an intellectual, practical and theoretical cycle, would be, as expected, the exhaustion of the philosophy of history as the (almost) exclusive key to the understanding (as well as the self-understanding) of the European experience, and all the speculative implications such assumption conveys. We can add our objective obstacle - the so-called “real” blocking (our second element) of revolutionary politics after 1945- to that equation. So it is not a coincidence that we see the rights of men at the beginning and end of this broad cycle, from the French revolution to the critique of totalitarianism in the East.

This paper is guided by the idea that Merleau Ponty’s obsolete book Adventures of the Dialectic 2 - a book written in a lost language and on a theme cursed by immediate posterity (the ill-fated dialectic and its desire to “totalize” everything) - is not only an anticipation of the beginning of structuralism in French philosophy but also a symptom (reflected in the back of mirror, so to speak, a symptom of French ideology itself, spinning around like it usually does) of a new icon that takes place in the background of the concrete change of the material march of the world - cause and effect of the remarkable achievements of the post-World War -, something that could be called the construction of a new European pax. And it would also be worth asking - perhaps not here - about the importance of European pax to the regular exercise of world power, one that was carefully built - not by chance -, after the Thirty Years’ War, a war we could understand as a war between states overlapping a widespread civil war between classes.

Thus, there is a profound intuition in the change of the nexus of narrative of what was called “history,” one of the most expensive myths of the West, Levis-Strauss versus Sartre. Or even better, a deep insight into the destinies of the philosophy of history, a genre that paradoxically - et pour cause - has historically run out, and Merleau-Ponty’s understanding such phenomenon as the current absence or failure of such nexus, the nexus behind the philosophy of history. It is not by chance that the confirmation of the existence of such nexus will become, so to speak, the remarkable nexus of Merleau-Ponty’s book.

At the end of his preface to Adventures lies the obituary of an era: “In concluding our work, we try to bring this liquidation of the revolutionary dialectic to its conclusion.”3 It is worth remembering that, in short, the epilogue of this same adventure revolves around the impossibility of placing the revolution in an ideal present of the revolution itself, which leads us to the more serious problem of wondering how much of a “real” revolution was there in past revolutions. The revolution as a mystical ideal or spiritual honor reference, which sooths resentments and calms down our neuroses, is, in turn, a current symptom of our time (and its exhaustion) and not of the age of revolutions. So, when we now imagine past revolutions, its most transparent and ideal moment in actual history would - hypothetically - take place by the perfect syncing - both from the factual as well as speculative point of view – of revolution - as an ideal of itself -, history and class struggles, all in sync with a factual experience. This ideal, when one thinks of it a posteriori, is also the subject matter called into question by Merelau-Ponty’s book. Daniel Guérin’s book will predictably be sparred for the sake of Merleau-Ponty’s argument. Daniel Guérin understands there were two revolutions within the French Revolution: one of the bourgeoisie and one of the Bras Nus, which happened in two distinct “time frames” but shared the same timetable. Starting from Guérin's book, the scope of Merleau-Ponty’s objections goes much further.4

Well, this apparent blocking - a symptom of our time, which transforms the desire for revolution into the ghost (or fantasy) of the revolution -, comes clearly from what we might call the infinite evil of understanding of being involved in the march of historical reason. Merleau-Ponty distances himself from the philosophy of history making several speculative precautions.

Let's go back to the preface to the Adventures. The eradication of the revolutionary dialectic of which he speaks follows a very precise path. It is not only the emergence of subjectivity that tarnishes the historical march of its anonymous and algebraic purity, capturing from the latter the privilege of an emerging sense. Subjectivity has always been present; otherwise there would be no phenomenology in Hegel. It is, therefore, a new type of subjectivity. It is not the one from the Hegelian phenomenology though, but that of the Kierkegaardian anguish, the best dramatic figuration of the infinite evil of understanding. The frivolous subjectivity of each individual, this random “little me” begins to operate in a critical manner and aims at “clarifying” things, something the spirit would only find after Minerva’s flight. Kierkegaard against Hegel, the philosophical crumbs against the great logic. This random “little me”, which does not fit into the algebra of history, would no longer be, after all, a mere epiphenomenon.

Well, the emergence of subjectivity in history and politics, according to the enlightening key to the preface, “experience as interpreted” (“In the crucible of events we become aware of what is not acceptable to us, and it is this experience as interpreted that becomes both thesis and philosophy. We are thus allowed to report our experience frankly with all its false starts, its omissions, its disparities, and with the possibility of revisions at a later date.”5 ) understands history works very similarly, if it not in the identical manner of subjectivity itself (with both its false starts and its disparities). Merleau Ponty’s exhortation to “frankly” report it, its winding path, has an unsuspected methodological nature: it is necessary to recognize that history deceives itself, for it also derails. There is an even more acute assumption behind all of this from which the emergence of this new subjectivity form in historical calculus can also be understood as a symptom: the separation between means and ends in the course of history - as we see in Merleau-Ponty - is yet another measure to disrupt, in an indelible manner, the deception of reason, whose deepest meaning is to arrange means and ends regardless the scope of subjective experience. Thus there is a return to politics prior to reason. The conceptual and stylistic effort of the preface to the Adventures is to present, as a thesis - a rather convincing one we must say - how “understanding” and “reason”, according to the classical separation of the philosophy of history, no longer operate in such a way as to be the strict cut of the historical experience. There is a permanent juxtaposition of understanding to reason, and of reason to understanding, whose theoretical meaning cannot be other than that reason has run out before it becomes a reality, for it no longer, deceptively or not, totalizes anything. The non-totalization of historical reason is the opposite of the law: subjectivity in a new historical system. Such exhaustion is responsible for bringing politics to the forefront, policy as a contingent articulation (the dialectical nexus is missing, because it lacks the deception without even being aware of it, but in the end, not knowing it did not matter) between means and ends, which restores the political problem. As early as 1955 Merleau-Ponty warned that this was not the end of history, and used a classical Marxist claim to overcome any obstacle: the relationship between prehistory and history.6 The fact is that this was not the end of history, but the end of one history, the end of an intellectual experiment that, to a greater or lesser extent, guided both world as well as the European political thought.


“Politics is never the encounter between conscience and individual happenings, nor is it ever the simple application of a philosophy of history. Politics is never able to see the whole directly. It is always aiming at the incomplete synthesis, a given cycle of time, or a group of problems. It is not pure morality, nor is it a chapter in a universal history which has already been written. Rather it is an action in the process of self-invention.”7

In the “process of self-invention”, the key idea of ​​the permanently contingent relation between means and ends follows its most obvious corollary: politics has an inescapable subjective dimension, detached from any strict “historical” or “historicist” determinism. Subjectivity, as Merleau-Ponty will later say, is not and cannot be held hostage to the algebra of history, which means that neither can history.

On the other hand, but for the same purpose, it is worth noting that from the point of view of the genre of Merleau-Ponty’s book - the adventure novel - this very noble genre - had also expired without even knowing it. It is true that the good novel must start ignoring its own form so it can later investigate it (the best ones worked like this). All were familiar, however, to the idea that the nexus of the novel, the path of the heroine or the hero, would not come from a mere “abstraction” of reality, but would be based on a very real abstraction. The world, it was believed, could be reflected in a mirror. It turns out that, from the great narrative of fiction of the nineteenth century, there are only the metalanguage games left, and, by extension, the restoration of literature as salon fun, or something close to it. It is not without reason that the “sum” of such reasonings partially retraces Sartre's diagnosis of “What is literature?”, a book praised by Merleau-Ponty in Adventures, about giving literature back to “specialists,” (the restoration of literature after 1848), a clear sign of both the end of the adventure as well as the end of the novel.8 If we are allowed to be eccentric here, Proust is the one who will give us a hint of this idea at one of the volumes of In Search of Lost Time. The amount of time that still had to be lost, and its non-objective counterpart, adventure, a detour from efficiency, is perhaps the best and most serious illusion of the book’s narrator. Even more so when this remarkable romantic substance - the lost and the rediscovered, the adrift steps of Julien Sorel or Lucien de Rubempré, the childhood sweetheart, the innocence that puts education in perspective, the home rediscovered in the metropolis. The time of the narrative - this non-object illustrated by sentimental examples - already slips through the fingers. The end of the adventure it is a key theme of the end of the novel, just like the disappearance of Albertine. Only the leftovers of adventure, on a critical (and sentimental) basis, can still recover that romantic and literary tone that would, according to Proust, make Balzac’s literature unsurpassable:

“All these so pleasant moments which nothing would ever restore to me again, I cannot indeed say that what made me feel the loss of them was despair. To feel despair, we must still be attached to that life which could end only in disaster. I had been in despair at Balbec when I saw the day break and realized that none of the days to come could ever be a happy day for me, I had remained fairly selfish since then, but the self to which I was now attached, the self which constituted those vital reserves that were set in action by the instinct of self-preservation, this self was no longer alive; when I thought of my strength, of my vital force, of the best elements in myself, I thought of a certain treasure which I had possessed (which I had been alone in possessing since other people could not know exactly the sentiment, concealed in myself, which it had inspired in me) and which no one could ever again take from me since I possessed it no longer.”9

We speak at last of that which only arises through its own absence, of which we have but the bitter late consciousness, repeating this infamous word, and whose same consciousness does not bring back the object, because there is no more object left to take. It is only the loss of the object that makes it partially possible to recognize such loss, thus subverting the very meaning of consciousness. Hence here lies the bitter aspect of this reunion. And let us make it clear: there is resemblance to the ill-fated flight of Minerva after the realization of the spirit. Even if Minerva had seen something - could she still fly - she would not be able to understand it. These are also the adventures of the dialectic to a great extent.

Let’s go back. The change in the nexus of narrative, as we call it, appears in Merleau-Ponty's book in the following speculative theorem: it is the fall - to be explained- of reason onto the soil of understanding that produces the reflux of identity – a mere identity - in the tonus of the dialectical narrative. This will be the mark of the exhaustion of a long cycle, which we announce with great fanfare.

This is the common ground of the frontier we spoke of, a hypothesis we have suggested and explained. Since every border is a mark of passageway - end and beginning of a real or imaginary passageway onto the territory of others -, it revolves around a certain exhaustion of the philosophy of history, or at least of a certain philosophy of history, in the strong and speculative sense, responsible for the European experience (to some extent elevated to the condition of world experience) from the nineteenth century on (starting in the end of the eighteenth century).

And before we go any further, what would all this mean? It means that history – an anonymous and collective experience - and its narrative would be set in motion by something universal represented by class - hence a universal class - that denies itself, and as if this movement of class and denial, which makes it possible for class to simultaneously move within society, were capable of capturing the core meaning of that same experience, becoming its own logic of meaning. The sense of history and its less mediated counterpart – politics - would only operate through that syntax/semantics core. It would be the algebra of history that would present the key to the political meaning of experience, which in turn would mean that the secret of what politics projects as possible (and we are not talking about the simplistic political of the possible but of the possible that politics itself presents as such) is given to us by the march of history, according to the narrative of the philosophy of history. The ends would have the permanent gift of redeeming the means, and the belief in the deception of reason would protect us from blind action, which would be exclusively guided by morals. Experience, in a strong sense, would be articulated by means of the speculative knot to unite class and denial itself in person, in order to produce the famous movement of the denial of denial, the throbbing formula of Hegelian geometry. We used to call it reason (as opposed to understanding) and its corollary informed us that the wounds of the spirit would be healed without leaving scars.

In order to understand the meaning of this passageway, the frontier between two political thinkers, which we also intend to describe, we would have to understand it as the unfolding of two unequal and combined developments - and we excuse ourselves for being so attached to the past -, that is: the exhaustion of the philosophy of history and the rise of a new political thinking.

The first concerns the diagnosis of Merleau-Ponty in his Adventures. Such diagnosis was still made in the language of the philosophy of history. The second concerns Lefort's infamous article on how human rights constitute a policy, which would, cum grano salis, represent the prehistory of Lefort’s position specifically regarding the rights of men, to Marxism in general, and, of course, to politics in its proper sense. Lefort's critique is based on another famous text by Karl Marx's, On the Jewish question.10

So our intention here is not to present a research project about the obvious affiliation of Claude Lefort with Merlau-Ponty's political thought. Our intention is to discuss the way in which Merleau-Ponty had already stated the classical question of the “limits” of history and the philosophy of history through a kind of eccentric and yet immanent speculation. When faced with the limits of the dialectic, Lefort’s understanding of the rehabilitation of politics as struggle, violence and force, partly displaced from the (no longer existing) absolute nexus of the philosophy of history, stems from Merleau-Ponty’s outlook on the subject. If we take into account the fact that Merleau-Ponty had already undertaken the previous work of emptying the pretensions of reason, we understand how it becomes possible to re-dimension the political experience through a sharper understanding. The passageway of which we speak can be summarized in the following checkpoint - in times when immigration restrictions make it necessary to always explicitly authorize transit -: what Merleau-Ponty describes as the “external” limits of the dialectic, by showing a precise handling of understanding and reason, Lefort explains with non-dialectical instruments.

There is nothing new to be said regarding the theoretical affiliation between Lefort and Merleau-Ponty. There is also nothing new to be said about both the scope and the relevance of Lefort’s criticism of Marx (especially regarding his political criticism). The false premise would lie here: the more general and ancestral assumption of Lefort’s movement stems from a both theoretical and practical realization, on Merleau-Ponty's part, of the scope and limits of the dialectic, made in sort of “dialectical” terms (even if not strictly formal terms, in the sense of a “dialectical logic”). In the passageway from Merleau-Ponty to Lefort, the properly dialectical dimension is emptied to the extent that once the critical sense of understanding has been liberated, so to speak, as the outer boundary of the dialectical movement that no longer totalizes things; politics becomes the forgetting of reason. It is the emergence of the political as a mere “action that is invented.” This would make everything whole: from the emergence of the political and the political institution in Lefort, and from the decline of history (and the philosophy of history) in Merleau-Ponty. The political becomes the syntax of understanding when reason abandons the prose of the world.

Let us take a look at the following excerpt:

“What, with regard to this history, does the modern 'political revolution' signify? Not the separation of power and right, for such a separation was essential to the monarchical state. Rather, it signifies a phenomenon of disincorporation of power and disincorporation of right which accompanies the disappearance of 'the king's body', in which the community was embodied and justice mediated; and, by the same token, it signifies a phenomenon of disincorporation of society whose identity, though already figured in the nation, had not yet been separated from the person of the monarch.
Instead of speaking of ‘political emancipation’ as though it were a moment of political illusion, it would be better to examine the unprecedented event constituted by the separation of power and right — or, if we have fully appreciated what is involved in right, the simultaneous separation of the principle of power, the principle of law and the principle of knowledge”11 .

The disincorporation of which Lefort speaks is not merely an abstraction, equally modern as both experience and instrument, which can be traced back to Montaigne, although one can understand the abstraction of which we speak as an assumption of the disincorporation referred to above. Rather, it is a critical device of a different nature that would launch political modernity, so to speak, and which can be understood as the effect of a long-term process of making it possible to “incorporate” the first abstraction of the life of power and of political experience. In spite of Lefort’s flirting with Tocqueville's narrative (perhaps more than just flirting), the execution of Louis XVI (a good king, by the way) can serve as a symbol of enormous rhetorical power, which in modern times becomes a synonym of the political: the space of the political as well as the space of politics have no body. It is not simply that they do not have a body; the more important aspect is the fact they do not need one. The political act of taking the glass of power is not equivalent to changing it. It forges the emergence of modern political consciousness that power, politics, and everything political do not have a body, even if there is the fantasy of a body whose criticism must ensure that it does not belong to them in the proper sense. In the revolutionary process, the body that is discovered is the private body. So it does not seem so unusual that in the absence of the king's body, in the case of the French Revolution, the Committee of Public Safety will eventually take on space, and for a moment, all of the space available for the exercise of power, but it did not last because it did not belong to such space in its proper sense. The critical meaning of Lefort’s position regarding the revolution is that it is not exactly the moment of the emergence of “popular power” or even of class struggles, which he acknowledges to exist; the revolution is clearly speculative. Be it in the shape of popular power, the new figure of sovereignty in modern political experience, or class struggles, the fact is that modern political experience brings the disincorporation of power. So, the characteristic of the revolution would be the discovery of political space as an empty space. It is no longer the unprecedented mobility of classes that crystallizes modern experience and, by extension, modern political experience, one of the ways of characterizing the denial of the denial. It is the recognition of the lack of necessity of the political action and thought and the action that comes from understanding this. From there on, the seizure of power is no guarantee of its stability (it does not go back to the now fetishistic body of power, nor the lost naiveté of the subjects). The exercise of politics means accepting that there is always the risk of acting without foundation, without substance. This is one of the most evident corollaries of the disincorporation of politics (or the “all politics is opinion”, of the Adventures of the Dialectic). In the optimistic version, this process leads the subject back to his own body. More than that, it gives back the subjects the political sense of their own bodies, and it seems to us that based on that it is also possible to praise and defend civil society and human rights above all: the body. If we assume the body as something intangible and inalienable of each individual - a modern invention-, it is then also an intangible and inalienable political good. It is the body that moves into the space of power and occupies it, though always temporally, but because it belongs to no one but to each individual, it does not offer itself to the space of power, to the political space. It is my body that puts emptiness into the sovereign's body. It is not by chance that the problem of revolutionary violence is closely linked to the understanding of human rights as politics. This process - from abstraction to disincorporation – in the heart of politics produces the most remarkable effect: by separating power, law and knowledge, the necessary conditions are created for the democratic experience, the optimal face of modern political experience. It is not, after all, the discussion of formalisms that would define a form of government. These are the substantial conditions for democratic action: each individual has their own body. Politics may move it, but the body does not subsume to it, is not totalized by it. From Montaigne's modern skepticism to the French revolution, however, we would still have to understand the illustrated cynicism of Rameau's Nephew, side effect of the same process, and something that could be understood not only as the comic - and to some extent subjective - effect of modern abstraction, but as a disincorporation of the sovereign's power in manners and customs. But the cynical internalization of the absence of the substance of power and the equally cynical assumption that there are only interests to be addressed can produce a comic setback, a widespread will of parody, common good that is a joke. And so if one expresses his/her opinion - the common currency of the animal life of the spirit - to get the body that better suits him/her – He/She is a cynic after all - where would the mere disincorporation of power lead him/her? There are certainly totalitarianisms and populisms out there to justify such understanding - the evil genius comes before the fetishism of critique of criticism, let us not forget that. However, couldn’t we suspect that the exception to democratic experience is not its rule, that disincorporation is of a moral nature for an increasingly administrated society, that is, one that holds and controls more and more bodies?


Let us return to Merleau-Ponty, now setting the limits of dialectic straight. In the famous ending of Adventures of the Dialectic, Merleau-Ponty apologizes for what he had once named attentisme marxiste. He commented on the classic theme of violence (Humanism and terror12 ) and its political unfolding and consequences. What exactly was Merleau-Ponty’s path from 1947 to 1955? He thought on how to deal with and understand a legacy tradition, the dialectical tradition, or at least a certain dialectical tradition, which bears a special constellation of classical themes, such as the philosophy of history, and its political corollary, namely the universal class and its politics, the logic of history and its algebra, and, above all, the most “external” theme of revolutionary violence (the submission of the body, his and others’, to the logic of history). And since this is a matter of dialectic, the most external problem becomes the central problem: how to deal with the suspicion of the exhaustion of both the philosophy of history and dialectic, with respect to what revolves around it and around history as well, such as violence itself? Merleau-Ponty's strategy may seem eccentric, even for dialectical developments, but it is not unmotivated. Violence ties two essential knots for Merleau-Ponty’s reflection: body and subjectivity. How much of history can legitimately violate and overwhelm a living body, and the subjectivity substitutes it? Such question (whether the debate between Hegel and Kierkegaard, or the policy of the post-68 intellectuals) is already present in Merleau-Ponty. The novelty of bringing back the theme of revolutionary violence in Adventures of the Dialectic would be that, based on the latest analysis, this record would no longer be a direct record of history and philosophy of history, either because these themes have lost their “first degree realism” or because political mediations of a different nature sometimes have lead to the possible algebra of history. To sum up, after the war, there was no one sufficiently aware that could, after the first uproar, bet all his or her chips on a revolution right after it ended. European pax was already under way and the European Coal and Steel Community (1951)13 , the well-established beginning of the common market and currency union, and a number of other multilateral policies for Europe, which had just emerged from a fratricidal war, were there to show it. In fact, the last war of the thirty years’ war had just ended. After almost sixty years it was all that was left. The truth is the result and the result is truth.

Let us note, however, how much of the cleverness of Adventures of the Dialectic lies in the immediate (and difficult to remove) coat of paint of time and the reader risks seeing an outdated (if not defeated) debate in the book, in a dead language. In his own way, Merleau-Ponty anticipated post-1968 Europe (in spite of 1968), and saw in the “revolutionary” versus “counterrevolutionary” debate an exhaustion that would somehow take French university radicalism by surprise but without prejudice to mature trade - with cash or deferred payment - of ideas he feels indebted to.

Moving on.

Let us accept the suggestion that the theme that organizes all others is revolutionary violence and, as a result, that of political violence, which amplifies and generalizes the gap between means and ends. Let us observe the following: it is through violence that one can best understand the limits of the dialectic, based on Merleau-Ponty’s point of view. He senses the exhaustion of his own attentisme lies there. 14

Let us better explain this idea by taking the next step:

Through violence, Merleau-Ponty would understand the properly dialectical problem, the limits of operations of non-identity: violence = non-violence, especially if it is revolutionary violence, but to what extent? Now it was precisely the operations of non-identity that articulated the dialectical nexus between means and ends, so as not to make Minerva's flight worthless. Likewise, the deception of reason stems from it: the historical process would not take place through the identity safeguarded by understanding. Thus, at what point does identity transform (or revert) into a mere identity (the dialectic of the dialectic, something Merleau-Ponty calls methodological fetishism)? So, when does - speculative - violence become mere violence? Without strict formalization, it does not seem absurd to say that Merleau-Ponty saw the problem with sufficient clarity, and Adventures of the Dialectic is a dialectical book, capable of tracing the limits of the dialectic more or less by replicating the following critical finding: the proper dialectic movement is always subject to an inversion of an inversion that will still carry a dialectical “appearance” – it is the birth of the ideology of criticism, expression and part of the argument we have taken from Ruy Fausto.

Thus, we assume that Adventures of the Dialectic faces a very particular ditch, blocking the animal life of the dialectical spirit. It does so by a limit known outside the immanent movement of the concept: the crisis of understanding.15 The book will oppose the unilateralism of the ideology of criticism to the unilateralism of one's own understanding. Everything stated in the chapter on the “crisis of understanding” can be inversely read – something very dialectical. The “crisis of understanding” is not much a crisis of understanding, but a symptom of the crisis of the dialectic. The apparent dialectical problem of the beginning of the chapter - “Truth and freedom are of another order than strife and cannot subsist without strife,” - works as its opposite because it is not a question of totalizing the struggle (or mere violence) to its opposite - truth and freedom - a typically dialectical operation since it operates by subversion of the order of identity, but by recognizing the connection between one and the other as a contingency empties any historical teleology – be it dialectical or not. Merleau-Ponty takes from Weber not only the liberalism of goodwill (the pure practical reason) and the universal history from a cosmopolitan point of view, which is not even present in Weber. The most valuable lesson is the recognition that exteriority establishes truth and freedom, under the idea of struggle. Violence is behind it and will not cease to be, for there is no definitive antidote for it, but only the possibility of opposing more violence to violence.
Opposing Weber against Marx in this specific context means that instead of dialectically passing  the par excellence operation of historical algebra - we would then go back to the problem of history versus prehistory -, there is a device that recognizes the exteriority of the limits of the concept, in which even truth and freedom (be it of the spirit or not) will have their own limits recognized. That is, the concept will be limited by the contingency that determines it, and such contingency is never of a totalizing nature, which is to say that truth can succumb to barbarism. This methodological propaedeutic, however, is not immune to its own inversion (and we go back to the dialectic): when one intends to see “outside” of history against a background of opacity and contingency that is not nor can be “reduced”, it is necessary to recognize how biased one sees things, and then accept the mistake. But then, how are we supposed to deal with this portion of history and uncontrolled life, which is not about the past of forms, but about its present form? What is the nature of the present? Once again, the answer is violence. But not the violence that heals without scars, but violence known as identity: violence as mere violence - from the promise of social progress to mere barbarism. Here, we must reframe the problems of the philosophy of history, little by little establishing itself with the crisis of understanding - a key theme of the book - a new temporality of history and politics, a partial, repetitive, non cumulative temporality under the permanent risk of being or becoming mere violence. The remainder of history, which is left from the operation of history, cannot be healed. There is no enough denying able to absorb everything the movement of oneself toward oneself. There is a dormant positive in history, a current positive, in all history, an infinite evil, which is known for not being able to know it, which is avoided by contaminating all action from a wild contingency. This is partially also the place of subjectivity and politics.

“But the proximity of the present, which makes us responsible for it, nevertheless does not give us access to the thing itself. This time it is the lack of distance, which allows us to see only one side of it. Knowledge and practice confront the same infinity of historical reality, but they respond to it in opposite ways: knowledge, by multiplying views, confronts it through conclusions that are provisional, open, and justifiable (that is to say, conditional), while practice confronts it through decisions which are absolute, partial, and not subject to justification.
But how can we hold to this dualism of past and present, which is evidently not absolute? Tomorrow I will have to construct an image of that which I am now living; and I cannot, at the time when I live it, ignore it. The past that I contemplate has been lived; and as soon as I want to enter into its genesis, I cannot be unaware that it has been a present.”16

In other words, the concept has detached itself from time; the concept time is no longer the time of history. This may well be Merleau-Ponty's key to reading the history of his time, through the lens of the crisis of understanding. 17 What we might call abstraction in Weber - the way in which the ideal type is merely a purified form of the real, and as such would have no objectivity in its proper sense - would have theoretical objectivity, not practical objectivity, and produces relevant consequences. So, still speaking in dialectical language, the detachment between time and concept means that the time of the ideal type (twin time of action or individual actions from which it stems) is an empty one permeated by a specific contingency. It is not exactly according to Merleau-Ponty’s perspective, constant object of praise - from Cézanne's doubt regarding the visible and the invisible on to the hardships of the experiences of the pathologies. Here, it is a contingency that does not allow itself to be filled by any a posteriori nexus, which is not “dialected” (pushing the neologism), a contingency that remains permanently separated, affording a sense that some historical configuration made possible, so that the relative progress of history can be denied at any moment. Going further with our analysis (which we largely borrowed from Ruy Fausto's analyzes in “Dialectic, Structuralism, Pre (Post)–Structuralism”18 ), the subjective face of values ​​(meaning before being objectified into an ethos, for example) is completely separated from history, for it serves only as a partial instrument of inquiry. Here, the minor face of contingency is the irrationality that can motivate the activity of the agent, apart from any historical immanence. The permanence, so to speak, of the effectiveness of the activity (or the success of the activity of the agent of the action) stems from how it is established, from the action of the agent and without resorting to any notion of “social object” or “unconscious structure”, a constellation of meaning that would precariously tie the subjective face of the agent (the Protestant ethics) to its para-objective effect - the spirit of capitalism. If such a spirit of capitalism exists (its substance does not concern science, only its consequences), this is because the Protestant ethic can - for the relation can be factual but not necessary - contingently engender a process of effective enough accumulation to become its own “law,” which results in its own reproduction and historical transmission (the classical path from a religious ethos to a type of economic rationality).

Contrary to what may seem, the (religious) moral and subjective discipline of some Calvinist groups does not acquire in Weber any fetishistic content (seeming to be what it is not, thus indicating its most obvious record). It is a mere subjective, almost objective disposition, and it maintains a mere partial and contingent relation with the action that it generates. There is no nexus of form or content to be explicitly made between the subjective disposition and the practical effect, if not as a separate point of view, such as truth in times of crisis, for the analytical use of science. Anyway, we have reached our destination: there is no judgment in Weber. 19 Weber’s understanding is completely aseptic. Hence in his liberalism there is no optimism. His liberalism stems from a deep-rooted fidelity to a radical non-cumulative type of contingency.

“Weber is not a revolutionary. It is ok for him to write that Marxism is “the most important case of the construction of ideal types” and that all who have made use of his concepts know how fruitful they are for they have understood as meaning what Marx describes as forces. But such transposition is not compatible with either Marxian theory or practice for him. As historical materialism, Marxism is a causal explanation for economics, and Weber never sees the fundamental choice of the proletariat appear.” 20

Reducing “force” to “meaning” is far less harmful than it would seem to be in epistemology. By organizing experience through a non-objective abstract type, the Weberian re-reading of the “productive forces versus the mode of production” has its meaning attached to the measure of its abstraction. The theoretical and speculative sense of Marxism would only exist as an analytical instrument (never synthetic, due to the abstract and insurmountable gap between the activity of the agent and the given meaning, which can only be felt through the abstract purification of the real and never as its assumption). Reducing the criticism of political economy to a mere analytical instrument naturally implies that there is no judgment. Criticism cannot be “practical,” to assume that its properly speculative moment would arise from how social practice presupposes the judgment of itself, the judgment of reflection. Practice must operate through other imperatives.

Let's try to be a little clearer:

“In fact, if we think that this relationship with time is also the relation to the 'world', we can say: if the discourses of understanding (of transcendental philosophy in particular), put brackets in the world (time) to proceed to the act of founding something, the dialectic puts brackets in the act of founding something to theoretically and practically take on the world”.21

In Weber, the political discourse of understanding, the abstraction that sets the ideal type cannot use the world, which means, science cannot be “practical.” Likewise, the world as it is cannot use abstraction, unless it does so as a subjective analytical resource. Politics can only be opinion. This methodological hygiene is the key to any policy of understanding. From this theoretical arrangement one cannot “infer” politics. The existing politics is action apart from time, with or without assumption, due to the impossibility of finding the principle in the world - the foundation can only be, according to understanding, an always-partial point of view. Such time does not pass, because in this lasting present politics is always the lack of distance, and knowledge, an infinite distance.

Thus, the crisis of understanding, this radical understanding, is that it connects to the adventures of the dialectic to the extent that it is against its critical background that dialectic is set in motion. The history of dialectics must be the story of its reverse. Hence Merleau-Ponty’s care, instructed by understanding, to accompany, with no distance (avoiding the immanence of the concept and the sterile abstraction of understanding), certain dialectical developments to better photograph the limit. Photograph its exhaustion. This is how the book winds up in ultra-Bolshevism22 - strictly the least dialectical of the adventures of the dialectic, less dialectical than Weber's own understanding, however, the most present spiritual point of view of revolutionary politics.

The reframing of the problems of philosophy of history had already appeared in Merleau-Ponty’s writings in 1949: there is a conversion of ideas in his text “A Note on Machiavelli” 23 with the chapter on Weber of Adventures of the Dialectic.

“But what is original about Machiavelli is that, having laid down the source of struggle, he goes beyond it without ever forgetting it. He finds something other than antagonism in struggle itself. “While men are trying not to be afraid, they begin to make themselves feared by others; and they transfer to others the aggression that they push back from themselves, as if it were absolutely necessary to offend or be offended.” It is in the same moment that I am about to be afraid that I make others afraid; it is the same aggression that I repel and send back upon others; it is the same terror which threatens me that I spread abroad—I live my fear in the fear I inspire. But by a counter-shock, the suffering that I cause rends me along with my victim; and so cruelty is no solution but must always be begun again. There is a circuit between the self and others, a Communion of Black Saints. The evil that I do I do to myself, and in struggling against others I struggle equally against myself.”24

Merleau-Ponty’s remark does not exhaust the question, of course, but reinstates the note on Machiavelli in a different key. Power, once established, is not, and could not be, the simple exercise of violence over others - people, crowds, mobs - a kind of absolute tyranny, without rest, “pure” violence. In fact, one of the richest assumptions of Machiavelli’s Prince is the recognition that struggle sets power in motion, so no origin is not tainted by violence, contingency, and fortune. It is the other of politics that invents politics itself. More than that: the critical recognition of origin undoes the myth of origin, the imperfection of “origin”, so to speak, of politics setting its character and nature. The effort of politics and the politician - the agent of this newly created space - will always be to go to something other than its beginning, to forget about violence and arbitrariness, and to restore power in terms of power, in terms it will later invent: legitimacy, the sweet coercion. Starting from the easy “Machiavellian” reading of uses and abuses that power makes of others, we have moved on to something else. Otherness is the key to power, and what is taught to the Prince is that the more power available - and therefore, less violence - the more recognition. In Merleau-Ponty's words, the other is no longer the object of which power enjoys and disposes of, by the steady hand of the prince. The other is part of a symbolic set, in which the figuration of power, the way it appears, is recognized and judged, gives rhythm to the plot. The prince does not own the other, nor I; the prince restores all of us, even himself, in a plot of power. The more proper sense of politics, the more effective; the more the other is convinced his/her relative position a choice. Politics establishes freedom.

In this space, in which one does not forget the pure violence that generated it, but seeks to avoid it. Power, according to the political grammar that defines it, is a game of shadows. Its original sin does not demean it; on the contrary, it elevates it. But it elevates it in appearance, and it could not be otherwise. It is in this appearance that it lives and nourishes itself in order to avoid what is not mere appearance, pure violence, and pure morality.

“If there seems to be an inflexible course of events, it is only in past events. If fortune seems favorable at times, and unfavorable at others, it is because men sometimes understand and sometimes misunderstand their time; and according to the case, their success or ruin is created by the same qualities, but not by chance. Machiavelli defines virtue in our relationships with fortune, which (like the virtue in our relationships with others) as equally remote from loneliness and obedience. He points out our presence to others and our times as our sole resource, which makes us find others at the moment we give up oppressing them—that is, find success at the moment we give up chance, escape destiny at the moment we understand our times.”25


What Lefort will reshape as the founding milestone of modern political experience - the institution of power as a separate, state-party and civil society, subject and sovereign - Merleau-Ponty anticipates in these notes (Lefort’s separation is an option for understanding, and the return of Machiavelli reinforces Lefort’s key thesis: modern political experience is an experience of understanding, the politics of reason was the dream of a revolutionary summer century): power, in its modern sense, is of a symbolic nature (not only because it is the absence of body, but also because it does not want to be pure violence) and of the separated, and is enforced in the exact measure of its effectiveness. Its temporality is, if one wants, circular and precarious, therefore more subject than any other one to fortune, and there is no order of time other than that of an oblique time and some inert measure. Power suffers from an inaugural, original “depotence” - mere violence, in a sense, is weakness, not force - hence its inorganic nature, its non-corporeity, since it is the struggle and violence that sets it in motion, and are equally the mark of their separation. From there it aims to forget its origin and to be the other of its origin, to be a specific mode of seduction and, pushing to the limit, a sweet coercion. There is a covering of understanding by the own understanding of violence, mere violence, by the relative legitimacy of the violence of power. If it shows its claws, if it is mere violence and abuse, there is the risk of losing what is most dear to it, its symbolic efficiency, and the fact that it can exercise its power at a distance and exist at a distance - this is the most resounding figure of our theater of shadows. There is, therefore, violence in understanding that is not mere violence without that of reason. The crudeness of the understanding, in this case, seems more “realistic” than the violence of reason.

This temporality of power and its dynamics, the assumption of its modern and therefore current sense, is what figuratively Adventures of the dialectic sets in motion: it is understanding that sets the limits of the dialectic. But Merleau-Ponty sticks to the dialectic. Is it the last memory or record of a tradition that stands still? Like the prince of Machiavelli, Adventures of the Dialectic is not a practical book, a mere advice to the Prince - even if he takes on this mask many times. It's something else. It is a book about the decline of a world.

“These difficulties should call for a new reflection on history and politics. Perhaps, to consider more closely the game of relations of force, one would see that it is inseparable from a state of society; that conflicts of interest give only a gross and incomplete image of it. In order to define this state, it would be necessary to know the needs of men, the rights and the powers they acquired at a given time, often because their old struggles have become natural, the intolerance they manifest in relation to any change that might question them, the pressure, in the end, that they exert by their demands on the leading groups of the economy.”26


From this point on we can move on to our second development. Answering again the question: why are human rights a policy, now according to Lefort? The answer is long and well thought of. We can sum up: in the new temporal record that founds the political (our hypothesis), the well circumscribed limits of the dialectic as ideology of criticism, there are instances, areas, so to speak, that are no longer allowed to take on operations of non-identity - to be one of them. Paradoxically, the right to the body, to safeguard oneself, emerges from the juxtaposition of understanding and reason. The modern dynamics of power - its abstract separation, rightly so, according to Lefort, has a prophylactic and political sense: the abstraction of man is as follows: every man is possible according to its time and at the same time he/she is not sovereign. The disincorporation of the “man” of the political body is the critical instance of understanding that avoids the totalization that permanently tempts the sovereign. Going overboard with it provides the theory of totalitarianism, the degeneration of the disincorporation of power, the inversion that seeks to transform the other into a part of itself. Politics is also part of this game of abstraction and counter-abstraction. The “counter-abstraction” of the “left” may also not be to emancipate, quite the contrary, it may be the most radical submission, tyranny. In Lefort's critical arrangement, the justification for tyranny will always be ideological. So, assuming there is a good left-wing tyranny and a bad right-wing tyranny leads to the forgetting of the very essence of tyranny: the kidnapping of the other's body as part of the sovereign’s body, which the sovereign can use for his/her own pleasure. Hence, the critique of totalitarianism can be understood as a previous criticism of the cleavage between left and right. It is this abstract device (both abstract and related to understanding) that allows Lefort to reanalyze - in a theoretical, well understood sense - the problem of human rights, less the act of being of man, but his/her potency that must be preserved in the insubstantiality of the body.

“As is sometimes the case, the tough politician loves men and freedom more truthfully than the declared humanist. It is Machiavelli who praises Brutus, it is Dante who condemns him. In order to be sovereign in its relations with the other, power frees the obstacles between man and man, and puts transparency in our relations - as if men could not be near except by means of a sort of distance.”27

This leading idea of ​​the notion of criticism present in Lefort's classic article benefits from a dialectical type of movement, which we might call reversal, followed again by Ruy Fausto. The reversal in question here is the one that allows sublimating the body of man, the ideal of totalitarian society, into the body of the sovereign under the (ideological) justification that tyranny today will bring forth the new man of tomorrow. Such reversion produces the disincorporation of the ends of the means and transforms the means into its own end, without saying it. This is totalitarian society and its ideological substitute. As this material critical to criticism becomes rare, that is, in which the critique of the reversal between means and ends up suppressing the ends - another operation of understanding -, as the device of abstraction is “de-dialected”, Lefort loses critical power. In this context, the politics of human rights can be made a means for the most diverse and eccentric ends.

In any case, it is not without reason that Merleau-Ponty’s critique of the philosophy of history, as witnessed by the adventures of the dialectic, is allowed to re-elaborate all modern political history, retreating to the emergence of the theme on the rights of man during the French revolution and the pax process in the “end of the philosophy of history”, with the new European pax (its days might be numbered, as of right now). It would be as if one could retell the nineteenth-century European history without reaching the philosophy of history, through other paths. Once again, Tocqueville against Marx, something that does not escape the spirit of those times - the last quarter of the twentieth century - in which freedom of spirit will be to report the “disasters” of the French revolution.

“These two accounts, that of the bourgeois state and that of the socialist state, do not enable us to discern the nature of political power and the peculiar dynamics of the state bureaucracy. In the first place, one misunderstands the meaning of a mutation which lies at the origin of modern democracy: the establishment of a power of limited right, of such a kind that outside the political sphere (in the narrow, conventional sense of the term), economic, legal, cultural, scientific and aesthetic spheres are circumscribed, each of which obeys its own norms.”28

“Above all one would have to recognize the symbolic character of power instead of reducing it to the function of an organ, an instrument, at the service of social forces which allegedly exist prior to it. In the absence of such a perspective, one does not see that the delimitation of a properly political sphere is accompanied by a new form of legitimation, not only of power, but of social relations as such. The legitimacy of power is based on the people; but the image of popular sovereignty is linked to the image of an empty place, impossible to occupy, such that those who exercise public authority can never claim to appropriate it. Democracy combines these two apparently contradictory principles: on the one hand, power emanates from the people; on the other, it is the power of nobody. And democracy thrives on this contradiction. Whenever the latter risks being resolved or is resolved, democracy is either close to destruction or already destroyed. If the place of power appears, no longer as symbolically, but as really empty, then those who exercise it are perceived as mere ordinary individuals, as forming a faction at the service of private interests and, by the same token, legitimacy collapses throughout society. The privatization of groups, of individuals and of each sector of activity increases: each strives to make its individual or corporatist interest prevail. Carried to an extreme, there is no longer a civil society.”29

Let's review what we have stated so far. Lefort does not shy away from rewriting the history of modern experience and its political sense. Let us assume in a vague sense what is given from the invention of the world market, with its background and effects, plus the assumptions that are demanded for such, through an ethnology of power: it is power as a symbolic space of the exercise of symbolic violence, and even though it is symbolic, it does not waive the border, and, although mitigated from itself to the other, from the other to the self, it organizes the struggle of approach and confrontation, of autonomy and subjection, which stirs up and pacifies men's contact with each other and men with what is subject to them. It is based on such ethnology that we can make ethnography. The French revolution will be less the place of the taking of sovereignty by the “people,” and more the place in which the empty place of sovereignty itself is discovered, which can be taken or not, and whose a priori ignorance of truth can feed the bad nostalgia of the body of power, of embodied power. We are again dealing with the problem of the ghost member, which in politics can also be called populism, if treatable, in several versions: the attempt to fill the empty place of power with ghosts, spirits, and messages from a different world. Between one and another lies the medium, humble holder of this special communication.

It seems populism, then, would be the treatable case of totalitarianism through the therapeutic presented. However, let us see. Assuming the critical categories that Lefort sets in motion, it is an obvious thing that they maintain analytical and critical integrity in the case of what is meant by totalitarianism. In his favor, we should remember the European left of the times, majorly communist (we are talking about the 1950s, 60s and mid-1970s, the electoral peak of political parties in Europe), lived the crossing, anticipated by Merleau- Ponty, between open and embarrassed fidelity to superficial criticism and, finally, critical indifference to the totalitarianisms of the East, to their unhappy European neighbors, and to 'left' totalitarianisms in the third-world calculations of such world. Critical indifference, that is to say: the saddle is gone; the horse is left intact from the harsher versions of “democratic centralism.” The question is, admittedly, more complex nowadays. Would it be so easy to replicate the critical use of Lefort’s categories for all political experience at a time when European universality is (or perhaps has always been) at stake? Could modern politics really be described in terms of an anthropological-transcendental investigation of power, from the American and French revolutions, linked to the worldwide expansion of capitalism? There is here a clear ethnological, anti-dialectic option on the edge, against popular demand and its content, and in favor of technique (the a-political experience of abstraction and disincorporation, and we are again wrapped up in the white collars of Brussels), and by extension a clear option against a “popular political culture” and its contingencies - which, of course, being contingent and often non-speculative, cannot only be corporeal but goes through the body. For this reason, Lefort's poorly disguised option of going from ethnology to ethnography (the inversion of order is not accidental): would this elemental structure of power be the one to guide our investigation? Wouldn’t the object that defines the field and its own theory be a better choice? Levis-Strauss' advice would be that the best ethnography is the one which recognizes that in the field one seeks the social science of the other. The inversion we have proposed is not naive: Lefort's reversion to his other, in his political debate, belongs to himself. In this case, what would safeguard the empty place of the power to become a moral imperative? Is there still such a “civil society” as he refers to as the ethnographic reverse of his ethnology of power?

Who would occupy the “empty place” of power in a society in which, in part (but we suspect that it might not just be in part) power has already taken for itself the production of subjectivity and agency of bodies?

In the false choice between the Brussels bureaucracy and the “populism” of Latin America, what is left of the European experience, as it turns to ethnic particularism?

Finally, in the face of the remnants of historical reason to make the fame and fortune of understanding, what is left, in turn, of criticism in Lefort? What does it mean to say, how much the modern experience of abstraction and disincorporation can mobilize the “real” (and “realistic”) sense of politics? And when, according to this critical regime, would the realist sense of politics not be the mere conformist sense of politics, waiting for another uprising (irrelevant to the immediate payment) of subjectivities? In this strict cut lies the greater work of understanding, European pax, and its more general and abstract assumption, et pour cause, less incorporeal politically: the idea of a democracy occupied with the bodies of employees, an optimum means of communication of corporations in general, distributing power according to technique and against demands, a conformist enclosed in its partial well-being.


Final images

Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt) was released in 1963. It is partially a portrait of Europe that is invented in the post-war period, which partly reinvented the cinema itself. And there is no European reinvention that does not begin with the myth, the Homeric poems. And a myth is always a story of a story. Hence it is the best strategy: a film within a film, Europe within the myth of Europe. Fritz Lang takes on the role of God, observing men from the Olympus, and as such, Fritz Lang, a god of cinema himself, can only be Fritz Lang himself, the director who refused to film for the Nazis, who is now directing a new version of the Odyssey, that is, Ulysses, under the protection of Minerva, going back to Ithaca, his home. Godard replaces Fritz Lang in the simultaneous position of a Greek rhapsode and god of Olympus. And he goes beyond: he is also a foreigner, in a film spoken in several languages ​​– “The gods, in the likeness of strangers from foreign lands, adopt every sort of shape and visit our cities to see the insolence and justice of men.”30 There is also the American producer; Jack Palance (alias Jeremy Prokosch) who speaks only his own language, in a proper and figurative sense, and who permanently intends to change the route of Ulysses in the film and in the myth. There is also the professional writer ready to take the lies to market, Michel Piccoli (incidentally, Paul Javal), the modern Penelope, Brigitte Bardot (incidentally, Camille Javal), and the house of the industrial era with its palette of primary colors. The semantic core of the film, so to speak, the one that best organizes its material is given in a single word: home. Returning home, staying home, and the owner of the home. Whose home is Europe? It is home to the no longer existing myth. The film shows how affections move in private spaces when they bring the world inside, proving a universal maxim, from the Odyssey, which was inscribed in the spirit of the West: we are always returning home. When the world comes home, Ulysses needs to travel; the Trojan war comes to Ithaca, Agamemnon claims Ulysses’ alliance promise in the event of a war. In Contempt, bills must be paid, the mortgage of the house contaminates the private and public itineraries: once we are inside the administered world, we do not go back anywhere.

In the interlude of the film there are two versions of returning home: one of Fritz Lang and one of Jack Palance, the American producer, ambiguously backed by Picolli, the professional writer, who in the eagerness to buy and maintain his own house, has perhaps already sold his soul. There can be no more modern experience as this one. Whoever does not sell his/her soul in the market is not a sufficiently unworthy person for the industrial age of life and its substitutes. Jack Palance, a man of action movies and also a man of action, above all assumes the Ulysses’ delay in returning to Ithaca is deliberate. He, Ulysses, would be the almost par excellence modern man who cannot stand private life, its inventions and consequences, its daily routine without poetry, the last residual space of life without a myth. He is the usual husband delaying to go home, drinking with his friends and dreaming dreams that can no longer be dreamed, smaller dreams.

Fritz Lang disagrees with serene firmness of this modern version of Ulysses, and as a god who watches men; he maintains his disagreement with discreet emphasis. Ulysses confronts the powers of the stranger, the alien, and the myth itself to return to Ithaca. He is a sailor and has Poseidon – the god of the sea - against him. He has “the sufferer” as his epithet for a reason. He has the tenacity and cunning of an ordinary man, and for this very reason, he is persistent and vigorous, even though he is no ordinary man. He is one of the last heroes. The last heroes were those who fought the Trojan War. After them, the world ended another heroic cycle.

The last scene of the film is extraordinary, if we may say so. Fritz Lang films the moment when Ulysses sees Ithaca. Fritz Lang, Picolli, Godard as Lang's assistant, and a kitsch Ulysses, with his wooden sword, are on the set. Lang directs the scene, and the camera accompanies Ulysses (from the island of Capri, bay of Naples) to look at the Mediterranean, as one who sees his homeland. But then Raoul Coutard's camera reshapes the image of this image, and like the human eye, it devours the visibility of the first camera (scenographic in some sense), approaching the image of that look, that of Ulysses, and shadowing, the other look, Godard's, as if the first could not see and be seen except when the second sees them, the two, together. What we see is no longer Ithaca, but the Mediterranean, the sea of ​​myth, with the attention on the gaze adrift. Europe is not found (Bardot and Palance have died), but we recognize the common ground where it rests - (conjugal) war, travel, return and poetry.


“The theme of Contempt is people who look and judge, so they are looked at and judged by the cinema, which is represented by Fritz Lang representing as himself, in short, the awareness of the film, his honesty – I directed The odyssey sequence of the movie, but since I play the role of his assistant, Lang will say that these are his sequences shot by his secondary team.
Giving the film further thought, beyond the psychological history of a woman despised by her husband, Contempt appears to me as a shipwreck story of the Western world, survivors of the shipwreck of modernity, who come one day as the image of Verne's and Stevenson’s hero to a deserted and mysterious island whose mystery is the inexorable absence of mystery, that is, of truth. While Ulysses' odyssey was a physical phenomenon, I rode a moral odyssey: the camera's gaze on the characters in search of Homer replacing that of the gods with Ulysses and his companions.”31


Quo vadis Europa? In Film Socialism, (Godard, 2011), Europe would rehearse to be able to remake its founding trip, but the alleged trip, and not the one of Ulysses, is a completely different one. Initially, there are a myriad of prosaic techniques of capturing images, technical or almost technical capture for everyone. The vulgarity of the technique is not gratuitous, and it brings the sense of the image captured: the end of the mystery announced in Contempt is complete, in the pregnant image of wooly, thick, dark water that runs through the hull of any cruise. This sea has an important density, but it is a density contrary to the mystery, after the mystery. There are no mermaids, nor nymphs, nor the powers of the sea: if in Contempt Ulysses still sought, in cinemascope, to see Ithaca in the last take of the film, an Ithaca that was no longer, now there is neither Ulysses nor his search. The image is emptied of any vain promise: it all boils down to the mythless sea in which a kitschy cruise tames the savings of Europeans, filmed in video and cell phones, in a ship filled with retirees, who occupy their free time with the ultimate lack of mystery and truth. How is possible to rediscover Europe, since it is nothing anymore? The oblique response: from the outskirts, which defined it: where is Byzantium, is it far from here?, says someone wandering through the fully managed space of the European cruise. What was made of Byzantium was it exactly what was made of Troy, Palestine, Russia, Spain and Portugal, the Middle East, Syria, and Lebanon? From the outskirts to the center, the question for Europe has a different setting. The Europe of geometry and its spirit (Paul Valéry, Pétain's almost Minister) is the Europe of origin and invention of origin, although nothing original is European. It occurs that the origin of Geometry (from Euclid to Husserl) ceases to be generatrix - the logic of the figure - to be frontier - which does not have our origin. Europe does not redouble its history; it does not recover itself, looking at those who look at the myth (the wild thought). It is the recognition that myth has exhausted itself and took Europe with it, the only possible journey is the journey of money, the European Central Bank and other ancestral channels, the only adventure is the gold, and it does not educate or enchant, in the old or in the new sense. It eludes people when there’s little of it, and it is violent, when there is too much of it. There is no cunning, no returning home. Home has been replaced by the cruise, a thousand unfamiliar languages ​​and the feeling of comfort is the material comfort of mass production of consumer goods. Europe has emptied itself. There is only the pax of the vegetative life of abstraction. Europe is a kitschy cruise, unable to see that its borders would stretch until Palestine on the other side of the Mediterranean, from geometry to algebra, if Europe still existed.


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GODARD, J.-L., Les années Karina, Paris, Champs/Flamarion, 1985.

HOMERO, Odisséia, trad. Frederico Lourenço, Penguin&Companhia, São Paulo, 2011.

FAUSTO, R., Sentidos da dialética. Marx: lógica e política, Petrópolis, Vozes, 2015.

FAUSTO, R., “Dialética, estruturalismo, pré(pós)-estruturalismo”. In: Dialética marxista, dialética hegaliana: a produção capitalista como produção simples,  Editora Brasiliense, São Paulo, 1997.

FAUSTO, R., Sur le concept de Capital. Idée d’une logique dialectique. Paris, L’Harmattan, 2004.



fevereiro #


ilustração: Rafael MORALEZ

1 Tradução de Daniela Corrêa de Sequeira.

2 A shorter version of the following text was first presented at the International Colloquium “Claude Lefort, the Democratic Invention Today”, in October 2015, at the University of São Paulo. A second, significantly larger version was presented at the Colloquium on Contemporary French Philosophy, at the Federal University of Lavras, in December 2015. I also had the opportunity to present a third version of this paper during the meetings of the Hybris group of the Graduate Program In Social Anthropology of the Federal University of Sao Carlos, under the curatorship of my dear colleague Jorge Vilela. Ever since its first version, the subject and its surroundings have shown themselves to be fruitful. I had the pleasure of exchanging arguments and counter arguments of its many versions with my colleague and friend Luiz Damon, with whom I spoke almost continuously about it during this entire process, and with whom I always learn. This text is also a debtor of the Ruy Fausto Conference in the already mentioned meetings of the Lefort colloquium, as the reader will be able to realize. I am the sole responsible for this text, with all its possible misconceptions.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Adventures of the Dialectic. Northwestern University Press. Evanston, 1973.

3 Id at 07.

4 Id at 308.

5 Id at 03.

6 “But what is that end of history on which some people make everything depend? One supposes a certain boundary beyond which mankind stops being a senseless confusion and comes back to the immobility of nature. This idea of an absolute purification of history, of an inertialess regime without chance or risk, is the inverse reflection of our own anxiety and solitude. (...) Marx did not speak of an end of history but of an end to prehistory”. Id at 05.

7 Id at 04.

8 “It has not been sufficiently noted that at the very moment when he appeared to take up the Marxist idea of a social criterion of literature, Sartre did it in terms which are his alone and which give to his notion of historicity an absolutely new meaning. In What Is Literature? 109 the social is never cause or even motive, it is never behind the work, it does not weigh on it, it gives neither an explanation nor an excuse for it. Social reality is in front of the writer like the milieu or like a dimension of his line of sight”. Id at 156.

9 PROUST, M. À la recherche du temps perdu, Albertine disparu, Paris, NRF, Gallimard, 1989, p. 79.

10 MARX, Karl. “On the Jewish Question” (1843). In: The Marx-Engels Reader. Edited by Robert Tucker, New York: Norton & Company, 1978.

11 LEFORT, Claude. Political Forms of Modern Society. Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism. Edited and Introduced by John B. Thompson. The MIT Press. 1986. Page 255.

12 MERLEAU-PONTY, M., Humanisme et terreur, essai sur le problème communiste, Idées/Gallimard, Paris, 1947.
“Just after the war we tried to formulate a Marxist wait-and-see attitude. It seemed to us that the Soviet society was then very far from the revolutionary criteria defined by Lenin, that the very idea of a criterion of valid compromises had been abandoned, and that, consequently, the dialectic threatened to become once more the simple identity of opposites, that is to say, skepticism. A completely voluntaristic communism became evident, based entirely on the consciousness of the leaders-a renewal of the Hegelian State and not the withering-away of the State. But however "grand" Soviet "politics" may have been, we observed that the struggle of communist parties is in other countries the struggle of the proletariat as well, and it did not seem impossible that Soviet politics might thereby be brought back to the ways of Marxist politics. We said that the U.S.S.R. is not the power of the proletariat, but the Marxist dialectic continues to play its role throughout the world. It jammed when the revolution was limited to an underdeveloped country, but one feels its presence in the French and Italian labor movements.” (page 228).

13 Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. The Penguin Press. New York City. 2006.
“The expanding web of international alliances, agencies and accords offered little guarantee of international harmony. With the benefit of hindsight we can now see that between them the Council of Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Payments Union and above all the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were the germ of a new and stable system of inter-state relations. Documents like the Council of Europe's 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights would acquire lasting significance in the decades to come. But at the time such documents, like the agencies that published them, rather closely resembled the well-meaning but doomed pacts and leagues of the 1920s. Skeptical contemporaries could be forgiven for paying them little attention. Nevertheless, with the death of Stalin and the end of the Korean War, Western Europe stumbled half unawares into a remarkable era of political stability.” (Page 242)

14 “Whatever the reason, the stagnation of revolutions in the world  and “Popular  Front” tactics have modified  these proletariats and the recruitment and theoretical formation of Communist parties too profoundly to  allow one to hope for a renewal of open class struggle in the near future or even to propose to the  militants revolutionary orders which they would not feel. Thus, instead of two clearly defined factors, the history of our time consists of two opposites: a Soviet Union which is obliged to deal with bourgeois States; Communist parties which rally to the politics of Popular Fronts or, as in the case of Italy, are arrested in their proletarian development by the impact of Soviet power politics; bourgeois parties incapable of defining a coherent economic policy but, in the weakened nations, conscious of their powerlessness and vaguely won over to a “revolutionism” which may lead them to temporary  understandings with the Left.”
“For the sake of truth”. In Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Sense and Non-Sense. Northwestern University Press. 1964. Translated by Hubert L. Dreyfus & Patricia Allen Dreyfus. Page 167.

15 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Crisis of Understanding. In Adventures of the Dialectic.

16 Id at page 10.  

17 “In contrast to the two theoretical models we have examined above, Max Weber chooses action as the ultimate social object (though for him not all action is social): “[the] specific object [of sociology of understanding] is not any 'internal arrangement' or external behavior, but the action (Handeln)” (Weber, 59, p.429, idem 56, p.305, highlighted by the author).” Both sociology and history make all interpretations of 'pragmatic' character from understandable threads of actions (Id.). The action can be collective, but every collective action is reducible to a plurality of individual actions. For Weber, it is an “elementary fact” that reality is limited to the concrete, the individual (Individuell) (Id at 225). “For us, there can be no action (Handeln) in the sense of a significantly understandable orientation of behavior, but in the form of a behavior of one or several singular individuals (Einzelnen).” What does exist beyond the reality constituted by individuals? There are, on the one hand, social rules whose ontological status is problematic, and which in any case are not the object of sociology but of jurisprudence. On the other hand, from actions as realities, which always refer to the unique, one can and must build ideal types. But ideal types are not objective structures, and this is because they are neither structures nor objectivity. Ideal types do not “unfold” reality as the rules of a language, like structuralism does, or as a second language, like the dialectic does. They are pure or purified forms of the real.” FAUSTO, R., Dialética marxista, dialética hegaliana: a produção capitalista como produção simples, “Dialética, estruturalismo, pré(pós)-estruturalismo”,  pp. 146-147. Editora Brasiliense, São Paulo, 1997. 

18Or even:

19“Thus, there are no intrinsic attributes to the phenomena that allow their full knowledge through the alleged evidences provided by some form of intuitive capture. Definitely, and we can never emphasize it too much, the understanding does not concern the personalities of the agents, much less any “experiences”, but their actions. Weber does not care about the subjects' lived experience (Erlebnis), but their experience (Erfahrung). That is to say, they are not interested in their actions alone, not even their context, but rather the establishment of causal links between several actions of the same (typical) agent or between the actions of several different subjects. Hence the importance, at this point, of the “nomological” knowledge of the researcher, for what is important is to transcend the singular action as a pure event. That is the reason for the importance of the procedures involved in the type, for otherwise there is no way to transcend the pure empirical lived reality, which is an inexhaustible flow of singular events (a “heterogeneous continuum” to use Rickert's language here). The universe of singular events alone is purely contingent; but as men create values ​​and are able, because of them, to attribute meaning to their conduct, the door is opened not only for the rational action but also to understanding them rationally according to the scientific method.” COHN, G., Crítica e resignação, page 123. São Paulo, Martins Fontes, 2003.

20 Id at 137.

21 Let’s see. “L’idée générale qui, bien entendu, venait de Hegel, était que, à la différence de ce qu’on trouve dans la logique formelle, le jugement devait être pensé, en général, comme un mouvement de réflexion (pouvant aussi se présenter, comme nous le verrons, comme non réflexion) du sujet dans le prédicat. Dans la première forme ainsi dégagée, que nous désignions comme “jugement de réflexion”, forme canonique en quelque sorte, le sujet est présupposé et se réfléchit dans un prédicat qui, seul, est posé.”, FAUSTO, R., Sur le concept de Capital. Idée d’une logique dialectique. Paris, L’Harmattan, p. 8.
And also: “We said that from the dialectical point of view, as well as, but in a different sense, for structuralism, social can be thought of as analogous to language. To say that social for the dialectic is analogous to a language understood as a flow of meanings is to assume that social can be thought in terms of values”. FAUSTO, R., Dialética marxista, dialética hegaliana: a produção capitalista como produção simples, “Dialética, estruturalismo, pré(pós)-estruturalismo”,  page 153. Editora Brasiliense, São Paulo, 1997.

22 Id at 40.

23 FAUSTO, R., Sentidos da dialética. Marx: lógica e política, page 56, Petrópolis, Vozes, 2015.

24 MERLEAU-PONTY, M., Les aventures  de la dialectique, “Sartre et le ultra-bolchevisme”, page 143. Paris, Gallimard, 1955.

25 A note on Machiavelli. In The Merleau-Ponty Reader. Northwestern University Press. Evanston, Illinois. 2007.

26 Id at 123.

27 Id at 129.

28 LEFORT, C., Sur une colonne absente, Paris, Gallimard, 1978, p. 52.

29 Id at 354.

30 LEFORT, Claude. Political Forms of Modern Society. Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism. Edited and Introduced by John B. Thompson. The MIT Press. 1986. page 279.

31 Id at 279.

32 Homer. The Odissey.

33 GODARD, J.-L., Les années Karina, Paris, Champs/Flamarion, page 87.