‘If there are to be global goals, goals that cross boundaries to inspire the multitudes, where might they be found? … So should idealists across borders persist in seeking the universalist grail—the moral equivalent of “The Internationale”? Some settle for anti-fascism; others strive to resurrect the lost traditions of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism; a few scavenge among the ruins of communism. Nearly three decades after the collapse of the communist phantasm, the left has still not recovered its voice, let alone composed a melody you can’t get out of your head.’
Watching the other day Nicholas Hytner’s promenade staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, I heard Cassius say: “Men at some time were masters of their fates./The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars./But in ourselves, that we are underlings” (1.2.140-3).
The reference to fate reminded me of a recently published essay. Since I have been following with special interest the progress during this decade of Simon Critchley’s book on the philosophy of tragedy (read: sophistry) as an alternative to the tragedy of philosophy, I was particularly glad to read “Tragedy’s Philosophy,” a “rough torso” of his project, in Fisher & Katsouraki, eds.: Performing Antagonism: Theatre, Performance & Radical Democracy (2017). Regarding the understanding of tragedy as misfortune the philosopher brings up fate: “Tragedy requires some degree of complicity on our part in the disaster that destroys us. It is not simply a question of the malevolent activity of fate … Tragedy requires our collusion with that fate. In other words, it requires no small measure of freedom. … Our moral of tragedy, then, is that we conspire with our fate. That is, fate requires our freedom in order to bring our destiny down upon us” (31). Therefore he suggests that we see “the bloody events of the contemporary world in a tragic light,” and reiterates: “To see political events tragically is always to accept our complicity in the disaster that is unfolding” (36). The question of tragedy today should not be limited to a particular dramatic genre. “A tragic sensibility obliges us to see our implication within the struggles of the present and our responsibility for them. If the present is defined by disaster, then tragedy shows us our complicity with it” (40-1).
This ethical argument reminds me of Critchley’s political point in an interview where he recalls that Raymond Williams in his book Modern Tragedy (1966) “makes a link between tragedy and revolution and it’s a kind of melancholic link. He says, for example, something like: ‘We need to understand revolution tragically’. If we see revolution as a throwing off of repression and the experience of liberation that’s all very nice but we see just half of the picture. Revolution is always a dialectical process where revolution undergoes inversion in counter-revolution. So a tragic understanding of revolution would show the experience of liberation as always risking flipping over into a new experience of oppression and terror and the two things are intrinsically linked. Liberation and terror are intricated, are dialectically interdependent and that’s what a properly tragic understanding would lead us to. If we want to maintain something like revolution or rebellion then we have to see it tragically in terms of the inversions to which it is subject.”
A tragic understanding admits that revolution is subject to counter-revolution, that liberation is risking oppression. Drawing on Williams, Critchley makes the melancholic point that, when terror destroys revolution, instead of blaming destiny, we must accept the complicity of liberation, keeping in mind that freedom conspires with fate.
May 12, 2018
“ETA was not born as an armed resistance group that turned to terrorism, but as a cultural enterprise to save the Basque language and its people’s customs (its name is an acronym of the Basque words for “Basque Homeland and Liberty”). It was founded in 1958 by a group of dangerously idealistic students, many of them connected to the Catholic Church, who were dissatisfied with the inaction of the clandestine Basque Nationalist Party.”
Bruce Robbins on Perry Anderson’s Gramscian hegemony between Thucydidean realism and Stoic melancholy.
“The problem of how to relate to, and retrospectively valorise, the Commune’s failure created a tension in the socialist periodical press between the motivational need to celebrate such a heroic defeat, in order to justify sacrifices both past and present, and the evaluative need critically to assess the reasons that underlay the defeat.”
A review of Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams (2017) by John Feffer
‘What might it mean, Culp asks, to “give up on all the reasons given for saving this world?” In response, this interview explores the pathways offered by a “dark” Deleuze, a politics of cruelty, Afro-Pessimism, partisan knowledges, destituent power, and tactics of escape.’
“Profoundly disappointed, not merely with the capitulation of the government but also its alienation from the party and the movements, Helena Sheehan [in The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left (2016)] evaluates through her interviewees and discussants some of Syriza’s fault lines as well as the prospects of the Left’s recomposition, especially after the break of the left wing of Syriza and the large exodus of dissidents both from the government and the party.”
“It’s too late to save, but we might repurpose. Suturing, jerry-rigging, cobbling together. Finding unexpected resources in the muck, using them in new ways. A strategy for ruination.”
Advancing “the conception of an affirmative — as opposed to circuitous, nostalgic, or introspective — melancholic politics” (220), Klaus Mladek and George Edmondson (“A Politics of Melancholia,” in Strathausen, ed.: A Leftist Ontology, 2009) note that, since the early 1990s, “there has been a steady movement on the part of what might be called the poststructuralist left, represented by Derrida, Butler, and Bhabha, … toward a politics of melancholia” (210). They draw on the late Freud who believes that “the ego is constitutively melancholic, a vital defense system … said to ‘revolt’ against the extinction of objects that are unmourned and unmournable” (210). They suggest that, out of an unyielding fidelity to lost objects and values, melancholic militancy rebels against failure, refusing to allow them to sink into oblivion. Thus there may be “an affirmative, even proud dimension to the melancholic state — a dimension that recognizes doom itself as the engine of rebellion” (210).